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Archive for June, 2009

Lady Poet

Lady Poet
by Job Conger

She did not have to disrobe in candle light
to reveal herself.
The captivating expose
unfolded as she shared
her poetry
during a Saturday night reading
with strangers and friends.

I’ll never know the special
forms and textures
which topographically define
the woman behind the book she held,
but I know the beauty she revealed
in baring secret thoughts
crafted from her heart into spoken word.

And I am the luckier, the richer man
having shared those thoughts
and getting to know more
than the ephimeral enigma
in three dimensions
as I sat, enchanted . . . . .
in a southwest Springfield bookstore.

— written September 24, 1995
===================================

The poem, which is included in my book Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois, was written about no one I know today. She was the wife of the owner of a sports equipment store on south Ninth Street, and we never so much as sat at a table together. She came to our poetry readings at Barnes & Noble every now and then, and she expressed particular regard one evening for my recitation of Vachel Lindsay’s fab poem “Simon Legree.”

The poem could have been written after any of four or five woman poets I have encountered, before and since,  read their poems. Not everyones’ poems touch me deeply as the ones shared by the afore-mentioned, and though many writers write impressive poems. So here’s to inspiration and insight. When we reveal ourselves in lines of poems, we can be more intimate with strangers and even more so with friends. Vive le poetry!

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I look up to Garrison Keillor and Writers Almanac the way Horshach looked up to Vinnie Bommarito on Welcome Back Kotter. After all, we’re both English majors, and he’s done okay for an English major.  But I have not come to praise Garrison but to bury his underlings who commited the unspeakable, the unpardonable and the trans-redemptive sin for English majors and employees of English majors.

A typographical error has been committed at Writers Almanac!The typo is obviously in part due to  some summer intern relying on “spellcheck” than God-engineered intelligence. I make the same kind of error more frequently than I wish. Something in the brain focuses on words and not context when reading through a draft before hitting “Publish.” But I expect better from Garrison and his band of merry workdrafters. 

I shall live through this, though I feel like a fellow who’s seen his girlfriend kissing another fellow. Nothing between us will ever be quite the same. There’s a certain amount of “sully” that will never wash off the reputation. But I shall get over this.

And so, I suppose, shall he.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

 

Don’t believe me; I could be jivin’ ya. See for yourself by visiting and bookmarking  http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org

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For the past three months I’ve been driving a black Chevrolet pickup truck loaned to me by George Jaworski, owner of The Granite Guy, 3755 N. Dirksen Pkwy., Springfield, Illinois. I’m sharing the particulars here because he’s a gentleman, and his business deserves your consideration if you need natural stone countertops, vanities, meeting table tops; you get the picture. When my ’86 Ford Escort became truly undrivable late last March, George, who had offered to sell me the pickup truck insisted that I take it as a loaner so I could continue to work for him. Since then I’ve kept gasoline in the tank and driven it everywhere I needed to go every day of the week, and he hasn’t asked a penny in compensation.  When the truck comes due for a new license plate sticker in July, I will pay for the new license, and by that time, George will have given me title to the vehicle.

Wednesday evening as I drove home from another productive day following an incredible job interview with Springfield School District 186, I was feeling pretty satisfied with life. I even rolled both windows down and enjoyed the breeze and noise during the sprint at 55 mph from Peoria Road to J. David Jones Parkway. During the 20 minute (total one-way trip time), I seriously considered, for the first time since getting behind the wheel, that the truck appeared to have air conditioning.  I did not suppose that the a/c actually WORKED. After all, there’s no driver’s side outside rear view mirror. That was knocked off by another driver, but it remains still intact though disconnected on the floor behind the bench seat. The windshield wipers don’t work, and the doors don’t lock.  And up to that moment, I really didn’t care whether the a/c worked or not.  As I slowed to 30 mph as I breezed by Oak Ridge Cemetery, tapping the brakes and coasting the rest of the way to the stop light proverbially in STOP mode at my arrival at North Grand, I wondered if the thing actually worked.  I cranked the dial to the full red, hit the full blower and was treated to a rush of air that resembled a Tsahara sunami (perhaps the other way around).  I figured it would take a few minutes for the cool to flow, so I endured the major heat . . . . . until it occurred to me that RED means HEAT, and the BLUE at the other end of the dial might mean COOL. I was correct. The cool began to flow, and I was in driver heaven.

Then  I began to think about the implications of air conditioning in a PICKUP TRUCK for goodness’ sake. Slowly it came to me that any man who drives a pickup truck, even a smaller model like the “Chevy” should be man enough to do it without the pansy-bottom sell-out to frikking AIR CONDITIONING.  I am a strong American male! What the fring-frang do I need with frikking air conditioning? What would Kevin Panting  or Mayor Davlin (both good gents) think if they happened to  pull up beside me in traffic and see me with the windows up and locked? They’d think I was losing my grip, my edge, my johnson, my personna, my joi d’ vivre and respect for the American Pickup Driver Code. They’d know I had become worse than a side-saddle rider of horses. (not that there’s anything . . .).  They’d know I had become a SOFTEE! 

The same doesn’t apply to drivers of cars, and I understand that.  I don’t quarrel with the point. If I were a driver of cars, I’d reach for the air conditioner control before I closed the door! But I was in a PICKUP, man.  I had considerations, man.

I turned off the a/c, rolled the windows down and had a lovely, breezy rest of journey home. After all, it was only 93 degrees Frikkinhot outside. And I was an American driver of a pickup.

This morning I had to buy stamps to mail a newsletter I produce for the Springfield Chapter Illinois Pilots Association.  The clock suggested I was going to be late for work if I stopped by the post office en route, so when I dashed out the front door into a wall akin to what Joseph Conrad described in Into the Heart of Darkness . . . . . . . . . . I decided it was time to be a frikkin SOFTEE and the usually-revered approval of Panting and Davlin be DASHED!

I spent more time waiting at stop lights than I did in motion as I  drove north on Ninth Street from the downtown post office.  Waiting for me was a showroom with ceiling fans a plenty and no air conditioning.  Engaging the  pickup truck a/c transcended SOFTEE. I frikking deserved cool air for as long as I could have it. There would be hours without it, so I’d get it while I could.

So here I sit in showroom solitude at The Granite Guy, listening to WUIS and enjoying the warm, gentle breeze.

It’s just like driving home last night.

Live long . . . . . .  and proper.

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The thing I really wanted to writhe about here at H&Q from 9:03 a Friday until today was the call that came from out of the blue at 9:00 that yonderday. On the other end was “Lenore.”

“Hi Job. This is (“Lenore”). How are you?”

Until that instant, my outlook on life had been as promising and fertile with hope as the burned out hulk of a house struck by lighting (conincidentally an appropriate synonym for Lenore) and left to rot on a remote desert dune. The mournful croak of a lost frog at 2 am at Washington Park is more mellifluous than the sound that came in my stark reply . . . . “I’m okay . . . . What’s up?”

Thank God for years of Car Talk inculcated into mon brain over the years. Otherwise I’d still be working on what to say back to her.

Her voice was Tinkerbelle, Snow White and angelsong breathed from one pair of lovely vocal chords. In the three minute conversation, she said, pleasantly, as though friend-to- friend, how she wanted to visit Monday to pick up the rest of her clothes and food she had left behind about a month ago. Could she come by Monday night or Tuesday morning?

Monday night would be better. So that was set. I was not the proverbial fountain of gurgling  joy which had characterized many of our earlier conversations. My heart was dry, and suddenly I was listening to cool water. I was numb but nominally responsive for three minutes. Then as I started to put the phone down . . . . . . moving it slowly away from my ear. . . . . . I heard her say,

“Job? I wish you well.”

“(Lenore)?  I wish you well, too. Thanks for calling.”

There was a slight spring in my slouch for the rest of the day as I wrestled with the journalism tasks at hand and diverted occasionally for the next three days, cleaning up more of the house, relocating her many splendored things away from my typical line of sight to where she could pick them up and carry them away. Her clothes remained in the chest of drawers, but I pitched more of  her refrigerated food into the trash because it was clearly dried out or too spoiled for even me to eat. By late Sunday afternoon it was all where it needed to be, I had rearranged a lot of my own semi-comatosely tolerated clutter into more logical array, and the interior looked better than it has since I moved into the digs 12 years ago. 

Monday night, Lenore called me about the time I expected her to come buy and explained she’d be delayed until maybe 11. Would that be okay? Sure. I’m a late night guy anyway. She knew it, and there really was no inconvenience. And — not coincidentally — there was still no wine in the house. If I had touched anything alcoholic under those circumstances I would have  become a babbling wuss (<– first time I’ve tried to spell that word, though I’ve spoken it often to myself in the last month especially).

Throughout the weekend I placed a collection of (mostly) previously read poems, articles, pictures and cartoons — clipped from copies of The New Yorker, Playboy and State Journal-Register editorial pages collected over the past few years and expediently placed into a large pile in an out of the way drawer — onto my impromptu living room desk, previously used by Lenore for her papers & things.  I had also printed many poems from Writers Almanac and saved many poems from poets local and living in Arkansas. Monday night, I decided to go over each item while waiting for Lenore. Articles and poems went into folders marked World Poets, World Poets to revisit (when I have more time to seriously consider poems clipped), Articles About World Poets, Articles About World Writers, Articles About World Non-Writers. Cartoons smaller than a full page were clipped from said pages and taped to clean sides of previously printed computer paper, one cartoon per page. Those pages will be three-hole binder punched later and saved in three-ring binders of which I already have five from over the years.

So when Lenore arrived about 11:40, we greeted each other at 10 paces and I left her alone as she gathered her things.  I wasn’t concerned over things of mine getting into the mix. Her honesty and integrity are rock solid, and except for her walking out on me a month ago, she could do no significant wrong from my rose-colored perspective. She was silent as she did her thing, and I was silent as I cut cartoons from pages culled mostly from The New Yorker by that time in the evening.  As things began to wind down and she said she was almost done, I joined her in the kitchen for light conversation to be sure all the kitchen utensils, dishes and silverware that were hers found their way to her. She had missed a few things. I made sure she had the muffin mix (I’m not a kitchen maestro), split pea soup, canned vegetables, fruit, chick peas and food that I would likely eat that was hers which she seemed to have left behind. She explained what she had left behind in the cupboard shelves was all for me. She had wanted me to eat what had remained over the last month. She was concerned about my diet. 

My heart was another subject entirely (RIM shot), but I was none-the-less grateful for any concern and thanked her sincerely. I even carried a last box to the front porch where she had been placing them. In the last minute or so, she explained she would visit me again early next week to talk — maybe have tea on the front porch — and pick up anything we did not get this time, including a bunch of frozen vegetables, beef soup stock and pork hocks and salad dressings and seasonings in the refrigerator. She also said I could still contact her via e-mail but her cell phone situation was in flux. It could have been worse. It could have been in New Jersey.

As I told a good friend, the last few minutes were first and foremost, a time for me to be QUIET because anything I wanted to say would have only added to my wounded wuss factor. I would have bitten off part of my tongue to accomplish that goal, but as it turned out, I held my tongue . . . . and kept it too.

Left unspoken was the agony from seeing the the collection of  Lenore’s things in boxes on my well-lighted front porch and KNOWING — I swear to Jehovah, I KNEW — that somewhere in the adjacent darkeness beyond my front yard . . . . . her boyfriend was sitting in his car. SECURITY. It was something of a rusty dagger to my heart sensing what I so intensly sensed, and my teeth penetrated no more deeply into my tongue (metaphorically) than at that moment.

Regardless, I would be a gentleman about it. I KNEW I was not going to offer to carry things to Lenore’s car because HE was nearby. Besides, she was leaving ME. I had gladly helped her bring a lot of it into my house, but even if the phantoms I call Matt or possibly Sean (their real names) had not been waiting out of sight, I was ill-inclined to helping her carry it all out of my life.  I’m sure Matt’s  eyes were on me during the 4.5 seconds I was actually out on the porch. I quickly boogied back into the house, left the porch light on and beat a hasty retreat to my distant office as though pursuued by Sitting Bull and his tribe of angry Sioux! 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I creeped out of the office half an hour later and turned off the porch light.

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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From my office window
a panorama view of forces in motion:
Lenore’s visiting late today
to remove the rest of her food and clothes;
threat of rain.

Love long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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Springfield is a town where big city notions about professionalism in communication often clash with the pancake-flat provincialism of central Illinoise . . . . and lose darn near every time. It’s not the fault of anyone that this is so; that’s just the way it is. Example if “big-city-ideals boy” truly believed in the communications fastidiousness and respect for deadlines, I expect of my friends and peers, would I be heaving sighs of relief that the article I was assigned last Sunday, which I could have completed last Monday, would be completed eight days later, just one day past deadline?

The story here began the Sunday before last when I was asked to write an article which seemed so simple, I knew I could get to it in about a week and still have a week of wiggle room before the June 20 deadline. “Blue lines” for the summer issue of the American Aviation Historical Society Journal had begun to arrive from Santa Ana, California, and I wanted to clear my “plate” from that quarterly volunteer proofreading and factual error catching before I turned to Springfield Business Journal. The AAHS work was more challenging than usual, including several articles of more than 10 pages and one of 18, including bibliography. What should have been a few days’ attention to AAHS extended to more than a week, thanks to a disarming gurgitation of prose which showed excellent (“A-minus”) scholarship but would have rated what I imagine would have been a “D” for organization, source citations and style. There is room in serious history for style, but the author, a Springfield native son I used to know, wrote as stylishly as a Certificate of Death. And what I saw reached me after at least two members of the AAHS Editorial Board had taken a crack at fixing it! I went out on a limb, understanding that by the time an article reaches me, the length and content are pretty much “frozen.” The 18 pages will remain 18 pages, so whatever changes are made must result in final product that’s 18 pages. I suggested the deletion of about five long paragraphs that made a mountain out of a molehill of a minor point and the exorcising of almost two pages that had zilch to do with the subject as stated in the article title. To the editor’s credit, the two pages were kept, but reformatted as a separate sidebar article, and the five irrelevant paragraphs were shortened to just a few. The space left vacant by the major revision was filled very nicely by a reworked bibliography, a masterstroke and GOLDEN effort by Journal editor Hayden Hamilton. The rest of the issue was a breeze to proof and correct. And 90 percent of my effort was done during slow time at my employer. I found I could NOT devote the attention required for my two SBJ articles while working for dollars because I needed a place where I could concentrate without distractions. That’s why I took Thursday and Friday, the 18th & 19th, off to concentrate.

By that time, I had received (last Sunday) another SBJ article assignment. At first glance, I had more faith in Article 2 (A2) than A1, but I didn’t know how right I was about A1 until I made my first phone call re what was becoming less and less appealing to me about 10:30 Thursday morning.

A premise on which A1 was to be based — explained to me in an email from SBJ’s excellent editor — was factually flawed. I can’t be more specific without ruffling feathers that should be smooth. Since the premise was incorrect, the thematic backbone became spineless and the article crumbled like a Saltine. I beat myself up one side and down the other because I hated to back out of an article assignment. I”ve probably written 100 articles for SBJ and of those assigned, failed to complete three; well four now. I felt like a kid who set fire to the family garage while playing with matches. I was crushed. Even when the editor allowed me OFF the project, I felt rotten. That should have set me up for A2 say starting after lunch Thursday; right?

Wrong. My life is about more than writing; it’s about relationships to people dear to me and people I regard with the same respect Barack Obama might feel when invited to celebrate George Lincoln Rockwell’s birthday party. This week in particular, with the deadline hovering over me like a vulture watching the final momemts of a mortally wounded Bambi, the AAHS Journal proofing and having to take two freaking days off from work, too much of my week between brief outbursts of responsible action, was spent in ear catatonia hating myself for my procrastination and sorry circumstance. So I took the rest of Thursday and worked constructively catching up around the house with some rearranging the place for the “post-Lenore-life.” I didn’t return to SBJ writing until Friday morning.

Things happened faster. I made contact with one of three essential persons before lunch and was incredibly lucky to engage the other two before quitting for the day about 5:00 Friday afternoon.

Getting people interviewed and on tape is part of what I call “making the cake,” producing the base over which the icing — the aricle WRITING — is applied. Friday it meant interviewing people and starting to transcribe relevant parts of the interviews into notes and quotable quotes.

Saturday was such a bummer during the half day at work, I didn’t touch the article after returning home. I was hot, depressed and tired. And it didn’t let up. If someone had offered me a Hemlock cocktail, I might have accepted it.

In my current circumstance, I can be as hermetic and self-loathing as I care to be, and that’s okay. Nobody gets hurt, and eventually I come out of it. There was no wine in the house, so I didn’t drink myself to sleep or a short coma. But thanks in part to a short nap after arriving home, I didn’t go to bed until a little after 4 a Sunday morning, and was up at 10 sharp for This Week With George Stephanopoulos, which was excellent.

THEN I installed my window air conditioner in the office, hit Facebook declaring my intention to finish the transcribing of notes ‘n’ quotes and write the article and not stopping except to pee and drink coffee. Which is exactly what happened. I sent the article to editor about 2:45 pm.

Aspiring journalists take note: there are better ways to engage your life’s professional passion than the example just described. If I didn’t think a human being could learn something from the saga just shared, I would not have posted it. I just hope that one of the people who learns something will be your humble blogmeister.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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Oh WOW, my 701st post at Honey & Quinine!  I’ll try to make it worth your reading  . . .

Someone  — R.W. Emerson? H.D. Thoreaux? Paul Reubens? — said Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. That was before blogs were introduced to the tattered tapestries of lucid humanity.  While blogs are quiet, if you want to appreciate how life would be if desperate minds could grab your EARS with their plights, just tune into commercial television or WSEC most any day of the week and hear it and hear it and HEAR IT!  For the last three weeks, my plighet has been quieter than usual, and this morning I came across a metaphor that seems to explain Y.

Every day of life is an airplane ride (<– there’s your metaphor)  from the moment I open mine eyes to  the moment I surrender my consciousness to sleep.  My goal from that first eye opening is to get to work on time.  The whole point of departing my home field is to earn the daily “bread” that will sustain me another two weeks or so but in days of yore, there used to be more on my “horizon”  than work. 

It’s all common sense, suddenly turned immaterial, irrelevant. I’d fly my bird to work, so to speak, fly circles around the “Rock City” showroom and front desk all day, fly home for dinner and fly somewhere else until bedtime. Today I just fly my bird into the ground when I have the home field in sight. The only solace I find is in flattering words from friends via e-mail; sometimes fleeting relevance and amusement in Charlie Rose and Scrubs. Do I spend time building model airplanes after hours as I used to? No. Do I maintain the AeroKnow web site as fastidiously as I used to? No. I haven’t touched “This Week in Aviation History” at the home page in more than a week.  Maybe tonight I will. Maybe not. Do I answer correspondence from aviation researchers as I receive queries, as I always have until “Lenore” flew my coop? No.

I catch up with email before dinner. Eat. Nap.  Watch Charlie, browse the internet for no productive reasons, maybe watch an hour of Scrubs and hit the hay. Wine isn’t a factor. A glass of Carlo Rossi Burgundy at bedtime is the routine.

Thurs & Fri I am taking TWO days off from work to produce articles I’m not crazy about tackling.  Why do I write? Because I’m enjoy writing, and equally importantly, good people pay me to write. Writing is the name of my profession. I can’t focus my undivided on the article  notes esteeemed editor sent me and process the product here at Rock City, and I’m dang sure unable to work on them after hours. 

The ultra-suckular work routine with pay arriving at the whim of the owner bothers me no end. It’s a third-world circumstance in a first-world society. Logic would suggest that if I care about LIFE and even having a good time,  I must stop riding my bird straight into the ground. Instead I should divert from seemingly inexorable flight plan and engage . . . . are you ready for this? . . . . . engage a diversion. But until I have title to the pickup truck which the owner has allowed me to drive seven days a week for no charge (beyond my keeping gasoline in the tank — and thank God for that kindness), escape will not be an option.  In the meantime, I must find a way to continue flight not into the muck of doom, but  into skies of welcoming, engaging winds and words, of responding to AeroKnow correspondence and paying more attention to the destiny that occupies so much of my house and part-time intellect, the journalism that occupies so much of my mind and friends who occupy so much of my heart.

Poetry,  btw, is FRIENDSHIP antic: sparkly bubbles and blues given gladly in the hope that some of it will leak out of our little pond and into lake of significant national recognition.

Based on Lenore’s contact with me for the past 2 1/2 weeks, of which there has been zilch, last night I moved all here formerly fresh refrigerated vegetables and fruits out of the refrigerator last night and today deposited them in the company dumpster. They were drying out, inedible, and she will understand if we ever speak again.  Most of my kitchen counter is still as she left it three weeks ago. When I finally surrender to logic and lucidity and move all of her possions I do not intend to eat or adopt out of my kitchen, I am confident I will get back to what used to be my life. Why give her the power to compromise my life so drastically?  I guess it all comes down to my talent to recognize a good alibi when one walked out of my life and making the most of it.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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