Showing posts with label Part 2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Part 2. Show all posts

10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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27 December, 2017

Every day is a title fight, Part 2: down in round two

Endurance is patience concentrated. ~ Thomas Carlyle

A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, 'Today I'm going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep. ~ Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
 


Mick Parsons, Vicki Aubry Welch, Louisville, Kentucky, winter flu
Seven days before Christmas I was knocked on my ass by some version or another of the annual winter crud. And I'm sure I've written about it before... and I'm I sure I will write about it again.... but I don't do sick well. I'm a lousy patient. All I want to do is wallow and wait for the sickness to pass and that's pretty much what I end up doing.

What happens then, though, is the part of me that can't bare to sit around -- call it my shark brain -- realizes that all I'm doing is sitting around and proceeds to annoy the shit out of me with all the stuff I could be doing, all the stuff I should be doing, and all the stuff I probably would want to do if I wasn't stuck with a low grade fever, uncontrollable chills, and a nasal cavity leaking like a Louisville water main break.

Someone reminded me today that I almost always get sick this time of year. Back when I was teaching, and I managed to get sick between semesters, I considered it good luck -- even though it usually meant I was sick over the holidays. At least I wasn't sick while class was session.  Now here I am, it's three days before Christmas, and I'm once again trying to convince my body that I am not on an academic schedule anymore.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that being on an academic schedule or not has nothing to do with whether or not I get sick. It's the seasonal change, or the fact that I still need to get a flu shot. It's the fact that everyone and their brother seems to be falling ill to some variation of the same crud and that this time last year, it was some other variety of some other super crud that was going around that no medical means could cure or alleviate.

That's not the way it really works, though. The human body has a sense memory, like animals have
instinct. We use it everyday, for things as simple as making a cup of coffee to driving a car.  Our bodies learn things and remember them for us.

And my body learned a long time ago that it was ok to get sick at Christmas. Whatever else is going
Mick Parsons, winter flu, Ohio River, Shark
on, maintain until mid-December. After that, it's perfectly fine to fall into a snot-dripping, fever chilled mess in the den binge watching old episodes of Monk on Amazon Prime.

Luckily, because I'm used to being sick the week before Christmas, I attacked it with an aggressive treatment of vitamins, cold and flu medicine, and a lot of frustrating laying about.  You'd think that level of commitment would help my body relearn NOT TO GET SICK near a major holiday.

But... no.

No, I don't have gout. But I do understand the artist's POV.
Because in addition to an annoying susceptibility to various ol'factory and respiratory, I am also perennially at war with my own feet.

Which is why, when my right heel decided to balloon up for no reason at all and make it impossible for me to walk without brain splitting pain, I didn't panic. It's usually my left foot that gives me that kind of problem. I mean, I've become accustomed to nearly perpetual low level pain when I walk, which is made tolerable by inserts and accepting that it's not worth the savings for me to buy cheaply made shoes.

I didn't panic. But I did recall that around this time last year, when I was working in catering, my right foot decided to take me out for about a week during the busy season.

Sense memory can be a bitch.

And, Dear Readers, let me tell you... it can also hurt.


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31 October, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 2

But if you're gonna dine with them cannibals/ Sooner or later, darling, you're gonna get eaten . . . ~ Nick Cave
 

cynicism art life risk blog writing
Harold Lloyd, the King of Daredevil Comedy. 1923.
Inspirational quotes are a pain in the ass.

There. I said it.

I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. At least, I HOPE I'm not the only person who feels this way. And I'm not talking about ALL quotes... clearly. I'm talking about those ones that end up in jpegs with sky blue backgrounds with soaring birds or kittens hanging from laundry lines.

If I get told one more time to "Hang in there!" I'm going to punch somebody. And I make a point to not punch people anymore.

If I get told one more nutshell of cracked faux-homespun wisdom about how the squeaky wheel gets the used fryer grease and how the mouse shit in the cream and turned it to butter and climbed out only to get eaten by an emaciated cat, I'm going to steal a bicycle and ride headlong into traffic on I-71.

And this is what happens. All the time. Whether I ask for it or not. And the worst part is, it's not even the people around me. Amanda, who knows me better than anyone, is not one to dollop canned wisdom on anyone, especially me. My daughter, who is young and predisposed because of her youth and necessary optimism* to embrace  inspirational quotes, is kind enough to her old man not to pass them off on me, in spite of the fact that they seem to work for her.

It's true. I can be harsh. I can be acerbic. My second ex-wife accused me of having an antagonistic relationship with the world. She wasn't wrong, but I submit now, as I responded then, that the world started it.**

Even people who are tangentially connected with me have learned to spare me when it comes to canned advice.

I began exuding a derision to such things when I was 17 and my dad died. People offered up heaps of casseroles (which were greatly appreciated) and advice about grief (which was not.) Telling a child burying his father that "everything happens for a reason" is not compelling and does nothing to mitigate the long grieving process. Nor was it productive, as I was told by a particularly stern minister, not to cry. I took that rebuke so to heart that I learned to bury everything. My second ex-wife was so accustomed to me NOT expressing emotion that when I did, she also reacted with a harsh rebuke that seemed like a judgment of my manhood.

People who learn to bury their emotions end up one of a couple of ways: they become killers, they end up drunks, or they end up poets.

I suppose, as the song goes, two out of three ain't bad.

Where I can't seem to escape the endless, monotonous, and just gawd awful string of canned advice and inspirational quotes is... everywhere else.

Our culture is addicted to them. Simple slogans and pedantic jingoism describe what should be well-thought out political positions. We reduce our personalities to lifestyle labels. We hide behind commercials that call us to embrace a soulless materialist replacement for faith or spiritualism. We are told to believe in ourselves and only in ourselves. We are told we are the solution to our own problems. We are told we are enough.

What a load of horse shit.

Because when it becomes clear that we aren't enough, there is no one else to blame when our best
efforts crumble.  We're told we just didn't try hard enough and somehow a cute fucking kitten hanging on a clothes line becomes the overpowering metaphor for our existence. JUST HANG IN THERE becomes a mantra that erases any critical assessment. We're not supposed to think about all this stuff. We're just supposed to HANG IN THERE and let the world happen to us.

It's bad advice. Because sometimes you do your best and it still comes to nothing. Because many times we are not enough and we need a community of peers, a community of faith, or at least two honest bar buddies to tell us when we're screwing up.

And while I reject the faux-glow of inspirational quotes, I have learned that I have to embrace the idea that there's a community around me that I sometimes have to answer to. I've had to learn to embrace the belief that I am not always enough, and that I need help more often than I like to admit.

______________________________________________________________________
*Optimism is the only thing that makes youth bearable and even possible.
** Or, as stated in my self-adopted credo: ego sum non forsit. forsit est orbis terrarum. (I am not the problem. The problem is the world.)


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17 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 2: exile amor fati

 I am an exile's book. He sent me. ~Ovid

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. ~ Mahmoud Darwish 


home and exile
Although I haven't lived in my hometown for better than several years and I rarely go back, I do follow some of the comings and goings there. There's an insatiable fascination about the place for me, in spite of the fact that there's nothing there for me but cemetery stones and geographically bound nostalgia. Think of it as something akin to voyeurism.

Recently on the Facebook page for my hometown's historical society I noticed an event. Five local authors were going to converge on the historical society... the old Grant Building where the library was housed when I was a kid ... to talk about how they became writers.

Each of them, I suppose, had written and published books. I only knew one of the names because other than random and terrible violence and the odd billboard paid for by a local church  proclaiming that Satan had taken over the school board, the only thing my hometown ever made the news for was the fame of the The World Walker. No one remembered him leaving on his trip, but everyone was there for the return, including a parade, a key to the village, and an invitation to speak to high school students about his experience.

Now, although I've made my home a few hours south and on the other side of the dirty, sacred river, the fact is that as much as I have no place or purpose in the place I'm from, I'm a transplant everywhere else. I guess it's fair to say that I haven't made The Big Time. There are no parades or keys to the town with ubiquitous invites to talk to ungrateful high school kids about my accomplishments.

Probably one of the most challenging parts of being a writer isn't actually the writing. That's always been the easier part. I don't believe in writer's block and I reject the idea that creative energy fizzles. It changes channel and sometimes doesn't march with popular tastes and trends, but generally the writers who chase trends end up burning themselves out -- not because their creativity fizzles but because they cut themselves off from it a long time ago and decided to sustain themselves on praise and marketability.

The biggest challenge for me has always been the subject of tradition... literary or otherwise. Although I don't remember much from when my thesis defense*, I do remember Dr. Glenn Colburn asking me where I would place myself in the canon of American Literary Tradition. I don't even remember exactly what I said because I was a bit taken aback by the question. I managed to write a collection of integrated (hopefully) poems and short stories. It was probably incredibly abstract and most likely total failure. My graduate advisor asked me once if I thought it would end up being publishable. My answer was that it probably was not at all publishable, because there was no way to categorize it in any way that literary agents and the publishing world would or could understand, or in such a way that agents and publishers could excise their percentages from sales.

I'm still pretty good with that. And I'm still pretty good with probably being a little too left of center for poets and a little to right of center for fiction writers. But it does sometimes nag at me that I grew up in  place that so assiduously tried to erase its history that I've been running all over the place for 30 years or more trying to find one, only to keep running into one inescapable fact: there is no such thing as adopting a literary root. Either you're born with one, or you cobble your own from the flotsam and jetsam of experience. It's that or it's creative death.

I guess it's OK that they didn't invite me, being as I'm not as news worthy as a guy who tried to rob a bank with a pocket knife (in my graduating class.) I suppose it's OK that I still can't answer the question of where I am in the scope of American letters because I'm not a Louisville writer or a Kentucky writer or, really, an Ohio writer... or even a Bethel, Ohio writer.

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09 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 2: Skinny Jim

 [If you missed the first part, read it here]


Everyone spent what seemed like forever giving me shit for blushing. Wasn't my fault, and like I said, Julia Dream knew the effect she had on me. I was just about to finish my beer and leave when the bell above the bar rang. The sound of it caused everyone to stop whatever they was doing.

Tex the Younger whistled long and low, and Rex had to pick his slack jaw off the floor twice. Dolly and Sue squealed and ran off to the restroom, squawking about putting their faces in the event that such an auspicious occasion might actually occur.

Julia Dream looked straight at me. Well now you gone and done it, Georgie. She smiled. You're something of a surprise, aren't you?

What exactly did I do?

She pointed to the old bell with one perfectly manicured finger. That bell there only rings when Himself is coming up. Julia turned around and looked at the bottles stocked on the back bar.  She put her hands on her hips like she was deep in thought. We're gonna run out. She sighed and turned back around towards me. I don't know that I got enough in the back, either. Dammit.

She smiled like she wasn't too worried about it though, so I repeated my question.


He musta heard ya, she said.

Who?

She giggled. You're a little thick, aren'tcha Georgie? Himself. Rockabilly Billy. That's his bell. He'll be up here anytime.


Tex the Younger finally found his ability to speak. You remember the LAST time he showed up here?

Rex nodded. Damn near toppled the tree. Took a week to clean the place proper AND I had to carry his boney ass back down, drive him home, and pour the bastard into bed. And you know what he said to me?

Julia Dream shook her head. What'd he say?

He said I was I was too ugly to be a woman but that he'd give it try if got a fifth of Johnny Walker Black and a paper bag.

Confused and wanting to distract the conversation from the impending doom everyone thought I brought down on the Treetop Bar, I inquired as to the purpose of the paper bag.


Julia Dream laughed out loud. For his head, most likely. When he's drunk enough Himself could screw a tree and leave it a pile a sawdust.

I didn't want to know how Julia Dream knew that. It hurt my heart a little to think of her acting like some love starved groupie and I was starting to regret suggesting that a show was a good idea. Not that I thought Himself had actually heard me. But everyone else seemed to.


That was mean of him to say, Rex went on. Just damn cruel. That was back in my cabaret days. Rex's eyes went all dreamy for a second. I performed in drag under the name Priscilla Divina Moreau. I could wail through my rendition of "The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe".  And I was beautiful. Wasn't I beautiful. Tex?

Tex the Younger nodded. You sure was.

Damn right I was. I used to get plenty of phone numbers from people in the audience who couldn't tell. Men AND women. Ain't that right Tex?

Tex the Younger nodded again. Sure is. It fooled me.

Sue and Dolly rolled out of the Lady's Lounge dolled up like it was Saturday night. It's a good thing you put that bitch Priscilla to rest, Dolly cackled. She was making it hard for the real women around here to get any action.

Speak for yourself, said Julia Dream. She looked straight at me, licked her lips a little, and smiled. I get more offers than a respectable woman can take seriously. Hell, if I took up half of them, I'd spend all day and night on my back.

Then you're doing it wrong! Sue broke in and started laughing.

Just then the door swung up so hard that it shook the wall and Himself walked in. There ain't no such thing as doing wrong! Either you're doing it or you ain't. 

Julia Dream smiled wide and waved, jumped over the bar. She met him mid-floor and gave him a big hug.

How's tricks darlin? Damn, Honey. You still know how to show a man you care. You're gonna cave my chest in with those things.

She asked him what he was drinking and did he want his usual.

Not today. You got any Sioux City Sarsaparilla back there? 

The bar erupted into a shocked silence. Julia Dream smiled. I think I got some in the back. She turned towards me, smiled wide, and winked.

Dolly and Sue ran up and hugged him next. He kissed them both, squeezed them close and buried his nose in Sue cleavage. She squealed even louder and turned bright red.

Sorry, Darlin',  he said. I just wanted to make sure you still smelled like cotton candy.

He acknowledged Tex the Younger with a nod. How's the old man? Still kicking it with Redheaded Kate in Coalinga Junction? Tex the Younger nodded in return. Well you be sure and give them my regards. Especially Redheaded Kate. Then he looked over at Rex. Priscilla! You have an off day? Rex blushed and didn't say anything at all, but hid coquettish-like behind his beer.

Then he lumbered over and sat my table. Julia Dream brought him bottle of ice cold sarsaparilla.

You Georgie? 

I answered that I was.

You sure do take after your Granddaddy. 

What?

Sure! Didn't anyone ever tell you that before?

I answered that in fact, no one had ever said I vaguely resembled anyone in my family. As a matter of fact, it had long been a family joke that I didn't favor any of my relatives and so I must have been left on the step in an empty fried chicken bucket when I was a baby.

Well shit fire! Hell, son you're even named after him. Don't you know who he was?

I never met him, I said.

James George. His friends called him Georgie. Women called him Jimmy. Eddie Cochran wrote a song about him. You ever hear Skinny Jim?

Julia Dream cackled and smiled wide. Are you serious Bill? He's related to Skinny Jim?

A regular spittin' image! He looked over at Julia Dream. Probably in more ways than one, I'd bet. He looked at me. I can't believe nobody ever told you. You're practically Rockabilly aristocracy. Skinny Jim was the only guy who ever stole a girl from me. He smiled. It was alright though. She looked a lot like Priscilla back there.

That was first time I ever heard Julia Dream coo like she was melting from the inside out.

NOW YOU HOLD ON THERE BILL...

Rex was up on his feet and about to give Himself a piece of his mind. Bill smiled and motioned for Rex to sit back down. Relax, Priscilla. Don't tie your stage garter in a knot. 

Listen he said, turning back towards me. I need a driver kid. You game?

For what?

He smiled wide. For the last ride of Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5.


[Another installment will drop on Monday 10/16. Please feel free to subscribe to my email list to get this in your email box before it posts.]
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03 October, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace, part 2: a place for everything and everything everywhere

 Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts. What good does it do to brood on the past or anticipate the future? Remain in the simplicity of the present moment. ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am. ~Thomas Merton


In his 20's a smart man -- if he learns anything at all -- learns to embrace failure as an educational experience as well as the importance of reflection. During his 30's, a smart man ... if he's paying any attention at all ... begins to understand the space -- physically, metaphysically, spiritually, and ontologically --  he takes up in the world.

By the time he reaches his mid-40's -- whether he's smart or not -- a man stumbles upon who he is in the world, regardless of whether he's aware of the space(s) he occupies or not.

And if there is anything about me that's true, it's this: I've always been particular about how I inhabit my living space.

It's not that I'm a neat freak. At least, I don't think I'm a neat freak. I mean... no. No, I am NOT a neat freak.

But I DO tend to think of it as working really hard in order to be lazy. I always put my keys in the same place. I always put glasses in the same place. I recognize two basic categories of things:

  1. stuff, and 
  2. stuff-without-a-home. 

As I wrote about in a previous blog, my spaces -- mental or otherwise -- are filled with things from which I derive a certain amount of comfort. The way I do things and how I organize things makes total and complete sense to me. By way of an example -

We own this lovely fruit bowl. I believe it was a wedding gift. I won't describe it, so, for the sake of illustration, picture a fruit bowl you would find lovely. Because we tend to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, we have a small table in the kitchen that has become the Spot Where Produce Lives. After we go shopping, the table sort of looks like one of those Thanksgiving cornucopias exploded. We're very fortunate that we're able to eat healthy in spite of eternally operating on a feast and famine budget.  But because of our sometimes bountiful amount of fruits and veggies -- and because my daughter is a vegan and so we tend to have a lot of rabbit lettuce type things on hand -- that lovely bowl was buried, never to be seen.

Yes, I knew it was there. But I didn't like that a lovely little bowl -- a very thoughtful wedding present at that -- wasn't in a place where I could see it at a glance.

So I moved the bowl. I moved it next to the toaster on the short side of the kitchen sink.

This created no small amount of controversy with my daughter, who -- like me -- is someone who likes to have things organized and in place... 

for the most part.

I'm certain she often looks at it and ponders moving back to the exploded cornucopia table. My wife, who has the wisdom to stay out of such odd and ultimately pointless conundrums, simply says "Well, that's where it lives now."


Lately I've come around to embracing the notion that my need for a certain amount order is simply who I am rather than something I ought to try and subvert. I do think sharing a home with others makes me more thoughtful about the impact my home-for-everything attitude has on other people, because the truth is, there are times when things need to be out of order. If things never change, if things don't move, then sometimes I don't see the need for something to change. And since the only constant in the universe IS change, it's good to be able to roll with it, too.

Just don't move the fruit bowl.

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03 August, 2017

Near where that barn burned, where all those people died, Part 2

Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. Let nothing you dismay. You are not utterly forsaken. I, too, am here--here in the darkness waiting, here attentive, here approving of your labor and your dream. ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again  

 The problem with homecomings is that nothing ever goes as planned. Other than two uncles I rarely see -- my Uncle Jack (my Mom's brother), who travels and my Uncle Bill (my Dad's brother) who hasn't shown any interest in talking to me since my Dad died -- I don't have any family in Bethel who is above ground.  The last time I drove out to Bethel at all was to take Amanda to see the family graves in the cemetery. That was before we were married.

We left from my Mom's place in plenty of time. The hour-long drive from Cincinnati to Bethel followed a route that was burned in my brain.

Beyond the I-275 loop, past Withamsville, and past Amelia, the geography both stretches out and gets more crowded. When you have a longer memory for a place than that place has for itself, and when land developers erase the long empty fields between towns and merge it all together in one long strip mall world, it's easy to let a bitter form of nostalgia take root.

Nostalgia is that idea that somehow, the past we remember is without question better than the present moment. Nostalgia is among the second worst lies according the ranking system created by former British PM Benjamin Disraeli . Nostalgia is the entire underpinning for our current way of life in dear ol' Trumplandia.

But I still do That Thing when I visit my old stomping grounds. I talk about buildings that aren't there anymore, like the grocery store on Ohio Pike that was my second actual job, back when I was learning about the weight* that money has in the world. Or the Blue Haven Restaurant our family would eat at on Friday night sometimes that served actual salmon croquettes and had actual homemade apple pie on the dessert menu. Or the fields that used to be the Old Man Wolf's farm, fields I used to sneak into and wander around when I was a kid, that was cut up and sold by his children and razed for the cracker thin foundations of McMansions. When I was a kid, I used to tell people that Cincinnati would eventually reach out and swallow Bethel. Right now the only thing stopping it is something as arbitrary as a county line... though I'm sure if they could find a reason, they'd find a way around that, too.

For all the changes, though, Bethel really hasn't changed that much. There are still more churches per square mile than anything else and the Gold Star Chili is still standing next to what used to be my high school. The only thing that really DOES change in small town is the signage and the occasional new coat of paint.

Although I guess that's not really true, since Bethel, which is in Tate Township, which has been a dry township for as long as it's been in existence thanks to the aforementioned overabundance of churches, can now brag of the existence of a winery. The winery is less than three miles from the house I grew up in.

Now all they need is a decent Chinese food buffet and they're ready for some serious Yelp! action.

Amanda and I drove out to the winery. It wasn't difficult to find. It was just odd that it was there. I used to ride my bike up and down Swings Corner-Point Isabel Road. I didn't need GPS.  The weirdest thing about it was that it was there... some hidden spot of something resembling civility in place buried in the backwoods of my childhood.

When we arrived, no one else was there. I wasn't surprised. Then we checked the Facebook Event Page and discovered the meeting time had been moved back to later in the day.

The owner was as perplexed as I was. She had no idea there was a reunion meeting there. The panic was etched into her face -- a face I thought I recognized but the last name tag on her shirt I didn't. I told her not to worry. Planning, details, and follow through are not attributes anyone thinks of when my high school comes to mind.  To be fair, although the event was posted on Facebook, it was pretty clear the "non-reunion reunion" was for alum still living in the area. Those of us who left -- those of use who escaped -- were not part of the thought process.

It may seem like I'm being unfair to my old classmates, most of whom probably gave my absence as much thought as they gave my presence in high school. But the truth is, people live where they are, whether it's the cafeteria table where they eat lunch with people they consider friends, or whether it's a Facebook event created by people who still live in the geographic center of their childhood. It wasn't so much that I was excluded as much as I'm not a part of that world anymore. It's entirely possible that I never was. Not really.

Amanda and I drank our wine and left. On the way out of town, we stopped and at the Gold Star Chili next to what used to be my high school. Because sometimes nostalgia tastes good, even if it's not good for much more than that.




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*Weight, not value. Weight is presence, dimension, and heft. Value means something else altogether.


19 June, 2014

Learning Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: Fathers, Teachers, Elders, Part 2

[Part one can be found here]

Me (Left), Dad, and my older brother. Dad was my first hero.
The best and most important lesson I have learned from my father is that I am not him.

I am not him. I am not my grandfather, nor his father, nor his father. I am not them. And while it is fashionable in some circles to worship our dead*  doing so means we lose not only something important from them, but from ourselves, too.

Although I grew up listening to stories about my grandfather Daniel, the truth is my Dad told me very little about his own life. I've written before about the book he and I never got to write -- a memoir of sorts we were going to title Every Man Is A VIP. He told me he was waiting for me to be old enough to understand.

Over the years since his death -- this September 3rd he will be gone 24 years -- I have come to different conclusions as to why he thought it was important to wait. After all, don't fathers regale their sons with stories about youth and prowess? That seemed to be the pattern of most of the fathers of the sons I went to school with, went to church with. Not that he didn't share stories about himself, but almost always they were funny stories. Most often, he was not the hero of his stories. He was never the villain either. When he told me the reason he never ate bananas he did not shy away from his own culpability. (He ate bad ones in the Navy while at port in Hong Kong... and so did the entire ship, including the Captain who ordered them NOT to eat the bananas. The entire crew ended up with dysentery... including the Captain.) When he told me the story about his military induction, he did not hold back on his feelings of inadequacy standing naked in a cold gymnasium with a thousand other young men. All men have their failures and all men have their triumphs. But for Dad, a story about him 1) was funny and 2) was educational, even and especially at his own expense.

The only time he told hero stories was when he talked about his own father, who was far from perfect and probably in need of some understanding, if not revision.

Grandpa Daniel "Boone" Parsons, with me and my brother

 Men are not perfect creatures and it does us all a disservice to worship our elders to the point that they become symbols of divine infallibility.

Grandpa Parsons died when I was 3, so my own memories of him are limited. Most of what I know about him, I know from stories Dad told. I learned a little more from My Dear Sweet Ma, and some from my Grandma Dunn, who knew him because they lived across the street from Dan and Minnie Parsons on S. Charity Street. He was not an easy man, though he, too, loved to tell stories.  I have come to suspect that my dad's ambivalence about dogs is rooted in the fact that maybe sometimes the dogs ate better than he did. Grandpa was fond of whiskey even though (and probably because) his wife supported the temperance movement. He was also something of a flirt and probably a philanderer, which made Grandma Parsons terribly (and likely understandably) jealous.

Then again, being personable isn't the same as taking your pants off and Bethel, like all small towns, has always operated more on rumor than substantiated fact.

He was a stubborn and argumentative man. One of my favorite stories about him is the one in which he stopped speaking to his barber over a political argument. He still went to the barber. After all, there was only one in town.  He just didn't speak to him. But he was also a man who took no guff, who did not simper and skulk.



Grandpa (Clay J, Sr.) Dunn at Bantam.
Grandpa Dunn died in 1988. He worked with his hands, which means he also worked with his mind. I once watched him working on a design for one of his carpentry projects. He was drawing it out on a napkin at the kitchen table. It struck me, being as young as I was and thoughtless as I was, that he was far better at complex math than I was at simple math -- and that he had dropped out of school.

Most of his world was cut off from me. I was too sick to be in his workshop, too sick to wander the woods much... or at least, that was impression I was given until I was 10 or so. Most of his world was cut off from me, but the one thing I learned from him, though he spoke very little around me, was that being educated is not the same thing as knowing. And while I was being raised to embrace education, I tucked away the knowledge that there is more than one way to learn something, and that I could learn by doing as much as I could by sitting in some stale classroom, waiting to be told what is important.

I keep that in mind every time I step into the classroom to teach. This lesson keeps me grounded as teacher more than any pedagogy.

It wasn't until recently that began to (maybe) understand the Old Man's motivations in not telling me the rest of his stories. Every boy grows up in his father's shadow**. But there's a point where the son must extract himself from that shadow, whether it is an oppressive one or whether it is a comfortable one. A boy doesn't really become a man until he fully extracts himself from that shadow. My Old Man castes a large shadow, and so did his father, and I'm guessing that his father did before that. Dad had to leave home before he could properly see himself in the light of day. The same was true for his father. The same was true for me. I like to think now that the Old Man understood this -- that bearing down too much on a son will keep him forever in the shadow. He did not want to be worshiped. He wanted to be understood when I had the appropriate context and experience.

I am not my father. But I am my father's son. I don't need to sit and wonder what The Old Man would do in any given situation because it is not my father who is in any of those situations anymore. But I can look back over what he taught me, the things he tried to tell me, and I can find my own answers. 

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 *Worshiping the dead is not the same thing as Remembrance. Remembrance implies meditation, consideration and reconsideration, paying attention, and LEARNING. To worship the dead means fitting them into whatever convenient framework makes us feel better about ourselves and our world view, no matter how incorrect that view might be. See also: every public school history textbook. See also: every sermon by James Hagee, Pat Robertson, Robert Tildon, Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts. See also: any nightly "world" news show on a major television network.
** This is true whether the father is present or not. Absence does not negate the father. Absence just leaves more room for interpretation and selfish revision.