Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Shock and Awe

If we can figure out a way to kill everyone on the planet, why can’t we figure out a way to feed everyone? Is it cost? Logistics? Simply not shocking and awesome enough? I’ll admit feeding and educating everyone wouldn’t be as interesting to watch as blowing everyone up, but has it come to the point where everything we do is dictated by whether or not it makes for good TV.
I think it’s simple as Have vs Have Not. You can paint that matchup with whatever label, religion or –ism you want, in the end, though, the whole game is about people who have stuff trying to keep it or get more of it, and people without stuff trying to get stuff. There are groups of people that provide an exception to this rule by talking a lot about how they are happy with the small amount of stuff they have because of other things (what they believe, how they love, etc…) and a lot of those people try to convince other people that they could be happy too, if they thought/believed/loved like they do. Most of the people doing this convincing have already received/reached a level of having stuff that makes life bearable. Let’s face it, are you going to listen to someone tell you how to be happy if they have to beg for food, clothes and housing, let alone healthcare.
All of today’s big religions take good care of their employees. There’s no mystery as to why. The question puzzling me is why people let themselves be fooled into believing they should be happy with what they’ve got. The promise of happiness in an afterlife seems like big chunk of baloney to swallow just so you can rationalize living in misery. And the feeling of moral superiority must fade when you and your loved ones are hungry.
Moral and intellectual superiority only go so far. I know lots of smart, devout people that are comfortable living simple lives knowing full well that people less smart and less “good” are making tons more dough. I’m not talking about them. They are capable of caring for themselves. Maybe they won’t be able to take the Jag to the club, but they aren’t going to foment revolution about it. So, why is education so expensive in America? Why is it a luxury? Again, if we have the capacity to pay for an arsenal that can eliminate every human (and just about every animal and insect [cockroach legend?]) why can’t we teach them to read and write?

Whey and kurds
What we need is action
A money making faction
Not continuous distraction
But it’s never been my forte
This capitalism sport
Always ready with a quick retort
I rationalize my ineptitude
As artistic attitude
A temporary interlude
Before real earning begins
Doing penance for past sins
Yet who keeps track of losses and wins
Where does the official scorer sit
Judging what’s an error, what’s a hit
Frankly, I don’t care that much
All I want is your loving touch

Worried about failure
And a southern exposure
You take pills
And pay the bills
I watch the boy
And try to employ
Marketable skills
To cure our ills
Producing these words
And feeding the birds
Certain it will go our way
“How?” and “why?” you say
To which I reply
I don’t know why.
I just feel we’re here to stay
We’re so far away
From family and friends
How this all ends
Simply depends
On us and a fair bit of luck.
Your look, awestruck,
“I don’t give a…care
whether here or there
our future depends on jobs.
Superstitious slobs
With millionaire aunts
Can joke and count on chance
Their main concern
Is not what they earn
But having money to burn.
Our situation’s
Like most of the nation’s
Getting enough to get by.”
“I get it,” I sigh
I’ll just have to try
To step from this void
To the world of employed
So we can avoid
Moving further afield
Emotions steeled
Work should yield
A dramatic change
Feeling strange
The dog has mange
And incredible range
Hits the high notes
Herds the goats
Digs moats
Eats groats
Adrift in the sound
Won’t run aground
Or sleep around
Bones are found
Where others drowned
What a hound!

Obnoxious Man is going to the dogs.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Obnoxious Man

Soo is getting annoyed with me more frequently. She calls me Obnoxious Man. I imagine myself as a superhero, like Batman, cruising the earth searching for peaceful conversations where I can intrude myself and launch a vitriolic tirade.
I’ve started sending emails to Congress, it’s actually quite hard to find the personal email address of each individual congressperson. If you want to send one email to YOUR representative it’s quite simple, our wonderful government has established a web site and all you have to do is type in your area code, and bam you’ve got a box where you can write your message, point and click, don’t be a dick. You don’t get their personal email address, of course, it goes to some flunky, some aide that scans them looking for anything interesting, the odd email from lunatics in the sticks. And representatives only answer mail from people in their own district. Emails bounce back with a canned response:

Thank you very much for contacting my office about an issue that I know concerns you greatly. Please know that I have acknowledged and registered your opinion, and I greatly appreciate hearing your views.
If you reside in the 5th Congressional District and have included your name, address and zip code, you will receive a more detailed response shortly. If you have not included this information, please resend your message or visit my website at http://www.house.gov/ackerman/pages/contact.html to log in your commments.
As a matter of Congressional Courtesy, I can only respond to correspondence from within my own district.
Thank you once again. Your comments are an integral part of the political process, without them I would not be able to make the decisions that affect our community and our nation.

Kind of gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, eh?
This is what I’ve been sending:

You have a voice
I have no choice
But to send email
And see how you fail

To George W. Bush

"It is the function of the citizen to keep the
government from falling into error."

- Robert H. Jackson, Associate Justice of the U.S.
Supreme Court, American Communications Association v.
Douds, 1950

Since taking office, President Bush has signed into
law bold initiatives to improve public schools by
raising standards, requiring accountability, and
strengthening local control. He has signed tax relief
that provided rebate checks and lower tax rates for
everyone who pays income taxes in America. He has
increased pay and benefits for America's military and
is working to save and strengthen Social Security and
Medicare. He is also committed to ushering in a
responsibility era in America, and has called on all
Americans to be "citizens, not spectators; citizens,
not subjects; responsible citizens building
communities of service and a Nation of character."

"With the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787,
the country's Founding Fathers created a new system of
government. The idea behind it - quite revolutionary
at the time - appears at first glance to be simple and
straightforward. The power to govern comes directly
from the people, not through primogeniture or the
force of arms, but through free and open elections by
the citizens of the United States. This may have been
tidy and direct as a theory, but in practice it was
far from inclusive. Complicating things from the very
beginning was the question of eligibility: who would
be allowed to cast votes and who would not."

And then I add my “Primogeniture” poem (see above).

Let’s see who they send out to visit me next.

Sunday, September 21, 2003


Beautiful flowers, rising like spires, cups of color adorn the pinnacle. I marvel at the small miracle, as they defy gravity to keep such a weighty display of nature’s wonder aloft.
It rained a bit this morning. The added burden of water brought them down, flowers fading on the ground.
“I heard digitalis were poisonous,” said Soo.
“Like Hemlock?” I asked.
“I guess.”
I think.

Faded flowers
A disappearance
Summer showers
Tears appearance
We’re faulting
Sending troops
Killing groups
In the way
Or so you say
You think
We dumb
You blink
Act numb
To facts
We see ‘em
Ad nauseam
Do you see a resolution
Is this your final solution
From whom will you seek absolution
When blossoms pale
And the bullets hail
Wars will fail
They always have
A burn’s salve
Brings late relief
After fire has wrought its grief
Regardless of how well applied
Tell the wounded he hasn’t died
Here’s some healing
For what you’re feeling
Treat the skin
But what’s within
An understanding
That what you’re handing
Western sin
A hospital
A broken skull
Where’s the thanks
For our tanks
Our best intentions
And latest inventions
Were designed to save you
If, perchance, we killed a few
What were we supposed to do
Collateral damage
Was expected.
Next Haj
He speaks with voice inflected
Backed by experts well respected
Your land lacked inspection
(and a dose of genuflection)
trust us when we say
what we do
is good for you
your buds can bloom another day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Caterpillar Hell

I’m having real trouble sleeping. Sometimes it’s just the nightsweats, waking up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head, oh, I’ve got a bad desire (sorry, Bruce). That’s one thing. And, honestly, I’ve gotten used to that, (it’s amazing what the human body can get used to), what’s been worse are the dreams.
It’s hard to capture in complete thoughts the contents of a dream. Lately, I’ve been dreaming about the caterpillars. They managed to slip in under the door in our bedroom. There’s just one small crack, the tiniest opening, but they found it and dozens of them crawled into our room, the bathroom, onto our towels, they’re everywhere. So, I have this dream and they’re crawling on me in my sleep and they snake through my nostrils and into my open fitful sleep breathing mouth into the cavity of my skull. They cocoon and sprout wings and start flying about my brain, but there is no brain, just a hollow head, so they start wriggling out between my teeth and flapping around the room. They try to get out the same way they came in, but they are trapped inside looking for a light to go to, but all they can see is the green glow of Soo’s cell phone charging. So, they dance around the phone, doing an aerial ballet as if in homage to modern communication.
I started thinking about the caterpillars as humans. There are millions of us billions of us and we wander around aimlessly looking for food and a place to rest. They really can look spookily cogent sometimes, the way they stop crawling and lift the front of their bodies, their heads (duh), and rotate it around as if they are looking for where to go next. Most of them will die. They’re dying already, some just stop moving and shrivel up in the sun, others do a death dance, I’ve seen them on the rocks thrashing about as if on fire. Some make it, some don’t. Nate is fascinated by them. Soo is repulsed. I’ve turned them into metaphor. Who will metamorph, who will sprout wings?

Friday, September 5, 2003

Lonesome, Lonely, and Alone

Moving away from your friends and family is a great, albeit painful, way to gain a newfound appreciation for them. If you ever find yourself not appreciating a buddy, imagine not seeing that person for two years or ever. You can talk about the connectedness of the world today, how easy it is to phone or email, but really there’s nothing like seeing a person, being in each other’s presence. I find myself wondering why people take so long to answer emails or return phone calls. Have they forgotten about me? Did I do or say something to offend them? Then you realize, you are on the periphery of their lives now. You are not someone they will see next weekend, they are not going to pop over to watch the game. You may not see them for years, maybe never again. It’s hard for people with busy lives to devote time and emotion to people they may see only twice a decade.
This is a difficult realization. It means you either have to make new friends or hope for many visitors. We’ve had a few friends and family members come up, it’s not like we’re on the North Pole, but that tapestry of relationships we’d spent years weaving is suddenly looking a tad threadbare.
Take, for instance, an email exchange I had this morning with a friend in the Bay Area, a Giants fan, with whom I enjoy engaging in ribald baseball banter. My loathing for the Giants runs deeper and is more frequently fueled than any hatred I have for the Yankees. Yet, I manage to put aside those emotions and have formed real human relationships with people who root for the San Francisco Giants. That’s just the kind of guy I am. So, I forget exactly what I wrote, something about Barry Bonds and steroids, alleged use of a corked bat, the words “flaccid bags of has-beens” may have been used, but he replies with niceties like kiss the wife and kid and signs it “Your buddy” – (name deleted to protect the innocent).
“Your buddy” I think. What does this mean, “your buddy”? Of course, he’s my buddy. Was there any reason he needed to reiterate that he was my buddy? Was it concern on his part that perhaps I might be drifting into isolation and I needed reassurance that I still had friends. This was also my mind working after a run. I’ve started jumping on the treadmill while Nate takes his afternoon nap (now, usually his only nap of the day). Three or four days a week I get a good endorphin rush. Immediately following the run, though, my mind is racing. I’m usually a stressball until I get Nate down, I’ve had about a pot of coffee and I don’t like to eat before I run, so I’ve get a mostly empty stomach, then I go for a run and it clears my brain and I enter a blood sugar deprived, endorphin fueled buzz state that rivals anything William Blake ever got going.
So, this was my state of mind when I got that goddamn “your buddy” email. Yeah, I’m a little isolated. I miss my friends. I wonder if they ever really were my friends. It could be that we just make friends out of convenience. “You’re here, I’m here, we each have some free time, what do you say we do stuff together and call ourselves friends?”
“Sure, why not?”
What the hell.
Soo’s contract has been cancelled, shortened, she was given two weeks notice. I’m going to have to give up this computer and go write downstairs. The good news is she’ll be here to help with Nate. The bad news is we won’t have her income anymore. And, I still haven’t heard from that company about their opinion of my second round of interviews. I wrote an email to the guy I didn’t exactly hit it off with, but I haven’t sent it yet (for reasons that you’ll see as apparent). I probably won’t send it, I’ll just wait and see what they say. Here’s the letter:

Dear Mook (not his real name),
Thanks for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. I’d like to say it was a pleasure, but that would be transparently untrue. The conversation was interesting, probably more so for you than me. If I could take a bit more of your time I’d like to clarify myself. I do not presume to know your company as well as you or anyone else that has worked there for an extended period of time. The impression I have of the company is based on articles and conversations translated through the lens of my own experience. This experience tells me that a company could have the hottest technology in the world and still fail. It could have bright, dedicated, well-meaning employees and fail. It can have a dynamic leader with a clear vision of what he sees the company becoming and fail. There are thousands of reasons why companies fail or flounder or just plain underachieve. Where I’ve seen success is in companies where each of the aforementioned are in place AND the meaning and importance of each are adroitly communicated to the proper audiences in the proper way.

I do not claim to be expert at this, just as I do not claim to be an expert about your business, but I do know how it gets done and I know how to do it when given the chance. I’m a firm believer in the inevitability of success. As long as there are committed individuals driven by a powerful idea I have full confidence in that idea reaching its fruition. This all may sound a tad hyperbolic, and a bit over the edge for a guy applying for a PR manager position, but I’d rather you know how I think and what I believe in and reject me based on that than reject or accept me based on one late afternoon conversation.

Best Regards,
Your Buddy,
Billy Shakes

Like everything else I write, it needs some editing. I just want to work, to be around people, and to make money so I can take care of my family. And, I want to stop whining. Waah.

What to do? What am I doing? Why do I even turn this fucking computer on?

Back to the Barber

Almost. I drove by the Barber Shop, slowly, looking in to see if he was at that last chair. He was not. Soo cut my hair. She did a pretty good job and it was free. Free is good.

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Tent Caterpillars

OK, this is just gross. We are being overrun by caterpillars. It’s been more than a week since that second round and during that time nests of caterpillars have sprouted and spewed forth millions (no exaggeration) of creepy crawlies all over the island, indeed all over western Washington. They are on everything and they are systematically devouring vegetation. Apparently this is a peak year, that every decade or so they reproduce massively, and lo, we arrived in a massive year. It makes going outside repulsive. They stick to your legs, snap and crackle under your feet like long wriggling rice crispies, and rain down on you if you’re anywhere near a tree that has been infested. We were outside yesterday attempting to plant some strawberries in the garden. Nathan was crawling around in the dirt, Soo was digging up weeds and I was raking them away to the compost pile when I stopped. There was a noise, a lightly enveloping noise, it was the sound of sprinkles falling on leaves, except there was no rain, at least there was no precipitation. It was raining caterpillars! Scores of leafy trees around our property have been infested with tents (white, webby looking growths that morph into brown blobs of several hundred caterpillars) and from those tents were falling, aye raining, caterpillars. It was a realization that made my skin crawl. We couldn’t get those plants in the ground fast enough.
Earlier in the week, Nathan and I had been pulling weeds and simultaneously killing caterpillars. Nate has taken a liking to stomping on them. He’s actually just copying me, something he does with frightening precision. He mimics me when I wash my face, when I bang on the window to chase away the deer, and doing countless other mindless acts (I have to be careful when and where I pick my nose). So, it was no surprise to see him put out his little booted right toe and grind a caterpillar into our gravel driveway. Not a surprise, but oddly cute in a slightly disturbing way. Not to dwell on this too much, but noticing this facility with which children pick up on what their parents do has made me appreciate more fully the importance of child-rearing. There’s a big leap from killing caterpillars to killing (or hating or fearing) other humans, yet it all stems from the same source. We, as parents, are effectively programming our kids for the rest of their lives. Granted, they can be reprogrammed, and there will be a constant rewriting of the code as their lives progress, but it’s not like they can completely erase their hard drive and start over. They will have deep and powerful residual imprints on their memories from everything they do at this early age. That’s a scary thought, and it makes me distressingly aware of my every action around Nathan. I find it very hard to let that thought go and just “be” with him. Soo will tease me about this and say I’m too soft on him, that I let him push me around, and she’s probably right. It’s just so difficult to find that middle ground, that point where I’m being strict enough but not too mean. I’m terribly afraid of screwing it up. This means that at times I’ll be sitting here typing and Nate knows that he can come up to me and grab my hand and pull me away to go with him. I’ll occasionally shout, “Not now” or “in a minute” but I don’t do that with the regularity required to make it stick. And when I do do it, I feel bad, and I can’t stand to see him cry. So, in the end, I give in and just go with him. This makes for very disjointed days. I’ll go from typing to being dragged into another room, say, the bedroom, where I’ll occupy myself by folding laundry while Nate crawls around under the bed chasing the cat. Then Nate will get bored with that and will drag me into the kitchen to get him something to eat. So, I’ll make him some toast and start doing the dishes. He’ll get bored with his toast and want to go downstairs, so I’ll try to get something done while down there, like put another load in the wash. Then he’ll want to go outside, so I’ll get our shoes on and we’ll find stuff to do out there (this was probably why we were weeding and killing caterpillars). After a few minutes, I’ll spy him making his poopy face and we’ll have to go back inside to change his diaper. At which point we’re back in the Child’s Television Workshop and this computer is on and I remember that I had a thought I was working on and trying to write down. But, I’ve also got a load of laundry half folded on the bed in the bedroom, a breakfast mess to clean up in the kitchen, clothes that need to go into the dryer downstairs, and I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup. It’s no wonder mothers go nuts, there’s no way to keep your own thoughts straight. And, this is just with one kid, I can’t imagine how hard this gets with two or three!
I’ve gotten pretty bad about using the TV as a babysitting device, as well. I try to limit him to four half hour shows a day, occasionally, though, he’ll watch more. I justify this by saying there are days when we go to the park or playgroup when he doesn’t watch TV at all, but I still feel guilty. The kids programming is fairly good at assuaging the guilt, appealing subtly to a parent’s inherent desire to raise their child properly, “It’s like preschool on TV!” says one network. And maybe it is, but the kid is still staring at a TV screen. Whatever, I’ll say, and just sit him down and go try to find my coffee cup. I found it out on the back deck and the strangest thing had happened. The caterpillars had crawled in and out of my coffee and were zooming around the boards and up the slats like a bunch of mini-snakes on crack! (OK, not really, but wouldn’t it have been funny if they had?)
That’s another thing that happens. I get so distracted, I mean all these thoughts come and go through my head and I’ve got nine things going on at once, and Nate is screaming because he wants something and then I’ll think I heard or saw something and I wonder if I imagined it. Being outside these last few days has been awful. It’s bad enough that I’ve got the heebie-jeebies from the onslaught of insects, and I’m worried every minute about Nate’s curiosity re said insect’s taste taking hold, I’ve also been pestered by this persistent feeling that I’m being watched. The woods around our house are alive with noise, not just the above mentioned caterpillar rain, but nesting birds, foraging chipmunks and who knows what other creatures provide a continuous patter that could be anything. My only solace is that if Perry and/or McMahon are tucked away in the woods somewhere, they are probably covered in caterpillars and hopefully are also scratching away at skin exposed to stinging nettle.
A caterpillar just crawled across the window sill (the INSIDE of the window sill). They’ve breached the gates, call Security!

Monday, September 1, 2003

The Second Round

So, I finally got called back in for a second round of interviews after a month of waiting plus almost a week of trying to schedule. In the interim I’d heard so many bad things about the company and was so disappointed with the wait and lack of responsiveness on their part I was almost ready to not be upset if I didn’t get the job. But the desire to stay here on Las Piedras Island, not to mention the desire to get out and be a breadwinner (male ego, sense of self worth and all that), and the desire for some sense of security all combined to make me feel like crap when I walked out of that office feeling like I’d tanked. I got along fine with the people I’d be working with (whom I also met on my first visit), it was the guy who would be my boss’s boss that gave me an unpeaceful uneasy feeling.
I’d like to just say he was a prick and be done with it. I’ve met lots of pricks in my life and have worked for a few, and while (as one interviewer for a different job put it) “life is too short to work for an asshole,” one could counter that life is too long to not work at all. So, prick or not I found myself evaluating every word of every question, every answer and every nuance of his responses to my answers. I wish I had the luxury to write it off and say the smug bastard was arrogant, rude, and so pumped up pleased with his own damn self that he would have been a nightmare to work with and I’m better off if I never hear from them. However, seeing as how I will most likely have to go through this fucking process again and possibly again and again until I get one of these fucking jobs I had better be able to put a finger on what went wrong and figure out what I can do to improve or I might be writing this alone in an apartment in Des Moines.
Was I too arrogant? I have a tendency to pick up on the tendencies of others, and, if I sensed a certain cocksure-ity from this guy maybe I overcompensated with a bit of bluster on my side. Did I relax too much? We went to the cafeteria for the interview, and that might have put me at a false sense of ease. He was tired, yawning and saying the day had been a long one (it was 3:15 by the time we started talking), they’d just launched a new product, etc. Yet, when it came time to drill down and ask hard questions he certainly looked wide awake. He looked like the last prick of a boss I had, to tell the truth. Do I respond poorly to authority figures? Do I fail to hide my disdain, is my face too expressive, as Soo says. And, do I share too much? Did I need to go into the personal reasons we left the Bay Area?
All these and dozens of others questions buzzed through my brain as I walked back to the ferry. I checked my phone/watch and noted that I had no new messages and about 25 minutes to catch the next boat to Las Piedras. I had been careful not to eat too much before the interview, I always get logy when I have too much in my stomach. Of course, I had had a bunch of caffeine. My morning pot of coffee and a soda before, and a soda during the interview. So, I needed to pee and I wanted a bit of alcohol to wind down. Stimulants in the morning, depressants in the evening, I always say. I found a bar on the waterfront and used their facilities. I ordered a Guinness (I was hungry, and Guinness is the closest thing to a meal you can drink), but it was a slow pour and I was in a bit of a hurry so I asked the bartender to make it a Bass. He gave me a dirty look because he’d already started the Guinness. “Do you want this?” he asked me in a pointed way that made me feel guilty, so I just said, oh yeah, I want that, too. I’m weak.
I powered through my beers, knowing I needed to get to the ferry. They helped me shake off a bit of the regret, and who knew, maybe I was being too hard on myself. Maybe I will get the job and be able to work for another asshole. Maybe I am an asshole! That’s the question no one seems to ask themselves. Am I being an asshole? Is something I’m doing causing someone else problems or pain? Maybe we’re all just a bunch of assholes shitting our way through life only concerned about moving our own little sphincters and to hell with everyone else. It makes you rethink the term Cover Your Ass. What bugs me is when people play the wife and kids card. I’ve got a wife and kids, I’m just doing my job. As if they’d be a decent human being if they were single. If I might paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “Assholes are assholes are assholes are assholes.” And I’m aspiring to be such. If I’d been more of one perhaps I wouldn’t be here in the first place. What is it about work that makes people suck? I’d like to be able to say it’s only because of the bad economy, that times are tight and people are stressed and it brings out the worst. But, I saw much worse during the boom times. The only conclusion I can come to is people suck. It would be very easy to just write that off as the rantings of a bitter unemployed househusband loser, if they’re just wasn’t so much evidence to back it up. People have been shitty to each other from time immemorial. And this grotesque display of shittiness continues day after day with the new spin of shit broadcast to all of us through the air, over cables and via satellite so we can look at it and say, “Wow, I sure am glad that’s not me.” But it is you, it is me, it’s all of us, a bunch of shitty humans being shitty to each other and our planet. Whatever, you say (I say), just give me my job, and my house, a decent education for my kids, and a retirement where I can watch my kids grow up to avoid as much shittiness as possible and I’ll be happy. Just avoid the shit. Ironically, it appears that people need to become assholes to avoid the shit. When you don’t have a job, when you don’t have money, when you don’t have health benefits, you are always on the verge of losing it.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is some holier than thou schpiel, don’t get me wrong, I want to be an asshole. If someone came to me and said I want you to do this shitty thing and you and your family will be taken care of for the rest of your life, then you know what, give me the shit. Of course it depends on the circumstance. I wouldn’t fly a plane into a skyscraper, for instance. But if you told me I had to make some lousy bastard and/or his company look good in the press for a year or four or ten so his company could make money regardless of the damage that company did to the environment or other people, I would do that in a heartbeat. If I didn’t do it somebody else would.
So, I’m thinking all this as I drink my beers and then while walking briskly to the ferry weaving between all the tourists wearing their sweatsuits and Dockers and Mariners crap, getting more and more angry at the world. I make the ferry, get a beer from our friends at Sodexho and call Soo to tell her when I’ll be home. I spend some time just drinking and watching people, the ferry is crowded with folks returning from the Mariners game. Sodexho (the catering service that runs concessions on the ferries) is having a special on game day beers. I’m a sucker for a bargain, so I get up to get another. Did I see Agent Perry lurking by the video games or was I just imagining that? “Whatever,” I say to myself, “it either is or it isn’t, it doesn’t matter.” I ignore the compulsion to go check and find a table where I can open my attaché case. I drink my second second round after my second round and start scribbling in my notebook:
“People suck,” who did I say that to?
It will take too long to remember
Caught in the people and the fog of brew
Pick a month, a day, suck my member.
I’m loaded after an interview and I don’t care
Approaching port, mostly full, must drink
Quickly. Not much time to spare.
Stupid words I’ve said, synch and sink
What did he think, and does it matter
Meaningful speech or mindless patter
Arrogant prick
Makes me sick
Another degree,
And that would be me…

I got home without incident.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Mr. Moon

I took Nate in to town today. We met Soo for lunch, picked her up at the office. As we were walking in, me carrying Nathan, two guys walked out, people who work with Soo. One looked at me and Nate and said, “You must be Mr. Moon.”
Uhh, yeah, that’s me, Mr. Moon.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

What Next?

What next? What next!? What next, indeed. I haven’t written here in awhile. I’ve been avoiding it, not to say I’ve been afraid of it, but I just haven’t known what to say. I can’t very well share this with people. I might just have to start over or do some editing. This last week has been rather odd. I’ve tried to keep busy and Nathan has been obliging. He’s reached a stage where he’s very demonstrative, there are words that he knows and he’ll say these on cue and they’re mostly identifiable, and then there are complete sentences of jibberish. He speaks so earnestly and looks at me with such gravitas, he can be quite intimidating. In his mind, he is saying something very important. I can only imagine what it is.
We’ve been going out a lot, meeting people in the park and I’ve even started taking him to an organized play group. We went yesterday and he had a great time playing with the other toddlers, flirting with the little girls, mooching snacks from whoever brought them. The play group is organized by the city and meets at a local school. There are toys and a small plastic slide, a rocking horse and seats for both parents and kids. Yesterday they brought in a counselor to talk to parents (all mothers except me) about dealing with stress. She said we should make time for ourselves, be sure to set aside some “You Time,” and also to try to go out with your mate alone, find a babysitter and get away. You Time. I liked that. The last thing I’ve wanted lately is time alone. As soon as Nate goes down for his nap, I’m outside mowing the lawn or pulling weeds, basically doing anything that keeps me occupied, that keeps my mind from wandering.
The counselor also talked about staying “in the moment.” Ironically, because of something I said. I forget how we got there, but I was talking about watching Nate and noticing the little things he does, how fascinating it is to see him identify small objects and learning the connections between things. This was basically a lie, or at best an exaggeration. I’m constantly NOT in the moment. He’ll be playing with something and I’ll be staring off into space and five minutes later I’ll tune back in and he’ll have rat poison in his mouth or he’ll be juggling steak knives. Yesterday he swung a 3-iron into our living room window (thank goodness for tempered glass, no harm done except for another near heart attack).
The easy way out of those moods is to get in the car. I have fought the temptation most days because if I go out in the morning he’ll invariably fall asleep and that steals time from his afternoon nap, which is (as I have probably mentioned) time for me (searching for a job, sending out resumes). Today, I really did need to go shopping (Soo’s parents are coming up and we needed sodas, beer, coffee, Hoody’s Unsalted Peanuts, you know, the staples), so I strapped him in and we were off to Silverdale (or Consumerdale as our mortgage broker calls it). Silverdale has a Costco, a Walmart, a Target, it’s home to the Kitsap Mall (with a Mervyn’s, a Bon Marche [which is Macy’s, as far as I can tell], and permutations of everything else in every other mall across America. To get to Silverdale you have to drive through Poulsbo. Poulsbo is fighting the arrival of its Walmart. To give you a fairly good idea of the progression of communities, Las Piedras Island would never (EVER) have a Walmart (McDonald’s snuck on the island just before a city ordinance was passed effectively banning chain stores). Driving through Poulsbo I saw a sign on a Real Estate office that read “Some View, Needs Work.” All the way to Silverdale I played with that in my head, until I was convinced it was there to describe me. Some View, Needs Work. Some view he needs work. He has some vision, but he still needs work. In Berkeley there was a guy that would set up a little Mr. Microphone on Bancroft right at the entrance to Sproul Plaza, probably the most trafficked area on campus (if not the whole city). He’d set up a handwritten sign that read, “The Rick Starr Show,” and he’d sing for hours, mostly old Frank Sinatra songs. He’d croon. He’d wail. His singing was unanimously considered crap. He did it for years, all the years I was there at least (slightly more than four). Finally, “The Daily Californian” did a story on him. He lived with his mother, who had always wanted him to be a performer like Sinatra. She paid for singing lessons. He practiced. He tried to find an agent. It never happened for him. And, yet, here he was looking well (really unwell) past 40, begging for recognition and spare change from people who mostly pitied him. Some View, Needs Work.
It makes me think of the signs the Nazis put over the entrances to the concentration camps: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (Work sets you free). Forget your dreams, forget what you wanted to do, you probably weren’t that good at it anyway (Look at Rick Starr!) just do the work and you won’t have to think. Do what you’re told. That’s what I keep hearing in my head. Just do what you’re told. Ignore the distractions and just get a job. Take care of the kid and the family, get health benefits, don’t play golf north of Las Piedras Island, get a job.
But, I just can’t help but wonder. I mean, I’ve had other moments where I thought I’d seen things that I hadn’t. There was a time once when I couldn’t sleep and I heard noises outside (this was as a teenager at my parent’s house), and I thought I saw something in the yard. So, I went out to look and it was like a dull, glowing brown orb. It disappeared, floating away from me when I walked towards it trying to get a closer look. Another time, (again plagued by insomnia), I went for a late night walk while I was on vacation, and I could have sworn I saw stars in the sands of a beach, and not just a few flickering grains of sand, I’m talking a realistic representation of the Milky Way, deep multidimensional galaxy-in-a-dune sort of thing. And, these were the instances when I was stone cold sober. Granted, both were at night and the light could have just been playing tricks on me. They could easily be explained away as mere physical illusions. I have never imagined entire conversations with two people I’d never met before. Of course, I’d had conversations with people and walked away with an entirely different idea of what had been discussed than the person I had just spoken to, but then who hadn’t. There was that time I thought I was a modern day John the Baptist, but that could be written off as a garden variety (albeit in a mutated form) Christ complex (nothing twelve years of Catholic school couldn’t explain). Full blown paranoid delusion has to be more complex. This started me thinking on the way home from Silverdale about Sylvia Plath and “The Bell Jar.” If you really are clinically depressed is it possible to write such beautiful prose. And, if you can write that well (and be acknowledged for it) would you really off yourself? But then one can’t ALWAYS write that well. That is the rub.
When it’s all over
I feel I don’t exist
The visions desist
I’m left to subsist
On grist
And what’s leftover.

So then I started thinking, well, what do people do if they occasionally have odd experiences, or odd thoughts, or if they can on the off chance express those thoughts and experiences in an interesting way. I guess what I’m getting at is, what makes them an artist? What makes Sinatra an artist and Rick Starr a joke? A friend sent me an article on Blogging, web logs, where people chronicle what they do, oh, what the hell, I’ll just insert the whole email (skip it if you want, oh imagined reader):

“Blog article from my sister....

What ever happened to the Barbie diary with the little key? Why keep your private journal on the internet? The answer is obvious. You don't want it to be private. I'd warn anyone related to, involved with, or contemplating becoming involved with a blogger about the possibility of their personal life being opened up to the world. Yuk. Maybe I'm just getting old, but this concept makes me sick.”


May 18, 2003
Dating a Blogger, Reading All About It

Rick Bruner's awakening to the power of the written word came by way of
A throwaway line, typed one afternoon in the cerulean glow of his I.B.M. ThinkPad. Mr. Bruner, a 37-year-old Manhattan marketing consultant, keeps a Web log, an online diary known as a blog. After coming in for some sporting abuse from a friend who told him blogging was a waste of time, Mr. Bruner wrote in his blog that the friend "was fat and runs like a girl," adding that he was sure the friend would not be offended "because he doesn't read blogs."
With a push of a button, the comment was published on Mr. Bruner's site, www.bruner.net/blog, and accessible to anyone with a computer. A few days later, though, that friend's curiosity about blogs was awakened after all. He quickly found Mr. Bruner's site and was "deeply aggrieved," Mr. Bruner said. Their friendship barely survived the episode. "It was a big wake-up call," Mr. Bruner said. "Sometimes it's good to have an editor."
Mr. Bruner's experience is typical of many who have waded into the
thrilling and sometimes perilous world of blogging, a once marginal activity of Internet enthusiasts that has become squarely mainstream, with an estimated three million active blogs online, according to Nick Denton, the head of Gawker Media, a blog publisher. While blogging journalists like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus and Eric Alterman get a lot of attention, a vast majority of bloggers are average
citizens like Mr. Bruner, who draw from their personal experiences -
and often the personal experiences of relatives, friends and colleagues – to create a kind of memoir in motion that details breakups and work and family issues with sometimes startling candor.
While personal blogs have been around for years, their proliferation has caused a wrinkle in the social fabric among people in their teens, 20's and early 30's. Inundated with bloggers, they are finding that every clique now has its own Matt Drudge, someone capable of instantly turning details of their lives into saucy Internet fare.
"It's like all your friends are reporters now," said Douglas Rushkoff,
a blogger and author of "Media Virus" and other books about the impact of technology on society.
In the rush to publish, many bloggers are running headlong into some of the problems conventionally published memoirists know too well: hurt
feelings, newly wary friends and relatives, and the occasional inflamed employer.
"All writing is a form of negotiation between the reader and writer
over what constitutes responsibility," said David Weinberger, author of
"Small Pieces Loosely Joined," a book about the Internet. "Because blogs are a new form, the negotiation can easily go awry."
Mr. Weinberger said the confessional nature of many blogs had "redrawn the line between what's private and public."
Heather Armstrong, a 27-year-old Web designer from Utah whose blog is at www.dooce.com, might be the ultimate example of blogging gone awry. Her parents are devout Mormons, she said, but because they are also technophobes, she felt perfectly comfortable publishing an entry on her site in which she harshly criticized her Mormon upbringing.
Unfortunately for Ms. Armstrong, her brother in Seattle stumbled across
her Web site that very day and alerted her parents to the entry. After
that, Ms. Armstrong said, "all hell broke loose." "Next to my parents getting divorced 20 years ago," Ms. Armstrong said, "it was the worst thing that ever happened to my family. It was shocking for everyone."
Ms. Armstrong's run-in with the perils of self-publishing did not end
there. She also wrote about her job and her co-workers in her blog, often hyperbolically. When her bosses were alerted that Ms. Armstrong was writing about her office life, they fired her, she said. She is now much more careful about what she publishes in her blog, and she had a word of caution for bloggers who write furtively about others. "If you're publishing under your own name, they'll find out," she said. "I was extremely naïve."
Being found out is no deterrent for 18-year-old Trisha Allen, a blogger
from Kentucky. She has been blogging for roughly a month, and spends most of her time reporting candidly on her friends and on her relationship with her boyfriend.
A recent entry reveals that the couple are not quite ready for children
- though "we have had two scares" - and that Ms. Allen's preferred form
of birth control is the pill, even though, she wrote, "I am starting to
hate it, because it has screwed up my menstrual cycle wickedly."
"There's not a lot I won't put on there," Ms. Allen said by telephone.
Ms. Allen said her mother was aware she keeps an online journal, but does not know how to find it, and added that she relied on a doctrine of security by obscurity, hoping that in the vast universe of personal Web sites known as the blogosphere, she will be able to preserve her anonymity behind all those other blogs.
Ms. Allen said her motivation for posting personal details was simple:
"I love to be the center of attention."
Indeed, for many bloggers being noticed seems to be the point. John M.
Grohol, a psychologist in the Boston area who has written about bloggers, said they often offered intimate details of their lives as a ploy to build readership.
"It's like, `How do I get people to read this?'" he said. "Then you
want them to keep reading it. It becomes a snowball rolling downhill that becomes very rewarding for the blogger because they're getting feedback from their friends and from random folks."
Deirdre Clemente, a blogger from Brooklyn who is now a a student at the
Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, frequently uses her
relationships as fodder for her blog, www.deirdreclemente.com.
That became an issue for a recent boyfriend of hers, a 34-year-old
Manhattan hedge-fund manager who feared that having his name in the blog could compromise his business relationships.
During his eight-month stint as a nameless regular on Ms. Clemente's
site, he said, "it was an odd feeling that there was a camera on me." Friends and relatives who knew about the site followed his relationship online, he said.
"On occasion my mother would send me an e-mail saying, `How was the
play?' or, `Sounds like you had a nice weekend away,' " he said.
But as a literary trope, the boyfriend worked well. Ms. Clemente said
she frequently received e-mail messages from strangers who followed the ups and downs of their relationship on her blog.
When the relationship ended, she said, "I had totally random people
e-mailing me saying they were sad we broke up." She described the
experience as "totally weird," but added, "As a writer, having anyone read your stuff is a compliment."
With so many self-publishing reporters out there, some say they feel a
need to watch themselves, for fear that casual comments made to friends
might make tomorrow morning's entry.
The proliferation of personal bloggers has led to a new social anxiety:
the fear of getting blogged.
"It's personal etiquette meets journalistic rules," Mr. Denton, the
blog publisher, said. "If you have a friend who's a blogger you have to say, `This is not for blogging.' It's the blogging equivalent of `This is off the record.'"
Jonathan Van Gieson, a 29-year-old theatrical producer from Brooklyn
who sometimes writes about friends on his site, www.jonathanvangieson.com, said he gave his friends pseudonyms "to
toe the line between simple harmless betrayal of trust and nasty
actionable libel." Before starting his blog, Mr. Van Gieson said he drew a comic strip based on his friends for his college newspaper, and in describing their predicament he summed up the current lot of many in the age of blogging.
"My close friends are used to having their lives plundered," he said.


Do we all just think we have something remarkable to share? Or is it an evolution in publishing, ensuring a gem isn’t missed. Maybe they’ll find the next “A Confederacy of Dunces” before the author’s dead. Although, the Hope Diamond could be rolling around in the surf with a million common stones and no one would be able to find it. What compels us then to write this crap down? If I’m honest about my desire to just get a job, I’d walk away from this computer right now. Forget about “Agents” McMahon and Perry, forget about driving towards Kingston just to see what the truth is because, well, if I might paraphrase the words of Ken Kirsch and Ronald Miller as sung by Charlene, truth is “that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that (wo)man you fought with this morning, the same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.” Isn’t the Internet great. You just think of a song, type in a few words, and presto, you’ve found the complete lyrics and who wrote them. If only secret government agencies weren’t using it to spy on us.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

A Sleeping Baby

Is there anything more wonderful in the world than a sleeping baby. There’s not a trace of worry, just peaceful bliss, rosy cheeks, maybe moist hair (not the disturbing nightsweats that have been plaguing me, waking up in drenched sheets), relaxed rhythmic breathing. It’s downright therapeutic to watch. If not for the fear that he could wake up screaming at any second. So, I quietly stepped away and silently shut the door behind me. To come down here and do what? Figure out what the hell just happened.
Or did it happen? I am a bit out of sorts. Could I have been napping? But I was typing, or was I? Was that some sort of Russell Crowe moment from “A Beautiful Mind”? Or have I just seen too many movies? Would someone drifting into dementia who had seen too many movies (or read too many books) recognize that they were imagining things, or am I giving lunatics too much credit. Maybe “lunatic” isn’t the proper word anymore, I should be careful about what I call the nuts of the world. I just might be one.
OK, so I just went outside to look at our gravel driveway to see if I could see tire tracks from a late model Lincoln Town Car, and I felt like a complete idiot, squatting down examining little rocks and traipsing about trying to see tracks that are different from our cars’. Maybe I could ask the neighbors if they saw the car. Except we’ve had almost no interaction with our neighbors so far and me walking over there to ask if they’d seen a couple of FBI agents driving past because I’m not sure if I just hallucinated an interrogation (sorry, “conversation”) might not be the best introduction. Do crazy people recognize they’re going crazy? Maybe I shouldn’t tell Soo about this. And, maybe I should stop sharing this little journal with people.
Hey, maybe that’s how they know what I’ve been emailing to people! I have sent this to who…lots of people, I guess. But who would have contact with the FBI?
Stop! Just STOP! I’m going to operate under the assumption that this just did not happen until somebody else, somebody not claiming to be with a government agency tells me it did. OK, I’m forgetting about it. Not even thinking about it. Think about what’s important. Think about getting a job. Think about Nathan. Loving wife and child. He leaves behind a loving wife and child.
Maybe I need some fresh air, or some greasy food. Man, I’m hungover. I can’t drink like I used to, this is awful. Give me some pork product, STAT!

Alright, nothing a little sausage and scrambled eggs couldn’t fix. Breakfast served any time. It reminds me of that Steven Wright line, “I’d like pancakes served in the Renaissance, please.” Focus.
Nate will be waking up soon, and we can go to the park. Everything’s going to be fine.

Monday, June 23, 2003

What the Hell Was That?

Nate’s still asleep and I’m a bit shook up, so I’m just going to take a moment to write this down here to try to make sense of things. We live at the end of a long dirt road. There are seven other houses along the road, but we haven’t had too much interaction with any of our neighbors. They’ve never driven or walked over to say “hello” which is fine by us. In fact I can count the number of people who have driven up to our house since we’ve been here on one hand: my cousin, the mailman, the FedEx truck and the UPS truck. That’s it. We’ve had other visitors, but we’ve gone to get them at the ferry terminal or met them at the airport. So, I was more than shocked just now to see a car, an official looking car, not a cop car, but a cop car, if you know what I mean. A Lincoln Town Car, I think it was. It just rolled up our driveway, and I sat here and watched two men in bad jackets get out, adjust themselves, and then come walking up to our front door.
To say I was shocked would be understatement. I’m still shaking a bit. For one, I look (and feel) like shit. Did I mention I’m hungover? I haven’t showered, I’ve had too much coffee, I’m wearing sweats, an old T-shirt and my slippers, and two fucking cops are about to ring my doorbell. “I had to stop them,” was the first thing that my booze-addled brain could come up with. This was nap time, the most precious time of the day, the entire morning is spent getting to this time, preparing, feeding, tiring out the boy and going through those familiar motions so he’ll sleep for his allotted time. I didn’t care if these guys were J. Edgar Hoover and his homosexual lover, they weren’t going to ring that bell and wake up Nate. We have a small covered deck that leads up to our front door. Windows open onto that deck, so I could see these clowns more closely as they approached the bell. One was fit, youngish, mid to late thirties, close cut brown hair. The other was older, maybe early-forties, a slight paunch, but not your stereotypical Brian Dennehy cop, dark hair graying at the temples. I opened the door as the younger guy was about to push the doorbell. I must have impressed them.
“Mr. Shakes?”
“Mr. Bill Shakes?”
“You can call me Billy,” I said. “Can I help you?”
“Would it be alright if we came in?” the older one asked kindly.
“Would it be alright if you told me who you are?” I said.
“Oh, yes, certainly. Sorry. I’m Agent McMahon, and this is Agent Perry.”
“Agents? You’re not with the William Morris Agency,” I said. (OK, not really. You always think of the really funny things to say after it’s all over and you’ve had time to think).
“Agents?” I said stupidly.
“We’re with the 10th district office of the Bureau operating out of Seattle in cooperation with the department of Homeland Defense,” or some such collection of words from McMahon. I can’t remember exactly what he said, and goddamit I didn’t get their cards. Soo’s never going to believe me, unless, unless she’s done this as a joke. But, no, she couldn’t have, these guys would have had to have been professional actors and she wouldn’t go to the trouble, not to mention the cost. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but I just want to jot down what I recall to try to make sense of this.
“I’ve got a toddler asleep,” I told them.
“We’ll be as quiet as possible,” said Perry and I wondered what they could possibly want as I led them into our cluttered living room.
Stepping around Elmo in a chicken suit they sat down on our black leather couch strafed as it is by years of cat clawings. I sat slightly to the side of them in our love seat, equally clawed (fucking cats).
“So, how can I help you?” I asked.
McMahon looked around sheepishly, appearing rather embarrassed to have to bring up what he was about to say in this clearly innocuous home. “Well, to be perfectly frank, Mr. Shakes, we’ve been sent to ask you a few questions because a group affiliated with the Bureau has identified the words ‘al-Qaeda operative’ in materials we believe you’ve written and have been transmitting over the Internet.”
“Transmitting over the Internet,” I thought to myself, and it conjured up images of German spies in ramshackle London flats sending secret radio signals back to Berlin. “Are you joking?” I finally said after pausing to look at the both of them sitting there on that couch. I just turned to look at the couch again as if to make sure it’s possible that two people like this could have just been sitting there with a package of diaper wipes at their feet speaking these words to me.
“Mr. Shakes, we do not joke about matters of National Security,” Perry said the words with such gravity that I figured they needed to be capitalized.
I stared at the man in utter disbelief. There had been no other time in my life when that term was more true, and I’ve seen some things that were pretty hard to believe. I watched nearly every episode of “The Bachelor.” I looked closely at their faces and saw the familiar absence of a sense of humor I’d seen in law enforcement officials before. McMahon appeared slightly bored, but not amused. He seemed to know this was a fool’s errand, and at his age, saw this as beneath him. This is all speculation, of course, with all of a half hour’s perspective.
“Don’t you think if I were an al Qaeda operative I would expressly NOT use the words ‘al Qaeda operative’ specifically to avoid an interview such as this.”
“This is just a conversation, Mr. Shakes,” Perry clarified.
“Yes,” McMahon broke in, “Merely a formality.”
“OK, whatever,” I started, frustrated and baffled at the stupidity of my own country, “But, don’t you think the people you’re trying to find would be a little more, I don’t know, careful, secretive.”
“Yes. Unless they knew that we would be thinking that way, so they could ‘hide out in the open’ as it were and use those words to fall into the general clutter of conversation going on in the general populace.” This was McMahon.
I looked at him with new found respect. Clearly this was a different kind of cop.
“So, by that logic you’d have to interview…I mean ‘have conversations with’ what, thousands of people every day.”
“Well, no,” started McMahon, “All searches, each individual reference from the search is cross-referenced against a predefined set of parameters.”
“What parameters?” I asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you.”
“You can’t tell me, but you can just show up at my house and accuse me of being an al Qaeda operative.”
“Nobody’s ‘accusing’ anybody of anything,” broke in Perry.
“Well, then I’m just a little unclear on why the hell you’re here,” I might not have said “hell.”
“There’s no reason to get upset, Mr. Shakes,” said Perry.
I blinked at one then the other, “Why are you here?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“We’re simply here to make a friendly recommendation,” Perry said in a tone and with a manner that felt to me decidedly unfriendly.
“What’s that?”
“You matched a certain number of our parameters, but there was nothing in your background to suggest you posed a security risk.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” I said thinking there was absolutely nothing reassuring about matching an unspecified number of unspecified parameters.
“However,” Perry continued, “During the course of an unrelated investigation being conducted by another agency you were seen talking with people who may or may not be involved in something we think you’d rather not be involved in.”
There were so many things disturbing about that sentence I didn’t notice it ended in a preposition until now. My mind started racing, who had I been talking to that could be under investigation by an unnamed government agency. And, AND, how the hell do they know what I’ve been emailing to people?!?! This is nuts.
So, then Perry reaches into the breast pocket of his bad blazer and pulls out an envelope filled with fuzzy black and white photos of me at the South Kingston range talking with Jake. I was stunned.
“We don’t have anything concrete,” said Perry, “But, we just think it would be in your best interest if you stayed away from this person.”
They talked some more and I sat there and mostly just nodded and agreed. Then they left. I need to go check on Nate.

The Child’s Television Workshop

Kid’s TV can rot your brain. All TV can rot your brain, but children’s television does it in an insidious Pollyannic fashion that slowly eats away at what is real until you actually start believing there’s a magical place where black people and Hispanics and whites live together in peaceful harmony, and bad guys wear masks and all you have to do to make them stop being bad guys is shout, “Swiper, no swiping!” Our television sits behind me as I type. We have a laptop set up in the corner of our little living room. I can look out the window at our driveway and a corner of our lawn. I frequently try to type here while Nate watches TV. I’m getting him in the habit. He watches Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues, Bob the Builder and Gulla Gulla Island, not in that order.
I fix him lunch and then we sit down and watch a little TV before he drowses off and we do our nap ritual. Sometimes he’ll be fixated by the TV and I can creep over here to check email or write some of this crap. It usually doesn’t last long. He’ll come over and just drag me away, or he’ll insert his head between my left elbow and the edge of the desk, often resulting in him bumping his head. He’s not above hurting himself to get attention. I’ve set up an old Mac of mine so he’s got something like what Daddy plays with to play with.
Today, hungover as I am, kid’s TV was welcome rot. I just sat on the couch and vegetated with him. It’s educational, I tell myself. For him, maybe. For me, I frighten myself by singing along, by actually enjoying the lessons that are being taught in their surreptitious way. Listen to your parents, do what you’re told and you’ll be rewarded, problems can be solved in three easy steps and in less than half an hour. It’s infectious.
Wait a second…someone just pulled into our driveway…

Sunday, June 22, 2003


Yesterday I went into Seattle to meet up with an old friend. There are at least three people living in the area that went to college with me. I’m certain there are more (about 100,000 people went to college with me), but those three are the only ones I know here. I told myself it would be good to get out of the house, and he might know people who might know people, but the truth is he’s a doctor and the people he knows don’t really know the people who could connect me to a job in my field, and I knew that going into town.
The plan was I’d take care of Nate until 11:15 and then meet Soo at work to do the switcheroo. She’d take the boy and drop me off to catch the 11:30 ferry. Nate and I spent most of the morning in my car, he likes climbing over the seats, fiddling with the radio and, like all kids, loves to play with keys. Soo and I both have Volkswagens with those stubby black keychains, they include remote locks and have a long rectangular key hidden inside released by pushing a shiny chrome button. I spent hours (well, a lot of time anyway) with Nate as he learned to push that button to make the key appear. It was harder to load up the keychain. Holding down the button and pushing the key back into its hiding place. Its fun to watch kids figure things out (fun for the first hour anyway). Whether he’s climbing stairs or putting together a puzzle, opening a door or just recognizing familiar things in books, the look of concentration on his face is priceless (does this word now sound cheaper to you, too?). He’ll get frustrated, and sometimes he’ll start to cry, but eventually (after much trial and error) he gets it. The parental patience required is immense. Leaning over to hold his hands as he climbs up some stairs is cute the first hundred times, the 101st time hurts your back, you remember other things you need to do. I’m not complaining, honestly, I write this as a tribute to parents everywhere (the ones who resist the temptation to smack the little buggers around).
There are moments when I get more frustrated than Nate, and I want to stop and scream at the world. We’re alike in so many ways, I see myself in him constantly. I don’t know if that means I have the mentality of a toddler or if that’s just a normal parental reflection. Maybe we’re all just toddlers stuck in adult bodies. We want to crap our pants whenever the bowels move us. We want more and goddamn it we’ll cry if we don’t get it. We want to go outside now, NOW, not in five minutes, not when we get our shoes on, NOW. As adults we either have the power to get what we want or the knowledge that we will have to live with disappointment. Nathan hasn’t learned to accept this, and maybe we shouldn’t either.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of acceptance, believe that you are diminished, smoke the opiate of the masses (or swill the Budweiser of the buffoonery) and tell yourself you’re happy with what you’ve got, with who you are. I went out with a girl once who said she never wanted to be content. That’s pretty easy to say when you’re seventeen (don’t worry I was seventeen, too). At some point you just want to be left alone. Take your wife and kids and tuck them away in a gated community and forget about the rest of the world. Except if you successfully block out the rest of the world, the only input you’re left with comes from the internal you or those nearest you and, of course, TV. In most cases a perfectly satisfactory situation. I keep seeing horrific stories on the news, though, where this isn’t the case, where seemingly content domesticity has turned terrible. A man accused of killing his pregnant wife. A mother of three kills her two oldest boys, almost kills an infant, and calls the police to report herself. A young mother murdered by her husband (who is in the military) and then when the man dies (suspected suicide), HIS family receives death benefits (this story is disturbing on many levels). Maybe it’s just the way news is reported. These stories get repeated over and over again until it seems that the world is filled with such horrors, the anomalousness of them gets lost. We forget what a miniscule percentage of the population this is, the ones who snap. Or maybe we’re fascinated by them because we all secretly imagine ourselves snapping, as well. We feign disgust, but deep down inside we know we are capable of it, too. To admit such is taboo, it would pull down the veil, shatter the lie that we are all content, that we are happy and never have those bad thoughts or imagine those horrific acts. If the veil comes down you run the risk of being thrown into the camp that is “them” – the others, the failed.
I’m not entirely sure where this is coming from. To be honest, I’m wickedly hungover. I went into Seattle to meet my friend for lunch, but I knew it was just an excuse to get out and get loaded. Now, it’s early in the morning, I’m here hacking away staring at the gray mist of morning feeling about as cogent as a cloud. Do I need to do so every so often? Does everyone? Should I be concerned about it? I look at it as pruning. You snip off the old dead branches to let the new growth come in. Our shrubbery has been getting a good whacking lately, we go out and snip away, preparing for the burst of life. Spring-loaded shrubbery, a spring-loaded brain, a spring-loaded key, waiting to be opened, inserted into a keyhole to elicit new vistas. Too much? Have I overdone this one, gone too far? Maybe it was that last beer at La Piedra Cantina here on the island. I didn’t know the large was going to be THAT large, I thought your name had to be Helga to deliver a stein like that. I had met my friend at the bar at McCormick & Schmicks, or rather he met me. I was running through their beer list, literally, from top to bottom as it was written out in colored chalk on the board above the bar. I had a good head start by the time my friend showed up. He ordered a water and a bloody mary. He’d just woken up. He works those crazy 24 hour doctor shifts and had the next 48 hours off. We drank and ate and went to Fremont (which sucks now, according to the bumper stickers and regular patrons of the Buckeroo, a two pool table Fremont bar) for some low-impact recreating and continued frothy beverage consumption. By the time we needed to get back to the ferry, I had both a fairly good understanding of Fremont’s political factions and a good buzz going. I made the ferry and gave Soo a ring. Nate was still napping. The ferries are wonderful. People say Las Piedras Island residents grow to hate the ferries, restricted as they are by the schedule, forced to wait in line during peak hours, and otherwise just plain dependent upon it to get to civilization. I think that’s a bunch of rubbish. Any large floating vessel that has incredible views in all directions and five beers on tap is OK by me. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a lush. Yesterday was a bit of a binge and I’m paying for it this morning, but it’s a rare (and getting rarer) occasion when I’ve got my liberty, so I was going for broke. Besides, I didn’t have to drive anywhere, Soo was going to pick me up. She was home with Nate and had basically relieved me of my duties for the day. While relieving myself I realized how relieved I was to be relieved. It had been a long time since I’d been at large. The constant, albeit mostly low-level, stress of watching a small child wears on a man. All the near misses and odd direct hits accumulate in a reservoir of distraction, somewhere north of the bladder. Without a good flushing of the system every so often a person could get all clogged up. Forgive me, it’s early and my head feels like a lump of lead.
When I was about to arrive on Las Piedras, I called Soo again, but the boy was still asleep. “I could wake him,” she said.
“No just give me a ring when he’s up.” She couldn’t very well leave him napping to come pick me up.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, poke around,” I told her. I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I might go to the book store or just walk down Winslow (the almost touristy main drag), but my feet seemed to take me of their own accord to La Piedra Cantina, where I encountered that really large beer. I’d always thought the cantina was much smaller, we’d been to La Piedra for dinner once and lunch once in our first two months, but had never ventured into the attached drinking portion of the establishment. It was downright spacious, and, AND, it had a pool table, a fact I filed away for future reference. I recognized the proprietress of our local diner holding court at a table of talkative cohorts. I eavesdropped a bit, but mostly I just worked on that beer and waited for the phone to ring. Some guy walked in and sat down next to me at the bar. He said not a word. The bartender brought him his drink. A few minutes later the phone rang. The bartender answered and then handed the phone to the man sitting next to me, again without a word. I wanted to listen in on his conversation, but just then my phone rang.
“He’s up,” Soo said.
“OK, I’ll meet you in the supermarket parking lot.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m at La Piedra Cantina,” I told her, carefully pronouncing each word.
Slight pause. “Will you see us?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll see you.”
I figured I had about 10 minutes to finish the beer and settle up. By the time Soo picked me up I was good and loaded.
“Hanging out in the local bar at 3:30 in the afternoon. You’ll get a reputation as the town drunk,” she jokingly chided me.
“I think I’d have to stand in line.”
“Really. A few regulars in there?”
“There wasn’t a shortage of people who appeared familiar with the place,” I said perhaps too sloppily.
“You’re drunk.”
“Yeah, well, maybe,” I offered.
“Do you see this, Nathan,” she looked in the rear view mirror and spoke to our boy. “Your father is a drunk.”
“An unemployed drunk,” I added.
“What are we going to do?”
“What ARE we going to do?”
What are we going to do?
Drink more coffee and watch “Bob the Builder,” that’s what Nate and I are going to do.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Plagued by Poetry

Writing paragraphs, complete sentences and all that can be hard when you’ve got your eye on a miniature drunkard intent on bashing his head. So, I’ve taken to scribbling notations on scraps of paper, rhymes, sometimes.
Like this:

plausible reality
facts lackadaisically
he tried
Reagan's deniability
Another casualty
To the slow
force fed
to relentless
a reckless
and witless
and believes
new thieves
gets the first bush
and an ill-bred
chaser of tush
don't stop
think about tomorrow
a culture pop
bedtime for bonzo
maria conchito alonzo
edgardo alfonzo
fictionalized sport
diluted news report
the world goes on
ever anon
we eat and drink
but do we think
35 years
countless beers
nuclear fears
a nation in arrears
the pony's one trick
born in violence
shorn of innocence
no resistence
a soft existence
on their knees
subjects to
a shallow rule
people who
learned in school
lord or vassal
you can choose
weigh the hassle
against the blues
purest American art
or one of those lies
a class apart
here's the spin
if i could get a word in
minority faction
affirm this action
not color of skin
but cash in the bank
right district may win
private, based on rank?
or the endowment daddy secures
that spot at Andover then ensures
you're going to Yale
and just try to fail
brilliant white male
classes to flunk
beer to be drunk
choose the right drugs
mischievous lugs
crack on the street
you're certain to meet
police officers
for career counselors
affirmative primogeniture
is what we have
so follow that lure
smoke in the lav
that's all they need
to call you bad seed
then try to apply
to Cal State LA
requests to deny?
all those that say:
from the halls of learning
still have a yearning
to increase your earning
don't look to the state
to change your fate
if you had the dough
or could hit a three
you could always go
No Harvard
but not very hard
to get a degree
not as a handout
as a standout
a scouting report
not Supreme Court
your initiative
money to give
die or live
wait and see
a guarantee
more budget's spent on
than education
in this nation.
just give
will show success
not necessarily
if you see a problem
approach warily
think about them
that have to receive
in possibilities
like a disease
we're all in collusion
collective delusion
wait and see
another administration
restating the nation
of truth
no ruth
look to the past
it's happened before
just change the cast
find a new whore
wool over eyes
what a surprise
grab that prize
manufacture alibis
wait and see
wait and see.

Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but something like that. You can say, “Give me a break, you wrote all that down while you were making lunch and changing diapers and doing laundry and contemplating the infinite, gimme a break…”
To which I’d reply, “You’re right.” I just write snippets, which is actually a great way to write poetry because whenever I try to write too much at once I find I force it. So, I think about a few lines, play with them in my head while watching Dora the Explorer, pull out the pen and paper tucked away in my pocket and jot them down. I do that 40 or 50 times a day and lo, I’ve got myself a poem. The problem is now I can’t stop. I’m rhyming in my sleep. Soo calls and we rhyme our phone conversation, or at least I do, making sure my response to her last phrase is in iambic pentameter, the right diameter, busted catheter, word urine like Yuri Gagarin falls, enthralls, great balls, of fire, taking me higher and higher until, well, you get the idea…
And sometimes, Nathan gives me ideas by the way he behaves. For example, we like to play with Legos (I was going to say “He likes to play with Legos,” but we’re friends I can admit it, I like playing with Legos. There I’ve said it, a grown man, darn near 36 years old, unemployed for more than a year, in debt up to his eyeballs, enjoying playing Legos. Shoot me). However, Nate hasn’t quite mastered the whole put these things together thing. He’s very good at the ripping these things apart thing, which started me thinking. Next thing you know:


Rocking horse winner
Original sinner
Children destroy
Because they can’t build.
But if man is boy
He justifies how he’s killed
Saying: “They did it first.”
First or last, best or worst
What does it matter?
The fat get fatter
The Haves keep having
And the Nots get nothing
Just promises from a false leader.
Think carefully, dear reader
And ask what you’d do
If your hopes and dreams were delivered to you
As only achievable
Only believable
If they happened after you’re dead.
As early as you remember
Clerics and teachers have said:
“You’ll live forever,
see the end of strife
attain that magical life…
only after you’re dead.”
Let that sink in
And I think you’ll begin
To see what we have to choose.
When winners don’t win and losers don’t lose
The game is no fun to play
A bit cavalier you may say
Since lives are already lost,
“Someone must pay.” But at what cost?
No special powers of deduction
Are needed to see more destruction
Will result in more isolation
For one proud nation
Must still know its station.

We can’t live in a world
Where rocks are hurled
And we’re greeted with fear and frustration
Hate, indignation, abomination
Whenever our flag is unfurled

Just thinking we’re great
And working for good
Carries more weight
Than it probably should.

In order to build
We must be strong-willed.
Any selfish boy
Has time to destroy
It takes longer to heal
Whatever you feel
Whatever you believe
When once you practice to bereave
You weave a tangled web of sighs
Your lost one will never rise
Regardless of alibis
You or I
Live or die
I say latter and former
I’m no performer
No mind reading tricks
A voice from the sticks
You’d say former, too
Won’t do
We just have to stop
Playing world cop
Those addicted to killing
Are clearly not willing
To forgo a fix
Without intervention
But one day in that mix
Is beyond comprehension
Feel the tension
It’s another dimension
The slightest mention
Evokes condemnation
The only solution
Is to shun
The gun
at a
No, nothing mystic
Just words from someone who’s intentions are good
Please (lord) don’t let me be misunderstood.
You do what you should
I’ll do what I can
If only you could
Go from boy to man.

So, one thing leads to another.

Saturday, June 7, 2003

The Crows Move In

So, Nate and I are walking around in the backyard after putting out the peanuts for the Jays. I try to get him off the deck now as soon as possible because he’s gotten tall enough to not just reach the peanuts on the little planter box stand (the ones I leave for him to dismantle), but he can reach the nuts on the deck railing (the ones reserved for the Jays). He ends up throwing these over the side or smashing them to pull out the nuts, he basically just wastes them. Although, it has been fun to show off and crush peanuts into smithereens between my thumb and forefinger, a cloud of broken nuts, shell dust and onion skin thin brown nut covering falling to the deck in front of his surprised, smiling face. He’s also started to share peanuts once he’s gotten them out of the shell, which is cute. All this makes a tremendous mess, and doesn’t really achieve the goal of feeding the Steller’s Jays. Not that this REALLY matters. I’ve taken to looking at time with Nate as something other than just the time to accomplish things, it’s more like hockey game time and I’m the goalie on the team with a 1-0 lead. All I have to do is hold him off until that final buzzer and we’ll win, the reinforcements will be back. Hockey game time is entirely different from baseball game time. If I was watching Nate on baseball game time I’d have to accomplish three things per day or per inning in order for that inning to be over. In essence there is no time, there is only the accomplishment of tasks. We’re not quite there yet. I’m perfectly happy on hockey game time. He could sit there and tear apart peanuts for an hour (the Jays will still find the nuts, on the deck, below the deck, in the shell, chewed up and spat out by a little 18-month old nut chaw spitting rascal, whatever, they’ll still find them and eat them. Unless…unless they encounter more rascally competition than Nate, even more nefarious than Chip the Chipmunk [who still prances about the lawn like a springing brown sack of mischief], unless bigger birds move in on their territory. Which is exactly what happened the other day. Crows. Two, big black mean crows swooped in, chased away the Jays and made off with the nuts we’d left. The Jays were left to digging around under the deck like Chip and the Robins, searching for scraps. The scene started me thinking on Darwin and charity and Keynes and what this all means. Is it really survival of the fittest? I don’t think that is the phrase Darwin would have wanted people to remember whenever they heard his name, there was so much more going on in that brain (I saw a History Channel special). Simply because crows are bigger and can scare away some Jays to get free peanuts doesn’t mean that crows will live and Jays will drift to obscurity. This is hardly an indicative sampling and they might have descended from the same dinosaur anyway. What this is about is giving, and what burden a gift puts on the receiver. What weight lies on the shoulders [do Jays have shoulders?] of those birds to defend what I’ve given them? What responsibility do these peanut welfare recipients have to behave nobly in an ignoble world? How do you measure the burden of the guilt of the recipient? And, getting back to our Hindu mendicant for a moment, who holds more power in this exchange? Is this time for derogatory interrogatory or is there a reason for these questions? Let’s imagine “giving” as being bad. My feeding the Jays is bad because it upsets the natural order of things. A government giving welfare to a permanent underclass is bad because it “enables” that permanence. Plus, the recipients are burdened with the weight of charity. They must acknowledge every day that they have failed and they need help in order to survive. This fosters bitterness and resentment. It’s not that they can’t help themselves, it’s just that the rules are set up so that someone else always wins. Every child knows, if the game is fixed it’s time to cheat. Except “cheat” is too strong a word, kids develop a workaround. I’m sure everyone’s seen this in action. An object turns into a toy, the object is feared a danger, the object gets put out of reach. The child wants the toy, waits until the parent isn’t looking, moves a chair, climbs up and gets the toy. An assembly line worker loses his job, he doesn’t work for a year, he doesn’t have money to pay for things he’s told he needs [little things like health insurance, car payments…food], so he steals a car, sells it and gets the money. Is it cheating or is it a workaround? A devout and passionate Muslim sees his co-religionists mired in second-class status around the globe while others who do not share his beliefs are making the decisions that affect history, humanity and all that that implies. He doesn’t have a conventional army at his disposal to force his will [and what he sees as the will of both a vast population and an almighty being] upon the world, so he develops a network of al-Qaeda operatives who will give up their lives to take the lives of those that don’t believe what they believe and achieve his ends. Is it cheating or is it a workaround? A presidential candidate doesn’t think he has enough votes to gain office, but he knows the people who control the voter rolls. Those people remove lots of people from the voter rolls who are likely to not vote for that presidential candidate. And, lo, the presidential candidate wins (after half a recount). Was it cheating or was it a workaround? Either way the results were achieved and there is no doubt the achiever felt a sense of accomplishment rather than the burden of receipt. If you don’t get caught it might even taste sweeter than conventional success. If a player feels the game is inequitable, refs are bought, fouls go uncalled, then anything goes as long as you don’t get whistled. If the player can get away with it, not only does he enjoy the fruits of winning, he also gets to rub his success in the nose of an opponent he views as inferior or as playing unfairly), but this isn’t a game. This is life and there aren’t tidy 60 minute worlds divided into 20 minute periods. There aren’t consistent rules applied to a contrived reality. This is life, and life is not a game. Life is complicated. And in writing those words I’m breaking (twice) a promise I’d made to myself never to write the words “life is” specifically because life is complicated. So in saying “life is complicated” I’m lowering even my meager standards for stating what is patently obvious. Conversely, saying “life is…” insert anything else, and I’d be setting myself up to look even more stupid than I already must. But, now that I’ve started I might as well go whole hog (mmm…whole…hog). Life is not comprised of neat absolutes. Life is not black and white. Life is shades of gray. Occasionally, though, when the gray reaches its most smothering universality it doesn’t hurt to inject a sharper hue to change the mood. “Into the great wide open, under the sky so blue, into the great wide open, a rebel without a clue,” oh, Tom Petty, you slay me. Is this on? Is anyone listening?
You know what, I really don’t give a shit which birds eat the fucking peanuts, just as long as Nate doesn’t choke on one.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Getting the Mood

I’m not sure if I’m getting across the general flavor of this place. It’s kind of like vanilla meets raspberry sorbet. There’s everything you’d expect from a small community, two supermarkets, close access to a real city (as opposed to the imaginary kind), other towns nearby with varied socio-economic demographics and the resulting judgment/status issues. Las Piedras Island has a post office (one and a half, actually), auto body repair, equipment rental, banks, a McDonald’s (much to some resident’s chagrin), shoe stores, frame shops, and the usual panoply of retail outlets required for the day to day survival of a population of 20,000.
So, I’ll just get used to the fact that this is an ordinary town when something odd like tents pitched in the park will turn my head. I’ve done my fair share of camping, enough so that I’d poopoo the idea of “car camping” (except in cases like Yosemite where you’re dealing with some pretty fantastic scenery), which is what made the presence of three REI tents at Las Piedras State Park so remarkable. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too shocked, it is afterall a state park with campsites and motor home parking and all the other accoutrement that goes into being a state park. But, I had come to think of it as a play area with a really cool view.
Or, I’ll get into a sour misanthropic bent and I’ll start believing some of the messages from that Las Piedras Island guest book. People here are snobs. The island’s populated by a bunch or elitist, exclusionary hermits. The old mossbacks hate the “Californians” coming in and ruining things. I start thinking every turned head is a snub, every glance judgmental, and I’m reduced to the emotional equivalent of an awkward adolescent out of the cool clique. “If they don’t want to hang out with me, fine, who needs them. (Mumble, mumble) they think they’re so cool, huh, they’re not so cool.” Deep down we’re all that dorky high school kid, somewhere at sometime made to feel insignificant or inferior and forever scarred. Unless, of course, you were the perfect popular kid all through school and went on to lead a perfectly successful happy loving fulfilled life. In which case you should know, everyone else hates you. All this runs through my head at times when I’m shopping or at the park, and then I’ll meet someone who is really nice. It’s an awful word, “nice,” but I think it’s taken a bad rap. It’s been plugged into so many meaningless phrases and said with such consistent disingenuousness that it’s lost its heart. “Have a nice day.” “She’s really nice, and a great dancer.” “Oh, he’s very nice, and the Rogaine is working.” “Nice to meet you.” Let me tell you, though, when you spend all day with a self-absorbed terror (I mean dream-child), and conversations with adults are limited (limited both in frequency and scope [talking with a relative stranger about your child’s scat is not the same as talking to a strange relative about scatological references in your favorite childhood movie]), meeting someone nice can be like finding a life preserver. Not to overplay the image because using the physical isolation of a man adrift at sea to describe me now is the height of exaggeration, but emotionally it can be easy to fall into that trap. Any more on the topic and this will become another self-help book instead of my self-help book, and I’ll drift further from the point of this chapter, which is somewhat pointless anyway. How do you describe the mood of a place in a few paragraphs?
I suppose what I’m really talking about here is rationalizing the moods, somehow bringing together my mood, the mood of an unemployed man in uncertain times with the mood of a place, an altogether peaceful (damn near idyllic) island disturbed (as the rest of the connected world is) only by the news and (possibly) how it’s reported. Just a word on Bremerton. It is less than 45 minutes away by car and very close by sea. People paying attention may know that it is a very large naval base. In fact, the Kitsap peninsula is home to the Bangor submarine base, as well, making it the home of thousands of military personnel, at all levels. These are the same troops that the press and administration officials have urged us to support. Since I’m in this mood I’ll just come out and say what I’m thinking rather than sugarcoat it. I find this “support the troops” message insincere at best and despicable at worst, promulgated as it is by a president with tenuous claims to the title to prop up flawed policy. Using a nation’s love for its sons and daughters to limit domestic backlash as that nation violently exerts it’s will on the world is deplorable. Is this a popular opinion? No. Certainly not in this neighborhood. Does it make a difference that I hold this opinion, do other people share this opinion? Is it right or wrong, right or left, or just from left field? I don’t know. I just know it’s hard to ignore. You think about things, and mull them over and over until they start intruding on your dreams and keeping you from sleep. All these thoughts just pour into my brain like water from a tap and if the drain is stoppered whilst I sleep they flow over the rim onto the floor and I’ll step on them later and curse as I get my socks wet. Must we all live with these little disturbances, and are the disturbances “one size fits all.” Maybe there are people that have to feel things more deeply, that are built to be more sensitive to these thoughts and feelings for a reason. If that’s so, and that’s me, well, I just want to say, “It sucks.” As mis amigos los beatles put it, “I’d give everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, ain’t dat da mudda fuggin troof.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Back to the Range

When Soo sees that I’ve been imagining conversations between birds and then using those hallucinations to counter an anti-Keynesian movement pervasive in today’s government, she sends me to hit balls. Hey, whatever it takes.
So, I left our little sanctuary and rolled over the Agate Passage Bridge, past the casino, past the final resting place of Seattle’s namesake, and back to that swath of land off South Kingston Road. This time Interrogator Bob wasn’t there. A couple of guys were chipping around the “green” out front. That looked like a good idea, so I put on my golf shoes and went out to work on my short game. It’s the first to go, right before your libido and your memory, or is it the other way around. Man does not live by the big stick alone (or words to that effect).
A fine mist had started to fall, but nothing to prevent me from knocking a few balls around. Again, I was impressed with the setup of this little operation. There was no need for the proprietors to go to the great expense of putting in a real putting green when all they really needed was this, a patch of low mown grass to practice with the little sticks. After about 45 minutes, the rain started to pick up and I decided to move to the shelter of the barn. There were three guys already pounding away. I bought a big bucket of balls from the kid in the shack and assumed my spot in front of the mirror. I hadn’t gotten through half the bucket when a guy came up and started watching me. He was standing with his back to a picture of Ben Hogan mid-swing and facing me. The juxtaposition between Hogan’s technical perfection and my mad swipes must have seemed extreme. I put another ball on the rubber practice tee and began to waggle, but the guy’s presence was finally too much to ignore. I turned and just looked at him.
“Hi there,” he said with undue jocularity, “I’m not bothering you, am I?”
“No,” I lied, “I was just wondering if you needed anything.”
“You must be the guy from Las Piedras Island,” he replied, with an odd nod at my shoes and complete disregard for my perturbation.
Exasperated, I said, “What, do you guys compare notes at the Lodge?”
“Ha, ha, no, down at the bar. Not much goes on around here.”
“’Here’ meaning Kingston?”
He had taken a step forward and stood holding a fairway wood, “Well, yeah, not much goes on in Kingston, but even less goes on around here,” and he said it with a sweep of the club to encompass the range and adjoining environs.
“So you, Bob and the boys sit around the bar and talk about, what, everybody you don’t know who comes to the range?”
“Not that many people we don’t know come to this range,” he said matter of factly.
“That’s what Bob said,” I said.
“Yeah, well, even Bob gets it right some times.”
“And, who are you?” I asked, not pleasantly, but not unpleasantly either. I wanted these guys to understand I just wanted to be left alone.
“Jacob, Jake,” he said extending his hand.
“Nice to meet you Jacob Jake,” I lied again and shook his hand.
“Just Jake,” he corrected my purposeful mistake.
“Well, still nice to meet you just Jake. Are we done, or do you have more questions for me, because I’d kinda like to just finish hitting these balls.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said backing up apologetically. “Go right ahead, sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to say, ‘hello.’”
“Very kind of you.” I don’t know why I was being so terse. I’m usually a very friendly person. I just felt as if my personal space was being violated.
Jake went away. I consciously ignored everyone else and just hit the rest of my golf balls. When I was done Jake was already gone. I took off those tell-tale white FootJoys, got in the car and drove home thinking I could just as easily drive south to Bremerton to play golf.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

The Economics of Jay Nation

As some of you know I’ve been sending drafts of this document to people for their amusement and mine. One such person, a good friend whom I respect and trust immensely, replied with an email entitled “The Birds Are Getting Fat.” And, indeed, he was correct. The Jays, the Robins, even the hummingbirds (just a tad jowly) have looked slimmer. I understood the subtext, of course (the email contained job listings), but I still stopped feeding the Jays every day. I was concerned about my activities somehow affecting the larger ecosystem. The truth is I’d seen swarms of spiders crawling the lawn, and we’re being overrun (slowly) by a stampede of slugs (a six inch long leopard slug slimed up the kitchen window last week). I don’t know if these creatures comprise the natural diet of the Steller’s Jay, all I’ve ever seen a Steller’s Jay eat is a Hoody’s unsalted peanut. But, based on the recommendations of a graduate of the Harvard Business School, and an inherent belief that birds unfed long enough might just find slugs and spiders appetizing, I decided to put the Jays on a diet to see what would happen.
Let me tell you the results have been nothing short of amazing. I had always simply accepted the law of supply and demand. I’d read about it in books and heard learned folks discuss it, but it had never been more immediate than the battle for the last bit of Ben & Jerry’s. That is until I saw hungry Jays.
Initially, I just randomly started skipping days. I’d not feed them one day, and then the next day leave a few peanuts near where I’d seen the most spiders. (There do seem to be fewer spiders, but I have no empirical evidence to prove my actions [or inactions] caused this perceived reduction). On days following non-feeding days I seemed to notice a series of bird calls after I’d spread out the nuts. Nate really enjoys Jay-feeding time and has gotten quite adept at cracking the peanuts, pulling out the nuts, sticking them in his mouth and then spitting them on the deck. Now that we have him trained to spit out the nuts, we’re going to take him to a baseball game and he’s going to be irate with me when I chew and actually swallow (gasp) a peanut. Anyway, as he muddles around with the nuts, I have time to observe both him and the world around him. I’m convinced the Jays have started leaving a scout near the deck. I no longer feed them only in the morning, sometimes I’ll feed them in the afternoon, sometimes dusk, sometimes not at all. Yet, it never fails that within a few minutes of putting out the nuts the bird calls begin. It’s as if the flock has spotters throughout the neighborhood just waiting for a food sighting and then they start a phone tree of sorts, each call getting more distant until the whole flock has been notified and they come swooping in to get their grub. I recognize that I’m personifying the actions of animals, and I’m assuming an ordered form of communication and cooperation within a group of lesser beings. And, again, I’m dipping an uneducated toe into a scientific pond that has (no doubt) been amply explored. Regardless, I started to marvel at the actions of the Jays every time I fed them. This sense of wonder, combined with the obvious pleasure Nate garnered from the event, made it more difficult to not feed the Jays. But, not feed them I did. (I love that sentence for some reason).
Then, this morning, when I was playing with Nathan in the driveway (he likes climbing in and out of my car), I heard a ruckus in the bushes. There were two Jays fighting! How could this be? What happened to the spirit of mutual cooperation amongst this flock of Jays? I had not fed them that day, indeed I could not remember the last time I had, it could have been several days. Is it possible that when faced with a short-term reduction in supply these previously friendly birds lost all amity and became mortal enemies? Is hunger such a powerful motivator that it outweighs all prior feelings of esprit de corps?
And then it hit me. Jay Nation is America. We all work together (or give the impression of working together), but the moment there’s not enough to go around we’re squawking and screeching and trying to snatch a peanut scrap out of the mouths of our fellow citizens. We’ll all stand united to defeat the evil chipmunk. As long as we’re happy, we’ll leave Robin Nation alone to pick at the worms. Yet the moment there’s an ounce of difficulty we’re ready to drop mitts and brawl. Or at least whine. Let’s face it we’re all a bunch of selfish whiners. And, I’m the worst of the flock. I’ve got a wonderful wife who loves and supports me, a fantastic kid who I get to spend more time with than 99% of all fathers, and I benefited financially from an anomalous tech-boom that I dumbly stumbled into having little or no training to justify the jobs I had. My background and education (I typed my thesis. On a typewriter. Before my first job out of college, I had never used a computer or took any sort of computer class, ever.) gave me about as much right to work in high-tech as George W. Bush’s gave him to be president. And there’s the rub (are you catching on to the rhythm of these chapters?). It’s not about who’s qualified or who’s deserving, it’s about who’s willing to take it. Do the Jays sit around and think, “Golly, I really shouldn’t take that last peanut from Gaston. He’s getting kind of old and can’t see as well as he did back in ’92 when he was managing this flock. I’ll just leave it for him.”
No, of course they don’t. I’m no zoologist, but I’d wager that the vast majority of animals in the wild are only interested in taking care of themselves. The question we as humans should be asking ourselves is, are we animals in the wild?