Thu
Jul 31 6:03 pm

A Gay Man’s View

I’ve been sitting with Garry on his and Dutch’s seventh floor balcony looking out on the Rockies.  (Seriously, what is it with gay men and fantastic views?)  Dutch sporadically joined us as he flitted out and in, straightening, cleaning, complaining about Garry’s slovenly ways.  I ask Garry if he wanted to come with me back to the USA.  He and Dutch had been in Boulder closing on their new place when the borders sealed.  Now they’re stuck here, just them and Candy, their little yappy dog.  “I’ve got clients on hold,” Garry said, “so it’s not out of the question.”  Dutch stood off to the side listening, waiting for Garry to make the call.

“I can fold down the back seat,” I said.  It wouldn’t be comfortable, but it would get them there.  Garry looked to Dutch, who smiled like he could go either way, stay or go.

Garry said, “But if we got caught, it would get ugly, two gay men attempting to cross into the USA during wartime – strike one and strike two.”

“They don’t have to know you’re gay.  It’s not like you have Homo tattooed across your forehead,” I said.

Garry looked at Dutch, “Well, one of us doesn’t.”  Dutch gave him a playful sneer and walked back into the condo.  “No,” Garry concluded with a shake of his head, “we can’t.  We’re here to help people, and we don’t need a paper trail shadowing us from the start.  We’ll wait it out.  Plus, we’re not done furnishing this place, so we’ve got things to do.  Remind me to get you the Iowa key before you head in for the night.”

“And give him that yappy dog while you’re at it!” Dutch yelled.  Yeah, that’s not happening.


Wed
Jul 30 9:09 pm

Ham Sandwiches

Holy.  Shit.

My hyperactive imagination breeds a lot of useless concerns: simple pangs are cancer, mindless glances imply something far more sinister.  But sometimes you know what you feel isn’t paranoia and that somebody actually is out to get you.  That’s when you take the risk of looking like a fool by saying – or in this case blogging – what you believe is true.  On Tuesday, that gamble saved my ass.

The cop behind me was a Yuma County sheriff’s deputy.  His name was Lars Nordhues.  Nordhues was tall, muscular like a farm boy, and all-business.  And when he stepped to my door, I knew the drama-free section of my trip was behind me.

Nordhues asked me who owned the pickup. I knew he already knew – he had been on his mic when he pulled me over, had run the plates – but I answered obediently, “My mother.”  He asked for my drivers license and why I was in Yuma County.  In my head, I was practicing my answers, doing my best to come up with a decent lie, but I had nothing, “Checking out the scenery before I head to Boulder.”  My eyes perused the flat farmland on the other side of my windshield.  I was taking a 300 mile detour to gaze at farmland?  That was the best I could come up with?  He returned to his patrol car and ran my DL.  I knew what he was seeing on his screen.  Thanks, Ernie.

Nordhues returned with my license and told me to follow him to the sheriff’s office in Wray.  There, another deputy joined him.

“So why don’t you tell us what’s really goin’ on?  Be straight with me this time.  Checking out our border security so you can report it on your blog?  You’re quite the author, right?”  I said I had no interest in reporting militia movements along the border.  (And who would care, anyway, angry Nebraskans looking for an edge in the CU game?)  I repeated that I wasn’t doing anything but driving around.  He didn’t buy it, “On a north-south highway over farmland?  We’re flattered, but that doesn’t make sense.”  I told them I wanted a lawyer.  “Eventually,” he said, and I was reminded that the ISA dropped Miranda and instituted a holding period before an attorney had to be provided.  The deputy walked to the door, “Get comfortable.  You’re gonna be here a while.  You had dinner?”  I said no.  He and the other guy left the room.  Half an hour later, a young woman brought me a ham sandwich and a cup of water.

The room where I waited reminded me of the tiny lab at my doctor’s office where they draw blood.  The walls were light gray-blue, a couple shades lighter than battleships are painted.  It was furnished with two chairs plus a table where the interrogator could take notes.  No windows.

At 9:00, three hours after I arrived, Nordhues returned.  He asked how I got into Colorado.  I lied, told him that I’d gotten here like anybody else, on the the blacktops.  “Which route did you take?” he asked like he had something up his sleeve, and I knew I was fucked.  “We checked your phone’s GPS.  You didn’t really come here on a highway, did you?” He waited for a reply, but I didn’t oblige. “Why were you sneaking into our state over private property?”  I reiterated that I wanted an attorney.  “Not yet.”  He left the room.  An hour later, I was led to a cell.

As they were closing the steel-barred door before me, I asked why I was being held.  Nordhues said, “We’re still determining that.  We’ve got seven days.”  I told him I wanted a phone call.  He again said, “Eventually.”  He disappeared down the corridor.  I heard the heavy door at the end of the hall close and latch behind him, and it occurred to me that they hadn’t taken my fingerprints.  They hadn’t booked me.  Nobody knew I was there; there was no record.  Panic set in.

The cell was so small that it bordered on comforting, like nothing could harm me there.  As ironic as it sounds, that calmed me, and slowly eased the panic away.  But its intimate size was the room’s only asset.

The twelve cell unit smelled like disinfectant, sweat, and semen.  My narrow mattress lacked cushion; you could feel the platform beneath it, a surface that felt harder than the rocky ground in Rochelle.  And the room was loud, constantly loud, filled with the sounds of cells opening and closing, the verbal demands by the deputies of inmates, the inmates (some drunk, some high, some loudmouth assholes seeking attention, some crazy) talking to each other or their invisible cellmates.  The cacophony that echoed off the cinderblock walls of the closet-sized room reminded me of the chiming/screaming/rumbling/engines roaring of a carnival where there’s no silence even during silence.  In all, it was impossible to find physical comfort or peace.  More than the locked doors, it was that lack of ease that was hell.  Exhaustion was the only catalyst for sleep.

At 6:00 AM, a guard passed a ham sandwich and a glass of water through the bars.  The sandwich had American cheese on it.  At 9:00, they led me out of the cell back to the small gray room.  A man in a suit greeted me.  He acted friendly, like he was glad to see me.  He introduced himself as Detective Mark Tillotson.  We both sat.  He opened a file.  He was warm but businesslike, “So tell me why you snuck from Texas into New Mexico and then into Colorado with a Glock 19 at your side.”  He continued smiling.  It was a quiet smile and remarkably sincere, considering.  I couldn’t see through it, couldn’t read him.  “I’m sure you’ve heard that non-citizens are limited in their travel.”

“I’m trying to get home,” I said.

“Where’s home?”

“Michigan.”

“You sound Texan to me.”

“I moved from Texas this month.”

“And the closed borders presented you with a problem?”

“Yeah.”  And that was all there was to it.  I’m a man trying to get home.  No crime here.

“But you know we’re at war.”

“Yes.”

“And we’ve established that you’re aware our state borders are sealed to non-residents.”

“Yes.”

“So you’ve been willingly breaking our laws?”

“I want a lawyer.”

“Of course, but that takes a little longer here.  It allows us to get to the truth before attorneys start mucking things up.  From what I read, you’re not a fan of the ISA.”  He waited.

“I love the people, but I don’t love the laws.”

“Would you like to see someone bring the ISA down, drag it back into the USA’s fold or maybe even into Mexico’s fold?”  Before I could answer, “You have a Mexican wife, yes?”

“Canadian.”

“But of Mexican descent, correct?  A lot of relatives are still down there, I assume?”  I said nothing.  He repeated, “Would you like to see someone bring down the ISA?”

“That’s not in my wheelhouse.  I build websites, not revolutions.”

“But if you could start a revolution, would you?”  I could tell he knew the answer to his question, that I missed my old country, but that’s not the kind of thing you blurt out.

“I’m a website designer.  I’m not starting a revolution.  I blog.  That’s it.”  Tillotson stood, nodded, then stepped out the door.  A guard led me to my cell.

12:00 noon.  Another ham sandwich, water, a banana.  I remained in the cell until 2:00, when I was escorted to a larger room.  In front of me, Brother Carl.  He smiled a gentle Baptist smile, “You ready to get out of this place?”  I’m free?  “It’s been worked out.”  He handed me my keys and my phone.  “They’ve kept the Glock,” he said, “and your tablet.  They said you can get the tablet back if you file paperwork.”  The seventh piece of electronics I’ve gifted to the ISA.

“They’re financing this fucking war with the money they’re getting for my stuff on eBay.”  I realized what I’d said and apologized for the language.  He said it was all right, that he’d been reading my blog.  That was, in fact, the reason he was there.  He read that I was in trouble, and correctly guessed that I would need help.  Thank God for Brother Carl.

He and I went for lunch.  He said grace, asked the Lord to bless the food to the nourishment of our bodies and for the Lord to keep me safe on my journey.  After the meal, he had me follow him to his truck.  At his driver’s door, he passed me a small paper bag, “It’s not a Glock, but you shouldn’t be defenseless.  Do you know where you’re headed?”  I told him that I was going where we’d planned, but not until Friday.  “Good.  I’ll let her know.  Where are you going from here?”  I said that I’d checked with some friends who had a place in Boulder.  It was three hours west, but I needed the break to recharge, and so I had texted them from the car.  He nodded his approval and shook my hand.  As I watched him step up into his pickup, I thought I may have loved that man more than any other person on the planet less for my wife, and he was even giving Sam a run for the money.

I have since made it to Boulder safely.  Garry and Dutch are in the other room.  It’s early, but I need some sleep.  Goodnight.


Tue
Jul 29 5:02 pm

No Title

I don’t normally dictate into my phone but this feels like an emergency a cops been on my ass for over a mile and something about this feels wrong I’m on 385 just past Burlington and he’s turned on his overheads


Tue
Jul 29 12:12 pm

Up Past Tucumari

I arrived at my northern New Mexico destination at 9:30 AM.  The trip had been slow but drama-free.  My host, Jim Tillis, was waiting for me on his porch with a big smile and a bigger handshake.  He welcomed me to his place and poured me an iced sweet tea.  He said he was “sure glad” to meet me.

Jim is in his early-forties with a big lumbering gate and a friendly smile.  You instantly like the guy, and know he’s the one you could call if you landed your truck in a ditch, that he’d be there with a winch in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Jim’s dad left him a thousand acres.  It didn’t look like he was doing much with it, and he confirmed that.  He said he was letting it rest for a couple years, that he was thinking about selling the place and moving to Pueblo, if his sister signed off on it.  (He said his dad left her in charge of his trust because she “has a better head for money.”  Jim is sweet, but his simple demeanor underlines the logic of his father’s decision.)

Over peanut butter sandwiches and a banana, Jim and I talked a lot about TV, a little about movies.  He said he doesn’t read much, but that his dad had been a big reader, “He liked cowboy stories.”  He said that he’d been roaming around the perimeter of the ranch since Tom called him, and that he hadn’t seen any militia, “I think most of us are okay with you all.  Heck, we used to be family!  Maybe we can be again.  I bet you’ll be okay.”  He added that it was a shame so many people started hating each other, and that his dad thought America had just gotten too big for its britches and that this was God bringing it down a notch, “He said we’re all just people, whether we’re white or Arab or Oriental.”  Jim then asked where I was from.  I told him, and he inquired if I’d ever met “an Oriental lady” before.  I told him yes, and he asked if they were as pretty as they looked on the internet.  I said I guessed so.  He said that he’d like to meet one, and thought he was probably going to do that online, “But my sister doesn’t want me meeting a woman that way.  She thinks the ones there are up to no good.”

I asked Jim if he would show me how to connect to highway 160, an east-west corridor that crosses southern Colorado and touches the northern border of his land.  He patted me on the back and started pointing and spouting directions.  I’ve since made my way through his pasture, and 160 sits a half mile ahead.  I don’t see anything that smells of militia. I think I’m on to Nebraska.


Tue
Jul 29 3:45 am

North Northwest

Nancy and Tom woke to see me off and feed me.  After a brief meal of eggs and toast, she packed me a couple pimento cheese sandwiches and a small bag of chips. (It’s clear she’s a mom.)  Now I’m in the truck, the paper bag with the sandwiches is in the passenger seat, and Carl’s Glock is firmly parked between my seat and the tunnel.  The gun’s safety is off.

With the weapon at my side and a plan laid out, I feel like I’m supposed to be cool, like Bourne or Bond cool, but I’m not.  I’m a website developer in the old pickup he drove in college who misses his wife and feels guilty as hell for leaving his 82-year-old mom behind.  But all of that’s irrelevant now.  Bond or not, terrible son or not, it’s time to go.


Mon
Jul 28 5:32 pm

The Safe Road

Tom spent four hours showing me the ranch.  I now know the direct route to NM and a couple of alternatives, depending on where the militia is when I approach the road.  As a bonus, he introduced me to three of that group.  They were hanging out at a small intersection that buttresses the northwest side of his ranch.  Young guys he knows from Baptist youth circles that his son was in, he vouched (read that: lied) for me, told them I was his new man.  I think I could have passed through their checkpoint unquestioned if I’d had my truck.

The plan is for me to leave early this morning.  Tom suggests between 4:00 and 5:00, since the boys said they switch out shifts at 8:00.  They’ll be bored, he said, maybe even asleep, yet it would still be dark long enough to give me a few different routes if they aren’t, “But I doubt you need a second one.  They’ve got nothing to do.  You ever tried to wake a nineteen-year-old at 4:00AM?  It’s easier waking the dead.”

Nancy is making dinner.  After, I’m heading in to bed.


Mon
Jul 28 2:47 pm

Tom Maddox

I rolled onto the Rocking M at 4:31 this morning, stepped into the sprawling brick home with the low roof at 4:39.  Tom had coffee brewing in the pot.

Tom Maddox was a college classmate of Brother Carl.  After school, Tom came back out west to work his family’s ranch.  He took over operations from his father ten years ago.  The elder Maddox died two years ago.  Tom said it broke his dad’s heart to see America fall apart.  He wonders if that might have even played a role in his death; it got to the old man that bad.

Tom’s 12,000 acres span the Texas-New Mexico line.  That’s why I’m here.  It gets me around the state highways and old country roads that connect the two states.  This way, I enter the Rocking M on its eastern flank, exit on its western; Texas to New Mexico through pastures that contain his 3,500 head of cattle.

After breakfast, courtesy of Nancy, Tom’s wife of twenty-five years, we discussed the rest of my route.  He said it wouldn’t be easy.

With the war in full-operation, unemployed men are signing on with the militias.  The money is low, but it’s better than nothing, and the jobs carry prestige.  In other words, the borders are growing increasingly flush with young men hungry to prove themselves.  “You’re gonna want that safety off and that gun of yours at the ready.  Got a holster for your truck?”  I told him I didn’t, and he said he’d get me one.  “Right handed?”  I told him yes, and he texted a ranch hand to set it for me.  I told him I didn’t want to shoot anyone, that that wasn’t my cut.  He said that sometimes a man’s gotta do what he doesn’t want to do.  “Kids?”  No.  “But you gotta a wife?”  Yes.  “You wanna be her husband or her late husband?”  I laughed and told him I’d like to stick around a while, and he told me then that I’d better be ready to use my weapon.  “These guys are gonna shoot you without blinking.  The Lord doesn’t look down on us for protecting ourselves and our families,” he said quietly, like he’d been there.  He then took my hand and prayed that the Lord would keep and protect me, and that he would steer me away from violence – whenever possible.  “Amen.”

Tom told me I should rest up, and then we’d drive the ranch.  I just woke from that nap, and we’re getting ready to check out the trails that lead into New Mexico.  I’m to leave tonight.


Mon
Jul 28 4:12 am

The Ranch Gate

Daddy came down the hall and quietly closed my bedroom door.  He thought I was asleep, but his car horn had woken me when he pulled into the driveway.

The music he played from the front of the house resurrected the 1950s and 1960s.  It was the old stuff: Al Jolson, Kay Starr, Louis Armstrong; from back when music was music.  He led Mother to the living room, and they began their talk.  This was when he always wanted to talk.

I heard an occasional word.  Then a hush, sometimes male, sometimes female, returned the discussion to an inaudible level, and words were replaced by Basin Street coronets.

As the clock passed two, the wide country roads cleared, except for the occasional slow-driving drunk, the brand new and seemingly misplaced E-150s and Silverados that appeared every so many miles, and me.

On the desolate highways, I took my chances with Johnny Law and pressed my pedal toward the floor, although I set my governor at eighty-five.  I know this old truck, and faster would have tempted fate.  Approaching New Mexico, I picked up an AM station out of somewhere-nowhere.  (The cassette player stopped working a decade ago.  Radio was all I had.)  Accompanied by the sound of the wind as the gritty air blew through the open windows and buffeted my unbuttoned shirt, the once new stereo played old Country, like from back when they called it Country & Western.  It was godawful yet perfect, but Daddy’s music was better.

Kiss me once and kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again
It’s been a long, long time
Haven’t felt like this, my dear
Since can’t remember when
It’s been a long, long time

Mother was a small town church girl educated at a Baptist college.  And while she wasn’t naive, she was inexperienced with the deception of alcohol.  She thought what she saw was what she got when she married my father three months after they met; she thought he only had the occasional beer.  Being a Baptist who rested her soul upon her vow, it was too late to back out when she discovered the truth.

The caliche driveway is 418.4 miles from my mother’s house.  Its simple black iron gate is closed, and so I’ve parked on the side of the road where I can watch it.  It will open in eighteen minutes.

 

 


Sun
Jul 27 9:45 pm

Brother Carl Said 418 Miles Then Turn Right

The truck is packed.  Mom has been kissed.  It’s time to hit the road.

 


Sun
Jul 27 8:08 pm

Sunday Q&A : July 27

I’m heading to the Panhandle after a late dinner.  (Thanks, Mom!  I’m expecting leftovers for my trip.)  So I need to make this Q&A fast and dirty.  The first question is from NYC:

Jack, NYC

Do you anticipate using that Glock?

No.  I’ll run away like a little girl before I fire my weapon at a living breathing human being.

Juan, Iowa City, IA

The news says the ISA has made its way to Monterrey and Chihuahua.  Is that true?

I texted a friend in McAllen.  He says it sounds like the battle is still close to the border.  That would contradict the Monterrey storyline.  I don’t know anyone who lives along the western border (re: Chihuahua).

The Chinese were equipping and training the Mexican army this past year.  (It was part of the reasoning the ISA gave for their military build-up, albeit a self-fulfilling one.)  That might explain how the Mexicans could successfully defend their border.  Not to mention, the Chinese have millions of soldiers/reservists, so the Mexicans might be getting some help.

Allen, Navasota, TX

You’ve said that you love your friends who you’re leaving behind, but then you talk smack about their country.  So do you think they’re dumb asses?

What’s that old church quote, “Love the sinner and hate the sin?”

Look, I went to a conservative university, and so most of my best friends are conservative.  Do I think they’re dumb asses?  Absolutely not.  Do I understand their philosophy?  No.  And they don’t understand mine.  Yet we’ve managed like that for decades.  I hope we can escape this transition without losing that mutual respect.  I’m not sure we can, but I hope.

As for their country, the combination of a conservative media that acts like a government surrogate and laws that limit dissenting press has given the ISA too much control over the political debate.  Without a vocal opposition, it’s being allowed nearly unlimited power to play on the political sympathies of its citizens and to steer good and smart people into making bad choices.  Does that mean the people who live here are dumb or bad?  No.  It means they’re being manipulated with bad information.  Entire nations have been subverted this way, and I think it’s happening again.


Sun
Jul 27 2:19 pm

Concerns

I spoke with Sam after lunch.  Lots of tears.  She’s afraid of the militias, that Ram’s fate will be mine.  I told her that her fears are unfounded, but that’s a husband speaking, not a saint; passions are high, a country is at war, former countrymen have abandoned the ISA.  My USA citizenship isn’t going to do me any favors.

I’m going to crash for a few hours so I can drive all night.  I’ll try to post a brief Q&A before I leave.  Send in questions about the trip, and I’ll put them first in the queue.


Sat
Jul 26 3:57 pm

Lock and Load-Up

The truck is washed, gassed up, and running on new oil.  The tires look good.  The Glock is under the seat.  (There are no laws against packing a concealed in the south.  Everything’s legal.  No license required.  Take ‘em to church or the bar, it’s all good.  They might as well have called this place the NRA not the ISA.)

I’m staying through church and Sunday dinner.  Mother’s request/expectation.  I’ll leave Sunday night.

Brother Carl suggested I head west.  It’s out of the way, but he said taking the shorter route through Oklahoma would be tougher, that they have an abnormally large militia and they’re militant.  (His buddies at the CIA told him that it’s the Oklahoma militia that is killing Hispanics, and that means Ramiro.)  He said it’s best to avoid them, and that he would avoid the east, as well.  He prefers the open ground of the Panhandle, that on that flat barren land you can see trouble before you come upon it.  “I’d cut over to New Mexico and up through Colorado.  It’s one more border, but the westerners are less aggressive than the easterners, a lot less violent,” he said.

I’m not a tough guy.  I’ve never been in a fight (much less a gun fight).  I back away from trouble.  This isn’t my comfort zone.  But I want to get home.  I have to get home.  I have a wife to protect.  I have employees to pay.  And with no sense when the borders will reopen, I’ve got to do this.


Sat
Jul 26 10:31 am

Brother Carl

Mother told me over breakfast that she wanted me to talk with Brother Carl.  I asked why.  She said we had some things in common.

I’ve heard about Brother Carl for years.  He brings Mother truckloads of vegetables from his garden, he often walks her down the aisle for the morning service, and he once arranged to have her house trim painted by church men when she mentioned that it was getting to be that time.  This would be his and my first meeting.

Brother Carl greeted us in the back of the First Baptist sanctuary.  Her deacon is mid-fifties with short-cropped hair and an extraordinarily pleasant face.  He’s soft spoken.  In his pressed slacks and light green Polo shirt, his presence screamed Christian.  Mother introduced us and then pulled her chair away so that in my immediate sphere it was only Brother Carl and me.  She sat to the side, a spectator.

Brother Carl began our conversation.  He told me how much the people at church love my mother and what a blessing she is, and then he said that she had told him that I wanted to get home.  I said yes, and preferably with her at my side.  Mother told me, “Brother Carl used to work for the government.”  The tall lean man who could have been a cop or FBI nodded; my gut tensed.  He volunteered that he’d worked for the CIA.  I asked him USA or ISA.  He said ISA.  My stomach knotted tighter.  “I’m a Democrat.  It was a bad fit,” he said.  My core relaxed, but not completely.  “It’s a heck of a time to try and get across that border,” he said.  “But you’re lucky in one respect: Most of the ISA’s assets are south.  That leaves it to the militias to seal the northern border, and they’re still green.  That’s good, they’ll make mistakes.  But it’s also dangerous, because their lack of training makes them unpredictable.  You’ll want to be prepared for that.”  I told him that it was the first time I’d felt like a prisoner in Texas.  He reminded me that they’re at war, “Borders are everything.”

Brother Carl and I spent the next hour in front of his laptop talking about physical routes home and which were my best bets.  During a break from the maps, I asked him about my blogging.  I told him that I do this, record my experiences during this unique point in history, and that the ISA seems to know what I’m writing.  I also mentioned that Tall Ernie took my hardware, so they probably know my passwords.  He said they might have all that but that they won’t use it, “The guards probably wrote a summary at the 40th parallel, and it pops up whenever they scan your visa.  They’re badgering you to try and get you to shut up – one less voice of dissent – but don’t let it get to you.  You’re not breaking the law.  Now let’s ask the Lord’s blessing for your trip.”  He reached his hand to mind, as did Mother, and we prayed.

When we finished praying, Brother Carl said, “Your mother told me you took target practice at A&M.  Handgun or long gun?”  I told him both.  “Still a good shot?”  I said I still go to the range once in a while, and he said good, then reached behind his chair.  He retrieved a Glock 19 from his backpack, “The Lord be with you.”


Fri
Jul 25 5:25 pm

Up 281

Jesse picked me up at noon and we left for Marble Falls.  We’ve traveled a lot of miles together, Jesse and me, going to meet with clients, to train them, and we’ve gotten to know each other well through our constant chatter.  But this trip was different: He drove, I looked out the window, nothing much was said.

Jesse and I aren’t enemies, but our countries are at odds, and that means something now that the ISA are dying in war while the USA looks on.  It’s like a man watching, emotionally unmoved, while his brother is killed in front of him.  Jesse’s countrymen are falling.  It’s personal.

Jeff, his brother, is Army, a grunt, which makes it more personal.  He’s one of the men the Mexicans are shooting at, one of the men the USA isn’t helping.  It shames me when I consider my last post, how it dismissed the lives of soldiers like Jeff.  And I’m reminded that every political stance, every political rant roots against someone.  And sometimes that someone is someone you know.  I remained quiet and considered that.  It was a lesson that needed to take.

As we approached the intersection where 290 intersects 281, Jesse asked about Sam.  I told him she was good, that she loved the lake.  He asked if it was pretty, and I showed him some pictures I took with my phone.  He laughed and said, “I know where I’m going during my two weeks in the USA.”  I told him it was a deal.

We passed the cutoff for Fredericksburg.  Ever had their peaches?  Put them in ice cream, and they’re best things you’ve ever tasted.  Jesse asked if I thought he was crazy for staying.  “A little,” I told him.  He laughed.

“I read the constitution, like everybody did when they were choosing sides.  I liked that the states ran things.  Washington was no good.  I figured Fort Worth wouldn’t be any different.  So I chose the ISA because everything’s local, in the states,” he said.  And I get that.  Frankly, in most situations, that’s probably the right way to go.  Meanwhile, rules are still centralized in the USA.  The changes we made to our constitution didn’t change that, but they tried to give the little guy more voice.

“Are you glad you chose the ISA?” I asked.

He said yeah, that it’s got troubles now, but that that’s just childbirth.  He said, though, that he has issues with the war.  He said Mexicans only come here to work, not to hurt anyone, and that he doesn’t like the way the government and FOX accuse them of ruining the country, “They’re poor, that’s all.”  He said, too, that he doesn’t understand how things got so out of control, “Out of nowhere, they shipped Jeff out.  I still don’t get why.”


Fri
Jul 25 11:41 am

Grounded

I arrived at the airport at ten.  Without Mom.  She refused.  Not that her protests matter; all northbound flights have been cancelled, and I’ve been told that my rental car is being withdrawn, no explanation given.

I asked when flights will resume.  A soldier acting as an information agent said that was an unknown.  He told me to give him my visa.  He saw it was from the USA and smirked, “You’re in the wrong place.”  He scanned it into the computer.  He glanced at his screen.  His eyes locked on.  He was reading something.  At first, I didn’t know what.  Then he laughed to himself, like it was an inside joke, like I was his unwitting fool, and he instructed me that I would be “smart” to limit my blogging to personal issues until I got home.  (I want to know what’s on that immigration screen.)

I’m sitting on the curb.  It’s hot as shit.  I’m waiting for Jesse.  While I wait, I’d like to respond to James J. Watson, Sergeant, ISA Army, who I’ve just had the pleasure of meeting:  Fuck you, Watson.  Fuck your military.  Fuck your backwards, hypocritical, theocratic government.  I hope the Chinese kick your ass.


Fri
Jul 25 6:59 am

Time To Go

The USA broke its treaty with the ISA.  It refuses to go to war with Mexico and China.  The rantings on FOX make it sound like the conservatives want to launch a second front, this one on the northern “traitors.”  Idiots.

I’m leaving for San Antonio in the next fifteen minutes.  I’m begging Mother to come with me.


Thu
Jul 24 9:20 pm

Memories of a Truck

After feeding me well, Mother is asleep in her chair, and I’m so full that I can barely breathe.  She knows how to take care of her child.  Still.  At 82.

I’m in the carport.  The lake is in front of me.  It’s beautiful at night, the mist of the distant lights agitated and reflected off it.  I love the water.  I’m an Aquarian, and that’s supposed to go with the territory, at least that’s what my Baptist mother says.

To my right is our old Toyota.  We’ve had it for as long as I can remember.  Although, until I turned sixteen, it was like the truck that came from the Island of Misfit Japanese Imports: never really driven, the reason for its existence oddly uncertain.  (Daddy was an Oldsmobile guy.)  It just sat there, this high-off-the-ground 4×4 that became my first car.

I kept the old truck through college, and it served me well: It never broke down, was good on gas, and its small space behind the buckets proved sufficient for date nights.  Then, like an ungrateful friend, I dumped it at twenty-five for a frisky German import.

It now sits mostly unused.  I start it up when I visit Mom.  Sometimes, I take it for a drive.  But for the most part, it’s been returned to the island.  So I’ve told my mother that if she wants some cash, there’s a buyer out there somewhere, but she refuses to sell it.  She says you never know when you’ll need to haul something.  Maybe that’s her reason, or maybe it’s because that old truck has lived alongside her through so many shared memories, if not as a participant, at least as a witness.  (And you really don’t know when you might need to haul something.)

I asked her to go with me.  I told her I want to keep her safe, but she says she can’t.  She says this is her home.  She says that she was born in Texas and that this is where she belongs this late in life.  She says she works 32 hours a week at the funeral home and that she can’t just pick up and leave.  She says she teaches Sunday school, and asks who will take that over.  “No one,” she answers.  And who will teach the monthly vespers at the assisted care facility?  Again, nobody.  And, too, Doris is here.  Mom drives Doris and Doris buys the hamburgers.  Mom has responsibilities.  She says she’s fine in Marble Falls.

Meanwhile, the Mexicans are holding their ground, and China is on its way.


Thu
Jul 24 1:26 pm

Sorry, We’re Closed

Mexican missiles reached Corpus and Kingsville on the Gulf coast, and China dispatched an aircraft carrier group and a destroyer from across the Pacific – all before noon.  (They must be early risers.)  At least Texas has Sheila and her bang bang.  Michael says she’s been practicing.

Jesse and I turned back from Houston at news of the attack.  We called our client from the interstate and let them know that we’ll train them when the conflict settles down.  Jesse’s now headed back to Austin, and I’m leaving for Marble Falls.


Thu
Jul 24 8:52 am

Red Glare

My sleep was horrible.  Restless, I woke every hour on the hour – no alarm, just alarm – and rolled to my phone and checked: War broken out?  No.  No.  No.  No.  Four No’s before I finally dropped into a deep sleep.  (I love deep sleeps, the kind you can barely be awakened from.  I imagine that total relaxation is what heaven must be like.)

It was during my second round of REM that the ISA succeeded: It drew Mexican troops across the border (or so says FOX).  That’s right, we have an honest to God war on our hands, and a lot of good kids are going to die so the ISA can score an economic stimulus without establishing a minimum wage.  And that’s how it should be.  I mean, which is more valuable, plentiful young men or unfettered capitalism?

As for my country, the USA, this is where the rubber hits the road and we’re forced to ask what we stand for.  That question’s answer is an unknown for our freshly re-calibrated nation with its progressive values still fluid.  But it’s something Washington is going to have to wrestle with fast, since it looks like the good ol’ ISA has called in its marker and wants us to send our troops to help it protect its “Homeland.”  (I hate that Nazi-esque term.)

To their request, my hope is that we will break that pointless treaty and make these assholes fight their own battle, because launching out against China’s North American surrogate would be nothing short of stupid, and is not a cause our children have been called to die for.


Wed
Jul 23 9:41 pm

Gin & Sardonic

Well, I am back from the bar and feeling kind of chatty.  And since Sam isn’t a huge fan of combining her sobriety and my lack thereof, I will chat with you fine people.

I am not sure I will make it out of this place.  Yes, alcohol talking.  No, not unreasonable.  The ISA is a very fucked up land.  It is the Tea Party’s wet dream.  This is where big money rules small political minds.  It’s where mostly good people are lied to so often and well that they believe the unbelievable.  Global warming?  No, it’s a conspiracy.  Obama is a Muslim?  Absolutely!  And so let’s break away and start our own country.  I am sleeping in that country tonight.

I loved Texas, fucking loved Texas, and then they ruined it.  I don’t even know who “they” are, but it’s their fault, because I would have never done this, shredded the greatest country in the world into two small start-ups.  But they did.  Because the guy was black?  Yeah, probably.  Would they admit that was their reason?  Hell, no!  Are they even aware of their prejudice?  No, probably not.  But why else would you believe the senator from Illinois was born somewhere other than America unless “something about him” just didn’t ring true?  Why would you believe all those lies they told in 2008 unless he was different, somehow?  And the only difference is the color of his skin, the curl of his hair, and the shape of his lips.  Everybody knows that was the trigger except the people who pulled it.  That shot was truly the shot heard around the world.  It ended an empire – a struggling one, sure, but still an empire, the greatest one that ever was.  (How ya, doin’, Great Britain and Rome?  Got any room on the couch?)

But maybe it’s okay that we’re not the world’s policeman, anymore.  Maybe we’re all better off living in countries where our beliefs are pretty much homogenous.  But I’ll miss America.  I’ll miss the melting pot.  I’ll miss the way opposing philosophies came together and made us incredible.  I’ll miss what we were and what we could have been if unreasonable men hadn’t taken the megaphone and people afraid of a changing world hadn’t listened.  I’ll miss what was an amazing country.  Until bigotry crushed it.

It’s time for bed.


Wed
Jul 23 4:35 pm

One Down

Jesse and I wrapped training with client #1.  If peace breaks out, we’ll wrap client #2 tomorrow, and then I’ll hop on a plane and fly off to Michigan – after a quick pit stop to hug dear old mom.

As for now, I need a drink.  Why, you ask?  Let me count the ways…

1) I am in a country that is cresting the apex of its slow certain slog toward war; 2) Because of this nation’s persistent antagonistic overtures, its enemy has a defense treaty with China; 3) The ISA’s president wouldn’t know a smart decision if it bit him on the ass; 4) Unlike me, my mother and most of my closest friends have no way to escape the impending war; 5) I am here, and my name is in their military database.

See ya at the bar.


Wed
Jul 23 7:01 am

Good News & Bad News

Good News:
Apart from minor skirmishes, war did not break out overnight.

Bad News:
The good news is temporary.


Wed
Jul 23 12:03 am

It Didn’t Take a Prophet

FOX is reporting that Mexican troops fired on ISA forces camped along the Rio Grande near Del Rio and that the ISA launched a “disciplined and brief” retaliatory strike.  (CNN says it can’t confirm the Mexican aggression.)

We are, ladies and gentlemen, watching the mad screaming foreplay that precedes a war.  Welcome to the show.


Tue
Jul 22 9:55 pm

Sam Lands

The plane landed in Kalamazoo.  Sam said everything is fine there, but that there was a lot of talk during the flight about war.  She asked me about it, if I thought that was why the soldiers were at the airport.  I told her yeah, probably, but that there was nothing to worry about.  I think that was the truth, since I plan to be out of here before hell breaks loose.


Tue
Jul 22 6:29 pm

SA International

Sam and Alison are on a plane bound for Kalamazoo.  I would have been sitting next to them except for my clients.

I’m tapping mindlessly at the edges of my keyboard.  It’s either nerves or that I’m not quite sure what to say.  Maybe both.  Here we go:

Security

The airport was littered with military.  They were everywhere.  It was like the fucking president was flying in.  It was that kind of tight.  And their eyes were on everybody, especially Hispanics, like Sam.

Security all but stripped my wife naked.  (She looked at me like she was scared, something I never see in that woman; she holds her shit tight.)  From behind the chains, I silently told her that it was going to be okay.  She smiled, but not like she believed it.  The guards noticed the connection and glared at me like I was interfering with their work.  When they were done with her, she disappeared into the terminal.  Her tiny soft hand waved as she passed behind the wall.

I waited and watched until her plane left the ground.  I always do that, always stay to make sure.  Tradition.  I’ve done it since her first visit fifteen years ago.  But tonight was different.  Tonight it felt like I had to be there, like she needed protection.  I’m not going to relax until she calls from Kalamazoo.

Cancelled Flights

By the time I left the airport, half the flights on the Departures board had been cancelled.  They were ticking off like clockwork.  The place was a madhouse.

Michigan

I texted Sam after she boarded.  I want her going straight home from the airport.  I texted Jason, too.  I asked him to keep an eye on the house.  Sam’s over a thousand miles from the border, but I don’t care.  She’s my wife and I’m not there.  And when hell starts coming down, you’ve gotta make sure your bases are covered.

Tomorrow

I’ve called Jesse and verified.  We’re still on for our client tomorrow in Austin.  Business as usual.  If the lid doesn’t blow (read that: if the ISA doesn’t invade Mexico), we’ll knock out the Thursday meeting in Houston, too, then I’m forever done with the Independent States of America.


Tue
Jul 22 2:15 pm

Hole in the Ground

I hate funerals.  I hate the feeling of solitude within a crowd.  I hate the duty I feel to feel even sadder than I am.  I hate how the minister reads words that are supposed to comfort but instead bore.  I hate standing within the mourners while people off to the side laugh as if they’re above our responsibility to grieve – or maybe I’m envious of their nonchalant disregard of the moment.  Most of all, I hate that I couldn’t share a beer with Ramiro as I endured this day in his honor.

At the cemetery, his brothers flanked their mother as she looked down at her son’s casket.  She’s sobbing as the minister says “Amen.”  She’s sobbing that she doesn’t want to leave her boy.  The brothers fight to hold her back as she drags them toward the grave.  The minister could have left his printed list of relatives stashed inside his Bible, because through her grief, Ramiro’s mother said all that needed to be said:

A woman buried her baby today.  He might have been thirty-five.  He might have weighed more than two of her.  He might have drunk like a fish and made love like a war criminal, but he was the infant she held and nursed and then taught his ABCs.  No minister can comfort that.  No minister can lend more profundity than that.  99.99% of the planet might not give a damn that Ramiro Garza is dead.  But one person does.  And she feels enough pain for all of them.


Mon
Jul 21 12:53 pm

My Fan Base

We’ve landed in San Antonio, are at the hotel preparing to leave for the funeral home.  But first, about our arrival:

Passing through customs, I was greeted by a fat dude who scanned my passport and checked his screen.  These were his words, verbatim, “How’s your blog?  I hope you like us better this visit.”  They know who I am?  Sam said they looked at her strangely, too, like she was a suspect.

I assume Tall Ernie or Freckles filed some type of report.  But why?  I’m a nobody web developer.  This is seriously fucked up.


Mon
Jul 21 6:12 am

Waiting at AZO

We’re checked-in at AZO waiting for the boarding call.  We fly to San Antonio in 55 minutes.

Sam and Alison are coming back to Michigan Tuesday night.  I’m staying in Texas into the weekend, as Jesse and I wrap my final two southern contracts and I take care of the grunt work required of USA citizens closing their ISA businesses.  I’ll drive to Mother’s Thursday night.  I fly home Saturday.

I’m not sure what to say about this next 24 hours except that it’s gonna blow.  A great guy and a good friend was knifed in an Oklahoma parking lot.  We look at his dead body tonight.  We throw dirt on his corpse tomorrow.  Then we walk away.

The police say they don’t have any leads in Ramiro’s murder, but that it looks like a botched robbery.  Two carloads of Mexicans, either foreign nationals or ISA citizens, depending on which news source you believe, were gunned down within twenty miles of the WalMart where Ram was knifed.  And then there’s the racist epitaph carved into his forehead that I won’t repeat here.  The cops think a bored thief stuck around to practice his calligraphy?

No, the people who killed Ram were lowlifes searching for Latinos to murder.  And in a country where citizens are so frequently and effectively manipulated by its conservative media, one wonders how much more pervasive is that prejudice, how many good people who would never physically harm anyone have been ushered into that same bigotry (like they believed Obama was a Muslim, wasn’t an American, was a Socialist)?

Textbook brainwashing: 1) Convince your hostage that outsiders can’t be trusted. 2) Convince them only you can be trusted. 3) Convince them that you have unique insights. 4) Fill them with lies. 5) Repeat.

The media tells the country its problems aren’t due to slave wages, are not from the lack of an effective safety net, were not caused by a taxation rate that gives the wealthy a relative free ride and crushes the middle class.  No, the cause of their woe are the people who cut their lawns and babysit their children.  It’s eerily reminiscent of 1939.

That’s why Sam and I left.  For no matter how much they talk about Jesus and patriotism and the sanctity of human life, the leaders of the ISA are narcissists with a survival of the fittest agenda and a propaganda machine that rivals the Third Reich.  And as far as we were concerned, it was better to flee to London and lose our life than stay in Berlin and lose our soul.

We land in the ISA in 4.25 hours.


Sun
Jul 20 12:19 pm

Fewer Than None

Ram’s mother emailed me.  He’ll be buried Tuesday in San Antonio.  Visitation will be from three to seven on Monday.

Alison is inconsolable.  Sam is quiet, in her room reading.  I don’t know how I am.  The three of us will fly out tomorrow morning.

Loss isolates.  It’s something you have to process.  Mortality is a difficult equation.

On the other side of this screened porch, people are skiing and laughing on the lake.  The sounds carry across the water.  I can hear Jason and his dad working on his boat at his father’s dock.  The neighbors on the other side – I think their name is Fox – are discussing their kid’s birthday present.  It’s unsettling how life continues unencumbered when one of us falls.

Ram was one person out of seven billion.  I did the rough math: If 100 people are impacted by his death, 0.0000014 percent of the population cares that he’s dead.  Fewer will truly miss him, maybe twenty.  0.00000028%.  And if he’s lucky, ten will cry a year from now on the anniversary of this death.  0.00000014%.  150,000 people will die today.  How many did you know?  Do you care that they’re dead?  Like a grain of sand being carried into the ocean, Ramiro’s existence was for all practical purposes unnoticed.  To 99.9999986% of the population, he never existed, never took a breath, was never loved, dead long before this.  Less than dead.

For those of us who know someone who died today, we will go eat tonight, tell some stories about our friend, and that will lead to conversations about other things.  Then, in a week or two, we will be focused on the road ahead not the body that lays in our tracks.  And soon, very soon, that gash from today will heal, and life will be like it was, almost like it was.

I feel guilty that I won’t feel this pain next month nor maybe in two weeks.  Possibly not even on Friday.


Sun
Jul 20 10:00 am

Sunday Q&A : July 20

With Ramiro’s death, I’m not in the right head space for this.  Questions next week.  Take care.


Sat
Jul 19 5:33 pm

Gone

I received a phone call.  Ramiro is dead.


Sat
Jul 19 8:15 am

Oh, Ramiro…?

I’m assuming Two-Hundred Pounds of Fun is drunk and/or getting laid or buried deep within a dark Indian casino somewhere.  But old boy needs to answer his phone, and now.


Fri
Jul 18 4:07 pm

News from the ISA

Sam and Alison are in the lake bitching about how cold the water is.  It’s 63 degrees outside, they didn’t think the water would be cold?

With the weight of the new hire off my back and the house coming together, I’ve spent a couple hours pouring over blogs that aggregate ISA underground media.

I never really saw myself as the type who would go searching for alternative news, but with Mom and my friends still south, FOX in the ISA’s back pocket, and CNN disallowed from veering too far from the party line without risking its license, it’s like the only “truth” you can get, anymore, comes from sites like these (and the deep web, when I’m feeling adventurous).  It’s not like the ISA’s China, but neither is it the USA.  Actually, their ethic reminds me a little of the lockstep culture of A&M.  (That settled atmosphere was one of the things I loved about the school.)  But when you take that to a national scale, it strikes me that authoritarianism is a single “lockstep” away.  Anyway, three stories stood out today from the aggregators:

The build-up along the Mexican border.  Everything I read said the build-up has slowed, but that the border is so saturated with weapons that no more are needed.  Texas could strike tomorrow, if it wants to, yet I’m getting extremely nervous about the alternative.  I think everybody up here is.  That defense treaty binds us to the ISA like a bad lover, and it could land us in the middle of that fiasco if Mexico gets nervous and pulls the trigger first or the ISA successfully pulls a Gulf of Tonkin.  Either of those scenarios, and the USA is in the ISA’s mess.  (The way it’s looking, the best we can hope for is that the ISA strikes first so we’re off the hook.)

More Mexicans killed.  I would have passed over this post a couple weeks ago.  A blog called Flatlands Anarchy reported that another group of Mexicans was killed near Tulsa.  The locals said the dead were ISA citizens.  FOX, meanwhile, claims they were illegals.  The picture on the blog showed a bullet hole-ridden car eerily reminiscent of the Chevy that Sam and I saw.  One photo showed a small Mexican flag decal on this old Impala’s back window.  And ISA plates.

Abortion.  Arizona closed the ISA’s last abortion clinic yesterday.  I’m a dude and married, so abortion will probably never play into my existence.  But there’s something creepy about a government comprised primarily of men telling women they have to remain pregnant for nine months.  I can see begging a woman to carry it if it was mine, but a government telling her she has to makes me uneasy.

Enough regurgitating.  I have to mow the lawn.  (Unlike in parched Austin, we actually have a lawn here – and it’s green!  How effing cool is that?)


Fri
Jul 18 11:45 am

Tallah

It took seven interviews, but I found my coder: mid-twenties, small (looks like a seventh grader) and smart.  This chick is a rock star: a computer science grad from Notre Dame with a concentration in media computing, she graduated with a 4.0 and a skill set that dovetails with our goal of increasing our delivery of online video.  And with deep family connections in the region’s business community, she’s a coder with benefits.  Her name is Tallah.

With our programmer on-board, it’s amped up my realization of how behind we are.  We have too much hardware to hook-up, too many cables to run, too much crap sitting around boxed up to wait until next week to get on it.  So I’ve told Alison to find her work clothes and prep for a weekend of manual labor.  I’ve texted Ram, too, and suggested that he move his schedule up a day, “Stash the Jack Daniels in your fucking suitcase and hit the road.  Please?”  (That was pleasant enough, yes?)  I have yet to hear back.


Thu
Jul 17 12:58 pm

Rowlandville to Speed

Alison crashed at our place last night, and we’ll probably have her for at least one more night; she’s loving the lake.

She followed me up to Kalamazoo this morning to check out the new digs.  She said she liked them.  She should, they’re sweet: fifth floor, 800 SF, two-sides windows, a good view of downtown Kalamazoo.  It “feels” right.  After the tour, she took off to go look at the apartment she reserved online and I gave Ram a shout.  He said he was already in Oklahoma, the land of the Native Americans.  And casinos.  (Yep, definitely Sunday.)

The Interviews

The first interview was at ten.  I’ve followed the recent trend and placed Rowlandville’s city and state of origin in my help wanted ad.  The concept makes sense: Employees from the same region keep the corporate culture intact.  With that in mind, I’ve interviewed two UT grads, one Tech Raider, and one self-taught coder from Houston.  One made my final three, but no one yet has had that “spark.”  Next up, some local talent.  (That did not come out like I intended.)


Wed
Jul 16 9:50 pm

Cranking It Up

Allison’s plane was early, and we’ve made our way to the Kalamazoo MAD lot.  Now here we sit because while her car arrived yesterday, it hasn’t been processed.  (Yes, it belongs to a USA citizen.  No, it isn’t filled with contraband.  Yes, it will be paid off before September 15, 2015.)  While we wait, she’s calling family and I’m writing this post.

Tonight begins the process of restarting my business, but this is more than a move.  It’s an entirely new economy that we have to learn, adapt to, and service.  The Divide has changed everything, and there’s going to be a lot to process.  The goal is survival while we learn the new terrain.

In America before The Divide, and in Texas, specifically, relatively little was regulated.  It was a free for all.  Yeah, there was a minimum wage, but what does seven bucks an hour get you but a second job?  Even in my line of work, website development, you could get inexpensive help because employees could live cheaply.  And because they’ve ridded themselves of a minimum wage, that’s especially true in the ISA.  But that’s not the case here.  In the USA, people are paid a living wage.  And that means every labor intensive business is going to be cutting back on non-labor expenses, looking for deals from the businesses that service them – like mine.  Meanwhile, my employees have to be paid more because everything, every fucking thing, is going to cost them more.  The apartment Alison found is twice what her rent was in Austin for a third less space.  That requires me to pay her $15,000 more a year.  Add the increase in her other living expenses, and I’m out $25,000 additional per year for each of my three employees – $75,000 out of my pocket in an environment where every client is going to be trying to jack my prices down.  It’s going to be brutal until September 15th of next year, when it’s going to get worse.  That’s when collective bargaining begins easing into law.  Expect strikes, further wage increases, and higher prices, plus more squeezing blood from turnips like me as my clients try to cut their costs and save their bottom line.  The next 5-10 years is going to be a roller coaster while the USA tries to crank up the middle class.  For me, that ride starts in twelve days.  Between now and then, baby steps.

Step One: Have the office bare bones operational by Monday.  To that end, I’ve put off my trip to Austin.  Flying down this week had been a dumb idea.  Too much to do here.

Alison’s car is processed.  We’re ready to roll.


Wed
Jul 16 11:24 am

The Coming Together

Sam and I are living in a universe of U-Haul boxes.  It’s like the Rocky Mountains of cardboard.  At best, we have enough cookware to eat and enough bedding to sleep (indoors).  Anything beyond that is scattershot. There’s work to do.

Alison sent me a text that she’s in Atlanta.  After a massive layover, she’ll be landing in Kalamazoo at nine.  Meanwhile, Ramiro emailed that he’s driving out tomorrow with an ETA of Friday.  “Unless the casinos beckon.”  Ergo, I expect him on Sunday.

With only two of my crew of three coming to my company’s new home base, I’ve got a slot to fill.  I interview web programmers tomorrow and Friday to fill that slot.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have him/her hired by the weekend, and will fly out Monday to close my old business’s doors.

I mentioned a few months back that Jesse was staying in Austin.  Now that we’re officially parting company, I want to send him off with the respect he deserves:

Jesse Rodriguez is one of the best coders I’ve ever run into.  The crap that dude can do in JavaScript will make your brain bleed.  He should have been saving the world, not building code for websites.  He has that kind of mind.  And so I truly regret that he’s staying in the ISA and not coming with us.  He’s the best.  I’ll miss you, buddy.

And now back to boxes…


Wed
Jul 16 12:57 am

Night Swimming

It’s midnight. And despite plans to the contrary, we just spent the entire evening rummaging through boxes.  It’s strange how compelled you feel to start unpacking the second the boxes arrive.

With that behind us, Sam is giving me one more night on the lawn; this time, though, no performance for the old plumber next door – except for the small swimsuit she bought for our trip to Padre last year.  (There are suits that make a man want to rip them off his wife the second she puts them on.  This is one of those suits.  You’re welcomed, Mr. Vanderwier.)  She said all she wanted tonight was a midnight swim, until she was reminded that we weren’t in Texas, anymore, “Shit, that’s cold!”  I asked if she was wimping out on me, and that was all it took.  She braced up, submerged, and came up so far from shore that she was almost out of sight.  I asked if she was doing all right.  “Why wouldn’t I be?”  And then the sound of another splash.  There’s no one easier to manipulate than a competitive woman.

Sam is brilliant in so many ways.  She has an IQ that would embarrass most college professors.  Her pedigree includes a stint on Jeopardy!  And she’s beautiful, too, with the looks and bright demeanor that had every (literally every) guy at the party I hosted for her asking how in the hell I snagged her.  To their question, I still don’t know.

She lived 2,036 miles away the first time we emailed.  She had responded to an online personals profile I placed on a dating site and subsequently forgot.  In it, I mentioned Al Franken, Woody Allen, and P-Funk, and how I wanted to meet a woman who made my toes curl.  Three weeks after her letter, a long-haired brunette disembarked at Austin’s then-small airport, and my ten toes turned under as if on cue.  I had met my wife.  We moved in together four months later.

It’s been fifteen years since that first email, yet as I watch her in that small suit swimming in that cold water, it feels like the first day all over again.  We still have moments like that.  And while I have my foibles and she has hers, we love each other’s company, which seems to bridge the gap during even the worst times.

As I type these words, she’s quietly calling me into the water.  But not tonight.  Tonight I want to watch and remember.


Tue
Jul 15 7:40 pm

The Mechanic

The doorbell rang at half past seven.  In front of me a guy my age with broad shoulders and a barrel chest.  I had six inches on him if I had a centimeter.  I’ve always been taller than him, but he’s always had more bulk.  That bulk is how the little bastard used to take me down; not once during our childhood had I beaten Jason Vanderwier in a wrestling match, and I still couldn’t now.

Michigan personalities have grit.  It’s that blue collar GM line worker kind of grit that will buy you a beer or punch you in the face, whichever you need.  And for as long as I’ve known Jason, he’s had that sort of hardscrabble soul.  Even as a seven-year-old, he looked at the world like he wasn’t going to take its shit.  “What do you need a hand with?” he asked when he recognized my recognition of the friend I hadn’t seen since high school.

The guy with the thick calloused hands and buzz cut came from a long line of plumbers, but he took a detour into machinery, and he was a natural.  (He once put a 1966 Dodge pickup body on a duck, one of those military amphibious vehicles.  He was fourteen at the time.)  A guy like that might just come in handy to a pair of new owners of an old home.  I asked him if he wanted a beer.

On the porch over bottles of Milwaukee’s finest, Jason said he lived three houses down and heard a couple weeks back that Sam and I would be moving in.  “I wanted to give you time to get your feet planted before I showed up unannounced.  Then this afternoon my parents told me that it looked like you two had settled in.  They live next door.”  He nodded to his left, “The gray house.”  He took a swig from his bottle and let that sink in.

He went on to tell me that he married, too, right out of high school to Amy Wallace, the head cheerleader.  A less likely pair you’ve never met: She was a small town princess and he hadn’t enjoyed a day without 10W30 under his nails since elementary school.  Yet somehow they’d made it work.  Five kids.  Two in college.  Funny how matches are made and turns taken that you never see coming.  He asked again what he could do to help.

I told him that his skill with tools would no doubt come in handy, but that we were still at the box stage and that Sam wouldn’t be thrilled at me bringing in outside help before she’d located all her bras.  He said he understood, that Amy would be the same way.

We ended the night with a handshake.  He said to give him a call and that they wanted to have us down for supper.  I’m looking forward to that, but I’m kind of hoping his parents aren’t there.


Tue
Jul 15 6:53 pm

Wall o’ Boxes

Sam and I spent the night on the back lawn to the sound of small waves washing up from the lake.  Both sets of neighbors could have seen us, I’m sure, if they’d wanted to, while we played in the lake and slept near the shore.

My dad worked as a right-of-way agent for pipeline companies.  That meant that he dealt with landowners before and sometimes during construction, and then he moved on to the next line.  It’s a transitory business, and the men are often lonely.  But until I hit kindergarten, my father wasn’t one of those men.  Mother was raised Baptist, and Baptist women like my mother are a loyal lot.  Where Daddy went, Mother went.  And once I was born, I went, too.

In the fourteen years before my birth, they lived in something like twenty states.  After my birth, we lived in another six.  Then I hit school age.

I began kindergarten in Muncie, Indiana.  I finished it in Three Rivers, Michigan.  Mother and I didn’t move again until I was sixteen, and the only reason we did was because Daddy had almost died in Iowa when his ulcers ruptured and he came close to bleeding out in Tipton.  One doctor said he thought the cause was loneliness, although I’m sure Daddy’s drinking didn’t help.  Either way, Mother swore she would never again let him go off and work a job alone.  So when he got the gig in Nebraska, she and I moved.

Now Sam and I have moved, too, for the first time as a couple, and boxes are everywhere.  But we’ve agreed: We take it light tonight, maybe do a little dancing (I’ve hooked up the stereo), and then head to sleep.  As far as sleep, if I can talk her into it, we’re spending one last night by the water before we put our bed to use.  Eat your heart out people who stared at us while we got busy in the water.  Yeah, old man in the gray house, I’m talking to you.


Tue
Jul 15 3:10 pm

Stuff!

Mayflower’s here, and not a minute too soon.  I’m out of underwear.


Mon
Jul 14 10:14 pm

Full Circle

The house was built in 1934 for a Chicago attorney and his family as a vacation home.  It has two stories plus a walkout basement.  It sits on one lot, lakeside of a narrow residential road five miles from town, one mile from orchards, a vineyard, a strawberry field.  Its backyard opens to a bright green lawn that connects to a six hundred acre sport lake.  The lake is spring fed.  Inside the home, there are three small bedrooms and one slightly larger.  It has two bathrooms.  All the rooms have the scent of mothballs and aged wood; the bedrooms, cedar.  Soon, that scent will be less obvious as it will have become familiar.  In the basement, there is an open shower and the dock, which sits stacked upon itself, yet to be placed in the water for the season.  Between the house and the small one bedroom cottage across the street, the road angles easily upward.  It rises to other old homes, like this one surrounded by old trees, primarily maple.  On that road was where I first learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle.  I was six.  My father, now deceased but then big and strong, ran alongside me as I learned to ride like a big boy.  In that cottage, then white but now a light moss green in color, he and I traded nights sleeping with my mother and on the glassed-in back porch.  The door to that porch is the one I broke when my parents were out of town for the day and rumors of the dogcatcher spread along the road.  That beagle, her name Mitzi, would die come winter when a snow plow wouldn’t see her.  It left blood in the snow that I was forbidden to see.  She was only one of two dogs we owned in a series of loved and pampered animals that we were not sorry was gone.  Her barking was incessant, without cause, and wound my high-strung father into a man no one liked being around.  No matter how much she irritated us, though, she was my dog, and my job at six-years-old was to keep her from the pound and certain death.  And so I shattered that glass door with a mop handle but was tattled on by my younger accomplice, and his mother forced me to sit for three hours – until my parents got home – on her porch, this very porch which now belongs to Sam and me.


Mon
Jul 14 4:30 pm

Joliet

Gas.  Pee.  Tampons.  Chocolate.


Mon
Jul 14 10:17 am

In Service to Others

Garry gave us the news over breakfast.  He and Dutch are moving west to Colorado, to the ISA.  I thought it was a joke, until I looked to Dutch, who was nodding.

My first response was the obvious: Why in the hell would two gay men move to a country that permits people to commit homosexual family members to 3o-day “treatment” against their will?  “We’ll be okay, our families live here,” Garry laughed.  Dutch grinned.  Garry saw that his joke wasn’t enough.  I wanted a serious answer.  “Because homophobes have gay kids, too.  They need advocates.”

I reminded him that while it wasn’t illegal there yet, with their right wing Christian congress, it could be.  He said he knew, but that when you’re a kid, legal is sometimes worse that illegal, “If it’s illegal, you know that’s bullshit.  But when it’s legal and socially condemned, that’s when it fucks with you.  That’s when you stop questioning the law and start questioning yourself.  They need us.”

I kept arguing.  I don’t remember what I said, exactly, only that it was aggressive.  I was mid-rant when he put his hand on mine and reminded me that the deadline had passed.  They’re citizens of the ISA.


Sun
Jul 13 6:22 pm

Ghosts

I was sixteen when my father took the job in Kearney, Nebraska.  A 36″ oil pipeline was being laid across the southern half of the state, and he was going to be the land man, the guy who bought rights-of-way from landowners.  He moved in April.  Mom and I followed from Michigan at the end of the school year.  I met Garry within 24-hours of my arrival.

Garry’s and mine was an arranged introduction.  Daddy wanted to make sure I had a friend, and Garry was the kid who mowed our lawn.  Match made.  We became best buds.

My tall new friend was ridiculously good looking and the quarterback. He would also become the valedictorian.  Garry was that guy.

His female counterpart was a blonde named Lori.  Lori was 5’4ish with generous curves and some of the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.  Her hushed voice – God-given, not affected – drove us boys crazy.  She was nice, too, like Mormon kind of nice.

After high school, I followed my parents to my dad’s next gig in Texas, where we were originally from, and Garry went off to the University of Nebraska.  It’s been rare that we’ve seen each other since then, but the connection is still there.  It will always be there.

Making up for lost time, he and I were sitting on his third floor balcony looking out across the river at Omaha.  (You ever notice how gay men have the best views?  Weird.)  Sam and Dutch were at Costco, and I was trying to get all our new electronics up to speed when this annoyingly handsome guy uttered four words.  It feels like he says them every time we see each other, and they fuck me up every time.  “Lori asked about you.”  Shit.

Lori and I became friends our senior year, and developed that rare male-female connection that let us brush skin without blinking and hug without her feeling threatened.  Her scent gave me comfort and she said she felt safe when I was around.  It was that kind of relationship.  Then one day, her scent wasn’t enough, and the dominoes toppled.  One month later, my family moved to Texas.

The world was bigger back then.  Email was still new.  There was no texting, no Facebook, no Twitter.  Far away was farther than now, so there was no remedy: Lori and I were friends, and then I broke us.

Letters followed my move.  She wrote that she cried herself to sleep.  She said she missed me.  But she never said she felt the same as me.  I was young, my heart was youthfully resilient, but not in that way.  The letters stopped.  Then came my mother’s birthday four years later.

I was at my parents place when Garry called and wished Mom happy birthday.  When they were done talking, I went outside to smoke a cigarette (a guilty pleasure back then, if not an addiction) and to talk with Garry.  He told me he had seen Lori.  “Yeah?”  I said it like news of their meeting didn’t affect me, but I swore I could smell her skin again.  He told me that she asked about me and that she confided something to him that she had never told anyone: She had loved me, too, but never said anything because she had been afraid.  “I was scared we would lose our friendship,” she said.  Then she told him that she longed for me after I left.  Longed.  That was the word she used.  Good God!  About then, my girlfriend opened the kitchen door and told me that Mom’s cake was ready.  By the time that girlfriend and I broke up, Lori had met the man she would marry.

My discovery that this feminine ideal whom I loved also loved me has proven insidious.  It rears its head when Sam and I have bad days. When we’re having great days, it unrepentedly asks, “Could it be better?” And those nights after an argument as she storms away in her ugly faded sweatpants and pink Crocs, I am presented with a barrage of “what ifs” regarding the petite blonde with the perfect skin who’s never been hormonal or worn Crocs and who will always be my flawless eighteen-year-old best pal with the remarkable butt.  As those thoughts consume me, my wife will invariably walk back into the room in her ugly sweats and shoes, as if the universe is making a point: This is reality, Buster.  Deal with it.

On the balcony, I tell Garry that he knows it fucks with me when he tells me about Lori, “So quit fucking with me.”  Then he smiles and tells me not to let it get me down, that her butt cheeks have grown to the size of yoga balls. “Really?” I ask.  And then he laughs at me and says no, that she’s had three gorgeous children and is still a perfect size 4.

Sam and Dutch arrived home a few minutes later.  She was wearing sweatpants and Crocs as she kissed me on the cheek and told me that she wished I had gone with them, “It’s more fun when you’re around.”

It was then I realized that I couldn’t recall Lori’s last name.


Sun
Jul 13 10:15 am

Sunday Q&A : July 13

It’s time for Sunday questions.  We’ve got two.  Let’s go.

Jamie, Austin, TX

What do you think are the 3 best things the USA and ISA have done?

I’m not necessarily the best qualified to name the top 3 USA achievements first-hand.  I’ve been there a total of three months over two years.  But I’ll give it a shot.

USA

1. Replacing welfare with workfare.  No work, no check.  Its value in free daycare for working moms is alone worth the price of admission, as is the self-respect it gives to its recipients.  (Dollars to doughnuts the ISA runs with this within two years.)

2. The 5% contributions cap.  Your total political contributions cannot exceed 5% of the median wage?  This should have been done decades ago.  No one should have ever have had more “free speech” than their less affluent peers.  Maybe we’ll get our country back?

3. Re-instituting union protections and tariffs.  By far, the riskiest thing we’re doing.  Could bring the economy down around us by closing markets to our goods.  On the other hand, how much worse is it than what China does, and it’s doing okay.  Crossing my fingers that it works and brings the wages up for blue collar guys.

ISA

1. Allowing religion back into public life.  We’re all spiritual on some level, even atheists.  So it’s not a bad thing to free that up a bit as long as it’s not abused.

2. Moving regulatory agencies to the state level.  It makes sense to have the agencies that are supposed to serve people closer to their constituents.

3. Returning nuclear power to the mix.  Whether this is a clandestine move by the governmental folks who believe in global warming or for some other reason, it was time somebody recognized the value of modern nuclear tech.

Kate, Cleveland, OH

I’m 13.  I read your blog all the time because I miss the south.  (We’re from Louisiana.)  You always say that the ISA wants a war with Mexico.  Why?

Hi, Kate.  First, I’m embarrassed because I use words in my posts that a thirteen-year-old probably shouldn’t read.  Tell your parents I’m sorry about that.  I’ve got a potty mouth.

To answer your question, I think the ISA wants a war with Mexico because it needs a war with Mexico.  Why?  Because tumbling wages are beginning to cause deflation, and that will destroy the ISA economy.  The only way to fix that is to create an economic stimulus.  You normally do that by borrowing money to create jobs.  But the ISA is constitutionally prohibited from deficit spending except in time of war.  Therefore, it needs a long protracted war in order to deficit spend their way out of the economic hole.

On a more cynical note, the way you take a population’s mind off internal issues is to create an external enemy.

And that’s the Q&A for this week.  Send in your questions and I’ll give it another shot next week.


Sat
Jul 12 12:09 pm

40 Degrees Latitude

Sam and I arrived full-Amish (no phones, no tablets, no computers) at Garry and Dutch’s condo Friday morning.  They took us in without warning and without question – and are letting me use one of their computers to write this post.

This is a stop that hadn’t been on our itinerary, but it should have been; Garry and I go way back.  This visit should have been a no-brainer.

How We Got Here

Over lunch Thursday, Jake told me the wait at the St. Louis crossing had been pegging at 24 hours (too many people migrating to the Rust Belt), but that the crossing at the 40th parallel was taking a fraction of that.  So from Joplin, MO, the four of us caravanned due north on I-49, bypassing the more direct St. Louis Exchange.  In Kansas City, the Youngbloods called and told us they were stopping to fuel up.  The big gold bus peeled off near Nashua, and Sam and I headed north to the parallel.

Jake had been right about the time.  The wait at the ISA checkpoint was short, less than eight hours, enough time for me to pour over some client artwork and write my last blog post, for Sam to read a book, for both of us to stretch our legs on the dog walk alongside the highway and take a brief a nap.

Inbreeding’s a Bitch.

I’ve had a day or so to calm down, think Thursday through, put it into perspective.  So I’m going to take a moment to admit that I know the USA has its share of pricks.  Both sides have border guards that think too highly of their new country and want to make sure us expats grasp the paradise we’re leaving behind.  But, frankly, I don’t give a fuck which country a badge has imprinted on it, shit is shit:

At the checkpoint, we were guided into the departure lane. A tall black guard (“Ernie”) took our IDs and scanned them, scanned our license plate, briefly inspected the vehicle. It was standard protocol that most of us have come to know far too well, the process of making sure all of us children sleep where we promised to.

Then Tall Ernie looked at Sam and asked her something in Spanish.  (The curse of having a Mexican mom when you’re in Texas: You look like the people FOX has convinced the populace are ruining the country.)  She didn’t answer his question, and he asks her the same thing again, something about where she was from.  I think.  I don’t speak it, either.  In her direct New England tone that can come across as condescending to those of us not raised in the northeast, she tells him that she doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.  He thinks she’s fucking with him, and we’re guided to the red lane and told to get out of the car.

1AM: Tall Ernie takes our keys and ushers us into a windowless room.  He asks us to wait while they inspect our car; it wasn’t a request.  He locked us in with 39 adults, seven children, and 34 chairs.  At our arrival, people had been sitting or standing from ten minutes to two hours.  Nobody seemed to know why, except for one of the college kids, who told Ernie to fuck off when he asked him to stop playing on his phone.  Ernie had taken our phones, too.

The room was weirdly silent, especially considering none of us had our electronic babysitters.  Maybe that’s why we had nothing to say, we couldn’t tweet it.

My main concern was Sam; her mind goes at a thousand miles an hour and doesn’t do well without something to keep it occupied.  Without her apps, she withdrew into herself like a woman receiving last rites.  She didn’t want to talk.

2AM: At the changing of the guard, a tall redhead with a face full of freckles starts pulling us out one carload at time.  At 3:15, he called Sam and me into a room with a small table and a window – thank God, a window, air – and asked me what I’ve been saying about the ISA.  He pushed my phone across the table.  My blog was on the screen.  I told him I was writing the truth.  “Whose truth?” he asks.  “The truth,” I told him.  He asked if I knew the ISA law about news reporting and asked if I had a license.  We both knew I didn’t, so I didn’t bother to answer.  He stared at me like he saw some dark truth behind my silence, and that his keen observation was enough to put me away with the other infidels.  (I’d like to tell you that I wasn’t terrified of him, but I’d be lying.  The arrogance behind those blue eyes scared the shit out of me.)

Freckles told us that he was letting us go, then assured us that we made a “lousy” choice choosing the USA, that the ISA was going to win this war.  (What war?)  He gave me our keys and told us we could leave.  He said he was keeping our phones, computers, and tablets “for security reasons,” but informed us we could file a request and they would be returned to us; somebody also snagged from Sam’s overnight bag the pearl necklace her grandmother brought to Newfoundland when she and her husband left their Mexican village so he could fish the Atlantic.

At 4:30, the ISA simultaneously released all 48 of us into USA customs.  Staffed down to three guys for the night shift, it took them three hours to get to Sam and me.  (Don’t think for an instant it was a coincidence the ISA held us until the USA was short-staffed.  It wasn’t.)

I’ll write more tomorrow after I buy new hardware.  It’s good to be back in the USA.


Thu
Jul 10 6:15 pm

Dropping Trou on the Interstate

Interstate 44.  Traffic slowed to a stop an hour north of Tulsa.  The freeway became a parking lot, not even a creep.  Oklahoma Highway Patrol cruisers shot by on the shoulder; three within a span of ten minutes.  Two helicopters – I assume life flight – were off in the far distance.  It was obvious we were going to be there a while.

As we were waiting, Sam reminded me that we were taking off at the next exit so she could pee.  “It’s not any better,” she said.  I glanced around the cab for a solution and she shook her head, “Not that.”  It was an interesting statement considering we hadn’t discussed what that was.

One of those million dollar motorhome buses was parked in front of us.  A Provost.  I studied it, then looked at her and grinned.  She said no, but that she still had to pee.  I hopped out of the truck, and she chided me for stepping into traffic.  I yelled back that the accepted definition of “traffic” had been temporarily suspended and then sprinted to the motorhome’s front door.

The couple in the motorhome was named Youngblood, Jake and Lucy.  They were in their seventies, retired Air Force, based out of Florida but spending most of their time on the road, although they were partial to Minnesota.  That was because Jake liked to fish, and he had a fascination with walleye – they apparently put up a good fight and are “damned fine to eat.”  He asked me if I fished.  I told him I was a little too restless for that.  “USA or ISA?”  I told him USA.  He said he thought so.  “Beer?”  I looked to Sam, who’d peed and was sitting chatty with Lucy.  She shrugged, and I told him yeah.

We spent the next hour talking politics.  Jake was ISA but cool about it, said everybody had their flavor and every country needed at least two sides of an argument.  “This divorce won’t last,” he said.  “You guys need us and we need you the same way men need women and women need men.  What good’s a pussy without a dick or a dick without a pussy?”  I’m going to have to share that insight with our friends, Garry and Dutch, who’ve been happily pussy-free for fifteen years.

Traffic started rolling an hour after we ate lunch with the Youngbloods, and Sam and I saw the reason for the parking lot.  At the side of the road, a tow truck was rolling an old small Chevy, the Mexican kind that has factory tags that read Chevy instead of Chevrolet, onto its bed.  It was riddled with bullet holes, and blood was on the highway.


Wed
Jul 9 11:18 am

Interstate 20

We’ve connected with I-20 in Cisco.  Fueling up.  Sam seems to be in a better place.  We love car rides.  I swear our marriage would be perfect if we lived in the truck.  Maybe that’s the trick to a great marriage, always have wheels underneath you.

We’re going to try to make Ft. Worth by one.  I want to stop and check out the new ISA capital building, but Sam says, “Hell, no!”  She wants nothing to do with these guys.

Fuck!!!  

Now!  Rapid fire cracks in the sky!  I know that sound like the back of my hand from summers in Rochelle.  Sonic booms.  I look up, and five jets disappear south toward that Mexican border.  Any day now.  Hell, maybe today!


Wed
Jul 9 8:20 am

Dispatched

The Hams shared breakfast with us.  It was great, except for that brown gravy on the biscuits.  Not to be ungrateful, but gravy’s supposed to be white.  That’s the Texas way, the right way.  I’m gonna have to hook-up with some Texans in Michigan.  I can’t be missing my Texas white gravy, and I’m too lazy (and unskilled in the kitchen) to make it right myself, while Sam, being a Yankee, refuses to make it on principle.

She’s still quiet this morning.  She put on a good show for the Hams: bright-eyed, witty, a joy.  But inside, she’s still hurting, and is hardly saying a word as we pack up to go.


Tue
Jul 8 9:53 pm

Midnight in Rochelle

The Ham’s are asleep, I think.  Sam’s in the bedroom, silent.  Some people talk shit out (me).  Some withdraw into themselves (her).  She’s curled up with a pillow on the bed.  I came outside to give her some room.

This old porch is deep and spans half the width of the house and all the years of my life.  God only knows how many evenings I spent here shelling peas listening to stories about people long dead who shared my mother’s maiden name: her wonderful grandmother, her mentally challenged cousin, her uncles younger than her father trying to find their footing like their older brother had, a grandfather who was as bad with money as my grandfather was skilled with it.  And at some point during this past century, most of them lived under this roof, then lived here a second time as the stories of their virtues and vices became fodder for me to learn from.  It’s weird how places take on memories.  This place took on mine.  These aren’t just wooden slats, anymore.

Now, tonight, there is one last memory, that of Sam and me dealing with this passing.  She’s not from Texas.  She’s from Maine.  And added to my recollections will be how in some ways our flight is hitting this woman not from here harder than it’s hitting me.  Texas was her new home.  She chose it.  This was where her stories would be told.  And then it was ripped from underneath her by people she never knew and never harmed.  I’ll move on.  I’m a guy.  We do that.  But I think this will pain her forever.


Tue
Jul 8 1:38 pm

Invitation

The skies at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.  (Yeah, I was singing that out loud as I typed it!  Between keystrokes, clapping, too.)

The view from our tent was incredible.  Above us, millions of suns millions of miles away lit up the matte purple sky.  It was the kind of thing that makes you a believer in God and a total atheist both at the same time: The majesty of the physical universe, how small we are, how perfect it is without a deity, yet how surely it must mean there is one.  I could spend the next year sleeping on that hard ground if you promised me the sense of perfect nothingness I felt last night.

Charles and Maggie welcomed us into their home today, asked us if we wanted to stay another night, this time inside.  I don’t want to impose, but we’re taking them up on it.  I have too many fond memories of my grandparents house not to spend one more night under its roof.

Charles surprised me as we were talking over lunch.  He told me he was a lifelong Democrat.  At his age, that means he chose to come die in the land of Republicans. I asked him why.

He snickered and asked how it would be any worse for him and Maggie than the past five chaotic years have been.  I stayed quiet and let him answer his own question, and he told me that the ISA or USA didn’t matter to them one way or the other, “We’re in our sixties.  We live in a town with less than fifty people.  And I run sheep.  How are those assholes in Ft. Worth going to impact me?”  It made me wonder if our decision to move was too reactionary.  My conservative friends are good people, and I’ve lived in a conservative state since I was eighteen, dealing with its politics like everyone has, like Charles says he’s going to, by living my life.  So was moving really necessary?  Should we have stayed?  The question breaks my heart; the choice should never have had to been made.

But it was made, and it’s too late to change course now.  We’ve signed on the dotted line.  Our destination is in stone just like it is for everybody else.  But it’s going to be one of those decisions I look back on and debate the merits of for a lifetime.  Would it have been better if…?

Maybe we’ll have some inkling of the answer to that in twenty years when the repatriation ban is lifted.  We’ll be older then, like Charles and Maggie, and able to come to Texas to finish our own days.  But that’s then.  Tonight, I sleep under this Texas roof one last time.


Mon
Jul 7 3:01 pm

The Ranch

Sam and I pulled into Rochelle a few hours ago and met Charles and Maggie Ham.  (We had only known them through documents before, the ones that sold them this property last summer.)  These two folks are the ones who will carry on the ranch that belonged to my family for the past one hundred years, strangers whom I had feared I would resent for possessing this piece of my blood.  My apprehension was unfounded.

Charles and Maggie are like Hallmark’s version of grandparents.  Smallish and stocky, they have nice faces and are extraordinarily welcoming.  My concern that I would resent them has been vanquished.  Instead, I’m developing an affinity for them.  These are exactly the kind of people I want safeguarding this thing that is so much more to me than land.

Sam’s in the tent.  I’m in the truck.  Looking out from the cab, you should see what I see: the hard caliche, the jagged limestone pushing up from below, the windblown trees that have withstood nature at some of its most desolate.  There’s nothing like this place with its dusting of dry white earth.  On everything.  Like manna.  Its arid scent.  No matter which side you chose, if you’ve never been to west Texas, you should remedy that.  It’s perfection.

Here for one night courtesy of our hosts, we have already claimed our small piece of land.  It’s in the southwest corner of the yard next to the fence that separates it from the pasture.  All of seven feet square, this plot feels like it goes on for miles.  Welcome to Rochelle.

Sam just tapped on the window of the truck.  She wants to go for a walk.  It’s a few miles down the road to our family.  Generations sleep beneath this white clay.  It’s time to tell them goodbye.


Sun
Jul 6 3:04 pm

Sunday Q&A : July 6

With a breakfast taco and two aspirin at my side, welcome to another Sunday bull session.  Let’s get to it. Three questions this week, one from England.  Let’s start with that.

Roger, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK:

Is it true that the religious right has been defanged in America(s)?

Friends of mine who’ve moved north over the past few years say the religious right isn’t a factor – probably because most of them moved to the ISA.  (25% of the population down here is conservative Evangelical.)

As for here, there are more secular political parties than you can count.  Conversely, almost before the Constitution was ratified, Evangelicals coalesced around just two Christian parties, concentrating their power.  The result has been that both elections have skewed favorably toward the religious lawmakers – probably half the Congress holds tightly to conservative Christian beliefs.  That may change over time as the number of secular parties is winnowed down.  But for now in the ISA, the seventy-five percent is effectively being governed by the twenty-five percent.

Travis, Minneapolis, MN

We left Dallas two years ago.  (I’m an Aggie, too.  Class of ’10.  Whoop!)  In your opinion, what’s been the biggest change since we left?

Gig Em, Travis!  Frozen your ass off yet?!

The biggest change is the anger.  I can’t explain it.  Old Red has what it wanted.  But it’s like every day closer we get to Sep ’15, the more belligerent they get.  People are getting assaulted just for being USA.  And while arrests are being made (mainly younger guys who are unemployed and angry), it makes you wonder what’s going through their heads.  They won!  What else do they want?

Mark, Cincinnati, OH

How bad is the poverty thing?  The refugees are pouring over the border here.  Immigration can barely keep up.

Because Ft. Worth has left the social safety nets to the states to deal with, and because each of them is doing their damnedest to “discourage” the poor from migrating there (Texas is only giving out around $1.50 for every dollar religious groups spend on the poor, which doesn’t come close to covering the expense*), the situation is beyond bad.  Lines at church pantries wrap around the block, low income workers (not to mention the unemployed) can’t afford rent, and there are more hungry and homeless people standing on street corners than you can believe – probably praying to God they’re arrested so they have a roof over their head.

This belief that the absence of a minimum wage will result in broader employment is nuts, and wages for low skill workers have plummetted like hell (or maybe to hell).  It’s like a third of the population is fine, twenty percent is great, and half are varying degrees of fucked.  (And FOX isn’t giving politicians any room to maneuver, blaming the low wages on Mexican immigrants.)  It makes you wonder how long Ft. Worth can hold out before they admit this approach is a failure.

* In Mississippi, the state’s not giving anything toward helping the poor, and so a lot of them have made their way to neighboring states.  Needless to say, the Magnolia State isn’t popular in the ISA right now.

That’s all for this week, y’all.  Peace.


Sat
Jul 5 2:20 pm

Better Now

It was like old times last night. Drank until three. Laughed. Remembered Cindy and Devin and all the women we never had. We shouldn’t be on different sides; this is bullshit.

Breakfast tacos are helping kill the pain in my head. Remember those, my northern compadres, the real kind made by illegals that make everything better?  (I think the one thing besides my friends that I fear leaving the most is Texas food.)

You’ve got to be shitting me…  He’s standing across the room grinning ear-to-ear.  Apparently, like rock trumps scissors, Patron trumps Cuervo.  Here we go.  Round two.  The best weekend I’ll never fucking remember.

Later, my brethren.


Sat
Jul 5 11:03 am

Saturday Hurt

I’m too old for tequila.  That is all.


Fri
Jul 4 2:05 pm

The 4th of July

We arrived at Michael and Sheila’s last night.  Despite the long road that still lies ahead of us, it felt like the weights fell off when we pulled into the driveway.  It always feels that way when I’m around Michael.

Michael and I have been best friends since our sophomore year at A&M.  Because of that plus the way things have gone, how The Divide has split so many families and friendships, how it’s even caused some small fractures in our relationship from misunderstandings and judgment, I wanted to share our memories before Sam and I leave.  Thanks to all those drunk drivers who scared me into taking a few more days with my only real family.

Despite how deep our friendship runs and how right it feels being here, there’s been an unspoken thing going on since we arrived.  It’s like somehow Michael and I know we might not be friends like this a year from now, maybe not friends at all in five.  I hate that I’m thinking this and that it feels like he’s thinking it, too.  But my gut tells me I’m right, that we’re on different trajectories, like we’re each rockets, each angled a few degrees off center, so that we’re close now but in time will be miles apart.  Those of you reading this know what I’m talking about.  This shit has torn us all apart.

Sheila showed us her new gun last night.  She’s never owned one before and took pride in following her moron governor’s admonition to arm herself.  She’s a smart enough girl, but a follower.  Has been since the day I met her.  And she says that she needs the Glock to protect them from Mexicans coming across the border.  As she was telling us this, I looked to Michael, and he smiled like he knew it was unnecessary.  But he’s not one to interfere with the motion of others, so he let her go on about their need to stay safe from illegals.

I had a run in with some Old Red at the liquor store this morning when I was in buying the Cuervo for Michael’s and my last hurrah. One of them saw my ID, asked me why I was still here, then shoved me and told me to get the fuck out.  It’s Texas, there’s a lot of Old Red here.  Most are cool, don’t give a damn what your politics are as long as they get their way.  But a few are like this.  I’ll miss our old Texas oaks and Austin’s dry as hell air that nobody thinks much about until they consider leaving, but I won’t miss the kind of attitude that makes you want to drop your bags and then drop the asshole in front of you.  People are called to be better than that.

It’s 2:00pm on the 4th of July.  Both sides still celebrate it, and so do I.  It’s time to grab the tequila and get drunk with Michael.


Wed
Jul 2 9:52 am

The Load Out

Mayflower drove away with our moving pod this morning.  The driver said he’ll have it in Michigan by Sunday.  They’ll store it until we get there, which is going to take longer than we planned.

Sam and I are heading west to Rochelle after we leave Michael’s.  We’d planned to leave straight for Dallas and I-35, but I want to see Granddad and Grandmother’s ranch before we go.  It might be my last chance.  Charles Ham, the new owner (from Montana, I think), said we are welcome to camp in the pasture if we want.  That sounds good to me, sleeping on the ground where my mother grew up.  We leave for Michael’s tomorrow.


Tue
Jul 1 1:50 pm

First Morning Homeless

We woke at Tony and Tara’s this morning.  It was good spending the evening with friends and waking in their home.  It’s the kind of thing that reminds you that you’re loved, that your universe is bigger than you and your spouse.

Looking out the window at the heat burning off the morning haze, I realized this is going to be the hardest part, leaving home.  So many friends of ours are staying and had begged us to stay.  But we didn’t, and the die has been cast: We’re United States citizens, not Independent States citizens, and that’s the way it has to be.  The ISA’s not for us.  We don’t belong here.

Tony and I spent this morning with Joe.  A smart boy, he’s the reason Tony said they’re staying ’til next summer and the treaty deadline: September ’15!  He said he wants Joe to graduate elementary school with his friends before they go.  I get his desire to keep the boy’s universe stable, but I still think they should leave now while the California money is flowing in and home prices are high.  Plus, with that shit going on down on the border, it’s just a matter of time.  The National Guard’s staged like the military was before Bush went into Iraq.  Better to go now before the ISA starts something with the Mexicans.

About our departure: Sam and I talked last night.  The 4th is on a Friday, and that means it’s going to be a four-day drink fest with Texas celebrating its first Independence Day in the Independent States of America.  Not a good time to be on the roads.  So we’re staying at Tony’s two more nights, then heading to Michael and Sheila’s on Thursday.  It may be the last time I ever see him.  WTF?


Tue
Jul 1 12:43 am

Two Days Out

We passed the house keys to the new owners today and prepared for the migration. Our migration, that is. Others have been migrating for a while, both to Austin and from, and the difference in the city is palpable. It’s time for us to go.

While this place that I’ve called home since my college graduation still looks the same, it’s not the same, and it hasn’t been for months. You can feel it in the grocery store, Walgreen’s, at the park along the hiking trails. It’s hard to explain the changes. It’s subtle, like the way they look at you, both the newcomers and the Old Red, as they call themselves, when you have to show your ID, and it says you don’t belong here, anymore. You see the arrogance in their eyes, like “We won.” And I guess they did. Goodbye, America. Hello, “The Divide,” as the rest of the world calls it.

We’ll be rolling out day after tomorrow after one last goodbye to our friends. We’ve talked about it, and we don’t want to stick around any longer than we have to. It hurts too much, like watching a loved one die – although it’s already dead, killed by men who bred division for personal fortunes.

For those of us on the outside, we saw this coming long before the divisions became intractable, and talked among ourselves about where the fear mongering could lead, what it could result in. But for the believers who had waited their entire lives for someone to tell them that they were right and that those of us who disagreed with them were wrong, for them it was the truth, as much religion as politics. For them, it was like they saw God, if God was the reflection in the mirror that validated all they believed.

But now talk radio and conservative cable have had their say, have expressed their first amendment right, and the result has been The Divide. Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe a fresh start is what we all need and what we’ve needed for a while. Maybe. But on a personal note, all I know is that by this weekend we’ll be on the road north to the new border. Funny how much more hollow this feels than if it was simply a move.