Taking the Kids for Pizza

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound
thoughtful or sad, but you make
me thoughtful and sad and I think
that is good. What other reaction
so fits the world?

If we take your kids for pizza is it not
natural that I should think about evolution?
When I follow your daughter toward games
that shine like harbor lights, should I not wonder
at the tensile strength of life, so fragile and tough?

I know I think too much and talk
too much, like that douchebag
in Dover Beach. But it’s how I am.
I think now, as I watch your girl point
at a plastic fish, that I’m ok  with it.


        The Berlin wall was torn down a few weeks before my eighteenth birthday. I can still remember the news footage of jubilant West Berliners tearing the wall down, some of them with nothing but their own hands. It was a joyful time. The cold war was over. It was finally over. This event made me sad and I feel that I should try to account for my reaction, since it was not typical.
        In the early nineteen eighties, at the same time that I first discovered girls, I saw a lot of movies and television specials depicting the effects of nuclear war. Adults, it seemed, were concerned about Reagan’s tough talk and defense spending, and Hollywood was tapping in on the prevailing mindset.
        When The Day After was broadcast on November 20, nineteen eighty three, it was a nation wide event. Across the country, families gathered around their television sets and watched as the United States duked it out with the U.S.S.R. Even my hyperactive step brothers sat still to watch Jason Robards and Steve Guttenberg slowly die of radiation poisoning. The Wagnerian scope of the devastation in this movie was just the thing to captivate an imaginative and introverted twelve year old. I had already learned, from my parents’ divorce that the world could change. It was only a small step in my mind to picture the world being destroyed in a brilliant white flash.
        If you have ever seen The Day After, you will know what I’m talking about. In fact, almost every movie about nuclear war (and I have seen most of them) contains a scene where the screen goes white. This technique is probably used to its greatest effect in the film, Testament, where, in order to simulate a nuclear attack without using special effects, the director had the screen fade to white while Jane Alexander and her kids hide in the corner. When the camera fades back in, the old world is gone, and everything is different.
        The point of the white was to simulate the intense flash of a nuclear warhead going off, but to me it was something more. It was an intervention; it was a moment of grace. There would be a heat so intense that it would block out everything. There would be a white intensity that you would feel coursing through your body. You would become sanctified, purified by the white fire that burned away your past and left you feeling new and reborn. The former world would have passed away and a new Earth would be yours to inhabit. It was like having sex, or so I imagined at the time.
        I thought about sex a lot when I was thirteen and atomic destruction played a prominent role in my nacient fantasies. These fantasies would often include a fallout shelter or a submarine escape pod (for I was very interested in submarines at the time. I assume that all seventh grade boys are). The only two survivors of the holocaust would be myself and a girl named Rene, who had the desk in front of mine in language arts class. Rene was a pretty blonde who had a way of inclining her head and looking at you from underneath her bangs. I was deeply in love with her in the way only a seventh grade boy can be. Rene did not notice me. She was attracted to an athletic kid named Bobbie.
        In order to avoid the nuclear attack, we would have left in such a hurry that Rene would have nothing to wear except for a matching set of pink bra and panties. She would sulk around the submarine in this outfit and treat me badly at first. Slowly, it would sink in that her handsome athlete, Bobbie, had been burnt to a cinder along with everyone else. She would finally warm up to me and we would kiss on deck. It would be a deep soul kiss, with the moon shining over the South Pacific, much like the couples would do on an episode of The Love Boat.
        Eventually we would reach an island. The island would be a heaven on Earth. There would be blue-green waves crashing on a white sandy beach. There would be palm trees. Beyond the beach there would be a dark jungle that was lush with a wild and beastly life. There would be colorful birds. The air would be clean and free from contamination. We wouldn’t need our submarine any longer. My beautiful blonde lover and I would clime out through the conning tower and embrace in the warm, salty air. Then we would walk up the beach, hand in hand, ready to repopulate our brave new world. Of course that is not how things ultimately turned out. There never was a nuclear war and I certainly did not have a submarine. i never found out whether or not Rene had pink panties.
        A couple of years later, when I was in high school, I crossed paths with her at a party. It was new year’s eve Nineteen Eighty Nine. She was stoned and I was pretty drunk. We said hi and made small talk for a few minutes. I thought about telling her the story of my fantasy and asking her whether or not she had pink underwear. I decided not to. I didn’t really know her very well and I was afraid that if anyone heard me asking her about her panties, I would get beat to t pulp by a gang of jocks. So I just told her happy new year and moved on. Eventually we all counted down from ten and cheered. It was Nineteen Ninety. I drove to Denny’s. I sobered up. I drove home.

        It was some time after this time, the following October, when I heard that the Berlin wall had come down. I don’t really know if the cold war was over right then, but that was the prevailing zeitgeist in the autumn of my senior year. The Soviet Union was collapsing very quickly. East and West Germany had been unified. Poland would probably be next. There would be peace, and there would be a peace dividend.
        The end of the U.S.S.R. seemed somewhat less important to me because I had lost my virginity just a week before and I was largely preoccupied with replaying this event in my memory. I suppose I was trying to figure out how it happened. Who am I kidding? I was a seventeen year old American male. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and it was a pleasure to recall the event. It was exciting to know that I had beaten most of my friends in the race to get laid.
        The girl with whom I lost it didn’t have pink panties, as far as I could tell. It was dark. There had been no white flash, no moment of grace or sanctification. There had only been a slight going away for a moment, and a slight returning. The girl (a curvy brunette named Jeanine who I would go steady with a year later) hadn’t even had an orgasm as far as I could tell.
        And now there would be no thermonuclear flash either. There would be no atomic destruction, no need to escape and repopulate the planet. It was a new beginning, but not one that was particularly brave or hopeful. There would only be graduation, then a job (or college and a job), marriage, kids, then a slow diminishment, retirement, death. I thought about the children I would probably have someday. They would go through the same experiences I had gone through. Then I thought about their children and the children of those children. Just living their lives. Trying to get laid and dreaming of something they can’t quite define. And on into infinity, where all colors run and fade into the pure and sanctified white background of the universe.

I don’t quite know what to do with this poem. Maybe after a few revisions it will be worth sending out. I hope you all like it.

A Rhetoric for Lovers


This evening I want to call you and hear
        you tell me about the small things
that happened in your day. I fail
        to see why I shouldn’t, but as yet
I have not picked up the phone.


I mean, we know each other well enough
        after a few dates that I really shouldn’t
worry about it. If you don’t
        want to go out, you won’t go out.
But love is so hard these days
        and so easy to scare someone away.


I should like to point out to you
        that I think we would both find
a night spent together to be
        both good and advantageous;
though I suppose that this fact
        will have to be taken on trust.


What is the point, my love,
        when strangers are making it
in dark corners, and troubled
        youths are fingering their triggers,
and suicide bombers are wrapping
        themselves in the dark, secret
love of their righteous death,
        of the two of us sleeping alone?


So i hope that when you hear
        your phone ring, you will
pick it up, and tell me how to
        know you. Although, as yet,
I have not dialed your number.



Last weekend I went to the zoo with some very lovely ladies. It was nice to have a date. It was nice to see the animals. But those of you who have been to Brookfield Zoo all know what the real attraction is. Of course I’m talking about the Mold-A-Rama machines.

The Mold-A-Rama is a cool old machine that makes little plastic statues while you stand there and watch it happen. I don’t think that I can accurately convey the joy that one of these machines can bring to the human heart. You put your money in. You press the button and watch as the hydraulic mechanism pushes the two halves of the mold together. The machine makes a whirring sound. The air is filled with a cloying scent as the molten plastic is injected into the mold. After about three quarters of a minute, the mold separates and your beautiful Mold-A-Rama sculpture is dropped into the tray where you can retrieve it, still hot, into your own hands.

Many things in life turn out to be less than promised. But the Mold-A-Rama has never failed to make my heart sing with the pure, clean, joy of melted plastic.


Well, as most of you probably know, five students were killed on the 14th at NIU, in the building next to mine. None of my students were killed, for which I am extremely happy. I’ve already lost one student this year to a car accident and I do not wish to ever repeat the experience if I can avoid it. Tomorrow I will see my students for the first time since the attack.

I don’t have anything much interesting to say about the attack. Except that I hope they put the shooter’s girlfriend (who talked him out of taking his medication) in prison for impersonating a human being.

I think that my feelings about the tragedy are best expressed in the words of the WWII era song “Wartime Lullaby,” as sung by Elton Britt. The lyrics are not really relevant but the sentiment express my feelings, so I will print them here.

to the tune of Away in a Manger

Hush thee my baby, lie still in my arms
safe from the terror of war’s great alarm.
Nestle up close to thy mother’s warm breast.
Sleep little baby and hush thee to rest.

Hark the swift planes flying through the blue sky
where daddy is keeping his vigil on high.
Lie close to thy mother, my baby my dear.
Soon the glad signal will sound the all clear.

Valentines Day: a poem

Valentines Day

Saturday. The dentist. I was paying
my bill when the girl at the counter
was given a bunch of red roses.
This made me think of you;

how the red petals were like
the red highlights in your lovely
hair; how they made the room
swing and how they belonged
wherever they had been placed.

Then I wanted to send you flowers
and I suppose a romantic guy
would have found a way
to get your address and surprise you
with them, but I didn’t do that.

So instead I just wrote you
this poem and I hope you manage
to stay warm on the fourteenth
which, I am fairly certain, is going
to be a cold day in February.

At least once a week, when I am at Northern Illinois University, and on my way to teach English composition, I am stopped in the hallway by a confused student who is looking for a certain room in “reevous” hall. The first few times this happened, it didn’t strike me as anything special. But after I got comfortable and began to think of the English building as my home away from home, I began to wonder about its history.

Reavis Hall (pronounced “rev-us”) is named after the influential educator, William Claude Reavis, who lived from 1881-1955. Mr. Reavis began his career as a teacher in rural Indiana and eventually became a professor of education at University of Chicago. Reavis published a number of books on educational administration, including The Elementary School, its Organization and Administration, and War and Post-War Responsibilities of American Schools.

As Chairman of the commission on appointments and field services, Reavis showed a high level of competence. When Illinois school district 158 hired him in 1949 to survey the north side of Lansing in order to determine the feasibility of a new school, he not only did this effectively, but also accurately predicted what the level of enrollment would be in 1960 to within eight students. There are a number of schools named after Mr. Reavis. Most notable of these is Reavis High School, in Burbank IL. as well as endowments and fellowships for people majoring in education administration

In the course of my research I learned that when Reavis Hall opened its doors in 1957, my own mother was one of the first students to attend classes within its walls. At that time, Reavis Hall fostered both English and Education classes.

Northern Illinois University was a great deal smaller in 1957, than it is now. According to my mother, the newly built Reavis Hall was on the outskirts of the campus. To get from Altgeld Hall, which housed classrooms back then and not administration offices, students had to cross what my mother describes as “a frozen tundra.” With no stadium or residence halls on the opposite side of Anne Glidden Road, the prevailing winds could pretty much roam freely from the Rocky Mountains until they got to Reavis. According to my mother, it was a real project to get there and students had to be very careful in bad weather, lest they get blown over on their way.

In fact, when Reavis Hall was built, the Kishwaukee river flowed east of Altgeld hall. It has since been diverted to run past Reavis.

Today Reavis Hall is no longer on the outskirts. Since 1957, the NIU campus has expanded to the point that Reavis is closer to the center than the outside. The intervening space between it and Altgeld has been more or less completely filled. With the construction of the Holmes Student Center, Founders Library, Zulaft Hall, and any number of smaller buildings, students can now reach Reavis without trekking across an open plain. The Convocation Center, Lincoln and Douglas residence halls, and of course the Stevenson building all serve to mitigate some of the wind that threatened to knock over my mother and her classmates.

Although the building is now fifty-one years old, Reavis is still much in use today. As the central hub for the First Year Composition program, Reavis Hall is visited by nearly every student that attends the university. Both undergraduate and graduate level English classes are held every day of the week in its “smart” computerized classrooms. Every spring, Reavis Hall hosts the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media, which attracts presenters from all over the country. In addition, Reavis is used for various community activities such as the Muggle Academy for Jr. high and high-school students to enjoy the richness that literature has to offer.

Just last year all of the windows were replaced with more efficient and prettier looking tinted windows. Reavis is now warm in winter and cool in summer instead of the other way around. In addition to that, a number of the smart classrooms were recently upgraded with Sympodiums, which are a next-generation computer that allows instructors to write directly on the screen and save their notes. Reavis Hall may be a little aged, but it certainly isn’t too old.

The recent upgrades will insure that the building is capable of providing service to students and teachers for a number of generations to come. Plans may be in the works to add Reavis to the list of buildings with wireless internet capability. There are still a few classrooms that are not smart, due to the fact that a number of professors prefer a more traditional feel for their room. As time passes, however, these will probably become upgraded as well.

Because I lack the aptitude for educational administration possessed by the man after whom the building is named, I find it hard to tell exactly what the future is going to hold for Reavis Hall. However, two things are likely to remain constant. Reavis Hall will continue to provide opportunities for students and teachers to interact in a comfortable atmosphere, and undergraduates will most likely continue to mispronounce the name.