Saturday, September 24, 2016

Autobobography X—Tangled Up In Blue

Trapped in Reagan’s early 80s, the farmers and I were depressed in a western Illinois university town. I’d walked out of a fast food job rather than tolerate unfairness, leaving behind so many tempting coworkers I’d been unable to choose until one came home with me from a party and didn’t leave. When she finally did, I wound up with her cat. There weren’t any other jobs and it became the first time I lost everything I couldn’t carry. I wound up back in Massachusetts living in a trailer on my father’s land, working in a local factory to pay off debts and save enough to get an apartment.

A woman from another company visited my job regularly and after months of business chats, I finally asked if she’d like to go out and she gave me her number. She drove twenty miles to meet me for dinner during which I stared entranced by the pendant in the teardrop opening at the neck of her white blouse. 

We went back to her place and sat talking and kissing at her kitchen table until she said let’s go to bed and I let her lead the way to candlelight. After the second coming, I said I think we’re getting the hang of this and she said she should get me home because of her kids in the morning. I said I hope this means I’ll be seeing you again; she said you’d better, you asshole.

We spent long Sunday mornings in bed with the newspaper, thick in those days. I loved the curve of her hip as she reached for a cigarette. I couldn’t get enough of her, and told her, and showed her. We commiserated about our parents and childhoods. At a restaurant, a pianist played As Time Goes By and she told her father it was my favorite song. She worried I’d be attracted to her younger sister. 

We spent time by the ocean, at theaters and concerts, and in her home which gradually came to be the first one I’d ever felt, alone and with her kids and dog. Poor and not driving, I was still crazy enough then to ask her to marry me, and she was crazy enough to say yes. Her daughter asked should I call you dad; I instantly got a lump in my throat. The girl now a woman doesn’t remember, but it was my happy moment of fatherhood.

She ended the relationship for no real reason but her fear of commitment when I moved to her town, and I felt I’d lost not just her but a home and a family. But the connection never ended, and we reunited whenever a late night phone call brought us together again after months or years apart. We each knew that both of us were screwed up, incapable of a healthy long term relationship, but no matter how much we might hurt each other, we also knew there was a deep love and bond between us and we always came back for more.

We shared a therapist though not together. I needed one and she recommended hers but we were both uncomfortable with the incestuousness of that threesome. I went looking only for a recommendation of another therapist, but the energy worked and she helped me for years. 

During a visit by my college roommate and his wife, we all went to a club where she got very drunk and asked me to dance with her, I refused and she called me an asshole. Knowing she wasn’t serious but embarrassed anyway, I lashed back and asked why she was with me then and she looked shocked. After we left, I stayed at her house and sent my friends back to my apartment. Later he’d say she treats you like shit, but it was him I visited after his wife left him. Only two people really know what happens between them, and often even they don’t really understand it.

We spent a Valentines weekend in a Boston hotel. At dinner her foot was in my crotch beneath the floor length tablecloth. We made love in the tub, but what I remember best is her saying don’t you know I love you, how could you, I never say it. Even then, she’d later claim it was just the drink and not true, but I always did know, despite her difficulty in admitting it.

One reunion broke up my next relationship with a woman who loved me so much she’d offered me sexual freedom (not what I wanted or needed) unless I was falling for someone else, then I was to break up with her. She believed I was still in love with her predecessor--she was right and I hurt her by following her instructions.

In one late reunion she said she’d heard there was a porn star who looked like her and asked if I knew who it was. I said no, I wasn’t looking at much porn these days; later I found it was Sandra Romain. As always, the resemblance is more obvious in some photos than others -- the similarity in the eyes and hair and skin tone mostly. What did you think it was going to be? 

We had a vicious ending after I took the job in Yellowstone – kicking me while I was down from my grandfather’s death and father’s betrayal, she wondered how she’d gone from loving me so much to hating me? Was it because I was leaving her for good? Was it because I was just a shell of the man I’d been and she knew she was partially responsible? Was it because I’d accepted the fact that I was worn out and defeated?

When I made a quick last return to Massachusetts to ship my things from storage to Duluth storage, I eventually kicked back in one of my vilest moments, sending an email suggesting a hate fuck because I’d never be back.

I had nothing really left to give to another woman, and all my future relationships began through detached means such as newspaper ads or internet communities. All the other attempts at real life interactions failed before they really began and I gave up for years until hooked by a last intriguing possibility in the park which became the biggest and saddest final failure of them all.

While working in Yellowstone, I learned that she’d been attacked in her home, which had been mine for a while, and barely escaped being murdered. I traded final conciliatory emails with her and her daughter.

In a town near Yellowstone in my final year in the area, I met a woman who looked like her and immediately wanted her. Still tangled after all these years. 

Next up: TBD


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Autobobography IX—Highlands

I’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure

One last place piece. I grew up in the eastern megalopolis, but in a small town that at the time couldn’t have even been called a suburb. The earliest Boston experience I remember involved going to a medical center for testing to see what I was allergic to—really, it was more a question of what I wasn’t allergic to. The procedure was nothing traumatic and what I really remember is going to a nearby diner with my father afterward and having beef stew, blueberry pie, and a glass of milk.

My other early Boston memories came about because my grandfather knew someone in professional baseball. In 1967, the Impossible Dream year for the Red Sox, I met one of the pitchers who took my program back to the locker room and returned it with autographs from most of the team, the longest and biggest being Carl Yastrzemski. At a game the following year I got a baseball autographed by the Minnesota Twins. 

Twenty years later I was working for a financial corporation which had private boxes at Fenway and Boston Garden and I was able to see Sox and Celtics games that way. At the Red Sox game, a foul ball flew past us into the room where some of our group was watching the game on television. My only other fond memory of those corporate years is when I told one of the people working for me to take as much time off as she needed after her pet died.

During the fifteen years I lived in or around Boston, I attended hundreds if not thousands of movies, concerts, plays, dance performances, museum exhibits, and lectures including hearing Gary Snyder. I took adult education classes in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, as well as through Harvard Extension School in subjects including writing, nature, tai chi, and many more.

I took frequent train trips west to Walden Pond, north to Rockport, south to a large Audubon hiking area, and boats east to watch the humpbacks. I walked and ran through all the parks in Boston’s Emerald Necklace. One regular routine was to take a couple subway lines to hang out in Harvard Square on Saturday nights and buy an early copy of Sunday’s Boston Globe. Another was trying new restaurants with two coworkers, women from Italy and Trinidad (much more interesting than Americans).

It was a good life in a city I loved. Even with outrageous Boston rents, I was saving money while working less than forty hours a week. Eventually though, all the opportunities stopped interesting me, and even though offered a leave of absence by the college where I’d worked for ten years, I knew it was time to move away from the area permanently, a move I’ve never regretted despite still considering Boston one of my favorite cities.

I’ve written more than enough about Yellowstone in the four years I lived there and since, but I have to include the Rockies in these place pieces, especially in one titled Highlands. Waiting for the bus in Minneapolis on my first trip there, I met a woman in line who lived in my destination Bozeman and we talked much of the way across the country. When the first snow covered mountains—the Crazies—came into view, she said this is why we live here.

The views were sensational, but the wildlife was the reason I lived in Yellowstone for four years. Wildlife as it should be, large and free, with humans just one part of the landscape instead of the only part. In theory in the park, humans weren’t allowed to treat the natural world with the contempt they show in most of the world, but assholes are assholes and can’t always be controlled. People have been damaging Yellowstone’s features and killing its wildlife ever since it was created. 

Watching that behavior got to be a drag, and I think I got out just in time before it got even worse with increased visitation. Despite that pain, what ultimately drove me from Yellowstone was feeling betrayed and disappointed by people I knew and the company I worked for. I’ll never go back unless there are major changes in how tourists are dealt with. And even if the tourists are handled better, there’s still a big chunk of the population of the surrounding states to deal with—the ones who couldn’t wait, and sometimes didn’t, to kill a wolf and now foam at the mouth for the chance to kill a grizzly. People—can’t live with them, can’t manage their population. Wildlife—life without them is a poor substitute.

I had an offer to work in Yellowstone thirty years earlier than I eventually did. I would have had the chance to experience all that thirty years earlier, including meeting a woman who started then who I later worked for when I finally did get to the park. Looking back, I think the decision to not go to Yellowstone in 1980 might have changed my life more than any other I’ve made—I don’t exactly regret it, because many experiences I’ve had and people I’ve known would have been missed in exchange—but it feels like it would have been more life-changing than the many moves I’ve made or not made or the two marriages which didn’t happen. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Autobobography VIII—Hurricane

I’ve been dealing with a couple infections, nothing of the seriousness which almost killed Dylan twenty years ago but, along with the humidity, enough to keep me from drinking beer which is what usually inspires my writing. I like to avoid modern medicine as much as possible, but this time I got three prescriptions along with the usual surprised comment that they hardly ever see anyone these days who isn’t taking some drugs. One worked without any problem, the second I used once and threw out because of a side effect, the third I used sporadically and stopped early because of a side effect. 

A few days ago I read about Kris Kristofferson, who I forgot to include in an earlier post about spiritual or seeking musicians I’d listened to long ago (and still do), and his misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s and subsequent decline for a couple years because of the drugs he was given when he really didn’t have Alzheimer’s but Lyme disease. Would have made a good example for the shocked medico as to why I try to avoid prescriptions. 

Last time I ignored the meaning of a song and based a post on one line in the song. This time I’m ignoring everything but the title as an inspiration to write about New Orleans so I didn’t even post the link to the irrelevant lyrics. Dylan did record something called Bourbon Street of which I’ve only heard a sample, but apparently it’s (appropriately?) such drunken nonsense that the official site doesn’t even have lyrics for it.

I’m not sure exactly when or why I first became interested in New Orleans—books, movies, or the two main reasons, music and food—but it wasn’t until my brief corporate period that I had the extra money to go, along with the motivation of hating the life I was living. So it was October of 1988 when I made my first visit, flying from Boston although I would have preferred the train if I’d had more time.

I stayed in a fancy old hotel in the French Quarter and like most first-timers spent most of my time in that area—eating oyster po boys, and huge sandwiches from Café Maspero, café au lait and beignets at Café Du Monde, and gumbo at Galatoire’s which I called the most delicious food I’d ever eaten, making several visits to Maison Bourbon to hear Wallace Davenport play trumpet (I later bought a couple of his albums), listening to a saxophonist play by the Mississippi River at 8 AM, drinking a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s after listening to old jazz at Preservation Hall, and visiting the Old Absinthe House. Somewhere there was a waiter who looked like Fats Domino. I was amused by risqué t-shirts about how to eat oysters and crawfish, and by the jive routines of kids hustling on the street. I loved the architecture and still have the photos I took of the old buildings. I did leave the Quarter to go to the zoo, where I saw alligators and flamingos, mostly for the opportunity to take a riverboat one way and a streetcar the other. The weather was perfect, warm but not humid, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of sensuality, feeling free, relaxed, and renewed in what seemed like a different world where I could be someone else.

Like many who fell in love with the city, I considered moving there (two of my favorite musicians moved there from Europe) and checked out the cheap apartment rates and poor job market. I thought of my time there often and expected to at least make regular visits. Almost a year later I was wearing a New Orleans shirt and a woman on the train told me it was her favorite city in the world and that she’d seen a lot of them. A few weeks later, still considering the moving or visiting options, I wrote, “A move, I think, would be my final step for when I’m completely done with the world. I would have to completely indulge myself in the food, drink, music, atmosphere to be able to live there.

During the 90s, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston was Dixie Kitchen, run by Mary Gauthier, who went on to become an excellent songwriter after selling the restaurant. My usual meal was shrimp creole, greens, and cornbread, but for whatever reasons, that was as close as I got to returning to New Orleans.

Although the city still interested me and I read the Katrina books and listened to New Orleans music, it was more than twenty years later, inspired by a Yellowstone coworker who loved New Orleans, before I returned by train in November 2011. This time I was going primarily to hear music and I stayed at what turned out to be a dumpy hotel close to the clubs of Frenchmen Street. My favorite club there was d.b.a. where I went to a couple $5 shows by favorite local performers who tour internationally. One afternoon I was looking for a place to hear music and went to Margaritaville (which has more pictures of Jimmy Buffett than one should see in a lifetime) and bought a cd from someone new to me after watching him play a set. I bought more local cds at Louisiana Music Factory. 

A day at the Po Boy Festival combined music and food. I also had a muffuletta from Central Grocery, and a great meal of catfish, shrimp creole, greens, and yams at Praline Connection. I took a bus to have lunch at Liuzza’s by the Track—gumbo, a garlic oyster po boy, and a bloody mary, then walked a few more blocks to City Park (1300 acres which was flooded for weeks after Katrina) to wander beneath the Spanish moss covered live oaks. Between meals and music, I also visited the aquarium and insectarium, and took a ferry across the river and back.

The people were still interesting—a guy sprawled across the sidewalk happily told me I looked like Jerry (Garcia), and a couple women took to calling me Yellowstone based on the shirt I was wearing when we first talked. But unfortunately I got a bad cold while I was there, and didn’t feel the magic I had on my first trip although I think that had at least as much to do with my age and attitude as the city. Instead of a general feeling of sensuality, I saw a few examples of garish tastelessness this time. On departure day, I decided to walk from the hotel for a last look at the Quarter and bowl of gumbo on the way to the train station. It was so incredibly humid that my last clean shirt was completely soaked by the time I reached the station and in the bathroom I found my cleanest dirty shirt to wear on the trip home.

I didn’t have time to wait another twenty years so I had a visit planned for April 2013 to stay in the hotel I’d used twenty five years earlier and attend the French Quarter Festival (several days of free music on stages all over the Quarter). I also hoped to take a tour of a bayou. But as part of my disastrous last year in Yellowstone, the government shut down the bus company I was going to use to get to my train, just as they would shut down the park itself a few months later, and I had to cancel my vacation. I haven’t thought seriously of returning since, but reading my journals and fact-checking on the internet for this post has made me ache to be there again. I couldn’t afford to live there now because rent has become much more expensive post-Katrina as the powers that be decided that rather than remain a unique city, they’d much rather get rid of as many poor people as possible and make as much money as possible. A vacation trip seems unlikely unless I win the lottery, but maybe I’ll be walking to New Orleans.

Next up--Highlands

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Autobobography VII—Something There Is About You

This is a song about a woman. But although I was lucky enough to know several women who inspired me, I’m actually using this title because it’s the only song where Dylan specifically mentions his birthplace: Rainy days on the Great Lakes, walkin’ the hills of old Duluth.   

I was living in Boston in 2000 and not enjoying it enough anymore to justify the cost of living and the need to keep earning a high income. It certainly wasn’t a place where I could afford to retire. I was in a long distance relationship with a woman in Ohio so I moved there while I tried to figure out where in the upper Midwest to live next. I explored Madison and Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Michigan—all had strengths and weaknesses. Madison offered the most culturally but seemed too spread out; I liked the other two a lot but neither had much public transportation or seemed like a place I’d have much luck finding a decent job. 

So I decided to visit the largest town by Lake Superior. The bus station was in the west end of town and I didn’t like the look of the city until I got downtown and then to the eastern half of town where the Lake is. After exploring the city, I decided this would be my new home. It took three or four trips before I found an apartment which would allow Hijack, the cat who eventually kept me company for nineteen years. I buried him in the woods at Hawk Ridge, near a spot where I’d often sat on a rock looking out at the Lake. That was one of two losses in my life I don’t think I ever completely got over.

Beside the fabulous views of the Lake, what made Duluth work for me as a non-driving nature lover were the many trails in town. A minute off the sidewalk and I was walking by the side of a rocky creek with waterfalls and towering pines. Wildlife was common—nearby in the state was the only area where wild wolves had avoided being wiped out in the lower 48 states and they were sometimes spotted in neighborhoods, black bears denned in town and were often seen, pileated woodpeckers hammered streetside, peregrine falcons nested downtown, and large numbers of hawks and eagles migrated through, along with a very rare mountain lion. A long sandy beach extended miles along the Lake and made for a favorite outbound hike with a return trail through milkweed dunes and warbler woods. Over the years, I wrote some popular posts describing a few of my hikes in town. For many years I’d enjoyed all that Boston offered and still identify with the city in some ways, but I’d never had the feeling anywhere of finding home as I developed in Duluth.

When I moved here, I was happy to find that similar people had also discovered and moved to Duluth. One early event was searching for rare plants to stop a planned golf course (we won!). One of the leaders of that hike would go on to be the leader of the group Cloud Cult, and I later worked with his wife, who paints while the band plays, for a local environmental group. There were several organizations whose meetings and hikes I attended. One favorite was a nature and environmental book club. I didn’t do anything crazy like start going to parties but there were quite a few people I enjoyed seeing at all those events. I think most of them are still in town but I rarely run into them anymore now that the events have largely ceased. I’m not sure I’d go now even if they were still happening—as happened in Boston, eventually staying home is what I like to do best. I don’t hike those trails much anymore either—I originally stopped because I was tired of illegally unleashed dogs charging barking at me while on a trail next to a fifty foot drop. But even now that I could carry my bear spray, I mostly stick to walking by the Lake.

This was the town where Dylan had been born. I had a job in that hospital, working as a clerk for a spell, but I never did like it all that much, and one day the scalpel fell. Before that happened, I walked a few blocks one lunchtime to see the house where he lived for six years before moving to Hibbing. It later was bought by a Dylan fan and I guess it has a plaque now.

One thing I still love about living in Duluth is the way the Lake affects the weather so that there are many microclimates in town. It’s common for one part of town to be fogged in while another is sunny, snow totals can range widely, and there’s often a twenty degree temperature difference between neighborhoods.  Mentioning fog reminds me of one of the biggest losses while I’ve lived here—there used to be a deep, loud foghorn which blew and added mystery and individuality to the city. Unfortunately some people blew louder and more frequently and it was replaced by a pathetic little whistle.

The climate certainly seems to be changing. The winters aren’t as cold or as long, and the summers aren’t as cool (I used to love being fogged in for most of June). In 2012 while I was living in Yellowstone, there was a huge rain and flood here which caused widespread damage which is still being repaired. Two weeks ago, a similar event wiped out many of the highways in northwest Wisconsin—the bus I take to visit Marquette was out of service for a week. And a few mornings ago at 3:30 AM, the sky was lit up by nonstop lightning for an hour with 80 mph wind. Many trees were destroyed, some snapped in half, others with their entire root system torn out of the ground. I’d never seen a storm like this anywhere, even when I’d been in the vicinity of a tornado in Illinois or hurricanes in Massachusetts. Some homes and businesses are still without electricity.

I still like Duluth more than most places because of the Lake, but I don’t love the city or have the deep feeling of home anymore. I definitely believe it’s gone downhill (along with the rest of the country) since I first moved here fifteen years ago. (On the positive side there is a new animal shelter, and a wildlife rehab center is being built—I’d be volunteering at both except that they’re on the outskirts of town where the bus doesn’t go.) Part of my negativity certainly may be that I’ve gone downhill myself during those years, but it’s not my fault that I can rarely ride the bus anymore without hearing people talking about their drugs, crimes, and jail time. Still, I expect Duluth is where I’ll die, if I can keep a roof over my head until that happens. But unless something changes, I’ll likely be homeless before the end of the year and I sure won’t stick around for even a milder winter here. So maybe I’ll be migrating south too.