Welche Arbeit kannst du machen? (what work can you do?)

I should be learning German. I am here, right? Might as well get to work. It’s Samstag. Saturday around noon. Got a nice fire going and the cats are napping. So is my wife. I made a cardboard box hotel for my cat. Sunny. The cat’s name ist Sunny and he is a Siberian. Fluffy AF. Very fluffy. Kind of acts like a dog. Sunny meets me in the morning when I drink coffee. My wife and I have been nursing him from a sickness that we recently found out was a tumor. He is about 14 years old or so. Vierzehn Jahre alt.

The cardboard box hotel has windows and a small piece of cardboard for the window overhang. I wrote Holiday Inn Express on the side. Sunny owned it as soon as I put it in the living room. What is funny to me, living here in this little town of Lustenau, is two things. One, the dialect here is thick, just like in Louisville. Loosch no … Louavul. The second thing that is funny to me is the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town as well as the McDonald’s.

Vorarlberg population 400,000, salut!

The Alpine mountains, a very large Lake Constance, Switzerland and a few small towns. People have been living in this Rhine river bottom land for a long while compared to what I am used to in the USA. The small towns don’t have much growing room with the lake and mountains as natural containments. My wife and I joke about this place being like the Hobbit Shire lands in the Lord of the Rings. When I walk along the Rhine and look south, I think about Gandalf and the boys up on the snow covered mountains or the beacons being lit to signal Gondor for aid. In the Spar grocery store they are selling “Blackout” boxes.

The boxes are quite fancy prepper boxes prepared for the “possible” power blackouts. In the info-book the Local Government sent out, the “possible” blackouts are said to be due to the electric grid “possibly” being overloaded. I put quotes around possible because the issue seems to me to not be that much of a big deal. Something that is possible would seem to require some sort of plan, one would think. The box at the grocery store is the only tangible thing I have seen, and that is being sold, not provided. The boxes contain a set of walkie talkies, a cooker and a crank radio. At least we will get to play with walkie-talkies, build fires and listen to the radio, right?

I have not been out in the towns as much as I could because being here in this house is much easier. When I shelter in this place, I am not spending money. Waiting for winter to break and living like a cat seems to be the “new me.” I am living a writer’s life so it seems. I have plenty of time, coffee, cigarettes and several projects that I could be working on. Poetry. There are Kilos of poetry from 2018-2019 that is sitting in this computer waiting to be edited and turned into a book. Then there is a load of writing from 2020-2021 to work on.


Lustenau and Louisville have many things in common, especially if you think about Germantown, Schnitzelburg Louisville, compared to here economically. This is where not going out as much as I could comes into play. I have had limited social interaction in the short amount of time I have been here but my eyes take it all in and people are people ya know. English is the second language. There is English all over the place and then there is the Holiday Inn, Micky D’s, and the Dunkin Donuts in the mall in Dornbirn. The mall is American style capitalism out the wazoo. I saw a kid with Levi’s jeans and a pair of Air Jordan’s looking nothing like what one would think an Austrian Volralburger would look like. Not to mention, I met two kids at a new friends workplace, both kids were under the age of six, both speaking English learned only from watching YouTube video’s and playing PlayStation.

Welche Arbeit kannst du machen?

What work can you do?

One of the ways I have been spending time has been listening to a radio show from the USA with my wife. We cuddle up on these long Austrian winter nights, build a cozy fire and stream A Way With Words.

An upbeat and lively public radio show and podcast about language examined through culture, history, and family. Language debates, variations, and evolution, as well as new words, old sayings, slang, family expressions, word histories, etymology, linguistics, regional dialects, word games, grammar, books, literature, writing, and more.

from waywordradio.org

Some of the work I have been doing, as a writer:

Going to Linguistic school via Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett as my professors

Getting a German Language A1 certification from the Goethe

Procrastinating and petting cats

My wife loves the radio show as she has a very good grasp of English. When she was in school the emphasis was on British English so for an American English as a second language student, this show is an amazing resource. In the show, there are many German influences and it seems Martha Barnette loves the German language. It’s fun to see if my wife has heard the phrase, word, or dialect. I like the show because Martha is from Louisville, Kentucky and we share a love of the southern American twang. Grant is the same age as me and a Father. I like that too. GenX’ers Unite! If I would have went to college this radio show would have made a great class. I am a self-taught writer and always looking for new inspiration and knowledge.

So, not really work but …

Last night’s show had some writers advice.

  1. Don’t go back and edit as you write. Get it all out and then maybe edit.
  2. Memoirs can be tricky.
  3. Be honest when writing memoirs.
  4. Be careful … people read into things.
  5. Be mindful.

I could go on and on about all the advice from the various shows and what is listed is not an exact list from the show. The crazy part is that we are at page 30 with a total of 80 pages. Six shows a page, so there will be lots more advice. But what about the elephant in the room? Arbeit. Work. How am I going to contribute to this Austrian European social democracy in the way of taxes? I guess another list may be in order?

  1. play music at the marketplaces
  2. continue trying to get people to donate to my writing
  3. make another recording
  4. finish these poetry books
  5. get serious about writing a memoir
  6. get a job doing something
  7. Be a cat

I have a very part time job lined up at a small factory and here we go with another chapter in my working life as I have already worked as a factory worker in a woodshop, briefly in a pipe organ factory, was a railroad worker, a contract artist, chef, dishwasher, deckhand on a steamboat and then the fireman. Worked as a deckhand on a casino boat, tele-opinion survey collector, drove a van for an afterschool Christian arts program. I think I would rather do the music and the writing part, however, I digress, often.

I think I am having my, You Can’t Go Home Again moment in life. Thomas Wolfe wrote a book about his hometown and when he goes back home again the townspeople are pissed because they think he wrote the stories specifically about them. He then goes on a trip to Berlin and writes critically about Capitalism and Nazi Rule. Something like that, but not that, but, I read the wiki and I think you know what I mean? No? What I am trying to say is …

I look back at the writing on this blog and see that much of it is about wishing for something to be taken seriously or, talking about the good ol’ days and the critical analysis of the downright amazement of whatever it is that I am doing at the time. I wrote extensively about spending several months alone at a Lake house in Central Kentucky during the pandemic. Wrote the Isolation Reports there. Then the shit hit the fan in Louisville when the Louisville police shot Breonna Taylor and an all-out war erupted with the police department that went on for months. Feeling like I needed to be part of the struggle, I came back to Louisville to continue living in a little outback garage in the Louisville Highlands neighborhood. The eerie sound of helicopters, nightly street protests, and police sirens. Thinking back on that time now?

Jesus, it was a surreal time — so,

work. What am I going to do over here in Lustenau, Austria? I plan to grow some food in our garden. Take a few trips up into the mountains. Probably go fishing with my new friend on the (lake) Bodensee. Oh and visit Einsiedeln, Switzerland. I guess this is the You Can Go Home Again moment? I met my wife on Instagram.

She searched a #(hashtag) #RailYardGhosts and found me from posts about a railroad Hobo folk music click that I sometimes do musical projects with. When we first started talking my now wife would only text because she was embarrassed by her accent. So we wrote a few books worth of conversation back and forth as I stood watch at the Belle of Louisville steamboat. One of the many things we texted about was how funny it was that the family tree on my Wright side was all about this little town in Switzerland very close to her home in Austria.

We talked and talked and then when she was comfortable we video chatted and then stayed connected all the way through the pandemic. After waiting several months for travel to resume, we met in person. While we waited we talked extensively about the way her life quite resembled mine as a child. A very tight knit family, small town atmosphere, she railed against male and female gender roles. I told her about a mouse that took a long journey and then when the mouse left the community, the little mouse couldn’t go home again. Well, kinda. That is a very long story made short from a teaching story I read many moons ago from a book titled, Seven Arrows.

So to break one of the rules I heard on A Way With Words, I’ll go back up to the top of this post and do some editing and attempt to sew all this together. I should be learning German. I have a cat that is somewhere about fourteen years old. I am married to a woman from Austria and have a fire going. It’s winter, I could be getting more involved in my local community and should be doing something with my life.

Well …

Seems as If I am doing it? Whatever it may be. One of the other things my girlfriend then and now wife talked about on our long calls across the pond was the hero’s journey and escape. I have been on many an escape drifting far out in the metaphorical seas of change. I am doing exactly that and fear I may not be able to go home again. Home is not in Louisville, except in the form of close family and an old job. I joke that when I go to Einsiedeln, I hope to find a lost castle that my Kaelin family owned and then I will move in and live the life of a Catholic Monk. Never been one of those.

But to mention the Holiday Inn and McDonald’s again.

I have many thoughts when I notice the USA coming in or when I see the English at the store and other places. Meine Muttersprache ist peripheral most of the time. Where is home? Wo ist Zuhause? This place, Lustenau, is suffering many of the same issues that Louisville suffers when it comes to outside entities sucking the place dry of culture and money. Some of the few books I brought are by Wendell Berry and Rumi books by Coleman Barks.

The stories in the Wendell Berry books are interesting if you think of Lustenau, Austria as being Port Royal, Kentucky. It’s the same story. Small river town, local traditions forgotten, the good old days sprinkled everywhere but fading fast. According to Wikipedia this place was once known for its embroidery industry and currently for technology. I guess it is known for its McDonald’s and Holiday Inn Express? As for the Rumi books … have you ever heard Coleman Barks read Rumi?

Herr Sunny
In the hotel
Euro Dunkin’ Donuts

I Am At Square One, Again

Well, I got my resident Visa for one year. I am at square one, again. And I am very happy that I get to settle in with a clean slate. A couple of weeks ago, I went to an American style bar and had cheeseburgers. The burgers were almost great. The guy who owned the place came out and talked with us, his wife was our server and she is from here. I learned two things that day. Our server mentioned to my wife that she should speak German to her man or he will never learn it. From the owner of the bar, I learned that nothing has happened here in twenty some odd years. He talked about being back in Miami, talked of sun rays and beaches. After three months here I get why he was talking sunshine and the hustle bustle of a big city. The winters here are long and the sun is a hit or miss event. Seems so at least the way my wife talks about how heavy the time can be while waiting for spring.

I feel like many of my past life experiences have trained me for this kind of small town-just settle in and stay at home modus operandi. Back when I was running trains back and forth from Louisville and Nashville I spent many many lonesome hours just waiting for a train at the hotel or at home. The extreme fatigue of the job made it that I didn’t want to do anything in between that work time except rest. My time spent as a watchman at the Belle Of Louisville was all about sitting, watching, and making sure nothing happened. So, maybe that is what I will do here in Lustenau, Austria. I’ll rest, watch and make sure nothing happens.

I started following the Mayor of my new town on Instagram. Kurt Fischer is his name and he is in the Austrian Peoples Party, OVP. Mind my English, that O is supposed to have two dots over it. So far from his Instagram feed, football, dogs and writing old people letters seems to be the platform of the party. The wiki article about the political party says that is close to Farmers, The Roman Catholic Church and Business. Well, I seem to know a little about some of the party platform, my last mayor was Greg Fischer. He was Louisville’s Democrat mayor, was Catholic, a businessman and wrote the forward for a book about the German influence on Louisville from Immigration. I wonder if there is a connection? I am not interested in politics, but writing old people letters is cool, I like dogs, never was into sports. Soon I will be going to Einsiedeln, Switzerland. I have a serious family connection to that town.

Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische.
Frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz

is a German language tongue twister and this fishing Fischer and my family heritage is all mixed up and kinda complicated, so here goes …

I have spent many years figuring out who I am, John Paul the musician, percussionist, writer, singer, survivor of manic depression, ex-railroader, union organizer, Father and now husband again. I am pretty well set in my ways and know them well. When I look at the Ancestry dot com printout of my family tree, i feel that coming here to this place is an archaeology dig into the deep roots of my family. My Mother’s side is easy as far as the records show. Kentucky and Syria. My Grandfather Mellick was Malik Assas before his named changed upon arrival. That is as far back I get from that side. My Grandpa Mellick came from Lebanon to the USA, via Ellis Island and opened a bar on east Jefferson Street. Was married twice, had a bunch of kids, got divorced, married my Grandmother, her family was from Kentucky, she died and Grandpa married his first wife again. He fathered something like eighteen children. My Mother was the youngest.

The connective roots to this place begin with my Great-Grandmother. She was a Schneider. Her roots are Austrian and Czech, and she married a Kaelin. Through my Paternal side of that marriage, I find names like Meinrad, Schoenbachler, Grazer, Kalin, Lacher, and Fuchs. All the way to the 1670’s I can follow that path to Einsiedeln. I am sure I will have some weird feelings when I visit like I know something about it. I certainly feel at this age, at this time in my life, a certain nostalgia for what seemed to me to be a lost neighborhood from which my Wright side came. When I tell folks here that I was raised in Schnitzelburg, Kentucky, they look at me funny. My other connection to all this Swiss-German talk is my Step- Father. I don’t know anything about where that side of my family comes from except that my Step Father Bobby was raised in the heart of Schnizelburg and met my mother at the bar right down the street from Check’s Cafe. Shacks Bar was right behind Heitzman’s bakery, right before you got to the chicken house going towards Alexander Street, the street my Mom moved to with my “real” Dad. Somewhere about seven years later she meets my Step-Father and is married into the Krauss family. My Grandmother Krauss was Catholic and very Catholic at that. So was my Grandmother Wright, they both went to St. Elizabeth Church. And eventually I will tell you that many of my most profound memories of youth will center around being an Alter-Boy at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, growing up at the Social Male Chorus Gesangverein aka The German American Club, and singing in the basement at my Grandmother Wright’s house. So, there was a Swiss Hall and there was, kinda still is a singing club, my family is Swiss-German-Austrian and I am now here in Lustenau kinda figuring it out that I am going to write a memoir. One of the things I will write about is being a noisy kid. Being almost driven crazy with sounds and music. I will tell stories about my Mother and her activism. I wrote a book titled, The Table that tells of some of this. That book starts in NYC with me going crazy. I think now would be a good time to start all the way at the beginning. I think I’ll start with … Once Upon a Time.

Sundi Drive

A quick Sundi drive up to the Tobacco store.

And how many bourbons could there actually be?

Straight down the buffalo trail:

Preston and east on Eastern Parkway to Hunter Thompson’s

(he ran from here like a bat outta hell) neighborhood and

Mark Anthony Mulligan’s streets. Where is he I wonder?

(a homeless angel)

The ol’ Highlands :

And I am talking Louisville, Kentucky blues shit RN.

Behind an ol haunt, in the parking lot of St. Brigid

a homeless man washes his feet from the church hose.

I say, “that’s one way to get Jesus to wash your feet brother!”

Offer a bottled water, he smiles and says, “bless you.”

I always have water in my painted pony art car for this.

Back out to the streets of this lonesome southern wanna-be town.

If you stay here you gonna get stuck here sense of place.

The long way home, through Germantown :

A line around the local little ice cream joint!

And isn’t this a fine day to dream?

I scream you scream :

The radio is playing some sentimental

open road song on the local bluegrass radio show.

A double stop twines memories from the fiddle and

these streets I have ran, explored, they know me.

I know them lamenting like the E minor chord to A minor chord.

This song is a cookie-cutter twenty-somethings bluegrass

new grass mindless recreation of the working man’s blues.

These streets are just like worn out metaphors.

Nobody goes down the dark mines around here anymore.

Mark Anthony Sings, Jefferson County

I Am Not An Influencer . . .

I am not an Influencer . . .
only here on the take.
I am not here to play a gig –
because –
we are the frogs in that e-conomy.
because that is what
we were taught as children.
because good work deserves
attention and praise.
because it is
an open invitation.
As desperate as it may seem –
to live a quiet life goes against
inner workings instilled.
This is my orchard.
I offer these words like
apples, pears and wild flowers.
This music – my peaches.
These images collected were born
of many a harvest.
You are the bee to this creative
fire . . . I grow from your consumption.
Enjoy . . .
like our
lives depend
on it.
You are the thread in
the quilt that holds together
The Folk Tradition.

Getting Ready – Chapter One

Chapter One.

Getting ready.

He said, “well, you are free!” I was talking to my hobo, rail-yard ghost- train riding friend while standing on the backside of my workplace. A river front life saving station positioned at mile 604 at the Louisville city front on the Mighty Ohio River is where I report for duty. A cold front was moving through whipping up cold wind and waves. I said, “hey, Jonah (my son) turned eighteen yesterday …” And it was a phone call from another world, to my world. In his world he is still roaming around from siding to siding. He just bought his little Big Rock Candy Mountain. His version of Payne Hollow, Walden Pond, upstate Wisconsin. A big river follows along the backside, train tracks bordering his front.

Free? I am free, to a degree. To wonder, wait and hope that all those seeds I planted in that kid, will grow. The strategic subtle mentions. The moral to the stories. The dark places. The radical union meetings, passing motions – all that. And later I realized why I was feeling funny all day. This day would have been my twenty fifth year anniversary with his Mom. But, that is how far away from all that I am now. That date will pass by like the drift in this river. I’ll notice its passing. And as it passes, it may be useful at the time. Might pick it up out of the river of life and admire a little of its worn away usefulness. Might remember something fond of what was an entire lifetime of something loving and honorable to be. Maybe memories will flood in, resembling a town once visited, like taking an unfamiliar exit on a dark- fog filled late night highway or pondering a yellowed family vacation photo of people I have never met.

And in this new brave digital world, photos will not yellow with time. The news articles will not crumble in some stored away manila folder. Family photos may be obsolete in the next decade as computers switch to a new file format. Most of what happens in these so called end days, happens in a place where there is no darkness. And yes, that is Orwellian as fuck. AF. Just as dark as the place I would have to go to continue this prose, uninterrupted- alone and isolated for days on end. But, and most importantly, I am not in that place right now. RN. The rest of the world may, in these pandemic times, be getting a taste of what it feels like to be a writer or a creative person. Creativity strikes, like a virus, and then you are forced to live or die from a want to produce. And sometimes in that place of isolated creative fire, hours on hours going by cutting and pasting, practicing, rolling out words from a place inside you infected with a desire to walk that razor blade of vanity, you isolate. You put on that mask. You do the work of the fool.

The rest of the world may as well be writing the Newspeak dictionary! RN, AF, double plus good, LMAO, emoji this, meme this and that. Time. Dystopian times. In a week we leave on this steamboat to be gone for a week. Clickty clackity, pushing upriver. In many ways, this will be my “hearts of darkness” trip, my “never get out of the boat” moment. I have an active imagination, Y’all. I have nothing to prove, no point to make. I am leaving myth and messages on a forest path of an escape. We will be leaving from the same place Lewis and Clark once left, whitewashing their way across an unexploited Undaunted Courage.

And as I write this prose, history is being retold. His story! The winners have lost control of their narrative. Statues are being taken off pedestals. A great power shift is happening. Things are in motion that can not be undone. All the Gods and Goddesses of colonial industry have been exposed and are dead or dying. The old money can’t keep up with the new developers and their ghost armies of followers and fans. The pendulum is swinging in a violent unmanageable windstorm of change. Heroes and heroine are being defaced and new slogans quickly installed. And all this stream of conscience drifting was inspired by one phone call from a friend. A rail-yard ghost called from a far. An ol’ pal of the Kerouac suggestion of free roaming. The let’s just go and see people. The “if there is a lower class, then I am of it,” folks. This writing might as well be a middle finger to the law and order crowd, or at least, maybe, a message of warning: Your Slip Is Showing. You fascists are losing your damned minds and losing favor with a new generation of electronically educated, self inspired natives. I can hear the far off drums! Can you?

John Paul Wright

Mile 604, Ohio River

Louisville, Kentucky