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The Mississippi Corpse - CyberCorpse 12

From: "mike standaert" <mstandaert@hotmail.com>

I’ve thought of a few ideas for your project and am passing them along. I grew up along the river in Rock Island, Illinois which I know you are aware of because I heard you speak at Augustana College a number of years ago, mid to early 90s (which I thought you got a rather dumb crowd at the time). Anyway, I am back here now staying with my parents after nearly two years in Europe, the first eight months of this year as a freelance journo in Brussels (www.euro-correspondent.com), having run out of money and forced to return home with tail between ass cheeks. It’s funny writing this, because about two weeks ago while in a dire mood I drank a bottle of Chianti chased with much cheap vodka and made my way down to the River where I sat and contemplated taking the last dive into the murky cold. Luckily I was still thirsty and a coward and eschew pain at most costs, so found a new bar and became more inebriated and somehow ended up on the Iowa side of the river where I rammed my mom’s car into short wooden posts in a park (totaled!), was arrested and detained, bailed out and days later put into a mental clinic where I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and am now taking some new fangled anti-depressant drug called Lexapro (Grand Showing August 15!) which is supposed to even me out and whack the black dogs back to their pens quickly and with little side effect. So, as you see, this River was nearly my last resting place, and I hold it near and dear. I’ve since wondered how far my body would have gotten since I was downriver from Locked and Damned No. 15. The next is about thirty miles down, at Muscatine, Iowa. But enough of my sad tale; I would like to volunteer my services as it doesn’t look like I will be going anywhere anytime soon and may possibly be locked in a Davenport jailhouse as this arrest was my third drunk driving arrest in Iowa over the last ten years and thus a felony. I hear ‘Infamous’ comes from ‘felony’ so am thinking of changing my nickname, which was appropriately Big House, to The Infamous Casa Grande. My only remaining hope is that I am locked up in solitary confinement with Winona Ryder. (Maybe we could design a t-shirt ‘Fuck Winona – FREE STANDAERT!’) But before I don the orange jumpsuit so deftly evaded by the more wealthy and criminal of this great nation, I’d like to give you a few ideas from my Mississippi Valley home. Some are personal reflections, some historical.

Did you know:

In the movie The Blues Brothers "Jake and Elwood were originally from Rock Island, Illinois. - From Rock Island, Illinois "...t h e "Bluuuuuzzzze Brothers”, the emcee says before their main gig in the movie.

Also in a Saturday Night Live vein, the Dan Ackroyd character ‘Fred Garvin male prostitute’ always served the greater Quad-City Area, Rock Island, Davenport, Bettendorf, and Moline. There are a few interesting brothels around as well as a number of strip clubs, though the mighty Tiger’s Den in downtown Rock Island is sadly no more. I think there are craft shops and European espresso cafès there now. Que horrible.

There are three or four gambling riverboats in town, and not one run by American Indians.

Speaking of American Indians, one of my long time heroes, Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk and Fox tribes had his main settlement here in Rock Island. Saukenuk (sic). I think he was a cousin of the passionate Chief Pontiac from the Michigan area. Well, Black Hawk (besides having his face planted on Chicago Black Hawk hockey players jerseys) made several valiant stands against the colonial push before he and his warriors were cornered, somewhere up by LaCrosse, Wisconsin I believe. I can’t remember, but I think he was killed in a fire while in stockade on a Rez in Oklahoma or murdered. Maybe you could have a re-enactment for your documentary.

On the island in the middle of the river, formerly Fort Armstrong, where the Rock Island Arsenal is now (I found out a scary detail while young: the Arsenal, which made a lot of tank turrets and howitzer barrels, was on the top ten list to be nuked by the Ruskies, not a very anxiety free detail for a young lad), was an infamous (that word again!) Civil War prison camp, on par with the Confederate Andersonville, though we never hear much about the thousands who died here of smallpox and various other pathogens, not to mention the human diseases of hate, cruelty and neglect. It seems we often forget the suffering of those who lose wars.

Cary Grant died in a hotel in Davenport, Iowa. Ronald Reagan got his radio start at WOC here. Jazz coronet virtuoso Bix Biederbeke (good Flemish name like my own) was from Davenport, and crashed his car drunkenly toward the end of his life in Davenport. (I jokingly told a Dutch friend who is a jazz pianist that I had a ‘Bix Moment’ recently in regards to the drunken accident and suicidal passions). There is also a 10k run named after the unhealthy gin swigging Bix that draws about 20,000 runners a year, mostly won by fleet footed Kenyans and Ugandans. I would venture that 90% of the runners have no idea who Bix is. John Deere started his company here, drastically accelerating the farming technology of the country and world. John Looney, a gangster Al Capone feared, was King of Rock Island back in the 20’s and the movie Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks, was about him. The young kid, Chad Pregracke, who is cleaning up the Mississippi River, is from East Moline. I’ve met him a few times. I’d actually pitched the story idea to national magazines a number of years ago and they balked. I came to find later that most of them did stories on Chad after this. Balls.

When I was about ten years old, after reading all the Twain stories of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, I tried to build a raft to float down the Mighty Miss. It sank, upon launch, and fortunately I was still on the shore.

I’ve had sex in a car next to the river, taken acid and mushrooms next to the river (my god! The River is a great oily black cobra coiling beneath the breasty bluffs of Iowa and Illinois), had beery bonfires with multitudes of friends next to the river, enjoyed baseball games and Blues Fests next to the river and of course fished the river and have had old black men try to sell me nasty fat smelly carp (‘Dude, I ain’t Polish and it ain’t Christmas’) by the river. Down on River Drive in Moline, some friends and I would drive and park and smoke pot by the river at a place we affectionately named, Stony Point.

I’d like to write a very long poem about the River, though have not had the energy. This contemplation today is bringing it on a bit.

Supposedly there are monster catfish lurking below Locked and Damned No. 15 the size of Volkswagen Beatles and weighing hundreds of pounds. Divers have reportedly seen gaping mouths and fins in the sludgy depths. No one has caught one as far as I know. Some say they are big because of the grain spilled from barges ends up being pulled through the roller dam into their waiting mouths.

That’s about all I can wring from my brain at the moment, Andrei. If you need any assistance, let me know. I would also be grateful for a plane ticket to Thailand where I can go on the lam and fish for my dinner with a lovely young thing to share my beachside shack with. But then that might not be feasible. I hear Spitzer is gone, so if you need any help with The Corpse or are taking any wayward Mississippi River boys into the writing program down there, I’d be more than happy to join the cause. I’m only 28, have written a lot of journalism, two novels, a number of poems and short stories, been a foreign correspondent, have an MA from Cardiff University in Wales, studied at the U of Iowa for undergrad, was an apple picker with Mexican migrant workers in Southern Illinois (I recall a very good piece of yours on NPR a number of years ago about ‘Little Egypt’ and the various strip clubs in the area), pizza delivery driver, 'Live from Prairie Lights' radio engineer in Iowa City, and a multitude of other masks, misdeeds, and preoccupations. I also might have a couple more foreign desk things to send your way soon, ‘Dirty Slappers and Lager Louts: Skipping Through the Vomit Slick Streets of Cardiff’; ‘In Another Country: Trapped in Disneyverse’ (about my brief trip to Orlando after a year and a half in Europe, not sure if this qualifies as ‘foreign’ but Disneyverse is about as foreign and surreal as you can get); ‘Into the Heart of Sweetness: Taking a Bite Out of the Candy-Coated, Cream-Filled, Perfumed Turd.’ These have not been written yet, but I do have some time on my hands. When is the new issue out?

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