Friday, May 23, 2008

Getting Bigger

Here's something we hardly ever talk about. Size. Well, maybe we talk about it a lot but not in the way I'm interested in. I'm thinking more about that time when you start to be the same size as everyone else. In 1st Grade and up until 6th I spent most of my time looking at people's thighs or waists. As a consequence I thought nearly 90% of the planet was made up of grown ups. Parents. Figures of Authority. If you towered over me you knew what the fuck was going on. If you were my size or smaller you were like me. Lost. Confused. Stupid.
It's kind of like when you realized how to speak English (assuming of course you're from the USA). First you're a baby and then one day, like a little miracle, you understand everything people are saying. One day you're staring at knees and everyone is a grownup and the next you're looking in their eyes or their chests and you start to realize there are hierarchies of adulthood. Of course, you're still a kid, but you start to get that 8th graders don't really have any clout in the world beyond being able to kick your ass. And that your mother is different in status then say the lady at the supermarket. You start to see teachers as having personalities that you can manipulate and control. Oh, what a wonderful moment.
But just like that moment when you realize how to ask for milk instead of burbling some incomprehensible syllables you still don't really get it all. That my friends is a blessing and a curse. Not so much for 6th Graders. We were consigned to one of the outer circles of Hell. But say when you're a Senior in High School and you have a crush on your teacher and she's talking with you at graduation sort of like a girl talks to a boy. This can be very confusing and it's confusing because you're a dumb schmoo. You think she's a grown up but she's really only 4 years or maybe only 3 years older than you. In just ten years you'll start to have trouble figuring out how old people are if they're between 20 and 30 but right then, with a little beer in your gut, it just seems odd and you don't know why.
What if you knew everything right then in 6th grade? Would that be a blessing or a curse. Part of me votes for curse. I'd no doubt have told some older kid he was a stupid jerk and get flattened for it. Another part of me votes for blessing. We were all dumb chowderheads stumbling through the halls of Wenonah Elementary. Students, teachers, administrators. Trying to do our best and fucking it up too often. But some of us were big and some of us were small and for Wenonah that was a good enough dividing line.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Other Stuff to Think About

I'm a little lazy and consumed with Spring fever lately and haven't posted. My sincere apologies to my readers. Posts will come next week. We have much to talk about. But in the meantime I have a couple personal items to put out into the world.
The first is my friend Baron Wormser's new book, "The Poetry Life: Ten Stories", is out on the Cavankerry imprint. This is a gorgeous book, rich and clear and wonderful. For the reader and writer of poetry it strikes a chord few books can even hope to strike. Baron has used the voices of ten invented people, one of whom resembles him, to talk about a poet has impacted on them and the world. The voices are wonderful, the understanding of poetry and how it is apprehended is done without affectation or bullshit and because of that the poetry itself is like a clear bell. What a grand, glorious book! I urge you to buy this book. It's not just some dumb book about writing. It's fun and compelling and filled with passion and emotion. To quote my first wife Kathy, "I laughed, I cried, I ran the full gamut of human emotion". You should buy this motherfucking book.
Second, I know a lot of you folks from the Frost Place check in now and again. It is the 30th anniversary of the Festival and Jim and this years crop of faculty and staff would love to have all of us in attendance. I'm journeying to the North Country once more to immerse myself in words and I urge all of you to dig deep in your jar of pennies and come up with the cash to go. I think it will be a wonderful week and I hope you will join us. If you can't come as a participant then come as an auditor or a visitor or a friend but come, come!
Finally, to all you Gateway Gators: It's crunch time you chowderheads! Time to put up or shut up! Go to the dopey site and register and then RSVP or if you're so old fashioned and weird that you mistrust the internet then mail Joyce Murphy Kiner a check but show the fuck up on July the 5th for our wacky little reunion! I know you're old, I know you feel you're a miserable failure, your kids are assholes and you look like shit, but really that would be true of all of us so show the fuck up! You could be dead in a year! Plus, what if you're the best lawyer in Sioux City or one kicking Jaguar mechanic or maybe you do orthodonture like nobody's business, this is your chance to make everybody that treated you like shit for six years feel like a moron. I know I can't wait to line dance but that's my weird thing. I know Suzy is wishing we had the Geator with the Heater there but we'll always have the Dovell's and that, my friend, is a fact. Sign up! Sign up now! If I can tell all of you I have AIDS then you can drag your fat bald headed ass to Deptford and drink a few cocktails and have a great time!
Well, that's it for now. Time for my favorite movie, Rear Window.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Little Things

It's nice to see the world from the standpoint of big stuff that happens. But honestly President's don't die every day and other things matter more. What kind of things?
Things we smell and taste. Things we eat. Things we do.
Like Testors glue.
Like the smell of swamp mud on your boots. Like the way the leaves act right before a thunderstorm. Like when you go away for summer vacation and when you come home the world is a deep, hot, humid green. Or sneakers. Clean and white at the beginning of summer and then by the end a dull gray. Their deep funk. Or hiding in some little place in a game that no one knows about and watching the spiders and smelling the mildew. Or clambering into the sewers for an adventure that isn't really an adventure because it's just a pipe and it goes no where. Nowhere.
Like lying in your bed watching a summer storm. Lightening. Thunder. Wind. Trees thrashing this way and that. Or the smell of your grandmothers house. Or going into a friends house and it's not like any place you've ever been before. There's the smell of hairspray or cologne or cleaning agents and you step back for a second. Shocked. Seduced.
Or spring erupting with a magnificence you can't understand and the stink of skunk cabbage and the deep mud and dead animals strewn on the swamp.
Crayons. The smell of wax. Paste. The way it tastes.
All the candies in the world.
Neats foot oil.
Your mothers cigarettes.
Incense at the church at high mass and it's stink.
Floor wax.
Termiticides in the crawl spaces of your house.
All the different kinds of soap.
Your mothers perfume.
Chanel number five.
The books in the basement of the library.
Your aunt as you sleep next to her.
Clay, which is different than dirt and loam and top soil and swamp mud and leaves and new mown grass.
The way the air smells just before a winter storm.
Burning rubber.
Rubber cement.
Rubber balls.
The truck running down the alley behind the post office spraying for mosquitoes.
Paint thinner.
Chrome cleaner.
Leaves burning on the curb.
The dead mouse in the crawl space.
So many things with so little reason. Except they shape your life.
Except they shape your life.
The loud cry of the fire whistle.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sixth Grade Report Card

How smart was I. Just you look!

The Digging Yard

Behind our garage was a small yard. At one end was a black maple and at the foot of the maple there was always a compost heap. There was a path between the rear of the garage, the tree and the heap and then a stretch of ground roughly, twenty five feet by twelve that was "The Digging Yard". Oh! The Digging Yard. This was the center of huge parts of our life. It was here I destroyed my brother Ted's beloved Tonka trucks. It was here we built huge oil drilling landscapes of used pipes and trucks and it was here that we dug and dug and dug. We loved digging and we loved digging in the digging yard.
In 1963 we all went to see "The Great Escape". It was the coolest war movie we'd ever seen. It had motorcycles, valor, Steve McQueen, Nazi's, motorcycles, English cool, Steve McQueen and marching music. We loved that movie. And of course, of course we had to make it true in our back yard. So we began to dig holes and then tunnels between the holes. And as we got better the holes got deeper, the tunnels longer and more complex. We were chowderheads covered in filth and having the time of our lives.
All of us dug the holes. Mick and Ted, Chris and Terry, Robbie Hill and Eddie Mossop, all the little brothers and neighborhood wanna be's were all there with shovels and pails and dirty faces.
Our exploits culminated in one glorious giant hole. We dug till we hit water. Now, in many parts of the United States that could mean digging for hundreds of feet but in Wenonah which was barely above sea level according to the US Geological Survey marker sunk outside the Grosscup building that meant going down roughly twelve feet. Which while it may not be much is a great distance in a yard 12x25 when you're barely four feet tall to begin with and many of you are between 3 & 4 feet tall. The hole began wide and expansive and narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until finally after days and days of labor we hit water.
We felt like we'd struck gold! Like we'd understood some great principle of Geography or Geology! We were explorers in a downward spiral. We were engineeers. We were builders. We were escape artists. Soldiers. Geniuses. We were also very dirty and stupid.
It turns out our giant hole wasn't a good idea. Joel Cook fell in and all the little kids panicked and that led to my dad stumbling out from his cocktail to say "What the hell...?" and then all the dirt went back. I think it could be said that Joel Cook functioned as the weird conscience of our stupid behaviors since everytime we did something that would get us in trouble it was Joel that revealed the trouble and caused the punishment. He was an odd boy but useful.
I should mention that after the giant hole our attraction, or at least Mick and my attraction, waned. My parents began to use the digging yard for a straggly vegetable garden. But for years after, as they tilled the soil, the rotted plastic corpses of small army men came to the surface. Like some weird field in France. Men clutching grenades and crouched with semi-automatics, buried for years in rich loam, then thrust into the light of 1970's daylight. Like Japanese soldiers on deserted islands long after WWII has ended. They remained. Brave guardians of our misspent youth.