Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Third Grade

I’m taking a break today from studying for the GRE for the sole reason that my brain still hurts from yesterday’s attempt to relearn third-grade arithmetic. The GRE prep book stupidly assumes that math-a-phobes like me readily remember how to do simple problems involving long division. I had to go online to an elementary math website to do a refresher that practically involved “how many baby ducks do you get when you take away five baby ducks from ten baby ducks.” My first answer was four baby ducks.

I was literally tearing my hair out (I could tell because when I looked in the mirror my hair was standing straight up) over simple percentages, when in walked T, who calmly looked at the practice drill and said “is this all they want you to know for the GRE? I could do this.” This was not very encouraging. I showed her what I was having trouble with; she took my pencil, and without any hesitation solved four problems in as many seconds. My jaw locked into the gape position. “You did that without even writing anything down,” I said. “Oh, yes, but I am quite good at math, I got a 790 out of 800 on the SAT,” she replied. She doesn’t know this yet, but she is going to be my tutor for the next three months.

I don’t know what turned me off on math. It is probably because I am left-brained, or right-brained, or lame-brained or whatever, but I suspect that it has something to do with my third grade teacher Mrs. Morrison. Every subject I ever had trouble with in school stems from Mrs. Morrison. Mrs. Morrison ruined my life, and if it wasn’t for her I would surely be fixing the terrible mess in our country, sending Alberto Gonzales to Gauntanimo Bay, finishing up impeachment procedures against George W. Bush, inventing an environmentally friendly sustainable source of energy, successfully convincing extremist Muslims that a couch-potato Midwestern bubba is not the Great Satan, and otherwise having an academically secure outlook on life. But, Mrs. Morrison made sure I become a bowl of half-congealed Jell-O every time I try to balance my checkbook or name the capital of Bulgaria.

You see, she was intimidating. When you brought your work up for her to check, she would look at you like Levrenty Beria, cold and unflinching, completely unmoved by the fact that you had done exactly what they told you to do in second-grade, you had “tried your best.” She deemed a large masterpiece I completed depicting an admiral on a very realistic sailboat insufficient because I hadn’t colored in a patch of sky with my blue crayon. It was too daunting an undertaking to tell her that the blank space was a cloud, and that Tommy Donatello had taken the blue crayon and thrown it across the room at Angie Bowman. I felt that Mrs. Morrison had it in for me. This may be where I picked up my persecution complex as well.

Part of the problem was Mrs. Haith. Mrs. Haith was my second-grade teacher and she was everything Mrs. Morrison was not. Fortunately she had met my parents and held my father in high esteem because of his history professor status. Mrs. Haith loved history, she had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement which, at that time, wasn’t such a long time ago. (I believe it is still going on, especially after this Supreme Court debacle, but I am talking about the core years during the fifties and sixties). She was very proud of the fact that she had met John F. Kennedy personally, and brought it up on a regular basis, but with such warmth and affection that JFK soon took on a hero status in the classroom.

The affection Mrs. Haith had for my parents helped me in a way, but may have hurt me in the long run. I became a pet of sorts. I, along with a pigtailed girl name Elizabeth, sat in the front of the class. Mrs. Haith gave us special duties such as leading the class to the lunch room or sharpening pencils. I don’t know why the class saw manual labor as a sign of status, but when Tommy Donatello got his chance at pencil sharpening, he lorded over the task like he had been given the keys to the kingdom (all the pencils came back stubby, broken, and cracked.)

So at the end of the second-grade, Mrs. Haith recommended me for the advanced program for my third-grade year. My parents must have been proud, and my success in the second-grade quelled any misgivings about my academic future—for the time being. I was happy too, and true to a nature that persists to this day, I became cocky, bragging to my fellow second-graders, especially my best friend Barth. Barth didn’t care; he was a good natured kid, free from envy and persistently happy.

I may have had apprehensions about starting the third grade, but I can’t quite remember. All I know for sure is that I didn’t read the hand-out for supplies I needed for that first day. This was not going to be like the second-grade, where the school provided most of the material for you, and I took this all for granted.

Mrs. Morrison’s favorite classroom tool was the overhead projector, and to this day, when a professor uses one, I think of her and feel butterflies. The transparencies were whipped on and whipped off with the precision of a fascist train-station, and it was totally up to the student to copy the problems down before the next transparency came whipping onto the projector. God help you if you fell behind.

Mrs. Morrison started right in on the first day. The projector was warm and ready, and as she started shuffling transparencies I realized that all of the students were busy copying math problems in their notebooks. They had notebooks. Notebooks! I might have had a pencil but a notebook had never crossed my mind. I distinctly remember wanting to crawl back to Mrs. Haith to tell her I’m wasn’t ready for this. I sheepishly asked the kid next to me for a couple of sheets of paper and he glared at me and handed some over. I maintained pariah status from that point on.

The first day summed up the rest of the year. I struggled through, but my grades were abysmal. One day, while waiting for the bus, Barth grabbed my report card out of my hand before I could conceal it and started rolling on the ground laughing. I got him in a head-lock, but let him go because he just still kept on laughing. Luckily, my parents took my side after a time, and, after meeting Mrs. Morrison themselves, came to the conclusion that she was not a good teacher. Now I’m not so sure. I do know that her personality was about as dynamic as a pile of cinder-blocks and she had no talent for motivating her students, but part of the problem might have been me, wanting to believe that school was always going to be like Mrs. Haith’s class. No, Mrs. Morrison did not ruin my life, but she did wake me to the idea that life is tough so I had better be prepared--with a notebook at least.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

From the Archives

I dug up an old journal that I started back in 1996 when I was working at the snooty country club. The club was a place where people who made a fortune off of tobacco and other related things came to play golf, hit on each other's wives, and generally feel superior. I had been there for about three years, and I don’t know what prompted me to start a journal, all I know is that it didn’t last long—probably only two months or so. Some of it is funny and a great deal of it is poorly written. (I didn’t have a computer back in those days, can you imagine?) Some of it is sad because I write about Margaret during a time when we, at least as far as our relationship went, were very happy. (We split up three months ago.) But it’s not all that sad because it was during the time when the great Dan Eades showed up and married my sister Lindsay. I’m going to recreate some of the scribbling here, taking editorial license with some of the grammar and spelling. (I just misspelled grammar and license; I wonder if I’ll come back to this in eleven years and criticize the style of this post.)

This is the first thing I wrote:

“This is the first entry into what is going to be a day by day account of IMM’s entire life from this day on. A bold declaration but one made in complete earnest. I am going to record every event of significance that has happened to me, good, bad, revealing or otherwise. Also I’m going to record thoughts, opinions (lots of opinions) observances, wishes, dreams, and other matters of the mind so that this may be a highbrow, detailed account of the times we live in.

Everyday. Not just when I feel like it, not when it is convenient, but every single day for the rest of my life until I am struck with arthritis or chop my fingers off (I’m a chef)."

Quite a mission statement, but I have to believe that I wrote it with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. I was declaring all of this with the full knowledge that I would probably loose interest as I had with journals in the past. I ended the first entry with this:

“Good, now that that’s been declared I’m off to high-minded adventures…i.e. oil change and car inspection.”

I think this entry sums up a day at the club pretty well:

“I made a beautiful Christmas tree out of fruit skewers, curly endive and star fruit. After some skeptical comments from Mr. Hartsock (the general manager of the club) during its creation, I plugged on and things really looked damn good. But, it was delicate. It was built around a Styrofoam cone connected to a small round base with six inch skewers. It was top heavy.

We got it over to Secca (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art where we were doing a catering) with me holding on to it in the back of the van. We had a flight of stairs to go up. Gingerly, Marvin (a chef) and I mounted the steps carrying the tree with Mr. Hartsock behind us watching. On the last step the base broke and suddenly the tree looked like a shrub. Gerald, the assistant assistant-manager started making tactless jokes which helped nothing. This made Marvin mad. He spent the rest of the evening picking a fight with Gerald—rightly so—while I tried to rebuild the tree. I did a good job. Sunny ( a kitchen peon) couldn’t tell it had been damaged. Showed my temper a little.”

Some of the entries are short:

“I was almost asleep when I remembered that I hadn’t written in the journal. Now I’ve written in it. Good night.”

Some entries include updates on the baseball team I follow, the Atlanta Braves:

“The Braves lost last night. Actually they didn’t really lose necessarily; they really GOT THE SHIT BEAT OUT OF THEM. They aren’t playing tonight. In retrospect they weren’t playing last night either.”

Here is a piece about trying to see the clock.

“I can never see the clock when I wake up in the night. Usually I wake up and there is a pillow on the other side of Margaret blocking the view. This means that I have to reach over Margaret and throw the pillow on the floor or at the kitty or something. Last night a skirt was draped over the clock and I bumped Marg pretty hard trying to get the thing off. Then the skirt and the clock fell on the floor and Margaret was yelling (sleepy yelling granted) and I was grumbling and it was a right unsightly situation. So, after that, the little kitty started f**cking with the big kitty and Yowee I was getting hot. But I pulled it together and snoozed for the rest of the half-hour until I had to get up.”

Here is something about retrieving a 300 pound block of ice.

“Had to take Sunny out to get the ice for the ice-carving we’re doing for a catering. First went to the wrong place, Forsyth Country Club. Then got lost going to Graylyn Conference Center where the ice actually was. The hand truck was broken and the wheel would fall off at any given moment. I didn’t know this until the 300 lb. block of ice was lying cracked on the loading dock. It was still usable though. Sunny was grumbling and being a damn pain in the ass about it all. Ice carving came out fine.”

These posts make it seem like I was part of a Three Stooges catering operation. I remember that Sunny might have had good reason to grumble seeing as the ice landed on his foot.

What was I reading at this time?

A tell-all book about the NFL
Marlon Brando’s autobiography
A biography of Ty Cobb


Jackie Chan’s “Rumble in the Bronx.”

More about work:

“Work was weird. Debra, the new dining room supervisor, is feuding with the Angela/Collette coalition. Angela/Collette has kept a stronghold on service now for three years, being bitchy, acting unmotivated, moaning, groaning, writing shitty tickets and passing the buck to the kitchen. Debra seems to know what she’s doing. So when I walk in, Angela’s threatening to kick everyone’s ass and she had to be escorted out by Arthur.

Gabriel dropped a can of slivered almonds on Marvin’s hand giving him a pretty nasty gash. This pissed off an already agitated Marvin. He blew Gabriel out and Gabe went skulking upstairs to mend his wounded pride.”

Yea it was a strange place to work, but know that it got better as the years went on.

Lindsay, my sister, let me in on the state-secret that she and her boyfriend were getting married. I was honored that she told me first. Our family doesn’t keep secrets very well, but I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at it because I forget what people tell me so easily.

“Lindsay bummed a cigarette off me and right after lighting it she casually states; “Well it looks like Dan and I are getting married.” She said it so casually that I couldn’t really react at first. It was kind of confusing, but Happy! So I tried to get some details (not easy with Lindsay) while the stupid restaurant chose to blast crappy generic alternative music in our ears.”

On politics, right after the 96 election:

“Bill Clinton is still president and Jesse Helms is still redneck senator supreme.”

This was a series of short entries I did at the end of the journal

“Burnt hand, can’t write.”

“Burnt hand, still can’t write.”

“No change.”


“Damn thing won’t heal.”

“Should have more tomorrow.”

Then, about six weeks later:

“That burn on my hand turned out to be more trouble than I expected. It became infected almost overnight, then gangrenous until (before I even had time to notice the pain and swelling) my hand suddenly fell off. It was really a shock. So you see there was a reason for the gap between entries.”

That was the last entry. It’s funny though, I don’t ever remember having my hand fall off. It must have been very traumatic.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flannery O'Conner Wrote Me

I got this from Charlotte.

Which Author's Fiction are You?

Flannery O'Connor wrote your book. Not much escapes your notice.
Take this quiz!


Make A Quiz More Quizzes Grab Code

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cartier-Bresson in Moscow

In 1954 French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled to Moscow with his wife. The Soviet Union was experiencing a slight thaw after years Stalinism, and Cartier-Bresson was allowed to photograph anything he liked except military installments, railway centers, panoramic views of cities, and certain public monuments. The photographer claims he was mainly interested in photographing the people of Moscow. I've picked out several of Cartier-Bresson's photographs which show his ability to capture the character of the Muscovite. I've limited the captions in order to let the photographs speak for themselves. Blow the photographs up to get a better view of them, if your browser allows it. For some reason my browser won't allow me to enlarge the first photograph.

A Caucasian

Inside Tolstoy's House

The Tretyakov Gallery

This statue depicts Lenin in hiding shortly before the October Revolution

Krushchev at Sports Day

In the Lenin Library. Overshadowing the students are the kindly, philosophical architects of the Revolution. I feel that this photograph and the previous one are closely related.

From: The People of Moscow, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, New York, Simon and Schuster,1955.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Worst Lyrics

According to the people at www.spinner.com these are the worst lines in pop music. See what you think. The list reads from #20 down to #1.

"If I was a sculptor/But then again, no"--
Elton John's 'Your Song'(lyrics by Bernie Taupin)

Well, then stop bringing it up already! This line has been wasting our time for three decades.

"Lucky that my breasts are small and humble/So you don't confuse them with
Shakira's 'Whenever, Wherever'

The woman makes a lot of sense. And lucky that Sacagawea wasn't more buxom or Lewis and Clark might not have found the Pacific.

"I love you like a fat kid loves cake"--
50 Cent's '21 Questions'

Gangsta, schmangsta -- brotha should write Hallmark cards.

"There's an insect in your ear if you scratch it won't disappear"--
U2's 'Staring at the Sun'

It's sure hard to tell that U2 scrambled to finish their 'Pop' album. At least Bono didn't mention "driving rain."

"Relentless lust/Of rotting flesh/To thrash the tomb she lies/Heathen whore/Of Satan's wrath/I spit at your demise"
--Slayer's 'Necrophiliac'

Never mind 50 Cent, these guys should write Hallmark cards.

"Leaving was never my proud"--

R.E.M.'s 'Leaving New York'

Sorry, Michael, but we scoured all of our reference books, and "proud" just doesn't wash as a noun. Lions do live in prides, but we don't see the relevance

"I ain't never seen/An ass like that/The way you move it/You make my pee-pee go'/Doing-doing-doing'"--
Eminem's 'Ass Like That'

Undoubtedly poetic stuff, but do pee-pees really go "doing-doing-doing"?

"There were plants/And birds/And rocks/And things"--
America's 'Horse With No Name'

Like in New York, nouns are scarce in the desert, and apparently our poor soft rockers simply ran out of them. Too bad they didn't consult Michael Stipe: "There were plants and birds and rocks and prouds."

"Time is like a clockin my heart"--
Culture Club's 'Time (Clock of the Heart)'

Awesome analogy. Time is soooo like a clock, because, well, it's freakin' time!

"I wish it was Sunday/That's my fun day/My I-don't-have-to-run day"--
The Bangles' 'Manic Monday'(lyrics by Prince)

We're cool with the easy rhymes of Monday to Sunday, and even Sunday to fun day, but "I-don't-have-to-run day"? No, now Prince is just messing with us.

I'm all out of faith/This is how I feel"--
Natalie Imbruglia's 'Torn'(lyrics by Anne Preven)

Can you say filler line? Like, oh, we get it, this is how you feel -- because it's been so darn long since you told us how you were all out of faith.

"Now you're amazed/By the VIP posse/Steppin' so hard/Like a German Nazi"--
Vanilla Ice's 'Play That Funky Music

'Dude took the original song's "white boy" lyrics a little too literally. Good thing he specified German though, because those Austrian Nazis were way too light on their feet.

"My panty line shows/Got a run in my hose/My hair went flat/Man, I hate that"--
Shania Twain's 'Honey I'm Home'

Horribly trite stuff ... but we do always enjoy the word "panty."

I don't think that I'vegot the stomach/To stomach calling you today"--
Saves the Day's 'See You'

And we're betting that this clever emo fella doesn't have the eyes to eye you, the hands to handle you ... or even the mouth to mouth your name. Oh, the humanity!

"Your butt is mine"--
Michael Jackson's 'Bad'

The worst opening line in pop history. However, we hear it's huge in Dubai.

"But if this ever-changingworld in which we live in ..."--
Paul McCartney and Wings' 'Live and Let Die'

Dangerous combination: Sir Paul having so much money and prepositional phrases being so cheap. Any junior-high English teacher would take points off for everything after "world."

"Young, black and famous/With money hangin'Out the anus"--
Puff Daddy and Mase's 'Can't Nobody Hold Me Down'

Sometimes the only things more crude than slang terms are their anatomically correct counterparts.

"I don't like cities/But I like New York/Other places/Make me feel like a dork"--
Madonna's 'I Love New York'

So, so true. Which is of course why Paris is so famously known as the City of Dorks.

"War is stupid/And people are stupid"--
Culture Club's 'War Song'

Boy George again, and this time he's illin' like Bob Dylan. We wrote a song just like this in seventh grade, but the next line was, "And your mom is stupid."

"Coast to coast/L.A. to Chicago"--
Sade's 'Smooth Operator'

Sade was born in Nigeria and grew up in London, but her biggest hit reveals that she's clearly not a smooth navigator

Suggestions for Reading about All Good

I know the story I wrote about All Good is long. I also know that many people don't have the time to sit and read about "what I did on my summer vacation" for hours on end. Here is a suggestion. Since each paragraph is separated from the next, just read a couple of paragraphs per part. Most of the observations are random anyway. You don't even have to scroll down to the first part. Read it backwards, it really won't make a difference. If some of the parts compel you to read on, please help yourself. I think it would be great if people read it backwards and in pieces. Talk about deconstruction.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

All Good Part IV

Now let me launch into the final installment of the "All Good Quartet in Me Minor." Writing about this has been almost as exhausting as doing it, but I must press on so the backlog on the bench can step into the batter’s box. Cool, a sports analogy, the guys and gals at the office would be impressed.

Before launch, (or at least before lunch) let me give a couple of updates and revisions. A few days ago I wrote a post called “Why I Blog.” I took the easy way out and applied humor to the process, you know, that self-deprecating but kind of self-aggrandizing at the same time variety of humor…the kind that says I can laugh at myself but I’m not a complete flake. (By the way, I fully acknowledge my tendency toward flakiness, if I were a biscuit I would win awards, and I was once given the key to Flaketown.)

The point I did not make clear in the “Why I Blog” post is: I want to have something to help me remember my life. I don’t know if this is exactly an ego-stroking exercise because when I go back and look at the journals I’ve started in the past, the feelings are always mixed. First there is the “oh yea, I forgot about that,” factor, then there is the laughter—I do tend to make myself laugh, when no one else is around—but then there is the cringe factor and the idea that wherever I was at that point in my life, I should have been doing something different. In other words, Regrets.

So why put myself through that? I don’t know, perhaps I’m inclined towards nostalgia, the long lost cousin of melancholy. After reading about the Weimar Republic I realized how the modernists adamantly opposed the old socialist’s nostalgia for pre-World War I Germany. I wonder if nostalgia isn’t becoming a dirty word again, like “liberal” or “regulatory.” Thomas Wolfe was right, you can’t go home again, but you can sometimes hover over that old home and watch, and remember. When I do that in the future, I want the lines of that vision defined by this journal.

Patio Update: Three days in a row of working on the patio. Yesterday I started raking the area to loosen the dirt for stomping and leveling. I’ve borrowed this heavy stomping tool (I can’t believe I don’t even know the name of the thing) and it should add to the list of muscles I never knew I had. I’m spreading the extra dirt into the upper part of the yard, and I hope to plant either grass or bushes up that way, but that will come later. Leveling is the name of the game right now.

Booker Update: Booker is enjoying the patio project immensely. While the inside of my house used to be covered in a protective layer of dust, now it covered in protective layer of dirt. Booker loves the dirt, and yesterday evening he was catching the Frisbee at close quarters over the mound of dirt and really launching himself off of it and making good grabs. Other than that it’s the same as usual, sleep, wag-tail, drink water, snore, fart, and eat. Oh, and the periodic hero-worship of me.

School Update: All As this term. The Eastern Music Festival has been going on all month and the musicians practice in the library. Mornings are filled with classical music from world renowned talents, but don’t ask me to name any because this is totally out of my realm. The music is very nice, all except the avant garde group who was practicing as I was writing a final draft. That was a challenge. I started studying for the GRE yesterday.

All Good Part IV

I spent most of Saturday morning, after making a run to the truck, just sitting around the campsite and watching people walk by. I saw a family, a mother, father and small daughter trekking up the hill in front of the ridge. The father was pulling a heavily burdened wagon containing all of his daughter’s necessities, but the daughter was out of the wagon and walking up the hill with the help of her mother. She weaved a bit and toddled along quite happily as her mother, in swaying skirt, led her daughter forward. It was a slow procession, all in honor of the daughter, and as they moved up the hill I watched them with interest. With all of the varieties of revelry going on around me, this seemed like such a serene and calming scene, although the husband, dragging his heavy rolling caravan behind him in the late-morning heat, might have had a different opinion.

I met people as they passed by my tent. There was a large area of campers directly behind me and people from this area would pass by my site to take the ridge line down to the main road. I met an African American man named Wayne who was there with his father. He had been to three of these things and filled me in on the bands that had played there in the past. There was also a girl who lost her cell-phone and believed she had done it while she was talking to me. She had offered to let me use it when I was trying to find Pete and Paris, but she never produced it because I told her I had lost their number. She seemed a little disoriented and didn’t quite accept the fact that she hadn’t given it to me. I offered to let her use my flashlight and to help her look but she said no.

I went to Pete and Paris’ campsite but they weren’t there. I left them a note telling them I would check back later. It may sound strange but I really enjoyed walking around more than anything. I have legs built for this, and as long as I have good shoes and no blisters I walk for hours. On the way there were so many things to look at. I stopped a guy who was selling T-shirts and bought the one he was using as a display. A bright blue T-shirt that was designed to look like one of those European road signs that tell you if there is lodging or camping or a telephone or restaurants at the next exit. The panels on this shirt show a tent in one, a fire in the next (I guess to represent cooking or pagan ritual or something), a musical note in the third, and this weird void/spiral-like design in the fourth, conceivably to represent strange apparitions and the like. On the back are the names of all of the bands that played at the festival. I wonder if this shirt will make it to the stage of some of my others, un-wearable because of their ragged state from over-use, but un-tossable because of their intrinsic value to my memory.

That day I was wearing my old Grateful Dead shirt with the rip in the front. Someone remarked that it was a cool shirt as I walked by and I heard another from the group say, “thank you for anchoring us.” I have no idea what that means, maybe they needed an anchor to keep them from drifting onto the shoals of scary apparitions, but I took it as a compliment, although an anchor is only a cold stagnant piece of metal that sits half-buried at the bottom of the ocean. It also may add a bit of ballast to the ship when drawn in.

I also bought a poster of Jerry Garcia and Pigpen. Pigpen was an early member and co-founder of the Grateful Dead who's real name was Ron Mckernen. McKernen was a bluesman and a biker, and this early image shows the two co-founders of the band looking at once kindly and a little frightening. When I finally found Pete and Paris, I showed it to them and Paris said how she thought that they looked like Freddie Kruger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I’m planning on having it framed.

When I finally met up with Pete and Paris they were cooking up bratwurst in beer and sauerkraut. I slobbered down two of these while enjoying sitting at their campsite and hearing about the acts I had missed. Soon we packed up and headed back down to the stage area to see bassist Les Claypool. We planted ourselves on the right side again and listened to this weird music. Claypool is a little inaccessible for my melody-hungry ear. I went towards the stage for a while, and a walking puppet troupe came by dressed as weird creatures. One was of a giant goofy corn-cob with little hands that slapped back and forth. Another was a little mad doctor who would get close to the women and stick out a long, obtrusive and phallic tongue at them. The one who wanted to dance with me was a sea-creature with no eyes that looked like a character from Sponge Bob Square Pants who had ended up in a biker gang or something. The doctor stuck his tongue out at me and I punched it.

When I went back up the hill there was a crowd forming along a gully leading down the extreme right side of the hill. The three of us stood up and saw a man in a crash helmet making exaggerated stretching motions and pumping his knees up and down. He was going to do something, we just weren’t sure what. By the time a crowd had formed on both sides of the gully, it became apparent that the man was going to come down the hill in a daring and dangerous way. The crowd started chanting “go, go, go, go.” It reminded me of the people who yell “jump” during suicide attempts. I found myself chanting as well. The man did a very long lead-up, with the help of a friend who was presumably going to repeat the stunt wearing only a floppy hat. These two played the crowd for around ten minutes until, all of a sudden, the helmeted man hurled himself down the hill and somersaulted the entire 100-200 yard distance. His helmet came off on the first summersault which was forbidding because the gully was nothing but hard-baked earth and rocks. He didn’t summersault in the way I remember as a kid, he shot forward with his legs and flipped over on his hands, keeping his head, and more importantly his neck, off the ground. The crowd, always on cue, roared.

I ran into the daredevil at the bottom of the hill and told him that was the goddamndest stunt I had ever seen. His friend took offence and said “stunt, that wasn’t a stunt, that was an expression of being, a life affirming event, don’t call it a stunt.” I said “okay, but it was kind of a stunt too.” The stuntman looked at me and then gave me a hug, which I didn’t necessarily invite. When he pulled away I accidentally knocked the beer out of his hand. His friend said, “man, that was un-cool,” and I had to agree. To make the vibe right, I bought him another beer and apologized profusely.

The day ended with the jam band moe. By the time they started their third or fourth number, I decided that I would listen to the rest of the concert from the top of the hill, I said my farewell to Pete and Paris and headed back to the tent.

I returned to the house the next day. The festival continued through Sunday but I was starting the final week of the term and I wanted to be ready for the reality of Monday morning. Booker was waiting. It’s probably a good thing that you can’t take your dogs to one of these things. I saw a couple on the way out on Sunday holding up a sign saying they had lost their dog. The woman looked despondent.

I wonder now if I will go to All Good next year. My current plans see me in another country in a year’s time, but plans change. The festival was really what I needed at this point, when I’m trying to figure out how to be single again and looking for diversions to cover up the sadness. I know I’ll have to come down soon. This has been one of the least busy and relaxing summers I can remember, but a roller-coaster of a fall is looming. Through the upcoming trials I’ll remember the festival, the truck breaking down, Pete and Paris (who are on their way to New Zealand next month), the fantastic dirty-stinking hippies, my tent on the hill, the stuntman, and as much of the wonderful weirdness as I can.

Monday, July 23, 2007

All Good Part III

One of the problems arising from having my truck break down was that I had to park very far away from my campsite. All of my bare necessities were at the site, but all of the extra camping gear, like the kerosene lamp and the bottled water, were still in the truck. This meant that every morning for the rest of the festival I made a supply run to my truck which I estimate was about a quarter-of-a-mile away. Here I would gather water, some snacks, and other semi-necessary items and hike back to the campsite. I really didn’t mind this; it got me moving, and allowed me to see all of the weirdness around me.

I always am amazed when I hear fans of this sort of music get into arguments. I remember going to a Dead show in Albany and seeing the crowd clear away as two very road-hardened looking deadheads started screaming at each other. Apparently one of the deadheads wasn’t pulling his weight around the microbus and the other had had enough. I think there was some accusation about the lazy deadhead’s dog not being bus-broken or something. It is strange to see this at an event where you might see people trying to exert “good vibes” around the crowd with skipping and flowers or whatever. I always think its interesting that these people have a breaking point as well, and that traveling with people is often tense, no matter how “mellow” or “chilled out” you might regard yourself.

So one morning when I was making my run to the truck I passed a tent under the shade of some large trees. In it were three relatively shaky characters who were having a row to end all rows over someone’s responsibility, or lack of responsibility, toward the whole of the group. It was a back and forth debate, from what I could make of it, and as I passed by it took on the elements of Greek drama. Both participants (the third guy looked too out of it to speak) were fully engaged and making gestures worthy of the litigators in the Scopes trial. I walked on by, trying not to look like I was hanging on every word. When I passed by on my return, the two arguers were silent, either stewing, or over it by then. I tend to want to believe the later.

I knew it was very possible that I would meet up with the long lost friends Pete and Paris at the Yonder Mountain String Band performance. We had talked about which band we wanted to see, and I thought I remembered him saying that this was one of them. I grabbed some supplies to take with me to the main stage area and started walking. On the way I met the guy who had helped me look for my transmission fluid cap and thanked him. He seemed relieved that everything had worked out.

I made my way down a line of venders selling crystals, trinkets, T-shirts, CDs, falafel, lemon-ices (which I got talked into buying—it was good on this hot day) and kabobs. The main stage was a hill, amphitheater-shaped, looking down on one large stage, with a smaller stage on the right. I don’t remember the name of the band that was playing (it was good Louisiana style stuff—like the Neville Brothers or the Meters)) when I arrived, all I know is I trekked across the hill and found a good spot on the left side. A couple was sitting on a blanket just above me and they noticed I had on a shirt of a band called Carbon Leaf. They let me know that they were big fans of Carbon Leaf and as we talked I found out they were from Nelson County Virginia, where my sister lives. So we had a good time talking about that area of Virginia while we waited for Yonder Mountain.

On my third trip to the entrance area of the stage Pete appeared and I gave him an overly-enthusiastic hug. He and Paris were up the hill on the right side, and I got them caught up on the truck debacle while Yonder Mountain jammed out their set. This is a great band, one who performs in earnest, mixing bluegrass with the improvisation of jazz. Strong songwriting serves their act well, helped in turn by close harmonies. The music played on as I talked to Pete and Paris, and the full joy of the experience started to hit me. I had three days of this ahead, my truck was okay, I had found the people I had come with, and I could see my little Coleman tent way off on the hill, waiting for me with its view of the festival. Delusions of grandeur started setting in, and I accepted them whole-heartedly.

We decided to get closer to the stage, and as we did rain clouds started forming. Soon a shower of rain came to cool us off, and for a moment the power on both stages shut down. This was humorous, if not a little dangerous, because the band playing on the little stage was this bizarre mix of Joan Jett and Eurhythmics with back-up dancers clad in pink cheerleading outfits swigging beer. A very strange act. I kind of liked them, admittedly because of the beer-swigging cheerleaders, but Pete didn’t exactly take a cotton to them. They were a very strange group to be at this type of festival, but I was impressed at how the drummer kept playing, even with the power out, and through the darkness I could see the cheerleaders still writhing around suggestively. After the lights were back on and the cheerleader’s set had ended, a young-woman came up to me and asked me if I’d seen a rainbow. I tried to put on my best lounge lizard face and replied “yes, I see a rainbow, it’s you.” She didn’t slap me, in fact she laughed and we looked for rainbows together. She asked me where one might appear, and I pointed to behind the stage, a little toward my tent. I was way off, and soon behind us appeared the biggest complete rainbow I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing rainbows in Africa and Costa Rica folks. Most of the crowd turned around to view it and true to the theme of the festival a collective roar went up in the crowd.

Later on we watched the intense performance of the reggae band Steel Pulse. These guys are political and forceful, more Peter Tosh than Bob Marley. They held us spoiled Americans to task, exposing hypocrisy while whipping us into a frenzy of dancing wet pagans. I was a believer by the end, and floored by the raw power here. This was a complete contrast to the string-tones of Yonder Mountain, and the reggae bass slapped us all around like step-children.

After Steele Pulse I followed Pete and Paris back to their campsite. We made arrangements to meet up that night and I returned to my campsite to see if the rain had done any damage. Everything was dry so I sat on the hill next to my Bronx cooler. My friend Kevin told me about this. When he and his girlfriend were in New York he bought a six-pack and he wanted to ice it down. He asked the desk attendant at the hotel if they had anything he could do it with and the desk attendant obliged by saying, “yea buddy, I’ll make ya a Bronx cooler.” He returned with a wastebasket with a garbage bag stuck in it and filled with ice. Kevin said that it looked like it would work great and said he would have to remember the Brooklyn cooler. The attendent became stern and said, “That’s Bronx cooler.”

So I had my version of the Bronx cooler on the hill. It was a milk-crate double bagged with garbage bags and filled with ice from a vender down the trail. It worked really well, and I had ice cold beverages throughout the festival. As the music continued into night, I listened to the scarily prolific and talented Keller Williams from this spot.

I somehow missed Pete and Paris that night, I left the tent before they were able to find it, but I had a great time never-the-less at the Ratdog concert. Bob Weir, formally of the Grateful Dead, is the front man for this group. They primarily do Grateful Dead songs. I like hearing this stuff purely for nostalgia reasons and I must annoy the people in front of me by singing all the words to the songs, although I think they were doing it too. I like Bob Weir immensely and he seems to have taken on the grandfatherly role of this type of fan, one that Jerry Garcia seemed to have perfected. He has grown a large white beard and looks like pioneers of old. Others I’ve talked to say he looks like a child molester.

I returned to my tent after Ratdog. As I was walking back, a woman in the crowd just behind me decided she would run screaming into the little pond by the gate. The crowd, always waiting for their chance, gave a great cheer as the woman splashed around. I watched for a moment and noticed some of the people were yelling at her to get out. A few of us became concerned for her safety and I waited to see if she was alright because at this point the celebratory mood of her action seemed to be wearing off. She waded to shore and kind of stood there shivering, looking small and pathetic. I moved on, and after I had walked away I turned to see that she had returned to the pond and was doing the back-stroke.

This report of the festival has taken on the characteristics of an endless chronicle. I will end part three here, with a part four inevitable. But that’s it; the festival was four days so it stands to reason that the account should equal the festival in parts. The final chapter is next.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Kinky Sex (or, stay tuned for part three of All Good)

Just for fun I want to see if this title gets me any extra hits. I know that when I posted an entry entitled "Places I've had Sex" my page views spiked considerably. What a cheap trick, I know, I know. And the worst part is that this post has no descriptions of kinky sex, unless you want me to go into the knee-jerk fantasies I had over all the scantily clad (and some un-clad) young-women (also known to relapsing sexists as hot coeds)at the festival. You don't want that, believe me. So I plan to wrap up this saga by tomorrow, but I'm taking a break from writing today because last week was pretty hectic as far as writing goes, two term papers and some erratic posts. The tap tap tap of the keyboard is starting to sound more and more like water-torture. Booker is snoring and it is contageous. One thing I will say, for the first time in maybe fifteen years I have weekends off. That means every weekend, not just the last weekend of the month or every other Sunday. It is so awesome. I like joining the Saturday shopping throng, and this morning I made myself a frittatta. It wasn't great (I should have left the roma tomato out) but it was home-cooked and hot. I could get used to this. I also need to get back on the patio project. There, that's what I needed to do, get it down in writing so I have to get back to the patio project. Bye now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why I Blog

I’m taking another break from the festival saga to participate in a meme. I was tagged by Archie and am quite honored. The question is: Why do I blog? It’s a good one, because I’ve been asking myself that question since I started. Here we go.

1. To, for the first time in my life, keep a fairly consistent journal of events, thoughts, rants, rambles, and un-p.c. opinions. As the blog progresses I’ve extended it to include: featuring bands I like and therefore think everyone else in the world should, let skilled journalist expose the idiocy going on in my country, extend the blog to include people I would never be able to meet in my humble corner of the world, and play backgammon instead of doing school work.

2. Who are we kidding? To stroke my ego. As Archie says, everyone likes to do their best and when someone I respect extends his or her hand through cyberspace and pats me on the back it ticks my mood up a notch, can’t help it, it just does.

3. To make my dog even more bored with me. He can tell when I’m going to sit down and write a post—he actually sighs, because he knows we won’t be going on a walk tonight, but I took him on a long one this morning.

4. To overcome my all-thumbs ability in spelling, grammar, punctuation and typing. So far, since the beginning, I’ve been backsliding consistently, and I’ll bet since you’ve been reading this you’ve caught one typo or misuse of grammar that I’ve missed (please excuse all the contractions). Keep trying they told me, and that’s what I’ll do.

5.To reconnect with my sisters. This one is corny I know, but for a while we were flung all over the globe. I’m not much of a correspondent when it comes to the phone or email, but since I’ve been doing this I find I keep up with them almost better than when we were kids.

So I tag Emily, Charlotte, Froshty, and Danny.

Lindsay's Art

I''m breaking from my festival saga to create a link to Lindsay's new drawings. If you do anything when you visit my site, make sure you view her work. This series is a particular favorite of mine. Lindsay's Art.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

All Good, Part II

Okay, so now its time to hammer out more of this gripping adventure story. I’m still doing extra-duty in the library, (my cohort, Tatiana, has gone to meet her future in-laws and I’m filling in) which is the equivalent of the graveyard shift at a morgue this time of year. I’ve spent most of my day getting ready to knock out a paper, and I managed to get the citation of sources out of the way first, which is a relief, because I need to use MLA style citation and I always wait until the last minute and end up pulling out tufts of hair as the clock ticks down. Now all I have to do is write and proof-read the paper. Man I wish they would standardize citation for all disciplines. I’m more comfortable with Chicago style, the historian’s citation friend, with the cool footnotes.

So, to continue the saga. That night, Thursday, I went to see a band called Dark Star Orchestra. They’re a good band, possibly more suited for a bar, but they play actual complete shows of the Grateful Dead—this one was from 1976 I believe. They sounded a little like I felt, tired but happy to be there, and they caterwauled a nice “Eyes of the World” which lifted my spirits even more. Of all these Dead revival bands these guys interpret Garcia’s nuanced evolution probably the best of anybody.

I walked around for a while after the show and entered into impromptu conversations at every level with people in different states of consciousness. I’ll withhold judgment on the use of contraband at these festivals, I don’t have a problem with it, (unless someone on something steals my tent) but I realize that if these things are expanding people’s minds, then to someone who isn’t partaking the effect seems to be the opposite—that their minds are imploding. (With that I’ll add yet another disclaimer where I out myself as a hypocrite, but won’t say why.) I got some decent information from a few people about how the festival works and what to expect in the next few days. I was putting off returning to my tent for two reasons. One, the sooner I went to sleep, the sooner I would have to deal with the broken-truck issue; and two, I knew that all of these revelers would want to be up all night whooping and hollering and making it difficult to sleep at all.

I misjudged the second part. All of the partiers appeared to be like me, exhausted. It is a big deal preparing for one of these things, and by the time you get there you just want to re-up on energy for a while. I slept really well as a matter of fact.

The first thing I realized when I woke up was how lucky I was with my campsite situation. I faced the back of the main stage and although I didn’t know exactly how cool that was going to be yet, I did appreciate the view. Dirty-stinkin’ longhairs as far as the eye could see, (I use these terms with the utmost fondness) shadowed but the rolling hills of West Virginia. I was camped on a ridge that overlooked a road, and beyond was a grove of trees which led down to the stage area on the left and the VIP and band areas on the right. I was in quick walking distance of everything I needed, including the infamous port-a-johns which I steeled myself to use the night before. I won’t go into gory details but I don’t understand why they don’t have risers for these things that allow the johns to flush into a tank that can be hauled away and eliminate the stench—which literally brought on my gag-reflex every time I walked by them. It required great fortitude to actually use the things.

But I had bigger things to worry about than the manufacture of transportable toilets. I got up, and with barely time to scratch a toothbrush across my teeth I started hiking back to my truck. Without the load of the night before I managed a pretty good clip and was once again picked up by a couple, about the same age as the last, who had been in the line to get in the night before and told me it took them something like four hours. I half-listened while the anxiety over my truck grew. It had to be the transmission, but what part of the transmission? The whole thing? That would be tantamount to having the thing totaled because the truck probably wasn’t worth the price to fix the transmission. I just had to find out for myself.

The couple was only going as far as the entrance gate, but the tow-truck people had told me that my truck was in town and that meant I would have to hoof another two or three miles to get there. That didn’t bother me very much because I often walk my dog about five miles at a time. It was the transmission and the cost of fixing it that had me worried.

When we got to the entrance I saw a tow-truck and then realized they were towing the truck right then and there. This was a real break, and I jumped out of the couple’s car, while thanking them, and ran over to see a young sturdy guy in a Harley Davidson tie-dye winching my version of Traveler onto his tow-truck. “I thought you guys were going to pick it up last night,” I said to the guy, and he must have taken my enthusiasm for something else, because he replied, a little defensively, “It was too crowded to get it last night.” I said, “that’s okay, no problem, can I catch a ride with you?” He caught on then and said “Yup. Let me just get it on the truck.”

I continued badgering him for a minute and found out that it might not be a total break down of the transmission. I heard him say, “yea, this is pretty common in long lines like that, the transmission fluid overheats and blows the cap off. We’ll get you into town and they should have you fixed up in about an hour or so.” Then, when I heard these words, it was as if the clouds had lifted and the angels were singing “halleluiah” in my ear. He offered me the passenger seat in his truck and as I jumped up I saw he had a very young woman with him. I believe I just started babbling to her about my travails, a little like the inebriated couple the night before. As we drove down the road and into town, I tell you I was giddy.

But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. It wasn’t a sure thing that the truck was going to recover. I tried to keep my enthusiasm down to a low roar so as not to jinx the process.

We pulled into the service station and, as I waited for the tow-truck-driver to unhook everything, I noticed the cheerful woman tow-truck-driver from the previous night and gave her a wave. She waved back and then the young-woman waved, a little less enthusiastically. “Do you know her?” I asked and she said, “Yes, she’s my mother.” “You have a nice mother,” I replied, to which she responded, “I wouldn’t say that.”

I got out and realized that the name of this operation was Ron’s Towing. The driver reiterated how the problem was a common one by pointing at three or four cars that had had the same thing happen to them. He told me that the guys at the service station were good people and that they would fix me up in no time. I asked him what his name was and he said, “I’m Ron.” “So you’re Ron!” I shouted happily as he drove off with the pouting young woman.

The name of the service station was Street’s Ford, (or Street Ford I can’t quite remember) and true to Ron’s word they took care of me. A group of mechanics came out to help push the truck into the garage and one of the guys said, “Here we go pushing a Ford again.” I took no offence, he was probably a Chevy man, and I’ve spent many hours hanging around with this truck in a mechanics garage watching them replace parts—it’s an old truck, 200,000 miles—listening to this type of derision about various makes and models. As the rolling truck picked up speed, the three mechanics pushing it casually hopped onto the back bumper and rode it into the service area.

I waited for about an hour-and-a-half, still a little in suspended motion about the problem. The main guy, I believe his name was Shaun, gave me the low-down and said that they wouldn’t know for sure until they had changed the filter and flushed out the old fluid, refilling it with new. So I sat in suspense as I watched straggling hippies stumble here and there. At some point the mechanics lowered my truck with the lift almost to the floor and I saw the wheels spinning as a mechanic pressed the accelerator. This was a very welcome sight. That’s what’s supposed to happen when you press the accelerator.

As I drove back up the hill, I was deliriously happy. I was singing loudly and trying not to get over-excited and bring on more mishap. But I couldn’t believe my luck, combined with the kind efficiency of the people of Mansontown, WV. The road into the festival was much less crowded on this morning, and as I parked my truck I heard the beginning notes of the earliest band on the roster start meandering over the hills. The main task would be to try and find Pete and Paris, but first I would sit on my hill and listen to whatever jam-band happened to be playing. I didn’t realize until I got back to NC that all of this good fortune had happened on Friday the 13th.

Note: I had to get that part of the story out before I can move on to the rest of the festival. Please excuse my “regurgitation of experience” but I don’t own a camera, so I want to get as much of this down as possible. More on external descriptions of the actual festival are on the way in the next part.

Monday, July 16, 2007

All Good, Part I

I know I should be starting the huge amount of reading I need to do before I write my paper on the film Tampopo, but since I’m filling in this afternoon at the library, I’m going to go ahead and start the first part of my post about my trip to the All Good Festival in West Virginia. Procrastination is keeping this blog alive folks.

I’m not going to go through the boring details of preparing for the trip. Basically I met my friends Pete and Paris in Asheville NC so I could follow them up to the festival. The drive up was relatively uneventful, with me driving behind Pete and listening to the latest Sun Volt recording which has become one of those CDs that I have to get a daily dose of or else I become erratic. It took around seven hours to get there, through the Appalachian Mountains, and the scenery helped to ease the monotony of the drive. All was going as planned. It was, well …all good.

We finally made it to the area of the festival and as soon as we got to the little town of Masontown the traffic all but stopped. I’ve gone to enough of these hippy events (in 2004 I went to the monstrous Bonnoroo Festival in Tennessee—80,000 sweating youths) and I know that one of the few things that are unpleasant about them for me is the line of traffic going in. The other unpleasant aspect is the port-a-johns, but I won’t go into that—yet.

This festival was no different. The line of cars was huge and Pete made the wise decision of gassing up before committing to the milieu. Running out of gas in this crowd would be embarrassing, if not disastrous, and I knew that the last thing I wanted to do was get a large amount of retro-stoners uptight with me before I even made it to the show. The cars were rolling forward slowly, with two abreast at times, and we were making about one mile an hour. Cars from Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida all jammed the craggy-rocked dirt road, with music from a variety of bands blaring out of stereos and blending into the cacophony. I started to resent my fellow festival-goers from who I could catch snippets of “Yo dude” conversations about getting into the festival and wigging-out or something. Most of them were having a great time, but I wasn’t. I had to piss, and the CD player I brought along skipped on this road so I couldn’t drown the rest out with some real music. I tried my newest mantra which is a simple, “I’m cool,” (this is “I’m cool” in the “I’m okay” sense, not the “I think a lot of myself” sense) but this wasn’t working either. I began to stew. I found myself quickly saying “I’m cool, it’s all good,” over and over.

Only thing is, it wasn’t. As I was saying my fifty-eighth “I’m cool,” I heard a voice yelling from the car next to me, “hey dude, there’s something pouring out of the bottom of your truck.”

My first reaction was to believe that it was only run-off from the air-conditioner. But I quickly hopped out to see red liquid spilling out of the middle of the truck’s chassis on to the dirt like a bleeding draft-animal. Transmission fluid. “Oh shit,” I thought and jumped back into the truck and pulled over as best as I could on that narrow road. I then ran up to Pete’s car which was three or four cars ahead and let him know what was happening. Then I ran back to the truck and one of the people I was grouped with was outside of his car looking for the transmission run-off cap which he believed was lost somewhere down the road. The two of us hurried down the road, past bewildered bohemians, both looking frantically for the cap. It was no use though, it wasn’t anywhere in sight, so I returned to my truck, yanked out a long strip of aluminum foil I had for cooking, and shoved it into the hole to stop the leak. I then got back into my truck and decided to see if I could keep driving until I made it to the campsite. Then I could take a better look at the damage.

I made it about another half-mile, but as the line turned up a particularly steep grade, the transmission started to slip dramatically. All I could do was reverse, park and jam on my emergency brake. While I was getting out I heard a variety of comments, mostly sympathetic, like “bummer dude,” and “so close and yet so far,” but one particular dumb-ass (excuse the crude slang, but this instance has me thinking only in these terms) yelled out, “shoulda gotten a four-wheel drive.” He was apparently very proud of the new four-wheeler his soulless parents had more-than-likely paid for. [Disclaimer #45: I’m not mad at all young people whose parents buy them cars, just this particular one.]

I put myself in the mental-crises-zone that allows me to take one moment at a time and started running down the hill. On the way down, a guy was coming up and shouting “what’s the problem sir?” I ignored the fact that he had called me sir in front of a bunch of college kids and told him the problem. He said, “Oh, follow me.” I put my trust in his calm demeanor and did as I was told. At the bottom of the hill we came to a couple with a four-wheeler and the first guy told me that they were the wrecking service. Wow, I picked a pretty good place to break down, one- hundred yards from the wrecker.

The man rode off on his four-wheeler to get his wrecker, and his partner, a sturdy, cheerful woman, directed the younger man to block traffic. I didn’t really have time to consider the fact that I was making the nightmare of getting into this place even worse by stopping traffic for however long it took to haul my truck off. I do know that if I was in the line I wouldn’t have been all that sympathetic with the broken-truck-owner. But I never heard anyone say anything disparaging (except the four wheel drive crack) and it seemed that most of the hippies took it in stride.

I had to get my bare necessities out of the truck because by this time I realized I would be separated from my truck until the morning. I grabbed my tent, my back-pack, and bedroll as my truck became attached to the wrecker. I rode down the hill and back to the main entrance in the cab of the wrecker with the cheerful woman and they parked my truck in a field, got my information, and told me to get a ride into town the next morning. I grabbed my gear and started the long-hike into the festival.

I hiked a while, until I met someone who told me I had better get a ride because I had a long way to go. Soon a little gray car stopped and I heard a somewhat unsteady voice yell, “hey dude, you wanta ride?” I yelled back “yes” and ran up to the car. I got in and the couple, who looked like they were about fifteen, introduced themselves (I’ve forgotten their names already) and told me they were from Jersey. It was the young man’s birthday. I have to say this next thing delicately, but the couple was either not the brightest bulb in the chandelier or they were on some very potent inebriants. Somehow, I suspect both. They kept saying, “ooh baby baby, just park in this person’s yard,” and “where did everybody go?” (By this time we were driving away from the line of cars waiting to get in the front gate.)

Finally we got to the camping area. When we pulled up, I quickly excused myself from the Jersey couple’s car because I knew that if I rode in with them I would probably have to camp with or around them, and I just wasn’t in the mood. They were babbling incoherently at this point, and I left them in this state, after thanking them profusely for saving me the hike.

This turned out to be the best decision of the entire trip, not because of the Jersey couple but because by walking in this way I was able to luck out on the best campsite I could possibly hope for. I had lost Pete and Paris, and maddeningly lost their cell phone number as well, but they had told me that they were going to try to camp on a hill and by some trees. So in the off-chance that I might reunite with them I started combing the hills along the tree line. By the time I found a clear enough place I was tired, but determined to put up my tent, rain-fly and all. It was around ten pm.

I used my little wind up flash-light that my Aunt Boo gave me for Christmas and amazingly made quick work of the task. The experience frazzled my nerves, and the celebratory mood of the rest of the festival-goers was lost on me. Fireworks were going off periodically, making the crowd cheer with every blast, but I was cursing in unison. I knew that things didn’t look good for my truck, the transmission was more than likely shot, I was very far away from my home, I was separated from my friends and I wasn’t having the great time that I had looked forward to for so long. Self-pity was knocking at the door.

I decided that there nothing I could do about it, that whatever happened happened. “I might as well get into the spirit,” I told myself, besides, at least I’m in the festival. I decided to walk down the hill and follow the music, which was provoking wild cheers from the hippies. My mood improved as I walked. I made it to the main thoroughfare as throngs of American vacationing youth swept me up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

See Ya

I'm going out of town, to the wild environs of West Virginia, to get my hippy on and see some great bands, camp, eat and get sunburned. I probably won't be able to post for about a week but I predict a two-part post about my trip. Next week is the final week of the term and I have two papers due so I'll have to squeeze a post in there if I can. Plus, I might need some time to recover depending on how much damage I do at this festival. I'm very excited about going.
Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Monday, July 9, 2007

For some reason blogspot has decided I'm not allowed to title any of my posts anymore. The cursor won't appear in the title box when I click on it. It's one of those things that happen in our technical realm that can't be explained--or at least can't be explained by me. This is a real shame because titles are important. My last post was of a quote, and I decided not to title it because I felt that the quote spoke for itself. I'm wondering now if that by not giving it a title I automatically triggered some default that won't allow me to title anything else. Dammit. Blogspot's idiosyncrasies have screwed me before, causing me to have to abandon a former blog because of some irreversible trap I fell into which banned access to posting on the old one. I might have to switch to another blog host, or whatever they call them. There, rant over. (Plus the diversion of blame, which makes it the machine's fault and not mine :]

I had a great weekend. I went to see the folks in VA and was treated to two concerts, both of which were outstanding, but for different reasons. The first concert was folk legend and flat-picking pioneer Doc Watson who, for all of his eighty-four years, is incredibly spry and energetic. I went to this concert with my mom who now might be the biggest Doc Watson fan I know. She was completely charmed by him. I've seen Doc a number of times, but only twice with my mother. The other time was about ten years ago at Wake Forest University, and that time I remember Doc doing a slow yodel song, possibly a Jimmy Rogers tune, and my mom letting out a long (and loud) lamenting sigh as he hit the falsetto. As for me, I experienced chills.On Friday Watson had his usual line up. He comes out with his grandson Richard, who is the son of Doc's former picking partner Merle, who died tragically in the early eighties. Part of the fun of this show was watching Richard's laid back approach to playing and performing, and hell, life in general. He experienced technical difficulties throughout the concert; a capo was slipping, he couldn't find another one, he kept prompting his grandfather to tell the wrong story, and at one point he dropped his pick into the sound-hole of his guitar and fumble nonchalantly in all of his pockets until Doc requested that he "play a little rhythm son." He picklessly obliged. After about half a dozen numbers, including Gershwin's chilling Summertime, Richard happily shuffled off-stage to make way for Doc's other playing partner, Jack Lawrence.

Lawrence is everything Richard is not, and the contrast is one of the best features of the show. Lawrence is a precise and soulful technician and one of the best flat-pickers of the next generation removed from Doc. Still, his semi-formal approach is less relaxed than Richards and brings the audience out of the Watson living-room and back into a grand theater. He is historian of bluegrass and old-timey music, and funny as well--at one point he said that he grew up so far back in the sticks that even the Episcopalians handled snakes--and when he and Doc played twin lead a great roar came up from the crowd.

One song Doc played was the old Moody Blues song Knights in White Satin. I had just read a review of this song in a book titled The Worst Rock and Roll Records of all Time. In the review, the snide and proud-of-themselves reviewers claimed that this song was nothing but LSD induced hippy shlock where you string non-sequiturs together and let the drugs do the rest. I bought into this opinion until Doc introduced the song and explained that it is simple love song where the knights in white satin are letters to a lover which the author never sends. His simple distillation of the song into a piece about unrequited love made me realize how easily this venerable man gets to the essence of a song and adapts it to his own style. More people than just my mom let out a melancholy sigh when he performed it.

Peace, Love, and AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons)

On Saturday we went to a very different event, but one that had an equal amount of charm. My sister Lindsay bought tickets to a concert titled The Summer of Love. The featured acts were Jefferson Starship, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Its a Beautiful Day, and Tom Constantin (who holds the distinction, along with Bruce Hornesby, as being the only surviving keyboardist for the Grateful Dead--they had four others, all died while with the band or after leaving the band.) All of these bands were active in or around the bay area of San Francisco during the time of The Montery Pop Festival, which brought the summer-of-love to its peak. I was a little hesitant about how this concert would be, believing that it was going to be an exercise in extreme nostalgia, but I was wrong about that to a certain extent.

We went with a friend of Lindsays who is a fellow artist. Rose and Lindsay have been applying for grants which will allow them to teach art to inmates around Virginia. They have already been working at the county jail for about a year. A grant would allow them to expand into more "correctional facilities." Rose brought her niece, who is the daughter of one of the original members of the kick-ass women's ensemble En Vogue (Free your Mind, and the Rest Will Follow.) A cool group to be at a concert with.

I was dressed in wannabee-college-professor-chic, a threadbare, but comfortable, button-down and khakis. Turns out, this wasn't an unusual get-up. The guy sitting next to me had on the exact same costume! And there were more like us. There were also plenty of tie-dyes and burkenstocks but I was amazed at how many of the audience looked like they had just walked out of a seminar about eighteenth-century poetry or something. Most of them looked as if they could deliver a lecture at a moments notice.

These types of events are perfect for crowd watching. I saw a guy who looked exactly like Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H. He had on a white fishing hat and a faded Hawaiian shirt and was tall enough, and damned if I'm not really convinced it wasn't Sutherland. He turned around once and caught me glaring at him and shuffled off to another part of the crowd.

We only caught two of the acts, Big Brother and Jefferson Starship. Both were really good but I have to say that Big Brother kinda blew the roof off. The singer, who had the enormous responsibility of taking Janis Joplin's parts, was just phenomenal. I tried to look up her name on the band's website but came up empty. Jefferson Starship, who's original line-up has long since been scuttled, was decent and energetic and chose some great songs such as Jorma Kaukonen's Good Sheppard and The Grateful Dead's Loser.

At one point, while Jefferson Starship was playing a driving rocker called Ride the Tiger, I looked over at the couple to my left. Here was a couple, in their mid-fifties maybe, and the woman looked as if she might be a school-teacher or a housewife. She was dressed in a very unprepossessing pink top and slacks with short curly hair and I could picture passing her in the aisle at Target or somewhere with a handful of coupons and a cartful of pastels and knits. I noticed she was singing every word to the song (and there are a lot of words to this song) in perfect rhythm, swaying back and forth with her eyes closed as if caught in rapture. The song could be about a number of things but it evokes freedom and individuality whether it be sexual, mentally-experimental or just an attitude of going for it. I looked at her husband and he was less animated but was also into it, and he bopped his head back and forth, infected, however conservatively, by his wife's enthusiasm. I really liked this image and for some reason it made me believe a little more in the American-at-large, who I often condemn when I am in less charitable moods.

As we left the pavilion, the band started up their encore. It was the great revolution rally cry Volunteers. As the band was giving this call to citizen participation, most of the crowd got it and were waving peace signs and dancing and getting their last ya-yas out before loading up the Subaru and heading back to the sub-division. I noticed there was a young woman in front of me looking at the stage with a bored expression. She looked at her boyfriend, and he at her, and she just shrugged, indicating that she just didn't get it. She had her cell phone and red-bull placed firmly in front of her, and she looked ready to leave. I realized that she was probably exactly the age that many of the audience members were during the summer of love and I felt the generation-gap manifesting itself decidedly into my interpretation of this event. Then I looked over at Rose's niece, a young woman of about the same age, and she was jumping up, dancing, and waving. There's hope, I thought.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The shadowy figures that look out at us from the tarnished mirror of
history are--in the final analysis--ourselves.

Detlev Peukert

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The War of the Roots

I spurred myself into action. It was either going to be the porch or the patio. The porch is the most immediate project because the tongue-and-groove slats are rotted in places and a big square board has been nailed over a hole someone stepped through years ago. Yes, the porch needs immediate attention. So I decided to start on the patio first.

The objective is to have a place out-back where I can sip cool drinks, barbeque some meat, and enjoy the shade of the big maple that covers the yard with its branches. I have a whole landscaping campaign lined up that involves hearty bushes like holly and birdbaths and a planter to grow herbs. I’ve become so used to this vision that when I actually look at my back yard the reality of the mess back there shatters my illusion (or delusion) like plate glass. You see, a very enthusiastic and brilliant but untidy black lab has been using the yard as a playground (and bathroom) for four years. But now the black lab has mellowed slightly, and the time has come to take back my property. There’s only one problem. The maple is putting up resistance.

I started the campaign by gathering supplies. I took a trip to one of those monolithic home-improvement stores where I invariably park at the opposite end of where the item I am looking for is located. I entered this store with the usual gait, one of a man who wants to look like he knows what he’s doing and what he needs to do it. This is a hard posture to keep up because the store is the size of a rural county in Texas and soon I’m looking down aisles like a three-year-old who has lost his Gramma. But I knew on this day I would be in the lawn and garden department, and that is where I headed.

The first thing I found was a book about building patios. I budgeted myself for this trip, and the cheapest book on patios ended up going with me on the rest of my search. Then it was to the paving stone area. I did not intend to buy the material for the surface at that time but I wanted to get some ideas. After looking at the prices of various stone and pre-fabricated paving materials I realized that I would need a bigger budget. I adjusted to this reluctantly, still determined to complete the project I envisioned.

So the first day I gathered a flat-head shovel, a level, and the patio book. This was not exactly an arsenal to go to war with, but at this time I wasn’t really expecting a war. I would move some earth, get the area level, throw down some stones, and start inviting people over for rib-eyes and veggie-burgers. The project would be finished in oh, say, about ten days.

I started digging. I immediately realized that a flat-head shovel is not the type of shovel you want for this job. Actually it works fine if you know how to use it. This knowledge was a long way off for me at this point. I dug, hunched over, trying to remove dirt from the surface one shovelful at a time. I managed to demarcate the outline of the patio. This took me about an hour of back wrenching movement and convinced me that I had to change my method quickly or the only digging being done for me would be a grave.

I learned a while back that gloves save your hands from debilitating blisters. I at least had the foresight to wear some. As I stood panting and sweating and cleaning my glasses—geeks shouldn’t do this type of work—I looked own to see my dog, Booker, digging a little hole for himself. I wish, and sometimes I’m not so sure he isn’t smart enough, I could teach him to do the whole job for me. Anyway, he was cool and rested and I was exhausted after only an hour. He doesn’t need a fancy patio and a deck chair to be comfortable, he’s fine with what he’s got. Now who do you think is smarter?

Defeat was not an option. I rallied and tried to become methodical. Bending over again and again like this was going to turn my spine into a giant piece of fussilli. I started turning up earth instead, planning to loosen all the dirt in the area and then digging it out. At least this way I wouldn’t have to bend for quite so long. Then I realized the flat-head shovel has a corner like a garden trowel, and if you use the corner you can cut through earth like butter. This encouraged me.

But then, clunk! A root. “Okay,” I acquiesced, “not a problem, I’m sure the shovel can handle a few little roots.” I gave the shovel a good stomp and felt the solidity of the root vibrate all the way up through my cowlick. I had to sit down for a minute to get my ears to stop ringing. Then I realized that the shovel was not going to work on roots.

I have a new rug in my living room and I have been doing everything in my power to keep it from getting prematurely destroyed. This is not easy with a black dog who sheds enough hair in a day to stuff a comforter for a king sized bed. Plus, digging holes and plopping down in them is conducive to the transfer of dirt when that same animal comes in the house and plops down on the rug. So every time he comes in I have to towel him off like Rocky Balboa, which he loves, but I find tedious, especially when he decides he wants to go out right when I want to go to bed.

Because of the rug, every time I enter the house during this project I have to take off my gloves, take off my shoes, make sure my socks are okay, run in and get the ice-water or whatever, come back out, put my shoes back on and give myself a new pep-talk to get going again. This is frustrating when you realize that what you need is in the house every five minutes or so.

At this point it was a hand-saw. I had tried the old axe that was under the house when we moved in, but as I was raring back to chop out a root the head broke away from the handle, luckily not taking out a window or a bystander. For the rest of that first day I loosened roots, sawed them up, and yanked them out, becoming more and more aware of the power of root structures and this particular maple tree.

The next day, as soon as I could lift my arms past my waist, I was surfing blogs and I came to one called Healing Magic Hands. This site is maintained by a gardener extraordinaire and is full of inspiring photographs of her work in her garden. I’ve had people on the web entertain my novice ambitions before, so I asked her if the aerating tool she featured in one of her posts might be good for roots. She might have told me to go back to sand-box 101, but instead she gave me a detailed reply on just the tools I would need for this project. It was a big help, and encouraged me immensely. It was the wisdom I needed, and by the weekend I had re-armed for battle.

She suggested that I use a digging-stick or a hatchet. I opted for a one-hand pick-axe that I found at a discount store. It has become my Excalibur, to get grandiose about it. It isn’t very sharp, but it hacks away at the roots nicely. But even with the pick-axe the job is slow going and I have to pace myself and take water breaks—the American south is nothing to mess around with in summertime.

And, I’ve employed help. Mike lives across the street. He was homeless until my neighbor took him in some months ago. He was evicted from his former residence because the city is building a new baseball stadium where he was renting, and he was sent packing like many others. He ended up with Clint, who has failing health (along with his wife) and Mike takes care of them both in exchange for board. He also does odd-jobs around the neighborhood. He drinks like a fish, probably more, but I am in no position to judge. He works hard and knows how to do this type of job, giving me good advice when I get overwhelmed. Plus he is someone to banter with to make the job easier.

Mike uses an old shovel of Clint’s that looks like it has been around since Roosevelt’s Works Project Administration. He brags on it relentlessly, never letting me forget that it is “digging right through them roots.” When he holds it up you can see daylight through it in places, but he is right, it is a good shovel and I’m damn glad it, and he, are helping me.

The maple tree centers itself around this whole project. It is huge, and sometimes when I am chopping roots I feel like a dentist performing root-canal—but the biggest, complicated root-canal known to man. The maple has dominated my back yard for what seems like eternity. It drains the ground of water and blocks out sunlight so that no grass can grow. It hogs rainwater like a giant inverted octopus. In Africa, they have a tree called the Baobab tree. The legend is that god, or gods, uprooted the original trees and made them walk. Then when the gods replanted them they planted them upside down. This legend reminds me of the maple which seems to have some sort of angry god on its side. Sometimes I feel its anger directed at me, and I pacify it by telling it that this whole project is for it, to showcase the dynamics of its being. Then I hack off another root. Mike says it reminds him of the tree in Poltergeist.

The war of the roots should draw to a close tomorrow. The area for the patio is almost fully dug, all the earth is loosened. A small Japanese maple put up a fight (its roots are harder than the maple’s) but all of the trees will be fine, just free of some roots. De-earthed roots have piled up next to my fence like wooden arteries, and I’ve put aside some of the bigger ones. I pulled up one that looked like a cave-man club, and I’m already considering sanding and staining it.

The paving of the area will have to wait at least a week or so. I’m going out of town this weekend and the next and I want a good long period of staying in town to complete the project. Precise leveling is the next hurtle—a whole new set of challenges I’ll bet, but one with less physicality. The demarked area looks good, and I can superimpose a paved area over it in my mind’s eye, now that real progress has been made. I know one thing, when all is said and done, and eventually the patio is finished and I am grilling on it, Mike gets the first steak.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Emily's Meme

I’m gearing up to do a post about my do-it-yourself patio project called “The War of the Roots,” but I have been tagged by Emily to do a meme, so that’s what I’ll do first. The premise is to name the ten best compliments you’ve ever gotten. When I read Emily’s, I realized (and this is going to be corny—so beware) that one compliment that I could put on my list was Emily telling the blogosphere that I am the best chef she knows. Thanks Emily!

[Totally irrelevant aside: I’m just wondering, and this may just be me, but lately I’ve been writing papers for school and I’ve found that writing a paper comes more easily for me than writing a post. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Last week I was writing a paper about how historians have treated Leon Trotsky during and after the Cold-War. The professor has set the guidelines so that the paper seems to be writing itself. The main task that helps me so much is the annotated bibliography assignment. Doing this makes me more confident going into the paper because I know my sources much better than if I was winging it with a stack of books teetering over me and a pad of post-it notes. I’ve done it this way too, and believe me, it can be traumatic, especially come citation time. So…get to the point Ian. Okay. I think with a post I do less preparation and just dive right in, and my thoughts get a little muddled so I often have to go back and rethink what I’m trying to say. Also, by this time, I know that a number of people who I regard highly for their writing ability may read this and I want to at least be as clear as possible. It really helps to have this peer group.]

But back to the meme. Ten compliments that made my day:

1. The institute of higher learning that I attend honored me with four humbling awards last spring: the history award, the Gilbert award for English, Who’s Who among American college students, and the big one…the Eugene S. Hire Award, which will pay my ticket until graduation. I really feel like I’m bragging right now. I’m going to go on to the next one.

2. The professor for my independent study (the one that I’m writing the Trotsky paper for) complimented me on my draft and told me it was shaping up well. It helps to know this, and I believe that as long as I know that I’m on the right track I can continue. It helps that it is very interesting topic, and he’s a very good teacher.

3. Another professor, who is also my advisor for the English degree, wrote an informal recommendation for me and sent me a copy. I had to check to see if the name was correct because it was hard to believe that the person she was writing about was me. I sounded so motivated. She said I had one of the best work ethics she’s seen. She didn’t see me this weekend, on the couch watching movies for hours on end. (Tsosti, by the way, is a great movie—and I watched The Prairie Home Companion with my mother and we both enjoyed it a great deal. Altman rules.)

4. I get a lot of compliments on my fried chicken. One of the reasons it turns out well is that this is probably my favorite food, so I cook it to my own taste. I really like getting compliments on my food from children and teenagers because these are usually the most finicky eaters. I do a mean potato salad—this is all southern style stuff—which goes nicely with the chicken.

5. I like getting compliments from my parents. The one I like from my dad is, “We’re proud of ya son.” The one I like from my mother is, “I’m not worried about you.” This is always a big relief to me.

6. I can’t talk about this compliment, but believe me, it was a very good one, and it made me feel he-man-like.

7. This isn’t really a compliment, but then maybe it is: I like hearing all three of my sisters howling with laughter at some story I tell. It’s even better when my parents are doing it too. When I get my Aunt Boo laughing along, it’s like a hat-trick in hockey.

8. My professional-artist-sister thinks I have artistic ability as well, and she always encourages me to draw. She told me that she and her husband saw some outsider art in New York which reminded her of mine. Then she said she thought mine was better. Maybe I can make this my third career some day.

9. Of course I like it when a group of people are clapping after a song or piece of music I’ve performed. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it is nice when it does.

10. I absolutely love getting complimented on my blog by the people who read it regularly. There has never been a time in my life where I’ve felt so compelled to write and improve my writing ability. Reading other peoples blogs is fascinating and inspiring.

Emily, you are right. This meme does make me feel better—and grateful.

I really don't have anyone to tag since Emily tagged everyone I would have, but, if you read this, consider yourself tagged. Can't believe I've actually done a meme and tagged people.

This has nothing to do with the meme, but if you are like me and are a culinary voyeur, check out this post by Anthony Bourdain about Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen." It may seem mean-spirited but something about Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential fame) compairing Ramsay's rants to the improvised inspiration of jazz great Charlie Parker struck a chord. Only Bourdain could get away with this.