…continued from yesterday:
The only regret I’ve experienced with The Joshua Tree was missing the tour. The most viable place close to me where U2 stopped was The Hoosier Dome on November 1, 1987. It was a Sunday night. It was three hours from home. I was seventeen. The question didn’t even fully leave my mouth before my father said, “Hell no.” I have lived with that regret ever since. But that hasn’t been too horrible of a burden to bear. I saw U2 twice on my own terms when I still considered myself a fan. And besides, The Joshua Tree is now a quantified, calculated entity entombed in the morass that makes me me. I have lived within its universe comfortably and prosperously for thirty years. I always know what it has to offer, and am grateful for the coming-of-age landscape to which it transports me when I hear a single or listen to the whole album. But that’s also why I now have a U2 dilemma.
The album is thirty years old this year. Not surprisingly, U2 has seen good cause to tour, with the album as their featured piece. My understanding is that they will play the album in its entirety, and follow up with other stuff. They’ll be at Soldier Field in early June, and I know with certainty that I can get tickets. But do I want to get tickets? Dunno.
Here’s the catch: Can I go see a band that I can no longer stomach, even if they are featuring an album that has left an indelible print on my life? I don’t know if I can suppress my disdain enough, or even long enough, to find enjoyment in what they bring. Also, what if I decide to go and get hyped up about it… and the show sucks? I fear that I will have compromised something sacred to my life, only to see it screwed up. And then the next time I listen to The Joshua Tree, and probably times subsequent to that, I will replay an unfortunate concert experience in my mind. The whole thing could potentially desecrate something I hold sacred, and I’m not sure I could overcome that. And I’m damn well sure that I will be listening to The Joshua Tree, or wanting to, a whole helluva lot of times between now and the time my eardrums surrender to old age.
But what if U2 brings their game? What if this is a breakthrough for them and ends up being a transcendent and sublime experience for them and the audience? What if it ends up elevating The Joshua Tree to somewhere in my mind that I don’t even know exists? A good friend whose opinion I respect pointed out to me that chances like this are very rare, and get even rarer the deeper we get into life. The band is still together. They are the original lineup that created the album, and they’ve been intact all these years. I only stand to gain by taking advantage of what will essentially be dropped in my lap.
What if all of this angst is shallow existential bullshit and angst brought on by the corrosive effects of mass-marketing and the fiendish plot by record executives to play on nostalgia to put butts in seats?
A U2 dilemma indeed. I’ve got three months to think about it. It could come down to a game-time decision.
Don’t mistake me for a U2 fan. I’m not. In fact, I mostly can’t stand them anymore for the last fifteen years. I don’t need Bono’s condescending attitude. I don’t need their swing into the mainstream, both with their pop sound and the social and political stance they affected when they broke onto the music scene almost forty years ago. And I sure as hell did not need Songs of Innocence crammed into my iPhone. I got through four songs before I started looking for ways to contain the contamination and sear the experience from my memory.
It wasn’t always like this. In fact, it didn’t really get like this until I saw the band at The United Center on the Elevation tour in 2001. I realized that they had been in a free-fall on the scale of my musical tastes. Their overblown stage antics and Bono’s insatiable ego and thirst for attention turned me off to a great degree. I have to admit, though, that part of my dis-affectation with the concert stemmed from the pre-show tailgate party being so excellent that it became the standard by which I’ve measured a lot of tailgate parties in the past fifteen years. But the antics and the ego? Those were perfect for PopMart in 1997 at Soldier Field. In fact, that seemed to be the theme for the show: Excess. Look what the music industry does to everything it touches. It was a satire, and a damn fine show.
Up until about 1997, you could have seen me bleed if I’d gotten into a debate about the merits of U2. I had a run from 1986 until ’97 when they were as constant in my life as the air I breathed. They seemed to hit all the right notes in my teenage and early-adult life. They had a unique sound deeply rooted in the first wave of alternative music, their songs carried meanings that rang in my mind far past their 4-minute play time, and they had a blue-collar, slightly grungy look and feel that spoke volumes about their roots. In fact, it was in 1987 when they went from being a niche band that few kids in my hometown had even heard of to being the world’s biggest band. Joshua Tree came out in March of that year, and my world was never the same.
I was chilling with some friends in somebody’s basement at the beginning of spring break that year when the “With or Without You” video came on MTV. I burst off the couch with such enthusiasm that my friends thought something bit me. I practically screamed, “They’re speaking directly to me! They can see into my soul!” I had heard the single a week before on my hometown radio station that considered Christopher Cross the edgiest music they’d ever played, but having a visual representation of the sonic experience is what truly sent me through the stratosphere. I had the album within a week, and it immediately left an impression on my heart and mind that has lasted across the three subsequent decades. I can still recall in intimate detail the experience of unwrapping the cassette (it smelled like grape!), slipping it into my stereo, and settling in for my first full listen. Am I hyperbolizing? Not hardly. I think if any of us looks back to the media experiences that have had a profound impact on our lives, most of us would respond with an equal amount of enthusiasm. I can point to Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Grapes of Wrath, Welcome Back, Kotter, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, Quadrophenia, Saving Private Ryan, A Piece of My Heart, and many other entities that I hold sacred as a writer, a teacher, a thinker, and as plain old me that routinely generate the same degree of excitement and enthusiasm years and even decades after I experienced them as The Joshua Tree.
The Joshua Tree is concrete evidence of perfection. There is not a song among the twelve on the album that rings a false note. They are a tight, unified construction that takes the listener on a stunning aural journey, and one just as stunning and meaningful in the mind and heart. Lost love, the empty longing for utopia, heroin addiction, the crisis in Central America, savage industrial destruction of the environment, the addled mind of a serial killer, the lyric treatment of the death of a close friend, and vague longings are but some of the stops along the way, and each one lives within while still building upon the jangly and moody soundscape co-producer Daniel Lanois was able to coax from the band. The songs spoke to me of things my teenage mind knew, yet also of things that took me beyond my borders. And to understand just how tight the Joshua Tree package is, one need only listen to the deluxe edition of the album to hear the songs that didn’t make the cut. Several of them stand well on their own, and have even become respected parts of the U2 catalog. Damn! How good is your album when songs like “The Sweetest Thing” and “Silver and Gold” weren’t good enough to make it, but still go on to be hits in their own right?
I’ve been mindful of keeping myself away from and above the vitriol that the nation has put on display over that last five days. That has meant trying to limit Facebook time, and discriminating about what news I read, watch, and discuss. I don’t like how politics is shredding the social fabric of our nation, and have hoped that by disengaging and elevating myself I would be able to avoid getting too emotionally involved in any of it until things simmer and I engage the situation with some perspective rather than while slogging through it. But there’s a saying: Hope in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up faster.
As a teacher, social issues tend to appear on my radar whether I want them to or not, especially since I teach predominantly poor and minority students. It is those students who most deal with the fallout of corrupt and discriminatory social policies and practices, and it helps me to understand what they are going through at any given time. As such, I could no longer ignore or elevate myself from the current situation when an issue was unexpectedly dropped in my lap last Friday. Maybe I was foolish to try to keep the issues at bay. Maybe I thought that ignorance and apathy would serve me well, or things would go away if I didn’t think about them too much. Regardless of where my mind was, what happened four days ago gave me a chance to think.
I have a student new to me this semester who last week wore a t-shirt from a small college near my hometown of Angola, Indiana. This kid is African-American, a senior, and has made a name for himself in sports and academics. He has shown himself thus far to be affable, focused, and possessing a decent view of his future. He told me the college in question is interested in him for sports; them along with Aurora University closer to home here in Illinois. He said he hadn’t made a decision yet.
I offered my insights into the Indiana university he’s considering. I know it’s in a very small town (smaller than Angola), and that town is a long-time college town since it’s titular university is well over a century old. My knee-jerk reaction was to think of how diverse the institution was, diversity being a key to cultural sensitivity and awareness not just on campus but in the surrounding areas and even the state. “Having been there so long, the school must be familiar with diversity,” I told him. But then I stopped and remembered something. It was like an alarm sounded in my conscience. “Indiana and Illinois are different states,” I said. “You might want to keep that in mind. Indiana is a Trump state.” I found myself concerned with the boy’s safety traveling from the Chicago area across long stretches of rural Indiana, and possibly being off campus in the town where he might be attending college. I wasn’t so sure all of a sudden how far my home state has come with its racist reputation in the last eight years, much less in the post-Civil Rights era. I hated to think that somebody could feel emboldened by the philosophies and practices of the new presidential administration and decide to cause trouble, or worse—harm him.
I realized I was digging a hole instead of endorsing the very state where I was born and raised, and softened my approach. “There are liberal and inclusive pockets in the state,” I continued. “No doubt the big cities and the larger college towns are diverse and have some mindsets attuned to different cultures. Indianapolis. Ft. Wayne. Bloomington. South Bend. Evansville. You can include Lafayette and Muncie, too, I guess.”
I thought back to this encounter numerous times over last weekend. I second-guessed myself about what I told him, how I portrayed the Indiana I knew, and how much I may have brought reluctance to him rather than confidence in whatever his decision might be. I haven’t missed the right-wing religious soul and racial homogeneity of Indiana since I left over twenty years ago, but how heavily were my own biases playing into what I told him? I thought about speaking to him again and what I might say, but then I found myself reading a Facebook post from a high school classmate Sunday night that changed my mind.
It seems my former classmate visited Chicago last weekend, coincidentally right in the midst of the protests that were taking place downtown. He posted a picture of himself holding a sign he appears to have found in a parking garage. The sign read “Pro-America / Anti-Trump.” The picture itself struck me as a risky proposition given how it could easily be taken out of context. On the surface, it looks like my former classmate was part of the march and offering his support against Trump. If that were the case, he would stand to lose a lot given his family’s business concerns in Angola, but that’s his situation to handle if people decide to interpret the picture that way. He noted below the picture that the sign was “a remnant left behind.” He added, “Can’t we all just get along.” I wondered if he was joking. Regardless, the message he sent didn’t resonate with humor.
I flashed back to my conversation with my new student, and any second-guessing I did subsequent to our conversation vanished. The picture of my classmate confirmed that my instincts were correct in how I cautioned my student about the nature of rural Indiana. And to answer my classmate’s question (if it was a question; I took it for one despite the missing punctuation): No, we can’t all get along. Millions of Americans wouldn’t protest unless there were called to action by significant threats to their personal well-being and the future of the country. Millions of women especially wouldn’t be moved to organize and protest unless something extraordinary happened, like their new president objectifying, berating, and assaulting them before moving to restrict or deny their reproductive rights. These are merely starters for why we can’t all get along. And we especially can’t all get along when someone, who I hope did it offhandedly and not with malicious aforethought, appropriates a phrase connected to the legacy of police violence against minorities in our country and turns it against a group of peaceful demonstrators who will not tolerate the short-sighted, ignorant, and hate-laden policies that are going to be forced on them because of brainwashed conservatives and religious zealots who voted for a mouthpiece who is bringing their brand of hatred into the mainstream.
I hope my classmate was joking. If he was, it was in poor taste. He’ll have to deal with the fallout of his picture, if there is any, and maybe that’s the best way to tune one’s sense of humor. If he wasn’t joking, then he only confirmed the spirit of what I told my student last Friday. My greatest hope, then, is that my former classmate stays out of the way while change is forged. Perhaps he doesn’t realize it’s far more likely to happen in the city he visited last weekend rather than the city he lives in. I hope, too, that his thoughts and beliefs and like-minded brethren stay away from my student should that young man choose to attend college in Indiana.
What kind of grinch would take time away from family and holiday celebrating to run yet another 5K? Well, me and 110 other grinches who showed up at the Indiana School for the Deaf on Christmas Day to chug around the campus grounds. And Santa Claus must have been around somewhere and thinking of me, because just when the girlfriend was practically rolling her eyes that I am yet again finding a way to run a race at an unexpected time, along came Robert from Naperville, Illinois, at the start line. I commented to him about the Everton FC shirt he was wearing, and came to find out he had driven from Naperville specifically for the race and was driving back directly after the race. Hohoho! That’s about eight hours out of somebody’s holiday, six of which are spent driving, and makes my quest for thirty look a little less spastic by comparison since I was already visiting family in Indianapolis and wouldn’t be taking so much time out of the day. Robert even commented that he told his wife he’d run a 5K or 10K every weekend for a year, so my present was being able to maintain some degree of normalcy in the eyes of my girlfriend since I’m “only” doing thirty 5Ks in a year.
Regardless of the degree of normalcy, it felt abnormal to run a 5K on Christmas Day, much less in the middle of the freakin’ afternoon in the thick of the celebrating. What it meant more than anything was that I needed to lay off the coma-inducing eating, stay away from the bottle of Redbreast 12 I bought my sister’s boyfriend, and maintain some sort of pre-race empty-stomach discipline well into the afternoon. I didn’t know how well I would be able to manage all that, so I had resigned myself to running at a slower pace and merely finishing, and then unleashing the Christmas consuming beast inside me.
That all lasted until I turned into a long straight-away as I closed out what felt like the first mile of the race. I had noted that I was starting rather fast for someone who hadn’t raced for three weeks and who couldn’t remember the last time he even ran outdoors. The pace was peculiar, but not so much as the feeling that it felt right and sustainable. It came to me that I had been on vacation for 8 days and was almost as well rested as I am throughout the summer. A barrier crumbled in my mind, and I found a long-lost cruise control switch in the rubble.
I maintained the pace throughout the shittily-marked course, and even managed to catch up to Robert after two and a half miles. We made it through a vague turn around (nobody seemed to know where it was, exactly), and he pulled ahead on the quarter-mile stretch to the finish line. Dude certainly looked like he had run fifty 5- or 10Ks up to this point in the year, and I was surprised to have even gotten near him. But I felt as relentless as time, and decided I was going to go for it. I caught him, and we sprinted against each other until I edged him by a nose at the finish line (a nose that is exactly .65 seconds long).
My time was recorded at 24:59.67, which made it my second fastest time in the last four years. Regardless of the crappy course markings and how exact that time is, I’ll take it. Thank you, Santa Claus! Maybe I should run a race every Christmas.
If there are such things as unicorns and long-time followers of The Seeker, the latter might remember that I’m big on the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It happens every November, and the idea is to write a poem every day for the month of November. Dude in charge gives you a prompt each day, and you take it from there. By the end of the month, you have thirty possible poems. You spend this time of year up until mid-January refining your poems and ultimately you submit a small number of them to dude in charge. He looks at your chapbook and decides a winner.
Winning isn’t the goal, though. Besides which, it’s damn near impossible. Meeting the challenge is the goal, and everything after that is gravy. I’ve written here about the sundry benefits of forcing oneself to write every day; mostly, that means shutting off the inner critic and ripping out a poem. Or at least something that could become a poem. I’ve been consistently surprised at some things I’ve churned out, and even some of the interesting trash. What’s perhaps best, though, is that the PAD Challenge gives me purpose and keeps me busy writing for two and a half months of the year without worrying about where the next idea is going to come from.
So I’m in my third year of the marathon writing and editing session, and I can’t see any good reason to not do PAD again next year. I’m working diligently on my chapbook, though to look at me you might think I’m trying to pull my own teeth instead. Feels about the same. Anyhow, I was shaping a poem yesterday and was having a lot of fun with it, even though it’s not going to go into my chapbook because it’s not a thematic fit. Seems like a shame to just let it float out there in the wherever, so I’m going to put it up here.
This one originated on November 16th. The prompt was “Play _____”. I was tasked with filling in the blank and using the expression as the title of my poem.
You’re a Model T
or a 78 SP.
A wooden leg.
Only an odd few
are still facile
the abstruse aspects
that made you you.
None of that
back in the day
better than that.
You’re not dead, so
don’t get bent
out of shape—
with your old bones.
They don’t make you
like they used to,
I’ve never run well in Racine, Wisconsin. That might partly be due to the fact that Racine is in Wisconsin. It also might partly be due to the fact that one time I ran there I was on the back end of a long-lasting injury and was out of shape; the other time it was hotter than hell. So when the idea of running in Racine comes up, I don’t quite approach it like it’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary. But I figured last Saturday morning that it would be different this time. This time I was in a better place as a runner and still feeling the good vibes from a Thanksgiving run that I killed despite the rampant cheating that was apparent on the course. This time I was going to attack. This time I was going to make Wisconsin regret me instead of vice versa.
Those thoughts lasted until I spotted Jeff Weiss at the start line. Here’s what you have to know about (soon to be) Dr. Weiss: He’s a tenacious bugger who’s in great shape, he’s in a running club, and he has run marathons. But don’t let all that fool you. Much like Jason Rush, I can’t believe I’m still friends with him. Anyhow, I saw Weiss and figured I’m best off keeping him in front of me where I can monitor him. Thankfully, he runs pretty fast. That encouraged me to run pretty fast, too, in case he thought about doubling back on me and pulling some type of shenanigans. Really: Don’t be fooled by that guy!
So I chugged along the lake shore in Racine for a little over twenty-five minutes. It was plenty cold, which meant I was sporting cold weather running gear on for a race for the first time this season. No matter. I run well in bad weather. I didn’t know the course. No matter. I was occupied in keeping track of Jeff Weiss. I wasn’t sure how well I was doing at any particular point. No matter. I kept chugging along. Before I knew it, I was dashing uphill in back of Memorial Hall in downtown Racine and crossing the line in damn good time. Four days later, and I’m glad I tucked this one away. We got six inches of wet snow Sunday, and temperatures are going to be in the single digits by next week. So it looks like the racing season is over. It kills me to stop short of the halfway point and when I’m running better than I have for four years, but it’s time to pack it in.
My back just sighed in relief, and my cranky hips are writing me a thank you note.
As I was rolling into Bryan, Ohio, at 7:20 A.M. Thanksgiving morning, I was thinking this is Medal City… Population: Me! That was my first mistake of the day, because Bryan is actually known as The Fountain City, and its population was listed at 8,545 in the 2010 census. But really, why wouldn’t I be thinking I would drive away in another hour and a half with a medal? I ran the Williams County YMCA Turkey Trot in Bryan two years ago and finished ten seconds away from a medal in my age division. Somebody in my age division probably cheated that day and I meant to contact the race sponsors about it, but I got too busy. Anyhow, I figured the best revenge would be to show up and run the way I know I can and let all those people behind me sniff my vapor trails, and I’d wear my medal all day long. Besides, I’m in a new age division, and I am lighter and faster than two years ago. Plus, the weather was perfect for running: Cold, wet, and overcast. Everything was going Jeff Burd’s way!
As far as the actual race, the Turkey Trot is a pretty good one that I’ve found to be well run. They draw between 200-300 people and lay things out on a flat, double-loop course with but one turn that slows you down a bit. I envisioned myself as far back as two weeks ago doing well by starting fast off the line and positioning myself effectively early in the race. All that happened, too. As I was coming around the far side of the first loop, I was feeling a solid pace that was faster than usual by about 30 seconds. Plus, I was picking off some dudes who looked to be in my age division. Not that I would know since I really have trouble telling who is my age anymore, but it still felt good.
When I reached the same place on the second loop, I spotted some black squirrels romping around in the trees and wet grass on the side of the course. They caught my attention because we don’t see many black squirrels around The Seeker luxury headquarters, though we have grey squirrels like the Army has boots. Turns out there are pockets of black squirrels throughout the midwest and along the east coast, and a number of institutions have adopted the black squirrel as their mascot due to their bad-ass appearance and relative rarity (only 1 in 10,000 squirrels is black). I looked all this up (after the race, of course) and I’m glad I did since I initially figured we didn’t see black squirrels around Chicago too much because the cops would probably shoot them.
Anyhow, I came trucking down the chute with nobody within seven seconds of me and cleared the finish line in 25:08. It was my best Thanksgiving 5K ever, and my 2nd fastest time in four years. “I killed it,” I told my dad, who came along to see the race and offer his support. I told him we’d wait around a bit to get the official results and for me to pick up my medal. That was my second mistake of the day, and it wasn’t even 10 A.M.
I could have kept running past the finish line and right to my car, and we could have gotten home a lot earlier to truly begin enjoying the holiday because I was nowhere near getting a medal. I finished 40th overall, and 1:16 faster than two years ago, but it was still only good enough for 4th place in my age division. The dude who took third place was almost a minute and a half ahead of me. I took a look at the overall results, and they confirmed what I’ve been saying for years: Whatever age division I’m in is the toughest division in the race. I would have finished 3rd in the 18-24 division, and 2nd in the 65-100 division. I’m not worried about it, though. I’m pretty sure somebody cheated again. I’ll have to remember to contact the race sponsors. If I hound them enough, they’ll probably send me a medal.