Friday, September 29, 2006

The End of All Things

It’s undeniable, this vein snaking its way through the mind of the world: This is the end of all things. Repent or party. Do what you have to do.

I don’t buy it. Yes, the end might be near for you or me. Who knows? Our illnesses might suddenly overtake us, throw us out of the game. But I believe in modern medicine. I want to believe.

We are such small, self-absorbed creatures, constantly mistaking the end of our lineage for the end of all things. There is a certain Tower of Babel atmosphere, hubris chased hard by cacophony. And yet, in the corners of the universe, far from the city, people with hands like ours are building things.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

One Way to Look at Things

The Tobacco River, flooding in May.
I'm not dead, just thinking. This could take awhile.

And no, the last blog was not an endorsement of Pete Townshend and/or his "research." Jeez.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Sometime today, perhaps even as these words hit the blog, Sirius Channel 10 is going to an all-Who format, which is great. You can pop in anytime and get a hit of The Who. No, don’t stay there forever. That would get a little odd. But do stop in. I’m hoping they’ll stray just a little and play some straight Pete Townshend (if there is such a thing.) It feels like that sort of day.

JJ Gallaher

I haven't had time to wrestle my computer to the ground and make it show links on the side as I would like it to do, but I've been wanting to put this link up:

What will you find there? I won't tell you. Just go.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mr. Wegg

"Professionally he declines and he falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry."

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Beckoning Fair One

I certainly cannot tell why I make the choices that I do. Something just strikes me, sticks with me, and I set it aside. So it is with Oliver Onions’ ghost story The Beckoning Fair One. It’s old, 1911-ish, and resides inside the torn and faded red cover of A Treasury of Short Stories that I picked up someplace in the U.P. The book has many engaging stories, but when I look at it, sitting on my headboard, it is always The Beckoning Fair One that comes into my mind.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Taste of Hoagland

A friend recommended I read some essays of Edward Hoagland, so that’s what I’m reading today. I’m not far into it, too many voices surrounding me right now. And we’re going apple picking, wine tasting… There is this very interesting mixture between reading, writing, and living going on right now. Forget about arithmetic. I realize the numbers on my paper are all askew. I add when I should subtract, that sort of thing. I’m not sure who made all the number rules. I plan on talking to them, try to get them to see reason.

But back to Hoagland. Here’s a little piece from Compass Points:

“…I grin at seeing a one-year-old, or will approach someone elderly, optimistic at the prospect of talking with him. A basic faith kicks in. It’s automatic, not ideological, though I believe life has meaning. I find diversity a comfort in the wilds and in the city—that there are more species than mine, more personalities than me—and believe in God as embodied in the earth and in metropolises. I believe that life is good.”

Amen. Or let it be.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Slip And Fall

She had a slip-and-fall while they were visiting his mother in the nursing home. Applesauce on the floor. She really wasn’t the same. Now he has to do the laundry, make the beds, do the vacuuming. What else? Wifely duties, as far as the bedroom, it's not like it used to be. Less than 50 – 50 percent less now than it was before. And even when it is, it's not like it used to be. Certainly the nursing home would have to compensate for that sort of thing.

Younger Days

My second cousin once removed, or some such thing, the one who works out at the railroad, was sitting across the table telling me about the places he had seen. Arizona, the pipeline in Alaska, Sturgis, South Dakota for the motorcycle thing.

“I’ve heard that’s a wild time, Sturgis.”
“Yeah, I was a lot younger then.”
“What happened? Anything good?”
“I saw some things.”
“Like what, now?”
“Well, you know… Actually, something interesting happened to me.”
“No kidding, to you?”
“I had the map, you know, so I was leading the way. But the guys behind me stopped for gas and I didn’t know.”
“So you were alone?”
“Yeah, I thought they were behind me. I didn’t know. So I stopped under this viaduct, thinking they would catch up. But they never came. I was looking around while I was waiting for them, you know. And up in those steel girders, what do you think I seen?”
“I don’t know. Pigeons? Naked people?”
“Nah, bags.”
“Bags? What kind of bags?”
“Bank deposit bags, you know, the ones businesses use.”
“Really. What did you do?”
“I put them in my pack.”
“Jeez. Weren’t you afraid somebody was watching those things?”
“Well, a little later that day a whole bunch a cops came cruising my way. But they went on past me, accident or something, I don’t know. I took the bags home to Mom’s. We opened them up on her kitchen table and counted out all the money in them things, ones and fives, that sort of thing. 1100 dollars I made that trip. That was in my younger days.”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

An Accident Waiting to Happen

Another day, another dollar, another list of 101 things I definitely shouldn’t say. Make that 102. Damn.

The woman was just being friendly. She wanted to know what he liked to read. He hemmed and hawed. “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, you’re an English major. You do like to read?” “Well, yes, but what do you mean?” He got lucky. People started coming in, we all laughed at the intimacy of what the woman wanted to know, asking the poor man to strip naked so we could examine his soul. But he’s young. He’ll adjust. In the future he’ll remember to always put on clean, impressive underclothes. Or maybe he'll even have the audacity to feel comfortable with his own skin.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Electronic Skin

The Man-Child is frantic. There is a gaping hole in his electronic skin. He calls us from his cell phone. We pick up; he hears us; we can’t hear him. He calls all our various phone numbers. The problem is on his end. He turns to the IM. The Finlander, the Man-Child, and I spend the evening IM’ing from three different states in the Midwest, devising a plan so the Man-Child can have his voice heard again. As for me, I want to step out of this electronic world and touch real skin.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Severance Pay

On to more substantial things: fiction. I've been working on a short story (or something) that my friends know all too well. Okay, I haven't been working on it, therein lies the problem. I'm hoping if I post a little of it here I will pressure myself into actually really working on it and not just avoiding it, playing with it... The idea is extreme guilt or something along those lines. Stop playing with your food and just eat it. Of course, inspiration would be good, too.

This is the beginning of Severance Pay.

Zeke crouched beside the creek and waited for the train. It was braying in the distance, compelling him to pause in the shadows beneath the trestle where the damp vapors of moss and mud saturated the air. He took a deep breath and pulled pieces of the heavy atmosphere into his lungs. Nothing made sense to him, but he knew the essence of Marlaina was here, underneath the trestle, waiting for him to breathe her in. He wanted to pull her right out of the mud. But everything was jumbled together, confusing him. He couldn’t quite tell what was real. He remembered laying here with her, on other dripping summer days, while the trains rumbled overhead, their bodies flowing together, mingling with the mud, but he couldn’t remember what she smelled like anymore.

As the train drew nearer he raised the machete hanging at his side and slowly ran his fingers along the blade, sweeping off the flecks of organic matter and flinging them to the ground. These flecks, he was almost positive, were not Marlaina. They could be cast aside. But a wave of uncertainty passed through him. He lifted the machete to his lips and ran his tongue along it, just to be sure. His tongue did not detect anything familiar, but he didn’t trust it, either. How could he know that it was really his tongue? Maybe if he stopped thinking about it, it would fall out of his mouth, like the machete sometimes fell out of his hand.

Overhead, the trestle shook as it proclaimed in uncertain graffiti letters: THE OC BOYS WHERE HERE. The train rumbled louder as it churned toward him. Suddenly the engine was overhead and the whistle was vibrating its notes into every crevice of his body, permeating his skin. This is what he had been waiting for. Marlaina’s presence engulfed him.

But the engine passed too quickly and pulled Marlaina across the creek and into the woods, away from him. Zeke backed out of the cool shadow of the trestle far enough into the shattered daylight to read the words on the train cars as they clacked by, a long banner of blocky instructions, just for him.

“N-S, C-O-N, Yang Ming, Maersk, Santa Fe, Hyundai, Hanjin, J.B. Hunt, Hub, N-A-C-S, China Shipping, TTX, Burlington Northern Railway, O-O-C-L, Coil Shield.”

The train was picking up speed and Zeke struggled to keep pace with the words. The last car spewed forth fat, unintelligible graffiti and then it was gone, carrying all that remained of Marlaina with it. But Zeke knew what to do. Despite its speed and the last pieces that he didn’t understand, he had captured the rhythm of the train and pulled it, pulsing, inside him. As he stood up the machete started swinging up and down. His lips began to repeat the train’s message in rhythm with the blade.

“N-S, C-O-N, Yang Ming…” And then his legs started to run. He could feel Marlaina growing closer as he became the train.


Sometimes the whiff of a change in scenery is all I need.

I’m reading about the sensuality of work, the unsubstantial, half-hearted nature of play, and considering how I earn my dough, how I like to play. Elaine Scarry writes, “It is not simply the surface of the body but the deep entirety of its interior that is in work put at risk.” Yes, yes, I know.

And the e-mail arrives. There’s a job posting for two scopists (that’s me) to fill a seven-month (with possibility to extend) position in criminal court at The Hague. Meal and housing allowance provided. It’s vague, but it must be World Court work, that’s what happens at The Hague. I cannot possibly go, couldn’t think of applying. Seven months away from home! The Finlander says, It’s a chance of a lifetime. You must apply.

The inquiring e-mail is sent and we’re all left to dream. I go back to reading Scarry, who is talking about Dickens’s Pip, “If life had required Pip to learn the distinction between the artificial and the real, he might not have had such a difficult time; but he is instead required to make the much more difficult and interesting distinctions between failed artifice and successful artifice, between failed work and successful work, between irresponsible imaginings and responsible imaginings.” Yes, yes indeed.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Silence. Hmmm. I don't know. Is there such a thing?

"Songwriting is like fishing in a stream; you put in your line and hope you catch something. And I don't think anyone downstream from Bob Dylan ever caught anything." --- Arlo Guthrie

I don't think it was because they're weren't any fish to be had. No. I think everyone downstream was just standing around admiring the fish Dylan landed. Jeez. I mean, what can you say? That's a really cool trout, Bob?

Then, of course, everyone started dreaming about trout and fishing and rods and whatnot. How nice fresh fish tastes. And they weren't even supposed to be fishing in the first place! They were supposed to be pulling their herbs out of their own flower pots. Keep your eyes on your own papers, please.

Okay. And then some, too, were afraid to serve up a meal because the last thing they cooked was absolutely delicious, showed great promise, and they can't be expected to cook like that every day. Of course not. But we have to eat something and if they'd just cut up a few vegetables or throw some meat between a couple slices of bread, or even peanut butter, we could eat a little something and of course we like the way their knife cuts across the bread. Jesus.

Anyway, now I can go back to work in peace and quiet. But silence? Hah!

Miss Manners...

What is the etiquette involved in putting links to other blogs on a web site? Should you ask the other person first or just link away to whatever you think is cool?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Today my mechanic took me aside. He said, It’s time. I knew it was coming, but still...

We took the Trooper for one last trip this summer to the U.P. We let her do easy jobs, a trip to the lakeshore on a paved road, that sort of thing. We knew we wouldn’t be forging streams, picking berries off of logging roads, climbing up into the hills to chase old graveyards. On the way home, in Grand Rapids, she turned over 180,000 miles.

The first sign that even a paved existence was going to be too much was at Best Buy. I approached her quietly, she refused to budge. The tow truck had to come the next morning and haul her away. But we still had hope. A new fuel filter and she ran for a few days. Then she left me stranded at IUSB in the pouring rain.

The Finlander tried to make things right with her, but in the end the tow truck had to haul her back to the mechanic again. He replaced the fuel pump, a rusty pipe, some other assembly things. And he gave me the news, one bad pothole and she’s liable to break in two. And we had just bought her new tires, too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


After disappearing for a few days, then showing up on the dining room wall under the picture of Jesus walking on water, which resulted in her eviction to the cherry tree, Louise is back, posing on the cannas.

Animal Whispers

We were standing on the shore, watching the swans. The Naturalist told me to enjoy them now, Potato Creek has finally gotten permission to shoot them come November. I know, I know, they destroy the habitat for other things, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps if we could talk to them…

I met an animal whisperer last winter. She gave me her card. She had just come from counseling a bull that had outlived his productive stud life. His owners had decided to castrate him instead of putting him down. Still, he was a little depressed. But she was able to talk him through it. She told me if my goats needed counseling to give her a call. My goats seem pretty happy, but you never know.

While we were watching the swans the Librarian shouted, Look, a Kingfisher. I’m glad she pointed him out, because I don’t know my birds. I’m trying, but… The Kingfisher lit on the top of a dead tree out in the lake and cawed at us, which probably isn’t right either because caw is the sound made by crow-like birds. The Naturalist said he was just saying hi, but I could have sworn he had something else to say. We tried to take his picture, but of course he flew away. It’s too bad the animal whisperer wasn’t there. Maybe she could have interpreted what he wanted to say.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Herd on the Prairie

My friend the librarian, who advises me to never loan out my books, has loaned her Lakeville prairie out to a pony herd. They're eating up her wildflowers, but in the end I think it's going to be okay. They seem like a pretty friendly crowd.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pear Butter

A week ago the pears were unyielding, you couldn’t coax them off the tree. They teased me with a red blush, but I could tell they weren’t going anywhere. So I left them alone to do their thing. There’s no arguing with a green pear. Towards the end of the week I wandered past their hideout again, only to find they were ripe, falling on the ground. Now the aroma of pear butter is wafting out the windows, saturating the air.

I can’t work the same magic with pears that my friends the Byzantine monks in Eagle Harbor, Michigan can. They have secret recipes tucked away. At the Jam Pot they have shelves and shelves of their talents on display, butters and jams and other delicious things. Maybe their recipes are sweeter because they pray five hours a day.

The Man-Child and his friends have wandered into the monks’ territory this Labor Day. While I slept and dreamed of being 18, they drove through the night, crossed the Mackinac Bridge, through the Seney Wildlife Refuge, and onto the Keweenaw. While I’m stirring pear butter in Indiana, they’re making memories on Brockway Mountain, grilling salmon on the lakeshore, eating the monks’ bakery.

This is good, the way I dreamed it would someday be.