Showing posts with label rain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rain. Show all posts

07 November, 2012

Chicago Intermezzo 2: First World Problems, Part 1 (Juan of the World)

Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that is that,
But do not use the rotted names. 
                                                       -- Wallace Stevens

The area of downtown Chicago around Union Station turns into a ghost town after one in the morning. And when you're pushed out into the night when Union Station closes -- at one in the morning -- there are few options for places to go. The bus stop shelters are already taken, and the nearest 24 hour anything is a Dunkin Donuts manned by a grouchy old man of Middle Eastern descent with a cell phone ear bud that he talks into all night while listening to gangster rap. None of those things are issues alone. But when those are combined with a clear contempt for customers and an even clearer contempt for anyone trying to find a place  to wait out the night, any other option is preferable.

Of course, there's the Day's Inn on the corner of Canal and Harrison; but rooms there start out at $159.00 a night (not including the city tax rate on hotels).

My other option, and the best one I could come up with since there was a threat of rain, was further down on Harrison Avenue; and it was one I am very familiar with: The Greyhound Bus Station. Since I didn't have a ticket, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got booted. Experience told me that overnight they do ticket checks to make sure that everyone there actually belongs there. Union Station opened again at 5 in the morning, and I knew better than to think I could get away with staying at the bus station all night no matter how much I moved around.

At 3 in the morning, the announcement I didn't want to hear rang out over the intercom: ticket check. The security guard and off-duty cop were making their way around, looking at everyone's tickets. It was time for me to go. Although it was little comfort, I was not the only one ejected into the night; but I was the only one that didn't have an idea of where to go. The handful of people who exited the station at the same time I did clearly had ideas on where to go and wasted no time in getting there. They dispersed and disappeared into the darkness. As I turned the corner at Harrison and Canal, a cold spitting rain started to fall.

I made it to Union Station's main entrance before the rain got too heavy. There were already a few people in front of the station, waiting for it to open, but I was able to find some shelter from the weather huddled behind a cement doorway under the overhang. It was almost 3:30. If I was lucky, a custodian would unlock the doors maybe ten minutes before 5. Any other options meant exposing myself to the weather and potentially losing a spot that, even if I had to stay on my feet, was, at least, shelter.  So I stayed put.

With that part of Chi-town still being a ghost town at 3:30 in the morning, I leaned against the doorway, my back to the wind and rain, and allowed myself to close my eyes and enjoy the relative quiet ...

which was broken by the sound of a truck (sans muffler), the tumbling open of rusty door hinge and the shuffle and tumble of fast food wrappers, the clinking of bottles, some muttered conversation, and a quick slam of the door. The truck sped off before the intoxicated idjit realized Union Station was closed.

I quickly discovered why when he did his best attempt at a sober stride up to the door, reached out to open as if he expected it to swing wide open to greet him, only to be denied.

"What? Not open? How can it not be open? This IS the train station, right?"

He looks around, waiting for one of the three of us huddling out of the weather to answer.


I nod, hoping mainly that stating the obvious will shut him up.

"And it's CLOSED?"

Again, I nod.

When'll it open?" He sets down a bottle of beer that he'd been hiding in one of the inside coats of his pocket. I raise my right hand, palm open and mutter "5." Then I nod towards the very visible signs on the inside doors indicating the station's hours.

He immediately got his cell phone out and called someone. Having no luck, he muttered something in broken Spanish and punched in another number.

"Oye!" He said when someone answered. He went on to explain mostly in English that the station was closed. Whoever he talked to was clearly not impressed.

"What you mean, you're not picking me up?!"

Apparently not. He hung up, cussing in two slurred, broken languages. He dialed a few more numbers, to no avail. Finally, someone picked up. But she would have none of him either. I say she because first he tried sweet talking her, and he didn't even blink when the bottle of booze at his feet exploded from being shaken and placed heavily on the sidewalk.  The sweet talk quickly faded, though -- I got the feeling she had been the recipient of his "Baby please..." before -- and when he could not use game to talk her into driving downtown from West Elgin to pick his drunk ass up, he tried another tact.

He offered her jewelry.

Yes, really.

Personally, I'm shocked she didn't wet her panties right there and promise to chauffeur him around all of Chicago and collar counties wearing a thong.

When his phone battery died, he dropped it on the ground, stomped on it, and walked out into Canal Street, hoping to catch one of the taxis that had been driving by and slowing down a bit hoping for an easy fare at the end of shift.  Naturally, when he was trying to actually hail one, they would have none of it. He even managed to stop two of them by narrowly avoiding getting ran over. Neither of them would have anything to do with his too-hyper-to-just-be-drunk ass.

Maybe he should have promised them jewelry.

Then he yelled "FUCK IT!" and threw the rest of his hidden bottles of booze into the street. The shattering glass and murdered booze echoed in the night. After that he ran a block towards Harrison, hoping to catch another taxi. On his way back towards Union Station, he nearly ran into yet another taxi that narrowly avoided hitting him. I was surprised ... and relieved... when this driver, who was clearly desperate for a fare, agreed to take him off into the night. It was 4 in the morning. The rain stopped and I could feel the first inkling of moonset and sunrise in the temperature of the wind and a faint change in the color behind the clouds.

29 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, Part 3: Coney Island Blues

[Apologies for the lateness of this post. Slowed down some by this bug I caught in Norfolk and delayed by the absence of WiFi on the train. Expect my Boston update: The Beantown Massacre tomorrow. I have some catching up to do. -Mick]

“I am waiting for the war to be fought 
which will make the world safe for anarchy” 
                                       ― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind

(My friend Steve on the pier at Coney Island.)
I couldn't end my time in New York without going to Coney Island. But except for the day I spent with my friend Susan in Lower Manhattan, the weather was rainy and on the chilly side. And yes, I KNOW it's been a mild winter, more or less -- at least, every place I've been on this leg of the trip; and I KNOW, it could be a whole lot worse.

But you also have to keep in mind that cities, other being places where a lot of people can live on top of one another in a geographic location that can really only sustain a quarter or less of the population currently existing there, are also amazing wind tunnels.

It was Friday when I went, with my friend and other host Steve, to Coney Island. I had sort of an idea what it was like, based on descriptions. It's one of those places I've always wanted to see -- at least since I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti's  collection of poems entitled A Coney Island of the Mind. I didn't quite know what to expect off season. I knew the rides would be closed; I was sort of hoping that the freak shows and the burlesque would still be open.

I know, I know. The world is a freak show, and why go to a burlesque when there's internet porn? Because there's something a scantily clad woman hiding behind large feathers that's just Sexy Awesome.

That's right. Sexy Awesome. There's an artfulness and a playfulness, to it. A sort of intimacy that's more satisfying. And yes, it's a fake intimacy. It's a show. An act. So is going to strip club. (You do know, don't you, that the girls don't REALLY like you, right? They're being nice so you'll tip them. Like the cute bartender in the low cut blouse who talks you up. It's business. You know... like marriage.


This is Dannie Diesel, Aka Danielle Colby Cushman of American Pickers  fame. This is  what real burlesque looks like.

This is the bunnygator. One of the acts I missed because the show was closed for the season. :(

The train ride from Queens to Coney Island was a little over an hour. There's something soothing about the rocking and sounds of trains... even subway and commuter rail... so Steve and I both ended up falling asleep. Every once in a while the jolt from a stop or a start would wake me; but that never lasted long. It's nice to be able to drop off and catch a short nap; that's one the things I like about public transit. (It helps that I can sleep just about anywhere, including sitting straight up. I can also roll my tongue and bend my fingers back. Oh yes, Ladies, I am a CATCH!) And every time I opened my eyes, there were fewer and fewer people on the train with us.

Eventually, the train went from underground to on elevated tracks. We were in Brooklyn, and fast approaching Coney Island. Mythic places have always fascinated me... everything from Stonehenge to the Georgia Guide Stones, from the painted desert to that big ball of twine, from the St. Louis Basilica in New Orleans and the graveyard where Marie Laveau and Dr. John are buried to the places that are only sacred to me: Menifee County, my father's grave.

Coney Island is one of those places that, for good or bad, and probably mostly bad, has always had mythic resonance. It's magic. It's camp. It's kitsch. It's crass. It's classless. It's beautiful and gaudy and bawdy;  it's right on the Atlantic Ocean, a body of water I hope to someday cross and go to Europe. Choppy winter waves like the ones I've seen in Norfolk's Chesapeake bay, and the Hudson River in New York have seemed an appropriate metaphor for the things I'm experiencing, the changes in my life. Choppy, but steady. Consistent, but with multiple and dangerous under and cross currents I have to maneuver. And since I am, first and foremost,  a poet, I can't resist an apt metaphor.

The ocean wind was cold and it was spitting rain, which made it difficult to see. The first thing we did was go to the Nathan's Hot Dog Stand, which was one of the few things not associated with the train terminal that was actually open. Coney Island off season is on the desolate side; a few locals who came out to crowd the hot dog stand, there was no one around.

My primary reason for going to Nathan's was that I was told, quite specifically, that I need to go to Nathan's and eat a hot dog. I confess that one hot dog more or less tastes like another to me... except for veggie dogs and turkey dogs which, even buried under multiple layers of chili, onion and peppers, kraut, ketchup, mustard, and cheese, still taste like shit and should be removed from the pantheon. All beef dogs are better. Nathan's are -- technically -- kosher, which means they are prepared under the strict rules of Koshrut Law.

(Which, as far as I can tell, means nothing for hot dogs. I mean, chicken beak and rat turds are still chicken beak and rat turds  regardless of how they're prepared... right?)

All in all, it was a good hot dog. It's not something I'd write to people and tell them they HAVE to go and do... but... well... maybe the adverse weather conditions were affecting my palette. 

After I finished my chili dog, fries, and beer, Steve and I walked down so I could take a look at the Atlantic Ocean. Except for three people who were huddled under the shelter leading to the beach from the street, there was no one around. I took some pictures, stared out at the waves. A significant part of this trip has been about learning to let go, and there's something about the rhythm of ocean waves that helps me do that. I stood there, making small talk with Steve about the ocean and the water and how soothing it is to me, about how the waves of the Atlantic crashing up on the deserted beach reminded me of the waves of Chesapeake Bay behind the cheap ass motel I stayed in while visiting Stella in Norfolk.

Staring out at the waves, I thought again about how I have come to one of those places that feels like the end of the world, if only to release the stress and pain and sense of failure that had been building up in me over the years and over the weeks. 10 years, I thought. 10 years is a long time to wear on a person. 

10 years is a long time to be together, To live together. To experience life together. It's not as long as some marriages last; but I've seen a lot of people who just coast through their lives hoping they'll make it to the end as quietly as possible. But really, depending on how you live, a lot of life can happen in 10 years, depending on how you lived. And, if nothing else, I know Melissa and I lived a lot. We moved around a lot. We started over a lot. Started from almost nothing a lot. Maybe we didn't last; but we lived more than a lot of people do. It was a full decade.

Catch and release. Staring out at the winter ocean, that phrase echoed with the crash of the waves. Catch and release. If we treated the important moments in our lives that way -- understand that each moment, or series of moments, is only ours for a short time and that at some point, we have to learn to let go... not just for our sake, for the sake of the other people with whom we share those moments,and for the sacredness of those moments themselves, then learning how to move forward becomes less about actually moving forward and than it is understanding how to begin again. Because sometimes, there is no moving forward. 

Sometimes, you simply stand in the same place and cast out a new line. Because the universe is vast and life is as vast as we allow it to be.

After letting the ocean spit on us for a few minutes, I asked Steve, who was standing there, patient as always, if he would care to go down to the pier. He agreed. As we turned to leave, one of the three people I spied in my periphery asked me for a quarter.

Now, I'm almost always good for it if I have it. And as I've stated before, I don't really care whether people tell me the truth; whether they really need a dollar for bus fare, for whether they need it to buy a bottle or a few rocks, or some food -- doesn't matter to me. Humanity shouldn't need a reason or justification. 

But I don't like being threatened. And there was something about this guy, this kid, really, he couldn't have been older than 17 or 18, half standing in a shadow, his entire frame ready to jump. He already had one black eye. He looked like he didn't care if he got another, even if all he got out of it was a nickel. And there were his two friends, who were hiding back in the shadows, quietly. 

I'd seen this approach before. It's one that works based on fear. It's not much different than being mugged, really. And while I knew I could put up a fight if I had to, I didn't really want to. This is one of those moments when you have to DECIDE to be a pacifist. It's a conscious decision. But that also means, not giving in to the fear, either. Not allowing people to intimidate you into acting against your instincts. 

So I said no. If he had approached differently, not ready to pick a fight, I would've given him something, even though I really had very little to spare. 

"Oh." He said, and moved back into the shadow as Steve and I walked away.

"Have a blessed day!" One of the other shadows... a girl, called out.

"I'm working on it."

And then the cat calls began. The insults. Calling me selfish. Calling me fat. Calling me other things. Saying that I couldn't spare a quarter, but that I had plenty of money for McDonald's hamburgers and chicken nuggets. So easy. I thought. So easy to read wrongly into someone's life. I didn't particularly care about them calling me fat. I can lose weight. But making assumptions about my life based on the state of their lives? I felt like turning around and telling them what idiots they were; it's possible to live this life and still demonstrate a little class, a little dignity. I've seen it. They need to learn it.

But I thought better of it, and my surroundings. And Steve. And my promise to myself 15 years ago, to try and do no harm to anyone. It's the promise doctors make and some of them even keep. 

And ultimately, I wasn't going to let them destroy the peaceful mood I was in.

We walked down to the pier. Standing on the pier is like standing near the edge of the world. Further down, people were fishing, even on a lousy day like that. Standing that close to the water without being in it, hearing and feeling the crashing of the waves against the wood, you start to feel the rhythm and vibration of the world. It's peaceful and terrifying. 

It's one of those places, you need to remind yourself to breathe. Return to the basics.

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21 February, 2011

An Altogether Different Time Table

He drove through the rain and the night because he didn't want to be late. The only thing worse than being late was being later than that. Schultz was a man understood and accepted that all aspects of life function in complex levels of degrees and exceptions. Except that none of the exceptions ever seemed to apply to him.

The rain picked up and so did the wind, which was making it more difficult to see the road in front him. Schultz hated driving at night; he didn't see so good at night to begin with, but there he was, driving through the middle of nowhere in god fuck forsaken Iowa where they didn't believe in street lights, or in keeping the roads paved and even. Various parts of the road were in such need of repair that it felt like he was driving on one long washboard. He'd driven through so many pot holes that he was waiting for the axle on his car to snap in half; at the very least he expected to blow a tire. And just what the hell will I do then? he thought. Change a tire in the middle of fucking nowhere during a rain storm on a road with no shoulder? He didn't think it likely that he could call AAA in the event of something happening. He wasn't sure if there was even a mechanic nearby, and if there was, he wasn't sure that he would trust his car to any mechanic he might find.

It was, after all, a Fine German Automobile, not just some piece of crap Ford.

Even though he was careful to only go five miles below the posted speed limit, for the sake of safety, a large pick up truck had been riding his bumper for the last 10 miles or so. The high set lights made it even more difficult to see; they were a back light against the rain, reflecting off the drops in the sky and wetness of the state route in front of him. He thought of his grandmother, who went blind from cataracts. Is this how it starts? Am I going to wake up one day and not see anything at all? He could go to an optometrist and find out, he supposed. But Schultz didn't like doctors, or any ilk. Liars and pickpockets, his Uncle Carl used to call them. And Uncle Carl would know. He had been an insurance adjuster for over 30 years before he died of thrombosis.

After a while the truck sped up and passed him, splashing water all over the windshield, almost causing Schultz to wreck. The tail lights of the truck soon disappeared, swallowed by the darkness ahead. Schultz thought maybe the darkness was swallowing him, too, that maybe this was what it was like for his grandmother. Not all at once. So slow that you don't notice it. Not until there's nothing left to notice.

He looked at the clock display on his radio. He had a half hour to go and no real idea of how much farther it was. There were no markers, no signs. He wasn't even sure he was still on the same road. For all he knew he'd passed into a different state altogether. It all looked the same, even during the day. How in the hell was he supposed to find his way at night?

08 March, 2010

Lines About A March Rain in Northwest Illinois

1. Morning Of

Woke to the first spring rain, still feeling the wonder
of the rarity of water I picked up living in the desert.
The sound soothes me and dulls the steady thumping
inside my skull, and reminds me
there are still small things worth watching
as the sun climbs high
hidden by gray spring storm clouds. The rain is
washing away what’s left of the snow
that’s covered the ground since early December; the grass
underneath is beginning to breathe in the still chilly breeze.
Under the large window facing the side yard, small yellow flowers
are blooming – a thoroughly pre-emptive strike at Spring.

2. Day of

I hear from the farmers, in town for last minute preparations
before the Spring planting, I should expect another winter storm.
It ain’t over yet, one tells me, though it’d be nice if it was.
Our conversation
interrupted his mental check list, the busy work
that kept them occupied through the winter
to avoid the worries about slow subsidies
and bad prices
and tornado season, which they are reminded of
because today is the day
they tested the emergency sirens
that warns people
it’s time to hide in the basement
and curl up in bathtubs.
Their voices are steeped
in anticipation, and their eyes are coated
in the worry born from generations of practice,
and I know they are weighing my responses
like another harvest – by the pound and ounce,
and deciding what its worth.
They have survived the winter
with mental check lists
and cheap beer at the local bar,
where they sit and tell stories and bitch
about having to smoke outside.

3. Morning After

The fog is still hanging close to the ground
and few patches of snow remain
like a bad hangover to remind me
of my first winter in four years
and that the memory of snow
is not the same
as the real thing.

25 January, 2010

Late Night Early Morning

This is one of those houses where
You hear ghosts whispering
In the water pipes. Late at night
An old woman speaks through
The drops and the drips
Echoing under the kitchen sink
And old men moan in the wind
Clattering against the porch storm windows.
These nights on the tundra
Are long and still and silent;
Semi-melted snow glazed over with
A fresh layer of frozen rain
Is all that remains
Of the storms that blew through today.
The cats uncoil in their warm corners,
Stretch, and fall back asleep.
Sitting in my chair, hoping for dreams
I can hear you in bed, moaning
The way you do when you are dreaming
And speaking to the ghosts
Who whisper quaint secrets
In your left ear at 2 in the morning; and
Though you will not remember them they will
Leave you dimes to find in odd places
As proof of their presence. As I
Nod off, I think I hear another salt truck;
But it is only
The old man on the porch stomping his boots
To remind me he is there and that
Snow will need shoveling
In the morning. Tomorrow,
The mail carrier will run late and the letters
In the local papers will outline opinions
Memorized from pews on the previous
Sunday morning. All the talk
In the restaurant on Main Street
Will center around fresh gossip,
The government, and the odd apathy
Of visiting grandchildren. Later in the day,
Down the street in the local bar, drunken farmers
Will talk of planting and shrinking subsidies
And make fun of their wives –each dreaming of when
Her breasts were firm
And the ground not so unyielding.
Then they will go home to fall asleep
In worn out recliners, lulled to black and white dreams
By the same whispers
That are keeping me awake tonight.