Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No Resurrection, Only Coffee

I know him either as Roy, short for Royal, or RJ, short for Royal James. Which he claims, in a slurred half-chuckle, has nothing to do with royalty, although he is from Scotland. That is easy to detect in his voice. He knows me only as the man who will provide him a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, but not a penny of money. I told him why at our first encounter, when he asked if I could “spare a dollar….how ‘bout a quarter…how ‘bout a dime, then.” I would guess him to be around five and a half feet tall and about one twenty, but he is not weathered or emaciated, like many of the homeless folks. Roy has simply been worn a good bit. He appears to be in his forties. I always see him in the same area, a busy intersection, gas station/convenience stores on diagonal corners and fast food restaurants on the other two.

Roy told me he has been here a short while, in this country, and that with the economy as it is, employment has eluded him a few times. He becomes talkative in less than a minute from the beginning of our encounters and has shared that he was a Navy Seal in the middle east and other hot spots around the world. Places ranging from jungles to the sandbox to the big iceberg. He has done dastardly and deadly deeds for his country, whichever that may be, and could really spill the beans (or haggis) if he really wanted. But right now all he needs is a little food and some work to get him on the straight again.

As we were chatting during today’s visit, a car pulled into a parking space in front of us. Roy stopped talking, took a couple of steps toward the car and lifted a dragonfly off the grill. He placed it on his palm, where it fluttered its wings for maybe half a minute, then died. “Nothing I could do for him,” Roy says, and placed the dragonfly under a bush near the sidewalk. Something struck me as unusual about the scene. It had nothing to do with Roy’s loss of reality, or super-embellishment of reality, whichever applied to him on this day. It was his hands. They were young, almost delicate, not the hands of a hardened deadly deed doer. I noticed no calluses or roughness, only a small cut. As though all in his life has been lost, or deemed no longer of value, except for his hands. And those are his last treasure, which he perhaps hopes will possess the magic to restore whatever they touch. Our coffees steamed, our sips the loudest noise between us. 


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Toledo, OH

(At the end of the post you can click on a link to see all the photos.)

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments

--John Lennon, lyrics, In My Life

Toledo was never about Toledo, for me. It was more of a direction, more of a trip, more about things to see and do along the way rather than things to see and do at the destination. As a place, it was where I went to shop for school clothes, compete in high school sports or to celebrate a special occasion with a steakhouse dinner. It was also a place I went through during Greyhound Bus journeys to my grandmother’s home in West Virginia. It was a place we always called “up the river” when, in fact, it was down the river, beyond Napoleon, beyond Grand Rapids, beyond Waterville and Maumee.

I had an early opinion or impression of the place, my idea of what I thought Toledo represented in the sixties and early seventies. Most of my impressions were created internally, below the sooty look and unkempt physical appearance and I will tell you some events, not out of a cathartic need or horrible recall but because they are what push to the forefront. My opinions began to form in the spring of 1966, as I was walking home from school, with the honk of a car horn. The vehicle slowed and the driver rolled the window down and asked if I would like a ride, because, “Boy, oh, boy, look at that gray sky! Rain is sure on the way. Might be lightning or hail.” Those were innocent times and I accepted the lift. He talked, told me he was a salesman from Toledo, then drove past where I told him to I needed to get out. A little farther I told him again and he turned around, took me back. We sat in the parked car for maybe ten minutes and talked about me and school and girls my age, then he asked me if I played with myself. I said no. He laughed and said every boy did and he would lay a twenty dollar bill on the dash for me, if I would get in the back seat, unzip my pants and do what he asked. As I grabbed the door knob there came a pounding on the window and a screaming voice, “Get the hell out of that car!” My mom may have saved my life.

In summer of 1967 I got on a Greyhound Bus in Defiance and about an hour later got off at the Toledo bus station, for a two hour stop and bus change. I took my suitcase, a blue Samsonite with ivory trim, and went outside to scout around. At the corner a man began talking to me. I told him I was going to buy some lunch. He told me he owned a restaurant and pointed to it, the Pink Pussycat. I went for the “free hamburger.” Bob fixed me a great burger and fries, gave me a cherry Coke and talked to me while I ate. As I was finishing he ask me if I played with myself. I told him no. He asked me how big my dick was. I didn’t answer. He placed a magazine, with photos of naked men, on the counter and asked me if  mine was as big as any of the ones in the pictures. I grabbed my Samsonite and left the Pink Pussycat.

Finally, in spring of 1973, I was working a few hours a week at a gas station, during freshman year at Defiance College. It was late afternoon when a car pulled up near the station’s door, only a woman driver inside. I figured she was a typical drive-up, wanting to buy a snack or pack of cigarettes. The passenger window was down and what was a woman’s hair and woman-primped face dropped to a man’s body, wearing absolutely nothing but a cut-off tee shirt and a pair of beige panty hose. He/she asked the directions to the road to Toledo, because he/she was lost and wanted to get home before dark. He/she fluffed his/her hair and smiled and the obvious excitement that was being generated within him/her. I was rough cut in those days and he/she came a touch on my arm away from receiving great bodily harm.

I became more worldly during my two Defiance College years, even more so when I transferred to Bowling Green State University. My insulated, small town coating was scrubbed and drained away. Rightfully so. Toledo lost its luster, in my mind, of a place of perps and pervs, of murders and crime. It became just another city with no more or no less of the same issues that other cities faced—other than its rust belt, automotive industry decay. But, like Ft. Wayne, it has also seen a revival of the downtown, and I was pleased with what I saw during my recent visit.

It still holds nothing special for me, as a place. But I will always love that drive along the river, on the road that carried me in my grandparents’ cars, my own cars, in Greyhound and school busses. The winding way that bends and hooks and shoots past farms and orchards and forests and runs just above the late afternoon water of the Maumee River at Turkey Foot, where my cousin and I revved the 100 horsepower Johnson outboard on the Katherine Anne to its limit, as we slalomed over a glycerin-smooth surface, during high school summers. Where, across the river was the lot my aunt and uncle’s summer trailer was parked and Jimmy and I learned to drink too much stolen beer, then puke and sleep off heavy thoughts of northwest Ohio girls in bikinis lounging on docks. It is the road that stretched to Bowling Green with its opportunity to learn and, ultimately, allow me to travel other roads, leaving the road to Toledo to those who would use it more often and for their own reasons. 

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Ft. Wayne, IN

 (At the end of the post you can click on a link to see all the photos.)

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while

--John Denver, lyrics, Sunshine On My Shoulders

I never gained an attachment of any degree to Ft. Wayne. From my first trip there to all that followed over the next four decades. To me, there was a somber dinginess about it. The buildings plain and earthy colored. Its residents struck me as routine and lackluster, little more than cows lumbering and grazing in a pasture. I have relatives there, by marriage, (my mother-in-law, now gone, was born and raised in the city) and know these words will not settle well with them, or any others who find Ft. Wayne’s area to be the opposite, or any degree improved over my portrayal. To all those people, I apologize and will add that I found a revived and attractive city during my recent visit (although I still gathered no attachment). But back in the sixties and seventies (and since) I would bet those Hoosiers had the same plan for life as us Buckeyes—put in forty years, then jump on I-75 and drive faster than the speed limit toward the south, where condos and mobile homes were waiting to be plucked like citrus, where retirees could float on a bay in a gilded boat with silken sails.

Perhaps part of the reason for my early-developed impressions was because the hour ride westward always seemed to be through an overcast and dull heaviness, regardless of the season, or the weather conditions when the trip began. Plus, once we reached New Haven the roads were more pothole than blacktop. Something else has occurred to me, as I think back. During the first journeys, with my grandmother, she would often stop along the way to buy fresh corn, beans, cabbage, or whatever might be offered by farmers along the route. 
I had an awakening, a growing appreciation for the macroscopic view of the world. Where I used to see a farmstead with barns and silos and fields, I suddenly had interest in things as simple as the thick curls of paint on the wooden legs of a fruit stand, the rust-eaten hinges and hardware on a barn door or the texture and color range of corn tassel. These yanked at my curiosity and begged to be touched. I obliged. I carried that awakening down the road to our destination and along the road of my life. So, for this, thanking Ft. Wayne would be appropriate, rather than setting its residents out to pasture. I suppose the tendency would have developed within me anyway, and maybe already had, but the blandness of that place and time is where the buck stops.

Like the cliché goes, old habits are hard to break and on my November trip I glommed onto the bits and parts and pieces, rather than seeing the large. Yes, I did mention above that the city is revitalized and clean, but, my attention was diverted to the macro. I noticed arcs, arches and angles, with the whole of the buildings blending into the sky. I admired branches and leaves as the trees stood on the sideline. My gaze attached to crisp shadows rather than the casting objects. And, yes, at 57 years old I still touched and felt some of the things that were within reach. And, yes, I daydreamed about the things not within reach.

More and more, I am finding that the rot, the mold, the algae, the collapse of the once sturdy and firm always pulls me in. I am no longer disgusted by atrophy and decay. Perhaps it is my way of reckoning with my own decline, and the strange thing is that I am seeing an increasing amount of beauty in the dwindling of existence.
All in all, Ft. Wayne is still a palette of drab, but on that recent November day there was a blue sky, a strong and warm blue without clouds. Kind of like the place was offering an apology for all the bleached out wrongs it committed against me. But, I am an old fashioned guy who believes in long courtship and moving forward slowly. There will have to be more than blue sky and those free cookies the docents hand out as you enter the terminal of their airport. 

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Defiance, OH

(At the end of the post you can click on a link to view the slide show)

Everybody's so different, 
I haven't changed.
Joe Walsh, lyrics from Life's Been Good

Defiance is about an hour upriver from Toledo, about the same distance downriver from Ft. Wayne. It is in an area, in northwest Ohio, which played an important role in the early growth of this country. I knew nothing of that history when I went to live there in October 1965. The town’s existence then, as it has remained, was primarily due to a large General Motors foundry. Coming from rural WV, I was impressed with the wealth, the dark turquoise color of the new Plymouth police cars and, what was presented to me as fact, that a tornado would never land in Defiance because it was at the confluence of two rivers, which created a special magnetic force.  Fortunately, in spite of my hillbilly twang, I was able to blend in each time I returned to go to school there. I moved away after sixth grade, came back for the last couple months of seventh. Moved away again, came back for last couple months of eighth. Moved away again, came back as a freshman and stayed through graduation.

I have lived in lots of places, but Defiance is my hometown, primarily because it is where I found stability in family life and schools. It is where I attended my first two years of college, met the perfect girl for me and got married, and visited nearly every year for over forty-five years.

This is not a story about growing up, or coming of age, rather it is a tale of realization, a lament of sorts. I was there recently and, much like those days of October 1965, the weather was the same tease, chilly and misty one day, sunny and sixty the next. The town has changed. I suppose it has remained true to that great ‘50s and ‘60s word that so many places in America promised to be, “Progressive.” The population is roughly the same, but Defiance has grown in boundary and business and has done so through homegrown talent. For all that, I am proud of the place.

Throughout the decades of visits, I continued to view the changing of the town and the people I know as just that—everything seemed to be changing but me. Physically I  was changing, that I understood, but mentally I was the same old Steve, the same kid, student, quick-witted guy of satire and fun, but others were growing older and leaving behind all the things that needed unpacked for the journey forward. Events and happenings from the ‘60s and ‘70s that were shared and remembered with good laughter only twenty years ago are now remembered with, “I don’t really remember that. I am glad you can!” My lament is more than someone forgetting a minor incident; it is the look in the person’s eyes. It’s the very slight squint and glance downward, followed by a nearly unnoticeable shake of the head, as they can’t recall. Then they give the “Do I know you?” look, the one that’s almost always a conversation killer. “Hey, been really great to see you again!” What can I say other than, “Same here. Hopefully we can talk again before ten or twenty years or more fly by.”

So, forty six years and one month after I arrived, I have finally left. Not forever gone, not completely-washing-my-hands-of-the-place gone, but gone from the youthful spirit that kept me attached so closely. I finally realize that I was little more than a passerby, like Tecumseh, Pontiac, General Anthony Wayne, travelers on the Miami and Erie Canal or the huckster who came in the wagon and sold elixirs and liniments.

Like many, I chose to leave, not knowing that each day would make “the good old days” a little more remote, always thinking that the life I had there would never end and having no idea that in actuality it might become the life that never really was. The combination of gray days and age, along with midnight streets and empty benches, has a way of getting a person to set his calendar to the proper year. During my last day there I thought about my visit and did not want to go home and wrap up any writing with the old cliché You can never go home again, so I picked up some stones at the new reservoir, held each one and thought about special times before heaving it into the water. The stones sank and will be there for ages; the memories will fade with me.
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