Hippie Music, Scenes from Another World

4 July 2001

I have flowers on the table again! Mary Anne and Jed brought them when they came for supper last night. (Mary Anne, the mint brownie recipe is here.) I love having flowers on the table. Of course, it's 6:15 a.m., so they're rather dim and fuzzy flowers yet. But that's okay.

Our cable modem has been on-again/off-again all of yesterday and today. Argh. And there were some fairly emotional sorts of e-mails sitting in my in-box. So: if you gave me any revelations, I'll deal with them. If you apologized for anything that I would have read by noon yesterday, you're forgiven. And if you freaked out on me, calm yourself down. Get over it.

Unrelated to anything else in this journal today, I think you all should know that I don't kill people (or steal their stuff, or whatever) because I don't want to. I don't think it's a good idea. It's not that there is A Rule in my life (although I do have rules and even a few Rules) and I'm afraid that someone (a police officer, my mom, God, whoever) will catch me Breaking That Rule. It's that I generally think that doing evil and hurtful stuff is a bad idea. And if you're just not killing people, stealing their stuff, whatever, because you're afraid of retribution from an authority figure, well, I'm not too comfortable hanging out with you. If that's your only deterrent, get yourself some professional help.

So. I finished Waltari's A Stranger Came to the Farm yesterday, and I hated it. Every word of it. Thought it was a terrible book. The thing that really got me, though, was not the shallow characters or the pointless symbolism, or even the big ol' message stick the author kept beating us with. No. I was struck by the fact that it was an anti-book book. It was going on about the evils of city life (and, of course, us fast city women), and among them was the books that one read in the city. Like, one would imagine, A Stranger Came to the Farm. A book that says, "Don't read books"...I don't know.

I always shake my head at people who idealize farming as Being In Touch With The Land. Farming, for one thing, is a profoundly unnatural activity -- at least, as much as any human activity is. Farmers are not getting in touch with nature. They are bending nature to their will, rather more directly than we apartment-dwellers do. For another, the people who praise the nobility of the farm life have clearly never visited small-town South Dakota, or Nebraska, or Finland, for that matter. Addictive behavior didn't start in the city, and it hasn't migrated there. Small-town and rural Finland when Waltari wrote his book had alcoholism in massive percentages. Small-town Nebraska and Missouri (and South Dakota and Kansas and....) have alcoholism and meth labs and any number of other wholesome things. Isolating people doesn't purify them any more than throwing them together in a big crowd does. And visiting a farm to chop wood and play peasant (as many Finns do, and as our Swedish friends do) is one thing; having to live that lifestyle day in and day out is another completely. Silly author man.

So then I started reading Résumé With Monsters, but since A Stranger Came to the Farm was not as bad as A Winter's Tale (if only by virtue of being shorter), the "thank God" effect lasted less time. I do like Résumé With Monsters in some ways, but it frustrates me that Spencer is using Lovecraft's monsters. I know that he did it on purpose. I know that "Lovecraftian monster book" is now its own subgenre. But having read Zod Wallop, I have full confidence in Spencer's ability to make me squirm all by his little self, and I'm disappointed in him for not doing it.

I've heard fans of this genre refer to Lovecraft's mythos. Sorry. Not mythos. One person cannot make mythos. One person can make fiction. Myths, mythos, mythology, whatever -- Lovecraft was pretty murky, but murk and uncertainty are not the same thing. And I frankly don't believe that what Lovecraft generated was rich enough that it's worth other authors' time to try to use it directly. Indirectly, sure, yes, be inspired, mazel tov. But directly -- well. This book is different in quality, not in nature, from the stuff you can get on the internet about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock being gay lovers. (I haven't sought this out myself; I just read the Salon article on it this last weekend. Ahh, Salon, the webzine whose only unifying theme is "stuff not to talk about with the in-laws.") é

At any rate. I'll probably enjoy the rest of Résumé with Monsters, but I'm still disappointed in him for writing it to begin with.

This is the first Fourth of July in three years that Timprov and I will not have seen Arlo Guthrie sing. It's sad. He's not performing anywhere this year, or we'd have been seriously thinking about packing up for Oklahoma or New Hampshire or wherever he was. (Not doing it. No money. Just seriously thinking, and sighing.) Arlo is great in concert. We love Arlo and his sweet, loving hippie self and the way his kids look at him when they're performing together. His daughter, Sara, gives him the look that I know so well, "Oh, Daddy, you're so silly." It's a daughter's prerogative.

The first time we saw him, Arlo was playing in Norfolk. (That's Norfolk, Nebraska, pronounced "Nor-fork.") Timprov and Curt drove down from St. Pete to spend the weekend with me and see Arlo. My folks almost came, too, but decided to stay home and soothe the dog against the fireworks. Which proved to have been a kind and necessary decision. Anyway. We listened to him sing The Pickle Song, and we learned a few new ones, and we heard about the mooses that come walking (maybe an early inspiration, I don't know), and we heard stories about his dad and "This Land Is Your Land," which we then sang with the entire Johnny Carson Auditorium full of people. We were so not their demographic. Everyone else in the auditorium was either over forty or clearly being dragged there by their parents. Many of them looked like they were only there because he was Woody Guthrie's boy, which amused the heck out of us. Then we had pancakes at Country Kitchen, because that's what we could find, and headed home. On the drive out, I'd gotten to enjoy my prairies; on the drive back, the small town fireworks displays were synchronized perfectly so that just when we had passed one, another came into view. It was one of those things you just can't embellish with adjectives. It was good.

Last year, he was at the Marin County Fair. That was, oh goodness, quite a different crowd. And they loved Arlo. They were his kind of freaks. And so, I guess, were we. Mark had never been to an Arlo concert. Standing in line for a pretzel, he heard a man saying to his baby, "You're going to hear Arlo! Yes you are! And he's going to sing the Pickle song for you!" He didn't, and there were no mini-donuts, but there were fireworks over the Bay on the drive home, and the concert was happy, satisfied, and we all sang along, even Mark, who often doesn't sing with popular music. But it wasn't really popular. It was Arlo. (Oddly enough, Arlo told a story about his friends being arrested for drug possession after doing the "Ring Around the Rosy Rag" that he hadn't told in Norfolk. Wonder why that was.)

So today I'm going to put on some Arlo. It may not be what your Independence Day is about, but that's what I want mine to be. Well. Part of it.

That might not have been my best Independence Day, though. We've had some pretty good ones. When I was maybe six, we were in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they hadn't celebrated the Fourth until the Johnson administration. We sat on top of the Buick to avoid the fire ants, ate KFC, and watched the fireworks show, talked to the locals. Grandpa hated fire ants and KFC, and he grumped about them and made me laugh. Had a great time. That might have been the best. Year before that, we had spent Canada Day in Toronto and then came down for a Fourth of July in Philadelphia with my cousins Garrett and Dustin. (Garrett was my favorite favorite cousin. He let me play Princess Leia with a light saber, agreeing with my reasoning that it was surely oversight that she hadn't had one in the movies.) We wandered around seeing all of the historical Philadelphia things, and I dropped blueberry yogurt in my daddy's hair when I was riding on his shoulders. That night, we watched a fireworks competition among seven nations. That might have been the best.

The summer I was in Ohio, a couple of professors took a bunch of us physics students out to a lake for windsurfing. I'm too blind to windsurf, so my friend Dawn and I got in to swim. It was windy, and neither of us had done much lake swimming -- certainly not too far from a dock. But it only looked like a couple of miles across, and we swam that far and farther easily in the pool back at the university, at least every other day. So we set off. By the time we got to the middle of the lake, the wind had picked up, and there were currents. We swam for about ten minutes just to stay in place, and that was when my blood sugar started dropping. Dawn kept lying to me, telling me the shore was only a few feet off and it only looked like farther because I had my contacts out. When we washed up on the rocks on the far shore, I passed out. Dawn started screaming and jumping up and down (we'd been screaming before, but nobody heard us), and a couple of the guys saw her, saw me not moving, and walked around the long way with warm towels and some food. I got up, and we met them in the middle.

That night, all of the physics students went out on dates or home to their parents or various other places except for me and Dan. Dan and I headed over to the planetarium. There was live footage coming in from Pathfinder, which had just landed on Mars. The planetarium was almost empty: some professors, some postdocs, and a few elderly space enthusiasts and friends of the planetarium. We half-sat, half-laid in the inclined seats and stared up at the pictures from another world. One of the professors got up to give a talk about his involvement with Global Surveyor project. The elderly space enthusiasts listened. We'd already heard about it. We tuned him out and gazed upwards, quietly. When we came out, filled with quiet, one of the people we passed on the sidewalk said, "Hey! You missed all the fireworks!" We stared at her. Eventually we got back to Earth enough to laugh at her. We went back to the dorm and sat in my room for another hour and a half of silence: I wrote pages and pages. Dan got drunk on my roommate's schnapps.

They're right, you know. Big dreams do make it harder to live in the daily world. Or else they make it possible. I haven't decided which.

Happy Independence Day.

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