Finding the Nest (Part 2)

•July 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

NestPart2_SpiresAh, those “mysterious gothic-like spires” that “poked through the treetops.”

My mission: reach them.

Back at university classes after the 1984 Labor Day weekend, the journal notes that on Wednesday, Sept. 5:

“I headed for the [English-Philosophy] Building and, approaching it, saw how close the ‘cathedral’ I had been seeing in the distance really was, I think. If the weather’s fine today, I may walk to it. The fascination I’ve had with it, and the secret joy I have in anticipation of reaching it, have stayed with me.”

Curiosity, fascination, anticipation, secret joy—how are these things not about finding one’s way home again?


Her name was Yolanda.

No, no … not Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes—the lovely bartender at The Crow’s Nest. Learning her name was still on my to-do list.

Eight days after new roommate Bud and I had our awe-inspiring walk around the Pop-Up Amusement Park, I met Yolanda, who lived on our floor at Mayflower Hall.

On Monday, Sept. 10, 1984, Yolanda and I got to talking and, well, we…

“…went up to the first International Writing Program seminar/panel in Van Allen Hall, which, of the panel members, included a spritely Paul Engle and a slightly Voltairian Marvin Bell. I felt the evening was charming. Yolanda and I got a good giggle out of the some of the comments, both from the audience and the panel. After the discussion ended, sometime before 9:30, Yolanda and I went downtown for a drink at Mickey’s Bar—but I had no money, so she picked it up for the both of us this time around. We talked about our backgrounds and interests. She’s from a large (the youngest, actually) Italian family in Brooklyn. She related all the terrors and elations of Manhattan. She is a simple-looking girl of twenty years, with a bit of a sharp face, high cheekbones, pointed nose, and shoulder-length brunette hair. She sometimes rolls her eyes when she speaks. She is an English major, and well acquainted with many writers—Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein. We talked about sex, Woody Allen, my notebook (I talked about my notebook) as well as my trip to Britain. We got in before midnight last night. We’ll have to do it again.”Photo 21

Our talking about “my notebook” meant we talked about the 1984 National 43-571 journal (at left) I’d brought with me to Iowa. If it wasn’t for that journal I would’ve probably forgotten all about Yolanda. Which is a shame, because I think we were kindred spirits.

After meeting up with her again for lunch at Burge Hall, we took in a screening of the film On The Beach at the Iowa City public library that Wednesday night.

We then went out for drinks after the movie. I probably suggested The Crow’s Nest, because that’s where we went:

“[Yolanda] had a Heineken and I had three or four glasses of stout. Our conversation was halting at first, subtle jabs and jokes, double entendres…I was tired and I think she was too. The dazzling brunette/blonde was there last night, but she didn’t seem to be working. She had a Miller Lite and a cigarette and stood by the bar, talking with a girl who was our bartender. When Yolanda and I prepared to leave, we said goodbye to the bartender and the blonde seemed to acknowledge me carefully with her eyes. It was a nice feeling. …We walked back to Mayflower and I started babbling about philosophy and pronunciation and vocabulary; Yolanda wanted me to shut up, I think; I felt a little cheesed off at the whole discussion, or lack thereof, and tiredness, then she wanted to show me her favorite place in the park down by the river, where she goes alone to sit among the rocks. We sat there close together, cuddling, watching the water and saying little, kissing gently, touching. It was nice to be with someone perfectly willing to just enjoy the moment simply on its own merit: here and now.”

Nineteen days on the ground in Iowa City and … Let There Be Smashmouth!

But what did I mean by Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes “acknowledged me carefully” and it being “a nice feeling”? What was going on with the walk back to the dorm, with my “babbling” and feelings of being “cheesed off”? And what was Yolanda thinking before we started making out down by the river?


I was in college, right? So I must’ve taken some classes, I mean, outside of all the bar-hopping, nightclubbing, and riverside make-out sessions.

Well, yes, I did: Geology, Rhetoric 101, Beginning French, and Logic & Formal Reasoning that fall semester.

But just over two weeks into classes, I wasn’t sure I could make it. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the journal admits:

“I’m exhausted, a bit discouraged and a little downhearted tonight. It seems like I’ve been working hard at school and the first grades I’ve been getting back are not satisfying, yet nor are they dismal. I think it may be a sign for me to work even harder. …I should expect to be a little rusty at scholarship, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of egotism and lethargy. I want to make it work for me, this time.”

Hmm. Egotism and lethargy—seems I’d been there before. Still, six days before that revelation, I’d finally reached those gleaming, distant spires:

“I walked across the bridge over the river in search of the distant ‘cathedral’ spires I had seen in the view from Mayflower. After wandering aimlessly round the University Hospitals, I stopped into General Hospital and visited an architect who told me that there was no ‘façade’ to the spires, that the hospital was built around the Tower and the spires rested atop the hospital. He lead me down to the central tower area lobby, where by looking up through the glass one could see the spires.”


Two days after Yolanda on the Rocks, I called her room to chat. It was an early Friday night and I was already getting my swerve on.

She said she was playing backgammon with another guy, Chris. Indignant, I said I didn’t want to interrupt their game and slammed the phone down.

We ran into each other the following day at a “champagne breakfast” in the park across the street, where it was abundantly clear she “wasn’t especially talkative to me.” Furthermore, new guy Chris had tickets to the Hawkeyes-Penn State game and she was going to it with him.

“How do I feel?” the journal asks. “Well, put another way, would I turn down a girl with a car to drive me around in, and who wished to take me places?”

That Friday must’ve been Overblown Hamlet Hour. “For the third or fourth time in my life,” the journal entry goes, “I’ve decided to give up writing. I think I’m finally getting somewhere.”

You see, I never considered the journal “writing”—which is strange because I was writing in it nearly every day.

Five days after I’d declared “writing” a stone-cold corpse, I vented new academic frustrations in the journal. I skipped Geology lecture, was unprepared for the day’s French lesson, and—not ready to give a speech in Rhetoric—ditched class altogether.

Then I went off the rails.

It was like that M*A*S*H episode where Scully, an AWOL soldier, shows up at Rosie’s bar, meets a despondent Hawkeye, and both turn Rosie’s into the boozy equivalent of the crowded stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

“I ran into Kevin,” the Wednesday, Sept. 19 entry states, “a new guy in our Rhetoric class, asked him if he had any money and whether he had supper yet.” He hadn’t, so we went to Bo James’ Saloon for “soup and sandwiches and beers” then shuffled over to “Mama’s, a basement joint, and had a pitcher of Bud (I had a Tequila straight on top of it … [we] talked about road trips, traveling, seeing and describing parts of the country…”

CrowsNest5At 8:30 p.m. we walked to the downtown mall and split up—he went to Dooley’s and I … headed directly to The Crow’s Nest.

Would Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes be there? And would I finally learn her name?

There was a new bartender working, who I found out later was co-owner of The Crow’s Nest. “I asked him about the other little blonde … and he told me her name is Melanie and she mostly works weekends.”

Melanie. OK, now I knew her name.

Kevin arrived from Dooley’s, had another drink with me, then stumbled out the door again to hitchhike to Cedar Rapids. I left The Nest and “wandered up Dubuque Street until I came to the Deadwood,” Iowa City’s iconic hippie bar.

The rest of the night would’ve been a hazy memory had the journal not spilled the beans:

“I sat at the bar … and ordered a draw of Special Export. I got into talking with a dour man named Daniel O’Connor who made it clear to me that he is not a student, but works for University Hospitals. I don’t know how it came about, but we got into talking about handicapped people and their facing death earlier than most of us. I swallowed down the last of my Ex and as I left he said, dourly, ‘Keep Thinking!’ …walking back to Mayflower—I stopped at Yolanda’s & my spot, on the rock overlooking the river. It was a cool but clear night. It was near midnight. I felt, at the time, I had courted spectres of death all night. Happiness and charm evaded me. I could be anywhere, anybody, doing anything.”


Distant, mysterious spires. Road trips, traveling, hitchhiking. New love interest, jealousy.

Anywhere, anybody, doing anything.

Not even a full month back into college and I was struggling—with studies, new friends, but mostly with myself.

Could I stick it out? I wasn’t sure.

Finding the Nest (Part 1)

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been here before.MayflowerHall84

It’s a good thing to realize, I think, because what I went through then might influence how I act today.

Summer and autumn, 1984. Summer, 2015.

This autumn? I don’t know.

You see, even with a solid plan in place, I still wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision that summer 31 years ago.

But it’s clear I was desperately unhappy—with my job, my home life, my education (and lack thereof), and my relationships.

Maybe I wouldn’t have felt that strongly had things on the British trip turned out differently. But Abi was still in Scotland and I was back home on the farm. No doubt the folks realized, too, how miserable I was.

So, the ’rents suggested: “What if you moved to Iowa City and attended the university there? It has one of the best writing departments in the country. You could quit your job to concentrate 100 percent on your studies. Meet new friends. Learn new things. And you’d finally be away from home.”

It sounded like heaven.

So here I am again.

Not in Iowa City of course, but feeling trapped and dreaming about other places to explore, new people to befriend, amazing things to learn, and—maybe, just maybe—finding home again.

Because I’m nervous writing about this, I’m thinking it’s best expressed as a multi-part post, where perhaps I can fully flesh out how the changes of the past, with its attendant biases, beliefs, etc., can affect the present—and discover how altering those mindsets might steer me toward a better future.

—Like my wonderful “future” in the autumn of 1984.


I’d been working at the print shop for three years when I quit on Friday, Aug. 10, 1984.

That day, Gerry, my boss, had bought the entire shop take-out from A&W, which we ate in the conference room. After lunch I went to see him in his office.

“Well,” he said when I told him I was giving my two-weeks’ notice, “You sorta floored me.”

A journal entry the following Tuesday goes into more detail: “He was taken aback—his eyes fixed on me, brain gears clicking madly in succession, I think he even sat back a bit in his chair. He said he was happy for me [returning to college] and that he felt a bonus was in order.”

Friday, Aug. 24, was my last day. I recall working in the bindery, then cleaning up the darkroom one last time. I also remember not feeling very useful that day, like I had run the end of my rope.

And nobody really cared if I kept hanging on to it.

After 5 p.m., everyone met up at a local restaurant and bar called Donnie’s, where they threw me a going-away party: Todd and John, the pressmen; Rich, who helped out in the bindery; Diane, who worked the front desk with Judy, who was joined by her husband Larry; Gordy (who did the books) with his wife Sharon; and Gerry. We drank Tequila Sunrises and beer; I received a box full school and bathroom supplies (the latter a sort of inside joke) as a farewell gift, and three final checks totaling $430. We all went home around 7 p.m.

Then, first thing Saturday morning, I left for Iowa with Mom and Dad.


My dorm room was on the eighth floor of Mayflower Hall on North Dubuque Street, out where the butt end of Iowa City meets Interstate 80 and parts east and west.

Mayflower. Huh. Like the ship, transporting the Pilgrims to the New World.

Never occurred to me until now.

Across Dubuque Street was the lazy Iowa River, hugged by Terrell Mill Park, a little grassy retreat shaded by huge cottonwood trees.

Alone in my bare dorm room (pictured above right), I awaited my new roommate, and suitemates who would share our kitchen and adjoining double bathroom.

Classes wouldn’t start until Wednesday, Aug. 29, so I had nearly two days all to myself. The week began with Orientation and a walk up to the main campus—a walk the journal describes as “exciting.”

“A women’s marathon passed by on the street,” it reads. It was a lovely late summer day. The cobblestone streets were mottled with sunlight. At the top of the hill, I was able to see across the river to the university hospitals, where mysterious gothic-like spires poked through the treetops. I made a mental note to explore further.

On the first night I’d met three new friends on my floor, Rick Kubat, a lanky guy from Illinois with a permanently bemused smirk, and a girl named Carolyn. Rick had a Volkswagen Bug and gave us a ride up to Burge Hall, where we picked up their friend Kay.

Then, on Monday after 7 p.m., my roommate arrived—let in by staff while I was (probably) listening to prog rock in my headphones. James “Bud” Morris, a beaming, curly haired guy with a friendly Louisville, Ky., drawl, stepped in with parents in tow and suitcases in hand. We then met Andy, our suitemate, who was still awaiting arrival of his roommate, a German exchange student named Christian.

Bud, Andy, and I quickly bonded that night over music. Andy mentioned a progressive radio station out of Cedar Rapids he always listened to. Bud had brought his stereo, Sony headphones, and cassette tapes filled with Elvis Costello, The Jam, Peter Gabriel, and—soon to be my favorite new music discovery—R.E.M. When I later introduced Bud to Rick, mention was made of downtown hot spots that we had to check out before classes got underway.

One of those places was a nightclub called The Crow’s Nest.

I’ll never, ever, forget it.


CrowsNestThe first mention of The Crow’s Nest is on Tuesday, Aug. 28, four days after arriving in town:

“…it was down South Dubuque Street. It was a sort of hole-in-the-wall, by sort I mean that it had deceptive appearances. At the front it looked like a small intimate bar, but out a door to the back and it rose into a high ceiling, cool and spacious—much like a high school gymnasium—and with a high stage. The band playing was called The Shy and they were good, as far as local bands go. They had energy.”

But the Nest really shined on Friday night of the same week, when Bud and I returned to kick off Labor Day weekend 1984:

“…we headed for the Crow’s Nest to watch the band Steve, Bob & Rich. As we got in the door and bellied up to the bar, we both asked for Heineken—Light for me, and dark for Bud. A lovely little brunette with streaks of blonde, whose eyes were dazzling & wonderful, served us at the bar. She had to fetch the Heineken Light for me, and when she came back with her hands full of bottles, I jokingly said, ‘No, I only need one for now.’ That got a nice smile out of her. Bud and I went in to see the band, 3 guys with a drummer with a squeaky voice as vocalist. They played a lot of old tunes and rockabilly and finally—around 11 o’clock, when Bud and I had had enough of the style and squeaking, we took off. Actually, the crowd at the Crow’s Nest was the biggest we’d seen to date.”

That mention of a “lovely little brunette with streaks of blonde” is the first about her, Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes—whose name I still needed to learn—that fall.

The rest of the holiday weekend was uneventful, as Iowa City became a ghost town.

Bud and I tried to make the best of it: walking up to John’s Grocery for beer, tuning into Andy’s Cedar Rapids radio program “Progressions” and listening to new music, passing up a late matinee of Prince’s Purple Rain for dinner at Bo James’ Saloon, followed by 2-for-1 drinks at Diamond Dave’s Taco Company…

And then, this. On Sunday evening, Sept. 2, 1984:

“On the way back to Mayflower, we saw what seemed to be Amusement Park lights in the Public Park across the river, so we crossed the bridge, trudged through the park and came upon a little Amusement setup with a small Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round. A cool autumn-like breeze was blowing—it was a magical night, made me wish I had a girlfriend there with me, a girl with whom I could share that magical little place. Bud and I didn’t go on any of the rides; we just walked around a bit in awe.”

An awe-inspiring magical night.

An exciting new hangout. A lovely new face.

New friends and a fellow music-loving roommate.

Searching for home is, I believe, about finding the right people. People with whom you can share experiences (like pop-up amusement parks).

And the wish—an honest, solid, hopeful one—for love with the right person.

Intermission at the Passion Pits

•June 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Ah, memories of making out in cars at the drive-in theater. Summer. Love. :-D All-new posts next Friday, June 26! Now hit the snack bar! ;-)

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

You get more out of life when you go to a movie!

There’s plenty of time to head on over to the snack bar!
Show Starts in 8 Minutes!

April 1977 was so unseasonably warm that the Navarre Drive-In Theater opened early. Everyone at school was jazzed. There weren’t a lot of hangouts outside of the Soda Fountain, or driving to Hopkins to cruise the main drag. But the Navarre Drive-In was a must-do.

Show Starts in 7 Minutes!

On Saturday, April 9, 1977, the ice went out on Lake Minnetonka. That afternoon Kim, her friend Diana and sister Andrea (aka Anny) and I packed into Mom’s car and I drove to the grocery store in Navarre, hitting the Dairy Queen on the way back to Mound. It was 70+ degrees Fahrenheit. Spring had come early.

Show Starts in 6 Minutes!

April 23, 1977, the diary entry begins: “Believe me…

View original 587 more words

Your Greatest Year

•June 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

There are two versions of this story.

The first—probably because it’s the most recent—comes from the first chapter of my would-be post-Britain novel Out of English, titled “The Boner of Dumond”:

Leaning against the door of the ’Mont, I cracked open the second of an eight-pack of Blatz Light Cream Ale shooters. Not the Miller High Life; the shooters. The good shooters, Mad Dog.

It’s a sunny day, Thursday in fact—July 28, 1983—but what a fucking awful day. Which is why I’m by the lake, chowing down two Burger Chef cheeseburgers and now suckin’ down this shooter.

Not gonna look at the letter again. And not going back to work, nope.

Nothing matters, man.

And later…

On my fifth shooter and I’m breaking the goddamn things on a rock. Between smashups, a crow lands on a rock a couple feet from me, dipping a beak in the water and blinking my way. I’m thinking he’ll see me with that green glass to my lips and he’ll fly away. But he just stands there, blinking at me.

What the fuck?

Wonder if a half-dollar will get me into college, Lianna. What do you think? Ghost of a chance?

I smash the drained shooter on the rocks and you bet Mr. Crow takes the hint and flaps away.

The second version (probably “closer to the truth”) was written in my journal on Saturday, July 28, 1984:

Thursday’s mail brought a loan rejection letter from my lender, Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board. This shocked and angered me. I called the Board from home and then called the school from work. I was told there was an error in my Loan Analysis Report, where I had noted and signed 2 in our household and only one attending school this Fall. It was suggested that I contact a Mr. Jose Sanchez the next day to see if the problem could be cleared up. The rest of the day at work was for me claustrophobic. I was dazed that my loan wouldn’t come through, so much so that I couldn’t concentrate on work and decided that, at 3 pm, I’d take the rest of the afternoon off. … I stopped and picked up two cheeseburgers and a six pack of beer and drove out to Lake Waconia and sat in the car and watched sailboats out on the lake. It was a beautiful day. Options raced through my head … what would I do this Fall? School was out of the question … I’d find a new job and a place to live. Sitting there by Lake Waconia, I suddenly felt transported away from my anxiety, maybe the beer helped…

Then, like now, I was ripe for reinvention. I wanted to leave my job of three years and move away from the isolated hobby farm in the country, my father’s harshness, and my mother’s ongoing depressive episode.

The day after that lakeside epiphany, I redoubled my effort. I phoned the financial aid guy in Iowa City. “He told me to mail the application back to him,” the journal reports, “and he would make the changes. He told me that, based on the new information, I shouldn’t have any trouble getting the maximum loan for $2,500.”

I immediately sent the amended application back. Then I had to await confirmation of the loan.


Meanwhile the Indianhead Players of the Westonka Community Theater were planning to perform skits for an early August town-wide event called the “Incredible Festival.”

I met with actor-friends Tom LaCrosse and Karin Davis at the Mound American Legion Hall. We huddled around a table with drinks in front of us and pads and pencils at the ready.

Tom, Karin, and I wrote two original skits, “The Neighborhood Pharmacy,” and “The Last Judgment.” We’d noodled the scripts as early as mid-July, weeks before the loan rejection letter.

The concept for “The Neighborhood Pharmacy” came from one of our late-night Legion Hall wit sessions: “How do pharmacists actually read a physician’s awful handwriting on prescriptions?”

The answer: “They don’t! It’s a guessing game with each prescription!”

Karin played a customer with a prescription she’s handed to a junior pharmacist (played by me) who can’t decipher it. Well, neither can his father, the head pharmacist (performed by Tom). After a lot of high jinks and “20 Questions,” it turns out that the customer has given the pharmacists her daughter’s illegible note—definitely not a prescription.

In “The Last Judgment,” Tom played a fire-and-brimstone preacher, Karin his long-suffering wife, and I his son, home from college and bringing along his friend “Tony”—which preacher and wife think is a guy but who’s actually their son’s new girlfriend. Confusion ensues about where the new friend will sleep when he/she comes to visit.

Of the two skits, “Judgment” was weakest. I was adamant that we scrap it altogether. On Tuesday, July 31, I wrote in the journal:

Last night I arrived up at the Theatre a half an hour late … Tom was upset. I then mentioned as a course of business that I felt we should drop ‘The Last Judgment’ sketch and call it a shorter show. …Tom refused to acknowledge me. Karin tried diplomacy, but no good. ‘Maybe Bill (Schutt) will do it,’ Tom said to Karin. At this point I was thinking … why doesn’t Bill do the whole fucking show? But I hadn’t said anything until finally, seeing the meeting was going nowhere, got up and said, ‘Well, I’ll talk to you later…’ Tom snapped back: ‘No, no, I don’t think so. You’re too much of a child, Mike.’ I stormed out surprised at myself for not blurting anything out.

“I don’t think I was being unfair,” I wrote in the journal. “I felt we should drop the sketch because it was humorless and cynical … I stand faithfully by my lack of faith in it.”

I was sad for a while. Tom was like an artistic father figure.

But I wrote in the journal later: “My sights, from here on in, are set toward Iowa!”


Mom_Me84Then came Saturday, Aug. 25, 1984:

Right now I’m sitting alone in my dorm room. … Mom, Dad and I had lunch in Iowa City—at a deli in the Old Capitol Mall. The weather, all day, was beautiful. We stopped in at Penny’s and they bought me a blanket. Directly after that we stopped at the Hy-Vee and Mom bought me a few groceries—for the weekend. They dropped me off and left around 4pm. So, now I’ve been by myself for the past few hours. I started feeling a bit lonely. This is what it’s like to know no one.

Two days later I received a letter from Dad written on a sheet of yellow legal pad paper in soft-lead pencil.

He begins all business-like: hoping my roommate had arrived okay, that I’d successfully scheduled my classes, and that I’d taken “a long walk in the park across the street” from my dorm.

Then he wrote this:

I know you have been gone just a few days, but I already miss having you around. You are a great son, a person that I respect and love very much and I hope and pray this will be your greatest year for growing and expanding your horizon.

I was 24, and there was so much more. I was finally away from the Family Project again and totally jazzed to be on my own.

But, 31 years later, I can’t begin to tell you how much those words mean to me now.


•June 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Busy with fixing up current living space for future move and this piece from 3 years ago came to mind. Back with all-new posts starting 6/12!

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

It seems spindly now. So small, fragile.

After The Family Project packed into our blue Chevy II station wagon and headed to Maryland, it was likely purchased there.

Made of cherry wood, the dining room table’s accompanying chairs could seat eight with the leaf inserted. They’re the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever sat in.

But I wouldn’t part with it for all the world.

Closing in on 50 years, that dining room set is nearly as old as I am. It’s like a third sibling—a hard, brittle little baby sis or bro, never at ease, always waiting to be told how to look, or where to go next.

Recently I had to clear junk off it, wipe it down and retouch the wood, marked in places from its travel from the folks’ Florida home.

The arc of its history: as a newly acquired piece of furniture in a spacious and…

View original 552 more words

Full Mental Racket

•May 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I wasn’t even a passable community theater actor.FullMetal

“Uh, your acting?” Bob Bye, our director on All My Sons, once said to me. “Don’t.

So of course I just had to audition for Stanley Kubrick.

Early spring of 1984, I saw a notice in The Twin Cities Reader that Stanley Kubrick, the cinematic mastermind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey (which the Family Project first viewed together on its release in 1968, in a drive-in theater of all places), was looking to cast young Midwestern men as Marines in his adaptation of Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel The Short-Timers. The new film would be titled Full Metal Jacket.

The first mention of it in my 1984 journal is on Wednesday, April 25: “…ran up to the community center and talked to Carlos P. about seeing if the video class could produce an audition tape for me for Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.” It was the same night I watched the one-act skit rehearsals and ran into Monique at the St. Boni liquor store.

Three days later I was at the public library doing research on Vietnam.

“I don’t know if it’s really a good idea,” I wrote in the journal, “to know so much about the film’s concept. Kubrick may be looking for naiveté and ignorance about ’Nam. He may be looking for the fresh, unspoiled type of American youth, unaware of what that youth will face in Huế or Khe Sanh.

“Anyway, I’m looking for more lively material to perform for my 3-minute acting sequence of the audition tape. I’d originally planned on doing Chris’s big soliloquy from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons—but thought it’d be too longwinded and flat. Now I’m thinking of reciting excerpts from actual letters out of Vietnam. Tom LaCrosse thinks I should give a mix of comedy and drama, allowing the director to see the extremes of my audition. It might be more effective.”


Meanwhile I was ready to return to college after three years of working at the print shop.

I wrote in the journal about the University of Iowa just after Easter 1984. I knew I had to apply, forward my community college transcripts, and secure financial aid. I planned to visit the campus in mid-May.

Gerry, my boss at the print shop, was sending me to Vo-Tech classes in Brooklyn Park. But I was bored and raring to get back to school. I liked learning.

And I was dying to leave town.

Anxiety mounted as I got ready to drive to Iowa City on the early morning of Thursday, May 10. I’d planned to stay three days, get to know the place, and enjoy a mini-vacation from work.

On the road there I saw huge lettering on the side of a barn:


“I wondered,” the journal says, “if the message was past news, as I assumed it was not … was the 20th of August THEIRS? But if it is to come, how can anyone be sure that on any set date they can share something undividedly THEIRS?”

“It is beautiful,” the journal declares after I’d arrived at Iowa House that evening. I stayed at “the upper floors of the Iowa Memorial Union, overlooking the Iowa River. In a few minutes I’m going to pour another gin and tonic and crawl out onto the roof and look out at the river and university campus and sip my G&T. It’s lovely here.”

It was a warm spring night; the river gurgled by, and parents of graduating students were “singing and getting drunk down the hall.” I was relaxing after a long hot day on the road, “too tired to put on my street clothes and going down there and talking to them.” I had an appointment to tour the campus and meet with an admissions officer first thing in the morning. “I know that the parents down the hall are too drunk to really talk to me.”

I fell in love with Iowa City that weekend.

I wandered around, excited to imagine meeting new friends and attending classes. On Friday, May 12 I submitted applications for financial aid and housing, and put a deposit down on a room on a post-graduate floor of Middlebrook Hall. “I checked out of Iowa House by 1pm,” reads the day’s entry, “and walked around the campus some more: down the river by the Museum of Art, then across the river again toward MacBride Hall and into the Natural History Museum.”

But rather than stay another night in Iowa City, I packed up the car and made the dash north again to Minnesota.


Sometime before June 17, the community center video class shot my audition tape for Full Metal Jacket. Tom LaCrosse watched from the audience seats while I emoted—dressed in fatigues and hair cut shorter than it’d been since I was a boy. I did two monologues for the cameras, pulled from the Vietnam histories I got from the library.

Kubrick_mailAt 5 p.m. that Saturday, I “met Terry Kargel up at the Community Center to mix my audition tape.” The journal reports we were at it for 3-1/2 hours. The edited VHS tape was posted to Kubrick on Monday, June 18, 1984, in care of Warner Brothers in London.

“I’ve been procrastinating something awful,” I wrote on June 24, “…due to anxiety wondering what my autumn will be like. Will I raise the finances to go to school in Iowa? Will I be contacted for a screen test in Kubrick’s film? Will I stay on at SOS [Printing], bitter with each day until I find the courage to get another job? The Fall will be one of Change. It must be.”

The summer plodded on.

A June 28 entry reports: “Am anxiously awaiting more word of loan application and info from Iowa. And perhaps receipt of my tape to Kubrick.”

Then finally, on Thursday, July 26, this cryptic entry:

“Rec’d loan rejection from Iowa.”

Up on the Roof

•May 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment


A perfect spring day to be outside … Or maybe up on a roof? All-new post next Friday, May 29. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside.

Casco House 1Can’t leave my time with the Family Project at the Casco Point house without lingering on one fleeting moment—being up on the roof.

When that exactly happened I can only guess, but it was certainly before high school in 1975, and during a summer after we’d moved to Minnesota in ’71. Dad was probably cleaning the gutters and had a ladder up. It was a pleasant summer day, much as it is as I’m writing now.

Our yard was surrounded by cottonwoods, maybe a pine tree, oaks and elms, all mottling the rooftop with shade and sunlight. It made for an astonishing view of the lake. And while I was up there, I recall patches of moss.

Which, of course, I kicked off.

No song on the radio quite affected me like Elton John’s “Your Song.” As I’ve said before, I…

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