Archive for June, 2008

Being That Guy

Posted in hit bull win steak with tags , on June 23, 2008 by samsondoggie

The Diamondvision said “Dora is now at the Store on the Stadium Concourse.” In case you had trouble with reading that, there was a picture of Dora as well, about ten feet tall, clapping her hands.

Susie turned to me. “We all have to go to Dora,” she said.

I think to ask, “But who will hold these seats for us? In the eighth row, behind home plate?” As if I fail to grasp the scope of the situation. A wife understands, balances the inclinations of her constituents, and advises.

“We all have to go,” she reiterates.

We stand up, and make our way up to the exit area. It is crowded. People stumble in these esplanades and concourses. Left, right, stop, look up, pause and consider: cotton candy, or hot dog? I think I could run a mile in the time it takes to move two children through 200 feet of concessions. We walk back down a long flight of stairs, to the plaza near the Gate.

Ah. There is Dora. She is hugging a small girl. She is wearing a backpack. Her hair is cut in an odd pompadour. It is something slightly Asian. It evokes the yakuza and their Punch Perms.

A tensor bar separates the crowd from Dora. The bar winds back to the stairs, around, and back up. Our eyes follow the line. It goes back, back, back all the way to those same concessions. I cannot count the number of kids in line. Easily, it is more than 100, all with mothers and most with handy snappers.

“You know why we have to see this, right?” says Susie. Rosie is buried in her shoulder. “Rosie, who is Dora?”

“Dora is my friend,” she says. “I think I love her.”

So we wait. Except we don’t have a camera. Matt from Holly Springs does, though. Susie gets Matt to agree to email us a photo. To do that, Matt will have to wait. But, he is game. His daughter waits,having seen Dora. The line shrinks. There are only three more children to go. Rosie is ecstatic.

“I am going to give her a kiss,” she says.

As I remember, there was no kissing in baseball. Or maybe that was crying. No crying in baseball. But I think the kissing rule was understood. But, we are not really at a baseball game anymore. We are at a Dora meeting. One with a baseball game nearby.

Hmm. An assistant is pulling the tensor bar across the line. Dora is leaving. She is walking into a lit corridor underneath the stadium. Dora has left the session.

The assistant looks at us. “Dora gets a water break between innings,” she says. “It’s the rule.”

Nice. As if three innings was a long shift. Dora obviously is not from North Carolina. We work in North Carolina. Rosie is worried. Matt from Holly Springs slumps. Oh, no. Time passes. I hear a loud cheer. Another. Its hot. Dora is not hot. Dora is on break.

Dora returns. The assistant produces a Polaroid. Rosie wraps both arms around Dora and kisses her on the nose.

We exit, fulfilled, and head back to the stadium. We pass the Caterpillar truck exhibition, the empty Goodberry’s stall, and the Budweiser stand.

We have promised John a cotton candy. There is a stand, off on the side. Purple and blue twists fill plastic bags like stuffed pillows. Susie cringes. “Last year,” she says, “there was a small. Where is the small?”

It has been eliminated. There are only large size cotton candies now. Granulated and dyed sugar, spun into a twisted vine at least two feet high. The median age of a cotton candy consumer is probably four. This seams like forced outlandishness, like a reckless liberty against our good will, an indecency against our desire to uphold a summer tradition.

The concession vendor understands the problem. “They decided to get rid of the smalls,” she says. “Call the Bulls. It is too much.”

I am glad to have her advocacy. She has picked a hard path in life, speaking truth to colored sugar. I pay her and we pick one out. Susie leaves with the kids. “Get us a concrete, eh?”

Yes, that sounds good. A concrete — chocolate ice cream custard stuffed with some kind of topping. I turn around, thinking that I can move freely and quickly. I see the Goodberry’s stand, not more than twenty feet back the way of Dora. I move in its direction swiftly, calmly. Satisfaction is to be mine.,

That is when ,from the other way, a Little League team slowly drifts in between us. They turn and stop in front of the Goodberry’s.

“I want chocolate,” says one. “I want vanilla,” says the other. A muscled man in a golf shirt encourages them. “Don’t order all at once,” he says.

They don’t. Theirs is a society of rhetoric. They bounce combinations off of each other, orders seeming to develop and then recede. “I think a butter pecan with marshmallows,” says one. “No,” says another, “try it with sprinkles. Mixed.”

Its a big team. They don’t cue up so much as they oscillate, like bees. I wait. I give them a bit of room. A mistake. Another guy, in a black golf shirt that reads something like “Integrinon” or “Follagious” or “Ladracept” moves right through the pack. That must be the name of whatever venture capital-funded office park fly-by-night get rich quick place that paid for his tickets where he works place is.

I can’t believe it. Maybe he is married to the woman with the team. Maybe that is it. No way is he just cutting through me and the rest of his team. But the woman turns, sees him, and stares through him.

Nope, he’s just cutting.

“Hey, dude, there is a line,” I blurt out. Its loud.  I can’t believe I just said that.  He turns around.  In for a dime, in for a dollar.

“A line that begins back here, Like with me and about forty kids in it.”

I think I was a bit strong. “Hey, no problem,” he says. “Go ahead.”

The little league team is like the Red Sea, and I am Moses, parting it. There are two vendors, both are ready to serve me.

“What would you like,” they ask.

I can feel a lot of eyes on me. If this was the movies, my words would be coming out in slow-motion, altered to a deep cave man-like contortion. Its a plaintive cry:

“Just a chocolate ice cream.”

Except its not that simple. “Do you want a chocolate with chocolate chips,” says the short blonde,
“or, with heath bar chunks?

“He just says he wants a chocolate,” the guy beside her says. His expression evokes <a href=”http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/ridgebio.html”>Tom Ridge</a>. Be prepared. I think he is already imagining how he will recount the story of how he broke a bone selling Goodberry’s. “Get him a chocolate, now!”

She gives me the heath bar crunch. The damage is done, though. I can already tell that I have become “the customer” that will make up the basis for whatever postgame break they take. I am the bad guy. I lost it.

I sit back down in our seats and hand the concrete to Susie. My pulse feels light. I don’t really want the concrete anymore. It seems dirty. I guess it happens. For me, it was three innings of water breaks for Dora, crazy portions of cotton candy, and good seats gone un-sat upon.

“This is the fun place,” says Rosie. “But Boots wasn’t here.”

River Story

Posted in hit bull win steak with tags on June 20, 2008 by samsondoggie

This week, news reports show riverbanks in Missouri overflowing with water. People up and down the river, in little towns like Hannibal, Clarksville, or Oakville (Iowa) are sandbagging. The reports come across on my browser through Yahoo or the New York Times. Sometimes there are graphic photographs, taken from helicopters, that show the beautiful force of water working against the folly of man’s effort.

Many of the interviews recall the Great Flood of 1993. Some say this flood might force a name change, to just the Flood of 1993, because this one might be even greater.

I remember that flood.

I had a new car, a ’93 Saturn SL2, and it carried all my worldly possessions when I drove it into Columbia, Missouri in August 1993. My destination was the University of Missouri, and in particular, its photojournalism program.

I had a lot of baggage.  I thought you had a good meal if you had a large Combos.  I thought it was somewhat shameful to put aluminum siding on your house.

What made me drive there was simple: I wanted to be a photojournalist.

I-70 was clear all the way. The highway is built on high ground as is most of the town where the University of Missouri has been established.

I guess the high ground was an amenity about my otherwise disastrous apartment.  Although it only cost $230 per month, it took $120 per month to heat and cool it.  As my apartment was conveniently located right next to the Interstate, I could hear the hammer of jake breaks all night.  My phone number shared all but one digit with the most popular pizza delivery place in town.

The reason to be there was to take photos. We had a photo lab. It was a place to develop black and white film, to stare at wet prints, to tell your friend to “burn in the blacks,” and to stroll out at midnight for a Boulevard.

The flood was the only story that summer. As a newbie, of course, I had no pictures of the flood. I did have a bunch of pastoral scenes from Newfoundland. They were pretty. They were not “news.” News was what we were seeking, divining, prospecting for.

News is what the older students could show in their trays. The second years had spent the summer hitching rides on aluminum fishing boats. They knew how to keep condensation out of an F-3. They had gotten tetanus shots.

My jealousy was complete and full-throated.

I was kicking myself for not showing up in June. What was I doing driving around Atlantic Canada? I wanted to get stranded overnight in Missouri Electric Co-op hall. I wanted to see sandbags piling up on the edge of a cresting river. I wanted to make the picture that would explain the unassailable force of rising water.

Well, that’s a lot to hope for. More subtly, of course, I could see that I was in store to experience a new kind of learning. I had spent years writing expository papers on things like literary criticism and historicism. It got me a great job waiting tables. A lot of these kids had the same background, of course, but now they had something new to give them a reason to forget all of that. The flood was a BIG STORY, my first.

Of course, the mistake for a young journalist is to view the entire world within the frame of your story.

I remember the day I drove out to talk to a farmer in Hallsville about his field of crops, now under water.  We sat in his kitchen.  He sat in a stuffed cloth chair, one leg supported by concrete blocks.  The room was full of things that should have been outside, where the ground was now submerged.  Things like axes or
gas cans.

He stared at me. He had overalls, a heavy face, and an old Ford truck.  I asked him about the truck.

“Fix it or repair daily,” his son interjected.  The gaunt son wore thick sideburns.  There was a harmonica in his pocket.

“Sir,” I said to his father, “what will you do now?”

He settled into his chair.  A moment passed, then another.  I could tell he had nothing to say. The flood was over, the water was receding and the damage was done. What was there, really, that would change things? He didn’t have insurance, and he had a big mess to clean up. The big story was that his little farm was lost. I wondered if he was going to instead ask, “why were you up in Canada when the water was rising? That was when you should have been here.”

His son wanted to talk. Not about those crops, though, but about his idea for selling shares to city folk in organic produce. He handed me a copy of Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Gardener. We walked around the fields.  We drove into town.  We played pool and had chili dogs.

I kept looking for the story that I had been sent to find, about the wet crops, but here was another in front of me, maybe just as eternal: the son, trying a new way that his father can’t understand. Sometimes the current inside a person has nothing to do with the stream, or flood, of physical events that surround their own life.

That day I failed, because I didn’t get a farmer story.  I learned something,though, about another person’s dreams.  I brought my own heroes along with me, but he showed me the reverence he had for his own.

I was new to journalism and it was okay that I didn’t have a story.  As I spent more time in Missouri, I came to understand that my teachers wanted to combat the “big event” coverage.  They wanted to inculcate in us a desire to draw out the stories of people.  They wanted us to push against the pre-ordained interpretation.

— —

Since we’re talking about water: This is the first fortnight of the summer for swimming lessons. Rosie is learning to hold her breath underwater this week. John is jumping off the diving board without a floatie. I went to witness the last day of lessons yesterday.

“I am so happy that I got to show you my under the water,” said Rosie. She exults, flexes her arm muscles, and screams.

Today we built a shed in our backyard.  I don’t know why we didn’t do this a long time ago.  Now we have a place for everything.  It is 8 feet by 12 feet, with 6 foot sidewalls and a lock on the doors.  It has a finished floor, a foundation of cinder blocks, and ventilation in the ceiling.

Wedding at St. Anthony Falls

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 10, 2008 by samsondoggie

Exhausted.  I think my kids are beyond that zone after this weekend.  we went to Minneapolis for the wedding of my sister to her betrothed.  It was a great time.  There was a late night on Friday for the rehearsal, then an even later one the night of the wedding.  In between, there were airplane rides and water parks and long walks through city streets in search of dinner or the Guthrie Theater.

I will remember seeing a lot of the friends of my parents from Connecticut.  Most of them are now in the last years of their careers.  Twenty years ago, they were driven professionals making a stop in the suburbs of New York.  A few stayed, most went on to South Carolina or Georgia or Florida.  They’re solid people.  These are good years, where they are largely free of the responsibility of their job or of children.  They are still healthy and going places.

It was a great weekend.  John kept asking if we could travel more.  He wants to go to India and Russia and perhaps to Europe, as he has never been there.  Minneapolis is such a progressive city.  They have made a huge commitment to a lot of the good things — the arts, transit, immigrants, and parks.

As I dress in the quiet of a June morning in North Carolina, neither my kids or my wife notice or stir.  Its already 94 degrees.  I guess it has been 100 for all four of the days that we were gone.

Miles ridden: 6.2.

Inbox emails: 144.

What did you have for dinner? Tilapia in olive oil with ginger, garlic, and dill.  Broccoli, rice.

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