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.