Tuesday, August 26, 2014

new story:
PO'd
enjoy! comments welcome, as usual

Thursday, August 14, 2014

war in palestine, war in ferguson

not to mention ukraine, and the high mountains of northern iraq, and dozens of other places...syria? azerbaijan? south china sea?

st. louis is close to home, my previous home being carbondale, two hours south, and we used to go through ferguson regularly on our way to lambert airport, or anywhere really, since we were usually going north. it's got a history. it's one of these little enclaves that dropped out of st. louis intentionally. why wouldn't a neighborhood like this just go on being part of st. louis? because it's easier to have your own police and fire, have your own utilities, set up a whole new city hall and administration, etc.? no, so far, those are not plausible reasons. i suspect that at one time ferguson was all white, whereas st. louis was more multi-racial, higher taxes, etc. the white folks of ferguson thought they could do it better than the city. dozens of other enclaves made the same decision. all put together, the number of towns that dropped out of st. louis itself, and into st. louis county, made st. louis city simply a carved up piece of what's left, what used to be the city. and then, with its city population so low, it started winning the crime statistics prize. high crime, low population, high percentage, st. louis won it all a few times.

the airport itself, i'm not sure whether it was in the city or whether it too dropped out. but soon it too was engulfed by city problems moving westward from the ferguson area. city problems we could take for a euphemism, for which people often use words like ghetto, inner-city, etc. motels had bars on their office windows. people looked at you funny if you were in the streets after dark, like trying to get to the rent-a-car lot from the airport. this was the st. louis i knew. i dropped my son off at the airport (he was going to france) - when he found out his international flight had been delayed by an entire day. he stayed holed up in a cheap airport hotel (i didn't find out until well after i'd driven two hours home) - and did nothing but study french. after looking around, he was almost too nervous to step out for a hamburger, although he eventually did. you could feel trouble in the air. the hotel was the kind of place that, cheap enough, had all kinds of activity outside the usual airport variety.

in saint louis the word beach is not so much a euphemism, as an ironic word; the city has no beaches and certainly none on the river, which you'd have to be a fool to swim in. but there are two, times beach and pontoon beach, both near the river, that are two of the worst toxic waste dumps in the history of the u.s. dumping toxic waste is an old tradition; it's an industrial city, and it's had a number of steel mills and other industrial plants that have been at it for years. one of the worst is called mallinckrodt, which apparently dumped toxic wastes in creeks in north saint louis way back in the forties, and now history is catching up to them, because people are coming up with brain cancers and they are so heavily localized that there's no doubt there's a connection. my father worked for mallinckrodt for a couple of years in the fifties; as a chemical engineer who had an environmental conscience, he probably wasn't happy there, but i have no idea what he actually did. one thing that was true was that very few of those chemical companies had any conscience at all, when it came to putting toxic things in the area. much of it ended up in the mississippi, where it became new orleans' problem.

from lambert airport in the northwest part of town, you can take seventy, the main interstate from kansas city all the way back east through indianapolis, and it will drop you at the arch where you can take the main bridges over to illinois except when there's heavy traffic, in which case you might take the ring roads and avoid both the ferguson area, and the main bridges which tend to get bottled up. to those of us who don't know the city well it's a huge temptation to just go around, but usually i didn't do it, mostly because it didn't save much time unless the conditions were really extreme downtown. but on the way into town, you pass through the north side, and i'd often stop at exits like lucas-hunt, jennings road or hanley. i didn't really know where i was; i have very little idea of true saint louis geography. even now it's news to me that ferguson is actually north of this road; that the north side, which seventy bisects, includes so much territory. it's an old city; the ozarks sneak up on it from the west, so it's hilly and very green, and the roads turn around a lot and there are florissant avenues everywhere. there are old french names like laclede and soulard, and a history of the french making it an outpost in the fur trade, and trading up and down the river.

the french era, though, was in the seventeen hundreds, and around the time of the great earthquakes, which were in 1811 and 1812. the french had their heyday, and left a pretty and charming character in the river towns that they liked, such as saint louis, cape girardeau, and new orleans. but by the civil war missouri was as embroiled in racial division as any place. black folks were free across the river in illinois, and alton, illinois was an abolitionist center, but missourians would cross the river and capture freed slaves, and bring them back. a huge race riot in east saint louis, illinois in 1917 was the worst in the nation, and its effects i think are still being felt today, though the facts were, even at that time, it was mostly a massacre of black folks at the hands of violent, very afraid white folks - there could be a pattern here. in the modern era, we have mostly a story of the established white families fleeing to the outer edges of the county, or, in illinois, up on the ridge, and the inner city being increasingly boarded up, though still pretty, older houses that are vacant. the city has lost population dramatically; people go elsewhere looking for work. the budweiser empire distinctly abandoned the city, when it sold out to a belgian company that had no loyalty to the area. the lack of jobs made for continual, and worsening, hardship for everyone.

my friends keep coming up with articles about the militarization of police forces; all of a sudden these police have major weapons and look more and more like the army invading its own people. that, and they tell about how black men live in an entirely different world than the rest of us, and are constantly targets, suspected, blamed, beaten. this is true not only in saint louis, or ferguson, i'm sure, but ferguson is quickly coming to represent the problem. saint louis friends of mine are horrified at how it's come to just be a 'war zone'...

a friend of mine, world traveler, american but raised in the middle east, passed through saint louis the other day based on curiosity about the arch as an architectural marvel. i told him, yes, it's a marvel, but you get way up there, and all you see is saint louis, which as i said is pretty but mostly only at the brick street-level, and of course the river, which is wide and dramatic in its own way. watch out for the airport, everyone said, but if you just go straight downtown, it's not really dangerous. that, of course, is easy to say, i don't guarantee anything. i told him about cahokia mounds, which is near east saint louis. it was a city, biggest in north america for a thousand years, but totally abandoned by the time the first french arrived, and the cahokia indians, who it was named for, freely admitted that the mounds were already there, when they arrived. so, we call them cahokia, but really they are the center of an empire that was huge, in its time, and is better named as the mound people. there's a little confusion, in other words; nobody really knows that much about the mound people. we only discovered that it was a city, when we were making interstates, back in the fifties, and so many of them had to go right down there by east saint louis.

saint louis people have an unusual accent; for example, they pronounce the vowel of their own city name, immediately following the l, as the vowel in bush rather than the vowel in toot; it took me years to hear it. but by far the most unusual thing they do is refer to what we would call dumb hicks, as hoosiers. now to the rest of us, hoosiers refers only to people from indiana, and isn't necessarily derogatory, since there's nothing unusual about indiana unless you have some reason to find it there. but to saint louisians, it's a much older story, and those hoosiers where white, mean, poor, and maybe some other stuff, though i never quite got how they really meant it. after all, it was the people who weren't hoosiers who were using it, and for the most part, i count them as mostly white, i never heard any black folks using the word. in fact the whole time i was around the city, i had nothing but polite, and normal, interactions with the black folks, who for the most part were always working the lower-paying jobs, airport shuttle, hotel bellboy, mcdonald's server, etc.

some conflicts, you can say, come from vast, deep historical hatreds, like that between israel and the palestinians; because people won't compromise, or try to understand each other, they are doomed to hatred forever. but i don't see the racial situation in saint louis that way. in ferguson you have white folks, sure, who dominate the police by a 50 to 3 margin, and who don't want to give up a good job. you have the black folks who live there, who by and large are working people, i'm sure. you have people, the media and the world, who tend to see these things racially. everything is an excuse to use racial categories, the white folks, or the israelis as the case may be, have all these guns and just kill people indiscriminately. i think the majority of them want to just live there, be left to go their own way, not suspected, tortured or killed just for their color, and they have no problem with folks of a different race; they'd do a better job at managing peace, if people weren't carrying around these huge weapons, and shouting at them. the wartime environment tends to be hard on the ones who are just trying to work things out.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

stickers and dog poop

a storm is passing over, but it's not really dropping anything yet; it's kind of hanging over the town, rumbling with its thunder, but not a drop from the sky yet. yesterday and the day before, it rained but only for a second; each drop hit with a psst and evaporated into steam immediately.

but the effects of the cloud cover are considerable anyway. it's ten degrees cooler if a big honkin' cloud will simply cover the sun for a while, and these clouds are enormous. they seem to be many-dimensional, and one can just imagine that being a pilot around here must be some interesting gig, going up through these things that are just so huge, colorful, snd constantly moving. nobody bothers guessing if and when they'll spit though; it's a kind of random geography, rather than a situation where you can actually say that some people are more likely to get it than others. it's all so flat that for us, it's a pure gamble every time.

when i go walking late at night, stickers and dog poop are my main enemies. i do three miles, around the park five times, barefoot, on the edge of where the little gravel path is around the park. but this edge gets its share of stickers and dog poop. the stickers are tiny little burrs that poke so hard they stick right in your foot and make it impossible to take another step. they are small and not to be mistaken for goat's heads which are larger, sharper, and less common. you can't see those stickers coming but after a while you know the dry spots where they have a lot of them; constant watering and thick grass tends to get rid of them. so i alter my path a little to avoid them. but the dog poop, it's squishy and disgusting, and i fail to see it every once in a while, and, much as i wipe my foot afterward, it seems to have a way of finding the spots on my foot that don't wipe easily. it's disgusting. and, it's totally opposite of stickers, in the way it's disgusting.

when i was a young guy, i did anything i had to to be independent, and pick up a few bucks to spend on beans and whatever to keep it all going. after i dropped out of school i worked in a restaurant, and a bakery, and as a newspaper bundle-dropper, house painter, and as a school-bus driver, and as a janitor at a mall. i was good and sick of the dead-end street that having no education offered me, so eventually i decided to go back to school. but even then, i got accepted into a school, and got started, and what did i find, i still had a couple of years to go where i was basically at the lowest level, uneducated, and had to do those low-level jobs a few years past the point where i'd decided they were pointless. i even considered becoming a carpenter at one point, because i figured if i was going to be outside working with my hands, i might as well move up and get a decent salary for it. but no matter what, i was at the mercy of the economy. there were jobs for unskilled people, and, as a white guy, i was as likely to get them as anyone. but times are different now, everybody has to figure out what they can do and get to work doing it.

i'd go about collecting tools as if i could ever become a truly independent, country landholder with a small plot of whatever, corn, being as i was in iowa, but when i finally got my chance, way out in the country there, i didn't have the money to license my car legally, and i couldn't even take care of the muscovy ducks that somebody had left on the property. they were characters, somewhat mean and opinionated, but i liked them, and would have kept them on if i had any brains. or cooked them. but instead i'd spend days in town, or i'd try to find work, and when i found work it was on the railroad way in the other direction, and i'd come home exhausted, barely able to cook. the ducks wandered off, got hit by cars on the gravel roads where people would fly by at about ninety. how was i supposed to prevent that? maybe clip their wings, or keep them better fed, i never quite knew. same thing happened later when i was given some goats. what do you do with goats? try to get milk out of them, i guess. but i was lacking skills and tools, i didn't have a chance. the country was nice, especially at night, lots of stars out there, and people watched out for each other. but people could see by the overgrown weeds that i wasn't going to make it.

the other day i was walking across nineteenth street, which i do four times a day, and the sun was beating down and making a huge glare on the road which makes visibility bad and increases the danger. lots of folks stop for a little too long at the light and stare vacantly as this old-timer hobbles across nine lanes taking my good old time. people do occasionally miss the light or come barreling at you but in general, it's too much time for them standing around, and running doesn't help. this day though i saw a screwdriver in the road, sun glancing off its rusty shank. shamelessly i picked it up and put it in my swim bag, right in front of everybody. it felt a bit like a weapon, but it's not; it reminded me for a moment of a shiv, a homemade blade, that i found one time on a gary on-ramp in the winter. over the years i collected a lot of tools, and many of them walked away, one time some workers who were working on our house must have picked up a few, maybe there was a drug issue there. the old ones, already run over, beat up a little, they're less likely to go. so i have an affinity for them right away, even if they have that day-glo color, common these last twenty years, possibility of being made abroad i'm sure. anyway, coming back across nineteenth, after my swim, i found the phillips-head; those, as it turns out, are even more useful than the plain ones, easier to misplace. this one also was a day-glo color, and found right near where the other one was, surely they were partners, and i'm surprised i didn't see it the first time. probably was under some poor guy's tires, but that's no place for a screwdriver.

but, driving out on the levelland road, got a small rock hit my windshield and make a hole; it was sudden and sharp, and i knew right away i was in for it. i'll have to take it into the shop, fork over a few hundred, etcetera, but fortunately it's not like the old days, when i'd simply live with it indefinitely, as an unfixable nuisance. i have one tool now, and that's a paycheck, so, i'll support those windshield-repair folks i suppose, and then i'll be on my way. the wide open texas plain stretches out for miles in every direction, that's why they call it levelland i suppose, the sun beats down, relentless, and the wind occasionally picks up whatever's not heavily seeded and watered down. then this rain, which is probably a teaser like all the others, either it'll come or it won't, but either way, i'll water if i have to, or just hold onto what i can get. it's been a good year for cherry toms (see below), not to mention sweet jalapenos, green bell peppers, second-generation sunflowers, and a kind of wild squash-gourd that was a volunteer and really went to town. where i'm from, any squash in its second year was doomed, because the bugs had already found it. here, it's too sunny for bugs, unless they're the below-ground variety. they just can't make it on no water for as long as they have to, here. unlike us, they don't have air-conditioning.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


summer in lazy river


barbie


in the art building


in the hood


lazy river blooms


trains at the ranch museum


kerrville memorial


friend in ruidoso


thistle, ruidoso's foe


white sands, old friend


mission accomplished


cherry toms


back on campus

Saturday, July 19, 2014

family vacation - took the kids southwest of lubbock, through brownfield & plains, up through roswell new mexico, and up to ruidoso, a mountain resort area, for about ten days. high up in the mountains, the pines smelled so good, and it was cool, and it rained, and i thought, it's nice to be only four hours from the rockies - but, it would be nicer to just be there all the time. high up there, we rested, walked around in the mountains, swam a lot, put our feet in the mountain river (ruidoso means noisy as in rio ruidoso), went to white sands & las cruces to visit the folks, and attended a country-western music performance which was of course the high point of my trip.

i was aware that roswell was a town famous for an alien event in the 1940's, so i peered out the window as we drove through; it was sunny, and it looked like san angelo, very well taken-care-of, not ashamed of its high-plains sunny bright character, prosperous, concerned about its appearance. we saw a few aliens on the billboards and saw a museum devoted to aliens. it was near the pecos river so i noticed that whereas artesia, also on the pecos, is only halfway to the mountains, roswell was actually much closer, and in fact the mountain swimming pool got a roswell radio station. the town was surrounded by that vast plain, where it looks like it goes a hundred miles, and once you get out of the city, there's nothing. and city? it's only got 40,000 or so; there aren't many cities in new mexico.

as a faithful license plate watcher, i was happy to catch a few right away, but noticed that, on these backroads, you don't see much besides NM & TX - after we got to ruidoso, it was pretty easy to pick up OK, AZ, UT (life elevated) and CA. Before the trip was over I'd got most of the west - WA, OR, ID, MT, even AK, which is the triple-word-score of license plate watching. but way out here, in the folds of the sacramento mountains, south of the main rockies and not on any cross-country interstates, it was hard to pick up any of the new england or southern states, and i only ended up with about 28. got TN, OH, NY, CT, FL & LA, but there were tons i never got. they just don't come out here all that much.

high up in the pines my wife got a lot of anxiety about coming back to work, but we had to roll off the mountain and down the hill anyway. i'd looked up a little about the roswell incident - how five different books were written about it - how there was no controversy that some aircraft fell from the sky and landed out there in the middle of nowhere - about controversy over the 'alien autopsies' and about all the secrecy surrounding the case, etc. - it was impressive. the car dealerships had alien statues out there - i saw them this time more clearly, even though i was driving. we stopped at a dairy queen in roswell, and dairy queens, it seems to me, are always somewhat otherworldly, no matter where they are.

sometimes, it seemed like the bleakest, emptiest environment a person could possibly drive through, brick streets in a town that turn into dirt less than two blocks from the courthouse, little more than a dairy queen in some towns, miles of flat red-clay soil in every direction. i thought sadly of coming down out of the beautiful mountains into a flat, dry, hot, sunny, arid plain and i got a little depressed. but i did run into one character, in a convenience store, who had moved from ruidoso to lubbock and was glad of it, because he had access to more stuff he needed and didn't feel as isolated; obviously he didn't care so much for the high mountain beautiful air.

right on the intersection of main street in roswell i saw it: the true triple-word-score of all license plates, hawaii. it had a rainbow on it. i always wonder about those - what did they do, ship the truck over here somehow? seemed like it came from outer space or something. i have no idea.

back at home now, and i promise you pictures, of the mountains, of white sands, whatever. i notice that i've completely failed to get them on here, and must rectify that situation. the sooner the better. chou

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the hippies in this town look vaguely familiar. of course the hippie era is what, forty or fifty years past, and back then, i didn't even pass through here, really, though it was all the same people, and some were bound to end up down here, in a remote mountain outpost, the southern part of the rockies, the sacramentos of south-eastern new mexico where we happen to be vacationing for ten days. we are yuppies now, to some degree, with a new car, a "chalet" with wrap-around porch looking out at the mountains, enough money to eat at the restaurants. and they, fifty years on, have houses, or businesses, or some kind of gig, if not retirement and way to hang around, living in the high mountain pines and shopping at the same places i do.

to us new mexico is a welcome break from the flat hot sunny lubbock that we left behind. i'm dying to advertise it all over facebook but i consider it unwise to tell 700 friends that i'm out of town, somebody is bound to tell the wrong person. my friends are all over the world, following the holande-argentina match, traveling themselves, sending in pictures from whatever outpost they've chosen to spend july in. but i just figure, with my fiddle locked up in lubbock, even though most of our computers are here in new mexico with us, oh well, it's just time to spend some private time, not even share what the family is doing, resting and breathing in high mountain pine air.

riudoso is a kind of tourist town, but, four days into vacation, and i've only got about sixteen license plates, the vast majority that i've seen were texas with a handful of oklahoma, arizona, colorado. people don't know about ruidoso unless they ski, in which case they come here from places like lubbock a lot. the high mountain dryness makes a good kind of snow, but most people don't know about it, and that makes it a good place. in the summer it's best for just getting out of a hot flat dry place like west texas, and getting some perspective on the world, at about sixty-six hundred feet.

life slows to a crawl as i get my wife to watch the kids half the time and i actually get to read, rest, keep up on the world cup; it's a vacation, and the last one i'll get for a while probably. the holande-argentina match was a good example. so many of my facebook friends who are from latin america got wrapped up in the cup, particularly colombian friends, that i couldn't help but get wrapped up in the results and see it from their point of view. i didn't really have a dog in the fight - though i knew people from argentina, and know people in the netherlands as well, in the end i wanted argentina only because i thought all of south america should have someone in there, once brazil was so dramatically ousted. but really i kept track of the match mostly because the moon was rising on a high mountain valley, and i was out on the porch outside breathing high mountain pines, and i'd scrolled pretty much completely through my facebook, having read virtually everything of interest.

i have two books, one about the dust bowl in the depression and another a murder mystery, and i'm almost done with the dust-bowl one, but the other one was kind of disturbing so i shied away from it a little. rather read about dust coming in the cracks, in the windows, piled up at the fencerows, and six years of drought corresponding to economic hardship that meant there was no money, no jobs, no where to go. it gives a person something to compare the modern high plains to - where there's plenty of work in some places, but whole swaths of the country are hurting for work or meaningful economic activity, and everyone slipping further and further into the quicksand of slow economy. i can't imagine sitting around a dust-surrounded mud hut, for six years, waiting for it to rain, but, since we've found a way to tap the aquifer dry and we've hit our own six years, we'll soon be left with no aquifer, and a somewhat similar situation. except that a whole plains full of cotton fields is surely different from a whole plains full of tilled grassland, where wheat was supposed to be planted but in fact never was. that plains blew away, millions of square feet of topsoil, but the one we've got now, well, it's got tenuous soil but at least cotton is growing on it. not that i'd know a dustbowl, it could probably hit me in the face before i'd even know what i was looking at.

i've put much more of my spirit into music today, what's left of my writing is right here. my novel, almost done but put aside. e pluribus haiku - published, but not even advertised on my template here. my other books - shelved for the moment. writing doesn't go with the intensive childcare i've been doing, nearly as well as crazy-making fiddle. i'm trying to learn the fiddler's role of calling the songs, and knowing how they start - maybe even singing a few, and i will get started on this though it may take a while. meanwhile, i sit on the mountain porch - a moment in time, a deer placidly watching me, this deer lives nearby i'm sure, and is somehow convinced i'll feed it. i will not feed it...one is not supposed to do that, i believe. they've declared thistle illegal in town, but i found some of it and even took its picture. why is it so bad? i'm not sure, i know very little about it, i don't even know if i found the kind that's illegal. it was quite bright in the morning sunlight though, so, i got it. whatever it symbolizes, i'll figure it out, as soon as possible. and maybe learn that song about wildflowers being free, and not having to care about our cultivating efforts.

in two days, off to white sands, and las cruces, to visit my parents. the license plates, they'll pick up down there at white sands, as it's a national monument visited widely by many tourists. this on the other hand is a remote, isolated outpost, and i like it that way.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

patriotism

it's kind of a wild scene to go across the highway to the city park and watch the fireworks, but we managed to do it, i and three children, and actually found a friend of the smallest and had an enjoyable fireworks show. after many years, many cities, many fireworks shows, i can say that i enjoy every one, though i'm wary, and i appreciate the effort a city puts into it to make it happen. a good fireworks show allows me to say to my children: i won't buy them, and shoot them into the street, or into the neighbor's yard, or anywhere else. i'm keeping my hands off this stuff, and letting the city handle it.

a neighbor brought over a kind of anti-fundamentalist passage that tried to argue against using the bible to support every war the country gets into. it's true that i've been opposed to every war that happened in my lifetime, as i haven't been given a good reason for any of them, but i consider this patriotic, since it's our duty as citizens to think critically and let our government know how we feel. this might be different for soldiers, who must follow the government way no matter whether there's a good reason or not, but we citizens are free to criticize and in fact must - if we'd done that a little more we might not be in the pickle we're in. in fact unlike many of my friends, i've come to the realization that one should not reject patriotism, since practiced in its pure form it's doing right by the nation and the culture under whose protection you live - one should redefine patriotism and live it out as you feel it should be lived out. i for example do not consider it patriotic to arm myself to the teeth and dare everyone to come and try to break into my home. patriotism can be shouting for team usa in the world cup, which i'm all for, or going down on the border to try to make signs that show people they aren't welcome on this side of it. but i define patriotism as doing the right thing for this nation and its people, and i take that patriotism seriously. if the nation didn't have an economy, a military, border police, etc., it would be like syria or iraq, and i'm glad it's not. so i like and support this government structure, even now, even though i disagree with so much of what they do with our tax money and foreign policy.

there is no question that this nation and government is about to experience some hard times. dragged into war in the south china sea, dragged into war in the ukraine, already mired in occupation in afghanistan, korea, and various other places, we are stretched very thin, and china is getting tired of paying the bill. why should they pay our retirees and our healthcare, when they don't pay their own retirees, and they have no healthcare? but our government needs guidance. who is around to tell them that it's an enormous waste of money and resources to park our tanks over in the middle east? six trillion, seven trillion, all wrapped up in gas and supplies and soldiers' lives, and hoping we can take care of these boys when they come home in the future is some kind of faraway, future dream that maybe we'll have money for when the time comes, kind of like my social security and retirement. we've had signs of trouble, signs of its caving in. fiscal responsibility should lead us to this conclusion: stop putting billions of dollars into setting up a multi-cultural state in iraq, palestine or any other place. stop supporting shiites, israelis, or anyone else who uses the money for aggressive suppression of a people. start letting countries that have their own economies - korea, japan, germany, etc. - provide for their own defense. give our support to peoples who deserve independence and who rightfully won't be happy until they have some; this would include the kurds and the palestinians.

we get the kind of nation that we collectively settle for, and if that is a powerful, swaggering, drone-dropping bully, that's what we've got. but when we the people say that we want a government that is not so quick to kill, no longer concerned about catching a bin laden who is dead anyway, and eager to build a non-competitive, non-hostile world, then that's what we will begin to see around us. i have no problem with fireworks, the red, blue, white, swirly kind, the pretty pinwheels, exploding things in the sky. some people say that they reflect our nation's violent past, and its obsession with explosives, and its tendency to turn to violence whenever there's a problem somewhere in the world - all this is true. but the act of sitting out on the grass in front of a city park, watching the city dudes make colorful explosions in the sky, is not itself violent. they do it all the time, and it hurts fewer people than when you let people buy them and blow them up in their own yards.

people don't take anything the quakers say about foreign policy seriously, and that's because we oppose all wars on moral grounds. true, i also wouldn't fight in a war, because i believe it's wrong to kill even for a just reason, and as a result i'd make a terrible soldier even though i'd be willing to help my country in any way it wanted. but perhaps because of my perspective i can ask: has violence ever truly worked, or not led to more violence? all these times we commit american lives, has this led to a more peaceful world? now we could look back to world war two, which was before my time, or the revolution itself, and say, yes, this was justifiable violence. you can kill somebody because they killed your uncle or because their taxman is causing you unspeakable pain, but my religion would still tell me that that's wrong and i shouldn't do it, and it's partly rational: because, no matter how cool revenge feels, violence begets more violence, and it has always been this way. to transfer this logic to the international stage, would it be a surprise if we were mired in more wars in the near future? no. the violence, export of arms, drones etc. have set the stage to the point where we are now expected to keep these arms coming: the bully is forced to prove and renew his status regularly. of course i don't expect foreign policy makers in this country to listen to me. i would just ask though: do you have a reason that we're occupying afghanistan? a reason that we're drone-bombing random wedding parties in yemen or pakistan? i thought not. we are reduced to supporting violent, random acts of aggression, and apparently we've become accustomed to not even being given a reason.

enough of this rant. my family, down by the lone river that snakes through lubbock, enjoyed the fireworks immensely. our earlier town was smaller, thus, the fireworks were smaller. this particular river, the only one for hundreds of miles on the caprock, high southern plains, was the site of the ruination of the comanche when white folk chased them down and cornered them, what maybe only a hundred and fifty years ago or so. maybe, as the mostly conservative texans around me say, i should shut up and be grateful for what i have, and hoist an american flag outside my house alongside theirs. i say, if a flag means blind obedience to a number of wars, i'll pass, but of course, it means what you want it to mean. obviously i'd make a better canadian than american, but that ship has sailed, and i'm here, no texas flag, no american flag, even the flagpole itself is beginning to bend a little. i can tell you that the idea that these poor soldiers are "fighting for our freedom" is beginning to sound a little hollow - in the revolutionary war, they were fighting for our freedom; in the civil war they were fighting for some people's freedom; but in afghanistan? in iraq?

this country has a number of internal problems - race relations, economic justice, etc. i say, if you are working to better these problems, every day, you're a patriot. so i count myself a patriot. i celebrate the wild and diverse beauty of a fantastic country with a volume of poetry, i do my best to help the place, and i speak out when i feel its foreign policy is misguided. i realize that working for peace has, at times, been labeled as terrorism. that's bullsh-t. terrorism is killing people in order to instill fear and get people to do irrational things, like start unnecessary six-trillion-dollar haliburton wars. that ship, too, has sailed. they would be wasting their time calling me a terrorist, unless someone were to listen to me, in which case i suppose i'd undermine the whole tenuous card castle.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

two events were noteworthy in the annals of trying to keep too many kids busy in a long hot summer, in the middle of hot dry flat west texas where i guess people are used to having a great time, but i just feel mostly hot & dry, burned to a crisp, with a voice going rasp from yelling in all directions, kids going bong-bong-bong from soda or whatever, and unable to focus well enough on my direction, to stay close to me.

the first place, the ranch museum, one of my favorite places, in fact, because it brings these old ranch houses to a single site, in the city of lubbock, up against the marsha sharp expressway, and these places when put together give you a sense of what ranching was like back in the good old days. they have an old santa fe train, pictures coming i hope, and the kids liked that, crawling over that, in it, under it, against it, leaning on its little metal hoses. in the world of push-the-envelope-see-how-far-you-can-go-before-some-grownup-tells-you-to-behave, this is an ideal playground. now the ironic thing was that the ranch museum had given the kids a goal, which was something like find-the-stuffed-rabbit, and the rabbit as it turned out was on that train somewhere, and my son found it, or so he claimed, i never actually saw it. the place is often crawling with a kind of wild jackrabbit, who used to come out right by the back entrance there, though they've cut a lot of their bushes, and it was very hot, so we didn't see any live ones. but by god they found the stuffed one, out in the train, and we hung about this stage, which was actually indoors, in a place that was cooled a bit by the breeze off the workers' garage and the marsha sharp, a nice breeze which, along with the shade of the stage place, made it downright tolerable. i challenged the kids to perform, but they wouldn't. they tore around. we learned a few random things about taking care of horses, branding, what to wear, etc. the main thing we learned was that it's generally pretty hot when you don't have air conditioning, and you come to appreciate shade, a gentle breeze, the cover of an old boxcar, still in the field.

the other place was the science spectrum, which was holding "critter-fest," apparently this town has no zoo, and its circuses are maybe too few and far between. or too commercial. for some reason the city and the science spectrum worked together to bring a lion show, a crocodile/alligator show, a tent where one could ride a horse, a larger tent where people rode an elephant, etc. it was an odd combination of zoo and circus, it cost a fortune, it made you wonder how well they treated the animals, or if that was in fact a life worth living for the animals, and above all it offered kids the chance to once look some animal in the eye, whether it be an ancient elephant, behind crusted skin and eyes, or maybe a goat, or a miniature horse that they just rode, who just happened to be peeing and pooping on the spot to everyone's great mortification, but still had the presence of mind to say hello to the kid, and try to explain why he walked so funny.

now this is the place where i made the mistake of letting them have sodas, and they were like zing-zing-zing in every direction, toward the horse, toward the goat, toward the parking lot or whatever and i had to call in all directions at all times, and they still didn't hear me. it was a critter fest, and i had the critters, mine weren't tied up, or behind a cage. my yelling, my extortion, my near-violent fits of rage were on display for the public to see. the kids were just being kids, though they waited until they got to the bathroom, to do the peeing and pooping. I was lucky, in retrospect.

I'm reminded of a story of a kid in a small windswept depression-era panhandle town, where the people were starving and ran all the rabbits into the center of a village, and then clubbed them, because they saw the rabbits as competition, basically, for meager harvests and wheat. and the kid followed everyone and listened carefully as the poor rabbits got clubbed to death, screaming in horror. Another story was about a girl at sea world, who just happened to see a dolphin at the right time, and communicate which as we know is possible. it's like, maybe these animals, captive that they are, are aware that it's their mission in life to reach across that line, and connect to some human on some level, quick, in order to save not only their species but every other, too. it's because, as time goes on, it's man against the rest of 'em, and man isn't sparing any of the weapons. do any of these people have any compassion at all for the animal world? well, yes, a little, but it turns out, most of their real knowledge comes from experiences like this one, where they may or may not get to reach out and actually touch some poor animal. and the animal's whole job is to not bite back in any way. to be a specimen example of the animal kingdom such that people can know just a little more about how animals feel.

one more story. winter sunday, city of buffalo, my sister-in-law, who is blind, brings her seeing-eye-dog into the buffalo zoo. now the zoo is a large place, but it's open on a sunday morning, free in its own way, people can walk right in, without of course actually touching the animals. and she brings that dog with her, as is her right, though i'm not sure what they'd say if the zoo actually had any representatives there to stop her. the lions roared, the elephants roared especially loudly. an enormous racket went up throughout the zoo. it was as if the entire zoo had to warn everyone about the possibility of a transient dog on a leash passing through the human walkway area.

why do i relate these stories? i am fraught with moral doubt every time i go to a zoo, obviously. i think it's good to show kids animals, in all shapes and sizes. i think it's good to use zoos to conserve animal species worldwide. i think it's good that kids in a town have a kid-like thing to do on a sweltering day. everything else about the place makes me uncomfortable. i don't, in my heart, believe that those tigers are living the life a tiger was meant to live. the man held out a stick. when he did, they climbed up. once one of them roared, that was a fine moment. but mostly they lived the life of defeated captive.

reminds me of the guys who got caught by aliens and brought to an alien city, where they were put in a cage in an alien zoo. every day aliens walked by and stared at them, alone in their cage. finally they were bored, and they captured some small bug and made a cage for it, and kept it in captivity. at this point, the aliens, surprised, learned their language, and released them, telling them, we finally realized you were civilized, when we saw you imprisoning those little bugs.

such is life, and i intend to celebrate freedom, every moment of it, and maybe teach the critters as much as i can about it. it's the beginning of fourth week, the fourth is on friday, and so i'm sure almost every day will have fireworks, and there will be a celebration, and we will have some time off, as the temps get over a hundred, the days get long, the kids get restless, they do lots of screens and have nowhere to go, but maybe the lazy river. there's soccer on television, but we aren't watching it; there's wild vegetables out in the garden, but i have no time to pick around out there because i'm always in here watching over their shoulders as they do inane games and watch cartoons. but i take my patriotism seriously, so i intend to write about it. what's best for this country and its people, most notably its children, the most impressionable, the helpless? i think that, like fathers' day, this is one holiday where we really ought to think about what we want, what kind of culture we want to pass along, and get started in the act of creating what we want to pass along. would that be a war-mongering, hateful, competitive, vicious culture where someone's always a loser and by god if it isn't you now, it will be soon enough? or what? i'm not sure, but in the eyes of those animals i learned something: we're missing something here. like maybe, we're missing the main point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

home alone with the littlest, and the cloud has grayed over unexpectedly, maybe some clouds are passing through one direction or the other. we've actually had some rain this month: some clouds have come through, dropped some rain, in some cases even a little storm, with lightning and thunder. my standing joke is that i'd like to go out and stand in it, but i'm afraid to rob the ground beneath of its annual supply. when it even drizzles, it brings out elation, an overjoyed feeling of a fine spray on a sizzling tin roof. the yard, though it's mostly weeds and a fine kind of crabgrass, drinks it up thirstily. it amazes me that there's anything green at all.

i've been reading a book, the worst hard times, about life in the depression, when it dried out completely, and soil left turned by fanatic farming blew up into the air for four straight years, at least, i'm only up to 1935. it was a rural country, and the story deals with parts north of here, dalhart, boise city, baca county, places like that. but it tells how people struggled with the intense dryness, the constant dust storms, dust pneumonia, sand dunes up over their model t's, roads blown in by sand and dust. how the texas dust was orangish, the oklahoma dust reddish, the kansas dust black, and the combinations, depending on whether the wind came from the north, or the east, or the west or southwest. people had settled out here hoping to own a little square of prairie, then they clung to it hard, when the wind seemed to blow everything else away.

there is little resemblance to the place i experience today, because we actually have an economy here, one in which a person can go to a fast-food restaurant and get a job, or get one of many other kinds of jobs that often go untaken in places with better stuff to do. we do have dust, and it clouds the view, and it makes driving uncomfortable, but it doesn't pile up on the cars or houses, and, although we value well-sealed windows, we don't need gummy tape to keep that dust out of our houses. some people might; my grad students often talk about the dust just coming in the windows, but, we don't; we got new windows after the hailstorm last year, and those windows are pretty secure.

i mention the economy because that's one way in which i feel pretty much helpless, or vulnerable to forces that are way out of my control. what happens if there is no money, or no work, or no way to get what we need? in my life, it's a general luxury to go to the store, present my little card, have it work, bring home whatever food i need. i think, yes, maybe i should stay in, when the dusters come, when the fine grains of sand get in your teeth and therefore, probably, in your lungs. but what can i do about the bigger picture? very little, i'm afraid.

i restarted my obama campaign, which is, in essence, to get obama to consider putting his library in southern illinois. i believe it's a good idea, and it will sell itself, if only i can get him to see the page, and consider it. i reached the point where i had to either let it go, and forget about it, or try again, so i chose to try again. of course the process brings up feelings about obama & his administration, and my ranch friend spoke right out and said, he's the worst ever anyway, and he'll never buy it. i myself have all kinds of mixed emotions about his presidency, but i'd decided to shelve them; to me by far the greatest importance of it is that the presidency itself gives hope to millions of disenfranchised non-white folks, who really need a sense of belonging to this country, which they could not get in a war-torn, economically depressed place like we've been experiencing. in fact i find that the texas that i know is more or less an island, in the sense that you can still get work, that people aren't just giving up and relying on the government, or going out and stealing stuff. i don't think mccain or romney would have changed that, we were trillions in debt before they even could have started, and do you think giving more money to the rich would have solved the problem? i doubt it. but nevertheless i have qualms about obama himself, i think everyone does, but i think, when it's all over, we'll all say, well, that was interesting, and we lived through it. and, for those who pursue history, and his papers and all, southern illinois would be the best place.

to the kids it's about the games, the ones they can play, using the computer with the up and down keys, from dragging things to dress an online barbie to setting up a wizard world that has elements of made-up community where they discuss their "families" with each other and engage in some kinds of social negotiations about where their online character should go, and what they should do. we are aware that they need to do some reading during the summer, though at first, we didn't want to bother them too much, because school had just let out. now we are in the position of imposing ruthless torture on them in order to force them to read something unpleasant rather than do what they earned, through hard physical activity and nine months of school. parents who make them read??? this is like parents who make you eat dirt, or who lock you in a closet.

to the littlest, it's all about being able to do what your older siblings are able to do, in this case watch phineas and ferb, a slightly sophisticated cartoon that has cultural references, but, as far as i can tell, nothing more truly inappropriate than violence, which seems to be part of every cartoon. she is overjoyed to be able to watch something that she doesn't fully understand, and though i know she'd do better with "magic pony" or "barbie," sometimes i just give her what she wants. it's all inappropriate, but mostly all in the same way, but just taking it away from her would have to be done with a more comprehensive plan that would give her better stuff to do. it has to be planned carefully; it's my job here, but one i haven't quite got a handle on it yet. instead, i'm here writing about it. don't know, quite, what to do about it. like millions of parents, i let them watch, and try to get a few minutes to myself, and then feel guilty, there goes the summer, no reading for this kid.

life goes on, outside the window. it's my month off, almost over, not much to show for it. writing has slowed to a crawl (this), but the music is going well, it complements the other stuff i do better; promoting my writing has also slowed down; my various projects, novel, autobiography, language books, all more or less on hold, a true vacation. i'll start up again, i promise. in the meantime, i'm here, with phineas and ferb, and one very dazzled little girl.

Monday, June 16, 2014

father's day 2014, lubbock tx

the sun has gone down on father's day 2014, and i have to say, with ten kids now i have a certain status here, but it doesn't seem right to push it around as so many people are so uncomfortable about the whole thing. i watched on facebook as hundreds of my friends posted pictures of their fathers, or them with their fathers, but also, at least one person said, "h.f.d. to the women who are doing that role" as if, if you have to do the discipline, and make the money, and mow the lawn, in the family, well, happy father's day to you too.

i felt like saying, h.f.d. to all the fathers who are doing all kinds of roles, all the fathers who are doing those roles only part of the time, and even the fathers who can do no more than watch a ball game with their kids, because they just don't have all that many good ideas about what to do.

i myself have been spending a lot of time swimming, until i've been sunburned up and down, and my kids have turned a dark chocolate color from hours in the pool. they're fabulous swimmers; they practically own the place. the older ones were trying to do laps today, but aren't really ready for that; the youngest, who is not even 40 pounds, goes flipping and bobbing through the river giving me a heart attack but always coming up for air. i figured out today, that starting in october, we would have 13 years of parenting teenagers, but that means that this last little stretch, of about five months, i should enjoy to its fullest, as the last four are still under thirteen and have plenty of growing to do.

friday night, it was actually friday the 13th, i guess...my first full gig with the new band 'true blue.' a mexican restaurant out on the north side of town, out by the airport, with good food but i was too nervous to eat it. a crowd of about fifty who was enthusiastic about the music and tipped generously. an array of texas demographics: cowboy hats, country people, a bunch of tech people by which i mean clearly associated with the university. i was overjoyed, and played into the ceiling fans, i put my soul into it, i had a blast. best songs were 'waltz across texas with you' and 'does fort worth ever cross your mind?' but that's just me reading into it, that when you have a chance to do texas, you should do like george strait does, and really enjoy singing and playing texas. sure, the bluegrass was good. we're hot, in the bluegrass department. but the texas songs, i'll remember those forever. it's like i'd come home, and i wasn't even singing.

i've come to take father's day more seriously over the years. it occurs to me that i'm a father every minute of the day, whether i'm on duty, watching kids, or not. my responses to wrongdoing are always on display. sometimes i yell, or use sarcasm, or become gruff, or whatever. i'm tired; it's been a long haul over thirty years or so, and things haven't worked out totally well, at least for one of them who didn't call. i'm still hanging in there with most of them though, and sometimes the greatest testimony is just that you're still around. but i called my own dad, 87 and getting tired, and mom was tired too, they were both in a lot of pain. in the end, upon going back to facebook, i said nothing. i 'liked' everyone's happy father's day, i accepted their well-wishes, i scrolled through many public and glowing testimonies. a lot of my friends were silent though. there are lots of fathers out there who, when people think about it, they'd rather not think about it. i was grateful in the end, that mine was still there, still talking, able to tell me about his pain and hear about what little i'm suffering. and, to be able to see him in july - a trip is already being planned.

out on the walk, i'm doing about three miles barefoot these days. the honey moon has been keeping me company. town is quiet, especially our neighborhood, whose fate is tied to that of the university. the grass is green, stickers aren't so bad, but i still get blisters. dog poop is my biggest enemy. the weather is fine. bluegrass and texas songs replay in my head as i walk. i don't look at the sky much, on account of the dog poop. walking, swimming, and fiddling: it's a good life. and fathering, of course, that never seems to end.