Memories –

Once upon a time Bill Smith, aka “billy lee” a Louisville poet and writer was leaving to go to Ann Arbor for school. He and his wife was moving way too much stuff to a small college dorm and had rented a moving truck. They asked me to tag along to drive eight hours or so, to help with the move. I was in the truck with another feller and Bill and his wife was in a car. He told me he would buy us dinner. So, off to we went and Bill handed me and the driver of the moving truck ten bean burritos from Taco Belle and off we went to Michigan.

Once I fired a steamboat all the way to West Virginia from Louisville, Kentucky. It took seven days to get there. Something like that.

Once upon a time, I called Sun Ra’s house in Philly, to talk with Marshall Allen about visiting him and the Arkestra. He said come on over.

Went to Philly another time and visited a Sufi mystics fellowship and read some works he wrote that were not published. Ate mung bean curry for the first time. Prayed in his mosque.

Once in NYC, I met Hunter Thompson out on the balcony of the place where a group of beat poets were giving a presentation. He stole my lighter after asking where I was from. I told him, Louavul. He said, “yep, you are.” I didn’t know who he was at the time.

Me and Mark Anthony Mulligan drove to Leitchfield, KY once for fun. He was a homeless person and songwriter, artist who loved old gas station signs. We ate at the all you can eat Chinese buffet and then went home.

Hung out with Wendell Berry once in his truck. My son rode in the back with the dogs. We talked about railroading and sheep. My Son ran off into the woods and found some old glass bottles and a turtle shell.

Went to a biker bar in the West End of Louisville with my Step-Father and Mother once. The women were supposed to tack their panties on the door if it was their first time visiting. My Mom went to the bathroom and took off her grandma panties and put them up. She was my hero. I was maybe twelve at the time.

Saved a train hobo kids life once. He was in Nashville, TN. looking to get the hell out of town. I told him he could ride my train. He was somewhat delirious and overheated and needed help. He rode my train in the second engine and drank water and slept all night with his two pit bulls. I gave him my Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.

Once upon a time, I saw Burrell Farnsley sitting with the bronze statue of his father, Mayor Charles Farnsley. He was sitting on the bench talking with his Dad, or so I found out when I asked him if he wanted a ride. He told me, “yes, let me finish talking with my Father.” Burrell used to come to a book store I worked at and bring muffins and the New York Times to the owner.

Once upon a time, in communication with Rumi translator and poet Coleman Barks, Coleman asked if, “white boys can sing the blues?” I told him that they could and that the blues were blue. He sent me a story about when he used to walk the wharf in Chattanooga, Tennessee and see people dancing on the Delta Queen Steamboat.

Was a judge in the Hobo Olympics out in Mt. Shasta, California once. Met guitar Whitey, he was an old Bo’ from back in the day. Took my son with me so he could see rebellious people. Met Utah Phillip’s Son and we played a gig in the town of Dunsmuir.

Can You Bodensee The Mountains?

All is quiet. And I mean so quiet that I can hear that 440 electrical buzz sound in my head. This is so different than the airplanes rushing overhead every thirty seconds and a major interstate right in my backyard. My neighbors used to be The United Parcel Service by way of their world-port and my other noisy neighbor was the main traffic vein of the Eastern U.S.A, Interstate 65. There is an occasional sound of a car going down my street. There is home sounds like the sound of my laptop fan, but these sounds are the noises that I never heard before it got all quiet. This morning I woke up at 6:30. Went to bed aww, about midnight, slept all night and woke up to a dark, creaky old house suggesting to me with every step to the kitchen, that the coffee is so good. So, coffee brewing, time to roll a smoke, and pick up the cell phone and scroll the morning news paper screen.

The weather report around these parts is simple. Can you see the mountains? If you can’t see the mountains in the morning, prolly ain’t gonna be no sun all day. I do this every morning. I look out the kitchen window as I open the blinds and gaze at the far away Swiss Alps. The snow cover fluctuates from day to day. The ever changing colors are so different from the only other mountains I have ever seen. The Great Smoky Mountains are great sure, but this is another thing all together. Now that I have passed my German Language test, I think it might be time to get out and walk around some. The other day, I went fishing in lake Constance (Bodensee.)

Going fishing was the first time I had driven anywhere by myself. I woke early, got all layered up because the temperature was going to hover right around freezing for most of the day. Working as an engineer on the Steamer Belle of Louisville got me trained to handle some pretty harsh weather, but this was going to be the opposite spectrum of the heat of being a boiler fireman. I did pretty good, all for the battery powered heated vest my captain had ready for me. My captain is my wife’s best girlfriends man. And he is quite the feller. His boat is a trolling boat, nothing fancy, however we went in style with sandwiches and lots of layers to keep us warm. I didn’t bring coffee was my mistake and he forgetting the hot tea was his. We talked for eight hours or more and got to know each other pretty well. We caught eight lake trout and all of them were massive. (hehe) in eight hours we caught one what he called small, but big enough trout. To me, a lake fisherman from Kentucky used to bass, it was pretty big.

And pretty tasty I might add.

Cringe Writing

I just just sat down to write. It’s oh, eight hundred and I got my coffee, watched a few reels on IG, and now it’s time to let this reel go in my head. What to share? That is one of the questions I as a writer often worry about. I have the inspirational folks I follow that help me make that decision. There is one poet I know who shares all the gory details of everything he is going through. His past drug life, his cancer, soon maybe death, and sometimes his darkness is so hard and truthful that I can’t get to the end of the writing. He shares his work on Facebook freely. I have another poet friend, a writer, who like me has tried all the ways to be seen and gets an occasional bite here and there. He has a good following on various social media platforms. And one poet I know posts freely on his Facebook poems that seem to come from past works, the poems are at least done, or so they seem to be final drafts. And the question remains. What to share and how much? Do people really want to read a journal entry? Is that writing?

I read an Instagram story recently that mentioned that kind of writing as cringe. That type of in-your-face, here is what is happening and you should watch, me fall, learn, fall again and then look at me now. I am thinking about Hunter Thompson’s gonzo style of injecting his complicated life as it was into the stories that he was writing/experiencing in the moment. Like the time he had to write the forward to one of his books and what he describes as absolute torture (the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.) So I wonder. What is too much to share about personal experiences. Maybe this was the reason Kurt Vonnegut agonized about writing a book about his involvement in WW2. His book about Dresden haunted him for years. Writing seems to go against all the best life practices that there are.

My favorite parts of Vonnegut’s books are the forwards. In Slapstick he mentions that this book will be the most autobiographical thing about him that he had ever written. Timequake he mentions right out the gate Ernest Hemingway’s difficulty in producing a document that was not eaten alive by critics. Breakfast of Champions, he talks about growing older and going over the hill in the form of a roof and sliding down the other side. Letting go of all the things that he didn’t need anymore. He also mentions that this book, Breakfast of Champions, is a registered trademark … (hehe) was a gift to himself for reaching the age of fifty. The forward feels to me like his declaration of freedom to share whatever, however, and in any form whatever the hell he wished even if it was silly and somewhat ridiculous.

So now it is oh, nine hundred hours. I wrote three paragraphs. Looked up two words. Torture and Ridiculous. Well now it’s 9:30 and that is because I got up from my laptop and had a smoke in the kitchen. If this was work, like I was at a job, I took a smoke break. And a flood of thoughts came, so did one of the cats and then a half hour went by. I thought about how I love Willie Nelson’s description of how to write a song. Also his Autobiography, It’s A Long Story. I am an audiobook kinda feller. Audible learner. He narrates the introduction and in that, you hear the writer’s voice. I love that. His book is like meeting up with Willie at your kitchen table and getting to know him face to face. I also thought about an Instagram post I saw this morning with Sting talking about the shape of songs these days and how they don’t have a bridge. That part of the song takes you to a new place. So now back at typing after the break I realize I have come close to answering my own question. And this came after the thought about the time, some twenty years ago I talked with a Locomotive Engineer I was working with about songwriting. He suggested writing about what you know. So a new question comes about. What is it that I know? I know I just passed a German Language test and here I am playing with English. I am a high-school dropout, a self-taught writer, and thinking about trying to follow my bliss once more.

I also know I am in a foreign land starting all over at life at the age of dreiundfunfzig. 53. Jahre alt. I fully understand what Kurt Vonnegut was saying in his forward to Breakfast of Champions. Just keep going and throw all the shit you don’t need over your shoulder and let it all hang out! Even if it is panties, assholes, talking critically about something you love, fucking, family and the lack thereof, community, and the serious need for common decency. I guess it is acceptance or maybe surrendering. Be what it is that you seem to know to be and go ahead and be that. That is the answer. Now what?

Change of Direction

Getting rid of many things

to hold closer on to this world.

As we may in life decide

to give up more or less.

Withdraw to win.

Gentle to this decision we

may come as breath comes to life.

Backing down from stances

that once seemed so gallant.

Surrender into light.

Lonesome we may become in

a seemingly chaotic interim.

Choices made calming hours

of dark decision waning.

Change of direction.


Notes Over the Pond

I would say aww, it was about 2016 when I decided to leave the fold of whatever it was I was folded into. I was life deep in a career working as a Locomotive Engineer running trains for CSX Transportation, married to the Teamsters union with all of it’s disfunction and entering into a mid-life freakout of epic slipknots. And Slipknot is how it felt, more like many slipknots all stuffed in a Steamboat locker long forgotten. Steamboat? Well that is where I ended up. After leaving my marriage and of course my job, I eventually needed to become employed. The steamboat The Belle of Louisville is a magical place on the river front in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I loved her, the boat that is, as a child, so when I met an engineer from the boat at a Kentucky Alliance awards dinner, fate was in a pleasant mood. Kentucky Alliance? Anne Braden, she was the founder and inspiration for the organization that was holding the affair. I was and guess still am an activist.

My mother was a teacher. She went to School late in life to be one. She would suggest that everything is a teachable moment. Now would be a good time to Google Anne Braden. This is the notes in the margin. This is the BOLD underline in the book. As a reader, in the new digital world, I hope you do one thing for me and the many writers like me who share almost insanely freely as we do … so slow down!!

And slowing down means several things. One is find a way to pay the writers, aka, local artist, aka indi writer, also known as crazy for sharing this much. For free. Anne Braden is one of my favorite writers and political activists, ever. Her and her husband were journalists, anti-racists fighters from the old CIO days of the 1940’s. Somewhere in this writing I will be writing about media and the ways we are taught history wrong and why. Maybe I will tell stories, share experiences. Write about elders… whoa … full stop. Elders. If you would like to support my work? Go here and just buy an MP3 or maybe a book, or share this post, … ok back to the story.

My friend Ira Grupper, also a political activist suggested I go to the dinner. I was not that interested in Louisville politics at the time, but had been interested and very much active in The Union so I went. Glad I did because I was at the end of my rope with many things and where to get a job was something I had not thought about since 2000 and one. I just so happened to sit at a table with an Engineer from the boat and somewhere in the introductions I mentioned that I used to be an Engineer with CSX railroad. Less than two weeks later I was starting as a deckhand at the boat. One of the slipknots was untied and life was about to take a turn for the better. The main slipknot was a divorce. One of those. Cue going up the river of life and meeting Kurtz and killing him. Yes this is a mention of many things, the hero’s journey, Apocalypse Now. The horror.

There is something strange and quite understandable about being here in this small town in Western Austria. Half my family tree is rooted less than an hour drive from where I am now. I am two blocks away from the Swiss boarder and a block away from the Rhine River. So me, being a river town kind of guy, I feel at home, plenty of metaphors to mine. A small historical steam railroad operates in the spring and throughout the summer months. My wife told me you can hear the whistle from here. All my roots are up-river from here, just around the bend, those kind of metaphors. A new life is what I am doing. Married again and in many ways starting over.

If you were to go back in time and read some of the posts on this WordPress, you would be able to make heads or tails of how I got here. Over the Pond. My life has been liken to the twists and turns of the Mississippi river. A flood of life’s epic experience cuts a new path and just like Old Man River is known to do, a new river bed is made. A change of direction that renders the old way unreachable, or in another State … of mind … that is. As of right now, I am feeling pretty God dang happy and content. I miss my old mentor. I never knew that an inanimate object could serve in the role as such. When this writing takes better shape I might even get serious and make an outline. There will be much more on how a boat can be a SHE and here is a bit about her now.

The Belle of Louisville Steamboat has a way of mending broken folks. I mean, people get work there, they got life problems, they work, and then life goes on and there are plenty of examples of that. The river being the backdrop flows and goes, not much one can do about it. Floods come, stillness of current with mirrored surfaces. Harsh weather, sudden storms, cooling rain while it’s sunny, hot and humid. The river front is also the home of Muhammad Ali. His memorial center is backdrop to the river front. A large picture banner looks down on the riverfront with his “I told you so” smile. . The riverboat workplace is also where Lewis and Clark left for their journey to inject the west with the American Dream. So, ghosts, old stories, metaphors dripping with every ingredient needed for deep contemplation, wayward thoughts, day and night dreaming. It’s all there. Not to mention the Belle, our river Queen, she.

The Belle of Louisville was built in 1914 and is the oldest surviving, still in operation Western Rivers Steamboat in the U.S.A. She has quite the mysterious alluring spirit. Her story is a story of over work, exploitation, almost near death rebirth. She knows what it means to be almost worked to death. She was almost scrapped and then sold at auction in the 1960’s and might not have made it to Louisville if a few river minded folks, politicians and then a host of many dreamers would not have painstakingly preserved her. So, without saying, she can spot a broken soul and knows how to mend one.

I met my wife there, kind of. I met her online and we talked and talked over social media. My son met his lady friend in the same way a few years before. He taught me as a concerned Father how to date over the screens. My wife’s family is rooted here in Austria and we live in a house that has been in her family for a long while. Our house was built somewhere in the 1860’s. To me that is crazy because I build a timeline in my head with 1865 being the end of the civil war. The 1860’s was when the L&N railroad got the charter from the State of Kentucky to exist. Old. I am learning that old in Europe is not the same as it is in the States.