31 March, 2012

The Long Haul: Paul H.

 For the money, for the glory, and for the fun. Mostly for the money. - The Bandit. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

If you think this country is bad off now, just wait till I get through with it. - Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup (1933)

"I think I'm going to do it," he said as soon as we stepped up into the orange truck cab. I'd never been in one before. The closet I'd ever come to being a truck driver was when I delivered newspaper stacks for The Prairie Advocate News; and that truck was only a small box truck that didn't require a CDL. Paul* has been driving big rigs on and off for 20 years. And event though he has driven for other companies in the past, now he's basically working for himself.

"You're going to do what?"

"I know it's too late THIS time," he said. "But I think... with the ideas I have... that I'm going to run for President."

He said this with all earnestness, and I took him as seriously as I could. He and I had talked politics, culture, writing, and other miscellanea over the years. We've disagreed on some pretty large issues over the years; but he is at least thinking about things, and he is willing to articulate his views and discuss them.

I mentioned that the problem with running for President is that even if he ever got elected -- which, unless he finds a billionaire angel benefactor, would be improbable.

Which, to be honest, a little sad. I wish we lived in a country where every kid could grow up to be President; but the money changers have their spindly fingers tied around everything. (And if you think about it, they have more or less since the beginning.)

I did recommend that he consider running for Senator instead.

At one point, somewhere between Columbus and Cincinnati, we talked about the gold standard. He realizes that going back on gold would be a disaster; but he also pointed out that if that were to happen, and the economy collapsed and we had to go back to a barter system, that guys like him would be okay.

"I can do things with my hands," he said. "I can repair engines. I can build things. I'll be okay."

It's others... "college graduates that don't know how to DO anything" who would be in trouble.

It's argument I've heard before, and one that hits a bit close, since I'm pretty much a scribbler. Guess I could barter with bad poetry for all occasions. But given my disenchantment with higher education, and the fact that somebody somewhere has to be hording all that gold people sell to those places that promise "top dollar", I do find myself wondering how all the chips will fall... if, indeed they do.

But down deep, Paul -- like everyone I know and consider a good friend -- is a shameless romantic. And while he may not admit it, he's something of an idealist, too. (This is a conversation I've had often with many people. You don't need to be an optimist to be an idealist. As a matter of fact, part of being an idealist is understanding that the world is not as it could be... which, if you think about it long enough, will piss you off.)

Where we differ, maybe, is that he, like many people, still thinks the institution is salvageable and that people are an increasingly annoyance.

And when I say he's a shameless romantic, I mean it in the best sense of the term. Part of the reason I know this because he could be making more money doing something else; but instead he's an independent contractor, trying to work his way up to buying his own truck. He likes not having to listen to anyone else... most of the time. And like me, he's always had that odd little itch.

And like me, he soothes his itch with the romance of the open road... that long lost American Mythos which dictates thus:

If where you are isn't working, go somewhere else.  Be someone else. Do something else.

The difference is that he still tries to have a home to go home to, and I think most  every place is as good (and as bad) as every place else. He and his wife Cathy live in the Cincinnati area, and because he likes being home on weekends -- and because his wife would prefer to see him every once in a while -- Paul sticks to local delivery routes.

On this particular day, the route would take us to Dayton, up to to Columbus, and back down to Cincinnati -- loading up for a Sunday run up to Chicago where he'll empty it out and pick up something else. He hauls what's referred to as "Special Goods."  This time, he picked up 4 hospital beds, some medical equipment that I thought looked like the machines used to separate plasma from blood (having been hooked to them in the past, selling my vital fluids, they looked familiar), two busted up motorcycles (a Police Edition Harley and a Ducati, neither of which deserved the rough treatment they received prior to being shipped), an ice cream machine, and 5 office copiers. I feel like I'm forgetting something. The point is, what Paul hauls stuff that isn't easy to pack and doesn't always fit into the trailer very well.

I've never asked him, but I suspect that Paul first thought about being a truck driver the around the same time I did... the first time I watched B.J. and the Bear. The 1979-1981 television show, staring Greg Evigan, was a cultural bubble in reaction (probably) to the Burt Reynolds/Sally Field/Jerry Reed/Jackie Gleason iconic movie Smokey and the Bandit.. which also spawned another cultural bubble, the popularity of the CB or Citizens' Band, radio. 

Which, I think, has gotten a bad wrap in the from some factions of the cultural elite. The most you can say about it is that it's been surpassed by cell phones as a common form of communication. But as any trucker or Ham Radio operator will tell you... a cell phone tower can go down. Radio waves are just floating around, and all you need is the right receiver to pick them up. No 4G required, I guess is my point.

The world is a different thing when you're sitting in a big rig. You have to keep your distance (You're supposed to, anyway.) and you have to be aware at all times of how big you are and how small everything else is. On the other hand... other drivers sometimes take this for granted and don't always pay attention.

One of the reasons-- other than getting to see an old friend -- that I jumped at the chance to ride with Paul on his Friday route was that while I long ago figured out that my wanderlust is a different sort of thing than can be fixed behind the wheel of a behemoth, there's still a 10 year old boy inside me that wants to ride in big trucks, be a train conductor in a stripey hat, and ride in the fire truck just to turn on the siren. 

I did, actually, once ask a Lexington Police officer if he could turn on the siren. Of course, I was riding in the back. And I was handcuffed. But that's another story. He rejected my request, by the way.

Part of was also curious about how a guy like Paul -- engaged in a job that, some have argued, does more harm than good to the environment -- is getting along and moving forward. Especially given that diesel prices are keeping pace with gas prices and there's no sign that it will get better any time soon. He defends what he does by pointing out that over the road is still the fastest way to get stuff from Point A to Point B. He also makes other dubious claims, like big rig engines actually clean the air in more polluted cities like Chicago and L.A. 

He's also enough of a car guy to keep track of some of the work being done to run trucks cleaner while keeping it affordable. We talked some about natural gas and propane run trucks on the west coast. (an idea that seems too dangerous to take hold). 

Underlying his defense of his livelihood, though, is an understanding that it's not just a paycheck he's defending. It's a way of life that could be disappearing...or, at any rate, could be changing to such a degree that it may not ever be the thing he wants it to be. It's already more expensive, more complicated, and dealing with increased scrutiny and oversight than at any time in the past.

 And those are things that make independent people nervous. Maybe with good reason. Maybe enough to believe that being President of the United States will actually help.

[Thanks for reading. And remember, if you like it,
  1. Pass the link on. Copy and Paste. Go ahead. 
  2. Click the donate button and help keep me traveling. I'm headed out again in a weeks... Greyhound ticket bought to get as far as Louisville, KY, at the tail end of a slingshot back through the Bluegrass (I promised) before heading west.
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I'd like to get enough money in my travel fund or convince them to give me a 60 Day DISCOVERY PASS

Thanks again for reading and for your generous support.


*I should also mention that I've known him for nearly all of that 20 years.

29 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, 2.2: Out There - The Mount Carroll Reprisal (Coda)

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx

The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop... - The 

(Continued from here.)

My brother's visit was One Night Only, which meant that I had to limit his cultural exposure to things going on in town. Normally, I would have taken him to Poopy's in Savanna. The food there is good, and with the unseasonably warm weather there would be plenty of bikes and biker chicks to check out.

And if there wasn't maybe there would at least be some midget wrestling.

No. Really.

And for the record... they're not LITTLE PEOPLE. They're midgets. "Little People Wrestling" sounds like some daycare center  program. Midget wrestlers are  a tad mean and tend to walk around daring people to step on them. Really. One glared at my dear old mother on one of her visits.

Nope. Too close to tell...
Is that Professor Chaos?


He arrived a little after four and I waited for him outside the Kraft Building. I was standing there talking to my friend Kendra and her 6 year old son, Michael. Michael is a smart, sensitive, gentle boy who happens to be built  like a mini tank. (He is, in many respects, the newer model year of his father Kerry, who is also a friend of mine. And when you see either of them in your periphery, charging towards you with the intent to give you a hug, there's still that natural instinct to flinch....) I watched Brian walk purposefully down the sidewalk to the corner, cross at the cross walk and then cross again to meet me in front of the building. There was little to no traffic, only a few cars parked along Main Street.

"I could've diamonded* that, couldn't I?" was the first thing he said to me.

Yes, I told him. Then we shook hands and I introduced him to Kendra and Michael. And after a few minutes of chit chat, I decided to take him down to the bowling alley in order to check out a bit of local flavor.

In Mount Carroll, I could generally be found in one of  two places when I wasn't striking terror in the hearts of petty small town and county officials: 

  1. The Kraft Building (the cultural monosyncratic infidibulum)
  2. The Bowling Alley (the delubrum discordia** of Mount Carroll, Illinois)
  3. The House on Pumpkin Hill, formerly known as Home.^

I could, on occasion, be found at Bella's enjoying their respectable selection of bottled beer, or at Stone House Fudge Shop talking to John (The Diabetic Blues Playing Fudge Man. After all, if you made delicious fudge and couldn't eat it, wouldn't you play the blues??). I could sometimes be found at Charlie's catching up on the gossip (because all the news is known two days before the paper comes out) as well as finding out who's got the cancer, who's died, and whether they died from the cancer or some other god awful thing. In the rural hinterlands of corn and gawd country, the only sure thing is death. Some welcome it, some avoid it as long as they can; but in the end, everyone ends up under a marker on Boot Hill with a brief and restrainedly written obituary in the local papers. Unless, of course, you were in your later years one of those who joined a group... like The Rotary or the Friends of the Library or some church committee or another...  that merited having your named embossed on a bench, lamp post, or dusty plaque in some dark corner of City Hall as an emolument to all the hard work you managed to avoid doing by joining a club and going to meetings to play Committee of the Mountain^^.

 But since I've learned that most of the time, the best way to hide is to hide out in the open -- because when everyone knows where you are, they generally don't make their business to seek you out, all the way to the ends of the Earth (gas prices permitting) -- I tended to stick to same couple of places.

And since returning, I found myself sticking to more or less the same pattern -- the only things that changed being where I slept and that I was no longer a thorn in the side of various big fish in that itty bitty puddle. I was at the coffee shop, aping their free WiFi, drinking coffee, and trying to get some writing done... managing to get two out of the three accomplished.

The bowling alley was all but deserted; Dave and Billy were there, and Ashley the bartender would be in around 5. My plans -- in as much as I had them -- was to have a few drinks at the bowling alley and then wander down to Bella's to listen to Bruce Kort play. But I thought it might be fun -- or at least interesting -- for my older brother to see some something of what my life in Mount Carroll was like, especially since he was there to help me cart off the few material possessions that remained from it.

I, of course, ordered my usual -- beer and a shot of bourbon. In this case... and in general when drinking economically ... beer meant Bud Lite which, anyone knows, isn't really beer. But it was cheap, and it was draft, and when you drink it cold, you can almost forget that Budweiser has done more to kill the production of beer in this country than all the bottles and cans of bee it has sold since the end of Prohibition.

I offered to buy Brian a shot, too ...solid Kentucky bourbon... but he declined, saying he never mixed. Well, I understand. I used to not mix too. It's the smart way to drink, even if it's not the most expedient.

He ordered Smithwick's... a good bottle ale, manufactured by Guinness , the bowling alley had only recently started carrying. I drink it when I can afford it or when it's on draft. (The latter is too much to hope for.) I introduced him around, and we chit chatted and I let him take in the atmosphere. 

Around 4:30, Dave wife Julia walked in and sat down. Dave served her one of her usuals -- a Corona with lime. After she finished, she and Dave left, but said they would meet Brian and I down at Bella's. We had a few more drinks, I traded smart ass comments with Ashley, and then we walked up Market street and around the corner to Bella's on Main Street.

With the warmer weather, Friday nights at Bella's were generally a little crowded -- much to the annoyance of some prominent members of the Chamber of Commerce who wanted to keep any business out of town that might take some of their malingering trade. I wasn't too worried, though, because I knew Bob was working and Bob would make sure there was SOMEPLACE for us to sit.

Bob is one of those people who's character is weaved into the fabric of the town -- whether he likes it or not. Lucky for him that he's been around enough and done enough and been enough that he's mostly comfortable with that fact. He's a local boy who left, went West, won, lost, came back, lost some more, and is coasting into being One of Those Guys that people will long associate with the town. The restaurant that bears his last name -- Sieverts -- is still open, though under different ownership than his parents, who he actually came back to take care of and ended up burying. Like Jim Warfield, the owner/proprietor/tour guide/resident of Raven's Grin Haunted House, Bob is one of those guys who knows you, and if you're from Mount Carroll, he knew your parents, and maybe your grandparents. And if he didn't know them, he knew enough people that he heard about them. Bob is one of those people that are a natural and positive  byproduct of a small, isolated place.

The only problem he has right now is that whenever people walk into Bella's, where he's a waiter, and don't know any better, they think he owns the place. 

True to form, even though all of the booths were books, one table was open, and it ended up being the perfect size.

Brian and I sat down, and waited on Dave and Julie. We still had about an hour before Bruce was going to play. After Dave and Julie arrived, we ordered the first bottle of wine. Eventually, my friend Kerry -- father of the aforementioned smart, sensitive mini tank Michael -- showed up. We drank, ordered dinner, waited for Bruce to begin. Eventually he hauled his equipment in and set up in the small corner stage facing one of the street windows.

We ate, we drank, we listened to some great picking. At one point, Dave got up and played a few songs. As I've mentioned before, the sound of his playing and singing is one of those sounds that I associate with Mount Carroll. It's a good association. And, it's damn fine music.

At one point -- in my honor -- played "Way Out There." Anyone who's ever seen the movie Raising Arizona is familiar with this song. Actually, the song is much older than that: 

The night ended well. Three bottles of wine, a well prepared meal, some amazing music, and the company of  friends and family. There's very little else in the world that a person needs; because while I may be (and probably always will be) money poor, I am rich in friends.

I was also very rich in the hang over department the following morning, which delayed our departure by a few hours. But, one of the advantages of being a Man of Leisure is that I can generally allow myself to sleep until the worst of it's over.

This leaving was odd, because although it definitely had a more definite feel to it... how could it not, with the Batmobile loaded to bear with my shit... I also felt like I'd be back and the circumstances would be different.  It may be that Mount Carroll isn't what the universe has in mind for me right now... if in fact there is some mind at work behind all of this. But it is the sort of the place that's nice to return to when solace, quietude, and good friends are called for.

[Thanks for reading. And remember, if you like it,

  1. Pass the link on. Copy and Paste. Go ahead. 
  2. Click the donate button and help keep me traveling. I'm headed out again in a weeks... Greyhound ticket bought to get as far as Louisville, KY, at the tail end of a slingshot back through the Bluegrass (I promised) before heading west.
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I'd like to get enough money in my travel fund or convince them to give me a 60 Day DISCOVERY PASS

Thanks again for reading and for your generous support. I love you guys and gals. I really mean it. Ok. I might love the gals a little more... but in a different way. Promise.]

*diamonded: the ability to cross a four way intersection from one opposing corner to the other opposing corner. This petty much only exists in small towns that don't have stop lights, and is otherwise a horrible idea to attempt.

**delubrum discordia: Shrine to Discordianism. Discordianism is a religion and school of thought founded in a bowling alley, and may have involved the ingesting of hallucinogenic drugs. Read up on it though. It's not quite as laid back as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, but it's worth a gander.

^Home: for a proper understanding of this term, please consult Bill Monroe's version of The Wayfaring Stranger

^^ Committee of the Mountain: For those unfamiliar with the reference, consult your local ordinances, state constitution and coded statues, and U.S. Law in conjunction with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Go one. I'll wait..... You back? Ok. All that wordy bullshit? That's the unhappy result of playing Committee of the Mountain. If you're still unclear, go to any town or city council meeting anywhere. I recommend a minimum of two beers and two shots of good Kentucky Bourbon before the meeting to steel your nerves. If you sit through the entire meeting without leaving or ranting like a pissed off banshee, go out and good and drunk after. You deserve it.

27 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, Part 2.1 : More Peripatetic Ruminations

This don't look like no expressway to me! - Joliet Jake Blues

Not my brother's car. But I think he sees it this way. In his head.
The fundamental problem with returning is leaving.

After three weeks of trying to put off packing and trying to decide what to do with my stuff, I managed to get my older brother to drive up to corn and gawd country to pack up the few possessions I have then take me and them back to Porkopolis, where all of my books could be stored in the same place for the first time since 2006.

Which, of course, makes me wonder, again, why I KEEP all the books, since I haven't seen most of them except in passing for a while. 

I mean, I carry some reading material with me when I travel... I'll be taking a few different ones when I head back through Kentucky and westward... but I'm going through this process -- yet of again -- of debating my attachment to things I may not see for a while. 

After all... shouldn't someone get something out of them? All they do now is sit in boxes in the rafters of my mom's garage.

But I'm not sure I'm ready to give them up, really. Or maybe I am, if I thought they would be read and enjoyed and not be collecting dust somewhere.

Even for books, though, I didn't have that many to take down to Cincinnati. Three medium-sized boxes, an apple box, and a milk crate. Then there were two other boxes of random stuff, a duffle bag for my clothes, a fishing pole, two portable typewriters, and my cast iron pots.

Don't get me started on the typewriters. It's another one of those things I like. The old manual kind, that make noise and don't forgive mistakes with a damned delete button. You had white out. Later, a correction ribbon. But mostly, you had to get your fingers to do the right goddamned thing. Or you typed the page over. And over. And over.

Yes. I did a lot of that. At first.

Attachment to things in general is one of those issues I don't have. Yes, I like my books. I like to collect rocks and typewriters. Certain objects have certain meaning for me. But I've also let go of a hell of a lot over the years -- books and furniture and appliances and utensils of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. You have to be a bit cut throat when you're moving and have limited money, time, and space. I've found, though, that most things can be replaced.

Because, as some sage or another said, nothing lasts. 

And if I've learned any lessons lately, it's that one.

Which, of course, leads us back to the story wherein my brother drives 7 hours in his Infiniti (aka The Batmobile) from Northern Kentucky (it's still basically Cincinnati, let's be honest; but don't tell his wife. She's convinced otherwise.) to the Northwestern corner of Illinois (that, except for an arbitrary boundary and the will of some very opinionated Western Illinois University fans, would be Iowa.) to pick me and my few remaining possessions up. 

After I approached him about the prospect (aka sent him a polite but younger brotherly text) his first response was

"How much stuff? Will it all fit in my car?"

Fair question. I had sort of hoped he would bring the family SUV. It's not as cool as the Batmobile, but it is more spacious. On the other hand, my sister-in-law has a life, too (she coaches something called Forensics*, which has absolutely nothing to do with corpses) and probably needs the SUV to cart around kids and the bloodless and dismembered bodies of anyone who suggests:
  1. That Harry Potter is lame.
  2. That Twilight is even more lame.
  3. That Johnny Depp is not really a pirate.

I assured him -- because I was almost 99% certain myself -- that everything would fit. After it was all packed and hauled downstairs from the space that had been my Cubby (aka, my writing space) to the summer porch so that it would be easier to load the car, the pile wasn't as big as I thought it might be. 

(For those not in the know, that's an enclosed porch that could double as a room in the summer. You know... before central air. Before air conditioning. Before the electric fan.) 

A few days later he got back to me (via text) asking if there was a hotel in town. I pondered. The two times my mom visited, she stayed at a Super 8 in Savanna, 10 miles away. I mentioned that to him, but I also suspected that he wouldn't want to drive 10 miles after hanging out and doing a bit of drinking. For one, there's nothing else to do in Mount Carroll on a Friday night. For another, I wanted my friends to meet Brian. In the scenario in which I am Sherlock Holmes, he's Mycroft. Not only because he's OLDER but because he's probably one of the smartest people I know. And I say that knowing full well that I have some pretty smart friends. 

Also, in most social situations, people are generally surprised to discover we're related. I often refer to him as "The Clean Shaven, More Successful Parsons."

My mother hates that particular description. Not because he's not both clean shaven (he managed to dodge the gorilla gene) or successful; because he's certainly both. She doesn't like when I describe my brother like that because the implication is that I'm neither clean shaven (I'm not) or nor successful (this depends entirely on your notion of success. I think I'm enormously successful. My old high school guidance counselor might have other ideas.)

I also mentioned that there was a Bed and Breakfast up on the hill near the cemetery, and an older hotel in town, The Hotel Glenview, which some people I know have been refurbishing. The downstairs is a combination of Dabluz, a shop for mostly handmade stuff (my friend Heather Houzenga sells some of her wares there) and The Driftless Area Stillroom Wine and Cheese Shop... which is one of those nice little places no one thought had a chance in a place like Mount Carroll, where cheese is individually wrapped and wine is served in with communion wafers.

After mentioning the Glenview, he asked if there was a bar. (After all, he IS my brother.) I told him no, he would be walking distance to both the bowling alley, and Bella's... as well as two other bars with plenty of local color, if he was so inclined. So he checked it out. Then he texted me back that he reserved a room.

"They know you there," he told me.

"Yes." I replied. "That may not work in your favor though."

* Forensics actually refers to a form of rhetorical argument. It's a combination of theater and classical discourse, most often associated with the legal profession. My sister-in-law, Jonna, is no slouch at an argument... proof positive that she belongs in the family... and her kids won this trophy


which... and this is one of those ways in which the area she lives is VERY MUCH like Kentucky.... will not be displayed at the school because they're too cheap and too focused on boy's athletics to build a proper trophy case. Bozos. Congrats, by the way to her and her kids... one of whom is my niece, Brianna.

25 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, Intermezzo 3: The Last Supper (A Poem)

You cooked dinner and I tried not to notice the small differences
since I'd been gone. Mexican Night: simple taquitos.
Corn. Black beans. Tomatoes. Over lean beef that will inevitably
over cook. We joke that food is never spicy enough since leaving Arizona.

The cat is acting needy, you tell me. We talk about our days,
the current and those that have past in between the last time
we sat down together and supped. There is no blood here,
and no body either, and no more salvation.

Keep the conversation light. Polite and pleasant.
Your voice echoes in my mind, back when you said
we were both rational... that we were both reasonable.
It didn't have to be difficult, you said.

I find myself faking chit chat and laughter
as I pile on the red pepper. The burn
always makes it better, keeps me present
in these moments I want to fall into my emotions

like one more failed baptism. It'll be okay, I tell myself
if I avoid your eyes – eyes that have been the only ones
that ever really saw me. I wish the water were bourbon
and then I could be a demon

and it would all be so much easier
and you could remember
and I could forget, just for a moment
that this is something we both need.

The disbursement of things has been easy, at least.
Packing at the end of a relationship (I'd forgotten)
always brings out my unsentimental side,
makes me want to burn all the memories out of my brain,

start fresh. But that only works in the mythology of crash and burn.
This is the one about 40 years of wandering the desert,
being led by columns of smoke and fire and praying for manna.
So there's no point in squabbling over DVD's and kitchenware.

Sitting on the porch after dinner smoking, you ask me
if I feel better. I confess I've stayed too long, that Out There
is calling me. My discomfort shows. We speak casually
of divorce, like butchers dismember carcasses for steak.

I can hide behind the pipe smoke
so long as I avoid looking in your eyes,
where I might be tempted to say
Save me. Take, eat, this is my heart. 

[I normally post poetry here. But since the poetry is tied to the traveling and experiences of the travel log, I'll be posting more of it here... especially as it relates.

Thanks for reading. Remember, if you like what you read:
  1. Pass the link.
  2. Hit the donate button on the right and contribute to the Travel Fund. 

Every little bit helps, especially as I gather steam to push westward.]

20 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Plenteous Nature of Obligation (A Pocket Journal Transcription/Explication)

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. - The Rolling Stone

Sunday, 18th March, 2012

On some level, life ends up being about who you owe.

Sense of obligation leads around, determines where we go, how we live ... or how we don't ... what kind of jobs we take or don't take. No matter how independent we are, so much of our lives come back to our relationships with others, our obligations to one another.

Started out the day yesterday  at the bowling alley. Drank a few Guinness and had 2 shots of bourbon. I've been staying away from the costlier stuff as a general rule... even bourbon. Which, being back in Mount Carroll, isn't easy.

I've been drinking of course. Dave has been kind in regards to covering quite a bit of my bar tab and Billy's always good for a few in reciprocation. I've paid for some, too; but what I've paid doesn't nearly cover what I've been drinking.

Wanted to splurge a little, though, it being St. Patrick's Day and all. But I was going to take it easy, too.... or, at the very least, PACE myself. (In this, I was largely successful, believe it or not. Penny pinching and making sure I'll be be able to travel are far more effective motivators than worries about my health and welfare.

[I know I'm not a martyr; I never died for anyone but me. - Over the Rhine]

Hung around the bar even after Dave and Julie disappeared into the basement with Billy, Jeanine (Billy's wife), and J.R.

[The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all undimmed. -Fortune Cookie]

After a bit Doug and Laurel come in for the corned beef and cabbage*. (NOTE: Doug is on city council and a die hard historical preservationist. His wife Laurel's business has something to do with some facet of community and economic  development -- not here as much as other places. She and her partner Ernst are essentially hired guns. They dig up and apply for grants, put together project proposals, look at the viability of business projects based on the area the business is thinking of building in. And that's only the stuff I've overheard them talking about At Brick Street Coffee.)  So I moved from the bar to the back table where they sat down, chit-chatted with them while they ate. Doug ordered the salad bar and made a respectable looking salad loaded down with ham and bacon. Laurel ordered the corned beef and cabbage, though she pretty much only ate the cabbage, potatoes and carrots.

We talked a little about my leaving out (again), and Doug tried once again to talk me into staying. Laurel seems much more at ease with people coming and going than Doug... which I find interesting since he prides himself on being  progressive and forward thinking. You'd think he would be more transition-minded of the two.

But then again, he is a die hard preservationist... which is sort of ironic on the surface.

"You're a local fixture," he told me. This was maybe the 2nd or 3rd time he talked to me about staying on since I came back from my Eastbound jaunt. The times before he tried to appeal to my sense of community and obligation -- which are legitimate tactics to use, since I do feel like I'm a part of the community here... which  in part means I have incurred a certain sense of obligation to the place.

[I carry my home on my back. But the cops only frown every time I put it down. - Utah Phillips]

It's difficult to explain the exegesis of why I have to go to people who aren't similarly afflicted. Doug and Laurel did their share of bumping around early in their marriage, but they have been settled here in Mount Carroll, undertaking the renovation and preservation of their historic house on Main Street for 15 years. They understand what Melissa sometimes calls "being a gypsy." But this itch is an entirely different thing. And generally, the only people I have found who really understand it are those who feel it, too.

[I don't know if I'll ever find the way back home. -Utah Phillips]

And it's not just the fact that Melissa is here. It would be relatively easy to avoid her, if that was what I really wanted... even in a town as small as this one. It's still an emotional mind fuck when I see her and talk to her, and I have put off going over the house to finish packing just because my natural impulse is to avoid the emotional pain of visiting A Place That Used To Be Home.  But I knew I'd have to deal with that before I came back here. And really, it's a problem that's all about me -- which leads back, of course, to onfree of the factors that contributed to the end of the marriage.  That I make most things about me and only me... whether they really are or not. 

I have not always been mindful of my obligations. And though I do try, sometimes that underlying selfishness bubbles up to the surface. It's something I work on, something I am trying to be ever present and thoughtful of these days. And it is primarily because I've been traveling and writing and being reminded of just how lucky I am to have a multitude of friends and of how good-hearted people can be if they're given the chance that I can come back here and be aware -- sometimes awkwardly -- that I carry the weight of certain obligations. 

One of those being that I have to be honest about my part of the blame in the breakdown of my marriage to Melissa. This was brought back, clear as the sky is today, when I woke up with a hang over and the residue of a feeling that I had felt a lot over the last year and a half or so. That feeling of being an asshole. Primarily because, while I was certainly drunk enough prevail upon the men's toilet at the bowling alley to vomit in, I wasn't drunk enough to pass out. The drink rarely makes me sleepy. Actually, it usually does the exact opposite. I was sitting up, by myself, trying to get myself to sleep. And then I started to think about things. About being here. About needing to get away. About how what we want and what we need isn't always the same thing. Oh, I'm a fucking genius when I drink. And what do you think this genius did at 1 in the morning?

You know it. I texted Melissa to see if she was awake, knowing there was a better than average chance that she would be.

You awake?
whats up
Nothin. Me.
What did u want? U asked if I was up?
Sorry. I'm just awake. Ignore me.
Stop treating me like i chose this.
That's fair. But stop treating me like I wanted it.
You did.
Are u drunk?
 Been drinking, yes. Don't wanna fight.
I didn't choose either.
I dont either. Why did u text me?
Sorry. I have moments. It'll pass, I guess.

If nothing else, my temporary return has been effective at reminding us both what it is about me that pushed her away. Clarity isn't always kind. 

The conversation goes on a bit after this, but the gist of it was: Don't be an asshole. And I can't say I blame her... because... well ... I am. Often. I am and have always been my worst enemy. Sure I have good qualities... I'm well-read, a snappy dresser, a decent writer, a polite guest. My mom likes me. My friends like me. Women occasionally enjoy my company for brief amounts of time.

But I was, in all honesty, a shitty husband in many respects. That I really did try is only a testament to the fact that I was horrible. Not violent. Not mean spirited. But an asshole, nonetheless. Because I wasn't as mindful about my obligations as I should have been.

Of course, that my obligations to my marriage often ran contradictory to my obligations to myself were the real problem.

And when I was talking to Doug and Laurel, trying to explain why it is I have to go... because I'm really only truly happy when I'm Out There, and being Out There is the only place where I can live and not turn into a total asshole because the work I need to do is Out There. And there's a lot of it to do.

There's a lot of it to do because of the obligations I feel. Because my friends have been more than generous, and so has the universe. Because I left the bowling alley without paying ... intending to come back later and pay at the end of the day... and when I did return I found that Doug and Laurel had paid my morning bar tab.  Because Dave and Julie have put up with me for almost 3 weeks. Because John Briscoe sometimes buys me a bowl of soup. Because a homeless guy in Norfolk gave me a dollar and a cigarette. Because I don't want anyone to regret the love and goodwill they show me, and because I want to find someway to share that back with the universe. 

[This post is dedicated to everyone who's been gracious enough to let me sleep on their couches, share their food, and listen to my stories. There's too many of you to list all at once. I hope you know who you are.

And thanks to all the people who read and who, I hope, will keep reading once I get back Out There. Which will be soon. Very soon.]

19 March, 2012

Listening to the Earth Groan In the Space Between Sips

The grass will grow for sure. 
Three days before the first day of Spring, 
the first real rain falls 
after two days of preternatural heat.
Drinking coffee, I can hear your voice,
the way you used to tell me
You know you'll have to mow soon.
You used to be so excited about it.

Then again, grass grows different in memory
than it does on a three-quarter acre corner lot.
Over on Pumpkin Hill, the roof doesn't leak anymore, either;
no more dance to set the mop bucket
and empty coffee cans just right.
Old house, old house problems
I would say.

Drinking the last of the morning coffee,
I wonder what it must be like
to feel the groan of the Earth under foot, 
the way an old crone groans
remembering her last moment of ecstasy,
that moment of thunder and cloud break.

Do all men mistake that moan for interest?
Spring planting is all cow shit 
and bad porn metaphors, anyway. 
Nostalgia and bad commercialism
designed to make urban shoppers feel better
about not knowing where the plastic wrapped food
comes from.

If the Earth is a woman, then we really are
beyond all redemption. 

16 March, 2012

Epitaph For A Warm Winter In The Corn Belt

It's warm this year for late March.
The mosquitoes have hatched
and the mysterious downtown gnats
have moved in. Local criers prematurely whimper
that the Tinkers might return early, too.
Town girls traipsing round in butt hugging short shorts
inciting judgment and fury from the new mothers out
pushing baby carriages in defense
against the onslaught of middle age
and distracted husbands.
Fathers of teenage daughters
drink heavily bewaring nightmares
of early grandchildren
and preternatural impotence.

No one has started mowing. Yet.
But that is simply a matter of time.

Elsewhere in the county,
the agribusiness barons fine tune
their seasonal plans for conquest.
The ground barely froze,
and is pliable to the plow
like some recently wed rape victim.
The small farms prepare for the open air markets,
make sure to guard against the strong winds
and genetically modified corn seeds
that sneak into their fields –
following the pattern established by nature
before the CEO of Monsanto was born.

Carnival barkers of unforeseen future events
talk casually of increasing ocean temperatures,
melting ice caps, the cost of gasoline.
Conservative church biddies blame the President.
From here in the coffee shop,
where I sometimes sit and dream,
I imagine meeting you on the sidewalk
after returning from another long journey.
We hug with less tension. You laugh at my beard.
We talk about having coffee and almost forget,
for a moment, the onslaught of weather
that drove me out in the first place.

15 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Arkansas Men's Social Club, 2.2

[Continued from 2.1]

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

A word or two on the remaining principal characters:

Donner is a contractor who is used to working hard and independently. And like most men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, grew up something of a natural problem solver. Dion is generally thought well of by the other members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club. And he is actually fairly well thought of by Donner; but also like men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, Donner would hardly every say so... unless he was drunk or unless it was some holiday like Christmas, New Years Eve, or Lincoln's Birthday. Tweed (who has not arrived on the scene yet) -- is a retired man whose actual former occupation is unknown by me; but he continues to piddle and work -- as men who are raised to work are wont to do in order to avoid death and boredom. Al -- or Alfonse, which he prefers not to be called -- is an artist, an avid reader of arcane literature,a drinker, and something of a storyteller. Though he is not from these parts, he ended up here as the result of a dozen or so questionable decisions, one of them being a short sighted desire for sobriety. Though he is what he would call an Old Fart, he has an artist's interest life and a much younger man's zeal for women.

Sven was doing a reasonably good job of not showing his concern. One of the things that makes him a good proprietor is his attention to detail, and his need to control as much of the world around him as humanly possible. But he's also lived enough to know that there's really very little anyone can control except those things a man creates for himself... and that even that, sometimes, is difficult. The other advantage Sven has is that he grew up in the restaurant business and so has learned to curb his need to control and maintain against the understanding that one way or the other, sometimes a square peg really does fit in a round hole.

Every once in a while, if you learn to loaf and invite your soul, as the American Bard* once wrote, you will see history in action. Thus, if you want to understand the true genius behind the Constitutional Convention, The Treaty at Versailles, The League of Nations, and every family cook out since the invention of the gas grill, you need to watch  a group of men try and decide on how to do something that could be easier than any of the parties involved are making it.

Harry, who's truck would see the most immediate damage, wasn't concerned.

"Are you sure the tailgate can handle the weight?" Slim asked. "I don't think it will."

Harry shrugged. "Eh. All I know is if we can't get this thing out of my truck, I got a new refrigerator."

Everyone laughed -- Sven with a tad more discomfort (Not because he thought Harry would actually drive off the new appliance, but because the thought itself secretly terrified him.) -- and the group of them proceeded toss out ideas and considerations and provisos.

The  group agreed to the proposition that Harry back his truck up to the Kraft Building door, though the precise distance was briefly and bitterly debated. One line of thought -- suggested by who I don't remember -- was that Harry could simply back up as close as he could get that would allow head room for the box to be tipped backwards, and that we could all, with the number of back involved, carefully lift the appliance out and down out of the truck bed and onto ground. This was rejected almost immediately because no one wanted to be the person responsible for dropping the thing after so much had gone into getting it out of the semi. (No one mentioned, rightly since it was immediately understood, the likelihood that one more backs would be injured, with potentially permanent implications.)

At this point, Tweed showed up, bringing with him his own brand of wisdom, drive and an easy going temperament.


The group then tried to explain -- all at once -- why that would be a bad idea.


Sven and several others then answered that it wasn't generally a good idea to put a commercial grade refrigerator on its side. To be perfectly honest, I had the same thought, since it looked like maybe trying to tip the behemoth appliance combined with the height of the truck made it too tall to simply tip into the coffee shop -- ramps or no ramps.

When I'm faced with these situations -- that is, where I have the option to either assert myself as an Expert In All Things**, or to sit back and wait it out -- I often play it safe and wait for the dust to settle. This isn't due so much to a lack of confidence in my ideas as it is a realization I arrived at long ago:

I'm essentially a one trick pony.

Emerson warned us about what would happen in a society where the division of labor is reduced to giving one person training in one specific area in The American Scholar (1837). According to Emerson, only a society of well-rounded citizens can truly be free and democratic. Additionally, Henry David Thoreau pointed out in Walden (1854)  that the division of labor removed people from a sense of connectedness with the world and results in the concentration of wealth in the very few.

I'm a writer. Part of being a writer means that I've held plenty of other jobs at various times. I won't run down the entire list now. But I haven't exactly spent all of the last 20 years cloistered away in libraries and academic halls.  But that's part of it... and part of trying to be a better all around person. And while I may not be useful or handy -- I don't build, plumb, or repair with any aptitude (Though I can follow directions. That's what you learn in college, kids!) Being a writer also means that, in addition to loafing and inviting my soul, I also observe, and sometimes eavesdrop on conversations. (My daughter refers to this as being a "creeper." To me it's just plain ol' People Watching, which I learned from my Dad... who, while he wasn't a writer, was a grand talker and student of the human condition.***)

So I remained silent, prepared to offer my help in whatever form might have been needed.^  And I waited. And I watched.

Tweed offered to run and get roller casters that could be used to roll the box once it was ground level. He made this offer three or four times, and finally took the silence of the others as an affirmation. Before he left, though, he did make one more suggestion.


Sven reacted to that suggestion with silent panic and well-contained terror, hidden more or less efficiently by a rapid shaking of his head. Slim and Harry also shook their heads, and Donner pointed out that while cutting it out of the box might allow for more space, it would also increase the risk of hurting the stainless steel.

"WE COULD JUST BE CAREFUL," Tweed pointed out. His attempt to explain and qualify his idea was ignored.

By this time, Dion had left to go get the ramps that Donner insisted wouldn't work. And in the meantime, the members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club considered the possibility of using a different door.

The other door is just as heavy; but it's at the top of 5 or 6 concrete steps and was actually closer to the kitchen.

"I can just pull up on the sidewalk," Harry said.

"Won't that hurt your truck?" Slim asked.

"Why?" Harry answered. "It's a truck."

"Yes," Sven said. "But it's a truck with an additional 500 pounds in the back."

"He's also worried that the fridge might tip over," Donner added.

Sven agreed.

The new door idea was quickly discarded and the men went about trying to figure out how to get the appliance down without hurting the appliance, the tail gate, or the hardwood floor.

Dion soon arrived with the ramps. When Donner saw them he said, "Oh, you meant those. Those might work."

About that time Tweed returned with the coasters, which, upon seeing them, the other men agreed might be useful as well. It was then decided that the men could use the lifting straps to edge the appliance off the truck bed, over the tailgate, and onto the ramps, which were designed to hold the weight of a car.

Also around this time, Al showed up for his mid-day constitutional. He arrived about the same time each afternoon, carrying some book or another -- almost always a different book from the previous day, and almost always with a title like The Secret, Sacred Wisdom of Conifers Planted By the Knight's Templar. Al is a painter. A long time ago graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art, he is, he admits, not one of those  painters whose work is "the next thing" in the development of  art. But he's also a natural talker, a copious and respectable drinker, and a reader of esoteric and unknown books -- all three of which make him fine company for me, most of the time. Like me, he stood back and watched. He made some small talk, and had an amused smile on his face. (Like most artists and semi-barbarous old coots, Al understands the absurd when he sees it. Also, his status as an older gentleman and mind as a useless scribbler necessarily excluded us from being drafted for hard labor.)

Donner and Dion eyeballed the ramp and the appliance to make sure it would sit on the ramps correctly; Harry, Slim, Sven, and Fred -- who up to this point played a purely supervisory role -- each grabbed an end of a lifting strap... two of which had been snaked through the pallet from one side to the other. Fred picked up his end, shouldering the strap with an resigned expression befitting Sisyphus.

After a brief count, a silent prayer, and a hope for backs stronger than their combined years, the men carefully lifted the appliance and moved it in line with the ramps. This meant putting the weight of the appliance on the tailgate... but like the marvel of modern Mexican manufacture, it held.

From there, Sven, Harry, Slim, Donner, and Dion managed to slide the appliance down the ramps and through the door -- there was still plenty of headroom left between the top of the box and the bottom of the upper door frame -- and in. At that point, they again lifted it just enough to get Tweed's coasters underneath... which made it easier to roll across the hardwood floor.

Getting the appliance into the refrigerator was a simpler process but had much more fanfare. Initially there was some concern that it wouldn't fit through the door -- either horizontally or vertically. So after some eyeballing and some tape measuring, it was decided that:

  1. it had to come out of the box, and
  2. it had to come off the pallet.

Upon hearing that, Tweed snapped out his box cutter and went to work with the same glee that a child has when attacking wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Sven looked mildly concerned that Tweed would scratch the stainless steel; but the cardboard and Styrofoam fell quickly. Fred picked up the cardboard, joking that he would use it to make a new fortress of solitude. No one, as I recall, tried to claim the packing material.

Donner and Slim then got down on their hands and knees to see how difficult it would be to lift the appliance off the pallet. The commercial refrigerator had wheels of its own, and they weren't bolted or tied into the pallet at all -- which was good news.

The only real bad news was Slim's plumber ass... which all of us agreed was a crime against nature.

Eventually, though, they manged to get the appliance off the pallet -- while managing NOT to swish anyone's fingers -- and into the kitchen.

Dion, who stood back to watch at this point -- which was really the only reasonable thing to do -- said to me "Seems like they made this harder than it needed to be."

I agreed. "Yep. But it's that way with most things."

Al was standing with us as well. I told him I had been working on a whole different blog, but that I now felt compelled to throw it out and write a different one.

He only gave me one piece of advice. "When you do," he said, "say it happened in Arkansas. After all no one would believe this could happen HERE."

*Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892). The poem referred to above can be found here...and in a thing once called a book entitled Leaves of Grass.
** To proclaim oneself an Expert In All Things is the natural-born right of every man... just as it is the natural inclination of everyone else to demand proof on an uncomfortably regular basis, and the natural right of women to assume we're full of shit.
*** The latter is virtually a prerequisite for being a writer. The former, while not a necessary for being a writer, helps in getting free drinks.
^It wasn't.

[Thanks for reading. My road plans are laid out for the next month or so. I'm headed back out of Mount Carroll on 3/24 and going to Cincinnati to stow my home goods away. 

  • Then, a brief road trip with my Mom back out to Virginia to visit the Kid.  
  • Then, I'll be doing another run through Kentucky, via Greyhound, stopping over on Willow Drive for a promised return,
  • and through Louisville to visit with another college chum and to catch some pre-Derby races at Churchill Downs.

From Louisville (pronounced Lu'vlle) my tentative plans are to visit Hannibal, Missouri, childhood home to one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain. After that, points west.

And if you REALLY like what you're reading, remember:

  • You can share the link. (Go ahead. I don't mind.)
  • You can click the donate button and contribute to the travel fund, use mickp@gmx.com to contribute via paypal, or click use the tip function on Open Salon.  (Please? What if I promise to visit? What if I promise NOT to visit??)

And if you HAVE contributed... Thank you.  If I was there, I'd kiss you. Ok, maybe not a kiss. Maybe a hug. Or, if you prefer, a strong handshake. 

Seriously... thanks.]

13 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness Mount Carroll Reprisal, Intermezzo 2.1: The Arkansas Men's Social Club

Maybe you can suggest something. As a matter of fact, you do suggest something. To me you suggest a baboon. - Rufus T. Firefly (Grouch Marx) - Duck Soup (1933)

How many men does it take to make popcorn? Four, one to hold the pot, and three to act macho and shake the stove. - joke

So I had this whole other blog post planned for today... something about the sheer stupidity  of Daylight Savings Time, insomnia, packing books, performing at the open mic I helped start, and planning to go southbound and (after May 1st) go west

because that's what all men without permanent employment, home or social function do. Right?

But as I was sitting down at Brick Street Coffee -- the monosyncratic infidibulum** of Mount Carroll, particularly with the impending closure of Charlie's II on the corner of Main and Carroll Streets, which has been in more or less continuous operation for 50 years or better on various names, with maybe a year (but not more) of being closed in between proprietors -- a grand event occurred. I say grand not so much because it was supposed to be a big event with much falderal, pomp, hubbub, and hullabaloo -- the things that make for grand events in other parts of the world. No; I call it grand because of the Herculean effort, on the part of the Arkansas Men's Social Club*, to move a 500 pound commercial refrigerator from the back end of a semi-trailer parked in the middle of Market Street through the door and back to the recently enlarged kitchen of Brick Street Coffee, located in Main Street Commons -- or, as it is commonly referred to by  nearly everyone, The Kraft Building.

The Kraft Building, a cornerstone of the Historic Downtown, is called such because it housed a clothing store under that moniker, and several other things over the the years. A fire left it burned out for years before it was salvaged -- though the project itself ... not described here... proves that  no goo deed goes unpunished in a small town where some people have nothing keeping them alive but the care and maintenance of old grudges.

Now, there are often delivery trucks in the center of town -- usually liquor distributors -- but most of them don't stay parked in the middle of the street for approximately 10 minutes while a group of six men... well 5 men and boy... well, to be precise, one interloper (me) one boy and four men... decide how to unload a 500 pound commercial refrigerator from the back of a 18 wheel trailer and getting into the building without hurting the fridge ... which Brick Street Coffee owner/proprietor Sven procured at no small expense, and very quickly at that, since it arrived on a Monday after being ordered on a Friday, all the way from Madisonville, Kentucky... and without doing damage to either the door or the floor of the Kraft Building itself.  The door is a heavy, wooden framed door that was designed and built with the building in mind. On some days, when the wind is just right, opening the door feels like opening a heavy bank vault door. It stands approximately 36 hands high and 15 hands wide. More than once little old ladies have struggled against it and nearly lost, having only been saved by either an able-bodied son, another customer who has practiced, or Sven -- who, not wanting anyone to have a bad experience ever, would open the door for or close the door behind anyone he noticed struggling with it. That he did this with remarkable speed impressed everyone, leading some to suspect him a practitioner of magic or half of a set of twins named Sven who would simply appear to open and close the heavy door.

Because Mount Carroll is a small town, the first thing on anyone's mind is to help a friend in need. (The second is power tools. The third is stock car racing. After this comes family. God ranks somewhere around beer and beef jerky.) So naturally, when Sven announced to those of us huddling in the back corner of the coffee shop with nothing to do, everyone present jumped up to help. Or at least, to watch. And it just so happened that the other present were members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club... a cadre of men ranging from late middle to retirement age who alternately drank coffee, played pinochle, told lies, expanded on half truths, and, on rare occasion, Did Something.

Harry, a retired Wisconsin cop, offered the use of his truck. The idea was rather than try and build a ramp and slide the thing down to brick street level... which it was generally agreed upon would be a disaster for the appliance, potentially the street, and whoever would end up underneath it.

First, however the semi truck would have to be facing the other direction so the back of the trailer could be at least facing the general direction of the Kraft Building. To accomplish the, the driver -- who probably was starting to wish he hadn't gotten up that morning and had never heard of Mount Carroll, Brick Street Coffee, and that he had never been so unfortunate as to choose driving a truck for a vocation -- stepped wearily into the cab, put it into gear and... after several local cars squeaked by rather than bother to spend an extra 10 seconds and find a side street... whipped the entire semi into a tight-cricled u-turn in the intersection where Market and Main Streets meet.

This feat was done so easily and without effort that I'm almost ashamed to admit that I expected at least three different cars to be taken out in the process of loading the appliance in; luckily, no demolition was involved and the truck was soon facing outbound... which, I'm sure, was the direction the driver was prepared to barrel off into as soon as the cargo is unloaded and the appropriate paperwork signed.

Harry then backed his truck up to the back end of the trailer. At this point, however, the story begins to diverge as Slim, Donner, and Dion all began, along with Harry, to offer up suggestions as to what the best way to get the appliance from the back of the delivery semi to the bed of the truck was, since the new concern was to not damage the tailgate of harry's truck by dropping a 500 pound cardboard box on it -- unless, of course, there was no other option.

I was there to lend a hand if necessary, and so was my good friend Fred, a local entrepreneur who had found himself, quite accidentally, at the top of reasonably successful homemade fudge business. The fudge shop was originally intended to be less of a job and more of a time waster; enough to justify the space but not enough to turn into real work... which Fred, like all blessed creatures under the sun, abhors down deep.

Slim, another retired cop and Harry's pinochle partner, suggested getting straps and carefully guiding the behemoth appliance down. After some discussion as to the precise dimensions of the pallet and some trading of weaker straps for stronger ones -- and after Donner yelled at Dion at least four times for prematurely suggesting (in slightly different language) what the gray haired majority ended up doing anyway -- the group of them, as I stood there watching, to record it all faithfully and without bias, managed to finagle the 500 pound cardboard box that stood as tall as a normal man and as wide as an average man from Carroll County Illinois down and out of the back of the semi and onto Harry's lined truck bed without damaging the tailgate.

Once that step was complete the semi truck driver closed up the trailer, at which time both he and the entire truck disappeared without so much as a puff of smoke... no doubt heading back to the wilds of Madisonville Kentucky, where he would probably punch the warehouse supervisor in the face.

But that still left us with the problem of getting the fridge off the back of Harry's truck, through the large door, across the hardwood floor, and back snuggly into the space in the newly expanded kitchen -- without damage to any of the aforementioned elementals or the people involved.

*The reason for calling it the Arkansas Men's Social Club will become clear. In any event, names herein have been changed to protect the innocent, the weak, and the lazy. I leave it up to the reader to decide who is what.
**monosyncratic infidibulum, n. Epicenter. 

09 March, 2012

Boone On The Move (Curse of the Ten)

She calls me and it breaks my heart all over again.

Fuck what they say about better to have loved and lost. Fuck what they say life being about the journey and not the destination. Fuck all the cutesy things people say when people divorce, or when loved ones die. Fuck all, because none of it matters. None of it changes anything.

I keep coming back to a number. 10. 10 was the age I learned there was no Santa Claus. 10 was the age my daughter stopped thinking I was Superman. My birthday is on the 10th day of the 10th month.

Myra and I were married for 10 years.

And now, we're not.

Well, hell. I guess we are. Legally. All that binding, blinding, beguiling bullshit. To have and to hold. For better or worse. I guess it got worse than worse while I wasn't paying attention. Been thinking lately. I'm pretty sure (in as much as I'm sure about anything anymore) and that probably how it works. I can't even be all that pissed off at her; not without being pissed off at myself even more. People have a right to find happiness, right? Isn't that the Thing That Matters? Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Isn't that what it all boils down to? Whether you find happiness in a bottle or in a church, or in a needle, or in a marriage, or in random screwing in the back seat on a drunken Friday night? That's the whole American Dream, right?

Isn't that it?

Well, fuck all that, too.

Because when it's all over, when the Curse of the Ten comes down on my head, I somehow end up right back here. One more cheap ass motel room, counting out loose change and living on the stale muffins, half sour milk, and weak lukewarm coffee. Me looking at the dull red LED display of the alarm clock radio and counting down the hours until I either have to check out or pay for another night. One more cheap motel before I end up under a shelter at the park or at some homeless shelter populated by volunteers who want to help me get my life back. They'll tell me I need to man up, get a job, and move forward. There's other fish in the sea, they'll say. I'm too educated a man not to be working, contributing to society. I might mention I used to to teach. They'll tell me I could go back and do that again. After all, the world always needs good teachers. I'll tell them that if the world needed good teachers then the world would pay them as much as lawyers and politicians. The President of the United States, I'll point out, is paid $400,000 a year... and if you throw in the perks... the plane, the clothes, the transportation... it comes to a whole lot more. And lawyers? Well we all know what Shakespeare said about lawyers, right? I'll tell them the world doesn't give a good god damn about good anything. I'll quote the Peter Principle to them, point out that the reason they're some lackey in a homeless shelter is because they've been promoted to the level of their incompetence.

At which point, they will either ask me if I've been drinking or they'll ask me to leave and threaten to call the cops.

Those educational moments never go well.

So I'm sitting here, in this cheap ass motel at the edge of the earth... I'm at the far north end of Chesapeake Bay, in one of those no tell motels that soldiers bring barracks girls to. (Barracks girls, for the uninformed... usually the wives living of other soldiers, often but not always on overseas deployment. They live on base in family housing, but go off base for their affairs.) The room smell of cigarette smoke. The television won't turn off. The bus doesn't run this far down on Ocean View on Sundays, and I think the maid is either hooking on the side or maybe a petty thief.  I'm sitting on the bed, counting out change to see if I have enough for another night. I know better than to think I have enough for food and shelter. But I've got a decade's worth of body fat I can live off of as long as I have drinkable water.

In these moments, I get pretty angry about it. I think about Myra. In our house. In bed with someone else. Someone who, ostensibly, can make her happy. I think about my books. I think about the life I had managed to string together. I think about they way Myra cried when I left, like it was somehow my doing. Like I was the one walking out on her. Maybe I had already, but my body hadn't gotten the memo. Maybe not. But I think about it all in these moments when I'm too broke to get drunk and trying to decide whether I should try and stretch out what little money I have left, whether I should try and scrounge for a bus ticket, or whether I should spend it at a liquor store and sleep at the Union Mission.

And it's in those moments -- when I'm fully embracing my anger and sense of outrage at her and at God and at the universe -- that she calls.

And it all goes back to zero.

08 March, 2012

Move Along

Walking back to the bar after dark
I passed our old street.
Looking down and up the hill,
I noticed the porch lights were on
and I almost turned towards it,
the way insects do,
flying headlong towards their destruction.
How many nights a beacon?
How many times my salvation?
The drizzling rain informs me
it's pointless to ask questions.
Standing there, I thought of
that Frost poem backwards.
Instinctually, I felt for the ring
on my left hand. It is gone,
like my reasons
to stumble down and up the hill
drunk towards a light
that is no longer lit
for my personal illumination.
The rain picks up.
The lingering winter early darkness
wraps around me and I feel the wind
starting to push me a long
up Benton Street in search of a light
that will welcome me,
another pair of warm arms
to guard me against the wind and the rain
and the onslaught of the coming storm.
There is no point in arguing.

07 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, Intermezzo: Regarding The Peripatetic Peregrination

The problem with traveling is that it's addictive. At least it is for me. My time back in Mount Carroll is nice, and it's good to see friends. But the itch has kicked into hyper-drive. Again. The full body sensation is a disconcerting experience I liken to an asthma attack. 

(And yes, I know of what I speak. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 5 and dealt with it until I was 18, when I finally outgrew it.)

One of the things I realized on this last 6 weeks out is that I am my most content when I'm mobile. Please note, I did not use the term happy. There's a  large gulf of difference between happiness and contentedness.The former is a term describing a temporary state of being based on short term emotions and the release of certain chemicals in the brain -- which can be physiological or imbibed, snorted, or injected. The latter describes a deeper, more fundamental state of being that remains after the chemical/hormonal rush of happiness fades. (And it always fades.)

And while I'm still getting things lined up, planned, and taken care of, some evidence of future forward momentum has occurred...

which, while it doesn't completely still the itch, does help. Enormously.

For one thing, my new rucksack arrived today. 

Easier to carry, and will hold a bit more. BOO-YAH! And yes. It's blue. Deal with it.

For another, I've made part of my travel plans... which, as of yet, do not include me breaking the Mississippi River Barrier. 

First things first: I'm working on getting my stuff out of the house on Pumpkin Hill and down to Cincinnati. This way, all of my books can be in the same place for the first time in 7 years. 

After that, I've decided to take a road trip  (driving) with my dear sweet Ma back to Virginia to visit my singular progeny and bona filia, Stella. This time, the busy child will be on Spring Break. This time, too, dear sweet Ma is springing for better accommodations in Virginia Beach... which is on the more attractive side of Chesapeake Bay. 

Once mi Madre is back, ensconced safe and sound in the Queen City, I will be heading down to Kentucky for a promised return visit to Willow Drive and my friends, George and Laura. 

And after that, I'm planning a short trip through Louisville to visit college chum Amanda -- where I'll meet her hubby, enjoy her amazing culinary skills, maybe take in a horse race or two, and fine tune my plan to break through on the Great Mississippi River Barrier and head on into the Western Lands.

(Thanks to Amanda Connor (nee Hay) for her gracious donation to the travel fund.)

[Thanks for reading... I'll be hitting the road again soon... VERY soon. Not soon enough for some, I'm sure... likely those here who saw my leaving as some grand sign of things to come... like blind local media and a return to the usual graft and nepotism that makes county politics here so great.

If you're enjoying this at all... or if you have... please contribute to the travel fund. You can also use the Tip feature on open.salon.com, or go here to buy a dirt cheap copy of my short story collection, Living Broke

And don't be afraid to pass the link on... really. Your friends will thank you for it. Or disown you. Either way, you win.]