From the backhoed trenches

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Begin Again...

I've thought a lot about these 100+ odd posts and wonder why I've spent so many hours at it. It most definitely has stopped me from dedicating time to other work and yet, a part of me has actually enjoyed it. After all, we are all so damn isolated behind screens and in cubicles most of the day that this starts to feel a little social. But then I began to think about how few of us, if any, actually view life in the same way...so a blurb or two with a catchy phrase only rests briefly as a gauge, a limbo pole set at a different vantage point, but nothing more than that. I'm going to pull this thing off the net like boiled skin. Time to begin a new project...

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

These Toilsome Times and Custer's Last Stand

Wasted my day at an Open House. A condo. Six hundred and sixty nine square feet of black leather and boredom. Not a book in sight...just a lone IKEA pine shelf full of manuals and software. The place as memorable as a used Q-Tip. At least the seller left me what he must have considered mood music...Prince. I have to wonder what he must have thought popping Purple Rain into the player before scurrying off to work. I took him for a Michael Buble fan...and when he wants cutting edge he puts on Acoustic Alchemy or Luther Vandross. But, hey, I love surprises! Besides, I, too, was feeling a slight nausea on what best accompanies leather and cat hair balls the size of cotton candy. Not to mention dander drifts that could reroute an arctic traveler...or the fact that dried crap has somehow missed the confines of the litter shitter and cemented to the carpet. In hindsight, Prince might be a perfect choice although I felt a tad overdressed greeting people at the door to "Jack U Off." Nothing to worry about though...the majority of St. John knits and blue blazered brokers didn't seem to notice a thing.

The place has been sold twice and both times the sale has flipped due to financing and now it's back on the market once again. A realtor called me yesterday to tell me he was bringing in an offer but he never showed. What's up with that? Today the potential buyers seem to be little hipster MicroSofties who got into the company after all the splits but still have dreams of retirement like their forty-something siblings. There is a look to these guys--boyishly clean cut, wire-rims, thin and unathletic, quick of speech. They seem to always be checking their blackberries, calculating something. Another give away...the neighbors know them. Obviously more Bill Gates wannabes. Each parking stall holds a new leased BMW and on every terrace --an elaborate Weber blow torch barbecue. One over-achiever neighbor tells me, "I've currently locked into a 5 year arm based on my life goals and work expectancy. I plan to be married and settled by the time my mortgage payment adjusts." Obviously a programmer. I know I sound like an enlightened piece of shit but sometimes things are too hard to swallow.

Today the clouds are fighting each other...and then small breaks of sun appear out of nowhere. It brings me to a somewhat sad reflective state. When I get like this I start pulling out old writing and trying to resusitate it. I've started a story that I might try to add to...or not, SHIT, it's wild when you vomit material on a page and then cut it lose and begin again. The story of my life. But I guess what I try to do is unleash imagination. Take a proposterous situation and open up possibilities. Anyway, this piece is a convulsing combination of truth and fiction with no marketable value. It needs a lot of revision but I'll give you a taste of bile at its best...

My name is Custer J.C. Callahan. I know it's a mouthful but I'm my mother's last stand. You see, we're Irish Catholic which means if it doesn't fly with the Pope it's not happening at our house. I'm the tenth child and the youngest. My brother, born eleven months prior is named Will, after the little boy in Lost in Space...and my sister Ginger, after a shipwrecked castaway. Our older siblings lucked out. They're biblical figures --Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and Mary. My parents must have been on a roll back then but lost steam somewhere between the girls.

My father is a doctor. We don't see him much. He's a soft-spoken man who is always performing surgery on some foreign kid who needs him more than we do. Lately we found out that a certain nurse needs him too but that's not a subject worth discussing unless you want mom to take a few hefty swigs of holy water.

As long as I can remember our mom has been working at home. She says her job is never done. One hundred and sixty-eight hours a week she tends to our needs. Lord knows I'm not challenging her performance record but one can't help but notice a change in hours. More often than not we find her sprawled out on the sofa, flipping TV channels and taking communion (or at least that's what she calls it though I have never heard of anyone falling down from communion except Baptists, and we aren't Baptists.)

It wasn't long after I started school that mom began dressing mannequins and leaving them on the front porch. The first was Mae. She wore a long blonde wig and had a little round crotch and breast. Mom dressed her in camouflage gear, the shirt unbuttoned to her waist so when the wind blew you could see her nips. The next thing we knew Mae had accessories --a toy MK47, a plastic grenade in her shirt pocket and a Lucky Strike behind her right ear. I thought the cigarette made her look cool until the neighbor kids smoked it in the graveyard behind our house.

I've got to be honest, the thought of one more body requiring space left me cold but I found myself growing fond of Mae and her army fatigue. Even though she was a girl and made of fiberglass there was something that appealed to my growing sense of duty. Besides, I recognized the importance of the opposite sex in battle having discovered my sister Mary's tampons make great missiles. I could launch a Tampex torpedo from the second floor landing and wipe out an entire nativity scene in the entrance hall.

Then more mannequins began to appear. They were multiplying so fast that it was hard to find a place to sit. Mom was dressing them too. Some in her fancy gowns with cocktail glasses and magic marker name tags that said, Hi my name is Tallulah, Zsa Zsa, Marilyn and Greta. There were others trapped in dad's nice suits, striking poses with adhesive labels attached to their lapel --Errol, Humphrey, Freidrich, and Winston. Then the furniture was out there. Initially it was just a couch and chair but not long after the side tables and a lamp joined them. When the weather got better mom placed herself between the dummies and carried on long conversations. The rich smoke from her cigarette would billow upward like soft, puffed pillows and ever so often her head would rear back and she would laugh like it was coming straight from her calloused toes. The oldest twins, Matthew and Mark say she's bordering looney on account of delivering so many babies in such a short piece of time. They say it's the equivalent of coming up from the bottom of the sea too fast and getting the bends. I don't rightly know what they mean but if that's the reason she's bloated and acting crazy, it works for me.

For six months mom had 'get a divorce' written on the kitchen chalkboard. It loomed at the top of the list like a large phosphorescent planet. And then one day it slid to the fifteenth position, wedged between 'get the dog neutered' and 'buy vacuum bags.' We thought that was a good sign although we still hadn't seen much of our father and frankly, all of us were getting pretty tired of ailing immigrants breaking up our home. And what made it worse was the idea that God will punish our sorry souls for wishing our dad would come home and resume his job. Our only salvation was Sunday school and bedtime when we'd purge our sinful thoughts and pray with all our might that Jesus cure every dang invalid and return them to whence they came. Good riddance! But after each prayer mom would let out a heavy sigh and say, "It's not that easy."

Next thing we knew mom has hopped a train full of frozen chicken parts. She cleaned the house and made ten little sack lunches like she thought we were Disney dwarfs and headed for the tracks. Word has it she got all the way to Missoula, Montana before they pulled her frost-bitten buns out of the boxcar and sent her back to Seattle. Trouble is we didn't know any of this until we got home from school that day. Instead of finding mom propped on the couch watching test patterns, Cora Mae Jones and her sultry singing voice was butchering sea life in our kitchen sink. She was wearing mom's apron and when she saw us coming through the back door she wiped all that odoriferous fish on the cotton and gave us a squeeze. Cora Mae was a big black woman, so big in fact it felt like you were buried alive in her skin folds. She helped clean on Tuesdays, but this was a Friday so we knew something was fishy.

"Where's mom?" We asked.

"Your mama has decided to do a little traveling," Cora Mae said, swinging a jowl in our direction.

"Traveling? When is she coming home?" We hollered.

"Well, we aren't exactly sure, but don't you worry all of your pretty little heads...I's fixing you something special to eat."

So that night we ate catfish with as much tartar sauce as we wanted and went to bed without a bath. When mom's hobo excursion was over, we met her at the door like a pack of wild hyennas running down an antelope.

"How was your trip?" "What did you see?" "Why did you leave?" "Are you going to do that again?"

But she was not much on words that evening. Her arms hung limp at her side, her lips pressed tight as a zipper as she curled into a potato bug on the sofa and closed her eyes. Cora Mae said traveling has a way of doing that to a person.

Things returned to normal for awhile although we noticed a few changes. Mom wasn't making lunches anymore and rarely changed out of her bathrobe. If she did venture from the house she dressed the way teenagers experiment with alcohol; mixing the wrong taste and proportions until eventually the effect makes you sick to look at it. She had also become quite proficient at cussing and spanking until the skin turned raw.

"If you F****** kids want your F****** dinner, you better get down here right NOW or you'll be fighting the F****** crows for it," all the while slapping at us like she was beating demons from our clothes. Things were escalating...there was no denying.

Matthew and Mark called a meeting. We gathered in their room and sat in a Montessori circle on the floor. Matthew walked around us slowly, his hand massaging his chin as if he was experiencing new growth. Although identical twins, he was born a few minutes before Mark and never ceases to remind him of the fact.

"I've thought a lot about our situation since mom took to the rails and I've come to the conclusion that we've reached a crisis stage," he said.

"That's a slight exaggeration, don't you think? I mean, come on, she hopped a train...she didn't rob a bank," Mark said. Two minutes can seem like a lifetime to a twin in second position.

Matthew glared at him. "Your opinion has as much pull as a rubber teat."

The remark created a few chuckles, except from Ginger, who has always claimed Mark as her favorite. Regardless, the comment shut him up and we turned our attention to the eldest.

"The first thing we need to do is restore order which I hope to accomplish in two phases."

At this point Mary lifts herself from the floor and raises her hand, one leg extended like a kick stand.

"Yes, Mary?"

"I want to be secretary."

"All in favor?" Matthew scans the room.

A unanimous "I" bounced off the bunk beds as Mary ran off for paper and pen. When she returned, he implemented his two step plan.

"First, we must call dad and demand he come home. Now here's where this gets a little dicey...if he does, we need heavy surveillance. No more knocking up mom."

Mary drops her pen, pushing her index fingers in her eardrums, "LaLaLaLaLa,"she chants. I was thinking about joining her until Luke pulled her fingers out and told her to be quiet or she'd lose her secretarial status.

"Now if he doesn't come home, we have to resort to Plan B. Mutiny. That's right...we've got to take control of this sinking ship. What I propose is that each of us take responsibility for the child below us. Make sure they dress right, have a lunch, bath, and brush their teeth. That means watching who they hang out with during and after school and any change of behavior. And if anyone breaks the Callahan code of conduct, report to me. At that point we will call an emergency meeting in which we will impose a swift and harsh punishment. In other words, don't expect to have movable parts if proven guilty. All in favor say "I."

Voices rang out, though despite all the mass enthusiasm I could not help but lift my hands in prayer to the heavenly forces that be and ask that mom and our absent father somehow come to their senses and take the parenting back from the disciples.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blessed...

Tonight has been somewhat of a ripper. I just got home from a candlelight vigil for a 43 year woman who died of ovarian cancer. Her diagnosis was originally less than a year but she managed to hang on for five, and in those depleted years, she
helped bring twins into the world. At 7:30 last night, she died with her husband lying in their bed beside her, holding her hand, listening for her last breath.

I've written about her before. When I walk my dog late at night I would see their silhouette behind a curtain locked in an embrace. It's strange because I've only moved here about nine months ago but I couldn't help but notice they were dancing like boxers in the tenth round, clinging to each other as if they didn't have the energy to separate...or else they'd be sitting on the couch and he would be stroking her hair. More than once I questioned why they didn't just lay down...take that embrace under the covers. And then I found out that she had cancer and that the reason they were awake at all hours of the night is because she was frightened to die.

This evening about 75 people holding candles in the rain showed up at their home. We stood outside in front of their window until her husband slowly walked by and saw all of us in his yard and he broke down and cried. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on his face. He held his hand firmly to his lips and his eyes slowly scanned each and every candlelit face. Damn...when you experience that sort of energy and watch a husband weep at the passing of his wife you realize you have no problems. It puts life in perspective. We are all blessed.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Send in the clowns...don't bother they're gone

I've been thinking about it lately...how we've lost the art of comedy. Oh sure, we have a form of comedy --the nasty, cynically kind, but we've lost the innocence of a clown. It seems like comedians today feel the need to take caustic potshots at social and moral issues in order to bring awareness...fancying themselves sarcastic educators of fools. I find it annoying because rarely do the comedians of the day lift the morale. Instead, they pride themselves in being the hunters of bad news, making easy target practice out of something already so full of holes -- namely the White House and any raw sewerage running from it.

Last Friday night I went out to dinner for my dad's birthday. During the course of the evening he starts talking about WWII. The soldiers were being shipped out of Newport News, VA. to catch the boat to Italy. The year was 1945 and the men were saying goodbye to loved ones and slowly climbing onboard the train. As my dad tells it, the guys were pretty low, not knowing if they'd ever be home again and to top it off, the rain was coming down so hard that it was bouncing off the station floor...puddles growing as fast as a pregnant woman. Finally the train started rolling and at that exact moment out springs Red Skelton. He'd heard the troops were leaving and realized they may be in need of some comic relief. The next thing anyone knew, Skelton is running with the train...flopping into mud puddles...doing huge acrobatic dives and then face plants right into deep pools of mud. Instant laughter took over the railcars as the guys crowded in front of the windows to watch his antics. Skelton ran alongside in long bounds as far as he could...tossing himself into the muck and coming up with a face full...all in the pursuit of distracting human suffering.

He said, "I personally believe we were put here to build and not destroy. So if by chance someday you're not feeling well and you should remember some silly little thing I've said or done and it brings back a smile to your face or a chuckle to your heart then my purpose as your clown has been fulfilled."

Red Skelton had a lousy start. His dad died two months before he was born. His mother, left to raise four boys on her own worked as a cleaning woman and an elevator operator. Red grew up poor, hungry, and unable to trust the world and yet he somehow figured out that if he brought others joy than he would survive.

In 1977, Skelton told the New York Times, "When anyone hurts us, my wife and I sit in our Japanese sand garden and drink iced tea. There are five stones in the garden --for sky, wind, fire, water and earth. We sit and think of five of the nicest things we can about the person who hurt us. If he hurts us a second time, we do the same thing. The third time, we light a candle, and he is, for us, dead."

Okay, so all this made me think about his role in the world and how many people he touched along the way. His humor was designed to strengthen the whole, to bolster and lift those whose energy had fallen behind. He thought little of his own preservation and self-aggrandizement, but in the flowering of all who needed a boost. And the world learned to rest upon Red.

And then I happened upon this quote by Andrew Cohen called "On Our Own Shoulders" (wild how life's invisible string asks us to connect the points of comparison) --"The only way for this miserable world to truly change is when the individual is willing to go beyond the personal in a way that is nothing less than heroic. Anything less will allow us to remain in a condition of always wanting only for ourselves. Like a beggar we will live a tortured existence in a perpetual state of need. This is the way most of us are willing to live our lives.

In order to be able to live up to the liberating idealism that many of us have experienced clearly at one time or another we have to be ready to assume a great burden, and that burden is the evolution of the whole. Because to succeed, we must be prepared to do battle with the powerful conditioning, conscious and unconscious, of the whole race. That means we have to come out from behind the shadows and be seen. Like Atlas, we have to be willing to hold up the whole world on our own shoulders. It's an awesome task."

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Simple tales and love betrayals...

I've been twice married. And twice I never had a clue what love and marriage was all about. Though somewhere deep (or what I've come to know is commonly referred to as 'touching the surface') it never stopped me from placing a band on my finger and setting up shop with a virtual stranger who wasn't sure what it was either. It reminds me of a woman I met recently who lost her husband after sixty years. She told me, "I didn't know a thing about him when we married but he promised to take me to Japan on our honeymoon. Well, I had to marry him. It was Japan, for Godsakes."

Sometimes I think back at the person I must have been and it shames me. But, in my limited defense, I believe I cared as deeply as I knew how...or as deep as my well ran, at least for the first husband. And then he propelled me around the world like I was his co-pilot in a prop plane. I was so easily interchangeable with anyone else who could sit in the seat beside him and fulfill his mission. We moved from Seattle to Phoenix to Oxford to New York, and finally to Oslo, all in a matter of eight years. After a multitude of cardboard boxes and popping babies out in an old army barracks in Norway, I finally pulled the ripcord and asked to go home. I don't really know at that point if what I wanted was a divorce but I definitely wanted to be back in a land I understood, around people who didn't make fun of my accent...a place where I could get out of the snow and darkness. This plea was met by the level-headed voice of my ex who informed me I could pack my bags anytime I wanted but the kids were Norwegian citizens and their U.S. passports were no longer available. I became crazy with anger. The next day I dragged the pram up to the American Embassy to stand outside in a long queue in the driving snow. After a few hours I was escorted into an office where a middle-aged woman wearing a blue suit and a jeweled American flag pendant informed me that the U.S. could not reissue passports without my husband's signature since the children were born on foreign soil. "Hadn't you thought about this scenario when giving birth in another country?" she asked.

The story doesn't end here because I did eventually return to my hometown with two small children and my tail tucked tightly between my legs. I was gaunt...86 pounds upon my return, and most definitely, brain-dead. I remember a few weeks after my arrival I'd gone to the store to get a box of diapers for the kids and my brother teasing me, "Why did you buy that kind? They don't absorb half as well as Bounty tissue and some duc tape." I guess I didn't even hear him. I began apologizing profusely for making a mistake...for picking the wrong brand. He looked shocked, "My God, what happened to you over there?" It was humbling...though I soon became aware that I had more lessons to learn and deeper wounds to lick.

We lived with my parents for awhile. They helped with the kids, they fed us, and we eventually arrived at ways in which I could get back into the work force, find good schools, and ultimately, a home. I was making a thousand dollars a month before taxes and over half of that went to daycare. There were moments I thought I had no choice but to return to a husband who had lost interest in me, though adored his kids. I convinced myself that at least they would feel loved. Still, something told me that I couldn't do it...that a martyr fails everyone.

A few years passed and things got better. The divorce was final. I'd received a little house. I was feeling good about the solo tour and my kids were doing fine. But there was this nagging question pounding in my head...kids need a father and theirs was too far away to fill the shoes. I began to dread all those occasions emphasizing father/daughter bonding --Father's Day, Indian Princess Troops, Father-Daughter Tea, "Take Dad to the Ballpark Night." As each celebrated date approached and all the other little girls were chattering enthusiastically about it, a new river of tears would flow at my house. It felt tragically sad....pushing every guilt button I had. That's how they learned to play upon weakness, strike when the iron is hot. They would find me cowering in some corner of the house, rocking frantically and picking out my eyebrows and suddenly, like a platoon who smelled victory, they moved in for the capture and kill, administered their demands slowly..."if only I could have a puppy...a parrot...a cat....a turtle." In hindsight, what powerful negotiators they've become! What job opportunity await in politics and the legal field! I listened to their pleas like a devout follower of justice, but all I heard shouting from the rooftops was a bellowing cry to free each kennel and cage...unlock zoo doors and livestock gates. I listened...the understanding becoming all too clear that if their demands weren't met they would fill every shrink chair from here to Taiwan. As my guilt grew, so did their list of animals. You name the breed, we've had it at one point in time. Yes, I know it was a lousy fix, but nevertheless, the steady stream of animals filled our home like a stationary ark.

But even though the house was stuffed to the gunnels with canines and cockatiels, I could still hear the echo for a male figure. I began to open my mind to the possibility of marriage again. Besides, I found myself fantasizing over sharing the responsibility...someone who enjoyed family life...and who might possibly address my needs and bend me over a clothes hamper and have 'their' way with me. The whole thing started to sound like a plan. With this new idea intact I became more social...inviting people in and serving them a variety of chips and dips.... accepted blind dates from friends who thought they had the perfect match. One such couple told me they knew of a man from California. "We don't really know that much about him," they said, "other than he wants children in the worst way." Mine, I thought?

So I put on a short dress and high heels and went on a blind date with this man who was desperately seeking children. I had not been at the dinner table more than five minutes when he announced that if he didn't find a decent partner soon, he was going to adopt. Decent? Shouldn't that have been my clue to bolt? I felt like a bloody organ donor being interviewed by a perspective parent...Do you smoke? Drink in access? Are you athletic? Parents alive? Drug free? I made the decision after giving my position on circumsion that if asked to do this dating deal again, I would politely decline. But, the guy was persistent. He called everyday. He begged for another chance. I eventually caved.

The second date I showed up in a loose fitting floor length grey knit. It spoke volumes of my enthusiasm. I looked like I'd just resurfaced from a tent and couldn't unzip my sleeping bag. "The pope has arrived," he sarcastically said as I sat down. But I've got to hand it to the guy...he completely dropped the Spanish Inquisition and focused on pleasing me...and filled me with a multitude of lies. What I didn't realize and what I came to know over time is his truth changes as naturally and with as much grace as if he's exchanging partners on a dance floor. In his world, truth is only a lie told successfully.

I'm not going to get into a lot of details but the whole story plays out pretty ugly. The movie trailer would run a little like this...a quick flash of us getting married...having a baby...(happy...happy...happy...a few frantically gay Snoopy leaps into the air) then the days grow dark...he starts knocking back tumblers of Jack Daniels...work stops...we lose the house...bills stack up in piles like National Geographics...the cars are repoed...he stumbles off to rehab...and the unraveling continues until even hell's handbasket is nothing more than a couple of measly twigs and we can't make enough gravy to get on the train.

I remember thinking...Goddamn it, here I am again. I've got to pull deep from some resource that I'm not sure I still have...got to find some strength from within to pull the family through. We'd lost pretty much everything at that point. What money was left was promised. There were liens on our house from a lot of people I'd never heard of in the state of California, including ex-wives and business partners. When the moving truck came I hadn't a place to go. As the men were loading the stuff in the back of the truck the foreman kept asking me for an address to deliver. I stalled. When everything was loaded the man tracked me down again and asked where it was going. I hadn't a clue. All those animals and kids and no destination. I remember walking out into the driveway with those three burly guys, sweat running down their shirts and hair greased back...me and my brood looking limp and lost. I asked them if they could do me the biggest favor of my entire life and keep the things on the truck for a few days...maybe park it somewhere and I'd call them with an address in a day or two. They must have known I was at wits end because they said they'd see what they could do.

The only reason I'm telling all of this is because this is actually where my life begins. I finally gave up and grew up. Life has a way of humbling you...reminding you of what's important. Now I just write from the seat of my pants...trying to make sense of it...holding fast to the life that feels good.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Immigration....

On Monday my parents decided to drive their 30 year old Cadillac from Palm Springs to Seattle. I questioned the stability of the car for such a journey but my mom told me not to worry...that they'd put in a new transmission and given her one of those quick and dirty lube jobs. And then I got the call.

"Your father and I are lucky to be alive."

"Mom, we're all lucky. These are trying times."

"No, I mean we are REALLY lucky. I don't think I'll ever forget the intensity of that heat or the sound of the windows popping out of the frame."

"Wait a minute," I said, "are you talking about the Caddy? Are you guys okay?"

"Oh sure, just a little shaken up is all," she says. I swear my parents have got to be reincarnated stuntmen...this stuff happens to them all the time.

And that's when she tells me the whole dramatic details of how the car exploded...literally burst into a ball of flames on Interstate 5 outside Sacramento. They were driving along and without warning there was a pop, then a bang, followed by some loud hissing noise and the next thing they knew the entire car was engulfed in flames.

The last time I rode in that huge beast was Easter. Thirty years ago when it rolled off the assembly line it must have been the equivalent of today's Hummer or Suburban. You could easily fit an entire marching band (with instruments) in the back seat and still have room for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I remember bouncing along on that black upholstery just two weeks before her demise and thinking I could probably do trampoline acrobatics with relative ease and not disrupt a passenger.

For its years, the car was in mint condition. The only noticeable flaw was the felt headliner which had come loose. My parents kept it in place with a million silver thumb tacks. "Think of them as stars," they told us. I was working with the concept until the sun started baking those black seats so we rolled down the windows and the tacks took off like shooting stars. For the record, a few thumb tack in the skull outlining the general parameters of Gorbechov's mole relieves a tension headache nicely.

But, here's the main point of the story. So my parents are trying desperately to pull themselves from the burning wreckage while cars continue to whiz by, some slowing slightly to look for casualties before speeding up again. But who pulled over to help?

"Six Mexicans saved us," my mom tells me. "They immediately jumped out of their truck and came running. They got in that burning car and started pulling out all our belongings. They even pried open the trunk and grabbed your dad's accordion and all of our clothes. It was incredible. One guy risked his life over and over to make sure he saved everything he could. We offered to give them something but they said no. They told us they'd be offended. It wasn't about money, they said, it was about doing the right thing."

On a day when millions took to the streets to march for immigration, these six stood tall. Legal or illegal, they are my heroes. I could get all sentimental and teary, but damn, this was a beautiful thing that took place. There are those who say, what would happen if 20 million Mexicans demonstrated against their own government and boycotted their countries businesses? Imagine what they could do for their own land with such numbers. Well, I can't answer that. I don't believe it's that cut and dry. All I know is these six "foreigners" performed a selfless act of humanity and I want them here. Heroes are few.

Yesterday, my parents told me they have never seen the world in a more hollow, destitute place. This news coming from people who have always prided themselves on being the salt of the earth, the meat and potato of this great land they are proud to call home. Retirement? That's a myth, they tell me. Both are still working twelve hour days. They are the classic American tale of immigrants pulling up their boot straps and rolling up their sleeves...who believe with every breath they take that it is only with hard work that you build a strong nation.

Though the words go unspoken somehow I've always known they've found my Generation X to be a little soft. Lame boot licking lackeys who want to retire at 30 because life has been rough. A sluggish and constantly growing mass of granite and marble mankind who think they deserve...and deserve...and deserve.

Well, last night I posed the question which rests upon my thin lips all too often lately, "How do you think things are fairing in the world?" For the first time my parents responded, "We've lived through eighty some years on this planet and we don't remember a time that has been so globally sick and challenged. We may be doomed...and to think our grandchildren have to see this." What? I thought they were kidding or maybe even light headed from the wreck. After all, they'd lived in the afterglow of WWI (or as Lawrence Welk and his bubble-blowing band called it, World War EYE,") and fought in round two.

"No, really," they continued, "never has the earth been in such turmoil with so many variables of destruction at play." I wanted to say, Yeah, but what about Russia and all those hideous bomb shelters you guys erected? Those "hide-under-the-desk" drills we endured once a week because someone somewhere in the hinterlands of hate was about to launch something in our direction that would melt our skin like candle wax? I got in a groove and started to pick up the momentum. Let's not forget Kennedy's assassination...and Viet Nam when no one could figure out how to get our guys out of the rice paddies. Nazi Germany? Or Hiroshima? The Great Depression? And even before all of our time... ...the Plague? And TB, for Godsakes...thousands left on front porch cots in the fresh air...all those frost-bitten, oxygen-sucking folks dropping like flies. It must have looked a lot like that war scene in Gone With The Wind where all those soldiers are splayed out, coughing blood over slave-tended soil. Then suddenly my historical knowledge failed me..."Ah, and don't forget...um, witch burnings, the KKK, stonings, scalpings...oh yeah, and Bush."

"Now hold it right there, young lady," my dad said.

I've seen this look before but it's usually from Dungeness crab when you throw them in hot water.

"Bush?" he says, "Are you trying to link our president to the downfall of America? Do you actually believe one man can be responsible for all of this? Because if you do... I have just one question to ask --WHO GOT TO YOU? Bush may not be our finest president but at least he didn't teach my grandkids about blow jobs."

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Summers on Camano Island...

Just when you think the news can't get any stranger they raise the bar. I read today that a veterinarian faked the death of a German Shepherd so he could give the dog to someone else. Then how about the woman and her adult son who have been convicted of trying to extort money from the Cracker Barrel restaurant claiming they found a dead mouse in a bowl of soup. Charges were filed after a necropsy showed the mouse died of a fractured skull. Not a bloody drop of broccoli cheddar soup graced that poor little rodent's lungs..not even a single turn of the ladle bitch-slapped his furry behind. Come on, folks. You've got to do better than that! If you're going to drop something in the soup...at least make it worth jury duty.

It reminds me of summers on Camano Island...I know it's sometimes hard to track me when I segue like this but stay with me for just a moment. Camano is one of those pearls on earth...an idyllic spot about an hour door-to-door from Seattle (or at least that's what my dad tried to tell us everytime my brother and I would scream "Are we there yet?)

From the day school let out, my parents picked us up with our final reportcards in hand, the car fully loaded and we'd take off for the cabin. My dad and his father built the place right at the waters edge and that's where our old friends "the Barnacle Butts" would meet each June. It was never ackward...we just picked up and resumed play where we left off. We'd scour the sandy shores like a pack of wild animals, smoking driftwood like they were Lucky Strikes and taking turns ripping our arms out of the socket to see if we could start the old five horse Evenrude engine and go fishing.

It was so different from city life. We felt like we'd been sprung from a cage. Each day there were no rules, no fences, just open land that we were told was ours to explore and white sand dunes to build Robinson Crusoe forts. Sometimes I have to admit it felt more like we were reinacting the final chapters of Lord of the Flies, but I was the youngest and came from another persuasion. You see, I was the token girl. The anomaly who the boys protested from the moment my foot hit the driveway dirt. Thank God my parents weren't big on exclusion. The station wagon door would open and all would be privy to hear, "Now remember young man, you either invite your sister along or you won't be going. Have we made ourselves perfectly clear?"

So, because my brother seemed to be one of the leaders of the motley mess I became a member by default. This played out in many significant educational ways --I got to watch the boys do sword fights with their dicks, and place firecrackers in bullhead's mouths to get the hook out. One kid even put his penis in a blender full of Smoothie and twirled it at low speed, eventually becoming over zealous and changing the velocity to a more aggressive liquefy and that's about the time his parents arrived home with a pail of blackberries, just a tad early and a shaving too close, and well, let's just say we never did get a piece of that berry pie we'd been promised.

But as the summer progressed the boys quickly got used to my tagging along and after awhile no one treated me like the girl that I was unless it suited their follies. Usually this had something to do with a musical number....one in particular comes to mind...a song called "Barnacle Bill the Sailor," (which we would change to Barnacle Butt" when we were out of adult earshot.) The boys would make me sing the fair maiden part with a high pitched squealy voice or else I'd be pantsed. (For the record, they never did. They actually looked after me like a kid sister.) But there was a part of me that could never be 100% sure, so I'd immediately belt into a raring rendition of, "Whose that knocking at my door? Whose that knocking at my door? Whose that knocking at my door, said the fair maiden?"

Then the boys dug deep into their pubescent souls and mustered --"Get down on all fours, you dirty old whore, said Barnacle Butt the sailor."

At which point I'd toss my next innocent phrase into the northern sky --"Will you take me to a dance? Will you take me to a dance? Will you take me to a dance, said the fair maiden."

"The hell with the dance and down with your pants, said Barnacle Butt the Sailor."

There were more verses...plenty more....enough to make seaweed dry and crabs cower in steel pots...but I'll spare you all the raunchy verses because although it surprises me the lyrics seem so fresh in my mind (damn) it is mostly the memory of those guys falling to the sand and laughing like a bunch of screaming banshees afterwards. This went on for years until we had to get summer jobs in the canneries or pick strawberries in the farmlands outside of Camano. I got stuck in the fields making five bucks for an entire crate that took about four hours to pick. But the boys, all of them, except my brother who was a few years shy, worked in the cannery and made decent money. They left each morning sitting in the back of a truck bound for the same shuck and shredder, even the kid who put his dick in the blender. It was rough...knowing them as I did, trying to figure out how they aced a job interview. I'm sure they showed up with hair combed back into the big wave and wore clean clothes but there was just something about them that spelled trouble. And I was right on the money because from the first day they started they were tossing live shit into that contraption.

That was the summer before they went off to Nam. All of them were turning eighteen, their last year of high school--so packing a little dough aside canning corn that might ultimately buy a car or rent a tux for the prom seemed like a nice gig. Besides, where else could the Barnacle Butts get a paycheck and kill stuff? Which reminds of one such episode. One day they saw a seagull that had been whacked something fierce by a passing truck. One of them picked it up, still flapping SOS with whatever was left, and they shredded him with that creamed corn so that the only telltale DNA would be a little sharp grizzle of beak and acouple feathers. After that, well, I lost track of them for a year or so...

The next thing I know ...two are home filled with shrapnel and dragging limbless parts around from the war...rocking on porch swings and telling bloody tales while staring trance-like out to sea. All the fight was out of them. Only two of the four returned from Viet Nam and I think they never really got over it. For years the two remnants of men remaining would see each other driving along on one of those two-laned country roads and barrel into each other. Point the front of that car at the other and step on the gas, just like they thought they were in go-carts at the county fair. Then they'd step out from behind the wheel and laugh like they were kids again...both cars spewing stuff from the wreckage and blood running off them. My mom spoke to one of their mothers and the poor woman said the boys weren't right. They felt guilty to be walking around and that guilt never gave them a days rest. Never escaping the memory of blender boy and his buddy with the sword fighting penis who weren't so lucky to have failing parts.

I don't know why all this is coming out today. But I guess I miss the freedom of those summers...even though it could be said with conviction the group was derelict in so many perverse ways, but there was a vulnerable side that I witnessed...and they were so full of life back then. The two remaining have since killed themselves...there was not enough to sustain. But as I've come to know...sometimes you don't want to see whats right in front of your face. You distract yourself from the obvious because let's face it, shitty as it sounds, it's tiring keeping someone on the planet when everything about them, subtle or otherwise, longs to leave.

So, I guess what I'm thinking is a mouse in the soup sounds rather tame. All I know is I've never touched a can of cream corn since the Barnacle Butts managed the shredder.

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