You never did ; the Kenosha Kid
I was just talking with one of my neighbors, a tall, blond, early twenties, nordic-looking fellow with a very short crew cut. We've said hello to each other often, but never really talked before. He and his wife, Heidi, moved to Albany two years ago from Luddington, MI. They hate it here. He said they've hated it since they got here, and they can't wait to leave.
We began by talking about our similar Midwestern origins.
First off, I was struck by how similar my neighbor and his wife look. More like brother and sister, than husband and wife. Same round face, same blond hair, same blond eyebrows and eyelashes, same close cropped crew cut; and, it seems, same mindset.
I just invited Jeremy to join us later tonight, up the hill at the Empire State Plaza. Today is International Food Day, with 200 vendors selling native cuisine from all over the world. I plan to take the Robert Sietsema approach. Look for the stall representing the most exotic country I can find, and ask for the weirdest thing on their menu.
Later tonight, Buster Poindexter and his band will be providing the entertainment. I know he sounds familiar, but I can't place exactly who, or what, he is.
Jermemy, Heidi and I hail from the same part of the country, but our attitudes about here and there, are diametrically opposed. I couldn't wait to get out of the midwest; though it took me a few years to realize that the east coast is where I needed to come. I couldn't wait to get out of the house and on my own, as well as get out of my hometown, Kenosha, WI. I went first to Chicago, then to Milwaukee and finally to Madison before moving here, to Albany, in 1976, America's Bicentennial year.
During the years I lived in Madison, I made many friends in NYC and Boston and so I took numerous 18-hour headlong drives from Madison to the eastcoast. I was never able to reach the level of hard-nosed travel that my friend, Fred Escher was expert at it. Fred would strap himself into the driver's seat of his Ford van, get on the turnpike, head south from Janesville, then east from Chicago, and never stop once; except to pick up toll tickets and give the toll-takers their money at the state-border lines. Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Fred never even got out of the truck to go to pee. I used to think that he must have carried a bottle or a plastic bag with him; but now I know that he just had incredible control. Actually, Fred has incredible control over most of his functions.
The defining aspect of those trips was the landscape. Flat and straight. In the midwest, I hated the fact that you could see where you were headed and where you were coming from for hours on end. No surprises; at least not until you reached the eastern edge of Pennsylvania. That's when you first encounter some variety in the landscape. That's where the mountains begin. Finally, some drift and curve to the highway.
What's around the next bend?
Fred moved east before me. He and I made a number of trips between Wisconsin and New York together, before he moved, and I made a few, coming out to visit him, before finally moving east myself. What I remember is that I couldn't wait to get to Pennsylvania. I always got most excited crossing the Pennsylvania line and moving into the landscape of variety. Two things are apparent when standing in the midwestern landscape. You can see the horizon in all directions. You can be aware of all things in your surroundings (a kind of omnipotent view); but you are also always exposed to those around you. There are no secrets in the midwest, except those which you keep close to your chest, or the ones just under your nose.
I like the sense of mystery that the mountains and valleys provide; I love the never ending variety of roads that curve, dip and switch back on themselves as you drive through the mountains. Jeremy hates the mountains. He says he finds the landscape oppressive and confining.
Jeremy also claims no interest in Buster Poindexter, who turns out to be David Johannsen of 1980's rock and roll fame; as I just found out from another passerby here on Grand Street. Buster Poindexter is Johannsen's stage alter-ego for the lounge act which he is presenting tonight at the close of the International FoodFest. Four man horn section (the Uptown Brass), exuberant drummer, electric and standup bass, lead guitar, piano, accordion, chantuse, and of course, front and center stage...Buster Poindexter.
Buster begins each song, stops in mid-song, and ends each song, with doggerel and a kind of minstrel-show-strip-tease-club patter, all with an authentic Catskills nightclub gravel-voiced accent.
For instance, he tells a long story about playing the Bottom Line in
NYC with his band, doing the lounge act we are watching at the moment.
At the end of the first set, a society matron comes to him to say she wants
to hire him to play a private party next week. She soft-soaps him, butters
him up, she asks, how much will he charge?
Sheila has come with Lydia and I to the FoodFest. Monserrate too. Shelia's running Camp Sheila, in Fuerra Bush for the fifth summer in a row, at the Dryden's farm; and Lydia is spending her days there with Sheila again.
Sheila tells a story about a friend in California who was simultaneously juggling six men in her life. One of the men installed her answering machine for her, and the answering machine was the major device she used to keep her relationships sorted out. It turned out that the guy who did the installation also wrote down the remote-access code of her machine. When she was out, he'd dial into her phone, hit the code, and play back all of her messages. Consequently, he knew as much about her as she did. One night, she heard the phone ring, and as usual, decided to screen the call. Instead of a message, she heard the machine rewind and play back all of that day's messages. Recovering from her shock, she waited until the intruder hung up, and hit 69 on her phone to re-dial the last caller. The culprit answered on the second ring. She hung up and then went out to buy a new answering machine.
Monserrate has a telephone story as well. Today, at the Laboratory, she received a call and when she picked up the phone, the caller began to telling her that all of her things were stolen from her apartment. She assumed it was a friend playing a joke on her. The caller went on to tell her about other bad things that had happened to her house, and she finally realized that it was her uncle, calling from Barcelona. He admitted the ruse and said he was calling to warn her that her aunt and cousin were planning a surprise visit to her, here in Albany. In fact, he said, he was planning to come too. He then asked her if she would be willing to psychologically prepare a beautiful woman, preferably with large lips, to spend the night with him? He begged her not to tell her auntie about the plan. Monseratte is now unable to tell which parts of his story were fiction and which part might be true. As she said, only time will tell.
I told Montseratte about an encounter I had with Jerome R., the poet (friend of Pierre), and the years he and I were in Milwaukee. Jerome ran through the list of common friends, old street names, and memorable events we had shared. I mentioned to him that I was raised in Kenosha, and he asked if I knew Karl Y. I said that I had attended junior and senior high school with Karl, but had lost track of him, having not seen him since I was 17. I did say that last month when I was working on the World Wide Web, developing a list of contacts I could send information to, about the fax-machine sculpture I was constructing with Robert Durlak as a part of the exhibit: Hidden Histories; I had come across Karl's name on a list of subscribers to an art-literature discussion group on the Web.
I actually made this discovery just before Lydia and I left for our trip to Madison and Kenosha. I had intended to call Karl, while I was in Kenosha. The extreme heat of those days in the midwest, during the Killer-Heat-Wave of 95, took its toll on my memory and I did not think to contact Karl until I had already returned to Albany.
The fax machine-sculpture was a success, receiving over 500 faxes from all over the world during the course of its installation. Unfortunately, none of them were from Karl. I did get a great series, probably the best of the lot, from J.C. Garrett, in Oakland, CA. His faxes showed photographs, clipped from the back pages of pornography magazines, where ordinary folks send in pictures of themselves in various poses and disguises. He had put yellow sticky-notes on each photo and captioned the pictures:
my father was a bigamist;
Each of these statements are true as I learned from J.C. during his visit with us this past June. He and Madelyn were in town primarily for him to meet the sister he never knew he had. It seems his father had three wives, at the same time, and had children by each of them. One of the sisters, discovered the extra lives of her father and hired a private investigator to find the other children. J.C. was one.
He told us many stories about his childhood in Lansingberg; and we watched the story of his family unfold each day when they would return to Grand Street from that day's adventure.
Nicole P. also faxed a great series of hand-written pages, the text for which she was copying from some french novels and the dictionary. Her story made for a very interesting mystery, on the installment plan.
Today is my high-school student, Mark's, last day working with
us at the laboratory. Mark has been with us for the past eight weeks. He
started, the day before I left for the Madison trip. As a part of his assignment
for the summer, the school requires him to write a daily diary of his experiences,
working with us doing computer graphics for biomedical science. Here are