A Song for Fog

   
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the lullaby of the Blackfish.
 It is the glint eddy at the wing of the Sbaqwah.
 God-blue, long as a Black River canoe.
  
 Captain, your horn is heavy like blood in a ghost.
 What can it do? 
  
 The fog is a child squat over a snake in the longhouse. 
 It never knew you.
 It does not hear you.
  
 The osprey tear herring over a broken cedar.
 The salmon scowl at the ladder and die.
  
 Your boats are wrapped in ancient names.
 Kittitas and Chimacum. 
 Issaquah and Wenatchee.
 Only the words are quiet on the water.
  
 The engines scare an owl from the head of a bear.
 The bear scares crows from a picnic table.
 It watches you bleed cars into the hills.
  
 All head and no flukes, you pilot the ghost 
 without much rudder.
  
 You think you pilot the ghost.
  
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the white noise of the Salish Sea.
 You are the brother of the Chinook.
 You are the white throat of the Blue Heron. 
 
 Trade pilothouse for smokehouse.
 Dance the deck from wheel to wheel.
 The lullaby of the Blackfish will be your song.
   

The PVP Diaries #80

“I have no mockings or arguments…I witness and wait.”

-Whitman, Song of Myself

Because it was late, and I needed something now, I bought Leaves of Grass for the Kindle. It simply will not do. I’m sure Walt would be reassuring:

Not an inch nor a particle of an inch shall be vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.

But especially now that I am out of the preface and into Song of Myself, there is a falseness to the electrons, a way that the text is a little mocking, but not with mockery, rather with its earnestness. A mockery by truth for which truth no doubt would apologize if it knew – but that’s the thing about innocence. You don’t honk at the child squat over a bug in the street. He never knew you.


Breathing room. I pulled up the last plank of old wood yesterday:

Soccer shoes, flip-flops, toilet paper, Nerf gun. Life is beautiful.

I worked my way closer to the door as I went. A decision I made on purpose in the beginning, and am very happy about. I am capable and competent, but I often make small poor choices along the way. This time I knew that I would become sick of carrying wood out to the Jeep, and making my trips shorter as I progressed would be a good call. It was.

Now the new wood is in the house:

It’s funny how that doesn’t really look like much wood. It looks like a lot when I’m standing next to it. It felt like a lot when I carried it into the house, one bundle at a time. It’s 900sf, and I hope it’s enough.

The 4 year old boy who lives two doors up the not-so-dead-end street always comes running down to my driveway when he hears me throwing wood into the back of the Jeep. He just watches, asks “what are you, um, what are you doing,” even though he knows what I’m doing because he’s asked me 6 times a day for a a week. I answer the same way every time, that “I’m just putting more of the old wood in the car, so I can take it to the dump.” Yesterday, once that little formality was out of the way, he stood there, the fingers of his hands playing with each other and his eyes glancing to and from mine in that way that meant that he had something he really wanted to say, so I waited. After a few seconds he said, “the wood smells delicious.”

“Heck yeah,” I said, “love the way -“

“It smells just like ketchup.”

I plan to start installing the new floor Monday. Until then I can clean up and check for spots that might cause me some hangups in the installation, like wood that didn’t cut away from the base of the cabinets as cleanly as I need. It’s nice to have the extra time. If the new wood was ready to install today, I would just be driving forward and dealing with issues as they arose, which would be frustrating. This was an accidental boon, and I’ll capitalize.

Have to go gget some empty propane tanks exchanged, too, because the oven is fully removed, and too heavy to put back into place until it is time. All meals from the grill for the next little while here.


Ok ok, boring post here, I know. We’ll see what Whitman and wood can wake in me over the next couple of weeks.

-Plan ahead, Comrade Citizen!-

The PVP Diaries #79

Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, and knows no discouragement.

Whitman, Leaves of Grass

The work continues. I’ve made 4 trips to the dump so far. It looks like I’ll need to make six total.

The repetition is the killer for this kind of work. Whether it’s prying plank after plank out of the floor, walking armload after armload out to the Jeep, or flinging bundle after bundle onto the mountain at the dump, no part of the job is novel or fresh. Except yesterday when I rented a toe kick saw to cut around the kitchen cabinets. I had nevcer even heard of one a week ago, much less used one. But the blade was as dull as a politician’s smile, so there was no joy in it. I told the guy at the Home Depot when I returned it: “The blade is really dull.” He looked at it. “Christ, I ordered new ones, someone must have just put them away somewhere. I figure you probably had to work at least 20% harder because of the blade, so I’ll take 20% off your bill.” Nice moment there.

Today I’ll bring all the new wood inside the house so it can acclimate for several days before I install it. That’ll keep me busy for a while. And it will be repetitious in the extreme.


This panel of experts, begun by California Gov. Newsom last week, will expand with representatives from Washington, Oregon and Nevada.

From The Guv

Great. So Moe, Larry, and Curly are going to tell us if the vaccine is ok when they will allow us to be vaccinated. Because when have we ever thought FDA approval was good enough? And yes, I guess that makes Nevada Shemp.

Obviously it’s more boring anti-Trumpism. The FDA is a federal agency, so the Three Rioteers have to show dramatic mistrust of anything that comes from it.

“We believe in science, public health and safety. That is why I am pleased that Washington is joining California and other western states in this effort,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee. “Any COVID vaccine must be guided by the expertise of scientists and medical professionals and that’s just what this workgroup will do.

Inslee again, from Moe’s website

“We believe in (insert weaponized banality here).” It’s so boring, so sophomoric, so transparent. And what about these scientists and medical professionals? Do you mean more of them? Because (and admittedly this is an assumption on which I have never followed up) isn’t that what the FDA uses at some point in their process? Or is FDA approval just a matter of heading into the nearest convention center and asking a bunch of people if they think something’s ok?

So again, what Larry, Darryl, and Darryl here are really saying is, our scientists and medical professionals. Right now, federal scientists and medical professionals are Trump’s scientists and medical professionals, and this is a virtue signal of the highest order, in which our freedom to receive a fully approved vaccine is going to be held hostage for a ransom of votes.

newhart | Tumblr

I hate this kind of crap so much. It’s like being stranded and freezing at the side of a desolate road somewhere, and refusing a ride because the person driving the car stole your girlfriend in high school.


Anyway. I’m hoping to have the floor fully removed today, but realistically it will be tomorrow. I have to disconnect some electrical outlets in order to move the island, and that’ll probably be the “thing that should be easy enough but will cause great problems.” Like getting an available, FDA approved vaccine.

-I giggle when you say “dump,” Comrade Citizen!-

The PVP Diaries #78

Faith is the antiseptic of the soul…it pervades the common people and preserves them…they never give up believing and expecting and trusting.”

-Whitman, Leaves of Grass


Celebrations During COVID. Halloween.

I really don’t know what to say, but looking at that graphic makes me want to use bad words when I say it. Here’s another fun one:

Fewer. Smaller. Shorter. Safer. A guide to Gathering

What’s with that BS wink in the middle? Is it supposed to feel chummy? Or is it an inside joke between the governor and the graphic designers: “Yes, you tooooooe-tally need to wear a mask. Of Coooooooourse it’s helping.” Because that’s what it looks like to me – mocking deception.

The Boy had a cold last week – stuffy nose anyway – so we decided to get him tested. Abundance of caution and all that. The last thing you want is the scorn from your neighbors if your snot-dribbling child is running around out there putting everyone’s grandmas at risk of certain death, only to have to shamefully admit you haven’t even had him tested.

There’s a walk-up testing station 5 minutes from home. I went online to make the appointment, and of course it kicked off the dread sense of tentacular government omniscience. I felt marked, immediately, and only missed a printable badge of some sort to be cut out and pinned to my lapel whenever I left the house. Registering on the website initiated four (4!) separate text messages to my phone, and 2 or 3 emails, all within seconds of each other. The testing site itself was distinctly Orwellian on a cold, blustery, gray October morning. A winding, taped-off queue area in the back corner of a vast parking lot, sparsely peopled and all the more desolate looking for the social distancing duly observed. The destination? Beige shipping containers where the greeters sat behind plexiglass and signs with behavioral instructions like “Do not place ID in basket until asked to do so.” The only thing preventing me from calling it Soviet is the lack of police or military. I wish I would have taken some pictures, it was fantastic. I doubt very much they would have let me, though.

It all moved quickly enough, and the woman who checked us in was wonderful – cheery, positive, helpful, and bundled up like a Floridian in Canada. I asked if they had space heaters: “Nope.” I asked how long she had to be there: “Until 5:30. But we get breaks to go warm up in the other building.” It wasn’t a building, but who was I to step on her obvious decency? I had only registered The Boy for a test, but she asked me if I wanted one, too. I said sure. She said, “OK. You can ignore the text you get – I’ll fill out your forms for you myself. Quicker that way.” That was an unexpected level of helpfulness from that otherwise dour scene.

The test itself is pretty awful. Both nostrils, and I think my sample may have been contaminated by some toenail fungus that the swab managed to pick up when the nurse/technician (I don’t know her qualifications) was finally done snaking it into the depths of my body.

The Boy was terrified. As he watched me, the PTSD from his recent nasal cauterization kicked in, and he started to refuse the test entirely. It was getting a little uncomfortable in there, as time went on and we weren’t making any progress. Eventually an enormous fellow in a Department of Health parka lumbered into the container, making me wonder what nonsense I was about to be involved in. But he must have been related to the receptionist because he was as jolly as Santa Claus, and said that they could give The Boy a kids version of the test. Much less invasive.

All in all about a 20 minute process. They gave us each a QR code I could scan with my phone to find our results, both of which arrived in under 24 hours. Both of them negative.

And there we are, my son and I, logged in yet another wing of the vast monitoring structure within which we live. I know that we were already there, and deeply so, but each new recording of the name, each new acceptance of the privacy policy, each new etching of the DOB into The Great Datbase, feels like another eye, ever-watching.

Good thing there’s an even bigger eye, watching even that one.


I went to the doctor yesterday for a physical exam. It was only my second time seeing this particular doctor – I switched a few months ago because my previous doc was female (sexist!), and doctoring at this stage of life can get very personal very quickly. As a man I feel better with a male doctor at the helm of my particular ship. The other problem with my last GP is really the more significant matter, and that’s that she always seemed unsure of herself. Had a kind of nervousness about her. It did not instill confidence. I only landed in her office at all because years ago I had hurt myself or had some other mildly urgent situation, and when I called to make an appointment with my usual guy, I found out he retired. I grabbed the next available appointment, and it was with her. Thanks for the heads up, doc.

So, today, physical. I like this doctor a lot. Outstanding demeanor, obvious intelligence. In the course of a conversation about some minor nuisance that’s just part of being alive, he said it was that way because “that’s how God made you.” It completely threw me. This is Seattle. That’s malpractice material out here. I’m willing to bet that he has had patients who found a different doctor after hearing that from him. Anyway, he said it, and I went blank. Stopped listening a little. I started getting flooded with the thoughts: Is he watching for how I react to that? Do I look like it didn’t phase me? Do I look uncomfortable? Am I making any facial expressions (from the mask up) that indicate apprehension? All of those were possible because of how confused I was for a moment. I felt like he was testing me. The Seattleites I know who believe in God are few, and the rest of the Seattleites I know never say anything nice about them. So put aside any thoughts I might have about religion, to hear him say that relieved me. It was the sudden exhilaration of re-discovering an animal, long since having logged it and written it off as extinct. I wanted to get up right then and there and hug him for five minutes or so – to thank him for inviting God into the exam room like that.

And I don’t really know why. I think it was just that it was so different from what I’m used to. It was the kind of complete, casual sincerity that Linus needed for summoning the Great Pumpkin to his pumpkin patch on Halloween:

See the source image

As I get older, I find my appetite for common decency growing, my thirst for simple natures intensifying. And I find that when I ask “why am I this way” and am presented with the answer that “that’s how God made you,” it satisfies my hunger and quenches my thirst. As a youth I would have rebelled. I would have thrashed about in the brackish waters of an intellectual lassitude that believed there was merit in being reflexively anti-religious. As an older man I’ll want more, eventually. Even the most devout know full well that “because God” isn’t appropriate as a final answer to anything from a sprained ankle to a brain tumor. But in the beginning and at every step along the way, it does carry the brilliant, tranquilizing anaesthesis that always comes from the Truth. You hear it and you know. I heard it today, and I knew, and that’s the best way I can think to say it.

Oh by the way, I’m healthy as hell. The doctor was impressed. I had the full bloodwork done at my last visit and everything is optimal. He kept using the phrase “young and healthy” to describe me. Must have said it half a dozen times during the visit. I fixated mostly on the young part. Because let’s face it, you can call me young as many times as you want, but it rings a little hollow in the context of a conversation about scheduling a colonoscopy.


-Are we burning off our fingerprints yet, Comrade Citizen?-

The PVP Diaries #77

“I have often thought it fortunate that the amount of noise in a boy does not increase in proportion to his size; if it did, the world could not contain it.”

-Charles Dudley Warner, Being a Boy


“Thank you,” she said, “for not salivating very much.”

Look at me, using a cheap hook like that. It’s pretty simple and uninteresting, like most things, when you find out about it: Yesterday I went to the dentist to receive my first set of Invisalign trays. I’ve decided that as I get older I am going to be obsessive about my teeth. And they’re crooked. The top teeth have a little bit of a skew to them, like one shutter on a window was hung in a hurry and left a little sideways. But the bottom are an odd mess of nervous chicklets trying to hide behind each other – a frenetically sunk line of pickets. And it’s more than aesthetics; all that crowding and stacking creates places that don’t brush or floss easily. Buildup occurs..

Anyway, during the process of sanding away at a couple of teeth so that they will be able to move next to each other, the dentist was nice enough to say to me, “thanks for doing a good job of cleaning your teeth this morning.” His assistant then followed with, “and for not salivating very much.” She meant it with all earnestness, of course, but since most of the dental implements had been removed from my mouth at the moment she said it, I was in a position to reply with, “oh good, that’s something I’ve been working on.”

In other words, I’m on the Invisalign diet. Gotta wear them all the time, and can’t eat or drink with them in. And really, they don’t bother me as long as I don’t mess with them. The act of taking them out is pretty painful, though. I’m about to brave it so that I can have my morning coffee, because some things are worth the pain.


I agree with Charles Dudley Warner. My God, the noise of the boys. I always get a little skeptical and unimpressed when I hear sentences that start with “the war on…” so you won’t find me stoking the fire in the War On Boys camp. Still, it would be naive to say that we haven’t been receiving a bit of the old ill-treatment in recent years. Toxic masculinity, and all that. They even have this “male fragility” idea that they can bring out when they deliberately insult us, and we have the nerve to take it as an insult. It’s like getting kicked in the nose, and when you complain about it or try to retaliate, you’re simply dismissed on the grounds of your facial fragility. If only your face were fundamentally, morally, better, you’d be fine with being kicked in the face, over and over again. And so we arrive at the boot, stamping, in saecula saeculorum.

Of course, I do tell The Boy to shut up. And often. There’s just no end to the sounds issuing fort from his maw. And when the mouth quiets, he often, very seamlessly, re-routes his inner cacophony and releases it via drumming on the nearest thing, or moving very fast in a small space filled with things and people. The movement is a kind of noise, too, and when combined with actual, audible noise, is something like the voice of God.


I’ve been busy. Since moving into this house 3 years ago, we’ve never really been able to find its heartbeat. There’s something kind of lifeless about it. We’ve been chipping away at it with little changes – different paint color, new backsplash, rearranging furniture, not to mention the landscaping/patio things we’ve done. And also my recent wainscoting venture.But even with those paddles to the patient’s chest, we haven’t managed to coax its soul entirely out of hiding. Part of the problem is that it’s got no rooms. Everyone’s favorite real estate term these days is “open concept,” but here’s an inherent coldness to cavernous spaces, and our entire first floor is essentially one big room. The kitchen is on one end, the living room is way down on the other, and in the middle is some vague space where we’ve put our kitchen table. Ultimately, we decided that we could make a significant change to the whole damn thing by replacing the floor.

For the past three days I’ve been ripping out the hardwood. I won’t do this again, at least not in a 900sf space. That is, if you trust my measuring skills and my math, and I trust neither. I’m three days in and a little over half done with the removal. It’s what I believe they call “backbreaking work.” Bent over the whole time, after consulting youtube for the best methods and best tools, I eventually landed on a combination of 3 foot wrecking bar and standard garden shovel. The lightness and leverage of the shovel, with its long handle, make for relatively easy popping of the planks, even if I’m still bent double the whole time. But it’s useless within a few feet of the wall, so that’s where the wrecking bar comes into play.

Anyway, I fell slightly short of my goal yesterday because I hit one of those inevitable snags that forced me to quit for the day. Today I’ll solve that problem when I rent the toekick saw that I need for cutting around the kitchen cabinets.

Work takes so much work that never shows up in the final product. Sometime (hopefully before Christmas) we’ll be looking at the beautiful new floor, and nobody will see the hundreds of walks to the truck with small armloads of nail-laden wood, the improvised small-scale demolition at the base of newel posts and under bookcases, the cumulative time spent at the dump, the obnoxious scan of the underlayment for nails that didn’t come out with the planks, or the sweeping, dusting, and vacuuming that punctuated every hour or so of the job. Of course I’ll see it, but the worst thing in that case is to remind everyone else.

From the first plank, to three days later.


I’d love to say something pithy and wise about the plague, but there’s not much for it. I’m planted firmly in the (very populous) camp that believes there will be no change to speak of until after the election results are all in across the country. Unlike the garden shovel I’m using to tear up my old floor, the Coronavirus is not a multi-tasking tool. It’s leverage is useful only in the political arena, so once the final whistle blows on that game, it’ll slowly drift away like the throngs of people who used to dissipate from what used to be packed stadiums where what used to be men played what used to be football on what used to be Sunday afternoons.


Lift with your legs, Comrade Citizen!-

The PVP Diaries #76

What do you do with a plague? Cut a hole in its head, reach inside, and rip its guts out.


This time I knew it was 5:30 in the morning, and I got up anyway. Sometimes I can just feel the fight for sleep coming on, and the best option is to remove myself from the battlefield. I prepped the coffee last night, and there’s pumpkin bread left from the weekend, so I’m in a good place. Let’s do this in chronological order:

I must have been Saturday when the kids made these chocolate haunted houses. It’s a kit from Trader Joe’s. Note the fact that they’re chocolate, not gingerbread. I suppose TJ’s has such respect for the traditions of the nondenominational, nondescript, nameless, vague, celebratory season that revolves arbitrarily and with no grounds for any particular reverence around the inexplicably specific date of December 25th, that it reserves gingerbread for that particularly non-particular time of year. Halloween gets chocolate. Because there won’t be enough of that.

The Boy made his frenetic attempt, and was pleased. He decided that it’s sloppiness does not, in point of fact, represent poor workmanship. Rather, it is purposeful, as the house looks more haunteder that way. Who would argue?

The Girl worked slowly and deliberately, and of course came away with a much more polished product. I thought I had a picture of it, but alas (is that redundant? Is the “but” too much, alongside the “alas?”). The Boy thought hers was a little too nice to be scary, but that was just jealousy playing at insouciance, and it is a stance that fails to account for the horrors that stalk perfection like a dormant cancer.


Did someone say plague? We’ve been having weird data corrections. Two days ago, some 16,000 tests were removed from the “total tested” category. Yesterday, over 22,000 were added. I think that those numbers warrant a slightly less generous term than “data correction,” but you know me – always looking for someone to punish. An empty gallows is a waste of tax revenue, I always say.

18 Hospitalizations? Imma call that another data correction, considering there are 60 in the past 14 days. That’s fewer than 5 per day (and conspicuously absent any data about COVID patients being released from the hospital, but pay no attention, and all that).

Deaths remain very low and are getting lower – 3.1% of total positives today. I remember a steady 7 or 8% for a long time. Hospitalizations are also very low, so it looks as if (he said, wondering if his readers noted the skepticism) the prevalence of COVID is as real as ever here in King County, but the severity is on the decline. We seem to be inching closer to that “living with the virus” situation that was on everyone’s lips for a while. It won’t be good enough. Nothing will, until we’ve had time to prevaricate about and refuse to accept extant vaccines, virtue signal about our trust in either pharmaceutical companies or the government (depending on your party affiliation), and hold society hostage for a ransom of tweets.


The pumpkin carving was a success. We were able to decorate nicely and put together enough shelter to keep the stuttering drizzle off of everyone. I had a crock pot of spiced cider staying warm that went more or less undiscovered for most of the afternoon. I was feeling a little down about it – you know that feeling when you do something that you’re just sure is the perfect thing, but no one else seems to be catching on? That was me, until a neighbor kid ladled herself a cup and proclaimed it decent, and I anticipated the rush of drinkers and compliments. It never really materialized. A few cups were had, not much was said in the way of praise, and I had to chalk it up as a generally underwhelming effort.

There was to be a contest of sorts, but the judging never really got underway, and of course with the varying ages and skill levels, prudence would not have allowed anything like winners and losers. The Girl had done well by making several certificates for things like Cutest Pumpkin, Scariest, Weirdest, etc. Nobody seemed too put out by the fact that awards were not issued – except The Girl of course, who was not shy about saying that she felt like her certificate making efforts had gone wasted and unappreciated.

Talk to the guy who made the cider.

I took pictures with a real camera throughout. Our neighbors have 3 kids ranging from 2-ish years old to 6 or 7, and I remembered how much more photogenic they are than the 9 and 12 of my own children. I spent almost all of my pictures on them, then had to go through that old fashioned process of transferring them from a memory card to my computer so that I could touch them up and send them.

The Italian and I sat at different tables, chatting with the carvers while we did the slimy work of separating seeds from guts. Later I patted them dry with paper towels, then dried them further by putting them in the convection oven at about 225 degrees for 10 minutes or so. Then it was a quick toss in butter, Worcestershire, garlic, and salt, and a good long roast to wake them up. I turned the convection back on in the last 10 minutes for a little extra crispness. They’re delicious. I’ve bagged them up so I can give them to the neighbors, who will enjoy eating the labors of their fruits.

-Haunt your houses, Comrade Citizen!-

In the Key of Tears

“The tall clock / kept on demolishing young root, old rock.

– Nabokov, Pale Fire


Piano practice was going well yesterday. I had left The Boy downstairs for his independent study time, for which he was reading Old Yeller. They’ve been working that book over for the past few weeks, writing character sketches and setting descriptions and summaries, chapter by chapter. He was starting on chapter 10 today.

For my part, I was trying to play a D major scale on both hands simultaneously, with as few mishaps as possible. There’s a lot of confusion in the brain of a 45-year-old man trying to learn the piano. Too many pathways are a little overworn in the mind, and playing the piano can feel kind of like trying to pedal two separate bikes at the same time. The scales are tricky enough, and that’s a case of both hands making (almost) the same moves. Synchrony. That’s the easy part. It’s the songs – chords changing up on one hand while notes are rolling along with the other, rests sneaking in there, all the movements. I have nothing in my experience to which I can reach for any guidance, or even the tiniest bit of comfort, when I get all confounded and confused by something as simple as “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” My toolbox is empty.

In the middle of trying to clap out the timing of a triplet, with the metronome set at a rather cold-syrupy 63, there was a knock at the door. Our piano is a cheap electric Casio, bought when The Girl started taking lessons as a 6 or 7 year old. She lasted a few years and occasionally really impressed us, but she hated it and we eventually allowed her to quit. There was a solid year of the hoping she would change her mind, with us always uttering the ever-trite platitude that “you’ll thank us later,” before we finally closed the (fully figurative) lid on that keyboard and set her free from her daily torture. Eventually The Boy said he’d give it a shot, but his incompatibility with the ivories was evident from the very beginning, and he is not the sort of boy to spend a few years working through the struggles in the hopes of eventually having some success. We did not push him for long. I took over his lessons earlier this year, as COVID-19 was just wrapping up its own opening movement, and have been making slow progress ever since.

The piano sits in the corner of our bedroom now, as far away as possible from anyone’s sensitive ears. It’s no shrieking violin (I did that in grade school, Lord Hammersea), but listening to “Happy Birthday,” replete with mistakes and re-starts, for 20 minutes straight will chew the last nerve of the saintliest temperaments. Never mind me banging a single key in apoplectic arrhythmia as I try to find the subtle shift in timing between a triplet and an eighth note. And that’s right where I was when the knock came, relieving me of my own incompetence for a moment.

“Come on in.” It was The Boy. I hadn’t turned all the way around, so I was just kind of waiting to hear him haltingly communicate whatever special favor he was there to ask for, being far too early to have ended his independent study time. He was probably going to ask for some ice cream, claiming reparations for inhumane levels of boredom and a general misapplication of his talents. I was prepared to acquiesce take a firm stance. But I turned the rest of the way around to meet the challenge full-on, and in a matter of seconds I melted faster than a pint of salted caramel in a sauna.

He was holding back tears with so much resolve that they were flowing upwards, and I could see sobs like an angry mob behind his ribs, stretching the hinges and swelling the hasps of his restraint.

“Bud, what is it? My God, what is it?”

“You know how we…” caught breath. “how we had to…” caught breath. “had to read…” caught breath again, and now me, just beginning to put it all together. “read chapter 10 of…” I wasn’t going to make him finish.

“Chapter 10’s when it happens, isn’t it?”

His breath evened out a little bit, and he was able to say , “uh huh. He saved Travis, but the hogs got him!” And now’s when he came all the way in to be held. My shirt got a little wet from his tears. I reached one arm back to turn off the metronome, and the improbable rhythm of a triplet gave entirely away to the long hum of silent consolation.

There’s a lot of confusion in the brain of a nine-year-old boy when he’s trying to process grief. At his age, there hasn’t been enough traffic on the pathways of his mind to make them easy to find. They blend in with the rest of the emotional landscape and he wanders and staggers through this claustrophobic expanse looking for any reason he can find, any encouragement, to just go straight on for a while. Sometimes the best thing he can hope for is to simply collapse from all the effort of trying. He’s so new to this that the only place he can possibly wake up is a little farther along, and rested.

We talked for a while. He’s good about talking. I never was, and from the beginning of family life I swore I’d do everything I could to not instill my kids with my reluctance. The Boy obliges. The Girl slightly less so, but I simply need to know how and when to be quiet enough to let her get started. And then to pay close attention to her because she might not give you much, even though she never leaves out what’s important to her.  The boy wonders out loud, and probes, and questions, and he asked me a very sensible one: “Why do we have to read something like that?”

I said, “I don’t know if it’s really about reading it. Haven’t you been working on a book project since you started? Every time you read a little bit, every time something happens, you have to write about it. And now you have to write about this part.”

“I don’t see why that’s good.”

“Well I think your teacher is very smart, because she’s teaching you how important it can be to talk about or write about your sadness. Gives you a way to understand it, out in the world, instead of just inside you where you’re the only one who gets to say anything about it. That’s why you came here just now to tell me – part of you knew that already.”

“Did you write about Lucy when she died?” Now, Lucy was 15 years old and in the end was so wracked by infirmities that she could barely stand up. We took her to the vet to be euthanized, quietly, in a clean room, probably a few months past the time that really would have been considered humane. So her dying didn’t have a whole lot in common with Old Yeller’s, but I wasn’t going to bother him with that. Yank too hard on the tiller of an emotion, and the ship might just sink.

“I sure did.”

“Can I read it sometime?”

“Of course you can.”

He went back down to do some more schoolwork, and I turned back to the piano so that I could look at the sheet music and wonder for my own part just why in the hell anyone would make me read something like that. But after a minute I stopped and printed out Lucy’s eulogy, then took it downstairs and set it next to The Boy, where he had moved on to something for Math class. I think Old Yeller was done for the day. He said, “is that it, the Lucy thing?” I nodded. He said “I can’t read it now, but maybe later.”


You can read it now if you like. Or later, as you see fit. Or never. It got quite a lot of attention when I wrote it, and it’ll be right here if you’re ever interested.

The PVP Diaries #75

Virtuous yard signs. The thing is, being welcoming is the rule. If you go trick-or-treating at a thousand houses you may find half a dozen that treat you poorly. The rest are happy to have you. But when you put out those signs proclaiming how welcome everyone is, you create the impression that kindness is the exception. You paint a lie, and that’s why we have so many people running around thinking that the US is such an unwelcoming and intolerant place – because people started making signs to say that “in this house is rare generosity, you are unlikely to find it elsewhere.” Talk about creating your own market. I’m sure there’s a business term for just that sort of thing – ginning up an imaginary condition for people to believe in, then offering them the only solution to it, and in limited supply.

Whatever. Enough.


I have to take a placement exam for the online Arabic class I’ll be joining. It makes me nervous. Arabic is still intimidating, even after two years of classes and a few weeks in Morocco. And it’s been more than a year since I’ve used it, really. I’ll have to write, read, and speak. Chances are good that I’ll be rusty enough to land in a low-level course, but I don’t mind. I have time. I will say with all awareness of the seeming vanity or frivolity of it that the idea of fluency in Arabic is singularly energizing to me. Holding that odd key to another world – I want it. Even at my peak, Moroccan third week, it was still frightening and stressful and enervating, the pressure of being called upon to speak in or write in or translate from Arabic. I want it to be easy. Check back in a few years.

My morning commute in Rabat, June/July 2019

That brings back some good memories. It takes me too long to read and translate any of that. But man, I had better get out of that section of my photos before I get stuck deep in a rabbit hole, eating dates and drinking mint tea until my family sends out a search party. It’s gotten late here.

I wrote a couple of Morocco poems. Like this one. Here’s an earlier version. I think I like it better. The second half is better:

Show me to the old medina
before the sun can warm the stones.
The darkness scrubs the city bright
Where the hamsas guard the homes
 
Walk me through the old Medina
before the torpid cats arise.
Half their world is always dark
because they steal each other’s eyes.
 
Hide me in the old Medina
among the rugs and clay tagines
but don’t forget to call my name
when it’s time to pour the tea.
 
Lose me in the old Medina
and seal up all the gates!
I’ll learn the names of all the cats
and give you half my dates!

It’s hard to get a feel for the public vibe on trick-or-treating here in West Seattle. There have been a couple of discussions about it in the comments on articles at the West Seattle blog, and it seems like a pretty even mix of “we’re taking the kids out there and enjoying the night,” and “don’t be irresponsible, stay home.” I note a (possibly meaningful) difference. It’s not 100% black and white, of course, but the two camps seem to be I’m/we’re going out, and you stay home. There are plenty of people saying I’m/we’re staying home, too, but the point is in that difference between the individual actors and the public proscribers. The argument is, of course, that the individual actors are endangering the public, so the proscription is necessary, but frankly I think that ship has sailed, for the most part, even in the minds of the frightened. There are still mumblings out there (seriously!) about killing grandmas, but I’m seeing gradual shifts in social behavior. A sense of slightly lightened tension, more people ignoring the one-way signs at the the grocery store, more people widening their social circles, that sort of thing. And hey, the parking lot at Lincoln Park is open, ahead of schedule. It’ll be packed this weekend.

We’re hosting the not-so-dead-end street for pumpkin carving on Sunday. I’ll brew up some apple cider and keep it warm on the deck. No doubt The Italian will make some pumpkin bread, The Girl Child will make some sugar cookies, neighbors will bring things, and we’ll fling gourd guts around for a while. Later, I’ll roast the seeds, and we’ll dig into some pot roast that I’m making from all that beef we panic-stocked over the summer. We nicknamed the cow from which it was carved Hector, for reasons I don’t remember. I think it was The Girl’s idea. Nobody objected.

-It’s been a year of tricks, go get your treats, Comrade Citizen!-

Apheresis

The easy part is the digging –
snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil.
 
Dirt hardly parts – but sighs!
Eucharine breath, epicene oil.
The lissome lisp of shovel slipped
into winesoftened silt.
 
The easy part is the digging –
straight-grained shaft stung
by stone, bonequiver knock
on bone and out the crown
emptied unto Heaven
with every chuck and throw.
 
The easy part is the digging –
brute-sunk shovel in soil.
Psalm-sung singing of sinew.
 
Instrument to sentiment.
Lie-less rhythm without end.
Monument to sediment.
Lie-less rhythm without end

Beautiful Place, Everyone Hates It

In a world that suddenly lost all its racism, the racists would simply have lost a tool for sounding like morons, and would indeed likely find a great deal more success than ever, suddenly lacking the worldview that had previously been so staunchly resisted by mainstream society. It would be a net gain for them. But not for the activists. Not for the journalists and the professors and the sign wavers and the marchers. Not for the authors and poets and painters, not for the actors and filmmakers. For them, the end of racism would be the end of nearly everything. The end of racism would turn their world upside down and dump them out the bottom, naked, poor, and ashamed. Their jobs would vanish, their paychecks would dry up, their book deals would be meaningless, their degrees, doctorates, PhD’s, all of it would be gone.

So of course they’re complicit in keeping it alive. They’re causing as many train wrecks as they can so that they’ll never have to wake up without someone to save. But meanwhile, man, the bodies are really piling up.

Those paragraphs are clipped from a long, rambling missive I have been putting together since my 4th of July weekend in Idaho. It was about definitions (again)(always). I kept adding to it and sculpting it and deleting things and shuffling paragraphs around. Eventually I decided it was just so much more of the same pissing and moaning, so I just looked at it and said “no.”


I’m at a car dealership. My car apparently had a couple of safety recalls that needed to be addressed. Remember the way Anton Yelchin died? I have a Jeep like his with the same odd transmission that somehow resulted in him getting out of his car while it was still in gear, or in neutral, so it rolled down a hill and crushed him against a pillar, I think at the end of his driveway. It really is a bit of an interesting situation with the gear lever, in that doesn’t lock positively in place to indicate that you’ve put it in drive. Or in park, as was the obvious issue for our young Pavel Chekov. You just bump it forward or backwards and it returns itself to the starting position. My car before that was a manual transmission, so it really took me some getting used to. But cars now are doing all kinds of odd things with their transmissions. The Italian’s car, for instance, is some kind of a throwback to the old three-on-the-tree:

Three on a tree" learning to drive a stick shift! | Learning to drive,  Shift pattern, Transmission

Her car has a right-hand shift lever on the steering column, but the similarities end there. It’s a matter of pushing a button on the end for park, tap the lever upwards with a finger for ‘go,’ downwards for ‘go back.’ It’s simple, but the biggest problem is the lack of uniformity. Every car runs different now. When I get back into my car, I have to remember that the shifting happens at the center console, and that I have to engage/disengage the parking brake myself. The Italian’s German car puts the brake on as soon as you put it in park. Takes the brake off once you hit ‘go.’

This of course opens a can of particularly slimy worms concerning technological advancements in automobiles, and whether we’re collectively worse at driving because of it. I do know that when I think of all the safety measures – beeps and warnings that light up in the side mirrors when a car is in your blindspot, cars that actually brake for you in whatever the car deems is an emergency, cars that literally drive for stretches without you at all. – when I think of these things I recall Mike Rowe’s talk about how an excess of emphasis on safety often results in more accidents. Risk compensation.

But prudence and compliance are not the same thing, and we should look with deep suspicion upon self-proclaimed experts and professionals who tell us that safety is first, or worse, that ‘our safety is their responsibility.’ Those people are either selling something or running for office.

Mike Rowe, Safety Third

I haven’t heard much from Mr. Rowe lately, but maybe he’s just all worn out from the world proving him right at every turn. Also I think he does a lot of his work via Facebook, and I’m not there anymore. I’m not much of anywhere anymore.

Anyway, cars: The one real issue I’ve had with both of our cars stems from the fact that you don’t put a key in the ignition anymore. The obvious other end of that situation is that you don’t have to remove a key when you are finished driving. Removing the key was always the way you knew – without having to think about it – that the damn car was all the way off and you could get out. Whether you put it in park – or in 1st for manual transmissions – before you turned it off was up to you. But now the key never leaves the pocket, and there have been a couple of times that I left the car running for a while. Once was at a kid’s soccer practice – over an hour of hanging out at an indoor arena while my car was running outside in the parking lot. Not the best situation.

Slightly better, though, than the time I left our daughter (it was our first baby! I wasn’t used to it yet!) in the infant seat in the car for a good 20 minutes while I was in the grocery store. She was under a year old. I remembered just as the cashier was ringing me up. I can’t imagine the look on my face.

That wasn’t the key’s fault.

Anyway, I’m still at the dealership, and it’s just reached the limit of the time they said it would take “at the longest.” I expect these things to go worse than expected, so I expect to not be leaving soon. But I did just experience the one thing that can unsettle the most patient temperament: Someone who came into the waiting room 30 minutes after I did has just been told her car is ready. It doesn’t matter how different her services probably were, that one stings a little. My patience wanes. But at least my beard is sweating under a face mask in a warm room that smells like incense and car air fresheners.


One more paragraph from that other essay:

If an alien stumbled upon Earth, having no prior knowledge of us, and spent a month or two observing the USA, the cognitive dissonance would leave it utterly confused. It would write in its journal: “Nation incapable of distinguishing between victory and defeat. Loudest voices have total control, insist they are oppressed. Progress towards future rendered nearly impossible by obsession with past. Beautiful place, everyone hates it.”

Maybe I’ll keep working on it and post at some point after all.

-Is it in gear, Comrade Citizen?-