Showing posts with label home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label home. Show all posts

30 October, 2020

From Field Notes: Home and desk: a reflection on context and etymology



Back to the desk. Yes, I still have my workstudy. And school to finish. And I have no clue how I'm going to make any money after the first of the year. 

But I need to be here. I almost avoid it when I'm in the midst of a job cycle. I mean yes, I still write. I'm always writing, eeking out some words here and there. But the desk is as much about reflection as it is the act of writing and on the job -- where it's important that I stay in the moment in order to stay on task -- it's difficult to find time to reflect. Meditate, yes. But not reflect.

And so here I am. Nina Simone on the speakers. Coffee nearby. Dogs Lounging around my chair (for now.) Yesterday's rain is gone, but everything outside is cold and damp to the bone. We're heading out for Chicago early Monday morning to catch Amtrak's The City of New Orleans down to that city.  

I left New Orleans in November, almost 20 years ago, running for Kentucky. I loved the city and was starting to make a pretty good home there. Had a job I didn't hate, friends, and I was about to find an apartment somewhere that wasn't the roach infested rooming house I'd been living in on the corner of Palmyra and N. Jefferson Davis that had been a trap house before the city shut it down, sold it to a fly-by-night management company that didn't even bother to slap some new paint on it before renting it out. I felt at home there in a way I'd never felt at home before. It's one of those cities that gives you the space to reinvent yourself or takes you as you come; it doesn't tolerate fools, but it will, generally, try and embrace them anyway. 

Home has always struck me as an odd word with an odd weight. It's an Old Germanic word, at the root (heim, pronounced hām) that describes a spaces where souls are gathered. Contemporaneously, people associate with four walls (at a minimum), a roof, a door, and a window (at a minimum.) The gathering of souls is not required by the strictest definition, and this is best described by the term used to describe an opposite state of being: homeless

A person described as homeless is someone without secure shelter; the legal definitions vary based on who wrote the statute and whether HUD money is attached to a particular housing program. For example, sleeping in your car is generally defined as being homeless, and so is sleeping on a friend's couch for more than a month. But cities tend to define homelessness based on the proximity of people sleeping outside to the centers of business and tourism. That's in practice, anyway, even if it isn't how they describe it in legalese. In practice, the operational definition of being homeless is applied in direct proportion to the person or people in question's distance to commerce. If that bothers you or strikes you as wrong, that's the correct response for a human. If your reaction is "Yeah, but..." you might be a politician, or genetically related to one.  If you have no reaction, you're either a cop or a member of your local Chamber of Commerce.

When I moved to New Orleans, it was the first place I ever went that I didn't have a plan, didn't really know anyone I'd call a friend. I slept on my ex-wife's couch for a week in Lacombe before I found the rooming house.  Interestingly enough, my first ever Greyhound trip was from New Orleans, back up to Lexington, only to return to that city of dreams on the bus. Before that I'd slept in my car before, slept on friends' couches. I didn't think of myself as homeless because I always had a sense of where I was and the periods of solitude were always punctuated with the company of friends.  Living in New Orleans transformed me in a lot of ways; it taught me that I could survive and that I had a definite survival instinct in spite of my sometimes unhealthy behavior and deep swings of depression. It also taught me that I had find a different mode of self-definition besides the usual economic markers that had convinced me I was a failure.  

I'm lucky now to have a home -- that is, the company of a soul. There are people who live much better, economically speaking, who can't say that. And I'm looking forward to revisiting my city of dreams with her on the train I used to watch from my car in the parking lot before work. 



15 June, 2020

bones in the ground, blog edition


More about Thomas Morris... and the twisted ironies of the place... here.


"My nature comes of itself." -T'ao Ch'ien

I'm the round peg
denied by the square hole.
I'm the rusty cog
that revels in being rusty. (from Field Journal)

So there was a BLM protest march in Bethel, Ohio this past Sunday.  Some of the more yokely locals decided to attack a peaceful protest, yell, cuss, steal signs, and generally embarrass themselves -- sort of like the high school varsity football team did my Junior year when they celebrated finally scoring a safety (That's 2 points) at the end of a scoreless and winless season like they'd won a state championship.

It's times like this I remind myself that "Bethel" is a biblical term meaning "A Holy Place." I also remind myself of the short list of points I tell people on the rare occasion I talk about where I grew up:

  • the afore mentioned celebration over a safety;
  • the fact that Bethel, Ohio wasn't on a map until 1998; and
  • the fact that Bethel only ever makes the news when bad things happen like that time a kid got off the school bus to find his parents murdered (never solved), or the time the barned burned and people died (never solved), or the time an alumni from my graduating class tried to rob a gas station with a pocket knife (got caught).


I remind myself that it's the same place where some of the "good and faithful" people collected money to buy a billboard proclaiming Satan had taken over the school board because the high school biology teachers continued... as they did when I was a student... to teach the Theory of Evolution. In a biology class. 

Bethel has never been a holy place -- not for me, anyway.  I can't even say that I hated it that much when I was a kid; I just always knew I was going to leave. The things I hated about it had mostly to do with the fact that I was socially awkward, which presented in all the usual ways. I didn't really connect with most of the kids I grew up, though I had a circle of friends. Looking back, it wasn't really anyone's fault that I didn't connect with most people. Even though we all grew up in within the same geographic boundaries, I had very little in common with most of them, and most of them had very little in common with me. Probably the only thing we had collectively in common is that none of us knew a damn thing and we were all wandering around lost, hormonal, and generally confused by the mixed messages we were getting from the adults around us and from television. 

I've mention before that until I turned 16 and got my driver's license, I never saw a black person except on television. Think about that minute. Then think about the depictions of the black community on television in the 1980's.  I know for a fact that there wasn't a non-white student in the schools there until after I graduated. So, 1991. I remember asking an adult -- an elder in my church, no less -- once why there weren't any black kids in my school and why there wasn't a single black family in town. He leaned in, smiled, and answered "What's out here for them?" He went on to tell me in a tone that suggested official, though not necessarily heartfelt, regret that there HAD been a black family that moved into town sometime in the 70's and that "someone" burned a cross in their yard. 

Local police did nothing about it. The family moved not long after that.

This is where I grew up, but it's not my home. And maybe it never was. My mother hasn't lived there in almost 30 years. My dad is buried there, but I'm not the victim of that sort of sentimentality that feels rooted to dead bones. The last of my father's family that lived in Bethel, my Uncle Bill, died recently. My cousins on my mother's side have scattered. My Uncle Jack, my mother's brother, still keeps his house there, but he and his wife Kathy travel a lot and also have a house somewhere in Florida. What little connection I ever had to where I grew up grows more feint by the year. I'm good with this, though growing up in a small town does leave it's mark no matter how long ago you left.

The absence of that sentiment in my make-up doesn't mean I don't love my father's memory, because I do. But attachment to dead bones is memorialization, not memory, and certainly not history. Maybe that's why I could care less about Confederate statues or the confederate flag. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be a good movie, but it doesn't ennoble the confederate cause.  I could probably suss out the delusional nostalgia and faulty logic that would compel a Bethelite to attack peaceful protesters. But to be honest, I don't want to spend the energy on them. They're not worth it; they weren't when I was a kid and they're even less worth it now.

No one there cares what I think. They never did, and that's fine. But I love that there are people there who will march in support of Black Lives. If there is hope in these Byzantine times, it's rooted in the fact that positive change is knocking on the door of a place that, while it's not as holy as it's name, it damn well should try.

31 July, 2019

[re: lines on the day I remembered my father's birthday]

"Your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick"  - Iggy Pop/David Bowie


For years I drove out by the old house to see what the new occupants had done to wreck the place. The time I drove out and saw the buried wagon wheels at the end of the driveway, like some broken redneck gate straight out of HGTV and the western-chic issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I knew my father's imprint was worn off. Finally, indescribably, gone.

And even as I write this, I don't know that I ever made peace with that -- until now, as I come to terms with how I feel about being at my mom's, and how my own wounded vision has impacted not only how I feel about this place, but about my Losantiville as a whole. 

Only now do I understand that I must see this place like any other place -- and that this vision must extend to all places. Even the ones I allow myself to be attached to.


Summer ends just as it begins.
Places abide in a mourner's memory,
an early morning dew. No house
holds out against the wind. No island
holds out against the current.


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30 April, 2019

On Being Present In Spite of the Kentucky Derby

Hawthorns. Yep, they hurt.
I travel for the same reasons I eventually come home. This is often difficult to explain to people who either aren't pushed in seemingly opposite directions by the currents or who have denied their impulse for wanderlust and diaspora. For those who are similarly afflicted as I am, no explanation is needed, but please, brothers and sister, bear along while I wander this thought to some stopping point or another. 

It's a short leg, I promise.

There are currents at work in both cases, but in neither case am I afflicted by a sense that something is missing or lack of satisfaction. The only real difference is this: when I'm out, I attune to the rhythm of the road almost immediately, like stepping through a door. But when I come home, there's always a reentry process, like having to wait in a decompression chamber so that my lungs can breathe the air of home again.  It's not even about the tangible things in my home life -- my sobriety, my relationship with Amanda, my needy dog or apathetic cat, the house and the familiar and comforting things housed there. Where I have the most trouble is in the intangibles: things that I am compelled by socialization or cultural imprinting to care about: the condition of my yard; seemingly petty and oddly mean-spirited technological issues; the status of our battle to keep the bank from taking our home, in spite of us doing everything right in order for that NOT to happen; business clients who don't pay their invoices on time; obligations created out of cultural necessity -- like most bills, showering, and wearing pants; and locally, the hubbub over the very decadent and very depraved Kentucky Derby -- that fastest two minutes of sport that create that have contributed to a pendulum like boom and bust economy, not to mention labor exploitation, sex trafficking, and the continued exploitation of the city's homeless population in an attempt not to offend the tourists who come here, piss in the street, and call it bourbon.

There are battles here that are worthwhile, and ensuring that rich touristas have positive few of the town I have chosen to call home is not one of them.  But am glad that of the things I hang onto from being out, the things I continue to foster with my personal daily Practice, the idea of being focused on the here and now remains central to my decision-making process about how to (and if) to interact with any of it.

When I'm out on the road, I work to maintain a relaxed but present state of mind, and I try to stay open to whatever experiences and people I can. Through my daily Practice, I'm working to maintain that same relaxed but present state of mind off the road. It's more difficult than it sounds because, in spite of the hassles of traveling (including a lost suitcase), the distractions of a stationary life can fill the ol' brain chamber up with all kinds of things that can distract me from remaining present and being open to the world as it unfurls itself on a daily basis. Things that cause me to miss the beauty and the savagery that are just as present here in Louisville as they are on the road.

Whippoorwills sing
as the coffee cools.
The dog naps, defying
her need to hunt the song
down. Here I sit, listening


waiting for something
maybe the sound
of a gong: a guide,
a rhyme, a tune
encoded in each ring.


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16 April, 2019

From Field Notes: Excerpts, 7th-9th April 2019 - Orange Poppy, Long Gone

7 April


view of the Wakarusa River
Spent the early afternoon downtown. Had lunch with the Market Street Irregulars and then had the opportunity to visit my friend, local artist Heather Houzenga, at her shop at the base of Market Street. We mostly hung out in front of her shop, which lends itself to the opportunity of running into other people. At one point there were maybe 5 of us including Heather, Ray, Dave Cuckler, and Jeff Creath, who split time between Carroll County, Waukegan, and parts unknown with his wife and fellow globetrotter, Kat. There were also two dogs, including Heather's new pooch, Handsome, a boxer mix that is still very much a puppy... but a happy one, and Ray's lovely dog Lady.

It felt good just to be able to hang out on the street without anyone wondering whether something illegal is happening -- one of the graces that is still afforded in a place like Mount Carroll, Illinois.

At one point, later in the day, Dave was downstairs playing guitar and singing, and I was listening through the floorboards. There are moments we experience that resonant, repeat, and carry us backwards and forwards in time, embodying all of our sense memories into a distilled, rich, existential bliss. Listening to Dave Cuckler sing through the floorboards is one such moment, and it let me know that I was, if only briefly, at a place where I still have a home.

Music through the floorboards
that long remembered smile.
A congregation of old friends,
dogs, and peaceful passersby.

8 April

The river is high here, like everywhere else. Parts of Savanna are flooding. The power and prestige of the Old River 1 never ceases to amaze me.

The river lays siege to the flood plain
reminding people (again)
these ancient arteries
will wash away
what passes for Empire.

9 April

I was able to take some time yesterday and walk around town a bit. On my way back to where I'm staying, I walked up the Washington Street hill and over to S. West Street, by the house I lived in here with my ex. Inexplicably, the place is still standing and there's a family living there.

I know it seems strange to some people that I like coming back here. One local musician, a friend of a friend, upon figuring out that I was actually me and discovering that I showed up intentionally to visit, asked what I was visiting for. There's a basic assumption among some folks about this place... an assumption I hear more from people who are born and raised from here -- that there is nothing here. Or, at any rate, there's nothing here that would be of any interest to anyone not from here.

But the truth is that I learned a lot here. Mount Carroll is the place I learned to embrace a place and find beauty, poetry, and music -- even when there is a (very) thin veneer of stasis, greed, and ugliness. It was here I learned to live more in the moment and to seek out community rather than expect it to come find me. It was here that I learned what the word home means -- with all those fraught implications.

It was here that I learned what it means to dive deep and follow the currents. What I didn't learn here was not to dive TOO deep. I had to learn that later.

Some things persist
in spite of soft memory.
What is not erased
is a reminder that 
what we carry in the present
we picked up in the past.

Orange Poppy, Long Gone



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16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
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24 September, 2018

At Home Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 1

Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Ohio River at Louisville and Jefferson, IN. 1928
Home has traditionally been a complex issue for me. I've written before about how home is a person, not a place, and that is still very much true. But it also follows that while I have settled down... which is to say, I'm stationary far more than is natural for me... the truth is that the concept of home is one that I continue to struggle with. In particular, other people's notions of home have given me nothing but vexation for decades.

Yes. Decades.

Let me explain.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I like it here. Of all the places I've lived, it probably best matches the landscape inside my head. It's both rural and urban, straightforward and urbane, full of possibility and weighed down with deep dark problems that infiltrate nearly every good thing that happens within its borders. Louisville is a small town with a few tall buildings; not because of its size, but because of the way it functions... and sometimes the way it doesn't function. I've lived in other places in Kentucky, from as far East as Menifee County to the rolling hilled-hypocrisy of Lexington. I've travelled the state over, too, from Covington to Corbin, from Morehead to Middlesboro, from Paducah to Pikeville.1 And except for a decade on and off, I've spent most of the last 30 years here. Kentucky is one of the few places where -- for the exception of  Lexington, which I can never quote forgive myself for -- I have always felt at home. Calling Kentucky home brings up all sorts of complications, the second most challenging being that it's the sort of home you're expected to leave and (maybe) eventually return to.

The most challenging part of being at home in Kentucky is that Kentucky is more or less particular about who it claims.

I run into this problem often in literary circles. It's increasingly common enough to NOT be from Louisville, or from Kentucky. But in literary circles... probably because Kentucky writers are once again an exportable commodity... because of or in spite of our Tin Pot Governor's dismissal of the arts... there's even more of the sometimes overt, sometimes covert protectionism of Kentucky culture and geographical identification.2

To be fair, I haven't been EXCLUDED because I'm not from Kentucky. That would be like saying no one reads my shit because I'm just one more cis-gendered white guy in America.3 I haven't been excluded, but living here creates a certain bias on the part of others about what kind of writer I orta be. Literary event organizers here tend to look for that commercially consistent version of "authentic" voices -- authentic but pedigreed, of course -- and while I can claim a lot of experience, many miles traveled, and a regional upbringing, the abstract lines that make Kentucky separate from the other cleaved pieces of geography that make up the Ohio River Valley delineate the cultural boundary, too.

Or, simply put: I'm from Ohio.

True, it's Southern Ohio... Southwest Ohio, to be exact, which is about as culturally divergent from the rest of the state as Paducah is from Pikeville. Ohio, like Kentucky, could be split into (at least) four different states if you look at geography, culture, and other demographic points. Actually, you could cut the Southeast corner of the state and slide it nicely into a larger state called Appalachia... a state that would include not only part of Ohio, but a fair chunk of Kentucky and Pennsylvania too, along with West Virginia.

For me, though, the map as drawn has less to do with the culture of where I live than geography, which transcends... and sometimes confounds... cartography. The dirty scared river's long and storied history as a major commercial artery that eventually opened up the West to the trials, terrors, and seeming inevitability of Manifest Destiny have made permanent imprint on the geography of the nation. And while it's true that the Ohio River isn't as prominent a commercial artery as it used to be, the fact is that without it there would have been no place for wagons, trains, roads, or interstates to be laid. The river, diverted as it is, still runs and still has a say over everything from where people live, how they get back and forth to work, and sometimes, how the weather impacts the area.4 So, I will never be a Kentucky writer. But every breath, drop of blood, and bone in my body is from the river valley.

And there's something to that, too.

________________________________________________

1. I even went to Fancy Farm once. There is no better explanation of the political landscape of this Commonwealth than Fancy Farm.
2. This actually has much deeper roots than Herr Bevin. He's just one more in a long series of yahoos and crankyanks who think they know what's best for Kentucky without ever actually spending any time in the state's underbelly.
3.I recently had coffee with another writer here who made that kind of observation, but I don't agree. There's room for everyone and all the voices need to be heard. I'll keep scribbling in my basement, unabated.
4, Watch a tornado laden storms hit the valley and split in half just to pass over Louisville. It happens. A lot.



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10 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 1: introduction to the off-the-road edition

God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.~ Meister Eckhart

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Lately my goal has been to try and apply the basic rules of the road to my everyday life.

It's not that I'm going to be out and about anytime soon... work and other responsibilities make this impossible... but it occurs to me that I've been living like the things I did out on the road had no relation to how I was living my life now. The problem is that in my most natural state, my mindset is that of a permanent traveler. It's not that I don't love the home I have with Amanda and Stella and Will; but I also know that as much as I love home... home as family, home as a place I'm comfortable... I'm not, in my natural state, much of a homebody. Yes, I like to maintain my space a certain way. When I travel I'm a tediously organized packer, too. So really, it's less about being domesticated and more about the aforementioned particularness ... whether home is on my back or four walls and a roof that needs to be re-shingled.

But I think part of my problem has been that I've still been trying to tackle this domestic bliss stuff the way I was socialized to by small town culture, by television, by mentors and heroes -- none of whom ever suggested, even remotely, that I orta do things the way they do things.**

In trying to figure out how to do this stuff  My Way, the only conclusion I've come to is that I have to live at home the way I live out on the road. Certainly there are some modifications. But overall, it's more about spacial awareness than a shift in awareness. Or, that's what I'm going with now.

My road rules went through multiple drafts and notions, but they boil down to something like this:

  1. Read and write everyday.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Leave things as nice or nicer than you found them.
  4. Etiquette makes society, not the other way around.
  5. Be grateful when things are good. They won't always be.
  6. Keep your head up when things are bad. They will be more often than not.Show appreciation and articulate love. Daily.
This isn't always easy, though I often think it should be. With four adults, three dogs, and two cats living under one roof, sometimes it feels like it's a little hard breathe. And I LOVE these people. But generally, if I keep my art at the center*** and tether myself to being essentially humane and focus on trying to be the best husband, father, and father-in-law that I can be, I believe I'm doing my part in helping maintain our conglomerated family unit.

Even if it's not altogether natural feeling sometimes.


___________________________________________________________________________
* No less than every girlfriend I've ever had and two ex-wives have pointed out/accused that I have an antagonistic relationship with the world. But clearly, the world started it.
**All of them actually said the contrary, on multiple times. A wise mentor will never tell you to do what they do, exactly how they do it. That's how you tell the difference between a mentor who has your best interests at heart and a megalomaniac who's interested in feeding his ego.
*** There's a reason why "Read and write everyday" is the first rule.


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29 September, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace: The solace of certain things / Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Is it possible to become ecstatic amid destruction, rejuvenate oneself through cruelty?” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


My memory palace is one, giant flea market.

Which is to say, it's entirely possible that one of the reasons why I tend towards a certain precision -- what my daughter sometimes calls "picky" and my wife lovingly refers to as "being particular" -- about certain things:  like where I leave my keys, how I organize the house, where I'd prefer things are stored and how, and how clean I try to be, is because a large portion of my mental landscape is an odd mix of old stuff, bric-a-brac, used books, dated movies, music, oddly random and seemingly pointed connections between disparate things, several rabbit holes of useless information, and picture memories... a long with a massive card catalog in which I file every useless piece of datum ranging from historical dates to my chili recipe.

NOTE: the greenscape has long since been ruined by cement.
If it helps you imagine, once upon a time I conjured my memory palace as a large library, not unlike the interior of the Camden-Carroll library at Morehead State University.

Which is to say, my memory palace probably resembles the library in that episode of The Twilight Zone in which the poor bastard that just wanted more time to read after the apocalypse ended up breaking his reading glasses.




But, it's my mess, dammit, and I like it that way. Besides, no one rummages around there besides me.

This mess does bleed out into my life in certain ways. While I am, admittedly, particular about the condition of my living space, that's not to say that I'm much of minimalist. It's true, I've whittled down things to what I think I need. But this includes a lot books, random rocks, various mementos and, yes, bric-a-brac, that helps make our house a home.

Every once in a while The Kid will ask if I've actually read all the books in the house, to which I usually replay something to the effect of " Most of them." Truthfully, I never want to run out of books on hand that I haven't read. That way if I owe the public library too much in late fees (which is as inevitable as the sunrise), I can lean on a few books on our shelves until the drought passes.

So why, you may ask, do I keep the books I've already read?

Well let me ask you: Do you never talk to old friends just because you've already talked to them and only make new friends?

The books I've read are old friends and fine company. And I like being able to go back and read them, revisit, 

My writing area in the basement -- that I affectionately refer to as The Bunker -- is similarly organized. I have hard and digital files and old journals dating back to the early 90's, when I started journaling. I have records -- the kind that go on record players -- cassettes, CD's books, a shiny brass compass that was a gift from my brother, a skull shaped candle I got for Christmas from my niece. There's a little silver bell with no ringer. A pink magic wand that is the only thing left from my teaching -- a prop from a teacher in-service. A beech wood candle stick I turned on a lathe in Menifee County, Kentucky.

All of these things -- and the others I haven't listed here -- I keep because they, in some way, embody an important memory. It's true I can live without most of them. It's true that I still have the memories even if everything is lost, locked up in my cluttered but somehow manageable by me memory flea market.

The solace of certain things helps when the world leaves me feeling daunted. It's important for me to be able to get lost sometimes, maybe even hide. I don't get out and about like I used to -- which is usually what I'd do if I need to get some mental breathing space. Now I either retreat to The Bunker and write or find some other way to tilt at windmills using the weapon I've been granted -- words

And lately, there's a lot that leaves me daunted. If I draw any comfort from these, the days of Trumplandia, the days of the yoke and the bit, the days of democracy's death rattle, it is in the fact that it will go on whether I take notice or not, that change is perpetual and inevitable. I also draw comfort and strength from the faith I have that even if all I'm doing is taking care of my house full of people, books, and animals and writing like a madman in basement, that maybe it does help bring some measure of grace to the world. If that's all I ever do, then at least it's time well-spent. Art is created in such ways. If I'm lucky.

Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

Transitional dreams portend a seasonal shift:
like the tarot, not all is as they appear.
There is wisdom in The Hanged Man.
Escalators and hotel employees suggest
it will be a long autumn.
Train stations do not suggest travel,
but it’s better to be prepared anyway.
There are signs, and rumors of signs.
You will meet a beautiful hitchhiker.
Do not trust her.
The raggedy man will bring you a message.
Offer him beanie weenies and bottled water.
He will ask for wine, but it’s only a test.
There are no wrong answers,
only more appropriate ones.
But they do offer varying degrees of detail.
Do not be afraid to drink beer with the devil.
He wants your soul, but does not know
you have been spoken for.
The Eight of Swords is still your card.
But you are not bound to that narrative.


 











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26 July, 2017

Near where that barn burned, where all those people died, Part 1

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile.. - Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

I mostly refused to talk myself out of going out of pure, bull-headed stubbornness.

Anyone who knows me moderately well, and a few who don't, are not at all surprised by this statement.

There aren't a lot of things that draw me back to Bethel, Ohio. Other than living there again very briefly in the late 1990's I haven't lived there since I left for college at age 18.  Nostalgia isn't something that creeps in about my old hometown. My childhood wasn't a bad one. My parents loved me. I had a few close friends. I wasn't a wildly popular kid. Quiet. Not a jock. Not an academic star. I excelled at band, but I stayed well below the radar of the guidance counselor, the principal, the majority of girls my age, and any non-familial adult who wanted shape and facilitate my future.

It would be easy to say I feel antagonistic towards my old hometown. But the truth is, I don't. However, it would also be disingenuous to say I have some lingering nostalgia, or some desire to go back.

That's not to say I wasn't nervous. I was. I wasn't worried about former classmates I might see or might not see. I was worried about running into an older self.

This happens from time to time when you embrace change and live your life based on the idea that once you brush a coat of shellac on your life, it's done. I've seen this time and time again. People find the place in their life where they feel the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most THEMSELVES, and they stop. They stop growing. They stop changing. They stop learning. They stop adapting.

When you embrace stagnation as a point of pride, you are in terrible trouble. And so is everyone around you.

I've tried not to stagnate. I've embraced change. When you're a writer, you don't really have a choice. Sharks swim or die. Art adapts or dies. It's as simple as that.

But it's hard to face who you used to be -- or who you perceived yourself to be.

18 year-old me was broken. Broken by a youth spent hiding behind rampant insecurity and social awkwardness. I learned how to hide because hiding was easier. 18 year-old me was devastated by my father's death. It shook my whole world. Before my dad died, it never occurred to me that I would live anywhere else but near where I grew up. After he died, I didn't feel like I could ever live there again. The short time that I did live there again -- renting a bed in someone's laundry room for $80 a month -- reconfirmed it.

That was the first time I ever ran into an older version of myself. Aside from a couple of close friends, people who knew me in high school could not reconcile who I was with who I had become. Still broken -- this time from a blood-letting divorce from my daughter's mother. I dropped out of college and retreated to a laundry room on a back street in a town I knew I didn't belong in anymore.

Me and my shadow. DC, circa 1986ish


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01 March, 2017

Water Gears

For an artist, a good place to be is you have some kind of influence and power to get things done, but in your essence you remain a nomad or a soldier facing a difficulty to be overcome. - Cai Guo-Qiang

This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.- Jack Kerouac


The night before last, my wife asked me if I missed being out on the road more. It's sort of a complicated question to answer because, well, I do miss being out on the road, but when I am out I miss my life here.

Leave it to a Piscean to muddy up the answer to a seemingly simple question.

But, no. Really. Most of the time, I feel like I'm out of my depth as a reasonably domesticated male. I realize that most take to the sedentary life easily. As a matter of fact, I understand that most people are, by nature sedentary. The whole of modern culture has been the result of people moving to a geographic region and staying there. I get it. I really do. And it is for that reason that, most of the time, I feel completely incompetent in the face of what it is I ought to do when my natural inclinations get in the way.

It's entirely possible that the Puritan drive towards self-immolation somehow just broke down in me. I'm not discounting the possibility that some part or another in my brain wore out sometime between the age of 10 and 18. It's entirely possible that somewhere in the multi-verse ... or hell, in multiple multi-verses... there are other variations of Mick Parsons' who have settled down, gotten that regular job, settled into being a more or less content tax-payer and registered Republican (as many of the kids from my little hometown grew up to be, just like their parents before them.) But I can't seem to get the knack of living and walking through this world without feeling like I'm doing it wrong but that to try and do it the way everyone else does would be an absolute fucking disaster.

That's not to say I'm not happy. I am very happy. And on top of that, I'm very aware that of how lucky I am in that Maslow's Hierarchy sort of way.  Amanda knows this. But when she asked me whether I miss being out more, it did give me a little pause.

I do. In some ways I think I'm better when I follow the current. The universe has a funny way of depositing me somewhere that I will see or experience something worth seeing and experiencing. I felt very much at home in my own skin out on the road. That life isn't without peril, and I don't think it's for everyone. Living out isn't like going on vacation. You may have a general direction or destination in mind, but the routes are often circuitous and longer than intended. There are very few straight lines.

That is, I think, part of the appeal. That absence of straight lines.

The thing that makes it such a complicated question is that while I recognize my natural inclination to wander, the fact is I made a conscious decision to ramble less and stay home more. That's a powerful four letter word, there. Home.

And I don't mean Louisville, though I very much like living here. And I don't mean Kentucky, though I have long thought of it as a sort of sacred geography.

Home is people. Home is a person, as a matter of fact. And when she asks me if I miss being out more, I know she asks, not because she's worried about my happiness but because she knows me well enough to know that some part of me in this and undoubtedly many other multi-verses is meant to wander a pathless land.

When I'm very lucky, I get to take her with me. But even when I she isn't with me in person, she is with me, always.

This reminds me of a little of a story I wrote years ago, called, "The Ballad of Itchy Feet." As far as I know, it's never been published anywhere of note, so I might as well publish it here. Enjoy

[More of "Letters from Trumplandia" coming. Don't worry.]

The Ballad of Itchy Feet

Once there was a man without a name.  This didn’t particularly bother him.  He never needed one.  No one ever asked him who he was or what he was called; besides, he never remained in any one place long enough for it to become and issue.  His feet did his thinking for him; he traveled or stayed at their whim. When the urge to move struck him, it came as a small itch on the underside of his heels.  A man can get along in the world without a name, so long as he never lingers anywhere so long that somebody might ask for it.

Around five in the afternoon on a day in early September, he came upon a town.  The sky over the town was filled with smothering clouds that had long drowned the sun out of local memory.  Children in the town forgot what the world looked like beneath a sky full of stars.  Day and night had become topics for uninspired Sunday sermons.  The streets were filled with rusty, useless machines—as if people drove them there, forgot their purpose, then abandoned them to the elements.  The men of the town wore gray suits and stared at the sidewalk; the women struggled with chains around their ankles attached to fifty pound weights.  They only had their hands to cover themselves, and stared at the ground out of shame and the fear of being noticed.
   
The street running through town was walled in with boarded up store fronts and withering trees.  The only open shops were the apothecary and the grocer.  The former was a squinty eyed hawker of cold corn mush, old bananas, and brown bottled water that tore up everyone’s insides.  His brother, the apothecary, pandered bitter remedies that soured the townspeople’s stomachs and rotted out their teeth.
   
The man intended to continue walking through the town and away, just as he had always done.  His feet pushed him forward, and he was content in allowing them to carry him away from the men and their suits, the women and their weights, as well as the street of rusted machines.  He has walked through many such places, and one more would simply be one more.
   
Then he saw her.
   
She wasn’t bound by chains.  Her eyes shine ahead of her like forgotten stars.  She held her head up, unashamed, and was followed by a train of long, red hair.  She was in no particular hurry. As she walked down the street, she hummed a soft lullaby.  The apothecary and grocer squinted, eyed her hungrily, and growled.  They were restless, bored, and tired of being ignored.
   
For the first time, he forced his feet to stop.  She walked toward him on the street, smiling through him, her face full of forgotten sunshine.  Before meeting her on the street, he chose a name.
   
One he would tell only to her.



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14 August, 2013

Gator People Live In The River, 2: The Ballad of Judy and Cynthia

Do you know any ... Kentucky songs? - Cynthia

It seems like bluegrass people have more great stories to tell than other musicians. -- Dan Fogelberg 


My Best Angle: Image By Amanda L. Hay
Whenever I roll into down SR 32 and onto Main Street in Morehead, Kentucky, the mountains in the background bring back a wellspring of memory. My daughter was born in the shadow of those hills. Two marriages, two college degrees, an invaluable education*, a host of friends, and a connection to place that I am only recently coming to terms with.

I take in the hills and remember the leaves splashed in fall colors, and the stark beauty of winter -- the kind of beauty you have to know intuitively to understand. The apocalyptic summer when the hills burned, and seemed to burn for the entire season, leaving a scar on the hills that took years to heal. On a clear day, I think I can still see it there, even though the treeline has grown back in. Rolling down 32, I see and feel my own scars, too. Though I am was not born nestled by those hills, I am bound there by failure, by success, by enlightenment, by mistakes, by some good decisions. I am so bound to it that I avoided returning for nearly a decade. It wasn't time, I told myself. It wasn't time, and I wasn't ready.

The Morehead Old Time Music Festival takes place on the Jaycee Farm. $20 for the entire weekend, and that included camping. Considering any nearby campground would cost at least that for one night, Amanda and I thought that was a pretty good deal. The weather was supposed to be cool, with a chance of rain. We found a good spot along the treeline, and set up the tent.  Campfires weren't allowed, but we packed in some simple food and our own booze. Kentuckians For the Commonwealth had a food tent there, selling coffee, tea, hamburgers, hotdogs, and wonderful brown beans and cornbread. We had everything we needed.

We could sit in front of our tent and listen to the music, drink beer, our homemade mead, and bourbon. Friday night I ran to a remnant of an old ghost of myself -- Ryan Perkins, (one of the festival organizers)  who remembered me though I didn't remember him at first. Once upon a time, he had dated Posie, my first ex-wife's sister. That sort of thing happens often when I go back there, running into echoes of an old life. Saturday, I got out my guitar to pick around. I don't have any illusions about my talent; I only picked up the guitar again less than a year ago. But I love music, and I enjoy playing.

Will you play with us?

I looked up to find a banjo and a violin, each attached to a bone skinny, silver-haired Old Timey aficionado.

You may regret that. I'm not very good.

They were desperate, though. I was sympathetic to their plight. There were more than a few musicians around, all of them enormously talented. I didn't feel anywhere near qualified to sit in with any of them. Amanda was, as always, a gracious hostess, and we sat around and tried to find something to play. They introduced themselves. Judy played the violin and Cynthia -- who might be the most androgynous person I've ever come across. They weren't from the area, and weren't even from Kentucky. I knew that quickly because of their accents. They were from Indiana. But since I was born in Ohio, I try not to hold that against them. We don't have any control over where we're born. But we can decide where home is.

I played one of the songs I know fairly well -- a John Prine song called "The Great Compromise." Cynthia and Judy liked it just fine and we managed to get through a 3 piece version of it.

How long have you been playing? I asked.

Oh, Cynthia said, if you put it all together over the years, it probably amounts to about two weeks.

They tried to teach me The Tennessee Waltz, but my recall for music theory hasn't improved even though I can play a bit better than when I started. The sad thing is, I used to understand the circle of fifths; but even when I played guitar before -- back when I wanted to be a rock star -- I never applied music theory to playing guitar. I don't even know why. I studied the piano. I studied the trumpet. I can still sort read note music. But not with guitar.

Judy and Cynthia were used to people with more experience. But they asked me to play another song anyway and I played "Poncho and Lefty." They had apparently never heard of it. And I could tell they weren't all that impressed.

Do you know any... Kentucky songs?

Cynthia asked me that, and it took me back a bit.

You're around a bunch of old people here, she said. You ought to learn some.

I didn't quite know what to say. I know quite a bit of old country and bluegrass, but not to play it. I grew up listening to George Jones. I found Hazel Dickens, Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, and T. Texas Tyler and Lefty Frizzell, and Doc Watson and Bill Monroe and the Carter Family. But not to play it. Not yet.

After "Poncho and Lefty," I played an Old Crow Medicine Show tune, "Wagon Wheel." I didn't know all the words by memory, though -- which was too bad, because I play that one fairly ok. Cynthia and Judy wandered off, leaving me to wonder what the hell a Kentucky song is. Bluegrass is regional in origin and there are different flavors of it all over Appalachia. The south has taken it up, but still -- the music I identify as Bluegrass was born out of the hills, with that echo of sad Irish songs, the mixture of spirituals, hymns, and traditional English Ballads. I didn't -- and I don't -- understand what Cynthia was talking about.

But when I was there, nestled by the hills, with Amanda, it was the first time in a very long time that I felt like I was home.

29 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, 2.2: Out There - The Mount Carroll Reprisal (Coda)

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx



The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop... - The 
Rubaiyat

(Continued from here.)

My brother's visit was One Night Only, which meant that I had to limit his cultural exposure to things going on in town. Normally, I would have taken him to Poopy's in Savanna. The food there is good, and with the unseasonably warm weather there would be plenty of bikes and biker chicks to check out.


And if there wasn't maybe there would at least be some midget wrestling.

No. Really.

And for the record... they're not LITTLE PEOPLE. They're midgets. "Little People Wrestling" sounds like some daycare center  program. Midget wrestlers are  a tad mean and tend to walk around daring people to step on them. Really. One glared at my dear old mother on one of her visits.

Nope. Too close to tell...
Is that Professor Chaos?




            Hmmm......







He arrived a little after four and I waited for him outside the Kraft Building. I was standing there talking to my friend Kendra and her 6 year old son, Michael. Michael is a smart, sensitive, gentle boy who happens to be built  like a mini tank. (He is, in many respects, the newer model year of his father Kerry, who is also a friend of mine. And when you see either of them in your periphery, charging towards you with the intent to give you a hug, there's still that natural instinct to flinch....) I watched Brian walk purposefully down the sidewalk to the corner, cross at the cross walk and then cross again to meet me in front of the building. There was little to no traffic, only a few cars parked along Main Street.

"I could've diamonded* that, couldn't I?" was the first thing he said to me.

Yes, I told him. Then we shook hands and I introduced him to Kendra and Michael. And after a few minutes of chit chat, I decided to take him down to the bowling alley in order to check out a bit of local flavor.

In Mount Carroll, I could generally be found in one of  two places when I wasn't striking terror in the hearts of petty small town and county officials: 


  1. The Kraft Building (the cultural monosyncratic infidibulum)
  2. The Bowling Alley (the delubrum discordia** of Mount Carroll, Illinois)
  3. The House on Pumpkin Hill, formerly known as Home.^

I could, on occasion, be found at Bella's enjoying their respectable selection of bottled beer, or at Stone House Fudge Shop talking to John (The Diabetic Blues Playing Fudge Man. After all, if you made delicious fudge and couldn't eat it, wouldn't you play the blues??). I could sometimes be found at Charlie's catching up on the gossip (because all the news is known two days before the paper comes out) as well as finding out who's got the cancer, who's died, and whether they died from the cancer or some other god awful thing. In the rural hinterlands of corn and gawd country, the only sure thing is death. Some welcome it, some avoid it as long as they can; but in the end, everyone ends up under a marker on Boot Hill with a brief and restrainedly written obituary in the local papers. Unless, of course, you were in your later years one of those who joined a group... like The Rotary or the Friends of the Library or some church committee or another...  that merited having your named embossed on a bench, lamp post, or dusty plaque in some dark corner of City Hall as an emolument to all the hard work you managed to avoid doing by joining a club and going to meetings to play Committee of the Mountain^^.

 But since I've learned that most of the time, the best way to hide is to hide out in the open -- because when everyone knows where you are, they generally don't make their business to seek you out, all the way to the ends of the Earth (gas prices permitting) -- I tended to stick to same couple of places.


And since returning, I found myself sticking to more or less the same pattern -- the only things that changed being where I slept and that I was no longer a thorn in the side of various big fish in that itty bitty puddle. I was at the coffee shop, aping their free WiFi, drinking coffee, and trying to get some writing done... managing to get two out of the three accomplished.


The bowling alley was all but deserted; Dave and Billy were there, and Ashley the bartender would be in around 5. My plans -- in as much as I had them -- was to have a few drinks at the bowling alley and then wander down to Bella's to listen to Bruce Kort play. But I thought it might be fun -- or at least interesting -- for my older brother to see some something of what my life in Mount Carroll was like, especially since he was there to help me cart off the few material possessions that remained from it.


I, of course, ordered my usual -- beer and a shot of bourbon. In this case... and in general when drinking economically ... beer meant Bud Lite which, anyone knows, isn't really beer. But it was cheap, and it was draft, and when you drink it cold, you can almost forget that Budweiser has done more to kill the production of beer in this country than all the bottles and cans of bee it has sold since the end of Prohibition.


I offered to buy Brian a shot, too ...solid Kentucky bourbon... but he declined, saying he never mixed. Well, I understand. I used to not mix too. It's the smart way to drink, even if it's not the most expedient.


He ordered Smithwick's... a good bottle ale, manufactured by Guinness , the bowling alley had only recently started carrying. I drink it when I can afford it or when it's on draft. (The latter is too much to hope for.) I introduced him around, and we chit chatted and I let him take in the atmosphere. 


Around 4:30, Dave wife Julia walked in and sat down. Dave served her one of her usuals -- a Corona with lime. After she finished, she and Dave left, but said they would meet Brian and I down at Bella's. We had a few more drinks, I traded smart ass comments with Ashley, and then we walked up Market street and around the corner to Bella's on Main Street.

With the warmer weather, Friday nights at Bella's were generally a little crowded -- much to the annoyance of some prominent members of the Chamber of Commerce who wanted to keep any business out of town that might take some of their malingering trade. I wasn't too worried, though, because I knew Bob was working and Bob would make sure there was SOMEPLACE for us to sit.

Bob is one of those people who's character is weaved into the fabric of the town -- whether he likes it or not. Lucky for him that he's been around enough and done enough and been enough that he's mostly comfortable with that fact. He's a local boy who left, went West, won, lost, came back, lost some more, and is coasting into being One of Those Guys that people will long associate with the town. The restaurant that bears his last name -- Sieverts -- is still open, though under different ownership than his parents, who he actually came back to take care of and ended up burying. Like Jim Warfield, the owner/proprietor/tour guide/resident of Raven's Grin Haunted House, Bob is one of those guys who knows you, and if you're from Mount Carroll, he knew your parents, and maybe your grandparents. And if he didn't know them, he knew enough people that he heard about them. Bob is one of those people that are a natural and positive  byproduct of a small, isolated place.

The only problem he has right now is that whenever people walk into Bella's, where he's a waiter, and don't know any better, they think he owns the place. 

True to form, even though all of the booths were books, one table was open, and it ended up being the perfect size.

Brian and I sat down, and waited on Dave and Julie. We still had about an hour before Bruce was going to play. After Dave and Julie arrived, we ordered the first bottle of wine. Eventually, my friend Kerry -- father of the aforementioned smart, sensitive mini tank Michael -- showed up. We drank, ordered dinner, waited for Bruce to begin. Eventually he hauled his equipment in and set up in the small corner stage facing one of the street windows.

We ate, we drank, we listened to some great picking. At one point, Dave got up and played a few songs. As I've mentioned before, the sound of his playing and singing is one of those sounds that I associate with Mount Carroll. It's a good association. And, it's damn fine music.

At one point -- in my honor -- played "Way Out There." Anyone who's ever seen the movie Raising Arizona is familiar with this song. Actually, the song is much older than that: 




The night ended well. Three bottles of wine, a well prepared meal, some amazing music, and the company of  friends and family. There's very little else in the world that a person needs; because while I may be (and probably always will be) money poor, I am rich in friends.

I was also very rich in the hang over department the following morning, which delayed our departure by a few hours. But, one of the advantages of being a Man of Leisure is that I can generally allow myself to sleep until the worst of it's over.

This leaving was odd, because although it definitely had a more definite feel to it... how could it not, with the Batmobile loaded to bear with my shit... I also felt like I'd be back and the circumstances would be different.  It may be that Mount Carroll isn't what the universe has in mind for me right now... if in fact there is some mind at work behind all of this. But it is the sort of the place that's nice to return to when solace, quietude, and good friends are called for.

[Thanks for reading. And remember, if you like it,



  1. Pass the link on. Copy and Paste. Go ahead. 
  2. Click the donate button and help keep me traveling. I'm headed out again in a weeks... Greyhound ticket bought to get as far as Louisville, KY, at the tail end of a slingshot back through the Bluegrass (I promised) before heading west.
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I'd like to get enough money in my travel fund or convince them to give me a 60 Day DISCOVERY PASS


Thanks again for reading and for your generous support. I love you guys and gals. I really mean it. Ok. I might love the gals a little more... but in a different way. Promise.]


*diamonded: the ability to cross a four way intersection from one opposing corner to the other opposing corner. This petty much only exists in small towns that don't have stop lights, and is otherwise a horrible idea to attempt.


**delubrum discordia: Shrine to Discordianism. Discordianism is a religion and school of thought founded in a bowling alley, and may have involved the ingesting of hallucinogenic drugs. Read up on it though. It's not quite as laid back as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, but it's worth a gander.


^Home: for a proper understanding of this term, please consult Bill Monroe's version of The Wayfaring Stranger


^^ Committee of the Mountain: For those unfamiliar with the reference, consult your local ordinances, state constitution and coded statues, and U.S. Law in conjunction with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Go one. I'll wait..... You back? Ok. All that wordy bullshit? That's the unhappy result of playing Committee of the Mountain. If you're still unclear, go to any town or city council meeting anywhere. I recommend a minimum of two beers and two shots of good Kentucky Bourbon before the meeting to steel your nerves. If you sit through the entire meeting without leaving or ranting like a pissed off banshee, go out and good and drunk after. You deserve it.


17 February, 2012

Détente and Domestic Policy


There is no resolution, sometimes.
Arguments over things
less or more important
matter more or less
in an endless geography
that makes up a tiny home.

Toothpaste caps gain weight,
resonate with horror show sound.
When the world reduces, becomes
this compact, this confined –
down to paper thin walls,
remanded décor, plywood cabinets –

random couch cushions become
entirely new countries.
More or less.

09 March, 2011

EXCERPT from News Boy: A Fabricated Memoir [Meet Jarvis Boone]

The job only had three requirements: a driver's license, the ability to read, and a strong back.

I figured that two out of three wasn't bad and reminded myself that the trick to heavy lifting is to bend at the knees.

Killing time a Waffle House off the turnpike – one of the few places that would let me get away with sitting and drinking the same cup of coffee for several hours at a time – I found the job listing in the classifieds section of one of the free weekly advertising papers from the news stand machines in front of the library. Someone had left behind at the table. None of the jobs were circled and it didn't look like any of the pages were missing; I guess they didn't find what they were looking for amongst the listings for day labor, temporary light industrial work, and advertisements trying to sell the financial freedom of truck driving.

To be honest, I was in no position to be particular. I was living in a friend's laundry room and I hadn't paid rent in more than three months. Paul was only charging me $80 a month; it was a pity price, and really I was there to supplement his preference for expensive beer. He'd had people living in his backroom ever since he moved into the small house on the back of Linn Street. It was one of those streets that, if you didn't know it was already there, you probably wouldn't find it. And Blighton, Ohio, is not that big of a town. It bragged 35 varieties of churches (one Catholic), a brand new high school that was still not quite paid for, and a geographical proximity to the birthplace of a United States President. There were no bars in town, or in the entire township, since it had been dry since ten years before Prohibition and the Baptists made sure it stayed that way.

Blighton was my hometown. Once I graduated high school, the first thing I did was get the fuck out, swearing that I would never return; but of course, whenever you qualify any statement with “never” you exponentially increase the chances that you will return. I hated it. How could I not hate it? The default position, right? When life kicks you in the balls one too many times, that's the thing you do. Go home. My family didn't live there anymore. Mom sold the house two years after the old man died and moved into a Condo closer to civilization, where she was five minutes from a mega-grocery store and closer to the church she switched to in order to get away from being Blighton's new Poor Grieving Widow. Blighton is That Kind of Town. The Kind that Never Forgets. The Kind That Never Lets You Forget. The day after I showed up back in town I ran into twenty people I went to high school with. Half of them recognized me. I'd been gone for six years – a hard six. College a failure, marriage a failure. I was living in my car and in the downtown Cincinnati library until I was arrested for vagrancy and booted. Bunch of unsympathetic bastards. There is no mercy – or damned little of it. Plenty of judgment. The arresting officer, who was a rookie probably not much older than me, kept giving me these disgusted looks. They put me in the drunk tank for good measure, even though I wasn't really drunk. The judge asked why I didn't have a job; I told her I'd be happy to take hers if she was offering.

Once it became clear that I didn't have any money for bail or fines – and because it was my first offense – the judge let me go. I couldn't afford to get my car out of the impound lot, and pretty much everything I owned – what little I owned, was in the trunk. They know how to take everything and somehow make you feel like it's your fault.

The decision to go back to Blighton was mostly strategic. I needed to get out of the city for a while, and I figured that newbie cop would be looking for me in all my regular hangouts. I was standing outside the downtown courthouse, trying to figure out exactly how I was going to get somewhere safe, when I ran into Paul. He was downtown that day fighting a ticket. He lost, but that didn't matter so much. The act of fighting the speeding ticket was more important to him than the outcome. He had even bragged to me that he acted as his own attorney. I told him the situation, and he offered to rent his laundry room to me – as long as I got a job soon. Fine by me, I said. It beat calling my mom and trying to explain the situation to her.

Paul didn't exactly get on me finding work, but he did occasionally highlight his growing concern in various ways. Sometimes he would complain about the fridge being empty or the coffee being almost gone. Once he bitched about the hot water being gone, so I started showering after he did. Sometimes I scrounged the couch cushions for change so I could go buy a cup of coffee – though that meant walking almost a mile.

And then Paul's phone rang. I didn't even know he had phone. It was my mom.

“Jarvis, how long have you been living there?”

“How did you KNOW I was living here?”

“I ran into Steven Caldwell's mom; she said she saw you walking down Main Street.”

“Oh.”

“So how long have you been living there?”

“Not long.”

“Why is your car in the impound lot downtown?”

“How'd you know about that?”

“They sent a letter. Apparently you still use me as your home address.”

Fuck.”Oh. Sorry.”

“Why is your car in the impound lot?”

“Haven't been able to get it out.”

“Aren't you working?”

“It's difficult at the moment; they have my only means of transportation.”

“How long have you been back?”

“Not long.”

“And you didn't feel the need to call your mother?”

“I only call when I have important updates.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a few seconds. She was getting upset. Shit. No surprise there. I was the son that made her cry. My younger brother was in college in Illinois and quickly becoming an academic start. My older sister was married and living in Florida. My older brother was also married and living across the river in a new money section of Northern Kentucky. Everyone was settled. Except me. She offered to drive out to Blighton and take me downtown to get my car out. I wanted to say no; but if they sent a letter, chances were they would auction it or scrap it otherwise. And I wasn't earning money sleeping on the cot in Paul's laundry room to get it out. I agreed and suffered the hour and forty minute drive downtown. She kept prodding for information, but I gave her very little. If she had known everything she thought she wanted to know, she would have been horrified on top of being worried. I let her strong arm me into going to her place for dinner, but only with the stipulation that she not call my brother or invite the family... I was trying to keep my exposure to a minimum. I let her cook me liver and onions – I was the only other person in the family besides her who liked it – and slept in her guest bed that night. The following morning we went out to breakfast (she paid, gave me $200 and made me promise to call. She also cornered me into coming over for dinner with my brother Ed and his family. I promised, but I didn't tell her when. Then I drove back to Blighton, where Paul was ecstatic that I had my car because it meant I might actually have a job.

I didn't even ask her how she'd gotten Paul's number.

So I paid him a little rent money, which lightened his mood for a few weeks, and I spent my days trying to figure something out. At least I had my clothes and books again.