Archive for December, 2010

Daddy Rollin (In Your Arms)

I cannot stop listening to this song. For anything. Dark, addictive, raw, and primordial. Damn.


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…this year or any other year for that matter, is the following:

1.) Superlative coffee. Don’t try any funny business. I KNOW GOOD COFFEE.
2.) Cigars, preferably high quality, but I also have uses for White Owls and Backwoods. My favorite being Dunhills.
3.) Beer, even bad beer which I can alternatively use for cooking. I’m partial to beers from: Lake Louie Brewing, Ale Asylum, Rush River, Rogue, or the old standby, Guinness.
4.) Photographs of family – perfect.
5.) Gift certificates to bookstores. Any bookstore.
6.) Wine, preferably high quality but again, I can use the bad stuff for cooking. I’m thinking Oregon, France, Argentina.
7.) Smartwool socks.
8.) Clementines – I am currently addicted to clementines.
9.) Postage stamps – I will use them.
10.) Original art from artists that I know or follow. You don’t know any of my favorite artists? Ask me. Don’t try to “turn me onto” something new. That might backfire.
11.) Expensive olive oil.
12.) Rare Wisconsin cheeses. Don’t mess around.
13.) Expensive balsamic vinegar.
14.) Long underwear.
15.) Antique panorama photographs.

This list looks exhaustive and maybe presumptuous. But who cares? Everyone in America gets gifts every year that they abhor. Useless things that get thrown away or that people have to tote around with them for the rest of their lives like anchors of guilt. I’m just being honest here. You want to give me a gift? Give me something that gives me pleasure. That allows me to a take a quiet moment and engage my senses. Give me something to eat, drink, or smoke. Because I will consume your gift.

And I will remember your gesture.

Merry Christmas. I am, at present (no pun intended), drinking a chocolate stout from Rogue Brewing. Case in point.

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My first semester of graduate school is over. Hard to believe how quickly the time has rushed by. All the evenings driving through the Midwest. Through torrential rains, past windmills, infinite fields of Ioway corn, nuclear sunsets, small-towns, frigid cold, snow. The early days of teaching: the anxiety and disorganization. The first few workshops: discovering my friends, writing like mad, finding a groove. Discovering that this is in indeed my life’s work. An obsession that is meant to be. Everything in my life a grand blessing.

I proctored the final examination on Friday afternoon after leaving the Twin Cities around 9pm the previous evening. Friday was a blur: caffeine fueled and without much food I administered the exam, graded papers, tallied grades, handled administrative minutia, and then a took a massive breath of air. Finished. I packed up my office, donned my jacket, and walked out into the cold outside the English building and beside the Ioway River. My friend Stephanie had invited me over for dinner and all I could think about was finding a bottle of wine and unwinding with her and some other friends.

But then I heard a man’s voice from the nearby parking lot.

“Hey!” he said. “Come over here. A woman fell.”

I walked towards him. I could not immediately see who had fallen. Just him (a man in his fifties) and a younger black woman, the passenger side door of an automobile ajar. When I came close to the car I saw that it must have been the woman’s mother, fallen, sitting heavily in the snow, mush, water, and salt of the dirty parking lot. She looked embarrassed, confused, sad. She was probably in her seventies. An old black woman. And she weighed about three hundred pounds.

We tried in vain for about five minutes to get her up. Me and the man at her arms, and the daughter behind her. Then the daughter suggested that I switch places with her; that perhaps I could horse her up better. So I positioned myself behind the old woman, reaching my arms underneath hers. I could feel many great sacks of fat hanging loosely from her body. The soft folds of her arms and belly. The man helping me took her arms and began counting to three. But I hadn’t found a place to put my hands. A purchase, so to speak.
So I just grabbed her and I wrenched her up, off the ground.

But, my hands were on her breasts. She wore no brassiere, and her garments were loose, and my hands were on her breasts, heaving her up. Of course, I was appalled, embarrassed. We set her in her wheelchair and I said, “I apologize ma’am. I didn’t mean to touch you there.”

She looked at me and said, “Thank god you came to help me. You’re an angel.”

I helped push her wheelchair into the building, and then I said goodbye and walked away.

It was true that I hadn’t eaten anything all day, that I was running on caffeine fumes, and this combination generally results in a kind of emotional imbalance for me. But my heart felt overfull. I feel this way often, and maybe most writers do. The world is almost too much – too beautiful or too terrible. Too real. Too wonderful. I walked towards my friend’s house and I could feel the old woman’s breasts in my hands, the weight of them. And a part of me wanted to wash my hands immediately. But I thought about my Dad, also in a wheelchair, and all the many times I have transferred him from a car to his chair. The weight of his body in my arms. The terror of an icy surface.

I was so happy to see my friends that night, all of them: Stephanie, Rebecca, Christina, Adam, and Jamie. We had a fantastic night. Too much booze, food, everything.

The next morning, Bloody Marys and a bittersweet good-bye brunch. Hungover and sorry to part ways.

I don’t know if what happened was really a Christmas story, but it is that time of year. All of my emotions a melancholy tangle of happy and sad and thankful and sentimental. When the tangible beauty of the world is enough to make me weep with happiness. A tree alive with lights. A river freezing shut like a scar. My friends, catching airplanes home. My Dad’s voice on the telephone, talking to Henry.

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Free Samples

Today was a good day. Spent inside grocery markets – me and Henry, trolling the aisles for free samples. Cupcakes, meatballs, squares of cheese. (Henry has four words: Mom, Dad, no, and cheese.) Henry was especially ticklish today, so I pushed our cart and tickled him, up and down the aisles, both of us giggling like mad. Spectacular.

Prepared a fantastic dinner tonight: oven roasted lemon chicken over a bed of vegetables, goat milk sourdough bread, white wine.

God, it is late already. I’m a little drunk. A lot happy. I head back down to Ioway City on Friday morning to proctor an examination. Then: dinner, drinks, and karaoke with good friends. Brunch on Saturday with Adam Soto.

Things could be much worse.

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