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.