Friday, June 29, 2007

NE Sketches

We've descended on this small town like the Invasion of the Prana People.

Once again, I find myself unable to understand the newest uses of English--last of my tribe.

Watching pigeons chase each other around; animal courtship is like third graders--pinches, nips, and hair pulls.

Schoolbus passes by, each window filled with an unhappy face.

A company truck for a shredding company; has it really come to this?

A feline called "Pissy Cat."

Summer breeze and long shadows define the summer evenings of my youth.

My deaf seatmate on the plane lipreads the DVD on my laptop.

The gentle curves of the Great Lakes like a woman, like a cello.

O'Hare's ethnic diversity startles after weeks in white Vermont

A young dude's pants pulled so low in back that you can almost hear the wind whistling through the asscrack.

Descent into Phoenix heat like bumping down stairs on your behind.

On the turntable: Big Black, "Hammer Party"
On the nighttable: Aaron Cometbus, "Chicago Stories"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday papers: W.S. Bach

"The problem is not finding them, it's--when getting up in the morning and getting out of bed--not stepping on them."

--Bach on his melodies

On the turntable: The Chieftains, "Long Black Veil"
On the nighttable: "Absolutely Zippo Anthology"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday papers: Isadora Duncan

"If I could tell you what it meant, there would be point in dancing it."

--Duncan on her art

On the turntable: The Shins, "Wincing the Night Away"
On the nighttable: Ken Wilbur, "Boomeritis"

Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Open Letter to Kerouac

Dear Ti Jean,

I finally made it. I write these words in the town of your birth, the town where you eternally rest. I'd like to say I hitched here, or rode a freight, or even "did the dog" (Greyhound--I think they were around when you were) but I came in under my own power, in that car I rented so I can tool around the green roads of Vermont. Even my lodging feels a copout--I struggled with staying in some fleabag digs closer to your spirit, but settled on a large comfortable place vivisected from the carcass of one of those old riverfront mills you successfully escaped lifetime employment in. Not only did this put me in the center of Lowell proper, but I figured you'd appreciate the Buddhist reincarnation/Catholic resurrection motif.

You'd hardly recognize Lowell. Your birthplace duplex on Lupine is for rent. The neighborhood seems neat, comfortable, no doubt a far cry from when you knew it in the Depression. In fact, all of Centralville seems a nice place to live. The native French speakers have either assimilated or moved on. Spanish is lingua franca now. In fact, St. Louis church seems a misnomer--San Luis would be a better fit. The house where you lost Gerard has a nice, cheerful flag out front. A boy was playing nearby. He looked about 9.

Pawtucket today would make you lost. They've changed most of the street names. The tar sidewalks down by Moody Street bridge has been replaced, and the Textile Lunch has gone through many hands. The 1971 photos in the Gifford book and the ones 20 years later in Dorfner show different names, and it is different yet again today, thought the boards in the window tell me that no food has been made there in quite some time. And the balconies that frightened you so much are gone, as are the doors leading to them. At the other end of Moody St bridge, the place that scarred/scared you so when you saw the watermelon man drop dead, now houses a fortune teller. The bridge itself moans when you drive over it. Spooky stuff even for an adult. The nearby Stations of the Cross, and the Grotto haven't changed at all. They look just as you described them in Dr Sax. And the Merrimack River beyond, has the same power, the same beauty. I'm tempted to say like a woman, but then again, you always liked your women malleable, didn't you? Well, except for Memare.

I wanna drink a beer to you but the bar at the hotel is noisy. They're showing a Sox game on the TV, and the Yankees are winning a lot these days. There are few things louder than a group of unhappy men. So I take a beer to my room, and look out the window. The warehouses are slowly darkening red, and the old neon sign came on over the Sun newspaper building. It looks like it was probably there when you were writing for them. And the horizon is all aglow now, revealling only the old things, the steeples and smokestacks that once gave this town life...

It's morning now Ti Jean. I walk the red downtown streets. it's a gorgeous day, the bricks growing plump and warm in the sun. I doubt you'd see much here that you know, the whole place is a maze of gentrification. Upscale shops are housed on the ground level of all the old factories lining the canals. Your fellaheen seem to have been priced out. It's nice though, clean, spacious. One narrow path itself is a work of art--sculptures grow from the grass, hang from the trees. Hand-cranked scroll poems along the Eastern Canal. Your own words hang from a banner at your old high school. The clock where you wrote about waiting for Maggie Cassidy stills hangs out front, but the hands are frozen at a time that's no longer there. I walk the bricks, walk the bricks. I'm desperate for pancakes, but can't find any in the modern cafes. I'm about to give up but then I spy Paradise Diner near the tracks. A stack and refillable coffee for 4 bucks! I cross the street to the Commemorative they've built for you, to read your words off the marble pillars. I sit in the middle of them, listening to a landscape crew BS about girls and last night's game. Your words on black marble parallel the black ink tracing my own thoughts across Japanese washi.

I walk to the Boont Hills Museum. A few days ago, looking for info about Lowell, I saw that they're going to put your "On the Road" scroll on display. At the museum, I find that the exhibit won't be open until tonite. The people I see leaving the building are media. So I exaggerate my KJ credentials and somehow bluff myself into the press conference. The mayor of Lowell is there. I can't remember the name, probably a family you know, but it may as well be Quimby, for the accent. A couple other dignitaries give a few words in your honor. I wonder how square you'd find all this. Or perhaps you'd just smile sagelike and keep silent. But c'mon Jack, the local university has given you a PhD this month, fer crissake. The system you and Allen tried to shake awake has taken you as one of theirs. But they do put on a good show. I watch as the caretaker unrolls the scroll, then weighs it down with thin strips of plastic. He explains that the first time they closed the case, the static caused it to levitate. You always were surrounded by ghosts, Jack. And many of those ghosts were on display there in the photos with you. I'm sure you would have been amused, especially the part about how you wrote the book in 3 weeks fueled by "caffeine." Caffeine? Bennies, wasn't it? On the way out I chat with the mayor briefly, then walk outside to follow the path along the Merrimack, laughing all the way. Life can be so wonderful and hilarious.

South of town I stop at your grave. I've brought nothing--no port, no flowers--but I do have a song. I play my flute, sitting awhile among the notes and bits of broken glass, on earth made bare of grass by the many who have come to pay tribute to you--who honored life.

So long, Jack...

On the turntable: Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Time Further Out"

Friday, June 15, 2007

State O'Maine

I awake under the gaze of Victorian women long dead. Breakfast with the B&B owner I haven't met yet. He tells me a couple guys from Kyoto were here a few days back. I walk through the still sleeping town to the Marginal Way trail. I remember now how good it feels to walk. The trail winds before huge homes fortified somewhat against winter storms. Benches offer places to gaze at the Atlantic, but they all have plaques dedicating them to those who died on her temperamental waters. At the trail's far end I have a coffee, then head back to the car. I walk again soon after, along the ameoba-shaped trail of Rachel Carson State Park. All is quiet here, but for the creek of tall maples and the near silent spring of chipmunks on the trail. I stop awhile, watching a flotilla of black-headed geese cruise the perimeter of the marsh. I'm comfortable here, in an ecosystem familiar from my childhood. But there's more to see...

I follow Route 9 north awhile, twisting through beach towns with varied faces. Past homes of old wood and peeling paint. Many of these places date from early Tokugawa times. I arrive at Pine Point where I'd hoped to swim, but the temperature is a holdover from March. I feel like I've arrived at a party too early. I walk into the surf until the water reached my knees. My head is willing but I'm outnumbered two-to-one by my legs. No way. I get in the car again and move south. I'm in New Hampshire for all of 30 minutes. That's how long the coastline is. NH beaches seem to be a well kept secret, even from the locals. They are relatively unspoiled and undeveloped, when one can actually see them behind the low concrete walls or piles of gravel.

Then I'm in Massachussetts. I've already noticed that the driver's absolutely deserve the reputation they have. I just want to mention that that thing sticking out from the steering wheel is to let people know when you're going to turn. Go ahead try it. It moves up and down. Mass people seem to me to be the most unhappy in New England. And the most conservative. Correlation?

Here I'll spend a couple days....

On the turntable: Dizzy Gillespie, "Birk's Works"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Hamp Hump

I'd been in Bristol for twelve days. We've been studying Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, stress the therapy part over the yoga part. As amazing as it is, half of our training is receiving the technique from someone else in the workshop. So, basically, I've gone through two therapy sessions a day, for twelve days. I've no therapy experience whatsoever, and this is more therapy than the majority of human beings get in their lifetime. All this poking and prodding had left me fried, both physically and emotionally.

So with three days off I decided to roam. Through a sheer accident of serendipity, my brother Eric was camped out twenty minutes south of Bristol. He coaches a cross country team in Indiana, and was driving the boys around the Northeast in a Winnebago , camping and running. I hung out with them for a mosquito-filled night and morning. Then I pushed on east.

Through the Green Mountains along the Middlebury Gap. Incredible rivers butt their white heads into boulders. Trees like pine cones, trees like bristles. I startle a young moose on the road. He doesn't seem to know which way to go and lingers on an apparently well-used deer trail, looking back at me. He seems nervous and mama must be nearby. I get back in my car and point it east again. Stalking rivers through wild and calm, over high iron bridges, measuring their limbs. Vermont magic ends. Crossing into New Hampshire, I remember that I'm in the States. The road cuts through forest in a broad swathe, leading to quaint villages and small terminal cities, in both senses of the word. The downtowns appear to be rotting, the empty shops lining both sides of the main street. The remaining shops try to catch up with the outside world, for better or worse. One restaurant has Korean, Japanese, AND Thai food. Just outside the city limits I see the stripmalls and fast food chains. Walmart may as well be holding a smoking gun. Ironically, I'm currently traveling the Daniel Webster Highway, but it appears that in this version, the Devil wins.

I move through a maze of tall trees which hide perspective. The low clouds and creepy vibe of CocoRosie on the CD further enhances the telescope effect. I'm hungry and looking for a small mom and pop place, but all I see is pizza joints. Pizza is my favorite food, so the amazing exclusion of anything else feels like something from a Buddhist parable. Pizza Karma. Make me one with everything.

I ride on, cruising the New Hampshire mountain tops, past hillsides awash in rape and lavender, past lakes of impossible blue. The road straightens out alongside Lake Winnipesaukee . The view is magnificent. This massive body of water is punctuated with small islands, each dotted with small cottages. I think "Matsushima Ya," but ya's pronunciation is closer to Stephen King than to Basho. I'm looking for a place to eat on the water, but the few that appear are more bar-types, and each has dozens of motorcyles in their lots. I'd noticed the "biker's welcome" signs in front of many restaurants and motels, and probably passed a few hundred hogs along this stretch. There is obviously a Run happening this week here. It's not that they intimidate me as much as I'm practicing simple martial arts-inspired avoidence of potential hot spots. Entering a den of drunk rowdy bikers doesn't make for a mellow break from the road. The number of bikes is incredible and the majority are the big beautiful American make. Lots of polished chrome--if the sun were out the glare would be intense. Choppers still trump all and turn the heads of all the other riders. I'm flanked by bikers for a couple hours. The low "gata gata gata gata" rumble is like the presence of a small insect; not annoying, just present. By Maine they'll be gone.

I'd never been to Maine before and had looked forward to this part of the trip. Somehow, I missed the sign marking the border, and immediately became lost. I knew the road on which I travelled lead north, but I rode on, trusting fate to lead me somewhere interesting. The road narrowed, the trees hemmed in, the forest darkened. I followed this grey line until the trees stopped.

That place is Ogunquit, in a gorgeous Victorian B&B called the Yellow Monkey, a place chosen for the name's ironic value. About an hour after checking in, I notice that most of the others staying here are young, handsome, and male. I quickly realize that I've accidently picked a place which lodges these "confirmed bachelors." I'd forgotten that there is a large gay community here, and the gentle care in which the kind owner checked me in should have been a hint. And the way he mentioned that the jacuzzi was clothing optional...
I read awhile on the balcony, then go up the road for the lobster I'd long looked forward to. But I don't remember how to eat one. I tear in the way the Japanese eat crab, tearing and sucking, horrifying the neighboring tables and my server. Blame the wine...

On the turntable: Rusted Root, "When I Woke"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday papers: Warner Herzog

“Those who watch television, lose the world, and those who read, gain it.”

On the turntable: "Smoke Signals" (sdtk)
On the nighttable: Junot Diaz, "Drown"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Notes on the Road to Vermont

A roundabout path takes me to Nagoya airport. I always think of this as Japan's Chicago, and from here I'm to fly directly to the American original. But then I'm told I have to change in SFO. Wha? I intentionally came all this way to avoid that. Despite my travel walla's major error, I shrug my own big shoulders, deciding to forget it with coffee and blueberry cheesecake. The first forkful drops onto my khakis. I'll wear this purple stigmata for the next 30 hours.

The High Sierra's absolutely snow-capped, despite a calendar nudging June.

From the speakers in O'Hare, Orwell's disembodied voice reminds me of the recent Orange Alert. I keep my eyes open but see no fruit at all. As I await my next flight, an Indian guy sits next to me and proceeds to talk on his cell phone in Hindi. A trio of short hairs eyes him with slight frowns, then one of them exemplifies US foreign policy perfectly by launching into a story of the cremation he witnessed in Baghdad during his recent tour.

The sun setting twice on the 29th of May; once over the Pacific , again over Lake Eire.

Jet-lag makes me feel shrink-wrapped.

I'm feeling more disconnected from the US this time around. It's been two years but feels like twenty.

The usual good times in CT, despite sleepless nights and tormented stomach. A massive thunderstorm triggers an electrical frenzy of thoughts in an already sleep-deprived mind.

Drive north. New England greatly resembles its aponymous older sibling in its churches and town names. Though thankfully without the crap weather. I laugh aloud at some signs-- "Worship in Canaan," "Mexi-Canaan," "Willies Weiner Wagon". On two occasions, I spy a driver in the midst of a tremendous fit behind the wheel. Closer approach reveals arm waving usually seen in a rap video. Another tragic Drive-by Shouting. Ignoring these references to the present century I drive on, thru towns older than the country.

Finally arrive in the town where I'll spend a few weeks. I look up the town's main street. How'd I wind up in Sicily, Alaska?

On the turntable: Los Romeros, "Spanish Guitar Favorites"
On the nighttable: Blake Morrison, "And when did you last see your father?"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday papers: Richard Ford

"There is no cynicism like lifelong self-love and the tunnel vision in which you yourself are all that's visible at the tunnel's end."

--The Sportswriter

On the turntable: Jimmy Reed, "Live at Carnegie Hall"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder, " Look Out!"

Friday, June 01, 2007

World in Union

This year, the month of May was composed of the elements.

The gold of Golden Week was more the amber of fire, four near sleepless days of feeding wood into a kiln ablaze, tempering pliable clay into the hardness of form. Miki and I in a remote valley in Ishikawa, high above the sea, surrounded by road crumbed in a recent powerful quake. There were a couple dozen of us here, refugees against the usual holiday madness, half taking part in a course on zen, the rest feeding the fire. At ten minute intervals we'd thrust arms elbow deep into the blaze, pushing toward the hoped for 1250 degrees C. We'd work a few hours, sleep a few, work a few more. There was a primal feel to this pace, far from the usual "8's" of sleep and workaday world. Time retreated to that which existed before the parallels of rails brought about the circular paths of clocktime. Meals and sleep too, became arbitrary, making room for conversation borne of silence, and dance borne of sound. I'd take my leave occasionally, a brief respite from the "we" of my adopted home, to the "me" of my birth culture, yet clinging still to the words and the music by reading my books on Japanese jazz.

During its last weekend, May took the form of earth. At the Moon (夢雲) Gallery, deep in the wilds of Nara, Ezaki Mitsuru (江崎満) displayed his forms which we'd midwived in fire. Surrounded by hills and trees, we again broke from civilized clock time, too distracted by food grown in the surrounding soil, and in the "salt of the earth" conversation, if I may be allowed to further spur on the metaphor.

Those May days between were a waltz between wind and water, gentle breezes under flawless skies begot rainstorms of sudden fury and violence.

And ether? Through this I passed, defying physics for 24 hours. Here too, clock time once again was lost as the darkness of night lasted a few brief hours, and the sun set twice in the same "day", once over the Pacific, and again over Lake Eire.

And now, entering the void of mu here in the States, not so much a figure moving through space like in my usual travels, but more as a hole in the tapestry; both a part of this space (at least in my role as an American), yet separate from it. Time again looping, looping, into a mobius strip of the man I am and the boy I was, finding it impossible to co-exist...

On the turntable: Kiri Te Kanawa, "Kiri!"
On the nighttable: Doris Grumbach, "Fifty Days of Solitude"