Monday, December 29, 2003

Shotgun

When I lived in L.A. a biker friend of mine from the north would occasionally invite me to go shooting out in the oilfields. It was fun. He had a regular arsenal: a couple of 45 calibers, a 9 mil, a .357, and some 22's, both rifles and handguns. He also packed a couple of 10 gauge shotguns. Much too much firepower for shooting tin cans, but you've got to use them for something.
We'd drive outside the city limits, down the oilfield trails and off the road a little ways. Shooting off rounds out there wasn't really legal, but it was common practice. As long as you weren't doing any hunting without a license the local law enforcement didn't much care.
We would practice every conceivable scenario. From drawing holstered weapons on quickshot targets, to sniperlike shooting from a distance of a dotsized target, to tight patterns on shotgun spreads, shooting imaginary moving beasts. It was an easy way to waste a few bucks on ammo.
Afterwards, we'd spend the evening shooting the breeze and cleaning out the weapons. We would put great care into this. Both of us were veterans and knew the benefits of keeping clean, well lubricated firearms. Kids were everywhere. Like every good biker household, my buddy provided shelter for destitute friends and their children. There never failed to be an abundance of people.
Late that night, and for some unknown reason, after emptying out the unspent shells from a shotgun, he miscounted and when he thought it was empty, he aimed the shotgun at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The final remaining case shot out with a tremendous BANG! Everything stopped and we all stared at him in disbelief. His face was covered in white dust from the fallen plaster the blast tore out of the ceiling, leaving a hole the size of the Grand Canyon above him. Our eyes met as we both suddenly thought of the same thing: "Oh shit!!!" we yelled, and started gathering all the weapons as fast as possible, before the police arrived and arrested somebody for firing off a shot inside the city limits.
Within a couple of minutes we had bagged everything up and started making our way out into the backyard to find a hiding place for the guns. We put everything inside a small brick shed where he kept his barbecue supplies. Safely hidden behind the charcoal briquets.
Still waiting to hear the sound of sirens coming our way, we decided to peel out of there and head down to the nearest bar to play some pool. Pretty cavalier, I know, leaving all the women and children to face the law if they came, but my friend was right to believe that with his reputation, as soon as the cops saw his face they would decide he was guilty. If all they saw were some women and children denying everything, they were more likely to believe them.
The police never did show up. We played a few rounds of pool and later went home, and marveled at how we started the evening with a bang!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Short story - Part I

The disturbing menagerie of crooked branches crowded in around us, as we quickly shuffled through the leafy path. It was late autumn, and the ground was covered by dry leaves and small animal droppings. The wind howled around us, through us, enveloping us in its bone-chilling harshness.
As we approached the brook, I took hold of Maggie's arm and slowed her down to a near halt in boarding the crossing. It was only twenty feet long, but its rickety boards didn't inspire much confidence. Maggie clutched hard at our child beneath her coat and blankets, hammocked in her mother's arms. The wind seemed to grow to a fever pitch as we crossed, aggressively trying to knock us over into the turbulent waters below.
The others were so far ahead I could no longer see them. We'd fallen too far behind. It became clear to me that we were now on our own. Nobody would be waiting for us.
The clouds were moving in, blocking the remnants of daylight left. Darkness was draping over the valley below, as we hustled on down toward the foothills.
Maggie's legs were getting weaker. She was tired but she couldn't bear to stop. The baby was happily nestled in her arms, yet we both knew she would awake soon. We had to keep moving. I couldn't endure keeping my family from shelter for another night . With our cabin behind us torn apart by the avalanche, our only hope was to reach Parmel, still a good fifty miles away. In the meantime, a small cave or a large rock would do. Just enough to keep the cold wind off my daughter.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

What a sweet sensation Christmas brings!
There is a feeling, scent and sound that surrounds you in the city during the holidays. Not during work hours necessarily, but afterwards, at night. As you make your way through overly trafficked streets, finding people's driving even more aggravating than usual, there's a particular feeling of Christmas.
I can't quite explain it, this feeling. It's not the smell of cinnamon in the air or the sound of Christmas carols. It's more akin to the briskness in our moves as we make our way through crowded shopping malls trying to find thoughtful gifts in the blink of an eye, and in the subconscious sensation that an impending source of joy awaits us.
When we were children it was so cut and dry. We'd count the days until Christmas. The holidays meant new toys and clothes, and time away from school.
The joy the Christmas holiday brings to us as we get older is much more subdued. As a rule, the head of household tends to view it from afar with a touch of disdain. More than anything else it signifies an additional expense; a drain on our pocketbook. But, I must confess, as the day draws near and after we've gotten used to seeing the tree and decorations our wives put up (and the outdoor lights they made us hang), we start looking forward to seeing the smile on our children's faces, the glow in our loved one's eyes as they open each gift...it becomes once again, truly a time for celebration. A celebration of love and family.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Home for the holidays

How do you project that spot on the calendar when all of a sudden it's not somebody else's home you're journeying to for the holidays, but it's your home everybody else is coming to?
It's not like my daughter has left us and comes home for the holidays (she's not quite 4 years old yet), but my house has turned out to be the gathering point for several disparate branches of loosely fragmented particles of a family brought together by circumstance. Most of the connections between us are frail at best, with some notable exceptions, and we get together almost exclusively on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I've tried to come to terms with this whole "getting together for the holidays" thing, and I believe I understand the phenomenon a little better now.
The truth is, days off from work are rare for me. It's hard to find any free time to do things around the house. On top of that, there are usually great games scheduled on those days, so dealing with extended family is a bit of a sacrifice. I'd rather use the time to change out the bathroom faucet or work on the yard, or just hang out in my boxers watching sports and drinking beer.
However, the obligatory ritual of sitting around a dead bird and exchanging pleasantries is a necessary device by which we rid ourselves of the need to make any other contact with our loved ones throughout the rest of the year. It allows us to stay in touch with those we innately care for, catch up on recent occurrences and share yet another experience that we can file away in our collective memory bank.
It's good to see everybody. After cleaning the house all week, spending a small fortune at the grocery store, and watching my wife (admittedly, I'm not much help in this area) slave away in the kitchen for the better part of two days, there is a warm feeling left at the end of the day when we find ourselves cleaning the house yet again. It's good to see everybody, but it's also good to see them go.
We'll meet up again for Christmas.
Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Old friends

I spoke with an old friend yesterday. He called me on my cell phone out of the blue. I was walking around the mall with my Dad, killing time as we waited for my wife to show up for lunch (she's never on time!).
My friend Alvin says he's coming to Florida this week. His company is sending him to Orlando for some safety training, sponsored by his Union. He'll be there all week. It's about a three and a half hour drive from where I live. Not exactly around the corner, but certainly a lot closer than the continental divide we've had between us since I moved away from California 7 years ago. We both vowed that we'd make an earnest effort to see each other on this trip, whatever it takes.
Back in the day when Alvin and I first became friends, we were very different people from who we are now. Not only younger, but also driven by other motivations.
Alvin grew up in a small oilfield town in south-central California. One of the younger brothers in a large family of mostly men, he and his brothers were all athletes, and participated in most of the team sports the local schools offered. Alvin was the biggest and strongest one of them, a hulking 6'4" tall frame, with a back like a bull and 280 lbs of pure muscle. He was an intimidating presence wherever he went. In a town where you're only as tough as your last fight proved (and everybody had to be tough!), nobody ever chose to mess with Alvin. He'd established a reputation in town since his early days for being a fair and smart individual, a loyal and caring friend, but also a fist swinging bruiser with innards as hard as nails. He's the kind of guy you always wanted watching your back in a bar room brawl...not the one you wanted to face.
I met Alvin through the local bar scene. We both played darts at the weekly tournaments. We were decidedly the best two dart players in town, and we alternated as top dog for long stretches at a time. It was good, clean competition in a town where your options for recreation were limited. We had a lot of fun.
Our wives became good friends and, as has been the case for me before, Al and I became close friends as well, just by being forced into each other's company by our spouses.
I miss my buddy Al. As you get older it becomes much harder to become friends with anyone. The lack of time available to invest in the kind of circumstances that create the environment necessary to foment the requisite experiences that bring about true camaraderie makes it very hard for responsible, grown family men to bond.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More on my midlife crisis

As the sun sets again, another day fades away. The clock ticks with ever increasing speed as I grow older; gaining momentum with each passing second. It's hard to be carefree when you feel the pressure of goals not achieved, and the finish line seems to approach you with the force of a freight train.
I gaze upon my daily accomplishments at night sometimes, trying to find worthwhile achievements in my monotonous lifestyle. It's important to award yourself points just for doing the things that a working society requires, such as keeping a job, obeying the laws, investing in the economy, paying your taxes, etc. Mundane though they be these are not effortless tasks, and they form the backbone of our way of life. It's for the good of all that a majority of the population perform in this fashion. But I feel lazy and repressed, inhibited by petty fears of losing my comfort zone. Otherwise I would venture further into the world and try to live up to my self imposed expectations. Seize the day! Rather than watch another one go by.
There was a time when I dared to dream of bigger and better things for myself. Not material things necessarily. More like intellectual, academic, and artistic achievements. Now I derive a slightly pathetic sense of accomplishment from simply completing an entry in my journal...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Autumnal pondering

The colors of fall don't hit South Florida in the same spectrum-blasting way they do in the northern part of the country. There's gloom in the air and a sort of grayness dominates the scenery, and the leaves don't grasp for powerful tones before they wilt and die. They simply grow dull.
Some people equate the change of season with the natural progression of events that mark the passing of a year. For instance, Christmas with winter, 4th of July with summer, and so on. In that same way, they balance their moods and spirits for that particular time. Despite the tireless efforts by the ubiquitious members of the advertising world that splash every holiday into our subconsciousness with thoughts of commercial expenditures, a sense of what certain holidays should feel like still persists in our minds, albeit sometimes only in bursts of nostalgia and naiveté. Either way, it's highly probable that the events that created those childhood memories that we cherish, were probably as much of a task for our parents then as they are for us now.
When the passing of another season occurs down here, it is usually marked only by the telling of the almanac. It's summer or fall, only because we're told it is. But there is no correlating feeling to it, no indication in the weather. It's always hot as hell. For that reason it is often hard for northerners to adjust. Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas, and such.
Me, I just miss the colors that come with autumn.

Monday, November 03, 2003

What's next?

Hard to imagine what follows.
I've long since stopped believing in gods and the religions that come with them. Yet the physics question of energy always transforming itself into something else makes it difficult to imagine that it all ends when we die. Thus the common belief in a soul - the essence of what we are, at least energywise.
If our soul survives our physical death, what does it do next? Haunt the graveyards? Stick around to inspire the loved ones we left behind? Truly this last one is a romantic fantasy...that our spirit can look out for our children after we're gone...that we somehow still get to witness their development, the victories and failures in their lives.
I don't know. I stopped looking for answers to questions that can't be answered a long time ago. Yet every now and then I can't help but wonder.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Midlife Crisis - Part I

I don't wish to become sour. I'm bitter enough already.
Things don't look too pleasant from this side of the 40 year mark. I'm staring at an ugly midlife crisis dead in the eye, and I'm quite sure I'll be the first to blink.
I had high hopes for myself many years ago, when 40 was far enough away so as to not merit much concern. Suddenly it's but a couple of speedy years away. Time not only flies when you're having fun, it soars when it's in scarce availability.
Where did it all go? The dreams we cradled, the expectations so carefully carved out in our youth...Summarily brushed aside by the passing of time and the loss of enthusiasm brought on by our daily survival. The urgent takes precedence over the important. Our needs supersede our wants and before we know it, we're waist deep in conformity. Happy to simply get by.
Looking around at what I have accomplished thus far (unfortunately, even in self-analysis, I tend to opt for the social practice of judging people's success by the degree of their contributions to the world around them, their social status and their material assets), I find my early objectives far from met. However, I don't feel the urge to jump up and do something about it. No, I'm oddly content to view them as inevitable shortcomings that are the result of lofty aspirations dreamt up before I really knew what hand life dealt me. In other words, I choose to explain away my satisfaction with my own mediocrity, rather that pulling my head out of my ass and acknowledging reality with tangible actions.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Border Patrol

The stories were gory. They told of many a soldier who met his maker while patrolling the Czech border with West Germany. The same border I found myself guarding for a month at a time, every three months, back in '85.
Today's children grow up unaware of the Cold war, but back then it was something that affected everybody in the western hemisphere.
We spent our border tours gated in a few miles away from the line. We rotated on weekly "Reaction Force" shifts. Reaction Force members had to be on alert 24 hours a day. From the moment the camp alarm went off we had 15 minutes to be fully dressed in field gear with chemical suits on; our weapons clean, loaded and operational, and our tanks rolling out the main gate. We had so little time to do this that we could never afford to be out of our chemical suits. We kept our boots on at all times. Hell, we weren't even supposed to shower!
We would spend all our time studying classified border terminology, proper international procedures, friendly and enemy vehicle (air, land and sea) identification, and, an Army favorite pastime, cleaning.
Those who weren't on Reaction Force spent their time doing regular training exercises and preventive maintenance on their vehicles. Others rotated on guard duty at the line.
Now, being that we're talking about the Iron curtain, you would expect the border line to be fenced off, or walled like in Berlin. But there was nothing like that. There were markers placed every few hundred feet, indicating when you were walking into enemy territory. These were easily missed in the thick of the Bavarian forest.
When going on guard duty, we would rotate around on four hour shifts. Dressed to the gills and armed to the teeth, wearing white snow camouflage over our parkas, a jeep would drop us off a hundred feet or so from the border. We had no radios to keep in touch. Nothing but the late night forest sounds to keep us company.
Every now and then you would see a tiny flickering flame, when the guard on the opposing side of the line would light up a smoke. I would always hide behind a tree before lighting up one of my own.
The bone chilling coldness would never dissipate. I walked around in circles, even did jumping jacks occasionally, but nothing could keep the shivers from climbing up your spine.
Your senses become overly acute there. When it's late at night and you're in a potentially volatile situation, with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle both cocked and loaded, you hear many things seemingly creeping up on you. The shadows in the darkness take different shapes and the whispers of the forrest sound like human voices.
We'd all heard the tale of the three man crew in a jeep who'd fallen asleep on their post, only to be found with their throats slit the next morning by a search and rescue party. Those events were always kept under wraps for fear of starting an international conflict, as well as to deter an inevitable embarrassment in the diplomatic arena.
It's been years since then and I still hang on to my border certificates with pride. When the Berlin wall fell and the Cold War ended, the U.S. government sent me yet another certificate, testifying to my contribution toward fighting and winning the Cold War. These certificates along with the other awards I received, are a deep source of honor for me. And I draw on them and cling firmly to them each time a surge of patriotism takes over me. But I hesitate to admit we won much.
There will always be an enemy. If there is none, one must be created. Humans simply cannot live in peace with one another. Petty jealousies and blind ambition will always ensure that somebody somewhere will try to get a bigger piece of the pie.
Third world countries will always seek to blame another for their misfortunes. Religious fanatics everywhere will always believe they're right, even though they're passing judgment based on faith rather than reason.
I can't imagine living in peace. It's hard to attain peace in a single household, much less in a planet. Still, I yearn for a world in which we no longer step on each other to make our way. Perhaps someday.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

My puppy

I first met her when she was about four months old. The son of a friend of mine had received her as a gift from a neighbor, but his mother didn't want to keep her. I was living as a bachelor in L.A. then, and she was just what I was looking for to keep me company. I offered to take her.
She was a chihuahua mix. Small, dark, and cute as hell. With barely any of the shaky nervousness that make chihuahuas so aggravating. She would jump up on my chest when I walked in from work (or when I returned from stepping out a minute, for that matter) and from day one she would snuggle up to me in bed.
I would toss her inside my jacket and we would go for long rides on my hog. I called her Broad. When asked why, I would tell people that I always wanted to have a female in my life that wouldn't mind being called a broad. When friends would call me over to watch a game or have a beer, I would say "I'm bringing the Broad," and more than once guys would be pleasantly surprised to find the broad was my dog.
When I worked security, Broad would walk my route with me at night and jump up in my arms when she heard a scary noise.
We went through a lot together. When I left Los Angeles I had only my bike, my guitar and Broad. She was always with me. The one constant thing in my ever changing life.
My wife was more of a cat person when we first met ( I hate cats!). She had an old cat that was on its last legs, staying with her mother at the time. Her name was Precious. She died shortly after we started seeing each other. Her Dad built a small casket for her and I buried her up in the hills behind my house. Cindy would walk up there often to visit her grave.
Broad had been staying with some friends of mine while I got settled in after a nasty breakup. When Cindy started spending most of her time at my house, I decided it was time to bring Broad back.
Broad took to her instantly. In fact, she abandoned me for her. Cindy in turn found Broad a lot more receptive to her tenderness than cats had ever been, and so lavished her with love. She took to treating Broad like a baby. Providing her with blankets and pillows, placed just right to maximize her comfort. Broad ate it up. We even got her a faux leather jacket, a sweater, and other accessories that made her look pretty damn cute. She became a staple in Cindy's appearance. Everywhere she went, out would come Broad. People expected to see them together.
Whenever we traveled anywhere, our biggest concern was always Broad and who would look after her. It was very hard to trust anybody. To most people she was only a dog, but to us she was like a child. We always tried to find somebody who would think of her as such.
When Cindy got pregnant I became a little concerned. Broad had never liked children. They would always be grabbing at her, and as fragile as she was, her only defensive mechanism was to growl at them as they approached her. She never wanted to hurt anybody. She just wanted to be left alone. I knew that having a baby in the house would be her darkest nightmare come true. She wouldn't get a moment's peace.
The other thing that worried me was that Broad was used to getting all our attention, particularly Cindy's. There was a high degree of probability that she would react jealously to an intrusion by somebody else.
But once Christina was born, all my worries disappeared. Broad let all her maternal instincts kick in and decided it was her baby too. She became protective of her, and guarded her sleeping area. She didn't even mind when Christina played with her ears or pulled her tail. She seemed to understand that it came with the territory.
It happened shortly after she turned eleven, that one morning for no apparent reason, Broad appeared to be totally blind. My wife had noticed there was something wrong with her, but it wasn't until I came home from work that evening and saw her wandering aimlessly in a circle outside, that I realized she'd lost her sight. I stepped outside and called her name, and guided by my voice, she made her way to me. She seemed relieved when I picked her up, like everything was going to be alright. But that night we all realized just how bad this was.
She was in the habit of climbing in and out of our bed all night; going for a drink or laying on the cold tile. That night she fell off the bed several times, and twice got stuck in between the mattress and the footboard. She couldn't find her water or food. It was heartbreaking.
On the following day my wife called me in tears at work. She couldn't bear to see how much Broad was struggling. She was bumping into everything and, since the pool is right outside the door, we were afraid she was going to fall in when we let her out into the yard. I called the vet and they allowed us to bring her in that same morning. I met my wife there.
The doctor confirmed our worst fears: she was completely and seemingly permanently blind, and there was nothing that could be done about it.
We were all crying like fools in the doctor's office. I knew what had to be done. I couldn't bear to think of seeing my dog like this any longer, but worse, I didn't want to imagine coming home some day to find her dead, caught between the bedframe and the mattress, or drowned in the pool. The thought of it was too devastating for words. We simply couldn't provide her with the type of intensive care she would now require. Convincing my wife of this was another matter.
We spent about thirty minutes in there discussing it. Finally, we decided to put her to sleep. They said their goodbyes and I stayed behind to hold her during the ordeal.
It went a lot slower and took a lot longer than I anticipated. The whole time I was crying like a baby and talking to her so she knew I was there, holding her. I couldn't help but imagining what was going through her head, wondering why I was letting this happen to her.
I know in my heart that we did the right thing, the only thing we could do. But I miss her so much that it hurts. Next month will be the first anniversary of her death, and the heartache has yet to dissipate. Perhaps it never will.
Whenever we drive past the vets office, my daughter will point at it and say, "There's Broad's doctor." Then she'll invariably add: "I miss Broad."
"I miss her too," I say, "I miss her too."

Monday, September 15, 2003

And then I was there; free to pursue a musical career in the midst I had anticipated for so long. The weight of my self imposed expectations weighed heavily on me. It's easy to plan for something while it's still far away. Once you find yourself there, the pressure to provide results takes away from the envisioned scenario.
Regardless of the stories I'd heard and common sense itself, I halfway expected Los Angeles to be a bohemian breeding ground, or at the very least, a gathering place for artists. I could not have been more wrong.
The air in L.A. is laden with bullshit and trendy eastern philosophies thinly disguised behind the masks of so-called New Age thought. The people are clay, eager to follow the next health-happy idea. It's a world ruled by the intrepid and the daring, but certainly not by the wise.
But my hope rested in the music scene, not in the city itself. I pictured talented, music loving kids joining in a blend of cultural folklore; striving to discover the sublime sounds that might bring the world together as one. Lofty and naive goals, to be sure, but I thought highly of the accomplishments that could be realized through art then.
What I found was a place packed tight with talent, overflowing almost, but with only one general purpose in common. Money. The scene on the streets was oriented toward money. It was all business, not art. The up and coming bands didn't hope to record the next Sgt. Pepper, they hoped to sell like Milli Vannilli.
The lack of integrity in people's craft puzzled and disillusioned me. Songwriting was approached in a cold and distant fashion. People wanted to come up with jingles, or riffs. Something catchy and short. There was no attempt to conceive something that might be inherently beautiful, and passed on to future generations. Everybody just wanted to make a buck.
Sadly, the most gifted people are usually the most shallow as well. I may have had a higher purpose than others in mind, but my skills were limited. My tolerance for networking and self-promotion was even more so. There was no future for me there. I had to get out.
In leaving, I left behind a world of dreams.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The storm whistled through the night.
We were warmly tucked into our beds, with our teeth brushed and our bellies tight. The flickering light from the corner lamppost slivered past the opening in our drapes and cut across our legs, safely hidden beneath the covers.
As a child there were no sounds from the television at night. The only television in the house was upstairs in the family room and it was turned off when we got sent to bed at 9 o'clock each night. Every sound was tremendously amplified by the sheer silence we were accustomed to. Late at night my brother's heavy breathing would be a source of comfort to me, as I would discover years later when I no longer had it, but in the early evening hours after our lights went out and my eyes turned to the darkness around me, my imagination surged.
As the rainfall intensified, the rain and wind combined to create a smattering action against our windows. It sounded like a perpetual throwing of pebbles, as one might do to call one room's attention without waking up the entire household.
I imagined somebody out there calling to me. A dark figure in the rain, wearing a hat and a dark, long overcoat; his face hidden behind the darkness and the storm, but I figured him to be somehow deformed and hideous.
As the night progressed, other noises would join in. The dripping sound from leaks in our ceiling: drip, drip, drip...hitting the tile in the dining area. The roofing never properly held out the water. The moisture had gotten so bad that we had big yellow stains along the walls in the living room. I had a series of mushrooms growing down from the ceiling right above me. During the day I would sometimes put a chair on my bed, climb up there with my pocketknife and cut them down. But they wiggled, and moved around eerily. It felt like I was killing a frog or something. So I would usually just let them hang, then suffer through the night trying to look at them in the darkness, wanting desperately to avoid seeing them.
The winds blew stronger, and the rustling of the leaves outside became louder than the rain. All these sounds created a wild succession of images in my head. There seemed to be scores of people outside, charging through the yard and beyond, in the streets. They were up to no good. There is always a sense of evil in the things that you cannot see.
I remember waking up the next morning, unsure of what had happened. It always took a few moments to shake off the nightmares and confront them as such; to come back to reality - differentiate between the actual and the imaginary. Then the day would take on a different tone.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

There's a creek that runs alongside the mountain, adjacent to the southernmost fields of my family's farm. You might call it a brook, it's so small, if you were to address it properly. But since I was a kid the locals refered to it as a creek.
It drapes down from west to east; altitude declining unperceived as it falls. The water cascading ever so gently; you can barely see it break against the polished rocks on its downward journey.
It is a sunken stream; buried below ground level by centuries of motion. You walk down into it if you wish to view it.
The tangled rows of dividivis shelter it from above; a thorny ceiling of wild, overgrown and twisted wooden flesh; they weepingly hang over the sides. Sprouts from an old leather dye plantation gone wild; allowed to extend past the parameters of their intended home to takeover the mountain and valley below it.
The creek is walled on both sides by stone fences. Each stone painstakingly placed over the other. Their purpose initially to divide and define property lines, now they're simply reminders of the way things used to be done in the old days.
It is so narrow you can actually jump from one end to the other, if you don't mind getting your feet wet. Some sections have enough stepping stones exposed that you can safely make your way through. Yet other areas have a short log propped up across it to walk over. A poor man's bridge, you might say.
At night you can't see it, hidden behind its leaf clothing. But you can hear it. And when the stars are out in that clear wide sky it's the soundtrack of life itself. I haven't known that peace in a long time.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Whew!
Sometimes you start building up momentum and get wound up so tight...that any good news gives you relief!
Today I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief for some health problems in a loved one that have all but seemed to vanish. We'll find out for sure a week from Thursday.
I'm still holding my breath for a million other things. Some problems that I can't even imagine ever getting resolved. But the truth is, most things usually seem quite futile to me and still they have a way of working themselves out.
Besides, you have to put your problems in perspective. From the world's point of view, just how important is your selfishly small and silly personal problem in the whole scheme of things. We must balance our convictions apriopriately, scale back our dillemas to their proper size, and try to view matters from an objective angle. Not observe it from below, as we're being crushed by the weight of its menacing possiblities. This removes our ability to judge with impartiality. It's like my wife always says: "You should never go shopping for groceries on an empty stomach." It's true. Everything looks good and seems necessary. Our hunger is telling us so. The truth though, is that we're giving our stomach an unfair advantage over our brain when trying to make wise choices according to our actual needs and budget.
Anyway, it all comes down to the obvious and overstated, but painfully true: At least you've got your health. Hell, when it comes down to it that's all that really counts.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The dusty trail behind the last row of houses on the south side of T-town, wound narrowly past the arid desert land. Swerving round past the tumbleweeds and leafless skeleton trees; the bushes of thorny green weeds that somehow manage to grow in the Kern ridge oilfields. Nothing much else does, besides the rabbits and kit foxes.
Rocks abound, at every glance filling your view. Covered in moss and bird shit.
The path began as if out of nowhere. Behind the houses where everybody parked their broken down vehicles: boats, RVs, cars, etc. Open wasteland lay ahead, spotted with the occasional pumping unit. The trail inclines steadily yet almost unnoticeably, as you forge your way up the hill.
Not very far, maybe just three or four hundred feet out there, you come upon a fenced in area. About an acre in size, dirty and abandoned, you can see row after row of tombstones in that old forgotten cemetery. They are uniformly built...lamentably ordinary and plain. Some have fallen over or tilted off to the side. Others have been nearly covered by dust storms.
If you climb over the fence, you can still read the names of the buried. The vaguest details of their existence remain firmly etched in stone. It's here that the most disturbing patterns emerge. All the graves were dug within 3 years of each other. Between 1922 and 1925. And they were all children. Hundreds of them. One, two, three, five or eight years old...just children. Names from every heritage: Irish, French, Chinese, Spanish, and many others.
It takes a visit to the local oilfield museum where you can view the back issues of the Midway Driller newspaper to find any kind of information linking the cemetery to reality. Most of the locals simply refuse to acknowledge its existence. But the place is real, and so was the influenza epidemic that caused all those deaths, along with the unimaginable sorrow such emptiness leaves behind to those poor forsaken families.
The old papers speak of oriental royalty. A young princess, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, a jewel among her people. But in the old cemetery hers is just another abandoned grave.
There was a time when I believed that the mark of a true hero was when in the face of certain death, he still chooses to do the right thing. This was illustrated in an event very close to me a few years ago. One of the outbound airplanes of a cargo airline I was working for at the time, had a sudden shift in its weight and balance upon takeoff - the locks which hold the large metal pallets where the cargo is secured came undone, allowing the carefully distributed weight to run helter skelter across three empty pallet positions - and lost its lift, crashing down less than half a mile away from the landing strip.
The crash took place in a highly trafficked area, where there were not only congested streets packed with lunch hour drivers, but also warehouses, restaurants and other assorted small businesses. The potential for a tragedy of biblical proportions was quite real. Instead, the pilot and his crew used their final seconds on this earth to steer the plane clear from the crowds and into the only clear spot which was available - an empty field which ended at the lateral side of a major avenue - limiting the casualties to the crew, a security guard who was traveling along, and an unfortunate driver who was caught by the nose of the plane.
The ball of fire was unbelievable. Eighty percent of the cargo on board was denim headed to the Caribbean, and it burned like crazy. But only five people died in what could have been so much worse.
I always thought of what was going through the pilot's head in those last few seconds. When your knowledge of the laws of physics show you that there's simply no way out alive, do you still hope beyond hope? When he maneuvered in such a way as to miss as much as possible did he still somehow hope to survive? Otherwise, why opt for the most humane approach instead of cursing the world for your bad fortune and going out in a blaze of glory. What guides a person to make that decision at such short notice?
I don't know. Its not something you can tell about yourself until you find you're in a similar situation.

That is indeed true heroism. As are the actions of firemen who jump into danger daily, disregarding their own safety for the benefit of strangers.
But those heroics do not diminish the importance and value of the strength shown to a smaller scale daily, by spouses forced to deal with having to put up a strong front before their sick or dying loved ones. Not to overlook the valor of the sick people themselves, which has its own undeniable and incalculable merit. But having to show a rock hard facade when inside you're crumbling, only so your loved one has something to hold onto, is an admirable and lonely quality. It leaves you with only the wall as a sympathetic listener, and only emptiness and despair to look forward to when your loved one finally moves on.

Friday, August 29, 2003

I had an old friend over for dinner last night. We've known each other for many years. Grew up together. It was another place and another time, and I certainly never thought we'd end up so closely linked in this far away land after all these years.
Now the funny thing is that our situations are very similar. Not our personal lives - I've opted for a family, house and pets, while he's doing the bachelor thing with a cool car, condo by the beach, and no attachments - but our professional lives. Though our fields of expertise differ and the work we do is of a dissimilar nature, we both find ourselves having the owner of the company himself as our boss.
This type of situation is not to be compared to that of much smaller business enterprises, such as a small corner grocery store, where it's basically the owner, his wife and a hired clerk. No, though the two companies I speak of clearly belong in the realm of "small business," they each employ somewhere around 30 workers.
In both our cases the operation is entirely run by us and the company employees are under our supervision. We answer directly and only to the President and owner of the company. This has its pros and cons. Obviously there's a great deal of autonomy allowed, but there's also a lot of direct pressure on us to keep things within certain budget restrictions.
The most bothersome part of such an arrangement is the tacit understanding there is between the owners and the managers, that the manager is obligated to "willfully" sacrifice his time and personal needs for the good of the company. It is silently acknowledged by both participating parties that, though not directly benefiting from the net profits gained by the company, it is the manager's duty to treat the business as if it were his own.
This creates a conflict of sorts, since the manager's hard work is not complimented by bonuses or overtime. His base salary is supposed to be handsome enough to cover any extra hours he may have to put in. But after a while that early eagerness we have when we first get hired on, to work restlessly in pursuit of lofty unselfish goals for the overall good of the company, gets lost in the bitterness inevitably born when we tire of the thankless rewards we reap, day after day.
The bottom line is that you are just an employee, and like other employees you would like to be reimbursed for the time you spend on the job. It isn't fair for the owner to put you in a position where you are expected to think and act like a partner while in actuality you're just another poor working stiff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The entrance to hell lay beyond a short white picket fence, through a broken gate that was barely hanging on a single hinge. It wasn't the type of fence you envision in your 'American Dream' landscapes. It was a rickety, old, cheap looking and splintered, nasty set of paint chipped boards that were loosely arrayed together in a crooked line. They divided the dirt sidewalk that almost seamlessly joined the street from a front yard that was splattered with color. There were odd things laying about, randomly calling to your attention or begging you to look away. Broken toys and rusted car parts...a broken window frame...blue plastic tarps, stuffed behind a leafless bush...a baby stroller with a tire rim inside. A small potted plant stood in the pathway to the front door, but the plant had withered away to a twig. There was no grass. Whatever ground you could see was dirt, layered with trash and the droppings left about by the house bitch's latest litter.
The smell permeated your senses before you arrived there. Once you crossed the gate you began to develop a numbness of sorts. Your subconscious allowed you to brush the smell and overwhelming filth aside. The candy they served at the end of this journey made the suffering well worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

It was a crappy job, but still...it got me through nearly four years of college. Playing rent-a-cop at an abandoned brewery in L.A. Yet I let it go just to keep my long hair. It wasn't really the long hair that mattered so much (or so I told myself), it was "the principle of the thing." I didn't believe anybody should be able to control me to such a point that they could tell me I needed a haircut whenever they felt like it, regardless of my job performance or my overall personal grooming, or how it affected my work related tasks. I'd already spent three years in the Army being told what I could or couldn't do. When I got out I promised myself I'd never be pushed into a position like that again.
So, I quit. As it was, I'd been suspended without pay until I gave in, so I wasn't getting anywhere. Besides, quitting seemed to give me the moral upperhand somehow.
Now I found myself wihout any source of income, no immediate family within 5000 miles, and no savings. All I had were 3 months of school left (to finish the semester, not to get a degree); tons of debt and an overdue rent payment.
I began to pay my half of the rent by giving my roomate some of my things - VCR, stereo, movies and records, that sort of stuff.
Things weren't coming together for me, they were falling apart. I tried to find any kind of a job where they didn't care how long my hair was, but I couldn't find a thing. I saw lots of people with long hair, just never quite understood how they managed to make a living.
Eventually I had to move away from the city. I was sick of it, with all its false pretensions of freedom and liberation. It was all so plastic, so phony. I imagine it still is. I couldn't stomach the people anymore. Mind you, I had so few friends that it's not like the city was begging me to stay, either. There had grown a mutual lack of fondness between us. I felt we both knew it was high time I left.
My life would change completely after that.