Friday, July 29, 2005

The Illinoisemakers

I know, I know. Two posts about Sufjan Stevens in the same month is a bit much. I just needed to say a few words about the show last night at the Lo-Fi Cafe. For starters, that place is sweltering! It's a wonder that the performers didn't melt right off the stage. Indeed, there were many pit rings. To anyone I was standing next to: I apologize for the B.O.

I throughly enjoyed the performance. The sound wasn't that great but I'm not sure if it was due to the acoustics, the sauna, or the musicians themselves. The band wasn't terribly tight either, but they made up for it with a terrific display of musicality. He opened with "The 50 States" and it was the first time I've heard the song in its entirety. Beautiful. It should become new standard 5th grade curriculum, in place of that cheesy song the young ones learn nowadays to memorize the states. Sufjan comes off as a bit shy. He didn't remember all the words to his songs, and had lots of notes up there. I don't blame him at all.

Highlights: The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades..., The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders..., The Man of Metropolis..., Jacksonville, Come on! Feel the Illinoise!..., and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (I saw a tear stream down Sufjan's cheek during this one).

How many concerts have you been to where the performers dress in cheerleading outfits, pump pom poms, and entact original cheers dedicated to vague midwestern towns? None, you say? I hadn't either. It was strange, but hey, I'm sure the people of Peoria deserve a Ra!-Ra!-Ra! as much as any college basketball team.

After the show I spoke to Sufjan breifly about the album, the creative process, Saul Bellow, Denison Witmer, and the press. He was nice.

"The 50 States"

"John Wayne Gacy, Jr."

Sufjan leads the Illinoisemakers in a cheer

Kirk, Me, Sufjan

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Heart of Darkness

My friend Kirk recently spoke to me about a book he's been reading, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I hadn't picked up that book since high-school and, quite frankly, wasn't ready for it back then. I remember being mezmerized by its language, but didn't put into it what I needed in order to extract any profound lesson. I've kept a copy of it on my shelf for years, so I reread it yesterday, and enjoyed it very much this time.

The main character, Marlow journeys into the jungle along the African Congo to meet an infamous ivory hunter named Kurtz who is stationed in a remote trading post. This journey becomes a metaphor for his own exploration into the heart of his soul. Along the way he becomes infatuated with meeting Kurtz. This man is magnetic, a poet, a leader, a revolutionary of the mind! Yet this man has been seduced by ideals heavier and darker than himself. He succumbed to the isolation of the jungle, to ultimate greed, to power, to self agrandizement. In his journey Marlow is tempted by those same things, and staring within himself was threatened to be overcome by those same evils. He saw in Kurtz what he could have become. He saw in Kurtz the common struggle of humanity distilled in its purest form. The dark side. This book seemed to say that every soul casts a dark shadow. It romanticizes the idea (to an extent) that becoming aquainted with that shadow will result in a degree of enlightenment. At the very least you understand the breadth of the human condition a little bit more.

The book leads you to believe, however, that there is a basic evil to human nature. I may be interpreting it wrong, but it almost seemed like it was saying human nature, in and of itself, is mainly dark. "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam...(Mosiah 3:19)." But that comes with a qualification. J.R. Holland stated "These references to 'natural' evil emphatically do not mean that men and women are 'inherently' evil. There is a crucial difference....It is as if men and women are given, as part of their next step in development along the path to godhood, raw physical and spiritual ingredients--'natural' resources if you will. Those resources are not to run rampant but are to be harnessed and focused so that their potential (as is sometimes done with a 'natural' river or a 'natural' waterfall) can be channeled and thereby made even more productive and beneficial."

So we aren't inherently dark, but can become so if we let the natural portion of our souls fully govern us. This is what did Kurtz in, and why he acts as a mirror into the human phsyche: Watch yourselves so as to not look "The Horror!" in the face! Perhaps one of the most affecting quotes for me was not by Conrad himself, but was a note on the margins of the last page in the handwriting of Nicki Kampenhaut, my sister-in-law. It says "Those who give themselves over to materialism have no wings for spiritual exploration, and they too lose the tide."

Here's to not losing the tide.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Drive Through Marysville

You sat like a weak-kneed breeze
with eyes full of decision and
a spine oozing with stregnth
Two miles from the old town
we passed the spectre walls
where you and now dead siblings
came of age
The wood is flaking, blurred, and colorless
It was once a rainbow, you thought,
A house surrounded by genteel cement arms
so rare during the Depression
Now it knows the meaning of that era
You blinked at the ghosted walls
and again
Seeming to long after twilight

We pass the plot where lies
her father's century old corpse and
she wonders if it isn't unfortunate that
long-life runs in her family

The wrinkles cutting her face
twisted out illegible words
and in an instant she became, in my mind,
that precious cedar from my childhood
which found comfort in a desolate home
amid a hillside bed of crimson lava rock
What vegetation had any business growing there!
Yet life came fruiting from its boughs and
grace brooding in its roots

Further down the road we
descended into the belly of Warm River
It sang her to sleep as the
new generation played on its cold, shallow banks

For my dear Grandma Blake

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Herd Poisoning

On Saturday night Christy and I went to the Pioneer Days Rodeo which is held annually in St. Anthony, Idaho. The grandstands were packed, overflowing with cowmen and cowwomen a half-hour before it was scheduled to start. A light breeze carried the smell of maneur, horsehair, and hamburgers. Sitting in front of us was a scruffy man wearing a black T-shirt, the back of which held the image of a silicon enhanced blonde bombshell wearing nothing but a black bikini, a cowboyhat, and chaps. Yup. I was home.

This was Christy's first rodeo, and I was curious how she would react. She loves country music, but I couldn't be sure she would love an old-fashioned country pasttime. All questiones were answered the first moment the gate was realeased and a wild bucking bronco broke loose into the arena. All rows around us could hear her gleeful squeals. She discovered one of the highest forms of entertainment: Man vs. Beast. The evening was electric. She was entranced, eyes fixed on the competitors and the stock.

Christy had never seen any of the various categories play out: Saddle Bronc, Barrell Racing, Team Roping, Steer Wrestling. I did my best to explain my elementary understanding of how each one worked and is scored and judged.

When the Calf Roping portion arrived the first cowboy chased the calf down nearly in front of where we were seated. He lassoed the neck of the calf, whiplashing its body to a screeching halt. He then dismounted, the horse still on the run, grabbed the calf, lifted it off the ground, then slammed it back down on its side. He then snatched up three of the legs and quickly tied them together, leaving the stunned animal laying there with its hooves in the air. Christy exclaimed audibly "Oooh. That poor little calf! What are they doing to it?" I hurried and put my arm around her and tried to shush her inquiries for fear of being surrounded by a mob of hicks and hayseeds who would no doubt pull our pants down and brand our bottoms for even symathizing with a lowly calf. Christy made no efforts to speak softer, however, and vocalized again that she didn't understand the point.

Honestly, I couldn't either. In retrospect, I just didn't want to draw attention. Strangely, I found myself really wanting to blend in with these folks, with the guy beside me breathing expletives and telling jokes about Utah, and the guy in front of me with the naked cowgirl on his shirt. Luckily, I was saved by a spectator behind us who piped in and explained the history behind the event, and why it was performed the way it was. This seemed to resolve Christy's concerns, but for a moment there I was taken with a short case of herd poisoning.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Foreign Man

You want to hear a scenario that I just don't see play out too often? Here goes:

Balding man of average height gets out of bed, goes to the bathroom, gets on scale. 241 lbs. Not bad, he thinks. Man is hungry so he goes to the kitchen. Man eats whopping breakfast of eggs, pancakes, maple syrup, and butter, eats till he is full. Man goes back to his room and looks in mirror, admires his wonderfully even tan. Not bad, he thinks. Man looks outside, not a cloud in the sky. Man slips into a delightfully tight speedo, applies leftover breakfast butter to his skin. Man heads to his favorite pier to relax, contemplates the earth and the beauty of life. Not bad, he thinks.

I love Mexico. Took this photo in Puerto Vallarta, Feb '03

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Sherrie Amour

I grew up in a home where we (the children) addressed our parents as "Mom and Dad." I know in other parts of our nation you might hear a similar variation, the female parent coming first, followed by the male: "Ma and Pa," "Mama and Papa," "Mommy and Daddy," and the formal "Mother and Father." Different strokes for different folks, right?

Last night Christy and I met a couple who have a little four year old boy--cute kid, very talkative, and rambunctious. He was standing on the edge of the hot tub, ready to jump in and wanted his parents to watch so he yelled to them, "Daddy and Sherrie, watch!" It kind of caught me off guard and I tried not to laugh, because it sounded so foreign to me. He has somehow gotten into the habit of calling his mom by her first name. Throughout the night he always referred to his father as "Daddy," but anytime he talked to his mom it was by her first name, "Sherrie."

I decided that I hope my children call me by some form of "Dad." Otherwise its going to be "Les, I want some candy," "I don't want to, Les" "Les, let me stay up." I would start to feel like my wife had given birth to a Hilton, only I wouldn't have the ability to sooth my sorrows by taking a swim in my money bin. Though, now that I think about it, it would be kind of fun to go to church and hear, "I'd like to bear my testimony and I love my Mom and Les."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Virgin and the Dynamo

When Henry Adams went to the Paris Exhibition in 1900 he was so floored by the emerging force of the dynamo that he knew he was standing on a precipice that would define America in the new century, and that might eventually be it's downfall. He likened the power of this new modern technology to the same power that the Virgin wielded throughout the preceding centuries, a force that had inspired the crusades, colonization, and the greatest art and architecture of the age.

America has, in many senses, become the stage for the technological revolution. Just as science has replaced religion for many people in decades past, technology has come to do the same. Bow to the computer chip! Wireless Worship! Answer only to your cell phone!

How many people do you know between ages 18-65 that don't have a cell phone? My Dad doesn't, and he's proud of it. He hasn't the remotest interest in even learning how to use one, which is fine, because there aren't many instances in which he would need one. And granted, yesterday it would have been nice as he was standing in the airport for 2 hours waiting for a plane that wouldn't arrive for another five, and all the while a lonely ringing cell phone gathered dust in his car (my mother loaned it to him). Part of me wants to chuckle and say, Let's not be foolish! Get with the times! Step into the digital world! But another part of me says, How dependent am I on the conveniences of modern technology? Is this healthy? Am I losing touch with a greater power and a greater ability the more I lean on silicon and plastic to get me through the day? Maybe I need to be careful, or I'll let a universe of iPods, hand helds, and lap tops snatch me up in some thousand gigabyte death grip.

But seriously though Dad, get a cell phone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If I Only Had A Beard

You can't always get what you want? Curse you Mick Jagger!

In my case I've always wanted to grow facial hair. I mean ALWAYS. Call me crazy, but there is just something magnetic about a bearded man. Unfortunately my face is as smooth as a watermelon. Most of the influential men to ever walk the Earth have had some form of facial hair: Martin Luther King Jr., Confucious, Ghandi, Socrates, Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Brigham Young, and, of course Jesus Christ.

I was very pleased to find out there is actually a contest devoted to the growers of powerful facial hair. It only seems fitting right? If we can have contests for spelling words, eating hot dogs, and standing still for the longest amount of time, surely there is a place for the extremely hairy. This contest is called the World Beard and Moustache Championships, and is being held this year in Berlin, Germany. There are many categories: Natural Beard, Handlebar Moustache, English Moustache, Sideburns, etc. But you've got to hand it to anyone who enters a facial hair competition under the "freestyle" category. I thought I would post some photos of past notables.

This one I call "My Head Is A Beard" because of the seamless segway from facial hair to normal hair.

I call this one the "Arachnabeardia" due to its many graceful legs.

I call this one "Mullet Face" for obvious reasons.

I call this one the "Harley Davidstache" because I could sit on his chest and drive his face like a chopper.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Confidence is such a fascinating personality trait. It's a positive attribute for sure. How many times have you seen a gorgeous woman completely enamored by some ho-hum looking joe? At first glance the guy looks like your grandma's mailman, but because he is confident he's got the world on a string. Men like confident women too, women who embrace their bodies, who don't pretend for the sake of impression, women grounded in self-reality.

But as with perfume, chocolate milk, and hair bands, you can have too much of a good thing. The overconfident are some of the most frustrating people to be around. I couldn't help but think about this today as I was driving to work. I was passed by a bright orange Ford Mustang convertible. Its personalized liscence plate read "LTLBRAT" and the vanity cover said "Why can't I be rich instead of beautiful?"

I'm always intrigued by vanity plates because they really seem to be the 9 characters-or-less definition of ourselves. How do you sum yourself up and proclaim it to the world? If you're a democrat, "IH8DUBYA." If you're a gun fanatic, "TRGRHAPY." If you're homosexual, "R U GAY 2." Its just funny. I can't really think of anything that would really get to the heart of me. Maybe "2SKNY2BTRU" but that would be too long. Perhaps "SMALLBUM" but I don't know if that really captures the essence of me. Plus that could change anytime soon, and I'd be stuck in line at the DMV trying to explain why they need to issue me a new one that says "JNK-IN-TRNK" and I don't know if I'm confident enough for that sort of thing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

To Be Alone

Not long ago a good friend of mine recommended that I read Chuck Palahniuk's Stranger than Fiction. He was kind enough to photocopy some exerpts from it (I don't think Chuck would mind) for me, just to give a taste. I found the book's introduction particularly insightful. It addresses the lonely business of writing. Stories are about people, and you have to be around people in order to develope these stories, along with their tangible characters. Yet writing is largely an individual's task, and reading an individual experience. He likens this to an overall human impulse to be alone, that perhaps just as badly as many of us want and need to connect with other people we also want and need physical apartment, a place to be alone with our thoughts.

I think quite a few people are able to maintiain this balance in their lives, but there are many who gravitate to the extremes: The girl who can't be alone, who cannot drive to the corner market without convincing at least one friend to go with her. Or the guy who always refuses a social invite, and prefers to wander the streets solo, with his Walkman on ("Walkman" seems like such an old term, what would it be now, iPod?).

Just yesterday I found myself playing a round of golf all by my lonesome, and completely content that I was able to avoid being paired with anyone. I could attribute that to the fact that my game is embarressing. It's true that I don't wan't my slice on public display, but I think that just as much there was something utterly appealing about spending the afternoon ALL BY MYSELF. I can turn off my cell, intentionally not tell anyone where I am, and just enjoy that feeling you get in your stomach when no one is around. This is good. This is a time for self-awareness. This is a time for evaluation. This is a time for reconcilliation.

Then later, I turn back to the world. I turn my cell on, and write emails to friends, and kiss my wife, and become a better husband, a better co-worker, and hopefully a better human being. I tip the scales the other way for a while, because that is healthy living. And I can only take the humiliation of my golf swing for so long.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

When the Lights Go Out

The other night, as 9:00 rolled around, Christy and I were sitting on the couch watching the tail end of a Friends rerun. I was feeling pretty good because I had just stuffed my face with five of the most delicious chicken kabobs ever grilled on planet Earth (this is not an overstatement, you simply must come to our home and try these). All of a sudden the T.V. blanked out (gasp!) and the lights dimmed to a dark glow. It appears that some juice was coming through, but not enough to run any electronics or appliances. I checked the breaker, and nothing had tripped. The house was getting pretty dark and Christy and I found ourselves sitting there with nothing to do.

We finally decided to go on a little stroll around the townhomes in our neighborhood. When we walked out the door LO AND BEHOLD the sidewalks were bustling with people. Many were wandering out of their homes like pillbugs from a fumigation tent (only not dying, living!). We made our way to a small circle of people and in the course of five minutes met three neighbors that we had never really spoken to before. People were telling jokes, everyone was laughing, and offering helping hands. Our sleepy little street had come alive.

I couldn't help but think: Does it really have to come to this? Are we all just going to sequester ourselves away like pious nuns? Are we going to snooze through a communal life like a doped up grizzly in hibernation? This is ridiculous! I should know who my next door neighbor is for heaven sakes! Our community really looked different, a little stunned maybe, like the prisoner whose cell door swings open unexpectedly, and is so suprised he can't quite register what to do. Although we worried a bit that the food in the refridgerator would go bad, it was fun, and we passed some pleasant time with the neighbors. We lived, as amazing as it sounds, without electricity for nearly two hours.

When it came back on I couldn't wait to see what Conan was up to.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Tale of Fudgie

Once upon a time the doorbell rang. When I opened the door there stood a boy who wore a smile on his face and carried a listless, vacant look in his eyes. Yes? I inquired. In broken English the boy asked if he could mow my lawn. No, I just mowed it yesterday, I said. "Can give me money?" he asked. I don't even know your name, I said. I asked him his name. He said it was Fudgie. Fudgie? I thought. As in fudge? Fudgie had beautiful dark skin, the same hue as the brownies my mother used to make at Christmas time. How old are you? I asked. He was eleven. I was surprised because he was almost as tall as I was. What do you like to do? I asked. He enjoyed playing soccer and spending time with his cousins. He painstakingly explained that he had immigrated from Africa recently. Do you go to school? I asked. Fudgie responded that he didn't like school. He was teased, bullied, and didn't understand his teacher. I put my hand on Fudgie's shoulder and expressed my sympathies. Fudgie put his head down and without saying a word, tried to scoot past me into my apartment. Where are you going Fudgie? I asked as I blocked his way. "In," he said. No, you can't go inside, I said. "Why?" he said. Because I didn't invite you in, I said. "Will you invite me in?" he asked. Not right now, because I don't know you very well, I said. Then Fudgie expressed that he wanted to see a movie, but didn't have any money. I gave him two dollars and told him to go see one of the cheap movies that played down the street. He thanked me and hurried away.

A few weeks later I was out trimming some of my neighbor's bushes. Fudgie walked up to me and asked if he could help. Certainly! I said. We cut the bushes together, working in the hot sun, side by side. Fudgie had good humor. I ascertained through our conversation that perhaps Fudgie had a learning disability. This wasn't apparent in our first conversation, due to the language barrier, but I was almost sure of it now. I am familiar with learning disabilities. Fudgie told me that it was hard at home. He told me that his father was mean to him. He said that his friends were mean to him too. I told him that if they were mean to him then they weren't really his friends. We had a good talk. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that I liked him. He smiled. We walked home and I paid him some money for helping me.

A few weeks later my wife Christy and I had just come home from church. The doorbell rang. When we opened the door we saw Fudgie, and what looked to be a whole slough of smaller Fudgies. "They are my cousins!" he said. They spoke English well. They were excited to be visiting Fudgie for the day and said he wanted to introduce them to me. We all laughed. They said they wanted some money to go buy some pennie candies. I told them that they needed to earn the money by helping us do something. Christy said they could help pick up the fallen pears from our gigantic green pear tree. They were marvelous help. Because there were so many of us it went quickly. When all of the pears were picked up I paid the young workers. They were very jubilant, and stooped to the pavement carefully divying out their earnings. There would be plenty for all to have some candy.

A week later I moved away. I hope Fudgie is okay. I hope he continues to find employment. I hope that English is coming easier. I hope that he has found some new friends.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lemonade Stands

Lemonade Stands. I ran one once. I may as well have taken a fishing pole to the Sahara.

Everyone has tried one. You actually probably made a few dollars off of yours though. Me? No way. I grew up in rural Idaho country. I could stand on my rooftop and actually only see one other house, and my cousins lived there. You've heard of this place, it goes by many names: the Boonies, BFE, the Middle-of-Nowhere. We lived at the end of a mile long paved road that turned to a gravel when it passed our house, and led straight to the mountains. There weren't any other houses past ours. We were the last.

So when, as young entrepreneurs, my siblings and I decided to set up a lemonade stand to take advantage of all the thru traffic, I can only imagine now what my mother must have been thinking. We gathered it all: flashy lemonade sign, folding table, chairs, cups, change, pitchers, a ledger, pencil, and the tasty beverage itself--a just-right mix of powder, water, and sugar. Once set up we waited a 1/2 hour and no cars came by. We convinced mom that she was parched enough to come out and buy a glass. An hour later one of us ran to our cousin's house and lo and behold our aunt just happened to be thirsty. We sold her two cups. The day wore on, the heat and wind scortching us. We started consuming our own inventory, so as to maintain our strength. Late that afternoon a man in a potato truck came driving by and was kind enough to stop and purchase a cup. I think, though that the lemonade was luke warm by this time. Hour after dragging hour we began to see our situation for what it really was--a geographical curse. We realized that we might actually have to earn our money by doing extra chores, instead of having it come to us easy, like our friends in town.

My wife never fails to stop at one of these lemonade stands. I was baffled at first. We would be driving along and she would see one in her periferals two blocks away. Invariably we turn around, drive over, swill a few cups of sugary water, leave a healthy tip, and move on. My gut reaction was to say, "You kids have it easy! Why, back in my day..." But why spoil their fun? They think money is easy beans now, but they'll have to earn it someday.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Gun Fever

The sport of highpower rifle shooting, like other fringe sports, attracts a large number of strange competitors. Whether in New York, California, North Dakota, or Texas you'll run into them. Though most are streaked with varying degrees of oddity, most that I have met have been bitten by the same genus of bug: a full-heart, unabashed, overflowing, profess-it-to-the-world love of guns. It's like a sickness infecting the participants, a rare brain fever whose symptoms can be treated, but for which there is no real cure. A sufferer will get the shakes, develope a pit in the stomach, and will be unable to focus or concentrate. The only real way to momentarily curb the symptoms is to purchase a firearm. This will break the fever for a time (months? weeks? days?) and bring relief to the shooter.

Lucky for these sufferers the United States Government has provided one of many means whereby these gun lovers can satiate themselves. In 1916 the U.S. Congress created the CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program). Its purpose is mainly to promote the safe use of firearms, to educate the public, and assist youth that are interested in marksmanship who may, in the future, be interested in military service. One of the services provided by the CMP is the sale of M1 Garand Service Rifles. These are the genuine article. Actual rifles that were made by the U.S. Governement for combat and were either used during WWII, the Korean War, and sometimes in early Vietnam.

Collectors of the M1 can pick one up and tell you who manufactured it, what type of wood the stock is made of, what the date was, condition of its various parts, and where it has been the last 50 years. I met a fellow this weekend who, in the course of the last few years, has ordered seven of these rifles from the CMP. When he was shown, by a fellow shooter, the one that had just arrived in his own mailbox, this guy started to itch, his eyes started to wander, and soon the fever had set in. I won't be suprised when he shows up in two months with number eight. The CMP, after all, only has a limited supply of these (though we're not sure how many), and they will all be gone someday (though we don't know when). Above all, you never know when it comes right down to it, whether those seven M1's you have in the safe are really enough.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Theory of Evolution

So, I've got this theory that I use to justify my stupidity: The human brain hasn't evolved enough to house both creativity, and sensibility. I'm absent-minded, not by choice, but by virtue of the fact that I'm a creative type.

I'm sure someone else invented this theory millenia ago. I can see it now, a very creative caveman goes to the forest to hunt mammoth, because his wife needs a new fur coat, and the offspring are sick of eating bugs and moss. But he comes across a pretty cave, gets sidetracked, goes inside, and paints a crayola masterpiece on the wall. Something grandiose. Something real. Something that will stand the test of time: Stick figures holding smaller pointy sticks, standing in front of a stick beast that will become his children's dinner, and his wife's evening gown. He stands back, looks at it, is very excited to show it off to his friends, who will no doubt think it's a work of fine art as well. But when he steps out of his cave he can't remember the way he came. He gets lost. He gets stepped on by a mammoth. He dies.

This makes me feel just fine. The fact that I've locked the keys in my car twice in one week seems to make so much sense now. Shoot, its not my fault. I'm just waiting to evolve.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Ten Things To Do Before Monday:

1. Hug an old friend.
2. Control my breathing.
3. Sing Loudly.
4. Finish The Historian.
5. Work on my golf swing.
6. Smell sage brush.
7. Write something.
8. Budget.
9. Play a game with my wife.
10. Win a shooting tournament.

I guess the act of making the list itself sort of makes me feel valuable. Actually planning to do something (whether it gets done or not) makes me feel better than not planning at all. We need expectations, and we need to define them ourselves. We need to teach one another how to do this, and why it is important. My wife is a compulsive list-maker. I think it empowers her. She will teach our future children how to make a real good list. In fact, I'll make sure she puts that on her list.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Ultra Sound Rain

Her mouth was a bed of cotton and
Whispy skin dusted from her arms,
Falling to the floor like some
Forgotten race.
A cracked Earth stench
Came rushing up,
Blowing back her hair and
Draining her vision with
Uncomfortable landscape.
Her withered feet-
Rooted to a decade of venom-
Taunted her thirst with blight.

You, the unbarren,
The weighty branches of fruit trees,
Engorged resoviors, the
Product of backseat accidents.
You're laughing right now
Out the sides of your eyes
saying, "Overreaction! Farce!
Melodrama! Self-Absorbed!"


Today this soil throbs with
Multiple heartbeats.

For Nicki and Tyson

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sufjan Stevens

Hail to the great songsmith of our generation!

Today the release of Sufjan Stevens' latest album "Illinoise" solidifies him as one of the greatest, if not the great, pop composer of our generation. I will be the first to say that this is a bold statement, certainly considereing the formidable talent of Beck, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Radiohead, Will Oldham, Elliott Smith, and so on and so forth etcetera.

This is his fifth full-length release, and the second installment in his "50 States" project. Sufjan (that is pronounced "Soofyawn") plans on recording an album for each of the fifty states. If his "Michigan" album and "Illinoise" album are true samples of what is to come, no musical chronical of Americana will match this asthetic documentation. He has indeed sounded Whitman's barbaric yawp. I only fear that I will be a gummy 70 year old man by the time the project is finished, or that some unexpected accident will take Sufjan from us before he addresses my beloved states of Idaho and Utah.

His multi-instrumentality argues a nearly unrivaled musicianship. This is a talent completely apart from his uncanny ability to craft song and melody. Still yet, his additional skills of production and arrangment seperate him from his peers like delicious cream rising to the top of cold, fresh milk. All of these ingredients alone are entirely notable, but when combining them with his exceptional ear for lyricism and ideas, it becomes a recipe for greatness. Sufjan is a writer, a musician, a songwriter, a producer, and an artist.

May his days be long, may his flowers bloom, may the muse which possesses this curious man continue to inspire unique and great music.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Dare I say something completely un-American today? Yes. I hate playing baseball.

I know, it's "America's pasttime." But hear me out, and tell me if I'm not justified. I've always been moderately athletic. Ever since I can remember I've been able to compete with people my age at a better-than-average level. You name it: monkey-bars, king-of-the-hill, sack races, kick ball. I was rarely the best at any one thing, but always had enough to get picked top five for the various peicemeal teams. So, when I was about ten years old one of my best friends, Jacy Banta, convinced me to go out for Pee Wee Baseball.

His dad was the coach of a team called "Stud Mill." By virtue of the team name alone any member had to be a bona-fide bruiser. Other teams would show up in their bright jerseys and crisp pinstriped pants that had the little heel straps. Professional looking stuff. Not the Stud Mill. We would take the field in jeans and plain green T-shirts, no pockets, with white iron-on letters that weren't quite straight. S-T-U-D-M-I-L-L. Thats it. Some of us had cletes, some didn't. It didn't matter, we would beat you down regardless, thumb our noses at your rich parents, then go home for a dinner of Elk meat and a side of nails. This was the testosterone drenched attitude that I adopted for survival from an early age.

The truth is, I've always looked like an imposter. I was a fourth-grader that looked like he had mistakenly wandered into class from the second grade hallway. I consider myself lucky there weren't any weigh-in's associated with Pee Wee Baseball, otherwise I would have been teeing off with the kindergarteners. But what I lacked in mass I hoped to make up for in heart and perhaps a little trickery. I can't recall learning the cool sign-language associated with the sport. I don't ever really remember being instructed in the fundamentals. There is only one peice of baseball advice that I have retained: "Keep your eye on the ball." Although an excellent principle, it didn't avail me much. Despite all my efforts to keep my eyes on the ball, I simply wasn't clever enought to allign with it. Soon the Kryptonite of my athleticism reared its ugly head, and I found myself the permenant, and no doubt embarressing, fixture of right field.

Honestly, though, I was content with my little corner of the outfield. Not many balls came toward me, and that meant fewer opportunites to flubb. My friends were still friendly. I wasn't completely ostracized for my lack of skill. But I imagine that they looked at me the same way I looked at my pet cat (which was missing one foot, one eye, and its tail). I maybe could have thrown members of my team off the bunker hill, and burned them in a sprint across the jungle gym, but I couldn't catch the ball to save my life. At the end of the season I would have been justified in returning my mit to the store, unused, and in tip top pristine condition.

I was nearly through a complete season of baseball and, to my recollection, hadn't been on base one time. I was a guarenteed strike out. They arranged me carefully in the batting order so that I wouldn't fall into a crucial spot where they might actually "need" me to get a hit. In batting practice I would often get beaned with a pitch and soon developed an irrational fear of the ball. Coach Banta was a tough man, not given to pampering, which is good in a coach. He earned the kids' respect, and I was terrified that I wasn't earning his.

One day at the end of practice Coach Banta hit balls to each member of the team in their respective field position. As soon as you caught the ball you could go in and be done with practice. Fifteen minutes later both the in- and outfield remained empty, all except for right field. Ball after miserable ball came soaring directly towards me, whereupon I would stand under it and hold my untarnished mit to the sky. Invariably the ball would either miss by an inch to one side, falling shamefully to the ground, or ricochet off my arm on the other side (which hurt like a mother), or worst of all, bounce off the inside of my glove and then onto the ground. I must have had two dozen chances come my way. As I was sprawling in the grass, the rest of the team members were going home with their parents, ultimately leaving only myself, Jacy on the sideline, and Coach Banta hitting the balls.

My mom picked me up for practice that day and I told her I wanted to quit. She replied that she didn't raise a quitter, but I insisted, I shed tears, I pleaded. She told me that I had to finish out the season and afterwards, if I wanted, I could make that decision. When that longest of seasons in all of sports history came to an end I decided to leave baseball behind forever.

Jacy and I would remain friends, though never quite as close as we were those precious years before I joined the Stud Mill. I went on to find my nitche in the sport of wrestling, and Coach Banta would show up to watch the team, always greeting me with a smile and telling me how proud he was of my matches. He developed a degenerative disease and it became difficult for him to move around, or go out in public. Depsite the extreme painfulness of it all I would ask him how he was really doing, and he would consistently put on a smile and reply that we was terriffic.

Years later, as I was living in South America, I recieved Coach Banta's obituary in the mail and a copy of the funeral program. I cried. That season of baseball was crucial in many ways, aquainting me with the demon of fear, learning the importance of seeing something through (like it or not), and about learning to love a man who took great pleasure in seeing young boys grown into men, a man who somehow confronted death's angry teeth with a smile. I suppose, looking back, that I learned really how to keep my eye on the ball.

I still don't like playing baseball though.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Spent Powder

Here is a poem I wrote recently:

"Spent Powder"

It's the smell.
Awakening the soil, the stickers,
Creased jackets and the morning.
Eyes open and moving about
Calling on the odor.

In the nighttime Asian jungles
Someone's son's spleen
Decorates arching palm fronds
Lighting them up like a
Yellow Christmas bush.
Yards away a crisp, pungent trail of smoke
Stagnates on water-soaked air,
Driftless as a war,
Its musk
Weakening in dispersal
Never to remain, as smoke cannot,
Forever burning an acrid brand
Into noisy memory.
The smell remains. And the spleen.

Another hemisphere, another hour
My father, prostrate to the earth,
Squints, pulls, and fires the aroma
Giving it ride again
This time on a bloodless plane, in drier air.
It carries a blackened coat
Empty dreams, sour letters,
And the fruitless bare blossoms
Of generations that never were.
But today,
Today it is redemptions perfume
Savored between father and son.