Monday, September 29, 2003

Technicolor Toes

It was late. I was late. I pushed open the men's room door and rushed into the last stall where there is more room to change.

It was Wednesday. At 5:45 we'd be running the hills. But I was late, and I dreaded the prospect of crawling in end-of-day traffic knowing that the others were warming up, knowing that I was going to be late.

So I threw my bag onto the floor in haste and quickly pulled off my clothes and put on my running shorts and shirt. And as I bent down to put on my socks, as I stood there with my head at knee-level, I looked at my feet and saw my painted toenails, pink and glittering lavender.

Only a few days before, I had been standing in the sun on the dock by the beach 1500 miles away watching my aunt and nieces paint my toes. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I suggested alternating pink and lavender. They came up with the glitter. It made for a nice effect. Or so it seemed then.

But now, as I stood there in the bathroom stall at work bent over about to pull my socks onto my technicolor toes, I looked over and saw a pair of leather shoes in the stall beside me. There was not a sound in the room. His shoes didn't move. If I could see his feet, I knew he could see mine.


In a rush, I yanked my two socks on and then my shoes, leaving the laces for later. And I quickly pushed my work clothes into my bag and opened the stall door and rushed out to my car.

I think I made it out of there in time.

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Kos coins Poindexter Rights:

You have the right to amnesia. You have the right to plausible denial. You have the right to assert urgency and secrecy. You have the right to wrap yourself in the flag. You have the right to Presidential pardons.


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 Sunday, September 28, 2003

What Mark Might Have Seen

The day had been hot, but the night was now cool. The others had already gone to bed. We were the last ones up -- except for the kids, who sat talking in secret murmurs in the dim light of the side room.

We let them be, turned out the front light, went out the front door, and went into our tent.

The night was now cool, and the day had been hot, so as we opened up our sleeping bags, I unzipped the screens so we could feel the breeze blowing off the lake. I crawled back from unzipping the big screen in the front, and I climbed over Trudy in my birthday suit (anticipating the breeze as I was).

And at that moment, at just the moment when I was perched over Trudy with one arm this way and the other arm that, with one leg this way and the other leg that, at just that moment the light in the cottage came on like a spot. Our tent was ablaze with both screens wide open.

And at just that moment, as I was hovering there in my feel-the-breeze nothingness, fully illuminated by the front room light, at just that moment, Mark came walking around the corner. He walked by our tent just outside the screen on his way to somewhere, I don't know where.

What he saw as he rounded the corner will always be his secret. The next morning he never said a thing. What he might have seen will always be mine, except that now I've told you.

So now you're sworn to secrecy.

Gowen, MI. Summer 2003

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 Saturday, September 27, 2003

Saturday Morning

1. Night Before the Day

It was dark. Orion shined directly overhead. And the air was cool.

The hot summer runs of only a few weeks ago seemed a distant memory. It finally felt like fall. We ran along the trail in the dark, as we have for several months, choosing the predawn hours to escape the heat.

Somewhere ahead, we heard the cadence of many feet. In an instant a dozen bodies appeared out of the darkness running the other way, like two trains passing in the night. We exchanged greetings, and then they were gone.

Group after group we passed this way, some running in groups, some running in pairs, some by themselves, some going our way, some the other.

At 6:15am, long before the dawn.

2. Dawn

Under the trees it was dark, but the sky now had a hint of day. Ten minutes earlier it would have been treacherous here, but with the dawning light is was possible to see my feet as I ran alone on the trail along the lake.

From somewhere behind, there came an unfamiliar sound, "Thoop kwack thwish. Thoop kwack thwish."

I looked over my shoulder and out over the lake. Three scull boats came slicing thru the mirror-still water, the coxswains calling out the cadence, the crews moving forward and back in perfect synchrony, their boats making hardly a ripple.

I walked to the shore and stopped to watch. Three others came up behind me and stopped to watch, too. In seconds the boats had disappeared behind the trees upstream.

At 6:45am, just before the rising sun.

3. Morning Light

The sun had come up. With my run behind me, I sat and stretched with several dozen others who had just finished theirs.

Although the air was still cool, the light hitting my cheeks made my face warm.

I heard a shout come from out on the bridge. I raised my head to look. And as I looked up, a line of runners came filing off the bridge, one by one, thirty or so. An Austin-Fit running team. The leader called a halt, and they drank cold Gatorade from the RunTex jugs set out hours before.

Moments later, there was another team. And another. They kept coming and stopping to get something to drink and then continuing again along the trail. Team after team, thirty runners at a time, ten teams or so by the time they had all come and gone.

At 8:00am, with the sun rising over the skyline.

4. Going Home

And now it was day. Morning was well along. My run was done. I had rested some. My legs were stretched. It was time to go home.

I drove in silence, heading south, and came to that place where I often see the bikers going out for their morning ride.

And there they were, like last week and the week before and the week before that. Red jerseys. Blue jerseys. Yellow and green. Clusters of bikers drafting and passing and riding single-file, riding along the feeder road heading out the hills. Hundreds of them. Hundreds of them, going out for a weekend ride.

Just another morning in Austin.

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 Thursday, September 25, 2003


I got a late start to work today. The alarm clock never rang.

So I had to navigate the busy school crossing down the block with the kids and the crossing guards and the parents and the SUVs. And by the time I got on the freeway, it was a parking lot.

As the traffic crawled along, I listened to the radio and gazed out the window and noticed that the sky was ablaze.

Shards of cloud hung in the eastern sky, illuminated in shifting hues of fading lavender and exploding electric pink. The bottom reaches of the clouds burned with a white hot light that I would not have thought possible, for the sun was not yet up.

Wait. The sun was not up? I was late, and the sun was not up?

And just then, as I came over the crest of the hill and began my decent to the river, I saw a bright orange-red dome rising over the eastern horizon.

I was late, and the sun was just coming up.

And what a sunrise it was!

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 Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Oh for the good old days of paper. Two Daily Kos links on Dieblod voting machines in the news.

Diebold feels the heat
Diebold machines are scary

It's not enough to have gizmos and gadgets. Technology does not make democracy work.

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Making Coffee Right

Am I the only one who has trouble with coffee machines? One scoop? Two? How much water? What line? I can't see well in the dark in the morning. I can't remember well in the dark at night. Am I the only one?

As we sat that morning eating cereal and honeybuns with Headline News blaring from the TV and speeding cars streaming by on the Interstate, one of the staff came into the hotel lobby and found the coffee gone. So she opened a carafe, set it under the brewing machine, pushed the green button, and left the room.

But... she didn't change the filter, so the hot water ran thru the old grounds and the coffee came out looking like tea.

Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it was not.

The fear of coffee machines is more widespread than we realize, more widespread than we care to admit. Like flashing clocks on VCRs, like CD players with too many buttons, like all the gizmos and gadgets that decorate our lives, the coffee makers are telling us something.

We like to congratulate ourselves on the great ascent we have made since we were hunting mammoth and gathering ripe berries in the underbrush of prehistory. We like to point to our machines and devices, at the bright lights and stainless steel surfaces of our inventions. We point to them as evidence of how far we have come.

Yet we cannot make the coffee right.

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 Sunday, September 21, 2003

Theories in Collision

We walked underground for three hours listening spell-bound to our ranger/tour-guide as he told us the stories of the cave. In his warm Kentucky accent coming from under his broad-rimmed hat, his words enchanted as they have since he started doing this almost thirty years ago.

A man in the middle of the group asked about the color of the dirt. Although it was dark down there and our 16 lanterns threw out only modest puddles of light from their flickering wicks, if you looked at your feet you could swear the ground looked red.

Good question, the ranger said, as he seemed to say frequently to invite yet more.

And he told us about the waters of a subterranean torrent and about dissolved iron from the soil above the caprock that loomed in the darkness above our heads. He told us of the shallow seas that once covered this place, and about continents in collision. He told us about the uplift of mountains, explaining that that is what geologists call -- and he said this slowly so that even the youngest children could understand -- the theory of plate tectonics.

He told us that this is the explanation geologist give. And in the seventies, he told us, this was as far as the explanations would go: they would talk about tectonics and then move on.

But today, he said (and my heart began to drop, for I knew what must be coming), Today some of you may know of a different theory in a different book.

My shoulders dropped, and I turned my head away.

Today, some of you may know of the Book of Genesis. You may know of the Theory of the Flood.

For me, the tour was ruined.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY. Summer 2003

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 Saturday, September 20, 2003

A Door in the Dark

We stood at the door in the dark -- the boys, Trudy and I. I turned the key but the door would not open. I tried the other way to no effect. The boys and Trudy stood nervously behind me.

It was late. We had just driven up in a car with out-of-state plates. The house had no number posted, but from the directions it seemed like the right one.

Umm... Is this the right house? asked George.

If I had turned around, I am sure he would have been nervously eyeing the house next door. In fact, it seemed like they were all distancing themselves from my fiddling with the key in the door.

To the side of the door, there were two windows: one to the left, one to the right. I could see a light inside. I looked into one and into the living room.

Yes it is, I answered George with no further hesitation, for although I had never been to this place, what I saw inside made me sure.

Thru the doors I could see pictures and furniture and deckies and things that spoke to me out of the past. There were etchings leaning against the wall. There was an antique wooden table. The there was a rocking chair that I knew well from Easters and Christmases past.

Yes this is the right house, I repeated with certainty. I know all the stuff inside.

I turned the key again. The door opened. And we went inside.

London, KY. Summer 2003

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 Friday, September 19, 2003

Breakfast at The Burger Boy

A big woman walked from her table by the door toward the restrooms in the back. She left her husband and two other people sitting at the table smoking their cigarettes and laughing loudly. As she walked past the cash register without stopping, she looked at the skinny man in an apron bending over the grill.

Elvin, she shouted, How's your mother?

She's fine, he answered in a thick Kentucky accent as he cracked three eggs using only one hand.

Mean as ever, I suppose, she said, hardly waiting for his answer. And she chuckled.

He turned his head to look at her. He was smiling, but he said nothing. He turned back to the grill, picked up a spatula, and flipped his bacon over.

London KY, summer 2003

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 Thursday, September 18, 2003

Good Night

Do I have to write tonite?

Of course not.

But I haven't written anything for days. Don't I have to write something?

No. You don't have to write anything.

But people expect me to write. When I don't write, they think something is wrong.

Is anything wrong?

No. Of course not.

Ok then. Don't worry about it.

I don't think I'll write tonite.

That's fine.

I'm very tired. I think I'll go to bed.

Good night.

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 Sunday, September 14, 2003

US 127

In these days of fiber optics and wireless networks and ever widening super highways with vehicles cruising along at 80mph, it is somehow reassuring that roads like this one still exist.

- two lanes between the fields of corn and soybeans
- farm houses close to the narrow gravel shoulder
- dark drooping spruce groves not far from the speed limit signs
- apple trees even nearer
- four-line telephone poles running along the southbound side
- golden rolls of hay, new-mown in the summer sun
- weedy creeks with unmowed banks
- old tractors for sale by the side of the road
- red barns with green shingle roofs
- slow-moving combines taking up the lane
- clusters of oaks dotting the landscape
- new-built houses on stone foundations build many years ago
- old silos without their tops

This is US 127 southbound out of Michigan. It's not so fast. It's not so wide, but I say it's better than an interstate.

Southbound from Michigan to Texas, summer 2003

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 Friday, September 12, 2003

A Part of Me

Part of me passed away today with you. The world will be a quieter, emptier place without you here to sing your songs.

But that doesn't mean I will stop singing them in the morning in the shower. That piece of me is still around, and it remembers your music well.

As sure as night is dark and day is light.

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 Thursday, September 11, 2003

Little Notes

I wrote myself some little notes, notes that were sure to remind me of some things I once wanted to say, minor profundities or perhaps just run-of-the-mill observations I intended to share.

I scribbled them on the back of a business card and stashed it safely away. But as certain as I was at the time that they would trigger an avalanche of thought, I can make no sense of those scribbled notes today.

- Pot Belly Cafe: smoke, fat, glances
- barking dogs at night
- moonless nighttime sky
- a mole running across the road
- night walk in the woods
- a fish jumping beyond the drop-offs

Oh what might have been!

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 Wednesday, September 10, 2003

They Sit There

They sit in the back seat, eyes glued blinklessly to the screens of Gameboys that they clutch with a death grip. They sit there and miss the countryside roll by: the corn fields and the soybeans and farmsteads with spruce windbreaks, the county seats and courthouse squares appearing out of nowhere.

They sit there and soon all of this will be gone, and they will very likely never be here again -- certainly no time soon.


And now it is gone. The interstate lies before us and the two lane highway thru the green fields disappears into the distance in the rearview mirror.

They sat there, and they missed it.

Only 1100 miles to go.

Southbound from Michigan to Texas thru rural Ohio on US-127.

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 Tuesday, September 9, 2003

What We've Got

His office was down the hall. He poked his head into the room where the two of them sat talking.

Sorry to interrupt, he said with a smile on his face. (He always had a smile on his face.)

They stopped and waited for him to continue.

We've got 2-oh-4 at 5-3-oh.

And then, still smiling, he turned and walked back down the hall.

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 Sunday, September 7, 2003

Pie Snack

The narrow restaurant stretches away from the bright windows along the sidewalk at the front into dark shadows at the back. On the left, a few people sit mostly by themselves at tables along the wall. On the right, the eatery bar is covered with preparations for the coming dinner rush.

A young, thin waitress neatly places two forks on each table-for-four. Another larger waitress dishes up salad into bowl after bowl lined up on the counter. A man in his fifties with trim-silver hair, a white shirt, black bow tie, white apron, and white pants paces back and forth behind the stool-lined bar, making sure everything is ready.

We ate not too long ago. We are not here for dinner. We just came in for a snack. Helen, gray-haired with curly locks, takes our orders for pie: lemon meringue for the boys, black raspberry for me, and Trudy spots some chocolate creme and sends Helen off to the far counter for it.

Before she returns, a second gray-haired waitress standing at the counter asks me from a distance (under her breath so Helen won't hear her), You want ice cream with that?

I smile and quietly say, I'll ask her when she gets back.

A man at the small table behind us laughs out loud. So does a second man finishing his meal at a small table along the wall. The second waitress smiles and nods.

Helen returns with Trudy's chocolate creme pie and turns to me and asks, Would you like some ice cream with that?

Yes, please. I say.

She walks off, soon returning with my black raspberry pie with a massive scoop of ice cream on top, by which time the boys have devoured their slices and Trudy has begun to dig into hers.

Another waitress in the room finishes reading a newspaper, folds it neatly, and sets it down in front of her. The man sitting by the wall finishes eating, sets down his napkin and looks at her.

Am I in the obituaries, today? he asks.

No, she says.

Well that's a relief! he says as he gets up and limps to the cash register at the front.

The restaurant is beginning to fill up. The waitresses are all busy taking orders. Plates of hot lunch entrees (BBQ backbone, backbone and kraut, chip beef, beef and noodles, ...) are being served.

Helen walks back from one of the tables at the front and shouts out, Ham-and-baked and beef-and-baked!

The man in the bow tie responds, Well bring the ham out!

I am! she says, walking quickly by him as he mutters to himself, wondering if the baked potatoes are done.

A man emerges from the kitchen somewhere in the back carrying a platter with a slab of meat on it and a large bone protruding.

Is that a ham!? I whisper to Trudy.

She looks at it and shrugs -- not like any ham we've ever seen.

But then neither was the pie. Too bad we didn't want dinner.

Balyeats Coffee Shop and Eatery, since 1922, Van Wert OH

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 Saturday, September 6, 2003

A Snake

We saw a snake in the water swimming by as we pushed off from shore. We sat in the boat and drifted slowly as it wriggled warily by and finally dove underwater as it approached our oar held up in the air for it to pass unhindered underneath.

There used to be snakes that swam by here periodically years ago, and turtles, more turtles than we see today. And there were legions of frogs singing from the swamps as evening gave way to night.

But such sights and such nights are rare today, as the swamps have been mostly replaced by lush, manicured lawns running down to steel sea-walls pounded into the shoreline where the cattails and lily pads used to be.

The frogs are mostly silent, save a few on the other side of the lake. And the turtles are smaller and shy. And the snakes. Well the snakes stay well away. Except for that one that lives under the logs by the side of the dock. Except for that one that just swam by.

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After sunset, with a red glow lingering in the west, a teenager stands at the end of the dock, silhouetted by the colors above him in the sky and below him on the glass-still surface of the lake.

He brings his violin to his chin. He raises his bow. And he plays taps. With vibratto.

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 Thursday, September 4, 2003


Nate did not hesitate at the prospect of the backed-up septic tank lying directly under the camper. He just walked back to his truck and pulled out a copper probing rod and started probing at the sandy Michigan ground.

After only a few minutes, he had guessed the location and dimensions of the tank. He then walked over to a spot near the camper steps and pointed at the ground.

That's where the lid is.

He had clearly done this many times.

Whereas the camper had daunted us, and whereas we had (with great personal pride) found the lid to what turned out to be (to our amazement and shame) the dry well after only an hour of tentative probing and digging, after five minutes Nate was throwing up a mound of yellow sand and pulling the lid off the top of the tank.

We had dreaded the task. For him, it seemed a walk in the park. In no time at all, he had found the tank, identified the problem, pumped the tank out, and put the lid back on.

How much to we owe you? we asked with dread.


We looked at each other in disbelief. My cousin whispered to me Do you think he will settle for $285.00!?

Nate son of Rick of Rick's Septic Tank Service, Gowen MI

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 Wednesday, September 3, 2003

A Little Discovery

How did they do this before power saws? I wonder out loud, my arms aching and sweat running down my forehead. I am not making any progress cutting the log.

My cousin nods without looking up and says, They worked in pairs. He wandered by and saw me struggling and offered to hold the log for me.

After a few (four) more logs and more aching and much sweat, I begin to get a feel for the saw and how it wants to cut. I stop and look at my cousin.

This is one of those things, I say, that you only learn by doing.

He stares at me evidently waiting for me to finish my thought. But there is nothing more for me to say. That was my thought.

You know, I say to him, one of those things you cannot do well until you've done it several times.

He nods silently. I can only imagine what he is thinking, being no stranger to trees and logs and saws himself. I sense he sees nothing profound in my little discovery.

I continue my explanation, This saw works best when the blade is horizontal, not at an angle, otherwise it binds.

He nods again, this time with a little more animation.

Now he understands my point, I tell myself as I return to the task at hand.

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 Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Do You Remember?

Do you remember that little boy who sat with in the sand, that little boy who used to play with his trains in the volleyball pit?

Do you remember how hot it was then and how we would scoot over to follow the shade?

Do you remember how he would run his trains in the narrow paths I made for him and how he would scream with glee and ask me to make some more?

Do you remember the sweat running down his temples and the happy look in his eyes?

Do you remember how fast those mornings went by?

They went by too fast. Do you remember them? I do.

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