Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BEST SELLERS

The Indigenous Author

Once in an elevator in a posh place in Seattle I overheard a conversation between two stylish middle-aged ladies.  One said, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you lost your job.  What will you do now?

The other said, “Oh, I suppose I’ll buy a cheap computer and write a book.”  It was almost as if she thought the computer wrote the book.

Thanks to the thundering herds of literate people who believe that writing a book is a thing that anyone could do and that every book is a best seller, and who include in their own books and movies the idea of writing a book as achieving salvation (which is related to the Abrahamic admiration of the magic of books:  Bible/Torah/Koran) we still have the fantasy that writing a book really IS something.  That will make money.

Gutenberg made it possible for the classes just below the top to own books, because printing presses made them cheaper and sources of education made people able to read.  Of course, at first they only read “improving” books like “Pilgrim’s Progress”, but then someone realized that wicked sells, so they began to “publish” (print, bind and sell) novels in shops next to the dry goods.  It was a shift in the underpinnings of society.

That was a few centuries ago.  Recently, delancyplace.com, which daily runs a few hundred pages from histories of all kinds, ran a quote from 
Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks” by Bryant Simon"Increasingly over the last two decades, women and men with higher salaries and more college classes under their belt broke away from the sensible middle class and engaged in a new round of conspicuous consumption. …"

One’s taste in print consumption is no different -- though reading commuters had to be a little devious if reading certain books — until finally you could read from a small screen, privately, without a giveaway dust jacket.  Equivalent is the context of writing. In the days of Louisa May Alcott one wrote books in an unheated attic, living on apples, or if one were male, one had a major adventure of some sort and then wrote about it almost secretly until the world was ready.  But writing a published book was thought to be a middle-class version of winning the lottery, very much connected to deservingness, certifying that one was anointed after all.

Then came laptops and the Starbucks-related phenomenon of writing in public.  Now the plotted disaster was not accidentally leaving the paper manuscript in a taxi, but rather having the laptop stolen.  (Does no one carry around their masterpiece on a thumb drive as though it were the secret plans for the Russian invasion?  Of course, one cannot steal a cloud.)  Watching the faces of the keyboardists, one sometimes suspects they are actually just composing a spread sheet for expense reimbursement from the head office.  How middle class, but at least there’s income involved.

That’s a quick list of the changes in print transmission methods.  The equally changing content is a little harder to identify and understand.  Underlying all print is spoken language and under all spoken language is a constantly shifting set of connectomes that Freudian systems have led us to believe are bubbling ferments of inchoate accumulation.  But now, if you listen to George Lakoff and a host of researchers, we know that there is a system, as sure as bones, that guides everything mental (and physiological, since by now some will accept that the consciously mental is also physiologically based and almost entirely unconscious).

I particularly like the vid linked below because it reveals how closely “virtue” and “emotion” are tied to reading, esp. for those dedicated upper-middle-class PBS people, who by now have home espresso machines on their sleek kitchen counters, next to the planning book for their European vacation.

Part of the assimilation of the indigenous people of the North American continent has been getting them into books some way or other.  First, they were written about — inaccurately, as we now recognize.  Then nice Victorian do-gooder ladies began to create manuscripts that were represented as translations from the people.  No one wrote in their own language, not even the people themselves, except for the Cree who benefitted from devising their own alphabet.  That came next.  

Then the journals of adventures of young poetic men who felt truly at home with the indigenous cultures.  Some learned those languages.  When the college-educated indigenous began to write, they all wrote down oral legends.  Then they acquired research skills and gained access to primary records — which wasn’t easy because part of the task of escaping hegemony was through politicized destruction of “white” files and records which made librarians wary of them.  If they seemed “middle class” enough, they gradually sat down at tables to read and were scandalized.  This was “white” stuff — where was the pre-print history of the red people?

The long process of using a medieval invention, print, to express the deep structure of an indigenous world has to be based on the raw material that is the land.  No one born in the 19th century of buffalo and nomadism is alive today, but the buffalo are being restored and from satellites it is possible to locate the old trails, marked with with GPS.  A new accumulation of writing is building up in the tribal community colleges where indigenous art abounds.  It could happen anywhere — Australia, China, Russia?

This is a very long way around to get to my point, which is that the secret to deep writing deserving the idea of a “body of work” is not so much print in “books” in the sense of organized, complete, indexed and footnoted ideas or even in the flash-bang narratives of survivors, but rather in the shift to writing as creating a steady output.  People talk about a “body of work” as the lifetime output of a writer developing through the shifts and oxymorons of living, but they talk about it even after the author’s death, from the outside.

From the inside it is now possible to produce a body of work that is felt as “written” (including images, sound, movement) and through “reflexivity” understand where the deep travail is taking one.  That was always possible with a diary or journal, but to have a company of readers sharing the adventure is new.  Not always comfortable.

Of course, new means new problems.  Not everyone will react the same, though one hopes the viciously critical would just go away.  For a while, writing will need to be sequestered into material read by those sharing and identifying with that life — Indians writing for Indians, as it were.  That’s happening.  But it doesn’t always go back to the environment that created the tribes in the first place.  Those who open the Bundles haven’t necessarily sat for hours watching what those prairie creatures do, what their aura is, what lessons they teach, how they connect to survival, but a person still could.  Could learn to take badger and fox into one’s own body so as to dance their nature.

Swift foxes on the prairie

The missing piece for those who choose to create a body of work as a figure of process, traveling along through the world and time, is close to what for a while was called “discovery.”  The discovery is that a “body of work” is a “thing” and then that the thing is worthy, worth searching for.  Possibly not middle class or in English.  Maybe not written on a laptop at Starbucks.  Potentially beyond words.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TRYING TO MAINTAIN ORDER

709 Montana

If it’s a perfect storm at sea, what is it when disaster strikes from all sides in one’s yard?  This is my yard, which most people would agree is a disaster, except maybe an ecologist.  There’s an animal bed of some kind right in the middle.  Maybe dog, maybe griz.  (I look for them but never see them.  No phone calls on the telephone tree.  No news from the bear vigilantes.)  

I’ve received a letter giving me the day after tomorrow as a deadline to mow my yard down to the conventional astroturf height.  Otherwise, a $150 fine.  Maybe $250.

My diabetes has gone out of control.  I’ll probably need to go to Great Falls for the doc this week.  Wednesday is my “payday” when I do the month’s grocery shopping and laundry.  There is no way to meet the deadline of day after tomorrow.  Ray, the mayor, has said he will “work with citizens” so long as we are making good faith efforts.  So I went over to get a stay of execution and got it.

We also got into politics a bit.  Most of Ray’s working life has been military so I threw down the glove:  “This is not a military compound.  It’s a little country town with a shrinking economy that talks about disincorporating.”


Military Housing

Then we got to the serious stuff.  He hates Obama for being “weak” and admires Trump for being “strong”.  None of the news about betraying America to Russia gets through to him.  He doesn’t believe it.  Time will tell.

So now I have to go a lot deeper and also to ask myself why I am so emotional about this issue.  (I wouldn’t be QUITE so emotional if one of the feral cats hadn’t had kittens last night, a process of screaming and running all over the house smearing blood which kept us all from sleeping.  It was 90º, unusually hot yesterday, and the night didn’t cool until nearly daylight.)

It’s about expectations and the major shift in American life over the last two decades, even in this small backwater.  The main change is that the Valierians don’t want to BE a backwater now.  They want to be important and admirable and to grow, which they believe will happen if the town looks prosperous.  They see the riots and misfortunes on television and notice that the nabes were shabby and neglected to begin with.  And the people are dark.

Quite a few military or quasi-military people live in town, but not a Pondera County deputy, which has been the case in the past.  They like it here because not much happens.  Pondera County sheriff, Highway Patrol, Border Patrol, Homeland Security, FBI, ICE, ATF, and so on.  Many of them are former military.  Borderlands law applies to 100 miles from the Canadian border.  Valier is 67 miles away.

The census people say that 20% of the population is Native American.  They don’t give their criteria: enrolled or not, blood quantum, etc.  There are no Black or Asian people that I know of and only one Mexican. 

I’m such an isolate, leaving the house only for the library or gas station, that I don’t have a very good handle on a population that I only cross paths with occasionally:  older, maybe retired, men without families.  (A few women as well.)  They are not free spirits: no career artists or writers or dancers.  No band leaders, no veterinarian.  No doctors, lawyers, clergy or counselors live in town.  (I’m excepting me.)  A pretty good fraction of the population in town used to be the grandparent generation from farms and ranches nearby.  On my street they have mostly died of old age and been replaced by young families, who build on more bedrooms.

No bars, as such, but always the usual underground drugs and theft.  A lot of drunk driving and domestic abuse, but that doesn’t register.  A few men who live locally but not primarily in Valier, own a little old house as a refuge for binges.  Maybe disguised as fishing.

I’ve already tried to address the problem of the demographic hole in the doughnut: many people use the town amenities but pride themselves on not being stupid enough to live inside the town boundaries, just in the postal district.

The bottom line is that people here are not inclined to think outside the box.  No new businesses are started; some move into town.

Military residential tracts are supported by federal money.  Taxes are paid by a replacement law substituting federal money, as is the case on an NA reservation.  This takes care of infrastructure without taxes from citizens who are individually responsible for maintenance.  If there is anything the military has in abundance, it’s skilled manpower.  Small towns everywhere are feeling the loss of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and appliance repairpersons.  Few are willing to mow lawns for hire, even if it’s a flat lot with a riding mower.

Much of how people guide their lives is economic necessity, but also there is a cultural component.  We have put college degrees ahead of almost everything else, believing that this is the key to security.  But it’s not.  It’s a map out of town and a put-down of those who stay here.  Worse, college degrees are so necessary that they are like marriage licenses used to be — maybe they mean something and maybe they don’t.  Too many people think they have college degrees when they only have post-high-school degrees, Education-Lite.  (Sort of like the nurses-for-doctors switch.)  Not a life-skill that teaches people to learn, but a document soon made irrelevant by time and technology.  And sometimes an outright racket.  Even worse: consider Missoula where people get raped in the dorms and the profs smoke only the finest pot, send the low grade stuff to the rez.  (I can’t tell you how I know this.)

My emotional surge over the state of my yard might be seen as strange since my job with the City of Portland was regarding exactly these issues.  We addressed nuisances of all kinds, debris of all kinds, including dead bodies.  Noise was a major issue.  Yards that gradually fill up, esp. with rusted steel machine parts that are all too available in shrinking railroad and shipping centers where warehouses stand empty.  One city crew did nothing but board up abandoned buildings.  This is the context of most crime shows on TV and therefore the mental context even here in Valier.  We feel with our guts that if we can keep all that out, we will have saved ourselves.  I went on ridealongs with inspectors so I know how bad it can get.  Far worse than anything in a small High Line town.

But we slip into the same attitude that the Portland nuisance inspectors came to when people were defiant.  “Don’t get rid of the complaint.  Get rid of the complainant.”  The other day I heard a man describing how the sheriff was ignoring him, though he had real troubles.  He had been got rid of, made invisible.  I ration calls to the sheriff very carefully to keep from being labeled a curtain twitcher.

My expectation was to live in this ramshackle house, writing until I die.  Since 1999 this has been possible.  I’m proud of my writing, which is not in “books” but in an accumulated body of work over time that reaches around the planet, not printed in books but forwarded endlessly.  In a way my problem is that I’ve lived too long.  In another way it is that there are too many people and they are nothing like me.  I am an Arab to them, but I’m safer if they don’t know it.

New Valier Fire Engine

Ray is a good mayor.  He has the foresight, connections and drive to do things like get us a new fire engine, badly needed.  I respect military backgrounds.  (My brothers were Marines.)  But there is a big difference between being military at a base in Montana and being military in an occupied country where the fighting is either guerrilla-style or bombing raids.  Who can be sacrificed as collateral damage without people paying much attention?  Valier is more like the latter and yet not like either.  There are no commanding officers here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

THE BRAIN IS A SEA CREATURE

India Ink drawing

A human being is essentially a sack of sea water with self-contained creatures living inside that we call “organs.”  There are two ways of circulating the sea water so that the organs survive.  One is piped and carries little discs full of red oxygen, everything pumped by a heart attached to lungs which open at the top to the general atmosphere where the oxygen is.  The lung-pump is called a diaphragm and is a sheet across the entire mid-body, an internal tide-maker acting inside a ribbed calcium shell structure arching in a bone dome above the diaphragm.

Most of the other sea creatures have to do with taking in food, treating it, and throwing out the residue.  Also, a side pouch for making replicas, small fetal humans.  But on top is a semi-sequestered creature, twinned, that lives in a bone chamber and sorts out the coded electrochemical messages from small sensitive creatures called eyes, ears, tongues, nose, and maybe as many as 200 specialized one-celled organisms throughout the tissues of the entire body.

Everything must stay wet to work.  Alongside the piping of the blood vessels are other fluids.  They are like liquid bread: all the same basic recipe but varied according to need with inclusions and subtle chemical differences.  Like all the rest of the body, to survive the lymph system must stay within the stream-banks of limits, which means that the inclusions and proportions must be constantly renewed and filtered.  

Now I’ll cheat in a politically incorrect way by quoting Wikipedia.  Thanks to the uncredited person who wrote this about basic lymph:

Lymph is the fluid that circulates throughout the lymphatic system. The lymph is formed when the interstitial fluid (the fluid which lies in the interstices of all body tissues) is collected through lymph capillaries. It is then transported through larger lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes, where it is cleaned by lymphocytes, before emptying ultimately into the right or the left subclavian vein, where it mixes back with the blood.

“Since the lymph is derived from the interstitial fluid, its composition continually changes as the blood and the surrounding cells continually exchange substances with the interstitial fluid. It is generally similar to blood plasma except that it doesn't contain red blood cells. Lymph returns proteins and excess interstitial fluid to the bloodstream. Lymph may pick up bacteria and bring them to lymph nodes, where they are destroyed. “Metastatic cancer cells can also be transported via lymph. Lymph also transports fats from the digestive system (beginning in the lacteals) to the blood via chylomicrons.

“Lymph has a composition comparable to that of blood plasma, but it may differ slightly. Lymph contains white blood cells. In particular, the lymph that leaves a lymph node is richer in lymphocytes. Likewise, the lymph formed in the human digestive system called chyle is rich in triglycerides (fat), and looks milky white because of its lipid content.”

The word lymph is derived from the name of the ancient Roman deity of fresh water, Lympha.”

First we learned all about the genome; then the epigenome which can turn individual genes on or off in response to the environment; then the connectome which is the pattern of connection of brain neurons that responds to particular modes and tasks, and then the microbiome.  “The human microbiome (all of our microbes' genes) can be considered a counterpart to the human genome (all of our genes). The genes in our microbiome outnumber the genes in our genome by about 100 to 1.”

Now we begin to learn about the glymphatic system, which is a specialized part of the lymph system in the brain.  It’s in the interstitial spaces between cells and sometimes in a channel parallel to the blood system.  It’s the stuff that washes through the brain at night to remove the day’s debris, and it interests Alzheimer’s researchers because it should be removing amyloids.

But I’m interested in where all this fluid in the head comes from, cascading down through the sinuses, along the bone of skull both inside and outside under the skin, becoming mucus and tears and snot, pooling in the sinuses, running out the nose, draining through the pharynx.  What makes it move, aside from gravity and muscle contractions?  It’s so minute and complex that I don’t quite get it yet.  

But two important concepts seem to be the “parenchyma” which is whatever tissue is part of a working “sea creature” organ (such a basic term that it’s used for plants as well); the ependyma; and the “choroid plexus, which is a plexus of cells that produces the cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain. The choroid plexus consists of modified ependymal cells.”  These little cells not only excrete the fluid, but also are equipped with cilia (moving hairs) that push it.  There are four “choroid plexuses”, one for each brain ventricle.  “The ventricles of the brain are a communicating network of cavities filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and located within the brain parenchyma.” 

Since I don’t have hydrocephalus (for which I am grateful), why would I pay any attention to all this stuff?  It turns out to be related to eye problems.  In a world where even an MD can’t offhand tell the difference between an optometrist and an opthalmologist, this research about the glymphatic system of the eye is invisible.  http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2572611  
I am very aware that if things are going wrong with my eyes, the retina swells and blurs print.  My glaucoma scores (pressure inside the eyeball) are rising and that also seems related. 

Messing around in the research protocols, the scientists injected India ink in “paravascular spaces around the central retinal artery and vein, whereas the lumens of these vessels remained unlabeled.  The deposits were located between collagen fiber bundles lining a slit-like space.”

India ink injected in optic nerves!  What an opportunity for dark poetry!  (Some of the research was done on dead humans.)  I’ll give it a try:

Of course, as usual, India ink 
is a misnomer
since it was invented by the Chinese
In the neolithic time 
of cereal domestication
when the people learned to make bowls
And lamps so that 
India ink is made from lampblack, 
a fine soot,
applied to paper
with a needle, injecting 
the eye 
with the heroin of ideas
so the brain
knows
what to make of all this and can leave a map 
on a scroll
for times that prefer
soft brushwork.

May I have more, please?

But not too much.
The tentacles of my eyesight want to grasp you.
Not crush you.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

GLAMOUR GRANNY (fiction)


She had been suicidal all her life.  If she had spoken of it to anyone, even herself, she would have said her subconscious or maybe unconscious was trying to kill her.  She was never sure why, but well aware that one never entirely knows one's own deep dark interior, though she had always found sin to be alluring.  She neatly made it not her fault but not anyone else’s fault, an eerie compromise between her intentions and her victimization.  She didn’t want anyone else involved, but she liked it there on the threshold, going back and forth.  

And that’s where she had lived since the accident broke her back.  It was a banal incident — she had fought with her husband, gone off in her flashy little car and, blinded by anger, drove over a cliff.  They didn’t find her for a day or so because she couldn’t be seen from the road.  She was unconscious during the rescue and only woke up in the hospital, resentful at leaving her dream world for this other place of pain and demands where the only good thing was the pain meds.

She also took steps, devised little strategies, to avert any actual suicide attempts, though now that she was in her eighties and widowed, living in a wheelchair, the flirtation was beginning to be serious.  It was necessary not to tip her hand.  (She had been as good a card player as dancer.)  Since she had caretakers, the obstacles were also stronger.  

At the moment she could hear Clara Marie, her part-Chippewa helper, rustling around in the kitchen and then the sound of the boy’s voice.  The grandson was what she lived for: his dimples, his flashing eyes, his wild ideas.  He was quite different from his father and she could not see how he came from such a plodding mother.

The boy often brought her small gifts: a peacock-colored scarf, pearl earrings, a magazine folded back to a Blackglama ad because he thought of her that way, looking out over a ruff of fur with painted eyes.  She told him tales about better days when she had been the most popular dancer at the ball, so many swirling dances with so many handsome men.  When she dozed, which she did often, the ballrooms where she had worn fine gowns and real diamonds mixed with the dances in the old movies that she watched on television.  Lost in the lovely oblivion she danced among the clouds and stars, mixing history and places between Anna Karenina and Ginger Rogers.  If she were lucky and had enough pain meds, she’d only return to reality late enough in the afternoon that the boy might be there.

This time she thought she heard two male voices in the kitchen talking to Clara Marie.  Impatiently, she rattled her wheelchair to remind that boy she was waiting.  When the door to her bedroom burst open, there were two boys.  It took a moment to understand because this boy was dusky and black-haired like Clara Marie but she had no young sons, just girls and more girls, all destined to take care of others.

“And who is THIS?”  She held out her arm, half-reaching and half-pointing.  Laughing, the young man, bowing, took her hand and kissed it!  She was immediately smitten.  It was a long time since that had happened.

“Grand-mére, this is my best friend!  We’ve brought you a gift!”  It was a small tape player, what they called a “Walkman” and it had a small headset which the boy put on her.  “Be careful.  I don’t want my hair messed up.  Just because I’m only sitting here doesn’t mean you can play with me.  I still have my standards!”

Claude Francois (that was his name) turned on the little player and she was surprised to hear dance music, HER kind of dance music, playing through the headphones as though the orchestra were right in her head.  She could not help smiling.  The two young men grinned at each other and then took each other in their arms in the waltz embrace.  They didn’t need to hear the music to keep the beat and she raised her own arms as though she, once again, were leaning against an immaculate tuxedo, wearing a full-skirted but low-cut dress, moving round and round so quickly that her long flashing earrings swung out from her neck.

Dark Claude Francois and her golden grandson were perfectly matched in height and synchrony and for a moment were locked by their gaze.  Then they saw that she was swaying her arms and — keeping the step rhythm — came to each side of her chair.  Now they moved her around the room, which was carpetless for ease in rolling the chair, and it was like actually dancing, a three-some this time.  She caught glimpses of them in the big dressing table mirror as they passed and they were splendid.  All three laughed and laughed.

Then they were panting and had to stop.  It was time for them to go.  She kept her dignity by being stoic when they kissed her cheeks, forbidding herself to smile for fear of it becoming a grimace.  When the door had closed she ripped off the headphones without regard for messing up her hair and threw them across the room, which dragged the little player along, clattering.  She heard the big motorcycle fire up and roar away.


They had not quite had to courage to tell her, but she had sensed what they were going to do, so she was not surprised when later Clara Marie remarked, “Those boys will be happy in San Francisco.”  How could she begrudge them their freedom?  She herself did not intend to stay.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

THE SECRET KEEPER (fiction)


The boy had become the family Keeper of Secrets.  He was smart and listened well, so that seemed natural, but the family was large and had a lot of traditional women in it — that is, women who had things to say, but no one listened to them.  So they told the boy.  Also, these women were often rivalrous so they tended to see many little faults in each other, but particularly between the two branches of the family, the paternal and maternal.  He didn’t call them that.  He said, “City family, country family.”

His mom was country family now but she was city family before she married his dad.  It was hard for her to learn how to be country and her sisters could never understand why she married into such a situation, though they liked to visit now and then, if only to inform her how much better their lives were.  Then they’d get the boy off to the side and pump him for information about his mother and father.

He was a good secret keeper and learned early which ones were radioactive and which ones had such obvious and dull answers that they were safe, though he was careful to leave out details or add ones that meant nothing, just to disarm the information.  The trouble was that as a little boy, he really didn’t know the difference between dangerous and innocent and once in a long time he would trip up and hear things screamed at his mother.  Things like, “How can you neglect your hands like that?  When was the last time you had a decent manicure?”  He didn’t know what a manicure was.

The main secret he didn’t know himself was that being a little boy meant that he shouldn’t have been told many things.  Not until he was an adult did he understand that miscarriages, abortions, lovers, early menopause and a host of accusations like “mother always loved you best” were not for little boy’s ears, much less any expectation that he could figure out what they meant or what to do about them.  

Once he went to his father to ask what some of these things meant, but that was a mistake.  His father lost his temper easily and was likely to react violently.  Not that he didn’t slap, grab, and shove both he and his mother all the time anyway, sometimes hard enough to bruise and once or twice violently enough to break bones.  Even if he went to school with a black eye, it was evidently a secret not to be mentioned by his teachers or classmates.  He knew never to tell home things at school or school things at home.

The grandmothers hated each other.  His paternal grandmother dearly loved and praised his father, her cherished only son.  His maternal grandmother had no time for boys or men.  This may have been because his maternal grandfather had disappeared, taking the family dog, and left her to raise all the girls alone.  Most of them worked hard at school and jobs and were successes, but didn’t marry except for his mother. 

So he formed an alliance with his paternal grandfather and the two of them became prodigious fishermen.  Glam told him everything he knew about fish — which was a lot — but when the boy asked about his parents, the old man confided that he didn’t understand women and, frankly, he was afraid of his own belligerent son.  With reason.  His son had once actually punched him out.  He explained it was wrong to go to the police when your son knocks you down.  It was a city thing to do.

There were a few boys at school who had families that were similar.  It was the way of the world to push fathers into these roles, criticizing them if they were weak or talked too much or didn’t make enough money.  Love was a luxury or a material obligation like chocolates at Valentine’s Day.  

The country was rapidly developing as more housing was needed.  But there was still enough undeveloped land around the farms for the boys to find places to gather, even to build a little campfire and gather around it.  They didn’t roast marshmallows — these were boys who kept dried beef jerky sticks in their pockets to chew on when necessary.  The "hotter" the better.  Not that they wouldn’t accept cookies when they were offered, but they tried not to mention that or to ask for them.

They didn’t discuss their families much because it would be complaining, but sometimes a boy caught in a domestic war would spend some time cursing and imagining terrible retributions.  Then one day an uncle showed up, a not-quite-grownup who seemed very worldly.  One of the comforts of the boys was smoking, which was in the comfortably gray area of disapproved and risky but not really illegal, and easily broken down for sharing, one at a time from a pack or handed back and forth, with the little added element of being a kind of displaced kissing.  Nicotine was both arousing and calming.  It helped with the anxiety and the smoke was fun.

The uncle, who was quite a bit younger than their parents but older than the boys, asked them if they ever smoked pot.  The boys were still pretty young and they had not, but they knew what it was.  He had some with him.  Some say pot is a threshold drug and will lead up the primrose path to heroin and so on, but the real threshold drugs were the self-generated hormones of sex and worry.  And the real addiction was secrecy.

The uncle had been in the Navy and the reason he left was a secret.  One summer day he invited one of the boys to walk with him away from the group to a wooded place he knew because he “wanted to show him something.”  It was sexual and began as seduction but ended as force.  Rape, to give it the right name.  The boy yelled and the other boys came.  They weren’t in time but the uncle did not escape.

It was a wooded place because there was a spring and that kept the ground wet and soft.  They buried him there and his remains disappeared quicker than one might guess.  No one ever told the secret and because of the spring that land wasn’t built on for decades.  The uncle’s sister, who was the mother of one of the boys, grumbled, “I understand that men always leave, but he could have taken his worthless dog with him.”  The boy loved that dog.


Friday, June 23, 2017

YARD COURT


Only recently have I realized that my blog snapshots of whatever I found to be an interesting configuration of objects or a keen color of auto body have become targeting material for the town’s enemies of nonconformity.  I am inadvertently painting bull's eyes.  They look at what I took a photo of out of enjoyment and label it junk, nasty, embarrassing, to be eliminated.  Self-appointed village Maenads, they pour their fury onto the mayor, who has a big voice that will discourage fistfights but cannot fend off women on the prod.

An elegant local lady who seemed to already know my name asked me, “Well, how do you like our town as compared to the last place you lived?”  It developed that she thought I’d been living in Browning all this time and naturally she assumed that I was relieved to be safe in beautiful downtown Mayberry.  I didn’t say that my “last town” was Portland, very trendy.  At least until a local weirdo murdered two honorable men and wounded another.  Things are rarely what they seem.

In no other place I’ve lived have women stopped me on the streets to advise me that I’m not wearing the right clothes.  They know the “right” ones and where to buy them.  The idea that I don’t give a rap does not occur to them.  They assumed that, poor lost soul, I just didn’t KNOW.  Right now the ladies are in full flower because of Homesteader Days.  There must be men involved this year because there’s a tractor pull and hints at a beer blast.

Now and then I think maybe I should write a version of “Anne of Green Gables” about Valier, but I’m afraid it would be too dark for most people to read.  At first the town seems “pretty,” and that’s its reputation in spite of the blocks of grain siloes in town.  A good example of the Valier formal self-image is the “VADC” website http://www.valier.org.  The photo that includes the Rockies was taken with a telephoto lens.  (See the town’s official website:  townofvalier.com for a more realistic view.  There are no clues to Yard Court on that website, no name for the town judge.)

I received a letter that I was half-expecting and almost invited by joking about the height of my grass in this good year for growing.  I either mow it all in seven days or a town crew will come to cut it for me and bill me/fine me $150.  I hear rumors it’s going up to $250 which if unpaid, will become a lien on my property.  My county taxes are less money.  Hiring someone to cut grass would be expensive but my yard has to be cut with a weed-whip because of the stepping stones, bathtubs, raised beds, and so on -- my efforts to eliminate grass.  The assumption behind the town ordinance is that yards are flat and can be mowed like fields.  "Tractor Mind."

So the cats and I were doing a little horizontal thinking, postprandial, and I hear a riding-mower roaring out front.  Spilling cats in all directions, I went out in a hurry.  My best hope was that it was Corky again, since a week ago  he had been passing between mowing jobs and knocked down my boulevard (parking strip to some).  He said we should have a talk, but didn’t come back.  (He delivers Meals on Wheels.)  I picked up vibes that he wanted to alert me about Village Disapproval, but he didn’t say anything.  

People just hate talking about problems so they make semi-secret strikes through public opinion in an effort to provoke change.  There seem to be no good solutions.  They shrink from confrontation, don’t want to cause offense and feuds, but their attempts to evade only seep underground and fester.  They stockpile their covert observations of neighbor offences to use in defence if necessary.

Alors!  This time the riding mower was Leo, with whom I wrestle over lead in water and the state of my sewer and etc. because he’s the senior town employee.  And I rip into him, tears and screams, thinking “Migod, I only got the warning letter this afternoon and I’m supposed to have 7 days to comply.”  But he (and his big black dog) beg for mercy.  He thought he was just helping me in passing, the same as Corky.  Of course, Corky didn’t mow my daffodils down, which Leo had just done.  (They aren’t blooming now — but they need their leaves to make next spring’s bulbs.)

When I shut down my outrage, Leo played his own sad song.  He’s actually summoned to COURT over his own lot.  It seems his old cars don’t comply and he has a ticket.  But he has a surprise up his sleeve: old cars are legal if they can run and he has fixed this one — now it will.  

I’m wondering whether I should go “observe” court.  This morning I spent an hour prowling around to try to find “Yard Court” so I could play observer to Leo at trial.  I never did find him.  No one knew about Yard Court, even that it existed, except that it developed that there are TWO, one for the town and one for the county.  My letter came from the town, but possibly Leo’s case is county.  I did take photos of his lots, which shouldn’t endanger him since he’s already written up and by the time you’ve read this, a decision will have been reached.

Part of the problem can be that sons love cars to "fix" but they don't get ticketed.  Dads get caught between the law and the son.

My basic grump around town is that things run like high school, the same popular girls insist on conformity, the same athletic boys trumpet defiance, and both join to resist any kind of outside authority.  There are “memes”, the little social units of response that are played over and over, sometimes word-for-word.  Drugs come from the rez.  Town employees should have irreproachable yards.  Cars are potential fortunes, no matter their condition.  Some memes are contradictory:  lawns are a sign of pride/lawns mean nothing.  In conversation some people will repeat the same observation again and again.  A few memes are stigma declarations, sexist or racist, without any animosity or awareness, as though discussing the weather.  Some of these people are well past retirement.  Some are barely more than kids.

The people who are so concerned about appearance are starting to suggest fences.  Twenty years ago fences were considered a kind of failure, a rejection of one’s neighbors.  I’d be happy to build one if I had the money, and there’s the next rub.  Some people are pretty well-off.  Others are poor.  And some think they are in the Wild West (they didn’t grow up here) and can do as they please.  But probably most in both modes are cocooned.  They don’t want to know, don’t want to act, don’t want to decide.


The town infrastructure amounts to a necessary cooperative in order to support and guide the water, sewer, power, streets, and so on.  But many have adopted the mercantile attitude of the times and the dominant politics, getting what you want on the cheap and not investing emotionally in the core enterprise.  Those with money respond to commercial advertising that dangles the perfect life; those without money defend their egos by scoffing.  It's toxic.