21 February, 2014

The Spurned Spawn of The Gator Men

J.R. Skelton, Grendel's Mother (1908)
Since I spent most of last week on the northern side of the dirty sacred river, my plan was to write a bit more about Cincinnati.  I had the set up and everything. In case you missed it, or have forgotten -- not that I've lost faith in you, Dear Readers, but Memeworld is a busy place -- but here's the post on this blog's Facebook page* about where Cincinnati got it's name.

Getting back to River City, though, I find myself distracted by the Gator Men. More specifically, the spurned spawn of the Gator Men who, having been rejected and evicted from the murky mud that helped spawn them, inflict their misery and damnation upon whoever crosses their paths.

Sponsored by The One-eyed Jack, The Suicide King, and the numbers 1 and 11.
I have, in the past, referred to these horrible, soulless hell-critters as bean counters**. It occurs to me, however, that in doing so I am insulting both beans -- which are delicious and nutritious when properly prepared -- and to counting -- which I've been doing from an early age thanks to Sesame Street and the game of Blackjack.

While setting up home base here in River City (SOUTH SIDE!!!!) with The Traveller's Angel (Amanda) -- garden planning, home repair practicing, bread baking, canning, fermenting, and brewing all included -- I am also doing a stint of teaching at a community college. This is my second semester back in the institution I once swore I'd never return to -- the institution of higher cost edumacation, that is. The truth is, I enjoy being in the classroom and I get a charge out of teaching, and it's one of the few skills I have that is both useful and can bring in a little scratch. I'm a part-timer, of course. This frees me from the horrible obligation of committee work as well as from such niceties as a retirement and benefits package.

The student population ranges across the spectrum in age from recent high school graduates to retired grandmothers. Two of my current students -- we'll call them Sara and Sammy -- are up against a wall that, while I did not build it, I feel obligated to tilt at in some fashion. Sara is close to what used to be called the "traditional" college student. She's white, maybe in her early 20's. Like most students now who are not star athletes, good test takers, or borne of rich parents, Sara also holds down a job. She attends the college I teach at because it's still cheaper than that Other Kentucky University here in River City. She lives with her grandmother across the dirty sacred river in Indiana.

Sammy is an older black man. He can' use his legs, so he gets around in a wheel chair. He has admitted to me that he's been to prison -- though he was also particular enough to point out that he never killed anyone. Sammy is going to school because it's something to do and something I suspect he has always wanted to do.

But Sammy doesn't know anything about computers. He was told in the Admissions office that it wasn't important, that he'd pick it up. They told him he would have help. Then they sent him to through Financial Aid, who took his money, and pushed him through. Sara doesn't have internet access and home and limited computer access. They took her money, too, and sent her down the gullet and into the stomach of the beast.

Because larger institutions are less interested in developmental classes, students who lack some basic academic skills end up attending community college because 1) it's cheaper and 2) there's a misconception, sometimes encouraged by burned out faculty, that a community college is nothing more than a glorified high school.

More on point, though, higher cost edumacation is not glorified high school. It is not some cultural or economic right of passage. It is, in fact, a three-headed hydra.

Faculty and academic departmental staff comprise one head. If there is one of the three heads that least desires to eat people's hearts and burn out their souls, it is this head.

The second head is the Admissions Office. College presidents (or the CEO, as he is referred to at the grand institution where I currently teach) and the Admissions counselors have one goal: they want asses in the seats. Their job is to prove they deserve their jobs by filling up as many seats -- in real time seats and online ones -- as they possibly can. The Administrators -- who are, coincidentally, some of those spurned spawn of the Gator People, rejected and cursed to walk dry land knowing full well they are only whole when they are in the river among their own kind -- have the additional task of ensuring that teachers are underpaid and students are overcharged, creating a system designed to suck the life, the patience, and the promise out of every warm-blooded living thing that enters that sinewy, slobbering maw. The Admissions Office is responsible for feeding the beast. And it's appetite is never sated. Ever.

The third head -- and in this case, the head spews hot burning acid rather than potentially cleansing fire -- is the Financial Aid Office. They see students as dollar signs. More students = more dollar signs. And that means more dollars. Financial Aid counselors don't see problems. They see a way to profit from the misconception of potential students.

Once the paperwork is signed, though, there's no clear notion of where to find all the assistance. It's part of the game. We'll take you in, the Financial aid counselors -- also spurned spawn of the Gator Men --  hiss. We'll take you in and you'll figure out. You will never succeed without the piece of paper only WE can provide for you. Your children will go hungry. Your parents will be disappointed in you. You will never achieve anything. 

Another one of my students was surprised when I told her about a few people I've known who, inspite of their college degrees, still ended up working low-paying hourly jobs. There's no guarantee I said. It has never been offered. I told her Your chances improve, that's true. But having a better chance is not the same thing.

But that's not the message they get from television commercials and the grand marketeers of Memeworld. They are told college degree = money and success. They are made to feel like they're less if they don't offer themselves up for sacrifice to the three headed beast and to the spurned spawn of the gator men, who use economic blackmail to take us all down for a death roll.


*Cincinnati was originally called Losantiville, which is a MADE UP WORD. Ville, of course, is the French term for town or village. Losanti was a mash up in 1788 by Mathias Denman. Not only is it a mash up, but it's a mash up in two different languages -- Greek, and Latin. It is supposed mean "City opposite the mouth of the Licking River." The "L" is the only hold over from the name of the Licking River. Os is Latin for mouth, and anti is Greek for opposite. This, for me, says a lot about the confused character of the city even to this day.
** From the Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Compendium Edition.

10 February, 2014

Regarding Gator Men

Jake The Alligator Man, Marsh's Free Museum, WA
I don't know if Gator Men actually exist. From a purely biological and ecological point of view, it's not outside the realm of possibility that alligators can live in the Ohio River. (See this report from the Portsmouth Daily Times about a gator found in the river.)

I've never seen a gator in the wild, and certainly nowhere around where I grew up. And I'm not entirely sure where the idea of Gator Men entered my subconscious. I was reading through a collection of old journals about the early wars between French trappers, British military, and Native American Tribes in the Ohio Valley and there was a short reference to them in an account by the journaler about a conversation with a flatboat operator.

Of course, it' significant to mention that I went looking for that reference to Gator Men.

I was sitting one day in the Part-Time Teacher's Dungeon in the Rhet and Comp Division at the University of Louisville. Office hours are mandatory and occasionally useful when you have a backup of student essays to read... and of course, we're supposed to be accessible to students in spite of the fact that 1) they will rarely stop by and 2) will more than likely shoot off a series of 10 separate emails with 20 different questions at 3 in the morning and then claim you never answered them when you don't respond by 7 when they pass out. In the absence of actual work or actual students, I read, I scribble, I day dream. On this particular day, after once again having to argue with cogs in la machina about whether or not I was really a real person and employee on the campus of That Other Kentucky University, I closed my eyes.

I allowed myself to drift -- not to sleep, but to relax. My colleagues, most of whom were doctoral students who eyed me with certain suspicion because I was not, ignored me (as was their custom) and when on complaining alternately about their students and their professors. And as I was drifting, the phrase echoed from the itchy back of  my brain, where all my better notions are born and where all my odd tendencies take root...

Gator Men live in the river....

I'm still looking for more evidence of them, the Gator Men. It's hard to tell because all accounts I've read thus far are historic and never first hand... always some British interloper writing about what he heard while on his way to murder Injuns.

I did get a poem out of it, though. I'll think of a title eventually.

Higher piles of learning and ennui stifle the city of Atlanta
and the snow is seventeen men deep in Carroll County, Illinois.
We do not mark time in that manner here.
Ohio Valley folk keep track, not by the high tide
or by the count of barges carrying coal westward
from gutted Appalachian hills.
Not anymore. Everyone exists elsewhere –
dreaming of a permanent summer sun,
imagining the right circumstances
under which we will leave this place,

our world view defined by a modern indifference
to locks and docks and the swelling of the tide.
In the absence of all-knowing and immortal river men,

we search the horizon for some fresh landscape, unspoiled by memory
where the Gator Men do not hunker down
in dank and murky dreams
waiting for us to slip beneath and sleep
so they can take us for a sweet death roll
and show us
where all our childhood treasures are buried
never to be rediscovered.


By the way: if you think there's nothing living in the Ohio but 3-eyed muskies and catfish with an extra set of teeth (and there are..) check out this article about an octopus that was fished out of the Dirty, Sacred, River. Sweet Dreams.

09 February, 2014

During "Kimball's Rachael" and On Through "The Most Dangerous Woman"

The cubby
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has been kind enough to like the new Facebook Page. Just over 100 likes in less than a week! If you like what you read, and what you will eventually hear and see on the blog, please pass it around. I can, do, and have absolutely no problem talking to myself. Some would even suggest that I'm talking to myself most of the time, anyway.

But it always helps to have some company.

This week, after my third run at the windmill that is the Jefferson County DMV, I managed to get my driver's license switched and get my truck tagged in the Commonwealth. The last time I had a Kentucky license and a Kentucky tag was in 2001, when I landed back in the state after a year or so of living in New Orleans. It was significantly less complicated to get my license in 2001, because I was living in Menifee County. That meant I could go to the courthouse in Frenchburg, where I met a wizened old woman in a back room whose sole job was to give out marriage and drivers' licenses. In any other Office of the Clerk of Courts, she would have been kindly but firmly retired. In a place like Frenchburg, in a county like Menifee -- which once held the distinction of being the county where escaped criminals could go to hide and not have to worry much about the constable from any of the surrounding counties trying to come in and find them. Menifee is mountainous country, and like all mountainous country, it depends -- even to this day, I believe -- on the anonymity provided by the mountains and on the walking memory of those who live there.

The old woman in that small, dark wood-paneled room in the back of a courthouse that probably hadn't seen any updates since electric lights and indoor toilets looked me up and down, squinted at my Louisiana driver's license and squinted at me. For those of you who have grown up with the crutch of personal technologies, when an old woman or old man squints at you like that, it means that a complex series of computations is taking place. Not only are you being sized up, but if there's any connection between you and some folk or family in the region, that connection be ferreted out.*

Once she determined that I was neither related to troublemakers, sinners (that she knew personally) and that I was probably not on the run from anything, she went about transferring my license. The only time she hesitated when she looked at my weight a listed on my Louisiana license. I had lost a lot of weight down there with all the clean living and sweat lodge summer heat, and the number listed was clearly more than I weighed at the time. She only rolled her ancient eyes, shook her head, and finished the transfer.

For those of you not acquainted with the Dixie Highway Branch of the Jefferson County Clerk's Office, I invite you to watch the 1985 cult classic movie  Brasil.**

There is no walking memory in a place like this, only the technological crutch of the Commonwealth's Department of Motor Vehicle's computer system, which is never wrong -- according to people who work there -- and simultaneously never correct -- if you ask at least 75% of the people waiting for their number to get called.

Now, while it might seem a bit unfair to expect a metropolitan city like Louisville to depend on the subjective nature of the walking memory via some lifelong resident rather than the imperfect nature of technological appendages, I submit that not doing so will do more long term damage than any computer virus. With our increasing dependence on these pieces of molded plastic and silicon, we are missing out on that grand opportunity to stand before someone who, in a single prolonged squint, will know more about you than the last person who saw you naked.

That singular experience, more than any, is a humbling and humanizing force. When we are dressed down, not only for our potential sins, but for any sins by potential familial connection, something of our true nature breaks out. I am convinced that somewhere out there, walks some living memory who will someday squint at me, and see my father, and his father, and his father. And to be honest, I shudder to think about meeting those wizened eyes, though the world is small enough that I will end up meeting them sooner or later.

With any luck, (and Dad, I think you'd agree if you were alive to say so) whoever it is will judge me by my mother's people. The outcome will be more favorable.

*This is not always to your advantage.
** The movie offers no sound advice for dealing with the bureaucratic nightmare; but it will prepare you for the varying levels of confusion, the flurry of paperwork required to requisition an ink pen to sign the receipt and pay the taxes on your vehicle.

05 February, 2014

Along The Dirty, Sacred River: Introductions

The Ohio River has been a physical and psychic boundary marker for as long as I can remember. Growing up in southeastern Ohio in the shadow of the seven hills, the river was the demarcation point for everything that was wrong with everything.  It's difficult to explain sometimes just why folks from southern Ohio have had such a historical loathing of anything to do with Kentucky. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that most of southern Ohio's original settlers came, not from the east, but from Kentucky, searching for work in those grand and unsavory cities like Cincinnati that grew up along the river as cesspools and harbingers of commerce. 

As an adult -- or, more appropriately, a child who has reached middle age -- Kentucky and the river have taken on different meanings. The river is transfixed in my mind as a place of magic and of history. Before people developed symbols to represent the sounds they made, before people developed language to pass on stories and songs and other kinds of important life knowledge, the river and the rocks and trees recorded history for us. We can look at the water, dig in the dirt, and if we have the know how and if we pay attention, we can see not only the short history of humanity, but the history of this giant storybook Earth.

The river soothes and keeps me. Piscean as I am, I've always had an odd -- and sometimes contentious -- relationship with water. I'm hoping to develop a better relationship with it, and learn from it in the same way I hope to learn from everything around me.

Those of you who know me or have followed my writing for a while may be more familiar with me under a different header, americanrevisionary.com.  That blog is the story of a man travelling and trying to put himself back together. I am not done travelling, and I am not done with the core idea that those months taught me -- live to avoid an avoidance culture; but it would be disingenuous of me to try and keep writing under that banner. In a hyper-sensitized, logo-branded culture, the tendency is to find a niche and keep it up. All the smart marketing books tell us that -- that people are swayed by brand loyalty. That we are who our Google/Facebook profiles say we are. That we have one life, one trajectory, and one destiny.

That, Dear Readers (I hope you're there!), is a pile of bullshit.

I've been away from blog world for a bit, focusing on life here at the new home base on the south side of River City, otherwise known as Louisville, Kentucky.  I've also been struggling a bit with how to best proceed with this next to unknown and unread existence I think of as my public life. People who know me well enough to be my friend on Facebook, the most technofascist of all the social media sites, may have a handle on what I've been doing.  I've been teaching, and writing some poetry. I've been working on storytelling at monthly Moth Story Slam at Headliners. I've playing music in the basement, trying to teach myself the banjo and mandolin. I've also been putting together a show of sorts.  As if that doesn't sound busy enough, I'm also working on another small press endeavor ... for those of you out there who may still remember One-Legged Cow Press... that will publish and distribute limited editions of handmade chapbooks mostly written by yours truly with some other good folks thrown in for good measure. 

That I'm launching a new blog doesn't suggest that I've abandoned the notion of avoiding an avoidance culture. It's quite the opposite. I will wander about when the mood and circumstance takes me; but there's plenty here to keep me occupied that is worthwhile and worth not avoiding.  In addition to written blogs, there will be audio clips and pictures, and maybe even some viddy for your viewing pleasure.  This non-existent space will be filled with stories and songs and poems -- a lot be my, but hopefully a lot by others, too -- and with news and updates of new travels, travails, adventures, and (most certainly) misadventures.