Monday, August 30, 2004

It don't look like they're here to deliver the mail. 

Every once in a while, a song comes on that's worthy enough to be blasted -- to play loud enough to drown anything else out. Last week, it was driving in to work, when Led Zeppelin came on the radio to make that depressing drive a lot easier. The wind was waving through my open car window as I stopped to slide my security card in the parking garage checker, and the drums pounded as the cymbals shattered, and all the other people in their cars looked over at me in annoyance.

Today it's Powderfinger that's got the neighbor across the street looking up at my attic window with his hand over his eyes as if he's deciding whether he should curse or bob his head. Maybe the third consecutive playing of the song will get him into the spirit of the proceedings.

There's nothing like second shift.

I'm doing a lot of work on the house, lately, trying to get all these projects done before the end of the year. Ranger's feeling better after a few rough days of puking and sleeping. I'm still writing my book, though a couple weeks were spent researching the next chapter. And all that squirrel food we put down has eight stalks of corn coming up in the backyard. Sometime this week I'll make it back here for my general impressions of the surprising and unsurprising marathon races that have gone nearly unnoticed these past two weeks.

"Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger."

Friday, August 27, 2004

Waving a Burning Flag -- draft one 

If a thing
Like soul could escape
From house keys,
It would escape in the
Form of a carpenter ant.

I know this when I drop my keys
To close the garage—
But then I do
What we all do—
I ignore,
Walk away,
With my mind
On the night
And my hands in my pockets.

It’s nights like this that the cold wet
Bottle of a beer
Could solve the loneliness of the largeness
Of the Midwest,
That could scatter the
Laughter and gunshots
Into echoes to match
The regret of an unasked proposal—
He who fears to wed or attend,
Taking classes for the
Slogan of sunny days
In May, warm speeches that rise in auditoriums,
Breaking, signifying nothing, the bottom
Of an advertisement—
The space under the contract signature,
The shrug of the shoulders:

If we only worked a little
Harder to hurt a little more
We might begin communicating,
Trading hobbies,
Finding the path of the
Chippewa high over the river’s
Remnant – he came here wounded;
Even his blood softened the earth,
Even his effort was dispensed,
Volume into volume,
Season beyond season,
So that getting up
Early never mattered any
More than community action,
Every little bit
Not counting.

Rangers remove only ashes from the pit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Search for Comprehension 

Dear "Editorial 'We'",

It was with great relief that I began reading your editorial entitled "Bush an accomplice on ads". Finally, I thought, I will read something that will give me a clear understanding of the issue of the recent campaign advertisements. After all, I reasoned, it is 2004, and what can be more important than Vietnam?

I regret to state, however, that my understanding of the issue has been to no degree greater elucidated. Rather, I have some more questions. Perhaps you can help.

You write: "...the ads that defame Kerry are especially repellent, because they are almost certainly based on out-and-out lies, not fact." I found this a curious statement. How can these ads be "almost certainly" anything? In the statement, "I certainly want hamburgers," the word "certainly" reinforces and clarifies the meaning. In the statement, "I am almost to Ohio," the word "almost" suggests a closeness, yet clearly denies one is actually in Ohio. I do not think one can "almost certainly" want hamburgers. I do not think one can "almost certainly" be in Ohio.

Perhaps this business of "almost certainly" could be better explained if the actual lies the editorial refers to were presented for examination. I imagine that I am not the only reader interested in the specifics of this case. Again, how can we leave undiscussed, this issue of Vietnam, in the year 2004?

This leads me to my next point. The lies you refer to are not merely lies. You describe them as "out-and-out" lies. What is an "out-and-out" lie? Based on your sentence, which concludes with the words, "not fact", I can only assume that "out-and-out" lies carry no more truth than regular lies. Are these "out-and-out" lies more important than regular lies? Are they farther away? Are they lies told outside? Are there "in-and-in" lies for lies told inside?

Please -- Martin, O., Ernst-Ulrich, Richard, Jerry, Gregory, Barbara, Stuart, Katie -- help me understand. I think if you could just clear up these minor points, I may gain my long-sought comprehension.

Well . . . I'm almost certain of it.

And that's no out-and-out lie.

Sincerely with best regards,

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

"Thank a Teacher" -- Volume Two 

And now to another twice-yearly feature:

My Late Grandpa Tom, who told my mom, who then told me, that a car was nothing more than a killing machine. How true.

Betty Buggy, for proving this to me.

Joe Uhan, for instilling in me the urge to yell Jesus! in a loud voice, usually emphasizing the first syllable, in times of surprised, stressed-out anger. I don't take pride in breaking a commandment . . . but as Del Harris recently said, if you don't release some steam, the pipes burst.

The kid fishing the Milwaukee River for carp next to Steve Paul and I around summer, 1989, for teaching me it's not OK to whip a fish that won't come off your line. Similarly, it's not OK to just toss the fish in the bushes behind you. Although the raccoons and flies were probably delighted.

The waitress at Johnson's Green 7 who waited on me and my grandma, for putting up with my grandma. I'm sorry. She's very demanding, but you didn't even blink. If it's any condolence, she really does like your restaurant.

History Professor Ness. I was so disappointed to learn you wouldn't be back for my sophomore year. I still remember that cold winter day when you came to class late, having had to commute from the twin cities. Much of the class had left . . . and thus missed the greatest lecture on the Mongolian conquest ever given.

**** ******, my former manager who will remain nameless, for doing a bad job of teaching me how to fuck people over with a smile on my face. You still have the $200.00 you owe me. You probably don't even think about it.

Mr. Larson, for conveying to me how important it is to lose all that land for a fucking highway bypass they don't need. It's good to know someone else who's going to miss it.

The Scottish girl behind the counter in Canada in 1998. I did see you smile . . . if only I hadn't been on vacation with my family . . .

My tablemates for that ridiculous 1-credit teaching seminar course. I wouldn't have made it through that night class without your refusal to accept anything less than constant comedy, bullshit, sarcasm, laziness, and a bad attitude out of each of us. That prof deserved us.


Usually, when I'm in a disagreement with someone about a past event, and I'm just positive that I'm right and the other person is remembering it wrong, I'll say, "When you get to heaven, you ask God to rewind the video tape of life back, so that you can watch that moment." I still say this, even though I can't be positive there is a heaven or God. And I still say this, even though God's probably upgraded to DVD by now.

But what would be really interesting is if we could have a reunion for this little event. Gather everyone who was there in the same place -- the same place where it occurred -- maybe five years down the line. Maybe ten. Because that's all that holds it together after a while, isn't it? If it weren't for the tracking of years, everything would just wind out like a stretched out slinky. After a while it would all run together.

Better yet, gather together everyone from every one of those days. Every August 18th of your life, for example. Maybe some of these "gathered days" would be pretty boring, filled with few people, no interesting places, and no memories, other than the growth from one year to the next. People would get together and discuss all that they can't remember. And then there would be other days, where so much seemed to happen, year-to-year. And someone would say something you had completely forgotten, and you'd remember how old you are. And then you -- you would say something they had never thought of before. Even though they were there.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Night Fishing, Broken Cast 

A beer at the end
Of night alone
Is all
I have
To join
The slumber of the slowly

"Hook it in the back,
So it can swim
Awhile in the quiet
Water to attract
Its very own

Leaving the party early to listen
To voices
Of friends
Mingle behind,
The moment when
The finger snaps
The trigger.

Regrets only
Wish for time
Without tele-
To finally hold
My own
Hands over the
Vicious mouth of

Monday, August 16, 2004

Chad from Eurotech 

Chad came over on Saturday. I know his name was Chad, not because he introduced himself, but because it said so on the patch on his golf shirt. He came over to take a look at our attic windows -- the ones directly to my left.

We've got this nice, finished attic, where I write. It's my little home above home. But the previous owner kind of half-assed the "finishing" job on the attic. The windows don't work too well and they have no screen or storm. So we thought sometime in the next couple years, we'd do something with them.

Such was our luck last week that a woman from Sam's Club stopped us in the middle of our shopping to ask us if we'd like a free estimate on some windows. There was no pressure to commit. Just a free estimate.

So there Chad was, dressed up in his company shirt, looking very serious about windows. It was at that point, at the beginning, that I knew there would be problems. The guy had no personality. Before we even introduced ourselves, I could tell he was concentrating on his script. It was like we were doing something to throw him off.

We took him up to the attic to give him some idea of what we wanted, but he didn't measure anything. He didn't even look at the windows. He just sat down and opened up his big binder. Uh-oh. Then he said, "These were the only windows you want done in the whole house?"

First, he had some ridiculous survey for us to take. "Would you say it was important for the use of your windows to be successful?" "Would you say that insulation was important to you?" "Do you want your windows to last?" I had the urge to say, "Actually, we're looking for junk. In fact, if you could just remove the windows we have, we'll replace them with a bedsheet. That's the look we're going for."

And this whole time, Chad looked at me. It's like my wife wasn't even there. After a while, I started looking only at her, but Chad didn't get it. He kept looking at me. If this idiot only knew who made the financial decisions . . . .

The mood in the attic was strangely, uncomfortably quiet when Chad finished the survey and pulled out his demonstration kit. "You see this aluminum window? They don't make any more of these because of this corner crack. See? There are twelve places in which this window can fail. We won't use this window." Don't ask me how four corners turns into twelve places; it's not important. Chad spent the next 20 minutes showing us all the crappy windows we wouldn't be getting before showing us the perfect window we would be getting.

More brochures were handed out. More explanations given. Finally, a measurement was made. Calculations were calculated. Then Chad wrote something down on a sheet of paper and looked at us. "Any guesses?" I looked at Jessica, like, "Huh? Is he for real? He wants us to guess the price? How the hell should we know? That's why we got the estimate." So then Chad said, "I'll buy you lunch at McDonald's if you guess within $500.00."

Finally, he folded the paper and handed it to me, like it was an envelope for an academy award winner. I opened it and couldn't even find the price. Jessica looked at it and nodded. Fine. $1,658 for the double-hung. $5,442 for a bay. Whatever. I don't know how much windows cost. Sounded good to me.

And it was at that point that I knew what we were in for. Because Chad wasn't packing up all his stuff, getting ready to leave. He wasn't moving at all. Jessica and I shrugged. Chad said, "So, were you surprised at the price?"

I've been in Chad's shoes, and all I could think of at this point was, "What an idiot." But I didn't say that. I just said, "No, we don't know what windows are priced at. The bay window is out of our range, but the double-hung looks OK," I said.

"We're going to get three estimates and make a decision," Jessica said.

Chad sat there, looking down, looking frustrated. "But . . . but you liked the windows, right?"

I smiled. "Yes, we liked the windows."

"So, it's the price, isn't it?"

I told him, honestly, it was not the price. We've redone our bathroom, put up a fence, and purchased air conditioning this year. All of it was done after we received three estimates.

"But you liked the windows."

"We always get three estimates," Jessica said.

"I can show you other companies' estimates," Chad insisted.

"I think we can get our own estimates," Jessica replied. "I have a crazy idea that the ones you would show me would not reflect well on those other companies. And I don't like being hard-sold, and that's what I think is starting to happen here."

There was a long pause, and Chad began to tell us about the cost of this kind of work. He spoke at length about working six days a week, to which I said, "You know, I did that for a time, and I recommend you get out of it while you still can." He went on to state that his company had a better offer for customers who sign up on the first day. Meaning, we'd save them some time and money "with all the paperwork", if we just sign up for the windows today. He read a long, impassioned letter from the president of his company that stated this policy. Then he said, "OK, that price I gave you is good for 30 days. But I'll recalculate the price you will get if you sign up now. You can say 'yes', and we'll get the windows. Or you can say 'no', and I'll go back to my jeep and cry."

Then he recalculated the price of the windows: $1,410 for double-hung; $3,900 for bay. Funny how he never mentioned this discount when he calculated the first price.

Jessica and I nodded. "We're getting two more estimates."

"OK, I'm calling my boss."

Seventy-five minutes had passed. "Hi, John? This is Chad. I'm sitting here with Will and . . . Jessica, looking at their attic window. And they're some pretty smart customers. They're looking at getting three estimates."

"Why don't they get four?" the voice on the cell phone yells back. This is the point in which I knew we were not buying windows from these people. A hushed discussion continued until Chad hung up.

"OK, my boss says we can do the bay for $3,900 and the double-hung for $1,000."

"No," Jessica said. "It's not the price."

"Well, what price do you want?" Chad said.

"Twenty dollars," Jessica said. "No, five. Five-dollar windows."

"But . . . but you liked the windows."

"I won't buy from you, just on principle," Jessica said. "I won't give you the impression that I think it is OK -- what you are doing."

"I used to contract labor," I said, "and I did I few things right and a few things wrong, but I only offered people one fair price."

"But $1,000 is an incredible price," Chad said, feeling things slipping. "I'm making nothing on these windows."

And then Jessica ends it: "I don't care. And I don't feel sorry for you for working six days a week. That's your choice. It's not my problem. What you're doing is sneaky and dishonest. No. We're done here. Do you understand? If you need help carrying your little kit outside, Will can help you."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Why It Doesn't Matter Anymore 

Because I stood there, thinking of something to say, for no reason. I even thought I was expert at standing at the bar and ordering, but I couldn't do that without anxiety.

I think I've come to a clearing, in which I've heard enough of people trying their very best to convince me how young they are, seven years older than I, when I feel so much older. The tears people hold back are as good as shed. Better. Denial's real thin when it's only shaded by glassy eyes.

Mostly, it was the lack of excitement that gave me away. Or all that I over-thought. Because when you're me, nothing's natural anymore. And if I can't discern a reason for why an army ant can flip into a dancing beetle in the space of a second, I can't join in.

It could be because the only time I ever thought was when I was thinking about getting out. Or maybe it was because the excused reason we were all there was the only reason keeping me going. And on that note, I can give myself some credit: I know how to order, how to tip, and how to tip it back. Because that was the only thing that kept me from running. And I couldn't stop bringing that glass to my lips. Hey, we've all seen it. When the glass runs out, what else is there to hang on to?

It's never about what we say it is, is it? Even when I tried to turn the conversation to what brought me there, I ended up drinking up. Because no one listened. So I tasted and ordered and tasted again. And I'm still good at that.

Liquid courage can remain a joke for everyone else -- let that staged sip promote big laughs. For me, it's got to be enough to blind me. What's to fear that you can't see? If I can still see it, then it's only because I've left. Because there's nothing like blind courage. Honesty would be anything less than confronting the infinity of availability in front of everyone who knows better.

And that's a whole lot better than trying to convince people who don't care who you are or why you're there. And that's a whole lot better than walking home and seeing kids with peach fuzz walk the way I used to walk before I learned why I ever came out at night (and, thus, began running home). And that's a whole lot better than standing around with nothing to say and trying to look natural while looking at nothing. And that's a whole lot better than dancing to music when you don't dance. And that's a whole lot better than remembering sappy speeches that suddenly pertain to you. And that's a whole lot better than realizing just what it's going to take to relax. And that's a lot better than bothering to explain to people that when you walk in a circle, the path can still change, while still becoming boring.

I jogged back over the bridge, noticing a trap door that contained no significance. I walked through my backyard in jeans too long for me. I must have looked ridiculous. It smelled like hot dogs. I still don't have a front door key. I forgot to take my medicine.

Nobody really listens to you when you mean something. They always look through you, and then on to the next door, or whatever they can walk through. I think if I timed it right, I could stop speaking, and they'd be gone, past me, before they realized I stopped speaking.

I'll never look down on someone who learns very early, the benefit of hunkering down. And parrying.

I'm Down On The Water 

The skin on my knuckles is ripped, giving me something to chew on while I think of something to write:

CD of the Week: The Sound of White Noise
Film of the Week: Hang 'Em High

CFTP: page 50

For those bent on a little more electric commentary, click away. And if you leave a comment, you're sure to receive some thoughtful, spirited feedback from Danny and the boys.

"Pull the scabs off of regrets, we haven't learned to eat our conscience yet."

Last night we went to the State Fair and saw horses running around, pulling carts; aisles and aisles of gigantic, fat rabbits; gobbling turkeys; squawking mop vendors; and this pre-teen puke out hot dogs on a stage. We drank vanilla-cherry milk and made nasty comments about Natalie.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Glorious Master Aschbrenner 

Right away, I wasn't sure if he was going to work out or not. First of all, he looked about 12. Second, whenever he spoke it was in this whispery, wavery stutter. Finally, he was too smart. Seriously, his head was like twice the size of a normal human head. This was obviously too much brain power for our little cross country team.

And what sort of host was I? Here was I, a freshman, supposed to show this kid around school, explain to him about our team . . . and I didn't even like my team that much. I never really hung out with anyone on the team. I ran with them 6 or 7 days a week, then I did my thing.

So that's what I did with Ryan Aschbrenner. We ran. Then I and some of my non-runner friends at the time decided we'd do something revolutionary for a Friday night in the dorms -- we got some beer. Immediately, I worried, "This kid's gonna be scared off." Which would have been a shame, as he was a tremendous high school runner that I would have hated to lose to a rival school. So what was his reaction to our plan?

"Beer?!" His eyes lit up. What do you know? Aschbrenner, whose nickname became "Hash", turned out to fit right in there at Eau Claire.

So he joins the team, and he becomes that great character that all teams need: he was a niche player. But not the kind that you think about years later, like, "Oh, remember that guy who was out for a year or two? Whatever happened to him? He was something." No, Hash was a model of consistency -- there every day for practice, in the library every night to study, running every meet with the same quiet consistency. He was that runner who would get injured and not say a thing about it -- not because he was trying to be some tough guy; he just didn't want to stop running.

He was a niche player because he wasn't a loud captain or a front-runner. But he'd always be there, dressing in the shadows, running next to you, peering over a notebook in the corner. And then out of nowhere, he'd pop out and say something like, "Kyle, you're such a dumbass." Then he'd have his head back down, working on the next equation. He was the great equalizer, in this respect. If Hash had to get up and say something, it was going to be worthwhile.

The best thing about Hash is his enthusiasm. You wouldn't think it to look at him. He's got that quiet politeness that so dominates him that you'd think it was physically impossible for him to get excited about anything. But if you start talking to him about music, all the sudden he starts talking. Better yet, get a little beer in him, and he'll never stop talking -- he'll even turn into a "close-talker", just to make sure you hear everything he has to say about Led Zeppelin or Eric Clapton or Pink Floyd or whoever else -- because he knows that 70's-era of rock like few else.

The truly rare moments may be behind him, just as my moments of wild exuberance may be behind me. But I won't be able to erase the memory of this big-headed kid wearing a hat that didn't fit him stand on top of my roof, get down on one knee, and slam a beer . . . and then follow that display up with a fist to the sky, as if he were a wrestling champion.

When I was in school, I became obsessed with a great musician by the name of Warren Zevon, who's got this great radio hit, "Werewolves of London". When I discussed this song with Hash, he said to me, "It's a fun song." And he said it so earnestly and succinctly. Hash doesn't need a lot of words like I do. He doesn't need much flourish or explanation. He can just nail it like that with so many things: it's a fun song.

In school, we all thought Hash was going to go on to work at NASA or something. He was this mathematical nut who just loved to puzzle over the work -- scratch that; I don't think it was ever work to him. And the puzzling was so fun to watch -- he'd sit there and it looked like he was physically, manually squeezing his brain for a solution. But that's not all. I was always the guy people turned to to read their papers over for errors; in reality, Hash could have edited any paper with equal precision. There was no academic weakness for him.

So this week, I and my group of runner-friends received the communication: Hash -- and it's Master Hash now -- just started his job . . . working on satellites. No one could have been surprised.

The surprising thing is Hash is also getting married. His fiance, Kelly, is as intimidatingly intelligent as the man himself. So someday, they'll get married and create perhaps the world's smartest human being of all time.

Sometimes things work out for the right people. And with that stated: Ramble On, You Glorious Master Hashbrenner. Ramble On.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Bullet-Proof Effervescence 

Most of all, I hate him for his effervescence,
his public spirit, the way
his ribs press and release,
his checked hallway dancing,
his boring white eyes,
on me.

'They breakin',' Nab says,
'Mo' 'n' bread.'
And more than bones
or addiction to advertisement.

"He doesn't have to rub it
in their faces," I cry
for his memorized
message carries
the parade--

There is nothing
we can steal
to change everyone's
minds: bullet-proof
is the body
of self-hate
the white people
wear forever:
Out of their mouths,
a rabbit's foot's

'Give 'em might.'
Oh, give them irrelevance.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The Best Way to Get Your Wife's Attention 

You two are getting off the freeway to switch drivers in the middle of the night, and she parks by the side of some rural road. She slips over to the passenger seat. You get out and walk around. But before you get in, just head across the country road to those tall weeds so that you can, ahem, relieve yourself before beginning driving.

"Never do that again! It was like Blair Witch Project! I thought I was gonna find your teeth in a bundle of twigs!"

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