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I just returned from Celtic Week at Swannanoa. Many thanks to Mike Dugger and especially to Paddy O'Brien for putting up with me, and to the brewery wagon for selling me lots of cheap local stout.
I have quite a few stories and thoughts...this year I was disguised as Irish and immersed myself in the Draiocht (sp?) or "drisht" theme, which means "spirit" or soul of the music, as opposed to "technical" qualities. Paddy had a lot of stories about the drisht.
I was sitting I think at supper up in the balcony on Tuesday(?) and noticed Billy Jackson sitting at a table by himself and I think it was Thursday I talked to fluter Larry Mallette from Houston, who said that his wife Therese Honey (who had come along "on vacation") had to take over teaching Billy's harp classes because he had to go back to Scotland due to his brother's death. I asked Therese about it later and she said that it was indeed his brother George who had died. George was a member of the legendary band Ossian along with Billy, playing a number of instruments including flute, guitar, cittern, fiddle...
I was driving into Birmingham a couple days ago and picked up both WSGN and WVOK on my AM radio. One of those AM stations was playing classic rock, same songs as when I was in high school, and I thought for a minute my son Ian would evaporate from the back seat and I'd have my '68 Camaro back
Mike my officemate and I made up a song to part of Mercury Blues. I was translating a paper about the Namurian Flora of the Oberwhatsits coal basin in Poland and got from the German the term "coal pickle."
I got those coal pickle blues
Oh Lordie, Coal Pickle blues
And its a Namurian sort of day
Transgression and regression
My baby's she's regressed from me,
But I got my guitar
This was quite some time. Tuesday I went down to Houston to pick up some invaluable reference books from an 84 year old James Morgan who was moving up to Mesquite where his family lives. A "pioneer" in the field of oil palynology, he first worked for Humble, and then Exxon when it morphed. This is where the books came from, as Exxon "released" items from its Billings library. He worked many years as a consultant. He was complaining about forgetting things, but I think he was about at the same level of forgetfulness as people my age. Sharp as a tack, as they say. He lived on Nantucket, off Westheimer, an established part of Houston, and showed me photos of what it looked like when he moved there in '55...countryside.
"So you think it was exciting work?"
"I was once looking through the scope at a piece of plant debris with rings on it. They were arranged in such a way I could have sworn there was a face staring back at me."
I left and got on the service road to Beltway 8, turned right and entered 290 west after several blocks. I slowed down as there was no room in the right lane to merge. The jeep behind me kept on going. Whammo. There went my 98 Windstar. After the police cut the plastic bumper off the left rear tyre I was able to drive it home, but the left side is skewed all the way through the drivers door. The back door is a mess. Worst of all, my bumper stickers that I picked up in foreign countries are a mess. ANd I cannot remove the spare tyre.
So here I am. It's raining cats and dogs. The lettering on my No Tel Mo Tel keychain is wearing off.
I'd like to thank Gary Varner for carrying the first part as my son was an elf the 4th grade play at Fannin Elementary. There were many elves, who ostracized an elf named Elv-is who wore satin clothes and had a guitar, because he looked different. But then, Elvis left the building into the cold, and the elves and reindeer felt bad and brought Elvis back in. My son's friend Ryan was a reindeer. It was a musical.
This was the first day of our fund drive. At 1:30pm, Fannin Elementary called up to say that my son Ian had been kneed in the head by a kid (LaToya X, we'll call her) and that he felt sick and dizzy. I raced over to pick him up, convinced that he would soon be unconscious. I brought him back to the station, and my husband so graciously picked him up at 2:20. It rattled me. Also the fire extinguisher man, (Von X) called from Bryan Fire Safety saying he would be there between 1 and 5 to service our extingishers. He arrived at 2:10, and informed me that we had extra fire extinguishers and that one was being used as a door stop.
The clerk at Kroger today looked at what I'd bought and said, "Got a hysterectomy December 20th. Best thing ever happened to me. Didn't even have to cut me open, either, took it all right out through the belly button."
Local color: I drive over to the Patel EZ Qwik Stop 4 blocks down Coulter to pick up a 99c cold liter of Diet Pepsi, and go to check out. I'm behind a woman buying 2 packs of Marlboroughs sp? and 6 TX lottery tickets. This woman she was with exits with a 64 oz drink and the clerk, a petite dark woman with a loud, exotic voice, cranes her neck and shouts "Hey! Hey!" The woman in front of me, obviously what we call white trailer trash, says, "Aw no, I'm payin' for it. Thought you got it." So the blonde pays for the tickets and cigarettes and the coke and the clerk says, "I need another dollar." and the blonde says, "No, I already gave you one," and the clerk said, "No no, you didn't." So the blonde takes her thin butane lighter, and lights a cigarette, obviously disgusted with the whole matter, and says "Well, I did," and shakes her head, and throws out another dollar." I mutter to her, "I wasn't watching, I'm sorry." So she leaves and the clerk glances at her 4 TV screens and says to me, sneering, "Happen all the time. She steal everytime she come in here," picking up a thin butane lighter to replace the one the blonde woman has walked off with. I pay an extra 11c for the two liter because they've upped the price, and walk into the parking lot, where the 2 ladies are leaving in a large white car built in the 60s. I leave in the small red rental that I still have because Varsity Ford is still fixing my windstar that was rear ended on the Houston freeway 3 months ago.
Suddenly, I've been shifted from four day shows to one show and two trainees. This is typical of "mid-semester." All the new people, however, have grey hair, so I'm thinking this will be a more stable line-up. I was informed of my Monday afternoon trainees Sunday evening. My assumption is that he was the engineers solution to my temporal problems. He'd been on radio before for years, apparently with a Christian format. I should have known as soon as I saw Iona and Jars of Clay. He knew how to talk like a pro :-(, and had a good grasp of all styles of music bearing The Word of the Lord., except the neat traditional stuff that I play ;-). The Jewish/Israeli dj called to remark on how good he sounded. The engineer came in at the ned of the show beaming, "How does it feel to be back on the air, Dale" (we could call him Air Dale) As far as I'm concerned, as long as he'll run "This Way Out" without complaining, he can stay, but I'd just as soon they found someone a little less slick.
My other trainee is a local contractor into Texas music. He did the board for me today. It was a relief from yesterday
I'd gotten bumped from this slot by the "stealth Christian" and then last week I was at folk alliance. The person who was suppose to sit and train the "sc" did the show last week, and I was told that "she seems to like that slot." So today I get a phone call at 2:06...
Back from a stunning vacation which took us on a wild drive from Detroit, Motor City, to hockey hub Sudbury, Ontario and then hit Manatoulin Island in a hibernation state. One of the most stunning points was Science North in Sudbury. Sudbury, of course is hypothesized to have been the site of a huge meteor attack during the PreCambrian, hence segregating nickel ores, hence a mine, hence Sudbury. The museum is built right on the rock outcrops, mostly in a glacially rounded and grooved state, so that the in situ rocks actually form both displays and playgrounds. Plus, there's a fault RIGHT IN THE BUILDING that you can see!!!! You can see where the magma came up in between!!!!
The deskclerk in Sudbury said "You one of those cars parked there in back? Payloader's coming in. I got stuck back there y'know eh it was wet that's what did it eh." Who was it who claimed no one said eh anymore? Maybe just in Sudbury. I'm glad I got to see a payloader too. It's sorta like a backhoe.
I spent the weekend at South Central Yearly Meeting of Friends at Green Family Camp in suburban Bruceville Eddy just south of Waco. Although it is an oasis of kindness and liberalism, there are some things about the weekend that do not go with my lifestyle. I can deal with the Quaker Testimony against Shiner and Other Lesser Beers for a few days, but the Unwritten Testimonies Against Soda Pop really bothers me, considering The Quaker Testimony For The Greatness of Caffeinated Coffee For Which The Grower Gets Only $1 Out Of $10. (This is sort of a universal thing amongst all sorts of health conscious people who wake up early but can't seem to stay awake past 9pm and aren't we smug about it?) So I get in my Windstar which I need to move because Emma had partially parked it ON GRASS, and just keep driving, down to Eddy and I-35 and the FINA VIDEOS CONVENIENCE STORE attached to Betty's Cafe and in desperation pull a 2 liter diet coke out of the cooler and an old guy in a cowboy hat [driving a red extended cab Ford pickup] and an old guy in a feed cap [driving a brown and white Chevy pick up] are there leaning against the counter, talking to the balding "Mex'can" clerk.
"...blew that thing all the way across the access road."
"Well, how about Bunny's trailer, they gonna buy that one too?"
"That thing was pretty much gutted out, if she'da had a new brick house it woulda been pretty much gutted out."
So I drive back and the Quakers "argue" (later there is a discussion on whether the views were "opposing" or "conflicting") about what to say in an open letter on Yugoslavia, and I keep my bottle in the white plastic bag so no one will see that I am drinking the most evil of all, a DIET soft drink. The Peace and Justice Committee decides to take more input during lunch and, eventually an ill-announced meeting that will cut out those picky comments from the composition snipers; the text eventually passes. And in the final wrap-up, "epistle" they call it, someone warmly describes that pot of coffee that was always available while writing up minutes and such things late at night.
Here's an anecdote. One of the members of our Meeting works at the Federal Prison as a psychologist, and has to qualify for her job each year by shooting with a 1)Shotgun (she has to be able to pull the trigger. 2) some sort of pistol and 3) an automatic weapon (pretty scary). After everyone qualifies, then it's rec time. This year, they constructed a figure that looked a lot like a human and blew it full of holes with the remaining ammo. "So where are you supposed to aim," I asked. "Well, they've just recently changed that. They used to say to aim for the legs, but now (she clutched her breastbone)....Anyone who gets to the fence, off the ground is to be shot."
This weekend I was at a Weebalos camp out at Huntsville State Park with my 2 younger children. The group at Fannin is an excuse for working class families to camp with their families. I spoke with a woman named Leona for the first time, wife of Eddie, who came down here from Brooklyn 20 years ago with his sister and her husband Kevin who works at the tire store. They all have a son named Kevin in the pack, yielding 3 Kevins for us to deal with. Leona came down from Indianapolis, I learned, with her brother who was killed two years ago when he was driving to work with his son at 5AM at something akin to the lignite mine in Carlos and his son swerved to avoid a rabbit, crossed the center line into the path of an oncoming car. I learned this because Leona (a round blonde woman in her late? 30s) has an odd accent, including the use of the term be as in "He be mad if he found that out," and the worde "youse" which I now realize she got from her husband. I said "Where are you from?"
"Not from around here," she laughed.
"Where?" Last time I asked someone with an odd accent they were from the Ukraine.
"Indianapolis. I come down here with my brother...My mother's still up there. She's 72 and she's not doing too good. She takes care of an old man who is 84 and is diabetic. She does everything for him. My dad was diabetic."
"My parents were from Richmond."
She went on to say ,"I been in Bryan and home and the road in between. No, I been here at Huntsville and I been to Galveston. They have the ocean at Galveston...."
Waiting to get in the park at 8pm Friday there were so many caravanning church groups and Scouts that we had to park for about 15 on the roadside, wondering what was going on. Finally we were told to figure out our head count and plates and come back later. I felt for a split second like I was waiting to get into Macedonia.
No one the whole weekend there mentioned eastern europe, the bombings, anything, and there was no radio or papers. But on Saturday night, one Cub group presented a bridging with elaborate Indian headdresses and elaborate pyrotechnics. "If the Great Spirit Wills, He will light our torches!" He will light the way to a world as he wishes it.
When I got back Sunday, the Quakers with the Just Peace Institute effected a "prayer vigil for Kosovo" which was written on the markee of the JPI affiliated Friends Congregational Church. The unitarian pastor was there as well as Laura the woman from the student peace organization who was late for my show Thursday night. There were others in side the church who were more optimistic about the mere power of prayer than I, but our entire Meeting stood outside under the markee. In all there were 14 people who stood out on 2818, but by 8pm, there were only three of us crazed Quakers left. On the way home, I bought a 6 pack of redhook porter on the way home.
This was my second to last week as a HOST (reading) volunteer at my children's school. My kindergartner, Keeara, has been very frustrating: she is "unfocused," generally paying attention to what the person behind her is "reading" instead of me, knows the name of one color-red and few letters. I started writing my "evaluation" of the program and decided to put down how frustrating this experience had been...they had actually given me this child because I'd had an "unfocused" child last year but she had progressed pretty well. The coordinator saw me writing and explained to me that they were going to have Keeara tested, and she would be retained or put in a special program. They thought since she seemed to be "spacing out" that she might be having small seizures, or that she had ADD, but that she probably had some sort of neurological problem. They'd had trouble talking to her mother about this, because she is "very young" and has "probably had bad experiences with the school system and seems totally intimidated by us." (the coordinator is a nice, wonderful, kind person...but maybe a bit intimidating by being a white person in authority!) "We literally have to stand by her front door when she comes home to be able to talk to her."
This weekend I attended my 15th South Central Friends of The Pleistocene field trip in the area of Eufaula, OK. There was no entertainment at dinner Saturday nite and I feel there is a misunderstanding of the purpose and traditions of the organization. I felt that having a barbecue dinner (I had to BEG FOR a baked potato by stating that I am a certified veggie) in a roadhouse with a choice of Coors, Miller, and Budweiser was a culinary disaster. However I felt the outcrop of Lava Creek B Ash was excellent, as was the mima mound gutted by the back hoe to show the level boundary between the a and b horizon, and the collection of zillions of Dalton arrowheads, and Bison skulls, by a local subsistance farmer.
When I was in high school, a very bright boy named Dudley walked into Mr Lovelady's biology class and shot at him. I could see how Mr Lovelady could get on someone's nerves, being the epitome of a southern biology teacher during the 60s, but it was no excuse to shoot at him. Another great event was when Melody M. was decapiatated when she and her pals ran off the road going down thrill hill over by the Episcopal Church. High School was such a peach of events. Anyway, Dudley spent some time "away" and then came back "OK" and started dating Cathy M., whom we used to call "Polack" because of her last name. You had to be her friend to call her that, no one elsebothered, I guess. I had never heard the term used before. But anyway, both of the remained nerdy until they graduated and I lost touch
JOAN BAEZ--5--Birmingham Sunday--vanguard LP
[I can remember the moment, maybe 1967, I picked this copy new for $4.95 (it was stereo) out of the folk section at Newberry's 5&10 in downtown Birmingham. Oddly, Newberry's, which had a heavily "colored" clientele (my dad jeeringly called it "Newbeh's") as opposed to the department stores Loveman's and Pizitz, had a fairly decent folk music row. It was the only place I found in Birmingham that did. We used to ride the bus down with the maids and yard men, to the library and then would go shopping, mostly at Lovemans and Pizitz, always said in that order...and we'd check records out of the library.]
Several years ago, a man came down from the North, bought a few buildings downtown, opened a couple of restaurants, and was in the process of renovating an old hotel, maybe the LaSalle. His plans were cut short when he fell 5 floors to his death from the top of the hotel. The Stafford Opera House, now the Dixie Theatre (THE-ay-ter), effected a pre-Grand Opening and Wake, featuring the Austin Lounge Lizards. The event is embedded as a review in a back issue of Dirty Linen.
The carpenter who pledged his support for community radio in order to get a copy of Adrian Legg's CD was the man on the other end of the measuring tape when Reid fell off the hotel. He was on the ground.
break 1: [Erin was having a great time with the garage sale merchandise, putting baskets and towels and lampshades on her head and shaking one of those Mexican chocolate mixers.]
break 2: [Unfortunately her fun turned darkish when she had Ian bind her hands and feet and mouth with Scotch tape. She later confessed that she wanted to "pretend she was a prisoner"]
We went to Popeyes (located in a filling station) for lunch and saw a local contractor that we know carrying out a 12 pack of Bud Lite. He explained, "the cement guys don't care about getting paid, but if they don't get their beer at the end of the day, they get mad."
It was a good morning.`It was awards for 4th graders at Fannin.`My son, an avid reader, had amassed over 400 AR points, and that considering they would not test him on The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, and My Antonia, plus all that sci fi fantasy drivel. He was notable for more AR points than ANYONE IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL!!! it was the usual program with children being called to the stage for things like perfect attendance, with polite clapping, but...and this is unique...when they announced "highest AR score in Mrs Kurtz' class," a huge anticipatory chorus arose amongst the kids of "IAN!!!" I was just so proud of him! A myth in his own time!
Leola, the woman from Indianapolis from Weebalos came and sat next to me. She'd brought in 2 automatic cameras. The first one she was trying to see if it worked and touched the wrong button, causing the camera to rewind. Maybe it was done for anyway. The second, a vintage scratched gold plastic model, she couldn't get to flash. I told her I agreed, the batteries were probably dead. She blamed her husband Eddie, she had no idea how to change batteries and he should have checked the cameras before he went to work at the auto shop. It was quite tragic as her son Kevin got a teachers choice award for "Most Helpful." But she kept a smile on her face. I'd forgotten to even think about taking a photo, though Ian along with John Garza had got A Honor Roll in Mrs Kutz' class. The rest of the classes just had girls on the honor roll
Al Grierson was going to program the show to-day, but had a problem with a 1 hr oil change salon in Austin, seems the suburban in front of him was getting "the works." Then he had a flat tire somewhere west of Caldwell and then he drove into a ditch. I don't have much success with musicians coming in to program shows, it's either Slaid Cleaves getting caught in heavy traffic in Buda, or Al Grierson and his heartwarming experiences being pulled out of the ditch by Interracial Cooperation.
This week, I had almost forgotten about the bombings when I got my usual e-mail from my fellow Friend Steve Olshewsky,JD,MBA,CPA,PhD cand. We stand one hour in the hot Texas sun in front of a congregational church on Farm to Market 2818. This week, we are joined for the third or fourth time a man who is a Unitarian meteorologist and whose name I always forget, and Phyllis Frederiksen from the church-afflilated Just Peace Institute, who stays in the church. Near the end of the vigil, couples in nice clothes, but with a liberal edge to their appearance, walk in to the book study group and some wave to us. Mostly Steve and the Unitarian meteorologist discuss how Serbs that have the means are supposed to leave the country in droves before the winter, how some are afraid we will hit a nuclear storage facility and wipe out half of Europe. A cool wind blows, and the meteorologist names it as some sort of "ouflow." "There's a storm somewhere and the cold air is escaping. It's a mini-front."
[This is where a drunk supporter called in, maligning our university station for playing classical music, maligning us for not getting the power up yet, not asking him to help dig the ditch, asking ME where in Houston he could buy obscure blues CDs. I told him, "I have no Idea, I'm an English and Celtic music specialist." He said "A WHAT" I said "Celtic music." He said "Well, damn, I should just hang up on you for that." And then we both laughed. What else can you do? The I asked "Are you on the web?" He said, "The WHAT?" I said "The internet." He said "Hell, I can hardly turn on a computer." So for amazon.com.]
Someone told me recently "I tune into KEOS all the time, except for that Mexican show. I try to be fair, but it reminds me of those constructionworkers that leer and whistle at me. I can't stand thinking about those jerks."
I played a set of Alabama tunes in response to Kevin's review of Visions of Plenty. I remember my early years in Birmingham. My dad had a wholesale refrigeration store on 3rd Ave South. Had the floors not been permeated with freon, you could have grown steel plants on them. Anything left out for a couple of weeks would be covered with black dust. It was like that all over, except that some people made an effort to clean out the dirt. Lovemans and Pizitz for example always were cleaned up. But not the sidewalks outside.
The steel mill pall saved Birmingham from being Appalachian backwoods. It was the Pittsburg of the South. Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, the Magic City. Over Red Mountain, over on Shades Mountain where I lived, there was no smog; it was all blue and green and bare Pottsville Fm.
It's odd to have anyone sing about Birmingham, about Alabama, because so few people sing about it in any way that means anything to me. It's odder still to have anyone mention "environmental" when reviewing the songs; it's like a page not yet turned at the time of my memories.
Here is a story:
I find that my son Ian's passport is about to expire, so Emma and I drive over to the District Clerks office at the Brazos County Courthouse, to send it in for renewal (this following lunch at Zarapes on Main Street Bryan). Downstairs at the info counter is a good looking black guy in a straw hat. We ride up on the elevator to the district clerks office.
In the office, there are 3 women, one hispanic, one black, and one white. We go to the black woman, who is the one who always does the passports, though no sign indicates this, you're just supposed to KNOW that. Her hair is fixed in ringlets resembling ribbon in a fancy bow, long flat loops. She is giggling about something. We apply for the passport. The man in the straw hat comes upstairs and transacts some business with the hispanic woman. The he says "Hey, I need a new passport too, I got this one in New York City 10 years ago." He pulls out his passport and indeed it is expiring soon, so the black woman with the ribboned hair gives him a form to send in. And then he says:
"Can I ask you two questions?"
"Sure" She's already giggling. We smile.
"What's your name?" She points at her name plaque on her computer screen and giggles. The other women giggle too.
"Are you married?" She giggles and says yes. Emma and I giggle too.
Everyone is giggling but the man in the hat, who has a sly grin on his face.
"Yes, I am!" The man in the hat shakes his head. "I'll have to get my husband to get that ring fixed!" she adds.
The man in the hat leaves. She tells me, "I lost part of my ring. I lost the worst part too--the diamond, and that wasn't no cheap ring either."
I say "Oh no!"
She says. "But I found it. It was in my bed. It was right on the edge of my bed." We smile.
My closing story for the year is this: Erin and I got fruit slushes in the new Exxon supermart on the East Bypass and when I checked out the man at the counter, a clean-cut red haired man in a polo shirt said to me,
"Lottery was down yesterday, just getting these in. How you doing?"
"Fine, we're doin' OK"
"You remember me?" I panicked. Whose father from 10 years ago was this?
"No, I guess I don't."
"I used to work down at the EZ Mart on Briarcrest, over by the golf course. You used to come in there sometimes."
I said, "It's like those post office clerks, you wonder if they ever remember you."
He said, "Heck, they been working there 20,30 years. They all used to work at the old College Avenue Station, before they built the new one."
I did an interview with the Nonchalants on August 6th. I had to drive towards Austin twice: the first time, going to "visit" my daughter Emma at the airport, I found that I'd forgotten my purse when I went to buy gas east of Elgin. Luckily I stopped the pump immediately at $1.48 and was able to scrape up enough change off my floor and ashtrays to pay for it. I crept back towards home at 50mph with the windows down in 94 degree heat. I was able to find 74c and buy more gas in Caldwell and get home. Was I scared! I was thinking of pawning my minidisc recorder. So then I drove back towards Austin, but missed seeing Emma, and did not see her again until one week later.
Here is a short story about Finland. Why is Finland different from Sweden, aside form having an inexplicable language? It's the touch of The East. It comes back to me now that I have my photos. Otherwise, it's the same old story of convenience stores, lotto, and expensive beer, and fewer auto mechanics with tattoes than you'd find here in Texas, though I hopefullyhave in the last camera a neat photo of a Jorma Sirkka Pohjonen's caravan near Kusta vi marked by a sign with a rubber rattlesnake hanging from it.
We landed on the ferry at Helsinki and went east, guided by the comments of a policeman operating a speed trap on a suburban street. ("We are stopping the cars because they are...how do you say it...going to fast." Imagine a policeman in Texas leaping out into the street to flag down speeding cars!) Halfway to Kotka, we followed a sign that indicated a lakeside rest area. Right there in the layby were 2 semis that said "St Petersburg" on them, right there in ROman letters. Then there was a sign saying "Russian Fast Food" (actually east of Kotka). Going east, we started spotting rustbucketsof Russian vehicles, and I then was determined to find Russia, though I could not go over without a visa.
The next day, we went further east, hoping to find the small inlet that separates Russia from Finland on the coast. It was very hard, there are no signs and small roads lead on and on to nowhere through the woods. Finally we arrived at a building with a high tower that fronted an inlet. A few Finnish tourists were stopped there. We parked our Swedish Fiesta and went down to the shore like crazy Swedes. There were signs up in Finnish and yellow plasting "ribbons" around the trees. I told my kids, maybe they shouldn't climb on those rocks. Finally, walking onto the dock I found a sign in English that said "Frontier Zone...Do Not Enter. No Photos." We were all in the Frontier Zone illegally. It had not occurred to me that there would be one. [In truth, only those over 14 need permits.]
I took a couple of photos of Russia, which, like Finland, looks like a bunch of trees. We then went inside the buiding...we had to be "buzzed" inside... which was a Frontier Guard station. Soon they found we were not stupid Swedes but rather stupid Canadians according to our spring vacation Tshirts. The attendant told us they monitor boat traffic...they stop boats
sometimes to see if they have permits. There is a several km inhabited no mans land between Russia and Finland. Then, bored, he left us alone.
We went north and visited the remains of the huge bunker system the Finns built defending against the Russians after losing territory in the winter war. It consists in part of a neat and tidy ditch running to the Arctic. I bought a Tshirt that says "Muistojen Karjala." It gives a map of the previously Finnish lands north of St Petersburg...Karajalan Kannas and Laatokan Karjala. We ate dinner at a Hessburger attached to a gas station-convenience store, parking in a KK Supermarket lot. A blonde in a late model Mazda smiled at my kids. Pulling out I noticed the RUS on the rear of the car.
To the west, there seem to be no Russians, but many of the towns have bilingual signs with Swedish. A shopping bag picked up in the ferry port of Umea, Sweden, however, is printed on one side in Cyrillic and shows "The optimum corridor in Finland" to Trondheim, Norway.
On the way back to Stockholm, a 13 year old boy playing video games on the Party Ferry told my son, "We think the Russians are weirdos and the Swedes are gay." When the playroom closed, he went upstairs to check out the disco, Ian said.
Chris Alexander told me the story about how he and Jeff White went to visit Mr Thompson, who is now into requesting Taj Mahal instead of Pinetop Perkins."So how old is he?"
"I suspect he's in his 80s at least. And the thing is he smokes like a chimney and drinks like a sailor. He's a really interesting guy. He used to be a cook on passenger trains, he's lived for a while in Louisiana. He lived around Navasota, in the days when Mance Lipscomb was just playing weddings and parties around there. His family knew the Mance Lipscomb's family.
"He'd told us to bring him some Red Dog. WHen we got there the next day it was clear he couldn't remember who we were, or what we'd come for. But when he saw the Red Dog he lit up, we were OK people then. I thought he would put them in the refrigerator but he just pulled one out and started drinking. He kept drinking the whole time we were there. "The apartment he lives in is pretty sad. In the morning, he sits on a bucket on the corner of Welch and 2818. Then in the afternoon he goes home and he listens to the us on the radio. That's what his life consists of.
"What's amazing is here's this guy who feels that this is the only station where he can hear the blues. Can you imagine all the crap he has to wade through, stuff that must sound like music from outer space to him, just to hear those few blues songs?
"It's good to have him out there. It's good to know someone's listening,who'll call in and give you feedback."
This morning Judge Billy McKendrick stopped me out by the trash can.
"Saw you had a little wreck out here last week. Anyone hurt?"
I explained the story, and that the guys had just shrugged their shoulders.
"You know in Mexico they arrest you if you have a wreck, they put you in jail. Those boys probably weren't even citizens and were terrified you'd call the police."
When Judge McKendrick was retired by the electorate, it is said that he took the judgeship's law library which he himself had built up over the years, home and put it in his garage. This caused an aura of ill feeling between him and some Bryan residents, but I'm not sure that anyone cares anymore.
At one point in college I was thinking if I had an oil company job that started at 7am, I'd just go to bed when I got home so I could be cognizant for my job. I could sleep from 5PM to 1AM. But what can you do with your life at 1AM? Nowadays, you can just chat on e-mail with folks in Uzbekistan or something I guess.
Here is a little story about a little friend. It is not a literary marvel:
"A little friend came home with me!" says Erin smiling.
Her little friend is Angelica who was walking home the same way as she and Ian. She is a little black 6 year old with many braids. I will later learn that she lives about three blocks away from the late lamented baptist singles centre in a bright yellow 2 bedroom frame duplex and that there are 4 kids in her family.
I ask her if her mother knows she's here. Sure. An hour later I run into a sister, in 5th grade, in Ian's class. Her name is Jamiesha. She points at Ian and shakes her head. "He sure likes to read." Ian shrugs.
Angelica asks if Erin can come to church with her. "Its OK," says Jamiesha, "it's the Salvation Army right behind MacDonalds." I'm lost. It is common for kids here to ask kids to their church. In fact, they have an invitationto the metroplex the next evening. But I suspect this is a special program, because there are so many special programs devised for Erin's classmates. And is it socially Ok to do this? Will Erin be unwelcome, strange? What SHOULD I think? All three girls are oblivious to these considerations.
She suggests Erin go over to her house for a while. I ask Jamiesha to writedown their names and addresses.
777 7th Street (these are pretend!)
"You have different last names." I say.
"Angelica and I dont have the same daddy, but we're still sisters." [There are no "ebonics" here.]
"I guess you're half sisters. I should probably call your mother." Jamiesha writes down her mothers name:
I call her mother. She says, referring to me as ma'am: "I wondered where those girls were! I sent Jamiesha over to get her and they both disappeared. How old is your baby?" I have to think on that one and then remember that Ian's soccer buddies were "babies" until they were 8 or 9.
We agree to have the Salvation army stop over here. When it comes, I look inside the van and it is a vast sea of black children faces, except for the driver, who has the highest Clean Cut White American score I've seen in years. I ask, "Are you SURE Erin can do this?" He smiles and assures me that it's fine. No permission form, no signature, God must protect the Salvation Army from liability.
At 8, I take ian to the Aerofit pool to practice swimming 100 miles for canoe camp in the summer. He says "This is what it must have been like before desegregation."
"Can you imagine, though, Ian, that this is what it's still like for your friend Melvin in Cub Scouts?"
"Oh yeh, for Melvin and Eric and all those guys." Eric and his brother live 3 doors down in our all white neighborhood. Ian once wrote in school on MLK Day "I am thankful to Martin Luther King for my friend Melvin." Melvin once fetched a trash can for Ian when he was throwing up in class.
Erin is home when we return. She says she went to kids church and played kickball and had a great time.
Today (or tomorrow, however you look at it) I let her go again when the vanstops, though I tell the driver she cant do this all the time. He answers that it's just this week it is all week. Were I not to let her go, she would throw a fit. She had so much fun, if not supper.
My hopes for being overlooked as a Brownie leader were dashed when I walked into the door at training Saturday. I'd been at Day Camp ten yearly sessions as a unit leader, evident when the class organizer whom I shall call "Sandra" (because I never learned her last name) spotted me coming in the door. "I am SO glad to see you," she beamed when I came into the door.
"I was SO happy to see your name on the list!"
I read through the names of my kids: Benavides, Day-gennett, Narro,Valadez, Alvarado, Acarto, Ramirez, Reed.
The leaders were certainly multicultural: svelte young professional whites from college station, a svelte black professional from college station, a woman who'd moved here from Ames, Iowa and said "It's certainly different here," a hispanic woman resembling a football player in both size and speech, a pale, quiet hispanic woman who probably wore a maternity size 1.
What bound these women together? Heavy duty dedication to their families and community and a vague to strong feeling that they liked being outdoors.* I knew from experience that many of them had no time to do this and would spend an ungodly number of hours doing it. Others would totally wrap their lives around scouting. I was terrified. I still am.
We learned about the 20 new forms that were not in place in 1988, and got hints on caper charts and made some crafts. We "practiced" horrendously embarrassing games. One involved tossing progressively more and more objects to the same person in a circle: a ball, an empty plastic bottle, a frisbee, a yellow rubber pollo [chicken]. At the very end, 6 hours later,before I was finally able to bolt, we did this game:
This way Valerie
That way Valerie
This way Valerie
All day long
Here comes another one
Just like the other one
here comes another one
All day long
leaders moved one by one down a gauntlet like line, self conscious and laughing, in a "unique manner." I could only bring myself to skip, and no one laughed at me. I was relieved just to get it over with.
For a few moments my memory transported me to a dusty playground in Alabama. London Bridge, this way Valerie all day long. A long chaotic double line of little girls, all in 50s cotton dresses, galvanized metal pipes of the jungle jim behind us, this way valerie, yellow red mud dust on my anklets. Then I lost the memory. A few moments later, I drifted off again, Scottish country dance, facing John Turner in a North Carolina barn. I relaxed, and then came to, seeing a huge black woman from Bryan move through giggling, imitating an ice breaker.
*meaning in some cases sitting by a pool with a frozen margarita.
Saturday night, my son Ian and I peeled off from the pool at 8PM to go to Planet Nothgate, by the A&M campus. There wasn't much of anyone there when we sat down in the first row to listen to Blue Earth, a local rock band. Not many people there and not much to do. At nine they were followed by a huge machine (maybe 10 people) of a Houston salsa-merengue band. The audience changed from friends of the band to friends of the band. Alex, Queen of the Putumayo sampler showed up with her boyfriend and sat behind us. I asked "How did the booth go?"
"Quite a few people stopped by. One guy told me 'Your punk and metal shows suck. The people that do it dont know what's going on.' I mean, what was I supposed to say about that? I told him that he could apply for a show. He said 'If you had me as a DJ I'd make your other shows look like garbage.'"
The band started playing. Alex began dancing with someone who looked enough like her to be her brother. People came out of the woodwork: blacks, whites, latins, but perhaps the asians were all home studying or completely befuddled. A short plump girl danced around a tall thin boy who basically stood there and looked like he felt silly. A couple who actually looked Brazillian won my vote for speed and best dancers as well: a heavy set man who at one point was greeted by several identical friends and a tiny woman with a gigantic mass of wavy hair down to her waist. Three college guys in baggy shorts and backwards feedcaps danced together without touching, a couple my age in polo shirts slowly two stepped...
Sunday I went with my children and a friend of my ten year old son's up to the Czech festival at West. It was likely 95 when we got there; they ran a sprinkler just for folks to cool off. I was thinking, if the North Texas Irish Festival in March resembles Eire, is this what CzechoSlovakia is like?
jeez! We sat for a while and listened to the Vanek Czech Band but with the heat, the rides and the dance groups were necessary to chill the thoughts of how hot it was. The West Czech dancers were as always beautiful, and the Zorya-Ukranian Dancers from Dallas were just amazing. Even the West High School drill team did a great job.
At the front of the cultural tent, Joe Kaspar sat singing in czech and playing a 3 row many bass red mother of toilet seat accordion. [I got this phrase from a comment someone made on Paddy O'Brien's accordion]. Joe looked to be around 80-some, had bright blue eyes, and repeatedly adjusted his one mike from voice to accordion and back. Damn, I thought, why didn't I bring my recorder?
During the performance of the Ukrainian dancers it started raining, cooling off the air considerably. "See what Ukrainians are good for?" Cooled off, we made our way to the main tent, where a Czech band whose name I cant recall (Two-Czech?) were playing to a crowd now numbering probably over 1000 people. "Can you imagine all these people in real life liking polka music?" asked my daughter Emma. No---the volume of the human roar superimposed on the stupendous blurry volume of the speakers suggested "PARTY!!!." At 8 Brave COmbo set up. This was their 20th anniversary at westfest, and I would call them Westfest's "anchor band." At 8:20 Carl Finch combed his hair in three strokes, and the band started on the sound czech. At 8:40 they began to play, beginning with a searing version of "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie." Several hundred people danced in a chaotic swirl, many two stepping like they would at a country dance; hundreds, maybe thousands, more stood and sat at picnic tables.
They call this music "Tex-Czech" in the real world...
I dreamed last night that I wore a size 7 again. I could wear cute clothes again. It was a relief and I regretted waking up.
September the 11th...one third of the house at 31st and Coulter...all that is left of it here and now...is hanging from a semi
cab like a prom queen in a fatal traffic accident. I toured the 30s-vintage house back in '89 when it was painted a gentile peach beige with white trim, looking for a way out of two bedrooms and two kids on 28th street. Simmering potpourri,white cotton curtains, faux oriental rugs, garage sale antiques, original hexagonal tiles on the counters in the kitchen, french doors, oak floors...garage apartment as well and all for $79.9...too much for this part of town. The Central Baptist metroplex across the street finally bought the house, painted it Furrows Pastel Blue and erected in front across of plumbing pipe painted fiery red and an attached aluminum filigree sign reading "Central Baptist Singles." Ten years later now, they need more parking...the lots of the small hispanic rental bungalows next door are already barren except for concrete lane markers...and this obstruction is the last to go.
1990, silver Vauxhall hatchback, two children one and eight, up through Jedbrough, Peebles, high green hills with sheep, stopping and setting up near Callender in the rain, a pub where a kid waiter ran after us to return the pound we left on the table for lasagne with a mayonaisse top, up north riding on a ski lift above sloped bogland, raised bog oozing water and mosses, up north across a tiny ferry peopled by a thin dark smiling kid ferryman, to Skye, scalped lands like Wyoming, and a buggy campground with a shallow tidal flat at Portree where I went to town and bought some tapes I've never seen the likes of again, and then out on foot on a large ferry to North Uist, another drab scalped land with the overpowering smell of brown peat fires, and then back to the small shack with a coffeee and soup machine and a candy machine, to go back to Skye...
Her hair was the color of whiskey, maybe she was around 30. She said, "I was here to visit my family...I got married, I got out of here and moved to Inverness and I hate coming here." She sipped progressively on a pint flask in a bag in her purse. "I hate it here because nothing ever happens." She bought my kids Mars bars from the machine. Later on the boat, she lay snoring on one of the couches by the bar, the remains of a tray of burger, chips, and catsup on a tray in front of her, like the carcass of Burns.
Here is a story about Finland:
On our second to last day in Finland, we drove from Kustavi/Gustavus at the edge of the Western Isles (Skye you might say, or Kerry) around Turku/Abo and to the junction of highway E1 st what I thought was a mega convenience stop at "Liedon as." It was, instead, a small theme park called Zoolandia (www.zoolandia.com) which had small rides, pony rides, various animals, and best of all, an indoor playground and videogames. It was from there I removed my children after I ate my last "vegetarian" Finnish buffet meal at the ravintola...potatoes, potatoes, slaw, rolls and all the kinderbeer I wanted. During most of my trip, I'd just given in to the lure of the Salmon Prince.
We went southeast on E1 to a real mega convenience store, where my daughter Erin got a hot chocolate in a coke cup, pouting because we'd left. I pried them out from the comic books and into the Swedish Fiesta, snapping back my seat two fast, I made the hot chocolate fly all over Erin and the seat. Dealing with a child with second degree burns would be a real problem. Mostly Erin just wanted another hot chocolate. I put a rain poncho on the seat and drove on down towards Salo, hoping for SOMEPLACE just to stay for the night where I could wash off the chocolate and put ice on the horribly blistered legs. Erin and her brother got more chocolate in a coffee cup with a proper lid. But no lodgings appeared, camping or otherwise.
East of Salo, near the town of Kruusila, I saw a bed sign, and turned left. A bed and breakfast was advertised at 1km. Having been to Scotland, I quaked in terror at the thought of a strict matron icily declaring, "When I had children I locked them in the closet as soon as they came home; you do have an electric cattle prod with you to keep them in line dont you?." I stopped at a building that looked like a small English hotel `and asked a teenager if this were a bed and breakfast. He said he'd find someone, who it turned out was the owner, and she gave us sheets and showed us a large room with bath cheaper than the sparse unplumbed stugor (that's swedish for cramped cottage) we'd gotten at Evijarvi near Kaustinen. There was a huge library with philosophical and religious titles, some in English and a large sauna with a living room where we were invited to swim.
This was unlike a British B&B. A long-haired man working in the garden profusely stopped me and introduced himself, shaking my hand brutally. As I was sitting down by the firepit on the dock watching Erin swim in the mesojarvi with her unscathed legs, a woman introduced herself as L--- (a long Finnish name I cant remember), pulled out a large...they are alwayslarge...Kuala Lapin and asked in perfect English: "How did you find out about this place?"
"I saw a sign on the highway."
"I came here first for the seminars."
"What seminars?" Mystery.
"Oh, you dont know about the seminars? This is a place where people to go to get away from things, a..um.."
"There are seminars here to have you learn to...um...like yourself.""
I thought maybe that was "self-esteem."
"This weekend there was supposed to be a mens retreat, but it was cancelled. That's why the rooms are open. Some of us who go to the seminars just come back to relax."
She went on to tell me that she had been raised in Lappland by her perents who were teachers, but she hated it there. "In the winter there would be just four hours of light sometimes and the sun wouldnt really come up. It is different." She had lived a year in Virginia working for a software company, but she no longer did that. She said she now lived in Helsinki, but didnt tell me her current occupation.
I liked this place. People were nice. Of all the places I had been in Fennoscandia, this was the friendliest. My kids took a sauna for the first time and my daughter ran around with a group of girls...daughter of the owners and employees yelling "Hoy-ta" (I remember this as the German word heute). I have no idea what that means and am scared to ask. As they often did in the long dusk, they stayed up till midnight.
I told my fellow guest that I liked it in Finland because it was so clean and safe and she raised her eyebrows and said in an almost bitter tone,
"Yes, it is safe."
At Falun Sweden, an unopened can of unflavored Rammelosa fizzy water disappeared from my camping table; near Umea, my bottle of generic Eurohandsoap left the same table, and an Aku Ankan comic book walked away from a picnic table near Kotka while my kids were playing. Maybe she shouldnt have been so bitter.
A reader in California replies:
"did you know that the best Salsa schools in the world are in Finland?"
A Campground near Kotka on the South Coast. It's been spitting drizzle on and off all day, but that doesnt deter me from stiking off on my own examining the acid igneous rocks that surface in much of the property and prevent total use as campsites. Then I hear it from afar as I now hear a kantele against my daughters fingers---an accordion. I make my way across the road, past the mini golf links, down to the hotel and ravintola by the ocean. Parting the brush I stare through the chain link fence to the outdoor patio. Here in its full glory and polyester is a Finnish Cover Band, with keyboards, electric bass, drums, and huge black piano V8 dashboard accordion, spinning out classic Finnish dance tunes. If you'd like to see one of these bands check out:
In truth, I could just walk in there and order a Kuala Lapin and listen but no, I'm the amateur ethnomusicologist and feel the boys wont let me minidisc them. I go back to the REI 4 man mountain tent with accompanying tiny blue Swedish Fiesta and pick up my minidisc machine and 2 bored children and go down to the beach, standing there in the mist and drizzle holding a Sony ECM-MS057. The repertoire has shifted...Proud Mary in Finnish, Blue Suede Shoes in English which has my kids going wild (what does one for the money two for the show mean?), familar American country tunes in Finnish. Then the drizzle turns to rain and the band and their audience give up for the evening.
Later, in Kaustinen, I run out of blank mindiscs and in a fit of hasty accordionist worship mistakenly record over most of the performance with illicit Sandy "just ask me and I'll run off with you" Brechin. All that's left is Blue Suede Shoes and a fragment of a familiar American country tune in Finnish. That;s OK because the extraneous noise is too bad to play the selections on the air. Unfortunately I also record over an "approved" performance (meaning I bought one of their CDRs and proceeded to blatantly hold my mike in front of their cimbalom) of a Hungarian street/dance band called Tilinko.
On the Fun Ferry back to Stockholm, I try a tax free (17 fm) half litre of Estonian beer in the "English Pub," settling next tothe sound board (there are more bars per m2 on this boat than anywhere else in the world...usually I stick to pear cidre). A lone Svensk singer is there with a guitar, performing first "singer songwriter" material in English, then Neil Young covers, then lets lose with "Blue Suede Shoes." The audience perks up at this and folks start to jitterbug or just stagger back and forth, setting the tempo for the rest of the perfomance. I wander off to the "club." On the stage is a Finnish cover band.
Back from Austin, a few hours looking at the vast contents of the Austin Record Convention, through what Julian Dawson referred to as "Deep Texas," all the shacks, convenience stores, and third world bars along highway 21, miles and miles of mesquite and live oak...
I change all the names in this story--Street Weider refers to a well-known national department store chain:
Cathy Hernandez is a stout 23, permed black hair with several stark white strands.She lives with her parents, her husband, and their three children . Even when she complains, she laughs, and usually she talks.(Although both women here have a strong Spanish accent, neither admits to speaking much Spanish) We were hanging around after Scouts, with the kids tearing up the school playground.
She said "Tomorrow I am calling about a job downtown on the graveyard shift, as a phone operator. I wonder where that could be? That's what I used to do at Street Weider."
I said, "Oh a Street Weider casualty."
She shook her head and said "They were so mean to me there. I applied for a job because I was desperate. I was separated from my husband then and I was working on my GED because I didnt finish high school. They told me that I'd get every other Saturday off when I got the job. I went in and told them I could only work after 2pm and they asked could I start tomorrow. They never gave me no Saturdays off! I was supposed to be working in the back but I covered all the time for the girls in front. It was Viola Smith that was my supervisor. She was so mean. You remember her, Valencia?" Cathy gave a nod at Valencia. " She used to work there too, but she worked out in front. She always cashiered."
Valencia Munoz smiled and shook her head. She is 26 and lives with her parents, 4 brothers and sisters and her daughter; she is divorced. A thin, quiet, beautiful woman (still waters run deep..) Valencia was wearing a lovely flowered dress as if she had a job besides "homemaker" listed on her form. It may have come from Weiders.
"One day Viola asked me to work another shift up front and I told her I already had my 40 hours, but she said that was OK, and then she came up later and chewed me out right in front of the customers, she was yellin'! and she told me that I shouldnt be working up here. And then you know I took her aside and reminded her of what she'd told me, that she said it was OK. Then she apologized and said she was under a lot of stress."
"I worked whenever they wanted me to, I covered for people all the time, for people who called in sick, remember that girl Sandy? But then after I'd worked there 6 months I called to get a Saturday off so we could go to the lake and they said, æNo, you'll have no job if you don't come in.' so I said æFine, then I'll have no job' and I never went back."
[memorandum]Oostende belgium, the ferry from three years ago is no longer here but there is one at 7am to dover, a truly 82 dollar a week car called a joker, an out of date atlas from the other years, miles and miles of road repair on the autobahn, no bathrooms in Holland but i know what road i am on, same ithe belgium, but dark, all dark, belgium by moonlight. Oostende i find is a gamblers pit, millions of hotels and brightlights and so i am near tears on brick streets until i come out where i started and see what i think is a big modern luxury hotel with a bigt lawn and parking places and i am so tired i decide to just ask, looks full from the lights on, but i walk in and an older british couple are the only ones in the bar i say anyone around and they say there sould be and a bald man finally shows up and says the best he can do is 3xxx francs i say what is that i am just passing through he says in pounds that is 38 pounds and i grab it because it is cheaper than a british road motel and then i come up here and find that it has had better days, but it has a BATHTUB, with a shower it would have been cheaper, so i put a kirkelig kultuverstad promo onto my computer and lie down in the bathtub wishing I'd fetched a beer as I am starving, what am i doing here in a belgian motel room by myself, why don't i have any friends? Then i realize that this is one of their jews harp-hymn discs and wish I'd tried something else but there are two pillows on the bed which is great and I cant sleep beccause i have been staying up till 2 or 3. So then i get up and write this, dread trying to get up at 6.30 to try and grab some breakfast before i try to get on the ferry, i don't want to be here in europe by myself a half innocent with no desire to gamble. So i write this and try "A sense of brittany" and get a bunch of etherial celtic harp and pipes. And figure if i don't get back into bed i will starve.
Friday AM-Down the M6 South, traffic jams, queues all day, 11 miles from Dover I stop at an old roadside inn, i'm the only customer, the innkeeper has an odd accent and looks at me strangely as if I am crazy for stopping."Things are slow," he says. Its cheaper than the Holiday Inn Express, or the Travelodge. I get a dinner of lobster soup and a huge salad with wonderful oil and vinegar dressing and a lot of bread rolls and a pint of Guinness. In the morning, I read a newspaper article in the foyer, an account of the critics visit to this "continental inn."
In the morning, I eat my vegetarian version of an English breakfast (the critic chose the continental) and watch a table of 10 people who havearrived. They are dressed in knickers, and the men have blazers and ties on. One or two of them drink champagne, the rest orange juice. "Are you shooting today?" "Believe it or not, I was close friends in school with the daughter of the man who owned that mine." "No, I'm not really ill, it's my sinuses, happens every year at this time." "I was thinking of getting a new dog." Random conversation. "May we smoke?" one asks the innkeeper. "If Madame says it is all right," he nods at me. I say "I'll be gone in a minute," not wanting to say no and spoil the picture. They smoke odd little cigars.
Before she leaves, the one woman in the group says:
"Monsieur, I had wanted to tell you the kidneys were just superb!!!"
The Aggies, steeped in Tradition, Camaraderie, and School Spirit, build before their football game with The University of Texas a huge tower of wood, which they light into flame prior to the game on Thanksgiving. I have never been to this ignition, which they call bonfire, for all the years I went to school at A&M or all the years I've lived here, but my daughter Emma's girl scout troop has sold fluorescent devices to the attendees. It is rumored to be the scene of wild drinking and reverie, and the building of it has been the site of bizarre sexist beating attacks on female members of the corps of cadets.
A&M used to be a military school and the residual Corps of Cadets have been heavily involved in construction of the pyres. The week before, they and members of various residence halls spend all night each night building the structure. This morning at about 2.45am, it collapsed, it is reported that there was a snap and the whole thing collapsed in seconds. I woke this morning to John Melton reading phone numbers on the radio and advising students to call their parents to say they were OK. So far they have reported nine deaths.
John, with the help of his girlfriend Lynn and Brandon "Van Irons" Webb, host of "In the Saddle," effected a miraculous coverage of the event, with apparently little technical assistance or official direction. They patched in the press conference, and Van Irons called in on his cellular phone from campus. They monitored available newscasts. The did all this from 6AMthrough 5PM. They literally absconded with my afternoon show for which I am very grateful.
We have been deluged with phone calls, which amazes me. People are asking us questions and giving us information. The most exciting was from the BBC, who called when Jon Campbell was on the 5-7 operations shift. Jon is a student and co-host (Jon and John) of "First Cut" (M 11pm-1AM) Texas Alternative. Apparently the BBC was so captivated by Jon's persona that they arranged a phone interview at 8pm, to learn about our community spirit. We are all excited.
I saw TV trucks in front of St Joseph's Hospital as we drove down 29thStreet, but that is the only contact I have had with the event itself. To me it is almost no different than the other disasters I have been hearing about lately, only of less magnitude. But for others...Eileen Peters, one of our morning drive time people has been at the station all evening, handling the phone calls that make being a dj in a one-person station impossible, and providing updates. She provided two updates during my show.
I am very glad all this is being taken care of by enthusiastic people.
If you would like to see a picture of bonfire:
Here is the site which lists the casualties: http://www.aggiebonfire.com/
All her life, my mother fought male logic to own nice things. In the end,he had two rooms of nice things, a formal living and dining room, and we would eat twice a year in the living room and I would read, alone, in the living room, in the red chair by the Hammond Organ. We would eat in the breakfast room, on a worn Ethan Allen Early American table (you could tell how worn it was by looking at the unused leaf), on a chipped vinyl tile floor. No matter how much money he made, my father's major idea of luxury was a T-bone steak on Sunday eaten at this table. He was a paragon of economic humilty, except that in the end he bought a Lincoln.
Escaping onto the table was a sugar bowl with a badly glued broken lid. There was a whole set of dishes in our kitchen cabinet that went with it, which we never ever used, next to the pink and grey Russell Wright we never used except for the cereal bowls. The dishes were white with simple blue designs painted on them, six large and small serving plates and perhaps 12 sets of saucers and small and large plates, but only 5 cups, eggshell thin, and of course the creamer and sugar bowl. They said and still say on the bottom J&C and variously Ovid, Bavaria, Germany, Portland, G.H.B. Co. My father told me that they belonged to Grandmother Reid when she was first married. This was in the 1870s, which would make them about 120 years old. But I can not be sure of when she got them. They were among the first things I packed up and took out of the house when my father died, along with the still packed stamp collection he begged me to "get out of the house before they see it." The stamp police never came.
My Great-grandmother Reid's name was originally Emma Kelley and her family came from the Blue Ridge but had lived in western Ohio for two generations. She lived with her 14 brothers and sisters in a large brick house on a section of land. For the first years of her marriage to Pettis Reid she lived on another farm near West Florence, and I can imagine the thresherscoming in and eating on the china, huge bowls of potatoes and cabbage, a platter of chicken.
I snuck in the dining room today, removed the plastic place mats which were gifts from my mother-in-law, the mail from yesterday, and the school papers, and put on the table a blue cloth and then a white lace cloth that my mother had, and then set the table with the blue and white china, using the brown-pattern wedgewood cups from the china service that mygrandmother gave my mother as bowls. Since I was also making salad, and oyster stew, my family finished by bringing in mismatched stainless steel spoons and forks and the glasses I'd gotten at the dollar store to make musical glasses for Brownies. I let it slide, but filled a garage sale crystal glass with diet mountain dew. There are four of these glasses. Had I not been in a hurry, I would have retrieved one of the crystal water glasses my mother had that matched the Oneida Community Plate...
As an older child, I always dreaded Christmas, because the magazines that we got stopped carrying articles titled "Living with an Autistic Child" and "How we Remodeled Our Tract Home Into A Five Story Palace" and started running "Making Holiday Gift Wrap Out of Ice Cream Containers." There is an analogy here.
This was our first year to have a float in the Christmas parade. I did no work on the float, but donated my children for the job. Some people did quite a bit of work. Robert Chavez, famous for the 4 hour Saturday nights of Tejano Pop, drove his big black shiny Chevy Pickup. In the back was the local rock band Blue Earth, sans instruments. The paint splattered flatbed trailer owned by John Melton as part of his construction business was full.
At the head of the trailer was our simulated wooden tower with glowing red light at the top, and Jon Campbell, who was recently interviewed by the BBC about the Bonfiree disaster, host of "First Cut--Texas Alternative" and manager of Blue Earth, along with his PA system. Eileen Peters, who does 2 morning drive times, a woman of large and flambuoyant demenor, was dressed in basic black western and various feather boas, gold plastic star sunglasses and other flambuoyant things. Van Irons of "In the Saddle," looked like the Marboro Man. Jeff White of "The Blue Biscuit" had a blue face and had plastic Christmas tree limbs hung all over him. Carl Hasan, the black host of "On the Porch" a black talk show and of "Smoke and Bubbles" (also a member of the school board) was wearing black leather. The girls from "Enchanted Pain" wore their metal band shirts and spiked bracelets and color sprayed hair. My daughter Emma of "undercurrents--college rock" wore a sarong and hair recently dyed with KoolAid and her KEOS Tshirt, along with Eileen accessories. Lynn McDaniel of the BOD wore a renaissance gown and headphones. On the end was a wire Christmas tree with much glitz. Carl, endlessly verbose, extolled the virtues of KEOS as we made our way up Texas Avenue from the heavily emorialized (many memorials hanging on the fence) Bonfire Site and near The Captains Seafood, we all screamed out at Reta Taylor, host of The Gospel Express, standing beside her Incredibly Large and Shiny Lincoln.
I went dressed as Esma. Most of my gypsyish clothes were from India, but who cares? My other kids, Ian and Erin also dressed as Gypsies. I painted my face so I could look incognit...people at first did not recognize me in makeup and with black Eyebrows and eyelashes. literally, did not recognize me in make-up. I made believe all the people in the float were children that I had adopted, and was proud when they pulled out kazoos and played Jingle Bells in unison at the judge's stand.
The weather had failed with the windy front, and it was in the 40s. No one cared, because we were so jovial. We were right up there this year with the Brazos Valley Lowriders, the balooners shooting hot flames up onto telephone wires, the FHA with its simulated living room with everyone watching TV, the caravan of green John Deere equipment, the fire station Safety House, the blank faced pet owers with dogs from the Kennel Club, all those scout floats...and the Texas Aggie Marching Band. ;-)
I fly to Minneapolis, my older daughter convincing me to rent what turned out to be my first Buick, leaving my younger children at Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Ken's in Bloomington, Emma and I drive to the Cedar Cultural Centre. My slogan has been, just let me see Boiled In Lead before I die, now I have to change my slogan. An acoustic show, our dinner from the counter right there, HOT vegetable curry, the feeling of real people filling the room, none of them in the Parsons Mounted Cavalry, saying things and having them understood and properly responded to by the recipient. It is an acoustic show, vocals the same as with screaming electrity. What could be the possible difference that set the repertoire off from Folk Music???...the last tunes, horrendously energetic, were my favorites...
Uncle Ken grew up in a huge family in northern Iowa and played the accordion as a child. He used to lay tile, but now he rakes leaves. He explained: "I make $17 a hour raking leaves. I put an ad in the paper and Dorothy answers the phone. My brothers, especially the two that are farmers, think people are crazy to give me that much money for raking leaves. I tell them those rich people in Edina dont want to rake leaves. They tell me I work and my wife works, we're too busy making money to rake leaves. People ask me how old I am I say 66. I never tell them I'm 70. They wouldnt believe that I'm seventy." He repeats everything 5 or so times, near oblivious to any reponse. These monologs can go on for 20 minutes.
Except for his his crew cut changing totally to silver he has not changed in the time I have known him. He had not changed since he was in his early 40s.
I drive my children north, my older daughter selecting The Power Loon on the radio from Brainerd---Metallica, Jimi hendrix, Creed...through towns I memorized years ago...Long Prairie, Wadena, where my brother in law once taught math, Menagha, Sebeka, Park Rapids, past the Ice Fishermen and the Stop Abortion sign with the rose, still there after all those years. There are reports on The Power Loon of snow in the western Dakotas, stalking eastward. I turn into the driveway on the the road east to Nevis.
Uncle Ken warned "That's a busy road in front of Lyle's house. You gotta be careful of those semis. Those buggers come whizzing down the road. You could get killed. I just make a U-Turn and double back. I hear that road goes all the way to Fargo, North Dakota." There is almost no traffic on the highway. I pick up a couple Christmas presents and my husbands cross country skis that we bought when we lived in Duluth, hauling Jarvinen skis past "Another Jokela Auction" and "Harvala's Appliance Repair." I head south, find a room in suburban Minneapolis, and in the morning there is snow on my car. Light, fluffy snow brushes easily off the huge silver Buick. Its hard to contain my joy at walking on the packed snow, brushing off snow, and driving through the lot, on the side a convoy of flashing blue lights, the plows and the dump trucks. By early afternoon, the spitting snow has turned to drizzle.
When I grow up, I will buy a house in Grand Marais, and in the summer I will drive the back roads of Ontario and in the winter I will watch the blue lights go by in the muted silence of white nights.
Before I die I would like to go to a New Years party, just once. That is another of my mottos. I have given up the idea of being asked to a formal dance.
Today someone with a thick twangy accent called during the last 10 minutes of my show and said
"You new at this game? How long you been doing this?"
"Well, you gotta be more assertive. You gotta get on there and yell. You got no self confidence. You gotta cram this stuff down our throats and make us like it."
"Thanks for the advice. I'm not sure you want Urga crammed down your throat."
"Well, you KNOW I'm listening."
"I gotta get ready to put World Cafe on."
I've been having trouble with my heel hurting on and off for four years or so, so I picked up a little something to kill the pain, in the guise of buying 1% (yuck) milk and raw peanuts at h.e.b. The checker, a buxom black woman named Brenda with a weird hairstyle, pointed:
"What's that stuff? Is it like beer?"
"It's hard cider."
"You mean like apple cider?"
"Yeh, only its fermented."
"I like that stuff...you mean the hot stuff you buy in packets! I love drinkin' that stuff. It tastes like that huh, I guess. But it wouldnt taste just like it."
"Well you can taste the alcohol."
"Alcohol! Whoo-ee!!! I'd probably pass out!"
She turned to the checker, a heavily mascaraed college aged girl with permed blonde hair and freckles, Her name was Anna. I know these names from the friendly tags.
"You like cider?
"I dont think I ever had cider."
"No? Its like ice tea but it tastes like apples."
"I wouldnt like it. I dont like ice tea."
Across town, Scientists are dreading Research Cruises to Kerguelen.
This was a fun show. I announced between Rhonda Vincent and Ella Jenkins that RadioNation was going to be on at 4 in place of Latino USA, which the sub had forgot to tape Friday. A gentleman called during Pete Seeger to state how unhappy he was that we do not +regularly+ run RadioNation. I had planned to break but let it run onto Jay Dubois, listening to the caller instead of the music. He hung up so I could answer the other line on the fourth ring. The second conversation was overprinted by the lengthy answering machine greeting. A fellow dj was calling to suggest I should not be playing that song, but it was hard to talk over the message. I hadnt noticed anything in the Dirty Seven when I read the lyrics...but decided I must have a FCC violation. So I hung up, faded Dubois down and said, "I was advised I shouldnt play this song." I read the chorus again:
Oh I'll Never Get Laid
No I'll Never Get Laid
But that's OK cause
I'm getting screwed everyday.
Compared to "The Bonny Black Hare" or "The Cuckoos Nest" this didnt seem disturbing.
The phones lit up.
"Dont let them tell you what to play!"
"Good grief! They'll have to ban John Prine and Iris DeMent too!"
"Oh come on, they just must be sensitive about divorce. Dont let them tell you what to play!" "Yeh, I think it was the chorus, not the divorce."
"Well, maybe you should play songs about murder and incest instead. That is what American music is built on! How about the song about the two sisters pushing each other into the river?"
Construction workers and pizza delivery men all over town were mobilizing.
I loved it! Not only were people listening to the show, but to the lyrics and what I was saying as well!
I played almost all instrumentals after that, throwing in Mike Willoughby's song about suicide on my private label in lieu of murder and incest. It was right at hand.
As I was leaving, the dj-caller showed up to get something from his mailbox, and confessed that he had only called to relate the experience he had deciding whether to play the song. "It's a cute song," he said.
Sunday I found Erin, my 6 year old, outside the upstairs bathroom, footpints of Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder with Menthol following her through the hallway. She told me with a sense of panic:
"Someone spread foot powder all over the bathroom! I dont know who it was. It wasnt me."
"If it wasnt you, it must have been Ian. Ian did you spread around foot powder?" Ian was in his bedroom. Uninterested, he said no, not raising his eyes from his book.
I went into the bathroom. There was foot powder all over, over every imaginable surface. Why FOOT POWDER? There was foot powder on the counter, in the sink, in the bathtub, on the closed toilet, on the bathtub toys and the nightstand that holds them. As usual, I'd spent the weekend cleaning, and I was almost in tears as I scooped up foot powder with a threadbare washcloth. The scent of menthol persisted in sort of a pleasant way. I went back to my office.
Erin came and asked me when I was going to take them to play in the ball pit at Aerofit.
"When Ian cleans his room and someone tells me who spread foot powder all over the bathroom."
Erin thought a minute. "I did it," she said..
"Because I was angry." She has always been very articulate. "I was angry at Ian for not cleaning up his room so we could go to Aerofit."
In the end, Ian paid her 15ó to clean his room, and continued to read. I went to clean off the mirrors with Windex and found small chips out of the 1929 vintage plate glass mirror between the windows. She must have hurled the tin with some amount of force. We are all lucky that the mirror did not break.
Tuesday night I drank a couple of Portland Porters and woke up with a small headache. It reminded me of this.
In the spring of 1971 I lived in London, on foreign study from Earlham. I lived with three gentile, kind English majors from academic backgrounds who would like nothing better than to curl up with a good novel on a cold night, a college student from Isle Of Wight, and a crafty Spaniard who resembled Kepa Junkera, in the three story home of Mrs Catania on Nelson Road, Crouch End. Mr. Catania was Maltese, worked at the docks, and watcheda lot of television. Mrs. Catania enjoyed keeping a spotless house, serving huge meals with plenty of meat, and talking to my housemates about their boyfriends back home.
"And what about your boyfriend, Judy?"
"I don't have one."
The program, like all of Earlham's programs was designed for liberal arts >majors, and my coursework was forgotten before ever it hit paper. The most memorable assignment was the multicolored London stage production of Hair. My lessons, my guides, came from Raynor's Stratigraphy Of the British Isles and a slim green government publication called Geology Of the West Country.
On the long weekends, I rode the tube past emergence to Reigate in Surrey, where I almost collided with a fox hunt as I stalked an open field. I rode the train to Southampton and the ferry to the Isle of Wight, watching the grey drizzly coast behind grey waves, walking all of the south coast Lower Cretaceous on an ordinance survey map, eating breakfast with young Japanese tourists at the hostel. Late, I rode the rest of the southwest coast Cretaceous in hops by coach, Weymouth, Bournemouth, Lyme Regis where I met with two of my housemates who were reading "The French Lieutenant's Woman."I hauled up a huge grey ammonite cobble a foot long out from beyond the quay.. There was a basement restaurant called the Mad Hatter with wonderful minestrone next to the bed and breakfast, and we later went to drink "scrumpy" with the landlady there..."They say 'It will make you mad!'" she teased. I went over to Jersey, riding funny rented bikes with a fellow student named Larry, thick New York accent, to see the zoo. One weekend I rode up to Scunthorpe in the Midlands to visit my penpal from High School, Sonja Zywczok, now a hairdresser, riding the train again through grey-green fields and past grey-brown industrial towns and railyards. On yet another weekend I road the train to Taunton in Somerset and then up to Watchet by coach, stopping to buy a cheap blue plastic raincoat, staying at a hotel that cost £3.50 a night. The owner asked:
"Where are you from, the continent somewhere?"
"I'm from the US."
"She's from America," said his wife.
"Oh really? I couldnt tell the accent."
And then one week I went to Ireland by ferry, picked up on the road hitching by a telphone repairman, who in a fit of mild hostility told me:
"I'll tell you what you don't have in America that we have here. You don't have peace of mind."
One night in London, I went with my roomate Dhera and a fellow student, a 6'2 physics major named Dave to a pub near the Upper Holloway tube stop. Dave met a local man while throwing darts. They were both intrigued by the fact that they were both named Dave and they were both Americans. David (the local dave) didnt sound American to me.
David said: "Say, if you think this beer is good, I make home brew, why don't you come over with me and have some."
We all walked through the dark drizzly streets to his first floor flat. There was a fireplace in the corner and a couple of chairs. His brew seemed no better or worse than the pub beer.
"You don't sound American." I told him.
"I've lived here a long time. But here, I have a drivers licence, I'll show you."
The license as left in my memory said "State of California, David, dob1945," and pictured a man with light brown curly hair. The rest is a blur. My friends left me there. Dhera took the house key. I woke up in the grey morning face to face with an ancient oak dresser and a sleeping man. Pain ripped the left side of my face, down through the back of my neck, into my spine. I turned the lock and walked out, afraid not of the sleeping man but of letting go of the faulty structure of my life. I walked the mile or so up to the house on Nelson Road and rang the bell. Mrs Catania, with cold grey piercing eyes, let me in. Now she had identified me not only as an untidy vegetarian geologist but immoral one as well.
When I was thirteen, I fell in love with George Harrison. My friends fell in love with the other guys--Pat Jackson who painted her fingernails black and in retrospect was dyslexic but who in the Jefferson County School System cared? fell in love with John. Vicki Kaiser, who shared my birthday and was hence also a year ahead here in suburban Birmingham (down from Burlington Ontario, living in a trailer court with her mom and welder dad who both had a 10th grade education and her brother Terry who loved to tinker with cars, with her bleached hair and perfect 38-20-34 figure) pined for Ringo. Joan Leader, a very quiet and cheerful Jewish woman down from Minneapolis, looking like she was adopted from errant Swedes, chose Paul, but never cared so much because she was too busy being used as free labor in the family manufacturing business...The Beatles provided not so much music but Romance for the underage Out-Crowd.
George lasted only a year or so as I moved on to more interesting things, but for years we attended concerts--The Dave Clark Five, Little Rascals, Herman's Hermits, and later Buffalo Springfield. We worked our way back stage at the Birmingham Civic Auditorium and I got Steve Stills autograph...years later I would show this to people in bars. One night Vicki and I followed ? To the Holiday Inn and ?, staring at Vicki who was about as tall as him...5'5 maybe...suggested we would like to see his room. We declined and my dad grounded me from the Paul Revere concert for inablity to be there when he came to pick us up.
There were pen pal listings in 16 Magazine. I found a pen-pal in Lincolnshire, and she gave her friends addresses for my friends. I also had a pen pal named Dinah in Ashby (?), Cumberland, one named Kirsten in Jylland, Denmark, and a boy somewhere in Finland. I cannot find any of his letters right off hand, but I did find an issue of pop-66 Heinä-Elokuu n:o 7-8, Hinta 1,40 with John Lennon on the cover.
" ...they sing all sorts of numbers and on stage do a wild act with Jimi rolling on the floor and playing his guitar in all sorts of sexy positions. They really get the girls going in live concerts."
" I think the assassination of Martin Luther King was a bit barbaric (whoops) what purpose does it serve Its atrocious." (The Brits never learn punctuation)
"It was a very nice thought but he's awfully shy. He always passes me with a good few feet in between. I don't look that bad do I?"
Most of the traffic though went through our group and the one in Scunthorpe in the Midlands. We wrote huge communal notebooks about our lives. When I was a senior I was writing in one of these in and the idle teacher spotted me and picked it up. We had a double class with 60 people, Mrs. Helms was teaching and Mr. Martin was apparently bored. Eventually I was called to talk with Coach Dickinson. The damage was not the writing in class but the unflattering remarks about Mrs. Autry, the honors English teacher, nutty as a fruitcake. My saving condition was that out of 400 seniors, I was one of two Merit Scholarship Finalists. The other one had speedily been shipped off to military school.
"Who else was writing this?."
"I'm afraid I cannot say."
"I understand. I will, however, have to put you on probation."
My last offense was in 4th grade, when Mrs Lawson caught me shaking my head back and forth repeatedly to feel my hair move. I wasnt too worried.
Petrified, I told my dad and he shook his head. "You girls!" he exclaimed.
BC Friends Worship Group went in as a sponsor on a death penalty forum held tonite at 7:30. I think it was a great idea, but, being conditionally (ormaybe subjunctively) suicidal ("I'd kill myself if I caused someones death," "I'd kill myself before I'd go to prison," "I'll just kill myself if the IRS decides to audit me...") I find it hard to be empathetic with death row prisoners. I would kill myself before I got to death row.
Consequently I've wormed myself, with guilt rather than regret, out of the event. I've repeatedly said I'd have my Friend Steve on to talk about the event and he reliably appeared for my show. I thought I did a decent interview, except for one typical brain gap, but I guess he expected to stay the whole time, whereas I suggested one interview was enough...I cant handle it. I cant handle people in the studio talking to me while I put on CDs, blocking my view of the computer. It didnt used to bother me. I am becoming a recluse. Musicians I like as long as they make music. Community events are OK for 5 minutes. That's it. I am filled with guilt for throwing out my fellow Seeker of Light. Maybe I should have another Guinness and the other half of "By Humber's Brown Water."
After my poor tomatoes finally froze, rain came in. I was at the NorWest Bank Tuesday and two Minnesotans were at the counter. I hypothesized a couple who had recently sold their Lutheran Brotherhood Dealership.
The teller said, "I was up at the Mall of the Americas. That was sure something."
They agreed. The parking lot is big.
They had driven through Arkansas. The teller said, "I heard up in Arkansas they had cars lined up on either side of the road for 30 miles, the snow was so bad."
Another teller joined in, "My uncle drives a truck and he said he was going 10 miles an hour through Arkansas for a couple hours. The motels were all full."
The first teller said, "We're not used to that sort of thing down here."
The Minnesotans said, "Well we are, and that's why we're down here and not in Minneapolis."
The other teller said, "Hey, I've been up there. I was at the Mall of the Americas. Do you live in Minneapolis?"
The Minnesotans said, "Yes, we have a house in town, but we also have a country place, a farm in Wisconsin."
The second teller said, "Oh, its beautiful in Wisconsin!"
The Minnesotans said, "Yes, Black River Falls..."
Suddenly the tellers lost interest and then the Minnesotans had to move along. Two gloomy ranchers and a hispanic tire store employee were waiting to deposit money.
Here is a story about Romance:
Several weeks ago, Erin sat up in bed, asleep, and said: "Jared, no!"
"Jared, give that back, its mine!"
And that is how I learned she dreams of Jared.
Last night we got to meet Jared, It was our first trip to the Imperial Chinese Buffet, with Seafood. Jared coincidently was sitting at the next table. When Erin saw him, they both giggled. Jared was the spitting image of the man I assumed was his dad, whom I put into the appearance category of "thin piggie." They both had round faces, turned up noses, and dark crew cuts. Jared had almost no upper front teeth. It is a wonder he could eat. Every so often Erin and Jared would look at each other and giggle.
"I bet Jared's your boyfriend." Emma teased.
"No," said Erin. "He's seven and I'm six. He cant be my boyfriend."
Erin then went to the buffet to get half a plate of chocolate pudding. She walked past Jared. They giggled each other silly.Jared's Mom, whom I would classify as strawberry blond big hair gigglebox, came up to Emma (this sort of thing began when I stopped dying my hair) and giggled, "Now you folks can enjoy your dinner, we're leaving! Jared just thinks Erin is the best thing!"
I drove with my kids over to Meeting in Austin, west down Texas 21. I am too stupid to go through the Lexington cut-off, too enamoured of the simple 4 lane. Our 2 lanes came to a halt between Dime Box and Mannheim, then crept forward in the vision of flashing lights. A white pickup was on the left shoulder, crippled enough to be towed by a smashed grill. A white midsize sedan was on the right shoulder, its trunk buckled up to the back of the front seats, like a corpse chopped off at the waist.
"Hey Ian, look at the wreck!" Erin said.
Ian didnt look up, trapped in Middle Earth.
Long ago, when Ian was a toddler and couldnt read yet, he went to nursery with Jessie Cargill. Her mother, a cheery rotund redhead, was head of Poultry Science at A&M. One Sunday, Jessie and her parents and one of her mother's graduate students were headed out west on Hwy 60. They slowed down for a turning car, but the car behind them didn't. The passenger side took the collision. Jessie's mother and the graduate student were killed immediately, the impact so great the her mother was found on the hood of the car. Jessie, in her car seat on the driver's side, suffered a broken collar bone and soon was back in school. Her father was almost unhurt, but lived on tranquilizers for months. The high school girls in the car behind, on an aborted trip to Lake Somerville, were also relatively unhurt. Ian's teacher, Miss Melanie, said, "Imagine having to live with that the rest of your life."
It is unusual to mow the lawn in February. It is not graminoids that have gone beserk, it is the composites and the egumoids.
I push the prime 10 times, pull the rope three, prime, pull the rope, prime...Lawn Boys are built to assert the superiority of men who like to pull ropes, adjust and tinker all Sunday afternoon. I contemplate an electric mower. Just before I give up, the mower starts and we are on our way, half a gallon of fuel mix primed into the heart of the machine. Over the back lawn we glide and sail, me and that Lawn Boy, shutting down abruptly for an each misjudged 3' tall composite. It always restarts.
Halfway through the back yard, my son Ian appears. "Hey you want to try this," I say. He can only push the mower a few inches. It says "self-propelled" but this only applies when grown men are using the machine. It is designed for grown men.
I turn northwest, into a dense clump of foot tall clover. The machine stops but will not restart. I turn it over to clean out the weeds but findinstead fur. Weeks ago, Rocky nosedived into the Melilotus and never emerged. His entire body, dessicated but intact, is lodged under the blade with the long tail sticking out. I cant find a stick, so I go inside and pick up a dishtowel.
"Hey Ian, wanna see a dead squirrel?" I ask. Ian is engrossed in volume 27 of Star Wars. I walk back out, find a wooden stake, and push Rocky out, balancing him on the stake most of the way to the garbage can until he loses his balance by the driveway. I push him into the carton with the stake, and then drop the casket and the Squirrel Boy into the city-regulation trashcan.
This is a story about folk music:
I was sitting in a lounge chair at the way back of the room, wearing a black KEOS T-shirt. I'd come to see Susan Werner for the sociability, and because she's funny and I like her voice. She is a fellow Hawkeye, but when I was there she was 12 years old, and she didnt major in geoscience anyway. I knew very few of the 105 people in the room, and no one I didn't know came back to speak to me. I was not identified as Judith Day to the audience and there was no reason to be. I imagined myself perceived as a frowzy middle aged alcoholic trying to act cool by sitting in the back of the room. After marrying Romany Brown, I was sleeping rough. I pondered finally getting a Celtic tattoo.
These are likely not the construction workers and pizza deliverypeople who call Open Air, but maybe the African history professor is here. They cheer when Susan asks, "Do you listen to KEOS?" Many layers of KEOS exist with which I have no connection. I develop a hypothesis: these are the people who live in a conservative town on a bargain. They have exchanged living in the Real World for jobs, for tenure, for safety, for complacency, for low housing prices, for love. Susan Werner has provided an illusion of the world they would like to live in, but not without a good job and half price housing. I would like to take a survey of what they listen to and why but consider it intrusive and impossible.
Towards the end, Ruthie Foster and her manager/egg shaker Cyd sat in the back too. Susan switched gears from guitar to piano, and after "If I Sang Cole Porter," I finished my second Fat Tire Ale and slowly walked out the door for my third, packed in the hatch of the red Windstar. As I sat back down, Susan announced that this would be her last number; I pulled out my Canada souvenir bottle opener and started to open the ale, but then decided not to. Cyd waved a heavy duty fluorescent green plastic bottle opener at me, claiming it was broader and would work better. I told her, no, if Susan was closing, I wouldnt open it.
When I got home, I pulled out my fiddle and played two marching airs: The Barren Rocks of Aden, and Skinner's Lord Huntley's Cave.
Alex, whose eyes glitter at every new Putumayo sampler, is back on, doing the Monday Morning Eclectic Coffeehouse from 6-8am. We ran into her at Jason's Deli.
Me: You had quite a bit of West African music going there.
Alex: Yes. Some guy called and he was really p****d. He said that there
were Spanish stations to play that kind of music.
Me: He must not have liked the Flamenco.
Alex: No, I was playing West African music then. He told me my show "wasnt worth s**t."
Emma: He wasnt drunk, was he? There's a drunk guy who only likes Eileen, so he calls everyone else to say he hates their show. He's drunk everytime he calls. He cant even get a license and has to ride a bike.
Me: I think that was the guy who told me I needed to be more assertive.
Alex: No, this guy was sober, he was just p****d.
Emma: Beth is really nice to him. She has this voice she uses at Pizza Hut for customers. She always tells him politely, "No this is a heavy metal show, I cant play blues for you."
Once called Brown's Ferry, the site of the type section of the Middle Eocene Stone City Formation is on the Burleson side of the Brazos River at the Highway 21 bridge. I took Ian and Erin along with Erin's friend Sarah, to pick miniature fossils from the unconsolidated "glauconite layer," so-called because it contains chlorite. It was an open marine environmentat the time, but close enough to shore to contain sufficient pollen for me to co-author a paper on the palynology. The only other attempts to research the site had been by oil company palynologists who do this sort of thing as a hobby, although later an A&M student studied the dinoflagellates. The paper is in GCAGS 31:348. You can find the full reference on my webpage.
The kids mostly climbed and got muddy, threw rocks in the Brazos, andbanged on limestone with my "good" stainless steel knives, but they did collect some tiny subfossils of scaphopods, high spired gastropods, and fingernail clams. I cant go any further, not being a paleozoologist, because there is no real guide to the fauna. It is a well-known teaching site and publishing some kind of guide would give away the answers.
It is a rule that people on the Brazos side fish, and the people on the Burleson side hunt fossils. When I saw some people stop, I knew they were fellow fossileers. A couple men walked by and said:
"Looking for fossils, huh?
I said, "They are!"
"Cheaper than the movies."
If I had my book with me, I'd have said that I had studied the site, but I didnt and couldnt remember everything I wrote. Palynologists are very good with dealing with questions they do not know the answers to. We sometimes sigh mournfully and say, "Its a long time since I worked on that," implying that science is never static and no one should be expected to dwell on non-timely information without the status of leading a field trip or giving a review talk. Alternatively, we might just shrug their shoulders, implying that by asking that question one has not respected the sanctity of the Unknowable. As far as Science goes, we are Artists.
I co-led a IPC field trip that included this site in 1996. Most of the trippers were Europeans, as it was an international conference. They had been taken the day before from the Hyatt Regency in Houston and dumped into 100 degree weather in mesquite and cow-pie covered Texas savanna. That day had been spent at the K-T boundary in the bug-ridden Brazos river bed near Rosebud. Scooping up fossils tiny enough to be carried home to Utrecht but big enough to see was a high point of Day 2. The other high point was staring for an hour at a reconstruction mural in the air conditioned BrazosValley Museum.
The night before had been spent at the $23 a night Caldwell Motel in Caldwell, county seat of Burleson Co. One of two strident-voiced Danish graduate students asked me suspiciously:
"What kind of place is this?"
"What do you mean?" A cheap motel?
She nodded at a group of black people dressed in tuxedos and flashy satin gowns descending from the second floor catwalk.
"Who are these people? What are they doing?"
I didnt know. So I shrugged.
"I dont know. Maybe they are going to a Revival Meeting."
I was reading a book, sitting on a chair set up on the soccer field in July of '72. I have only one sentence left from that book, spoken by a child riding in a bus. She says, "Mama, when do we get to Truckee?"
I take what is left of my last summers wages, my fathers gasoline cards, my '68 gold Camaro, and stash in the dark cave of my trunk my frame pack. In the dark cave of my backseat I take Nancy, who lived with me on College, and her boyfriend Kit, who, like my present roommate on National Road, is a poet. We head west to where Nancys mother lives in the Bay Area. We head west away from the Ohio sunrise, past Hoosier farmfields, past Dublin where my grandmother was born, through Indy and up past the clean barns and fields of Illinois and Iowa,. We stop in Des Moines, where Marilyn, who lived with us on College, now works for the YWCA. We stay one last night on the final frontier of East America. We know no one between here and the Pacific. In the morning we drive the drab Nebraska plains, strewn with livestock along the Platte floodplain. I have never seen such desolate brown drabness, I have never been West. Stopping for the night in Sterling, Colorado, we target the reservoir to camp, but in the dark we cannot find it, so we lay our sleeping bags out on grazing land. In the dawn we spot a pickup driving off-road and we leave quickly, not knowing how scared we should be. In a Boulder diner, we eat fried eggs and custom shredded hash browns. We climb the Front Range, and descend into the dry juniper, into Utah. We cannot find a place to camp, so I park in a Salt Lake residential neighborhood at 2am. I stay awake for a while, slumped over baggage on the passenger seat. We skim the salt flats, over the Nevada border, no speed limit, to Reno in the Sierras. My companions eat free food at the casinos and I walk back into the woods of our first real campsite, thinking of Bonanza.
"Mama when do we get to Truckee," I think as we enter California, and coast down to the Bay, up to Mill Valley and I later head North alone, up the Pacific, past the fault zone, past giant trees, and through the Willamette to Eugene. I have a friend staying that summer in the dorm who has an old Volvo wagon and all the curly red hair you could ever want. "Hey, Sport," he says. He is from Tennessee.
I'd just pushed the city regulation trash can to the curb when my neighbor spotted me. She is a "retired" homemaker, and not the person you picture. She continues to dye her hair blonde and is immaculately dressed; at a distance she passes for 40. Her husband is a former Republican Brazos County Justice of the Peace.
The result was the same as you would imagine, though. She said: "I have a man who does my yard work. Do you mind I send him over to do some of that mowing and trimming?"
"Well, no, that's OK, I just mowed Saturday and maybe I can get the weeds later in the week." Is she going to pay him? If she pays him, I can think of a lot of things I'd like him to do.
"Say, can I tell you something? I hope this doesnt offend you."
"People come by and look at the house and think that is trash out there." She nodded at the never opened and now tattered bags of mulch that my kids bought in a wild spree of gardening that ended up in a lovely but unmulched garden of flowers and tomatoes in the front yard. "I tell them that you've painted the house so nicely and you've put in a new kitchen but no, they just look at the trash in the yard." She didnt mention the unkempt lot of band and radio stickers on the bumper of my windstar, sure to drive away prospective upscale conservative buyers.
"No, thanks for telling me. It's trash day and I'll do that right away!"
A lucky escape from the conversation. It took me 15 minutes to pick up what was left of the bags and rip open the ones sheltered under the tomato plants and still intact.
I have been increasingly a conveyance with engines running at low speed, coming into an airport, a harbor. A great parallel to this would be the airplane trip I took during spring break '96, the plane running silently for a landing in Portland. People in the plane moved silently at half speed as well. When we landed, I found my left ear was still plugged. I was totally disoriented. My 14 year old daughter liasoned with the rental car people.
"For only $5 a day you can upgrade to a midsize car!"
"That would be great!" said Emma.
Another example was the docking of the R.V. Powell in January, 1997 at Port Fourchon (foo-SHOHNH), Louisiana. My world had become 24 hour shifts of 3 hours sleep on and off, ocean waves and oil platforms. We slipped silently through navigational devices, breakwaters, industrial boats, and marshland. Then we waited to go home on a land swaying back and forth. I walked the dockside road and looked at the concrete vessels. A couple of the crew had gone to get something at the conveniuence store in the pickup.
"They probably stopped at a bar on the way," said the Chief Scientist.
When I returned, the mate was standing with a 12 pack of Budweiser and the Croation engineer, a small man with a black ponytail and a gold earring, passed me like a dark tornado.
"He knows he isnt supposed to bring this stuff aboard. He knows that," the mate told me.
Someone had told me earlier many of the men who work the boats are alcoholics and the only way they can stay dry is to continue going back to sea.
Sunday, we visited the North Texas Irish Festival, always a great and beautiful occurrance. Len Holton from Little Rock had said he'd buy me a guinness if he saw me.
"I stayed up till 3 last night. Sessions," he bragged.
Obviously he was accompanied by a lovely spouse and not 2 wild widgets. I said, in revenge and envy:
"Len, you will be in a story tomorrow!"
Veja Khmar "Veja Khmar" 98 /Ukraine/ (on russian) soft folk ritual doom, female vocal
The site for the west African Field recording on MP3 led in buzantine manner to Death Dance Productions site. DDP is a Ukranian distributor with a large listing in Ukranian, Russian, and Byelorussian metal. There is deep slavic venemous black metal, porno grind core metal, rigid death-doom metal, ambient noise, and depressive doom. There is folk doom-death and folk ritual music from the Ukraine and Russia. The DDP site gives no instructions on to how to obtain these Navasota ladies tresses of the folk rock kingdom. I suppose you e-mail the Ukraine.
I put on my Therion CD, and began to hunt down the source of a weird smell in the laundry room. I threw out all the stored root vegetables and at last discovered potatoes trapped between some clean folded rugs and the remains of a gift basket from Christmas of '98. I threw out those potatoes too, scrubbed the shelf, squirted Windex on it, brought the Glade air freshener from the bathroom, lit the pottery dragon incense burner created by Frank Gosar, and opened the back door. Nothing could damp my mood.
Sunday morning I colored my hair a brassy red. This brand colors only the grey, so my hair is streaked dark brown and bright orange-red."Mom," said Erin, "can I invite Sarah to go swimming?"
When I walked two houses over to get Sarah, her sister and their cousin from Houston told me they had their suits on under their clothes. "You gotta talk to my dad before we go, though. I like your hair color."
Joe the Neighbor, who in real life is responsible for the proper functioning of pay phones all over the Brazos Valley, looked at me with the desperately elated eyes of a man who anticipates being being deprived responsibility for three pre-teen girls with a huge stash of Barbies.
"That's how it happens sometimes. You invite one you have to invite them all."
I told Ian he could sit in the front with me. I felt the airbag was less dangerous than the group in back.
"Mom," said Erin when she got back. "I don't like the color of your hair."
My heart sunk. She liked me better dull and grey.
"Mom, I though purple would be better."
The woman at the desk at Fit For Kids, the one who lives in a trailer and who is grateful she has a second job that will allow her to bring in hertoddler, says:
"I hear your moving."
"Away from the College Station area?"
"Yes, we're moving to Oregon. We're moving to the Columbia River Gorge."
She gives me a blank look. "I don't know anything about that."
"They've got mountains there, and a great big river."
She gives me a blank look.
Friday morning I turned on the radio and the BBC was on, the second line ofovernight when KPFT is all static. The glib Friday Morning chat hosts were all on their own form of spring break. show. At 7:15 I slipped on KPFT, having just heard a woman in Lebanon describe her water shortage problems for the third time. Then we drove to Houston and boarded the plane to Portland. We were late taking off because a man sitting near the front of Economy smelled so bad that no one would sit with him. The flight attendants back by the bathrooms were laughing and joking, that is how we knew. "They should just reseat him in first class!" said my neighbor, the one who also told me about the two yapping chihuahuas in the sports bag..
Finally the pilot announced, "Just find the nearest vacant seat and sit down. We need to get to Portland sometime today." My neighbor to the left had lived around Rosedale all her life. She was returning from Pensacola . "They have pinetrees down there and I told my girlfriend, 'these are piddle logs.' When I was growing up there would be logs so big you'd have three logs on a truck. Now back home all they have is piddle logs."
Monday morning and out rear kitchen window the Columbia, viewed through a street of tacked-on working class houses, looks like a ditch. The bluff-hills in the near distance are Washington, most of what you can see from here is Washington. There are a few trees in the gullies and on top but mostly they are the same drab prairies I first saw in Nebraska 28 yearsago. Fifteen miles west in Hood River it is forest, twenty miles east it is steppe. There are places here that look like Scotland, with the waylaid Columbia resembling a loch, as if its ditch were carved out by real ice and not merely a huge torrent of meltwater.
On Monday we drove over the bridge to Washington, past the Shell pump your own gas station and RV park in Dallesport where Erin had lost her tooth Sunday while buying a package of chocolate covered pretzels. We drove north where we visited the Marydale Art Museum, lost but beautiful like the lost pines of Bastrop in a rural semi-arid landscape. There is a strong connection with Sam Hill, the wealthy Quaker who founded the museum, and the late Queen Marie of Romania, cousin to the last Czar of Russia. In the store I bought an expensive nonfiction paperback called "Balkan Ghosts," a journalists view of the Balkans mostly during the 80s, permeated with the author's view that the Balkans are the western frontier of the irrational and non-individualistic East. It reminded me of my Literacy course.
We turned and drove inland to Goldendale, past wheat fields and towards forested mountains. I bought chile rellenos "to go" at a Mexican restaurantwith a makeshift sign. It "went" with me inside two aluminum foil wrappedplates. My children went into MacDonalds and bought two Happy Meals with dry cheeseburgers. I and the chile rellenos met them at the ball pit. There were signs in Spanish and English on the webbing warning parents that anyone 14 and under could not be left unsupervised. For the next hour I sat by the ball pit reading about Romania emerging from the Ceaucescu regime. I have known only two Romanians. One of my sons teachers in the 3's at St Michaels Academy had emigrated from Romania. Her name was Cathy Rasz, but we called her Cathy Ross, and she had very blond hair just like her daughter. Cathy was quick to point out she was really Hungarian. She had come here, not without effort, after her husband died with her daughter because she had a sister living here in Texas. She once told me:"We would go to Hungary on the train to visit. We would buy Romanian glassware...they make fine glassware in Romania...to use as currency. We would sell it. People had money in Hungary. It was such a luxury to be there. In Romania there was nothing."
Cathy got a job with Head Start in Hearne, her daughter married right out of high school, and I lost track of her. But a couple months ago "another mother" told me:
"Did you know Cathy Rasz died last year? It was really fast. She had had a blood transfusion back in Romania and had gotten hepatitis, I guess. So her liver finally gave out.
Friday morning 3 Am...Earth tone narrow mediterranean streets, Salonika, endless rooms, at last reaching the radio station up the steep stair. The programmer is at a huge dark board resembling the one I had at Outward Toll in DesMoines in '73 and it is a harmless looking PSA CD, the programmer pushes the button and by some terrible method of audio osmosis, the programmer is permeated by the stark unmeasureably horrible Spirit of Satan. The Spirit of Satan spreads wherever the radio waves penetrate, through me, through the Listening audience, like a dark Tsunami, like the flows from Mt Vesuvius, turning all in its path to black charred landscape, dark charred souls. As the spirit of Satan claims my body, eating like Hydrofluoric acid through my bones, like a computer virus infecting a hard drive, I think of how I can resist. I remember then that the only way I can fight Satan is to invoke God. I close my eyes and pray steadfastly but I still feel the dark force within and then I say to myself, no, it is your Faith that will defeat Satan.
Here is a story about my listening area:
If you go east on the road from Temple to Milano and turn south at Gause following the two pick-ups, the national atlas will have tricked you. The county road south which you think is paved is a close mosaic of old pavement and gravel and you will turn around after the 6th odd turn in fear of being swallowed by the cow pastures and endless mesquite of the Texas savanna. If, however, you cross the Mighty Brazos and proceed almost to Hearne, you can turn south on State Farm To Market Road 60, which is fairly well maintained. It follows the slight rise of the merged floodplains of the Brazos and the Little Brazos, which, if you take State Highway 21 west to Austin, you see only for a few minutes in cross section. You never see the Brazos on this road, only a flat succession of cotton fields, and right now you will just see tilled orange-brown cotton fields baking in the April sun, devoid of plants. In the distance will be what could be called high lands. Now and then a pump jack will pop up; linear irrigation devices; an abandoned shotgun shack, stripped of paint by the weather, breaking the long straight mounds of dirt; a frame home from the 30s almost matched in size by the motorhome next to it; ample brick homes built by pump jack royalties; the Mumford Elementary School, bigger than Mumford itself, 25 mph when the lights are flashing; The Mid-Valley Gin.
The same landscape goes on for miles. The road eventually crosses Hwy 21, where you can turn west and drive to Caldwell, home of the Kolache Fest where local Czech bands play half-country repertoires, and then to Dime Box and see the farm where Slaid Cleave's Cold and Lonely was written, and to Bastrop, land of the Lonesome Pines. But if you continue on down the valley to Independence, where Texas became the only state which was once a country in its own right, you will see more cotton fields and more pumpjacks. We turned left before we got to the highway, and crossed the Little Brazos and climbed the few feet to the uplands and the savanna, drove past Bryan Utilities Lake with its endless stream of pick-ups and junk cars full of Sunday afternoon swimmers and boaters, past the State School TDC Unit, past the Maximum Security Facility of the Brazos County Jail, and then past Saenz Tamales and the brightly colored mushrooming plethora of Spanish restaurants and bars and radiator shops, into Bryan
In the spring of '94 I'd heard that the fares to Europe in the off season were really low, so I decided to go to Ireland for spring break. I asked the travel agent, which is what you did in those days, but Dublin was full. We shotgunned Europe. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, all full, but then she said with glee "FRANKFURT." Hence we went to Frankfurt for the same price as Portland. "You'll love Germany, everyone speaks English," she said.
We had a Volkswagen Turpentine...Toledo? Toronado? Terrified, I was immediately terrified of Germany. I drove east, targeting the town of Pößneck in Sachsen-Meiningen<?> where my mother-in-laws family had come from, so I could see what it looked like. Germany was immaculate. The affluence and order was unmarred by the laissez-faire Iowa immigrants that ate away at the ambience of the St Peter-New Ulm strip. Clean castles loomed from hilltops, a clean stainless steel restroom was available when Emma said to me:
"Mom, Ian is throwing up in the back seat!"
Everyone spoke English, too.
We crossed the Thuringer Wald and what was on my '88 British atlas the border of the DDR. The first sign of the ghost border was the cars...rustbuckets rivaling those of Russian tourists in Finland began to replace the clean, polished models of the Westerners. Some cars coming from the East were plastic and would never rust. We rolled into Pößneck in our VW . The old buildings were coated with a dreary layer of soot and grime. The asphalt streets were patched and resembled those here in Central Bryan.
Homes were in ill repair and the yards seemed overgrown. I took some pictures. We traveled as far as Lepzig, where the last address had come from, the freeway pavement causing our tires to go Ker-Whump at each concrete seam. The exit ramp was paved with bricks. It dumped us into March- grey grafitti covered pre-war apartment blocks. I circled the block and drove toward Jena. Somewhere in a construction boom, we found a new guest house which looked just like the ones we would see later in Ireland. I'd lost my hairbrush so I drove out to a shiny new Eßo on the main road in pouring rain. Everyone was marveling that the wind was about to blow off the roof over the gas pumps. Did they have a comb? "Haben Sie ein comb?" I asked, pretending to brush my hair. They found a brush.
The next day, we stopped near Buchenwald. We toured a grey estate there which may have been a Russian headquarters, but all I can remember was a cemetary full of Russian graves. I drove west and in Erfurt I saw a sign for a bed and breakfast (Zimmer, perhaps) and stopped, and a woman said "My husband speaks English. He is a teacher." Her husband explained they had no room, but instructed us to follow him to another house. The landlady smiled, wrote out 45 and showed us a huge attic room with an animal skin on the wall. We lived there for two days, me speaking to her in 25 year old high school german but not being able to understand a word she said. She pointed and smiled a lot. We walked to downtown, where we toured the museum and we went home on the street car with German looking canned food to heat up in the hospitable kitchen. When I packed to leave I nearly decapitated my four year old son with the trunk lid.
On the way back to Frankfurt, we stopped at a 2 story Globus, which is similar to a Wal-Mart. I had not and have not seen since anything like the ramp-like escaltor which was made to accomodate shopping carts. I bought a set of handsome German stainless steel utensils which I have hanging on my kitchen wall, at Wal Mart Chinese prices. On the way out several women stopped to admire my baby, but quickly realized she was not properly bundled up.
"Don't you realize that it is cold outside? You should have more blankets on her!"
Then one of them, looking at our shabby clothes and battered stroller, realized that Baby Erin was not even wearing socks. She reached into her bag, pulled out some new toddler socks she had bought, and put them on Erins feet. We thanked her and walked out.
Erin and I walked down to Stephen F. Austin Middle School after dark so she could run around the track "just once, Mama." The only other people on the track were a stout hispanic couple, pushing a stroller as they ran. Erin was afraid of the dark and could only run segments, repeatedly running back to Mama who was walking the track. As we walked back, she spotted a toad and captured it. I told her:
"Please don't kiss that toad Erin."
I told her she could bring it in the house to show Ian, but then she had to let it go. When we got home, she took the toad out the back door, but came back hugging a towel.
"I just love to hug towels," she said.
"You need to let that toad go. If the cats get it they will tear it to pieces," I said.
I told her she could leave it in Ian's room for a few minutes and they could watch it hop around. We walked up to Ian's room. He looked up from "Dragonflight," mildly interested. I left the room for a few minutes. When I returned, I asked Ian if the toad was gone.
"Yes, I insisted. What got me was when she had it doing a little dance. The last straw was when she had it doing a handstand dance."
This morning she slammed the door and left for school without me even knowing. I looked out the window and her small self was walking down the street all alone. I couldnt stand it and yelled out "Bye, Erin!" and she turned and smiled and waved at me, and then went on walking.
I was listening to a description just now on PNN of the Kent State shootings. I was a sophomore at Earlham then, on the Indiana-Ohio border and all I can remember of the incident itself is that I was in my dormroom and my roommmate Cinda Putman said to me, "Didnt you hear that they shot 4 students at Kent State?" No, I hadnt. All hell broke loose with the Quakers after that.
My husband tells me that he'll be done with the school term he is teaching June 9th, and then we can load up. It is hot: hot and muggy.
Friday I went over to Shipleys DoNuts and sat down with an Old Fashioned Cinnamon Roll and a large diet coke. They cost 99¢ but they are mostly ice. The only other people in the dining room were a group of white haired men.
"So he went to the doctor and the doctor says, 'I'm sorry to tell you but there is no hope. You only have 6 months to live.'
So the guy says, 'isnt there any thing you can do?'
'No' says the doctor.
'Nothing I can do?'
'Well,' says the doctor,'you can marry an ugly woman and move to North Dakota. Then it might seem like a year.'"
The rest of the group chuckled.
"Lots of nice people in North Dakota," one said.
"I wouldnt know about that," another answered.
"North and South Dakota both. What's that place, Nebraska, in Nebraska they're really good people."
I thought about how much ice I had.
"He got sick and his wife threw him out."
"Looks like your boy is going to win."
I drove with my cup over past Patel's Quik Stop to get a 2 litre bottle of Diet Pepsi for $1.08. As I was getting into my Windstar, I looked across the parking lot and saw two young black men in a big white Chevrolet pickup, their shirts off so that they looked incongruously naked. They were smiling good naturedly and I looked over to what they were smiling at, and I saw a thin pretty black woman getting out of her car with a daughter about Erin's age. She may have acknowledged them earlier but she never looked over while I was watching and she walked in the store. After a minute or so the men looked at each other, grinning, and drove off onto Coulter Drive.
My daughter Emma graduated from high school Saturday, wearing her blue gown and NVTHS stole. My husband flew in on a night flight from Portland and repeatedly dozed off. In the evening, Emma's scout leader had a party for her. My husband was subjected to asking Will Pepper questions like: "Does your program train you to just work on Fords?"
He is the god of fire, I am the wisdom of ice. His naked grey body cuts through the waves of the dark ocean like a blade, like a boat. I am the RV Powell, steel in the dark night, I am the ferry to Hollyhead, steel passing the Bothnian archipeligo. He is the lights along Harris and Lewis, he is the lights of Thunder Bay, he is Orion in the clear cold sky. I am the high waves of a Gulf gale in the dark night, transparent white and fast fluid. I am the boat crashing from side to side, painted rust. I am the view intothe night across the water grey on grey, merging into sky. He runs silentlythrough the waves and the low clouds in the dark. I am the night, I am songs from a cold open field.
This year, we decided we would cross the Gulf of Bothnia north of Stockholm, into Mariehamn in the autonomous area ofÅland, then cross between the scenic islands in the archipeligo on a series of smaller ferries, hoping for rain so we could stay in the stuga, or unplumbed cottages, instead of the tent...we arrived at the ferry terminal in our Ford Focus Hessmobile about 6, parked in the abandoned lane designated "Turku Abo waiting list," and bought with no concern tickets that cost on the order of $15 total. This price would later seem ridiculously cheap in contrast to the shorter but more popular Channel Ferry passage.
Enveloped in drizzle, we found a cabin at the neighboring campground. As we drove in to the campground, a dark man approached the Hessmobile.
"Do you speak English?"
Of course I did, it is the lingua franca of Americans.
"Because of you being improperly parked, you took my spot and I am number one on the waiting list and have been reduced to spending one more night camped in this wet."
My heart sank. His family was lurking under the trees like sad refugees in a drooping navy blue tent with no rain fly. I should give them that one last warm dry cozy cabin I got by unwitting stealth.
He repeated. "I am on the waiting list again for Turku. I have been trying to get to Turku for two days and you got my place." Turku is the nearest large mainland port on the coast of Finland. You can drive home anywhere on the mainland from Turku without fooling with small ferries. I was later to find that the small ferry journey is regulated so it is impossible to get to the mainland with any surity and convenience, but that is another story.
I looked puzzled. "I am not going to Turku, I am going to Mariehamn." That fixed that. He did not want to go to Mariehamn.
I drove to the cabin. At the identical cabin next door was parked a large yellow Yamaha and on the porch sat a husky man with brown hair and beard just starting to turn to grey. He had squinty eyes like mine, sort of a common bond. He said something unintelligible to me. Oh God, I thought.
"What?" I said.
"I said, 'Good Evening.'
"Are you Swedish?"
"No, I am Finnish. I am waiting for a place on the ferry to Turku. Everyone wants to take that ferry in the summer. I think I will get on, because I havea motor cycle. If I dont get on, I will drive to Sundsvall and if I cant get on there I will drive to Umeå, and I dont get on there I will drive around. That is too far." He shook his head with the pain of it all. "I stayed here ten years ago. It has gone downhill since then. These cabins are a bunch of crap. Look at that one over there, it has a sheet of plastic on the roof."
"I am going to Mariehamn, and then up the coast to Kaustinen," I said, so as to justify going into Finland. Later, a gas station clerk would say, "I must ask you, WHY are you here?" Why would an American go to the end of the world as we know it when they could have the same ambience in Bemidji?
"Oh, the folk music festival. I know more about country music myself."
"Well, I'm from Texas and I've heard a lot of country music." I told him he spoke pretty good English.
"I dont read or anything. I learn it all from watching American television. Most of American television is a bunch of crap." He giggled shyly. He was a man of contradictions.
I went inside of the cabin. It beat many of the American motel rooms I'd stayed in by a mile. The I went over to the restroom. I walked back. At first I thought there was a bit of musical entertainment to be had at the terrace by the laundry area. Dark, foreign looking people were gathered, the younger ones wearing the usual blend of Euro sweat and sport clothes. But the older women were wearing gowns. Large, theatrical dresses with sequins and lace and fine fabrics. I thought perhaps they would sing. But then as I approached, it looked more like a barbecue.
"I thought you didnt read." I said to the motorcyclist back at the cabins.
He raised a paperback with a large knife dripping with blood on the cover.
"Ha. I got this at a used store. It is all real unsolved murders. They are all British and American."
"All British and American," I repeated.
"You seem to have so many murders. You murder your presidents all the time. The Finns dont do that."
"Your president...do you have a president?"
"..Has never been murdered."
" No. But there was the Swedish prime minister. They never found out who did that."
I asked "Who are those people?" I pointed at the crowd with the out of control barbecue and the classic Volvos.
"They are Finnish gypsies. They just go back and forth between Sweden and Finland"
"What do they do for work?"
"They dont work. They just go back and forth between Sweden and Finland selling small things. I can remember when I was young, they would send a little boy to the door to sell small things. And his uncle would be out in the yard...with a knife!!" His eyes twinkled to say such a thing.
A svelt and severe middle aged couple in EuroSport clothes walked by, down the hill from the caravan area. Magnetic as we were, the woman spotted us and lunged for the cabin, crashing her fist forcefully down on the railing. She motioned towards the gypsies and chuckled something unintelligible to both of us. Notwanting to let on that we were aliens, we said nothing.
"Swedish drunks," said the motorcyclist, giggling shyly.
In the north part of England, the great M1 becomes sporadic, jostling with the more humble A1 for the traffic to Edinburgh. It was primarily the A1 I took north from the Newcastle ferry from Norway, hoping to get a new sweater on sale at one of the thistle deck coach tour infested outlet stores. I did not find one. What I did find was a free tour of a contoversial nuclear power plant, winning my bet on whether the guide would explain what happens to that ocean water that cools the reactor and is released back into the sea...
We headed back south toward Wensleydale in Yorkshire; my sons favorite campground is there, with a driving range, a boat pond, lots of kids, and a pool lifeguarded by the bartender in the other room. We stopped to eat in alayby, in the Cafe Now Open. The Cafe Now Open was a modern, fiftish, knotty pine paneled building, and advertized rooms starting at £10. It felt good to see a little bit of Texas on the Scottish border. The person who had laid the carpet tiles had run out of blue three quarters of the way through and used grey for the rest of the floor...or maybe they werereplacements. The chairs and tables were made from formica, vinyl, and rusty chrome, the tables covered in plastic harvest gold checked cloths with an additional design of huge vases of green and yellow flowers. The menu was up on wide wooded panels above the counter, obsolete prices covered with packing tape, sometimes there were new higher prices marked in Sharpie, sometimes not. I ordered a cod or maybe halibut dinner for £3.25 and Ian ordered a cheeseburger. I ordered water but then saw a tap of Belhaven, so I ordered a half, out of gratitude for no more ScandölBeer. Belhaven is brewed near there, and unlike the fine Granada service palaces of the M1, the Cafe Now Open didnt care what you drank before driving.
"Ma'am," I said to the hostess, a large blonde, "can I get a half of Belhaven?" basking in the joy of speaking English to a native speaker.
Behind the counter, a man greeted the four truck drivers in blue coveralls behind us, "Good to see you again." They would later get into two blue car haulers parked in front, loaded to the gills with smashed vehicles. One of them would later give me fits in my left wheel German Focus, trying to pass on the 2 lane A1, because of the huge sway of the trailer.
At tables near us sat the drivers, drinking pop from cans and a family with two teenagers. Off and on, the customers watched the TV, set to a kids show. At the back was a pile of free newspapers for truckers, outlining the plight and benefit event of a Derby relief truck driver jailed in Macedonia. The family was in typical border attire, dark polyester ads for
sports teams and equipment, except for the mother, who wore a fashion free pants and blouse ensemble. Our food arrived; on my plate a foot long fish battered and fried a little too long, green peas, something between boiled cabbage and sauerkraut, and about a pound of chips on top. I always use a mix of vinegar and salt for the chips.
Finally the family got up to leave, and the boy came up to the father at the counter and said something. The man grabbed him by the back of the collar, pushing him forceably and angrily out into the foyer jammed with electronic games and gambling machines. The mother dug into her large black purse for the money to pay the bill.
A family of three approached the building, though no car was visible. They were from an undefined eastern region, dressed in unmatched thrift shop discards. The woman wore a long flowered skirt with an uneven hem and onher head was a black scarf with an oppulent gold embroidery border. The daughter, about ten, wore a little girl party dress and a blue jean jacket and carried a crenshaw melon. She skipped cheerily into the building as if in "A Child's Garden Of Verses." Oh I would love to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue.
The man bartered with the large blonde woman over a room, sitting at a rusted chrome table while she smoked. "For three nights," he said. "For one night, £25 for one night. Shower. Television..," she said seductively. The girl stood by her fathers chair and smiled.
His face had brushed past her in the dark and it had surprised her to feel the prickly stubble of his cheek against hers. The humanity of it appeared to her now, half asleep several mornings later, and it occurred to her that if she imagined him again with damp legs intertwined, she would have to include the roughness of his face. It was like a conversation that breaks intouncontrolled reality after a long period of guarded introduction.
She dozed off briefly and these words drifted in for no apparent reason:
Half the body of Christ
She liked the fine stands of small curls breaking away on his forehead, and she liked the warm, enthusiastic way he laughed when he was not being monitored. She liked to think about what she knew and go no further. Anything further would be the ghosts of men that were not him.
She thought perhaps she wrote these things because she did not have a fiddle handy to play a tune.
On the left, along the road that binds the southern edge of Washington like a rope to keep it from falling into the river, there are cliffs of basalt, on casual glance most like charred remains of great logs. Ponderosa pine and scrub oak and poplar struggle for place against the drought tolerant bunch grass prairies, till at Dallesport, the vegetation is almost all dry golden wheatlike grass. On the right, windsurfers skip like capricious sharks on the great blue Columbia. A barge runs slowly downstream, carrying containerized Evergreen and Mitsubishi and other more forgettable merchandise, semi-trailers like childs blocks against the largeness of the river.
I stopped first in Southern Oklahoma, at Paul's Valley, at the Garden Motel. There was no garden there, just ample truck parking for a 14' Uhaul (under 11,000gvw), and ample big rigs in the lot. There were two women at the desk, older than me. I asked for a single non-smoking room, and the younger of the women said with regret in her voice that she had only a king for $33.
"I'll give her room 18. Where's the key, Loretta?"
"I put my sister in that room," the older woman answered.
The younger looked in the old style ledger and said "You dont have her written down."
I went over to Denny's for dinner. Ahead of me were two wiry men with straggly hair and the welcome demeanor of oil field workers. As I approached each opened one of the tandem doors for me. I rolled my eyes upward and walked in. They followed. One went to the restroom just before we were belately approached by the hostess. "Two?" she asked. "One," I said. The man behind me drawled with a twinkle in his eye, "Yeh, I'm the one who's unlucky to be with a male," just as his friend returned. This cracked me up. The hostess glared at me for participating.
The third night out, I stopped at a Holiday Inn Express in Ogden, Utah. It was a wonderful, luxurious motel. At breakfast, the attendant, Ada, pegged me for what I am. "I'm retired. I dont mind coming in early because my husband always worked construction. People ask me if they're nice to me here and I say, they better be nice or I'd quit, find someone else to come in a t 5 AM." She had eight grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren. "My grandaughter had a miscarriage at six months, but they could tell it was a boy. So I have three greatgrandchildren." Even shooting stars count for Ada.
At a Chevron station in Mountain Home, Idaho, a wiry man with scraggly long grey blong hair, a beard, and a U Haul trailer attached to a SUV asked me where I was driving. "The Dalles," I said. "The Dalles. Heck, I live in Vancouver."
"Yeh. I left Texas three days ago."
"I'm driving up from Bryan."
"College Station? Heck, I used to work at Rockdale, at the mine."
"Lignite?" Of course, lignite, but I couldnt think of anything else.
"Yeh. Small world, huh?"
"What did you do there at Rockdale?"
"I worked as a welder. I fixed the equipment when it broke. Went all over."
"Sounds like fun."
He raised his eyebrows. "It paid."
It was such an intriguing conversation that I forgot to ask the clerk how the big travel station, complete with Subway and Pizza Hut and Buffet Restaurant, had come to be completely charred and gutted.
My grandfather Hayward drove a peagreen 1950 Pontiac Chieftain with sun visor, and woven plastic green and white upholstery. There were no seatbelts then, and dashboards were metal. He would drive under the blue and white canopy of the Pure Oil Station in Homewood, Alabama, and the attendent would come out and Daddy George would say "Fill 'er up with ethyl!" Then the attendant would say "Check the oil, sir," and Georgie would say "Yes sir!" and the attendant would say "Check your tires, sir?" and Georgie would say "Yes siree!" I would be in the front seat with white anklets and patton leather shoes...peanut sat on a railroad track, choo choo peanut butter. The Dutchman said "Sine pinsa wain sunder way back," that meant "Sign there's been some rain, thunder way back." Got out my shotgun today, hit another of those darn jaybirds trying to get the apples.
I told my husband I did not want to move to Oregon because I could not fill my own tank there. Perhaps I feel that the gas station attendants here are hollow automated plastic replicas of the real ones I knew in my childhood. If my tank goes below half, or I will be making a substantial trip, I drive across the Columbia, across the long two lane bridge that dead-ends travelers from Madras and Bend against the bleak Columbia Hills of Washington instead of carrying them on to exotic Yakima and Ellensburg. I always fill up my tank at The Columbia Hills RV Village and Marketplace. In Dallesport there is no choice.
Two weeks ago I drove over. A giant RV, the size of a Greyhound or a tourbus, pulled up at the next pump and a man, rotund and red, I thought in his 60s, began to fill his 60 gallon tank.
"I'll trade ya," he said.
"You must be kidding. How many gallons to a mile does that thing get?" I said.
"Oh, I'm not saying....about seven."
"There usta be some cars that got that sorta mileage back years ago.
"I guess you're right."
"When I was in college, gas usta be something like 27 nine," I said.
"It used to be that much when I went to college too...where did you go to college?"
"Indiana," I said. He frowned. Indiana was somewhere else. I started to ponder the concept of effective universe.
"You know where I can get cheaper gas than this?"
"The last time I saw cheaper gas was in Idaho." I had gassed up my UHaul with it in early September.
"That's where I'm from. Idaho. Not much cheaper there." Idaho-Washington-Oregon for us. Maybe he could add on Utah and Montana and Wyoming. He had a much bigger effective universe. But I had heard people here speak of Utah or Vancouver as well.
A road construction employee whipped in driving a pickup and before you could say bunchgrass steppe said through his open window "Try the Tri-Cities* area. Good prices up there." He bounded out of the pick-up, his protective vest glistening bright orange in the sun. "You get off the freeway and turn right."
"That's right," said the RV man. "They always got a price war going there."
Where this road dead-ends against Washington 14, there is a bar with neon signs that has been converted to a radiator shop. I have thought that I would take out my old SLR and take photos of Dallesport and Lyle and even The Dalles itself. At the RV center today I was looking over at the cramped little park, at two old men in plaid hunting jackets standing between me and a Panther travel trailer with push-out, looking over at the electrical wires, and then in the distance the great Mount Adams volcano, floating above it all dreamlike in blue and white as if in a Japanese Painting. I regretted not getting a second chance.
*Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick.
We now live on an upper stream terrace of Mill Creek, next to the ninth street bridge, across from the senior citizens center. We are secluded in eco-luxury in our own paradise at the end of a row of small houses that came with the dam in the 50s. We have a wide lower terrace with black walnuts and bigleaf maple and then below that a curved bank of horsetails and rounded basalt, and little rapids and pools. On the unwild portion we have lush gardens on the one hand, on the other a Japanese pagoda and a Japanese elm. There is a sprinkler system to deal with the thirteen inches of rain. These small tasteful and now weedy gardens vignettes are the legacy of the wife of a deceased local attorney, whose cigarette butts continually surface as if arrow heads on the bark chip paths.
I hung Hallowe'en lights on the outer wall of the former garage, where I now type and which is the only 9th Street view of the house. Erin helped me by handing me push pins. Then I plugged in the lights and we ate supper at Burgerville. During the time we were there, we saw a ladybug, a Dalmation, a witch, a tiger, and several space guys eating supper. The woman at the counter was dressed as a sexy daemon and there was a large but artful plastic rat on the trash disposal.
"Moses showed up at school today," said Ian. "He had a real long white beard down to his knees and a terrycloth robe. He had the Ten Commandments on a piece of cardboard." I hypothesized this child as a Mormon who lived out in the cherry orchards. Ian had gone as a farm boy with a lisp. (I was never allowed to wear a costume to school, but I vividly remember the year Mrs Lawson's fourth grade class had the Haunted House. I personally pealed grapes for eyeballs and someone cooked spaghetti to pose as intestines. People were blindfolded and their hands plunged into large bowls of these things.)
At home, Ian went out into Paradise and smeared himself with mud. He picked up the walking stick we had found half fashioned on the rocky beach near Kustavi in the Finnish Archipelago.
"Who are you now?" I asked.
"A half wiped out hiker."
The door bell rang. I told Erin, The Friendly Alien, her face smeared with half a tube of Bonne Belle Kiwi Smackers Cosmic Cheeks, to answer it. At the door were a couple guys about 13 or 14 in hooded sweatshirts. The one with the yellow-green spiked hair motioned to the other, whose face was obscured by long tinsel rimming the hood, and explained that his friend had been in a nuclear accident and the reason he had no arms was that he had to be kept in a straight-jacket. Erin gave them a whole bunch of candy. Then I sent my children out.
I could hear children on the bridge, but no one ever rang the bell. When Ian and Erin returned a hour and a half later, having toured all the way to 14th Street, I told them no one had come by. They said there were many children out. Ian said that for a while they had traveled with a group of Latinos.
"No, Mexicans," Erin said.
Ian smiled at Erin and went to sort his candy and then began to read "Legends of Charlemagne" on the living room floor. Erin took a handful of candy and went outside to look for children. She came back in, successful. Then I suggested that she sit out by the driveway. She said "I need adult supervision." So I carried out 2 chairs, and the pumpkin she had carved asa CampFire service project at the Oregon Veterans Home, and her witches broom, out to the driveway. I carried candy in the closest thing we had to a cauldron, a cast iron pot that was one of my grandmothers large collection of cast iron antiques. She had bought this pot during her DAR days and it had mingled with flat irons and a spinning wheel and oil lanterns on the huge limestone fireplace of her home. The house, on the banks of Elkhorn Creek in Indiana, had been built during the 40s to please he whims of a bright but idle woman, goblining up the ghost funds of the tarr Piano Company. Then, as if by magic, the kettle had ended up on a earth of California brick here on a stream terrace in Oregon.
First we waited. Cars and SUVs drove by, but there were no children. Then I said "Lets find some." I picked up the cast iron pot and we walked down Ninth. At the next corner, she put a couple pieces of candy on the porch of her home schooled friends. Another block away, we saw a whole group of children. We offered them candy and the adult with them, a Hispanic woman, said thank you. We walked back down the street. Two teenage boys ignored us. My arms were coming out of their sockets with the weight of the cast iron.
"Lets walk back," I suggested.
We sat again in the driveway. Three cars stopped just past our house, letting children out to walk in the opposite direction. Erin caught one group, advising them that our neighbor was old and it would take a while for her to come to the door. We sat back down, and Erin began shrieking at cars.
"Stop! Stop!" she'd say. "Eyeballs, free eyeballs for sale!" Her voice became shrill with frustration. A group of teenage boys in street clothes walked by and took whatever they could stuff in their pockets and mouths. The Hispanic group walked past on the other side. A young witch started to cross and Erin yelled to her that she could have additional eyeballs. She turned hastily back to the sidewalk. The adult guardian nervously said "Thank you" again. We had had within us that spark of fun and originality, and we had now become the bugabear under the surface of Hallowe'en, the man who puts razors in apples, the grandmother who puts strychnine in caramels, the seven year old friendly alien who lures grown women in sweatshirts into the dark abyss under ninth street.
In memory of Al Grierson:
This is a story for those of us who Drive the Roads. .
I love these back roads of New Hampshire.
They twist and wind like the rolling sea.
I feel like a captain that knows no fear.
Everybody goes to sleep so early up here.
--Bill Morrissey, Standing Eight
The Hood River Valley runs south with the Hood 60 miles east of Portland, separating the Pacific Northwest from the Great Arid American West to the east, separating the Gore signs of the smiling Willamette from the Bush signs in the steep cherry orchards around The Dalles. A large percentage of the apples and pears grown in Oregon are grown along the Hood. River.
At the south end of the valley lies the Great Volcano Mount Hood. It was in September that the glacial dams on Mount Hood broke from too much rain in too little time. What had once been glacial ice pillaged Newton Creek and the Robin Hood Campground, blocking the adjacent bridge with mud and debris. Dammed again at the bridge, the marauding waters turned to either side, and took chunks out of State Highway 35. Flashing lights on I-84 warned transcontinental motorists that 35 was closed at some spot called milepost 70.
It was about that time that I met two women motorists from Louisiana in Albertson's in the check-out line. They looked at my paper bag of apples and asked, "Are those local apples?"
I said I didnt know. I hadnt occurred to me to wonder. This was just before the big apple glut.
"We're from Louisiana and we'd like some local apples."
"Really, where in Louisiana, I just moved here from Texas." I asked.
"We're from Monroe."
"Oh, yeh, down there."
"Well, no, up there. Monroe is in the north." Why did I say up there? Shreveport, it was east of Shreveport. I had it mixed up with Lafayette, but I knew Monroe. Monroe was where we left one of the particpants of The 5th Annual South Central Friends of the Pleistocene Field Trip in his motel room and never noticed he was missing till lunch. The woman turned toward the cashier.
Perhaps the second week in October, I drove past Hood River to see what the road looked like. I stopped in the valley of the East Fork of Hood River, past the wild gorge with the bright yellow trees, at Pearl's Fruit, needing a reason to be there on 35. I drove the the orchard behind a great tank of a Buick also obviously there to look at flood damage to highways.
"Those in the crate outside are 20c a pound," said the clerk. They were small, good for baking, the chart said. I picked out some pears and some Delicious. Only the Asian pears were what you could call expensive. The woman in the Buick, stout with sculptured hair, sculptured eyebrows, gold jewelry, and doubleknit pants, was talking to the clerk:
"My father used to have an orchard out beyond Odell, but he moved. I remember he had a variety he called Parkdale Gold.
"I've never heard of those, maybe that was a local term," said the clerk, an efficient looking woman in wash and wear hair, a blue turtleneck and a grey down vest.
I walked over and got some cider from the cooler and came back, wondering why I'd heard of Parkdales and she hadn't.
"He doesnt mind the wheat fields being taken over," said the customer.
"Huh. Its funny, its as far as Portland but I never go down there." The clerk spoke distractedly, half her mind on identifying pear varieties and remembering the prices. I put my apples and pears and cider on the counter and started to think defensively about my own home roads. Highway 40 East, Centerville, Dublin, Straughn, Pershing, white bones of National Road West, yellow and red maples and hickories and sycamore. I thought about my college classmate who was having an affair with her English professor.
"$6.58," the clerk said. "With the cider."
"Huh?" I replied.
"Isnt that right?" the clerk said.
"Sorry," I lied. "I was thinking about wheat fields being taken over."
"I go out there, even to The Dalles, I think, how could I live there. I have to have trees. I can't imagine people living without trees."
My husband's Uncle Louis Mueller had an orchard ouside of New Ulm, in the Minnesota River Valley, and that is where I learned to pick apples. Every year when we went up there from Iowa, he would have bushel baskets with names on them, every year his customers would pick up their bushel baskets. Every summer Ruby would yell at him, "Louie, did you spray? You need to spray." One year, we came down from Duluth in the early fall and we climbed ladders to the trees and I learned to twist the apples off just right. I loved the work.
Louis raised pet fowl and had a half German shorthair pointer names Star. One year at Thanksgiving, my husband put a shotgun in my hand and a chlorox bottle in a tree in the area of the bird pens.
"See if you can hit that."
"I cant hold it like that," I said. "I cant see through my right eye very well."
I aimed the gun with my left eye and shot. The second time I shot I hit the Chlorox bottle. That was the only time I ever shot a gun.
Then we went down into the woods on the terrace slope of the Minnesota River, with Star and my father-in-law, to hunt for rabbits in the snow. My husband motioned left and then fired. A rabbit darted away, saved by a second of poor aim. I shut my eyes and hoped for no more movement in the brush. I had already seen quail that were not sufficiently quick end up as supper.
I drove on down 35 towards the Great Volcano Mount Hood, a white snowy cone in the blue autumn sky. The road beelined past orchards, past the big fruit plant at Odell, past Parkdale, where my Banking Representative moved to escape the pollution and heat of Phoenix. It is said that they all come home to Hood River eventually. The road curved into the wilderness, the East Fork of the Hood like agitated cappuccino in the October sun, carrying the remnants of Mt Hoods past anger on to the Great Columbia, first through a broad braided floodplain, then in a steeper cobble strewn mountain stream. I followed a gravel truck on down the hill. Several miles past Forest Service Road 44 was the destruction portal through which only great gravel trucks and highway equipment could pass. ODOT was committed to rebuilding the road as fast as it could.
I turned and climbed the first steep hill on 44. I had wanted to find the real road, the paved road to Dulfur that we had taken in June. This road scared me. I climbed into the last gasp of the green Cascades, the road still, and as I was later to discover, forever paved, but narrow. Sideroads led to observation towers, to Camp Baldwin, to deserted campgrounds. What if I had a flat tire, took the wrong fork? Ran out of gas taking wrong forks? The sides of the roads, the Ponderosas, the Doug Firs, the maples, the fall composites began to close in as the shoulders disappeared. The yellow maples against the black asphalt, the deep green pines, the clear blue sky, all shooting past dazzled like some hallucinogen. A doe, large eyed and brilliant brown bolted across the road and stopped to stare at me for a split second from a ravine. In my mind, deer blinds, Texas hunters with six packs, one great blast, my brother-in-law rolling the blue Chevrolet pick-up after hitting a deer on the way to Bemidji, in the Minnesota spring of '74, lucky you weren't hurt. Then there were only the pines and the scrub oaks, and the pastures of the rain shadow, double wides on the slopes, and ahead, the great vast welcome stubble wheat fields and Dufur. It is said that the Maharishis tried to take over the town of Dufur in the '70s, they could have taken it and no one would have cared. My mind dallied at the Dufur Pastime Saloon and Restaurant, gulped down 10 Obsidian Stouts to celebrate homecoming, and then I pulled out onto The Dalles-California Highway, hardly larger than 44. The gently rolling velvet golden wheat hills led the highway up and then down, over and over, finally past the great towers that march up the hills like an army of toy transformers and bring the high voltage lines up from the Dalles dam, lighting up points south, and then I descended to view the bridge over the Columbia and the dam itself.
Since then, the warning signs have been removed, and yesterday I drove back to look at the new road, under the guise of taking Erin to Rassmussen Farms Pumpkin Funhouse. In October, the Rassmussens devised a now disused seed starting structure to house Cucurbit-based vignette depictions of popular stories. For example, Black Beauty is 5 (body and 4 legs) long cylindrical squash painted black, positioned by a miniature feed trough with hay in it. Gulliver's Travels is represented by a large roped-down pumpkin-headed scarecrow surrounded by smiling faced miniature pumpkins. Not entirely frivolous, the exhibits benefit the Hood River library fund. We drove on, past the plant at Odell, and ate lunch at the Hood River Restaurant, then went south past FSR 44. It was drizzling. We passed the Sherwood Campground, passed 44, passed the Robin Hood Campground where finally I was able to see the light chocolate brown of smooth mud flooding where picnic tables used to shade green grass and brown pineneedles. The drizzle turned oddly hard, bouncing off the windshield. The wipers flicked off wedges of transparent ice. I cast glances for the main road to Dufur. There were a few patches of white on the side of the road, but everything else was wet. We passed Mt Hood Meadows. The rain turned snow white. I went on, looking for that road. The rocks on the sides of the road turned white. My impulse was to keep going. Keep going, push as far as you can, an elevational woman of steel.
"Look outside, Erin," I said.
"Its snowing!!!!" She said, amazed.
I turned around at an entrance to a snow park, defeated by the same fear I felt driving on 44, unable to justify going on into vague whiteness in a Windstar with summer duty Bridgestones. "Well, here, I got a winch on my truck, I'll pull ya right out of that ditch. What the hell were you doing driving up here in that flimsy vehicle with a young kid? Lucky you had your seat belts on." The lights of a large red pick up came up behind me, but at 50 mph, did not pass. The shoulders that I had just viewed on the way up as wet grey were soap powder white. Snow blew and arched like dry cirrus clouds across the road. The lights of a column of cars appeared several seconds before I saw the cars themselves coming in the opposite direction, climbing silently in white as I had in grey green not long before. Then, the wet grey drizzle again appeared. Two chunky mint green forest service vehicles, carrying silent dark emergency lights on their roofs, cruised confidently up the hill. The Tire Chain Patrol had been mobilized.
I pulled over and looked at the DeLorme Atlas Of Oregon. I had misremembered twice. The only safe, paved road from Dulfur to Mt Hood was FSR 44. I had been climbing the southern flanks of the invisible Mt Hood at 4700 feet, almost to Government Camp, almost to Timberline Lodge, securely above the line predicted for snow.
Once last year when I did an on-air, the musician called up and said "I had a flat tire but I am OK now but I'll be a little late." I'd hoped he'd make it in before 4.
He did. He said to our listeners:
"Yeh, I know what its like in the hot weather. I had a blowout on the way here. It was fairly interesting. Fascinating. The whole thing was fraught with synchronicity. It was like my guardian angel was saying, Why don't you just come through Paige and by-pass...not even notice the turn-off for 21 and I didn't. I ended up on the road for Giddings and the next thing I knew my right front tire blew out totally, right beside, you know one of those little pull offs on the road. I started...literally I started hitting metal on...metal and rubber on the road just in time to pull off. And so I got my little doughnut spare out and turned around to head back into Paige and like about a quarter of a mile down the road was a place that had used tires.
"Amazing!" I said.
"But the thing with that was that it wasnt open. It was all locked up and the guard dog was...you know it looked like, it said we sell all this stuff and this guy came along honking behind me and I drove off the road and put my spare tire in the ditch...I was sort of hanging out you know with the rear end of my car about 30 degrees in the air and about 6 people stopped and helped me out."
"Oh that's sweet, " I commented.
"It was really...it made me proud to be an adopted Texan too, because we get all this bad press from all that stuff that happened in Jasper and this was like, it was three black people and three white people and they just, you know, got on the front end of my car, pushed it out of the ditch, and then the mechanic who owned this really beat up garage pulled in as soon as they all drove away."
"And he sold me a tire."
"And it worked."
"And I'm here."
And by gosh there he was, by virtue of the Guardian Angel of Those Who Drive the Roads.
This morning, one message at Friends Meeting was:
"Go with faith, not fear."
She'd loaded up the fireplace from the e-mail about New England and she'd driven the roads of her mind over to the coast at Newport. She'd dressed in an Indian shirt with mirrors and a long skirt from Pakistan, and some amount of silver jewelry, she'd made her hair deep brown again and she made herself allowably thin, like she remembered herself ten years ago. She drove up that legendary grey fogbound coast (where the cedars stand watching) till she got into the Seattle area, maybe stopped at Tacoma, maybe up to Bellingham, where she'd never been, or out on the Olympic Peninsula where the moss and cedars and ferns grow in such lushness, or did so during a 1982 AMQUA field trip, she still had the slides and she had constructed, painted in oil ochres on the canvas of her mind, a brown upscale cedar cabin on the dark coast with deep rich browns and blacks and yellows and that great grand fire from New England and that is where she met him, giving him beer in a wine glass. She tried to get farther than this, but considering the conscious effort she had not, by the time she had been stopped by children getting up.
Several nights later she dreamed she was on a field trip she had gone on in Nova Scotia, she'd found the photos recently, October some year? The place they all stayed was an old abandoned camp, with peeling weathered paint and tan beadboard walls inside and broken bathroom doors, 10 to attempt to close in just one bathroom. That is where she met him, she was wearing those old muddy boots and jeans and coat, the worn T shirt with the proud geo slogan, in a room with no heat, the whole thing warm and damp and dark, an image pasted of him from memory of a wild and unusual dare, he was grinning. And then it all faded into people, people she knew from 20 years ago on field trips came by and said hello, and then she found herself helping with a childrens play, in which they were cast as marionettes and she had the task of carrying the strings around for them. Do you want a part someone asked, do you want to be a karate expert? She'd at least made herself look like she was 25. She always did that in dreams.
I don't know how many Sacred Harp singings I went to in East Texas. There were not that many, not enough for me to pick it up well, but enough for me to appreciate the fact that they let me sing with them with no talent or references. The singings in Texas were diverse. I went to primitive Baptist Churches with worn 60s paneled walls and pot lucks in converted porches, a trip back in time to the Alabama of my youth; to suburban Episcopal churches and community centers; even to a byzantine Greek Orthodox monestary in Houston. Buried somewhere in the back issues of Dirty Linen is a review of one of the mid-decade Bryan conventions. I later wrote another that was never published, but now jumps out of an envelope of used floppy discs. It was the Cut and Shoot Singing where I got my own copy of the Cooper Revision.
Sacred Harp Singing Session
Robinson Road Community Center
Between Spring and Conroe TX near The Woodlands In Southern Montgomery County
May 6, 1995
"...a Sacred Harp singing class is not a performing group, nor a laboratory for social experiment. It is a community, a subculture, a family, that defines itself through a music enjoyed and beloved by all. An invisible sign on the door that says Sacred Harp Singing, Everybody Welcome Except Altos, seems to me like a contradiction in terms." -Warren Steel, Ole Miss University, 5/7/95 [off the Fasola Internet Mailing List]
I arrived for this small two hour shape note session to find only nine others present. "Do you sing alto?" someone pleaded, and I do not, having sung only tenor (or melody) previously, but I said I would try. Only one other sang alto, a woman also from Bryan, and also a tenor.
Present was a Mr. Batchelor; this may or may not be his name depending on my hearing. Mr. Batchelor was amiably questioned at each song break. "I've been singing for 75 years, but I'm not quite that old....My mother sang Sacred Harp, but my father did not. My mother always took me with her. Out of nine children, two of us took it up, but not the others...I was born in Enterprise, Alabama in Coffee County. I go to 78 singings a year; there are more in Northern Alabama, over a hundred. But there's no one to take it up, we're all the old folks, no babies...This was my wife's favorite. I met her at a Revival and we were married soon after. We were married for 52 years, but the Lord took her two years ago....singing keeps me going..." He stood up to lead. "This is the way I sing. You may like it or may not, but it doesn't matter. I believe we will be singing in Heaven, and we might as well practice for it." Mr. Batchelor sang Treble. He had a beautiful voice, soaring at all the given places. He never opened his blue Cooper Revision songbook, partially because he does not see well, but also because he knows all the songs by heart.
We sang informally for two hours with a coffee break. Included were "The Golden Harp #274,""Pisgah #58,""Salvation, Oh, The Joyful Sound & also Idumea #47,""Amazing Grace #45" (I hear Judy Collins does this so beautifully), and "I'm Wandering To and Fro #393." At the end we sang two hymns derived from "When You And I Were Young Maggie," and "Auld Lang Sein." The only song I really enjoyed as an alto was "The Promised Land #128;" singing "Idumea #47 bottom of the page" as a low three note dirge was not my cup of tea. "Those who sing alto regularly like it," I was sunnily told by a woman who had jumped ship during the morning singing school and dived back into the tenor section.
Despite the small size of the group and the almost nonexistant alto section, the overall effect was full and lovely, perhaps due in part to the acoustics of the white painted, wood-plank room...but only in part. -Judith Gennett(Bryan,TX)
I found two regularly scheduled singings, in Portland and Eugene and chose the closer Portland and the e-mail address of Peter Irvine (firstname.lastname@example.org). Zabe i Babe, Cordelia's Dad.
My family went with me; perhaps convinced that I was trying to experience some wild event without them. I hoodwinked them into aiming at lunch at a cheap Japanese restaurant in the Pawn Shop District. It was closed, so we drove on, not into a quiet green residential district, but into the grey stone and asphalt intellectual canyons of downtown Portland, so like and so unlike the grey basalt gorge of the Columbia that now contains the large part of my life. The First Congregational Church stood a great grey stone building in the museum district, with parking garages and performance centers and fine hotels. They were not the warm and familiar trailers and cow pastures and pine trees that surround the Cut and Shoot Primitive Baptist Church, not the red clay of rural Jefferson County, Alabama, it was PORTLAND, gateway to Japanese tourists, right there in the middle of Portland.
There was an art gallery in the church, showing watercolors with pricetags an order of magnitude higher than the lovely velvet cowboy paintings at the Mt. Hood Café. An elderly man reading the paper in a wing chair directed us to the chapel, where in a few moments a woman arrived with a red Denson 1992 revision. I looked in the chapel, with its straight elegant rows of pews:
"How do you arrange the chairs?" I asked.
"Sacred Harp is sung in four parts," she explained. "We take the benches and arrange them so they are facing each other."
I was wrong. They weren't bolted down.
Peter Irvine was dressed all in black, like a nuevo tango band. He said hello. "This isn't what I expected," I said.
He looked puzzled, "Oh?"
Are you crazy, I scowled. Just once in this vast nuevo volcanic wilderness I want to be home again on older sedimentary strata. Eufaula, Andalusia,Meridian, Nacogdoches. I came here to be among oil field workers, real estate agents with giant helmets for hair and overweight cattle ranchers spitting tobacco and talking in a slow elegant fashion, not this pervasive northwest coast whine. No one should have an expresso machine in the House of the Lord. I nodded at the depauperate seven flavors of syrup. That should be outlawed before you worry about teaching homosexuality in the public schools. [re prop.9]
"Well," I laughed, "it is a little hard to park!"
Two women were sitting with long hair were sitting on one side of the square. I asked them: "Which section is which?"
"There are four parts in Sacred Harp. We are singing treble. There are the altos, the basses and the tenors."
"I believe I will sing Tenor."
"Good." they said. "Women CAN sing the tenor part. You can sing it in your own range." Four sections, six parts via gender. They were being incredibly cooperative for the story writer.
In all there were eleven singers. Numbers for songs were called informally by whomever. At times someone would lead. Commencing with "Natick #497" "Corinth #32 Top" "Africa #178" "Nativity #350" "Present Joys #318." All unfamiliar, I struggled with the names of shapes that were FGAB in my mind, I struggled with the gap between the first verse lyrics and the tenor tune section, with the arbitrary melodies of the less common songs. Like anything else made simple, virtuoso practitioners had provided challenges and pitfalls.
"I don't know any of these," I told a tenor in front of me.
"Neither do I. This one you may know, though. They sing it in the evangelical churches."
I shook my head. Yikes! All we sing is "George Fox" and "Yellow Submarine."
"No?" she quizzed.
During break I stopped by the library. My children had located a wealth of books, and my husband corrected his stack of electronics labs. After going back in, Peter asked: "Back in Texas, what did you sing?"
I was stunned and laughed, "All the hits....Idumea." It was the first thing I thought of, the flat voice and the loud guitars. The long-haired women in the treble section smiled, and called "#47 Bottom."
During the second half my daughter Erin came in and sat for one song, totally confused by the book and the rapid singing. I was alone again, but glad to hear a call for "#455 Soar Away"...one of the hits. Most of the time I spoke the words at pitch rather than singing, but sometimes with great thrill I could sing a fragment of melody, in my quaint imitation of Jean Ritchie.
The last song was "#146 Hallelujah"...we'll all sing Hallelujah when we arrive at home. Peter Irvine sat beside me in the tenor section, in black, loudly and clearly singing in my left ear, like those Texas virtuosos in wash and wear blue shirts, emphatically thumping his black foot in time. "Will you be coming back?" asked women with long hair from the alto and treble sections as I left.
We drove home. At Troutdale, my children took off their shoes. "Please put your shoes back on. It smells like something my dog back in Olivia rolled in," my husband complained.
Ian and Erin sat on their feet and continued to read.
"Its about time for Daniel Pinkwater," said Erin.
My husband pulled abruptly off onto the shoulder of I-84. "Why should I do what you want me to do when you won't do what I want you to?" he asked in icy measure. When he again started the car, Erin shod but screaming like a banshee, I looked at the big white full moon in the sky above the trees, against the truncated Cascades, across the glittering waters of the great Columbia and I began to sing against the noise:
And am I Born to die
And lay my body down
And let my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown.
And then my husband turned on Chinwag Theatre.
I took Erin into school, and then I went over to Albertsons to buy some teabags. I am not a morning person and I had run out of tea bags. I picked out the Red Rose brand because it came with a pretty figurine of an endangered species and because Yang Zhen Dong, years ago in graduate school, had told me never to buy the house brand, because it was awful.
Then I went to the checkout counter. I glanced at the paper, with Bush and Gore at each others throats on the cover. Then I glanced at the couple ahead of me, paying for some groceries. The man was in his fifties, clean-shaven, grey-haired a very handsome man. He was wearing black jeans and a black jacket with a green and pink logo embroidered on the back. He was one of the most handsome men I had seen in The Dalles. She was tiny with blonde hair elaborately sprayed. The tiny women always get the handsome men, I thought. Then I thought about how when Yang Zen Dong and another graduate student and his wife had come to Thanksgiving at our house, someone, I think the wife, had put gravy on the cucumber salad.
"If he does win...he really fought in Viet Nam, like I did," said the man in black.
The woman answered, "I'll be sure to tell my husband that." She was writing a check.
The man put a pack of camels and $2.45 on the counter. The cashier rang up the tab. "$3.75," she said. There was a pause. I wandered why his jeans were so dusty this time of morning.
"You dont have that much there," she told him.
"They sure have gone up, havent they?" he asked me. I shrugged. Last time I bought cigarettes they cost 45c.
"Do you want something else instead?" she asked patiently.
He stammered as if he couldn't talk.
"You want them without filters?" she asked. Then she went over and got a different pack.
"2.75," she said.
He didnt have enough for that either. I would have given him a quarter had they not been cigarettes. I thought about how he would probably smoke right beside someone who hated smoke. They do that a lot here.
He tried to speak again, but could only stammer.
"You want Tops? With menthol? Its not locked, you can walk over and get what you want." He did that.
"1.59," she said. She counted out the money that he had laid out. He dropped a dime. I picked it up and put it back on the counter by the conveyor belt.
The he walked out past the shopping carts. He was a tall and good looking man.
"5.47," she said. That included a bowl of Kim Chee Noodle Soup.
Ian competed in The Brain Bash Monday at Petersburg School, in the rural wheat growing area five miles west of The Dalles. There is no actual Petersburg, just a few clustered houses in a clump of trees on the way to the equally transparent Fairbanks. There is an old white frame one room school and a newer faded tan elementary school.
"There were kids there from all over the Mid-Columbia area. White Salmon, Dufur, Hood River. There was even a bus that said Mid-Columbia School District. The other two groups had an adult but we didnt. We just had a seventh grader as a leader, " he said proudly.
"How did you do?"
"We won about 37 to 17," he said. "Sometimes I was the only person who knew the answer. Short Stuff did pretty good."
"He must wear shorts all the time," Erin reasoned.
Ian smiled, "Yeh, his real name is Marvin. He just comes up to here on me." He motioned to his chin.
We'd picked him up at the library at five. I'd sat and read about Illegal Workers in Italy, read in the Sunday Oregonian an article on child abuse problems at the Warm Springs Reservation:
---Vernice was from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation south of The Dalles, near Maupin and the Tygh (as in Tygh One On) Valley, where the life expectancy is 40 years and unemployment is almost 50%. She grew up in a home where everyone drank too much; she left when she was ten and lived in a half way house, spent a week in high school and never went back. She had her fifth child, son of an illegal migrant worker, when she was 23, drinking too much and taking methamphetamines. Vernice nicknamed him Sunshine and he was her pet. Once, when he was a baby, she broke probation on a drunken driving charge and took him to Mexico, and when she and Sunshine got back home to Oregon on the bus, they took him and put him into foster care. When they asked to put him into permanent foster care Vernice said yes, because her boyfirend drank too much and beat her and she thought it was best. When Sunshine was four, his foster mother, a Gulf War veteran, locked him in the car all day while she worked because he had complained about going to day care, and she didnt bring him water, and when she went to get him from the car, he was dead. They buried him at dawn, covering him with buckskin, and his father couldnt come to the funeral in the Confederation of the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute, because he was in jail in California on an immigration charge.
I thought maybe next week I would drive down to Maupin and see what the reservation looks like, burning enough gas to buy four or five bottles of Thunderbird, or in my case bottles of the comparably priced Hood River Pinot Noir.
We went home and ate dinner and then we went to the Dairy Queen down by the freeway. It is our favorite place to go for treats; I always get a frozen hot chocolate with a lot of whipped cream. When Erin was done with her hot fudge, she skated around over the level quarry tile floors on her sisters old skates we'd found in a box in the garage. The clerks ignored her.
I missed Ian in the morning about 10:30, just before we set out for Multnomah Falls. We drove to the library, although I knew it wouldnt open until eleven. I looked around the entrance and didnt see him. A librarian opened the locked front door.
"Are you looking for your son?"
"Yes," I said.
"He was outside for quite a while. He looked so cold and miserable, we finally just let him in."
"Thank you," I said. I nodded at Erin, "She'll just skate."
The librarian said, "That's good. We cant let her in with the new flooring."
I went inside. Ian was sitting alone, reading a Harlequin romance called "What the Stork Brought." "Please don't do this to me," I begged.
I drove with Erin over the Washington bridge to the Columbia Hills RV Village and filled the tank of my red Windstar. A Washington State Trooper pulled up. "They'll get you for skating without a license," I warned Erin, fueled with $2 to buy a drink and some gum.
I found a one litre diet coke and went to pay for it. The proprietor, a huge bear of a man, was explaining to a customer sitting by the popcorn machine:
"They've been out on a search and rescue near Maupin. They've been out all night. Called ahead for the lunches, see, we're on the DOT list."
"Search and rescue?" The man by the popcorn machine pressed for more information, an unwitting proxy.
"Lady's been missing out there all night. Found her car, but not her."
"She left a note at home," added his wife, also quite a large person.
"She left a note, took a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. Found the car and the corkscrew, but not her," said the great bear.
We picked up Ian, and headed west towards the Cascades on the freeway. On our left, the Dairy Queen was blackened and gutted like the Columbia Plateau basalts, a fireman in a cherry picker hovering over the top. Workmen were erecting a chain link fence around the property. At 9 pm, we had been some of the last people to eat there, the last people to see her alive.