Let Summer Begin…

Although contemporary kids (and their parents and the school boards) seem to think summer should begin with (and therefore school ends by) Memorial Day, I have always felt itʼs summertime once June arrives, as it does today. This year, of course, I have enjoyed the arrival of summer as not for 35 years — with no school, no play rehearsals (academic or community theatre) and with more than expected time for myself. The current/ending job has helped, too, as I got to drive across Jackson County at least three days a week through May, soaking in the lush greens against the blue sky. The advent of ninety-degree temperatures for a while back in April while I trained for the job also queued me for the æstival season (as well as the forty-minute drives to and from the training site and the long lunches — an hour, huge for someone leashed to less than 25 minutes at school — during which I wandered about observing the growth of young plants groping for full maturity).

My Life in Books

Now my job ends (I hope by Wednesday), so much like school terminating all those previous years, leaving me psychologically primed for the hot, fun times. I feel like rereading Ray Bradburyʼs wonderful, not-quite-a-memoir Dandelion Wine (a much-beloved book on the experience of summer for a preteen in a Twenties Midwest so full of flavors still available from my own youth in the early Sixties, but ancient history now). I started on that volume again six years ago, attempting to read in it as I enjoyed lunchtime outdoors at the Area Education Agency in Bettendorf (I was taking my required five hours of education courses to recertify for the final time), but the actual effort of the coursework distracted me before I was a full third into that sensuous, imaginary summer. Then Janet gave me the sequel, Farewell Summer (still unread), restimulating my interest. Maybe this June…

I am also being haunted by a summer book that I needed four rereadings over a twenty-year gap to begin appreciating — F. Scott Fitzgeraldʼs The Great Gatsby, which I felt (at first) that I had to teach once I took over the Andrew American Literature course. The first two years were dreadful (for me, probably for the kids as well) because I had to force myself to read that skinny little volume (partly because I was asking them to tackle too much at a time — two chapters a day!) and I wasnʼt partcilarly inspired by the shallow lives of those selfish rich people in a very different summer of 1922 (different from Bradburyʼs 1928, that is). I had hated it in college (Fitzgeraldʼs poetic style too dense for my immature science-fiction-bred tastes, I guess), and it wasnʼt until the third year using it at Andrew that I keyed into the fact that it was about a single summer and in its own peculiar way captured an essence of summertime in the experiences of the characters — and the readerʼs experience of the prose, too. After that the book began to blossom for me with more secrets and more revelations every year.

Huck himself: it really is good for someone like me to have to appreciate a poor-white-trash punk like Huck

(And I really did miss reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — aloud to English III for a decade or more — this year, too. Thatʼs another wonderful summer, about eighty years earlier than either of the two already mentioned. Even though the reading-aloud occurred in January and February annually. I want to watch the PBS film of Twainʼs riverboating years, too, Life on the Mississippi; it always made me yearn for summer in the deeps of snow.)

Gatsbyʼs appeal still surprises me, but witnessing and experiencing the wonderful greening of the world this year, itʼs Ftizgeraldʼs phrases I recall… it was a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees …And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. — All from the second or third page. Not to mention Daisyʼs frustrated wish to celebrate the longest day of the year but always miss it, or Gatsbyʼs faded yearning to hold onto the the summer and not let it go. I might have to drag it off the shelf…

I also read through all of Heinleinʼs juveniles early in two different summers a long time ago — first when I was ending my junior year in high school, in volumes from the Mt. Pleasant Public Library, then in June after my first year of teaching, deliberately dipping back into a world of excited youth (and repeatedly remaining up all night to finish another book in a single day). The Science Fiction Book Club reprinted all of them in omnibus volumes a few years ago, which I bought, of course, and I want to read those stories in hardback again…

An ellipsis… A fine way to begin a summer… Kind of lazy…

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

Fools Waltz In

So how dumb/foolish am I?

I was all prepared, I thought, for the long weekend, piling up posts to keep everyone amused right through the long weekend/visitation/funeral for Janet and me. But somehow I forgot there were 31 days in May, so the post I slated for June 1 wonʼt appear until tomorrow (June 1). Duh.

I spent Friday afternoon and evening (on and off) writing and formatting those posts, all in preparation for a trip to Mt.Pleasant to see Dawn and Kevin for Memorial Day. We drove to Janetʼs folks first on Saturday to check on her mother and the plans for everything for her grandmotherʼs funeral. We got to eat at the local winery restaurant, which was good after a long time (for me anyway) away from that place. Then we zipped down to Henry County, where Dawn had a busy schedule of eating and drinking activities slated for us, including a long drive southeastwards for celebratory craft/antique/junk shows and a drive into my old (temporary) stomping grounds of Ft. Madison for lunch yesterday. And we had an excellent time (except that every restaurant in Ft. Madison appeared to have closed forever or at least just for Sunday). I did have a good time driving around Ft. M and seeing all the things that I recalled from 35 years ago. And we ate at a little Mexican restaurant, Amigos, that seemed vaguely familiar from some night out in my over-zestful youth. The food was great (and plentiful), but nothing ever measures up to the wonderful stuff Dawn devises for dinners at their house.

We took off Saturday and just returned (11:30 AM Monday). Just in time for me to realize that Memorial Day, as it must, was still in the month of May. So I have to churn out something If I am to maintain the unbroken series of daily posting. This bit of nothing will be it.

I see my friends and former students have utilized  the blog as a substitute for Facebook in my absence. Well and good. And that one or two former friends have taken an interest in the first chapter of the Sepharad story (there will be some more to come, guys, and Iʼll try to reply to the insightful comments already posted, too). I also hope everyone had a fantastic time at the Alumni and Memorial Day activities in Andrew this weekend!

This isnʼt much, but I appreciate the attention (even the opinions contrary to mine) that have been going on here while I was away. I have summerʼs arrival for tomorrow and something different starting Wednesday.

Have a great Memorial Day, all, remembering all those who gave the very most in service to leaders wise and otherwise over the history of this nation.

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

The Other Published Poem

All these tree pictures are from our yard, taken yesterday in the sweltering heat and sun

A while back, I posted a poem that had actually been published (although, as always, I received no remuneration in reward). In that same issue of the Iowa Journal of Social Work, edited for the nonce by friend and former professor Ron Palumbo (thus his choice to publish any poetry at all and to ask me to provide a few selections) was this second poem, one which I preferred to the self-portrait.

It was into Ronʼs married student housing that I once more-or-less gently drove my brotherʼs giant Chevy when its brakes went bad while I was heading up to Iowa City for a weekend away from Ft. Madison and my teaching self. (I needed the building to bring the big behemoth to a stop.) And it was in an apartment owned by his former wife that at an alcoholic and delirious New yearʼs party I had the honor for the one and only time in my life to draw the interest of a gay friend (he hit one me). I was so tipsy I am not sure just how baffled and disoriented this overture made me (after all, just moments before — as I recall the events — we had been discussing the Bahaʼi faith), but I had to refuse as I had my eye on some lovely female at that party (with whom I got as far as that gay friend got with me — sigh). And my sigh is not for some imaginary unreal gay alternate life I might have led — just not me, I am afraid.

This poem came from that same era, when I was fresh and flush in Ft. Madison, teaching my first year and actually making my own money. I think it concerns the break-up (again) of my first big romance, colored as always with poems of that era by The White Goddess (although I think these particular trees owe much more to James Joyce and Ulysses, episode two, Nestor, which ends, “On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”).

In the poem the sunʼs bright coins cannot buy bliss for my disheartened speaker…

Leaves Taken

And so you’re gone, a poem scarcely spoken,

leaving not even echoes of your presence in the air.

You were a witch, but now the spell is broken —

you’ll master other faces, weaving others through your hair.

All the seasons will recall you, voice and eyes:

still leaves and sunlight spangle wealth from atmosphere,

but such gold coins fill no more pockets (fancied lies),

chlorophyll and photons untranslated. You are not here.

You were the Earth, Gæia, autumn crocus-kissed.

A solar music hummed about your liquid motion,

and all our days were vibrant with the oaken risk

of time and bodies. I knew that love transcends emotion.

Well be now done with me: I never noticed trees, together.

So you take the sun as well, love is like the weather.

Published in the Iowa Journal of Social Work

20 April 1976

Imaginary rewards for those who noticed itʼs a sonnet, one of my first successful ones.

I think the belovedʼs “liquid motion” owes much (or is an allusion, of course) to Theodore Roethkeʼs poem, “I Knew a Woman” (and itʼs also worthwhile to click the link and read his glorious villanelle, “The Waking” — itʼs worth reading all his verse).

My pseudo-scientific self shines through, hinting at the clarified direction into which I would head once I left Ft. Madison behind and moved to Maquoketa (and which owes as much to my love of science fiction as the influence of my science-teaching father), in the ”chlorophyll and photons untranslated” bit. I remember liking the seasonal conflation in “autumn crocus-kissed” (which sounds a bit artsy-fartsy to me now), and the phrase “of time and bodies” which sounds so portentiously (and prophetically!) like the culture of literary theory criticism just then being hatched (in French) for me to discover when I took my Modern Criticism course at St. Ambrose five years later (and under which so many have slaved these long tyrannical decades since to acquire undergraduate degrees in literature).

I am not sure I approve the punctuation in the last line any longer, but I donʼt know how to improve it any more than I did thirty-four years ago. The ending is also trite and wrongheaded — by which I mean false to truth and reality. But maybe thatʼs what I want this speaker to sound like (regardless how much he was once me). Love isnʼt like the weather (unless you emphasize the principles of physics and meteorology all combined to create the someday calculable natural forces that shape the weather on a necessary and unavoidable scientifically determined path — and so far so far beyond our human ken).

My favorite item in the poem is the bit of Greek-chorus wisdom (on which I should expand and expatiate as I did to all those Andrew English students for so long) that love is something more than a feeling or emotion. Because it is.

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

Religious Reconnoitering

Yesterday I told the story of composing my first full-length play, Speak No Evil, explaining that I have tended to write my long plays from frustration (anger) with falsehoods rampant in the world. If you read that little essay, anger wasnʼt really the flint that sparked that first dramatic endeavor into existence but the wonderful uplift of science (thank you, Carl Sagan).

Feel free to put these crosshairs on the bilious hypocrite(s) of your choice.

My second play, however, arose directly from anger at the reactionary and ignorant religious right and put hate-mongering televangelists dead in the center of my literary gunsights (hey, itʼs not just the wacko/Palin Right that can utilize figurative weaponry). I donʼt know why as the Eighties dawned I started taking so personally the scamming and con-artistry so blatant on the televangelista circuit. Perhaps it was growing up; perhaps, later, it was growing together (with Janet) and getting married — both indications conjuring maturity. But the money-grubbing, false-as-sin-we-donʼt-admit hypocrisy and cant got my ire up. And my dander, too.

In order to get married, Janet and I had to endure/survive/experience Pre-Cana classes. She was raised Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and the whole gambit, so she wanted to get married in the church. I agreed, being of no firm faith, naturally (and at that particular era, drawn powerfully toward Judaism from my reading and nonfiction studies — frightening my mother that I might actually convert, unfortunately; but naturally I lacked the full conviction, although on our honeymoon in Minneapolis, I dragged The Lovely One along as I sought Jewish bookstores for purchases.)

My own religious background was more mixed (-up). My family was United Methodist, to which my older sister Margaret and minister brother Paul (going full-time at it once he retires from teaching this spring/summer) adhere now. Younger brother Stephen also finds comfort in his religious values, mostly confined to Bible study, I believe, these days. Youngest sibling David has sought solace in the UCC, whose generous spirit of liberality he finds welcoming (as do I, differently).

I was confirmed a Methodist in sixth grade in Rock Island. It was a hot June day. We wee believers were clad in our best church clothes (including wool jacket and shirt with tie for me) and then covered in choir robes, so we were dropping like flies in the awful heat, including me. I only have vague recollections of the minister putting his hands upon my head as someone held me up, lifted from my unconscious state on the carpet, and then being rushed off to a recovery room nearby. Maybe my semi-conscious condition explains why the experience hasnʼt taken.

The next summer the family moved to Olivet, Michigan, where my father took his only college teaching job. With no Methodist church in town, we became for the two years we remained in Michigan Congregationalists (perhaps helping to explain Davidʼs choice?), and I was confirmed yet again (I think that next spring, as an eighth grader) into the bosom of that New England faith. But then my father wearied of college faculty politics, and with him going back into high school teaching, we moved again to Mt. Pleasant, where there was a strong Methodist congregation that confirmed young people as sophomores in high school. So I went through the confirmation classes for a third time (and each experience, disregarding the subtle theological distinctions of two different brands of Protestantism, was different from the others) and got the official sanction for a third time, too.

One time in Olivet I even got “saved,” having gone to watch a magician at the next-door Assembly of God building. His show was so inspiring that I felt the spirit in me move (something), went to the front during the Call and got reborn, I guess (or something). I went directly home, into the garage where I had hidden a pack of cigarettes, and destroyed them all in my blissful, heart-so-light reinstalled innocence. Iʼm not sure how much more than three days that exaltation persisted, but I guess I share a little something with the pea-brained Bimbo from Alaska, however briefly in my case. (I shall have to reserve the sorry tale of my youthful evil — and it is a sad story — for another post.)

More complexly, I went Presbyterian without the formal rituals for nearly five years in Mt.Pleasant, drawn thither by the allure of romance (the then-girlfriend was of that persuasion) and friendship — a lot of my peers attended there as well, drawn by the warmth and even radicalism of the pastor, whom we all called “Rev” (thatʼs how cool he was, although he once lost it with me during adult discussion group — no mere Bible-studying Sunday school for them! — when I wouldnʼt admit I was terrified to die/unaware of my incipient and eventually certain demise). The more-than-liberal Rev even made national news (and Time magazine) for sheltering illegal Salvadorans in the later Seventies and early Eighties once he had moved off to the Southwest, having become a strong mover in the Sanctuary movement. I liked that church a lot, although I also recall committing some less than holy actions there. As most of this period was  college for me, I believe my parents (who were both very sincerely devout) were just glad I was going to a church of any kind.

More twistedly, I continued to attend the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church at least once a year through college… in order to qualify for a UMC scholarship that covered a good deal of my tuition at Iowa Wesleyan College (yep, that good old religious connection again).

But after commencing from college summa cum laude, the church stuff pretty much withered away, although like most Americans I would still attend with the family for Christmas and Easter if I went back to my folks for that holiday. Withered away, I guess, unless you count those years in the late Seventies when I was gobbling up every Talmudic and Kabbalistic volume I could acquire (and in the process worrying my poor mother that I was headed straight to conversion perdition). My Dante studies were equally drenched in theology — Christian this time, of course, and Roman Catholic, as I steeped myself in medieval scholarship, scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas (and possibly more comforting to my mother).

So there you have it: thrice confirmed, once saved, and having dabbled in lots of beliefs, probably damned eternally.

Which brings us back where we began… Janet and I attending pre-Cana in Dubuque to get married in her hometown Catholic Church, after six weeks of soul-searching and counseling with the local priest in Andrew, Father Maichen — a really excellent gentleman who sincerely tried to help me understand that my own sense of what he called “doubt” was a perfectly acceptable aspect of oneʼs serious, tortuous road to Catholic faith. Although I had no intention of taking the plunge for a fourth (or fifth) time, he and I had some good discussion about church fathers and theology in general (matched or superseded only by visits with my late brother-in-law Brian Sullivan, he of the “I thought I heard a joyful noise” incident).

—But I have greatly exceeded my thousand-word limit for posts without even getting back to televangelical shenanigans and deceptions and the rocky road to Magick. So thereʼs got to be more to come. Soon.

(And let us not forget to mention Bertrand Russell, key philosopher in my spiritual development. And Spinoza, arising from Judaical studies and Shelley, too… And Gandhi… )

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

Change and Relax

I fell in love with the sonnet for many years (while I was still writing poetry; I am afraid that is one aspect of composition that has not revived with retirement, at least not yet). The form was good for me, teaching me much more discipline than I had exercised in high school or college, forcing me to be frugal with my words, and letting me explore the auditory aspects of verse by utilizing rhyme. I canʼt recall these days what first drew my attention to sonneteering; perhaps it was the many sonnets the Romantics (my favorite poets as I went through college and for along time afterward; I was first led into poetry by encountering T.S. Eliot after preteen reading in a collected poetry book of my motherʼs, edited by Louis Untermeyer — all that history needs to be its own post someday). But it was a fortunate interest for my writing.

The two parallel sonnets below are among the first I ever bothered to preserve (and in looking them over to become a post on the blog, I wonder that I felt even that much admiration for them once). I do enjoy the contrast in the pairing, which I did intend all along, once the second poem got written. The first sonnet fits easily into the Directions to Myself to Change category (a name I just invented) of which I have plenty of extant poems. The second tries to follow that pattern but drifts into its own easier and more graceful reality.

The first is darker, thus the title, I guess — with a bleaker, nastier tone and attitude (and it is about change and the necessity for changing). It was originally composed by itself, but within a day the second one also got written, and itʼs a whole ʼnother story — thus its title, I suppose. Of the two, I like the second more just now (with spring breathing life into everything; Janet and I just bought five new bushes to plant around our yard — once the forecast frost for tonight is over). It also tries to resurrect a wonderful warmth and splendor I used to milk out of sunny summer afternoons (and which I felt in a more mature way in a previous poem) and which I still deeply enjoy recalling and sometimes even feeling in the present reality. I need to write on “catbasking post meridian sunrhyme” sometime…

The night-and-day contrast is actually pretty good.

Mutation

Nocturne

Spit the poisons out behind you:

spew them back (bile, blood, acid, ooze)

into the botched and brutal maw,

the hideous night you cannot use,

dry with retching, burning, raw.

Ill-begotten, begin anew,

while stars drop moisture, angry dew

whipped by storms she never knew.

Let the wind blow cleanly through,

charging dust from your warm bones,

breathing blood from uncracked marrow,

sucking flesh from cement stones.

Let the rain reshape your brain, and go

in this strange winter without snow.

Day’s Turn

Nathan could be at home here…

Let the morning, let the afternoon

smear yellow magic through your fingertips

and fill that fleshy cavern, mouth. Tune

your toes to join the light that slips

as photon rivers in rectangular eyeless windows.

Stir with wet tongue the dust which time

settles evenly on eyes and face and lips;

and leap, a fish, where all light goes,

into warm pools of catbasking winter sunrhyme.

Let the light spill in your eyes, unsubstantial whips

which flog out former faded speculations (too soon

undone, too long remembered and reworked). Nose

and nostrils inhale winter warmth, and light

fills lungs, exhaled blind, kisses, fuses sight.

Ft. Madison

14 December 1975

Before launching into what I know I have to say below (I am adding this preface to the remainder after I have already written the rest), I want to note that I really enjoyed creating this post on Saturday afternoon — a brightly sunny one — while listening to Pink Floyd radio via iTunes, a perfect match to the second sonnet! Now back to the darkness…

Ironically, on Saturday, while I was downloading Richard Dawkinsʼs book The Greatest Show on Earth to iTunes, I also took the time to download a new program from SmithMicroQuickVerse, a not-very-liberated Bible program (you should see their choice of available Bible translations, defaulting of course to the very faulty, misleading and aged King James Version). Ironic, you wonder — how? Ironic in that Dawkins has become a notorious atheist (originally just for being a good scientist, latterly of course for his accepting the mantle and publishing The God Delusion, which I own but havenʼt read yet in two years), and I paired his newest book with the pretty traditional QuickVerse (thatʼs the obvious one). Ironic also in that I was about to work on this post, and the overall title presumes the actuality of evolution (as, of course, it should).

I sold a truck with this remaining on the back end yet — someone else bought that truck within 48 hours

Janet bought me my first Dawkins book for my birthday a while back. It was The Ancestorʼs Tale, and she was lured by the Chaucerian parallels, but I loved it, getting further into biology than I had for years, reminding me of one adorable summer in college when I took genetics and basic biology at the same time to fulfill my education requirements at the last minute, almost. I had heard about, looked at, but not purchased The Selfish Gene and some of the other books earlier, but I hadnʼt read Dawkins until this century.

In the mid-Nineties, Janet also bought me some Darwin Fish symbols for my truck (and computers). Mac Addict, sometime about 1996 included the Darwin Fish among items that were passé — the battle had been won. I wish. Then came Creationism (or should I say, Desperately Fearful Wishing-ism) and its bastard child (un)Intelligent Design. And then came Shrub…  Now I just wish that all the old stick-in-the-muds could grow up and live in the real world instead of inanely pretending falsities that lead to, well, Foxi-nonsense. As the London buses advertised for a while (thanks to Dawkins and some others): “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy your Life.”

—Apologies again, all over the place, but nonsensical pronouncements from the dimwit Right in the news lately have fired me up again. Maybe I should take my own title (of this post) to heart…

My more conservatively religious friends may beware that QuickVerse should simplify my use of bible quotes to quickly debunk foolish religious views (like those who believe God wants us to be wealthy: Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24. Similar verses are in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25] — clearly the Theology of Wealth is nonsense in at least the Saviorʼs eyes).

I guess the commentary reverses the tones of the two poems…

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

Lovers and Friends

As I promised you on Saturday, I have a bit of autobiographical revelation to share, inspired by and inspiring chapter 4 from The Book of Seasons. I hope I don’t embarrass anybody, including myself, with this.

I feel that like my brother David on his website I should attach appropriate music for this post because writing it made me think of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” (I also like this link) appropriately, although the order is reversed. I discuss a lover first and then my best friend after.

or two new characters from real life

Although she never suffered such a problem as a water balloon prank in bed, a girlfriend who was attending Coe College did return me to the Hotel Allison roughly two years after my student teaching experience. I haven’t shared any information about this relationship really, but it was her who inspired the girlfriend character here in The Book of Seasons and also the split. We had started dating the summer after my first year of teaching (she’s the girl of the bicentennial summer romance I have mentioned earlier), and once she started to college in the fall, I went to visit her in Cedar Rapids as often as I could the following year. (Sadly, I even took sick days to drive up to see her during the week, especially in the spring of ‘77, one time driving north out of Ft. Madison as my principal, whom I had just called an hour or so earlier, was driving into school southwards. Fortunately, over my three-and-a-half decades in education, I abused the sick days almost not at all.) The Allison, although I am sure she thought I was deranged to stay there, provided me with a place to stay on our weekend visits (except for one weekend when my father asked me to drive his massive motorhome to Cedar Rapids for reasons I do not currently remember, but I do remember driving the huge thing all over the city Friday night and Saturday and Saturday night, discovering all kinds of streets and ways about town).

I was staff-reduced from my position in the Ft. Madison school district in March or April of 1977. Although I tried to fight the dismissal with the school board, I found myself on unemployment (a sad revenge on the district, but one I was too foolishly noble—or simple—to maintain for the entire summer; I quit taking unemployment once I found the position in Andrew) and looking for a new job. At this remove, I am pretty sure I chose to take the job in Andrew partly because of its proximity to Cedar Rapids and Coe College. Unfortunately for me, we only shared a few weekends together in the fall of ‘77. On my birthday in November that year we talked on the telephone and she broke up with me—Happy Birthday, indeed! (I have some poems arising from that incident; I am not sure if they’re worth posting.) So you can see that breakup behind the narrator’s unhappiness in the story.

I think what got the girlfriend character into the story at all, however, was the fact that she and I got back together at her instigation later —in November 1979, which is probably when I started work on chapter 4. By then she had switched schools to somewhere in Indiana, and I continued my habit of visiting at least a couple of times on weekends. Unfortunately, I can also remember fixing a pump pot of an early version of a Snowy Evening to drink in my blue van while I drove. On one visit in the winter, Interstate 74, once I crossed from Illinois into Indiana, was pretty icy. My blue Ford van rode high and light, and at one point about midnight or 1:00 AM, I hit a patch of black ice and went spinning end for end down my two lanes of the freeway. I don’t really know how, but I ended up not in the ditch and not overturned but facing the right way and drove on. She came with me to the faculty Christmas party in ‘79 (I can remember a long drive down Highway 61 to Ft. Madison and back), but I think we had broken up again well before summer in 1980.

If you clicked the link on mentioning a summer romance above, the poem I accidentally posted a long time ago has her in mind as the addressed audience. I guess I can now post some of the other verse from her era(s) in my life, as I have with the longtime girlfriend from my college years.

It’s nice to have treasured memories…

now a source for a trickster

I should probably also acknowledge that the character of Wakdjunkaga, as I imagined him thirty years ago and more, owes less to the me that I have become than it does to some of the characteristics and anecdotes of my lifelong friend, Kevin Wiley, whom I realize I have strangely not mentioned in the blog until now. We met during my sophomore year in high school, once my family had moved from Olivet, Michigan, to Mt. Pleasant. Our drama director, Mrs. Marilyn Vincent, invited me—timid, shy and awkward youth that I was—to run the sound for the winter high school theater production, The Miracle Worker, and Kevin, inheriting the job from his older brothers, was running the lights. It was the start of both our lives in theater and also how we met. Later on, Kevin spent two years at Iowa Wesleyan before moving on to the University of Iowa. We had both majored in theater, but he took it seriously, striving for a Masters in Design, and worked for twenty years in regional theater (boy, did I envy him that career).

It really isn’t fair to Kevin to pair him in a post with a lady who really only endured in my life for a year or two, but I guess that’s the difference between lovers and friends (besides gender in this case and probably just about everything). In writing, I just realized we have been friends for forty years. Astonishing (that the past has crept so far back into the past without my notice; I wonder, however, briefly, how few are interested in my reacquisitions of material and memories from the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties). Enough of that… for now.

In high school, Kevin didn’t live all that far from my house at 307 E. Green St. (and when he and his wife Dawn moved back to Mt. P in the Nineties, he wound up buying his parents’ home on Warren St.), so we got to know each other walking home from rehearsals. “Haven’t seen ya at the prayer meetin’ lately,” was an early shared joke referring to his Presbyterian minister (who interestingly became my minister when I followed the college-era girlfriend to her church, and who became influential on my thinking and values—as he did on most of the youth in Mt Pleasant in my high school and college years).

Kevin, especially once he journeyed on to the U of I, developed a wild side that colors Wakdjunkaga’s personality. I did have him in mind as I tried to think of what to write about that character, although they really are nothing alike—even today. And several stories of his adventures with his dorm friends in Iowa City hide behind anecdotes about Wak. Our freewheeling discussions over the decades have ranged as widely and far as humanly conceivable, I believe, although possibly the stress and necessity of real-life mundanity have taken a greater hold in the last fifteen years than either of us would actually like (we each probably talk about work and health/medications too much of late—at least I do).

Janet and I are going to be seeing him and his wife this weekend, so it seems appropriate to talk about him today. He and Dawn deserve far more space than this, and maybe someday I’ll grant it to each of them (if it’s not too embarrassing to get mentioned by name here, as I have avoided doing for most people except Janet).

So there’s the autobiographical revelations, actually more about others than about me. But then it’s the others in our life who make us who we are.

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

Pockets (maybe, sort of)

my Yuppie hell—Gap-era Banana Republic

Strange to admit, I used to look forward to the arrival of the old Banana Republic catalogs. Remember, this was back in the Eighties, before/as the Zieglers sold the name to Old Navy and Banana Republic degenerated into the overpriced urban fluff it is today (and in my experience not very well manufactured fluff at that, although I gave up on them a long while back, perhaps about ‘93 when I tried looking for a vest in the downtown Chicago store [not the main one, three floors right on the street, but the one in Water Tower Place] and was carefully avoided for being probably too old and too bald and too Iowan by their hip, urban metrosexual—although that term was still at least a decade into the future—carefully coiffed and manicured twenty-something staff).

But I Digress…

—Wow, some sentence there. Sorry. I guess you can tell: I don’t care much for the direction the Gap, Inc. (actual owners of Banana Republic and Old Navy) headed the brand once they acquired it. Ah yes, American capitalism, realm of the woefully mediocre (and so hugely supported by us corporate serfs with our hard-earned bucks). —One Gap-era Banana Republic vest I purchased started unravelling at the seams within a week (sure, it was on sale—that’s about the only way I ever bought anything at Banana Republic), and several shirts and shorts of the later era barely survived a year, if that; and none of them had pockets (the really useful kind).

Early on the new ownership stuck to the same stuff the Zieglers had sold. When Janet and I were in Honolulu in about ‘85 or ‘86, I bought a pair of button-fly canvas-khaki pants for five dollars (on sale, of course; if you used to shop at BR, you know about the sales area hidden away toward the rear of their stores) that I love, even though they were size 36+ at the waist (useful for me in these later years…). In Carmel in the mid-Eighties I picked up cotton pocket-Tees in about three earth-tone of colors (later augmented with blues and purple and green…), all of which are still sturdy and still worn, although the green one, on which I dropped a cigarette while running lights for Peace Pipe Players at Kirchhoff Theatre about ‘88, has become the “clean, smooth cloth” I use to wipe my glasses around the house—since it hangs so nicely on the knob of a door for easy access, much to Janet’s chagrin, I am sure). But possibly we should return to the subject, the Zeiglers’ memorable catalogs…

What Were We Talking About? Oh, yes, Catalogs…

my own still-extant copy of the de Camps’ book, purchased in Des Moines, at Reader’s World on 13 June 1975; I assume I bought it to celebrate my college graduation a month earlier and the beginning of my new adult life

Those catalogs were a trip into adventure (before adventure and eco-tourism became jargon) in strange and distant, exotic lands I would like to but probably will never be able to afford to visit. The Zieglers even went to Macchu Picchu! (And that was before it became the overrun site my sister Margaret and brother David tell me it is today.) Ever since I read about the Andean ruins in high school (complete with cover photo on L. Sprague and Catherine C. de Camp’s long-forgotten Ballantine Books paperback Citadels of Mystery, originally entitled Ancient Ruins and Archaeology. (There’s a lengthy and unfavorable review of the book available if you click on the scanned image.) I had received de Camp’s Lost Continents as a graduation gift a month earlier from the then-girlfriend (thanks still, Ruthie—a great gift, recently reread) and had begun a lifelong quest for de Camp’s science writing and his historical novels.

the mountains of the Macchu Picchu region is the rear-cover photo

Archaeology and distant places have haunted my imagination and my life before and since. One of the first books I spent a whole night reading as an adult (I’d done that with ERB and other wild fiction as a kid too many times to recount) was the American heritage Discovery of Lost Worlds (and later two companion, and very similar, volumes) that same summer of 1975 in Ft. Madison, in the spaceship-over-the-city upstairs apartment on Avenue D. From all that came purchases of the Time-Life Emergence of Man series (all nineteen volumes), Golden Books’ Echoes of an Ancient World series (nine volumes), most of the Facts on File Atlas of.. series (i.e. Atlas of the Jewish World—currently consulted for my Sepharad heroic fantasy story/series—and Atlas of Mesopotamia, Atlas of China, Atlas of North American Indians…) and through the Nineties Time-Life’s What Life Was Like series (eighteen volumes) and… Not to mention the science-in-general stuff and subscribing to far too many magazines (including Archaeology—I even joined the Archaeological Institute of America as a full member for thirty years) for most of my life.

I think the archaeology interest began with Indians/Native Americans, all the way back in elementary with the Fleetfoot character I told you about before and other nonfiction kid-books I acquired at the Rock Island Public Library to which I clearly recall biking on summer days and awkwardly returning, laden with books (but also including a fondly remembered book on Old Ironsides and a novel about the Mongols invading everywhere and butchering everybody that I first encountered read-aloud in fourth grade,and another book I wish I could still find among my possessions about lone man adventuring against evil Communists in the Himalayas, in which I first encountered the words “jerry-can” and “petrol”…) and possibly almost-infant memories of Mesa Verde with my family. Strange how it all connects and intersects in one’s mind and personality…

But Isn’t the Real Subject Pockets?

—Ummm, I guess you can see that the Banana Republic catalogs fit into an already established interest. Janet arriving in my life in 1981 provided the impetus to travel and begin to see at least some of those faraway lands and lost cities (although none of de Camp’s… yet). I first flew in an airplane with her to Texas to stay for several days on vacation with friends in Brownsville, and although our Bermuda honeymoon the next year evaporated into a week in Minneapolis (a lovely week, never forgotten), we started real travel in 1983 with three weeks in Europe. (Is there are series of posts ahead on our travels? Hmmm…) —And he’s off on a tangent again!

So back to pockets (supposedly our topic for the day and yesterday and the day before).

the embarrassingly worn-out Banana Republic vest —I provided a hideously large JPEG so if you wish you can click on it and examine some of the books on one bookshelf…

Banana Republic photojournalist’s vests vanished for me by the early Nineties. But fortunately, two factors kept me in pockets and travel gear (although Janet might not agree about how fortunate it all was). I can still wear one of the second-generation BR vests today because I stockpiled them, and one is still in decent shape. The one I wore through the late Eighties and into the Nineties, however, although I will throw it on to carry stuff (like a notebook or a wallet or some books or a camera or whatever; perhaps those ors should be ands) when I go out on my bike, is in pretty poor shape. Note the picture. Can you see the collar with the white padding material hanging out? Fans of the blue denim vest should appreciate the baggy left, lower pocket(s) where paperback and my smaller notebooks resided.

Oh, the second factor is the subject of our next pockets post—another travel-gear company arriving just in time in the early to mid-Nineties: TravelSmith.

The Twenty-Two Pockets: an annotated and analytical listing

The Banana Republic original vest had a plastic window on the upper right side, where you can see two D-rings hanging in the picture to the left. That pocket was divided into two, a front area (for the journalist ID and a rear area for stuff (like a packet of Kleenex, which is still what I put in the newer version of that pocket). On the pictured vest, that pocket is one, large expandable container. I nowadays keep my tissue packet (infrequently used), a small pocket calculator and a plastic holder for a spectacles cloth and whatever business cards I collect (they make great bookmarks). Beside that one, right on the lapel is a zippered pocket extending underneath and down into the lining that usually goes empty but on vacations holds our passports and other vital documents or stuff like foreign cash. Below the Kleenex pocket are three velcro-topped pockets, one on top of another, the lowest fronted with mesh. Intended for film and lenses, I store a baggy of aspirin in one, packets of lens-cleaning wipes in another, and in the mesh Listerine pocket packs of dissolving mint papers and a flash drive (you never know…).

Below those is a horizontal zipper into a hidden side pocket (sometimes used for books, sometimes for something valuable; usually empty). In front of that pocket are two expandable pockets covered by a shared flap closed by separate velcro snaps. One often holds my checkbook while the other always contains my sunglasses (or the regular ones if I’m wearing the sunglasses, pretty obviously).

my notebook—from Harrods in 2002—which contains the complete handwritten original version of “Underground” as well as a new Tourist story, the Villon text, notes and reminders, blood pressure records (ah, getting old sucks), extra papers and loose notes, sticky notes, a London Underground map glued in the back cover (for reference for “Underground”) and even some poems and blank pages yet

On the left side (your right in the picture, of course) at the top is a zippered pocket with a key ring hanging out in the picture. My digital camera can fit there along with other not-too-bulky smaller item (a deck of cards, not usually carried by me, would be the ideal size). Below it is a large bellows pocket that can hold pretty big items, if I wish (like a couple of paperbacks or souvenirs bought on vacation). On its lower right side of the big expandable pocket is a long, thin pen pocket (it can actually hold three pens and usually does for me—a black ballpoint, a blue ballpoint and a fine-line felt-tip). Toward the bottom is a complicated arrangement of six pockets—a book-sized large bellows pocket closed with a velcroed flap (normally empty except sometimes on vacation) in front of two open-topped pockets of the same size (into which go my notebook and a paperback novel normally). Three small narrow pockets sewn on the front of the bellows pocket (which reveal the vest’s origin as a hunting vest—those would be where shotgun shells went) always hold: a highlighter, two Chapstick (one on top of the other) and my Swiss Army knife.

This is a scan rather than a photo; yes, I was having some fun with the digital contraptions

Right side interior pocket; you can see what I had in mind in Book of Seasons for the two, deep interior pockets—Banana Republic got it exactly right!

There are two long inner pockets on each side, like in a man’s suit jacket, only larger, that work well for a variety of books and other things. I usually carry a volume of poetry on one side (currently the Bonnard dual-language translation of François Villon’s complete verse; I am trying to work on a novel about Villon) and some days another novel (just for variety/avoidance-of-boredom’s sake).

Inside and outside of the lower back of the vest are two wide and deep horizontal pockets. The outer one closes with snaps, while the interior one, which can only be accessed from the inside of the vest, is zippered. I keep a cloth bag (compressed into itself and zipped up as a small square) and two cheap plastic rain ponchos inside, while the outer one works well for extra travel guides on vacation (the most used travel guides go in the lower left book pocket and one or both of the interior pockets while vacationing with too many guidebooks).

Finally, two handwarmer pockets fit underneath the other pockets on the lower right and left, and my hands go in them often. (I think I remembered to mention all of the pockets.)

The zippered pockets are lined with a silky waterproof material, as is the lower left-side bellows pocket, and that waterproof-lining has been of value often (and explains why I put the passports where I usually do).

On the later versions of the BR vests, I guess considering that we consumers are idiots (which is of course how corporations treat us), the company printed on the interior pockets maps of the pockets with suggested uses, as you can see in the pictures.  People other than me get fascinated by the instructions.

And we have exceeded 2000 words for today. Sorry about that. I got excited, I suppose. I have later vests and other stories of pockets to discuss, but later. This weekend you get more (if not all the rest) of The Book of Seasons draft, meaning chapter 4. Will you ever read more of “Mantorville” (I really don’t like that title—thanks for nothing, folks)? I have been writing my first Sepharad story mostly of late, but I do have at least one post almost done extending the story of Quetzal County past Frank Long’s football “accident.”

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