So my friend Bonnie recommends an old Marilyn Monroe movie, Don’t Bother to Knock. I watch it, completely unprepared for Monroe’s range and complexity, since the only thing I’ve ever seen her in is Some Like It Hot. (Also amazing. Completely different sort of movie, of course. Spoiler alert: “Nobody’s perfect.”)
Joe E. Brown’s line takes me back to BGSU, where I performed a couple times in the Joe E. Brown Theatre, which closed 5 years ago:
Wow. I can remember the feel of the steps and the seats, and the air and the stillness just before curtain.
And then I think of the play Ivan and I were in during our freshman year one-act festival – which was when we became friends. It was “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, and re-reading it just now I can hear Ivan delivering his lines, and our stage directions, and the rest of the cast, and I remember the time I was late for a rehearsal because I was goofing around with my friends Jennifer and Erin and Adam, and I felt really terrible about it.
Twenty-five years ago – my God, a quarter of a century – December 14 fell on a Friday, and I was a sophomore at Bowling Green. The next day, I wrote this in a spiral notebook which I still have:
Tobi had a hair appointment back in Bryan that night, so her mom came and picked us up from BG. After dark, Tobi and I drove out to this place she called Five Mile Bridge and waited for a train to come rushing beneath while we stood there and leaned on the railing.
For some reason, that night mattered to me. Maybe because I was barely 20 and everything like that mattered to me. Maybe because it was a strange sort of fluxing time in my life, when my closest friends had moved away and I felt oddly on my own. It grew to matter even more when Tobi died a few years later.
It still feels like it matters. My own daughter is a freshman in college – almost the age I was when I met Tobi.
Five Mile Bridge was closed to traffic by the time Tobi died. I took Jenn there in June 1996. It was a little odd, being there in the daytime, but we waited for a train, and we got one.
I stood on that bridge four times in all, but not since a couple weeks before Christmas 1999, and never again after dark.
Two summers back, in 2013, my daughter and I took a train across the country, and we travelled the tracks that had once gone beneath Five Mile Bridge. It’s not there anymore:
Tobi and Five Mile Bridge helped inspire Crossing Decembers, which, while a work of fiction, has very real roots out there in the vast fields of Northwest Ohio. It’s funny: I started writing the notes that grew into the book in 1999, and finished it the following year, which means the book itself is now about 15 years old. Although I’ve never managed to sell it to a publisher, I remain intensely proud of and attached to it, and I’ll keep sharing it any way I can.
Once again, winter is a week away, and I’m marking the anniversary of two goofy college kids standing on a cold bridge in the middle of nowhere. And as always, the train whistles I hear this time of year cut a little deeper than during the other seasons.
Click here for information on ordering the book in paperback or electronic editions through Amazon or Lulu.
Well, Jenn and I are officially the parents of a kid who’s off at college.
After some late-night car-packing-Tetris (including a late-game miracle “hey-where’s-the-chair-going” solution from Kelsey) last Thursday, the three of us got up a couple hours before dawn on Friday and headed west, then north, to Eastern Michigan University.
EMU seems to have the traffic flow and vehicle unloading system down to a science: Plenty of signs on the roads in directing everyone to their specific buildings; efficient use of the small adjacent parking lots to get stuff out of cars and onto the sidewalks and grass, then redirecting to larger, more distant parking for the rest of the day. Kelsey queued up to get her key and get signed in while we waited by her belongings. An army of student volunteers helped everyone’s families carry their things to their rooms when it was time.
I’ve thought a lot over the past few weeks about moving over to Bowling Green State University with my friend Adam in the fall of 1989, and I raided the family photo albums in search of pictures.
This one looks like it’s from a day or two prior to our move. I seem to be sick of packing.
Which reminds me: I think it’s time for me to bring back my distinctive three-wristwatch look, this time with each timepiece set to a different city.
I feel like moving to college was a much bigger hassle for Adam & me, although Kelsey and her roommates smartly planned ahead and combined their resources – so she didn’t need to bring a refrigerator, for instance. The biggest things we packed were a folding living-room chair, a microwave, and an unassembled floor fan.
Here’s a shot from my own college move-in, with half-hidden flashback joys such as rabbit ears on the black & white TV and a bowling pin (room aesthetics, y’know). Also, that thigh-high box there next to the fridge? That, kids, is a single speaker from Adam’s kick-ass stereo. There was another just like it, plus the stereo system itself, slightly larger. Occupied a nice chunk of precious dorm room real estate, but it was (at least in memory) unparalleled in our hall.
Also: I do not know what is up with that striped shirt I’m wearing. I seem to think Adam gave it to me, but he claims to have no memory of it. (Heck, if it wasn’t for these pictures, I wouldn’t admit to having worn it either.)
So here’s me, first day of college:
…and here’s the shot my parents took from the parking lot. Adam and I lived in Chapman Hall, Harshman Quad.
It occurred to me that this picture reflects my parents dropping their first kid off at college, and Adam’s parents dropping off their last.
Now, that’s all there was that day at BGSU, as far as I can recall. My brothers remember it similarly: We drove to Bowling Green, moved in, probably ate lunch at the McDonald’s or Wendy’s across the street, and then they left.
After we got Kelsey moved into her dorm at EMU, there was a picnic lunch for students and families, so we picked up some sandwiches, salad and pasta, and ate at the edge of the campus pond. There was a convocation planned for 2 p.m., so before that, we went and picked up Kelsey’s books and a few supplies, and walked them back to her room.
The ceremony at the convocation center was only about an hour long, I think. When it was done, we said goodbye, and the students headed out as a group for a class photo on the football field:
I’m proud and excited and nervous for all of us – Kelsey, Jenn and me – as the journey continues.
My daughter’s high school graduation ceremony was more than a month ago, but her graduation party this weekend felt much more like the door closing on this chapter.
Earlier in the week, K and one of her friends had spent several hours selecting pictures and putting them on poster boards to display at the party. This picture in particular – which I had actually forgotten about – really jumped out at me:
She’s holding a fuzzy caterpillar. Something about her expression and posture and the sunlight just come together in a way that somehow both reflects the moment the picture was taken and strikes chords of her personality that still ring true today.
My daughter graduated from high school this weekend. I’m incredibly proud of who she is.
We both attended the same school system grades 1 through 12, which made for a lot of flashbacks for me, and a lot of stories I’m sure she tired of hearing.
Here we are sitting on the same Canton Civic Center stage I walked across during my graduation in 1989.
For various reasons (none of them really good ones), I haven’t been running lately. I felt the need to get into the woods at Quail Hollow today, though, so I put on some boots and warm clothes and went for a 2-mile hike.
It was sunny and in the mid-30s, with no wind. Really nice day to be out there.
It’s a little strange going out and walking on the trails I’m used to running, and it’s a completely different experience in the woods this time of year compared with summer: The sun reaches deeper pockets, with no leaves overhead – with the exception of the pine stands – and you can see further off the trails.
I made a few stops along this stream, because it was running high compared to summer, and I liked the way it looked and sounded.
Found a culvert, kind of oddly placed, since it’s not on any sort of trail.
And discovered that the Woodland Swamp Trail has had an eventful fall:
Then there was this weird thing. I thought it was a big blob of sap at first – it was probably 4-5 inches long – but it was squishy, like a giant rotted grape.
I also found a small, empty turtle shell.
I was out in the woods for a little more than an hour, and felt like maybe I’d needed it more than I realized.
Somewhere around 14 years ago, Jenn called me from a pet store. The local pet rescue crew was there, and would I please just come down and take a look at this particular pup that she and Kelsey had met. You don’t have to say yes, I was assured, just come and meet her!
In the years since, I would recall my trip that day like this – with a hat tip to Vizzini and William Goldman: “I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. Never go into a pet store with your wife and daughter when a rescue puppy is on the line.”
On the ride home, Kelsey named the dog Sally.
We said goodbye to Sally today, a cool and sunny September morning of towering cornfields and just a few hints of changing leaves on the tallest trees.
When we brought Sally home as a puppy, she was smaller than any of the three cats we had at the time, so even as she grew into those massive paws that looked ridiculous on such a tiny creature, she knew she was never the boss of the house.
She also never quite seemed to grasp the fact that she was, in fact, growing, and considered herself a lap dog long after she surpassed 50 pounds (she was close to 90 at one point) and could stand at the kitchen counter. And I loved seeing this way-too-big dog curled up – Look! I’m still small, see! – and sleeping on Kelsey’s bed.
Having been around cats most of her life, I’m convinced Sally adopted some of their behaviors: I’ve never seen another dog tongue-bathe itself cat-style, which Sally used to do all the time.
One evening, when she was out in her fenced-in area of the backyard, a skunk came along, teasing and spraying Sally. We tried to drive the thing away from the house to no avail, and were completely at a loss when Sally backed up for a running start and threw herself at the lower edge of the fence with such speed and force that she pushed completely under and past it without stopping, and then – >bam!< One Dead Skunk. The whole thing took maybe 10 seconds.
She loved fruit and vegetables. Seriously: If we left a bunch of bananas on the counter, we’d find the peels on the floor the next morning. Tomatoes, too. Oranges she’d chew a bit before remembering that she didn’t like them. One night, Jenn and I half-awoke to a solid thump! from somewhere in the house. In a four-animal household, that kind of thing is only truly alarming if there’s some kind of follow-up ruckus, and there wasn’t, so we went back to sleep.
A day or two later, Jenn asked if I had eaten all the cantaloupe she’d just bought. I hadn’t touched it, of course, and we eventually half-settled on the idea that maybe she’d left it in the grocery cart or something. Mystery solved about a month later when I found a pile of cantaloupe seeds hidden in a back room corner. A whole freaking cantaloupe. Goofy dog.
When we needed to move in the summer of 2013, it broke our hearts that we couldn’t bring Sally to our new home, but some amazingly kind and generous friends nearby offered to take her in. Our adoptively-named Sally-Pongo got to spend the last 14 months in the close company of another older dog (who sadly passed away not so long ago), taking lots of long walks through the woods and fields, scaring up wild turkeys, watching herons, and wading in a pond – and being loved by a whole new family who we will never be able to thank enough.
We had to make the decision to let Sally go this morning, when our friends called with the news that she couldn’t get up, and had made a mess of herself, and had barely managed to get to her water bowl. Jenn and Kelsey and I drove over right away. Sally was shaking, and hurting, and the four of us knelt around her in the wet grass and the shade of the trees behind our friends’ house, looking into our dog’s eyes and letting her know how much she was loved.
Twenty-five years ago this month, I started my freshman year of college at Bowling Green State University.
Tonight, I drove a few miles out on some of the narrow, field-lined roads here in Lake Township. The sun hadn’t completely set, and there was an unusual (for early August) bit of coolness to the air, even though the corn is tall yet. Perfect night to put the windows down and crank the CD I burned a few years ago and labeled BG 89-91. It’s a mix of songs that take me back the most powerfully to my favorite years at BGSU. The songs are not all from those years, but they’re definitely among those that I listened to the most, and which still dig up the deepest memories and impressions of the friends and the places and the times.
My drive wasn’t long enough to get through the whole CD, but I had a few in particular that I wanted to hear, and as always, they mixed heartbreakingly well with the smell of the fields and the lingering pink-orange clouds.
Here they are, in the order they appear on the CD:
New Order – Blue Monday
Real Life – Send Me An Angel
Depeche Mode – Strangelove
Pixies – Dig for Fire
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Depeche Mode – A Question of Lust
Yaz – Only You
Don Henley – The Boys of Summer
The Cure – A Few Hours After This
I signed up to join the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club shortly after Jenn & Kelsey & I moved to Ohio fifteen years ago, in the summer of 1999.
I had learned about OSWCC through the vintage Star Wars collecting Usenet newsgroup, and was intrigued by the idea of a group of collectors getting together in real life to geek out and swap stories, trade stuff, and share new finds and favorite pieces.
I seem to remember that the club communicated mostly through email lists at the time, and even though I soon felt comfortable contributing online, it was still quite awhile before I actually found the nerve to attend one of the monthly meetings of the North Region. I remember being nervous about actually meeting my fellow OSWCCers in person, and wondering whether the few pieces from my own collection I’d brought to share would be blown off as lame, and whether I’d feel odd and left out. It was kind of like heading off to a week at Camp Tippecanoe when I was a kid.
Turns out it was really cool and low-key and just a bunch of Star Wars fans hanging out and nerding it up for a few hours. And I loved it. For a few years there, I hardly missed a regional meeting, and I spent a crazy awesome 30+ hours with OSWCC friends at Star Wars Celebration II in Indianapolis.
In 2001, I had to cancel my trip to what was supposed to be my first OSWCC Summer Social, due to a seriously violent 24-hour-case of the barfs that swore me off Chik-Fil-A for life. I started a 10-year streak of Summer Social attendance in 2002, though, making it a priority every year even though along the way, my attendance at the regional meetings had trailed off. And the social was a highlight every year: road tripping with friends or bringing Kelsey along; catching up with everyone and browsing the tables; picking up really cool pieces and meeting some really interesting folks.
The OSWCC gang was my first audience for the essays that eventually became Collect All 21!, and my friends there were the first to embrace and support it.
My trips to Celebrations III, V, and VI included more fine times hanging out with OSWCCers.
My social attendance streak came to an end in 2012 when we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, and I missed last year’s as well, due to a family move.
And honestly, I wasn’t sure about this year – again, I haven’t been to meetings or active in the club forums for some time – until my friend and fellow OSWCCer Matt asked if I’d like to share some of my Star Wars nostalgia with a presentation at this year’s social in Cincinnati. (The location rotates annually between the Cleveland, Cincy, and Columbus regions.) It had been awhile since I’d done one, so I accepted the invitation, stayed up late the night before the July 12 social writing and rehearsing, and hit the road that Saturday morning with my daughter and her friend.
Digression: Kelsey had not been to a social since 2007, and had only been to one other before that. It was a pleasant surprise when, the Thursday before this year’s, she said, “Hey – you didn’t invite me! What’s up with that?”
We left early and met up with my buddy Josh in Ashland to share the rest of the there-and-back-in-a-day trip. (Yes: More time on the highway that day than actually spent at the social. Still worth it.)
Man, what a fantastic day: Scott D.M. Simmons and his dad, Kim D.M. Simmons were there – that’s a Kim Simmons vintage Kenner photograph up at the top of the page – along with a bunch of OSWCC friends who I had a ton of fun catching up with. Many of us have now known each other long enough to have seen each others’ kids grow up.
Despite the support OSWCC has always given my writing, I was really nervous about my presentation, because these are people I know. It’s different doing a reading at a library or convention where the audience is people you’ve never met. But you know what? Once I started, I wound up having fun. And people said some incredibly nice things to me afterward, and I was grateful to Matt for the opportunity and glad to have made a few people laugh, and happy to have sparked some other childhood memories.
I’ve missed this. And even if I don’t meet my goal of making it to a North Region meeting again soon, I’m awfully glad I made the trip.
(Also: If you’re a Star Wars fan and you live in Ohio, and you haven’t looked into joining OSWCC, why the heck not?)
I did not intend to take a three-and-a-half-month spring-and-summer break from Cornfield Meet, but it’s been an inspiring and energizing “vacation.”
And it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all: I did a couple book reviews at GeekDad, and an 11,000-word travelogue on a cross-country adventure my daughter and I undertook – some of which will wind up here eventually – and I write regularly in the course of my job.
Still, the list of “Stuff I Want to Write” (an actual handwritten document here on my desk, I swear) has reached an alarming length, so it’s time to just sit down and start hammering away at these things, even if they’re mostly just for fun.