Monday, September 29, 2008

Cocoon Buffoonery

getting ready to get busy around here. Sara is working on a new PowerPoint presentation for our keynote in Springfield MO this coming Thursday – were getting extra fancy embedding some video clips and all kindsa teacher pleasin’ good stuff – that’s my job figuring out the file formats and compressions and placing the clips onto the external HD for her leisurely plucking. After our stint in the show me state I head to Texas for week long residency in storm ravaged Houston then back home for a couple days – two stops in PA and then we’re off to Cairo Egypt. You can scope out my schedule over there on the right and see that October is a whirlwind month in this house.

Speaking of this house – we are playing host to a road poet who is currently catching some Zzzzs in our guest room – Eirik Ott aka Big Poppa E is our houseguest for a couple days as he crisses across the sates on another of his tours. He too is a working poet/performer singing for his supper across the US of A.

The recent passing of my grandmother prompted a flurry of stories as we sat reminiscing. Here’s a quick one.

Behind our house as we grew up was a large open field with a hill we sledded on in the winter. During the spring the field leading to the hill seemed endlessly vast and was crammed with goldenrod and milkweed, grasshoppers, katydids, garter snakes, toads as big as Cornish hens and other creepy crawlies. I attest my usually robust constitution to my early years of playing in the dirt, chewing on sassafras twigs, eating stolen peaches without washing them and digging many many holes from sunup until the bell rang at night for dinner.

Forts were very important to me my brother and our friends Tom and Jay thus we made many of them usually by digging into the sandy soil until the holes were over our heads- then we would lay branches across the opening followed by a layer of leaves then another tier of soil. We had an insatiable urge shared by most preteen boys to become subterranean. These forts were damp and smelled of the wet clay that lay below the layer of sand. Of course this obsession also meant purloined candles were required for illumination or even a coffee can three quarters full with gasoline lit and placed in a niche carved into the wall. No one had ever told us about asphyxiation and I’m certain this lack of knowledge and dumb luck is what kept us alive – like Wile E. Coyote blithely walking off a cliff and not falling until he looks down. Some other time I’ll tell you about the time we set Tom on fire and then tried to convince the nurse who lived in the neighborhood that his injuries were a rug burn.

What I was reminded of though, as we sat around telling stories after Granma’s service was the time my brother and I collected a bunch of cocoons from the field below the hill. Snapping off milkweed stems that the golf ball sized orbs were attached to. Hundreds of ‘em, we loaded our arms like we were gathering kindling and brought them all into our bedroom envisioning the day when we would wake up thousands of butterflies flittering around like some scene from Disney’s song of the south Zip a dee do dah day.

It was a couple days later that my mom showed up at St. Gabriel grade school to give us a ride home – this had never happened before we always took the bus so we were definitely entering a different dimension. It seems our cocoons had hatched – but instead of a glorious display of winged wonderfulness fluttering we had a room infested by what looked like the type of mold that grows on an old orange peel.

Except – this stuff was moving.

Seems the cocoons we had collected were of the praying mantis variety so literally millions of the little (each about the size of a grain of rice) buggers had emerged simultaneously while we were at school. I don’t remember how we got them all out of there, most likely with a shop vac but I do remember their teeny tiny little beady eyes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

what 36 years can do to a guy


Today my son and I will be relocating some live chickens. Hopefully this will be uneventful - but there is some potential for unforeseen catastrophe.
update: The chicken moving escapade was pretty anticlimatic - while the premise was I Love Lucy rerun worthy - we put a couple chickens in dog carriers, drove them 40 miles in the back of my Honda Elelment - then set them loose in my sister's chicken pen along with a couple dozen of her own fowl. No harrowing escapes in the auto - no fighting with new chicken pen mates - no chickens attached to anyone's face as they stumbled around a pasture - nothing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's

first of the fat flies of the fall have arrived. Lumbering insects, black and thick - buzzing as if they are powered by little diesel engines. Not the quick iridescent green bottle flies of midsummer those speed demons that you can’t get to even with a souvenir flyswatter you picked up in Nashville. These autumnal pests are so slow you can knock them out of the air with the back of your hand.

Suzie our borderline OCD Papillion watches the insects laconic meandering flight about my office, her head following along as if I were waving a piece of cheese in front of her in random figure eight patterns. It lands on the windowsill and stays there. It’s got nowhere to go I guess. Suzy loses interest and I forget about it.

It’s getting cool at night now down in the 50s. Good sleeping weather is what people will tell ya – even the meteorologist on the TV set – good sleeping weather tonight they say. I don’t ever remember them pointing out the bad sleeping weather nights. I do remember a guy I used to work with named Ron. Ron told me that when he was a kid – this would be back in the 1960s. Back then, when there was a weather alert a little letter W would be placed in the corner of the picture of television broadcasts. I remember these little warning symbols too.

Well Ron’s dad told him that the W stood for Werewolves. So Ron would sit in the recliner in his living room with his legs pulled up to his chest staring at the little glowing letter in the corner of the black and white picture waiting for the werewolf danger to pass. I guess that could qualify as a bad sleeping night.

“Well ladies and gentlemen, looks like we’ve got a cool and clear night with a slight breeze coming in off of the lake – would be a perfect night for sleeping if it weren’t for the werewolves…. We’ll keep ya posted.”

Actually the weather has been terrific lately – still warm but minus the summer’s humidity. I’ve been getting out biking and running at a more leisurely pace since the racing season is over for me and the cool breezes combined with bright sunshine are a welcome change. I do want to throw in a plug for a really cool website that I use a whole lot.

This is a great place to map out a run or bike ride – it even will give you elevation (most of the time – sometime that portion goes down.) I’m headed to Houston in a week or so for a residency. I’ll be using this site to map out where I am going to run.

How’s that?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Anna Salinger

was my grandmother and a pretty good cook. Back in the day she made everything from scratch. That’s one of my earliest memories of her. She’s wearing an apron, flour all over the kitchen counter rolling out the dough then cranking it through a machine that sliced it into the long skinny noodles homemade for her soup. I was very impressed that nobody yelled at her over the mess she was making. This let me know she was the boss. She’d drop these into her pot of homemade beef broth, onions, potatoes, carrots always sliced the long way, but more than anything it was those homemade egg noodles, they were what made grandma’s soup the best. Of course this didn’t stop my grandfather from dumping a half bottle of ketchup into his bowl, but the rest of us knew better.

I remember staying over at grandma’s house. Sleeping in the guest room with the bumpy crocheted bedspread, streetlight shining through the window level with the foot of the bed and Collinwood yard train sounds coming in the other one.

I broke all the thermometers in her house. One time when I was staying over, I was probably around ten or eleven years old, I gathered then all up. My grandparents had quite a few thermometers too, between the one hanging outside the kitchen window and the ones grandma used for cooking and the couple I got from the medicine cabinet. I took them all and put them in the freezer then I took them and set them on the grill of the hot air vent then back into the freezer and heated again until they were all rendered useless. So my parents come to pick me up and see this pile of thermometers sitting on the counter. My Grandmother tells them what happened, and then she took my side. He was just doing an experiment, she said. He’s a scientist.

Every one of us grandkids and great-grandkids could tell a half dozen stories like this. Grandma always took your side. No matter what you did, the way you cut or colored your hair, the good and bad choices we made in life or our friends – she may not have approved of some of our decisions, but she never turned her back on us. Anna Salinger was as stubborn woman and we benefited because of this. We were always welcome at her table.

I know I speak for everyone who knew her when I say, “We’re all going to miss Grandma’s cooking.”

Anna Frances Salinger
Feb 18, 1920 - Sept 14, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Bobby Fischer

We sit listening to a
Tree frog the size of a human heart
Mew like a lost cat
Affixed to the dark mahogany porch post
Outside your wooden slatted window
Insects the size of candy bars
Orbit around a flickering yellow light bulb
Casting wayang puppet shadows
On the curtains
And you tell me the last time you were in Bali
You ran into Bobby Fischer
And I ask, Bobby Fischer the chess player?
And you say yeah
You saw him in a jazz club in Ubud
Dancing to Be Bop from a keyboard, sax and drum trio
Of Balinese hep cats
Skin the burnt umber color of wet clay
Hair slicked back, sunglasses
A condensation of sweat beading their foreheads
Smiling with teeth as even as the horizon
And Bobby Fischer is gyrating
Seemingly more out of time than could be attributed to chance
And that’s the beauty of it – you say
You say he wasn’t dancing to the beat of a different drummer
He was dancing to the beat of this drummer
Only in the future
Because that’s what chess masters do
Thinking at least three moves ahead
Bobby Fischer danced on another plane
With gusto
Hurling his arms as if he were trying to dislodge his hands
High stepping in an oscillating imaginary circle
As if marching in mud
To anyone else on the floor
Smiling as if he were about to pass out
Bobby Fischer
A man ahead of our time
Not caring if we ever catch up

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Soylent Green is PEOPLE!"


of the perks of a whole bunch of travel for work is frequent flier miles. This past week Sara went down to hang out with her grandkids. I couldn’t leave with her on Tuesday because I had a meeting in town here on Wednesday afternoon with the school I’ve been working with the last three years. But – due to the accumulation of miles I have I was able to get a flight to Washington early Thursday morning (6am!) and spent the rest of the weekend down there.

The rest of the folks on the plane were no doubt business oriented and I thoroughly enjoyed sauntering aboard with the so-called “elite” passengers carrying virtually no luggage, wearing shorts, flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt with a bicycling magazine in my back pocket. I imagined how jealous the road warriors were of my combination of casual garb and preferred flierness – I envisioned them trying to guess what this guy was up to headed to the nation’s capital dressed like a beach bum – software mogul, lobbyist for a video game company, gonzo journalist? In actuality – chances are I didn’t even register on the radar of the guy across from me four quick calls telling the somebody on the other end of his cell conversations that he still had one loge package for the Redskins game left to give away to the top salesman for the month.

The kids down in ‘ginia (what we call Virginia in our household since it was the preferred pronunciation of the oldest grandson when he was four – someday soon I am going to do a post on micro colloquialisms) are now of the throw them in the car and take them to the next activity ages. Soccer, flag football, tee ball, coach pitched baseball, preschool, third grade, camp whatever – just get them in the minivan and haul ass to something or other maybe stopping for chicken nuggets on the way.

There are few beings on god’s gray earth as capricious as a five year old boy. Danny had first decided he did not want to go and watch his older brother’s football practice. In keeping with the political season and our locale so near the seat of our government he switched this position fifteen minutes later so I volunteered to drive him to the field to watch.

I buckle him into the back seat and we start off on our three mile trek to Franklin Field. I’ve been to this park on several occasions for previous football practices and other activities so I knew my way. Danny, though, was convinced that I needed directions. Almost as soon as we pulled out of the drive he started shouting for me to turn.

“Turn, Turn, Turn!” he’s screaming from the back seat as we pass a cross road.

“No he’s not practicing there Danny – we’re going to the other park,” I reply.

You’re going the wrong way – we’re NEVER going to get there!”

He‘s really starting to wind up now.

He watches another street go by and starts wailing “NOOOOOOOOOOOO” like Charlton Heston coming across Lady Liberty on the beach in Planet of the Apes. I’m trying to calm him down now

“Danny, I know where we’re going relax”

“No you don’t we’re never going to get there”

Now he’s holding his head like he has bugs crawling around the inside of his skull, Nooooooooo, Nooooooo, Nooooo, we’re going to get lost.”

We’re coming up to another street; we’re about two miles from the park now

“TURN, TURN, TURN, TURN, TURN” he’s pleading like a thumb screw victim of the Spanish Inquisition.


“Danny, do you want to drive?”

“NOOOOOOO, I can’t, I’m not old enough - I DON'T KNOW HOWWWWWWWWW”
And then he wails with all the desperation that has ever been condensed into a forty pound body. Why oh why in Sweet Jesus’ name is this guy driving the car torturing him?


Now he’s clutching his head again rocking side to side,


This whole trip is taking maybe four and a half minutes, we pass about six streets on the way and each one elicits the same Broadway death scene.

Finally we make the left into the park and I announce, “See Danny, we’re here.”

If looks could kill – he gives me the stink eye big time. I know he’s certain that I tricked him somehow. He begrudgingly lets me grab his hand to walk him across the drive to the field where his brother is practicing and I know he’s certain that I found the place through sheer dumb luck.

I’m going to remember this one for awhile – let’s hear it for frequent flier miles.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Clam Bam Thank You M'am, thank you very much

by traditional time keeping summer is over today- three quarters through what has been a pretty rotten year. Devastating family tragedies, crummy economy, a political season that is degenerating into inanity again and adding insult to injury Gustav is bearing down on the gulf coast… Interspersed of course, were some pretty cool trips and some personal achievements – but I’m not going to be too sad when 2008 finally flips the deadbolt.

On a brighter side we are entering the months with the letter R in them which means clambakes. I love clambakes and we haven’t had one for years – so I think ‘08 is going to bring a clambake our way. Along with the arrival of mollusk merrymaking (I think there should be clambake carols – I’m dreaming of a white chowder…) school is starting up again.

Some have already gone back to class the rest will be starting this week and that means my season begins again. I’ll be doing another extended stint at the same inner city grade school I’ve been at for a third year. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve come to know the teachers there pretty well and we work around my varying travel schedule and their classroom goals pretty seamlessly. We have a new principal with new principles who is young and energetic, really sees the positives of integrating an arts program with core curriculum. Rumor has it he has already butted heads with the administration over re-painting some hallways on his own – sounds good to me. Here’s hoping for a fun and productive year. Our big trip this year will be to Cairo where we will be teaching for a week then taking a cruise down the Nile.

I’m off to Houston in a couple weeks for a week long residency; Gustav should be long gone by then. It’s been a whole summer since I taught for any extended time in a classroom and I am looking forward to getting back into the mix. It’ll be like that first mile of a long run – a couple kinks to work out, a few aches that’ll go away and then cruise control as everything begins to fall familiarly into place (I hope.)

So I guess it’s sort of like New Year’s in our household – time to start again.