31 January, 2012

An Expert Destruction

Main Street is crooked, runs right past
City Hall, the police station, empties
right in front of the University
Administration building.

All things tend southward here... the slopes,
the hollers, the crosses. Life has moved
out to the by-pass: movies, libraries,

The school is a warehouse
of long dead ideas, stored up
for future kindling.

Boxes of unread books provide warmth
and nourishment the nests of rats
and legions of insects pouring over
our mistakes.

Outside, the street signs are picture perfect,
and the old buildings are either
scrubbed down or destroyed;

an expert destruction
of all evidence to the contrary
that once upon a time
there was something else here.

Bars converted to youth centers;
cigarette stores to ice cream stands.
The future is piling down upon us
barreling 80 miles an hour down

the new wider highway
past the mega store where
all hope is lost and sold
at discount rates.

But the banks,
at least, are solid
and are open for business. New restaurants,
same old food.

The movie theatre converted
into a mausoleum for ancient idealism.

Everything is fine. Everything is dandy.
Self help books sell well. No one reads
the classics anymore. Too many big words.
Too many big ideas.

Poetry is for little girls and for fags.
Rumi was a terrorist. Poe liked little girls.
Whitman needed a shave
and real job.

No one remembers the year the mountain burned.
No one remembers the year the north end of town flooded.
The people who carry the memories
have fled east, into the mountains
or west, into the desert –

searching for moonshine or for messiahs
that will give them answers
to nagging questions that have not
formed the words to articulate properly.

30 January, 2012

Baboon In The Bluegrass, Part 2: Willow Drive

A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of the evidence, inspiring to be an eyewitness.” - Paul Elie

This is not a pilgrimage.

There are a lot of bookshelves, filled with all kinds of books for everyone in the house; pieces of pottery, colorful knick knacks (the evidence of journeys taken and returned from); elementals: rocks and fish tanks and polished drift wood; proof of life: the inevitable innocent chaos children leave in their wake... toys bicycles, the rumble of feet; the inevitable proof of two artists under one roof: public spaces, private space; self-sufficiency – the space where the garden was and will be again once the still mild winter is over; chickens in the chicken coop.

In addition to the pleasure of seeing George and Laura again and of meeting their young children, I also got to spend the evening and into the early morning with my old122 W. Second Street Outlaws(You Know Who You Are!) roommate Jared and his wife Shannon, as well as with Mike and Elizabeth and their friend (and my Facebook friend) Misty. There's a special pleasure being able to sit around a table with other writers, poets, and artists who also happen to be old friends with a common geographical reference.

Laura cooked a fine meal and we drank and talked and traded stories. Jared and his wife Shannon are expecting their first child; true to form, Jared is both exciting and scared shitless – which is, of course, the only appropriate response. He and I went through graduate school together... he and I and our friend Dave, Dave's girlfriend (now wife) Jamie, Eric Collins (evermore known as the Protestant Saint), along with Stephanie Stobaugh, Jessica, Jay, Mike and Elizabeth, and Bobby (and eventually his girlfriend now wife and baby mama Amanda... who I met the first time she ever got drunk... yes, I'm a bad influence....) – musician, poet, and mathematically challenged – were among the core people who made up my close circle of friends during my graduate school years at Morehead State University. There were others that, if opportunity arises, I will speak of. There was Tara, who was also a graduate student, who was often amused by the fact that people would stop by the office to talk to me; there was Joy, Brooke, both undergrads; there was Lonnie, who later died and his friend Phil, who for some reason thought I was a cool guy.

There were so many characters, all of them coagulating at the same unlikely time and same unlikely space. It's the sort of fish bowl community that, if you tried to plan and organize something similar, would implode on itself upon implementation and potentially cause the entire universe to go super nova.

Willow Drive is a safe enough distance from Morehead and the university that George feels safe. He still teaches there, attending to his students and fleeing the ridiculous nest of politics and petty personal fiefdoms (not that there's any difference between the two) that make up the English Department.

The English Department – formerly the Department of English, Foreign Language, and Philosophy – has always been a shark tank. The literature people resent anyone who's not a literature person; the future teachers feel like they're looked down on because they don't want to teach at the college level; the future librarians just try and keep their heads down to get out as close to intact as possible; the linguists think they're better than everyone; and the writers get the shaft from all sides because nobody thinks they have any place in decent (academic) society.

(Fuck 'em all. Squares on all sides. - William S. Burroughs)

I'm fairly certain that the only reason I survived and graduated from MSU was poetry and the circle of friends I encountered while I was here.

Drinking probably helped, too.

( NOTE: Though I'm sure it got me into as much trouble as it saved me from.)

Funny thing is, I always end up back here. And no, it's not nostalgia that draws me back here. I am not – most of the time – a sentimental person. No, this place, like Cincinnati, is one of those places that so heavy with memory, a place that's tied to so many of the profound events in my life. And over the years, when I have returned to this part of the country, it has always been at times of dramatic change.

I first came here as a high school band student, to a music camp. On the bus ride here, I met my daughter's mother. She eventually went to college here, and I followed in order to be near her. We married – mostly because we were dumb and young and stupidly in love – but also because we could get more financial aid as married students than as dependents on either of our parents' tax returns. My daughter was born in St. Claire Medical Center. My divorce from her mother was finalized in the Rowan County Courthouse. I dropped out. I returned. I finished. I escaped. I returned. I fast talked my way into graduate school so that I'd have an excuse to write and not have to work for a few years.

Here was also the place where I met George and where, sitting in his office – then atop the hill in Faculty House 5 – he told me that I could do this. That I could be a writer. It was a 2 minute conversation that changed my life.

It was also here that I met Melissa – twice. And when I ran into her again when I was a graduate student... we both returned at exactly the same time … it seemed like destiny was smacking me in the head with a 2x4 and saying, “See here, you thick-headed jackass. This is your future.”

(And YES, like any thick-headed jackass, it took me some time to realize it. I've always maintained that writers are slow learners. I haven't been proven wrong yet.)

And I always end up back here.

It's not even something I necessarily plan. I just sort of decide to come back and see the place. Seeing it change is always a bit depressing... but like all change, it's impossible to stop. I mean really stop. The most anyone can do is try and shape the direction of that change in such a way that can be more positive.
George pointed out last night, after everyone left and Laura had gone to bed, that journeys like the one I am on have less to do with nostalgia as much as it does a kind of re-energizing. You go back to the places you've lived to find those pieces of yourself you left behind... maybe because you knew you might need it again someday. Maybe because you didn't know anything at all. And it occurred to me that the first leg of this journey is as much about me picking up those stray pieces of myself – breadcrumbs in the wilderness – as much as it has to do with putting the past – and the recent past – to rest.

It occurs to me that while I may have been a lousy husband – because I most assuredly wasn't a very good one – that there's still something in me worth redeeming, worth holding onto. It occurs to me that sacred places have that effect on us; they are places where time and space coagulate, where things stop, merge, diverge, become something new. It occurs to me that I am here, not just to visit old friends whose company I've missed, but to pick up one of those breadcrumbs that I will need in the journey forward.
This is not a pilgrimage.

But then again, maybe it is.

28 January, 2012

A Baboon in the Bluegrass, Part 1: Lexington

[This is dedicated to the cute artsy girl in the purple plaid coat who smiled at me in the Starbucks this morning for no particular reason]

My Life is a vast inconsequential epic with a thousand and a million characters...” -Jack Kerouac

Sitting in hole in the wall Mexican restaurant drinking Modelo Negro and eating enchiladas (she had tacos) with my college friend Stephanie, I was beginning to reassess my feelings about Lexington. Having lived here before – the next in a string of places I consider familiar – I sort of took certain things for granted:

  1. That my mental map of the place would help me get around; and
  2. That my initial sense memory of the place was the only memory of the place I needed.

But first thing I noticed about Lexington when the bus pulled into the Depot was that I had forgotten where the bus depot actually was. My memory had confused it (as I would later find out) with the main hub of the Lexington Transit Authority – the metro bus hub behind the downtown library.

Prior to deciding to take this trip... or rather, prior to the circumstances coming together in such a way that not only is the trip important, but also necessary... I had no reason to come back to Lexington for any length of time. And as I got off the bus and surveyed my surroundings, and after I realized that my memory had reorganized the entire city incorrectly, I realized something else.

I had managed to forget almost everything about Lexington.

I don't know if it was deliberate. I used to live here. For three years in the late 90's Lexington, Kentucky was my home. I thought I'd gotten to know the city pretty well. As city's go, Lexington isn't really large. It's more like a small town that got too big to fast and never really came to terms with it. It's a town that probably felt like it had to ACT big because the University of Kentucky main campus was there; and more importantly, the UK WILDCATS are there... and there's nothing in Kentucky more important than UK sports. Specifically, basketball. Particularly, Men's. So in a way, Lexington is, as a cities go, like a teenage girl who has to buy a new pair of shoes because her friend has a new purse.

Nearly every association I have with Lexington – mental, emotional – are bad associations. I think about the girlfriend I had who fucked all my friends; I think about working as an office slug at the University of Kentucky and hating myself just a little bit more every day; I think about one particularly psychotic husband who believed I was brainwashing his wife... when in fact, I was really just fucking her. I remember walking to work at Wal-Mart on Man O War Road and I remember also working at Target and Meijer. I remember working the counter at the Dairy Mart. I remember getting arrested for reckless operation of a vehicle because a Lexington City cop couldn't get me to blow into the breathalyzer enough for a DUI.

I remember first moving to Lexington from Cincinnati. To make the move happen in a more expedited fashion, I more or less pushed myself on a friend of mine from college, Phil. Phil is also a writer, and a respectable one at that. He's one of the mad poet varieties – probably because he's technically legally insane – but he's also a voracious reader, sometimes astute critic, and a good chess player to boot. He claims no political opinions, but he does have his thoughts on the matter of the human endeavor to rule over one another. Last I checked – and yes, it's been a while, but bear with me – he pretty much thought the whole thing was pointless, and probably doomed to failure. (He very well could have changed his mind by now... but given the state of things, I don't see how he could any way but vindicated.)

After I was able to find regular work and save money – I'm fairly sure that didn't happen nearly fast enough for Phil – I moved into my own place, off Versailles Road. Not long after that, I convinced another college friend, Jerry, to move down to Lexington, saying he could sleep on my couch until he got up on his feet. It didn't seem to matter to me at the time that Phil and Jerry had never gotten along; all I figured at the time was that it would be cool to have all of my college friends together in the same city... presumably to continue the same semi-dysfunctional but still comfortable social dynamic we had all been a part of in college. (Back then, I still believed it was possible to hold on to people, just as they had been when I first knew them. I hadn't yet realized that in order to keep friends, you have to accept that they, like everything else, have to go through necessary changes or else get dragged under.)

As you might expect, the whole lousy sit-com... because what else could it turn out to be... ended in disaster. Now I'm not really friends with either Phil or Jerry. I lost my friendship with Jerry because of a girl... see, how the sit-com becomes bad melodrama...and I lost my friendship with Phil because I was a raging, arrogant ass.

And then there's Lynnie. Lynnie, who was the reason I rode a Greyhound in the first place. But that's probably another story for another time.

As I was sitting with Stephanie, talking the way we have always talked... topics ranging from politics to literature to teaching to life, spirituality... I found myself having to re-evaluate my thoughts about Lexington. Not that I think I'd ever want to live here – there are other places I am much more comfortable and where I would feel more welcomed overall – but it's not such a bad place.

The thing about Lexington is that it's impossible to get around it's inflated opinion of itself; this isn't a town that wants people to look too scruffy or too poor or too downtrodden. When I lived here before and worked downtown (I was a file clerk, briefly, for Bank One... which was eventually bought out by Chase Bank.) it struck me odd that nearly everyone, regardless of where they worked, sort of dressed the same. Khaki pants and a green shirt. Jerry and I used to laugh about it. Lexington is, regardless of whatever else it is, an entire city with a Wal-Mart employee attitude.

One of the other things I've noticed... there's not many cops, but a lot of “security guards.” For example, when I was at the downtown library yesterday, I saw at least five private security guards. Five. Now, while on one hand I think it's a step in the right direction that they take their library so seriously, I do wonder about the purpose of a private, taser wielding brigade of black polo shirt wearing bullies in what should be an open, public, and non-threatening place. (Stephanie explained that after the current mayor was sworn into office, the first thing he did was slash the police and fire department budgets. This, as you might imagine, makes him popular with the libertarian horde and the underlying criminal element. Don't worry, though. The increase in crime is only really happening where the poor and the blacks live. And no one here gives a damn about them, anyway. One look at someone scruffy... say, like moi … people here feel compelled to run and check their credit rating to ensure that their hubris is justified.

When I was killing time at the library yesterday, I noticed I wasn't the only one. One of the ironies of Lexington is that it has such an inflates sense of itself, but it has – and did, even when I lived here – a steady homeless population. And one of the places they go to get out of the elements... whichever element happens to be seasonal... is the downtown library.

At one point, I was sitting at a reading table on the second floor, next to one of the large windows facing Main Street, on the far side of the fiction shelves. Other than needing someplace to chill until I could meet up with Stephanie, I also needed a place where I could charge my cell phone and tie into some free wifi.

(Yes, yes. The problems that face a techno-hobo. It could be worse.)

Of course, a library security guard walked by every 10 minutes or so. Always a different guard. One guy, at the table in front of me … that had been occupied by a cute blonde girl who looked too sad to be anything but a runaway. The dirty old letch who found her and complained that he'd been looking for her all day sort of completed the picture.) seemed to be used to the patrol pattern. He unpacked his sack, tried to air out his clothes,and packed it all back in less than five minutes. Two tables up, a couple of the older guys were talking. One was mentioning a place he might spend the night... some guy who lets him in to take a shower. From the conversation, I gathered there was some give and take that I probably didn't want to know about.

One of two of them eyed me suspiciously. Generally they paid me no mind.

But none of them asked me for a cigarette or spare change, either.

Guess they knew better. An easy mark in Lexington isn't difficult to find. They all wear khakis. And green shirts.

The thing is, even in a place like this... and while I feel less antipathy towards the city, I do, nonetheless find that I can't forgive the overall lack of humanity... it's encouraging to know there are good people with good hearts and good souls and solid heads on their shoulders. Stephanie is one of those people; because even though I haven't seen her in probably ten years, she still opened her home to me. Her little house in Nicholasville reminded some of the house in Mount Carroll... except that it was in much better shape, and probably only dated back to the 1940's, not the 1910's. It has older house issues, which she's working through. But she's also not willing to go into debt. She's a planner and a doer. She dreams of maybe selling the house and moving to New York. She thinks maybe she might just stay where she is. But there's always been this thing about Stephanie... this thing I've always's liked. She doesn't compromise on her vision. She's not afraid to take risks (including home ownership... more of a risk than those vulture-like realtors would have you believe). 

And that's really, as far as I can tell, the only way to walk through the world. Without compromise and in the face of enormous risk.

Here in Lexington, though, if you are a bit scruffy looking, remember:

It's probably best to avoid eye contact. And please: Do not feed the khaki-ed animals.

[I need to extend my thanks here to Tina Stretton, who found the correct number and name contact at Greyhound Bus Lines in order to convince them they ought to be letting me ride for free. In addition to some piece of my immortal soul... which admittedly, isn't worth much... I also owe Tina my eternal gratitude. Or an overall percentage, whichever is less. 

If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. 

Thanks for reading.]

27 January, 2012

Porkopolis, Part 2: The Return of Creepy Louis

"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Albert Camus.

"You call that an argument?" - The Cincinnati Kid  (1965)

It took me three runs, but I FINALLY got us out of the storage locker. We (Melissa and I) have been paying the monthly rent on that space since 2005. Being out from under it feels like Sisyphus rolling the stone over the top of the hill.

There's something odd about sifting through the remains of a life; because that's ultimately what I've been struggling to do this week. Sift through and try to learn to let go.

And it's not easy. I can't help but remember that once upon a time, we were happy.

There's a point, though, when all that memory becomes either nostalgia or absurd. There's a point where you can either laugh about how ridiculous it all is or being dragged under weight of memory.

So I spent last night with friends -- finally catching up with Aaron K. He, his girlfriend, and once again with my friend Eric M, who was gracious enough to drive through a torrential rain to pick me up. We were, once again, down at the Cock and Bull... because not only was it Pint Night ($5 Peroni and you get to keep the glass), but because it was Aaron's birthday. He turned 38, which is one of those years that means nothing other than you're creeping perilously close to 40. And 40 is one of those ages that men tend to view as some sort of mile marker on the road of inevitable decline.

Aaron's been teaching at the University Cincinnati as a part-timer. That was after being a full time instructor and not having his annual contract renewed. I first met Aaron when I started teaching at UC's University College and he was the embedded tutor in my class. (In what can only be consider karmic fate, I ended up being the tutor in one of his classes at the CAT. He was, true to form, very gracious.) In talking to Aaron, I was once again struck by his dedication and his continued passion about teaching. And although I'm certain he's being screwed like a drunk co-ed on wet t-shirt night at the frat bar, he still goes in and gives it his best.

As a matter of fact, he told me the that the couple of weeks he wasn't teaching were awful. Talking to him about teaching was just one more indication to me that I did the right thing in walking away from it. If Aaron can maintain the passion to teach, in spite of the egregious treatment he receives at the hands of the weasels who run that place, then he is the kind of person who needs to be there. And I am the kind of person who needs to be somewhere else.

Sifting through all crap in the storage unit and deciding what to keep and what to throw away was in itself an absurd exercise. It made me think about leaving on the Greyhound Bus to go to Arizona... my big chance at a full time teaching gig. I left Melissa behind to take care of things... pack up and scoot out. She had some help moving things into storage... one of the guys I worked with at the CAT, someone I considered (and still do) a friend, Kyle D... helped move my boxes of books.

How's that saying go?

Friends will help you move;
Good Friends will help you move dead bodies;
Real Friends will lug your books for you.

In deciding to finally get the storage unit off our list of bills, Melissa and I decided that I would keep only what I was important. There were a few things she wanted... a box of files, her high school art. I kept my books... getting rid of the collection of textbooks... an old Royal typewriter... one what my brother would refer to (fondly) as "analog habits"... and one or two other knick knacky things.

(One of the books I saved)

Everything else -- gone. One less tie that binds.

Among the things that are gone is Creepy Louis:

(The batteries in this 2 foot tall toy are dead, but it's supposed sing and move.)

I've a been a fan of Louis Armstrong since high school because he played the trumpet. (I used to play the trumpet.) "What a Wonderful World" is probably one of my favorite songs. As time goes by, the song retains meaning for me, gains mythic resonance.... precisely because the world is NOT a wonderful place. At least, not all the time. There are moments when the world is a wonderful place. But those moments are fleeting. And we have to learn how to embrace them.

And we have to learn how to let them go.

[Special thanks to ERIC MAST for his generous donation to the re:visionary cause. And to you, faithful readers, please consider helping me in my ongoing attempt to convince Greyhound Bus Lines that they should bus me around the country, it has been suggested to me that instead of asking people to call the corporate headquarters and talk to CEO David Leach, I should direct inquires to the Marketing Department. This, based on the Executive Bios, seems to fall under the purview of Ted. F. Burk, Senior VP of Corporate Development. If you like what you read here, please do one or all of these:

  1. Share the link with as many people as possible.
  2. Click on the DONATE button to keep me going.
  3. Call Greyhound (214-849-8000and ask for Ted F.Burk. Tell him they need to bus me around. Tell them it's good PR. Tell the they need the help. Thanks!   

26 January, 2012

Porkopolis, Intermezzo 2:

"Sometimes solutions aren't so simple / Sometimes goodbye's the only way." - Linkin Park

(From the pub's website and virtual tour)
There wasn't as much of a crowd as I had hoped.

Sometimes it's easier to read when the room is full, especially when it's an unfamiliar one. I'd been getting used to reading in front of people at the open mic I helped start back in Mount Carroll; after six months of sometimes entertaining but most likely offending a fair number of religious folks and farmers I think I managed to get my stage legs, such as they are, back. (Not often the farmer's wives, though. I have found that, generally, farmers'wives are an unshakable lot; it's generally the husbands that get a nervous about colorful language around their womenfolk. But the wives have been dealing with blood and animal husbandry for years.)

I didn't know what to expect, other than to expect a bar -- which is a different crowd than a coffee house full of church goers. The Motr Pub in Over-The-Rhine... well, in the more gentrified section of Over-The-Rhine, along Main Street ... is a nice space that is destined to be replaced by some other bar with a slightly different decor. I couldn't remember what was there when I lived in Cincinnati; but according to friend and fellow writer Mark Flanigan, there was a bar named Coopers in that space in 2005. And before that, another bar. It's just one of the spaces, he told me, where bars move in, fail, move out, and another one moves in.

Because I've organized and hosted a number of open mics in a variety of spaces, I expected it to be a music heavy event. Other than that, I had no other expectations. It's better to walk into those kinds of situations expecting very little.

But before I was at the Motr Pub, trying to decide what I should read for whatever audience might show up, I was standing in front of a classroom for the first time in three years. Standing in front of a classroom is a different experience altogether than standing on a stage. It's true that there's some element of performance in being a teacher... at least if you aspire to be a good teacher... but teaching implies a certain power structure that's absent in most any other similar situation.

My friend Allen, who I met when we shared an office at the now non-existent University College -- which eventually became the now extinct Center for Access and Transition -- at the University of Cincinnati.(Which, in an attempt to put that final nail in writing... their PhD in Creative Writing wasn't enough... recently announced a new School of Journalism, which will matriculate thousands of "content providers" for the corporate owned news services.) Allen helped get me an adjunct teaching gig at Chatfield College -- a job I eventually quit over a well-founded and articulate disagreement over their choice of ENG 101 text. (It's my assertion that all textbooks... the writing ones, at any rate ... are a waste of time, a waste of paper, and cost too god damn much... and lately, written so that any schmuck who can read at the 5th grade level is somehow qualified to teach college composition.)

Allen asked if I could visit his class and talk about poetry... so they could meet "a real, live, working poet." I said yes, primarily because Allen asked me and he's my friend. I also said yes because poetry gets a bad wrap. All the time. And it doesn't get a bad wrap anywhere worse than in Freshman Writing classrooms. In fact, other than Hallmark greeting cards, the other thing that has tried to strangle poetry in this country is higher education.



But I thought colleges and universities produced poets and protected the memory of poetry for posterity.

Sure. In the same way that the Nuremberg Trials protected the memory of Adolf Hitler.


Don't get me started.

The class was fun. I was nervous because I hadn't been in that Teacher Space in what felt like forever. Three years ISN'T that long of a time. But it is, in some ways. Especially when it comes to something like teaching.

But the class was gracious and after I talked a little about poetry and got a sense of what they knew... and what they didn't know... and after I forgot, because I was so twitterpaited. the difference between alliteration and assonance... the class and I read through the poems I had brought along. It was interesting, listening to them read my work. Of course, they were far more interested in what inspired the poems... which is something I generally don't talk about. The poems should speak for themselves, and if I had wanted to write a story, I would have. But I also think it's important to be a bit more gracious with students than with other people.

Later, at the reading, the thing I noticed was that not only was there not a lot of people, but that no one else was a reader. A handful of musicians... some pretty talented ones, I have to admit... had come to play and showcase their original pieces. There was, of course, only one problem.

Every song they sang was, for the most part, fucking depressing.

"Don't people write happy songs?" I asked Mark, who had come out to hear me read.

"When's the last time you listened to a happy song?"

I had to think about it. It had been a while. That didn't make me wrong, though. I knew for a fact there were happy songs. Somewhere. Big Rock Candy Mountain? "But still..."

"Shit," Mark said. "What was the last time you wrote a happy poem?"

He had me there.

When I stood up to read, the only person who clapped was Mark... because he's a good sport and because he's always been supportive of my writing and because, according to him, it had been 7 years since he heard me read. I had trouble believing it had been that long. But it had.

Reading in a bar... even one that isn't all that crowded... means belting it out over the noise. Because there's always noise. And when I was finished, Mark and a few other people clapped. Mark because he's supportive. The others... maybe because I was finished.

Later Mark stood up to read... if you've never seen Flanigan perform, you're missing out and you should be ashamed of yourself... and he was well received. I was told after, however, by the host, a musician named Lucas who sometimes sounded like John Mayer and sometimes a watered down Chris Daugherty, informed me that my friend Mark wanted me to get up and read again,

And so I did. I belted it out with a glass of beer in my hand. And while I'm still sure no one was listening, it was good to know that I could still do it. It was also good to feel like I could read somewhere other than the open mic I helped start. And it was good to know that sometimes, you have to read it like a junk yard dog to be heard.

[In my ongoing attempt to convince Greyhound Bus Lines that they should bus me around the country, it has been suggested to me that instead of asking people to call the corporate headquarters and talk to CEO David Leach, I should direct inquires to the Marketing Department. This, based on the Executive Bios, seems to fall under the purview of Ted. F. Burk, Senior VP of Corporate Development. If you like what you read here, please do one or all of these:

  1. Share the link with as many people as possible.
  2. Click on the DONATE button to keep me going.
  3. Call Greyhound (214-849-8000) and ask for Ted F.Burk. Tell him they need to bus me around. Tell them it's good PR. Tell the they need the help. Thanks!   
I'm leaving Cincinnati tomorrow morning and heading for Lexington. Look for my final Porkopolis chapter SOON]

Another Coffee Shop Poem

[Dedicated to Lou Schau. Also to John Briscoe, Tim, Steve, Ed, and Vaughn (aka The Graybeard Round Table). Also to Heather Houzenga.

I am not pretty enough for this place.

The cut of my clothes or my weeks old beard
gives me away. If I didn't have money for coffee
they would shoo me away in spite of the rain.
It doesn't take long for those urbane airs
to rub off; only two and half years
in corn and god country where they do not tolerate
too much polish (except for Sundays,
and even that must be the right kind and cut)
and they do not trust urban attitudes
and they do not forgive when you are not smart enough
to notice the difference.

Two people in line ahead of me.
Most of the tables are occupied
and I spy one empty seat:
one of the coffee leather chairs
in the corner. A business man
with next generation's iphone
and designer eye wear takes it first...
laying claim to it by laying his
expensive looking brief case
(also leather) before he
takes a place behind me in line.
If I am very lucky,
the barista will get his order wrong.
But I am not lucky, since she is too perky
to be incompetent.

The first one, a large woman in stretch pants,
pays in cash
    • exact change –
The skinny bitch in designer shoes behind her
taps her foot impatiently. When it's her turn, she steps up
quickly orders coffees with too many qualifiers
(half caf decaf slim skin super latte with a mother fuckin' twist)
pays with plastic, then moves forward. We have learned, have we not,
the way the conveyor belt works...

I step up, order a medium coffee
with an espresso shot, pay, step to the right. Skinny Designer Bitch
is waiting on a multiple order and his hogging the small round counter
with the cardboard coffee cup cozies.

My coffee is done before her order.
So that I do not burn my fingers,
I am forced to growl “Excuse me”
before I reach in front of her
to grab a cozy. (She looks up horrified,
briefly grabs her expensive purse
for fear I might steal it, use her
husband's credit cards
to order a breakfast sandwich.

She storms out not long after.
By the time I turn around,
a table has opened up,
and I sit down, trying to avoid eye contact.

There's only so much I can put up with
before the coffee kicks in.

25 January, 2012

Porkopolis: Intermezzo 1

Let everything happen to you.
Beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final. 
                                -- Rilke

[This post is dedicated to Mark Flanigan]

I finally made it downtown yesterday, for the first time since I've been back in Cincinnati. Although I've been back through town a few times since moving out to Arizona in 2005, I haven't had the opportunity to ride a Cincinnati Metro Bus. When Melissa and I lived here, we only had one car -- at first, a gray, pungent smelling Ford Tempo that we paid entirely too much for -- which put me on foot or on public transit most of the time.

I didn't mind. It takes more time to get around, and sometimes waiting at bus stop without a shelter can be uncomfortable when the weather's not great. And, depending on what part of town  I was in, there was a slim chance that I might end up witnessing either a gang related shooting or any number illicit activities. Some parts of Cincinnati, like every other American city, are open air markets for just about anything... except Crystal Meth, which I understand is very difficult to come by... or so says my friend, my comrade, and fellow writer, the Cincinnati wunderkind Mark Flanigan.

(If you haven't read Flanigan, then you need to get off your ass. Seriously. he's the one bright spot in what was once a nearly respectable alternative weekly, City Beat. And since they don't pay him what he's worth, the least you can do is go and read him.)

There have been some changes to the public transit system here. Even though the the dumb asses in charge killed one of the best ideas the city had when it halted the light rail project that would have actually made Cincinnati into something more like a modern city. Bit given that Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) managed to halt the Federally funded rail project that would have connected Cincinnati to Columbus and Cleveland, there's no reason why Cincinnati shouldn't follow suit.

(Because public transit, that's just SOCIALISM, plain and simple!)

Trying to put a positive spin public transit, though, the city has spend money on more Park and Ride Facilities in the outlying areas. One such place was built near where my mom lives in Anderson Township. And since I feel like I have enough experience to comment on all aspects of public transportation, let me say this:


The Anderson Park and Ride is a palace among bus depots. I only hope that I get to sleep in a place as nice as this in my travels.

Because Anderson is out the Burbs, the cost of a ride is more than being downtown. A single zone fair is now $1.75. From Anderson, it's $2.65. The 24 route itself hasn't changed much. It runs from Anderson to Government Square, squirreling through Mount Washington and Mount Lookout. Because I've spent so much time here, the landmarks and the city are wrapped in memory and heaviness. The London Bridge bar in Mount Washington. I went there once with my brother and they accused us of being cops. Lookout Joe's Coffee in Mount Lookout, where Melissa and I would buy coffee beans. (It's the best coffee in the city, no joke.) The VA Hospital, where I taught poetry to out patient recovering addicts. The University of Cincinnati, where I used to work as both a teacher and a tutor. Christ Hospital on Auburn Hill, where my father died.

We were poor here. Very poor. We lived in an apartment in Roselawn, above two storefronts: a hair salon and a Russian Deli that was probably more of a front for low grade porn than a purveyor of fine imported foods. It was next door to a gas station that became a car wash -- owned by those same Russians -- that was likely a laundering operation for the cash earned on the backs the young looking "car wash girls" in bikini tops who would ride off customers for 10-20 minutes and then return. Melissa worked at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. I was teaching part time, which meant I had all kinds of work in the Fall and hardly any in the Fall or Spring.

We were poor, but we were happy too. At least, I remember us being happy.  There's something about struggling early on in a marriage that helps bring two people together. In our case, we were poor and we were artists. That meant that not only were we struggling financially, but we were fighting the world, too. The world doesn't understand artists, only the commodified work artists create. And when you live in such a way -- when there's something different at the center of your life other than becoming a better consumer of useless crap and a more conscientious tax payer -- everyone always thinks you're a little crazy.

I've been thinking about that time in my life over the past few days, and I'm wondering if I haven't stayed here too long.

But the leg of my trip, until I get out to Virginia to see Stella, will be a mixture of old friends and a mausoleum of memories. So I don't expect my ruminating to improve any time soon.

I've not been exactly honest -- not that I've been lying, exactly, merely omitting in order to avoid talking about something I'm not sure exactly how to talk about. It's true that the idea for this trip has been brewing in my mind for a long time. I've always been restless by nature -- which has less to do with being a writer and more to do with something in me that's never content to be where I am. Something in me that's not made to fit into a life with an 8-5 job, two weeks vacation, a boss, a hierarchy, and a dream of retirement.

And I think it's probably that -- maybe that more than anything -- that's led me to this place.  Not only in a place where I'm traveling, trying to scratch an itch that never seems to be scratched; but in a place where I am walking through the world alone. Again.

If you're reading this and I haven't told you about Melissa and I splitting up, please understand. I made a deliberate choice to limit the amount of information I was putting out in the world... at least until I was out in the world. I'm not sure how two people who have as much in common as Melissa and I do can grow apart the way we have -- especially since we both tried. And tried. And tried. And tried.

There's a point, though, where you run out of energy. You get tired of feeling that odd absence of something that should not be absent.

Cincinnati is one of those places that I can't help but think about every other day I've ever been here. Home is like that, though.

23 January, 2012

Porkopolis, Part 1, Appendix: Socks

"Eat your dirty laundry." - Don Henley

"You can be a week beyond the need for a good bath, your clothes can be rags, and you could look like an extra from a zombie movie. But if you're wearing clean socks, you just feel like better." - Parsons Revised Rules For Living

So, my best laid plans on this Monday morning were waylaid by dirty socks.

That's right. As I mentioned in The Third Thing, I only brought four pairs of socks with me... that's three, plus the pair on my feet. The same goes with underwear. And one of those pairs of socks is actually a pair of wool socks... which are only wearable when it's very cold. And today, of all days, I ran out of clean socks... except for the aforementioned wool ones, and it's actually too warm to wear them in Cincinnati. (Huzzah!) So I have to wash my clothes. Luckily, I  have access to a washer and dryer, albeit space age ones that look more like Star Wars Escape Pods than home appliances.

"Look Sir! Lord Vader's dirty undies! I knew they were here somewhere! I can tell it's them from the oily skid marks!"
My original plan was to go back to the storage unit and get further along on emptying it out. I made good progress on that yesterday... and I will write about that at greater length in Porkopolis, Part 2: The Return of Creepy Louis. I was then going to maybe catch a metro bus downtown. I still plan on doing that... though I may not get to the storage unit today. I'm hoping to cross paths, at the very least with Aaron K, a friend and former colleague, at which point much beer will flow.

Not me. And not Aaron. But we both like our liquor.

The socks -- and indeed, the rest of dirty laundry -- are in the escape pod looking dryer. So that's progress.

But that's not what I really wanted to write about in this blog post. What I really wanted to talk about... again... is Greyhound Bus Lines.

Yesterday, in a conversation thread on Facebook, I made an allusion to... actually I came right out and said... that Greyhound hires psychotics to drive their buses.

I would like to state here and now that I was JOKING. Most, if not all Greyhound bus drivers have been nothing but professional in their behavior towards me during my various trips over the years. They're NOT psychotics. (In fact, I suspect the TSA snaps them up too quickly for any other company to consider using them.)

(Don't be afraid, ma'am. I was in a sorority in college.)

I would like to point out, however, that a recent article at addictinginfo.org reported that a bus driver left Occupy protesters stranded in Amarillo, Texas because he didn't agree with the OWS Movement.

I would also like to point out that I've been to Amarillo, in the Greyhound station. Being left there isn't as bad as, say, being dropped into Afghanistan, or working in an American factory in Juarez, Mexico. But at 1 AM, when the streets around the bus depot are are dark and you hear the rustling of 10 gallons hats and the rattling of wallet chains... be afraid. Be very afraid.

(It's probably not a bad place. And to be honest, that driver probably mistook  the protesters for Mexicans)

My point is this: In the wake of the public relations nightmare at the Amarillo Depot, Greyhound Bus Lines needs a champion... or, at least, someone who will make them seem less odious. And I humbly submit myself to CEO David Leach as a willing candidate.

(It gets easier each time. Can't ye tell??)

22 January, 2012

Porkopolis In the Ice and Rain: Part 1

"The shit that used to work won't work now..." -Warren Zevon, "My Shit's Fucked Up"

Cincinnati, Ohio --


Whenever I'm in Cincinnati, I always know exactly where I am. For all it's faults -- and it has more than a few -- Cincinnati has always felt like home to me.

I don't know how many times I've been in and out of the downtown Greyhound bus depot; when I think about it, the weight of them seem to amount to more than the actual number, leaves me feeling like I've been through the bus depot here more than anyplace else. Actually, my first long bus trip was on a Greyhound from New Orleans to Lexington, Kentucky. I don't think I left from the Cincinnati station until the move out to Arizona... and that was a three day bus trip.

But I digress... it's so easy to do when you fall out of time except for when you're catching a Greyhound bus.

Once we got east of Chicago and a little more south, the weather cleared up; and except for some traffic delay trying to get through traffic in downtown Indianapolis, the trip ran on time and I made it to Cincinnati without shitting myself or dying of thirst.

And allow me to shamelessly plug (in the hopes that perhaps, upon reading my well crafted words that Greyhound Bus Lines will see it to their advantage to let me ride for free and extol the virtues of seeing America via bus. Of course, if Amtrak gave me a the same deal, I'd just as quickly extol the virtues of seeing America by rail.

(Is that whoring? Maybe. But I'm trying to see visit my daughter, see America, and do it without going bankrupt. And while I do have what could be termed a "hitcher's thumb," I'm certain that I'm not pretty enough to be picked up by anyone except a serial killer who prefers chubby Irish German wayfarers.)

Not my thumb.
I can't tell you enough, faithful readers, just how much EASIER Greyhound Express Routes are. The buses are newer, have free wifi, and more leg room. Moreover, on this particular trip, the bus didn't have more than 10 people on it. So it wasn't a sardine can and I was able to stretch out in relative comfort.

(If this seems like solid schmoozing to you, please contact David Leach, President and CEO of Greyhound Bus Lines and remind him that they need all the good press they can get.)

Pulling into the Cincinnati Depot then, was only fairly anti-climactic... I disembarked, rushed in, and found the cleanest possible bus station toilet to take what can only be described as a near mystic shit.

(BTW: this is a random chart describing how hitcher's thumbs, a recessive trait, are passed on.  Non sequitur? Yes. Ask if I care. Go ahead. I wanted to find a picture of a nasty public toilet. This is better, no?)

Since my bus was a day earlier than I had told anyone, I was -- as you might recall, my few and far between faithful readers -- I was a bit stuck for a ride. My first attempt to get a ride had fallen through anyway, having been in touch with Alex the Feminist Super Warrior, a friend and former student who, for reasons still unclear, seems to enjoy hearing from me from time to time. Alas, she was scheduled to go to Columbus to some rally or meeting or Tits Only kind of gathering. And I knew better than to expect her risk pissing off feminists... because this is something that should only be done when ABSOLUTELY necessary.*

My second attempt was also a failure. I checked with my older brother. But he was in Atlanta on business.**

Considering the possibility that I would end up taking a taxi or... if  had no other choice, a Cincinnati Metro Bus, I put in a call to another old friend, Eric M. I met Eric when we were both teaching at Northern Kentucky University, and he later became my boss at the now defunct Center for Access and Transition at the University of Cincinnati.*** 

Luckily, Eric M. was home and nothing better to do -- or so he led me to believe and I allowed myself to think -- and he agreed to pick me up. 

It's always good to see old friends. Of course, I was famished, and thirsty, so Eric drove across the creek (aka, The Ohio River) to  Covington to The Cock and Bull. The Cock and Bull is located in the part of Covington referred to as The Mainstrasse. It's worth checking out. Not only does The Cock and Bull have enough beer for even the most casual beer aficionado^, but the menu prices are (city) reasonable.

This is only SOME of the on tap beer at the Cock and Bull. I would've posted a picture of the burger, but it didn't last long enough. It was delicious. Medium Rare, baby!)
 After a few beers and some much needed conversation, Eric M. drove me out to Anderson, one of the burbier places in the Greater Cincinnati Area. My Mom lives in Anderson, in a condo she bought a few years after my dad died. Eric M. has had a hell of year, and I've had what can be described as an interesting year... especially the last month or so... and we traded war stories and showed one another our scars. Eric M. is one of the majority of people who have, in one way or another, been screwed over by the economy. And because of the sheer number of Institutions of Higher Stupidity within the Greater Cincinnati Area, it's hard to make a decent wage as a college teacher. He's not married, which is probably one of the couple of things that's saving his ass from destitution. But he does have mortgage, a cat that's been old and sick for as long as I can remember, and very nearly Zen Garden -- pretty impressive for an Italian Catholic -- he spends a lot of time and money on when it's gardening season. He's also a good writer... when he actually writes. 

He's also had to deal with finding a the body of a dear friend and fellow tutor after he didn't show up for work. Adam, the friend ... though not a friend of mine ... committed suicide. I've sat with people when they died, and I've found people in conditions that could have led to their deaths. But I've been fortunate thus far, not to have to find a friend who killed himself. FORTUNATE.

Eric isn't the kind of person to call himself a victim of the times... he's too old fashioned and manly to do something like that... but I found it telling when a man whose ability as a teacher and a tutor impressed me early says to me 

"I don't know. I think I might be close to selling out."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"To the highest bidder," he said. 

[More later in the week, faithful few. I need to thank Eric Collins for his generous contribution to the re:visionary fund. If you like what you're reading at all, please think about donating to keep me on the road so I can keep writing about the America that everyone sees and no one talks about. Also: the phone number for the Greyhound Bus Lines Corporate Offices is: 214-849-8000]

*I know this from experience, dear readers. Oh yes. I know.
**My brother is one of those guys who gets Frequent Flyer Points and classifies the Hampton Inn as an "alright" hotel.
***This program was geared for students whose reading, writing, and math skills weren't sufficient to get into Freshmen General Ed classes. The program was eventually canned because UC cares more about looking good than education. If you are so inclined, email Greg Hand, VP of Media Relations, and tell him UC is proof of the decline of American Education.
^I define a beer aficionado as anyone who knows that Budweiser, while it's cheap and will get you drunk, really isn't beer. It's the chilled and homogenized piss of bourgeois beer makers who drink real beer and laugh at middle American schlulbs who don't know the difference.)

A Meditation on Nature and Experience

After so many days,
the ring cuts
into the skin. Or,
the finger grows
around it. Like saplings
grow round twine,

twisting naturally
unnatural. Let it grow
long enough, the two
are indistinguishable.

No one wonders
whether it
hurts the tree.

No one asks
whether the finger
will recover.

21 January, 2012

Ahead of the Storm

Shadows pass on the other side
of frosted glasses. I can make out
trees, the shapes of hills, traces
of Interstate 74. 45 minutes out
I know intuitively where we are,
silently lip the names of the places
like a prayer: a mantra meant
to keep myself focused.

                  Shadows punctuated
by glaring fast food signs. Rolling
down the hill, I start counting
the minutes until the cityscape
will come into view. Shadows
surrounding the lights of houses,
street lights. Anonymous beacons
for other weary travelers.

Shadows engulfing what I leave
behind me. Seven hours north, echoes
of tears where once there were kisses
the warmth of your eyes
the inadequacy of it all
the absurdity of it all. I let
the shadows wrap themselves around me
as the city comes into full view.

20 January, 2012

Harrison Street Station Run Through

"I love it when a plan comes together." - John "Hannibal" Smith 

The original title of this entry was going to be "2AM Harrison Street Station Blues." It's nice when a snazzy title happens to pop into the brain... I usually labor over, over criticize, change, despise, change and finally give up on titles. I've always struggled with titles in the same way I struggled with long division when I was a kid. I know it ought to be a simple thing, but dammit, my head just can't seem to wrap itself around it.

I was planning on writing it because even though I managed to get a ride into Chicago from Jim "No Toll Is Going To Slow Me Down" Beaudry, I had it stuck in my head that my bus was going to leave on Saturday, January 21st, and 12:15.

So there I was, sitting at one of the places available to plug in my netbook so that I could both charge the battery and check Facebook, listening to music through my ear buds, when I heard an announcement about an express bus to Cincinnati getting ready to board. "Hmmm," I thought. "If I had known there was a schedule for today, I would've probably taken that one instead."

I was about to go back to my music, my Facebooking, and my emailing, when I decided to go ahead and look at my ticket... the one I had bought a few weeks before and had sent to me in the mail. I looked at the date.

It read January 20th.

I looked at the date and time on the task bar. SHIT. That was my ride they were calling out.

I rushed packing up my computer, grabbed my other bag, and headed for the Express loading area. I looked at the date again, double checked it with my phone... because I didn't want to be the stupid schmuck  who tried to board the bus 24 hours early. My cell phone display confirmed that today is, for REALZ, January 20th.

I got in the short line, and when I got to the driver checking tickets, he didn't shoo me away; instead, he pointed to the bus and said "The same bus will take you all the way to Cincinnati."

So here I am, aboard the bus headed out of Chicago heading south and east. The world outside looks like a Cohen Bothers movie. All gray and white, to the point that it all looks almost dead body blue. (You remember that color from the Crayola box, right? ) The bus is on the empty side. I don't know if it will stay empty all the way to Cincinnati -- we have one short pick up stop in Indianapolis -- but so far, so good.

There's only three problems.

1) When I arrived at the Harrison Street station, they were cleaning the men's restroom. And by the time I noticed they were done, I had to get on the bus. That means at some point, I'll have to use the rolling outhouse in the back of the bus. If you here a large plop, that wasn't a mystic shit. It was me falling down the rabbit hole.

2) I didn't buy a bottle of water because I figured I had time.

3) I'm not quite sure who's picking me up in Cincinnati yet. Or, indeed, if I can prevail upon anyone in this weather to drive downtown and pick me up.

19 January, 2012

The Third Thing

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." -Lewis Carroll

Today's my last full day in Mount Carroll for a while. I packed what few clothes I'm bringing with me, a long with a couple of books. It would be nice to have a slightly larger bag, but my other option is a large Army duffle that I don't want to have to haul around or deal with. At some point, maybe a slightly larger bag. For now, it helps me decide, quite easily, what I'm taking and what I'm leaving here. I want to be able to keep things simple, keep it as light as possible, for when I'm walking; I'd also like to avoid having to ever check the bag when I'm riding a bus or train.

Other than the possibility of eating a bowl of the Soup Du Jour at Brick Street Coffee, I'm also pondering the number three.

In various mythologies, spiritual practices, and religious beliefs, the number three is sometimes imbued with mystical qualities. For that matter, mathematician Pythagoras considered it the perfect number, representing balance, harmony, and wisdom (because it encompasses the first two numbers perfectly.) The Holy Trinity in Christianity; clusters of three in Celtic religious art; the Triple Goddess; the Three Jewels of Buddhism; the Hindu Trimurti.

I'm leaving a bunch out. One particular treatment of the number three -- the one that weighs on my mind -- was mentioned briefly in a book called The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkinson. It's a brief mostly biographical sketch of the life and times of Poppa Neutrino, who among other things, tried to build boats from garbage and sail them.

One of Poppa Neutrino's boats

Poppa Neutrino

He was a well read, mostly self-educated man. At one point, he tried to start his own religion, The First Church of Fulfillment, and even had a store front church. One of the tenets of this religion comes back to ... you guessed it ... the number three. Essentially, Poppa Neutrino claimed that every person needs three things to be happy, but that it's a different three things for each person. He asserted that most people only really know two of the things they want, being stuck in a never ending dichotomy and lacking balance.

I'm no disciple, but it does seem to me that there's something to the simplicity of the idea. We're a culture that pads itself from unpleasantness with possessions. We love our stuff. And even when we say we don't care about our stuff, we don't do much about changing the fact that we still AMASS ridiculous quantities of stuff.

Anyone who knows me well knows I don't care much about stuff. I like my books, some clothes, a place to write. I have certain... we'll call them eccentricities ... when it comes to writing. But I don't feel like I'm tied down to my stuff, either.

And while I haven't quite figured out my three things... I think I have a handle on two of them... I am using the number three to dictate what I'm bringing with me to start.  Three pouches of extra pipe tobacco; three t-shirts (plus the one on my back); three warm sweaters (plus the one on my back); three pairs of socks and underwear (plus what I'll be wearing); an extra pair of jeans, an extra long sleeve shirt, and toiletries. Also at least three hats... two warm and one to keep the sun out of my eyes. I'm also taking my netbook and audio recorder, my copy of Ernesto Cardenal's Cosmic Canticles, Ed MacClanahan's I Just Hitched in From the Cost,  my copy of George Eklund's new chapbook, Wanting to Be An Element. I also have a pocket version of Whitman's "Song of Myself." And of course, some pens, my journal, and a fresh one to fall back on.

Not bad for a small bag, eh?

Well, a slightly bigger one would be nice. But I don't want one that's too nice, either. And I don't want to spend my limited travel funds on something as trivial as luggage.

But more than helping decide what to being with me, thinking about the number three helps to remind me that all journeys -- the ones worth beginning, at any rate -- are as much about the spiritual journey as they are the geographic one, or even the poetic one.

And that really, they're all more or less the same. And that to ignore any of them -- the spiritual, the poetic, or the geographic -- means a loss of balance, an absence of harmony, and an absence of wisdom.

(If you like it, please pass it on. If you really like it, consider donating a few bucks to keep me going. In any case, thank you.)

Last Full Day

The taste of last night's beer lingered this morning.
Three in the morning, I can't sleep. That voice
in my head, the one that's been telling me
This is not your home woke me
thumping like a timpani drum. The cats
are calm. The walls are thin
and, even with the plastic on the windows
lets the arctic weather in. Ice glazed
like thousand year old donuts
covering everything. Small tectonic glaciers
in the shape of tire tread and work boots
gray from the grating of the plow
and car exhaust line the streets. The voice,
it tells me, Wild birds know when to fly.
It's the caged ones that die. It's too early
for riddled wisdom, and I'm out of coffee.
Cold feet, bad TV, the memory of another
December fresh like the snow was
two days ago casts long shadows in fast dreams
in which the faces belong to strangers
and they all have something to tell me,
something I must remember,
something that is the piece to a puzzle
with the picture worn off. All that remains
is a sense memory and the voice in my head
No feeling lasts, it says. So it's better to feel it all.

18 January, 2012

Two Days Past (Winter 2012)

The streets have been cleared
and the previous night's freeze
packed the last snow fall,
eliminating the drifts covering
Illinois 64 that are impossible
to plan for and more dangerous
even, than the ice that may
or may be underneath.
The wind is blowing,
but the sun is shining
and people are out
and about because no one
expects it to last. Shopkeepers
keep the windows clear,
spruce up last month's goods,
because they know
another sunny day
may not come again
and it's the early bird
who gets the worm –
so said the preacher on Sunday.
Or was it that self help book on the bed side table?
The sidewalks are cleared –
except for in front of the houses
where the grandchildren
are too preoccupied to endure
10 minutes of the tundra.
Piles of the white stuff
around the bottom of street signs
and at cross walk corners
are there to remind us –
as if the arctic chill
and frozen snot weren't enough –
more winter is coming.

Wind Down Wind Up: Travel Plan Update

This one's for Dave Cuckler and Jim Beaudry.

So my plans -- in as much as I've made them, such as they are -- are set. I'm leaving Mount Carroll Friday Morning and riding back into Chicago with Melissa's Timber Lake Playhouse co-conspirator, Jim "The Glam Man" Beaudry.  Once I get into the city, it's another hop skip and a jump and I'm on a 12:15 pm bus on Saturday from the Harrison Street station that will put me in the Nasty Nati around 7:05 pm that night. Pretty sweet, these express routes.

I can't take credit for discovering them, though. Melissa found out about them first. And since it would cost me more than $15 to drive to Cincinnati, I consider it a pretty good deal. Also, it'll be on one of the newer buses... they smell less like dirty ass, month old sweat,  and bus rape.

The first leg of the trip with be a nice refresher through past places, visiting family and friends I haven't seen in entirely too many years. A few days in Cincinnati, hoping to hoist a few beers and take in the city that I have, off and on over the years, called home. I have one actual task to accomplish while I'm there -- emptying out the storage unit we've been paying $50 a month to rent since we moved to Phoenix. That will be an odd and (probably) blog worthy experience.

This leaving will be one of the most difficult, in recent memory. I've said that before, but I've trying to figure out why. I'm not much of a sentimentalist. I've made friends here, friends I will miss; but I also know I'll see them again. Whenever I move I always just assume I'll see my friends again. Somewhere. Sometime.

I've always believed that. And while some might consider that an aberrant version of sentimentality, it's not. Anyone who knows me knows I'm lousy at keeping in touch. It's not that I don't try. But I think it's important to try and live life where you are, in the now. That doesn't mean I don't often think about friends I haven't seen; I do. Everyone I love, friends and family, are in my thoughts constantly.

And that's really sort of the point, isn't it? When you've been fortunate enough to find people who you consider friends and who honor you by thinking of you as a friend, they have a permanent impact on your life. I've moved around enough and had enough leavings that I'm used to taking my friends with me, calling when I can, trying to see them in the future if at all possible. (Which is why the first part of my trip will be to revisit old places and old friends... because I never say good-bye. I only say "See you later." or "Later" when I'm into the whole brevity thing...)

Leaving Phoenix was difficult, but not really. I had friends there. I still consider them my friends. I assume I will see them again, and maybe I will on my extended jaunt.

But the leaving Mount Carroll is a different experience. First of all, this is the first place I've lived in several years where I actually invested something. I decided to care about the place.

I was sitting around, hating it here... not re-adapting all that well to small town life. I hadn't really invested much of myself while we were living in Phoenix. I was teaching, and I was invested in my students. I was even invested -- early on, anyway -- in my professional life. But when you live in a city like Phoenix/Tempe, you don't need to invest in the same way that need to when you live in small town; especially one on the verge of change like Mount Carroll is. I decided to care.

And I don't regret it. Not one bit. I like to think I've had some kind of positive influence on the place.  I've met some amazing people who reminded me that talent exists in places you wouldn't expect. Living here has helped me to remember that I shouldn't take anyplace or anyone for granted, and that people can still be good (and snarky, and back biting, and hypocrites, and power mongers. But they're everywhere, and most of them have political aspirations.)

I was drinking Monday night with my friend, Dave Cuckler -- one of those talented people I previously eluded to. We were drinking at the bowling alley -- the place that has, over the last year or so, become my regular haunt -- and watching the Monday night men's league, which I used to be a part of, finish up. I was telling him about the mixed sensation of leaving. Dave pointed out that not only have I invested myself in my life here, but that the town -- or at least certain segments of it -- accepted me.

Which is, of course, why this leaving has been so strange. I haven't felt this level of acceptance since graduate school, maybe. Before that, never. After that, maybe some in Cincinnati. But not the same. And even though I have railed against local and county leaders in the press, even though I despise the winters here, and even though I had to let people down by quitting the bowling league... which, considering my average, is no loss to anyone... I will take the warmth of that acceptance with me when I go.