REPORT A PROBLEM
I had figured it out - and I was pretty proud of the fact. There wasn't a Santa Claus. There couldn't be. There was no way one guy could deliver to every house in the state, let alone the rest of the world. That was the point I argued with my mom.
My little sister still believed though and I got to be part of the Santa Claus ruse that year. Christmas eve I was in the garage with my dad helping assemble her red wagon when he broke a bolt and hurled a wrench. Definitely not the North Pole.
There was a loud crash on the roof and I jumped from my chair. What the hell was that? The dog came running from the back of the house in a blur of barking. Before I could quiet him there was another thrashing noise from the roof. This time it sounded distinctly like hands and feet thumping around up there. The dog was immune to my yelling and apparently so was whoever was on the roof. I prepared myself by grabbing the bat from beside the front door then slowly turned the door knob. Menacing eyes glowed from the porch.
For a long time it was just simpler to hate himself. Turning down high profile non-profit jobs and graduate school offers was easy in that context. And then hating him became simpler for us as well. By the time he was in his thirties and serious about his career his dislike for himself had rubbed off on others to such an extent that he was blacklisted within the profession. It was then that he began playing with the idea that would become an obsession.
Everyone will pay
was his mantra and he seemed oblivious to his roll in the situation.
There is a surf break about 25 miles south of La Serena on Chile's central coast called Totoralillo. It's off the beaten path enough that buses don't go there, but you can get the conductor to drop you at the freeway off ramp and then it's an hour walk down to the beach. Once there I found the waves fun and a distinct lack of crowd, but when it came time to leave an unforeseen situation arose. Although my bus driver had been kind enough to let me off at the overpass, apparently stopping to pick someone up was forbidden.
One evening when I was about seven my father yelled for Jill and me to come into the bathroom. We knew something was wrong, that we were in trouble somehow, if only because he was calling for us. Evenings were normally his time to sit alone and watch TV and drink. He had my toothbrush in his hand. He pushed it in front of our faces. ďThis isnít clean. Do I have to explain how to rinse out your goddam toothbrush?Ē
It wasnít until years later that I learned he himself first used a toothbrush at the age of eighteen.
As I went from bar to bar in the Bella Vista district of Santiago I was surprised at the dearth of patrons. The day was strikingly beautiful with a blazing sun and steady comforting breeze. Iíd walked through Bella during the daylight hours plenty of times before and knew that sunshine certainly didn't keep anyone from drinking away the afternoon. Something wasnít jibing - it felt like thereíd been an assassination or something. There was an uncomfortable quiet.
Turns out that the local soccer club was playing for the championship and the match was still tied in the final minutes.
There's a loud pounding on the front door and the dog begins barking. I yell at him to be quiet - I'm expecting a delivery from FedEx. I go to the door and I'm immediately sorry I admonished Fidel. It's a man in a brown suit and he's got Jesus in his eyes. In the back by the duplex I can see his partner, also suited in brown, striding from storage door to garage door to laundry room door. He knocks on each while clutching The Pamphlet in his free hand. Itís a promising start to a new era.
The journey overland to Buenos Aires started from a small town in southern Chile. It began with a boat across the lake, then a bus, then another bus and finally a train through Argentina. I had some time to kill so I spent a few days hanging out in Necochea and its ritzy neighbor Mar de Plata. I was taken with the refillable seltzer bottles of sparkling water that were served with the local white wine. I channeled Larry, Moe and Curly as I artfully shot water into my wine. The distance from spout to glass increased with each bottle.
It took me a while to notice the engraving on the outer ring of the Chilean 100 peso coin. The lettering is extremely fine; I would call it exquisite except for its message: "Por la razon o la fuerza" - "by reason or by force.Ē Thirty thousand of the countryís citizens disappeared by force. A gaping wound in the society that is not really healing in spite of recognition of the crimes committed. It would be hard to argue that there is true remorse. Two years ago only a slim majority - fifty-seven percent - reported preferring the current democracy to Pinochetís dictatorship.
He had two important pieces of wisdom to hand down in relation to drinking and driving. The first was that you should carry a bag of peanuts in the glove compartment; you could eat these as you were being pulled over and the peanuts would cover the smell of alcohol. The second had to do with strategy during the conversation with the police officer. When asked you should tell the cops you've had "three or four" beers since this was much more believable than "one or two." Inane as the suggestions were, this was one of our more meaningful interactions.
Pia seemed just normal weird when I took the seat next to her on the bus to Castro. She was wearing crumbs from her belly to her knees and appeared to have an entire plastic shopping bag-full of snacks still left to eat. I have a thing about people eating next to me on buses and trains. Itís not that I mind it in principle; itís just that it seems like my travelling neighbors are always sloppy eaters - and their snack choices lend themselves to explosions. You know, crackers, chips, flakey pastries. Itís one of the hazards of travelling alone.
If there is one thing about travelling in Chile that I can point to as a universal curiosity, itís the shine on the hotel floors. Itís like a national obsession. The floors of the Hotel Chile Espana are exemplary; they gleam from the front door to the farthest corner of your room. And no wonder - every day without fail Carlos takes to the floor with a power buffer. The orbiting disc on the thing is big - maybe three feet across. Youíd take off your shoes to walk - not for the prints, but to get some bare-foot traction on slickness.
My record of human contact; 13 February 2009.
Talked on phone to RB for 2.5 minutes about surf and his business.
Talked on phone to Mica for 3.5 minutes about dog food, picking up dog and lunch at Tapenade.
Talked to Vance in the beach parking lot for approximately 4 minutes. Conversation centered on the poor surf conditions and the benefits of surfing no matter what.
Talked - no, listened - to Tree for approximately 45 seconds. Topic: His recent trip to Virginia.
Spoke approximately ten words to bartender at Hexagone while dropping off resume. Shook hands.
Denise and I were relieved to be getting out of Honduras - even if the next stop was Nicaragua and Reaganís ongoing Contra war. Tegucigalpa had been horrific; armless children begged at the corners while desperate men threatened us along the unlighted sidewalks. The night of our arrival we eventually abandoned the sidewalks and instead took our chances with vehicular traffic and walked down the center of the cityís streets in search of an open hotel. It was hard to believe that the administration was selling this as their Central American success story - Iíve felt safer buying dope in the Tenderloin.
I wasnít new to crossing borders between unfriendly nations. These were Cold War days and I had travelled to Leningrad, Budapest, Dubrovnik. Hell, the frontier between Mexico and Guatemala was no picnic now that the Guatemalan army was hunting down the regionís indigenous people. But this stretch of no manís land between Honduras and Nicaragua felt different. I was definitely taking a closer look than usual as it seemed we were being forced to spend the night here. Having been declared persona non grata with my name on the same list as Noam Chomsky didnít seem so fucking cool now.
We couldnít go back to Honduras and the Nicaraguan border could stay closed for days; there was nowhere to go. Having been declared persona non grata and watching our names added to a list that included Noam Chomsky suddenly didnít seem so cool. I had never given much thought to these buffer zones between countries - a kind of no manís land. Even though there was a road here and even some traffic on a normal day, we werenít really anywhere. Not officially anyway. No one lived here. Even the owner of the
walked back into Honduras when night fell.
Waking up was like enduring a sharp stick in the eye. This stick came from countless shafts of light streaming through cracks in the walls, holes in the roof and even the gap under the door. I could see a little pile of dust that had started to accumulate just inside the door. It presently looked like a miniature sand dune with the top particles being blown around by a gust from outside. I pulled myself up and eased the door open just far enough to get a look at the border crossing. I think I saw a car move.
It was really about the root beer. That's what my bratty little sister was actually mad about. She told everyone it was because I pulled her friend's hair, which I did do, but the root beer was the thing. See, we got to share a drink when we went to the burger place, and she only liked Coke so thatís what we always got. I hated Coke. Pepsi was ok, RC even better, but I wasnít a big cola fan. So this time, when I got to be the one who placed the order, I asked for a root beer.
This daily writing shit is killing me. So happy at day fifteen; now scrambling. Somewhere in there a trip to the hospital for a shot in the spine. Amazingly it works, but the story is really about grabbing the syringes. One turned out to be not a spike at all but some weird piece with a plastic duck-billed platypus thing on the end. The others will work so now Iím searching for old friends. Itís been years at this point. One dead, many reformed or moved on. Most now afraid of me. No me importa -- a healthy vein cries out.
ďDo it just 'cause it's easy,Ē is what we all used to say before the bulldozers came. ďDo it just Ďcause we can,Ē is what we said when the bulldozer was left with a key hidden behind the steering column. ďDo it Do it Do it,Ē is what the Mikes screamed as I lifted the heavy steel scoop above the storage shed -- the one with the telephone wires running down the white plastic pipe and on through the corrugated roof. Just two minutes later I was focusing all my will on looking calm as the crushed timbers exploded into flames.
I have journals in various parts of the house. I have scribed in all of them -- some are even full -- each serving its own purpose. The thought was that I would go back to them for writing and photography ideas. At least two journals are more the insightful kind; the ones I should be going back over to make sense out of my life. Thereís one that chronicles the dream time that was the relationship with Allie (and the nightmare preceeding it). Thereís one from the trip to Chile; filled with ideas and images that I have yet to revisit.
My day didnít start well. I had spent the night at Marlaís. I woke up fairly early for a Saturday thinking of a morning surf. As I opened the front door on my way out to grab the newspaper I heard Marla say, ďDonít let the cat out.Ē The thing was already passed me and into the front yard before I could react. I donít like cats and now I was required to chase this one down. Theyíre not the most obedient creatures to start with, but cats instinctively ratchet up their indifference to humans in the face of non-catpeople.
disgust me on a moment to moment basis. Maybe
came to believe, but
did not just walk down the stairs to the idling Rover to beg or steal an eight-ball for the night. No, that was me alone. And he wasnít really a stranger this motel clerk I tried my best to frighten into submission. I was surprised by his fear; surprised and then forced to really adorn the role Ė to look as needy as I was but without the need and with all the want. And the bastard had it right there.
"At age nineteen he's a veteran of four years of war," itís a reference to Reaganís war on the people of Nicaragua, but it fits today. Actually itís been six years. Any North American nineteen year old has now lived a third of per life in a time of war. An illegal war, but a war nonetheless with all the requisite misery. Hate speech, collapse of the constitution, government propaganda repackaged as news, childhood friends maimed or dead in a far off land. This is life for the generation about to enter adult society. This is our hope. Thanks Exxon.
I think theyíre called morning doves. Actually, I have no clue as to their nomenclature, but thereís a species of bird that usually starts singing around four a.m. Ė or a couple hours before sunrise anyway Ė and I have horribly vivid memories of their rapid-fire chirps followed by long, lolling whistles. Horrible because Iím mostly familiar with their songs from endless nights of pretending to sleep while cocaine rambled around inside my brain. That wasnít always the case; I can still remember my high school girlfriend loving sex that time of night. Cindy Howe Ė cheerleader, sorority girl and all-around cool chick.
There was a semi truck with Panama plates parked on the dusty shoulder of the highway. It looked out of place among the road-weary pickups and aging Japanese sedans. The white paint of the trailer looked almost new and the dark red cab wore only a trace of road grime. The vehicle felt like an advertisement for the very North American life in Panama, a country with strong enough identification with the US that the official currency was the dollar. Its driver, a short stocky man with jet black hair was dressed the part; blue jeans and a white t-shirt.
It seems like heís just casting about for things to be angry about, but not too angry. I tried agreeing with his anti-Texan stance by voicing an actual belief I hold as to how to deal with the Texas problem. Itís just a rough outline, but I figure we could officially tolerate the stateís continued existence while covertly funding and supporting the lively Texan secessionist movement. When they finally attempted to secede we invade using a scorched earth policy (exceptions for places like Austin and San Antonio, but definitely not Crawford or Houston) and he said that went too far.
Manhattan Beach. A nightmare really; appears that the worst of us have acquired gap-wear and now stumble the streets in full modulation. I am pleased that they are mostly talking to other humans and not to themselves while a blue light flashes in their ears, but the last conversation I heard featured the verse ďĎcause I was drunk." A light as harsh as Countyís at four a.m. (they never let you sleep in there) is included with my stay here. Across the street an orange high pressure sodium flickers with every passing car. Iím suddenly glad for not bringing syringes.
The Tip Jar