Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fatherly Vente's

I was going to write tonight more about How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, but a magical thing happened.

The last (I have been calling them entries, but I feel that to be a stupid term, so for now on I will use the word...) chapter I wrote about William Least Heat Moon.  A highly admirable, though somewhat colorful companion in the world of his books.  I love his books.  I kissed Blue Highways when I finished it at seventeen.  It spoke of the life I dared not dream of even in the doting household of my parents (they were not fans of controlling the imagination of their children, though I certainly got in the way of their most expansive efforts to free me from the world.) 

 The thing about Blue Highways, now not my favorite book of his, was that it was utterly lucid.  A guy. His van. The highway.  At seventeen even, I knew there wasn't much I was missing in that beyond the obvious impossible experiences of a marriage and adulthood.  He met people as I do.  He simply assumed they had something to say. I have that habit as well.  It was empowering to see what happens when the narratives that middle class society regards as secondary to the "main things" of life make way for the secret yearnings of the people of the world.  Since Blue Highways I have traveled and have had the same experience.  To this day, many people, when I talk about my experiences, wish to know, "But Andy, what is concrete that you can say about such categories of experience?"  Such questions are well meaning, even loving, but really, the product of a world that needs you to not accept your liberty.  We are all too happy to take such confidence as wisdom, instead of the con that it shares an etymology with.

Don't get me wrong, this is not the valley of the shadow of death by any means.  Just a note to one's self:  people expect you to care less.  Not more, or equivalent to a friend.  And you, by the same token, wish you could care more (or have it realized that you do) and experience the folks you encounter, even marginally, as true members of the same civic club.

So what was magical?

This evening I finished my duties to my family after work, and the rain being what it was, felt no great pressure to pretend the garden needed me, so went and glanced at some materials for my parents, who may return to Indiana, from New Mexico.  The "materials" were books about an Indiana that they might enjoy, different from the one they grew up in, and lived amongst before they made the fantastic decision to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Albuquerque.

I have always had a probably puerile (I got the word from Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore) interest in my home state, Indiana.  It is hard for people who know where the real things happen in the world to understand my sentiment.  Or rather, they understand it to be exactly that, sentiment.  This subtle put down, is water off a ducks back.  The last thing I want is my home to be "discovered" by a bunch of people who suddenly take to our well watered mild climate, and incredibly inexpensive, and easily maneuvered rat race.  My life then, would become, more conventional, less free.  I share my ecstatic feelings about this state to a small number, and count on the mandate for "success" in others to leave me wide swath in my town to find my "fortune."

This evening I had finished with the minutiae in my life, and wanted to settle down to the cooing of the muses, and write something for eternity, or at least, the remainder of my life, about what turns me on, today.

The subject I wanted to write about was a new book called Mannahatta.  I had glanced at it, while at lunch today, and it is so very much the promise of the interdisciplinary habit of more and more scholars these days, that it represented for me a number of new strata reached, on this great empirical terrace that is knowledge and understanding from our narrow view of the universe.  

For one thing, when glancing through the book (I haven't read it) you see these two page spreads, from time to time, one half (the page on the left) a rendition of Manhattan Island around 1609, and the other half a modern photo, to match.  While the rendition, clearly is a computer simulation, informed by GIS (geographical information systems), seeing the spread in its entirety gave me a novel sensation, if not inspiration.  This was one of the first times I had seen computer graphics utilized where the computer graphics seemed more real and pertinent to the questions of my mind then the real world right next to it.

I am something of a fan of the trade magazines of the special effects industry.  Ever since I was a child I have loved the idea of fantasy being brought to life.  As I grew older I imagined the other things that "virtual worlds" through special effects might bring me: culturally, informatively, even morally.  I had a wonderful argument with a friend, just after I came to Bloomington eleven years ago, where I argued that "virtual reality" would one day bring the experience of the oppressed so close to our conceptual doorstep that we would not be able to hide from it in our leafy Tree City USA hamlets, as if we could not touch upon such an experience. 

In fairness, my friend, who will go unmentioned, was a BIG moral compass in my late adolescence, and I had failed him time and again by living my own personal version of life, quite apart from his understanding, and to his and my families great worry.  He had by then come to expect my "visions of grandeur," and since he had worked with mentally ill people for a few years by then, was privately concerned about my probable category of mental fitness.  Between our childhood and that moment I had not proven myself resilient to the stresses of life especially to convince him of any outlandish argument I might make.  With people who did not know me so well, I found a different audience for such things.  And different lives to assimilate through my ears and heart.  What a wonderful era that was for me.  These "strangers" saved my life in ways my family and friends had tried to for years.  One word: Bloomington.

He may be right.  Perhaps the stories of people that we find more and more of in our world, so connected, mean much less than I was arguing.  But I couldn't retract the smile that went across my face in the Kendalliville, IN, library I found myself in one autumn morning, having traveled there to visit my Grandparents; the town from which my parents sprung.  I was playing a little Least Heat Moon myself (I'm sure I imagined) and trolling the microfiche of the local newspaper that my dad had delivered as a child.  What I was looking for was news of family members, my mothers side, and my dad's.  I found, on my very first attempt, guessing at the date, August 20, 1955, an ad from my namesake, my Grandfather Coffey.  He was an entrepreneur in cars, and his company was called "George A. Coffey Inc."  I couldn't believe my luck, so quickly into my inquiry.  A library has always been a thing of power to me. But that day it seemed a predator upon ignorance of my own self, and the history of my beloved.  Not bad, brick and mortar.  

This was not long ago.  It was in fact the autumn of Katrina, which was somewhat on my mind as well.  So wouldn't you know if a storm was in the paper I was enjoying my Grandfather's ad in as well.  A storm, in 1955, that devastated New Orleans.  Perhaps not as badly as Katrina, but then, maybe it did.  How could one know?  The Nineth Ward even then was a black community, with the same families so recently destroyed.  It makes me want to Google it now.  I think I will: (be right back. I promise I will hurry...)  OK. So, according to Wikipedia, Hurricane Brenda (my mothers name) did some damage to New Orleans and killed a few people in Alabama.  The newspaper, perhaps predictably, made it sound a little worse.  Good for them.  

Nowadays 200,000 people can die of TB, and Swine Flu's death toll of a dozen is the news.  So a place for everything and EVERYTHING in its place.

I couldn't help but smile for the strange shrinkage of the world ala Walt Disney's famous ride.  I didn't need a reminder. Here was my Grandfather (and a few details, I wish I found more, of my other Grandfather, Grandpa Wilondek,  who passed away this last January.  He was the police chief of Kendallville for a long while.  I will go back (or goto another archives, apparently in IU's library)) and here was a storm, apropos of something, before my eyes. It made me smile.  

The world tells stories it feels will be heard.

Me too.

So tonight what happened that was magical?

I was embarrassed to be going to Starbucks, which I had promised myself to avoid, due to the pathetic entry it represented on my checking account register (annoyingly computerized.)  I used to spend a hundred dollars plus, per month, on coffee.  Enough said. I have had girlfriends wake me up with coffee from a Starbucks (or thank God, more likely, local place) with a smile on their face like they had just bought me twelve virgins.  In the morning, when I rise, give me coffee, what can I say?

Well this evening, I felt the same, so I went to Starbucks, and quelled my disquiet with the promise that I would be writing, on the parabolic energetics of even the caffeine free version of my morning sin.  Surely something prosaic would come of the twenty ounces we Americans have learned (despite years of the French telling us how to say it for real in metric terminology) to call Vente.  

One young man approached me, and asked, "Can I help you?"

My answer was that I needed a decaf Vente.

He demurred that the decaf was gone for the day.  But would I like to wait for another brewing, or he could make a four shot Americano espresso drink?  

As a baker, for years, I had had run of an espresso machine at three in the the morning.  Nobody was looking, so back then I had translated my cigarette habit of years past, to an outrageous seven shot pull before my shift to the Gram Parsons that I listened to in those days.  So just about when Gram and Emmylou began to sweep out the ashes in the morning, I was getting lit on seven shots of heaven, and my answer to the Barista at Starbucks, was, "Yes, that will do."

Over the course of the espresso brewing I had indicated, somehow, that I was writing that evening, and intended to stay up pretty late.  The Barista, a charming man, who seemed to know how to keep the customers comfortable, indicated that he felt that was pretty cool, but I felt none the less a need to explain my paint stained carpenters pants and generalized lack of interest in being perceived as a person who presumed to be a "writer."  So I told him I was actually a carpenter, or contractor, whichever he might prefer.

He lit up a bit and presumed, "You like to work with your hands?"

I admitted that I wished more people did, as I found it enormously satisfying.

He told me, "You know, my dad is a bookbinder."

I asked him, "You mean the guy at eleventh and College?" a place that I had annoyed with my questions and inquiry many times.

"No," he said, "my father works at the Lilly Library."

"My God," I said, "your dad is a stud."

He explained that his father in fact was in charge of the Jack Kerouac scroll, which as I have explained above was a fantastic part of my life living in Bloomington.  I tried not to scare the poor guy, but mentioned as casually as I might, that William Least Heat Moon, in all probability interviewed his dad.  He seemed, as should surely be the case in the domestic world, surprised that his father would have touched upon something timeless to another.

I assured him, that merely asking his dad would provide an answer.

To his credit, he wrote down the name "William Least Heat Moon" and I left with my delicious Vente, wondering, is that guy really related to the dude I read about in Heat Moon's latest book?  

When I got home I looked up his fathers delicious last name, mixed with Heat Moon, on Google: "Canary Heat Moon" to wit.  The answer could not have been more discreet and obvious.  I knew that the answer was likely to be found in the text of The Road To Quoz.

It sure was.

Mr. Canary is in fact a stud.

So I found his Email address, and wrote him an ode to his son.  I might have mentioned the fact that his son found reason to mention him in an admiring fashion to the general public.

Least Heat Moon has powers still to touch me, I guess.

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