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Iím pretty well packed I think, have left various written messages and beer money for my house-sitter, have changed the batteries in the smoke alarms, have screwed the windows and back door shut, have set bear traps around the house, have put some fluids in the car and emptied piles of trash and roaches out of it, am trying my best not to think about the viability of my tires and the fact that 500 miles is a long trip in a car that wonít go faster than 60 mph, am not worrying about the lack of air-conditioning headed for a city that hit 96 degrees yesterday, donít even want to think about the number of redneck communities my long-haired self will be driving through in a car with a right tail light that wonít stay lit, with a left head light that points upward, and which hasnít seen a valid inspection sticker for two years. The failing brakes are something that concerns me least of all having years ago zig-zagged cross country almost six thousand miles in a car with only the emergency brake.
I am drinking Guinness Stout in preparation because I am traveling to the city where a Rastafarian learned me about Guinness Stout as a nutritional supplement. I wonít drive drunk, so, I wonít be leaving soon.
I canít remember when last I was in Austin but itís been awhile. Iím going to tell you this in advance: the Mexican food will be simply delicious, the people there will try to intoxicate me, the memories may overwhelm me.
Well, in New Orleans (pop. 477,000) yesterday, there were three murders. Our police chief, whom I support, and others of his ilk have addressed this problem by suggesting that we, as members of a caring community, must get more involved and report crimes as we see them happen. There is talk of witness protection-type programs to protect those who show the courage to stand up against violent criminals. Alas, talk is cheap, and the day to day reality is harsh. For example, two of yesterdayís killings are described in todayís Times Picayune: ďShortly after she testified Thursday before a grand jury as an eyewitness to her younger brotherís killing in March, a New Orleans woman and her longtime companion were gunned down outside their home in the 2800 block of Pauger Street.Ē
Pauger Street, thatís the 7th Ward, not far from the Fairgrounds, and the killings occurred at 12 noon as the couple returned from the courthouse. The gunman stood in front of their car and shot through the windshield, then walked around and shot repeatedly at the couple before fleeing in a waiting getaway car. The dead boyfriend was an activist. These type of killings are hard to forget and perhaps are explanation as to why the final four words of most murder reports in the paper areĖno motives, no suspects.
Well, so, thereís never a lack of perspective here.
When I stopped shooting at that trio of dogsĖthe two German Shepard siblings are just big puppies reallyĖthe neighborhood became devoid of cats.
The chained up dogs of my neighbors donít even bark anymore when the trio, the black and brown Shepards and the long red haired mutt, show up periodically throughout the evening to forage for things they missed on the previous one hundred visits. I heard a cat yowling the other night but thatís as close as Iíve come to seeing a cat in this neighborhood for three weeks. The cats are alive, I believe, most of them anyway, and not being seen during difficult times is how they survive difficult times.
The Pentecostals recently hauled in some river sand to finish out the leveling of the vacant lot next door. Then it was windy without rain for many days and the sand blew into drifts up along the fence of the auto title establishment. Its like Padre Island, or Cap Ferret (if youíre the type to suffer regrets), without the water. Or sure, like the Sahara, or the Mojave, or like those dunes inside the missle testing grounds of White Sands, NM., where I trespassed in sleep one night of my youth. Except, come to think of it, not exactly like that because this sand next door is kind of yellow, or beige, and that sand in NM is, thatís right, you guessed itĖwhite.
Iím watching the Spurs/Laker game. Yesterday I was on Dumaine talking to a former Los Angelian who doesnít care for the Lakers, except Kobe, and she said Shaq looks too much like Baby Huey. He looks just like him, she said. For the life of me I canít quite conjure up who is Baby Huey. And yesterday when I had the chance to get the answer to that I did not seek the answer.
That trio of dogs will lounge on the waterless beach next door. It was them in that state of repose that caused me to quit shooting at them. They looked so harmless, and why shouldnít they get to claim that lot for themselves?
The chained up watchdogs are barking so I get up to see what, what, what, maybe itís the free and feral trio, but no, itís just some boys trying to ride their bikes through the sand. Itís very hard to ride a bike through deep, soft sand, so the boys get off and push their bikes.
Last night the trio had to dodge small flying boulders as some crack headed cat lovers across the street threw bricks in their direction as hard as they could (um, okay fellas, those bricks are coming real close to my car, uh fellas?)
Sometimes at work, if Iím alone, I will do a kind of spastic ballet to stretch my muscles. I am not all that limber. Last week Iím doing this move, like a very untalented ballerina on the exercise bar, stretching my torso sideways, with my arm curling over my head as a vertical halo and the same side leg off the ground attempting to stretch beyond itís limit. I can tell, even without a mirror, that this is not a pretty picture. Then I remember where I am, turn around, and see out the open window two burly construction guys sitting in their car outside, parked head on to my window like Iím the drive in movie. One of them is reading a newspaper, but the other one isnít.
NO Road Block
I came to a road block this morning, midway up the on- ramp for the Earhart Expressway, near Clearview. Regrettably, it appeared as if it was time to pay the vig on my relatively good borrowed luck, driving around with a 10 day temporary break tag (inspection sticker) thatís almost two years old. And just a week away from driving the car to Austin, where it will probably stay if I can find something better. I had my seatbelt on, which looks good at a roadblock, and I was getting my papers and license together as the two cars in front of me were being motioned off to the side of the road. Their papers obviously were not in order. Thereís three cop cars on one side of the ramp and two on the other. I idled forward a little just as the cops are turning away from me, acting as if I did not exist. There was the glimmer of good fortune in this, and even when the cops did appear to be looking right at me, still they did not like me for anything, and so clearly I am one of the freebirds of todayís random process. I kept moving on up that ramp and onto the Expressway, driving the exact 50 mph speed limit, a mature, perhaps even borderline senior citizen with my papers still in hand.
I say senior citizen because getting up early on a Saturday to shop at the Walmart Supercenter in Harahan strikes me as, well, elderly behavior. But the AC on the car is busted and if I wait too late in the day the driving conditions and heat can contribute to a road rage-like mentality that results in nothing less than boorish behaviorĖthe least of which would be my fervent wishing of bad things on perfectly, or not so perfectly, innocent people.
But yeah, Iím a Walmart shopper. Where else can you go and get a tube of toothpaste, a battery operated box of Glucosamine Chondroitin, and a USB cable any time of the day or night, all at a low, low price?
Later, my neighbor comes knocking. Behind him I can see a long black Mercedes Sedan blocking my driveway. Iím ignoring whatever it is he is saying while squinting at the tinted windows, hoping to catch movement inside. ďWho the hell that belong too?Ē I insisted he tell me. ďOh thatís me, thatís what Iím saying, my boss left it and I was wondering if you could follow me up the Bayou a bit and then bring me home?Ē I have to tell this neighbor exactly what Iím thinking which isĖďThat sucks.Ē I do it anyway though.
Right before we get back here heís telling me about this renovation outfit he used to be part of and this job they did at St. Philip and Dorgenois. I know exactly what heís talking about and I ease him around a little before telling him just what I think. ďWell what the hell happened with that?Ē It was a defunct turn of the century police station located on one of the deadliest corners in the 6th Ward. The idea was to turn it into a youth center with a neighborhood cop shop inside. It was a good location for such a place and was a beautiful red brick building with limestone trim before they ruined it by painting it a color like coffee with two creams. They got city backing and money and still f***ed it up. First long delaysĖwhich at the time I had read in the paper were due simply to the fact that the firm doing the renovation did not realize how difficult it would be. Then when they finally finished it, there was no management plan in effect and so whatever the hell goes on inside that building now is having little positive impact on that corner. And no cops moved inside. ďYeah man, thatís my old neighborhood and I had high hopes for that deal but that was a total bust. No impact whatsoever on that neighborhood. In fact, two weeks before the John Mac school shooting a few blocks up the street, a 16-year-old kid shot a cab driver right in front of that building. And yaíll stole the job away from a woman with better vision, but unfortunately fewer contacts at City Hall.Ē This guy has heard me vent before and I doubt he took it personally but between this guyís bungling of the community center and the Pentecostals scorched earth method of neighborhood improvement (the torn down dancehall was once briefly slated to be an Aids Hospice), I am fit to be tied. I should talk though, master renovator/bater/slacker that I am. Lucky for him we were in my driveway now so I just went inside and waited for my nephew and his wife to arrive.
Anyway, lucking through that road block this morning was a sweet way to begin the day, and starting next weekend Iím driving to Austin for a week, so I got that going for me. Thereís a corner near the University in Austin where 25 years ago, in love, I etched one of my nicknames, and that of my girlfriend, in wet cement. I might see how thatís holding up, and maybe have one of those burgers with alfalfa sprouts and avocado, next door.
Garlic And Hustlers
That hustler at the corner of Rocheblave and Bienville is trying to eye-f*** me as I wait to make the left turn on my way to Dejeans for crawfish Yeah well, eye-f*** you too, lover. Ya'll thinking this quiet little war torn block is going embrace you is wrong, wrong, and dumb.
Crawfish are boiled in big pots to which are added about 2 cups of cayenne pepper, a bunch of lemons cut in halves or quarters, some crab boil mix, salt, bunches and bunches of unshucked, unpeeled garlic, small red potatoes, corn on the cob, and turkey necks. There are lots of other things you can add.
At Dejeans, like most take out seafood outlets here, the side items are separated and priced accordingly. The red potatoes are a dollar a pound. The corn is such and such a price and being new to Dejeans this year I today for the first time realized they sell the garlic separately too. The sign said 3 for a dollar or one for fifty cents. I'm thinking that's a little pricey, 3 cloves for a dollar, but I gotta have some so I order the three. The thing is when I get home with my five pounds of crawfish, my one pound of potatoes and my three garlics I realize three did not mean cloves, but bunches. That's like 30 or 40 thoroughly cooked cloves for a dollar. I ate three or four large cloves along with the juicey crawfish, and several potatoes. You can always tell the next day when a guy has been to a crawfish boil and overdone it with the garlic. That'll be me tomorrow, sweating it out, stinking it up. Hey, why're ya'll sitting over there? Let's be friends. I could have easily eaten twenty of those cloves, but I didnt want to go completely toxic. I'm tempted to go outside and laugh at mosquitoes.
Not a lot of the big name golfers come to New Orleans for the HP Classic, formerly known as the Compaq Classic, which was formerly the Entergy Classic, or something. It's out at English Turn, a gated community w/ golf course east of Algiers, in Orleans Parish. I've started a job out there painting a newly constructed home in the Parks section. I don't know how they run off the buzzards for the big golf classic but they do, I feel sure of it. There are perhaps a hundred, or probably more, large buzzards that sun themselves on the roofs of half million and million dollar homes along a very particular stretch of English Turn Blvd., and just inside the Parks. I forget, if buzzards regurgitate or defecate their waste matter, but whichever it is, they leave long white streaks of it on the roofs of a handful of select two-story homes. I did not however see a single buzzard this morning. They are not always there in the Turn but I'm sure it's not a coincidence that has them missing for the golf classic. It is a little bit obscene the money surrounding large professional sporting events. I'm not sure why the big time golfers eschew the New Orleans classic except maybe most of them want to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for the Byron Nelson Classic, which is like the week after, I think. And I don't know, maybe the prize money is lacking in New Orleans. This year's winner only walked away with 900,000 dollars. I am not so much a buzzard lover, and as a homeowner myself, I feel for those afflicted English Turners with multiple carrion eaters on their roofs. But also, it is with a sense of wonderment that I see this phenomenon from time to time, and invariably, it seems to make me smile just a little.
by Antonya Nelson, in 05.05.03 New Yorker.
This guy hates me as I stare back at his puffy red listen to me I mean business head with I don't give a(n) f-you eyes. He mandates and runs, leaving one more questions than one had to begin with. I am always a bit curious as to which jobsite it is he runs off to in such a hurry. Safe to say it is always the one I am not on. The shortness of his visits do though facilitate my natural inclination to ignore his sorry ass, and go about the simplistic movements of my career. For the rest of the day I imagined various scenarios in which I became jobless because I am not a team player. In all the imagined scenarios I was out the door so fast, free at last, that I could not tell if his puffy red face was wearing a self-satisfied grin, or not. In one I was given a several thousand dollar cash severance and a two-year-old Chevy truck, which is better than imagining myself forlorn, tattered, idly roaming city streets with a sack of aluminum cans slung over my shoulder, but still, come on, imagine it better, baby.
I was glad that my DC area friend, my best buddy from childhood, showed up unannounced at my doorstep Saturday morning. He had jogged from Convention Center Blvd. up about twenty blocks of Canal Blvd., which is no small feat, but one I had seen him do in my imagination months previous. He survived it then and now. Saturday or Sunday mornings are probably best for it. I told him he was forever off the sissy list. That jog is a dangerous one but one that I've seen other non-urban oriented people do, and survive. I think surviving that jog without any altercation is possibly a thing that would happen as much as ninety percent of the time. The angle I'm still not accurately addressing is how the good times here roll parallel to the depravity and murder, without much of the latter bringing harm to the former. I think that is the story from here I'm trying to get but not getting right just yet. I had a great time with friends, moving around town freely and safely, drinking and eating well. But all around us people were committing the ultimate crime of killing their brothers. Not really a threat to those around them because almost exclusively the young men and occasional woman who die on the streets here die of point-blank gunshots to the head. Not that many stray bullets really and a person here who minds their own business has remarkable survival chances. Overall crime is down in NOLA, but murder is up 56 per cent. Just a reminder, old news, just a reminder, our urban youth are surgically assassinating each other at alarming rates. Still. This Jazzfest weekend set attendance lows records and you almost wish you could blame that on a fear factor affecting prominent whites--too much murder let's stay away (then of course somebody would take the problem seriously, smirk). But mostly people come here with the accurate assumption that everthing will be fine and some might even be completely unaware of how close they are to the real thing. Six murders over three days during Jazzfest. Two of them very local to Jazzfest commuters. And several more specific to the area over the previous month. I don't have a point about it, I just like lining the disparate possibilities up next to each other. As for jogging in or near the ghetto--surviving real threats may be good for the heart. Exercise some caution.
Health Care Professionals
My friend Mark missed a plane or something and somehow found himself in Houston instead of New Orleans so he rented a bright red Mustang and drove on in. Sure it was midnight when he clomped heavy-footed up my steps waking me from deep sleep but I wasn't dreaming so what of it. He brought a girlfriend, some bedding to separate him and herself from my floor, and various assorted beverages and snacks. I told him about towels and soap and he told me which of his snacks might most appeal to me. The girlfriend named Diane is nice and referring to her first trip to the deep south and a stop at a Baton Rouge area Walmart I asked was it a Super Walmart and she said, well it was all right (drum and cymbal). She's a veterinarian so I clued her in to the spiders that live here, the chameleon under the washer/dryer and the geckos living over the kitchen sink. I alluded to giant flying cockroaches but those really must be seen to be fully appreciated. I let her know right off about wild dog bb gunning and she doesn't approve, but I don't think we are going to blows over it. I don't approve of it either, even as I do it. The thing I didn't mention is Killer's pyschiatric problem and what, I want to know, is she going to do about it. As a visiting animal health care professional I think it is her responsibility to do something about that dog's anti-social behaviour. But her and Mark are out galavanting so Killer's emotional well-being is on hold. Lucinda Williams is about to go on one of the Jazzfest stages but I'm not there, as is my custom. I could take a nap but I would probably just dream about Killer barking, barking, barking. I got another Mark, a Craig, and a Jeff coming in later, staying down by the convention center. This convention center Mark just got certified to needle away problems with acupuncture. Maybe he will help Killer.
Conspiracy Of Mondays
Of late there has been a conspiracy of Mondays to shape and color time and events with a uh almost manic despair. That's the best you got!!!, I'm yelling at no one in particular, remembering back to when I had not the previous experience of it. I don't get very far on the puzzle and then its Monday again.
His Happy Trick
I'm so happy, I am the happiest man in the world. I'm happy about war, I'm happy that the US Treasury is going to collect every penny I have saved over the last year, I'm happy to be stuck, I'm happy to be going nowhere, I'm happy.
I'm happy my job sucks, my car is dying, my cat is dead. I'm happy I couldn't find his body, I'm happy there is no closure.
I was so happy to come home today and see that my neighbor had hired heavy machinery to tear down that building on his property that was the only architecturally interesting structure on this block.
I'm happy to be happy.
I'm happy the high hopes I entertained last night about meeting new people were dashed to bits. I'm happy I didn't dig 'em, didn't get it, don't dance.
I'm happy that every idea I have is faulty.
I'm happy to be here, I'll be happy to leave.
No kidding, I'm happier n' all get out.
I've been following over the last several months the reporting of violent crime (rape, armed robbery, and murder) in the 2200-2400 block of Dumaine. There's something bad happening over there and you can't guess or predict when it will stop and move somewhere else. Having it move somewhere else is the best you get around here. The murder last night on Dumaine, near Phillis Wheatly Elementary School, was one of two in the city, and I don't think either one of them account for the gunfire I heard in my own neighborhood around the same time both of the murders occurred. That's one thing about having a TV, you don't hear as much gunfire at night. I have noticed, in following crime trends in other neighborhoods, that eventually the murders bring about a lull in violent crime. Some of the bad people move away in simple acts of self-preservation, and the others, well, they're dead.
There's nothing to do about it. I don't want to sound like I've lost hope but the truth is today I don't have any. I can't write about these violent deaths everytime they occur because it amounts to an inconsideration of my audience. I mean, who needs it? I'm only reiterating simple facts that can be found in any newspaper in America.
It's better when you don't hear gunfire at night. It's such an angry, permanent sound. I can't always stand the pictures I see when I hear it. It hardly ever happens on Bourbon Street though. I guess that's what matters.
Congratulations to the Syracuse Orangemen, College Basketball Champions of the World, ya'll seriously kicked some Big 12 butt those last three games. I hope you enjoyed your stay here.
May Contain Doom
P came over disgusted to tell M that MH was beating some kid's head into the sidewalk, why didn't M do something about it.
"Yeah, stop the killing," I said.
There had been a shooting a bit earlier just around the corner, on Dorgenois, right where I had applied the break pedal a month previous and said to visiting friends that, "this is kind of a rough corner." It is a most unassuming kill zone but still, lots and lots of gunfire, blood, and death on that corner in the last ten (20? 30?) years.
M was asking me did I read about it and what was the condition of the shot cab driver. I said critical but didn't know any more than that. She said the shooting had stirred the kids up and was why they were fighting. The kids, a group of 3--15 boys aged 12-21, know the shooter, a 16-year-old neighborhood boy. The shooting at the corner is not an everyday thing, but maybe only once or twice a year with a free year skip every once in a while. I think its not a stretch to say that a 20-year-old man from the Sixth Ward of New Orleans will have had near or up-close exposure to as many as five or ten actual shootings, and better than casual knowledge in those twenty years of as many as forty murder victims.
"Yeah, you need to stop that killing," I reiterated.
Earlier in the year there was a ten day stretch with no murders, then in one day a four-year-old found his daddy's gun and shot himself dead and a 14-year-old boy accidentally shot dead his 15-year-old cousin.
There's a new School Superintendent, a guy named Amato from Connecticut, who given a treasury missing 31 million dollars is promising great improvements even as he stares down a monumentally ineffective, perhaps criminal, and often combative, school board, in a town that is steeped in failure.
Well, I was going to try and ascend towards a happy(er) ending, a bit of bright side, but the last three paragraphs have contained more bad mojo, so I'll just stop here for the day. At least I got my health (cough).
The Unimproved Guinness
(This is a piece of something from October of last year)
...so that taken care of, I have shifted my ire to yet another great wrong going on in this world. I speak, of course, of the new Guinness Draft in a bottle. What the holy hell is up with that widget? I don't want a rattling plastic rocket ship in my beer bottle. Eh, Uh, no, no, no. For any reason. No.
I refuse to believe this new packaging idea is the brainchild of an Irishman. The Irishman living in my imagination would never water down a perfectly good full strength Stout, call it Draught, and then pour only 11.2 ounces of it back into a sexily shaped bottle with a plastic skin and a plastic rocket rattling around inside and then implore me to "drink straight from the (rattling) bottle." It doesn't work. It doesn't work even if I couldn't tell the difference in a blind taste test between the bottle and a draught in a bar. I mean I probably couldn't. On one level--the level not being assaulted by that widget--the taste is very authentic draught, which I like Ok, in a bar, with 16 or 20 ounces of it in a heavy glass. But 11.2 ounces of very very smooth almost watery non carbonated supposedly stout beverage on a football Sunday is unacceptable. Good thing the full strength is still available, which then really gives me nothing to complain about.
(I found this in one of my draft files. It was written the week before Christmas. Time to get rid of it.)
I'm just unsure about where I am at. And I got too comfortable. Or I am misusing my comfort. Last year I closed off the front two rooms from the rest of the house and used a couple of small electric heaters to warm me through the winter, but this year I got the gas (finally) hooked up and the central system has me toasty. The house is still not finished really but did I mention hot water? Last year I took cold showers all winter, contorting myself so that the water only cascaded over key areas, and then maybe I would rinse myself with water boiled on an electric hotplate. Now though, turn a knob and this lovely lovely hot water comes pouring out the shower head and I just stay in there long after I'm clean and love the liquid warmth.
I've decided that not finishing the house is some sort of control freakiness, where like I'm in charge of inactivity. I am the best at it. Do not compete with me. I am very good.
Sometimes I think I'll use all forty gallons of hot water myself, but I get too sleepy before that happens, and I end up looking me over and thinking damn man, you certainly have developed a beer gut for such a skinny guy. Or like I'm the pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, without the breasts, acting ability, or deep throaty voice.
It appears I can say anything I want.
Let's see, also, since August, the dancehall got torn down and so now when I go into the kitchen for beer or whiskey or nachos or chicken salad I can look out the window and see across Iberville to the Pentecostal Church, which is not an awe inspiring edifice, yet does have a blue neon outlined cross atop its steeple. I bought a washer and dryer so I don't have to go the the Laundromat anymore, and I got a gas stove while I was at it, which I don't use alot, but a kitchen should really have one.
I think I already told you about getting a phone, and oh yeah, the mailing address thing finally took hold after some confusion about my existence. No hard feelings on that one though, I mean, that's what I'm getting at--this confusion about my existence. Like I can blame the post office for not understanding where I am at. I had to call in a favor to M to get that taken care of (ok, actually the gas meter too) because I finally realized I had invested too much of myself in not making the necessary phone calls. I had to find a place from which I could deal with the fact that I'm inaccessible even to myself and once I got there I asked for help. I'm not afraid to ask for help, I just forget it as an option.
And if I think about a thing and it goes on sale for 99 dollars, then I buy it. That's right. I upgraded the 5 inch b/w TV (In rereading some of the old stuff I realize I had another 5 incher for a few months back in 98) for a 13 inch color with built in VCR. Oh, and it has a remote, and I feel like, even though I'm not Catholic, saying--forgive me father, I have sinned. I rent movies, drink imported beer, and Irish Whiskey, I take hot showers, I recheck library books by phone, I have low speed Internet access via same phone, and I don't really do anything for anyone these days.
I mean the kids. I don't hardly see them anymore. I haven't seen Erica in two years, but I know more or less where she lives, in the 7th Ward, and I have heard recent reports that say she has gotten taller, and that she still looks like Erica, which is a good thing. Hi Erica. I think about you a lot. Merry Christmas. Are you nine?
My Barbecue Grill
If Satan were a dog he would look like Killer.
Of the three Bienville fronting houses that back up to my side yard, all three of them have watchdogs. Pertaining to my property, Sheba, an ancient female pit bull, when not napping, guards the back. Killer (my naming), the newest, some version of pit bull, guards the middle, and Watchdog (my naming), a Border Collie mut, guards the front.
I have this miniature barbecue grill. It is not a hibachi. I store it under the house, right across from Killer's territory. Killer does not exactly differentiate all that well between friend and foe. When getting out my grill I can calmly turn my back on Killer only because he is restrained with heavy duty chain in addition to a chain-link fence being between us. Still, that sound of chain dragging across dirt and the rattling of the fence when Killer rushes to defend territory is not calming. I try, sometimes without success, to not yell at Killer, as that only exacerbates his bad attitude. Once in awhile I might try soothing baby talk like--"that's my baby Killer, yesss it is, that's my sweet little Satan from Hell." Such sweet nothings have so far yielded no positive results.
The college basketball team (Oklahoma) that I was hoping would make it here to New Orleans for the Final Four lost it's semi-final game so that's that. I guess I will cheer now for my alma mater but I'm a dropout so maybe that should be al mat. Go you Longhorns, go. And yet, if I had cable I would tonight watch and cheer against those (Lady) Longhorns. Go LSU, go. Temeka Johnson rules.
I'm having to work in Hammond again this week, so I have to leave a little earlier, 5:30 a.m., to meet my boss for the commute. I am not comforted by the small group of guys hanging out across the street in front of my neighbor's house. She is pretty much a squatter over there; there is no electricity, and the plumbing amounts to little more than dripping water in a stained tub; the toilet is not connected to a water source and is only loosely connected to the floor over the sewage line. I was called in once as a consultant a couple of years ago. Supposedly she had twenty-four hours to fix the toilet or would be thrown out. I told her that fixing what existed there in that period of time was a hopeless proposition. I guess the "landlord" did not have the heart to put her out on the street. She doesn't pay rent. She's seventy and her health is not that good. She is an avid reader. We sometimes share books. When her reading glasses break I try to tape them together. I used to be friendly with her companion but he's gone now. She bums money off me and when I'm flush and feeling generous it's no problem, but when she's got that many shiftless guys hanging out on a regular basis and comes asking me for money I feel much like the chump. Someone finally stole those two pieces of wood under the house. I blame those guys over there. It is towards them that I direct my enmity. I hope they start keeping a lower profile.
Final Four In Lebanon?
This is the greatest damn country in the whole world, and anyone who feels counter to that is simply jealous of American college basketball in March. We are a family here, and like any family we don't all get along all the time. Sometimes our family has a patriarch who is not ideally suited to the job. The great thing is, if we don't like our patriarch, a bunch of us get together, go behind a curtain, punch a few buttons, and presto, we get rid of our patriarch, cleanly, with none of that icky patricidal mess.
When I was a boy my mother would suggest that if I didn't like her I could just go on down to the 7-11 and get myself a new mom. She would always suggest a red head, I don't know why, except I guess she herself was auburn-haired once. She had me, the youngest of her six, in her pre-matured graying forties, so that's all I've ever known of her hair color. I always liked that though, that idea of freedom she presented to me--if you don't like it sonny-boy, try something else. I ran away when I was about 18 months old. Again, when I was ten-years old, and finally for good when I made my 18 years. Her and my father were pretty tolerant of my behavior and always seemed genuinely pleased to see me after I was away for awhile. That didn't hurt me none.
Both of my father's parents were Lebanese Christian immigrants escaping Turkish oppression during the end of the 19th century. They came to America for the promise of freedom. They did ok for themselves. My grandmother Elizabeth (Aziza) had the opportunity to be a dressmaker in NY but continued across country to Austin, TX to be with her childhood sweetheart. They married. Had thirteen kids. Grandpa ran a grocery store on Sixth St. I never knew him but my grandmother lived until my 14th year. She was a beautiful woman with translucent wrinkled skin and long long white hair that she kept in a braided ponytail. She mostly spoke Arabic. She baked the best (unleavened) bread any man has ever eaten. She once talked on the phone, in broken English, to Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was then vice-president of the United States.
I don't know what it is about war that makes me think about family. It is war though that I have to get around before any other thought will come out. There is much atrocity in the world, of that there is no doubt. If it were my goal to do so I could make you cry describing simple truths that exist minutes, seconds, away from this computer screen. There is much to be improved in America. To the extent that each of us will do something positive to bring about improvement, we will see improvement. As for America's current foreign policy, I don't know. There is a place you can stand and see that we may mean well. That something good may come of all this. I try to stand there occasionally so that I don't lose hope. I have this not completely formed hypothesis that it is possible to bring good to people who don't, on the surface, act like they want it. I am pretty much certain though, that beneficence cannot be delivered with arrogance. As a country, we might work on that some. In 2004 I will vote to oust the current administration. Until then (and after I suppose) I will be expecting the worst, hoping for the best. Now I am off to my television, where I hope to watch the Wisconsin Badgers beat the crap out of the Kentucky Wildcats.