Archive for July, 2010

At around high noon I loaded Henry into the Bullitt and we began our adventure to the Minnesota Science Museum, there to see the actual fossils of terrible lizards.  But early on, we were thwarted: 694 at a snail’s pace, 94E closed, and once we finally hit downtown the place was crawling with people.  Everywhere, all seemingly converging on the museum and the river.

I thought to myself, It is SO refreshing to see so many people excited about science!  About dinosaurs!

The parking garage was packed, people everywhere, and many going to the sides of the building to observe some unseen action on the river.  I paid no attention and ushered Henry into the museum.  A very fat counter person said, “What would you like to see today?”

I responded, excitedly, “We’re here to see the dinosaurs.”  Henry was at that point flirting with another one year, in a stroller not too far away.

“What’s going on outside?” I asked.

“Some Red Bull thing,” said the ticket vendor, “Flugtag.”

The museum was, rather deserted, except for where patrons gathered on balconies to watch young men and women launch themselves fruitlessly into the air only to fall into the river.  In truth, Henry and I watched one attempt at flight.  A cardboard Zamboni that seemed to fly better than its rivals.  There were many tens of thousands of folks gathered along the river and everyone seemed happy.  Sometimes it is good to watch clowns with feathers pasted to their arms, but it was bad day for dinosaurs.  We spent about two hours on the road for a one hour venture to look at ancient skeletons.  Still though, a stegosaurus is something to behold.

Later, a very strange thing happened on our long walk.  We were on our walking trail, in the valley of a swamp and on the cusp of a neighborhood, preparing for a steep ascent up the trail and out of the marshland.  All of a sudden, a bottle of beer came flying out of space and crashed in front of us on the trail.  A million shards of glass everywhere.  I looked around for a teenage boy, but nothing.  Initially I wasn’t angry, because we hadn’t been hurt – the bottle had smashed maybe ten feet ahead of us.  But then I did get angry.  I looked harder and saw a middle-aged man scurry off his deck.  I pushed the stroller up the hill and then stopped, screamed:


I screamed it again.

The man came down the hill towards us, and he was trembling, shaking.  I could see that he was afraid, embarrassed, sorry.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “I’ve just gotten in the habit of throwing my bottle over the porch,” (he indicated the swamp below) “and then I saw you and your child.  I’m so embarrassed,” he said.  “It was a terrible lapse of judgment.”

“Man,” I said, “this is a nice neighborhood, and I’m out here, walking my little guy.  I can see you’re sorry, but…”

My own father would have ripped his face off.  We parted ways, but my blood was surging.  In part because he had moronically endangered us, but also because I imagined the swamp below us, the swamp we regularly walk past, being violently filled with beer bottles by some upper middle-class alcoholic no doubt so aware of his own problem that he can’t fill his own recycling bin with the evidence of his addiction.

I’m not sure what to do here.  Just let it go, bang on his door in the coming days, phone the police.  What recklessness.

None the less, today, we saw dinosaurs.  And a flying Zamboni go into the river.

Below, a link to Flugtag shenanigans for the uninformed:



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I did not do much today.  I did many things today.

I rose not early, fed my son breakfast, walked two or more miles and noticed the least birds in the sky.  I met a friend for lunch and bought several books.  I sat in the sun.  I fed my son lunch.  We walked four or more additional miles.  I learned some facts about the quaking aspen.  I cooked dinner tonight: mushrooms, onions, rice, steak, red wine.  Gin and tonics beforehand.  Then I sat down and recorded a poem which had moved around inside my head as Henry and I walked through a forest of aspen.

Is the act of writing a single poem in a day good work?  Is it enough?  If a man or woman only wrote one poem a day their whole lives, would their life be any less good?  I don’t know.  I think we are capable of more but then again, if one is capable of writing a single poem that endures beyond their own life cycle, haven’t they succeeded in life?  Have they not cheated death?  I don’t know.

Henry and I may go to the museum tomorrow in order to stare at the bones of dinosaurs.  I hope that someday he enjoys dinosaurs.  Nothing would make me happier than evenings of reading books to him about dinosaurs.  Yesterday, we went grocery shopping.  As I pushed our cart towards the Silver Bullitt, a man pulled up to us, rolled down his window and said,

“It is good to see a parent who enjoys his child.  You guys look like you’re having fun.”

We are.  Every single day.  Maybe that is enough.  I know it is enough.  Today, I told him about the journey of the monarch butterfly, one of my favorite creatures.

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Listen Hear (see link below)

"The Lumberyard" issue #6

Poems Don\’t Pay For Meat

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American Genius

I learned today that Harvey Pekar passed away at the age of 70.

For about six or seven years I worked as an author escort, shuttling writers around Wisconsin from their airport terminals to hotels and book signings.  Frequently we went out for drinks or dinner.  All the while it was my dream to be them.  To be out on a book tour, even though I knew what a grueling slog such tours could be.  But I wanted to be out there, selling books, talking to readers.  And so I would casually interrogate the writers: how had they made it.  What was their breakthrough?  How did they find an agent?  Without being too pushy, I was trying to crack the literary world, get a glimpse inside.  Through the years I escorted some of the very best, and as an innkeeper where many of the same names lodged while in Madison, I met more: Dave Eggers, Ha Jin, Chang rae Lee, James Frey, Bill McKibben, Ian Frazier…

About five years ago I met Harvey Pekar.  It was an early day in October and it was my job to take Harvey around town.  A radio interview, a book signing – a pretty basic schedule.  Initially, he was a terrible curmudgeon, and I was struck by the fact that this was obviously a kind of shield he erected.  A persona of grumpiness.  He complained about Letterman, about the publishing world, about his meager income.  I listened thoughtfully.  Of course, I was a big fan of his work.  I’d seen American Splendor a number of times and could relate to his blue-collar/outsider status.  I can’t remember for certain, but it is possible that at that time in my life I was still toiling at the Oscar Mayer plant, as a union meat-packer.

But then Harvey and I slipped into a kind of familiar pace or conversation.  We talked a lot about jazz, about writing, about marriage, about his daughter.  We ordered pizza and sat beside a lake in Madison, eating in the warm breeze and watching the waves lap against the shore.  Then he seemed happy.  I dropped him at hotel after we took a few photographs together and just before leaving he asked me for my telephone number.  I thought he was being polite.

But a day later he called me.  I was gone, but there was his voice on my answering machine.  Rambling in his Harvey Pekar voice about what a nice day he’d had.  He wished me well.

I’ve read a very few number of books that describe well the sorrow of having to work a blue-collar American job when all that you want to do is write, or create.  Rivethead is one.  American Splendor is another.  Today, America loses an important writer, and mind.

Thanks for a good day Harvey Pekar.

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Indelibly etched into my memory-banks:

A Fourth of July in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan sometime in the 1980s. My extended kin all standing on or around a dock jutting out into Stanley Lake. The perspiration of sweating aluminum beer cans. Bats swooping down to kiss the plain of dark water. A rowboat swaying on the water. My grandfather at the edge of the dock with a World War II era signal flare gun aimed at the moon. Then: the flare shooting not towards outer space but directly into the water below us. A pink flame burning hot even beneath the water. Hot bubbles rising. The miracle of fire in water. Drunk, he turned back to us and we cheered.

A firecracker blowing up in my fingers. Afraid to throw it, afraid to hold on.

Happy birthday America. Once, as a twelve or thirteen year old I traveled to Fort AP Hill in Virgina to attend the National Boy Scout Jamboree where a Fourth of July celebration was headlined by the immaculately bearded Lee Greenwood. And I did sing along with him and tens of thousands of other impressionable boys. And later the sky was on fire with fireworks and the huge and impressive music of Sousa blasting in our ears, all of us laying on our backs, smiles on our faces, our cheeks and eyes bright with color and fire and patriotism.

Also, a happy 30th birthday to my best friend, Mr Joshua W Swan.  Josh and I have been best friends since age 11 or 12 when we conspired to drive our 6th grade social studies teacher insane.  Josh and I have traveled America, fished Canada and the lakes of northern Wisconsin, camped in extreme cold, haunted the Village Vanguard as teenagers, and grown into men and fathers together.  I wish him the happiest day.  Many of my best memories as a human being have been in Josh’s company.  Happy birthday Mr Swan.

Three Generations on the Shores of Stanley Lake

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