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.

Happy Birthday, Dawn!

The Birthday Girl at our first stop…

Over last weekend, I engaged in an activity new to me, although I have become somewhat familiar with some peopleʼs takes on the situation through numerous Facebook photos appearing from various friends perhaps once or twice a month. I rode on a party bus and, uh, “partied.” Janet and I traveled to one of my former home towns to celebrate the birthday (actually today) of our dear friend Dawn.

On the bus, Kevin checks Daveʼs itinerary.

At just about everyoneʼs suggestion, her husband (and my oldest and best friend) Kevin did not try to create a surprise party (Dawn probably could not be surprised, probably least of all by her devoted husband). At her instigation and under the supervision and creation of friends Dave and Elaine, the celebration became a trip to various seedy bars in southeast Iowa, culminating in supper at Murphyʼs Bar & Grill in Riverside followed by an hour throwing our money away at the casino (mine as always evaporating noticeably more quickly than anyone elseʼs). And it was a really great time!*

You would think that riding from bar to bar on a bus, drinking essentially the whole time (the reason for such “designated driver” vehicular arrangements), might be a fairly sleazy and regrettable situation, as some of the pictures I have glimpsed on Facebook make pretty vivid. After all, these buses are usually revamped school buses, with most of the original seats intact (and the vehicleʼs suspension, too), generally featuring an open space with a ceiling to floor pole (which usually in photographs from our blessed region appears to serve as a PG, periodically abused stripper pole during the driving times between bars). However, with a group, although ranging in age across many decades, effectively as old as ours, the wildness was relatively tame. And therefore the fun was, for me, palpably more pleasant.

The little bus, awaiting our return…

Ours was a school “short bus” that had been thoroughly redone inside (no schoolkid bench seats) to permit seating around the exterior with an open center (and no goofy pole). Dave and Elaine had thought to provide sandwiches and chips to offset the alcohol consumption — very wise of them, and the food was tasty. Our bar visits were under a half-hour apiece (featuring two pitchers of beer each time; unfortunately at the first tavern, only Bud Light, so I refrained from that watery and salty horse urine, enjoying far more the Amber Bock** and then Guinness — ah, black and foamy paradise at last — at the next two joints). So the fun remained pretty unfazed by excessive booze for most of us (if not all).

The Happy Couple at stop number three (where they played pool, kind of, with each other).

We got onboard at 4:00 PM from Dawn and Kevinʼs, to find nearly all the others already seated and having fun. We stopped at one coupleʼs home (they couldnʼt come along) and picked up another pair shortly northward from town. Our first joint/stop was less than an hour from our starting point, the next only twenty minutes further along, and the third perhaps a half hour later. We reached our supper destination just at dark (maybe 7:00; I certainly wasnʼt watching the clock, although Dave had everything timed loosely to the minute), and enjoyed Murphyʼs for close to two hours. The Riverside casino entertained us from nine until after ten, and we were home around eleven, a little later.*** I enjoyed it all (except the first awful beers, of course).

My personal lowlight of the evening had to be the casino. The atmospheric residue of smoking smacked us all as soon as we entered the building, and the “nonsmoking” regions of the playing area were clogged with exhaled fumes. I was coughing constantly, and today my throat is sore. Besides, even playing penny slots, all I did was lose, as usual. Naturally. (So did everyone else, I believe, except Dawn who received a birthday gift of ten dollars, that she parlayed into seventeen, and a t-shirt.)

It was a great time. The guests onboard were fun and friendly, and “hosts” Dave and Elaine (he serving as our “cruise director”) made the evening really, deeply enjoyable for us all. Thanks to them, and to Kevin. And…

“Happy birthday, Dawn!”

* As I observed yesterday.

** Note, please — an Anheuser-Busch product. I play fair. I just prefer my beer good.

*** The timing was very wise as that Saturday night was the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, so we had to “spring ahead” an hour. I barely noticed the abbreviated night.

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

Starting New

and a good time was had by all (or at least by most, particularly me)

Janet and I were away from the computer over the weekend for New Years. We trekked through fog down to Mt. Pleasant to celebrate the arrival of 2011 with Dawn and Kevin. It was a good time, flavored with excellent food (thanks, Dawn) and lots of their friends on the big Eve. Food will probably tend to dominate this post.

(For those who wish I would perform more linguistic and grammatical gymnastics, thereʼs a little word-history tidbit and a nominative/accusative usage reminder buried within, further along.)

We drove down on Friday, pausing very briefly in Iowa City for a luscious lunch at at Devotay. For the second time, a couple of years apart, I enjoyed their (locally grown, supposedly organic) bison sandwich, and Janet had the chicken salad. While I went for lettuce on the side, she had their delicious (tomato-and-basil) soup of the day. Then we drove the rest of the way down to join Dawn at about 3:00 P.M. The fog lifted perhaps ten or fifteen miles south of the one-time state capital, and the last half hour of our drive was very pleasant, as the skies cleared and the sun shone very brightly indeed. Furthermore, the snow was all but vanished in those southern climes and realms.

Perhaps the worst of all possible pictures for this post: one of the two “red” chairs that should disappear (those are boxed Christmas ornaments residing temporarily thereon).

We checked out Kevin’s place of work so that The Lovely One could see some chairs (she’s been wanting to replace our beat-up J.C. Penney discount specials from two decades ago, or so, for years now — not only is pink/pale red not fashionable any longer, in her view, even their recoverings have worn to shreds), and we hadnʼt been out that way for a while. Kevin was busy with a customer and then some office work, but he stopped by us briefly.

We also immediately had met their new dog, Kate, a lovely three-legged border collie/spaniel mix of about four years age, just adopted on Tuesday. Still pretty quiet in her new home, she certainly was a loving lady who liked getting scratched and petted by everyone. The two cats didnʼt seem too perturbed by the newcomer, either, both eventually appearing to check out us visitors about on their usual schedules.

When Kevin got home from work in the evening, we ate wonderful corn chowder of Dawnʼs invention (enjoyed with enhancements again on Saturday for lunch) and then prepared for the new yearʼs party, which was lots of fun, sometimes loud, with about a dozen fun people of various ages and relationships (perhaps somewhat larger than our hostess originally had in mind, but no problem and as already noted, lots of fun). Suiting our advancing ages, we retired only an hour into our Midwestern new year.

On Saturday, while Dawn and Janet went to Burlington for some shopping, Kevin and I just sat in the living room comfortably with coffee and did what we do best around each other — talked. Our esoteric conversations may hold little interest for others but ranged from work woes and pleasures through politics, physics (everyday and subatomic/interstellar), history, etymology (Did you know year and gear were cognates in Old English and Old Norse, meaning essentially “round thingie,” with the Norse word adopted into our language, retaining its nonEnglish pronunciation, as a whole new word in English, same with eye and egg, shirt and skirt, as all AHS English II grads should know? I did and explained at length to Kevin, who apparently listened with interest — but then appearances can be so deceiving, they say), Sepharadic plot issues,* pets, and more and varied and other things that have drifted from my recollection just now. When the women returned, we helped get Dawn set up to take down Christmas decorations and then went down to Oakland Mills for (unsuccessful) bald eagle watching. (Janet and I did, however, have a very close observation of an eagle taking off from a ditch as we drove down on Friday. I saw two more in the air on our drive home Sunday.) We did note on our return to Mt. P. how elegantly and lovely the town fathers had chosen to decorate the central square park and the downtown buildings. Nice job, Mt. Pleasant Chamber and whoever!

The other dilapidated chair exhibiting its worn-to-tatters recovering

Then, with one trip to the grocery store for Kevin and me — and grammatically and otherwise, too, that would be me, not I — (and a double drive-by pair of looks at the lights downtown and in the square by full darkness of night), we settled in for the evening with outstanding beef and vegetable pie for dinner, followed by pleasant games of Fact or Crap and Trivial Pursuit (although I won the former, new game, I trailed everyone else by at least three pies in the latter — sigh). We went to bed even later that night than on New Yearʼs Eve!

We reluctantly returned northward on Sunday morning, after delectable spinach-sauced eggs Benedict for breakfast (Dawn really is the most enviably excellent chef, those gol-durned talented art teachers). Here at Casa Gaidaros**, we washed The Lovely Oneʼs car, did some other chores around the house, and finally started taking down our Christmas decorations (and even got the tree reboxed and stowed away for another year) before settling in to watch My Boy Jack on Masterpiece in the evening.

Now Janetʼs at work, and I have accomplished nothing so far on Tuesday, so I decided, per resolutions with myself, to create a post so that the day wasnʼt an entire waste. (I did awaken early and run four miles this A.M., a feat that has my knees still grumbling about the excess weight I have permitted myself to carry. But itʼs a start.) Now, instead, I have possibly wasted some of your day…*** Itʼs a conundrum.

Happy New Year (again, this time a bit late)!

* The story issues and the physics overlapped briefly when Kevin demonstrated, using a big kitchen chopping knife and his walking stick (this after the ladies had returned) on their pocket door, to show me how Judah might make use of leverage to accomplish a difficult feat and overcome an obstacle when he and Søren break into the Red Witchʼs Green Tower.

** Just to pose a little linguistic Puzzler® for you all… (I was tempted to translate what I had in mind as elithios.)

*** Nearly 1150 words worth, by the way (so much for trying to ensure my posts were shorter in 2011).

— And thanks, WordPress, for long since providing indentation without resort-ation to pull quotes!

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

End of that Job

Iʼm actually finished with the Census. I turned in my badge and bag yesterday morning. I donʼt think my FOS had quite realized it was my stuff I had to submit, but she accepted it all, and so I am free at least, free at last (although the money was nice, and the work wasnʼt too bad overall).

I shouldnʼt explain in detail, but things had gotten a little messy with the LOC, leaving me and one of my crew hanging for an entire week on an importantly sensitive issue. We were both supposed to await a summons to the CR office over this problem, supposedly last Thursday. My crew member went pretty much sleepless about it all that Wednesday night and called me, still very much worried, after 10:00 on Thursday when no summons had yet arrived. Although I called my boss to ask, nothing happened Thursday, so we both hung on tenterhooks all day Friday, too. Again, absolutely no word of any kind. Finally, after seven days of noncontact, I decided it was time I truly had my time for myself, whether the issue was resolved or not. Now I can get on with my life without worrying about sudden phone calls to perform tasks unexpectedly and immediately (as happened even two weeks after the previous operation ended and before I knew I was signed up for the just-completed one). My boss was excited about two upcoming operations (I donʼt think she really had me in mind for either one, but…), and I think all that had distracted Cedar Rapids from my crew issue. I donʼt know. I am just glad itʼs over.

nowhere nearly as blinding as our drive Thursday noon

Unfortunately, I had an appointment in Mt. Pleasant at (or by) 11:00, and my FOS wanted to meet yesterday rather than Thursday afternoon, and at 9:00. You really cannot get from Maquoketa to Mt. P in two hours (well, maybe Janet could, but probably not even her). But I tried, driving mercilessly and boldly far faster than I am comfortable over the limit. Except for getting held up by road construction at the city limits of Lost Nation, not even a quarter of an hour beyond Maquoketa, for about ten minutes, I did the run down in maybe two hours and five minutes, having left town exactly at 9:00. With the hold-up, however, that meant I arrived at Kevinʼs about 11:15, somewhat late.

My appointment was to take him to the airport for his annual vacation in Maine, Dawn having left, as always — but more importantly this year with her fatherʼs condition — just after the Fourth of July. I had offered the same service last year as a way of celebrating my being retired (and making supposedly good use of my extra time), only that flight was out of the Quad Cities Airport. This year his plane left from Cedar Rapids at 1:30. So I essentially raced all the way northward as well, through really heavy rain that started pouring down sometime north of Ainsworth Corners (and north of I-80, into really heavy, slowish-moving traffic with lots of trucks throwing up blinding spray, even for my pickup). He leapt out at the arrival door at 12:25, so I hope he was early enough to get a boarding pass and clear security (with that rain, the plane might have been delayed anyway — good thing from my point of view).

I drove out of the rain into blue skies as I came around from Highway 30 to 13, heading up to intersect 151 to Anamosa and then back home, so even if there was a delay, it would not have been long. I bought gas at Wal-Mart on the corner of 13 and 151 and drove on home, at a more leisurely and comfortable pace, arriving in time to write this post during the afternoon (well, a piece of it) before Janet got home from work.

I also visited Andrew School on Wednesday (to drop off magazines: I donate my copies of the three major news weeklies, Archaeology, Astronomy and whatever else I thought the students might find useful; it saves the library several hundred dollars on subscriptions — and I donʼt think many students even touch most of those mags anyway). And I signed up for substituting again this coming year. At not yet $100 a day, itʼs pretty good pay, if I get many calls. Iʼm still on the wire about registering with Maquoketa or maybe Preston, but weʼll see (Maquoketa pays better). Of course, my teaching license runs out on my birthday this fall, so I will have to send for a Substituteʼs Certificate. I downloaded the form from the Department of Education (or maybe the Board of Educational Examiners) website last year, so all I have to do is fill it out and send it in. (And a sub certificate will cost a whole lot less than a new teaching license, even excluding the necessary hours of courses that would have been required for that).

The school sent me a form — new to me this year, but then the district has a new superintendent/principal (a very nice guy, by the way, as I got to meet him on Wednesday, and his wife as well) and a new superintendentʼs secretary (also a wonderful person, who seemed actually excited that I was registering to sub). Iʼll get it back Monday, probably in person as I have more magazines to deliver to the library.

School starts soon. Andrew has registration next week, with classes starting on, I think, the 19th (and I was told other area schools — well, at least one — begin on August 16). So I could be back at work, irregularly, I hope, within just a few weeks (he wrote with a somewhat worried gleam in his eyes). I also need to retrain myself to accomplish actual writing (in addition to blog posts) each day. I just read that some expert believes you can establish a new habit solidly after 21 days of repetition. Those days start now.

And I just hit that magical thousand-word mark, so this post is done, once I figure out what I can use for an illustration to this hodge-podge of contents…

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

Recollections of Travel: Vehicles

Janet and I have been discussing what to do on vacation. We haven’t come to any decisions of any kind. Yet. I think she’d like to do something dramatic as we did last year — Prague. She has brought up Budapest more than once, and the idea has some appeal for me. No discussion of when any trip will be (nor just how weʼre going to fund the adventure), but the whole deal has got me thinking about our travels, which is a topic I have not addressed on the blog really.

from brother Davidʼs website — David atop the camper

My family used to take a vacation every summer, generally long and torturous escapades in a car, meaning endless hours sweating in a backseat and usually feeling mildly carsick. We also used to camp out — probably more a matter of financial resources than a genuine pleasure in the outdoors (but I’m not sure about that). All I know is that my parents were generally moderately grumpy regularly during our vacations. It couldn’t have anything to do with what non-angelic angels we kids were.  Fairly early on, my father bought a pop-up camper — one of those fold-open, tent-topped, boxlike affairs (click the link for other pictures). The metal top folded back to each side, front and back, and the tent, folded up within the box when closed, raised over all of this, leaving the top flaps as two bed units when supported underneath by braces. The middle area had a sink and an icebox (truly: you needed ice to keep things cold) and possibly a cooking surface (because I think I remember an LP container attached to the basic box of the folded-up camper).

Later on, we also bought a tent into which my brother Paul and I were placed and which we had to erect on the campsites. Overall, although the ground was generally hard and lumpy I preferred the isolation of the tent to the communal issues inside the camper. Even later on, after I had stopped going along with the family (during my college years, I believe), my dad acquired an RV, a large buslike vehicle with a galley kitchen, a shower stall, a lavatory and a toilet, and several fold-down sleeping units. I never went camping in this thing, which actually made its way to Alaska and back —  although my youngest brother David, a great fan of our family vacations, would know for sure, the Alaska trip being one of his favorites. In retrospect it was foolish of me as a pseudo-independent college youth to shun the vacations in favor of time at home alone with girlfriends and friends because I’ve never been to the places they visited, Alaska in particular.

not really all that much like ours, but it stirs the memories

I got to drive the giant RV on several occasions, one memorable time being my second year of teaching when for some reason I do not remember I was assigned to take the thing to Cedar Rapids one weekend. The task was a pleasure on several counts. First, driving the huge bus northward on U.S. 218, even before that stretch of highway was four-laned as part of the Avenue of the Saints, was pretty cool to me, and I also enjoyed tooling around CR in the vast vehicle. Second, the girlfriend of the time was a freshman at Coe College, and the vehicle gave us a site for nightly cuddling without the cost of a hotel room (and sadly, I had more than once used the infamous Hotel Allison — not a location inspirational to romance however much it smacked of adventure and maturity to me from my student-teaching days just two years earlier). That massive RV was also my bedroom when I came home for weekends after beginning my teaching career, the basement dive I had carved out for my own domain late in high school and during college having been quickly reverted to something more acceptable to my father and mother (probably storage space for my fatherʼs collection, post-nuclear-holocaust in dimensions, of canned goods from Warehouse Market — you would not believe the quantity of canned green beans we were dividing amongst five unwilling offspring in the weeks after my dadʼs funeral). I still fondly savor the memory of playing The J. Geils Bandʼs Blow Your Face Out album on some rickety record player I had scavenged in that RV late at night some weekend while I was living in Ft. Madison.

the beetle, right year and color — even then mine didnʼt look this good

The RV or the camping experience also may have inspired my choice of second personal vehicle in my adult life — having been first persuaded into purchasing a VW beetle by my Volkswagen-loving father, a bug that leaked oil like a sieve and later collided massively with a runaway deer (leaving me with a crunched front end on the driverʼs side when I first moved to Maquoketa). The second vehicle, replacing the lemon bug was a two-toned blue Ford van, purchased in New London. It had two captains chairs in  front and nothing else behind, except the floor had been covered with three-quarter-inch plywood, oil-stained in some places. I built a “bed,” covered with foam rubber in the very rear, leaving an open space of about six feet between the “cab” and the “bed.” I thought I could go anywhere on my own and just sleep in the van. Ha! And I did more than once (learning that having toilet facilities would have been more than nice), sleeping on the streets in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Chicago and other places (although I have forgotten how I arranged to eliminate waste or shower in any of these circumstances except when I camped in the parking lot of friend Kevinʼs apartment — sadly now trashed and flooded away, once down on the road by the river behind Hancher, the U of I theatre building and the onetime art museum).

mine had been repainted with a big dark blue swooshy arrow shape on each side

That blue van took three students (two of them sitting in folding lawn chairs! — it was another age indeed) to the International Thespian Festival at Ball State University in Indiana in the summer of 1978 (me thoughtlessly forcing them to listen to the 8-track tape of my newly acquired Bob Dylan album, Street Legal, among other music they probably didnʼt like at all; the 8-track player, not original equipment, I had “installed” myself on the drink deck over the engine housing). That was also the van that I drove repeatedly to Indiana (to a different college) along Interstate 74, with a full pump pot of (then unnamed) Snowy Evenings between the seats beside me for weekends of romance when the girlfriend of the Coe College days resurrected her interest in me for a while a year later. That van was the one that went spinning on black ice, well after midnight in the middle of nowhere (oops, I already said it was Indiana) on a February night, only to end up after two or three revolutions down the highway faced in the proper direction, so I foolishly drove on (successfully).

The blue van departed our lives (by then Janet having made my life “ours”) the autumn after my father died (and I had used some inheritance/insurance money to buy my only new car, the once-mentioned 1984 gray Ford Escort wagon) when two guys saw that it had sat in the same spot outside our house, the one on Arcade Street, for weeks. Desiring a fishing/hunting vehicle, they offered us $600 dollars for it (with an old refrigerator tossed in). I had bought the van for $2200 or $2400 in 1978, so whether it was a good deal or not, we took it, the Escort having greatly replaced the van in my affections. (Why we didnʼt trade the van when I bought the Escort I donʼt know, unless I thought the van would be useful for transporting theatrical stuff — for which it had been very useful and very much used — as the Escort would also prove to be. Maybe the dealer just didnʼt want the van, also.)

The Escort lasted close to a decade. Two pickups later (both used, the earlier Ford a costly mistake overall) brings us to the present.

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

Electricity Amplitude

Delayed (but not as long delayed as the final bit I have in mind for my two-month-old extended essay on The Maltese Falcon) is the middle portion of my reminiscences on my electrical life and times…

stone walls and no brick floor in Olivet

So we were living in Michigan. I had cornered a dungeonlike cell in the cellar for my model-building and reading (early teen isolation from family intrusions) that I attempted to wire for lighting. I do not remember now whether my father helped me with this experience (he probably did, or at least checked my extension cords and lamps over later), but I might have had the know-how by eighth grade to do some basic wiring. I do remember learning how to wire a lamp in seventh grade shop class at god old Washington Junior High in Rock Island (among other projects, usually of the woodworking variety), which has stood me in good stead with lamps at home and not just in the theater.

The then-Congregational Church in Olivet. I fainted one time there, as well as being confirmed there for the second of three times.

I don’t even remember if I wired up my little room in the basement all by myself (or just how much lighting I even arranged). Of course, in demented hindsight I reflect on all those model-cement fumes my poor thirteen-year-old body and mind must have accidentally and unwittingly (pun?) sustained… and I worry.

The other most memorable Michigan electrical experience was my sister’s miniature (which in those days meant about a foot square by six or eight inches deep) reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I assume she acquired in order to tape classes at Michigan State University or something. All I know is that it came into my possession, at least at times, and I enjoyed recording an unimaginably wide variety of sounds, particularly my own voice (almost at the same time that Andy Kaufman was also creating his own broadcasts…). Naturally, under my tender care it eventually (or very quickly) stopped working correctly. So I have to fix it. I learned a lot about Sixties electronica and little motors. I don’t know truthfully if I fixed it or not, but the way I remember it, I did —at least briefly (and that recollection is probably false; Margaret, I am sure, could set me straight on this, but I fear to find out for sure). Maybe that early-teens recording experience explains some later events — like my first experience in theater as a sound guy and my continuing fascination with recording either for tape or now digitally my vinyl record collection (and I do still have maybe hundreds of records to play/record/add to iTunes, particularly the Baroque, Classical and Romantic stuff; getting back to digitizing music should keep me well distracted from worthwhile writing again).

We moved from Michigan to Mt. Pleasant during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, and my electrical experiences after that centered principally on the theatre. MPHS speech and drama instructor Marilyn Vincent (known to us all as “Vince”) drafted me about Christmas time 1968 for my first experience not onstage, running the sound effects for The Miracle Worker, the high school’s winter show that year. Running lights, a position he inherited from both of his older brothers, was freshman trombonist Kevin Wiley. From such small initial experiences are drama careers and lifetime friendships forged.

I don’t believe I had to do any wiring for the sound job for that play, although I was to get plenty of experience running speaker cord and testing connections and making dead speakers work again (and doorbells and telephones and…) and likewise resurrecting aged and/or defunct amplifiers, cassette tape decks and eventually wireless microphone systems. The recording engineer/producer in me has also enjoyed usually three (sometimes more) experiences annually developing pre-show, entrʼacte and exit music for plays. In the mid-Eighties, aside from transforming my classroom into a television studio briefly —  complete with stage lights and at least four functioning, separate microphones (one or more wireless) —  for the IHSSA Large Group Speech Television News event, I also got to produce The Lovely One singing and friend Jack Jones on the piano to create a tape of popular in show tunes as a Christmas gift for her grandpa Ray. All in all, my audio experiences, while electronic, may have been the most satisfactory. I am sure that a quarter-century-plus of Andrew Comment production and broadcasts was also a result of Margaretʼs tape recorder and Vinceʼs insightful assignment of the geeky new kid in the sophomore class. From childish  beginnings lifetimes grow…

To get back on track, in high school in ‘69 I quickly got involved in stage lighting and set construction, thanks mostly, I believe, to my friendship with Kevin. I really doubt my own knowledge, skills or ability had much to do with it; chiefly, I was his assistant. But as I noted before, I learned. We didn’t rewire extensively in high school, although we did some; we mostly climbed and hung dangerously in all kinds of places (discovering some places we believed no one had known about for generations — as if), inventing new and better (and more difficult) places to locate offstage lighting (hanging a bar for lekos over the audience, as has been done for the theatre in the high-school-converted-into-public-library-and-community-building nowadays under Kevinʼs suggestions in Mt. P, would have been infinitely better, but we were just kids, you know). Since the high school’s lights were wired with house plugs, I began my unending practice at wiring plentifully heavy cords into those teeny tiny little screws.

Iowa Wesleyan College Chapel — home to many an electrical exploit

In college we got more creative, thanks in part to our involvement with Community Theater. Getting older and (we thought) more experienced, made us bolder and more imaginative in our electrical innovations. That was the era of twice creating Y-cords to combine two distinct 110 circuits to create 220 for a portable lightboard, among other exploits. We were doing up to six plays a year in those days, so we had plenty of opportunity to play with electricity.The college used two-pin connectors (not grounded in those days), so I got experience with alternatives to houseplugs (and I still think those massive connectors are easier and better to work with).

Kevin moved on to the University of Iowa after his sophomore year, but I remained as the by-then theatrical electrical “expert.” And the false sense of expertise stayed with me as I graduated and moved on to Fort Madison and their spring senior play and summer musical (I even moved the senior play to the high school commons/lunch area, which I had to wire and hang myself for stage lighting, and I also remember — vaguely — doing some things I’d rather forget for the summer production in 1976 on the middle school stage (which was also the junior highʼs gym floor, believe it or not — a gym in an auditorium rather than a stage tacked on the side of a gymnasium). Changing to Andrew in 1977 just forced me to keep improvising and learning, wiring and rewiring for sound and lighting systems. Right up through my retirement.

Of course, all that experience made me bolder (in some ways), and the sound, effects and electrics at Kirchhoff Theater were inelegant masterpieces of necessity and its offspring (although not the infamous blackout during a performance that tested our crowd control and foresight: that was the city not installing a sufficiently heavy-duty box for the main into the building in the first place; people are always underestimating the electrical needs of a theatre — nor the heating collapse during the run of the Christmas Variety Show, of which I have always wondered that Janet and I ran into the smoking building to put out whatever the fire was; that experience only elevated the wild levels of our technical improvisation, “our” to include director Janet, although it was me that took personal days to tend/supervise the barn burner we acquired to heat the place insufferably until shortly before showtime, then to cool and cool, each night). And that adult daring did overflow into real life, especially in the audacious Nineties.

And that should bring us close to the closing section I already posted. This has been significantly more vague than I imagined, but itʼs written now, and thatʼs how it stands. Besides, this way I can do entire posts on individual exploits, later…

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

Chill Wind

Yesterday, Janet, her visiting sister Diane and I brought their mother and father to Potosi, Wisconsin, for a day at the Potosi Brewing Company. Dianeʼs appearance was supposed to be a surprise (although to get her mom to buy into the idea of celebrating Fathersʼ Day yesterday, Janet had to let Betty know what was up; we hope she didnʼt spill the beans). We had lunch and sampled the various beers, toured the National Brewery Museum, and shopped at their little souvenir store (where a couple of years ago Janet bought me a very pretty maroon Potosi Brewery longsleeved shirt on our first memorable visit, when we initially hatched the plan to bring Bing there for Fathersʼ Day sometime). It was a great day and a fine weekend altogether.

I like getting the family stuff with or from Janetʼs family. My own is scattered somewhat, and brother Paul has been busy as a preacher on weekends for many years now, even before retiring and receiving his actual appointment with the United Methodist Church (which he has now, and Janet and I will have to visit to hear/see him preach some weekend). Margaret is ensconced a couple hours north, Davidʼs snugly busy all the way west in Iowa, while Stephen is imprisoned in northern Minnesota. And both of my folks are dead, my mother dying of cancer just months after Janet and I got married and my dad going just over a year later. I miss them more than simply on card holidays, particularly since I regret what a graceless and ungrateful (and oblivious) little lump of dung I was (and probably still am). On the other hand, being parentless is a stiff prod into actual adulthood. My father once told my mother, when my maternal grandmother had died, “The winds blow colder once your parents are gone.”

from the Potosi Brewing Company website

I wrote this poem back in 1979 — lifetimes ago for some of you — shortly after my birthday when I heard from my sister (I think) that my dad had suffered some kind of attack or seizure or episode while getting into his car after a meeting for his job, at that time Media Services Director for the Area Education Agency (number 16, if it matters). The incident didnʼt amount to much, and my father didnʼt die until four years later, on his way to work near Christmastime when, while he was trying to fix a frozen brake line under his Media Services van, the jack he had used to raise the vehicle skidded out on the icy roadside and the van crashed down on him. So the event that inspired the poem really didnʼt mean anything. Oddly, cold weather did get him, however, I guess.

About five years after his death, I finally acquiesced to Janetʼs wishes and started having a local garage change my oil for me, instead of jacking up the car and truck and scrambling around underneath, yanking and wrenching at the ill-placed oil filter(s)… After that Christmas of 1983, every time I got down to go under the engine, I felt a little scared, even with the truck not just up on a jack but on those sturdy red wheel ramps. On the other hand, not changing my/our own oil was surrendering yet another thing my father had given me.

But back to my poem…

I donʼt have much verse about my family at all, but I did write one Mothersʼ Day poem in 1978 (which I was too busy in May this year to remember to post, what with Census obligations — never agree to work seven even partial days a week for any job, brothers and sisters) and this one. As itʼs Fathersʼ Day today, hereʼs a cold shudder of my birth month for the season.


Youʼre bittertrue, November,
to laugh down my dad,
shivering by starlight,
helpless keys in his hand:

Bitter, November, to remind,
you snowfingered mousemonth,
tickle his heart and snickerly
suck the warmth from his mouth.

November, bitter coldkissing,
never to speak, but spit glazes
on branches. Sheathed twigs
crack — loud, bright windtraces.

Old Novemberʼs bitter faces
float like frozen moths
from the huge night,
immune to a fatherʼs coughs.

after my father suffered some kind of event leaving a work meeting too late at night

16 November 1979

I know my father wouldnʼt like having a brewery embellishing my post on him for Fathers Day.

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

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.

Stormy Weather

In lieu of standard flowers, I sent Janet this hibiscus plant for our anniversary. Now it sits pretty wet in Tuesdayʼs rainfall.

And after the great heat came the violent thunderstorms. Okay, not so violent as just thunderous and lightning-filled. The rain (so far this afternoon) hasnʼt even been bad. (I hope I don’t need to add a “yet” to that statement.) Right now, the electrical effects are dimmed a little as real rain is falling again, fairly gently.

the view westward as the rain fell Tuesday, 05/25/2010

I am writing yesterday (Tuesday) about four in the afternoon. Rain came and dumped on us, pretty suddenly, about noon, and since then the lightningʼs been crackling all around town and the thunder rumbling almost nonstop. And could today be more of a contrast with yesterday? The pictures I shot Monday were so bright, the perfect sunshine brilliance for that poem. And now, all dark since 10:00 a.m. Darker and darker since about noon. Monday was so sticky hot we really considered installing our window air conditioner (for the bedroom, to ease our sleep) as we donʼt have central air here. Today, the heat and humidity have fallen off as the day darkened and rained; I even put on my sweatshirt to sit and type (although itʼs probably too warm, really). Excess of light, now dullness and rain.

As an adolescent I found thunderstorms magnetic (fascinating, alluring). I recall sitting in our Mt. Pleasant driveway in the old ʼ56 Ford my father bought from necessity somewhere in Missouri when the VW van had broken down on him (and it kind of/sort of became my car for a while, much like the blue VW bug nicknamed Willie Faye that I drove until it dropped in its tracks) as thunder boomed and rain dropped so hard I couldnʼt see to our front door. Everything turned gray and vague but electrically alive. Wonderful experience (and so much better to be inside rather than exposed to that breathless, crushing downpour). I believe my attraction to the dark side of rain held well into my married years, until we were settled in this house. In fact, one of the poems I have posted so far came from watching rain fall unseasonably (in early February) across the night-blackened community; the experience just got all mixed up with the fall of Rome.

…so different from yesterdayʼs photos

Then one afternoon, I was driving home from visiting Janet at her travel agency office in the downtown bank lobby, as a storm descended on Maquoketa, pitching the world into a viscous darkness. Then the deluge opened, drowning the streets and foiling all efforts of my windshield wipers. I was driving west on Platt Street. The wind seemed suddenly to crescendo noisily, pushing hard against the truckʼs westward progress. Then leaves and twigs and other larger things started flying in my direction from above and down the street. Not so bad. Big wind, a natural part of a fun thunderstorm.

The wind pulsed suddenly, loud, drowning the radio chatter. For a few seconds things seemed brighter, even as more trash and ripped-away foliage cascaded like rain, just flying all directions except mine.

Then the tree came twisting and sliding over the street right at my face (it seemed). I was so stunned I just kept driving, maybe somewhat slower, and the huge rooty, branched trunk swept a little lower toward the street and passed me by in the coincidentally eastbound lane. The thing was as big as the pickup, and I just kept going, more concerned about what might be coming next than where the huge, uprooted hazard had gone (meaning I didnʼt even follow its wake in the side or rearview mirrors). Straight home as the wind scoured everything it could grab and propel, pulling into the garage and then diving into the basement: I was sure the tornado was right upon us.

This drenched canopy over our driveway was jut a sapling when the windborne tree attacked my truck.

It wasnʼt, although it might as well have done. The official weather word in the end was that Maquoketa had suffered not a tornado but violent horizontal wind bursts, reaching 70 mph and harder. There was damage all over town. I never heard what the careening tree did further east nor what happened to it. The experience did quell my adolescent lust for rainstorms.

…Now the thunder crackles and groans again. I should check the radar to see whatʼs heading our way (if anything) and from what direction. [I do so.] Lots of red on the radar map, possibly coming our way (from the south), but the animation seems to show it breaking up somewhat and driving more easterly now.

No complaints here, just a brush of description. Our weather (so far) has been mild, avoiding the brutal tornadoes whipping through the South recently. Weʼd like it to remain so (and spread to other areas as well).

I also enjoyed stepping out into the rain for the pictures decorating this post. I wish that I could have taken a photo of the camera, raindrop-coated just from the moment of shooting the hibiscus photo (at the top). I didnʼt venture out from just in front of the garage door, having wisely (actually accidentally) fetched in the mail and the sun tea (ironic, that) before the second set of (still continuing) rain fell.

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