Archives for posts with tag: Midwest

This novel has the slow steady pace of country life:


A few big events puncture the narrative but mostly you get more than three hundred pages of small-town life. The sheriff and his deputies. Some townie lowlifes. A few good people trying to make a respectable living. It’s a good book. Maybe you’ve heard of it and passed it over. Maybe this is the first. Don’t pass it up. It’s a nice summer read.

I happened to read half of this book in the north-eastern corner of Iowa where this book seems to be set. Maybe that’s one reason I felt such comfort settling into this weighty novel. Tom Drury never explicitly places a pin in a map but he leaves some strong clues. The nearby Minnesota border. The long stretches of corn and gravel between towns.

This part of the country is beautiful. Perhaps most beautiful to those raised here. Even those of us who grew up in town and never lived the hard-working farm life, feel the pull of those fields and that horizon line. The comfort and awe of seeing weather work its way across the land. A thunderhead building and bubbling up lightening.

The wife and the poodle watch a summer storm churn towards us:


Writing is built on reading. I better get back to it.


Growing up, I was one of those Midwestern kids who said I liked all kinds of music, except country of course. Anything but gross, stereotypical, tractor-lovin country. Then I grew up, apparently used my sense of hearing for the first time, and realized how naïve I had been. Country is awesome. Well, some country is awesome. Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Johnny-Fucking-Cash.

Recently I came across this slowed down version of Dolly Parton’s song, Jolene:

It’s haunting. It’s heartbreaking. It’s lovely. Then again, so is the original:

Jolene tells a better story than half the books I’ve read recently. Our dear narrator, Dolly, doesn’t have the bravado one would expect of this genre. She’s been bested. She’s humbled.  “Please don’t take him, even though you can.” She’s fighting for her man by begging the green-eyed, auburn locked, adulterer to have pity on her. She isn’t condemning the other woman. She isn’t threatening her. She begs. That narrative kills me every time!

That is all.

This week we saw grass for the first time in months. Snow mold spotted our yard like bits of fur or feathers from a hawk attack. I’ve got that bird on my mind since I walked around the front of the house last week to see him sitting on our brick walkway. We stared at each other for a moment, this hawk and I – a moment longer than felt comfortable – before he flew up to perch on the street light. He stayed there while I chopped at the ice, made a path for the draining snow, and thought about the grass underneath.

Last night seven inches of snow buried all that work. All that grass and mold and possibility. Minneapolis, yet again, is covered. Even this lovely new sculpture by physicist turned artist, Julian Voss-Andreae, has been engulfed:


No one in my office is talking about snow. Usually, as good Midwesterners should, we like to talk about the weather. It shapes our lives, our thoughts, our concept of reality. This winter has sapped that desire to discuss and dissect. Snow is no longer interesting or beautiful or festive. Snow is oppressive. There is nothing more to say.

We’ll talk about the next kind of weather when it arrives. Just wait for that first thunderstorm, that first clap of thunder. You won’t be able to shut us up. God that sounds nice.

We are on the threshold of spring, the edge of that conversation. I hope.

As much as I love Tom Hanks, he wasn’t the reason I wanted to see Captain Phillips. You may have heard a couple of Minneapolis boys sort of stole the show. Barkhad Abdi has even been nominated for a supporting actor Oscar:


I’m proud of him. I’m proud of this young man whom I’ve never met, who lives in a city that isn’t even my hometown. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing. Not many of us leave. Even fewer of us rise to stardom. When someone does it feels like he has done it for all of us.

But I digress, back to the movie, if you ignore the real life controversy, Captain Phillips is an exciting, completely watchable film. People try to succeed in life. Some win. Some lose.

The best part of the movie though was where we saw it – the Riverview Theater.

If you live in Minneapolis or happen to find yourself here for a couple of days, please go to the Riverview. Tickets are $3 (with $2 matinees), they use real butter on the popcorn, and the community atmosphere is what we’re all looking for at the movies – even if we forget sometimes. Everyone talks before the film and respectfully quiets as the curtains rise. Then, when the credits begin to roll, everyone claps.

Everyone claps. I fucking love it.

The sweet Swedish forecaster here in Minneapolis said we wouldn’t break zero today. Even our optimistic, south-facing thermometer agreed. Worry not, dear reader, we planned ahead.

The plan today was to simply not leave the house. Errands all completed yesterday. Weekly meals planned. Walk and driveway shoveled. Car washed. Books and puzzles at the ready. Like a couple of good Midwesterners we were ready for a snow day. Even the poodle doesn’t seem to mind:


This kind of shut in day is my best argument for winter. My best argument for a Midwestern life.

We have no guilt about staying in. This is a rational hermitage. Our only logical choice, really. This is for our safety. Frostbite can occur within a matter of minutes in these conditions (don’t google pictures of that malady, just trust me on this one.)

A life in a milder climate doesn’t allow for such extremism. A day like this would feel like a waste in kinder weather. You should mend that fence or walk the dog a little farther or simply get your lazy ass off the couch. Not me. I’m just gonna sit here.

When it’s 22 degrees next week maybe I’ll wear shorts.

Last weekend, my best friend got married.

The wedding couldn’t have been more perfect. The bride looked stunning. The groom couldn’t stop smiling. We danced and ate and drank and ate some more and danced some more. It was goddamn perfect.

While we were running around before the wedding – picking up the dress, getting the bride’s hair and make-up did – we ran across this bus:


Yes, that’s right. A little bit of celebrity right here in Des Moines. (Don’t act like Jeff Timmons wasn’t your favorite boy bander – he’s certainly mine now.) As shocking as it might be, Des Moines doesn’t see many celebrities. We have the occasional musician or comedian come to town for a show. Ashton Kutcher returns home once in awhile. Then there is election season – which is another beast entirely – but generally we live up to our flyover status.

Though the picture doesn’t quite show it I love the contrast of these two people. My friend on her wedding day. All sunshine and future rainbows ahead. Then there is Jeff – clinging to the last bit of celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, he was a sweet guy and very pretty but it’s hard not to feel desperation rolling off a bus plastered with shirtless men.

Still, it was a nice to have this little bit of outside celebrity with our own weekend celebrity. With that, let’s call this one the bride and stripper:


Today I came home to a neat little, squirrel sized hole where I had just planted an array of tulip bulbs. The first bulbs I’ve ever planted. Onion skin husks sat six inches beneath the surface. Mocking me.

The squirrels in my neighborhood have been trying to drive me out since the first wisp of spring. They crawl into my potted flowers and aerate my lawn without my consent. With canine-audible tittering they tease the dog from the front window. Hell, they won’t even leave my green tomatoes alone. This is as big as my little ones have gotten:


Damn you, little fuckers. Next year I’ll be prepared.

Part of my job is customer service oriented. I help kids figure out how to navigate the vast machine that is higher education. I like this part of the job, I get to see the best and worst of people. Last week this interaction occurred:

Me: “Next.”

Student, fumbling with her bag: “Hi”

Me: “Hi, what can I help you with?”

Student: “Hi, um, you’re really pretty.”

Me: “Ha, thanks. What’s going on?”

Blah, blah, blah onward with professional service.

I took two things from this interaction. One, it’s REALLY nice to get a compliment from a stranger. Two, why is this such an uncommon experience? Why does it feel almost inappropriate to say something nice and unprompted to a stranger? Or even an acquaintance? I’m not sure but it’s true.

We can be kind to one another without looking for something in return. Maybe I can’t stop thinking about this because I see it as lacking in myself. I’m not one to dish out compliments but maybe I should be.

Ok, good talk, I’ll work on that.      

In college we looked forward to the Iowa/Iowa State game like Christmas. Even for people like me who didn’t follow sports, who couldn’t care less about most games, this weekend was huge. The calendar cleared. We made elaborate plans. Stocked the fridge or cooler or trunk with beer. We accept the fact that our cell phones wouldn’t work because the entire state would descend on Iowa City or Ames.

This rivalry defines Iowa.

When I was deployed I even drew a tiger hawk on one of my magazines – for luck and love:


My plans aren’t as centralized since I’ve left Iowa – I don’t follow the game as closely – but the game still calls to me. I can’t help but check the score. Check the shit talking on facebook. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger. I am an Iowan.

Go Hawks.

Spring starts this week and Minnesota is teasing us with a bright blue sky. Blue sky and sun and a bitter cold you typicaly associate with mid-January. We know better than to try and fight it. I’m tired of making the best of a cold day. Our quick two block walk this morning was enough.

We’re just going to ignore the forecast and pretend that only the sun matters:


Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends.

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