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Archive for October, 2010

Last Sunday I took a cab home from the airport because my truck had lost electrical as I neared the parking lot, and I found late in the day that it was unfixable on site. Truck’s owner returned the vehicle to me Friday, said he maintenance fellow said there was nothing wrong with it, but he had charged the battery, and it was good to go. Not so. It was fine getting me out to catch up at the Museum Friday afternoon, fine getting me to work Saturday and fine getting me to the Museum early that afternoon, but not so fine coming home at 8:30.

It seemed fine at first. Started right away, but as I passed the first stoplight on a green maybe half mile from the airport entrance I sensed an almost imperceptible “something” (no bang, no buzz, no thump), glanced at the speedometer and found it back to where I had discovered in last Sunday pulling into the airport: I was traveling at no miles per hour, there was no fuel in the tank and all the other instruments were pegged to the left. In the night, I noticed what I didn’t see Sunday in bright daylight. The red “E3” light was blazing away in the low right of the panel. Another warning light (I believe it was the NO HEADLIGHTS red warning) was also very visible. Based on what I had learned from a friend over the long week with no wheels, I did something that, I am sure, allowed me to get home without parking after coasting into some dark side street and walking the rest of the way.

I turned off the radio. At 8:35 it was quiet on J. David Jones Parkway going south toward the city, so I was not concerned with other traffic. The entire straight stretch on J. David, which becomes Walnut, was well illuminated by street lights. I arrived at the bottom of the hill just in time to stop less than a second before the light turned green. I was pumping the accelerator mildly in neutral gear, keeping the revs up, thinking it would keep the battery up, and the transition to first gear on green was easy. The radio light on the dash is also time clock light when I’m not tuning a station, and as I continued toward North Grand, that light began flashing. By the time I had breezed through the green at that intersection, the light had died totally. Black. It was hard to judge speed, but I had no other traffic, and as long as the engine was running smooth, I didn’t worry about stalling. From North Grand to Jefferson, including the light at Mason was easy but lonely. I knew the system was losing charge. The odometer was beginning to dim.

Soon after Jefferson, the odometer light was dead and by the time I passed Monroe, timing my approach perfectly to avoid stopping, and able to continue through on greens, the entire dashboard was dark.

By now, my concern was not with the truck but with the Springfield Police Department. I saw maybe five cars from Jefferson to Vine Street where I turned left, less than two blocks from home. Any of the drivers could have called the police reporting a black Chevy S10 with no lights on heading south on Walnut. Moderating my speed was necessary not only to time the stop lights right, but to avoid attracting attention from a police officer with a radar gun. It was a silly concern. I could be doing 20 mph, but with no lights, no officer was going to let me by without pulling me over to say “howdy, sir.” I even stopped at the four-way stop sign at Vine at Henrietta. The idea of being pulled over with my house in sight . . . just didn’t sit well with me. I’m sure the insurance papers are somewhere in the glove box, and I have a valid drivers license, but explaining what I was doing in a truck I didn’t own  . . . UGH!

I pulled into the driveway and almost exploded out the opened door and into the house where there are no batteries, no speedometers (and no working furnace, but that’s another story) and dinner! A can of chili and iced tea never tasted so good.

Waiting in the mail was consolation: a $100 check for AeroKnow from Warren Stiska and a paycheck from Illinois Times. The check will allow me to purchase about a fourth of the remaining shelving needed for AeroKnow Museum, and the paycheck from IT may keep my lights on in November. They could not have come at a better time.

As for the truck, a local friend knows of the trouble, and I hope he can do something restorative with the machine. If not, I guess I’ll have to drag my part-time employer back into the business of getting it fixed. UGH. His repair guy didn’t fix it the first time.
I’ll keep you posted.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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When I was a kid, I collected Beatles, Billy Joel and Mozart records. For most of the past 20 years, I’ve collected books by my favorite poet born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. His name is Vachel Lindsay, and if you’re not familiar with him, you should be. He was born November 10, 1879, made the world scene with his poetry in 1912 and was still packing auditoria all over the USA when he died in December 1931.

One of the last books of poetry he published went to press in 1925, not long after he married Elizabeth Connor and they toured Glacier National Park in Washington state. Poems published in The Candle In the Cabin (D. Appleton and Company, 1925) were written during that visit. A few weeks after I brought it home I noticed a familiar signature in the upper left corner of the inside of the hard binding:

en route to the empire

During the time I subscribed to Playboy, the signature was occasionally seen in its pages, so there’s no doubt about its former owner.

The Candle in the Cabin by Vachel Lindsay

I showed the book to my friend Kevin Panting whose son Sean is writing a term paper about Vachel. The background words on paper are mine: song lyrics I’ve written and slated to be shared at Gallery II during First Friday in downtown Springfield November 5 from 5 — 8. Kevin took the pictures you see here with his telephone (It’s a brave, new world.) and e’d them to me later.

The book is interesting to me because years after I performed with the Vachel Lindsay Repertory Group and purchased the book, I discovered the home of one of the first poems I read in performances with the group. “Rising Wolf” is the name of a mountain in the park, and the poem describes his anxiety in desiring to climb that mountain to its summit and conquer it. Most of the poems deal with mountains with Indian-names (translated into English of course) and Lindsay’s obsession with his idea that he had Native American ancestors in his genes, not factually true, but still catalyst for many of his later poems.

Also present is one of two poems he wrote about aviators. “Pathfinder of the Air” was dedicated to Lowell H. Smith, a U.S. Army Air Service pilot who led the first flight (with many stops for fuel and rest) around the world, accomplished by what began as a group of four Douglas DWCs in 1924.

Except for the dedication to his new wife, there is no prose preamble that describes the circumstance in which the poems were created. As important as the poems to the author are the many drawings he created for the book. The “Note by the Poet and Artist” describes only the art. The book is sub-titled “A Weaving Together of Script and Singing.” He used variations on the letters of the alphabet to create the drawings, all focusing on nature.

If you are willing to make the leap of faith and support the author’s unique perspective as he viewed the world, the book works. Unfortunately many of the American public who bought his earlier books and loved his earlier poems (“Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” “The Chinese Nightingale,” “The Congo”) did not relate to Vachel’s mystic whimsy and almost child-like wonder toward his special world. Happily, one man who at least “BOUGHT into it” was future Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Since we know that “Hef” attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, it’s reasonable to believe he might have purchased the book at a used book store in “Chambana,” somehow parted company with the book while he was still in that area — though since his empire was based for decades in Chicago, he may well have separated from it when he was older. I can’t consider Hefner purchased it new since he graduated U of I in the late 40s or early 50s and launched his famous magazine in 1953. The likelihood of The Candle In the Cabin being purchased at a new-book store is extremely unlikely. The nature of the penmanship evident in his signature suggest it was a young man who owned the book.

I hope Hugh Hefner read more of Vachel Lindsay than the book he discarded. He would have found Vachel’s early work much more engaging to everyday people which, of course, Hugh Hefner was when he most likely owned the book. I have found gold a plenty in reading the words of both significant citizens of Illinois, and am delighted to possess “autographs” — intended and not — of both.

Live long . . . . .  and proper.

For more about Vachel Lindsay visit my Vachel Pages
http://www.aeroknow.com/arts/lindsaypoet.htm


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While reading Buff Carmichael’s list of Facebook friends, I discovered he’s connected to Stuart Laird who shared a terrific ride in a Navion with Jim Richardson and me up in Peoria in 1962. Stuart is connected via Fb to a terrific fellow I knew my sophomore year in Daniel Sprecklemeyer’s acappella choir named Ed Atterberry. Ed listed Mike Calog who listed Nancy Rose (Bob Gilbert, are you following this?). In less tha 24 hours I added all to my Fb friends list. The same last Sunday, as I thumbed through three-ring binders of song lyrics I’ve written over the years, choosing songs to sing at Gallery II November 5 during First Friday I re-discovered a song I had almost forgotten.

I already have it re-committed to memory and am practicing it with my 12-string Epiphone. (I’ll be singing other songs with my six-string nylon-string classical.) One reason why I will share it November 5 is that I played it for a visiting friend — Kevin Panting — this morning, he reaction confirmed what I sensed about the song and lyric. I’m sharing it here so Ed Atterberry — whom I remember was a tenor too — and anyone from Springfield High can share the lyric if not the song. I hope Ed, Stu, Mike, Nancy and YOU enjoy it too.

Acappella Choir
by Job Conger

(opening and chorus)
. . . I never sang a solo
. . . In acappella choir
. . . Though I wanted to
. . . In the very worst way.
. . . Had to get myself a guitar
. . . To share my joys and tribulations
. . . And as for now,
. . . I’m doing okay.

I was a lucky boy to know
Mr. Daniel Sprecklemeyer,
Acappella choir leader,
Brilliant with the harmonies.
He was more than just a teacher;
He was laughing inspiration
With a song in his heart
Full of sweet melodies.

(chorus)

There was magic in the music
Joyful sharing in the concerts
I was just a first tenor,
But I was part of the team.
Every challenge in the singing
Was a mountain that we conquered
And the view from the summit
Was the answer to a dream.

(chorus)

All the Robert Shaw arrangements,
The premiere of Lindsay’s “Congo,”
Mormon Tabernacle’s “Battle Hymn,”
Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,”
Spring’s  Mardi Gras production,
Paper snow, “Sleigh Ride” at Christmas
Janet Boosinger’s great parties,
Joys unknown before and since!

(chorus)

I was a kid without voice training.
Others took their private lessons,
But my voice was immature
Like Nouveau Beaujolais.
When I got my chance to solo,
My voice crumbled like a Saltine.
Still I loved that mighty chorus,
And I do to this day.

(Chorus)

===============
written July 8, 2003

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A fantastic new resident is committed to leasing upstairs starting Nov 1. It probably shouldn’t bother me that I lost the $100 bill she gave me on the front porch a few nights ago, but it does. I’ve been without a vehicle since the loaned pickup truck quit in the airport parking lot, but a friend is taking me to Election Judge Refresher School this afternoon, and I won’t mind walking home from downtown in late afternoon. Still, it’s about time to get that familiar Thursday at the end of the month phone call with the warning “Pay your overdue bill with CWLP by 4:00 today or we will disconnect your power Friday.”

My part-time employer has no money. So a lot is riding on this cusp between the end of the month and rent. A friend has arranged to fix the truck for less than my employer would have to pay, but we still have to get it here, and I’ll be with no wheels at least through the weekend.

In the meantime, I’m practicing guitar as I haven’t in decades. I’ll be playing and singing my songs (mostly) at Gallery II on the west side of Sixth Street between Monroe and Adams in beautiful downtown Springfield November 5 during the mid-town’s First Friday celebration when art galleries, merchants and restaurants stay open late, offering dinner specials, wine and soft drinks with fine finger food at the galleries and a chance for those unfamiliar with our central city to really enjoy it. Springfield is really a beautiful city.

I will also be reciting and singing some of my favorite Vachel Lindsay poetry starting at 2:45 at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth, just next door to the governor’s mansion; proper name Executive Mansion. The entire day presents talented presenters, starting at 10 am and continuing to 4:00. Cookies, punch and birthday cake will be served. Vachel was born November 10, 1879, and I have been a part of the birthday observance at the historic site since they started 10 years ago. It’s been great fun participating and enjoying what the other presenters share. I’ll be there all day.

It’s been since Sunday that I’ve worked at my AeroKnow Museum at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Cab fare is almost $12 each way, and I have $3 and change in my pocket. Even the Museum must wait while I ride this incredible circumstance.

It’s a nutty time.

After Saturday, I will intensify my resolve to find a real employer, but until then I have things to do.

Thanks for letting me unload. As George W. Bush might have said . . . That’s what blogs is for.

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

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I’m Cold Bill Put on a Sweater
by Job Conger

Life is a sad lament.
Where have the good years went?
Gross imperfections of our fellow humanity
A rising chorus of obscenic banality,
Pompous and flaming froths,
Modern-day Visigoths.
Their vicious diatribe sucks red to blue —
They are the umbraged without a clue.

Martyrs who will not die
See only storm-tossed sky.
Grim walking-wounded cavalcade of sad cynicals
Besmirch the values of tradition rabbinicals.
Seething mob-logic hate
Hooked with deceptive bait:
“Come sing our song or else we’ll turn on you!”
They are the umbraged without a clue.

(refrain)
Their mind-horizons span from ear to ear.
They pee into the stream that once was clear.
They’ll picket themselves if there’s a camera near.
Gee, don’t you love that brash tomfoolery
And throwing spit balls out of schoolery.

Gremlins whose vain delight
Turns fertile fields to blight
A boiling cauldron with a poisonous soup du jour
Served with a smile to every cackling provocateur.
Dark and disturbing scene.
Every day’s Halloween.
Hell hath no fury like the scorn they brew.
They are the umbraged without a clue.

written Saturday, April 18, 1998

Don’t sweat buying the book where it was published. Wit’s End is sold out and not likely to be reprinted. Instead, hire me to visit your house or meeting place and I will sing it to you along with other songs I’ve written, including one or two you may actually LIKE.

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Even though Kirk Farah hasn’t posted the podcast of my interview with him last Wednesday on WMAY, 970 on the AM dial,  I’m still a listener because I feel my brain gets a workout when he’s on the air, same as I do with Jim Leach who comes on before him . . . . and never so frequently as when there’s a membership fundraiser on WUIS, 91.9 on the FM dial. There’s a dustup in this town which hit the media community first with reports on local radio stations following last night’s Springfield City Council meeting, early today in Dave Bakke’s excellent column in the State Journal-Register, and most of the morning on the Leach and Farah shows. A local homeowner decorated his front yard this season the same way he has for 15 previous years. There are two differences this year. The mask used covering the face on a simulated person hanging in a simulated hangman’s noose was replaced this year because the old one was ruined when it melted in a hot storage room over the summer. The replacement mask, sold at stores that sell these things, is a simulated cadaver mask. That’s difference number one. Difference number 2 is more ominous. At last night’s City Council meeting a member of a minority group complained that the front yard display was racially offensive because it portrayed a lynching of a minorityperson. He wanted City Council to prevent the display from remaining there. The talk today has been hot, hot HOT.

Today’s poem was written in January 1996. I shared it at a poetry reading last night (Wednesday) and I’m sharing it here. Look for a second poem “I’m Cold Bill; Put on a Sweater” in this space Friday.

Keep Them  Squirming
by Job Conger

George and Melissa were a storybook couple
til Melissa heard a terrible tail
how Georgie’s cousin, long removed,
robbed a bank of her great-grandfather’s
and would up doing time in jail.
Now she thinks the Georgie owes her
for some craven, gross indignity and so he plays a loosing game
of repaying her for losses that will never make them equal
and will never lift the stultifying shame.

Keep them squirming.
Keep them squirming.
It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right
when myopia means a good fight.
Keep them squirming.

If you behave like the victime THEY will always owe you something
for the dignity THEY stole from sinless cogs.
So by choosing THEIR crimes carefully YOU always will have company:
a chorus of self-righteous underdogs.
If inflated sense of self is what it takes to make YOU happy
just go out and grab those demons by the ears
and blame the rest of YOUR humanity, entrapped in THEIR banality,
THEIR sense of truth and justice . . . and THEIR fears.

Keep them squirming!
Keep them SQUIRMING!
The paper tiger of your cause can be real,
inflated by the fervor of your pompous zeal.
Keep THEM squirming.

Compromise is unwise. Give an inch and THEY’LL get lazy.
Reason is unreasonable today.
Folks with steady moral compasses aren’t all Forrest Gumpasses
and wailing like a banshee will make some of them look YOUR way.
Common sense isn’t common. If it were, YOU’D lose YOUR ticket
to the train where polar differences thrive.
And the truth that’s in the middle wouldn’t be the long-lost riddle
in a world of crazed gorillas talking jive.

Keep THEM squirming. Keep THEM SQUIRMING
to atone for the life that YOU live.
It sure beats learning how to forgive.
Keep them squirming.

— written January 17, 1996
published in Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois
by Job Conger
available $10 across a table or $12 postpaid from the author

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I had been running hot and cold over whether or not to purchase an obituary for my brother Bill who died recently. When my mom died in 1989, I didn’t have to pay for the obituary I wrote for publication in the State Journal-Register. When my dad died in 1994, I wrote the obituary and it was published for no charge. When I learned there would be a beach-side service for him in Key West this Saturday, I contacted the Springfield daily and was told they could run limited information on the obit page for no charge. There could be no explanation of survivors or parents, no description of a where and when for funeral services or the funeral home making arrangements, no guest book at the SJ-R website and there could be no notice of other web sites that contained more information.

I wrestled with that until Monday when, moved by comments at the post preceding this, I decided to write an obituary for my brother who departed Springfield forever when I was in college in 1965 for military school and then into the US Army and came back only briefly for a visit. The obit I wrote was based on one his step-daughter Marjorie had written and distributed to family but added information and corrected some minor errors.

William Harrison Conger, a citizen of Springfield for the first 18 years of his life,  passed quietly at home in Key West, Florida on October 6 after a long liver ailment. Bill attended Springfield High School  before enlisting in the U.S. Army and eventually establishing and running a successful framing and art restoration business in Key West. Devoted most of his exemplary life to jazz, sailing, and his family he is survived by his wife Cheryl, step-daughters Marjorie Smith of Key Largo, Stephanie Aylor, Ocklawaha, FL, Kimberly Smith, Asheville, NC, daughters Liz Gener, Gainesville, FL, Carolyn Demefak of Brooklyn, NY, Robin Bracero, son Job C. Conger, V, both of Niagra Falls, NY, sister Dorothy Shymansky of Wheeling, WV and brother Job Clifton Conger, IV of Springfield, IL. Bill loved the ocean so much that family and friends in Key West will gather for a “celebration of life” at Anne’s Beach (MM 72) on Saturday, October 23, 2010 from noon until 6:00pm.Pack your beach bag, bring your stories and help Bill set sail.

Probably because it might be considered tawdry and tasteless and reeking of what Lucifer leaves behind in the potties of Hades, this “business” of charging for what used to be considered news, the State Journal-Register obituaries are administered today by their Classified Advertising Department. I am not lying to you, but I wish I were.  I had been told how much the obit would cost per line and that there would be an extra charge for a picture, but in my extreme naivete, I could not imagine paying more than $40 for that many words and the picture which Marjorie had posted to Facebook, making it public domain. That picture is included at the top of my previous post. I agreed to drive to the SJ-R offices once they had called me with the cost and pay in cash. The call came with sticker shock: $210 if we included the picture! It took me several seconds to think of something to say. Even without the picture, I was told the cost would be about $150. It was important for me to let readers know services would be held in Key West, and I was reminded that a free obit could not include that information. Ashley, the person who called with the cost, explained she could significantly shorten the obit to run for only $59, and to put the production behind me, I agreed to that. She would e me the abbreviated version, and if I approved, I could come down to the offices and pay for it so they could get it into Tuesday’s paper. So I did. Since the version I approved was an edited version of what I originally wrote, I consider that sharing what appeared in today’s paper is not plagiarism, and I hope the law concurs. Here are the words from today’s SJ-R . . . .

William Harrison Conger
KEY WEST, FL – William Harrison Conger, passed quietly at home in Key West, FL. on October 6 after a long liver ailment. Bill loved the ocean so much that family and friends in Key West will gather at Anne’s Beach on Saturday, October 23, from noon-6:00 pm.

What really burns my backside is no mention of his parents or survivors and no mention that Bill lived in Springfield! What will YOU — Honey and Quinine reader — think when you see copy like that about Sarah Louise Pemberton? (I made up the name.) Any connection to Springfield? Not from where I stand. My friend Darley Copp called me this morning asking if I ever knew the William Harrison Conger that was listed in todays obituaries, and she was surprised when I told her we grew up in the same house at 2016 S. Whittier, three blocks from where I live today.

The consequence of this kind of obituary goes beyond my ruffled sensivity. Obituaries are a service to genealogists. What clue is there in the newspaper that Bill was the son of Job Clifton Conger III? NOT a clue. Or that he had a sister? Nothing.  If I had owned $210, I would have paid that amount for what needed to be shared and should have been published. My finances and employment situation prevented such an outlay.

Bill made a lot of friends growing up in Springfield. Some people draw friends like honey draws friends. He was that kind of fellow. Once his wild youth was behind him, he settled into an establishment life as a community business person and devoted dad and step dad. His Florida family were closer to him than I ever was, thanks in part to how brothers born two years apart compete from the crib to the time when they move out of the parents’ homes into lives of their own. The kids and kids’ moms who knew him bear most of the burden of his death. There was no consideration of flying Bill back to Springfield for burial. Our mother’s grave is in Wheeling, West Virginia where my sister Dorothy (12 years older than me) lives. Dad . . . . well a few years ago, honoring my promise to him before he died, I scattered his cremated ashes into the Sangamon River. I doubt that Dorothy will be interred in Springfield. Despite my wishes that we could patch things up, I am nearly resigned to the sad reality of our permanent estrangement. Damn shame. We are the only family of that line.

The whole episode has made me acutely more aware of my own fragile mortality. As poet Walt Whitman might have said, I am “stout as a horse, well entretied, affectionate, haughty and electrical” in terms of physical health, and I’m just holding onto the tail of the tiger of acute employment distress until it bites me and consumes me. Life goes on.

I hope Bill’s family who read this blog post understand I am with them in heart. I understand my nephew Job, V, is Florida-bound in a few days, almost certainly to be present at the memorial on the 23rd. At least a “Job” will be there, and that will be just about enough.

Live long . . . . and proper.

 

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