In like a Lion

After 5 months of hockey, and 3 months of basketball, the winter sports season has mercifully come to an end. This weekend saw the last of the games and practices. Now there is just the CAA Swim meeting coming up at the end of this month, and a handful of swim practices. I have absolutely no idea what we are going to do with our free time. Write a book I guess.

After all the encouragement I received from the seven of you that read this blog, I have decided to press on and turn this story into a book. (This is my way of saying, it’s all your fault) So the weekend was spent researching both the real life events, and what life in the 1880’s was like in Batavia. I never cease to be amazed at the amount of information that a person can obtain via the internet. Who knows if any of it is true, but it’s still impressive.

Looking East down Main Street, unknown date in horse and buggy days.

Here’s some of the interesting things I discovered…

A website with thousands of scanned copies of Newpapers from all over New York State dating from the early 1800’s, up through the 1970’s.

Batavia had a hell of a lot of Newpapers come and go during the 1800’s, but the grand old “Daily News” has managed to last over 150 years. That’s pretty damn impressive. I hope they live for another 150 so that biographers in 2100 can do adequate research on the hoopla surrounding the release of my first book.

in the 1880’s the bustle began to go out of style, as women rose up and started a sensible dress movement. Hoops disappeared from dresses, and tight laced corsets went out of style. With transportation becoming more accessible, clothes changed to accommodate a more mobile populace. Comfort suddenly began to be a concern. So I guess in a way, we can blame the 1880’s for the Pajama Jean.

Horse drawn taxis were called “Hackney Carriages” or “Hacks” for short. Although Hansom cabs would eventually become the norm, in the 1880’s only England, and the larger east coast cities had adopted them.

I know that this must be boring you all to tears, so I’ll stop now. Suffice to say, I am endlessly fascinated by what I am learning. I hope to continue to marinate in the 1880’s until I have such a clear vision of the place, and events, that writing about it is nothing more than committing to print what I can already “see.”

Perhaps I missed my calling as a historian. I’ve always been a lover of history, and the obscure. From what I have already found out about the history of Batavia I should be able to craft a whole series of novels fictionalizing it’s history, and probably sell about 30 copies.

I realize that I may never get published, and in the end this may all turn out for naught, but if nothing else all this research should make me an even more formidable opponent at Trivial Pursuit.

So if posting seems a little light in the coming months, please understand that I am probably furiously typing away at another windmill. Maybe I’ll even slip in a few excerpts if it goes well.

Batavia 1882

This post is a scene from a book that I am writing. The characters are based on real life people from a scandalous major event in the history of my hometown. Oddly, this story has never been novelized, or turned into a Hallmark Movie, so I am rushing to fill the void. I may, or may not, post further excerpts in the future depending on how good they are.

The noon day sun glints off of the steel rails, and shimmers on the horizon until the tracks disappear in an illusive pool. The smokestacks of the Johnston Harvester factory spew out lazy black plumes into the cloudless sky. On the loading platforms along the tracks, Irish laborers are loading harvesters into the box cars. Rowell stands waiting on the platform. The station is quiet, save for a few wagons waiting to meet the train. Passengers sit in the shade of the platform, fanning themselves. There is no sound but the buzzing of flies around the swishing tails of the horses. He pulls his watch out of the pocket of his vest and checks the time. The train is late, but he has waited this long to see his family a few more minutes seem hardly to matter.

In the distance the bells of St. Joseph’s ring out the Angelus. He wonders if the Irish will stop their work to pray, but they keep to their task. Perhaps he should mention this to Palmer the next time they discuss hiring one. For 6 months he has been renting a room as they have been getting the factory running. The transfer of the equipment from Utica has gone smoothly, and production has been picking up. The inventory has gone quicker than their calculations, and he is glad of it. He has been working long hours keeping the books, while Palmer has been tending to the manufacturing. Rowell puts his watch back into his pocket, and removes a handkerchief. Lifting his hat, he wipes the sweat from his brow.

He has only seen Jennie and the girls twice in that time. This time they are coming to stay. Just a few finishing touches and the house will be complete. It is larger, and more spacious than the one they have been renting in Utica. He has been busy setting up the furnishings as they have arrived, and just this morning has placed a large bouquet of lilies in a vase in the front parlor. He hopes that Jennie will be pleasantly surprised. This is a chance for them both to have a fresh start, away from the scandals, away from the worries, away from the temptation of that man.

Across the tracks on Ellicott Street, people hurry between the storefront awnings to escape the sun. The population is already over 10,000 souls and seems to grow by the day as immigrants arrive, and move into the tenements of the South Side. Labor has proven cheap compared to the wages in the Mohawk Valley, and land is plentiful. This move may prove more profitable than he had hoped.

Looking up he sees the train emerge from the mirage, slowing as it crosses the switch yard near the factories, and approaches the station. The people on the platform stir to life. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulls out the paper bag with the peppermint sticks that he bought on the way to the station. They will be sticky and soft from the heat, but the girls will be thrilled to have them. In his heart he feels the ache of their absence from his life. He has had nothing but work, and the fellowship of Palmer and the others in the Eagle tavern. How good it will be to have their vivacious company to fill the hallways and rooms of the new house with laughter. How good it will feel to hold Jennie in his arms.

The black iron beast steams from every opening. Rowell can feel the heat of the engine on his face as it rolls past the platform. He scans the windows of the coaches as they pass looking for their faces. The conductor steps down onto the platform, as the train rolls to a stop in a long sigh of steam.

Searching the crowd of passengers stepping off of the train he hears the girls scream “Daddy!”. Turning he sees them running towards him across the platform. He kneels down, and catches them in his arms.

“Oh Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”. Clara says, “We missed you so much! We didn’t think we would ever get here.”

“You will have to tell me all about the journey.” Rowell says, holding out the candy, “Look here, I brought you something.”

The girls squeal with delight, as Rowell turns his gaze toward the train to see Jennie stepping from the coach onto the platform, her long blond hair tucked up under a wide brimmed white hat. Even in this infernal heat she seems a center of calm, untouched, and unfazed by the commotion around her. She smooths the folds of her dress and looks down the platform at Rowell and the girls, huddled together in the crowd. Despite all that has happened, and all the troubles that have come before, he has never felt more in love with her. Meeting his gaze, she smiles and looks upward and to the side in that way of hers that says “You are the most absurd thing I have ever seen”. Rowell feels a laugh swelling in his chest, and in that instant he knows that this place will do them good.

Mother Jones would be furious

I made a conscious decision when I started this blog, that 20 Prospect would be a place for memories, and laughs, and not a political / social commentary style blog. Just like the real life 20 Prospect was for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with political blogs, just that I’m not a real political person, although I have some very strong feelings about certain things…

(wait for it… here it comes)

But today I am going to deviate from the norm and link to something that I feel hits the NAIL ON THE HEAD.

This article in Mother Jones sums up what has gone wrong with America in a few graphs, more succinctly than pages and pages of Od Ed pieces in the NY Times or Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps it resonates with me because I am a visual learner. I have to “see” something to really comprehend it, much in the same way I need to “see” a story when I am writing it. (Hence the comments about painting word pictures).

So, without wasting a whole lot of digital ink, here are a few of the key charts that get the point across on the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in America. As for Mother Jones, I’m not a regular reader. Well not since “Lou Cosmic’s” subscription ran out sometime in the early 80’s. (Lou is a story that Big Bruddah should tell someday…)

All hail the Dark Corporate Overlords

and their bobo's...

because "externalities" do feckin' matter

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prospect

Tonight, as we sat around the dinner table, I crossed the Rubicon to irrelevance. It happened suddenly, and without warning, but there is no doubt about it. I passed a point from which there is no return. Let me set the scene…

We sit around the table at dinner, passing food, and filling our plates and talking. 20 Prospect Jr. begins telling us the story of his trip to a local water park as part of a friends birthday party this weekend.

20 Prospect Jr. – “You’ve got to see it, they have made a lot of changes since we last went there.”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “What kind of changes?”

20 Prospect – “Well, lots of them. It’s all different now. Even the kiddie pool”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “Is the pirate ship slide still there?”

20 Prospect Jr. – “Yeah, but the yellow thing that sprays water is all different now. It looks like a big palm tree”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “Cool. What else?”

20 Prospect Jr. – “They have all new floaty things in the big pool, and the water slide has lights inside of it.”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “What kind of lights?”

20 Prospect Jr. – “They’re like Christmas lights but they flash to the music, and when you get on the slide, there’s this screen where you can pick out a song to play while you slide.”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “Awesome! What song did you pick?”

20 Prospect Jr. – “California Girls!”

Me – “I didn’t know you liked the Beach Boys.”

20 Prospect Jr. & Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect in unison – *snicker*

Me – “What? That’s who sings it!”

20 Prospect Jr. – “Um… no Dad. Kate Perry sings it.”

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect – “Yeah.”

Mrs. 20 Prospect – “Who’s Kate Perry?”

and so it begins. We have passed from being the source of all knowledge to being an outdated, irrelevant source of embarrassment for our children. It only took 11 years, 5 months, and 22 days.

I knew this day would come, but I have to admit, it still caught me by surprise. But I have come to terms with it. In fact, I am looking forward to being able to wear black socks with my sandals this summer. My toes always get so cold.

Jet Lag

I woke in the long dead hours of the night, and lay staring at the clock, watching the red numbers click past like so many sheep, but sleep would not return. So I slipped quietly out of bed, and sat on the living room couch watching the snow fall outside, and the wind whip off of the roof. There in the dark of the night, crescents of snow formed around the edges of the roof, like sleep on the eyes of a giant, and the flakes glittered like falling diamonds in the streetlight. And so the hours slipped slowly by, as I sat watching the snow pile deeper on the lawn.

There is something unholy about being able to cross the world in a day. Sitting there in the dark, my bones ached with the hollowness of an exoskeleton, and my heart whistled like an empty shell, waiting for my soul to catch up to my body. Somewhere out there, in the swirls of snow, it was moving still across the cold wide ocean searching for its home.

I have been through this too many times to name. I will move through the days in a fog, and struggle through the nights in feverish thoughts, as I wait for my body and soul to reunite, and move back into phase like a generator as it searches for polarity, before electrons of life begin flowing like current through the circuits of my body and it comes back to life. Until then, I will sleep the days in semi-consciousness like Frankenstein’s creation stretched out upon the table waiting for lightning to bring me to life.

And so the snow swirls in curlicues of white outside my window, and I pull the blanket up around my chin, and lay my head against the pillow, and wait for morning.

Urban Renewal

134 West Main

I was born at the end of the season of lilacs, on the doorstep of that tumultuous summer when cities across America burned. In Prague the students still basked in the warmth of a false spring, and half a world away soldiers weathered the Tet Offensive, but to Batavia these events were just grainy images on the television like a rumble of far off thunder.

The nation lost Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, and somewhere deep within our hearts a seed of doubt took root, and began to grow, watered by the tears like rain. The skies above Batavia had already begun to darken. One by one the buildings of the old city began to fall as the wrecking balls cleared away the past for the great urban renewal. Piles of bricks lined Main Street , wooden beams poking out of them like crosses. In the parking lot of Star Market the women felt the first drops, reached into their purses, and took out their little plastic rain bonnets.

At Trojan Industries, the presses still thumped, and the weld sparks still scattered across the floor like diamonds. Business was strong in the factories that remained. At night the crowds at Dwyer Stadium, still cheered their ballplayers knowing that the game is never over until the final out. New plazas went up at both ends of the town, their asphalt lots sparkling with Detroit steel.

On July 4th the marching bands marched from City Hall down the length of Main Street to the burned out shell of old St. Joseph’s Church, whose charred rafters stuck out like the ribs on a rotting animal. Next door a windowless rectangular bunker arose to protect us from an enemy that we couldn’t see. Elm trees fell all over town, as the city worked to keep up with Dutch Elm disease. New trees were planted, and staked, the cracked bluestone sidewalks replaced with white cement. After the work crews left, kids scratched their names into them like stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

Ellicott Avenue

Year by year the empty lots and vacant buildings multiplied. In their place rose an image of the concrete future that only made the rain feel colder. In the weedy lots on Washington Avenue, the outlines of sidewalks, and basements remained like footprints left behind by a city that had moved on. Yet we stayed behind, the great bulk of the new Mall whispering promises of better things to come, promises that we are still waiting to be fulfilled.

This was why I clung to the past, and refused to surrender anything as I grew. Even at that young age I knew that something was slipping away from us, never to return. What else can explain the melancholy that haunts me still, and leads me to sift through the dust of memory like an archaeologist? Surely there is something left behind that we have forgotten, something that will show us the way back.

134 West Main - today

Over and out!

The Canyons of Bundang

In less than 12 hours I will be on a plane heading home. So forgive me in I phone this post in. I need to finish packing and get to bed early tonight.

Good bye Korea! Good bye Japan!

Hello Minnesota! I’m coming home!

If you are bored and looking for something to read, here’s a link to a post about my last trip to Korea. Enjoy!