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This will be a story about dreams and expectations and apostasy and death in a bleached utopia, a standard white-picket-fence idyll other eyes can just as easily perceive as a passive-aggressive prison. Hi, and welcome to one obscure sepia-toned riverbend of the mortal coil. /1
My uncle today lies in an ICU in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He has lived a long & good life. He will live some more of it, just not sure how much. But this is not a maudlin mourning story, seeking rote condolence or prayer or whatev. It's a story about Wayne & his sister Shirley. /2
And me, to some degree, but, y'know, duh. I knew Shirley as Mom, a pious, puritanical, sometimes judgmental woman whom I disappointed quite a bit & loved dearly, if sometimes haltingly. Alzheimer's turned her brain to gunk starting 20 years ago but this isn't even about that. /3
This is a perception exercise. An irrepressible, civic-minded person, the civil servant spouse of a civil servant, Shirley grew up in Burlington, Iowa (as did Wayne). Shirley later built a life in a nowhere burg 2 hours north called Stanwood. I remember her like this, mostly.
So my mom, when she was doing something and more focused on that thing but still paying enough attention to catch a glimpse of me doing whatever dumb thing I was up to, would sometimes, absent-mindedly, snap, “Wayne!”
This took place long before that shitty disease ravaged her brain, back when Dumb Wee Me woke each day intent upon attention-seeking. She just reflexively cross-wired the two “little brothers” and she said once or twice, “Oh, sorry, you just remind me of Wayne so much.” (Wayne👇)
I was the third and last kid, so was Wayne, considerably younger than Shirley and their brother Gary, as you can probably see in this photo. Maybe a "happy accident" in Harry and Alice Wagner's family plans, he no-doubt pestered adolescent Shirley for attention, too. /7
But that effected different formative experience for both. Shirley grew up in Depression and during a world war. Wayne grew up in the much sunnier but also much more repressive and sterile post-war period. /8
I grew up in the 1970s and '80s, only really knowing my mom as a benign scold who wanted me to get outside more when I wanted to read books and draw, and only really knowing my uncle was a daft fucking hippie. Here's Wayne, high school versus 1979. /9
You don't always really KNOW extended family. I only really got to know Wayne on a family trip we all took in 1978 to - of all fucking places - Guatemala. Wayne, Gary & Shirley planned this after their dad died & my grandma, Alice, doled out bits of his estate in increments. /10
And, if you don't know of the period, Guatemala was goddamn fascist nightmare. Poverty like I'd never seen. Guys with machine guns everywhere. Why go there? No fucking clue. But Wayne's restive adolescence had led to a stint in the Peace Corps & he spoke fluent Spanish. /11
And I, as it turned out, had begun reading about ancient civilizations and was 13-year-old-goddamn-giddy to see lost cities reclaimed by jungles. Rest of the family, meh, but Wayne volunteered to take me on a long-ass busride one day down to Honduras to see Copan. /12
The whole Guatemala trip proved sort of a crass bourgeois exercise in dumb-Americans-blithely-ogling-the-Third-World-like-a-zoo but, giddy as I was to see ruins, the other shit I saw, holy shit. /13
The juxtaposition of how we lived vs how we forced people to live (even if I didn't know that part yet) imprinted. And when I went off to college a young Republican and those memories started clicking in with the history I read, with Reagan even then ravaging Central America, /14
this did not do well to maintain the fluffy abstract lenses with which I processed reality. When you’re a kid who bought into the myth of the Benign Protectors of Democracy the World Over, it’s not easy to see this grand citadel morph into a shitty house of cards. /15
Not to suggest this is unique, a lot of kids hit that cognitive-dissonance wave, just this is where everything lurched violently left for me &, while I'm glad it did, back in Iowa, newly-minted Weirdly-Preppy-Leftist-Know-It-All-Punkrock Me did not gibe over-well with my mom. /16
Long-story-shortening, became raging leftist, graduated Syracuse '88, did some business journalism, started a band to vent, toured around, didn't always get along with my mom, then she got sick, it got worse, her mind went & I moved back to Iowa to help her & dad my out. /17
Mom lingered, her mind just inert matter, even after my dad died in 2010. When he did, I started emptying out the house. The Stanwood house, that Midwestern idyll that had nurtured me and that I couldn't leave fast enough, now stuffed with four generations worth of stuff. /18
And I knew a bit about my mom before she became my mom, but there's still that mental block of perceiving someone in clunky ROLES - not for everyone but certainly people of hearty Midwestern Germanic stock - where we only really know them as kind of platonic abstract forms. /19
I never knew her as this. 👇
/20
Or this. 👇 And I'm not saying I COULD, there's no real way one can. Time and conditioning separate us out into these chunks of roleplay we do in relation to each other, but that's not the point either. Because the joyous youth of these images is the LEAST of what I found.
Shirley & Wayne's dad, my grandpa Harry, fit every possible mold of burgeoning Midwestern bourgeois, local businessman, outdoorsman, stolid Germanic disciplinarian. My mother adored him. What little I knew him, he scared the shit out of me, as he did my sisters & cousins. /22
A short fire-plug of a guy, Harry carried the air of someone who, earlier in life, might have boxed professionally and/or served in the army as a drill sergeant. Shirley, his first child, did everything to be the apple of his eye, including - curiously for the time - sports. /23
Women athletes EXISTED, sure, but, decades before Title IX, it was widely thought "unladylike." Burlington schools didn't field girls' teams. To play, Shirley had to join clubs, like a YWCA-league hoop team sponsored by a Studebaker dealership (she's bottom left legs-akimbo). /24
In her high school days in the late '40s, she joined the Burlington Merchants softball club. These ladies kicked EVERY ass, playing other club teams around Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota. They went 24-2 in 1949, 41-4 in 1950 & went to a national championship tourney in Arizona. /25
At their Burlington home field, Dankwardt Park, they at one point racked up a 56-game winning streak. They won one game 37-1. Shirley, tiny, bespectacled teenage nerdgirl standing 5'2", played short (I think) but also served as all-purpose infielder. /26
But that's not all she did. At age 15, she hit .383 in 94 at-bats. That came down a little the next year in a lengthened season, but still, .328 at 186 at-bats . . . it garnered the attention of certain people in Chicago. /27
You know about this, of course. /28
A League of Their Own fictionalized the 1943 birth of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. In 1944, seeking to get in on some of that market, I guess, some Chicago area businesses had launched a regional six-team league, the National Girls Baseball League (NGBL).
Unlike the AAGPBL, & despite its official name, the NGBL fielded SOFTball teams, including underhand pitching. In 1951, the NGBL's Chicago Rock-Ola Chicks, bearing the name of the sponsoring jukebox manufacturer, signed up my mom & Merchants right-fielder Joyce Ricketts. /30
"The Club hereby employes the Player to render skilled services as a Ball Player [to be performed] with expertness, diligence and fidelity..." They would pay her $60 a week. Still a minor, she needed her mom & dad to co-sign the contract before whizzing off to the Big City. /31
And as I say that last part👆, I need to point out that this hardcopy of the contract I found in the attic is the "employee copy," and thus not the one my grandparents co-signed, which is why that line remains blank. /32
But, y'know, holy SHIT, right? Bigshot cityfolk, probably wearing widebrim hats & suits with fat lapels (it was the postwar!), came out to southeast Iowa to recruit my mom, at age 17, to play pro ball in Chicago. How the hell had I never heard this story? /33
The photographic record goes weirdly dark as to that summer of 1951. Shirley snapped plenty of photos of her Rock-Ola Chicks teammates but the only one I could find of her in her team togs is wearing her jersey with dress pants, probably outside her parents' Burlington home. /34
The Chicks made her a back-up 2nd-baseman, according to my sister Suzanne, but Shirley didn't say that much more about the experience. She spoke of what little she did of it fondly, Suze told me, but this weird newspaper article provided the only "color" I could really find. /35
The story, presumably from the Burlington Hawk Eye, evinces the utter garbage priorities of gallumphing patriarchal dullard '50s journalism. A local teacher, as a KID, went to Chicago to PLAY FUCKING PRO BALL but the lede is her telling girls "Don't do it." F you, Bob Wilson. /36
Some funny bits: Poor Shirley broke her glasses the day before her first start, but she still managed to log a .295 batting average for the season; faced a "queenly blonde" with a tough fastball; & estimated the majority of the fans were old bald-headed dudes hahaha /37
But there's some cryptic language here & Bob Wilson, gallumphing sports reporter, lets it dangle with, I assume, zero follow-up. Which is shit reporting because this is the crux that INFORMS his stupid lede: "It just wasn't healthy, morally or physically, to make it career." /38
I mean, ok, they lived in hotels & didn't get home till late & didn't socialize much outside the job but none of this tracks to gross immorality. Were the ladies boozing it up into the night? Did they pick up Cubs or bald fanboys, or each other, & just ROCK those hotel rooms? /39
I'm not saying the Burlington Hawk Eye & Bob Wilson are expected, circa 1957, to dish sordid details, but the quick here is, we DON'T KNOW what really soured Shirley to this amazing, unique thing SHE did. Shit reporting, duh, but it also makes that question linger for us. /40
Speaking of, I misreported earlier in the thread when I said this was the summer before her senior year. She'd already graduated when she played for the Chicks & that fall matriculated at Carthage College in Carthage, IL., not far from Burlington (now in Kenosha, WI). /41
Reminder, she did this all in a pre-Title IX dark age where institutions didn't give Shit One about women's athletics, as reflected in some of the smarmy-ass sports reporting you've seen herein. Here's a Hawk Eye article about Shirley doing sports REPORTING at Carthage. /42
"Who says girls can't write sports?" Haha for starters, the condescending ass-slapping dipshit premise you're working from, Lloyd Maffitt. Hildy Johnson should strut right into the Hawk Eye newsroom and kick you in the sack. /43
And yes, I know this was all "of the time," but this is sort of the undercurrent theme of a story about people breaking barriers: "the time" was stupid and this makes the people "of it" also stupid. /44
This leg of her journey saw her fade back into that patriarchal blur in some ways. Remember how Burlington schools didn't have women's sport? Yeah, neither did small Midwestern colleges, apparently. Senior year, the Carthage Women's Athletic Association made her president. /45
But the WAA just coordinated intramural sports for the coeds, which rated a 2-page spread in the '55 yearbook. It doled out 6 pages each to football & men's hoop, 2 to boxing, 1 each to tennis, baseball, golf & track, all peopled nigh-exclusively by very very white young men. /46
But that's not the whole story, is it? I'm focusing on the sports stuff particularly here because that's where that certain skillset that had made her OUTSTANDING faded back into the shitty 1950s white-people wallpaper. But Shirley, all this time, was also bright as a whip. /47
In summer '52, she took a proper SHIP to Europe, representing Carthage (a Lutheran-founded school, about which more in a bit) at the Hanover Youth Convention. Her passport records a veritable Odyssey: Le Havre, Hoek, Antwerp, Utrecht, Stockholm, Helsinki, Geneva, Rotterdam. /48
In 1953 she did some kind of monster road-trip with three buds in a shiny convertible, roughly following old Route 66. They dipped their toes in the Pacific in LA on the way to Stanford University & something called the AFCW Convention (no clue; researched it & found bupkis). /49
Shirley later did a semester in Mexico City. She DROVE there and back to Illinois. She scored mostly As and Bs throughout college. She was a bit of a hot-shit protofeminist, right?

Except, well, remember that thing I mentioned above about people being "of the time"... /50
So I won't suggest the exhibits I'll post next answer my questions as to what turned Shirley off to her brief professional softball career. I won't ever know that answer for certain. I will just posit that they MAY point in a certain direction. /51
We know she lived to please her dad, a rugged, stoic pillar of the community. She scored good grades in high school and, on top of non-school sports, participated in every extracurricular imaginable: band, chorus, even something (RADically) called Hypatia Literary Society. /52
Now in college she won an award for a poem she wrote, which led to its publication in the mimeographed college newsletter called (ugh) The Papoose, I guess because it was an offshoot of the college newspaper (ugh) The Indian. Casual racism aside, the poem hints at her...lens? /53
Clumsy in places but also sort of adorable, it offers a cautionary tale warding students off the insidious web of - and you can tell me if I'm misinterpreting - having fun. In a college-y young-person kind of way. In essence, it cheerfully tabs Susie as a frivolous whore. /54
Shirley is kind of a try-hard. Which we already SORT OF knew, but this lens focuses it a bit. Recalling that Lutheran shindig that took her to Europe - big deal, kids did church stuff back then, right? - well, maaaybe her poem is the tip of a more stolid hegemonic thing. /55
This, from the editor of (ugh) The Papoose, greeted students on its front page. This smacks of a bit more than just rah-rah school spirit. It attempts imprint a certain ethos on Carthage students. Well-meant and "uplifting" as it tries to be [deep breath] Jesus Christ. /56
Under the header "Are You What We Pretend to Be" - obliviously and fucking WEIRDLY anticipating Vonnegut's Mother Night a decade before its publication - Harry Robertson writes, "Carthage is a Christian college. A college comprised of Christ-like people..." /57
"In order for a group of people to have a common virtue, each of the members of the group must have that virtue. Are you a real Christian?" I mean, dumb tautology aside, this reads like it's a fucking Nazi factory, like Liberty University or some evangelical megachurch cult. /58
Carthageness derives from "the idea that this is a friendly college, that here no one is a stranger...What have YOU done to verify this reputation of friendliness? Are you aware of it? If so, have you tried to make others conscious of it?"

This is THE FUCKING STEPFORD WIVES. /59
And, look, yeah, I know I'm seeing it through a contemporary lens and can't possibly read the rhetoric of this gee-whiz de facto whites-only institution of higher learning per its benevolent intentions and it is "of the time," but fucking HELL.👇 /60
It also doesn't necessarily permanently encode Shirley Wagner, I get that, too. Everybody shifts and adjusts with knowledge and experience.

Well, most people do.

People who don't tend to be pretty boring and usually Republican, but that's another behavioral study. /61
But it's a little telling that, after a student-teaching stint in Beloit, Shirley went back home to Burlington. She taught middle-school gym at the Oak Hill middle school - still an athlete, sort of. At one point she gave an interview about her pro days, as we've covered. /62
She got an apartment over a gas station with her friend Corrine, also a teacher. She worked into her late 20s unmarried, an odd thing for the time, and it gnawed at her. When she finally found a "beau" she imagined a future with, he got cold feet and ended it. It crushed her. /63
Corrine told me all this years later. If younger readers don't know this, part of that "of the time" bullshit for women was, every year after school you DIDN'T get married, the more people saw something wrong with you. You were on the clock, bourgeois tongues ready to click. /64
Coming off that break-up, though, Shirley met Louis Grimm, then a teacher at another Burlington school. Shirley did an actual goddamn meet-cute thing, as Corrine tells is, putting her drinks on his tab at a local bar they both hung out at, until caught. They married in 1961. /65
Shirley grew up with specific strictures on what she could do, even if, for a bit, she burst out of them. I think she recoiled at what she found without because these things, whatever they were - fun, vice, "immorality" - fuzzed up the clear path mapped for her & most women. /66
The era's social repression is creepy and cautionary, yes - unless you're an idiot Jordan Peterson acolyte or Ben Shapiro - but this is not to judge. She bumrushed everyone's expectations, exceeded them - just there was always "of the time" shit drawing her back to that path. /67
Now remember, Wayne is ten years younger than Shirley. And this is a difference of epochs in America. Their dad didn't dote on Wayne the way he did Shirley, but she made up for that, adoring this wee gadfly, who, by the late '50s, had become a Central Casting '50s teenager. /68
Harry Wagner, by most accounts, fairly conspicuously denied both Gary & Wayne apple-of-eye-ness. Neither followed Shirley into athletics. Both slouched toward more cerebral/scientific stuff. Not to suggest anything malign, just standard stolid Midwestern Germanic idyll. /69
Gary had done summer work with the National Park Service in Wyoming back in the early '50s and recommended Wayne, upon graduating high school, give it a shot. Wayne came back to do a year at NE Missouri State in Kirksville but bridled at the conservative and close confines. /70
Enamored with Wyoming, he transferred to the state U in Laramie, but other things conspired to expand his horizons further: the Kennedy administration and the lofty ideals it sent wafting amongst "the youth" (all the while prosecuting criminal wars, but more on that later). /71
Graduating the U of Wyoming, Wayne joined up with the Peace Corps in 1963. Not on a lark or as some kind of pre-career stopgap. "He felt like he was working for Kennedy," his wife Joyce told me. "They thought they were going to change the world. And I think they did." /72
He did an 8-month training stint in Puerto Rico, where he learned Spanish and an absolute ton of basic survival stuff, basic engineering, preserving and sanitizing food. Then, weirdly enough, the Corps sent him to the Altiplano in Bolivia, where everyone spoke Aymara. /73
The Corps tasked his crew with digging wells for fresh water - and the teaching thereof, obviously - but it's not a leap to suggest a journey like this opens one's eyes, makes them RECEPTIVE, to an expanded empathy with people and problems unfathomable to you previously. /74
This, after all, goes well beyond plunking down in beach town and basking and gawping at alien culture for a week. Bolivia existed before he got there and everyone lived gaily, or sadly, or fitfully, oblivious to the sunny delusions of yayhoos from Main Street USA. /75
Immersion and problem solving in another culture requires a deeper dive than Americans, being the center of the universe, usually commit to. Bolivia had undertaken a revolution in 1952. It had given the vote to its majority indigenous population only within the last decade. /76
That included a land reform program, which Wayne learned all about because his crew, based high up near Lake Titicaca, actually quartered in a hacienda the government had appropriated from a criollo oligarch.

These things have stories. Nothing exists in a vacuum. /77
That may seem small, or obvious, or intuitive, but it's not. Empathy is innate - it is how our brains learn to LEARN - but it can be stunted by a culture that catalyzes narcissism. It needs to be put to use, in field experience, to keep firing and expanding our neural net. /78
Which is to say, yeah, Wayne experienced cool things. In the nigh-hypoxic 12,000-13,000-feet altitude of the Altiplano, he skied and rode his bike into town, sat up all night at a friend's house listening to ham radio, just to be up to get warm bread when the bakery opened. /79
But even for all those simple wonders and new friends and natural majesty around him, he went there to help make a better world. It's hard to think he didn't understand the portents when, in 1964, a military coup effectively ended the revolution and Bolivian democracy. /80
It's tough to imagine witnessing that conflict, which put Americans in real danger, and not seeing other abominable, democracy-smashing shit happening in the hemisphere in those years - Honduras, Brazil, Haiti - differently than how you would reading about it in Burlington. /81
I can't tell you how a 22-year-old kid with Kennedy ideals in his eyes processes all that. It's one of those things, like with my mom, you should have asked when you could but didn't know to. /82
Wayne came home "different," as the trope goes. He let his hair grow, a bit. He continued his stint with the Peace Corps, working out of Chicago, then Des Moines, traveling to Midwestern campuses, two and three a week, recruiting bright-eyed bushy-tailed kids. /83
Shirley, when she saw him, noticed that the bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed had gone out of Wayne. She'd moved to Stanwood at this point with Lou and three young children. Lou had gotten job as a principal at a community school there.

Small towns are a long way from the world. /84
And, for his part, Wayne didn't find so many bright-eyed kids on campuses. Vietnam escalated. In 1965, the Pentagon had increased the number of call-ups for the draft from 3,000 a month to 33,000. He now interacted weekly with kids increasingly radicalized and pissed off. /85
After the Peace Corps, he set up in Des Moines for a bit, living in House, a communal home populated by young professionals, including doctors and lawyers. He put his Spanish to use working with a migrant rights group. He let his hair grow in earnest. Then his number came up. /86
In spite of his Peace Corps service, Johnson wanted him in uniform and probably in Vietnam. Wayne, who had answered Kennedy's call to do good works for poor people in a far off land, was not fucking having it, because he considered Vietnam the opposite of that. /87
One of the House lawyers delayed his conscription with paperwork - a lot of it. He befriended local Quakers (with their long anti-war history). He drifted in with some Rastafarians, bounced between residences, camped, became a genuine denizen of the "counter-culture." /88
Yes, he smoked weed. He earned Harry Wagner's cold ire, by some accounts, for ducking the draft and long hair. At one point, a buttoned-down "patriotic" cousin named Jim Hodges - I met him years later; he was a dick - brought a family dinner to a standstill ranting at Wayne. /89
Wayne quietly rose from his chair and walked out. Yes, he was abstracted and maybe somewhat daft and definitely a hippie, but my reading, so many years later, is that he chose to live as what I'll call a deliberative itinerant. /90
His mind ever a sponge, he learned leatherworking and silversmithing and made some money selling what he made. He wound up back in Burlington, where he took a low-level job with the parks department. Some winters he'd go to Mexico to continue his immersive self-education. /91
I haven't said much about Gary, brainiac middle child of the Wagner clan, which is not to diminish him, as he loomed large in Shirley and Wayne's lives. He'd returned to Burlington, assumed the reins the family business, sort of Aron to Wayne's Cal, but less prim and judgy. /92
Oh, remember Wayne's childhood pretzel bud? That's Judith. She later married Gary and became a family therapist. They bought a hilly, wooded plot outside town and built a house there. Wayne helped plant trees and put in ponds engineered to affect an organic runoff system. /93
On a ridge across the lower pond, Gary, Wayne and his hippie crew built a geodesic dome. Wayne lived there for a while. He gave away his stereo and an old Nash Rambler and most everything else he owned. He kept his bike. That's how he went to and from work every day in town. /94
So Wayne WORKED. This isn't a guy sliding by. But full decades before any of us talked about reducing our "carbon footprint," he lived it. And he earned just enough to not pay an income tax, a deliberate choice on his part as he had no intention of funding that fucking war. /95
He'd long passed his draft-eligible status by now. The frigid air between Harry and Wayne warmed as the war ended. But Wayne still prided himself on being able to pack up everything he considered of material value in the small backpack he wore when he rode to work each day. /96
In 1975, he ran into Joyce Kampmeier, someone he'd met briefly years back. Joyce now attended Burlington Community College and paid her tuition driving a cab nights. They'd gone to a bar with some mutual friends - who ditched out - they danced, Wayne walked her home. /97
At the end of the night, he took out a small notebook. He wrote out directions. He said he'd like to see her again but was taking a trip back to Mexico. But maybe she could come meet him there. These are the directions as she roughly remembered them and recounted them to me. /98
A 20-year-old woman who'd never left the US and only knew how to count to ten in Spanish followed those directions. On her 21st birthday, July 23, 1975, she saw the church on top of a pyramid, then she soon arrived at the one-room adobe house Wayne paid $8 a month to rent. /99
People do some goddamn amazing things, man. /100
Wayne and Joyce traveled around Mexico. They caught a ride with some other Americans back to the border. He played his harmonica to flag down rides as they hitchhiked back to Burlington. They married that November in a distinctly counter-cultural ceremony at the YMCA lodge. /101
They welcomed a son, Justin, in 1977. Wayne went back to school in Des Moines and earned a masters in education at Drake. He taught high school for many years there, in Baggs, WY, in Greeley, CO, ever the enthused "eccentric" teacher who taught with props and food and music. /102
As his beard went white, he became Santa, all over the country. He and Joyce made a business of it. In off-seasons, along their many trips to Mexico, they finagled a hookup with a hammock maker in Merida. They became roadside entrepreneurs, the Ft. Collins hammock couple. /103
And all along the way, he did this: music and clean air and mountains and revels. He learned to play the concertina in his sixties and became a fixture at Avogadro's in Ft. Collins. He skied and biked and smoked weed. He kept a stash of booze atop North Diamond Peak. /104
When I was 13, Wayne helped me see a side to the world I'd never otherwise see. He'd known and followed that yen and it EQUIPPED him to do so. Prior to that, my kid's eyes saw him as the weird guy in the family. I mean, he was still weird, but I GOT that weird wasn't BAD. /105
Still young, it took me a while to process that hard data and line it up with a narrative. A Republican father's son, I made it through high school testing well on clunky, rote blocks of history that compose the abstract Forms of conservative thought gaily free of the world. /106
One time, looking back at photos of hair and awful clothes and what LOOKED like a decade of drug-addled hissy fit, I got mad at "the '60s" and told my mom as much. Shirley, still religious, still bourgeois-judgy, but not quite a dutiful Republican housewife, surprised me: /107
"There were a lot of things wrong in the country," she said (or something similar, it's been a while). "And a lot of people had it pretty bad, and some people risked a lot of themselves to make things better. And they got better because they did." /108
It's the most political thing I ever heard her say. And, of course, I had no remote notion of how close the wrong things had come to her and to the people she loved.

Small towns are a long way from the world, but they're also, sometimes, not. /109
Wayne died on March 3.

When this happens, of course, we look through these fragments they've left us and try to line them up into some kind of coherent narrative and look for "meaning" or whatever. Because death scares the shit out of us. /110
And because mourning is as much a processing of our own fear as it is being sad someone left us, and because we are bound to our own subjectivity, some of the "meaning" we find tends to be a projection. I'm no different in this regard from anyone else. /111
This story focused particularly on those fragments where Wayne and Shirley veered from the status quo, something I obviously identify with. They landed in quite different places, in terms of optics or lifestyle, but each was always far more than just the thing people saw. /112
And this is not to canonize either. I called this a "perception exercise" earlier. The point, I think, was to smash the Platonic Forms of them I knew and find the human beings I didn't. Perfect people don't exist, and stories about perfect people would be boring as shit. /113
Odysseus charting a course home to Ithaca and sailing straight there with perfect winds because he is virtuous so the gods love him and everything goes well and he is welcomed lovingly by Penelope - that's not a story. It's fucking small talk. /114
If Odysseus recounted that epic journey to you at the bar, you'd get up & say, "Thanks, Odysseus, but I just remembered I have something very important to do on that bar stool down there." /115
But I keep thinking about that (ugh) Papoose manifesto.

There is a real movement in America now - and Europe and Australia - made up of people basically echoing the knob who wrote it, saying this unconsionable "of the time" garbage, in fact, bespoke some kind of utopia. /116
They insist you are born a certain thing, to a certain role, on a path prescribed by a "natural order"; smile, fulfill your purpose, above all things CONFORM and thus, AND ONLY thus, be virtuous.

Chart a course to Ithaca, never diverge from it, this makes a PROPER life. /117
Motherfucker, do you think people control the WIND?

/118
The worst people I have met in this life are ones who planted a flag in some abstract orthodoxy when young and said, "This is all I am and all I need to know and all who do not see exactly as I do are apostate." Like Odysseus at the mast. Dumbass, the ship is still moving. /119
And, so it's clear, I can say with some certainty they're bad people because I was one of them. I was an absolute shit human. Until the winds blew me off course. And I at least started trying not to be. /120
The notion of a straight sunny trip home to Ithaca is cloistered hubris anyway. People are made and remade and remade again in gales and storms and being washed up on alien shores and doing battles with monsters, or in just turning the wrong corner or reading the right book. /121
To understand you are not in control is to realize, shit, you are not the star of this movie, then you start recognizing other lenses matter. Humility begets empathy. Empathy is the starting point of how we learn. To learn is to become. Again. 👇/122
I wrote a letter to Wayne as he lay in ICU in Fort Collins. My cousin Laura, one of Gary's daughters, read it to him. This is part of it. He couldn't speak much, but she later relayed, when she read this part, he smiled and said, "Yes." /123
If there is any point to this story, it is that anyone who claims to have a users' manual for this kaleidoscope of wonder and garbage is selling bullshit. And anyone herding you to back to your preordained path is recruiting for a cult, and, sweet Christ, cults are boring. /124
I don't know if that's sufficient to rate all these words. Shirley Grimm and Wayne Wagner weren't famous or important by most measures, just products and victims of the tides of history like anyone else. But I figured I'd tell their story, just in case nobody else did.

/fin
AV postscript: I wrote this song after my friend John died in 2007. It is called "Kickass Wake." It feels kind of appropriate right now, even though my mom may have disagreed on this point.
Postscript 2: RE Entry 13, disclaimer for those members of my family who may at some point read this & are not, in fact, dumb; this is kind of what EVERY American tourist does in a foreign country. I'm not singling us out as uniquely dumb, nor I am in any way suggesting I wasn't.
Postscript 3: RE Entry 49, two separate sources are telling me the bygone AFCW was the Athletic Federation of College Women. Founded in 1917, looks like (mostly?) intramural-focused forerunner of women's intercollegiate sports organizing bodies that later folded into the NCAA.
Postscript 4: My amazing ex Steph reminded me she still has this utterly breathtaking full-band version of Billy Bragg's "Greetings to the New Brunette" on rotation in Shirley's honor & there's no better way to thank you for reading this long yarn. Thanks.
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