Comeback Attempt

I actually wrote this Wednesday evening, but then I unfortunately discovered that when I tried to place the post in WordPress, using Firefox, nothing happened (and I couldnʼt even access the HTML pane I normally use to paste what I have already typed in Scrivener and exported as HTML). And no matter what I pasted, typed or yelled, whenever I tried to save or preview my new addition, the contents (except for a title) vanished into nothingness.

On Thursday, I tried contacting the support team, but although my message was acknowledged as “flying through cyberspace,” nothing has resulted. And I remain unable (in Firefox) to use WordPress.

So today, just to test and see (while my visiting sister — go on, read the post and you will understand — is working on her own netbook in the living room), I thought I would investigate what might happen if I accessed my WordPress site (not the blog itself but the bloggerʼs own Dashboard site) using Google Chrome. Voilá! Here we are (fortunately I had saved both the original post and its HTML version in CopyPaste Pro).

You may now read what I wrote nearly forty-eight hours ago…

Hmmmm… better than two weeks without a post on old Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog. Not good.

The boom box in our office, showing some of the CDs that we did retain when selling our vinyl records

What was going on? Was I deeply depressed at selling all my records for a mere $263?* Not particularly. But I have been wasting days really proficiently (not the correct word choice, there) every day, and have written nearly nothing of any kind (a few thousand words smartpenned as a kind of journal/diary and the starts of two different stories). But no blog posts.

And this one wonʼt be much. I have but a few minutes to do anything, having made tomorrowʼs lunch for The Lovely One (and our breakfast as well) and just now listened to the weather report (we may be expecting frost tonight — a significantly better** chance tomorrow night). She-Who-Must is working out, and as soon as she calls to let me know sheʼs on her way home, I need to fill the birdbath, which has gone bone dry (mostly because the soft ground has left the durned thing uneven, so when I fill it, the birds only end up with about half the water they should).

My sister is arriving sometime after 7:00 for a brief visit (actually, she has a meeting in Dubuque tomorrow and worked us in as free housing and a chance to see each other before moving on to my Aunt Alaireʼs Saturday for Easter celebrations). So I am simply making myself take a brief slack of time to actually compose something to comprise a post.

This is it. (Maybe Iʼm back.)

Happy birthday, Stephen!

* (My brother David says he thinks theyʼll pull the couple dozen actually important records from the collection and sell those for a lot more than what they paid me for all of them. But as I suggested in the post previous, I had no interest in figuring out what might actually be valuable and then trying to sell those on eBay or wherever, whatever.)

** Perhaps I should say, “worse.” With spring having sprung in a major way a month early (or six weeks), we donʼt particularly want any frost. [Good Friday addition — we did get the frost and I did cover a few of our smaller plants last night.]

Today, Good Friday, this day that this post actually goes up, is also my brother Stephenʼs birthday — so “Happy Birthday” to him!!

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Pretty Nice Christmas

Margaret nearly buried amidst the wrapping paper

The Lovely One and I traveled to the middle of Our Fair State to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family, departing on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and returning on Monday/yesterday. The drive both directions was lovely — brilliant days with scarcely a cloud in the sky (Christmas itself was utterly clear with a sky of a deep wedgewood-blue. And warm, well over 40°F).

We gathered at my brother Paul (and wife Nancy)ʼs place because, as a minister “Pastor Paul” had work to over those days — even with his co-pastor undertaking her regular duties, he was presiding at a total of four services, two on Saturday (Janet and I attended the rural churchʼs candlelight service that began at 4:00 PM) and two more on Sunday, including the afternoon Spanish service. Meals, times together, Christmas Day stockings and gifts were scattered between trips to church — plentifully. I had a good time and some excellent visits. Janet found this year especially pleasant, too.

David, Jess and Tim

Besides my generation (sister Margaret, the pastor himself and brother David), both of Paulʼs offspring (Rachel and Tim, with Timʼs relatively new wife Jessica enjoying her first Burrow Christmas) were present — nine of us altogether. Our hosts were actually able to get us all around their dining room table at one time, several times (an achievement of which Janet was particularly envious). Maybe we were a bit crowded in the living room for gift opening, but that just made the time more cozily enjoyable. And we even got to each speak with the absent brother Stephen about 6:00 PM on Christmas.

Paul, Janet, Rachel and Nancy

As the photos reveal, sharing British-style (China-produced) Christmas crackers has become a favorite part of the Burrow Christmas stocking stuffing. Although the crackers usually donʼt pop when pulled, we love putting all our crowns (contained within the cracker) on our heads (mine atop my Guinness cap) as we read the lamely punning riddles and check out the little “presents” that also spill out when the ends of the cracker get pulled apart. I have a little, plastic three-inch ruler that might actually come in handy.

Christmas Day was a wildly enjoyable time. Trite, but, tritely, true, too.

Isnʼt that an ash? — The cerulean Christmas sky beyond a tree in the parsonage yard.

And it didnʼt hurt that, even though My Beloved and I had agreed on “no presents” between the two of us this year, I made out like a bandit, including ironically two live Jefferson Airplane albums (that I hadnʼt even specifically asked for, from Rachel, which I am listening to as I type — just not on the computer, natch) and an iTunes gift card. Harold Lamb Cossack adventures, Guinness, The Moonstone on DVD and a Joseph Smith biography completed my personal portion of the hoard. The Lovely One may have done even better, and weʼll be eating on on several restaurant gift certs. I believe my spouse feels as lushly rewarded this Christmas as I do.

I hope everyone else felt as over-satisfied with their hauls.

Then, once this pair of Burrows had cruised back across half our state home, Janet and I opened the presents from her side of the family. The plethora and over-plus of generous abundance persisted bountifully. Among other treats, I am contemplating for suppers this week several recipes from the Sheryl Crow cookbook Janet received, and my hands are warm in my new fingerless wool gloves, typing this, as I ponder how to spend a new B&N gift card. Wow. (And thereʼs more, but Iʼll restrain my greedy gloating.)

Anyway, the best part was seeing so many relatives (both sides — counting our visit to Janetʼs folks the previous weekend).

My best seasonal wishes to everyone out there (a little belated, perhaps).

Now the lengthening days bring us toward the yearʼs end…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Retrotemporal Celebration

Happy Birthday, Betty!

I drove Janet to work this morning, an unusual event (I think in the eleven years sheʼs worked out of town I have driven her to her job only a handful of times,  by which watery metaphor I mean:  “probably a half a dozen or less”). Once or twice my up-and-back auroral trip was caused by vehicle malfunctions, but usually we plan for me to chauffeur so that only one car is there when I drive up at the end of her work day — sometimes so we can head out on a little trip, other times, like today, so we can go together to dinner somewhere.

The supper club atop the bluff in East Dubuque

Today weʼre crossing over into Illinois in order to celebrate Janetʼs momʼs birthday at Timmermanʼs, the kitschiest eatery we have encountered near us. A visit to the supper club is a temporal backstep directly into, say, 1962. Especially their cocktail lounge,* which is where weʼll meet the parents(-in-law) at the big almost circular bar. I used to experience the same bygone-looking, epoch-evoking sensations about the Iris in Mt. Pleasant (sadly defunct nowadays), but in the days I was thinking that, the time dislocation was only a decade or less.** With Timmermanʼs weʼre at the half-century-back mark!

Thereʼs a contemporary term for such an experience as we are anticipating for this evening, but as I have already used/alluded to it in the title of todayʼs post, iʼll pass on the opportunity to take the lazy route toward expressing the Timmermanish ambiance.

Their food is good (not our personal favorite styles, but Bing and Betty like it a lot) if very filling and hugely caloric. And the views from the big windows out over Highway 20 at the watery lagoon off the Mississippi are spectacular, particularly at sunset, the most desirable time for a windowside dinner, even if you get the seat with the sun right in your face.

Getting together with the Nortons for a festive occasion (holiday, birthday, anniversary) has become a minor tradition among that family (well, Janet — and therefore me — and her folks, although sister Diane and Steve were there to complete most of the family right after The Lovely One had her emergency retinal surgery a few years ago). The ʼrents often bring along their closest pals, who are good fun, and the waitresses probably grin behind their hands at the flirtatious old guys (who after much self-amusing banter will be leaving old-fashioned — and to some of us, embarrassing — minuscule tips) having a grand time.

Now if we all were dressed in sharkskin gray suits and flouncy or Jackie Kennedy-slim evening dresses… (In this heat, I intend to go in jeans shorts but with a short-sleeved and collared shirt.)

* A time-trippy term in and of itself!

** However, at the age I was in the earliest Seventies, the dislocation in time was subjectively as large in portion of lifespan.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Congratulations, Tim and Jess!

Today, about the time this item posts online, my nephew Tim marries his sweetheart Jessica. His/their aunts and uncles (-in-law) could not feel happier, and I personally am looking forward enthusiastically to the big ceremony, presided over (wrong terminology there) by Timʼs father, my brother Paul — who gets to do the service because Jessicaʼs local minister happens to be out of town this weekend, a circumstantial positive that could almost make one (well, this one) feel a slight tremor of temptation to believe.

Janet, taking a half day off work, and I traveled to the center of our state for the wedding yesterday, hoping to enjoy some family time together. If our plans came off, we had lunch with Margaret and Aunt Alaire and David (at least) before driving to the church. Maybe we can squeeze a word with the Happy Couple and the Proud Parents at some point, too (all, naturally, before turning our heads once again toward home). I think most (if not actually all) of us are intending to celebrate at the reception (or so I hope), where and when some conversation will surely be possible. And I bet we can meet members of the brideʼs-side family as well.

Tim and Jess will soon be off into the big adventures of wedded bliss, while the rest of the family must return, far too soon, to the mundane dreariness of daily work — with the consolation of each other to make the burdens of existence bearable and even rewarding.

(And in honor of the marital day, Iʼll even keep quiet on the issue of what real family values are in the face of Boob Vander Putz and his cerebrally-cleansed  squads of goosestepping goons.)

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Christmas Memories

Such a corny title, admittedly. But it describes exactly what I am about to relate…

Probably not the best image to select for Christmas stuff, but I couldnʼt resist, and if you read the article youʼll understand why this image fits.

So Christmas has come and gone. For some of us here in eastern Iowa that means not quite a foot of snow, around Jackson County perhaps nine to ten inches. Although some snow fell on Thursday night, the 23rd, leaving me about four or five inches to shovel first thing in the morning on Christmas Eve, the white precipitation just kept falling and falling all through the day on Friday. I ended up shoveling three times, at first removing maybe four to five inches, then another two or three inches, and the last about another inch.* Janet’s sister Diane and her husband Steve, along with son Ryan, did successfully make the drive from near Milwaukee without too much trouble. They only first encountered accumulation on this side of Madison, where they actually stopped for about an hour at a mall. According to them, the only bad roads were from Dubuque to Maquoketa, meaning that 61 had barely been plowed in only a single lane.

Steve’s comment was, “There would have been no problem if the plows had been out.” He observed that Iowaʼs only other plow must have been getting gassed up again at that time. Good joke when youʼre Cheesehead. On the other hand, about a decade ago, Janet and I were driving up to their place for a little visit after Christmas (coincident with Dianeʼs birthday — both she and their father have post-Christmas December birthdays), and we had to turn around in Dickeyville, as the road conditions and blinding snowfall had gotten too bad to continue (I know Janet thinks we could have continued, but I have never been a fan of wintery poor-weather driving.) However, sometime after noon on Christmas Eve, they were there, and the festivities began.

Christmas Eve was a pretty quiet day. Ryan and Steve fairly quickly descended to the family room, where they figured out what sports our satellite offered and watched. The TV was on most of the time for one or the other or both of them for the next two days. Diane and Janet quickly hunkered together to make preparations for the big holiday and talk. And talk. And talk. But then that’s what they get together for. Periodically Steve or I, sometimes even Ryan, would drift into their conversations, but pretty much it was hen time. And they did and still continue to enjoy themselves together.

Sports, of course, had small, even nonexistent, appeal for me, and as Ryan was assigned the office as his bedroom, with the blowup queen mattress on the floor, I figured I would be off the computer until yesterday/Sunday at the earliest. (It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Ryan was hardly ever in his room, and Janet wanted me to boot her computer for him to use – a failure by Christmas Day — and then this iMac so we could all appreciate an animated elf-card that Diane had created of the family, which would not run in Flash 10 on Janet’s computer. I got to check e-mail and Facebook on Friday and again on Saturday in turning my computer on for Ryan to use after the Christmas exchange was completed.) And I wasn’t sure I would be on yesterday if I had to go along with The Lovely One and her sister to Anamosa; but with Steve and Ryan electing to leave early, I was able to get left at home. I did have to shovel some more, clearing the ice from under where the Boyer car had been, and what little lakes of ice had formed from icicles dripping off our eaves by the front doors. And Sunday was the day to wash our sheets and do some other laundry. But it also meant I got to get on and create this post. (Not much of a post, I admit, but with merely these dwindling days left in fulfilling The Vow, everything seems not to be inspiring me to greatness, I fear.)

I am corrected: itʼs “The Complete 40th Anniversary” DVD set. Best yet.

The Eve passed quietly. We enjoyed Janetʼs homemade chicken noodle soup for supper, along with homemade foccaccia. I donʼt think any of us ate all that much, having noshed on popcorn (a lovely gift from Sharkleen in St. Louis that we all appreciated, girl! Thank you, maʼam, and we all hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas!) and too much other stuff, including cake balls. I retired to the bedroom to read for a while still not wanting to watch sports or interfere/undermine (with) the girlsʼ hilarity, eventually showering and heading off to sleep. I finished A Christmas Carol, having begun it the evening before.

I got up early (-ish) on Christmas morn to shovel the drive again. We had gotten some more light snow in the night, less than an inch I calculated, and it had to go before the parents (the girlsʼ parents) arrived, which didnʼt actually happen until noon. However, delicious cinnamon rolls from our neighbors to the east made a great breakfast, and preparations for the big Christmas midday meal filled the morning. Once Bing and Betty arrived, we ate (ham, my cheesy potatoes, a vegetable casserole we all enjoy from Betty, brown-and-serve rolls, and a cranberries-with-blueberries dish enlivened with cinnamon and allspice that Janet had found on the internet to use up two bags of cranberries she hadnʼt needed for flower-arrangement Christmas gifts for both sets of neighbors). We still have enough ham left over for three Cratchit families!

Then came the gifts. I felt quite pleased with my provisions for The Lovely One, who seemed appreciative, and I made out pretty well for myself:

Thank you, all! Great gifts that I will (and have already begun to) enjoy profoundly.

I read in the two Lovecraftian books that evening once the Nortons had departed for home (perhaps ideas have fermented for more developments in Mantorville!), while Steve and Ryan watched TV (and then Steve went to bed) and the women talked some more. And then to bed myself, a fifty-eighth Christmas completed.

A lovely Christmas, and I hope you all enjoyed your holiday just as much.

* Late in the afternoon nephew Ryan went outdoors — barehanded, to my astonishment — and shoveled perhaps another two inches by himself. Wonderful help. Thanks, Ryan! (Even though I know you were mostly just bored and simply needed something to do.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A


Over the River…

I had a very nice Thanksgiving. My family gathered in Coralville with our Aunt Alaire, my motherʼs sister, as we have done for decades now, every other year. (This means that Christmas 2010 will be with the Norton clan, naturally.)

Front—sister-in-law Nancy and niece Rachel; Back—brother Paul and nephew Tim

Janet and I got started somewhat later than I had intended, leaving Maquoketa just about 10:00, delayed partly by me loafing and partly by unexpectedly deciding to warm both the stuffing and the mashed potatoes we were bringing to the feast, along with the pies I told you about already. And we stopped at Caseyʼs westside for some convenience-store “cappuccinos” to enjoy on the drive to Iowa City, which added a few minutes as well.

We arrived well before 11:30, however (The Lovely One was driving). Everyone else was already present, including niece Rachel and nephew Tim, offspring of my brother Paul and his wife Nancy. Paul is the one who has embarked on a second career this year, becoming a United Methodist minister after many years of training and experience as a “local pastor” in a small town and with Hispanic communities in his home area. Margaret had been staying with Alaire since Tuesday, and David had obviously gotten up much earlier than us, making his drive from northwestern Iowa end earlier than our much briefer pilgrimage. Alaireʼs complex has a gathering room the residents can book, and although itʼs probably about twice the size we really need, the community room beats the narrow confines of her single apartment — comfortable for her, certainly, but nowhere nearly enough room for all of us (especially as some have grown in girth over the decades, meaning me in particular).

We carted in food, drink and presents, and I settled down to chat with everyone, none of whom I had seen in many months (except for perhaps an hour talking to Margaret and David at my Uncle Bill Burrowʼs funeral last month). Tim or David, both readers, brought up the blog, which directed conversation for a long time in many paths, particularly the nonsense of Tighty politics and their blowhard leadership. (One benefit of family is that theyʼre usually the people who can most easily agree with you, regardless of my solitary black sheep status on religion. Or at least tolerate oneʼs rants and foibles.)

The Siblings and the Aunt—Me, Margaret, Paul, Alaire, David

Aunt Alaire decided, pretty quickly, that since we were all there, it was time for the food, even though the turkey had been more or less scheduled to be done at least an hour later — in fact, when Paul and I, elected by default, I guess, started carving the bird, he quickly decided it needed more time in the oven. I was very glad I had stumbled on the tail-end of an Alton Brown show on Thanksgiving turkey and saw the few minutes he devoted to “how to carve your bird.” With Paulʼs guidance and help, we did a fair job of slicing the meat (I even used Altonʼs technique for cutting away the leftovers from the bones, later on).

Once we had let the turkey bake a while longer and actually completed the slicing job, everyone helped to serve up the food, and (to misquote Huck Finn) “wasnʼt there a pile of it and plenty for everyone five times over.” The talk ebbed and flowed on all sorts of things, particularly on childhood memories between Paul and me for a few minutes, while we ate, more diffusely and in several smaller groupings as we cleaned up, and for a while longer between all of us together. Wine flowed (sweet and dry, white and red — predictably perhaps, I enjoyed a few Guinnesses) before during and after the feast itself, but no one imbibed to any large degree whatsoever (although The Lovely One did ask me to do the driving home). Eventually it was time, late in the afternoon, for many to head northward to Minnesota, there to visit with missing brother Stephen (I probably should have gone, but I knew that tasks and other activities awaited for this weekend at home), Alaire to return the leftovers we hadnʼt claimed to her apartment, and for those of us not driving to the state of ten thousand lakes to head home.

This particular gathering was special because we had decided, at Janetʼs urging, to bring most of our Christmas presents to Thanksgiving and turn them over to their recipients then, saving postage. (I say “most” because I screwed up and had send items for my youngest brother, David, and sister Margaret straight to them.) So we did have to do the present redistribution before all taking our leaves, but that procedure was fun as well.

Janet and I were driving home about 4:00, reaching the domicile in time to catch local news and the weather report. We definitely didnʼt want any supper that night (as we enjoyed immensely the PBS broadcast of the Broadway birthday tribute for Stephen Sondheim that Iowa Public TV aired that night)!

The day was cold and quite windy, but the cheer and good harmony were very warm last Thursday for my clan. I enjoyed seeing everyone and talking as best I did with each and all. My family is certainly worth being thankful for.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Quietly Grateful

I admit that I am one of those people who take Thanksgiving for granted. I shouldnʼt. As a teacher I appreciated the few days off before the wildly mad rush toward Christmas that, even though the saturnalian holiday wasnʼt the end of the semester in those olden days when I was an active educator, December always became (mostly because Thanksgiving always marked the start of the large group speech season: if we hadnʼt at least gathered the various groups once by the break, we had fallen behind). If my room at school wasnʼt a messy disaster area following the fall play, it become in the pre-Christmas days the uncontrolled residence of piling masses of stuff that I would never get cleared away until June of the next year. So for thirty-five years, I was always busy at this time of the year.

Thanksgiving, most years, was just a time that I spent with relatives (of mine then Janetʼs) while I was worrying, thinking about other things, school things (or burying my nose in a book and reading, as I hadnʼt really been able to do enough to suit me since the summer had ended and school started). Distractions, preoccupations…

Thanksgiving always meant travel, too. I had my second automobile accident driving north from Ft. Madison to my parentsʼ home the very first Thanksgiving I was teaching, 1975 (the first accident had been only the spring before when I got blown off the interstate, in an inattentive moment, while passing by Ft. Dodge on my way to my very first educational job interview, at which I arrived several hours late, driving a rental from the garage that had towed in my dadʼs smashed-up VW bug; in those days before cell phones, even getting word to my prospective boss about the problem and the delay wasnʼt easy; needless to add, I did not get that job in Ringsted). Our first big snow of that (not quite) winter had arrived during the day on pre-turkey Wednesday, and I foolishly drove my brother Paulʼs huge old Chevy “home” to Mt. Pleasant. The snowfall just thickened as the darkness fell, and I hadnʼt gotten far, just on the western edge of West Point, in fact, when the car suddenly, simply went sliding sideways, circling away into the ditch.* I donʼt remember today how I got out (I may just have rocked and accelerated and made it, or perhaps somebody with a pick-up or tractor came by and helped out — all three situations have happened to me over the years**). Later on, I drove myself to my folks from Jackson County, later to Janetʼs parentsʼ house in Anamosa or my Aunt Alaireʼs in Iowa City (alternatively, because we do Thanksgiving with one side of the family and Christmas with the other, rotating sides for each holiday).

As a child, even from Michigan or somewhat closer, we apparently always drove, usually on frozen roads and through fallen or falling snow (donʼt try to deny to me the climate has warmed since the Sixties; I lived it, and I know better) for hours to my Burrow grandparents, and frequently on to Fredericksburg for the whole clan to celebrate at my dadʼs Bock sisterʼs (my memories always have us going to Bremer County, although I know we had to have visited my maternal grandmother, too). Much as I enjoy driving, few of those required appearances have completely positive associations, particularly the long, cold pilgrimages.

And third, I always eat way, way too much, ever since childhood. And naturally we bring even more home with us, leftovers, so we can overstuff at least twice more in the next week. Sigh. I tell myself, “I wonʼt do it this year,” but I apparently canʼt resist. (I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. I am not going to eat too much today. Uh huh, sure. — Iʼll let you know how it goes someday later…)

So self rules too powerfully for me to be truly appreciative of my blessings. Wrong but sadly so. And the whole point of todayʼs post is not to defend myself or rationalize such behavior/attitudes. Rather to criticize both myself and my preoccupation. For my attitude isnʼt right. I am blessed (albeit from my point of view by circumstance and nature, not some Old Beardy in the Sky), and even if I must submit to the social obligation to take this day to contemplate the multitudes of boons and anti-afflictions I enjoy, itʼs better to join the crowd for that than stand Satan-proud independent and take it all for granted.

Nothing is granted. We should all appreciate whatever (a little, a lot, or too much) that we have, that we enjoy, that we share. It could all be gone before I finish this sentence. Probably any of you realize this notion more clearly and powerfully than I, but itʼs worth remembering, more frequently than merely on the single sanctioned day each year.

I enclose the e. e. cummings poem as todayʼs picture, appropriately, because the real poet said it so much better.

And there are so many “things” for which I am endlessly grateful —

  • The Lovely One
  • the past sixteen or seventeen months (time to write and rediscover myself)
  • family (both present and departed)
  • friends (and that includes former students and Facebook-friends, too)
  • a home (expensive and drudgerious, cool neologism, as it is to maintain)
  • our English language which I love and in which I revel and delight
  • selfishly, my mind — imagination and acuity of thought and perception
  • my health (even with my right calf painfully interrupting my morning runs for three weeks, even if another ocular migraine occurs today, even if I am thirty pounds overweight… I am healthy)
  • The Bill of Rights (particularly that First Amendment)
  • freedom

…And Iʼll see about possibly doing better next year. Right now, there are a thousand things I really should be doing…

* I should have been, and I am, grateful that I skidded out of control to the right, without crossing into the lane of oncoming traffic.

** And for helpful fellow citizens, and a tradition of just such genial hospitality that I have accepted and from which I have benefited, let us also give thanks and do our utmost to enliven enduringly in our own hours and days.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Honoring Paul

I got up at 3:30 AM on Friday morning last week. Seriously, no exaggeration, no lying.

It worked out fine, and I didn’t even feel bad, surprisingly. The reason? My brother Paul was slated to receive the Charles. Martin Award for Association Leadership — the highest award of the Iowa State Education Association.

It is an honor he richly deserves. Like me he has been a member of the Association throughout his entire teaching career, but unlike me he rapidly moved into leadership positions, including long-time presidency of his local Association, chief negotiator for about thirty years as well as serving as head of grievance and negotiations for the same amount of time. He’s also been prominent and important at the state level — representative to the Delegate Assembly for nearly twenty years, many roles for the Unit Nine Board, and the ISEA Executive Board. The presentation of the award especially acknowledged his mentoring role for younger teachers in Oskaloosa and around the state, which is, as they said, “perhaps, his greatest legacy.”

The ISEA Delegate Assembly was last Thursday and Friday, and I wanted to be president to see him receive the award, as did my sister Margaret, Paul’s superintendent and many, many friends. My brother David would have been there, too, except he used his personal time to attend the recent state math conference.

Anyway, I set the alarm or 3:30, and when it let off I actually got up easily, having fallen asleep deliberately at 9:00 PM on Thursday evening. Showering, shaving, dressing, packing some beverages for the trip, and wolfing down a half a grapefruit and some milk in the dark consumed not quite an hour. Janet had recommended I buy a convenience-store cappuccino for the drive and warm it up in the microwave just before I left, it’s was a good idea except I let it cook too long and wasted some time cleaning up boiled-over cappuccino before hopping in the truck and heading out into the dark, just about an hour earlier than I might have headed out for a morning run.

Why is this ISU picture of Hilton Coliseum mostly sky?

I drove east out of Maquoketa to Anamosa, picking up 151 to Cedar Rapids, and then it was all Highway 30 across the state to Ames. Dawn light started to appear in the rearview mirror somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Tama. Predictably there were not many cars on the road at that unusual hour, but there were more than I expected, and the route around the Cedar Rapids was plentifully hectic, thinning, as one might expect, as I drove west beyond the city. Although Google Maps had predicted a three hour and forty minute drive and even directed me within a news into a neighborhood east of where I wanted to go, the middle of nowhere, basically, and I had to seek out the Hilton Coliseum using my own wits, just like it was the 20th century, I had parked the truck right near the south entrance by 7:40.

If you ever want to plant a bomb or otherwise terrorize a large gathering in a public place like that, my recommendation (not serious, of course) is to arrive early, dressed like everyone else and ask to go to the bathroom. In truth, I think the guards like me had no reason to suspect that anyone, not even the state Association of school boards, would have any desire to bomb the ISEA Delegate Assembly. I killed a little time writing on my Sepharad story and then hiked around the oval outside the basketball court about three times before spotting my relatives — Margaret and sister-in-law Nancy — waiting for me to arrive. Paul’s honor occurred about fifteen minutes later than predicted, but that’s large meetings for you. He gave a splendid speech, far better than I would have done, lasting about 12 minutes, filled with nostalgic memories, wit, personal acknowledgments, genuine insight and truth. Afterward we hung about until the end of the morning session, not really attending to matters of the redistribution of Uniserve regions or the recommendation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in order to provide more money for education, and chatted as Paul received well-wishers and old friends at the rear of the assembly.

Eat here only if you enjoy this kind of joint

For lunch the family and some of his friends drove over to Hickory Park, a restaurant with which the rest seem to be familiar but which I fear will probably not receive my business again, just not my kind of place — too loud, too folksy and with far too hard benches for seating at the tables. Our waitress young was excellent, and I really enjoyed my spinach salad (except for the excessive amount of bacon bits). I took a note to tell Janet that if you crossed a Cracker Barrel with Thunder Bay Grille (on the north end of Davenport and part of a small chain owned by a rich Republican businessman) with a hint of TGI Friday’s (something about looking down the hall by a long row of booths), and hung a powerful stench of smoked meat in the air, you’d have something like Hickory Park. Intriguingly for such a place, their portions — except for the salads, of which Paul and I were the only partakers — were curiously small.

Anyway we all chatted amiably, and I was heading home, having switched from a dress shirt and jacket into a hoodie Guinness sweatshirt, about 2:00 PM. I preferred to drive out in the dark to drive home, although it was a beautiful cloudless afternoon, and I really had good luck not getting behind semis or pokey drivers, usually. I had planned to stop at the Mesquakie reservation for gas (and desperately needed to urinate at that point and therefore did stop), where the price was listed about three cents less than elsewhere in the state, but apparently every other driver on Highway 30 had the same plan — there were at least twenty cars waiting to go through the pumps.

So that was my Friday. I’d intended to make this honor Paul (who is retiring this June, as I and his wife did a year ago — but he is becoming a Methodist minister as a second career, one he has been accomplishing already for at least a decade, even founding two Hispanic parishes in Oskaloosa and in Ottumwa), but the post degenerated more into a tedious trip summary. Oh well. Let’s see what you get for tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Happy Birthday, Janet!

It’s Janet’s birthday. And I’m excited. Her folks are coming up to Dubuque for lunch, and I’m invited to join them, so we’ll all get to enjoy the food at Caroline’s, the Julien Inn restaurant. Her sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the weekend; that was fun. We all sampled the shopping opportunities in Galena. Of course, we appreciated most of all having an excellent lunch at Fritz and Frites. Food is always a fine way to enjoy good times (unfortunately for my weight).

I have a nice present for Janet (I hope). Since she has to attend a meeting tonight (now that’s unfortunate), I intend to give it to her at lunch. I know her folks will have a card and something for her as well.

Even though I’m fairly confident she’s going to like what I’ve gotten her, let’s offer a few poems here today as well (after all I couldn’t get them all in for Valentine’s Day nine days ago). I do beg your indulgence, but then I’ve offended you with so much poetry already, these few can hardly matter.

The first one has been a long-time favorite of mine, pretty much ever since I wrote it. More or less, it’s the first poem of our married lives together. In that way it ties in with “Sweetness and Light” on an earthly, domestic theme. This time it’s a trip to the bathroom in the night…

Moonshine Fluorescence

In the lightning flash of the bathroom light
you are suddenly from chaotic night created
and in consequent darkness, as the tube
imperfectly completes electrochemical connections,
annihilated: yet, when the current

courses through successfully again
you accomplish an instant resurrection
only to vanish recancelled into
Stygian shade
before a final and prolonged incarnation
as focused photons registering
an image upon my retinae,

which stereoscopic vision
transmitted along the optic nerve
my brain understands is you.

So, like a female mammalian firefly
you seem by awkward mechanical illumination
both to be and not to be, together,

but the perceptive organism, me,
holds you in truer sight, within:
the permanent, perpetual source of day.

18 July 1982

So there’s a married poem, from the summer after our wedding, a long trope on a neon light flickering on and what one sees in the the cancelling darkness. And me desperately trying to find some sort of meaning in it all—I hope a meaning deeply felt.

In our little apartment in those days, balanced along the horizontal, east and west, on Maple Street, here in Maquoketa, I could see the bathroom light flickering on from our bedroom. I don’t think I could actually see Janet, just the light.

All through that summer I was writing my second three-act play, Magick (which I should work on and get sent off to the publisher that rejected “Everybody”). I finished it at Labor Day, when sadly my mother, who had suffered from cancer for more than a year, died, having—I sometimes think—kept herself alive for our wedding. It was the 1982 Andrew Fall Play, revived again in 1998 (I enjoyed both productions, although nothing can probably top Diane’s reaction to hearing “Collywather” as the name of the imaginary friend in the show—I had borrowed that name from Diane’s own imaginary companion from childhood). My dad came to visit us in that little apartment after the funeral and burial service. He came to visit several more times while we were still there; I’m not sure why, but he seemed to like that love nest. In February of 1983, we moved into a house, a rental, that one of Janet’s clients had revealed to her was available. Although he visited us there as well, at least until he died in December, I think my father still thought we belonged in that little apartment. We liked it too. (Okay, a little too grim on the loss of parents—out of the blue to my actual mood—for celebrating Janet’s birthday. I have been glad that, adult-orphaned by age 30 that I was, Janet has been so valuable an element/center of my life.)

Here’s another poem from that apartment, this time from early in 1983, a bitterly cold and snowy winter (colder by far than this one has been, but equally well buried in snow). We had a long narrow window over the couch in the living room, which, if you clambered onto the sofa and peered outside, looked out on the large back yard, where on December 31st, 1982, a cardinal had arrived for a few days at least. A huge old conifer stood right by that window, blocking about a third of the view, as you can tell in the poem…

still untitled

Birdomen, speak me your meaning:

yesterday you arrived
in dusklight
around nightfall,

circling with silent wings
to find your place
in our fir tree,

sweeping to stop a third of the way
from the top, hidden
among the spiralling branches;

and orbited beneath the tree—
me seeking to spot your plumgage,
invisible in the foliage,

until my noise and prying eyes
sent you skittish, wings spread
crimson against the dying light,

southwestward behind the garage,
and gone, a cardinal sign
by sunset at December’s end.

And today, new year, my wife finds you
herself, outside the window,
but you fly off when I peer out,

a rush of red speeding southwest away,
just a glimpse of scarlet
to incarnadine the rust and greenishgrey

of this sullen, cold and troubled day.
Now upon the turning of the year you come,
coloring with fire the Janustime.

1 January 1983

A lot of things elude me, and the bird may stand for them all. When people say they have “retained a childlike sense of mystery,” I wonder if they don’t mean what I feel: “never overcome a self-absorbed, dimiwitted lack of perception.”

You might observe that my fascination with two-faced January goes back awhile in time.

Happy birthday, Janet, my sole redemption. (I edited away from “only” to hype the pun.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.