30 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt : Paint City Politics / Muckraker Goulash

Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apple. - Sherwood Anderson

Journalism without a moral position is impossible. -Marguerite Duras

Every journalist is a muckraker. - Note From Travel Journal

Life long resident and year 'round haunted house proprietor Jim Warfield recently told me that there was a time when people referred to Mount Carroll as Paint City. "Because," he went on, "people would paint the buildings downtown." Jim is an endless repository of stories about this place, and his knowledge at times seems preternatural because a good number of his stories pre-date his existence.

This, of course, is how it ought to be. But The Long Memory is suffering from serious ill repair, and there's few people left with any interest... and even fewer with any interest in listening.

In a place like Mount Carroll, true prominence tends to be counted by the number of generations deep your family can be found in the cemetery on the hill overlooking town from the western horizon. It also helps to marry into the right family. (As opposed to the wrong one, which depends on which way the gossip is blowing.)

Since I have to cool my heels here in Paint City whilst waiting for the divorce to be finalized, I had to find something to occupy my time besides keeping regular hours at both the coffee shop and the bars. As I mentioned previously, I wandered back into freelance muckraking for the area paper that I used to rake muck for when I lived here before.

A note on muckraking. The term is one that tends to be used in a negative context; it's one that is used to describe bad journalism.... i.e., "biased" or "sensational" or "whatever doesn't match my worldview." There is this notion, often spouted by journalism professors, newbies to the job, and a public that hasn't bothered to to look into the actual history of journalism, that "true" journalism is "objective."

Dear Readers, let me assure you... there is no such thing as "objective" journalism. Our whole existence is subjective. We relate to the world from behind our own eyes, from the "I" position. The most we can hope for is distance... to be able to look at a situation with as few preconceived notions as possible. This is difficult, and requires effort. It also requires an honest appraisal of your ego -- which is challenging. Especially when you have one.

I'd also like to point out that any journalist who's really doing the job -- especially in the arena of politics -- is a muckraker. And any journalist worth his or her salt KNOWS this. You can't deal in the muck that is politics ... small town or otherwise... and expect to keep your hands and shoes clean. It doesn't work. The best you can hope for, if you care at all about the job, is find the narrative that needs to be told. That autobot Tom Brokaw said once -- and it might be one of the few things I agree with him on -- that journalism is all about finding the narrative. When people quibble over journalists covering "the facts" what they're really pissed off about it that the muckraker isn't telling the narrative THEY WANT TOLD.

A good journalist, like any good writer, will let the story unfold for itself. And just because all journalists are muckrakers, that doesn't mean they're devoid of a moral or ethical stance. To the contrary, a moral and ethical compass becomes that much more necessary to the larger purpose: not only to let people know what's happening, but also to keep (at least) an eye and an ear on The Long Memory.

Paint City Politics

Since walking back into small town journalism, my return as been heralded and maligned, applauded and booed. This, as far as I can tell, means I'm doing something right.

Most recently... last night... I was called out during an open meeting of the Town Council by a former alderman -- now a disgraced, maligned, and ostracized ex-alderman -- Nina Cooper, economic astrologist to anonymous fortune 500 companies everywhere that clearly don't pay her that often. I can only gather she's no Edgar Cayce, since she recently had to pick a job at a local embroidery shop that was able to secure her job through the purchase of a machine, part of that money coming from a local fund called The Revolving Loan Fund -- a fund whose existence she questioned as an alderman.

The father of the guy who covered my old Paint City beat after I quit in January of this year showed up to the meeting. Everyone knows him because he used to teach in the high school; he actually had a few of the current alderman and the mayor as students. His son was fired, it seems, because a particularly angry, bitter, and bitchy alderman, Doris Bork -- who is staying alive simply to see the mayor ruined -- called the publisher, a guy who I generally count as pretty smart, and cried. The general consensus as been that he did nothing wrong, this other reporter. And while I need the gig... the travel fund is hungry... I do feel like he got a raw deal. (I should point out that she had tried to get me fired too, when I was writing for the paper before. The hubris of small town autocrats never ceases to amaze me.)

The meeting was smooth until the General Audience section, at which point the retired teacher stood up and asked Doris if she had actual proof of the mayor's misconduct -- misconduct that she has been spreading like gossip while working the check out line at the grocery store -- or if it was merely "another figment of [her] imagination."

She was, understandably, defensive. She insisted that she had never accused the mayor of anything and demanded a retraction.

And, after some hemming and hawing, some attempt at recriminations, slander, and criminalization, Nina stood up and asked me directly what the "source" of my article was.

The source. I was floored, really. That was the one I didn't see coming.

You see, the article was actually a commentary after the regular article and was formatted as such.  So, by definition, it wasn't presented as straight news. I've been accused of editorializing in the past; I do, I admit, write with a certain flair and an eye towards the underlying narrative of events. But I do my homework, and I'm a pretty decent writer.

I can also only assume that Nina never watched All The President's Men.  And while I don't know for sure, I'm sure she voted for Nixon. Twice. It wouldn't surprise me to hear she had a little groupie crush on the paranoid oligarch, either.

Come to think of it, that was a movie, too, wasn't it?

Naturally, there is nothing going on in Paint City that rivals the impeachment of Nixon. That there are folks here who are determined to make it that important -- even at the cost of taking the town down with them -- borders on absurd.

That's the problem with Scorched Earth strategies. Not only is your target annihilated, but so is everything else.

And I'm beginning to think that might be the ultimate point. If they can't have Paint City the way they want it, then no one will get it at all. It will fall into the dirt with them, rot in a shallow grave and become one more small town in America that disappears into the cracks of an abandoned state highway.

Come to think of it, I've seen that movie before, too.

Or maybe it's more like this:

27 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt:Second Pot/ Attentats

The way to do is to be. -Lao Tzu 

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions. - Dorothy Day

Lately in the morning, I've taken to watching the political press on television. The is due primarily to the fact that Dave and Julie, who have kindly put me up thus far during my stay in Mount Carroll, watch either MSNBC or Current TV. Dave has drifted from the network's morning programming, though, because "It's too much like the Today Show."

"What?" I asked, over settling in on the corner of the couch with my first cup of coffee. Apparently, my timing is such that I usually wake up around the time that Dave (who, in spite of being retired will wake up before Gawd, the sun, and most non-nocturnal animals) and Julie (who is wakes up about the same time) finish the first pot of coffee / start the second pot. Unless I'm up late later than usual or hungover, I've been getting out of bed around 7 in the morning

 -- which, in farm country, is mid-day.

"What's the matter? I went on. "Don't you care about this Fall's important fashion?"

He made a face, and took a sip of his coffee. My soon-to-be-ex used to tell me that was my way of punctuating a sentence. Usually with an exclamation mark.

The ritual, as I noticed when they were kind enough to let me stay with them for a bit in March when I came back to remove my books and clothes miscellaneous shit from the house on Pumpkin Hill, is to watch the morning political programs and yell at the television. I love that not only do have friends who are political junkies, but they are junkies who, except for one or two issues, I agree with. And even when I don't agree -- and sometimes, I'll act like maybe I don't just to push the discussion on a bit... it's a hold over from my days as a teacher, my take on the Socratic Method -- while Dave in particular has no problem telling me why I'm wrong, in the end it's a lively discussion. And like I said, it's nice to talk to people who care about the process and don't simply keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone.

That being said, I find that watching the political press first thing in the morning only serves to remind me 
just how fucked the entire process is. While I find that I tend to agree with folks like Bill Press and Stephanie Miller in their critiques of the GOP, Mitt Romney, and this election's Dan Quayle/Sarah Palin incarnation, Paul Ryan, I do wish they would offer up the same gaze of the current administration. But all lines being arbitrary... especially in an election year... I suppose that the political press has to keep the self-masticating jaws of American Politics chewing.

I could, I know, probably watch Fox News for simple-minded jabs at Obama.

But I suspect that watching Fox News has the same effect on the brain as a stroke. Some memories and basic motor skills would be lost.


One day last week or the week before I was watching CSPAN and they were showing a speech at the Center for American Progress by Matt James of The Center for The Next Generation. There's nothing quite like when one think tank invites another think tank to come and talk about all the thinking that's going on behind closed doors. Now, anyone who knows me knows that not only am I often lost in thought, I often forget that I am thinking when I start talking and that this OFTEN GETS ME INTO TROUBLE. I've found, you see, that while people do like some witty repartee, they are not, overall, interested in thoughtful conversation. As such, I am trying to learn how to talk in way that masks the amount I think so's not to make people too too uncomfortable.

After all, can't go blue without giving people warning.... right?

What stuck out in my mind, though was when James, from The Center for the Next Generation --

Does anyone else notice that whenever someone official talks for the next generation, it's usually some suit from 3 generations ago? Seeking out the Elders is one thing. Relying on bean counters to save the world is something else entirely.

--referred to children as "our most valuable assets."

The phrase gave me reason to pause.

Being something of a word hound and rhetorik* junkie, I was struck immediately by the implication.What kinds of things are considered assets?

Swimming Pools
Money Market Accounts

Get it? With a word like "asset" being applied to people in general and children -- current and future -- the implication is one of ownership. And when you think about the connotation of a phrase like "Human Resources" -- and when you pause and think about other things our culture thinks of as resources:

Natural Gas

a pattern does begin to emerge... does it not?

I've talked before about the reductive nature of language; that's inevitable on some level. But by reducing ourselves and others, and by allowing ourselves to be reduced to something owned -- and because in English the utterance is usually built around the speaker, always owned by someone else -- we are engaging directly in our own subjugation. Words matter. We ought to use them, and the ideas they represent, more wisely.

And we ought to be careful about letting thinkless tanks do all our thunking for us.


*rhetorik: Not to be confused with Rhetoric, the study of language and the way it works. Rhetorik, rather, is a localized study of lingual DIS-function, and of the idjits whose abuse of the language is so profound as to be closer to the sound a baboon makes when it's scratching it's genitals.

22 August, 2012

Mick's Rules for Living: The Road Revision

[It occurred to me that I haven't done a revision of this list since hitting the road. You can find the previous version of these rules at my hardly ever used but sometimes, occasionally resurrected blog, The Ohio Expatriate. Feel free to check out the site, as well as the links to the previous Expatriate site on Wordpress. It's fun stuff, I promise, and nothing less than you might expect from me.

And in case it's not evident, I'm still revising these, so they are not set in stone. Also, while I think individuals might benefit from heeding these in the spirit that they are intended, I have no intention of trying to force them on anyone. I have been accused of this. But, as I am a Wobbly, and a pacifist, I don't believe in forcing people into anything. People have to change of their own accord. 

Also, you will notice that the list has gone from 10 to 9. Most noticeably absent is former #4. If you're sedentary/settled, by all means... live close to your watering hole. But this is THE ROAD REVISION.

Cheers, Dear Readers.]

1. DO NO HARM. Violence begats violence, every single time. Being a pacifist doesn't mean you're afraid; it means you decide to have control over how you respond, not let other people or events determine your reaction. It's PROACTIVE not REACTIVE. Get it?

2. BE KIND TO ALL CRITTERS.  A slight revision. Kindness is crucial and necessary and entirely too rare. The size of the critter doesn't matter. Be kind. This also includes previous rule #5.

3. READ SOMETHING EVERYDAY. In the previous version of this list, I used the word "non-essential." However, reading, in any form, is essential. The life of your mind matters. Just make it something besides news memes and Twitter feeds. Pick up a book. Read a blog by someone you disagree with. Read poetry.

4.  WEAR CLEAN SOCKS. I have no intention of wavering on this point. And I can tell you, with a certainty, that if you end up spending 3 days and nights in a bus station, a clean pair of socks makes a whole world of a difference. Take from someone who is residentially challenged. Clean Socks.

5. HAVING PRINCIPLES MEANS YOU LIVE THEM. Sometimes you'll end up offending people when you live your principles. But if you're not living them, they're not principles. They're abstractions.


6. NEVER SUBJUGATE YOUR WILL TO WHIMS OF OTHERS.  This not only includes those who presume to have power over you, but also the institutions that presume the ability to grant that power.

7. BE HONEST.  Even when it hurts.

8. YOU KNOW YOU HAD A GOOD DAY WHEN YOU SLEEP WELL THAT NIGHT. Any other qualification is false advertising.


15 August, 2012

The Least Poetic Ending I Have Ever Known: A Poem

Flocking blackbirds foretell nothing except an early and colorless fall.
Apples are rotting off the tree. This is not a year for walnuts.
Small town biddies congregate to complain and offer solutions
that end in their deaths. They compare themselves to us
and find us failing – but forget to leave a gratuity for the waitress
feeding young children on her tips.

I walked by our old house yesterday. The new tenants
have trampled the bright orange poppies
I preferred to let grow wild among the weeds
in front of the porch. I missed the blooming of the magnolia tree
(I always associated it with good luck) and the roses
will make no appearance this year. The curtains were the wrong color
and they are not making proper use of the summer room.
I felt foolish walking up Pumpkin Hill,a stranger
on a street that were familiar, once upon a time.

But to be fair, I have always been a stranger.
Geography where I am known no longer exists
and memories of me are slowly wearing away
like an old quilt exposed to the elements.
Only the neighborhood dogs remember me and do not bark.
We lock eyes and nod the way creatures of the Earth do –
they are jealous of my roaming, and I of their perpetually full water bowls.
The self-appointed town exemplars know not what to make of me.
They speak of politics and invisible conspiracies.
They go to church on Sunday, berate the poor and bully the meek,
then collect the weekly tithe for soulless electoral campaigns.

(It's true, I suppose that some things will never change.)

I no longer have to fear your reaction when I come home
smelling of bourbon and misplaced rancor. Yet
I still paused at the top of the hill before I turned the corner
to check my breathe, make sure I was walking straight.

Nothing is in it's place. Everything is where it belongs.

My feet tell me I ought to keep walking. Only 10 or so miles
to the river, the Great Baptismal Western Boundary,
past which  there is Iowa to contend with:
fields of corn burned before the harvest,
farmers who can't remember a season
that wasn't plagued with either fire or floods.
But at least, I will be redeemed when I meet them.

14 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt / Indigent Persons / Numeratus Ergo Sum

Divorce: a resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries. - Ambrose Bierce

That ain't me, that ain't my face. It wasn't even me when I was trying to be that face. I wasn't even really me then; I was just being the way I looked, the way people wanted. - Ken Kesey

The English language is both verbose and reductive. The OED (That's the Oxford English Dictionary in case you didn't know) recognizes more than 1 million words. Granted, one of those words is muggle (half-wizard/ half human bastard, a la Harry Potter)  -- the inclusion of which  I object to on the grounds that frooping (taking a dump and masturbating at the same time) is not also included. To be fair, though, I haven't been as assiduous in updating the PDOUWP (That's the Parsons Dictionary Of Oft Used Words and Phrases) either. Writing a dictionary is a massive undertaking and not to be done lightly.

Or with a great deal of sobriety.

Divorce, as a term, tends to have more of a connotative meaning than a denotative one.

Connotative: what people say a word means in a personal, emotional, situational context, whereas denotative is the meaning of a word that's fit for a dictionary... and quite possibly, either verbose, or reductive. Or both. For example: "Me: I need to hurry up and file for divorce in order to avoid disingenuous Facebook information."(denotative) "County Clerk: "Oh, you need to file for [divorce].(Word mouthed but not actually spoken aloud." (connotative.)

Yesterday I filed for divorce from my soon-to-be ex. Since I am mostly broke, I went through the spectacularly outdated Illinois Free Legal Aid website. I had to do this because the County Clerk's office only had the divorce paperwork for marriages lasting 5 years of less.  Apparently, they don't expect anyone married more than 5 years to file for divorce... guessing, I suppose, that both parties are either deliriously happy or sufficiently apathetic enough that the problem -- like marital passions -- never arise.

After I was finally able to open the documents (the website required the use of a web browser I will not use, will not download, and am fairly convinced is nearly as evil as Ol' Zuck [see below]) I found that my 9 years of marriage -- 11 years total together -- was easily reduced to 20 or 30 questions covering everything from the last time we lived in the same space to whether she is currently knocked up. Also in the State of IL(L) among the reasons cited for divorce are certain stipulations.

Irreconcilable Differences (also a bad movie) means you have to both agree that you REALLY REALLY mean it.

Physical Abuse requires a pound of blood, accompanying photos, and the short skirt that potentially caused the beating in the first place (so the judge can determine whether the beatings were warranted.).

My favorite, though, was the stipulation for filing due to Mental Cruelty. If filing for divorce on the grounds of Mental Cruelty, YOU HAVE TO PROVE IT WASN'T DESERVED.

Really. I don't have to make this part up. I read the question five times to make sure I was reading it correctly.

And because I am primarily unemployed -- having not held steady employment since January -- I qualified for what the state calls  "Indigent Status." This means that I can petition on my own behalf and the usual filing fee of ($120) is waived. I still have to pay for the postage to send a copy of the paperwork to the Fayette County Sheriff's Department so that they can serve her... this, apparently, can't be avoided. I got the feeling though that the whole process would have been quicker had she remained in the area long enough to file; but whether it's next week or next month, before I pack up my rucksack and leave Mount Carroll yet again, I will no longer be a married man.

I do not expect a line of excited women to form any time soon. 

Actually I would have posted a change in status to my Facebook page, except that I'm convinced that Mark Zuckerberg, Gazillionaire Techno-Fascist, would somehow require proof of my real status... I can only suppose that he needs to know in case he wants to try and date my ex. I can only assume, however, that since she and I are both into girls (FINALLY... something in common) that Ol' Zuck would strike out again.

I did manage, in spite of myself, to get my driver's license replaced. I was hoping to get my picture taken... the beard is growing out nicely... but alas, I was denied. But I am an organ donor. When I die, some poor beardless schlub can have my righteous face rug.

But not Ol' Zuck. That baby-faced ideologue can buy his own.  

13 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt: At The Risk Of Being Instructive

I cannot keep from talking, even at the risk of being instructive. - Mark Twain

The Prince of Peace
No less a personage than Jesus -- upon whom a whole mess of a religion was hoisted in spite of anything he might have preferred (Not that he was ever asked, as far as anyone knows, whether it would be fine to rape, pillage, maim, and kill in his name; and it probably is the more expedient and judicious thing to hedge our bets and guess that it might be alright.) -- is supposed to have complained about going home. You'd think that a guy who spent 40 days in the desert, came back to town with a dozen other guys who think he's smarter than anyone around, and -- so says the book -- was responsible for a few miracles might actually manage to garner some respect.

It was apparently not the case. All anyone saw that funny acting kid who never really looked like his dad and who's mom, according to the old biddies at the temple, gave it up before the rabbi said "Shalom."

Not that I'm comparing myself with the foundation of anyone's religious beliefs; I'm merely pointing out that even in our mostly deeply ingrained myths and beliefs, that returning to a place you once thought of as home can be both a blessing and a pain in the ass.

One of the things I looked forward to as I made my way back through Mount Carroll, in the State of IL(L) was visiting again the monthly 5 Minutes of Fame Open Mic ... which I helped start ... at The Kraft Building. In my absence, I am happy to say that it has grown and taken on a feel all it's own under the expert leadership of Heather Houzenga: friend, local artist, and all around cool chick. As I suspected, my absence drew out folks that had previously avoided the open mic, maybe out of some personal aversion to me or (more likely) some aversion to my occasional use of so-called "colorful metaphors" that my Dear Sweet Ma has objected to in my work more than once over the years.

"You're an educated person," she would say. "Why do you have to write like that?"

Well, hell. Educated though I may be, I try not to act in a way that will cause people to hold it against me. I certainly try not to hold it against myself.

And although most everyone I've run into since being back has been happy to see me -- people generally greet with that subtle and stoic combination of  "Why'd you leave?" and "Why'd you come back?" that every road worn traveler likes to hear -- there are a few, though they haven't said so directly, who are wishing that I had lost my memory in that Minneapolis casino instead of merely losing my official photo proof that I am, in fact, a citizen of Pax Americana. One such person was sitting near the front row when I took the stage last Thursday to tell the story of Cletus the Dog Man, his too skinny not to be a drug addict girlfriend, and indeed, the most adult of the trio. (That would be the dog.)

The woman in question is a particularly pious member of the county board. Her job it seems, other than to scrupulously avoid the use of a computer or even a typewriter when making notes for the press board packet, is to read the prayer into record prior to the Pledge of Allegiance. A member of one of the many churches here in town, she reads from the carefully scripted officious prayer that is supposed to indicate that Carroll County's elected leaders -- most of whom twiddle their fingers or stare at the ceiling during said prayer -- are religious and divinely (one would hope) inspired.

It may indeed be a stretch to presume that the county board --mostly populated by agri-business people, the spouses of people who work for those same agri-businesses, and a few tired local officials who didn't want join a club or group that might require more of them than their occasional physical presence and an even more rare need to take a definitive stand on some issue or another -- would be divinely inspired. It is worth noting, however, that County Board Chairman Rodney Fritz behaves as if he believes his election to the big chair and gavel lends him divine strength and guidance, not to mention the right to ensure that his trucks have clean roads to run on while simultaneously trying to gut the budgets for employee wages and benefits, the Health Department, the Veteran's Assistance Commission, and The Department of Animal Control.

So as I got up and did my bit, recounting Cletus, his woman, his dog, and the fact that he is just one sample of a larger group of people wandering the country on the buses looking for work in this great recovering economy that's built on schemes by corporations and banks to line the pockets of their executives, as well as consumer credit and the accumulation of shit made in China and Mexico.

The pious reader from the county board was not amused.  I suppose the mention of methamphetamine and micturition had something to do with it, or the fact that I went as far to talk briefly about the fact that there are people in the world who have no home, who might not have a sane girlfriend, but who can have a well behaved dog -- and indeed, even individuals who might seem a bit shady... which Cletus was in many ways... can have enough heart to make sure the dog eats even if they don't.

Or maybe she didn't like the reference to pit bulls, which, everyone knows are dangerous dogs... when they're trained to be.

But there are some audiences that would rather be entertained and placated than have an informative and useful experience. There's no way to please everyone.

And in case you missed it, I'm attaching the audio of Cletus, and another bit from an open mic at Charlie's Bar and Grill... an open mic that runs every Sunday from 4-pm, by the way.

06 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt: More of the Name Game / Of Anachronistic Cartography

We make trials of ourselves and invite men and women to hear - Walt Whitman

It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to. - W.C. Fields

hic sunt dracones. - Old Cartographer Shorthand for "We Have No Fucking Clue What's Here."

A redemptive rain fell over the weekend, potentially wiping out several weddings -- but to anyone paying attention, the Earth moaned like a woman in the throes of an long delayed orgasm. A friend here in town, whose garden was struggling so much she and her husband were debating whether to quit watering it or not has reported that the garden has exploded since the rain. I was sitting out on the Front porch at Dave and Julie's yesterday, smoking my pipe, and heard one of the neighbors actually mowing his lawn. I was pretty sure there still wasn't anything to mow, but gawd love him, he felt the urge anyway.

Growing up, I had a neighbor like that, Mr. Foster. He would mow his lawn every few days, manicuring down to the dust during the driest years. I understand from my brother that one of  the Foster daughters -- WHO I DID NOT, I repeat, DID NOT peep on while she was sunbathing in a bikini --  has bought the ranch style house we grew up in. And though Mr. Foster has been dead for a while, his widow continues on in the house, probably not mowing nearly as much or messing up neighbor kid's attempts to sing along with Molly Hatchet or Waylon Jennings by getting on the H.A.M. Radio. 

Today marks a full week since I arrived here from Chicago, thanks to the kind assistance of my old friend Paul H., the Medinah Train, and my new friend John Briscoe, no longer of Stone House Fudge, but still playing the blues guitar like a fiend. And while I was hoping my long lost birth certificate would be waiting for me in the 40 pounds of mail waiting for me at the Post Office, I am (not all that) sorry to report it was not.

I did wander back into something resembling a jobby job, though, in the form (once again) as an itinerant local newsraker for The Prairie Advocate News. And while the news of my return as undoubtedly rippled through the ranks of those who were more than happy with my departure in January, I am sure that none of the town or county officials -- I will refrain from naming names herein, but find me at the bar later, if you really want to know them; I'll talk for shots of bourbon -- who had, in the past, tried to get me fired because they didn't like my "editorializing" (replace with the appropriate term "style") -- would stoop to anything so coarse and vulgar as trying to beat me to the punch and get me fired before I even get started gain.

Naturally not.

I expect much more from current and former elected officials like Doris Bork and Nina Cooper.


Ah, well. I need to keep a lid on my bar tab anyway. Moving on...

More Of The Name Game

If you're a regular reader, you may recall this post wherein I question, again, what it is a person has tied up in a name. Not long after it posted, I received a text from a friend of mine here who informed me that her name directly impacted who she became and that she couldn't imagine being named anything else. She also pointed out the difference between how she felt when she was married and took his name (which was Smith) versus how she felt about retaking the last name she was born with. Now, I will admit -- as someone who grew up with essentially two names -- one of them being associated with a nauseating little cartoon mouse that had his own club for years, and which has given us such cultural icons as Annette Funicello, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake (one of which was known for her swim suit, the other known for free-twatting*, and the other for being smart enough to ditch the free-twatter before she went crazy and for being completely overlooked in the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction debacle that turned the Super Bowl Half Time Show into a geriatric sock hop), not to mention the most evil pop song ever written, I have to agree. To a point.

My friend was, of course, named after a race horse, and her middle name is Twilight. I have ample sympathy, given that she now feels chained at the ankles to that annoying series of badly written books that have spawned terrible movies. Growing up with a name outside of the norm, and putting up with the usual verbal (and sometimes physical) jabs from other kids with names as unique as John (Sorry JB! I don't mean you!), Terry, Mark or [insert name of average named bully here] does impact the sort of person you become.

And that, actually, was sort of the point.

Part of the that culturally constructed applique personality I was talking about comes, in part, from how we're socialized as kids. Some people get past all the juvenile shit. Some people, well into adulthood, allow themselves to be defined by whether they were picked last ... or not picked at all ... in high school gym class.  Some kids grew up enduring far worse, and somehow managed to grow beyond it... and somehow, I think it had less to do with their names than with one of those undefinable qualities that most people have and few people access. As humans, most of us have the ability to change who we are and how we are -- if we're willing to do it. That many who are able to simply don't says more about the culture that seeks to blind us all.

I mentioned that I grew up with two names. That's true. My given name is Michael. But no one calls me that. There's nothing wrong with it, the name. It translates roughly as "One Who is Like God." I've been called Mickey, or Mick most of my life. That's also the first name of the guy who saved my Dad's life in the Navy. It translates roughly as "You're so fine, you blow my mind."

As you might be able to tell, I'm still not all that convinced my name means much except that The State can identify me, track me, share my information with the Grand Marketeers of the New Millennium. I'm still me... and the me I am in the process of becoming. Whatever the hell that means.

Anachronistic Cartography

To stave off the itch while I'm waiting for my State Identity to catch up with me, I look through my travel atlas and ponder my next jaunt. My plan... still... is to go south, like the birds, and spend some winter days in southern Florida, maybe celebrate my birthday in New Orleans. But I've also been thinking, lately, of going north... to North Dakota, specifically, to check out what an oil boom looks like. I've seen boom towns in decline. I'm thinking it might be worth noting what one looks like as it's building up

But then there's that whole winter thing. And I don't want to count on another preternaturally warm winter. So I'm thinking. And looking over maps. And pondering my own ridiculousness.

The Crossing of St. Frank

The 8 page chapbook is ready and for sale. For a $2 minimum donation (that includes postage), I'll send you a signed one. It will be signed with one of the names I go by. You can try requesting which name, but chances are good I'll pick a different one. If you run into me on the street, chances are good I have some with me. Ask nice, buy me a beer, or donate to the travel fund, and I'll give you one.

If' you're reading this from Where I Am, find me, I probably have some on me. I"ll give you one for a $1 donation, or something in kind (a cup of coffee, a beer, a bowl of soup.)

If you're reading this from Not Where I Am, go to the Beggar Bowl Page. When you donate to the Travel Fund, there's a box for a comment. Make sure you tell me where to send it and who to send it to.  Gawd Bless.


*free-twatting -, noun. Female version of free-balling.

01 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt: Ye, Tho I Walk

Truckin', I'm a goin home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on. 
                                                                                                - The Grateful Dead
There is something to turn us mad. -Kenneth Patchen

These are the days that must happen to you: -Walt Whitman

My legs are a little sore even today. Still. That's what I get for not paying attention.

The trip up from Cincinnati to Bloomingdale was pretty easy. I rode up with my friend Paul, and his wife Cathy. She doesn't normally accompany on his Sunday run to Illinois, but she was going to catch a ride on a California bound truck. She's heading out to visit her family and attend to some sick relatives. Riding long distances in a big rig is actually sort fun. I will admit that it's one of those things my soon-to-be ex refers to as a "boy-man" sort of thing. I still remember wanting to be a truck driver when I was a kid, the appeal of all that romance and the sense of freedom... fueled, no doubt,  by Smokey and The Bandit and copious reruns of BJ and The Bear.  At one point, before I left Cincinnati this time, My Dear Sweet Ma asked if being a truck driver was something I might be interested in doing; after all, it could mean being out on the road for an extended period of time, and there's travel, of a sorts, involved.

Sometimes, though, when you talk to people about what they do, you learn a bit too much. I suspect that if many soon-to-be educators had an honest heart to heart with working and soon to be retired teachers, they would, en masse, drop out of whatever teacher education program they're in and apply to law school. Having talked to Paul about his job a lot, I can honestly tell you, Dear Readers, that while I enjoy riding in big rigs and don't mind helping load and unload cargo, I have no interest in entering the industry as an actual trucker. I should also mention that my innate ability to get lost -- in spite of have spot on directions -- would probably keep me from being effective at moving a trailer full of Stuff That Costs Entirely Too Much from Point A to Point B.

And yes, it may be true that pretty much all truckers use GPS.

I would like to point out though that GPS, as a mapping or directional system is flawed to the point that it's almost useless.  There was a time when I thought maybe my problems with Global Positioning Satellite doo-hickey-thing-a-ma-bobs was that I simply prefer to wander willy-nilly... or, as my ex often complained whenever I was driving anywhere I wasn't familiar with or had never been, that I have the uncanny ability to find the longest possible route to any place. The tried and true bumper sticker wisdom


is very much true in my case. My (increasingly well documented) tendency to wander has always found one outlet or another. And I do have a lousy sense of direction. Always have. Some people can stand in the middle of the prairie on a cloudy day and tell you what direction they're facing. Some of us need a little help. A compass, maybe. But I don't have one. My friend John, who met me in Chicago and brought me back to Mount Carroll yesterday evening, seemed surprised that I could travel from one end of the country to the other in the manner that I have without a compass. I admit there were times that it would have come in handy.

Like two mornings ago.

I woke up early and decided that since the Medinah Metra Station was ONLY about 6 miles from where Paul's rig was parked overnight... and since the morning was relatively cool and the sky looked rain free for the time being... that I would go ahead and walk I felt pretty well rested, and felt like I could get an early start, take advantage of the coolest part of the day. With any luck, I could get there before the boil really set in. Maybe catch the train into the city, rent a locker for my gear, and wander the city a bit before meeting John. I've never been to the Haymarket monument, or to any of the art galleries or museums. My trips through the most metropolitan of Midwestern cities are generally passing through... either on a train or, most often, the Greyhound Station. The ex and I visited Chicago once, not long after moving to Mount Carroll. We stayed with friends of hers in Oak Park and road the El into the city.

It was cold. It was windy. And the Macys frightened me a little.

But we did eat at a nifty little restaurant where I paid too much for a really amazing burger. (It was.)

After I said my so long/see you laters, I headed off, following what I thought were the proper directions. I had, after all, looked them up on Google Maps. The walking directions were slightly different than the driving directions.  More of a zig zag than a matter of 2 or 3 simple turns. But I thought maybe there was a specific reason for that. Maybe there weren't any sidewalks. Maybe it was a busy highway. Maybe there was no crosswalk.

I set off walking, looking for W. Army Trail, then Cardinal Drive. A few of the streets had bird names: Cardinal, Eagle, Raven. 5 or 6 miles isn't a lot, but it isn't a little either, so I didn't worry that none of the street names I had been looking for didn't appear. It was still (relatively) cool, my feet didn't hurt (more than normal) and the pack didn't weigh me down (yet.)

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all until something like an hour passed and I started seeing signs for Glendale Heights.

There was nothing in my Google Maps directions that mentioned cutting through Glendale Heights.

Not one to panic in these situations... they are far too typical to be worth the energy required to panic... I stopped and pondered my situation, looked at the directions I'd written down in my travel journal. Looking up, I saw an Indian (You know, the kind from India, not that kind that Columbus named Indians because he didn't want to admit that he got lost). He was walking toward me, in a semi-hurry, dressed in all white like an extra from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Being generally polite and only slightly smelly from one night in the rig, I smiled as he approached and signaled to him. As he approached, I asked him if I was going the right direction to cross W. Army Trail.

"I don't know anything," he mumbled quickly.

I didn't believe him, really. But I wasn't going to press it. Sometimes, in spite of my generally friendly, jovial nature, people are put off by me. It could be the hat. Or maybe the beard.

Oh well. As the Great Sage said, A Hater Gonna Hate.

It was then... AND ONLY THEN... that I took note of my surroundings. No street indicators that I was at all heading the wrong direction. Or the right direction either, for that matter.  Then I looked at the sun, climbing in the Eastern sky.

In the Eastern sky.


It finally occurred to me that I had been walking south, rather than north, for the better part of an hour.

No compass, remember? But If I had simply paid attention to where I was, I would have known.

Truthfully, though, I knew that I knew better. I still know how to  read maps and atlases. Honestly, I prefer a good road atlas to some cold digital (and always British female... coincidence? ) voice telling me how to drive.

Sometimes it helps to focus on where you are and what you're doing.

After backtracking an hour, I found W. Army Trail without difficulty. It was less than a quarter of a mile from where the rig was parked. I was across the parking lot from it when I walked over to Wal-mart at 6 in the morning to take a shit and splash cold water on my face.

It wasn't long before I found Cardinal Drive, which led me straight into a residential neighborhood. Nice homes. Not McMansions or anything like that, but still very nice. It was the sort of neighborhood that had it been closer to sunset than sunrise, someone would have noticed me and maybe called a cop. (Yes. It's happened to me before.) Mostly empty driveways, so either no one had a car (unlikely) or they were at work. Maybe in Chicago, having taken the Medinah Train that I, as of yet, hadn't made it to. As I made my way through the neighborhood of Stratford Trail, I looked again at the directions scribbled in my travel journal. The zig zag was really more of a zig, a zag, another zag, and another zag, followed by an amble, another zig, two more zigs, a zag, and a short bounce across the railroad tracks. It seemed to me like I was going around the block once, then going around another block, when there was clearly a street that connected all of the outer points.


And I thought I was directionally challenged.

I finally got to the train station with plenty of time between trains. I was able set my rucksack down, sit down on a bench inside the abandoned station house. With an hour ride on the train into Chicago to look forward to, I drank water, waited, rested my feet, and read more from Philip Dray's weighty tome on Labor History in America, There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America.