The frustrations

Probably most of you know by now my biggest frustration. [Note from 2017: I wrote this just after my dad made a big scene of absolutely forbidding me to go trainhopping, and I made a bigger scene about that scene, on Facebook.] Make no mistake, it’s still rankling. Going trainhopping was the only thing I ever wanted out of this semester. I would be out and about and then I’d be done with the whole thing. I just wanted to satisfy my wanderlust this once, and go all around the country and see things I’d never seen before. But then I wasn’t allowed that. I’m twenty-one years old, and when I’m stopped from making my own decisions about my life, be they good, bad, or ridiculous, it really burns. And I’m not going to forget that feeling very soon, because that’s a special level of feeling bad, and not one that just fades away like it’s nothing.

Disregarding what Dad did and said that night, though, the timing would still have been poor. When I planned on doing my MAP proposal remotely, I never bargained for what an ordeal it would be. This process is not designed for the vagrant. It’s required me to wait, here in the house at my computer, for everything: for comments from professors on my various endless drafts of the narrative parts of the proposal; for answers to questions that should be clarified much better on the forms I have to fill out; for approval to do anything lest I get my proposal rejected. None of this would be much of a problem if I were in school this semester, or even if I were resigned to staying here in this house the entire time. But, as long ago as January, maybe even earlier, I had reserved this semester, these few short precious months, for seeing the country. Now the semester has been slowly but inexorably chipped away from me, and besides the Oregon trip, the only nights I’ve spent outside of this house are one in a park 28 miles away that I biked to, and another spent in a sleeping bag next to the basement door. I haven’t accomplished a single thing worth mentioning, whereas I had foreseen that by this point I would have done enough exploits to fill at least a novel. I was going to see Glacier National Park from the back of a grainer, I was going to hike up a Rocky Mountain without even knowing its name, I was going to learn how to live with the wilderness from my cousin Travis, I was going to watch the desert go by in the night without so much as a headlight anywhere to pollute the view, I was going to meet the crusty folks who ride the rails looking for one of the only things that can be called a real adventure in this country without an imagination. Instead I’ve, what, I’ve cooked some bread, made some cookies, and designed the Russian, Greek, and small-cap alphabets of my latest font? I went to Oregon, it’s true, but I only saw what you can see of it in a week. I didn’t even get to know all of New York City, and that was a far smaller place where I had eightfold the time. If we’re rating how I feel about the MAP application procedure, count me as “very dissatisfied”.

I do have another adventure planned out, one that I’m not planning on missing, and one that no one has tried to wheedle me out of. This is my bike trip to the Ozarks. I won’t be seeing as much as I would have, but it’s too late for any real trainhopping, above and beyond any considerations of what Dad threatens to do or how much I still have left to do on my MAP proposal. (Which, for the record, is practically nothing—at this point I’m just waiting for it to be approved by my professors, and then by some other groups of professors, and a dean or two. It’s almost out of my hands, although I still may be told to rewrite it.) Whatever the cold, on the day that I get word back that my MAP no longer requires me to be here, I’ll saddle up my bike, buy some bags of lentils, and pedal off to the Ozarks. Part of my plan is having no plan. I find that when I bike without much of a plan, interesting things tend to happen to me. For example, there’s the bike ride that I took a couple weeks ago. I decided, for no particular reason, to follow the railroad south. In so doing, I passed through Procter & Gamble’s glycerin refinery, which was pretty interesting, and then saw the plant where they make the nation’s Crisco. I passed all sorts of industry I’d never seen, and then suddenly I realized I knew where I was. I was at the bottom of Winton Road, next to Spring Grove Cemetery. So I went inside and did what I do in cemeteries where I don’t know anything about the people buried there: I looked for funny names. Sad to say, there weren’t really any to report—they were mostly just German names that didn’t look like anything to me. (I think there might have been a Gaylord somewhere.) But I discovered that there were oak trees dropping acorns everywhere. So, remembering my archaeology class where we made acorn flour and then sampled acorn muffins made by our professor, I gathered as many as I could fit into my pockets, from around the grave of a Mr and Mrs Johnston. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed filling up my cargo pockets with probably seven or eight pounds of them.

I got home and found a bur oak next door dropping even more acorns, and these ones were several times bigger. I collected acorns in a big sack that day and the next, and then shelled them with Micah’s help. If anyone had asked me to bet on how long I could get Micah to help me shell acorns, I would have put my money somewhere around the thirty-seconds mark. But he sat there and smashed acorns with me for upwards of an hour, and we talked about stuff he’d done, and it was one of the more enjoyable days I’d had lately. Eventually, with all the acorns shelled, I ground them and dried them and started cooking with them. I made acorn muffins and Karl put acorn meal in a cake and in some pancakes. It has a flavor unlike anything that we usually eat, but I like it. It’s interesting, eating something made by an oak tree. At least to me, it feels very wholesome. I like it, though Micah said it was nasty. (The sad epilog to this story is that I apparently didn’t dry the meal out enough, so now most of it has molded. I should have kept a closer eye on it and probably put it in the oven. Hopefully I can salvage some of it.)

There was the other time, back at college, when I biked up the street in search of the path that I knew led to Rock Creek Park. I found it, and then, even though it was about 11:00 at night, I found myself biking the whole seven miles of the trip there. I got back around 1:30. That story is told more extensively here.

Or there was the time last winter when I had to get out of the house, so I biked up to a nearby park. I’d been there before and found it to be nothing special. But it was the closest thing to woods that I knew of around here (I still miss Warder Park, back at the old house), so I headad there. I biked right through it, and then went up a gravel path and followed random roads without really having a clear idea of where I was going except that I was heading upstream along a little creek that went through the park. Suddenly I found that I was at the dam that creates the lake in Winton Woods, the dam on the West Fork of the Mill Creek. It made no sense for me to be here in my mental topography, but there was the dam, and there was the spillway with its enormous cliff, and there was the steep slope, today adorned with kids sledding down it. I asked if I could take a ride, and they said okay. It was pretty fun, although the grass was a little too high to let me get up lots of speed (or you could look at it the other way and say the snow wasn’t deep enough).

So, in short, when I bike without knowing where I’m going, I end up discovering things. That’s why I haven’t really elaborated my plan any further than “I’m going to the Ozarks.” I’ll just see what happens. There will be fall colors for me to enjoy, provided I get a move on soon, which sort of hinges on my professors. There will be woods for me to find food in, and there will be creeks for me to follow. I’ll find fun things to do.

(By the way, I can see someone commenting, “I think this bike ride will be great for you. It sounds like you have an amazing time riding bikes, and trainhopping wouldn’t have been nearly as good at letting you discover awesome things.” Well, I’ve never discovered something awesome on a trainhopping trip before because I’ve really never been on one. I think the important part is that I’m out and about, not that I’m out and about on a bike. But I digress.)

In preparation for going, I needed to get some saddlebags for my bike. But the only ones I saw in the bike shop were eighty-five dollars, and that money would have gone to some saddlebags that really weren’t very big anyhow. So I searched online to see if I could find plans for making my own. I did find such plans, so I went and got some canvas and some notions and I sewed some bags up. It took me several days and lots of trial and error, but I ended up with some pretty capacious bags that will sling over my bike’s rack and help me do lots of carrying on my trip. I would carry my stuff in my backpack—I love my backpack—but I discovered during a trial trip that backpacks just don’t serve well on long-distance bike rides. They’re hard on the back, obviously—that’s what everyone thinks of first. By the end of the 28-mile ride, I was aching pretty hard down my back. But I also discovered they’re hard on the crotch, because they’re pushing you down onto that seat with a lot of extra weight. So saddlebags are the choice for me, but I certainly won’t be forsaking my backpack. Heck, I just repaired it a little while ago, even after a professional cobbler told me it was time to let go. It has a lot of service left yet to give me. Hopefully my saddlebags work out, and don’t scatter all my stuff to the winds. That question will be cause for another test ride, though probably not an overnight—maybe I’ll go to West Fork Dam or something.

So that’s my bike trip. It’ll be very nice, because I need to get out of this house. It’s gotten ridiculous here, and I just can’t stand it much longer. I won’t be delaying long in moving out of this place after graduation. Dad’s invited Karl over more or less permanently, since Karl lost his job and doesn’t have anywhere to be anymore. Since he’s over here all the time, he cooks all the meals, which is nice in a way, but it means that no one else can cook anything. He’s very territorial about the kitchen. If anyone (besides Dad) goes in there while he’s cooking, he tells them to get the fuck out. And then if I decide I’m going to make some baked goods (since he’s monopolized all the meals), he finds fault with most of what I do while making it. Really, if anyone cooks besides him, he basically says everything they’re doing is nuts and it’s going to be disgusting and full of bacteria. (He’s very germophobic. He sees disease creeping into food from all the unlikeliest places: for example, specks of anything in the microwave.) Sometimes he lightens up, but I can’t get any experience cooking for myself. It’s not like at EcoHouse, where everyone has free run of the kitchen, and everyone’s encouraging, and if they know something about what you’re trying to cook, they’ll offer tips if you ask. And all the food turns out tasting healthy and delicious, whereas Karl’s food turns out tasting like fat and meat. His food is all either red or brown. Every meal is mostly meat, with a little of something else perhaps on the side. He won’t eat anything that’s green. He also claims to be allergic to raw tomatoes. It makes for some pretty grim fare. I feel like I’m eating in a military mess hall a lot of the time.

And then after dinner he and Dad get angry. A lot of the time they get angry about politics. Dad never misses an opportunity to ridicule Democrats, and if there isn’t an opportunity, he creates one. It seems like all he wants to talk about is how Democrats are ruining everything and he warned everyone that Obama would do what he’s doing and the whole country has gone to Hell in a handbasket but now the Republicans are going to sweep the Senate and there’ll be “blood in the ballot boxes” and everything will get better and the Democrats will go away forever, if there’s any sense of justice in the world. It gets pretty tiresome. Especially since he and Karl seem convinced that I’m a democrat. If you have to label me anything, I’m an anarchist, not a Republican or a Democrat! But since I voted for Obama, I’m a Democrat and thus, by extension, an abject failure. And a target for pointless but endless ridicule.

I’m also a target for ridicule because I’m still living at home (where was I supposed to live, huh?) and I’m not making any money (well, I wasn’t even expecting to be in this house this late into the year) and I’m longhaired and bearded and barefoot and I go to college with monkey-legged women and I’m a tree-hugger and I didn’t major in business and I’m not doing anything right with my life. It would be putting it very mildly to say that I’m sick and tired of Dad’s bullshit, and I can’t deal with it much longer. He makes this a depressing place to come back to.

There are other things that I can’t stand here. Like the constant TV, the accumulation of tremendous amounts of stuff, the beer cans all over, the way no one talks to each other, because we’re all on different floors and different rooms. While I’m at it, Mom still hasn’t quit smoking, though she finally seems to be trying in earnest, not just saying she’ll quit.

You can tell I’m frustrated. I have to leave, but I can’t do it yet, and that just irritates me to no end. But soon I’ll be getting out at least temporarily. It can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

If you want, you can insert this sentence at the beginning: “Hey, who wants to listen to me complaining about a bunch of stuff?” Maybe that will make you feel better.

File under: trains, adventure, land skills, biking, angst

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Courage! Consider that you are getting food and shelter and time to get to be with your brother before you're both grown up and apart from each other. (Loved your acorn shelling experience together.) Your time is coming, and soon. Along with the responsibility to earn your own keep, so even if you're at home and grumpy now, you're still as free as you'll ever be. And even though I'm 70, I've been told I can't do lots of things I'd like to do. That never goes away, because we all have to live within certain limits. Anyway, we're in your corner–patience. Love, Grandma




The bikeride will be good for you. Don't worry about the politics. One thing I have learned is the political cycle. It goes like this: Ideology, grandstanding, opposition demonization, voting, the eye of the hurricane, lobbying, payback, polling, switcherooing, gridlock, smug consensus building, endless cable news/radio blathering, back to ideology. It lasts two years. The end result is always an increase in promised entitlements to the people.






I remember being 21 1/2 and going to St. Louis to meet up with some of the kids I'd gone to Peru with the previous summer. We were walking around St. Louis and felt thirsty, so decided to go into a nearby lounge and have cokes. They would not even let me in the door, although I only wanted to buy a soft drink, was of legal age, and had a driver's license to prove it. My license didn't have a picture in those days. I should have brought my passport. Still, there was no moving them. I was denied my legal rights, and I was absolutely furious. But it was only because I was so new an adult, and really did still look like a 14-year-old, that I was so mad. When I got to 26 and the same sort of thing happened, I took it as a compliment. At 26 I played the part of a 14-year-old on stage, and people would come up to me afterward and talk to me as if I was really 14. That was a very high compliment. Alas, I haven't been carded in many a long year, but then I never drink alcohol anyway. It doesn't matter, as long as you know who you are.

P.S. Hard to give up a dream, I know. When I was four years old and needed some new shoes, we found some beautiful red ones, with straps, that I fell in love with. So they were a little tight, so what? But Mom asked me to tell her the truth, and I admitted they were too snug, so however I cried and pleaded, I didn't get them. Therever after I wanted and wanted red shoes with straps. If I had gotten them at the time, I would have put them on once, and then thrown them into the back of the closet, my love affair over. As it was, I finally found some when I was nearly 30, and I bought them, wore them once, and then threw them into the back of the closet, my love affair over.

Your train trip would most probably not have lived up to your dream of it. Better to keep the dream and not spoil it with sordid reality.

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