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sPARKLE & bLINK 2.7

sPARKLE & bLINK 2.7

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Published by Quiet Lightning
sPARKLE & bLINK is published in conjunction with the monthly submission-based reading series Quiet Lightning, which takes place in San Francisco and is hosted by Evan Karp. This is the eighth issue of volume 2, as performed on Aug 1 2011 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers- the firts first of three shows that comprises The Greenhouse Effect summer reading series. Featured readers were: Keely Hyslop, Alyson Sinclair, Andrew O. Dugas, Amy Cruz, Howard Junker, Tim Kahl, Graham Gremore, Cassandra Gorgeous, Cole Krawitz, Mira Martin-Parker, Tobey Kaplan, Sarah Page, and Sean Labrador y Manzano, with artwork by Tyler Iorillo. Find out more @ http://quietlightning.org.
sPARKLE & bLINK is published in conjunction with the monthly submission-based reading series Quiet Lightning, which takes place in San Francisco and is hosted by Evan Karp. This is the eighth issue of volume 2, as performed on Aug 1 2011 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers- the firts first of three shows that comprises The Greenhouse Effect summer reading series. Featured readers were: Keely Hyslop, Alyson Sinclair, Andrew O. Dugas, Amy Cruz, Howard Junker, Tim Kahl, Graham Gremore, Cassandra Gorgeous, Cole Krawitz, Mira Martin-Parker, Tobey Kaplan, Sarah Page, and Sean Labrador y Manzano, with artwork by Tyler Iorillo. Find out more @ http://quietlightning.org.

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Published by: Quiet Lightning on Aug 04, 2011
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01/29/2013

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When I was a little boy in North Dakota, there were
these blinding snowstorms, and you had to look for
something, like a snow fence, that stood out and
that looked familiar in all that whiteness to help you
home.

—James Rosenquist

They were lucky—when they left the
Fargo airport, the snow was just beginning
to swirl, flurries were just beginning to
obliterate the roadway.
It was nowhere near the whiteout that
Don, having grown up in California, sort of
wanted to experience. He loved the idea
that you ought to keep a giant candle in
the trunk of your car, something to tide
you over if you got stranded. Maryann,
who’d grown up in Hamilton, two and a
half hours north, in good weather, of
course knew people who’d gotten
caught—and froze to death.
They stopped in Grand Forks for
coffee; conditions were still holding up,
and Maryann felt they should push on for
the two more hours it would take to reach
her parents’ home in Hamilton, pop. 61.
Since the storm was blowing up from
the south, strangely enough, they were
running away from it. It was an adventure

30

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

of sorts. The Red River Valley had always
struck Don as exotic, as strange and
beautiful as any place he might have
chosen to visit as a tourist. The river
running north, for example. The endless
fields shaved smooth by the glacier, the
pathetic strands of trees put up as
windbreaks, the monumental silos.
Maryann’s father was still farming, into
his eighties. What else was there to do?
Join the sunbirds in Arizona?

Don said a quick hello to Maryann’s
parents and then a quicker good-bye
and headed over to Cavalier, to his
traditional headquarters, The Cedar Inn.
The eight-mile trip was only theoretically
harrowing.

He needed to stay at The Cedar to
escape the claustrophobia of his in-laws’
small house with its one bathroom and no
place, really, to wander around in in the
middle of the night, which is what Don did
in the middle of nights.
Also, he had a limited ability to visit
to sit for hours at the kitchen table,
holding a coffee cup.
The Cedar was the only motel in town,
a cinder-block pile just south of Main St.

31

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

There was a hardware store in the front
and a restaurant/bar and a package
store on the far side. Santa’s Parade
formed up every year in the parking lot. It
was an ideal retreat, especially these
days with the upgraded cable package.
And with everything one might need,
besides family, within walking distance:
—InShape,

with

its

delightful

assortment

of

vintage

work-out

equipment

—La Tea Da, a tea room cum bistro
with white tablecloths (closed for the
holidays)

—the Pembina Archery Center (in a
former store front)
—the Cavalier Cinema (in the former
Cavalier Hotel), which was showing the
Favreau/Vaughn

comedy

Couples
Retreat
at 10 p.m., due to its adult
content

—the He-Mart (mostly haberdashery)
—Thompson’s Cafe, which has not yet
been rated on menupix or chow.com or
urbanspoon, to say nothing of Yelp.
But Don’s main resource while hiding
out was his reading project. He
specialized, on his North Dakota jaunts, in
worthy endeavors he would never have

32

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

been able to tackle under ordinary
circumstances. The list was partly
penitential, as if he had to make up for his
withdrawal from the family.
His first project had been Melville’s five
pre-Moby novels.
On another visit, he did the first five of

Henry James.
This time, Livy and Tacitus.
He had planned for something a bit
more fun—some true crimers, a re-read of
Decline and Fall, a look at a much-
praised first novel. But at the San
Francisco airport, he realized he didn’t
have enough of the right stuff to endure
the immense stretches of nothingness that
loomed before him. He was tempted by
The Canterbury Tales, in the Penguin
Classics section of the bookstore, but it
was in translation, and he’d learned
Middle English sophomore year with a
teacher who’d just come back from
Oxford. Don loved the fact that, when the
time seemed ripe, this well-trained scholar
switched fields and became a Native
American poet.
The blizzard, surprisingly, held off the
next day, allowing Don to stock up on
oranges and yogurt and Cheerios.… at

33

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

Leevers Super Valu. And make a quick,
noontime trip to Hamilton for “dinner”—
soup and grilled cheese sandwiches—
with the family.

Christmas Eve, Blizzard Alvin shut down
everything. In the middle of that
desperate night, the Grand Forks PBS
station ran a doc on contemporary
conquests of Everest—some guy who’d
had a knee replacement struggling
toward the summit with his own personal
buddy/guide, to help wrench the faux
knee back into position whenever it
popped out.

Our hero’s investment, paying for the
guide and himself, must have run close to
$200k. Don rooted for him to fall into a
crevasse.

Don’s passion for mountaineering had
been ignited at summer camp—his
counselor reading a goodnite story, an
Alpine adventure novel. Don never knew
what the plot was, beyond climbing the
Jungfrau—or maybe it was the
Matterhorn—because he always fell
asleep after a page or two, but crampons
& ice axes, pitons & carabiners, roped up,
slogging skyward, danced in his dreams.
By these between-the-Wars standards,

34

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

Everest had become an obscenity, a pig
pen, an exquisite symbol of money
despoiling the sacred.
By morning, the snow had drifted four
feet deep outside Don’s room.
There was plenty of time to read:
Livy: Rome didn’t conquer all in a day.
Tacitus: Rome didn’t decline in a day.
St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church was
hosting a community Christmas dinner, so,
at 11:30, Don geared up and trudged
over. The wind was still driving a white
mist, and his sunglasses fogged up and his
nose froze, even with his red knit face
mask pulled up all the way.
He found his way to the community
room behind the church. At the far end,
near the kitchen, some 30 seniors, like
himself, were already sitting down. He
realized he should have gone to mass
with them. Of course, they would accept
him as an orphan of the storm, but what
the hell.

He introduced himself to the priest,
who urged him to join the last stragglers at
the buffet.

The people whose table he joined
knew his in-laws, of course.
The

pies,

unfortunately,

but

35

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

understandably, were storebought.
That afternoon and evening and

night, he read.

By the morning after Christmas, the snow
plows (and blowers) had cleared the
downtown streets. Eventually, this stuff
would be hauled away, but for the
moment it had been pushed up on the
sidewalk along Second St., across from
The Office, which is actually a bar (with
apts. upstairs).

Since few people in Cavalier work in
offices, Don liked to imagine the phone
conversations:

I’m still tied up at the office, dear.
Oh yeah, why do I hear PBRs being
popped in the background?

The plows had pushed like tectonic
plates until the warehoused snow rose to
a crenellated ridge. The result was an
unexpected man-made wonder.
The west face of this mountain was a
sheer block-long wall, a mountain range,
not an individual peak.
The east face had disappeared,
because the gap between the sidewalk
and Main Street Floral & Fudge Factory, in
more clement times a scraggly strip of

36

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

lawn, had filled in with drift.
Don surveyed this savage landscape
on the way to breakfast at Thompson’s
Cafe. He thought it might be fun to
attempt an ascent.
He also thought it would be a bit silly,
a grown man, and an old one at that,
mountain climbing in downtown Cavalier,
ND.

On the other hand, he had put in his
miles as an urban hiker in San Francisco,
walking home the three miles from the
Saturday Farmers Market at the Ferry
Building, a different route each time,
taking photos, foraging for whatever
architectural/cultural

delights

might

present themselves.
More than that, listening to the
Weather Channel’s tales of other great
storms, he had realized he was a veteran
of the Blizzard of ’47. He had been seven,
so long ago, and that blizzard hadn’t
seemed like such a big deal, just a
generous chance to build—and live in—
an igloo his father had cut the slabs for.
After two eggs over easy, hash
browns, “steak,” biscuits, and hot
chocolate, he headed for base camp.
There was no one else walking around

37

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

downtown. It wasn’t particularly cold,
about five degrees, but it was cold
enough.

The Cavalier Sierra gleamed in the
pewter sun, clean, purposeful, sheer.
Shortly after they were married, they’d
driven around the state, visiting Maryann’s
old friends. They’d gotten as far west as
Mandan, where Lewis & Clark had
wintered in 1804- 05, where Custer had set
up housekeeping on a bluff with a
commanding view.
On the way home, Maryann asked
how he’d liked all the different parts of
North Dakota. I enjoyed the trip, Don
replied, but there seemed to be only two
parts: the flat and the very flat.
He kicked his left Itasca Ziggy After Ski
boot with backside Velcro into the steep
slope and pushed up. His footing held. He
advanced another step. And another.
He punched his fingers into the snow,
not so much to get a grip, but to remain
engaged with the surface.
Now that he was actually attacking
the first (and only) pitch, he began to
worry. What if he crashed back to the
sidewalk? Such anxiety, he realized, even
if unwarranted, was useful: it helped

38

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

maintain focus.
What a glorious way to put up a route:

directissima.

The next step held, and the next, and
the summit was within reach.
But, of course, there wasn’t any
summit, there was just the edge that had
been left by the snowplow’s sharp blade.
Don took two more small steps and
looked back down to assess what he had
accomplished. It really wouldn’t be fun to
fall from such a height.
He reached up and tore off a patch
of the crenellation. He swept the back of
his hand to level off some more.
He stepped up a last step. Perhaps he
could compress a platform that would
allow him to stand on top and gain a
comprehensive panorama.
He slid his right knee up, as if to
straddle the top, and plunged over to the
other side into the drift.
It was the obverse of the fall he had
feared. It wasn’t a precipitous drop. It was
a head-first plummet, a jackknife dive, his
arms extended to ease passage into the
new medium.

He sank all the way in. He completely
submerged in the downy, billowy snow.

39

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

The irony washed over him as the drift
embraced him. He thrashed his feet. .
.and drove himself deeper. His head
wedged tight. The snow began to numb
his face.

He didn’t think anyone would hear
him, but, Ahoy, he screamed, man
overboard.

40

Howard Junker —–––––––––––

41

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

Opening Theme and Hymn for Norman
Lear

Boy the way Glenn Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days
And you knew who you were then
Girls were girls and men were men.
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert
Hoover again.
Didn’t need
a map of ages to find where
my generation flip-flop wandered into the
TV Guide.
It perfected the channel changer
and now I dream in computer screens
that continually act up with locovirus.
My karma’s been downgraded by
Moody’s
again, by the quants who’ve finally
modeled how the empire will fail —
an empty bag will not stand up by itself.
Could you fill it with your own Garage
Mahal
of memorabilia? Could you fill it with a
killer app that scrambles the dumb-down
of prime time TV? Could you fill it with
a philosophical battle with a plutocrat?

— Oh, Archie, I couldn’t do that.

42

Tim Kahl —–––––––––––

— Geez, Edith, would you stifle yourself,

huh?

Would you prefer a steady watcher’s diet
surging through the intestines in your
brains?
It feeds us an entertainment algorithm
that we can see but hardly know.

I know that my Redeemer liveth
and that he shall stand

and that he shall stand in the light of
a romantic comedy and deliver us to
a new expectation.
O, Norman Lear, please come rescue us
from
our viewer’s indigestion.
O, Norman Lear, please come and show

us
the innards of the sitcom.
O, Norman Lear, please tell us one of
those
jokes about the dumb American again,
we who are generation ding-dong
invulnerable as ever
so that our stupidity stays locked in
and preserves its freshness,
none of the big ideas getting in.
O, Norman Lear, lead us not into peer-to-
peer
congratulation but to that moment when

43

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

we

can sincerely offer up these words to
each other:

Lamont, you dummy.

O, Norman Lear, I know I stand before you
just one more dumb accuser, but forgive

me

I’ve made up my mind that I can take no
more.
No you didn’t
Yes, I did.
No you didn’t
Yes, I did.
No you didn’t
Yes, I did.
No you didn’t need no welfare state
everybody pulled his weight
Gee, our old La Salle ran great
Those were the days.

44

Tim Kahl —–––––––––––

49

—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK

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