Ken Smith

Michiana Chronicler

Ken Smith writes about algebra, bikes, con artists, donuts, exercise, failure to exercise, grandparents, harmonica, introverts, jury duty, kings of long ago, Lipitor, meteors, night fishing, Olympic athletes, peace and quiet, rattlesnakes, silly sex education, Twitter, unpaid debts to our fellow human beings, the velocity of an unladen swallow, World War II, extroverts, Young People of Today, and the South Bend Zoo.

Ways to Connect

My friend is rehabbing a two-story brick house in the big city, renewing that sturdy old beast and contributing something of his own to an urban neighborhood that is making its comeback. I stop by once in a while to check out the progress. Cooler than cool but almost invisible are the twenty new solar panels up on the flat roof, with their web app that graphs how much electricity each panel generates on sunny as well as shady days.

At the Climbing Wall

Apr 27, 2018
At the climbing wall.
Courtesy of the author.

Driving south in the early spring is an excellent kind of time travel. In Michiana last weekend the magnolia buds were just thinking about opening and the tulips weren’t even close. But down in Bloomington on Saturday bulbs rioted on the street corners, the spring-flowering trees reached out gaudily on almost every block, and the grass needed cutting. Walkers and saunterers were out, uh, walking and sauntering, stylish patrons stood in lines in front of restaurants for the open-air seating, and I put on a baseball cap so I didn’t get a sunburn up there. 

Ken Smith

In the long echoing hallway between the O’Hare parking ramp and the airport terminal, a busking violinist’s sweet melody amplified my hopeful mood, so I dropped a little bigger bill than usual into his instrument case, for the karma. Upstairs, our guest writer and I shook hands, two strangers squarely on a first-name basis, James and Ken. It slowly dawned on me that the two of us were launching into an old-fashioned American road trip, just like in the movies. Only we didn’t rob any banks.

 

We Built This

Jan 19, 2018
James Rebanks

Long ago, when we’d drive around town, my grandfather would sometimes point to a particular highway bridge and say, “I built that.” And he wasn’t kidding. He and his crew of carpenters built the wooden forms that molded the poured concrete into sturdy bridge pillars. When I drive over that bridge today, I think of his proud words, “I built that.”

Ninety-nine days out of a hundred I’m too busy to notice, but if I tune out the modern static and take a long walk through town, I catch glimpses of our history and I hear voices. I start thinking that our past is just barely past.

On the way

Sep 22, 2017

We’ve got a nature-oriented guest coming to town who I suspect has never seen a bald eagle. I’m pretty sure he’d really enjoy the sight, so I’m on a quest to learn how to see this beautiful white-headed, wide-winged bird in the wild right here in northern Indiana, or at least to increase our chances.

It’s curious, isn’t it, to remember a moment of silence in a college classroom nearly forty years later? To recall what took place during that silence, something of the words that were spoken next, and the young man who spoke them. He was an international student studying for a bachelor’s degree here in the Midwest, and he remains a ghostly presence in my mind. When his homeland is in the news, as it has been in many sad, even brutal circumstances over the years, I remember him.

Ken Smith

It was likely the harshest six-word movie review I will ever hear, and it came from the slender, grandfatherly gentleman who walked out of the theater ahead of me. Behind us in the dim cavern the credits were still scrolling up the front wall, but here in the westward-facing lobby the evening sun glared in our faces. His white-haired friend pushed through the doors into the summery air, saying, “That was pretty good,” but I heard a question in her voice. As he followed her out I caught his matter-of-fact, but crushing six-word reply. “She took too long to die.”

It’s curious, isn’t it, to remember a moment of silence in a college classroom nearly forty years later? To recall what took place during that silence, something of the words that were spoken next, and the young man who spoke them. He was an international student studying for a bachelor’s degree here in the Midwest, and he remains a ghostly presence in my mind. When his homeland is in the news, as it has been in many sad, even brutal circumstances over the years, I remember him.

Why Poets Rhyme

Feb 17, 2017
Ken Smith

My hobby last year was writing little six-line poems. That was a surprise. Even more surprising was that I wrote ninety of them. They each have a rhyming pattern modeled after a very moving poem by W. H. Auden called “Epitaph on a Tyrant.” Auden wrote it in the 1930s about Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini. He was trying to figure out how a tyrant’s brain works. His poem goes like this: Epitaph on a Tyrant. Perfection of a kind was what he was after, and the poetry he invented was easy to understand.

Wrestling with Twitter

Dec 23, 2016

Now here is a question that would have been absolutely meaningless eighteen months ago. Should I read Donald Trump’s tweets or not? Wild as they are, do his little messages matter? One web-savvy friend of mine says, No, don’t waste time on his tweets, he’s a troll and the tweets are a distraction. Others say we have to monitor to these brash and pithy Twitter pronouncements. Read or not read? How to decide? I find my answer in some cherished memories of professional wrestling.

Early Voting

Oct 28, 2016

In the old days it was a real voting booth, not the flimsy plastic contraption on stilts we use now. You’d step up to a voting machine and pull the big mechanical handle, and a heavy curtain would close around you. You were inside one of the special places of democracy now, like the Lincoln Memorial or the observation seats above the chamber of the House of Representatives or a big, warming crowd of noisy Hoosiers protesting together outside the Statehouse on a brisk late-winter’s day or your own kitchen table late at night when you are writing a letter to your senator.

"One Small Good Thing"

Sep 2, 2016

Twenty-two years ago, when we were visiting the area so we could find a place to live, I said to the realtor, “If possible, I'd like to be able to walk to work.” For two days she showed us sturdy, practical houses near my new job, and one of them was just what we needed to launch our family here. Our kids have grown up in that house, we’ve kept it painted blue-gray and planted flowering bushes and perennials out front and tried to be good neighbors. And in fifteen minutes I can walk to work. I get some exercise, we don’t need a second car, we save some money there. All to the good.

Downtown Dancing and Fireworks

It was just the two of us this time, more or less empty-nesters, with beach chairs slung over our shoulders walking toward downtown, heading for the fireworks. We can see them in miniature from our front yard, but once in a while we go see them up close, the full sound and fury. In Howard Park, people were setting out blankets and lawn chairs on the grassy slope down to the river, but we craved the maximum experience, as close as we could get.

According to some crazy expert at the London Philharmonic, the graduation march, otherwise known as Pomp and Circumstance, is one of the fifty greatest pieces of classical music. Seems to me it’s one of humanity’s fifty greatest sleep-aids. But you be the judge: (Music.) Please, turn that thing off! Thank you. See what I mean? Graduation is supposed to be a happy occasion. People have accomplished something, we’re trying to have a celebration here. Come on!

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