Archive for April, 2008

Getting Civilized

Did I share this picture earlier? Dan N’s recent comments prompted this post. I was a course volunteer who stood at my assigned post at Spring at Scarritt and waved to the participants in Springfield Road Runners Half Marathon. It was a perfect day and everyone I encountered was top flight calibre.

There are 51 “barbers” in the Yellow Pages. I know this because I just counted them. I could drive to the addresses of the eight Springfield barbers who’ve cut my hair, starting with Jimmy Drew on Fourth and ending with Mike Duewer on Lawrence. I was surprised last Friday when I drove out for a fresh cut for the 15th Anniversary gathering of a local poets and writers club. He’s always been open . . . . until last Friday. There was a sign in the front door “Closed for Family Emergency.” Today I called to be sure he was there, and he was. So I drove out. He was clearly out of sorts, and when I asked him how he’s doing he explained he’s had three heart attacks since mid March! And here he was, on his feet! He’s not doing well; says it’s all his high cholesterol diet and genetic constitution. If you know Mike, you should visit him and wish him well. Keep those fingers crossed. He’s a good barber and a nice hummin’ bean.

I wanted a haircut for the same reason I put on clean Fruit of the Loom when I leave the house. If something happens, I want to look civil and clean when they start cutting off my clothes. WIth the book behind me, the wilting news that two freaking days before the next rent check and the likely news the renter upstairs will give me her 30-day notice of intent to leave, is effecting me a barking dog ouside my window when I’m trying to enjoy Nova on PBS. I don’t have room in my shrinking periphery for this kind of poo.  So what do I do? I hold onto the tiger. I don’t let go. I MUST FIND AN EMPLOYER because what I need is not going to fall from the sky.

When I was waiting for an elevator to take me to court for my minor traffic infraction a few weeks ago at the County Building, I ran into a valued acquaintance who is connected to the government scene. We had a fine 20 second chat, and the last thing he said was “Come see me.” I couldn’t consider calling him Wednesday to see if he has any time if I had not had the haircut. Now I can, I will make the call.

A few weeks ago, a project I thought was coming together for a regular but infrequent employer fell through. I had done the proposal writing, written some follow-up thoughts, but was sidelined with the aviation book. When I let her know I was ready to go full-bore with our project, I was told she had checked, and there was no money budgeted for it this year, I told her how sorry I was to know that because I had counted on that work to help pay my real estate tax. Her response was (I’m cordially certain was a heart-felt) “I’m so sorry.” and that was the end of it. Bye-bye boundless enthusiasm for the project and the repartee I thought was established. And how do I feel about THIS?

I’m so sorry.

At least I look like a grey-suiter from the ears up.  I like the grey-suit league and have enjoyed my time wearing my blue and green-hued sport coats and neck ware in concert wtih grey expectations. Cross your fingers for future action with the county.  

It’s time for me to do more than hold onto this tiger. It’s time to saddle break him.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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but fust a little ketch up . . .
   Had an “interesting” Sunday. Wrote the review for the Springfield Classical Guitar Society web site, grabbed some groceries and brought my space heater back to the office from summer storage in the basement. Enjoyed the PBS Nature program and the recruiting video PBS ran about life on a US Navy carrier. It seemed an hour of “gee whiz, this is kewl” directed to high school sophomores to keep them from dropping out before visiting their recruiter.  After a short nap starting 30 minutes into it, I resumed work in the office, made decent progress and hit a brick wall. I couldn’t send email! After fiddling with it for more than an hour — NOT the work I intended to engage — I picked up my phone headset and found NO DIAL TONE! More fiddling and no joy.

So I missed the chance to sub teach today DANG IT! FInally made it to bed about 5 am and slept until 9:10 this morning. Drove in the rain to a public phone at Handy Pantry to call AT&T repair in a drizzling rain. I was moderately drenched by the time my button punching was done. Internet service was restored by 1:30 today, but I still have no phone, DANG IT!

Barack’s preacher made a lot of sense today, judging from sound bites from his National Press Club address.. It’s time some thinking hummin’ beans from all colors of the rainbow acknowlege that. I’ll go first.

If you think #43 violates our privacy by tapping our phone lines, that’s not the tip of the iceboig. We have lost the freedom to say what we believe when we are talking with people we consider friends, brothers and sisters of our culture and members of our clubs. Can ANY American speak the thoughts which are the product of his or her life so far to people considered his or her “own” without being assailed by people from outside the circle? Are we entltled to circles of our own?  You would demand the freedom for your circle. Why not allow me the same freedom for mine?

When I hear a poet or aspiring poet make fun of poets who write rhyming poetry, I hold him accountable only to those he was epeaking to at the club meeting. If a prose writer who doesn’t like poetry assails the bloke for disparaging rhymers, I am inclined to say, “You were not invited to this conversation, so please get the fring-frang away from our dialogue because —  though your rampaging vanity tells you otherwise —  we are not having our discussion  so you can bullywhank it.”

Reverend Wright said words to the effect. “I have been called unpatriotic. I served in the (service) four years. Does that make me a patriot?  Dick Cheney never served in the military. Is he a patriot?”

To NOT permit us — Methodists, poets, classical musicians, gardeners, Dale Ernhart, Jr. fans — to talk about our subculture to those who embrace it is to censor us in a way that not even #43 would support, at least as long as we’re all evanglists and like hai lai. Reverend Wright is more correct about more than politicians and spectators have conceded so far. Has he said some really idiotic things? Absolutely. Though he claimed to be a preacher in his remarks and separated that profession from “politicians,” he is very much the politician who must balance people the way judges balance the perceived intent of the Constitutiion. Unless we live in a cave, we are all politicians. He addresses his constituents from the pulpit. The rest of us address our intended audiences from pulpits of our own making.

Walt Whitman wrote, “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, or look through the eyes of the dead, or feed on specters in books. You shall not look through my eyes, either, nor take things from me. You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”  John Wesley said almost the same.

Here’s an idea. You can talk to your friends without a Spanish Inquisition if I can talk to my friends as freely as you. Deal?

Seems like a deal to me. To you as well?

Live long . . . . . . and proper.


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Moan My Loen

I have an arrangement with a friend across the street. Because I believe that buying a power mower for a task engaged as rarely — at max 20 times a year –, and because he has a safe place to store a power mower, and because I wanted to be a friendly cuss, I arranged to share my machine with him if he’d store it and keep it filled with fuel. Done deal; everyone’s happy.

Until I waited until this weekend to break out the old mower for a first cut of front and back and discovered it wouldn’t start after twenty or thirty yanks. Not only did friend agree to take it in for a tuneup and blade sharpening, he loaned me the push mower he was given by his almost-other half. As soon as George Stephanopoulus signed off this morning, I picked up the mower. An hour and a half later I finished mowing my front lawn. It’s not a big lawn. WIth a p;ower mower I’m done in 15 minutes tops. But the yard needed the attention, and I needed the excertise. Like voting, I consider yard maintenance a PRIVILEGE for those blessed tith the circumstance and capacity to do it. I’ve never complained about raking leaves, mowing lanss and trimming hedges . . . . . except from ages 10 to 19 when my parents asked me to do it. The power mower should be backinac tion next week. THEN I’ll mow my back yard.

It’s been a productive weekend without the book deadline staring me in the face for the first time since January. I’ve re-filed photos that have been awaiting my attention since 2006. It was a marathon effort, but now that I’m focusing more on aviation history, an essential effort. The filing waiting for me in the basement cabinets would choke a horse . . . . but it won’t choke me. It’s nice down there; cool. I worked up a sweat tidying up and rearranging things Saturday, and I enjoyed it. Made some real progress!

 If I cared to, I could pitch the TV nad do nothing but poetry, songwriting  and aviation things around here for the rest of my life, and I would except for two programs: The American Experience and Charlie Rose.  There are others, but those two are essential ingredients:”the cream in my coffee; the salt in my stew” (as the old Ray Coniff semi-hit used to say.

For the gold star of the week: what line follows that?

I won’t be really done with essential catching up until I write the review of the new Chanson du Soir CD I promised.  I have –as the great jazz artist’s wife Mrs. Davis must have once said — Miles to go before I sleep.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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A Change of Distraction

When I was 15 or 16, I sat down at the dining room table with pencil in hand, and instead of drawing an airplane, I looked at a snapshot of my smiling nephew Bobby Shymansky probably 6 at the time, and drew his portrait. It was a matter-of-fact thing. No walking into the living room and asking dad what he wanted me to draw, no guilty conscience at work beneath the surface; I simply drew him, and the final product – a simple pencil portrait drawn on a scrap of paper — was better than I expected, winning the approval of dad and the thanks of my sister whose son inspired my effort. It was a flash in the pan. I knew I could do that. A few months later, using a set of pastel chalks I had been given for Christmas, I created three colorful artistic pieces on sheets of large paper mom had brought home from work for me. I gave one to Diane Brancato, one to Reverend George Embry and eventually lost the one I kept. It was no big deal. I knew I could do it and I was satisfied; much the same as when my first aviation article written for money was published in the June 1978 issue of Aircraft Illustrated. THAT was a terrific high point of my life (it’s a world-wide-read magazine) but nothing possessed me to follow up with articles to everyone who might publish them. Only when I began writing Art Seen, my local arts column that ran in Illinois Times almost a year, did I think I had a future with the local arts community. My faith was unwarranted.

The column was cancelled for reasons I will share anywhere but here. I tried to capitalize on that “fame” by expanding the web presence I had launched (with the urging of a local artist/poet/friend) but it didn’t work out. I was mistaken to believe I could engineer a future for myself as an arts journalist. 

At my CIVAG web site, in recent weeks, I’ve asked for help to pay for the service; not my time. And following the screams of silence, I’m shutting it down. I have too many distractions, too many interests that take my time away from interests that bear fruit I can eat. I’m a hair bummed out over this. The saving grace of my ending this protracted spree of arts writing and photography for others is the reassurance that the many who didn’t engage me in that enterprise will also not engage me in its aftermath. The few friends from all this — Sonia Lang, Katherine Pauley, Mike Manning, Shirley Caldwell — will have been provided the promised presence they paid for by the time their work disappears from the artists’ web galleries. There will only be comfort and relief from the silence from the rest. At least I didn’t cheat anyone.

My focus now will be JOURNALISM, poetry and aviation history. The SCGS effort will continue, probably at a changed domain address, through the summer, and it will disappear also. I owe Chanson du Soir a review, and I’ll post it by this time next week. I MUST also keep the Conger family genealogy thing going. It’s a blood thing.

I’m bummed out by this. I surely enjoyed the company and conversation with the artists. But their support was more important than the good times I had chatting with them. I was with them, in part,  for the wrong reasons. When I can return — if I ever return to them, it won’t be because I have something to SELL THEM. It will be ONLY because I like them. Life is better that way. No hopes; no heartbreaks.

The story of my life.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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How sweet it WAS. TASTY!

If I experience another evening of poetry half as enjoyable as Wednesday night  (April 23) at the library of MacMurray College, I will consider all I’ve written, all I’ve learned, all I’ve practiced worth every minute! A lot of the satisfaction came from friends going in: faculty member Robert Seufert who recognized something in me worth sharing at his campus, the two students, Brett and Danielle, who came with him to the Museum of Funeral Customs presentation earlier this year (who lobbied to have me come over) and Susan Eilering, who traded e’s with me in the days leading up to the event AND transported me to and from. An incredible combination, not unlike the alligning of the planets, I think.

The audience was small, mostly poets who contributed to the school’s Spring 2008 edition of Montage, their literary and art anthology, revived  recently after some fallow years. Others included two people working at computers in a corner of our presentation room, who didn’t mind our being there, and a library helper who punched off the time clock so he could sit and listen, a nice fellow for sure. Also on hand was Julie, MacMurray’s PR person with a fine Canon EOS camera who took pictures and was an incredible cosmic delight in her own way. They were all planets, every one; not an asteroid or comet in the lot of them.

The plan was to introduce me first. Susan did. I would share poems for half an ow — half an hour if you prefer, , and contributors to Montage  would read after that. Spontenaety intervened, howeverly, and the enthusiasm tracked a different course. I didn’t recite for half an hour; I rambled almost twice that long. We took a break to enjoy a bounteous array of strawberries, cheese, crackers, snack sweets I don’t have names for and soft drinks. Then Montage contributors and Robert Seufert shared their fine writing in a round robin, one poem at a time format. It was great fun.

Immersed as I am in tweaking words I have read probably a thousand times, my listening skills have atrophied over the years that I’ve eschewed the Springfield literati; trading those testy times for the cozy comfort of fading sanity and PBS’ TV. It was terrific to WATCH and LISTEN again, to appreciate the variety of approaches and to share their pride in what they had created. There was no microphone. (I’m telling you, Susan has a good head for this kind of event.)

What did I recite? In order of presentation: Invitation/Conger, The Flute of the Lonely/Lindsay, Throwing in the Trowel/Conger (by request), On the Building of Springfield/Lindsay, A Curse for the Saxophone/Lindsay, Niagara/Lindsay, To the United States Senate/Lindsay, Keep Them Squirming/Conger, Tuff Tookas/Conger, Somehow It Comes Out of You/Conger (by request)  and Serenading the Wind/Conger. Following the fine presentations by the highly esteemed Seufert and dedicated students (alzo highly esteemed) Brett and Danielle prevailed on me to recite Simon Legree/Lindsay, which I did after sharing Vachel’s The Wizard In the Street.

To say, “I could not have asked for” doen’t come close to reality which is: I could not have dreamed of a sharper, keener, library director whose vision for fostering greater participation in the literary arts was a prime factor in the evening; a more convivial faculty advisor Seufert, and attentive, laughing, engaging students. If I had known these people when I had attended MacMurray College in the late 60s/early 70s, I would not have allowed myself to be hired away from school.

I believe that if I can hold onto my house (real estate tax: the Matterhorn of my life, is the only serious impediment) and  find an EMPLOYER in the month ahead or so, I am SURE I will return to Mac for more poetry.  Next time, I’ll take my guitar. 

I told Susan after walking around that fabulous library, that I’d like to come over to just find a table upstairs or even down, and just sit and WRITE. She says I’m welcome any time.  It’s a fertile karma kind of situation there; just remarkable.  All that needs to happen is bills paid and a car that can make the trip. The likelihood of either seems remote on a stormy Friday night.

In the meantime, I have some memories that could not have imagined two months ago, that I will cherish forever. Thank you MacMurray and citizens thereof. I hope we meet again!

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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From little acorns forests grow. Proof positive? When the Springfield’s National Museum of Funeral Customs had its sixth annual reading earlier this year, MacMurray College English prof Robert Seufert (a regular for years) encouraged his students Brett and Rachel (they’re an item) to attend. Afterwards, responding to B&R’s kind words for my efforts and poetry, and their equally- appreciated purchase of my booksof poetry, I recited a few more for them in the lobby and encouraged them to “lobby” Mr. Seufert to hire me to MacMurray College for a presentation of my poetry and Vachel Lindsay’s poetry.

They did. MacMurray’s library director Susan Eilering emailed me a few weeks later and we arranged for me to speak at the college’s gathering observing the publication of the 2008 Montage, a literary arts anthology. I was asked to share my poetry and Vachel’s. There would be refreshments and an honorarium. DONE DEAL!

Because my froggy Ford Escort is not highway capable — every trip east of 24th street or west of Chatham Road is an “adventure” — Susan graciously assented pick up and deliver me home.

I had attended Mac in 1968, fresh from Springfield Junior College through about 1971 when I was hired away from my job at Jacksonville’s Lums restaurant to travel Illinois and Missouri as a trouble shooter for Dennis Serio who owned several and was acquiring more. I know in the past I’ve whined about how stupid I was to stop writing for Springfield Business Journal, but that was a broken fingernail compared to the unrealized (at the time) paralysis of my professional future inflicted by leaving MacMurray College. It’s all sour grapes aged to vinegar at this stage, and I know I can never put that expended toothpaste back into the tube, so I’ll try to leave it at that, at least here in this blog.  I hasten to add that I am equally happy to contribute to Illinois Times whenever I can. The whole IT crew is gold.

Susan is almost as old as I am, and that’s saying something. We’re both younger than numbers on calendars insinuate. At any rate, the conversation about Mac, our careers, her fine family were a brook of reviving conviality. To say it bluntly, I had endured a partucularly SUCKY day substituting at a southeast Springfield middle school earlier in the day. I had been on my feet except for teacher’s prep and lunch, and by the time I came home, I felt like I had been on a 50-mile hike. A few cups of coffee and 20 minutes prone, listening to Fresh Air (a nice interview with Ojibway language translators) took away the compression stress in my back and I was ready to roll when Susan arrived.

For the first time since I wrote it while attending Mac in 1968, I had memorized my poem Invitation for the occasion. On arrival at the library after a nice car tour of the campus, I headed out to see if the willow tree which was the site of a particularly terrific Saturday afternoon was still there. It was located between Kendall Hall where I lived on second floor wing and the rest of the campus north. It was not. A building stood over the place where Nancy Hunt of Chicago and I had communed. There was no hanky-panky; not even a hint of hanky, even. But there had been a hint of hope in that direction, and I still cherish the afternoon though not the outcome.

I walked out into part of the soccer field that now has a fenced baseball diamond where most of it was, as I headed for the willow tree, down the same path, asphalt in 1968; concrete in 2008 to the tree, past the building in its place and across the bridge toward Kendall. The brook was still there. What a beautiful pastoral jewel! Why hadn’t I spent more time there? Yes, I had written a short-lived column for the student newspaper Charybdis, but I had not savored the creek and bridge then as I savored it yesterday! Everything was green, smelled sweeter than darn near anything or anybody I’ve encountered in Springfield.

Ooops . . . . . my sour grapes are showing.

I almost walked to Kendall Hall to knock on my old dom room and meet whomever was there. I’d still like to do that, just for the heckovit. I resisted. I didn’t want to scare anyone. I did visit the student union (now the campus center)  as I headed north, retracing my steps. I entered the open front door, stepped down to where I remembered the campus mailboxes and again, my heart about stopped. There was MY MAILBOX  #1032, just as I left it in about 1968!  I didn’t remember the combination.  Then up the steps to the grill where I had sipped so many cups of coffee, Cokes and muched so many hamburgers and played the jukebox, chatting with friends, writing poems and songs and even studying. Man, I could almost smell Kent Stutzman. The same polished  floor, hand rails, so much unchanged!

I had promises to keep. Back to the library and return to earth from lingering reverie. I found I was mistaken about my glory daze at Mac. They were terrific but they were a peanut butter sandwich compared with the feast I would enjoy during the rest of the evening. I will recall that feast here in tomorrow’s posting.

Live long  . . . . . . and proper.

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Vachel Meets Washington

I did the following as an individual poet; not as an employee of anyone. So if you don’t approve of what I’m about to describe, don’t complain to Springfield School District 186 Superintendentr Dr. Milton.  If you do approve, please let him know.

Last week, for the first time in eight years I’ve been substitute teaching, I was invited to come to a school classroom to talk about Vachel Lindsay and recite his poems. I had encoutered Miss Beard at the end of a busy day at a major east side middle school, told her about my Vachel Pages web site, shared my interest in visiting classes to share my understanding of the man, and she invited me to come to her class.

I arrived about 11:45 today, dressed in my “uniform”  of red shirt, white slacks that signify Vachel’s poem The Wedding of the Rose and Lotus (look it up; it’s a good one) and my “amazing technicolor sport coat,” the same one I wore every Wednesday at Capitol Caffee when I emceed the open mic there. I wear this combination only when I’m reciting poetry for recompense. I had been promised lunch, and that was all I expected.

Miss Beard had worked with her students getting ready for my arrival. They had visited another Vachel poems web site, and copied poems they liked to share with her and to read today. What a terrific idea. The students knew more about Vachel when I arrived than most Springfieldians — dare I suggest most Central Illinoisans and worse, most Central Illinois COLLEGE students! — know in their lifetimes. Nice going, Miss Beard and students! We decided there would be time after my presentation for students to share their poems at the front of the room after I did my thing.

What did I recite? The Little Turtle, Some Balloons Grow on Trees, The Broncho That Would Not Be Broken of Dancing, Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, The Potatoes Dance, When Gassy Thompson Struck It Rich, Niagara (in celebration of Earth Day, of course) The Lion, and The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down. Looking back, Niagra was the only one that was a little too old for them. The students were letter perfectly quiet and attentive. (Why aren’t they like that when I’m a guest teacher? Must have been the sport coat! 🙂 )

We also talked about Vachel’s life, I suggested the students visit his house, on Fifth Street, next door to where the govorner used to live, and to visit my Vachel Pages web site. Miss Beard reminded the students to speak clearly, read their Vachel poems with expression and enthusiasm, and four students did just that. It was great to see them focus on the poet and poetry.

When it was time to go — the lunch bell for the class was about to ring, I was offered the choice of eating lunch in the cafeteria or simply taking some cash, and I took the cash. And I thanked Miss Beard and her fine class for inviting me over. I was tempted to stop by McDonalds and make quick work of most of the cash, but I decided to splurge instead with lunch meat sandwiches and iced tea at home. I can better spend my honorarium at the grocery store later this week.

On my way out the door, I stopped by the school office and told the fine office manager/receptioninst that I had just made my first poetry presentation to a Springfield school, that I would be delighted to let my blog readers know it was done at Washington Middle through the initiative, good taste and courtesy of Miss Beard.

And now I have.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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