Showing posts with label #grindbone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #grindbone. Show all posts

13 June, 2012

Eastward-ish: Isn't That Just Spacial? - Tempe, AZ

I refuse to quote the First Amendment because no document can grant me what is mine already. - Quote from Mick's Travel Journal, Tempe, AZ

I've never heard of a revolution starting because people protested where the cops told them to. -Noah S. Kaplowitz

Traveling as I do means that sometimes, health and wellness complications arise. As you may recall in The Rash, Part 1 and The Rash, Part 2 , a run-in with some of the local wildlife residing at the Lewis and Clark Inn (Rapid City, SD), resulted a rash I (briefly) took for a burgeoning peanut allergy. I find that being back in the valley of the sun, my feet -- which have been out to get me ever since I learned to walk -- are once again deciding to give me 10 kinds of hell for

  1. Being where it's too fucking hot, and
  2. For wearing sandals because... well... it's too fucking hot, and  (Don't remind me it's not August yet. I'm not going to be hear for that hell. And save me commentary about dry heat. Stick your head in a heated convection oven and tell me how much better dry heat is.)
  3. For not getting enough salt.
It should be noted, for the record  and for any potential future posterity, that my feet have continued a slow and steady campaign against my person AT LEAST since the age of 8. The evidence is more than circumstantial. It's an air tight case demonstrating that my feet are trying to kill me. Or at least, trying to get out  of working... which, on a philosophical level, I can at least respect. 

Now, because I've twisted and NEARLY broken both my ankles, mostly without insurance -- and, as a result, mostly without post-tumble medical aid -- some occasional swelling is not all that unusual. Sometimes I twist one of my ankles without realizing it.... though wearing a good pair of boots when I travel helps enormously.But I noticed last night, while I was settling down for the night, that my right foot and ankle was swelled. No pain. Just swelling. Then I looked at my left foot. Not as much swelling. But it, too was getting that shiny, slightly reddish appearance of microwaved hot dog.

Upon doing some research on the ever reliable Google, I found that this condition is tied to the weather, my diet, and a change in the amount of salt in my system. I actually avoid too much salt, even preferring unsalted peanuts. My dietary habits as I travel tend to depend on cash flow and whether I'm in between or visiting someplace.  I've mentioned my preference for trail mix and fruit when traveling. I avoid the gastrointestinal nightmare of fast food whenever possible. When I cook, I do use salt, but I never add more than the minimum required. I don't touch the salt shaker either, except to maybe unscrew the top for some unsuspecting salt-aholic. I do like sea salt. But it's healthier... right?

But what I had forgotten, since I haven't lived in a frying pan for a few years, is that the sun, in addition to cooking you in your own juices, will actually take the salt right out of you. 

Really. No joke. Not even a folksy metaphor.

And when that happens -- when there's any drastic change in sodium in your body... sometimes there's swelling around feet and ankles. 

Today it was a little better. Then, when I arrived at the Tempe Public Library to blog and drink coffee in the Friends of the Library Cafe, Tempe Connections, I ate a bag of Doritos. There's still some swelling. But not as much. 

So, I guess it's true. 

Salt really does heal all wounds.

As long as it's not cardiac arrest. or Cirrhosis. Or Diabetes.


This Machine Supports Fascists 
Outside the doors to the Tempe Public Library, there's several shaded benches, nicely paved sidewalks leading to from the door to the parking lot and back. Tucked off in one corner, almost to the through road that cuts behind the City of Tempe Museum and in front of the library leading from Southern to Rural Road, there's a tiny tree. The tree isn't tall or wide enough to stand under, but a person can, theoretically, sit under it... either on the ground or by using a folding chair. In front of the tree, next to a spigot for the Tempe Fire Department, is the sign that inspired today's blog.

Now, I know what you're going to say, Dear Readers.

"This IS the United States of America."

Yes, it is. Gawd save the Republic.


Yes. We also have toilet paper. What a 1st World Country we are!

"And the First Amendment says --"

Did you know the Constitution also refers to blacks as 3/5th of a person?


"Yep. That could be why, whenever the Friends of  the Tempe Public Library run people out of the cafe for not spending money, they're usually black. Sometimes Mexican."


But I digress...

Sometimes there's someone out here with a petition or two, looking for signatures from registered voters. Don't let the tree fool you. It's fucking hot. And usually, it's not the people who actually CARE about whatever the petitions are about; it's usually people earning next to no money... often they use the homeless, and college students and the under employed... who really know nothing about what they're pandering. 

Come to think of it... except for the homeless, the under-employed and the college students, that sounds like most politicians, used car salesmen, and reflexologists. 

But especially -- naturally --  used car salesmen.

I've been coming to the library for the past few days to blog -- free WiFi, the smell of a library, and the potential for maybe sneaking a few pages from some book or another that I haven't read in a while. (Today I'm hoping to read a little from a collection of Henry David Thoreau's journals from 1837-1861.) The past two days, there wasn't anyone standing in the Free Speech Zone. 

On Monday, though, there was a guy. He was camped out, had one of those comfy camping chairs with a beer holder in the arm rest, a small cooler, and a plastic bag of munchies. His teeth hadn't seen a brush in quite a while. The front ones he had left were a green color. Red t-shirt, cargo shorts, gym shoes with the soles nearly worn through, an old ball cap, and really really new looking sunglasses. 

I'm guessing they were considered an advance on his paycheck; though I did wonder if he was getting paid hourly or by "commission." (I met a hot college co-ed once at ASU who tried to get me to sign up for the Republican Party by flashing her very smooth very tightly bound tan cleavage and insisting ... with a pout that would make any 4 year old jealous... that she would only get paid by commission based on the number of names she came back with. I didn't. My affection for tits will only go so far.)

He was trying to get people's attention, but no one was buying. I remember watching this when I lived here before. It's easy to walk by, and because of the limited and appropriated nature of the The Free Speech Zone, those trying to get petitions filled, or trying to sell one idea or another, are more or less limited to the green space... that which isn't burnt to dust... between the tree and the sidewalk. They're not even allowed to walk on either side of or behind the tree. They can't step on the sidewalk, or find a shadier place close to the entrance. 

If I didn't know better, I'd think they were treating people exercising their Constitutionally Promised Right like pan handlers.

As an occasional freelance journalist/muckraker/hack, I know quite a bit about the First Amendment. It's supposed to protect the press, particularly when it's being critical of the government. By practice and precedence, this right has been extended to groups, and to individuals.

As long as you stand in a space that is marked, appropriated, or apportioned.

As long as you purchase a permit to protest -- in a place that is marked, appropriated, or apportioned.

The very notion of a Free Speech Zone implies that everything outside of it is NOT a place where free speech is allowed.  Think about all the places you have seen where free speech is "allowed." And now think about the immense real estate dedicated to... say... real estate development. The usury-style theft and resale of our natural resources back to us, usually including the destruction of other natural resources they don't  about because they haven't figured out how to make a buck on them yet. Think about the amount of real estate with TRUMP on it. 

And then think about how many free speech zones you've actually seen.

Then tell me again about the Constitution and the First Amendment.

Since I had some time to kill on Monday, waiting for the Orbit bus (free), I asked the guy in the Free Speech Zone what he was trying to get people to sign. He asked if I was a registered voter in the state of Arizona. When I told him I wasn't, he seemed disappointed, but told me, very quickly, that one petition was in support of adding a $0.01 sales tax in Arizona for education. (I knew that one would die. People would rather pay for fences than for better schools; that's true in Illinois, it's true in Arizona.) The other was a petition for open primaries... and other sundry stuff having, I'm sure, nothing to do with transparency in government. 

Which is, of course, an oxymoron.

Then again, the ballot box is one of those marked, appropriated, and apportioned spaces.

Isn't it?

[Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, remember:
  2. PLEASE DONATE TO THE TRAVEL FUND. (Thanks and Gawd Bless Ye)]

30 May, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) The Rash, Part 2

Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces. -- Marcel Proust 

It's a beautiful tale, and today is a beautiful day without any bugs.  -- Hugo Pratt

To say I didn't sleep well would be an understatement. Not being familiar with how to cope with having a peanut allergy, I naturally stayed up most of the night in that less than optimal motel chair thinking of all the possible long term impacts of having a newly acquired one.

First and foremost: WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO EAT?

Trail mix -- and hence, peanuts -- are a staple of my traveling diet. I try and make sure to get something resembling a real meal -- once a day -- when I'm stopping over night. It doesn't even have to be anything fancy... though I try and avoid fast food. The truth is, I'd rather have soup beans and a hunk of bread than a Whopper.

But without trail mix to tide me over, I'd have to get creative. REALLY creative. Because with a peanut allergy, it's not just about food that has peanuts or is made from peanuts.

Like peanut butter. Fuck! Don't get me started on how traumatic it would be to be denied peanut butter.  

That would also knock potato chips, corn chips, pretzels. A lot of snack foods... because even if there are no peanuts in whatever Food X happens to be, it could have been made in the same area where some Food Y with peanuts in it was prepared. Also, if peanut oils or extracts are involved, I would still have to avoid said Food X.

Second: I COULD DIE.

Sure, now it was a simple rash. But the next time my esophagus could close up and my face could blow up like a Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of a hobo.

After all, weren't the Pilgrims nothing more than vagabond with a vague destination in mind? Get on a boat until you see land? Really? How is that not being a bum?

Dying on the road would, in my opinion, be far less satisfying, if it happened because of something incredibly absurd or ironic. Dying from a heretofore non-existent food allergy? Me? That's up there with being run over by a bus because you're too busy thinking about some story or poem or something. (Sorry Victor Hugo. But's that was a stupid way to go.)


Ok, I wasn't really worried about that. 

But in deference to My Dear Sweet Ma, who really did try and raise me right by attempting to instill in me some sense of common decency -- which, I might add, is totally lost on me by no fault of hers, my father's, or the societal structure I am in the process of extricating myself from -- 

I thought I should mention it.


Specialized foods cost money. Ask anyone who tries to buy healthy groceries and not the deep fried pig slop find on sale at every grocery store in America.  Then there's the spectrum of specialized foods that, in spite of having FEWER INGREDIENTS actually COST MORE.

Welcome to one aspect of the global food scam. Bend over, fork over your debit card, and thank them for robbing you and keeping you healthy... ish. If you don't believe there's scam afoot go to Google (not now) and look up the following terms:

  • ADM

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, but it was not restful. And when I woke up the following morning, it was snowing. And cold. And I had to walk through it, into the wind, to get to the bus station, which was also cold, and technically not open for another 4 hours. Luckily the waiting area was open -- but the air conditioning was on instead of the heat and sitting inside was only moderately warmer than sitting outside. So I was cold, wet, having to wait until 7 that evening for a bus. I was also hungry. But since I didn't know what to eat, and had spent more on my  night's lodging than I really could afford to spend, anything of substance or lacking substance was out of the question.

I wasn't even sure I could eat a hot pocket. And I don't even really like hot pockets.

Eventually I was able to buy a cup of coffee, thank gawd. And the bus did eventually arrive. I decided to speed up my trip to Eugene, Oregon... where I wasn't expected for another week by Grindbone brother, fellow writer, and future Top 10'er on America's Most Wanted hit list, Noah S. Kaplowitz and his extremely patient girlfriend, Becca. I sent Kap a text -- while the battery on my phone was still holding out -- and told him the situation. He told me to come on ahead to Eugene, Oregon and to drink plenty of water.

In short, don't panic.

What the fuck? Doesn't he KNOW me? Of course I panic. I just do it QUIETLY.

I'm actually pretty laid back. Until I'm not. And somewhere on the bus, rolling in the darkness trying to live on water and fruit pilfered from the free "Continental Breakfast" that morning, It wasn't working. I like fruit, don't get me wrong... even semi-not-quite moldy fruit. At a short stop, somewhere between Butte and Spokane -- the first transfer point -- I decided to buy what was traditionally a favorite traveling junk food:

Combos. Pretzel and cheese. None of the fake flavored shit.

It wasn't until I started eating them that I realized there was a very real possibility that I was eating something infected, in some way, with peanuts. 


So I stopped eating, chugged some water, and waited to die.

My eyes were getting heavy, but I didn't want to go to sleep. I was waiting for signs of the rash to kick into high gear, for my throat to close, or for my head to swell.  Kap was texting me regularly, Jewish mother that he is, making sure I didn't asphyxiate in the dead of night in the back of a bus. I ended up having to turn off my phone, though, because the battery was draining entirely too fast. There was no one sitting next to me; so, in the event that I DID die alone in the dark on a Greyhound bus that had no outlets for me to plug in my cell ... in the event that I wanted to make any last minute gasping phone calls or listen to my favorite song before I kicked off.

I woke up when the bus driver announced that we were pulling into Spokane. I felt my face. 

Would I be able to tell if my eyes were nearly swollen shut?

I figured that if I couldn't tell that one of the women on the bus, upon seeing my Elephant Man visage, would scream in horror.

No one said a word.

The bus schedule was such that I only had 10 minutes. That gave me time to piss and look at my face in the bathroom mirror.

I still looked like me. I walked down to the handicapped stall, closed and locked the door, set my pack in a corner and pulled down my pants to check the rash.

It was fine. 

I took another look at the rash. The redness on my knees was fading and I noticed the tiny little bites centered on my right knee, coming down from my leg, near where the ragged hem of my boxers sat.


Bed bugs. Before Butte I spent a couple of days in an affordable (cheap with hourly, daily, and weekly rates) motel in Rapid City -- The Lewis and Clark Inn. The Lewis and Clark in is the sort of place where you don't have to worry about using a black light to check for disgusting things on the bed covers; you're better off assuming they're there and being very careful about removing them. There was also no need to worry about the temperature of the room, since the central air didn't work. There was also no need to worry about the television being too loud, since the volume button was broken, and no need to worry about setting the drapes on fire since there weren't any.

But it was a smoking room. 

I must've been bitten in my sleep. 

The nice thing about traveling on the cheap is that you occasionally run into indigenous wildlife: cops, drug dealers, hookers,  bed bugs. Roaches, even. No roaches at the Lewis and Clark, thank gawd. No cops, either, from what I noticed. I assumed the others without looking for them.

By the time I got to Eugene, I was exhausted. I walked off the bus and into the station. Kap was leaning against the door frame of the Pearl Street exit... as far as I could tell, the only exit there was... looking like he needed to smoke a cigarette. We greeted one another:

Me: "You really ARE swarthy aren't you?"

Kap: "I thought you'd be shorter."

He handed me a cup of lukewarm gas station coffee and an apple. Then we walked out to the minivan, where Becca was waiting. Before we pulled off into the afternoon streets of Eugene, Oregon, Kap turned around and gave me something else to eat:

a small bag of salted peanuts.

17 February, 2012

Mr. Mick Goes to Washington, Part 2: Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Gimped Up Transient Techno-Hobos

There is something good and motherly about Washington, the grand old benevolent National Asylum for the helpless. -- Mark Twain, The Gilded Age

Bitch set me up. -- Marion Barry, former Mayor of Washington D.C.

The weather has apparently stopped it's malicious attacks against me; at least temporarily. Although the arctic cold did bring me into the city – which, by the way, was never supposed to be a city. The Founding Fathers never intended that anyone should live here.

And really, someone should have listened to them on that one.

Where the weather left off, though, it seems that the city itself has picked up and carried on.

As I believe I wrote in an early post, my left Achilles Tendon had been giving me fits. This is nothing new. I was born with lousy feet, I have and will continue to live with lousy feet, and... unless they make stem cell repairative techniques free and available to the public, I will die with lousy fee. A little constant pain is nothing. And yes, there are days when I have to let my foot rest. And NO, I'm not 80 years old.

(Or, as my friend and host Eric so wittily pointed out on Facebook: “You're too young to be an old man.”)

I fully expect to have to use a cane someday. But it will be a kick ass one. With flames and arcane and esoteric symbols. And a heavy topper to bop idjits on the head with.

My intention was to report to you, faithfully, about all the usual landmarks in all their phallic and boob-shaped glory. (Don't believe me? Look at the Washington Monument. Then find an aerial view and check out the large number of boobs – I mean DOMES – in the Greater Metro DC area. You can say what you want about them – but the Founding Fathers were a bunch obsessed titty fuckers.

And that may be the most respectful thing I will ever say about them as a group.

On my one and only day out, I managed to get to the National Gallery of Art. I wanted to see the Rothko exhibit – which I wrote about in my last post. On my way to the bus stop, I stopped in front of a restaurant named DULCINEA. The signage also included Picasso's “Quixote.” And not only is Don Quixote de la Mancha one of my favorite old books, but The Man From La Manchais one of my few favorite musicals.

On Georgia Ave near Euclid, across from Howard University.

As I was standing there, thinking about taking a picture of the sign for a blog post, an extraordinarily beautiful woman of Mediterranean descent sauntered out and asked if I would be interested in some free food. They had just opened the restaurant, she explained, and were giving way free samples as a way to get people interested. I hadn't eaten yet and I have trouble turning down exquisite olive skinned women with big dark eyes. And the food was pretty good. If you've never tried good Mediterranean food, please do. It's usually fresh, it's interesting, and it leaves you full without feeling disgusting.

I ate, talked to the owner some about the travails of opening a new restaurant, and left, assuring them that I would tell my kind and gentle hosts about them. Then I caught the Route 70 bus down to 7thand Constitution and made my way to the Gallery. And after that calming and meditative experience – and I mean that in all seriousness – I walked around a bit. Walked by the National Archives, the Federal Trade Commission – which, by the way, has stone sculpture in front of it that was clearly influenced by Social Realist painter Grant Lee Wood.

(Social Realism in art, just in case you weren't aware, is rooted in the idea that the people are the backbone of the country, not the government; that inequities need to be addressed. And many artists in the Social Realist movement had communist or socialist leanings... neither of which I see as bad things.)

My friend and host Eric is a librarian at one of the D.C. Public Library Branches; that particular night, he had to work until 9, so I decided to cool my heels, as it were, at the library and maybe read a book I haven't read in a while. I rode the Route 70 bus … the same bus I rode down to 7th and Constitution, near the Gallery... and it went conveniently by library. Across Rhode Island Ave from the library, there was a 7-11. I went in there to buy a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich. I hadn't eaten much that day, and hadn't had my daily allowance of coffee, either.

I've been in many 7-11's over the years, and many times more convenience stores; I even worked the register at a Dairy Mart in Lexington, Kentucky. And I know that they can, sometimes, get really busy. Sometimes there's a line, maybe 4 or 5 deep. This store had a line to the register that basically started at the register, went back the entire refrigerated aisle, wrapped back up near the coffee and fountain drinks, and into the trail mix. Seriously. There were two registers, and two register jockeys. Only one of them appeared to be actually working, however. The other looked like he was furiously counting out his draw like he was preparing to make a run for the door.

After finally being able to buy my sandwich (FRESH MADE TODAY!) and my coffee (FRESH BURNED DAILY!) I decided to find a seat in front of the library to eat my sandwich and drink my coffee. On my way out, I ran into a woman who asked me for change so she could “buy a sandwich.” She must've seen the one in my hand, because it was clear that she had no intention of buying a sandwich. A bottle, maybe. Or a rock or two. You become aware of the look when you see it enough. And it's not exclusive to the the poor, the homeless, or to inner city blacks (Although I have known people who honestly believe – due to their lack of experience – that this is the case.) I've seen that desperate look in the faces of the poor, the unemployed, the underemployed, drunks, and drug addicts. I've also seen it painted across the faces of unhappily married women, miserable husbands saddled up to the bar, and the young children of Jehovah's Witnesses.

That deep down misery, that brokenness, that desperation – can be soothed in any number of ways. Drugs and booze are only two options that happen to be the most accessible. There are others. If you don't believe me, watch Hoarders sometime.

Thems some fucked up folks.

I didn't have much, but I gave her a few bucks for whatever her intentions were. You can call it enabling if you want. I don't really care. The difference between her and me is as thin as a strand of hair. The difference between most of you and her is, too, if you're paying attention at all.

The neighborhood kids were running around and playing in front of the library as I ate my sandwich and drank my coffee. I'd had a pretty good day, all in all. I felt at peace with myself in way that I hadn't felt in a long time – even before leaving Mount Carroll. And the fact that I was in the process of planning my return – albeit temporary – to the Midwest didn't disturb the peaceful mood I was in. Quite the contrary. I already had my New York plans laid out, and had just gotten a short trip up to Boston to visit another college friend and compatriot, Collins, worked out. I was in the process of deciding the best foot forward... that is, how keep myself writing and mobile while being as little a burden to my friends as possible. I do my best thinking – and some of my best writing – when I'm on the move. The human mind is designed to work better with increased blood flow – which is the reason why I like to walk as much as possible.

Any one who knows me knows I hardly ever exercise for the sake of exercise. And while I have enormous respect for people who do – like, for example, my friend Washington Eric's husband Arc (I wrote about him a little in my first Washington post.) – who is a vegan/gluten free gay rugby player. He's also something of a masochist – which partially accounts for why rugby appeals to him – and he could, in all likelihood kick my ass. He exercises and counts all the little numbers that people count when they actually care about their bodies. As far as I'm concerned, when I'm done with this meat sack, there won't be enough of it left to cremate. I plan on running it into dust.

I felt a bit more ready to take on another beginning... transgress some new boundaries... erase lines and write new ones... move forward into an unfolding present tense.

Which is why, I'm certain, that Washington D.C. – the heart of which thrives on petty nostalgia, useless sentimentality, and a very American tendency to believe in some lost utopian past – felt the need to trip me up. Literally.

During the remainder of Eric's shift, I read through half of Saul Bellow's Henderson, The Rain King. I don't like all of Bellow's work; but I do like this one. A lot. Henderson is a protagonist/narrator I have always been able to identify with; because he's a guy who's never been comfortable in his own skin, and is never at home in the world, no matter how hard he tries or what his intentions are.

After Eric's shift, we waited for the Route 70 bus and headed back toward Georgia Ave and Fairmont, the street he and Arc live on. We were walking past the Howard University Campus, enjoying a nice conversation about the neighborhood and how eclectic it was; I showed him Dulcinea's and we talked a bit about literature. That's one of the nice things about having librarians for friends – they actually read. They don't always get to avoid the lousy stuff, of course – but reading is part of the job. We had just passed Euclid, the cross street, when I looked up from our conversation and noticed two women walking towards us. They were busy talking – one of them speaking in an animated fashion, sort of waving her hands around. The other woman was shorter, blonde, wearing a skirt and heels.

I guess this is the place where I mention … again … my odd affection for power women. Don't ask me why.

I moved to the right, trying to move out of the way. That portion of the sidewalk is made out of brick. Not that it makes a difference, you understand. I can trip and fall on nearly any surface, and I have. But I would also like to point out – by way of defending myself – that I hadn't drank anything stronger than coffee and that the edge of the sidewalk... because it's brick … was uneven.

If I HAD been drinking, I wouldn't have fallen. And I would've gotten the blonde's number, too. Because in spite of myself, I am occasionally charming when drunk.

Instead, my foot rolled off the edge of the sidewalk – I had stepped towards the inside, rather than street side – causing my ankle to bend one direction and my body to fall in an entirely different one.

Good thing for me, I know how to fall.

It's a gift of long experience.

Luckily, I landed on my ass – no kissing the bricks for this experienced tumbler. I sat there for a minute, cussing like a sailor and looking at my right ankle to see if looked broken, It looked like it hurt. Because it DID hurt.

Now, it's important after a fall like that, not to get up too quickly. For one, you need to catch your breath. For another – and this may only be me – sometimes falling makes me want to throw up. So I was sitting there, Eric was standing there asking me if I was ok, and so was the blonde – whose shapely legs had caused me to side step in the first place. In between wondering whether I'd be able to walk the rest of the way back to Eric and Arc's I thought:

I bet Eric never has this problem. There's no woman's legs anywhere that cause him to fall and look like an ass.”

She asked me several times if I was alright. And, once I was able to answer, went on her way into the darkness and into permanent anonymity.

Luckily, I was able to hobble home, but my ankle was swollen to the size of a lemon... which, to be honest, is what I felt like at just that moment. The following morning, the swelling had gone down, but the ankle was tender. I could still move my toes, though.

D.C., it seems, counts casualty in it's own way.

On the upside, though, the sudden fall had caused an endorphin release that actually made the Achilles Tendon on my left foot start to hurt less. The inflamed swelling even went down.

So what can we learn from all this?

If your head hurts, stub your toe. Sounds odd, but believe me. It really does work.

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
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  4. NOTE: My next stop will be NYC, and then Boston for a long weekend. After that I'll be swinging back through the Midwest to in order to take care of business in Illinois and to gather steam for a push west. Stay tuned. And if you like the blog, and think it's worthwhile to keep my homeless ass moving along, please donate. It's good for your soul.

10 February, 2012

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 4: Of Mice, Of Men, and the Etiquette of Cheap Motels

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. -- Joseph Campbell 

My only key... to a lock I don't have.
I'm writing this post from a cheap motel on the north side of the city. This motel has rooms that face Chesapeake Bay; mine is not one of those. My room faces the street, W Ocean View Avenue. There are no peaceful sounds of waves, though I have gone out on the beach to look at the water and think. Time and memories collapse the way waves crash into the break and pull back; I can here to see my daughter, my only child, blood of my blood. I came here, hoping to learn how to let go.

Against my better judgement, but in favor of trying to retain some bit of dignity in front of my daughter, I decided to find a cheap motel somewhere near her. In order to do that, I needed to find someplace to do some research; which meant, I needed a tour guide.

Luckily, Stella was able to give me bus instructions from where I was on the south east side of town to the northern suburbs near Ocean View Park. I went back over to the place where the bus had deposited me, at the intersection of Monticello and VA Beach Blvd, and crossed the big parking lot to the bus hub. I made my way through the crowd of mugs and thugs and thug wanna bes to the #1 bus, which would take me down Monticello, to Grandby, to Ocean View. Some of the landmarks looked familiar from the last time I was here. But the landscape is a different place when you're driving in a rented car and when you're riding a metro bus.

(It made me think about the last time I was here, with Melissa. We found the cheapest flights we could from Arizona -- which meant three different transfers. We missed the last one and had to take a later flight. We rented a car at the airport, found a cheap motel -- another Super 8 in another part of town -- and were able to spend a few days. On the way home, we weren't able to sit together on the longest leg of the flight, and Melissa cried because she was afraid the plane would crash and we would die not being together. That time seems so far away now. Another life.)

Riding by, I saw my daughter's middle school, so I knew we were close to her mother's house, where she lives. Then the bus rolled by her high school. Eventually, the bus got to the bus stop near the Ocean View Shopping Mall, and Stella was there waiting for me.

It was good seeing her; it had been two years since her last visit. That had been Melissa and mine's first summer in Mount Carroll. Stella normally visited us for at least month, sometimes six weeks; but that time, she could only stay for 2 weeks. 

We walked around a bit. She showed me Ocean View Park, and we talked. Updates. School. Grades. Her plans for the future... which by the way, are good ones. Boyfriend.

(Who, I might add, I haven't met. Yet. She did stop by tonight, on her way to a school dance and endured a a few pictures that I have since posted on Facebook. Her mother was kind enough to drive her over first, along with a few of the friends. Her mother looked mildly horrified and nervous about being in this part of town. The friends looks mildly bemused, having only heard about me in the 3rd person.I know I make an AMAZING first impression."Hey Gang. This is my Dad, the homeless writer. Don't stare too long.")

Then she showed me the public library, which had free WiFi, and I did a little research. The nearest motel that seemed almost within my price range was the Super 8 I'm currently staying in. Then we went to dinner; I sprung for KFC. This KFC, like a lot of them now, is combined with a Taco Bell. Whenever I'm in one... which isn't often... I wonder what ol' Colonel Sanders would think about that.

(If you're not familiar with the history of KFC, Col. Sanders, and Corbin, Kentucky... there' a rich history that includes both KFC and the KKK. But they do serve liquor by the drink now. And I think there's one or two blacks... which is as close to integration as it may ever get.)

Stella stayed home from school yesterday, but she was feeling better and planned on going to school today... because

  1. She's bored at sitting home; and
  2. There's a dance tonight she wanted to go to.
We parted after dinner so she could walk home before it got dark. And started hoofing the 1.7 miles up Ocean View to the Super 8. It was a long 1.7 miles, partly because I was tired and partly because my bag can get a little heavy. But I finally got there, checked in for the night, took a shower and tried to relax. My feet were killing me... the Achilles Tendon on my left ankle was throbbing like nobody's business. 

(That I have lousy feet is a matter of record. And that I refuse to stop walking simply because they hurt is a matter of stubborn pride. I like to walk, pain or no pain. And believe it or not, bourbon works just fine as a pain killer... though I am woefully short of even cheap rye.)

I find myself here a lot... not the Super 8 on W Ocean View, but in a cheap motel, running short of cash and options. I paid for another night, and bought my Greyhound bus ticket for D.C., leaving from the station -- on the complete opposite side of town, near where I was dropped off -- and I've got some finagling to do between now and Sunday morning. I may go ahead and blow what I have left to stay one more night -- which will give me more time with Stella tomorrow. I've got D.C. lined up, and New York after that... at which point, I'll swing back through the Midwest... as soon as I can, at any rate.

The funny part of this whole thing ... this whole trip that has no foreseeable end except for what finances allow... is that other than writing, this is the other thing I've done that ever made any sense to me. I don't object to cheap motels. I make fun of them. I make fun of the door with the broken safety bar that was clearly pried open. (I'd guess a squatter or a drug bust.) I like making fun of the television that can't be turned off and the heater that sounds like the engine of B-52.

And the truth is, the reason doesn't bother me is because I don't need much. I need a place to write. I need a place to sleep. I consider myself lucky to have friends who accept and love me in spite of my numerous short comings -- one of them being the fact that the only time I've ever really at peace in the world is when I choose to live outside of the prescriptive rules it sets.

That, in large part, is what inspired this blog to begin with... the idea that I can do what I need to do and make my way in the world without doing what other people want me to do. This isn't the first time I've sacrificed a life for my writing -- which, if I'm being honest, is a large part of what happened to my marriage. At least on my side. No one person can destroy a marriage; the only advantage of a decade long relationship ending/changing is that I get to carry my own baggage and no one else's. I don't envy Melissa hers.  But in order for me to process this whole thing -- this entire past 10 years that, when I reflect, was more good than bad -- I have to deal with my own baggage. 

I have to embrace the fact that my writing, and the ability to pick up and go are not mutually exclusive. I'm not saying it's necessary for everyone; I'm just talking about me. At some point, I'll probably find someplace to stay for a while... but in the end, I'll probably end up leaving that, too. 

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. Show them what happens when I don't write about them. Exert pressure. Remember: you are The People.

Thanks for reading.]

08 February, 2012

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 1: "Daddy,What's a Train?"

"She blew so loud and clear, we had to cover up our ears..." -Utah Phillips

"It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." -Mark Twain

It's costing me $4.95 to hook into the wireless at the Richmond Amtrak station, so I want to get this posted as quickly as possible and get about spending the night here. And I'm doing it all for YOU, dear faithful few readers. 

I found this sticky table place near the train station shortly after departing. And yes, I was hungry... I don't eat much when I travel, so it's not surprising that I would be hungry. (Please consult The Greyhound Quarto, available for download here for a more in depth explanation.)

The thing that attracted me to this absolute paragon of cuisine... generally overpriced, probably lard based, and oddly flavorless in spite of looking like something sort of resembling food... was the subheading. As well as the 1970's era neon sign in the window reading COCKTAILS. I wanted something in my stomach and I wanted something in my liver. And since, I had already splurged for a train ticket to Norfolk (really Newport News... with a bus ride into downtown Norfolk) rather than try and figure out the metro bus system. So I lose my $7 fair. But it was still pretty cheap... $28. Not to mention the fact that trains are roomier... bigger seats, more leg room, and a dining car -- with food and drinks that's overpriced and undercooked.

 I didn't experience the wonder taking a shit on the rails. But there's always tomorrow.

And before you ask... NO, I haven't given up on Greyhound Bus Lines. I'm merely playing hard to get. I mean, there's nothing wrong with THAT is there? Don't I have the right to shake my ta-tas and see if I can get those bus executives to throw a little patronage my way???

Mike and Liz woke up before Gawd this morning to take me to the Ashland train station. It started snowing... feeding my growing paranoia that the weather is out to get me, and is constantly pushing me along. Liz, being a cold weather person, was excited by the prospect; I, however, was not.

But the snow then dissipated and stopped altogether. So maybe... just maybe... I'm not at the heart of some meteorological conspiracy.

Maybe. Stay tuned for updated on this one.

The Amtrak Cardinal arrived about a half hour late -- a time we were doomed to not make up the entire day. There are other differences between bus and train travel. On the train, for example, I couldn't sit anywhere I wanted. I was told where to sit. Luckily, though, I got a window seat. I figured I'd sleep for a few hours and try and catch the scenery. Whatever that would be. 

I have to admit at this point to a certain ambivalence -- some might call it hatred -- of (By Gawd!!!) West Virginia. I have lingering memories of driving up Sandstone Mountain on I-64 East, on my way to pick up Stella at the Virginia / (By Gawd!!!) West Virginia State line for scheduled visits. We would meet at a rest stop just passed Exit 1. My car -- a primer orange 1984 Subaru LS Sedan with a massive oil leak, no radio, a leaky exhaust, and a tricky heater that I had to sometimes start by slamming the alternator with a sledgehammer -- almost always nearly overheated trying to climb the 2650 foot Sandstone Mountain, leaving me no choice but to stop at the Beckley mega-stop to let the car cool off and refill it with oil.

And because I could not choose my seat, I could not choose my seat mate. There was a cute blonde I thought might be worth talking to... would've meant an aisle seat, too... but I was perfectly willing to sacrifice.

Instead, I got stuck with 80 year old widower Ralph Miller. Native of Ashland, on his way to visit his son who lives in Manassas, Virginia. Now, in addition to being a widower, Ralph is also a godly man who lives life to the fullest. I know this because Ralph told me this, in various forms, over and over again. He also talked at length about his wife, who has only been dead two months. He also explained to me that the problem with the world is that kids aren't disciplined anymore.

I'm gliding over and making fun; but it was good to talk to Ralph. We probably agree on next to nothing; and I told him nothing of my situation, other than I was on my way to visit my daughter. He was very kind... even when I disagreed about his decision, as a member of his local school board, to ban a particular text that "encouraged the overthrow of the government" and sought to teach students "how to start a riot and how to build bombs."

I'm guessing that he either didn't notice or didn't understand the IWW pin on the lapel of my coat. I would have showed him the Hakim Bey book that Mike gave me before I left, but it fell out of my pocket and was nowhere to be seen. Grr...

He leaned over and whispered "And you know who it was...." he looked around and leaned in closer. So did I, since I knew it was going to be a whopper. "It was by one of them COLORED writers." (Yes, I know, I know. He's 80. He's from Kentucky. Whatever.)

The tiresome generational racism aside, talking to Ralph was interesting enough, and so was the scenery. West Virginia, when you get away from the interstates, is really a beautiful state. Desolate. Depressed. But still beautiful. Once you get past the industrial decay and academic lethargy around Huntington and Charleston, the Amtrak Cardinal runs along the New River... which is the 2nd longest river in the world. You roll by Canal Falls, and the nearby dam/power plant which provides around 35,000 megawatts of energy for more than 4500 homes. The New River Gorge also holds another power dam at Hawk's Nest -- which, among other things, is famous for causing most of the workers who dug the water tunnel into the mountain to develop Silicosis resulting from hitting a cache of silica in the mountain.

Rolling through West Virginia, and knowing even a little of the history of the Appalachian region -- you can't help but get a sense of the tragedy. In fact, it's the tragedy that makes the scenery beautiful. Beautiful and sad. I submit for your approval, the town of Thurmond, WV, population 7.

That's right. 7. Maybe 6, since it's possible someone died.

Thurmond used to be one of those prosperous coal mining towns. And then, of course, the coal ran out and so did the coal company. Thurmond has since been swallowed up by the Department of National Resources, and is suffering a languishing death because... or so I overheard on the train... the DNR won't let the town move forward. No real renovation. No bringing in new business. No real chance to expand and grow. And so, it's dying.

The good news is, Thurmond will always be remembered... in the way the Disney Small Worlds ride is remembered: nice enough scenery if you're rolling by and happen not to be making out with someone. Thurmond is a case where, between the coal company's greed and the DNR's-- and, for all I know, the town leaders -- myopic notions of progress and restoration -- a town will simply cease to exist. This is something I know a little about, having seen it in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and now, West Virginia. 

And since I'm paying for this wireless access, I might as well also point out that, in spite of Ralph's obvious bigotry, I found it difficult not to like him. I don't buy into the generational excuse; I believe anyone can change... it's just that most people choose NOT to. I like that he's 80 and that he still loves his wife. He even joked about trying to find another wife, then said there wasn't a point... because, he said, there was no chance of ever finding anything close to what he had with her. And even though he did, at one point, try and save my soul, I found the old guy endearing. Because he's still moving forward. He's still trying to learn. He's not sitting at home in Ashland moping. 

That's something worth thinking about over gin and tonic and tasteless pork barbecue.

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I write about them enough. They should be helping me help them. Right??

Thanks for reading.]

07 February, 2012

Baboon in the Bluegrass: The Saga of Charlene and Marlene (Ashland, KY)

"If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world." -- Francis Bacon

This was the day before yesterday, Sunday. I'd run out of deodorant, soap, and shampoo before I left Willow Drive. And while I don't mind a little stink, I do try to ward of the human stain when relying on the kindness and the couch of friends or family. So that meant a trip to the drug store.

Liz was gone a large part of the day, taking Mike's mother to a casino near Charleston, West Virginia. I spent the day writing, hanging out with Mike, watching snooty English Dramas, and watching him recover from hangover. We spent Saturday evening relaxing, visiting, drinking, and singing L'Internationale. Mike drank more than I did and passed out -- but not until he went about drunk dialing some people, like friend and poet Misty Skaggs, and his sister-in-law. He was polite, and almost... almost... apologetic to Misty. To his sister-in-law, Mike said 

"Your pussy stinks like turpentine." 

Then he laughed hysterically. And so did Liz. And so did I.

He survived the night, drank some water the following day, and was just fine.

When Liz came home, she ran Mike and I up to CVS. My plan was to buy travel size supplies. Not only would that save me money, but a little space in my sack, too. Walking into the CVS, I felt like I was walking into a department store. It had been a while since I walked into a pharmacy that big. Seriously. The Pharmacy Center in Mount Carroll could've fit in a corner of the Ashland CVS. And yes, I have lived in more populated places with larger drug stores, grocery stores, liquor stores. Yes, I know. And that I was, for the briefest instant, struck with confusion at the sheer amount of choices I had to choose from, sounds absurd. And it is absurd. That I can walk into a drug store on a Sunday afternoon and get everything from flip flops to dental floss, from Ramen Noodles to Roach Killer, from batteries to bubble bath, strikes me as 

Everything except beer. Kentucky Blue Laws made THAT impossible. Bastards.

After my eyes grew accustomed to the glow of the fluorescent lights, I quickly found soap, shampoo, and deodorant. I also bought some disposable razors and a travel sized can of shaving cream so that I can trim back my beard... or at least, shave my neck.

 It's good, sometimes, to try and look human... even if I often wish I wasn't.

Liz and Mike picked up a few things and we prepared to check out. As we did, we first ran into a woman trying to maneuver two shopping carts -- one holding an infant in a carrier, the other for shopping. She was clearly having a difficult time, and the construction of the CVS carts weren't working in her favor; the carrier was too big and the carts were too small. She finally managed to push both of them towards  the shampoo aisle. The baby was surprisingly silent.

At the moment we were about to step up to the register, Liz was then accosted by an older woman who seemed to know Liz.

"... and you know what," she said. "I'm still living with that son of a bitch and he's got some woman that sleeps over."

"Is that right?" Liz asked.

The woman -- who we found out was living with her ex -- was clearly irritated by the situation. She was tense and shaking. and even behind the granny thick glasses -- which was framed by wiry, frizzy graying black hair spots of white that looked like extensions of the crows feet and frown lines dug deep into gray face --  it was obvious that the woman was tweaking on something. Crack or redneck cocaine* or maybe even meth... anything was possible.

"And you know what?" she went on. "Last night, that woman climbed into bed with ME. Can you believe that?"

"Is that right?" Liz asked.

"Well, you know what my daughter said..."

"No," Liz answered. "What'd she say?"

"She said I ort ta reach over an GRAB something!" The woman reached out with bony vulture fingers and grabbed the air as if to demonstrate how she might just go about grabbing... uh... something. (Additionally, the mental image was not at all pleasant.)

"Well," Liz said, "Maybe you should."

"Maybe I will!" She said. "That'll learn her."

"I bet it will," Liz said.

We paid for our purchases and left. The woman walked out with us, still talking to Liz about grabbing a piece of the woman who crawls into her and her ex's bed. Once we hit the parking lot, she made for an old model white and blue Ford F150. We got into Mike and Liz's Chevy Aveo Sedan.

"Who was that?" Mike asked as we got in the car.

"I don't know," Liz said. "She just started talking to me like we were in the middle of a conversation."

We laughed about it a bit, and got on the road. We ended up behind the Ford, and then beside it. Liz honked and waved at the woman, who honked and waved back."

"Well, honey," Mike said. "Looks like you made yourself a friend."

"I bet her name is Charlene," Liz said, laughing.

"And I bet she's thinking you're someone she knows," I said. "I bet she thinks your name is Marlene."

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I write about them enough. They should be helping me help them. Right??

Thanks for reading.]

06 February, 2012

Baboon in the Bluegrass, Part 5: Hillybilly Hot Dogs and Pentecostal Swingers ( Ashland, KY)

  “ midnight Ashland, Kentucky, and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed up show.” -Jack Kerouac

After a week of being plied with gin, poetry, and wonderful company, finally it was time to push east.  After a week of Spring-like weather, I woke up Saturday morning and it was cold and rainy.

Shit. Am I being chased by the weather? Again?

It was starting to feel like it. I barely escaped Illinois with a snow storm at my heels;  by the time I left Cincinnati, the cold and the rain were onto me like bad cop drama. Lexington was cold and windy. If  I decide to head south after I visit Stella,, it will be to escape the winter that's chasing me.

The trip to Ashland was short, and George was kind enough to drive me from his and Laura's place on Willow Drive straight to the door of college friends Mike and Elizabeth Fraizer. I've known both Elizabeth and Mike for many years, Theirs was another one of those weddings I missed, once upon a time. (Sorry Mike and Liz!)  But they have been gracious enough to let bum on the wheel spend a few days, sleep on their very comfy couch and take advantage of their hot water and their washer and dryer -- not to mention the prodigious liquor cabinet which would make any drinking man take pause.

I have always tried to balance the amount of money I spend against my taste for good swill; which is to say, sometimes you can afford the Good Shit and sometimes you can't. Mostly, I haven't been able to. This means I balance taste and cost in what seems a teeter totter sort of compromise. I try to avoid, for example, cheap whiskey. I will, when forced by economics or necessity,drink Bud Lite. I'll even cut corners -- though not many -- on scotch. But I insist, in most cases, on Kentucky Bourbon.

Mike and Liz take the approach that drinking, if done, should be done not only with great care and occasional abandon, but that it should only be done with high class hooch. For his part, Mike is something of and Anglophile when it comes to booze; it's Irish Whiskey -- none of that Jameson shit, either, we're talking pure Irish stock -- and proper English or Irish Ales and Stouts.  Liz is fully on board, having fully engaged sense of the finer things -- be it booze, home cooking, literature, and trashy pop culture. 

[A good example of this is Jailed. This publication, which is something like an inbred child of the World Weekly News and the Jerry Springer Show. It highlights recent arrests in the area, complete with mug shots and games like "Match the Tramp Stamp." This game, which was borrowed/stolen from The Smoking Gun, consists of matching the picture of the lower back tattoo to the jail house hootchie it's attached to. In addition to being good family fun, it's a good memory game for the kids... 'cause these chickies will, I'm sure be back for encore mug shots... if they haven't already.]

One of the first things Mike and Liz did was drive me across the border into West Virginia (BY GAWD!!!) to a gem of a place called Hillbilly Hot Dogs. This place has been highlighted on a couple of cable shows including Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, so I won't spend too much time on it. I will say, however, that I the Junk Yard Dog was pretty tasty.

The restaurant is made of two buses and a shack.
It's way friendlier than it looks.

People come from all over and lose their license plates.
Liz (Center), Mike (Right). That half-,man is Zach Shavers.

Insidious technology... it creeps in everywhere...
I wanted this hat. Really.

It's also a place to ponder the important and eternal questions.
Ok. This broke my heart a little. Ok. A lot.

This ain't your OSHA's restaurant!

In addition to the oddity and general ambiance of the place, we also met A.J, who informed us that two of the other buses... that were just sort of sitting around.... were going to be cleaned out and added to the restaurant and used for... he whispered... a bar. 

A.J. seemed like a nice enough kid, who was just looking for people to talk to. He also seemed like he might have been living in the bus we found him in... but since I'm essentially homeless, I have no room to talk.

One of the things I always liked about Mike and Elizabeth is the way they live; because it always seemed to me that they -- maybe more Mike than Liz -- sort of live in order to be able to tell the story later. And this, I have found, is a far more interesting way to live. Living to tell the story means sometimes taking risks. A good example of this is the story of the night before their wedding, when Mike checked himself into the Ramada Inn at Morehead, where he proceeded to order a hooker from a Lexington phone book. But the story isn't that the girl actually drove out to Morehead -- even though it's really difficult to get out call hookers to trust you. The story isn't even what happened once the hooker arrived -- because Mike, in spite of himself, is essentially an honorable guy and he most likely just talked to her all night. No -- the story is that he called Liz THAT night and told her about it. 

And Liz married him anyway.

Liz, for her part, is the kind of person who tries to stay open enough to still experience the world. She's naturally friendly, on the gregarious side, and easy to talk to. This is evidenced by the fact she and Mike have been targeted by a church of Pentecostal swingers. This particular sect calls themselves a "Jesus Only" Church... which means they reject the trinity. They have membership outreach programs, such as paying members $250 for person they manage to convert (After all, nothing saves souls like the profit motive!). The minister, in addition to being a gold chain wearing warrior for Jesus, is also... an insurance salesman. So, when Mike and Liz filled out the little Guest Cards and marked -- CLEARLY -- the DO NOT CALL option, guess what happened?

Yep. The preacher called. Not too save their souls. But to sell them insurance. 

What a guy.

But it's good to be open to experiences, even bizarre ones. 

And here I am, waiting for my train ticket to catch up with me; because, even though the train stops here, there's no ticket office. I'm scheduled to leave Wednesday the 8th, headed for Richmond, and eventually, Norfolk. After that, it's still difficult to tell. 

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I write about them enough. They should be helping me help them. Right??

Thanks for reading.]