Saturday, June 14, 2008

this place is a mess.

I've got to try and finish a book so I'm going to focus my spastic methods on one thing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Crazy Night in West Memphis

This is one of the starts. I'm sick of looking at it and know errors abound but if I keep fucking with the past I won't get shit done.

I spent this last Christmas dinner in a truck stop with my Dad, brother, and Allison. It was a special time for we were together with smiles.

This is not supposed to be pitiful journalizing of the present, it is supposed to start at the Metal Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee. Some time in the 1970s, a group of people decided that blacksmithing was a dying craft in America. They worked in steel all of their lives and could not stand to see such a wonderful craft, trade, and art get lost in the mechanized future. For all of their utilization of machines, those shop owners knew that nothing could replace a man with a hammer in his hand. They, as a part of NOMMA, started a museum devoted to the preservation and promotion of ornamental metalwork.

By circumstance, they found the prettiest place in the Delta to put their museum. The site was 3 acres on the high bluffs of Memphis, overlooking the Mississippi and the Arkansas flood plain. The view is probably what has saved the Museum from dying more than anything else. I will come back to it many a times for it is has been a source of stability and beauty when I felt like the world would disintegrate in its irrational stupidity.

For whatever reasons, probably fate, they asked James A. Wallace to be the founding director. He convinced my mother that she should move with my two young brothers from Murfeesboro, Illinois so he could take the job. The reasoning was that they would come to Memphis, make a bunch of money, and then run off to Montana to live in the land of happy hippies. I don’t know how anyone could have believed he could get rich starting a museum during the Fuel Emargo. If you asked me, I would guess that my dad thought he could make a social change, do good, and avoid evil by running a museum. Like I said, the details are inconsequential when the Fates are spinning the tale.
Regardless, Dad sold his Dodge Power Wagon and bought a little, red Datsun pickup. To this day, when he sees a Power Wagon sitting in a scrap yard, he gets the distant look of lost love. Mom was to remain in Illinois with Jedidiah and Peter. Before long, she went ahead and made the move down to Memphis. When she arrived, the house had no heat and no kitchen. Dad found a furnace insert for the fireplace and an old friend from Carbondale donated a stove to the kitchen area. The rest of the home details would have to wait because the Museum was to be opened by the spring.
To go any further without properly discussing the site would be an injustice to the story and the reader. In 1798, John Adams signed the Marine Hospital Service to provide care to seamen. A hospital was built in Napoleon, Arkansas. The river made a dramatic change of course in the 1870s and took the town with it. The disappearance of the Hospital left no where for Memphis rivermen to go for treatment of their ails. They carried the bricks across the stream and built the new Marine Hospital, opened in 1881. The Federal government divided the property in 1970, keeping the eastern half for itself and giving the western half to the City of Memphis which left it to age.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

it's crazy ken

The next wise fellow that tries to explain to me that the world has "two types of people" and follows with some lame attempt to simplify humans into a arbitrary dichotomy needs a punch to the throat.

That's a picture of the man who taught me most everything I know about steel work. And that is the preface to a new part of my adventure here.

That's not my dad who didn't teach me a lot about metal work. Despite the fact that he ran the Metal Museum for 30 years, he gave me about two hours worth of teaching in the steel shop. It was my fault, he says. "You could have gone out to the shop at anytime and played." He has a point. The smithy is in what was my backyard until a few weeks ago. I tried to heat and beat the iron but it was rarely fun unless one of the guys in the shop helped me on a actual project.

James Ara Wallace is revered in most circles he has encountered. He was born in South Dakota to Colonel(ret.) Josiah and Vicki Wallace on an army base in the Black Hills. He has forgotten more than I'll ever know. He worked for Korczak Ziolkowski blowing the armpit hole on the Crazy Horse monument. He was a hard rock miner in Colorado, a forest fire fighter, semi-pro surfer, mountain climber. He's got stories to tell and will do so with a little bourbon and a blazing fire most anytime you can catch him.

I like this picture of my dad. A few weeks prior, he buried his wife and left the place that he defined and made him for a 300 square foot cabin in the White River valley of Norfork, Arkansas. Then the rains came. He spent the previous night moving his stuff to high ground and helping others in the valley as the river rose about 30 feet in 20 hours. He slept for about fifteen minutes until we went to watch the water rise up to his doorstep but leave his only home dry in the storm of past transgressions raining upon us.
I looked about as perky as this but was behind the camera and so I'll just tell part of the story because that's what I do.
The day before, Allison and I left Arkansas after spending a few days visiting my dad and getting some clean air. We left before the rains were too bad and had been able to move his books and tools up. From that point, Allison drove and an argument proceeded to develop in the car. One of the single most disadvantaged places to argue is the passenger seat of a vehicle. You lack all control and are stuck unless you throw yourself out of a moving vehicle. We get home and unpack. Somewhere, things go from bad to worse and I try to sleep in my truck. Surprisingly, I slept well. Though I'm trying to sell my ragged truck it is more than versatile. Wake up. Go to work. Phone rings. "It don't look good. They cut off the power and are evacuating the valley." My dad sounded half dead on the other line and there was no way in hell I could be at work with so much to worry about. I tried to borrow Will Keeler's (he's the man) Tahoe but he left the key at his house and so I put my destiny in fate's hands and took my truck across the bridge.
I couldn't take it above 55 or it would choke and the brakes aren't great and it was raining like hell. I spent what little money I had on a carton of cigarettes, gas, truck-stop speed, and a quart of water. The driving was okay until I got to Black Rock, where the lower half of the town was flooded and no one could go through Hardy because the bridge there was under water. So I took the alternate route through Cave City. I love the town names in that state. I finally made it to be with my dad. We couldn't do anything but watch. It was around this time "High thoughts in low times" was started. I had quit drinking and was touched by the hillbillies watching their ramshackle homes fill up...

There shall be more to come. I just need some rest.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I'm an uncle. It's a first for me and the phone call from my brother Peter announcing the arrival of Catherine Breese Wallace was like jumping in Farm Pond after a day of bucking hay in the high summer and the cool water pulls every prick and jabbing needle of hardened grass out of you and makes you feel so good you forgot what it was that was bothering you. Cheers to that.

Of course, that was way earlier in the day and walking a couple of miles in the June sun will do it to ya. I can tell you that kindness and humanity need to make a comeback. We got a recession on and this war is dragging us down. At the same time, I don't know if there has ever been a more me-centric culture than contemporary America. I love this place but I despise what pop stardom has made us become. Everyone heard the story of the old man hit by a car in Conneticut where people drove by after the poor bastard was crumpled up on the ground. There was an even more fucked up story in the local paper about some ass who hit and killed a 5 year old boy and proceeded to drive off. Stop and help. Who cares about jail when this person needs nothing more than somebody by them. Our inane lives have become more important than life and that doesn't bode well. Shit's gonna smash right through the fan if we keep this up and splatter all over us while we fight our brothers for a piece of bread. It won't be the solid crap of a wheat and oats. It'll be the loud mess that comes after you drink a half a case of PBR, shoot a pint of Jack, eat a mess of hot wings at 3 AM, smoke two packs, wake up, eat an egg sandwich topped with half a pound of bacon cooked by some woman who hates the world, get to work, drink a quart of coffee, and feel your soul rot into the toilet below. That's gonna suck. I say we start with some decency toward the people we see in line at the supermarket or across the dinner table. What do I know?

Thursday, June 5, 2008