Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Goat

Holiday Goat


I arrange to make the razor strapped
And dream of two-doored Cadillac’s.

From the shadow of a broken rock
Above the flatness of promised land
A harshness shines in waves
Of colors bruised and bloody
And the wind blows grit across an empty field
Where the only smells are salt and rust.

Winged and weightless, the flies hover,
Sure that in the intensity of sheen
A sweetness is upon them,
Just as I mistake the agony of effort
For a prayer of submission.


In spring the newborns played
By summer all the doelings caged
And only sheep remain at graze
To see the winter coming.

From the old I take the young
And leave the damned to mourn the loss
In faith that ritual sacrifice
Will ease the doubts I’m given to.

With a razor strapped and a marble slab
I make a myth of ruthlessness.

Mike Brady 2010



Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Oklahoma, Maybe.

Oklahoma, Maybe.

In Texas:

We don’t use French in poetry --
It’s all affect no matter the alliteration
And the vowels add only unearned arrogance.

Some German works:
Our thoughts sound best
In the language they were born.

Italian is just a kind of lust
With all the strangeness of rhythmic sonnets...
Their love is just a hole to step out of.

Latin words mean nothing.
Iambic my ass, we’re not Rome --
We plan to still be standing for the fall.

Mike Brady 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas Wish List 2010



A cast iron skillet,
(I’m doing cornbread variations this year.)
An electric water boiler for morning coffee.
Curtains for my bedroom,
(On days off, I’d like to see the sun later not sooner.)
Six-packs of chili – Denison’s, Stagg -- any bean type,
(Chili never goes out of style.)
Good and solid socks, dark and uniform – and ones that don’t ball up into black linen chunks and clog the dryer.

My mind has not the inclination for the asking
For World peace, or any less of strife,
And though the Sudanese could use a break this Christmas,
They are probably not the type that wants the fix.
(And it’s best to let the gods play to the finish,
Omnipotence is jealous at its best.)

Bacon’s good, but not as good as Crisco,
Yet Granny’s biscuit’s might require both,
I still don’t want a microwave, they’re ugly,
But an iron cornbread muffin mold is nice.

My father’s praise, but not so much my mother’s
Though my mother knows me better than he does,
My father knows me like I know my children
But a son and mother are mostly just the one.

Mike Brady 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Fall

The Fall

You ask for signs and see
Blowing across a frozen lake
Some scattered leaves
Burning, as if the wind could
Start a fire
Or the ice give up sparks of heat.

It’s time for the fall so
The leaves don’t surprise you
As they fly from branches,
released by death to ride uncertain winds
like the kites of careless boys in late November
who are too distracted by the cold to hold on tightly --
Leaves bounding in a random dance,
Trying to bounce their way across the promised winter.

It’s the movement of fire in the timing of your head
That makes you wonder if this is a portent
Or an answer,
Or just some strangeness unreported –
Some farmer burning trash,
Or a city in flames making its own weather--
(The ashes of civility blowing in from the middle gives you pause,)
or a star exploding to show you the face of God --
Whirling flamed chariots of dancing death to make a point to you alone.

But this sign is not for you, it’s just wordlessness
From the muscle that runs beneath --
the muscle that boxes and binds the gods.
And the only meaning
Is in the movement of dead leaves
As they blow into piles for a latter thaw
to be born again as something else.

No thoughts or dreams can cover up
The truth that we are simple meat
Given enough in senses to occasionally see
the sparks that fly from frozen lakes,
to know that the beauty of the fall
lies in  the promise of a spring.

Mike Brady 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

On the eve of Michela's Wedding

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the girl
who'll decide where to go.
 

~ Dr. Seuss ~
 

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Toast

"Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives... and to the ‘good life,’ whatever it is and wherever it happens to be." ~Hunter S. Thompson

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

On Unemployment

RALSTON: How would you have voted on that bill to extend unemployment benefits?


    ANGLE: I would have voted no, because the truth about it is that they keep extending these unemployment benefits to the point where people are afraid to go out and get a job because the job doesn't pay as much as the unemployment benefit does. And what we really need to do is put people back to work. So if you want to ease people back into work, what we need is an unemployment benefit that pays part. You know, you go to work, you have something of a safety net, in unemployment. But just to give them full unemployment benefits and then extend those for two years or more gets them not only out of the working class but it also depreciates their skills, so they're not actually able to go out and compete in that workforce, so what we really want, is we want something that stimulates a group of people to go back into what we know as that free market.

Ralston then played a clip of Angle, explaining her position thusly: "You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn't pay as much. We've put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry."


It’s hard to argue with Sharon Angle -- she’s not wrong, but it’s going to be hard to watch the results of the new cold turkey method of fiscal responsibility if she’s right, and if things stand the way they are standing right now. Unemployment may indeed be the opiate of the people, but it’s important to remember that societies really give the wretched masses narcotics to keep them tame -- so they don’t go around with too much time to think about changing things or breaking things. Fat unemployed white people make a lot of noise when you try to pull the tits out of their mouths too fast, and this recession is not about the chronically unemployed – who know the system and how to game it, it’s about virgins with high expectations, fixed costs and attitudes of entitlement born from permissive parenting – it’s different; it’s me – it’s a whole shit load of individual me’s, and all of us require a lot of lubrication before giving it up without kicking some balls and scratching some eyeballs out.

I’m not going to give excuses why people stay on unemployment, they all have their own motivations and fear, as I certainly do. There comes a time when you have to say that the dream is over, or at least on hold, and to find a job – any job, and to get back to work. If you have any value at all, and work hard, in a couple of years things will get better. It’s America and things will work out because they always do if you work hard.

That being said: there are a lot of people and businesses that suck on a lot of tits of entitlement that weaken them and make them less dependent on work and skill in this country, and it seems somewhat cruel to pick on people whose jobs were eliminated through no fault of their own and outsourced for profit to lower wage countries, but, I suppose, it’s a start.




  

Friday, July 02, 2010

Malise

Malaise

“We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.” Jimmy Carter, 1979


    Nobody wants to hear the truth, it’s uncomfortable and forces hard decisions on people incapable of making hard decisions – how do you think we got in the place where someone had to tell us the truth anyway? Even when time has magically transformed truth into history, it’s only comfortable for most if changed and revised until it no longer looks like something we could have anticipated and done anything about – as if god alone were making the choices that led us from then to now.

    Thirty years ago we faced the truth and were offered a decision: To live within our means and accept individual limitations for the good of all, or, to make the little we had frothy, and live among the bubbles until they popped.

We chose Reagan, and from this first cause of a choice we are now living in the accounting time of the effect.

We saw our manufacturing leaving, and it left. We saw that Wal-Mart would eliminate high wage jobs, and now we can only afford Wal-Mart. We saw that dependence on foreign oil would lead to paying terrorists to bomb us, and they bomb us. And don’t forget the climate thing – the truth is out there and it has been for a long time.

 I like Obama – when he talks of financial reform or immigration, it’s with well reasoned and articulate words – and it rings of the truth. But I also liked Carter, for pretty much the same qualities, and he is not well thought of in any historical kind of way -- at a minimum, he had a failed Presidency. He was a loser, though I’m still his biggest fan.

Carter was also the most honorable and decent man to hold the office of President in my lifetime. I don’t know what this says about us, I don’t know what it says at all.

 I like to think that this time will be different, but it never is – it’s a loser bet to even hope that. And without the hope that our children will have it better than we did, there’s no energy for moving forward in any way that has real meaning, and I don’t see any hope of it. – Can anyone out there imagine that their child will have it better than they did during the Clinton years?

Oh, and I finally figured out why we keep increasing our troop levels in the mid-east – it’s a jobs program, because we couldn’t handle the 25% unemployment levels that bringing the troops home would cause. Nothing else makes sense.

   
   
  

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Job Searching

Job Searching

"The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation." Jimmy Carter


   
The candy dish on the receptionist’s desk was empty, just full of dusty balls of detritus that blew back and forth when the central air kicked on. This was useful in roughly dating the last time anyone filled it, or saw the point of filling it. 


Also on the counter were large, and hefty, prepared packets of applications – useful as an industrial and assembly line statement for those job seekers overconfident in the estimation of their worth. 


The receptionist, attractive and well dressed, had been reduced by the volume of work and was functioning as a human phone tree – catching key words to direct you to one place or another. Since there were only two places, extra friendliness was not appreciated – she frowned at any word not in the algorithm she was using as a sort of behavior modification warning shot, and the threat implied by her look was one of lost paperwork, or just a lengthy misfiling accident if you kept it up.


    Given a pile of stapled papers and directed to a long and well-worn table, I sat uncomfortably close to many others and started to fill out the forms. Most of the forms were about endurance – having enough of it to sit steady and enough to retentively write the same information over and over – many of the forms required that you reentered the things from the page before, and after a few pages, it seemed less like information giving and more just a way of weeding out the riff-raff, or those others with inpatient souls or those without anything better to do. It went quick – I had my resume and contact names typed up, so it was really just a fill in the blank drill done over and over. When finished, I returned the pile to the receptionist.


    At the desk, the receptionist was on the phone scheduling a person for a third interview. I was surprised, I’d never heard of a third interview for a security guard job, but tried to keep a blank face while I thought about it, and it did make me think about it. She hung up the phone and looked at me impatiently, but incongruently with a smile, and took my paperwork from me. After quickly scanning through the pile she pointed out a section I’d missed and handed the pile of paper back to me.


    I missed the essay section, but in my defense it looked more like a list of requirements, or maybe a statement of core values, than questions. Under each lengthy question was a small area to answer – the double part of a double spaced line to be accurate in size. There were five questions and I’ll give you what I remember of the first:


    “We believe that the most important value that our organization tries to uphold and live by is the concept of, ‘dare to be great,’ in all you do for the company, and in all your actions. We believe that in daring to be great you show the best that we have to offer as an organization. Give an example of a time when you ‘dared to be great.’”


    I filled out the questions to the best of my ability, as viewed through the whims of my nature, and returned the forms to the receptionist. As she took them from me, I gave her my best double dog dare to be great smile and left the building.

  

  

  


  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers Day 2010

    When the kids were small, for shits and giggles, I’d pick them up by their ears. I’d look at them and say, “I’m going to pick you up by your ears,” and then reach down, with my palms facing their little heads, I'd then wrap my fingers around their ears and press my hands together, to squeeze them in a gentle vice type action -- and then I'd lift them up in the air a foot or two -- just enough to say I had.

    Allison knew from the start, and from an inner instinct she was born with, that the trick was to grab my forearms with her hands and to hold on tightly as I lifted -- to allow the grunting and flourishing that I was acting out to steal the show, while safely playing the straight girl, and to allow my dramatic showman's flow of personality to distract. I love her because she was in on the joke from birth – and she always will be.

    Kayla never knew it was a trick. She thought I could make the magic real and that everything I dreamed of could actually happen. She never grabbed my arms and never flinched away. She also never went too high, though sometimes I’d get her a foot or two off the earth before I knew what I was doing was impossible. She never got the joke, and I love the fact that she never thinks that there was one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Two Funerals and a Cup

Two Funerals and a Cup

As I write this, little flies are bouncing off the glass door next to me, frantic to get out of here and away to something else, anything, else. They seem to be the same as the ones that were frantic to get in earlier, though, since they are flies, it’s difficult to be sure.

I’d like the power to dip them in amber to make them live forever and, maybe, make them be a little less anxious about what they are missing as they ram their little heads into the wall. I’d like the power to read them – to unzip their DNA in real time, to play them back in reverse until I understood what motivated and drove them, to gain a little fucking perspective. The only thing I can see now is that they eat shit and make more flies -- and I wonder if that’s the point, and if it is, why?

We are not movies, but we might as well be for all the acting we do living and dying from scripted cause and effect. And maybe it is all written and we are just playing out a strange combination of strings and boxes – and that life is just complex algorithms straightjacketed to physical laws that we play out like a meat DVD in a machine the size of a universe.
 
Because it’s becoming clear to me that free will is not about the choices you make, and your life, in the end, is only measured in the finite things you have done, not by your dreams or ambitions -- and when they bury you it’s with slide shows and spoken soft memories said out loud by people who only know the part you played in their lives. You are the stains you leave on others by rubbing next to them over time, you are the marks and scars you’ve left without thinking as you stumbled home drunk in the fog of what you thought you were. You are the sum of memories left in hearts and carved on walls, you are what you have left in others to hold of you through acts of laziness or purpose. You are what they take from your actions, not what you choose to give them from your dreams.

On Wednesday, I went to the funeral of my adopted sons mother. On Friday, I went to the funeral of a friend’s friend.

Ricky’s mom was not someone I ever really knew, though as Ricky said, if I knew him, I knew her. I think he was right and when he said it and in a way I did see her through him, but not in the way he thought or meant. I did not so much see her as I saw the influence of her -- I saw the shapes she had left and the curves she had molded in him. I saw softness, love and decency -- all things that he had to start with, but as he stood and talked to me of her I could see that some of these things came to him as a gift – that they were add-ons of depth that had come from, and been reinforced by, the way she had touched him as he was growing up.
 
The other funeral was for Martin’s dad – a friend of a friend for the most part, though I’ve been with Martin a few times and genuinely like him. Martin lived with his Dad, who was my age, and found him dead one morning for no obvious reason. The funeral was one of sadness and loss – lots of friends and family talking about fairly outrageous things his Dad (Gary) had done over the years. The impression I got was a man of many strong traits – both good and bad, and a father who lived for his kids. The slide show at the end of the reception was heart breaking – a summing up of a life lived loudly and with humor and the juxtaposition of being alive in a picture and being dead on a table was stark and dramatic.  When I left I told Martin that I was very sorry for his loss, and meant it in a profound way.

Both funerals started in funeral homes with religion. Both quoted platitudes from the 2nd Corinthians – that sales pitch section of the New Testament. Evidentially we all come from God and then go back to sit next to him when we die – presumably to talk about the lessons we learned and to trade stories with Jesus over drinks at a choice table shaded from the harsh brightness of light by a spiritual umbrella that’s provided by the management as one of many courtesies. I suppose it’s comforting to know this stuff, but find that getting comfort through willed ignorance is like thinking you actually get free money every April from the IRS, or slamming morphine to feel better about a broken relationship.
I’m not big on religion, but do agree that we come from something and go to something – I suppose it’s just the details that I disagree on, but cringe at the supposition that they have certainty when I have only best guesses. There’s nothing wrong with using the crutch of religion, but I don’t want to be beat with the absolutes of it when I’m sure they have less of a clue about things than I do. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m pretty sure they don’t either – and black and white thinking is the refuge of idiots seeking shelter instead of understanding.

Religion is the cup referred to in the title of this essay, by the way -- in case my allusions are less than clear.

It’s tough to go to funerals of people you don’t know – it gives too much time to think selfishly. Not involved and emotional, and having no stake in the proceedings, it’s tough to connect to the person being remembered in other than an abstract way. It’s not tough to feel the pain and sorrow, but it’s tough not to but yourself in the place of the person being remembered and not think of yourself in their place. It’s tough not to think of your own inevitable death. It’s just tough.







   
  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Boulder Utah

    I finished my five pounds of crap coffee this morning – a gift of something that might have been abandoned in the trash if not for my poverty – a gift given in a large plastic zip lock without label, identification or aspiration. Not wanting to go crazy by getting too ahead of my station in life and say, rocket up to something more substantial like Peet’s, I bought a pound of Mr. Coffee ‘Bold Brew’ with a plan to live with it until the next upgrade cycle – maybe then to switch to Dunkin Donuts, or something similar. It’s just a drug, and the dosage stays the same no matter what the taste – and I’ve forced down worse for less in my lifetime.

I ended up with the bag of crap coffee because Mary needed the can for medical reasons – to wrap a thromboemboletic stocking around the lip of it in order to allow her mother an easier way to put the damn stocking thing on her feet. (Get can, wrap stocking, insert foot, and pull stocking,) She dumped the coffee and kept the can – after drinking it for a month I can see why.

Just as traveling from one part of the world to another induces jet lag, abrupt transitions from anything to anything else induces a giggling paralyze in a person that confuses and angers the soul. This might explain class and caste, but I’m thinking smaller – that individual wanting or lacking that drives us to race franticly down roads, and off roads, into bushes and canyons of stupor and need, all in a search to get back to what we know, and away from all the weirdness of what we see as the new. Change is best when gradual – if it happens too fast it’s a mutation or a cancer.

You can’t throw a rich bitch into a ghetto without transitioning in a split-level ranch a few weeks without expecting hijinks to ensue and dogs of a special kind to be unleashed.

We started high and worked our way down. Vegas had dual showerheads, TV’s built into the bathroom mirror and buttons next to the bed to close the drapes at night. The air-conditioner was central and noiseless; the shampoos had French names and strangely shaped bottles. We were on the 18th floor and all was down. From this we went down.

We were on the top floor in Mesquite but it only had four floors. The shower had a fancy head, but only one of them. The soap was from San Francisco and smelled nice with a rich coloring, but the bottle was pedestrian. To close the drapes after all tucked in and comfy involved getting up naked and running across a freezing room to pull them shut. Nice, but not too nice.

The next night we were in Escalante – cinderblock walls, a Desert Sun brand of shampoo and a noisy AC unit that buzzed even when it was off. Thanks to a night acclimatizing in Mesquite, we were ready for it and slept like babies attached to the tops of lawnmowers.

We planned breakfast in Boulder, but I got coffee in Escalante before we started the drive at an outdoorsy shop that advertised espresso on a hand painted sign in the window. Served by an older thin and physical woman from a small home type machine in her kitchen I looked around the shop at all the wonders being offered up to enjoy the outdoors with. My last technical cutting edge moment was in the 70’s -- with Jansport packs and closed cell foam mattresses, so I was impressed with all the new stuff, though confused as to the point of some of it. I liked the coffee, and the concept of good coffee in the middle of nowhere.

As we drove off down highway 12 to Boulder, Mary read from a local rag that, “Bolder was the last city in the country to get its daily mail delivery by mule.” It’s also my favorite section of Highway 12.
It’s deceptive – you ease and slide your way through increasing slick rock, and random dips in valleys until, without notice, you find that you are driving along the crest of a mountain, with steep drops on either side of you. The thought, every time, is the same – I wouldn’t be doing this if I knew I was going to be doing this. It’s mentally a ridgeline asphalt hiking trail that we are riding on a jet packed set of roller skates. Mary’s hands are clammy, but I’m just amazed.

It’s less than an hour to get to Boulder and the turn off to Burr trail, where we eat, and I talk about what’s coming up. I feel like I’m progressively sucking her in to my plan to take her to the ends of the earth, and that it’s too late and we are too nowhere for her to back out. This is how people get into trouble I think – bad plans and an inability to bail -- or maybe it’s just the directions for the best way to cook a frog, but I’m thinking as I talk, have I learned nothing from eight years of Bush?

The Burr trail is 60 miles of back roads through the Capital Reef Park. The last time I came I drove it with Ricky in a four-wheeled jeep, but I remember it as easy enough and worth the effort. I wouldn’t drive it in the rain, but it’s sunny and, really, what’s the worst that could happen?

We finish eating at a great breakfast place without a name I remember (You can’t see it from the highway, but it’s obvious when you turn down the Burr trail, and less than300 yards from the turn off.) The servers are two Asian girls, and as I leave I wonder what they do for fun when they are not working. They don’t speak English well and seem very out of place – I guess very much like us in a big sense.

The first twenty miles are paved and beautiful. We first pass a RV park and then dive down a steeply curved road into a canyon. The roads not too scary, but I think to myself as I drive it that I don’t want to come back up it if I don’t have to.

The canyon is tall and red on either side of us, with small visible slot canyons cracked into it as we travel. The road is black and unmarked, and wide enough for other cars to pass, but narrow enough to pay attention. It’s quiet and ours, and this makes it the most beautiful part of the trip for both of us. It’s like Disney made a park for us alone.

After twenty miles the road changes to rough gravel, and after a few miles of rough gravel, the bottom drops out.

We have hit the switchback part of the road – the place where Ricky and I thought about bailing and going backwards to the paved road -- then back to the no-name restaurant for a late lunch. The road is gravel, big time steep and loaded with Bolivian type switchbacks. For some reason, it doesn’t look to bad this time, so without thinking about it too much, I head down. Mary kept her sweaty hands in her lap as I drove downhill in low gear, and neither of us looked out at the view or were tempted to stop for pictures.

At some point I turned to Mary and said, “I promised to take you the middle of nowhere and here it is.” Her kids thought I was bringing her out here to bury her, but that’s not my style and I didn’t have a shovel.

From the bottom, the next forty miles were empty and not much to look at. I couldn’t really look because the road was a washboard of dirt and I had to switch from one side to the other to keep any speed without the car shuddering to pieces. We headed north, or right, to connect to Highway 12 further down, though, if I had to do it again, I’d head south to Ticaboo, just to say I’d been there.
It was a long drive to the Highway and sort of pointless at one point. I worried about the shaking my car was getting, but occasionally a Hyundai or Kia would pass me going the other way and my cars Japanese pride would force it to behave more correctly and with less noise and so we continued for hours at low speed until we hit the paved road again.

On Highway 12 we went the wrong way on purpose in order to backtrack the ten mile to Fruita, an old Mormon town that specialized in growing fruit. We stopped at the visitor’s center and bought so taffy and apple butter from the Mormon’s and then headed down the road to Hanksville.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tuba City

      It ended well: with us sitting in a nice Travel Lodge restaurant sharing a common meal of roasted chicken with a Harry Potter birthday party, but it didn’t feel good on the way to getting there. Arriving was the best part of the day.
    We had decided to head south from Moab -- rumor and deductive reasoning said the road would be pretty, and since it was new to me, a bit of something different to tell tales about to others. (When traveling, I tend to tell the same stories about each milestone on the trip. If you travel with me two times, you only get one story, so it’s best to seek out new roads – best for everyone.)
    We are headed south but it feels like we are just going down. To the right, uranium mining tailings and to the left, not much. There’s a big time headwind – I feel like I’m riding a motorcycle with a cracked windshield. The road just goes on – Monticello, Blanding, Bluff etc. We look for a place to stop and eat, but each town has little to nothing of interest. We stop and pee at a museum of something Utahish – we just use the restroom and don’t enter the actual museum. The wind blows grit into our eyes; the clouds are made of fine dirt.
    We give up our plans to eat at Mexican Hat and start eating taffy from the glove compartment. I stop at a Shell station for gas and cokes – bored and chubby Indians stare at me. I don’t ask for directions – it’s all too obvious.
    Leaving town, at the bridge over the San Juan River, we almost miss the abrupt left turn, and by some form of an accident, go straight into a roadside café/motel compound. We stop because it looks cool and funky, and because our expectations have been lowered, and because we are hungry.
    I have Indian fry bread with beef stew—the bread drips Crisco, the stew is a soup. I look over to Mary and see mustard, catsup and pieces of pickles plopping on a plate – I’ve never seen more of a mess around her. I look away, and then get up to look at the pictures on the wall.
    Most of the framed prints celebrate the new bridge over the river – they are dusty and forty years old. The old bridge had planks that you needed to line up your wheels on before you got on the bridge in order to cross without getting your car lodged unbalanced, and hanging on the wooden supports. Times have changed in Mexican Hat, but not much, and only once.
    We finish lunch and get back in the car to keep heading down. Through the dust we can see Monument Valley in the distance. It never gets closer, though we are traveling on the road that has its name. Evidently, and at some vague point not obvious, you have to get off the road to get to the valley. We admire the view from afar, but have no interest in trading delay for pretty. We are going down with the road in a depression of ugly – not much seems redeeming in any spiritual way in the things we see, and the wind continues to blow dunes of sand across the road to try and twist us off our path.
    We are headed to Tuba City. Mexican Hat had a rock formation that looked like a Mexican sitting with a hat on, so I look for a Tuba, but the land is flat – it looks like it was dug up, turned over, and then left in piles of uneven clods for the wind to turn into dust and blow away. It’s a drifty kind of country without form or function to nail it down.
    We arrive at Tuba City and leave it as soon as possible. Our only stop is to urinate, which I do quickly and then wait by the car for Mary to finish. A smiling but drunken Indian walks up to me with his hand out – to shake or ask I can’t guess, but don’t care. I tell him I don’t want a friend as I look into his eyes – he jerks into an anger and curses me while sizing me up. I’m steady and big and  he walks away while cursing me. I see Mary coming back and look around for the Indian to point him out to her – he’s gone, disappeared into the nothing – there is nothing around me to hide in – I’ve parked in a big plain of no thing, and he’s gone into it.
    The only new things we have seen in Navaho Land are the government buildings and the schools. All along the way we have seen abandoned double wides with windows missing, as if plywood and nails to board them up we either unknown or the concept unheard of. I hope the brand new schools have teachers; it will take generations to fix what I see around me. The government buildings just seem a cruel joke for people who have lost everything they believe in.
    From Tuba City, we dive to Flagstaff. After a few hours, we find we have ended up on Route 66 through osmosis or luck, and find a motel to stop for the night. We are exhausted, but head for dinner at the restaurant attached to the motel.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Seligman Arizona

Traveling west on interstate 40 from Flagstaff, we passed by Williams on the way to Seligman. We passed it because it doesn’t need our help – it has both pine trees and a train to the Grand Canyon to keep it alive, and though bypassed by the freeway, it still sits close to the road and is accessible to the casual tourist, or those in need of gas and candy.
Ash Fork comes next, 20 miles later. A crossroads for the turn south to Prescott, it’s not much, and is never a stop on any of my journeys. Someday I might find out I’d missed out on something nice there, but doubt it, and have no interest in it at best.
There is a new turn off a few miles down from Ash Fork – an exit with no other purpose than to get you back on Route 66 for a few miles. I’ve never seen it before, but it doesn’t look new. We take it, and as we parallel the interstate, I remember it as the place out car broke down years before – back when I was very young, and times were different.
This was where I rode the twenty miles into Seligman in the front of our station wagon as it got towed into town. I remember the thrill of facing down while sitting in the front seat as we were towed from the rear by a giant truck driven by big guys.
We were on our way to something new again – a new start in a new place, after giving short goodbyes to people and friends we cared about, and before we started again with the work of making new friends and adapting to new normal in another strange place. More lines to learn for another stage, all in an endless chain of play and pretend – that I was normal, and that this was too.
Seligman has not changed much -- maybe just the edges where the interstate connects it. Coming in from the east, I point out the motel where we stayed that week long ago – now under new management, with a Pizza house where the restaurant was and concrete filling the area where the pool was located long ago.
My brother and I hung by the pool that hot week and got burned and tanned. My mom worked on her writing in the room close by and left us to our own – and we took our freedom in this small place.
I don’t remember much about the week, just the freedom of the here and the now. No phone, no place to be, no address to find us, just my brother and I in a cold pool without end or purpose. Free from the pain of leaving behind, and free from the burden of joining again.
We pass the big blue motel sign and after a short mile, enter the town of Seligman itself. A short mile is still a mile – I remember walking it on late afternoons to visit from the motel – hot and sweaty, and anxious for cones of soft serve.
The Snowcap roadside café is still there – famous in Germany as a symbol of the strangeness of all things American and west. The old guy that ran it is dead now, his manic energy, probably pathological, is gone, and the place sits in the sun as an almost museum of the arcane. It’s eleven in the morning and is not open – no signs point to when it will open and the busloads of tourists wander around it taking pictures and using its outhouse to relieve themselves. Old Route 66 signs are hammered to trees and other signs are posted on anything that nails will nail to. The windows are lined with postcards from people who had visited here in the past and wanted to give their thanks. Doors open to nothing and all the lights are off. I remember the soft serve was great, but the old guy was strange and the walk back to the motel was long.
Another mile of Seligman, lined with stores set up to sell to tourists the crap and pomp of Route 66, and we reached the western edge of town – more functional with gas stations and eating places. We avoid the Road kill Café and eat at the place directly across the street – Lillo’s.
Lillo’s is a find – a really good place to eat that’s right off the freeway. Large, wood paneled and full of neat little touches, the food is great and the waitresses real. By our table is a faucet that runs continually into a pail of Corona’s and doesn’t appear to exit anywhere or fill up and over flow. A customer asks how this works, and a waitress guides him over to it and points out the mechanics. I turn my head away, I don’t want to know how the magic works, and I don’t want to see what’s behind the curtain, because I already know and don’t want to think about it – that’s not why I’m here and that’s not what I want to do.
We left town after eating, heading down the best part of Route 66 to Kingman. We passed the concrete remains of the abandoned repair shop that my mom had fought the auto guys over time and money. My dad was off fighting a war, and my mom was the family point guy for this thing in my life – this time without computers or overnight shipping. I think the parts to repair our car came by bus or maybe mule, but only knew that it always took longer after each talk she had with them, and that longer was always better.
I remember the night before we left Seligman, my brother left his back on the bed. Burned to a crisp, he took a fevered and unmoving nap, and when he got up, his skin remained on the sheets in a perfect outline of his body.








   
  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Something different today

I finished the first draft of book length memoir yesterday. It’s more than 50k words, and is printed and sitting on my kitchen counter.

I celebrated by going to Pollo Loco and having a dinner of grilled chicken, then stopping by Walgreen’s and buying a small box of Oreo cookies.

I ate the cookies, and went to bed early. 


Today I cut my hair, washed my clothes and got the oil changed in my car.


Who knows what will happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Deadman, Chapter 25


Chapter 25

         I returned to Posey’s room and thanked the nurse who had been covering for me while I was out. She said, “nothing happened,” but I would have been surprised if she had actually done more than listen for the alarms.
         In the unit, we took breaks when we could – our relief was usually a nurse with nearby patients. Breaks were never long, the nurses that relieved us were just as busy and we were, and watching an additional couple of critical patients was sketchy at best. The charge nurse should have been out of care (without patients,) and available to give us breaks, but budget cuts had ended that practice earlier in my career.
         I changed out Posey’s linen again. It got less lumpy, and I satisfied a need for fetish. I looked up at the monitor and notice some changes in the shape of his hearts rhythm. I poked my head out of the room and asked the ward secretary to order an EKG for now. (I requested it, “stat,” but feel the word is overused, and am somewhat embarrassed to admit I even used it back then.)
         The EKG technician poked her head out of the room next to mine when she heard my request and looked at me, and then pushed her machine over to Posey’s room.
         The EKG showed that Posey was extending his heart attack.
         A 12-lead EKG is read in sections. Each section consists of three leads, and they follow the heart from front to back and left to right, showing what’s happening at each specific area of the heart at the time the EKG is done. A heart attack may effect the anterior portion of the heart – this would show up in the V3-V6 leads. A heart attack may damage the inferior side of the heart, and this would show up in leads Avl, V1 and V2. By knowing the leads you are looking at, you can see the damage that’s being done to which part of the heart.
         Posey had been admitted with a large anterior infarct. The EKG’s done up until this point all showed inverted T waves in the anterior leads. This was what was expected – after the death of an area of the heart, the T waves turned upside down. This was seen in Posey’s V3-V6 leads, and was consistent with all the EKG’s he’d had since being admitted to the unit.
         The new EKG showed ST elevations in the inferior leads and also in the lateral leads. The ST elevations were present in all 6 of the leads adjacent to the anterior ones, but the elevations were higher and more pronounced in the leads directly closest to the anterior part of the heart.
         ST elevations are an indication of oxygen starvation – ischemia – The areas of the heart next to the one that had died three days ago were now dying. If Posey had been awake, he would have been having acute chest pain –probably much like the pain that had brought him into the ER. Since he was unresponsive, the EKG was the only symptom to indicate what was happening – that he was having another heart attack. Because it was occurring next to the original attack, the term for it was ‘extending’ instead of ‘new’ -- much like we call it an aftershock for an earthquake that happens on the heels of a larger earthquake.
The EKG indicated that the rest of his heart was dying.
         I thought, “shit,” as I walked out to the nursing station. When I got there, I saw Dr. S sitting at the station and reviewing Posey’s chart. I told him that he was too late, that Posey was extending his heart attack. Dr. S looked at me and said, “let’s go then,” and picked up the phone next to him and called the OR. When someone on the other end picked up, he told them to, “be ready, I’m on my way with him,” and hung up.
         With that notification, we were now officially on Dr. S time  --a time of masterful brevity and dervish action. We both went to Posey’s room, and with the charge nurse, a respiratory technician, and a couple of additional shanghaied stragglers he’d rounded up on the way, we took apart the machines, placed the important things we needed for monitoring on portable monitors and headed out the door. It took less than five minutes to undo my days of work.
         I asked him if he needed a consent signed by Mrs. Posey and he said he had one, though how he had gotten it in the ten minutes I’d been away from her I didn’t know. We careened down the hall, him pushing, and me dragging the balloon pump machine behind him. The respiratory technician was bagging Posey with portable oxygen, and the shanghaied stragglers were trying to keep everything on or attached to the bed as we raced to the OR.
         When we reached the double doors that opened into the OR, a hall monitor stopped us – all of us were unclean, and access was forbidden. As the OR nurse shunted us off to the changing rooms, Dr. S pointed to me and said, “I need him,” and she let me pass, balloon pump and all, after slowing me down long enough to put paper booties on my feet, and to hand me a mask to put on before I traveled further.
         In the OR room: Posey’s bed was pushed to a padded metal table centered in a large tiled room -- even the walls were tiled. A nurse pulled one of the draw sheets underneath him up and to one side and a roller board was placed under it – then Posey was yanked to the table and the board was removed.
         Dr. S grabbed a squeeze bottle of dark brown povadine solution and, like a backyard grill master preparing his charcoal, spewed the solution in jerks across Posey’s chest, then wiped most of it off with a clean towel. He took a scalpel and slashed deeply into the midline of the chest, tracing the outline of the sternum, dipping the blade down to the bone of it. He picked up a medical version of a combination jig-saw/skill saw, turned it on (if it had a pull-start, I would have fainted) and cut Posey’s sternum lengthwise, and completely, into two long pieces. Grabbing the two-piece retractor set, that was connected together after being placed on each side of the chest to form a spreader – He cranked the chest open with a ratchet wide enough to set a dinner plate on, or four big and active fists.
         With the chest open, and exposed by the deep cut he had made, Dr. S slashed a line across the pericardial sack and opened it up, then cutting it back to the edges of the opening and dropping the skin of it into a basin offered by the scrub nurse. The heart now exposed, he stuck his left hand in to do internal cardiac massage and to get a feel for what he was going to have to work with.
         From the time Posey hit the table, all of this took longer for me to write than it took for him to do. As Dr. S worked, the rest of the room was frantic with semi-controlled movement as well. It was like structured chaos in the room, there were patterns but they were complicated and hard to differentiate from the random.
         I found my tubing, and the wall outlet, and restarted the balloon pump. Two scrub nurses set up large flat tables on either side of Posey, and laid out instruments and tools, the perfusionist brought in his by-pass machine and continued the process of setting it up, the anesthesiologist gave Posey injections of narcotics to take him even more under and out, and running around like a crazy person, the circulating nurse circulated and made sure everyone had what they needed to do what they needed to do.
         This was my first time in the OR since I’d left it years earlier (after my short career as an orderly.) I recognized the pace of it, but still was just getting impressionistic snap shots of what was actually going on around me. I could break down the generalities of things – He does this with that, the next step is, -- but not the skilled parts of the action – the special tools, the specific sutures to be used, the learned order of events trained over time. But the pace I understood – it was fast.
         Dr. S continued massaging the heart with one hand until Dr. R arrived, cleaned and scrubbed, from the anteroom, and took over the massaging. S then left to get properly scrubbed and gowned for the procedure.
         The heart uses a tremendous amount of energy – it has to contract 80 times a minute, every day, for a lifetime. The heart is supplied the oxygen it uses for the energy by arteries that run across it and around it. The arteries get the oxygen through the blood that comes through two openings in the aorta, just above where the aortic valve opens.
         One opening goes to the right side of the heart – the right coronary artery (RCA). It supplies a large area, but since it’s mostly for the low requirements of the right side, it’s sort of a backwater for concerns and attention.
         The other opening is for the left main artery – this is a short fat tube that almost immediately branches into two other arteries – the left anterior descending artery (LAD), and the left circumflex artery (LCX.) These are the biggies for heart flow.
(People truly are different, and sometimes the RCA is the major artery, and sometimes they are born without parts of the arteries—and sometimes they have extra arteries. It’s hard to know for sure until you look.)
         A heart attack happens when a clot obstructs one of these arteries, or the one of the arteries gets too narrow to allow blood to flow past it. By-pass surgery is when you take a vein and attach it to an area where the blood still flows – above the obstruction, and then pass the vein over the area that’s blocked, and then attach the other end of the vein to an area that doesn’t have a blockage – somewhere below the obstruction.
         To do the bypass you need to stop the heart in order to tie the knots -- the hair width sutures, the dozens of sutures – on both ends --one end of the vein to the artery, and then the other to the other end.
I’m talking very small sutures that are connecting a high-pressure tube to an active pump. It’s harder than it sounds, no matter how hard you think it sounds.
When you stop the heart, you need to continue to supply blood to the rest of the body, so you by-pass the system with a machine that pumps blood for heart while it’s in the shop. A perfusionist runs this machine, which is large and bulky and looks like sometime on the ban list for exporting to unfavored nations. The machine takes on the role of the lungs – it adds oxygen to the blood as it bypasses the heart.
         When Dr. S returned to the room, he took the large cannula’s offered by the perfusionist and stuck one in the arterial side – in the aorta above the heart, and the other in the vena cava, below the right side of the heart. When the perfusionist started the machine, the blood started to flow around the body, but minus the action of the heart. (I had stopped the balloon pump when the perfusionist handed Dr. S. the cannulas.)
         Dr. S stilled the beating heart with an iced solution of saline and minerals – to cool it down and to stop it from contracting. When the heart stopped moving, he started digging though the yellow fat that covered the heart to find the first artery that he wanted to bypass. He started his digging around the mushy part – the dark blue of damaged areas, places obviously dead and necrotic, and the areas right next to them.
         The veins for the bypass were being removed from the legs. As Dr. S worked the top half, a elderly old-timer surgeon made long incisions to the inner parts of the thighs and removed pieces of the saphenous veins – placing them in a basin of salt water for Dr. S to use as tubing for the bypass.
Not technically difficult, harvesting the veins paid well, and the cardiac surgeons gave the job to old mentors and other potentially useful doctors out of tradition, and as a sort of homage to the early adopters of thoracic surgery – those old doctors who, when faced with unemployment due to a cure for tuberculosis, found another outlet for their skills – open heart surgery.
         Dr. S, with Dr. R holding it in place, took one end of the supplied vein, and using a microscope placed over the retracted opening of the chest, starting tying the vein to the artery. Each connection took dozens of micro sutures, but each took Dr. S only ten minutes to tie them together – he was very fast and accurate.
Having identified four blockages that he wanted to go around with the new veins he had, it took less than an hour for him to find and then finish the work on them. The only words I heard him say during this hour, that consisted of more than three consecutive syllables:
         “This is like sewing wet tissue paper together.”
         When finish with the last suture, Dr. S took two paddles from the tray of instruments next to him and had the circulating nurse connect them to a defibrillator. Placing one on each side of the heart, he shocked it. He shocked it again, and then he shocked it again. After the last shock, the heart started beating, weakly and without force—it sort of quivered with regularity.
Many times after heart surgery, the heart acts like it’s stunned for a while, like a fish kept too long out of water, so we all stood there and waited for the heart to come to its senses and gain enough strength to rejoin the body.
         We waited.
         Once, when unemployed, I’d scheduled a job interview near my house for noon. At ten, I started watching a movie about an alcoholic, planning to watch only until he saw the light and got into recovery. Fifteen minutes before my interview, he was still drinking. Five minutes before my interview, he died -- drunk and alone, with his body resting near a dumpster. He never got it, and I missed my appointment. It was that kind of waiting.
         After a half hour, most of the people in the room had drifted off. Dr. S asked the perfusionist to turn off the bypass machine and removed the cannulas from Posey. The heart continued to beat, but without enough force to give a blood pressure to the rest of the body.
Dr. S removed the sutures attaching the balloon pump to Posey’s groin, and pulled the balloon out of the artery. He asked me to hold pressure at the site, which I did.
The scrub nurse that had remained in the room then pushed the two large trays of instruments away from her, and laid out a few items on a smaller tray and scooted it nest to the table where Posey lay, then took the rest of her equipment and left.
         After an hour, Posey’s heart stopped. Dr. S did not try to restart it. Taking wires from the small tray, he attached them to a needle holder and pushed the wires through Posey’s sternum to tie the bones back together. When he finished, he asked me to clean up, and left the room.
         In the end, I did the things that nurses are always left to do.  I removed all of the tubes and lines that were attached to him. I held pressure on the places that leaked, until they didn’t leak. I got warm water and towels, and used them to wash his body until it was clean again.  I walked out of the room and got a gurney, returned and rolled him onto it, and then covered him with a clean white sheet.
         I felt no goodbye, and sensed nothing from him. I left the room with only my memory, and only a prayer that the memory would be good enough.