Friday, October 17, 2014
i was walking three miles a night barefoot, this was back before the rains, in the summer when there was stickers and dog poop, and then i upped the tempo. i ran half the track, about half-k, every time i caught my breath until i'd been running three or four half-k's a night, then five or six. but at night, middle of the night, i'd get up to use the bathroom, and my feet would be in excruciating pain. every muscle and bone seemed to be contracting and making it difficult to walk to the bathroom. i thought, i'll get over this, i just need more practice. at night again, i'd take off my shoes. it felt wonderful, the grass on my feet. when it was wet i'd confuse patches of mud with dog poop, but i'd take a shower when i got home.
i started running more, barefoot. pretty soon i made it all the way around the track, about 1 k, then i made it 1 1/2, almost two. i was proud of myself. i had a slow pace, but the ground didn't bother me, it felt great on my bare feet.
middle of the night, though, that was different. when i woke up i could hardly even make it to the bathroom. my feet seemed to crumple beneath me in terrible pain. i didn't have this pain when i ran; it was great. but at night, and the following day, it was hell. i was limping everywhere. and it didn't help that i wore shoes in the day. i could hardly go anywhere.
so i gave up. one weekend, i just stopped going out at night. no walking, no running, no shoes, no barefoot. i just went to bed at night, and tried to heal my poor feet. and sure enough, within a couple of days, i'd regained all five pounds that i'd lost in the previous month.
but worse than that, my entire legs started falling apart, and i was still sore. finally though, after a few days of this, i went back out. this time i took shoes, and kept them on. this time, i only walked, and if my knees hurt, i just kept going. i got back into my original equilibrium.
my daughter dropped a "rock chalk jayhawk" sign on my wall, as if to say, go kansas. so i dropped a red raider on hers and said, you let us win the football, we let you win in basketball. which is pretty much true. it's not generally close, so it's not really a rivalry.
calendar time. i'm gearing up, psychologically, to make a good one. i'm using all my dad's photography these days, and it's working well. it takes time, and i don't have time, that's why i'm gearing up, so as to make time, so as to get it done. i have to be awake at night, able to put together twelve months. then, it'll happen. i look forward to it; i'm ready.
The other thing is the poetry. i've become fanatical about it, nearing a thousand, getting a decent show for all fifty states. i now have one in each season for almost every state, i'm closing in on the last few, and i'm trying to make it so i'm no longer relying on the singletons as much; in states like california and pennsylvania, i'm adding easily, effortlessly. the usual suspects are difficult. delaware, new hampshire, maine, hawaii. what am i supposed to do? hang in there; it's looking much better.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
i have this kind of fascination with fame, though a friend pointed out that social media has been the death of celebrity, as there's no such thing as privacy anymore. i think paul is the only one of the beatles who is still actually out there touring, but there are plenty of other old bands that still play once in a while and whet the appetite for the old days. the other day they had blood sweat and tears at the fair, and a friend of mine had tickets to give away. but it turns out the fair gets these ancient bands because the parents will bring the children, and then the children will spend a lot of money and get cotton candy, etc. i missed that one too. i could hardly remember a single blood sweat and tears song, though i knew there were several.
with the beatles though, there are millions of songs, and though sir paul only wrote about half or whatever, he still can get out there and represent the history as it came down through the ages. to me, it's interesting just to be in a town that has concerts; for the most part, these are second-tier concerts, but sir paul requested to play here because he has a thing for buddy holly, and always has. he considers buddy holly to be the man, the guy who got him started, the one who got his hook into the rock-pop genre.
a friend of mine told of a gathering of songwriters, guys who write for george strait or brad paisley or whoever, and then get together themselves, to play their own music, when they have a chance. these friends were talking about small intimate settings as opposed to the united arena, but the idea was to get closer to the creativity itself rather than just the music. it's fair to say that, from my point of view, the most interesting thing was just to hear people's feelings about the whole thing. i have friends who go to every concert, reasoning that life is short, lubbock is small, and if one has money and an opportunity to make a memory, one should. but a much larger percentage of us are holding back, not paying these huge prices, hoping for something better. and i like hearing what they have to say. my sister believes the music industry has tanked, it's finished, you can't make a living like this, but i'm more interested in, when kind of life is it, when you do? are people like sir paul actually having fun? getting drowsy as usual, falling asleep at the keyboard. working on poetry a lot these days, check it out, it's extensive.
Monday, September 29, 2014
last night's bear story
when they get to the gallery, it's a thoroughly modernistic building with glass walls and weird angles everywhere. there's a whole table of hoover-doovers and everyone is standing around eating hoover-doovers and drinking wine. the boy asks the bear if he'd like any hoover-doovers, but the bear, though starving, is more focused on watching people. the walls, however, are empty except for light shining on them. "hey," the bear says, "there's no art on the walls! where is your art?"
"it's imaginary," says the boy. "my art requires a finely developed sense of imagination on the part of the viewer, who must make of it what he imagines," and the boy goes into an explanation of how the art relates to the viewer, and the viewer relates to the art. meanwhile a woman comes up and gives the boy several thousand dollars in cash, for a piece of art that she has taken a liking to, and she seems quite content to carry this picture out into the street even though it's imaginary. the bear is incredulous. he gets the boy to promise to take him to the movie after the art opening.
now the owner of the building comes by and reminds the boy that he owes rent for this fine old building space which is, after all, right downtown. the boy pays him cash with the money in his pocket, and buys an extra month while he's at it, even though he doesn't need it as the exhibit is coming down soon. the man is satisfied and goes to eat more hoover-doovers and drink wine. some people appear to be getting a little tipsy.
but the building manager reminds the bear that you have to wear pants or you're not allowed in the elevator, though the bear says he has no intention of using the elevator, since he's sure that they will make the elevator stuck the minute he gets in it, and he also says that even though elevators are supposed to always go up and down, this one is likely to go sideways since he doesn't trust the management. the building manager says he'll call a tow truck and have the bear towed away if he doesn't behave himself immediately but the boy grabs the bear before it's too late and takes him across the street to the movie theater where "fantasia" is showing and they get in line.
they buy tickets and order a large popcorn, but instead of receiving a giant bowl that is full of buttered popcorn, they receive a single piece of popcorn that is what, several feet wide and several feet tall. they don't know how to cut it because they have nothing to cut with. they take it to their seat and put it between them, but people behind them start yelling, down in front! down in front! but they can't put it down; it's too big. and there are no seats in the back, all the seats are taken.
they start an intense conversation with a woman behind them about the rights of a person who has bought a movie ticket, but people nearby resent the conversation in the middle of the movie and pretty soon there's a commotion of people yelling at them to shut up and the bear finally threw the popcorn over to a little kid, since he wasn't going to use it himself. he began considering the exit door, since he'd already seen the movie maybe nine times, and knew all the songs by heart.
classic bear story
one day the boy was walking along in the forest when the bear jumped out at him and said he would eat the boy. the boy said, "whoa! don't eat me!" but the bear was determined. finally the boy made the bear an offer. "you should come down into town with me and eat a hamburger. when we get the hamburger, they put it in a bun, and then they have cheese, and relish, and ketchup and mustard, and tomato, and onion, and lettuce..." now the bear doesn't really know what all this stuff is, but he decides to give it a shot, since, if it's not enough to eat, he can always just go on plan a, which is to eat the boy. but as they walk through the forest, they run into a number of other animal friends.
first they run into the dog, and the boy describes the entire hamburger again: cooked well, with cheese, and tomato, and ketchup, and mustard, etcetera. pretty soon the bear is entranced by the sound of this exotic food which he's never tasted, but the dog is not impressed. "i am busy," he said, "chasing a cat." later they run into the cat, and the story is repeated. the boy describes the hamburger in detail, but the cat is busy chasing a mouse. when they get to the raccoon, the raccoon is planning to break into a garbage can, so he's too busy to go to town to get a hamburger.
when they finally get to town, it's just the boy and the bear again. on the restaurant is a sign that says "no shirt no shoes no service." the owner points it out and complains that the bear doesn't even have pants on either. the bear says he'll eat the owner along with the boy, and he doesn't care what anyone is wearing. they are standing outside the restaurant and in fact are pretty close to a parking meter.
so the meter man comes by and starts writing the bear a ticket for not plugging the meter. the bear maintains that he is not a car, so he should not have to plug the meter. the meter man says that it doesn't matter if you wear pants or not, if you are blocking the parking space and not dropping quarters in the meter, he'll give you a ticket. i don't have quarters, said the bear, because i don't have pockets. but i will gladly eat you, and drop some of your quarters into the little slot.
oh no no no no, says the boy, running from the restaurant out into the street to retrieve the bear. he has obtained a seat in the restaurant, after some waiting, and now wants the bear to join him for a dinner of two hamburgers with the works. the bear is stuck on the idea of "the works" but he was quite bored with the meter man, so he walks into the restaurant and joins the boy at the table near the juke box. now people are plugging the juke box with all kinds of quarters, and they are listening to classics of all time which come on repeatedly.
but a tow-truck driver pokes his head into the restaurant and asks if there is a bear in the house. yes, there is i, says the bear. the tow-truck driver says he was asked to come downtown and tow this bear who was blocking the road and refusing to let people park in front of the restaurant. you can't tow me, says the bear, i'm a bear, not a car, so take your tow truck and go tow someone else. they just about start a fight right there in the restaurant and one young child actually hides under the table because he's afraid there will be food and plates flying any minute. but the bear keeps his calm and simply reminds the tow truck driver that he can tow whoever he likes, but he can't fit the bear through the door without the bear's cooperation, or breaking the big window that says "eat" on it, and the tow-truck driver ends up complaining that this bear is not even wearing pants, even when you are supposed to be kicked out for as little as "no shoes no shirt." but it's too late, people have come to like the bear, and they don't like tow truck drivers, and even as he raises his voice they keep singing in french and banging their spoons against their glasses, and he just has to leave. the bear and the boy order apple pie with cream on top, and make a long night of it, telling stories and singing with the crowd. somebody brings out the raspberries, and that makes the bear really happy, but finally he remembers his little home in the woods, and stumbles home, in the middle of the night, glad that there's a large moon to light his way.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
then the tech team goes up into oklahoma, and apparently t.-boone pickens gave them a few hundred million, a few hundred million for their football team and another few hundred million for their school, and they spent their football money recruiting texans, and doing a few other bawdy things for their visitors which they got caught doing but which someone said, hey, every football team does this kind of stuff they're just the dumb suckers who got caught. so they got their wrists slapped but they got to go ahead and play football and now they beat us every year apparently. and not only that, but they injured our quarterback.
now i should mention that as a lifelong cleveland browns fan all of football has now become a cruel parody to me, a kind of vaudeville entertainment where people who should know better fall into genuine rooting for this team or that team, meanwhile the players fall injured, or get a lot of concussions, or beat their girlfriends or wives, or whatever. we're lucky, in that sense, that we're losing to the big guys because if we were winning them all, then somebody would care too much about the kind of stuff we're getting away with. coach is getting three mil but he's a single guy. girls are trying to figure out how to trip him and land beneath him.
saw a truck waving huge confederate flags as it drove triumphantly down university avenue. but they were paving university avenue and it was all gravel dust and torn up asphalt. this truck, it had been in the mud, obviously. i guess that's a sign of something, the boys like that, when the truck has a fair spattering of red texas clay all over it. it was a victory lap, i'm sure. on the way to town for a friday night.
now i must say, i myself got a ticket the other day, went south out of the cvs on memphis and nineteenth, went past four stop signs in a row, and came to a sign that said, school zone, 20 when flashing, but it was not flashing, so i kept going about 30 which is what it is if it is not flashing. got pulled over for doing 31 in a 20. didn't see it, i told the guy, which was true, because it was broken, so of course i didn't see it. but in the end i went downtown to protest the ticket and got out of the van, and all of a sudden i was tipsy, kind of drunk-feeling, the world spinning beneath me like i could hardly walk. here i am downtown trying to find the municipal court, and i know i'm walking like a drunk, on account of being so dizzy. now it so happened that i'd eaten some fu-fu salad, really nice, with pasta and everything fancy on it, and when i got home i got sick and that salad ended up all over my kitchen floor, but at the time all i knew was that i was about to keel over and when i got to the court, i decided not to fight the ticket, but rather just pay it, since my days might be numbered, and agree to take that drivers safety course that teaches you to follow the speed limit, which i will take and report right here in this spot. i'm beginning to feel like an old duffer. i follow the speed limit now, i don't even do illegal u-turns, and if people have a problem with that, i just flash my ancient white beard at them and let them curse me out.
waited all month to go out to the golf club on the far north part of town, where all the old duffers play bluegrass on the last friday of every month. they were missing a few people this month, but nevertheless played a pretty hot panhandle rag and washington and lee somethingorother. could have been washington and lee swing, but it's kind of bluegrassy, and i'm not sure it's the same song. nevertheless it was good n' hot. unfortunately they won't play in october, inasmuch as everyone goes to amarillo for halloween, then november and december are shot because of the holidays, so it's no more of that until january.
taken to wearing my sandals to work, it's of some concern that when it rains barely an inch there is sometimes as much as a foot of water at the crossing, the one place i need to transverse to get across nineteenth street and into work. i can either walk down nineteenth, cross dangerously at a place where people can't see too well and where i have to get across at least five soggy lanes and even then jump possibly into another pool of water but at least into very wet grass, OR and this one's obviously better, just wear sandals and take my shoes off, and roll up my pans, and walk straight across. this protects me also, if it rains while i'm on campus. in this rainy time anything can happen. i clearly can't read the sky. it can come form anywhere and it can be a deluge, can and often will be.
the other day woke up and there was a wall of trouble off to the west and i thought, here we go, but as the day wore on it drifted around to the north and by soccer practice time it had sprinkled but it didn't really look too bad, i was afraid i'd have to take the girlies to soccer and finally i did. but at soccer we're all standing out in this open field as one kid is playing soccer and the others are doing the bars, and this wall of clouds hooks around up in the northeast and starts trucking on down toward us with lightning in front of it and bearing down pretty hard. we got in the car and went straight home whereupon it rained quarters and flooded down flint, the basement got a few inches in spts, and everyone took a pounding. some cars got stranded in the marsha sharp where a few feet of water just stood down there until it drained, this is the main highway through town, you'd think there'd be drainiage, but no. a couple inches in a couple hours, and it's more than the city can take, and things are going bonkers all over the place. whole cars are being sogged out, pulled over and forced to dry out for a few days.
couple days later, the basement's dried out, the ragweed's a poppin' all over town, things have bloomed and grown, we didn't even know was there. a whole crop of mushrooms for starters. the ragweed is killing me, i've never seen so much of it bloom all at once in one single place in my life. whole lawns overtaken with it, and it's all blooming, going bonkers, and when i tried to pull some out around my own garage, the hay fever got worse. worse, maybe, than any i've ever had, though iowa was especially bad in that regard. iowa had it from an exact time, august 15, to another exact time, october 15, whereas southern illinois had it gradually over a period of four or five months, popping all the time. texas, though, didn't have it at all for my first two years, but this year, had it all in one week, and had it more than the others had it combined.
came out of the grocery store the other day and a new country song was on the radio. it had a boy and a girl falling in love in the back seat of a "cop car." Had a whole story line, where they had this complex relationship with each other and with the law, but i didn't catch that so much, so i turned up the radio. had the window open too, though it occurred to me that's how i got my ticket earlier, driving around with a window open like it's party time. but i came up to this intersection, where i turn onto my own road, and there's the police again, and this time they have this guy in a black pickup, and he's in handcuffs, sitting outside his truck, and they're doing some kind of negotiation with the other passengers in the truck, maybe they're searching the thing. i turned off that radio right away, and turned very gently onto my own street, and went my way, glad to be an old duffer, hoping for a few more rounds of good music.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
just passing through
the situation was set up when a truck driver gave me a ride going across northern iowa; we were passing through small towns on a two-lane road. i had agreed to go this way, west to east, even though my ultimate destination was some other direction, based on his advice maybe, or someone's advice. for this reason i was somewhat disoriented, when, at a gas station, he got into his truck and left without me. he had not taken any of my stuff, but his leaving, without telling me, still disoriented me. maybe i had said something political to him; it happened that virtually whenever i opened my mouth about politics, i'd offend someone. but nevertheless i was on my own, and didn't really know where i was. iowa was not too complicated, so in that sense, i knew it would all work out. i continued on that same road going east.
but now it had become dark, and it was harder for people to see me; furthermore, i continued walking, instead of waiting under a light where i'd be better off, and that made it even harder yet for people to see me. within minutes i was way out in the country, though only a mile or two from town. to my right, off the road, was a decrepit house, and i could see it clearly from the roadway. run-down houses, also, are not too unusual in iowa. people abandon them; they're a hassle to tear down; they sit there returning to the earth from whence they came.
but a sudden crack of lightning lit up the entire night, quite suddenly, and quite close to where i was. now the house had a completely different image, because it was all lit up. i had the feeling, suddenly, that i wasn't entirely alone in this wide, sweeping field on a lonely highway in the early evening.
ah, but i don't push too hard on such things. in other words, though it's easy enough to sense the presence of unearthly spirits, it's a little harder to define them, or take the liberty of imagining who they might be. i had no idea, and still don't. presuming that it was a viable farmhouse for years, and had all kinds of people attached to it as a symbol of their family, their hopes, their accomplishments etc., i'm sure one could do research and learn a thing or two. but instead, i've chosen to let such things go, since my feeling is that if it was meant to be our business, we would have been told. chasing after the information puts you in the position of intentionally disrupting whatever is going on there, and that wasn't my intention. i was just passing through.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
so now, we're bombing these ISIS guys, and, we're hoping somebody will go in there and clean up after us? maybe those shiite iraqis will go into that sunni territory and pick up all the dead bodies? and rule the place? or maybe some moderate iraqis will appear out of the woodwork, to run the place, and have a democratic government?
it seems, all we know for sure is, we hate ISIS and they cut off people's heads. so we have to bomb them no matter what. we don't really have a plan for what to do after that. maybe the shiite iraqis will come back and this time they'll try to defend the place. maybe iran will move in, after we're done bombing, and just take over. or maybe even assad will come down, and say hey, you wiped out the opposition, so i'm all that's left. or maybe israel will move in.
the problem is, none of those are good options. and it's a territory occupied mostly by sunnis, so the ideal government would be sunni-supported and iraqi. the only sunnis who are willing to fight for iraq are in ISIS. so we have now set ourselves up as a conquering nation, manipulated into trying to find people who will rule over iraqi sunnis who are not sunni, find anyone, give them guns, hope they stay on our side, and turn those guns on ISIS if it should ever pop its head back up.
to me it sounds like throwing a pile of armaments into a gang fight. here, boys, have all the guns you want, hopefully enough of you will die that there won't be any permanent ill effects for the rest of us.
the US is the world's biggest armament-maker. somebody is making lots of money in this deal. it's all borrowed money, borrowed off our future, and the future of our children, but it's money nevertheless. you want drones, you gotta pay for drones. you want to kill these guys, you got to get what it takes.
after that, we'll worry about cleaning it up.
you may have gathered right: i'm against the bombing. i would like to see a plan. i would like to see how this could possibly work out. the only good thing i can see out of the whole mess so far, is the independence of kurdistan. my solution would be, start with that. let the sunnis have whoever they want. make kurdistan free and secure. let religious minorities live in kurdistan. let go of the rest of it, and let people fight their own civil war, including the syrians.
Sunday, September 07, 2014
but, the ironic thing is, they actually enjoy their sunday mornings, in the sense that they actually get on their scooters and go down the block, screeching and yelling and doing all the stuff little kids should do. or they start horsing around in the living room and then go down in the basement where they're free to run and throw the ball and do gymnastics. or they go tearing through the house with some imaginary game, dressed up or yelling at each other or hiding in the rooms. the reason i call it ironic is that, since it's sunday morning, you'd think it would be reserved for quiet contemplation of religious things, and in fact, that is why we have a general prohibition against calling our neighbors on sunday mornings, or making too much noise too early. for me, i'm religious, but can't just take them to church, where they could make as much racket as they wanted, as there isn't really the right church that would suit all of us. for our neighbors, however, sunday morning is the only time they even know for sure that we have kids, because they're making such a racket out there that you can't not hear it, and it's actually pretty easy for me to keep track of them, because their voices bounce off each other and they stay aware of where their brother and sister are, so nobody even wants to get too far away. to me it's kind of the joy of old-time childhood, with lots of kids around, having fun, and the neighbors all kind of watching out for their flower gardens but still generally familiar with them and watchful. they know these kids, they live down in the corner house.
when fresh air is involved, you know they'll sleep better at night, but the main point really is that they get a lot of muscle development in different directions. hopefully each kid will fall off the scooter several times, but not land too hard on the sidewalk, but rather someone's grass and preferably someone who doesn't put nerve gas on theirs, or vole poison, or whatever they use. some lawns here are actually astroturf, but more common is the person who just puts rocks all over their yard so they can save on the massive watering that's required to have anything green. another value i've picked up is that it's really the city's job to provide real grass, and water the parks, so that any citizen can go walk on real grass for a few minutes, even if, as in my case, one is likely to hit stickers and dog poop or do a little caveat emptor or whatever that was that meant buyer beware...though we recognize that anything can happen, we also know that we can get some real grass if we just go to the local park and walk around a little.
football so thoroughly permeates the culture that one can hardly not be aware of when the local football games are happening, even when, as in this last weekend, the raider game was at ten at night. thousands of fans tuned in to watch it; it ruled the televisions and the social life, the raiders and the cowboys, anyway, the cowboys going today. it's ironic, given the intensity of their passion, that the teams are as weak as they are; our university just gave the coach a whopping $3 million/year long-term contract making him easily the richest man in west texas, more even than the oil barons, yet the team floundered around on the field and barely beat el paso. ah, but this isn't about the fumbles, the penalties, the missed opportunities. it's more about how, even at the local grocery store, everyone is wearing red and black, even people who aren't going to the game. the place loves its raiders, or, if you're a little more on the city side, the silver-star on blues.
the sky here is an infinite, ever-changing light show; it's so clear that you can see all the way up through these clouds, so the clouds become multi-dimensional moving bodies that would, well, remind you of tripping, if that were possible. it reminds me of pilots, because those are the guys who get to go up through them regularly, and really experience the different dimensions that we can only get hints of down here, and besides, we're in the city, and one can guess that probably it gets lots more interesting once you really get out over the open plain. and we know, from the few times we fly, that it does. but imagine doing that for a living, going up and through all those intense clouds, diagonally or through these transient storms or turbulent winds that rake the plains. it would be really fun, i think, and i'm really jealous. the best i can do is drive on the roads, and look up occasionally...
and in fact, even the storms are quite geographical in nature, the hail can be damaging out past the loop, but almost nothing in town where we are, or, it can destroy our house and do almost nothing to most of the rest of town. you can note the perimeter of the damage or document the path of the rain, where they got over an inch on a swatch of the city running diagonal through this way, whereas over on the edge, or on the south side, they may have got squat. each little square foot has its own rainfall total, and that's why if you are inclined to go out and stand in it, like a lot of people are, you shouldn't always stand in the same place. you'll rob the ground beneath you of its annual supply.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
at the grocery store, right around game time (what they call "kickoff") most people, most people, were wearing red and black. and these were the people who weren't going to the game. it was a lot of red and black, out there in the world, in favor of the home team. the cashier, however, wasn't impressed. maybe it made the place too busy for her taste.
been writing stories (see below) and working on language as a self-organized system. i should be working on my class, which will be studying social media, but it's the labor day holiday, and i'm trying to take some holiday time. soon enough, i'll get to what we're studying. i wrote a poem, in the style of the master, dr. seuss, about my day. it came out of me so easily, so freely, that i considered devoting part of my life to making more like it. the world needs another dr. seuss, a modern-day bard. a friend of mine does a little bit of it, somewhat like dr. seuss, but there aren't many.
went to new mexico one more time, last weekend, to go camping once before the fall set in, and pulled it off. took the tent, pitched it in the mountains, had a window of time where it didn't rain too much up there, and took in some nice mountain breaths of cool wet air. down in the valley beyond, we saw my parents briefly, and turned around and came back, skipping the white sands this time. the camping, the smores, and the dew on the green grass were a big hit. millions of stars dotted the sky, along with the milky way itself, high above the tall pines that we camped in. i woke up several times each night, perhaps because i was sleeping on the hard ground, but each time i looked up through the little tent window, saw those millions of stars, and went right back to sleep. i dream well on nights like that. but then i come back, and life on the high, flat sunny plain - well, i guess i'm doing ok. i'm not in the high rockies, but at least i'm 3300 feet above the rising seas. and the skies are beautiful way up here.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Thursday, August 14, 2014
war in palestine, war in ferguson
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.