Madison in My Blood

Tonight in the Madison Concourse Hotel,
I know this place did not replace the Strand Theater,
but a few steps from here,
on the Square, something, a parking structure,
an office building, something newer,
sits on the spot
where the Strand once stood.
I have not yet been replaced.
I’m still standing,
back here in Madison

I am of that particular old Strand Theater,
of Star Wars and Rocky there,
of the Orpheum, there Grease and The China Syndrome,
of West Towne Theater and Saturday Night Fever,
of sitting through three, three-hour showings
of The Deer Hunter
at the University Theaters,
before theaters started throwing moviegoers out the door
after each show.

I am of the Portabella Restaurant and Rocky Rococo Pan Style Pizza,
the 602 Club, Church Key, Flamingo Bar,
and the very Nitty Gritty.
I am of the Stock Pavilion, Eugene McCarthy, Bonnie Raitt, and Muddy Waters there,
the Veteran’s Coliseum, Steve Martin, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Gordon Lightfoot there.

I am of the Galaxy of Sound Record Stores,
first at Hilldale Shopping Center,
which I would never recognize anymore,
then as manager at West Towne Mall.

I am of sidewalk surfing anywhere in town,
running as fast as I could
down an icy sidewalk, then flying,
pushing myself to slide as far as possible,
not falling once, thank God,
my balance
so much better in, alas, my salad days.

I am of my first, and my last, snowball battle,
fought dodging among parked cars on North Francis,
my first and last snow angel in Vilas Park.

I am of the shaking sidewalks of an amped up town
when they scream and stamp
for their beloved Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium,
and this much quaking
even before the “Jump Around.”

I am of Ann Emery on Langdon Street,
totally, blissfully soundproof,
then of crappy, noisy apartments on South Park by the Beltline,
and on University Avenue across from the Wooden Bottle bar,
above some fitness center, next to some bagel bakery,
I can smell both of them still.

I am of State Street bonfires on Halloween night,
toga parties with tankers full of vodka and orange juice,
and the Statue of Liberty liberated,
magically disapparated,
from New York Harbor to Lake Mendota.
Pretty heavy.

I am of the University of Wisconsin Department of English,
Helen C. White Hall, Memorial Library too many nights around the clock,
thanks in part to wrangling with ancient card catalogs,
oh computers, your lightning searches,
where were you when I needed you?

I am also of the collective memory
of the Commerce Building sit-in
and, in memoriam,
the tragedy at Sterling Hall.

I am of Bascom Hall and – what Badger is not? – of Honest Abe,
of the 89-and-a-half degree angle walk up Bascom Hill
in a mid-February blizzard blown out of hell,
and of leisurely walks, sometimes jogs,
along the path to Picnic Point.

I am of green lake flies
and of the wafting scent of Oscar Meyer
in 105 degree heat
with 99 percent humidity.
I am of Babcock Hall,
our summer ice cream heaven,
licking dripping cones, a beating sun,
watching a family of guinea pigs
running through the grass in sweeping single file,
my worry about how they would
make it through winter.

But most of all, I am of the Memorial Union,
partly of the Great Hall,
its all natural wood floor, stunning, gone now,
that I used to mop and then wax every Sunday morning,
and I am partly of friends on Friday nights,
drinking $2.75 cent pitchers of Old Style beer,
out of real glass mugs,
sitting on the Terrace,
in sunburst chairs,
$1.00 of that cost
being the deposit on real glass pitchers
that plenty of people took home,
because they were worth way more than a dollar.

I am in largest part, however, of Der Rathskeller,
the ground-floor heart
of Memorial Union,
where my future father –

born and raised in Hawai`i on the island of Kaua`i,
World War II returned veteran,
European Theater,
81st Airborne Division,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
used to come after classes to drink
with his ex-Army buddies,
whole trays of just barely beer, so-called “Near Beer,”
looking to kill the battles and the camps –

came in one afternoon,
saw my future mother, a West Side Chicago native,
sitting with her sorority sisters,
went over to the table and told her to “Stand up,
and if you’re not taller than I am, I’ll take you to a movie,”
and she stood up,
and she was taller by nearly an inch,
but they went to a movie anyway,
married and settled in Honolulu,
where five years later,
they had me.

I am of Madison, Wisconsin, I am of Der Rathskeller.
They are in my DNA.

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