Baby Brother

photos documenting the baby brother growing tall
It's true—at one point in time I was taller than him. This is my evidence and I will guard it well.

For anyone who doesn’t know: the opportunity to teach in Russia never actually materialized. The man in charge went with either someone more qualified or someone who’d applied earlier. He strongly suggested that I apply again next year, but the chances are good that by next year I will be set on some course that leads away from teaching in Russia. The most likely possibility will be that once my student loans go into repayment, I will be unable to do what ultimately amounts to charity work that looks good on the resume.

Otherwise, it’s nice to have the holiday weekend over. I moved and went to a visitation and worked and went to a barbecue and tried to work on home-repair projects. It’ll be nice to get back to a regular routine. And soon, we intend to have furniture in the new home! Won’t that be nice!

It turns out that the California gig might still be an opportunity. Even better—I might get some freelance work coming out of California. No relocation necessary, but it wouldn’t be as steady a source of income as the full-time gig. We’ll see what happens.

Good-bye

Grandma with the college graduate
If Life Was A Swimming Pool, My Grandma Would Be Towelling Herself Off Right Now.

That’s correct—surrounded by so many people that she brought into the pool (and the people they brought into the pool), who all assured her that it was okay if was done swimming, my grandma got out of the water. It was a real blessing for so many of us to be able to be there to say good-bye, and to know that she didn’t suffer horribly and she lived a nice, full life. It was also a great blessing that she was able to go through this transition in her home, with so many wonderful people there to support her, and with her little dog Mattie.

My grandma was influential in my development as a writer, by the way. She worked as a proofreader for many years, and always wrote poetry and various prose of which I haven’t seen nearly enough. I first learned that I was a poet when I brought her a flower one day, explaining that, because she’d missed the pretty rainbow after the rain, I wanted to bring it to her. But she always had great pens, and a typewriter. I told my mom tonight: I used to break into Grandma’s house when she wasn’t home. I stole a pen from her once. I think my obsession with good pens took root in her home. Later down the road (shortly before I began shoplifting nice pens from gas stations and the Parkland Bookstore, among other places), I brought my first real short story down to Grandma’s house, and she took my handwritten copy and typed it for me, not correcting my work because it was for an assignment in school (she put “sic” behind my misspellings, of which there was only one, I believe—”chaffeur”—who knows how to spell that?). And later after that, I spent as much time at her house as possible, playing with the computer that my uncle gave to her. I was fascinated by this software development company processing software, and continue to be to this day, even if I have finally become able to write good stuff by hand again.

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see her on my graduation day, and I’m glad that I was able to be with her in the final days and kiss her goodbye.

Mission Accomplished

the college graduate on the steps of foellinger auditorium with the university quad behind him
Mission Accomplished!

more pictures available here.

Also check out my conference pictures.

I suppose I should finish telling the story about leaving the conference, by the way. I think I’ll just keep it limited to highlights. I attended four meetings in the LA vicinity and met a lot of friendly, hospitable folks. No celebrities, however. One of the meetings was in a room in the back of a Denny’s. Weird. . . but I didn’t have to get up for coffee! I called in the middle of the week to reschedule my flight so I could return on time for the workshop at PubServ. It cost $110 to make the arrangments over the phone. My last concern would be finding a place to stay for Sunday night, because the earliest flight they could give me was on Monday. When I attended the local meetings, I put the word out that I was looking for a spot to crash. A few different people expressed a willingness to put me up, if I couldn’t find anything else.

In the middle of the week, we ate lunch at Calamigos Ranch and enjoyed some lovely mountain scenery. On Saturday, we attended a closing luncheon with a very nice meal. Later in the evening, there was a speaker meeting featuring speakers from Japan, Uruguay, Quebec, France, and the US. I went for dinner with a guy from Utah, and we wanted to find a good steak. We found a steak place attached ot the mall across the street and decided to give it a shot. It was much, much nicer than any restaurant I’ve ever seen connected to a mall. And the prices were much higher than any steak place I’ve ever been to. The meal and tip totalled $60. None of the entrees were served with any sides; we had to order a la carte. I ordered Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and they were good, and plentiful. The waitress had told us that the sides were enough to serve 2-3 people, but who ever really believes that? And the steak—I worried it would leave me wanting more, even at the incredible price. But it arrived at the table and I saw that I would have nothing to worry about. It must have been 14-16 ounces. and it tasted great! Maybe I won’t spend that much on a steak again, but if I ever do it had better taste that good.

On Sunday morning, when most of the folks from the conference had already made their way to the airport, I headed out into the city. I was able to hook up with one of the guys who said he could put me up for the night, so I told him he was the lucky winner. After we ate at the “In and Out Burger,” he and his friend from Las Vegas (who’d lived in LA before moving to Vegas) took me to Hollywood and Sunset so we could walk around and see the crazies. There were quite a few people out for a Sunday afternoon. We went to a meeting later and then to a Starbucks where we discussed, among other things, the possibilities of using one’s asshole as a makeshift suitcase. I was quite surprised to hear how much shit (haha) some of my companions had been able to stuff into their … um … containers when situations called for it. We finished the night by visiting a hole in the wall—literally, we ordered from a barred window in a building we couldn’t enter—Mexican joint where I had beef tongue and/or head meat. It was interesting. We ate the food in a park on top of Signal Hill. It would have been a great place to get a picture, but we were asked politely by the police to leave promptly at 11, when the park closed. I snapped a couple of quick shots, but I think the camera was on some weird setting or something. Maybe next time. We made our way back to my host’s apartment in Long Beach.

In the morning, we walked down to the street and got some espresso before walking to the ocean, about twelve blocks away. Soon, my ride came and we all went to eat. They took me to the airport and I hugged them good-bye before approaching the ticket counter.

After fooling around with a computerized check-in desk for a while, I was told to head down to the first-class desk because I would never get on my plane if I waited at the regular desk. The woman at the first-class desk asked me about my situation and I explained that I had called to change the ticket and was told that my card would be charged to make the change. She didn’t have any record of a charge in the system, and I couldn’t quite remember seeing a charge on my bank account when I’d last checked online. She told me I would have to wait in the long line to get things worked out, so I began walking away. By the time I would make it through the line, the plane would probably be in the air. And who knows how much it would cost to change my ticket now? Then I heard the woman behind me, walking after me to tell me to come back. I wanted to be on the flight to Chicago? It leaves in half an hour, you have to go board right now if you want to make it. She pulled my information up on the computer and told me to put my back on the scale, just after telling Chris Kattan that he would have to wait until she finished with me. My bag was overweight, so she told me that I would have to pay an extra $25 or pull fifteen pounds of stuff out. I’ll pay the fee. She swiped my card but never told me how much I would be paying. I took it on faith and made my way through security to the boarding gate.

When I reached the boarding gate I saw that we would not be leaving for another hour. Perfect. I relaxed, picked up some coffee, and prepared to board the plane. Once again I wasn’t able to sit by the window. What a shame. I finally reached Chicago around ten-thirty, about an hour later than originally scheduled.

I shouldn’t have told my brother and sister that the flight was delayed, because they might have been on time to pick me up if they’d expected me an hour earlier. Nevertheless, they arrived at the airport shortly after eleven, and we made our way to the interstate to head home. My brother stayed in the driver’s seat because they hadn’t even parked to pick me up, I just ran from the curb and threw my shit in the trunk and hopped in the car, all in time to keep up with the stop-and-go traffic of the arrival terminals. He’d just made the trip home from the airport about a week and a half before, so I wouldn’t have to worry about navigation. I mean, just go back the way you just came, right? Not so simple, apparently. Perhaps because we got caught in some bumper-to-bumper traffic in a construction area, we either missed an exit or took a wrong one. The nice thing about going the wrong way in construction is that you can go forty-five minutes in the wrong direction and only be three or five miles off track. We managed to get turned around when we realized we were heading into Indiana (Please note: if you ever find yourself heading into Indiana, turn around as quickly as possible and don’t slow down until you’ve made it out). We stopped off at a gas station for some grub and to make sure our directions were right, and we got back on the road.

I was home by three in the morning, and in bed by four, hoping to wake up by seven-thirty to go to the workshop at PubServ, a requirement for anyone who wants to do freelance copyediting. I didn’t wake up on time, of course, and had to email them as soon as I did wake and let them know that I would need to wait for the next one. They responded and let me know that I was on the list, and they would be able to schedule another one whenever four people or more were signed up to attend. Essentially, I will be able to attend their workshop once I have three additional people with whom to compete forw
ork. The good news is that the woman at the airport didn’t charge me for changing my ticket. I spent the time following my return from LA stressing about Russian and trying to finish my paper on Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and now that I’ve graduated I might finally be able to do some more work on Never Enough, the novel-in-progress that I worked on with my instructor for the Creative Writing Tutorial this semester.

To keep you all updated: I got a B in Russian. I’m astounded, and I suspect that they might grade things differently in Russia. But this means that I am, without a doubt, actually graduating! I will officially be a bachelor! I also finished my Pale Fire paper, which could’ve been better if not for the fact that I’ve never really been able to summon much enthusiasm for critical responses to novels. This is why I wasn’t a very good English major. I’ll post that on JavaJunkee soon for you all to judge harshly.

Now I wait to hear about real jobs. Perhaps I can simply keep working at Espresso and try to do as much writing as possible in my free time. I did submit a resume and some sample writing to the World Service Office, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.

I also had my car towed this week, for parking tickets at the U of I. I would need to pay those, anyway, in order to get my diploma. But getting towed meant another $80. What a racket.

I really hope to do more work on JavaJunkee in coming months, including revising as many of the essays as I can, and posting more stuff that hasn’t yet made it up. I think I might also try to make all of the essays and short stories available in .pdf for easy printing. And maybe I’ll get some new stories up soon, too. And a teaser for Never Enough, like the first chapter in its revised form, to generate enough interest that folks will make donations to help me finish the project!

Be sure to check out my conference and family/graduation pictures.

Dear Dr. Laura

Thanks, Esti:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other specific Biblical laws and how to follow them.

  1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
  2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
  3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev.15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
  4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
  5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
  6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
  7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
  8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
  9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
  10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

How Long? Not Long.

picture of hurricane isabell rolling across the ocean

I’m going to be a real live college graduate. It’s a bit difficult to believe. A bachelor’s degree.

I especially didn’t think it was going to happen after returning to Russian class last week, when I’d returned from the conference. I went to class and my instructor reminded me that I had to rewrite all of my failed quizzes/tests from the semester. After two hours, I took the tests to her office, feeling a bit relieved to have it over with. I returned Friday morning at 8AM, one of my extremely rare on-time appearances. She’d told us on Thursday which exercises in the book she planned to use for the final exam, so it was simply a matter of studying those exercises. I wrote out every exercise by hand, a process that took from early Thursday afternoon until the time I went to bed (probably between midnight and 1AM). I was awfully proud of myself, having devoted that much time and energy, and I felt as though I had a much better grasp on some of the essentials.

Five minutes into the final exam, she handed me back the quizzes I’d retaken the day before and told me that I would have to rewrite them again. My confidence a bit rattled, I looked over the quizzes and tried to see if I could understand what I’d done wrong. She’d circled or crossed out my mistakes, but the problem would be trying to figure out what I was supposed to have written. In some cases, the intense studying from the day before helped out, but in others the answer she crossed out was the only thing that seemed right to me. I put the quizzes down and continued to plow through the final. The final itself took probably two hours, and then I spent another two hours attempting to correct my quizzes. I was the only one left in the room. When I finished, I dropped them off at her office, along with the 7-9 hand-written homework pages that I’d completed the day before (hoping for extra brownie points). I slipped them into the folder hanging on her door and crossed my fingers. I knew that, from that point on, it was no longer in my hands. Whether or not I would pass—and actually be eligible to receive a bachelor’s degree—was up to God, fate, my Russian instructor.

I rode my bike toward the coffee shop when I’d finished and, for the first time since the twenty-first of June last year, I envisioned myself puffing an vaporizer pen. It didn’t involve any particular thought, I simply flashed forward to parking my bike, grabbing some espresso, and decompressing on the patio with a nice, relaxing cigarette. It only took a split second to remember that I’ve quit smoking, but for that split second it was as if I’d never quit. It wasn’t like a craving or a longing for a cigarette, or a desire to taste the smoke or anything like that at all. It just seemed to me like the sort of thing I would do after such a draining experience. Strange. I think it was the next night that I went to see “Thank You For Smoking” with some friends (one of whom had quit smoking around the same time as I did but has since gone back). You’ll be glad to know, I didn’t relapse, and I’m still not interested in starting again. . . anytime soon, I’m so thankful for all this vape juice available.

I returned to work that night at the Ribeye, and then worked the following two mornings at Espresso. After more than two weeks off the clock, it was strange to go back. I noticed a sharp increase in the number of times that I was nearly overcome with pangs of murderous/destructive rage. Thankfully, I still hadn’t lost my ability to bite back anger/frustration with a few ounces of tongue/lip.

After work that Sunday, I picked up the little lady and my brother (the doctor) to head to Paxton. My Grandmother is riding the slow, uncomfortable Cancer Train out of this world, and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren gathered at her home for food and conversation. For the first time in years, all of the siblings that grew up in my mother’s house would be in one place at one time. I honestly think that this might not have happened since before my oldest brother entered the Marines (c. 1999). That same oldest brother would be, for the first time, meeting our older sister who’d been adopted as an infant, in 1970. Tim (yes, the same brother I was going to visit while at the conference—I’ll tell that story later) hasn’t visited in a little over two years, and we were reconnected with Julie during that time. Speaking of babies, by the way, Tim’s youngest Angelo is 6 months old, and Julie’s youngest Louie is 3 momths. All of my mother’s grandchildren were there—seven boys.

Now, my younger brother Spencer had to be at work around two, and I was supposed to be at work at three (and I needed a shower & change of clothes). But we had to wait, first on our sisters, then on our youngest brother. We knew that this would be a first-time event: all of my mother’s children together. But what if it couldn’t happen? First Carol had to come to Paxton from Champaign. Two o’clock. She would have to pick Rose up at Mom’s house, where she would be changing clothes after work. Two thirty. But Rose wasn’t ready when Carol went by, so we would have to wait longer. Two forty-five. We got a hold of Bob, and he was busy with orientation for his summer lifeguarding job. He would come over as soon as he was done with that. I called the Ribeye at ten minutes to three to let them know that I would be late. Finally, shortly after three o’clock, my youngest brother showed up. We were all there, in one place at one time. Mom thought she was going to have a heart attack. We snapped a bunch of pictures, including one of all of us:

Once the pictures had been taken, we took off immediately. For five minutes, we were all together. It’s not likely to happen again soon.

I’ll be sure to write about the conference and my trip home, as well as my graduation, very soon. Check back!

Russian is OVER

Russia Map Flag

Russian is over. I took my final, corrected some mistakes (or attempted to, anyway) on some past exams, and turned in some written work. It’s now out of my hands. A good thing, considering how badly I handled it. I’m immersed in the anxiety that my character defects of apathy and procrastination have left for me. If my instructor decides to be merciful, then I will actually receive a bachelor’s degree. If she decides to give me what I’ve earned, I will be forced to plead with the University to allow me to make some other kind of arrangements to complete the degree. Maybe if I…

no, better not go there.

Anyway, I still haven’t finished the Nabokov paper. I’ve written a little more than a page out of eight required. My instructor for that course instructed me to email it to her, because she will be in: Russia! haha. funny the way that works.

After nearly two weeks without working (at a job), I will go into the ribeye this evening to bus tables. I’m sure that’s going to feel strange.

Very soon I will post a summary of my experiences in California, including the adventures of returning to the Midwest. Until then, here’s a poem. Maybe when I graduate I’ll start writing again, or updating the website?

I Forgot: I think I’m going to sign up for an intensive Japanese intro course for the first part of the summer. Maybe I’ll see if I learned my lesson about studying?

Barnacles

Barnacles at the base of a concrete pillar supporting the pier on long beach, whose water had a reddish tint for some reason.
Barnacles at the base of a concrete pillar supporting the pier on long beach, whose water had a reddish tint for some reason.

That is what I feel like when I’m trying to squeeze out 8 pages at the last minute. I need to do 2 pages an hour, and I’m already one page behind. But when I finish these pages, and study intensely for the Russian final (Friday morning), then I’ll be done with my bachelor’s degree! Woo-Hoo!

Graduation Ceremonies are 2:30, May 13th, at Foellinger Auditorium. You can’t come, but you might be invited to the graduation party, probably at my mom’s house in Paxton. Maybe beginning at 5PM, and lasting until I’m in my forties ;)