29 November, 2012

Pre-December in River City

The dog has finally stopped whining
and the cat is upstairs resting.
Mid-morning Sunday, sounds of the street
filtering through closed window blinds.
A morning chill takes the soothing temptation away
from my second cup of coffee. I am cold, I think.
I should drink more water so I can stay warm.

The tone and shade of the light seeping in is a snitch,
tells me the sun is still shining. My fingers feel the cold,
like they have since the year I lived in New Orleans
where there is no winter – just a damning
and permanent tropical spring.

The neighbor’s chickens in the dirt alley behind the house
pay no attention to presence or absence
of the season’s waning sun.
Winter is creeping down the river,
spreading through the tectonic root structure
carried on choppy currents atop unusually low water levels.
The last birds of the year are amassing,
sending out their acrobatic messages to each other
and to the four winds, calling out
for weather updates and last minute
flight trajectory alterations due to climate change.

After spending years studying the seasonal patterns of birds,
I am learning to smell the air and to feel the subtle shift,
looking to see the signs and slight indications
that will send them off in an anti-gravitational mass.

The seasons of a man’s life should be so fluid—

fluid as that moment between breathes
when, with wings outstretched
like a hundred thousand christs
they will take flight without any concern
about their place in larger order
or if their wings are as grand as their brother’s
and no question as to whether there is a perch
awaiting them after they are exhausted
from a thousand mile flight
dragging the weight of the summer sun behind.


27 November, 2012

Singularity and the Freewheeling Critter: Ray Kurzweil at the Kentucky Author Forum

My view is that consciousness, the seat of “personalness,” is the ultimate reality, and is also scientifically impenetrable. -- Ray Kurzweil

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. -- Albert Einstein

Although I haven't read much of Ray Kurzweil's work, I was familiar with him. He famously declared, via the title of a much lauded and much criticized book that "The Singularity is Near." His many accomplishments have been overshadowed somewhat by his status as a futurist -- which, in an age where people still seek certainty and the surest way forward in order to avoid scuffing their shoes, makes him fill the Edgar Cayce/Nostradamus role whether he ever meant too or not.

Singularity,as Kurzweil defines it, is the point where technological evolution and human biological development merge. Pragmatically,this would mean that instead of needing a hand held computer to communicate,play Angry Birds, and search Google, humans would have access to these capabilities via extra-biological implants.

His predictions take certain things into account, of course, like all predictions. No matter how much you attempt to claim the cloak of objectivity (which, to be fair, Kurzweil doesn't seem to) those ol' a priori arguments never go away. While he acknowledges that there will be moral and ethical implications that need to be addressed he ... at least conversationally (I need to read his work to be more sure of this) seems to assume that with greater access to information that humanity will be able to handle the lines that will inevitably be blurred -- indeed, lines that are already being blurred, such as our cultural concepts of privacy, and the ever raging concern over intellectual and creative property rights

which just an extension of the same ownership by Divine edict obsession that the early Europeans settlers carried with them.

He also dismisses the notion that these technological extensions of self could become intellectual and critical crutches. I thought of a comment by a student at Arizona State University; the student claimed there was no need to remember certain things -- like state capitals or the year the Civil War ended, for example -- because Google was so accessible.

And NO, I'm not saying that rote memorization has anything to do with being intelligent. But it DOES exercise the brain, make it work in ways it wouldn't normally. And having access to certain pieces of information without technological extensions could come in handy. Say, when the WiFI goes out, or if you're somewhere where there ISN'T ANY WIFI.

I did appreciate his vexation about language, though. He called it humanity's first invention, but acknowledged the problematic nature of language...in that it can describe and reflect but that there's always a risk of something being lost in the translation. Language is necessarily reductive and inherently culturally biased. We're still grasping at language to adequately describe aspects of the human experience that can't be empirically studied. Kurzweil says this is tied to our individual "personalness" which is "scientifically impenetrable."

That's how I define the purpose and function of poetry, and of the arts in general, actually. Poetry (and art in general) is the attempt to reflect, describe, explain, or be critical of individual and collective experience. Science has it's uses, though. And I enjoy finding the mystic buried in the empirical. This gives me hope that we might stumble as a culture onto the truths that lie at the heart of existence, that we might be able to see them without interpretation and without ego.

But it would still be helpful to simply know that Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota.

26 November, 2012

Intermezzo: Seen and Unseen

Ain't no privacy in a digital birdcage. - me, in a facebook comment

What is human life? The first third a good time, and rest remembering about it. - Mark Twain

A slow and thoughtful Monday morning here in Louisville. I had the chance this weekend to see Ron Whitehead perform, along with some other amazing poets and musicians, at the Haymarket Whiskey Bar. Having followed his work for several years, it was a pleasure to see him live, particularly as he was celebrating his birthday. Before that, I was up in Cincinnati enjoying the holiday with Amanda and My Dear Sweet Ma, waiting through the procession of commericals and commercialization that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to see my niece perform as one of entirely to many dancers inspired by Lady Gaga. (She was the most talented one. I'm sure you saw her if you were watching.)

If you weren't watching, don't worry. I'm sure it will be a FB meme before too too long.

Memes, of course, are what passes for information transfer in the Cyber Age. There is no promise of objectivity, no guarantee of veracity. It's simply information that is thrown at the consumer/product

... because that's what we are, if'n you haven't taken a break from Cyber Monday to notice. We're the consumer and we are consumed. There's a certain symmetry to it, don't you think...

at which time it is then left to the target/consumer/product to determine whether it's reliable, whether it's a rumor made fact by repetition, or just one more Cat Playing the Keyboard or 2 Girls One Cup.

If this sounds like freedom to you, you might want to take a big whiff. It sure smells like something else.

The meme that hit this morning, of course... at least, the one I noticed... was another run of the reaction against Facebook's longstanding policy of mining member data to the blackmarketeers of the apocalypse that sell us everything from thong underwear to survivalist dry rations.

Given that a significant amount of my life is posted for the reading pleasure of the deus machina (for which Facebook is only the intermediary) and the half a baker's dozen of you Dear and Faithful Readers who kindly keep track of exploits and insploits*, I do take notice and am aware that social media -- and Facebook in particular -- is nothing more than a method for the corporamatons* that dictate much of what we have decided is reality to mine us for consumer preferences in everything from dental floss to politicians, from light bulbs to religious and ideological beliefs.

If you still believe that the internet is freespace and anything goes just because you can find your personal preference for porn and corn chips with the click of a mouse or a tap on the tablet, you're not paying attention.

The good news is that it's probably only folks my age or older who still have a notion of what privacy is that aren't aware of this. The bad news is that those who are aware of it run the risk of getting used to it so much that it doesn't bother them.
* from The Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Desk Edition.
insploits, noun. Events that occur when not in physical motion that nonethless exist. Including but not limited to: dreams, visions, meditations, thoughts, outer body experieneces, astral travel, and drunken epiphanies.
corporamatons, noun. a profiteering and parasitic conglomerate that has neither brain nor soul but is not aware of the former's or concerned about the latter's absence.

20 November, 2012

A Baboon On The Road / In The Late Urbane Autumn (Draft)

A rain soaked wind is stripping the last dead leaves
off the tree the way a man disrobes an old lover.
Been here before. Only time being the difference
in the feel of the goose bumps under stealthy fingertips.
The season has lingered longer than anticipated.
The road unfurls in front of my feet,
each step forming cracked slabs of diabolical concrete.
Cars roll by the post-harvest draconian landscape.
All the agribusiness machines are doing their duty
and the fields are being stripped and deserted until Spring.
My ears resonate with the symphony of the wind,
the timpani of traffic on the road,
the rumbling bass of commerce on the IC and E rushing by
unimpeded by the presence of one
who does not accept the finality of the tune.

15 miles from anywhere,
wandering this post-glacial geography stretched in all directions
punctuated by the occasional home or barn or silo.
I am stretched, too. Stretched thin like the soles of my shoes,
like the undarned socks encasing my aching feet. Echoes
of the machines of harvest carry like bitter dew drops
on this corpse of a season, call to me from distant
unfallowed fields. I hold onto the hope
that if I listen carefully enough
there will be an encrypted message for me
in the slight hum emanating from the cellular phone tower
just up the road.

The overlords have no updates for me today.

All year, the seasons have been chasing me; now
there is no trace of them
though I sometimes catch a trace of them
hiding in the tall grass and tangled weeds.

Every time a train passes, I think about walking closer to the track
hunting for young poke leaves to chew on
or maybe save to eat later when I will be near a fire
and a pot of water. (I have no idea when that will be.)

And then my mind turns to Eastern Kentucky,
to the cabin where I spent winters huddled
wrapped blankets and the scent of black walnut
in the iron belly stove,
and the stars
and the stars that shone brightly
that lit the way that led me to this place,
put my feet upon this path.

is gone now, swept into the geography of memory,
like every other place my foot has been
and I have learned
there is no point in blaming anyone
for the whim the universe takes
as it rights itself
in spite of the imbalance of so many footsteps
upon the Earth.

Early in the morning I catch a hint of autumn in the air.
It is fragrant. It is a fine old perfume
made from the choicest elements in creation.
And though I have not yet stumbled on the proper name
or who I should thank I extend my gratitude nonetheless
and hope for luck and for the rain to hold off
a little while longer.

19 November, 2012

Intermezzo: Don't Mourn (Joe Hill and the Slow Enlightenment)

Now the boss the law is stretching /Bulls and pimps he's fetching/And they are a fine collection/ As only Jesus knows. -- Joe Hill, Where the Fraser River Flows

97 years ago today the state of Utah assassinated Joe Hill by firing squad after a kangaroo conviction for the murder of Salt Lake City grocer John Morrison and his son. According to legend, his final word was "Fire!"

I use the term assassinate deliberately. The evidence against Hill was flimsy, and the only reason they bothered with the firing squad was because the first bullet intended to silence him without the bother of a public trial didn't do its job.

After, according to the legend, Joe's ashes were sent to every state in the union-- except for the state of Utah, at Joe's request; he didn't want his remains to ever exist in the same state that murdered him.

Those of you familiar with his legacy know that his final exhortation to
his fellow Wobblies was not to waste time mourning for him, but to organize. Joe Hill believed that an organized and honest union was the only thing keeping working people from being exploited by organized capital -- those who get rich by mooching off the sweat of others than by their own work.

Today isn't the only day Joe Hill crosses my mind, of course. I enjoy the music he left behind -- those old Wobbly standards, many of them written to parody religious hymns -- and I thought about him quite a bit when I was Out and About earlier this year. I wrote earlier in the year about Cletus the Dog Man, who I met in Rapid City South Dakota; he was one of many I ran into or saw or overheard who were simply out looking for work. Most of them had no interest in leaving the place they thought of as home. But they felt like they had no choice.

That's part of the impossible situation created by those who have political power and influence in order to keep those of us who really have the power from ever being able to exercise it. If there's no work where you live, you're supposed to have the guts to pack and go find it -- as long as you have the gas money or ability to travel, of course. And if you can't do that, well, you're shit out of luck. The Michelle Bachmans and the Rand Pauls of the world would say that maybe God doesn't want you to have a job.

And don't forget the other caveat: if you DO travel around looking for work, don't travel by bus, because that means you're white and/ or ghetto trash and automatically a homicidal maniac and rapist.

Or, as I was mistaken for twice, Mexican.

In other words: work and pray,live on hay, you'll eat pie in the sweet by an by.

I do appreciate Joe's sense of humor. Though fewer people know the hymns, the parody is still a good one, and the satire is apt. The 21st Century is shaping up to be a repeat of history we've already lived but seemed to have learned nothing from.

Good thing I'm learning to play guitar again. There are plenty of songs that still need to be sung, and plenty of stories and poems,too. We're not done yet.

16 November, 2012

O Losantiville, Don't You Cry For Me(Verse 2): Quality Control \ Habitat for Humanity Part 1

True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but realizing our kinship with all beings. - Pema Chondron

Anyone who lives in or around Cincinnati knows instinctively it is a problematic city; and its history, from what I've begun to read, bears this out. The geography is perpetually under erasure: the various visions and monied specials interests have managed to twist the place so much it has to struggle to hold onto the remaining bits of unique character it has left.

But Cincinnati is where I am. At least for the time being. And while I wasn't planning on wintering in the Ohio Valley, there are worse places to end up than in the company of family and friends, in the shadow of a city whose geography is familiar and whose peripatetic combination of culture and anti-culture (think about what Gene Roddenberry said about what happens when you mix matter and anti-matter) long ago made an imprint of my soul.

And while Losantiville may not have been my first choice of winter havens, the fact is my only real plan was to go south, down around Port Charlotte, and spend the winter pushing up sea shells with my toes.

This may be the universe's response to my arrogance at trying to take a vacation.

One of the things that fell into my lap was an opportunity to work on a Habitat for Humanity house through the church My Dear Sweet Ma attends. Not being much of a church goer myself, I have, over the years, had a fairly volatile relationship with churches and with organized religion in general. When explaining my position I often say that I have rejected the metaphor for God that I was raised on, and finding no other that explains, describes, or satisfies, I resort to talking about the universe. (When speaking or writing about the larger mysteries, it's important to rely on language that is both specific enough to offer detail but vague enough to allow for new insight.) I'd heard of Habitat for Humanity, of course. And I liked the idea of pitching in to help someone have shelter that needed it.

The church is located about 5 minutes from where my mom lives, and they were warned of my arrival. I went Friday afternoon -- work was to begin at 2pm and I arrived a few minutes early -- to help cut and stack the wood in preparation for the actual work the following day. The weather forecast for the entire weekend was sunny with temperatures in the mid to high 60's. I stayed away from the power tools, opting to do the leg work of moving the woodI saw this as primarily a common sense move. While it's true that my Grandpa Dunn was a carpenter, and a fine one at that,it's also true that I'm not. Of all the genes that could have passed on, the one that didn't was the one that could have made me NOT a klutz and NOT inclined to hit my own -- or, gawd help them if they happen to be in the way, someone else's -- fingers. But to be fair, I haven't had much practice either.

At least, that's what I told myself.

Everyone I met and talked to was polite. It's large church, and for all any of them knew, I could have been a member; none of the people I met knew my Dear Sweet Ma, though they claimed to have some recollection of the surname. After some initial cutting and after more folks showed up, I ended up working with a nice guy named Jim. We were, according to the project leader Dave from Crossroads Missions out of Louisville, "Quality Control." Jim and made sure that everyone else was cutting enough of the different sizes of wood and that they were stacked in the right place. I ended up doing that particular job because no one else wanted it,and I suspect that Jim ended up in it for the very same reason. It's not difficult to figure. The other men wanted to be around the power tools and the women there didn't want to be relegated to a seemingly less strenuous job.

I didn't mind, though; I have learned not to define my gender identity by the seeming manliness of my job. One guy in particular seemed to enjoy the fact that he was doing something more manly than either Jim or me... especially since Dave, the project leader said when he was trying to find volunteers for Quality Control --

"I need a couple of women to carry this clipboard and just make sure the men are cutting enough of everything and putting them in the right place."

Every time this guy, who was entirely too young to be as bald as he was to be that pleased with himself, would bring some wood over he'd smirk and ask if he'd done it right. But he was wearing a shirt that identified him as affiliated with Turpin High School, so I took into account that he was probably not ever encouraged to have manners.

The work got done, though, right around sunset. Since I didn't hurt myself or anyone else on Friday, I decided to go ahead show up again on Saturday.

13 November, 2012

Chicago Intermezzo 3: Roger and Me

Persons who have been homeless carry within them a certain philosophy of life which makes them apprehensive about ownership. - Jerzy Kosinski

He approached me as I entered the food area at the Harrison Street Station in Chicago. He complimented my jacket and asked where I got it.

"I been wanting a jacket like that," he said. Then he shrugged. I told him I'd had it a while and that it served me well. He nodded, shrugged and again, and shuffled off.

The slow painful gait was one I understood. He moved like a man whose feet were swollen and had been giving him trouble. On the heavy side with  sandy gray hair. Ash colored complexion, like he hadn't had a decent meal in a while... or, at any rate, with any regularity. The smell of rotten onion emanating from him caused people to break in front of him. Sometimes when people walk through a crowd -- it was midday, high traffic time -- the crowd with swallow them, ingest them, make them disappear. But there was no making Roger disappear. The wide swath he cut through the crowd of people waiting for buses to here and there and everywhere was visible and took more than a few seconds to disappear.

My bus wasn't scheduled to leave until 3:30 in the morning. 14 hours to wait. I'd had longer waits, and at least I wasn't going to get the bum's rush this time... though I kept my ticket handy and accessible in case the rent-a-cop (who couldn't carry a live firearm but was allowed a club-sized flashlight and a can of mace) and the off-duty Chicago cop(who did have a live firearm) decided to do a random ticket check. I bought a cup of watered down chili and coffee, sat down and ate it slowly, and read Walt Whitman. After I finished, I made my way over to the waiting area and found a seat, letting my m mind wander.

Roger came over and sat down not far from me. People started to move away almost immediately. He asked where I was going. We talked about different places we'd been. Roger had been out for several months, mostly in Illinois and Michigan. He was waiting for a bus -- his wasn't going to leave until 6 in the morning-- that would take him to Grand Rapids. Roger said there was a job rehabilitation program up there. That a friend of his went through the program and had found regular work. He told me he'd had trouble holding down a job.

"But I was on those meds," he said, shaking his head and pointing to his right temple. "Those things make me not right. In the head.

He was surprised to hear I didn't draw a crazy check. I can only assume it was the beard.

Not everyone had moved away at that point. But when he hoisted his foot up on the bench and removed his shoe... he wasn't wearing any socks... the remaining few moved away. Roger was sitting on my right. To my left, a young mother and her daughter, who was around four years old, were busy trying pack clothes from old shopping bags into two small suitcases. They were the kind sold at the depot at an exorbitant price. I could tell the mother wasn't happy about having to transfer; I can only assume that one of the ticket agents informed her she had too much to carry on and it was too loosely packed to go under the bus. The little girl was having more fun, playing extreme wack-a-mole with her clothes in an attempt to make room in one of the suitcases for her stuffed animals.

Once Roger took his shoes off, the mother rushed through the repacking job, tried to fold up the the shopping bags -- the little girl had a good time tearing one of them into pieces -- and hurried off, leaving a semi-smushed loaf of bread.

Roger's feet and legs were swollen and covered with a red, flaky rash. He complained of the itching, how he'd gone to the emergency room and they didn't really help him. After asking a few questions, I thought maybe he'd picked up a bad case of scabies; he said he picked up whatever it was in shower at a men's shelter.

"Do you think she's coming back for that bread?"

"Oh,I doubt it."

He asked if I wanted it. I told him I wasn't interested in it. He hemmed and hawed about it, talked about his feet. Talked about Grand Rapids. He asked if I thought it was a good idea for him to go there. I told him it sounded fine, as long as he had shelter for the winter. He asked what I thought he should do about his feet. I didn't know what to tell him,but I suggested calamine lotion for the itch. He talked about being a truck driver and working at a meat packing plant. One eye was always on the loaf of bread. A few times he asked if I would hand it to him and then changed his mind.

My legs were getting stiff and I wanted to move around, so I told Roger I was stepping out for a smoke. When I finished, I found a piece of floor in front of the gate, stretched out, and took a nap. When I woke up, Roger came over and talked to until it was time for me to board the bus. I told him to take care of himself, stay warm. We shook hands. Roger smiled and stood a little straighter. The rent-a-cop and off duty pig eyed me, but didn't comment.

07 November, 2012

Chicago Intermezzo 2: First World Problems, Part 1 (Juan of the World)

Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that is that,
But do not use the rotted names. 
                                                       -- Wallace Stevens
from www.worldarchitecture.org

The area of downtown Chicago around Union Station turns into a ghost town after one in the morning. And when you're pushed out into the night when Union Station closes -- at one in the morning -- there are few options for places to go. The bus stop shelters are already taken, and the nearest 24 hour anything is a Dunkin Donuts manned by a grouchy old man of Middle Eastern descent with a cell phone ear bud that he talks into all night while listening to gangster rap. None of those things are issues alone. But when those are combined with a clear contempt for customers and an even clearer contempt for anyone trying to find a place  to wait out the night, any other option is preferable.

Of course, there's the Day's Inn on the corner of Canal and Harrison; but rooms there start out at $159.00 a night (not including the city tax rate on hotels).

My other option, and the best one I could come up with since there was a threat of rain, was further down on Harrison Avenue; and it was one I am very familiar with: The Greyhound Bus Station. Since I didn't have a ticket, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got booted. Experience told me that overnight they do ticket checks to make sure that everyone there actually belongs there. Union Station opened again at 5 in the morning, and I knew better than to think I could get away with staying at the bus station all night no matter how much I moved around.

At 3 in the morning, the announcement I didn't want to hear rang out over the intercom: ticket check. The security guard and off-duty cop were making their way around, looking at everyone's tickets. It was time for me to go. Although it was little comfort, I was not the only one ejected into the night; but I was the only one that didn't have an idea of where to go. The handful of people who exited the station at the same time I did clearly had ideas on where to go and wasted no time in getting there. They dispersed and disappeared into the darkness. As I turned the corner at Harrison and Canal, a cold spitting rain started to fall.

I made it to Union Station's main entrance before the rain got too heavy. There were already a few people in front of the station, waiting for it to open, but I was able to find some shelter from the weather huddled behind a cement doorway under the overhang. It was almost 3:30. If I was lucky, a custodian would unlock the doors maybe ten minutes before 5. Any other options meant exposing myself to the weather and potentially losing a spot that, even if I had to stay on my feet, was, at least, shelter.  So I stayed put.

With that part of Chi-town still being a ghost town at 3:30 in the morning, I leaned against the doorway, my back to the wind and rain, and allowed myself to close my eyes and enjoy the relative quiet ...

which was broken by the sound of a truck (sans muffler), the tumbling open of rusty door hinge and the shuffle and tumble of fast food wrappers, the clinking of bottles, some muttered conversation, and a quick slam of the door. The truck sped off before the intoxicated idjit realized Union Station was closed.

I quickly discovered why when he did his best attempt at a sober stride up to the door, reached out to open as if he expected it to swing wide open to greet him, only to be denied.

"What? Not open? How can it not be open? This IS the train station, right?"

He looks around, waiting for one of the three of us huddling out of the weather to answer.


I nod, hoping mainly that stating the obvious will shut him up.

"And it's CLOSED?"

Again, I nod.

When'll it open?" He sets down a bottle of beer that he'd been hiding in one of the inside coats of his pocket. I raise my right hand, palm open and mutter "5." Then I nod towards the very visible signs on the inside doors indicating the station's hours.

He immediately got his cell phone out and called someone. Having no luck, he muttered something in broken Spanish and punched in another number.

"Oye!" He said when someone answered. He went on to explain mostly in English that the station was closed. Whoever he talked to was clearly not impressed.

"What you mean, you're not picking me up?!"

Apparently not. He hung up, cussing in two slurred, broken languages. He dialed a few more numbers, to no avail. Finally, someone picked up. But she would have none of him either. I say she because first he tried sweet talking her, and he didn't even blink when the bottle of booze at his feet exploded from being shaken and placed heavily on the sidewalk.  The sweet talk quickly faded, though -- I got the feeling she had been the recipient of his "Baby please..." before -- and when he could not use game to talk her into driving downtown from West Elgin to pick his drunk ass up, he tried another tact.

He offered her jewelry.

Yes, really.

Personally, I'm shocked she didn't wet her panties right there and promise to chauffeur him around all of Chicago and collar counties wearing a thong.

When his phone battery died, he dropped it on the ground, stomped on it, and walked out into Canal Street, hoping to catch one of the taxis that had been driving by and slowing down a bit hoping for an easy fare at the end of shift.  Naturally, when he was trying to actually hail one, they would have none of it. He even managed to stop two of them by narrowly avoiding getting ran over. Neither of them would have anything to do with his too-hyper-to-just-be-drunk ass.

Maybe he should have promised them jewelry.

Then he yelled "FUCK IT!" and threw the rest of his hidden bottles of booze into the street. The shattering glass and murdered booze echoed in the night. After that he ran a block towards Harrison, hoping to catch another taxi. On his way back towards Union Station, he nearly ran into yet another taxi that narrowly avoided hitting him. I was surprised ... and relieved... when this driver, who was clearly desperate for a fare, agreed to take him off into the night. It was 4 in the morning. The rain stopped and I could feel the first inkling of moonset and sunrise in the temperature of the wind and a faint change in the color behind the clouds.

02 November, 2012

Carlinville Intermezzo: The Story Of R

The train station in Carlinville, Illinois is nothing more than a ventilated brick box. Cement floor, a single bench, no heat for the winter and not even a fan for warmer weather. I got there around 11:30 in the morning. The train to Chicago wasn't going to arrive until 3:30 that afternoon. The sky was cloudy, the temperature cold, and it was spitting a particularly unforgiving rain that made me grateful for I didn't have to walk the miles from Litchfield.

Nothing about Carlinville impressed me enough to get wet wandering around to explore it. I noticed one clearly No-Tell-Motel on the way into town. (The sign listed a price differential between single and double beds, and the ambiance suggested that there should have also been a price differential for hourly and nightly rates.) I also took note of several bars, none of which looked trustworthy enough to carry my pack into. Other than the rail, which rolled by a deserted grain elevator, there was very little left to describe. Like every other town that grew up along Route 66, it was impacted by completion of the I-55 corridor. And it was clearly impacted again by changes in the railroad industry.

I was alone in the brick box for about 20 minutes before he hurried in and asked if I had a cigarette. And if I was slightly inclined to dig deeper into Carlinville -- named, according to an optimistically written Wikipedia page, after a former Governor -- talking to R would have changed my mind.

He assured me that if I was looking to get laid, that all I had to do was walk down the street.

"Ah," I said. "So they're trying to fish outside of the gene pool?"

"Gene pool. Yeah, man You got that right!"

A man on the run from something has a distinct body language. Jerky movements. Disheveled look. Given the mostly pale demographic of the town and -- except for the Indians who worked in the hotels and the Mexicans who did the service industry grunt work -- R stuck out simply because he was black.

After I was unable to give him a cigarette, he asked where I was going and where I'd come from. So I gave him the quick and dirty version. Hearing that I walked from Staunton to Litchfield elicited a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."

"You didn't have a car?"

"If I had a car, I wouldn't need to catch a train."

That seemed to satisfy him for the most part. It also gave him a door to prove the current events of his life more interesting than mine.

R was not from Carlinville. He was from Springfield, Illinois, but came there via St. Louis. And he did it for a girl. The part that seemed to surprise him, even though he was standing in a brick box train depot waiting for the train that would take him back to Springfield with his few possessions in a 33 gallon garbage bag, was that it didn't work out.

"She's a white girl," he said. "And she's... you know... not thick." He repeated this several times throughout the story, as if he was trying to convince himself that it should have, and for those very reasons.

The story unfolded something like this: he met the woman he was trying to escape the day after he got out of jail. R explained that yes, "It was drug related stuff," but that he had cleaned up his act since and was no longer doing whatever it was that got him locked up. But, he admitted that, upon his release, he was on the hunt for the one thing he couldn't get while he was incarcerated. And it just so happened that he got call from a former cellie who had a girlfriend who had a friend.

"I was looking for a one night stand," R maintained. "But it didn't turn into that."

Upon his release, R had been sent to a half-way house to ensure that his rehabilitation would take. After one night with this girl -- whose name, I have to admit, I don't remember -- she took it upon herself to harass his Parole Officer and the Missouri State Department of Corrections to secure his release from the half-way house so that he could move in with her. When calling St. Louis didn't help, R, said, she drove from Carlinville to St. Louis five days a week in order to visit him and track down the dodgy P.O. Naturally, the development seemed to work to his advantage, so he didn't argue. And while he never uttered the word, the confluence of events must have seemed to him, at the time, serendipitous. And when his parole officer secured his release from the half-way house... making it clear that his only reason was to get the woman off his back... R thought he'd stumbled onto the love of his life.

His first indication that something was amiss was when he showed up in Carlinville and discovered that not only did his true love have two kids -- from two different fathers -- and that both of them were medicated for educational and developmental issues, but that she also lived with her sister, her sister's flavor of the week, and HER two kids.

To hear him tell it, his one true love did nothing except sleep all day, eat ice cream and want to fuck. She didn't want to deal with her kids. She didn't want to deal with her sister's kids. Apparently the sugar she ingested while watching Maury Povich was only to be used in the pursuit of more ice cream and sex.

To hear him tell it, she screwed him raw. And in every way possible. And when he was too exhausted to get it up "I'm not as young as I used be, you know" she would insist that he do something else to fill her appetites. And then she expected him to take care of the kids, who wouldn't listen to him. And then she expected him to make her a sandwich. And then clean up the house. And then go buy her some ice cream.

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.

Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

Apparently, there was a day when his own true love actually left the house -- for reasons he didn't explain -- and he took it upon himself to change out the sheets on the bed. She had told him he could find clean sheets in a Santa Claus bag in the hall closet. He found the bag and starting digging through pillow cases and sundry unmatched soft goods until he stumbled upon something that wasn't so -- soft.

Actually there were several.

"I'm telling you," he said, "the bitch could open a dildo flea market!"

He found out later, however, that not all the dildos were for her. Apparently she was hoping that R's time in prison made him a more amenable catcher to a stiff pitch.

R would have none of it.

And while he didn't say directly, the eventual decline of the relationship -- he reiterated several times that he was in love with her but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" -- began with his discovery of the toys and his denial of her strap-on passion.

Even love has it's limits.