Showing posts with label community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label community. Show all posts

12 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 4

Two people in as many days have died on the streets as Louisville settles into the first cold snap of the year. One of them died next to a local homeless shelter that, in theory, provides overnight protection from the elements for the city's homeless.

The first cold snap is hard because no one ever seems to see it coming -- in spite of past precedence. I see this as a fundamentally positive thing about human nature... it's our ability to hope for the best regardless of experience. But when it comes, no matter how much those of us engaged in homeless outreach try and plan for it, it still hits like a steel toe boot to the nuts.

We did a better than average job planning for it this year. I'm not the only one who obsessively watches weather patterns, so between the merry OCD/ grumpy old men in our group and the lovely folks that donate there money and donate supplies for us to pass out every week, we were able to get a few things together.., hand warmers, sternos, some coats and blankets and sleeping bags.

But there are moments in outreach when the wheels and cogs are laid bare and there is nothing to do except embrace the sadness and anger just so you can find more people before the hot meals get too cold and the supply of socks and handwarmers run out.

We've been serving a younger couple on our regular route for a few weeks. He's a more or less fresh out of a detox program. They say they want to get to Florida, closer to family. Last night was a White Flag night here in Louisville, which means the temperature is cold enough that shelters will open up and allow more than the usual number of people in to get out of the dangerous temperatures.

Unless you're on the Permanent Ban List.

And when we mentioned that it might be a good idea to get to a shelter, even it meant being separated (because none of the shelters here have facilities for couples or families, which means that couples are separated and fathers have to sleep in a different space than their wives and children). But he told me that since he was on the permanent ban list, he couldn't go in. Not even on a White Flag night.

As far as I know, this couple made it through the night. But the temperatures this week aren't going get better.

Later that night we met up with other outreach volunteers near a new encampment. Another couple.
They had a tent, at least, but no blankets, no sleeping bags, no kind of heat. And meanwhile, outside of the Wayside Mission on Jefferson Street, people were sleeping on the sidewalks, some without blankets, and a few with no shoes.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you fell short even when you do your best. And even if there wasn't such a thing as a Permanent Ban List that includes White Flag Nights, the fact is there isn't even enough beds for people willing and able to get into the shelters. The number of homeless folks on the street are up and it only breaks into the public conversation as something unsightly that people don't want to see through their NIMBY sunglasses.

There's nothing like the sick brick I get in my stomach when I see someone out on outreach knowing they may not survive the night. There's nothing like the dread of knowing that the odds are someone will find them in the morning, dead.

And someone finds them... anger and sadness doesn't quite cover it. Not by a longshot. And when they're found footsteps from a place that, in theory, should have been able to prevent it

Anger and sadness don't feel like nearly enough.

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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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10 February, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Baboon Among The Savages; Code of the Road

The code of the road is to share;
we only have ourselves out there. - The Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band

The last time I battled the flu was the last time I lived in Losantiville. That time included a trip to Urgent Care for X-Rays and some somber dancing around the results by the staff who insisted I go directly to Good Samaritan Hospital. The nurses told me not to worry, that they had called ahead, the hospital was expecting me. That led to more tests and more worried faces, and the news that I would have to be admitted overnight because someone from Oncology needed to look at the X-Rays; naturally, none of them worked on the weekend. There was a growth in my right lung about the size of of my forefinger, and they weren't sure, but it might.... might, they said... be cancerous.

It turned out to be a viral form of the flu that had exacerbated because, at the time, my then-wife and I didn't have the health insurance for me to go to the doctor when symptoms first emerged.

For years after, she would bring up during various arguments that I never went back for my check-up.

It should be noted, however, that while I have had bouts of the common cold now and again, I never contracted the flu again.... in spite of not getting a flu shot... until now.

I can only conclude that Cincinnati hates me.

This flu, AKA "something bad going around" kept me in bed and not at my teaching gig at NKU this past Monday. It also kept me away from writing, since I was feverish and unable to focus on anything resembling a printed word. And thanks to the lingering malaise that is this damnable flu, I was forced to cancel a trip down river this past weekend in order to try try try to kick it out of my system once and for all.

But it appears that the worst of it has passed, thank Gawd.

The fever cropped up again Thursday afternoon, and broke overnight, so I was able to go to NKU. I barely felt up to the task, but I didn't want to NOT go in again. Catching up for one day missed is difficult enough. You get behind 2 classes, it's starts to become a scheduling nightmare. Too much tug on the end, something else gets shorted when you try give the same time to the stuff you missed for being sick.

Luckily, Friday was a workshop day. Rather than set out basic rules, I gave a general explanation of the difference between a workshop and a peer editing session. Then I sat in the groups and modeled the behavior. Or at least, I tried too. Getting some of them to get over that hump of insecure silence can be a challenge. In the past I've used author cover letters. This time around I'm telling them what to focus on. This far the amount of work this draws from the students in workshop is about the same as I remember in the past. Some students engage; others don't. There were more students participating than in the first round, simply because they're more comfortable.

But I haven't managed to turn myself into paint on the wall yet... i.e, my presence in the groups is still necessary. I have high hopes though. I've always maintained that a good teacher teaches in order to make himself irrelevant. Students decide to take a hold of and direct their own education -- the floating heads call that agency -- and upon learning what they can from the teacher, move on to other more suitable teachers.

Anyhow, that's the way it's supposed to work.

But this generation of college students -- those who fall within the spectrum of those who are what used to be called "traditional students"-- are all products of Bush II's failed NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND educational reform.

The results of it's replacement, RACE TO THE TOP, have yet to be seen, but I am skeptical of any positive impact because nothing has fundamentally changed in how teachers -- particularly K-12 teachers -- are required to teach.

On Friday, I noticed one of my students playing on his phone during workshop. I expect a certain amount of that -- most all of them have smart phones and have used them to look up things related to class -- but when I asked what he was doing, he said he was just "catching up on some news," like he hadn't a care in the world. His group is a quiet one and no one has really taken a leadership role. (That's not always necessary; I much prefer when everyone takes a part of the leadership role.) I asked the student to stop and use the time for course work instead. He balked at it.

I talked to him after class, and he balked again. He pointed out that he paid $4,000 to attend NKU -- saying, I can only imagine, that it is his time to waste. (I seriously doubt it's his money... he has the air of yet another Entitled Boy, that perennial cultural disease.)

Then I told him it was rude. That seemed to throw him; apparently of all the things he's been called out for, rudeness has not been one of them.

I have to admit I'm surprised.

But etiquette, like cursive script, isn't assigned much value anymore.

The only difference is that etiquette is one of the cornerstones of civilization, and script writing is a product of that civilization.

And while I tend to agree with Ambrose Bierce that civilization, on the whole, does very little to civilize mankind, it does make things go smoother when you say "Please" and "Thank You" and try to see how your actions, however innocuous they may be, impact those around you.

A few years ago, I might have handled it differently. I might have said nothing, or treated like a class discussion without naming names. But I am less inclined to worry about the feelings of a spoiled kid with as chip on his shoulder than I am about how his sense of entitlement is going to affect those around him. And before you think I'm one of of those who will rant about "these damn kids today," be aware that I am aware I used to be one of those damn kids that someone else bitched about. This one student's sense of entitlement is nothing new, even if my response is different.

29 January, 2013

Losantiville Lines: The Keys To The Kingdom

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly. - Arthur Carlson, WKRP IN CINCINNATI

Probably the most succinct explanation I've ever heard or read of what's wrong with this place. Me, in relation to the quote above.

Being caught here as I was, over the weekend -- between illness, the weather, and the spinelessness of the Tennessee Division of Greyhound Buslines, I was left to cough up a lung and ponder the universe in the shadow of Porkopolis. This gave me a chance to try and get through a smallish pile of student writing that must be returned tomorrow when I exchange it for a fresh pile -- the unending cycle that is the educational machine.

Thank Crikey I'm not interested in being hired full time. This sentiment is not a reflection of how I feel about the students in my classes, as much as a recognition that other than a few new bells and whistles, the institution of higher education is no different than it was when I left (translate: ran screaming) from ASU in December 2009.

Perfect example: I received a circulating email in response to concerns raised by part-time Lit and Language faculty to the current chair in meetings scheduled for the purpose of airing such concerns and offering suggestions to improve the plight/make more comfortable those who do most of the work for little pay and no real recognition... since other than teaching classes that tenured faculty refuse to teach, part-timers do nothing to make the institution look good.

We are not a marketable bunch. Though a few of us are, I dare say, reasonably attractive.

I should note that I did not attend either Open Door session, which were scheduled on a Tuesday and Thursday... days I am not on campus. (They are, coincidentally, days that most part-timers are not on campus either. Draw your own conclusions, Dear Readers.)

The primary issue raised, according the email, was office space. Part-timers share the same corral on the 5th floor we shared when I taught at NKU in '04-'05. And apparently, those who went to the open door talks mentioned space as a priority.

It was not mentioned in the email, but I do wonder if anyone brought up access to health insurance. NKU DOES allow part-timers access to the institution's health insurance plan -- after 3 years of consecutive employment. Which means, if you're actually interested in having a full-time job, that you're pretty enough to screw but not to take to a family reunion. (Keep in mind that it is damn difficult to stay consecutively employed as a part-time instructor. That means you have at least a class every term... including summer, when enrollments are low, and spring, when a large number of First Year students run screaming from college campuses.)

Of course, the Chair has no say over what the Bean Counters in the administration bunker do. And a potential for access is better than no access at all, right? Carrot by any other name....

The solution to the aforementioned space issue? Give every part-timer his or her own key. This way, I suppose, it will feel like we really have an office and are taken seriously as professionals. Which, of course, is utter bullshit.

I should mention again, however, that I am less interested in being afforded the label of "professional" than I am in being treated like a human being and not a cog.

I got a set of keys instead.

I should also mention that every part-timer was going to be issued a set of keys anyway.

The solution, as I see it, is to have armed guards on campus.

Because lately that's the solution to all educational problems, and a blog is no place to think outside the box.

On a tangentially related note, Mount Carroll crank and all around lousy person Nina Cooper is running for City Clerk. She has built a very patriotic looking website to assert her candidacy, which ten people in town will see. (Five of them might actually vote for her; but she is one of them, and the other two are her co-hort cranks, Alderpersons Bob "The Amoral Pontificator" Sisler and Doris "I'm Not Dead I'm Just Plotting" Bork. The other two I'm giving her for kindness and statistical accuracy.)

16 November, 2012

O Losantiville, Don't You Cry For Me(Verse 2): Quality Control \ Habitat for Humanity Part 1

True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but realizing our kinship with all beings. - Pema Chondron

Anyone who lives in or around Cincinnati knows instinctively it is a problematic city; and its history, from what I've begun to read, bears this out. The geography is perpetually under erasure: the various visions and monied specials interests have managed to twist the place so much it has to struggle to hold onto the remaining bits of unique character it has left.

But Cincinnati is where I am. At least for the time being. And while I wasn't planning on wintering in the Ohio Valley, there are worse places to end up than in the company of family and friends, in the shadow of a city whose geography is familiar and whose peripatetic combination of culture and anti-culture (think about what Gene Roddenberry said about what happens when you mix matter and anti-matter) long ago made an imprint of my soul.

And while Losantiville may not have been my first choice of winter havens, the fact is my only real plan was to go south, down around Port Charlotte, and spend the winter pushing up sea shells with my toes.

This may be the universe's response to my arrogance at trying to take a vacation.

One of the things that fell into my lap was an opportunity to work on a Habitat for Humanity house through the church My Dear Sweet Ma attends. Not being much of a church goer myself, I have, over the years, had a fairly volatile relationship with churches and with organized religion in general. When explaining my position I often say that I have rejected the metaphor for God that I was raised on, and finding no other that explains, describes, or satisfies, I resort to talking about the universe. (When speaking or writing about the larger mysteries, it's important to rely on language that is both specific enough to offer detail but vague enough to allow for new insight.) I'd heard of Habitat for Humanity, of course. And I liked the idea of pitching in to help someone have shelter that needed it.

The church is located about 5 minutes from where my mom lives, and they were warned of my arrival. I went Friday afternoon -- work was to begin at 2pm and I arrived a few minutes early -- to help cut and stack the wood in preparation for the actual work the following day. The weather forecast for the entire weekend was sunny with temperatures in the mid to high 60's. I stayed away from the power tools, opting to do the leg work of moving the woodI saw this as primarily a common sense move. While it's true that my Grandpa Dunn was a carpenter, and a fine one at that,it's also true that I'm not. Of all the genes that could have passed on, the one that didn't was the one that could have made me NOT a klutz and NOT inclined to hit my own -- or, gawd help them if they happen to be in the way, someone else's -- fingers. But to be fair, I haven't had much practice either.

At least, that's what I told myself.

Everyone I met and talked to was polite. It's large church, and for all any of them knew, I could have been a member; none of the people I met knew my Dear Sweet Ma, though they claimed to have some recollection of the surname. After some initial cutting and after more folks showed up, I ended up working with a nice guy named Jim. We were, according to the project leader Dave from Crossroads Missions out of Louisville, "Quality Control." Jim and made sure that everyone else was cutting enough of the different sizes of wood and that they were stacked in the right place. I ended up doing that particular job because no one else wanted it,and I suspect that Jim ended up in it for the very same reason. It's not difficult to figure. The other men wanted to be around the power tools and the women there didn't want to be relegated to a seemingly less strenuous job.

I didn't mind, though; I have learned not to define my gender identity by the seeming manliness of my job. One guy in particular seemed to enjoy the fact that he was doing something more manly than either Jim or me... especially since Dave, the project leader said when he was trying to find volunteers for Quality Control --

"I need a couple of women to carry this clipboard and just make sure the men are cutting enough of everything and putting them in the right place."

Every time this guy, who was entirely too young to be as bald as he was to be that pleased with himself, would bring some wood over he'd smirk and ask if he'd done it right. But he was wearing a shirt that identified him as affiliated with Turpin High School, so I took into account that he was probably not ever encouraged to have manners.

The work got done, though, right around sunset. Since I didn't hurt myself or anyone else on Friday, I decided to go ahead show up again on Saturday.

20 September, 2012

Southern Jaunt: Intermezzo - Useful

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. - Jiddu Krishnamurti

He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help. - Abraham Lincoln

The Parsons family are all about working hard and doing what is needed to get ahead in life and be the best we can, and making a good life for our children, and serving our Country. what in any of that have you done or are doing? - Screechy Mary, Gun-running Cousin

The autumnal tinge in the air is telling me it's getting time to move on, and so is the calender. This time next week, the local magistrate will have backwards genuflected and any reverse broom-hopping will have been done. My return tenure at the paper will be more or less done --much to the glee of the grumps who are content to strangle the town into the nitrate poisoned dust. As the song goes

The chilly wind will soon begin and I'll be on my way....

As much as I've enjoyed seeing my friends here, listening to some great music, and getting the chance to tell a story or two, I'm ready to shake some the dirt off, stretch my legs, and get back out on the road. I plan on staying in the Midwest for a bit before jumping down to Albuquerque, New Mexico for Mothpocalypse and The Happy F%$^^in' Endings  on November 2nd-4th.  After that, back up to the Ohio Valley, for some Turkey Day celebrating with My Dear Sweet Ma, and then, another run through Kentucky, hopefully to visit friends, to the East Coast, where I'm hoping to see The Kid in between her school and work and generally impatient insistence on trying to be a GROWN-UP. And then, down the coast, to Florida, down to Port Charlotte -- where the beaches are warm, the water is beautiful, and there will be no snow.

At least, that's the plan. For now.

Because I'm still pondering flying against common sense and my own inclinations and going NORTH, to the Bakken Oil Fields in the Northwest corner of North Dakota to see what a boom town looks like... particularly in far off off OFF chance that Mitt Romney wins the election, since he would have us drilling even more than we are (even though Obama has allowed more drilling than GW Bush and we're taking so much coal out of the mountains that we've graduated from mine shafts to strip mining to mountain top removal ... that's TAKING THE TOPS OFF MOUNTAINS THAT HAVE BEEN AROUND LONGER THAN WE HAVE.) 

To be fair, it probably doesn't matter who's sleeping at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- they're both backed by  big banks, big business, and big pocketbooks. 

Please don't take this an opportunity to flood me with the virtues of Ron Paul. You want to see his virtue, look at his son, Rand -- named after Ayn "Fuck the Poor" Rand -- and listen to him after he's finished telling you he would abolish every government agency that you think is making your life miserable. He's a mook of the highest order -- a Libertarian who's too scared to use the label, his idea of America would effectively take us back to the dark ages.

But... North Dakota is still on my mind, yes. And so is the fact that I hate cold weather. But I am (re)learning -- constantly -- that the universe will blow me where ever it damn well pleases, and not always to my preference.

A motif that has been coming up... well...  since January ... is What I Plan on "Really" Doing. And even though I have, at various times, stated pretty clearly what I intend NOT to do... and even what I intend to do --which is travel, write, not buy into the dead myth of Pax Americana, love my country, question the government, meet good people, find stories worth re-telling, and (re)learn to play the guitar --  the question keeps cropping up, though in different words.

Mostly, people want to know what I'm going To DO... as in, what respectable job will I get. I feel I've been perfectly clear on this one as well.  But if anyone is confused, I plan to avoid anything that might cause me to be respected. To be respected in this society is to acquiesce to the rules and machinations of said society... regardless of how screwed up it is.

Fuck all that.

My hope is to be useful, though. And in spite of one recent Letter to the Editor which referred to what I do as "spinning lies for pocket change" (thanks, Nina for that. Sorry that you're such a lousy writer yourself and a miserable, bitter hag to boot.) I do think there is merit in paying attention. Because, if I'm being honest, that's pretty much what I do. I pay attention. To people. To stories. To poems. To songs. To events. To history. To you. 

I was also called out recently for shaming my father's memory and for not following one particularly bitchy relative's notion of what my family tradition is. Then again -- it seems like the Parsons family tradition has more to it than money grubbing and exploiting misinformation to make more money selling bullets to people who believe Obama is going to take away their guns. My dad didn't keep guns around. He didn't need them. One tongue lashing / lecture from him and you'd rather be shot. Believe me. My Dad DID tell me some stories, try and get me to think right about some things, and tried to keep me out of jail (Which would have been preferable to any of his punishments.)  He did things his own way more or less. He told me about my grandfather -- who did things his own way. From what I can tell, the only thing anyone on the Old Man's side of the family has in common is that we have nothing in common except that we do things our own way.

In this, then, I am not far off the mark, at least.

With any luck, I will find ways to be useful -- and not in some way defined by someone else. Generally I find that most problems, personal and otherwise, arise from language barriers. Useful is one of those words that people tend to define narrowly and with very little imagination.  When you begin defining language for yourself, when you begin defining the elements that impact your life in your own way, you cease being useful to a lot of people. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

What can be a bad thing is when you stop short of redefining for yourself what it means to be useful. Or, in the process of defining what it means, you forget that humanity is more important the terms people often use to define it.


15 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Arkansas Men's Social Club, 2.2

[Continued from 2.1]

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

A word or two on the remaining principal characters:

Donner is a contractor who is used to working hard and independently. And like most men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, grew up something of a natural problem solver. Dion is generally thought well of by the other members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club. And he is actually fairly well thought of by Donner; but also like men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, Donner would hardly every say so... unless he was drunk or unless it was some holiday like Christmas, New Years Eve, or Lincoln's Birthday. Tweed (who has not arrived on the scene yet) -- is a retired man whose actual former occupation is unknown by me; but he continues to piddle and work -- as men who are raised to work are wont to do in order to avoid death and boredom. Al -- or Alfonse, which he prefers not to be called -- is an artist, an avid reader of arcane literature,a drinker, and something of a storyteller. Though he is not from these parts, he ended up here as the result of a dozen or so questionable decisions, one of them being a short sighted desire for sobriety. Though he is what he would call an Old Fart, he has an artist's interest life and a much younger man's zeal for women.

Sven was doing a reasonably good job of not showing his concern. One of the things that makes him a good proprietor is his attention to detail, and his need to control as much of the world around him as humanly possible. But he's also lived enough to know that there's really very little anyone can control except those things a man creates for himself... and that even that, sometimes, is difficult. The other advantage Sven has is that he grew up in the restaurant business and so has learned to curb his need to control and maintain against the understanding that one way or the other, sometimes a square peg really does fit in a round hole.

Every once in a while, if you learn to loaf and invite your soul, as the American Bard* once wrote, you will see history in action. Thus, if you want to understand the true genius behind the Constitutional Convention, The Treaty at Versailles, The League of Nations, and every family cook out since the invention of the gas grill, you need to watch  a group of men try and decide on how to do something that could be easier than any of the parties involved are making it.

Harry, who's truck would see the most immediate damage, wasn't concerned.

"Are you sure the tailgate can handle the weight?" Slim asked. "I don't think it will."

Harry shrugged. "Eh. All I know is if we can't get this thing out of my truck, I got a new refrigerator."

Everyone laughed -- Sven with a tad more discomfort (Not because he thought Harry would actually drive off the new appliance, but because the thought itself secretly terrified him.) -- and the group of them proceeded toss out ideas and considerations and provisos.

The  group agreed to the proposition that Harry back his truck up to the Kraft Building door, though the precise distance was briefly and bitterly debated. One line of thought -- suggested by who I don't remember -- was that Harry could simply back up as close as he could get that would allow head room for the box to be tipped backwards, and that we could all, with the number of back involved, carefully lift the appliance out and down out of the truck bed and onto ground. This was rejected almost immediately because no one wanted to be the person responsible for dropping the thing after so much had gone into getting it out of the semi. (No one mentioned, rightly since it was immediately understood, the likelihood that one more backs would be injured, with potentially permanent implications.)

At this point, Tweed showed up, bringing with him his own brand of wisdom, drive and an easy going temperament.


The group then tried to explain -- all at once -- why that would be a bad idea.


Sven and several others then answered that it wasn't generally a good idea to put a commercial grade refrigerator on its side. To be perfectly honest, I had the same thought, since it looked like maybe trying to tip the behemoth appliance combined with the height of the truck made it too tall to simply tip into the coffee shop -- ramps or no ramps.

When I'm faced with these situations -- that is, where I have the option to either assert myself as an Expert In All Things**, or to sit back and wait it out -- I often play it safe and wait for the dust to settle. This isn't due so much to a lack of confidence in my ideas as it is a realization I arrived at long ago:

I'm essentially a one trick pony.

Emerson warned us about what would happen in a society where the division of labor is reduced to giving one person training in one specific area in The American Scholar (1837). According to Emerson, only a society of well-rounded citizens can truly be free and democratic. Additionally, Henry David Thoreau pointed out in Walden (1854)  that the division of labor removed people from a sense of connectedness with the world and results in the concentration of wealth in the very few.

I'm a writer. Part of being a writer means that I've held plenty of other jobs at various times. I won't run down the entire list now. But I haven't exactly spent all of the last 20 years cloistered away in libraries and academic halls.  But that's part of it... and part of trying to be a better all around person. And while I may not be useful or handy -- I don't build, plumb, or repair with any aptitude (Though I can follow directions. That's what you learn in college, kids!) Being a writer also means that, in addition to loafing and inviting my soul, I also observe, and sometimes eavesdrop on conversations. (My daughter refers to this as being a "creeper." To me it's just plain ol' People Watching, which I learned from my Dad... who, while he wasn't a writer, was a grand talker and student of the human condition.***)

So I remained silent, prepared to offer my help in whatever form might have been needed.^  And I waited. And I watched.

Tweed offered to run and get roller casters that could be used to roll the box once it was ground level. He made this offer three or four times, and finally took the silence of the others as an affirmation. Before he left, though, he did make one more suggestion.


Sven reacted to that suggestion with silent panic and well-contained terror, hidden more or less efficiently by a rapid shaking of his head. Slim and Harry also shook their heads, and Donner pointed out that while cutting it out of the box might allow for more space, it would also increase the risk of hurting the stainless steel.

"WE COULD JUST BE CAREFUL," Tweed pointed out. His attempt to explain and qualify his idea was ignored.

By this time, Dion had left to go get the ramps that Donner insisted wouldn't work. And in the meantime, the members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club considered the possibility of using a different door.

The other door is just as heavy; but it's at the top of 5 or 6 concrete steps and was actually closer to the kitchen.

"I can just pull up on the sidewalk," Harry said.

"Won't that hurt your truck?" Slim asked.

"Why?" Harry answered. "It's a truck."

"Yes," Sven said. "But it's a truck with an additional 500 pounds in the back."

"He's also worried that the fridge might tip over," Donner added.

Sven agreed.

The new door idea was quickly discarded and the men went about trying to figure out how to get the appliance down without hurting the appliance, the tail gate, or the hardwood floor.

Dion soon arrived with the ramps. When Donner saw them he said, "Oh, you meant those. Those might work."

About that time Tweed returned with the coasters, which, upon seeing them, the other men agreed might be useful as well. It was then decided that the men could use the lifting straps to edge the appliance off the truck bed, over the tailgate, and onto the ramps, which were designed to hold the weight of a car.

Also around this time, Al showed up for his mid-day constitutional. He arrived about the same time each afternoon, carrying some book or another -- almost always a different book from the previous day, and almost always with a title like The Secret, Sacred Wisdom of Conifers Planted By the Knight's Templar. Al is a painter. A long time ago graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art, he is, he admits, not one of those  painters whose work is "the next thing" in the development of  art. But he's also a natural talker, a copious and respectable drinker, and a reader of esoteric and unknown books -- all three of which make him fine company for me, most of the time. Like me, he stood back and watched. He made some small talk, and had an amused smile on his face. (Like most artists and semi-barbarous old coots, Al understands the absurd when he sees it. Also, his status as an older gentleman and mind as a useless scribbler necessarily excluded us from being drafted for hard labor.)

Donner and Dion eyeballed the ramp and the appliance to make sure it would sit on the ramps correctly; Harry, Slim, Sven, and Fred -- who up to this point played a purely supervisory role -- each grabbed an end of a lifting strap... two of which had been snaked through the pallet from one side to the other. Fred picked up his end, shouldering the strap with an resigned expression befitting Sisyphus.

After a brief count, a silent prayer, and a hope for backs stronger than their combined years, the men carefully lifted the appliance and moved it in line with the ramps. This meant putting the weight of the appliance on the tailgate... but like the marvel of modern Mexican manufacture, it held.

From there, Sven, Harry, Slim, Donner, and Dion managed to slide the appliance down the ramps and through the door -- there was still plenty of headroom left between the top of the box and the bottom of the upper door frame -- and in. At that point, they again lifted it just enough to get Tweed's coasters underneath... which made it easier to roll across the hardwood floor.

Getting the appliance into the refrigerator was a simpler process but had much more fanfare. Initially there was some concern that it wouldn't fit through the door -- either horizontally or vertically. So after some eyeballing and some tape measuring, it was decided that:

  1. it had to come out of the box, and
  2. it had to come off the pallet.

Upon hearing that, Tweed snapped out his box cutter and went to work with the same glee that a child has when attacking wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Sven looked mildly concerned that Tweed would scratch the stainless steel; but the cardboard and Styrofoam fell quickly. Fred picked up the cardboard, joking that he would use it to make a new fortress of solitude. No one, as I recall, tried to claim the packing material.

Donner and Slim then got down on their hands and knees to see how difficult it would be to lift the appliance off the pallet. The commercial refrigerator had wheels of its own, and they weren't bolted or tied into the pallet at all -- which was good news.

The only real bad news was Slim's plumber ass... which all of us agreed was a crime against nature.

Eventually, though, they manged to get the appliance off the pallet -- while managing NOT to swish anyone's fingers -- and into the kitchen.

Dion, who stood back to watch at this point -- which was really the only reasonable thing to do -- said to me "Seems like they made this harder than it needed to be."

I agreed. "Yep. But it's that way with most things."

Al was standing with us as well. I told him I had been working on a whole different blog, but that I now felt compelled to throw it out and write a different one.

He only gave me one piece of advice. "When you do," he said, "say it happened in Arkansas. After all no one would believe this could happen HERE."

*Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892). The poem referred to above can be found here...and in a thing once called a book entitled Leaves of Grass.
** To proclaim oneself an Expert In All Things is the natural-born right of every man... just as it is the natural inclination of everyone else to demand proof on an uncomfortably regular basis, and the natural right of women to assume we're full of shit.
*** The latter is virtually a prerequisite for being a writer. The former, while not a necessary for being a writer, helps in getting free drinks.
^It wasn't.

[Thanks for reading. My road plans are laid out for the next month or so. I'm headed back out of Mount Carroll on 3/24 and going to Cincinnati to stow my home goods away. 

  • Then, a brief road trip with my Mom back out to Virginia to visit the Kid.  
  • Then, I'll be doing another run through Kentucky, via Greyhound, stopping over on Willow Drive for a promised return,
  • and through Louisville to visit with another college chum and to catch some pre-Derby races at Churchill Downs.

From Louisville (pronounced Lu'vlle) my tentative plans are to visit Hannibal, Missouri, childhood home to one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain. After that, points west.

And if you REALLY like what you're reading, remember:

  • You can share the link. (Go ahead. I don't mind.)
  • You can click the donate button and contribute to the travel fund, use to contribute via paypal, or click use the tip function on Open Salon.  (Please? What if I promise to visit? What if I promise NOT to visit??)

And if you HAVE contributed... Thank you.  If I was there, I'd kiss you. Ok, maybe not a kiss. Maybe a hug. Or, if you prefer, a strong handshake. 

Seriously... thanks.]

13 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness Mount Carroll Reprisal, Intermezzo 2.1: The Arkansas Men's Social Club

Maybe you can suggest something. As a matter of fact, you do suggest something. To me you suggest a baboon. - Rufus T. Firefly (Grouch Marx) - Duck Soup (1933)

How many men does it take to make popcorn? Four, one to hold the pot, and three to act macho and shake the stove. - joke

So I had this whole other blog post planned for today... something about the sheer stupidity  of Daylight Savings Time, insomnia, packing books, performing at the open mic I helped start, and planning to go southbound and (after May 1st) go west

because that's what all men without permanent employment, home or social function do. Right?

But as I was sitting down at Brick Street Coffee -- the monosyncratic infidibulum** of Mount Carroll, particularly with the impending closure of Charlie's II on the corner of Main and Carroll Streets, which has been in more or less continuous operation for 50 years or better on various names, with maybe a year (but not more) of being closed in between proprietors -- a grand event occurred. I say grand not so much because it was supposed to be a big event with much falderal, pomp, hubbub, and hullabaloo -- the things that make for grand events in other parts of the world. No; I call it grand because of the Herculean effort, on the part of the Arkansas Men's Social Club*, to move a 500 pound commercial refrigerator from the back end of a semi-trailer parked in the middle of Market Street through the door and back to the recently enlarged kitchen of Brick Street Coffee, located in Main Street Commons -- or, as it is commonly referred to by  nearly everyone, The Kraft Building.

The Kraft Building, a cornerstone of the Historic Downtown, is called such because it housed a clothing store under that moniker, and several other things over the the years. A fire left it burned out for years before it was salvaged -- though the project itself ... not described here... proves that  no goo deed goes unpunished in a small town where some people have nothing keeping them alive but the care and maintenance of old grudges.

Now, there are often delivery trucks in the center of town -- usually liquor distributors -- but most of them don't stay parked in the middle of the street for approximately 10 minutes while a group of six men... well 5 men and boy... well, to be precise, one interloper (me) one boy and four men... decide how to unload a 500 pound commercial refrigerator from the back of a 18 wheel trailer and getting into the building without hurting the fridge ... which Brick Street Coffee owner/proprietor Sven procured at no small expense, and very quickly at that, since it arrived on a Monday after being ordered on a Friday, all the way from Madisonville, Kentucky... and without doing damage to either the door or the floor of the Kraft Building itself.  The door is a heavy, wooden framed door that was designed and built with the building in mind. On some days, when the wind is just right, opening the door feels like opening a heavy bank vault door. It stands approximately 36 hands high and 15 hands wide. More than once little old ladies have struggled against it and nearly lost, having only been saved by either an able-bodied son, another customer who has practiced, or Sven -- who, not wanting anyone to have a bad experience ever, would open the door for or close the door behind anyone he noticed struggling with it. That he did this with remarkable speed impressed everyone, leading some to suspect him a practitioner of magic or half of a set of twins named Sven who would simply appear to open and close the heavy door.

Because Mount Carroll is a small town, the first thing on anyone's mind is to help a friend in need. (The second is power tools. The third is stock car racing. After this comes family. God ranks somewhere around beer and beef jerky.) So naturally, when Sven announced to those of us huddling in the back corner of the coffee shop with nothing to do, everyone present jumped up to help. Or at least, to watch. And it just so happened that the other present were members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club... a cadre of men ranging from late middle to retirement age who alternately drank coffee, played pinochle, told lies, expanded on half truths, and, on rare occasion, Did Something.

Harry, a retired Wisconsin cop, offered the use of his truck. The idea was rather than try and build a ramp and slide the thing down to brick street level... which it was generally agreed upon would be a disaster for the appliance, potentially the street, and whoever would end up underneath it.

First, however the semi truck would have to be facing the other direction so the back of the trailer could be at least facing the general direction of the Kraft Building. To accomplish the, the driver -- who probably was starting to wish he hadn't gotten up that morning and had never heard of Mount Carroll, Brick Street Coffee, and that he had never been so unfortunate as to choose driving a truck for a vocation -- stepped wearily into the cab, put it into gear and... after several local cars squeaked by rather than bother to spend an extra 10 seconds and find a side street... whipped the entire semi into a tight-cricled u-turn in the intersection where Market and Main Streets meet.

This feat was done so easily and without effort that I'm almost ashamed to admit that I expected at least three different cars to be taken out in the process of loading the appliance in; luckily, no demolition was involved and the truck was soon facing outbound... which, I'm sure, was the direction the driver was prepared to barrel off into as soon as the cargo is unloaded and the appropriate paperwork signed.

Harry then backed his truck up to the back end of the trailer. At this point, however, the story begins to diverge as Slim, Donner, and Dion all began, along with Harry, to offer up suggestions as to what the best way to get the appliance from the back of the delivery semi to the bed of the truck was, since the new concern was to not damage the tailgate of harry's truck by dropping a 500 pound cardboard box on it -- unless, of course, there was no other option.

I was there to lend a hand if necessary, and so was my good friend Fred, a local entrepreneur who had found himself, quite accidentally, at the top of reasonably successful homemade fudge business. The fudge shop was originally intended to be less of a job and more of a time waster; enough to justify the space but not enough to turn into real work... which Fred, like all blessed creatures under the sun, abhors down deep.

Slim, another retired cop and Harry's pinochle partner, suggested getting straps and carefully guiding the behemoth appliance down. After some discussion as to the precise dimensions of the pallet and some trading of weaker straps for stronger ones -- and after Donner yelled at Dion at least four times for prematurely suggesting (in slightly different language) what the gray haired majority ended up doing anyway -- the group of them, as I stood there watching, to record it all faithfully and without bias, managed to finagle the 500 pound cardboard box that stood as tall as a normal man and as wide as an average man from Carroll County Illinois down and out of the back of the semi and onto Harry's lined truck bed without damaging the tailgate.

Once that step was complete the semi truck driver closed up the trailer, at which time both he and the entire truck disappeared without so much as a puff of smoke... no doubt heading back to the wilds of Madisonville Kentucky, where he would probably punch the warehouse supervisor in the face.

But that still left us with the problem of getting the fridge off the back of Harry's truck, through the large door, across the hardwood floor, and back snuggly into the space in the newly expanded kitchen -- without damage to any of the aforementioned elementals or the people involved.

*The reason for calling it the Arkansas Men's Social Club will become clear. In any event, names herein have been changed to protect the innocent, the weak, and the lazy. I leave it up to the reader to decide who is what.
**monosyncratic infidibulum, n. Epicenter. 

19 August, 2011

Mick's Rules For Living: Another Revision

I've been working on this list, trying to whittle it down to something simple. The first list was ambitious, and not unlike the inner workings of my brain, a bit abstract. Not that there's anything wrong with abstract thinking. But, abstract ideas only work when they are tied to something concrete... that is, theories that can only remain theories are pointless. 

So, here we are. The updated list.

1. Do No Harm. Ever. I don't know how to simplify this. Violence begats violence and never creates anything lasting or positive. And the use of violence -- either actual or implied -- to force your ideas on other people helps to create stupid people.

2. Wear Clean Socks. I can't recommend this highly enough. If you must wear socks, either because you have a job that requires it or because it's cold, make sure they're clean. You can be a week beyond the need for a good bath, your clothes can be rags, and you could look like an extra from a zombie movie. But if you're wearing clean socks, you just feel like better. Trust me.

3. Read something non-essential everyday. People who read are less likely to develop Alzheimer's later. They're also less likely to be stupid.

4. Don't live any further from a bar than a 20-30 minute walk or 40 minute bus ride, unless you know you have a ride. Seriously. And if all else fails, drink at home. It's cheaper, anyway.

5. Never offend a bartender, secretary, or janitor. They run the world. Deal with it.

6. Be kind to all critters smaller than yourself. 

7. Only apologize when it's sincere, and never subjugate your will to the whims of others. Another consolidation of two previous rules. The only thing a person has in this life that's worth a damn is integrity. Let the bastards take that and nothing else matters.

8. Be honest. Even if it hurts. It often does.

9. You know you had a good day when you can sleep that night. Really. Any other qualification is false advertising.

10. The only thing you have to do in life is die. Everything else is an option. 

09 April, 2010

Day 9: The Community Model

We will like you so long as you
tacitly agree with us by staying silent
and we will welcome you
as long as we know all your secrets first.
Your presence is not required
but we will notice your absence
and take it personally. At some point
in each and every day you must
commit one act, regardless of how futile,
to remind us
we weren’t wrong in our decision to welcome you;
and when we ask for more
you must give without reservation
or any thoughts of yourself, your family,
your sanity, or your soul – because in fact,
they all belong to us
and we are kind enough
to let you borrow them.

People will know you are ours
by the way you dress and the words you use –
which reminds me:
don’t use words we don’t understand
or insult our intelligence
by challenging our beliefs
no matter how unreasonable they are. You will
eat in our restaurants, drink in our bars, and
shop only where we will be able to see
that you have truly embraced us
as (you should hope) we have embraced you. And
after you die,
we will reconstruct the memory of you
so that you will be one of us forever
whether you really were or not;
and your family will not remember you
but instead will embrace our image of you
and your children will aspire to nothing more
than to follow in the footprints
we left for them to find.