Sunday, August 25, 2002

A Day in the Park

There’s so much I don’t know how to put it in words. Scribbling here in the car again, this time on the back of the envelope that held Soo’s paycheck which I just deposited. Nate is snoring behind me. We went to Las Piedras State Park, it’s turned into a stunning day after a morning rain accented by one flash of lightning and one clap of thunder. Soo was hailed on walking from car to office. Trying to potty train Nathan was trying me, driving me potty. So, I threw him in the car and, resisting the temptation to go all the way to Puyarim, went to the north end of the island. Nathan was almost asleep by the time we got there, but he perked up as he always does when we made that turn and Puget Sound opens up before us, “Wa-rr,” he says. Water, indeed.
There was a caterpillar inching along next to our parking space, it had avoided death twice, once at the hands of my car’s wheels and once at the hands of my son’s hands. The park ranger came over and asked us to keep an eye open for a key he had lost. No one else was there. We walked past the tire swing and the slides, over the driftwood to the rocky shore where we picked up smoothed pebbles and threw them into the lapping waves. Hundreds upon hundreds of multicolored stones rolled against each other with the motion of the water jiggling and jostling in a miniature quarry’s moist cacophony. Nathan stomped and splashed throwing handfuls of small stones, oblivious to the water rolling over his little boots and moistening the cuffs of his overalls. A man walking a dog named Dylan stopped by to let Nate get licked. Some people had pulled into the parking lot, a man and a woman lugged photography equipment from a van. Too much coffee for me forced us to dash to the bathroom. A man with two small children was playing on the jungle gym. His little girl was talkative and active, a younger boy, Kendall, sucked on the man’s empty coffee cup. We said nothing to each other except the requisite “Hellos” as Nathan and I watched them play. Nate was staring. He doesn’t know that it’s rude. I was staring even though I do. I wanted to ask the man if he was full-time or if today was out of the ordinary for him. Did he always watch the kids? Did he feel like I feel? A bit lost, a tad insecure, OK, hopelessly inadequate, an abject failure. He avoided my gaze. Was my desperation so apparent, so repellant? He helped his girl build a mound of gravel so she could reach the lowest bar on the jungle gym. Then she wanted to reach the next bar, but it was too high, explained the father. There wasn’t enough gravel to build a mound high enough so she could reach. “Kendall needs to take a nap,” he said (which is how I knew the boy’s name). “We have to go home.” So, after a normal amount of complaining and resistance she was trucked off to the minivan.
As I watched them leave, I heard an odd birdsong. Behind and high above them an eagle circled a tree, in which another eagle perched. I wanted to scream, “Look, look over there at those magnificent birds,” but I could not or would not. They drove off. I wanted to show the birds to the people taking pictures, but their subjects had shown up, casually ruggedly dressed old white men. Probably a photo shoot for the new Chamber of Commerce, I thought. Even Nate was oblivious, running after a crow and trying to replicate the actions of the little girl, reaching up to the jungle gym bar and pushing gravel around.
I stared dumbly at the eagles. We drove near them on the way out of the park. Massive birds, sitting regally on their wooden thrones. American icons, ignored.
Nathan fell asleep on the drive to the bank. I backed into a parking space across from the ATM, so I could see him in the car while I made the deposit.
The two deer that are driving Soo mad by eating all our foliage were lounging on our lawn as I pulled up our driveway. They scampered off, but not far. One has returned and is watching me now as I write.
I could have sworn I saw the eagles fly high overhead, riding the undercurrent of a thundercloud which has expanded to eclipse the sun momentarily. Patches of blue sky in the distance promise enough dryness to make the lawn mowable this afternoon, if Nathan’s sleep schedule obliges. He’s still snoring and I’m still scribbling, watching the surviving hummingbirds at play and wondering how long this will last. How long will he sleep? How long will the money hold out? How long before someone gives me a job? How long before all this useless beauty drives me mad? How long to sing this song? How long before you too are overwhelmed by this well watered world of wonder? Or is it illusion?

Tuesday, August 20, 2002


I used to think I knew about guilt because I was raised Catholic and survived 12 years of Catholic school. As much as learning about man’s immense potential to sin and even accepting an original sin you had nothing to do with and then learning to confess those sins when and if you commit them can teach you about guilt. But, one doesn’t really know guilt until he understands the difference between culpability and responsibility. I think it was Brother Mark that tried to drive that point into my head Junior year of high school. Except what does a 16-year old know about responsibility? Your average 16-year old can shirk responsibility as naturally as a bird flies. Real guilt arrives when you fail to live up to a promise you’ve made to someone you love.
I feel guilty when I’m enjoying the time I’m spending with Nathan, as much as I feel guilty when I complain about being stuck with him. Because the fact of the matter is, I love being stuck with him. He drives me nuts and there have been moments where the things he’s done has put him in danger of physical harm (from me. [Let’s see you not react violently when human teeth draw blood from your flesh]). Despite those moments, despite all the frustration and angst, I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have this time with him. However, (and there’s always a “however,” a “but,” some disclaimer or modifier in conjunction with each good phrase, each good feeling) I’m constantly reminding myself that this is being made possible because my wife is working. My lovely, intelligent, capable wife (who is not reading over my shoulder, but who might be soon) is the one who goes to work each day while I take Nate to the park or play with him in the yard. Guilt.
People say it’s a wasted emotion, that’s a bunch of Protestant poppycock. Guilt makes the world go around. I’ll galdarn guarantee you Martin Luther felt guilty when he defaced Church property way back when. Not because he felt like he was doing the wrong thing, but because he was running against the people he loved. It’s a fair bet that just about everyone Martin Luther knew was a member of the Church he was railing (and nailing) against. So any grief he had with the big body would affect in one way or another all those little bodies that were close to him and that he loved. You see, guilt and love are inextricably mingled. They do a daily dance and they waltz together through history.
If you doubt this is true, ask yourself why you do what you do every day. Do you love doing everything you do or do you do some things because you think they are the right things to do? I’ll grant you we do do (hee hee) some things we don’t love because of the people we do love. Yet, how does that leave the people we love feeling? Giving and receiving may be different sides of the same coin, but you can be darn sure the person doing the giving feels better. Hindu mendicants might be able to convince themselves they are providing a valuable spiritual service by giving givers a chance to give. It’s a different ball of wax for the American male.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m complaining. If there’s any inequity here the scales are surely lighter on the female side of this equation. As Soo has pointed out, if I were working and she were staying at home, I’d be seeing dinner on the table a fair bit more often than she is now. The guy at home can get away with murder just because he is not supposed to be at home. There are lowered expectations and that’s not fair.
None of this is new. It’s not like I’m the only stay at home Dad, this week’s Newsweek has “She Works, He Doesn’t” on the cover for crying out loud. I’m sure there are thousands of men who have quit (yes, in a fit of pride induced ignorance I quit a job in this economy) their jobs, sold their homes, moved their families to insular islands in the Pacific Northwest and are now grappling with what it means that they are the house-husband living off the sweat of their wives’ brows.
No matter how I try to phrase all this it still comes out sounding like ordinary whining, which, I suppose, is another key component of guilt. You don’t hear of too many people silently suffering in their guilt (then again you wouldn’t hear people silently doing anything). I’ve taken to using a baseball analogy, a convenient American metaphor to address what I’m assuming (most likely inaccurately) to be a uniquely American experience. You always hear ballplayers saying, we’re all just doing our part for the team, I’m just happy to be able to contribute. If there’s a runner on first and nobody out, you need somebody to bunt him over. I’m that guy. I’m doing the little things, making lunch and going to the store. Deep down, though, I don’t feel like a leadoff hitter. First, I’m no Maury Wills. I don’t have the skills or the speed. I’m a slow white guy, a traditional power hitter in the mold of Eric Karros or Duke Snider (I don’t really have those skills either, but at least I have the build). Second, I’ve convinced myself (or I’ve been convinced) that my role is not as the supporting player. I guess like everyone, I always imagined myself as the star, maybe not the superstar, but at least capable of hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs a season. Instead, I’m the big letdown, the guy who signed the fat contract and is now underperforming so he’s on the bench. I’m Bobby Bonilla.
A sobering and depressing conclusion to come to so early in the morning. Then you have to wonder, how must Bobby Bonilla feel?
This from
“If Bobby Bonilla put together a resume, it would surely begin, "Have bat, will travel. Position negotiable." Mixing a sunny smile and a genuine love for playing the game with a sometimes sour disposition, Bonilla's personality is part Ernie Banks and part Albert Belle. While his potent offensive numbers have always kept him in demand, defensive problems and a sometimes surly demeanor have kept him on the move. In fifteen major-league seasons, the switch-hitting Bronx native has played for seven different teams.”
I have no idea what he’s doing now and I only hope that he managed to save enough money during those 15 seasons in the bigs to not have to worry about such things for the rest of his life. I doubt he checks his bank account and thinks to himself, “Hmm, I didn’t really deserve the money I got from that last season.” The problem is ballplayers are different. This self same idolatry (there might be a better word) that I’m practicing here, this study and knowledge of a game and its players has created a world where they get paid great amounts of money and attention. This makes them different. I could expound on the reasons and dangers of this for days, start making comparisons between America and ancient Rome, far off battles being fought while the populace is entertained by gladiators at home, a society buckling under the weight of its own hubris and all that, but I won’t (not yet, at least). My imagination has been captured by the image of Bobby Bonilla pottering around the house, making lunch for the kids, mowing the lawn, and maybe, maybe contemplating the greatness that he never achieved.
One of the fantastic things about baseball is the way it inspires great writers (myself excluded). In my search for Bobby Bonilla info (I did a Google search on “Mets fat losers”) I came across the following transcript of the Jim Lehrer NewsHour from October 26, 1999. Read or scan what you will, all errors are the transciber’s:

A special look at winning and losing, in baseball and in literature. Elizabeth Farnsworth leads our discussion.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In New York tonight, it's game three of the last World Series of the century, with the Yankees leading the Atlanta Braves two games to none. The Yankees destroyed the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox to get here, and have won nine of ten games in post-season play this year-- all this from the team that has already won more pennants and World Series than any other team ever. And this record inspires strong feelings in fans, including among our NewsHour regulars, as we hear now from essayist Roger Rosenblatt of the "New York Yankees," and poet laureate Robert Pinsky, once of the Brooklyn Dodgers, now with the Boston Red Sox. Robert Pinsky, why not love and admire the Yankees for all those wins?
ROBERT PINSKY: These are excellent athletes. Anybody who doesn't love Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, El Duke. They're wonderful players. Yankee fans sometimes make the mistake of gloating about what is really a privilege. And the dignity in defeat, going back to the era of Robinson and Hodges and in the present era of Garcia Parra is something I admire. And imagination that gets us involved in things like sports teams has finer food than victory. Even the Yankees lose more World Series than they win. They don't win the World Series more often than not. As with any other form of affection or involvement, one has to realize that these-- though they're the excellent, best athletes imaginable-- they're mortal and fallible.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, do you love them because of all the wins?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know. Maybe I'm in danger of gloating because of my privileges. By the way the Yankees actually do win more World Series than-- it's getting into the World Series that they don't do in a majority but no team does. As for the fans, I'm trying to think of the times that I've enjoyed the civility of the Mets fans or the Red Sox' fans or the Cubs' fans or any of the fans that are associated with teams that don't win as much. And I'm sort of at a loss to do so. I just love the Yankees. The whole idea of the demonstration of excellence in anything, there seems to be only a penalty in sports. I wouldn't want to hear an opera singer hit a wrong note. I'd hate to see a ham actor come out on stage. Why should I lower my standards or anybody for that matter in the matter of baseball?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, you just happen to have a poem on this subject.
ROBERT PINSKY: I think it's said that Roger falls into the fallacy of confusing excellence, which is such a beautiful value, with the more paltry value of success. It reminds me of the public figure or politician who gloats or crows about starting a successful business and is complacent about the fact that the family had money... his father had a successful business or the family had a lot of associations. The privilege of having a rich market and of having a lot of money should be something that's not vaunted. The poem you're thinking of is Yates' wonderful poem to a friend whose work has come to nothing. And the lines I'm thinking of begin "bred to a harder scene than triumph." I think we're all as mortals bred to a harder thing than triumph. In the end the players all get fat, weak, and we all get old. You don't win in the end. Yates says, to a friend whose work has come to nothing - "Bred to a harder scene than triumph turn away and like laughing string where our mad singers play amid a place of stone, be secret and exult because of all scenes known, that is most difficult."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, have you got a dueling poem or can you refute this in prose?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know if reputation is what I would achieve but I would like to add the words of at poet Laureate, Tennyson who talked about Ulysses at the end saying "Although we are not now the strength that in old days that moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong and will to strive to seek to find and not to yield."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, do you think success is just not as interesting as losing? I'm thinking of a line in your poem, the Night Game, that refers to Whitey Ford. You say about whitey ford, quote, never a player I liked or hated, a Yankee, a mere success. "Mere success"?
ROBERT PINSKY: Well, one needs an awful lot of successes. Success for all of us is temporary. Transitory thing. I do thing there are values in sports and in life that are more interesting than success. The most moving athletic events are the ones after which the players-- the players who have a code for the most part, certainly in baseball if not gloating-- the players say it's a shame anyone had to lose. It was a shame that anyone had to lose that one. I thought Roger read those Tennyson lines beautifully. And they're quite germane. Ulysses is well on in life. He's seen a lot of heroes. The Victor Achilles goes down the same way the loser Paris goes down. Hector goes down. Success is not as interesting as striving, as in the Tennyson lines. And success does seem to me a paltry value. When we have it, we should be humble about it.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, it's hard to be in the position of having the braves down two zip and yearn for humility. I'll try to do it on a general virtuous basis, but I often find that the people who say it's too bad somebody had to win this game are the guys who won it. As for the beauty of defeat or effort, even in tragedy, you know, Hamlet wins before he loses his life. I'm kind of stretching to make something great and noble out of the beauty of sport whose simplicity as a matter of fact is defined by whether someone does win or lose since most of the rest of life is too complicated or too nuance to show us that. The beauty of games, for those of us who play them or those of us who watch them, is that there is a winner or loser and there are clean things to make it up. If you make an error, you are likely to lose, as the Red Sox made several errors in the series against the Yankees. If you don't, you are likelier to win. So there is-- Robert may wish to make a distinction between excellence and success, but in most cases, certainly in sports, the more excellent, the more success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Roger Rosenblatt, Robert Pinsky, thanks a lot.

Of course, Bonilla was on that 1999 Mets team that lost to the Braves who went on to lose to the Yankees. What is he doing now, I wonder? No Achilles. No Paris. Just a man. A man with a lot of money. Hopefully. Is that mere success? Having enough money to sit around and watch other people play games on TV, or enough money to be able to do whatever you want, enough money to take care of your family. It may not be success, but it’s something I want. Am I bred to a harder scene than triumph? Who thinks about such things? You just get a job and work hard and make as much money as you can because the alternative sucks.
Guilt is a wasted emotion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002


Multitasking was a popular word way back in the good old days of the 1990s. I used to think I was pretty good at it. I could write press releases, schedule a press tour, monitor the competition, talk on the phone, answer email, edit a white paper, and all the while know how the Dodgers were doing. Now I only have one phone to answer, I have no one reporting to me, and I’m operating on a significantly reduced budget, yet I find, at the end of each day, I’m more exhausted than I ever was when I had a “real” job. My multitasking now includes, preparing lunch, changing diapers, doing laundry, and chasing a 30 pound ball of energy around, all the while trying to sneak over here to document the thoughts I’m having (for reasons that remain unclear), and scan the job boards.
I heard a story on the radio yesterday afternoon about a guy who has been out of work for nearly a year. He’d been an engineer for nearly 20 years, he designed computer chips, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs to be precise). Intel laid him off. He has a new wife, she moved from Scotland to be with him and they were married a few months before he lost his job. He said he’s been having trouble sleeping, that sometimes he wonders if he’ll ever get a job. He talked about how his brother died of a heart attack and that he worries that he might just get so stressed out that he’ll have one too. There was another story on the radio yesterday morning about a support group for unemployed professionals, college graduates with lots of experience. They said it’s easier for a person with just a high school education to get a job now. Companies aren’t hiring as many seasoned professionals. They finished the piece by saying the people who do get hired are the people who keep looking. That was inspirational. (Sarcasm).
Keeping a good attitude is important. I heard these stories coming from and going to the zoo with my wife and child. Keeping perspective is important. In the immortal words of William Forsythe from Raising Arizona, “You’re young, you’ve got your health…what do you want a job for?” It’s a tempting philosophy. It’s also voiced by an escaped convict in a work of fiction. The fact is you can never forget you don’t have a job, especially when you have people depending on you. Does it make any difference that you have some money in the bank or a network of supportive family and friends? A little. But in the quiet moments when you’re alone (or at least not in the company of a human that answers when you repeatedly ask “What are we going to do?”), it is impossible to forget.
The matter grows increasingly complicated when you start factoring in ideas like the historical roles of the sexes in the home and the delicate psyche of the American male. If a guy in this country doesn’t put on a suit and tie or a pair of work boots, or, at the very least, tote around some sort of firearm, he’s viewed as a pansy. Child-rearing, homemaking, et cetera, are simply not man’s domain. Dads take their kids to the zoo on Saturdays. Dads go to the office every day and do important stuff. Dads go to the work site and operate heavy machinery. Dads go to battle. Dads don’t go shopping, not in the middle of the week, not in the middle of the day.
I know, I know, a lot has changed, we’re in the 21st century. Women fly helicopters and smoke in public and vote. A wife and mother can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, but where does that leave Dad. Standing in the supermarket staring at 14 different lunch meats wondering which is the one to get while junior melts down impatiently at his feet, that’s where. A variation on this scenario is slightly more problematic for me. A white guy walking quickly through the market carrying a screaming Asian baby looks suspiciously like someone who snatched a kid from the candy aisle. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. I worry too much. Lots of guys stay at home with the kids these days. Why should I care what other people might think. I’d like to see those working Dads spend a month as the day to day caregiver, without the knowledge that it’s only going to be a month. I think that’s an important point. Living with the fact that things might always be like this can wear on the most stable man, it’s hard to stumble through that dark tunnel if there’s no light at the end of it. So, there’s not much else to do, but just keep stumbling. Stumble and change his clothes, stumble and go buy more milk, stumble and scrape squashed raisins off the kitchen floor, stumble and hope I find a real job soon.

Friday, August 9, 2002

Chasing the Cat

When Nathan gets bored with foraging under his high chair for remnants of his last (four) meal(s) or riffling through the bathroom drawers for a tampopsicle or tugging at my sleeve pulling me away from the computer as he’s doing now, when all these options are exhausted, he chases the cat. He often chases the cat, it’s his fallback pursuit. He pesters the cat relentlessly. We actually have two cats, but Buca is the quintessential scaredy-cat and she just runs and hides whenever Nathan is on the rampage. Oso is the regal, gray Persian who runs our lives. Nathan abuses him, hugs him, sits on him, tackles him and darn near flattens him under what is now not an inconsiderable weight (at least to the fluffy feline whisper we call Oso).
Oso fails repeatedly to avail himself of escape opportunities, and when he does get caught and the gawdawful cat yawling doesn’t bring freedom then the cat will resort to violence. Nathan’s scratched face will attest to that. Yet, no mere flesh wounds will deter Nate. He motors on, despite the fact that he has no idea what to do with Oso when he gets him. Oso has been remarkably patient, but all patience eventually wears thin. The cat has attempted several prison breaks. While not exactly Steve-McQueen-flying-over-barbed-wire-Nazis-gunning-at-his-head-death-defying, they do run some risk.
Nathan has learned to open the doors to the outside, so, on occasion, Oso will manage to slip out if we neglect to notice Nate has left the door open (of course, with our superior parenting skills this rarely happens, ahem). This presents a painful temptation for Oso. He can linger around Nathan when Nate is near a door, but he risks the aforementioned abuse. Hence the dilemma: risk getting trampled for the chance at freedom. Not that Oso knows what to do when he gets outside, every last feral morsel has been ruthlessly domesticated out of him. Oso looks about as comfortable on the grassy savannah of our lawn as a Palestinian would at his own Bris.
This all may sound very sweet and amusing. Well, let me tell you when someone calls, a recruiter, for example, and you see your 18-month old son wandering outside chasing a furry gray cat across the deck, and you begin to calculate how much time you’ve got before one or the other comes to harm and you try to figure the damage you’ll do to your reputation in the eyes of the person on the end of the phone if you curtail the call or admit you must go pry a cat out of your son’s grip – you do that a few times and it’s not cute anymore. I’ve had time to think about such things, to worry about what other people think, of me, and our situation. What do people really think of Mr. Moms, the stay at home Dad, house-husband, unemployed leech. When you’re on the phone and the kid is screaming, do people think, “Not only can he not get a job, he can’t even do this one, and that doesn’t pay.” He can’t even take care of his own kid.
And, it’s at such moments, that I think, I just want a job, any job, just get me out of here and back in an office. Staying at home and parenting a kid is hard, really hard. It takes more than a village idiot. Watching a child is comprised of moments of terror surrounded by hours of brain numbing monotony. Those monotonous times allow for mind-wandering, which, for me, can be a dangerous thing. I’ve come to imagine myself as Nathan and Oso as a job. The way I’ve pursued my “career” is analogous to the way Nathan pursues the cat. There’s a tendency towards indifference if there’s something more interesting to do, but once my mind is set I won’t rest until the job is done. Of course, like Nate, I have a habit of holding on too tightly once the object of pursuit is in my grasp. And jobs, like cats, can react unpredictably when faced with such enthusiasm. Cats are naturally suspicious. They look out for themselves. They watch their backs. But, they can be moody. One moment they’re responding positively to your attention, then, without warning, they’ll turn and bite you. A cat will turn its claws on friend and foe alike. A scratched face can damage self-esteem. A child doesn’t think about pride being a sin, yet an adult might spend sleepless hours weighing that truism against the cost of sustaining repeated damage to his face by holding on mindlessly. Cats can also sense desperation.
I had a job interview on Tuesday of LAST week. I did my research. I looked at the web site. I examined the financials. I talked to former employees, for chrissakes. I thought I nailed the interviews. I was charming, well-spoken, highlighted my strengths while retaining modesty. I sent the requisite clever “Thank you” emails. And, I’ve heard nothing. NOTHING.
Maybe jobs are like dogs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Stinging Graig Nettles

Two months go by, twenty-five years go by. I neglected to mention a mishap Nathan had the second day we were here, the day the movers arrived. It was my turn to keep track of the boy and we were exploring the end of the lawn, the beginning of the woods, when he took a misstep and fell face first into what looked like harmless soft soil. He started crying, I laughed a bit and picked him up. The crying turned into more than you’d expect from a simple fall, and Soo came over to see what was wrong. By which time white welts had appeared on Nate’s face and neck. They continued to grow (along with our anxiety), and Soo ran inside to call the only person we knew on the island, our realtor. Before she could finish saying, “Nathan fell in the woods and…” Jackie said “Stinging Nettle.”
We went back to check out the scene of the crime and sure enough there was a sprig of something that fit Jackie’s description that could have brushed Nathan’s face as he fell. The good news is that the swelling goes down and the itching stops after a few hours, the bad news is that as we started looking around the woods we saw the stuff everywhere. I had flashbacks of all the times I picked up poison oak growing up and roaming through the hills around our house in southern California. Nathan will (unless we fail to get jobs and must move again) be coming home time and again sporting white, itchy splotches from his exploits in the woods. At least this stuff goes away relatively quickly, a bad bout of poison oak could last weeks. I believe that is Dante’s eighth circle of hell: October 1977 in LA, covered in red scabby corpuscles watching the Dodgers lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series as Graig Nettles steals hit after hit with otherworldly glove work. It happens over and over again, which, in fact, it did, the very next year.
So, one day last week when Nate was napping I went out to do battle with the Nettles. It had grown considerably, taller and wider, creeping relentless. There’s nothing to stop the growth up here, not even a napalm strike. Rain and sun, rain and rain and sun, and rain, we all know I’m no botanist (don’t even play one on TV), but the pattern seems to be very conducive to plant growth. Armed with the clippers, gloved, shod, and every square inch of skin protected, I went to battle. Mindless, violent work is fertile ground for the imagination to sow its seeds and before 15 minutes had passed I’m lopping the head off Craig Nettles over and over again. Was it 25 years ago? Should a grown man care about a game with such unforgiving, unforgetting passion? I’ve often thought my devotion to the Dodgers was exaggerated due to the fact I was named Billy, it was abhorrent to me that I had the same first name as Billy Martin. Kind of like an immigrant to America who is exceedingly patriotic lest anyone doubt their loyalties.
I can still conjure up Billy Martin’s weasely face if I wish to torment myself. (Twisted self-loathing?) I can remember it all like it was yesterday, the way the camera zoomed in to the top of Graig Nettle’s cleats where he had painted E5 on his toes as a constant reminder of his potential failure, the shots that Garvey and Cey and Lopes (well mostly Garvey and Cey) sent screaming down the third base line only to have them snagged miraculously by a diving, sprawling Graig Nettles, and then the bastard popping up and throwing beebees to Chris Chambliss as Cey’s little penguin legs pumped futilely, a split second too late, and Garvey’s Popeye arms flailed in exasperation witnessing another casual out signal from the first base umpire. Dashed childhood hopes, dashed adult hopes.
Has it been 25 years, has it been two months? Still no job. What is it that people always say, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? What if you love sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching TV, is what I always ask. “No one, on their death bed, ever said ‘I wished I had worked more,’” is another good one. I guess nobody records the last words of that guy freezing to death on the street. I’ve got no cause for such melodrama, though. As my sister once told me (and which I promptly wrote down and placed in my wallet), “You have no right to be miserable.” And I don’t. I’m the luckiest guy in the world, that’s what makes feeling like crap so much worse. In the words of Elvis Costello, “For all of the courage we never had, I’m just about glad, just about glad, just about glad…”
That doesn’t mean in our private moments of gardening fury we can’t wreak vengeance on the dasher of childhood dreams, because it is just the dreams, it’s not the hopes, the hopes must always remain. It is so much more gratifying to physically expel the (faux) demons, than to assuage them with sweet aphorisms. And it is infinitely more culturally acceptable to redirect anger towards our paid, televised game-playing gladiators than to scream at the petty bosses that represent our tarnished and vanishing dreams. But at the end of the day, words like “dreams” and “hopes” are just pretty words, and what we should really be thinking about is protecting the ones we love, and if that is done by sucking up our pride and doing what it takes to make a living then so be it. All this is just the sort of rubbish that pops into one’s head when out in the yard attacking vegetation disguised as an old baseball player (or is it an old manager), yet as Mr. Costello says “nonsense prevails, modesty fails, grace and virtue turn into stupidity, While the calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise, And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts, they still think they’re the gods of antiquity, If something you missed didn’t even exist it was just an ideal…Is that such a surprise?” No, it’s just useless beauty. What shall we do? What shall we do, with all this useless beauty.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Welcome to Cascadia

I remember thinking as I got in my car to drive home, “’Welcome to Cascadia,’ my ass.” There’s something about some people that, despite their saying all the right things and going through the proper motions, just leave a bad feeling. Sometimes it’s just plain phoniness and other times, like with Bob, it seemed like thinly masked malevolence under a veneer of politeness. From the safe location behind one’s computer that thin veneer can disappear. Later the next week, Soo showed me the online “Las Piedras Island Guestbook.” See excerpts below for the assortment of “welcomes” the natives have for Californians. I found the second entry to be particularly curious. It's interesting that the vitriol abated noticeably in more recent passages. I’m told that’s because there’s mostly out of state residents here on the island now, very few “locals” are left.

I have been gone with the army (Enlisted Infantryman.) for thirteen years and have just returned. The traffic is unbearable, I can't believe how overpopulated the place has become. The island seems to be getting overdeveloped and no longer seems to have that quiet rustic quality of old. My family has been here 4 generations now. My grandfather purchased the property around the late thirties after working out here for a couple years (He was from Ballard, now a part of Seattle.). Now that I have come into the property I have found the taxes extremely high (I mean unbelieveably.). Also the cost of living up here has multiplied manyfold of what it once was, not to mention the cost of petrol which is three times that of the Southeast. But at least one thing hasn't changed and that is the lukewarm summers with the spotty rains and the cold wet winters with the high winds, slushy snow, and continous rain (I have seen it rain for over three months straight without it ever letting up and that is no lie.).As a matter of fact the University of Washington has classified a type of depression that emanates from rainy wheather. Maybe I'm wrong but the bad luck with Microsoft and Boeing (To name a few.) may cause a decrease in growth which would be most welcome. The sad thing is that I've been so disappointed with what has become of my home that I am thinking of moving to Idaho, but I'm sure that the Idahoans are having a tough time with growth of thier own. Last time I went through there about eight years ago the place was booming and people were not to happy about it (Except for the builders.). Well you may believe everything good said about this place, it was fairly nice about thirteen years ago (If you don't mind the wheather.) but things change. I am also saddened by the snottiness of many of the people here now but of course most of the people are not even from here anymore (and I mean from Washington state.). As a matter of fact it seems like these people coming up here are trying to turn Washington into another California (We all know what a disaster that place is.) and the thing I can't figure out is that they evidently came here to get away from that mess (Or try to make a buck off of poor unsuspecting Washingtonians.). It takes a bunch of liberal idiots to screw up a good thing and that is also happening up here. Well I guess I'll get off my soap box but I'm here to tell you, honestly, this place isn't what it used to be, it's big city now, withall the violence and crookedness you could ask for. Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention the siesmic activity (Earthquakes- were all still expecting the "Big One".) As well as our lovely Volcanoes (You may have heard about Mount Saint Hellens or whats left of it- yes that was here- but what you may not know is that there are many more and Mount Rainier is the largest and closest and is still very active and just biding it's time for the "Big-Blow".). We also have the regular flooding (Did I mention it rains a lot more than a lot.), severe wind storms (It gets really cold without power for weeks- yup, all those nice trees falling wreak havoc with the powerlines and roads.), blizzards, Ice storms, Acts of God,and etcetera. Yes, nowhere is perfect and I think that I will move there to get away from all the idiots of the world. I hear that Nevada is a nice rural place and also the safest place in the U.S. to live, probably because a lot of it is nowhere, but nowhere can be nice. I could actually do some shooting without having to put up with liberal idiots (Did I mention that I hate liberals? Its because they have a habit of liberally trying to take away all your rights and money and try to make everyplace just like Los Angeles and Washington D.C. to name a few places I never want to be in again. Well enough said, I will now shake my head in disgust then lower it in sadness and walk away.

Okay, I am finally out of jail and if you Max Unglohd IV, or whatever you call yourself there now are still living there or haven't been shot or eased into the murky depths of Puget Sound with tightly bound ankles and appropriate lead or concrete gravity activated Davey Jones depths conveyance mechanism, if you haven't, well let me tell you, buddy,that you owe me bigger than big. After your brilliant plan failed. After we dug that hole that tunnelled into the place. After doing that job on that sub's reactor core. AND after you turning me in to take the heat off dear sweet you.
Well, Las Piedras Island is a very wet place, but when the sun shines it makes it worthwhile. Unless your'e in the federal pen in Colorado. So when I find you, it won't be on a sunny day. Wait for the rain. And wait for more rain. And when you grow tired of waiting, when you no longer believe that I will....... I will!!!

I have lived in Lakewood, Wa since 1959 and have never been on the island. Sounds like it may sink soon. Too many people, not only on Las Piedras but, all over Seattle/Tacoma. Stay in California......

hi i grewup on san pedro islnad from 1943-1960
i've seen property skyrocket on the island
a poor man can't afford to live there no more
i've seen for ward go from the naval base to a millionaires paradies.
my family is buried in the island.
i have 55acres for sale to any millionaire that would like to but it
my grandparents bought it in 1933 for $1,500.
i will sell it to ne one for 16 million dollars
half is waterfront
sincerely yours
mr rose
lyle p rose
- Thursday, April 29, 1999 at 23:43:26 (PDT
Welcome to Las Piedras Island , Now Leave.
Bobby Hull
- Sunday, January 31, 1999 at 10:37:11 (PST)
I am back to Idaho! Orofino baby! This place stinks!
Clint White
Idaho, ID - Wednesday, August 07, 2002 at 23:18:41 (PDT)
I agree that Las Piedras is a pretty place... to visit. After living there for 16 years however, i must say that all the rich, self-righteous snots that have taken over, have made the island an ugly, ugly place. Not the land mind you, i'm talking about the attitude of the place. All the lawsuits and constant bickering about pointless things make Las Piedras an enormous ball of stress. Adults are rude to children and people find some comfort in driving 15 miles below the speed limit. No wonder your highschool age drug use is shooting through the roof. Islanders need to give themselves an attitude check and a wind-down, then maybe it would be a nice place to live.
(an oppinion from one of us that is not blessed with a fancy house and millions of dollars to talk with.)
I feel more than blessed to be away... in a community of Tacoma no less, and loving it. I find it strange that in a large city like Tacoma (where very few are wealthy compared to the population as a whole) everyone is kind and polite. Unlike your Island.
Do an attitude check.
The trees however, are very kind to the eyes.
Fircrest, WA - Friday, May 31, 2002 at 02:57:37 (PDT)
POULSBO, WA - Thursday, April 11, 2002 at 14:24:48 (PDT)
I have mixed feelings about Las Piedras Island. My brother was born there, I was born in Seattle, the family moved to Utah when I was too young to remember. I do remember spending every summer with my grandmother, Margaret Manning, out on Battle Point. That was indeed heaven. What really hurt was the fact that my grandmother was driven to sell her home due to the insane property taxes. Her father was a ferry boat captain on the sound; my grandmother and grandfather built the road and the beach-front house before World War II. They helped create the golf club that cannot be joined now without the income of a small European GNP.
Communicating with others who are leaving Las Piedras, in disgust, the consensus seems to be that money has ruined the Island. The island is almost as nice as it used to be, if you ignore the hundreds of new houses going up all the time, it’s just that there is a new breed of islander, more suited to the blue blood New England snobs than a semi-rural bit of paradise.
It really saddens me.
Liddy Gordon
Tucson, AZ - Wednesday, April 10, 2002 at 12:57:29 (PDT)

Note that these are actual excerpts, cut and pasted directly from the Las Piedras Island online guestbook. “Cascadia,” in case anyone was wondering, is the term used to describe the region around the Cascades, including, of course, parts of Canada. The thinking is that the people in this region have more in common with each other, regardless of nationality, than they do with the rest of their respective countries. I know it sounds strange for Americans to feel an affinity for Canadians, that odd tribe in the Great White North, but this is the thinking.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

At The Range

Fortunately, Soo can always tell when I’m losing it and need a little alone time so on Saturday she told me to go away. I had heard there was a driving range near Kingston, which is off the island on the north Kitsap peninsula. To give you a general idea of the geography, Las Piedras is less than ten miles west across Puget Sound from Seattle, which, and this might come as a shock to some people, is about 100 miles away from the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic Peninsula runs interference, holding a protective wing over the Kitsap Peninsula, which in turn holds a protective wing over Las Piedras Island, making the island look either like the bullseye at the center of rings of land and water or some cocooned chrysalis waiting to sprout wings and fly away, depending on your perspective. I was leaning more towards the former so decided to get off the bullseye for awhile.
To get to Kingston, or, to be more precise, the driving range on South Kingston Road on the way to Kingston, I crossed over the Agate Passage Bridge turned right at the Casino (yes, casino), went through the Port Madison Indian Reservation (slowing near the grave of Chief Sealth [Seattle, to you and me]), and then just meandered until I saw something that looked like a place to hit balls. I needed to stretch my conception of what that was. The range was barely noticeable from the road, the sign was concealed behind some bushy trees (honestly, I will study the local flora at some point. For now, let’s call them cedars), and the gravel drive looked half-complete at best. If it weren’t for the stubby flag plunged into a swath of sad grass masquerading as a putting green I would have rolled right by. A trailer abutted half an old barn. To enter, you slid open the barn door. Once I had done this, all my snooty preconceptions went out the window. But for the lack of grass to hit off, it was an ideal little setup. And, the lack of grass could be forgiven, afterall the range was covered (remember this is a land synonymous with rain), it’s hard to grow grass under a roof (see: Houston Astrodome circa 1971). The matts were good as far as matts go, the distances on the range itself were well marked, and the view was not displeasing, leaning towards the pastoral/welcome-to-Mayberry feel. But what really set the range apart were the images of Ben Hogan framed and hung on the inside wall of that half barn. They were enlarged copies of the illustrations from Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” the one book everyone who wants to know how to play golf should read. It has taken some heat lately as being overly technical and not as modern as it once was, but you don’t have to take everything in it as scripture. It was one of the first golf books I ever read, and combined with Jack Nicklaus’s “Playing Lessons” would provide a solid foundation for anyone’s game.
There was one other person on the range. I bought some balls, (it was self-service, put your money in the tin and take a bucket) and set up shop at the opposite end where a mirror stood so golfers can check out their swings. After I’d pounded about half my bucket I saw the reflection of the other guy walking over towards me. Now before you get the idea that this is going to be one of those mystical golf stories, forget about it. I like hitting balls because it’s therapeutic, it helps me get out aggression, and it might help my game, (which needs it), but it's no more spiritual than a good piss is. I’ve read a lot of crap about golf and the soul, my opinion is the two should be kept as separate as meat and milk. What follows is my recollection of an awkward conversation (more or less) and that’s all.


“Howdy,” he said as I placed another ball on the tee. I stood up and said hello.
“Haven’t seen you around here before.”
“Haven’t been here before,” I said.
He looked down at my shoes, “New around here, then?”
I was wearing a pair of white FootJoys that I had put on in the parking lot (a habit developed from years of playing at public courses). There was no real need to wear golf shoes on mats. My new friend was wearing hiking boots.
“Yup.” I wasn’t quite sure where this interrogation was going and I hadn’t really gotten a warm and fuzzy feeling from this guy. But, it became apparent that he wasn’t going to just walk away.
“Over on Las Piedras Island,” I told him.
I looked at him quizzically, “Ahh?”
“Well, it’s nice over there, ain’t it?”
“We like it,” I said.
I nodded and then waggled my driver a bit, trying to convey politely a desire to return to the reason I was there.
“Kids?” he said, clearly not picking up the subtleties of my body language.
“One,” I told him and then decided to look for a way out of this conversation. So, I smiled and said, “Does everyone who comes here get this treatment or have I done something suspicious?”
He laughed a bit and I laughed, and then he said apologetically, “Oh, no, no, it’s just there’s only about 30 or 40 guys around here who use this place and we all pretty much know each other, so when I see someone new I like to know who they are and how they found the place.”
“Not sure how much longer this place will be in business with only 30 or 40 customers.”
“Oh, we’ve got a pretty low overhead,” he said.
“You’re a part owner then?”
“Well, it’s more of an informal investment, a handshake deal, nothing in writing. A bunch of us just got tired of driving to places we didn’t like all that much so we decided to make our own.”
“Makes sense. My name’s Billy, by the way.”
“That’s a funny last name you got there, Billy. My name’s Bob.”
“Huh, oh yeah, it’s Dutch,” I stuck out my hand, “Nice to meet you Bob.”
And really that was about it. We talked a bit more, I told him we’d moved from California (did I notice a wrinkle of the forehead, or am I just being overly sensitive), somehow I got rid of him, hit the rest of my balls, and left. Except, as I was walking through that sliding barn door, Bob looked up, saw me leaving and said, “Welcome to Cascadia.”

Sunday, July 7, 2002

What If Las Piedras Island Really Is Heaven?

There’s no doubt that this place is special, but there are times when Nathan is sleeping and I’ve had time to be alone and look around at the place where we’ve landed that I think to myself, “What if I’m really dead, something happened that I can’t remember and I died and now I’ve been transported to this sanctuary in the woods.” It could be heaven or it could be a way station, a purgatory, a place where we are to await further instruction, our next assignment. Heaven or hell is really a matter of perspective anyway. I mean it’s not like I strapped a bomb to my chest, blew up some infidels, and am now getting serviced every night by a harem of virgins. Whose heaven is that? (Just a rhetorical question).
My point is, people spend their entire lives thinking or dreaming of some imaginary place that is better than where they are now. What if this is it? (And by “this” I don’t mean Las Piedras Island. At least not for everyone). I mean, what if we all have the capacity to make our lives into the ideal existences promised to the religious in the next world if they follow the rules in this one. (Billy stopped, poured himself a cup of coffee, went downstairs to get his trusty dictionary, and looked up the word “delusional”). “delusion n. – 1. a false belief or opinion. 2. a persistent false belief that is a symptom or form of madness. delusional adj. < Do not confuse delusion with illusion.” Other interesting words heading nearby pages “deleterious, depression, descent, despondent, devil-may-care, dialectic.”
I’m not saying I’ve transformed my life into perfection, like I said, it’s just a matter of perspective. Take the Buddhist tenet, “Life is suffering.” If you operate with that thought as the underlying theme to your life, you’re bound to feel good about things some of the time. If the alternative is expecting perfection and continuously being disappointed, I’ll side with Siddhartha. With all the treacle and Pollyanna that populates pop culture these days it could do folks some good to think that some times things aren’t good. Or at least don’t always have to be. I’m a long ways from being able to make sense of a Buddhist philosophy that monks spend entire lifetimes meditating upon, and even further from explaining how it fits into this chapter. I have a tendency to grab onto bits of theories, snippets of songs, lines from movies and abstract them to fit my own world view. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
Let me just excerpt the Las Piedras Island Almanac 2003 to give you an idea of what this place is like and why I started this chapter, “The list of ways to dip a toe into the community pool (two pools, actually, in the new Las Piedras Aquatic Center) is endless, of course – and not much different from any other community. Except that the people who move to Las Piedras, for the most part, feel like they’ve arrived at home.” It sounds nice and everything, but something about it gave me the heebie-jeebies and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I know it’s designed to give me a peaceful easy feeling, but I can’t help remembering it’s cruel to be kind (in the right measure). Maybe I spent too much time hiding on the backstreets thinking this town will rip the bones from your back, that it’s a suicide trap, that we needed to get out while we were young because, well, tramps like us, baby we were born to run. Regardless, I was just thinking to myself that this could be heaven or this could be hell. I’m just hoping that if we go running for the door to find the passage back to the place we were before, we don’t find the nightman telling us to relax, Las Piedras Island is programmed to receive, that we can check out any time we like, but we can never leave.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

My Little Drunk Friend

Soo likes to call it parenting, but what this reminds me of most is watching a friend who has massive potential go on binge after binge. You see him for the first time and he’s ecstatic, laughing, happy to see you, but he’s moody, one thing goes wrong and he’s throwing his bottle at you (he keeps bottles stashed all over the house, grabs them, sucks them dry and flings them to the ground in disgust). He’s continuously bumping into walls, you have to watch him every second for fear he’ll do some damage to himself when alone. A few minutes of silence will go by and panic sets in, you rush off into the other room and find him rolling around on the floor making goo goo eyes at the cat. It’s like he’s perpetually stoned, he’ll dig through the trash to find random bits of food. When he’s hungry and it seems like he’s always hungry (or at least always putting something into his mouth) he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. And then, at times, he shows amazing promise. He’ll open the door, walk outside take a look at the sunshine, and smile like it’s the first day of the rest of his life and he’ll turn things around and amount to something great some day. Then, in an instant, he’ll start saying, “bottle, bottle,” and will be inconsolable until he gets one, thrusting it into his mouth and drinking greedily as if he’ll never drink again.
Soo has found a contract gig here on the island doing the high-tech marketing voodoo that Soo do so well. That leaves me at home as the nanny, the full-time parent, the mentor, food feeder, diaper changer, putter to sleeper, the sober friend of a pathetically intoxicated 30-pound staggering ball of terror. His favorite game is Sit on the Cat. He enjoys eating soup and rice with his hands and then running his fingers through his hair. If you leave the seat up the toilet becomes his own self-service baptismal font. Every dog belongs to him. In short, he’s like every other toddler on the planet.
I’m still trying to find a job. It’s not like there’s any future in daycare for a 35-year old former PR guy. Even if I could convince some desperate couple to hand over their child to me, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to give it the same love and attention I give to Nathan, which, occasionally, ain’t even all that much. Yesterday I sat down here for two minutes to check my email, during which time he had gotten into the bag of peanuts we feed the birds and had been crushing them with his heel to get the nut out. Evidence of this (broken shells, slobbered on peanuts, and paper thin brown peanut coverings attached to his socks) littered the room (not to mention his person) and I stood there attempting to recall exactly how many times in books, classes, and in conversations with more diligent parents the word “peanut” had been used in conjunction with the words “choking hazard.” It’s one thing to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your own child, but how do you explain that bruised solar plexus to someone who has paid you money to take care of their kid. “Well, you see, ma’am I was just taking a quick scan of HotJobs to see if there was anything I could do that paid better than watching your little angel. I know, I know, he’s the most important thing in the world to you and I should be glued to his every move, but if I have to spend another month pulling his hands out of his own feces I will go bonkers.” Of course, removing Nate poo from his cute little fingers is nothing short of paradise.
I’m sure something will turn up. And, in the meanwhile, I’ve got my little drunk buddy to hang out with, I mean “parent.”

Friday, June 7, 2002

The Barber from Puyarim

I’ve found that there’s no better way to get to know a place than to visit the local barber shop. That was probably more true 40 years ago before the advent of superclipbestcut salons that roll you in and sit you in front of whoknowswho, but then Las Piedras Island strives to be an America of 40 years ago so the maxim holds true here. It’s a skewed view from behind the barber’s chair, and there are no doubt more comprehensive and perhaps more accurate assessments of a community, but none more frank.
To tell the truth, I know this more through anecdote and hearsay than personal experience. I tend towards taciturn in the barber’s chair. I had a consistent hair-cutter in San Francisco named Annie who laughed because I frequently napped while she worked, which could be blamed on her conversation skills as much as my sleep schedule. The combination of a speech impediment and English as a second language made for dialogue like that between dentist and patient, were she the patient.
Language can be overrated, though. I’ve had some great haircuts, and learned a great deal, in countries where I did not speak the native tongue. I had a haircut in Florence where the only instruction I could offer was “Corte,” and then sat back, watched and listened while a scene from some unwritten Italian movie took place before my eyes. Men, and only men, walked in, sat down, stood up, spoke, gesticulated, and generally just conversed for what could have been the most amusing, albeit completely incomprehensible, 20 minutes of screenplay I’d ever witnessed. In Seoul, I got a haircut from a barber done up in what looked like a surgeon’s coat while a staff of assistants took pains to offer assistance. Scissors and shears were handed back and forth like scalpels and swabs. And before I was allowed to leave, strips of tape were used to make sure every last shred of cut hair was removed from where it had fallen onto my clothes.
There are two “Barber Shops” on Las Piedras Island and they are across the street from each other on the main drag. One services children and the other chases them out. I went to the one that cuts children’s hair not because I am still a child at heart, nor because I like the name (Chuck was the name of the barber who first cut my hair and to whom I owed allegiance until I moved away from my hometown, and “Chuck’s Barber Shop” is the name of one such business here on the island), but simply because there was a parking spot in front of Randy’s Barber Shop and sometimes listening to fate rather than enforcing your will on events can be fun. It was in Randy’s that I met the Barber from Puyarim.
I will try to resist the temptation to insert more character than really exists into the Barber from Puyarim, but he comes from a place that has assumed mythical proportions in my imagination and he performs with such grace and flair that I’m afraid all my efforts to diminish his stature will fail. He’s an exceptionally ordinary looking man, just over six feet with nondescript brown hair, and yet when he turns on that electric razor and dances around behind the chair flashing and flipping he is a veritable Baryshnikov. He has this move where he dips as he clips then flicks his wrist so tufts of hair fly free from the cuttee and float to the floor (thereby negating the need for a staff of young Asian women to pluck hairs from his client’s clothes) which boggles the senses. He works fast and he talks fast. I was afraid to say too much dare I upset his rhythm. I told him I had recently moved here from the Bay Area and asked if he was from the island, which is how I found out he was from Puyarim.
Now, I had heard of “Prim” before except I didn’t know it was Puyarim. Puyarim is pronounced “Prim” and means laughing waters in the native language of the Puyallam tribe. I had been told it was sunny there and they had good golf courses. My barber confirmed this, “Yup, only 12 inches of rain per year in the city center. Of course it goes up an inch every mile you get away from there, until you hit 112 inches a year in the Olympic national forest. Lots of pilots retire there. They call it the Blue Hole because it’s in the rainshadow of the Olympics and they know from experience that there’s a lot of blue sky up there.”
To which I replied, “Hmm.” He went on cutting and talking and I really didn’t see any need to interrupt, except for that occasional “Hmm,” of recognition so he’d know I was still awake. And, I was truly awake. The Barber from Puyarim was no Annie, he had manifold skills. It was such a pleasure to just sit there and watch and listen that I was almost disappointed with the short duration of the experience.
“So you just moved here, huh? From California, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story. Well, let me tell you this ain’t LA and it certainly ain’t San Fran-cisco.” He really did separate those two syllables. I Hmm’d. “You’re damn near off the map here, and you never know what to expect when you start looking over the edge.”
His words were vaguely ominous, but he glossed over them with more entertaining prattle about camping and hiking and the sanctity of our forests. He was a pleasant, engaging guy who expressed an affinity for the land and mankind’s place in it and our role in protecting it - not in so many words, and interspersed with the metallic rasp of snipping scissors, but that was the general drift.
I find myself now hoping my hair will grow faster so I can return for another performance without appearing too much like a groupie. How embarrassed I’d be if he took a look at my hair and dismissed me like a bothered rock star, “Come back when you need it, pal, can’t you see I’ve got real work to do.”
It was in this attitude of great admiration and sincere appreciation for work well done that I encountered him not two days later at the Department of Licensing. Soo and I had gone to take our Washington State driver’s test and hopefully get our licenses. I didn’t recognize him at first. Perhaps because I was flush with the success of acing my test, or perhaps it was because the Barber of Puyarim was sitting and I was standing, (an inversion of our usual postures), either way I nearly walked right past him. We did make eye contact, though, and he gave me a nod of recognition. I said, “Hey, how are you?” And, he replied, and this has given cause for hours of speculation, “Great, I’m getting my license back.”
What could this mean? Could the Barber from Puyarim have lost his driver’s license? And what might have caused him to lose his license? My mind raced, might the Barber from Puyarim have been driving while intoxicated? And, if this were true, what might be the implications of such self-destructive behavior? Might he meet a fate similar to other legendary yet tragically misunderstood artists, a Jimi Hendrix drug overdose or a Jackson Pollack car crash…
Oddly enough, that started me thinking about employment issues, I don’t know why (he writes sarcastically after listening to a voicemail from a recruiter explaining why some PR agency still doesn’t want to talk to him). What validation do we receive from our jobs, what sense of purpose? Coming from the perspective of someone who has not had a real job for almost a year now, and whose self-esteem teeters on every unanswered email, every resume submission that passes unrecognized, it’s not rocket science when I say, a job means more than money. I’m sure every rocket scientist that reads that will feel just a little bit smarter, just a little bit more sure of himself (or herself, of course), and will no doubt be validated in his (or her) career choice. But then what happens to the rocket scientist if he (or she) gets fired, if there are cutbacks and the world just doesn’t need as many rocket scientists anymore. What would happen if he (or she) had to learn a new trade, become a barber (or a beautician), for instance. Now I’m not saying the Barber from Puyarim was a rocket scientist, but it’s not such a far stretch to see where I’m going with this. Or maybe it is. Maybe I’m the only one who spends his time thinking about barbers and employment and what would happen if the former were treated like rock stars instead of, well, instead of like barbers. Maybe the Barber from Puyarim isn’t happy being just a barber (and maybe that’s exactly how he says it, “I’m just a barber on Las Piedras Island, cutting the hair of little brats and weird unemployed guys who lost their jobs in Silicon Valley and now sit around moping and writing stupid crap.” [OK, just focus on the “just” part]). So, maybe after he finishes work he goes and drinks away his feelings of inadequacy at the local dive bar, squandering his tip money overtipping the waitress who’ll never go home with him because he’s irretrievably unhappy, and, afterall just a barber. But, what a barber!
So, I ask you, would you rather be really good at something deemed by society or your father or whomever else you listen to, to be insignificant, or would you rather be average at something respectable and earn a decent wage. The next question, what if you were only really good at writing self-indulgent drivel that nobody else could give a flying fuck about.

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

A Month of Feeding the Birds

The decision to move, the act of moving, and the consequences of moving could serve as the subjects of three separate chapters, and, if I don’t get a job soon, just might. Before I move on to birdfeeding, I’ll simply report one obvious irony about our actual move. We left Belmont mid-deluge. Rain poured down our driveway and lightning lit up the sky over the bay as we pulled away from our home for the last time. Forty hours later as we approached Las Piedras Island, driving through a region which boasts the wettest place on the continental United States, and is virtually synonymous with rain - the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and we felt, at least for the moment, that our decision was blessed by whatever god you want to think controls this planet’s weather.
So, we had arrived. And, what awaited us? Instructions from the previous owner’s adolescent daughters on how to feed the birds. “P.S. Chipmucks and some times squirels come and eat the Blue Jays peanuts so please put alot out.” You get the idea. They also left sugar and the recipe for hummingbird food (“NO FOOD DIE”) an ominous typo, but then birds and omens are inseparable. I took it as an omen, for instance, when we returned to the house and saw a bald eagle (really, an honest to goodness American icon bald eagle) flying through the woods east of the house and then soaring to perch on a (insert name of some large tree here) not fifty yards away. When I mentioned this to the agent, she replied (a tad cavalierly, as if eagles are no big deal!), that three eagles are frequent visitors. She then went on to relay a story about how, recently, an island resident lost their weiner dog to a bald eagle. It just swooped down and flew away with it. An amusing image, one that left me laughing too hard to ask whether it was on a leash, a question that has plagued me since. Perhaps the bird was enforcing the leash law. Regardless, there were no feeding instructions for the bald eagles, which is a relief because the cost of maintaining a pen filled with weiner dogs would prove onerous to a man on my salary. Although, training the eagles to lift weiner dogs on command and charging admission (assuming I could avoid the wrath of the SPCA) might provide the income I’m sorely lacking.
Without an occupation, keeping occupied can be a challenge. So, for that first month, feeding the birds was a welcome chore. It provided a sense of order to the day, and really, despite the incredible amount of unproductiveness characterizing March, made me feel, in some small way, productive. Nathan and I feed the Steller’s Jays in the morning (despite being categorized as Blue Jays in the daughters’ note, the book they left clearly marks them as Steller’s. I can only assume the girls were more interested in the nurturing aspect of bird feeding, as opposed to conducting an accurate ornithological study). We then either walk around the yard, getting a fair distance away from the feeding zone on the deck so the birds will feel safe enough to alight for a bite, or head inside to watch from the kitchen window. This varies in accordance with the attention span of a 16-month old little boy and his rather unmethodical unemployed father, but by and large fits the description of most mornings. By the time we have our mug/sippy cup of coffee/milk, make and eat/throw on the floor breakfast, change clothes/diapers, and get through giving peanuts to the Jays, we’re all just about ready for a nap. Sadly, not all of us can take morning naps.
Perhaps more entertaining than the Jays (although seeing Chip the chipmunk single-handedly hold off a flock of screeching birds as he attempts to consume heaping pawfuls of peanuts can be more fun than watching the cats careen around the house jacked up on a wicked catnip dose) are the hummingbirds. For one, the h-bird feeder is right by the TV, so there’s more opportunity to witness their antics than the Jays. (Get the image of the unshaven unemployed father sitting around watching the soaps, eating bonbons and gazing mindlessly out the window out of your head. We have DirecTV. I watch baseball, eat bonbons and gaze mindlessly out the window). For two, the h-birds appear to be in constant conflict with each other. This results in mini-aerial battles, as one bird will swoop in and attack another as it delicately pokes its elongated beak into the feeder. The action heated up late in the month as the numbers grew, we soon had more than four h-birds claiming our one feeder, and restocking the sugar water, which had been a fortnightly activity, now needed to be done every few days.
These hummingbirds are fascinating, and my own fascination with them has me fascinated. I’ll sit and stare out the window as they come zooming in from the woods, then they’ll hover and zip from one side of the feeder to the other, flecks of gold and flashes of brilliant red and orange appearing and disappearing with every movement. Then another will come in, randomly either peacefully taking the other side of the feeder or maliciously chasing away the first bird. I’ve seen as many as four dancing around, dodging and weaving, waiting for a place or deciding whether or not to engage one of the other birds in their flying dance. Soo seems to believe there is one Bully Hummingbird that chases the other birds away. I haven’t noticed any distinguishing features as of yet. In a lineup of hummingbirds, I don’t think I’d be able to point to number four and say, “Him, that one with the long nose and beady eyes, he’s the one.” Although, were there a hummingbird police force and hummingbird murder detectives, I might have been called down to the hummingbird stationhouse to do just that.
Last week when I went out to refill the feeder, there at my feet lay a motionless little hummingbird. It could have died of natural causes, but I’m not ruling out foul play. The odd thing about it, the thing that fascinates me about human nature or perhaps just my nature, was that I was truly sad. Here’s a creature not much larger than a bumblebee, and it has died (as all creatures must), and I’m standing on the porch getting misty. While all month long on television I’ve been watching human beings kill each other with bombs and bullets and I haven’t shed a tear. Is it me or is it just a proximity thing?

Friday, April 5, 2002

Which Ones Are Cedars?

We needed to get the hell out of Belmont. The tech boom busted for us and we could no longer afford the San Francisco Bay Area. The details sound more depressing than they actually were: lost jobs, mortgage payments we couldn’t pay (did someone say “sub-prime?” Golly, that sounds keen), and months of fruitless job-seeking and soul-searching (wait, this does sound kind of depressing). Faced with the option of moving into a mobile home off Highway 101 or moving on, we opted to trek towards cheaper pastures. Billy Shakes was packing up the bus and moving the wife and little one north. We had taken our shot at Silicon Valley fortune and like hapless prospectors of old, ended up with a pan full of sand.
Selecting our destination required one map of the continental United States and one dart. Although not entirely that random, we were fairly open when addressing the question of a new address. We were not entirely destitute, our years of panning left us some flexibility, but we became increasingly less so.
The wife (who I should properly introduce here as Ms. Soo Moon) shot down my idea to move to Nepal and become shepherds (“cliché”, she said). We were fairly certain we’d stay within these United States. We are both Californians, so weren’t particularly interested in Northeast and Midwest winters. Not to mention a rabid, though ill-defined, distrust of what I’ll just call the “Old States.” The demographics of the Southeast (to say nothing of its track record on integration) made that region a no-go, not only for the comfort of my Korean-American wife, but for our collective peace of mind in regards to the formative years of our Amer-Asian boy.
The Southwest was enticing, particularly LA since most of our families still lived there. However, employment opportunities, the desire to try someplace new, and all the reasons we left LA in the first place led us to rule out LA in the end. AZ, NV, NM, UT, etc…were never seriously considered. That left us with the Northwest, which held a certain mystical attraction, a gauzy gray-green fecundity, someplace where we could grow, raise the boy, you know the American Dream and all that. The Las Piedras Island part was Soo’s discovery. It seemed ideal…an island, not far from Seattle, but far enough so we could rent a cheap place and still be able to get to jobs in town without a crazy commute. Assuming we would find jobs in Seattle.
That is the key phrase, we are still assuming we will find jobs in Seattle. In the interim, to keep me busy, to entertain friends and relatives, and to provide a record for all posterity, I give you this collection of words and thoughts.
The title of this chapter comes from a conversation we had with the rental agent regarding the property boundaries. It was the first time we saw the place, and we were walking in the backyard. She started pointing out the perimeter and said, “The other marker is behind one of those two cedars.” Soo and I looked at each other, I stayed silent preferring to remain quietly ignorant rather than speak out and prove it. Soo, however, couldn’t resist, “Um, which ones are the cedars?”
A fair enough question. It’s not like we saw a lot of cedars growing up in LA, or even in the Bay Area for that matter. We fancied ourselves as, if not city slickers, at least sophisticated citizens of the world. The occasional camping trip did little to transform our decidedly un-pastoral purview, founded as it was in SoCal suburbia and augmented by San Francisco urbania. Our feeling of utter rural ignorance was made more pronounced when, from a distance, we heard a cow lowing and Soo asked, slightly shocked, “What was that?” After recovering from the news that our potential neighbors had cattle, we grew to like it. Then came the clucking of chickens, a rooster crowing, and indications that other less domesticated animals frequented the joint. The deer fence around the garden, for instance. The prospect of living in our own little rural park became irresistible, images of the local fauna nibbling flora accompanied by gently lowing cows filled our brains. And then there was the rock work. Fantastic rock walls and a dramatic stone staircase that descended to the back yard, leading into the forest, like a path to dark discovery. We felt a sense of liberation and a growing comfort, we had found a refuge at the edge of the country, and renting felt like a good thing. No more mortgage hanging over our heads.
We liked the fact that we were secluded, down a long dirt road away from the civilization. So what if we couldn’t pick a cedar out of a lineup of trees to save our lives. There was something about the place that we just liked, it felt like our destiny, so we took it.