Reality Stranger than Fiction…

Mississippi River

I’m cursed or blessed with a strange and curious mind…
Bobby “Blue” Bland with BB King on Soundstage [1977]

Mom, Dad and older sister Kathleen taught me to read before I was 3 years old. I began reading on Arsenal Street in St. Louis. I would read the signs outside the window in Tower Grove Park. I read a bit more when we moved to Cahokia Illinois. All of this was before we moved to the third floor apartment on Pershing Avenue in St. Louis, around the corner from the Jefferson Memorial.  That apartment is where I formally learned to read. I read much of my father’s library and then began visiting the St. Louis Public Library.  I remember reading with the kitchen light shiningSee the source image into my bedroom, other times sitting in the kitchen, and lots of times sitting in the bay window area at the front of the apartment. The building faced Pershing Avenue. This was my favorite place in the entire third floor of that old brownstone.
Louis Armstrong Tr., Ed Hall Cl., Trummy Young Tb., Billy Kyle P., Arvell Shaw B., Barrett Deems Dr. at the New York Philharmonic, 1956

While reading, I was sometimes distracted by streetcars running East and West on the tracks in the middle of the road.
Sometimes in the afternoons, I would sneak onto the streetcars and take myself on tours of the city, until the driver discovered me hiding among the crowds…

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I attended preschool and kindergarten at Hamilton Elementary School.  The school was ten blocks from our apartment. I usually walked to and from school.  It was a wonderful schoolroom, with floor to ceiling bay windows facing Westminster Place. On the back wall were floor to ceiling bookcases.  This seemed like a vast library during those two years.

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So I kept reading. After preschool and kindergarten, we moved out of the city and into St. Louis County, up by the Missouri river, in a town called Florissant. Instead of watching blue sparks from streetcars running back and forth on Pershing at night, I found myself down by the river, in a growing, middle class, second-ring Northern suburb of St. Louis.
Mississippi Fred McDowell – Goin Down to the River

So I kept reading. Instead of the grand old library in Downtown St. Louis or the towering bookshelves at Hamilton Elementary, I got books to read from a small storefront library in the mini-mall down by the corner, in the grocery store parking lot. After I read all the Science Fiction they had, they ordered books from other libraries, including the downtown branch.

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I had other distractions… There was a three-story farmhouse across the street, with rolling fields running West, down to the river.
Leo Kottke – Deep River Blues

There was a creek running through the fields and winding underneath Shackelford Road into fields heading East.  Coldwater creek was full of minnows, crawdads, turtles and snakes.  Years later we learned the creek contained radioactive waste carelessly stored by Mallinckrodt Company.

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When it came time to attend first grade, my birthday was September 21st, so they refused to let me attend. During that year I kept reading constantly.
Langston Hughes – “The Weary Blues” on CBUT, 1958

My parents would tell me to stop reading, so I would climb underneath the bed with a high intensity lamp and read until I could no longer stay awake.

See the source imageWhen I started 1st grade, the curriculum was redundant and boring for me.  They decided I was a distraction in the classroom, so I spent most of every day in the Special Education room, reading more books. In the classroom we had to write all the books we read on the North wall of the rom.
Otis & The Outkasts

I read more than 400 books during those nine months of first grade. (mostly science fiction) They gave me an IQ test that year and my score was 167.  They skipped me through second grade and that summer I took a speed-reading course at Washington University. After completing the course, they told me I could read 13 thousand words per minute with 90% comprehension. This was insane. Reading two pages at a glance was a curious skill. But I did read faster than before.
And I kept reading.
‎(1965) Blues by Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog and Down Home Shakedown

While still in secondary school, my dad took me down to Gaslight Square where he was a program director at The Exit, a coffeehouse. I learned about Langston Hughes, folk music, poetry, art, blues, jazz and more.  When in Hazelwood Junior High School, I took more tests and was awarded a scholarship to a college preparatory school. I was not thrilled by coats and ties (at an all boys school) but I spent my last years of secondary school at St. Louis Country Day School. I was fortunate to learn more than I might See the source imagehave in a public school.  My last year at CDS, I worked for the Microbiological lab at Washington University, assisting with RNA and DNA research,  before graduating in 1969.
The Beatles White Album was the graduation theme.
The Beatles – White Album
It’s a Beautiful Day – White Bird –

When I returned to St. Louis, from Boston, I attended Florissant Valley Community College and the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Drove a taxicab to pay the bills. I worked as a teaching assistant at U of M. I moved west and attended Fullerton College in Anaheim, California and Cal Poly Pomona in Brea Canyon. After having completed all the undergraduate requirements for a degree in teaching, they asked me to teach for nine months with NO PAY!  This was relatively insane, so I changed majors again. Now instead of Art, Philosophy or Teaching, I majored in Writing with minors in European History and Journalism.
Virtual Visit to the Piney Woods around Flagstaff, AZ

After 13 years running a small business in the LA area, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona.  While working part-time, I graduated from NAU with a BA in English and Writing. I drove a cab in Flagstaff to pay for school. Did some graduate work in Poetry, until I decided to move North in 1995.

See the source imageI moved North to Missoula, Montana and attended the University of Montana at Missoula. There, I became an internationally certified Master Tutor. And did even more fishing than I had done in and around Flagstaff.

When visiting Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2000, I was invited to teach CIS-120 at Portland Community College. They sent me the text, I read the entire text and then moved to Portland and began teaching CIS-120 (a course about computer information systems) at Portland Community College.  I worked as a union organizer at the AFT-AFL-CIO Teachers Union and completed classes in Union management at the University of Oregon at Eugene. During all of this… I was constantly reading.See the source image

Between working as an officer at the teachers union at PCCFFAC, co-hosting a Labor Radio show at KBOO, editing at The Portland Alliance and participating in the steering committee of Jobs with Justice, I stayed busy in the activist communities of Portland. We worked against increasing American wars abroad and were forced to do battle with hard-nosed, brutal and blatantly racist police in Portland, Oregon. Over time I gave up teaching and focused my efforts on community organizing while still broadcasting at Lake Oswego KBOO Labor Radio.
I continued working at the state level with the Teachers union. After 13 years of paying for both a home in Missoula, Montana and rentals in Portland, I surrendered to economic reality and moved back to Missoula. I found it delightful, moving from a city of 2.5 million back to a city of 67 thousand. It was good to be back home.
ZZ Top – La Grange

Now I’m the primary administrative librarian at IPRC Library: The International Peace Resource Center Library in Missoula, Montana. And I have not stopped reading books, magazines, novels, newspapers and cereal boxes.  Between reading, writing and designing and publishing progressive or revolutionary web pages and blogs, I stay grounded by tending my gardens and caring for nine cats, four hens, two dogs and a turkey.

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My latest project is preparing the Missoula house/library so that we can sell the building and secure a larger facility to better hold our growing collections.  When I run into obstacles or find home repair jobs I am unfamiliar with, I go online to avail myself of the resources of libraries around the world. Our interconnected planet allows me to extend my reading beyond the pages of books to the unending iterations of uncountable authors on the World Wide Web. So I keep reading.

This is a time for new and revolutionary beginnings…

“Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. You don’t need anything else.”

― Malcolm X

The Wordsmith Collection:  Writing & Creative Arts

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