telling you that we’re not getting out of this truck until you contact your commander they’re crazy Jason the one in the back check it check it he’s pulling out his gun tell your boy to put the gun down nobody’s doing anything stupid put it down man they’re getting 2 antsy J you’re gonna have to drive through this shit I was serious when I told you I don’t have my registration it was stolen in Sulphur Springs how many times do I have to tell you that we don’t know anything about Colorado there a lot of red trucks yes dude even like this one i don’t care about some fucking text from a bullshit sheriff that I’ve never heard of we’re not getting out of this truck get on your radio and get your commander and tell that kid in the back to chill the fuck out honey we should do what they say no mom just sit back okay okay I’m rolling down the back window you can see everything so back down nothing’s going on just him and his mom now call your commander we’re not going to do anything but wait for him sit back up mom sit back up they don’t care about your purse nothing nothing we’re not doing anything sit back up mom put the guns down we’re not doing anything we don’t have guns we don’t have guns shit what the fuck we’re unarmed we’re unarmed it’s her fucking wallet go go go go go Jason go holy
We ate lunch and stretched our legs in Sulphur Springs and Jason took the wheel. I’m in the back with Mom as we make our way to the border. She packed one of our photo albums in her overnight bag, and she’s been showing me pictures of me as a baby, shots I haven’t seen in a decade or more, maybe not since Sam and I married and we did what most newlyweds do and recalled two pasts that led to that moment they merged.
I spoke with her for a few minutes this morning. She said she can’t wait to see me, that she swears she can feel the baby inside her. She wants me to touch her belly. She wants me to hold her. We’re two days away, but it feels like an eternity. The thought of seeing her makes me tear up. Pussy.
We’re approaching the border. Here we go! Crossing #1.
I’m taking the first leg. Jason will take over in Sulphur Springs and drive us north to the Oklahoma line.
Mom is doing well, seems happy, is talking on her phone to Sam about the baby-soon-to-be. As for my phone, it’s time to put it down and take us home. Here we go…
Mother held up better than I thought she would. There was a tear as the Mayflower moving van pulled away, but she was otherwise composed. “We need to clean this house,” Doris said from her walker as if she was going to lift a finger. “Let’s go inside!” And that was that.
Mother and Betty got to work in the kitchen, Jason and I worked on the bathrooms, and Jenn (Betty’s daughter) cleaned the bedrooms while Doris (the supervisor) manned the bullhorn. At 7:00, the place was as spotless as Doris could coerce it/us, and we left for her house, where we’re spending the night before our departure tomorrow morning.
Doris presented me with a peach pie after dinner. She said she made it last night. My eyes must have betrayed me. “Don’t worry. I didn’t poison it,” she said before she offered to take the first bite. Jason and I headed to Applebee’s after the pie to let the ladies say their goodbyes. Over Shiner Bock, he pulled out his tablet and showed me our route.
He said he doesn’t think we’ll need his friend in Oklahoma like he thought we would. I agree. The IDs he had forged worked like a charm in Colorado. There’s no reason they won’t work in Oklahoma and Missouri. He suggested we use the interstates for intrastate travel and the back roads for interstate crossings (where they’re less likely to have top notch militias). Max, a buddy of his in Missouri, has promised to get us across to Illinois. The distance to that international crossing is 850 miles. Our plan is to split that in two, with the bulk of it coming tomorrow while Mother is fresh. We’ll spend the night in Tulsa, just a couple hours from where Ram was murdered.
When Jason and I got back from the restaurant, Mother appeared cried out and Doris reconciled with reality. (I do feel badly for her. She’s losing her driver and probably her best friend.) I’m exhausted, in part from the work today and in part because of the breaking of the stress, that moment when you’re not quite home but you’re close enough that your guard starts to drop. You know what I mean? So I’m headed to bed. We have a long day tomorrow.
It’s Wednesday night. In small towns across Texas, that means mid-week church services. Ours was at the First Baptist Church. Tonight was a prayer service: casual attire, slightly more boisterous conversations in the foyer before the 6:00 start, and prayers; no sermon.
The church’s cavernous “Worship Center” is a generic space with a 1990s corporate vibe that is ironically soulless. Tonight, the building, designed for something like 800 people, stood maybe five percent full.
Of those in attendance, most were women over the age of sixty-five. The congregants not yet on Medicare were made up primarily of middle-aged men in pastel knit shirts (no doubt deacons, trustees, lay ministers) and those men’s wives. The balance was comprised of a few bright-eyed regulars and a smattering of downtrodden souls who appeared desperate for answers. It felt more like an AA meeting than a joyous gathering of those destined for eternity.
We began by poorly singing songs that had no beat. A brief overview of what the Bible says God said about prayer followed, which itself was followed by a few moments of ministerial levity to remind us that “Jesus laughed, too.” (There is reason for hope.) Next came prayer requests offered by voices that were hushed by the sheer volume of the massive space. The minister noted each need, uttered “bless your heart” more times than I could count, and in Jesus’ name prayed reverently into his mic. Doris sat at Mother’s side. She was the third to raise her hand.
Doris’s voice both quivered with fragility and bordered on aggression as she asked the Lord to give my mother the wisdom she needed to make the right decision between two difficult choices. I can’t tell you why that pissed me off, but it did, and I wanted to bolt up and inform both the minister and God that they had been recruited as participants in a ploy concocted by a hardheaded old woman trying to get her way. But I didn’t. Instead, I sat quietly and just looked at her mean.
The next prayer request was for Brother Carl and Cristina. Amen.
We rose from the pews at half past seven. On our way out, Mother was hugged and kissed and wished a safe trip by most of those present. And as my relatively young hands were held by delicate old hands, small ladies and large asked me to “take good care of” my mother, and I promised I would. Then they stepped solemnly away as ones who had lost yet another friend to death or the nursing home or, as it was in this case, a child’s home too far away for them to ever hope to journey; this was goodbye forever, until they meet again on that beautiful shore. As tears traced slowly from their eyes, Doris glared at me, like “See the pain you’re causing?” Screw you, Doris.
We arrived home half an hour ago. The boxes we’re taking with us are mostly packed, and the pickup is stuffed to the brim. With our work done, tonight we prep for the movers, who will be here at 7:00 AM. Then, for the first time in her life, other people will pack Mother’s possessions while she looks on.
We’ve packed enough boxes to fill two-thirds of Jason’s pickup bed: family photos, heirlooms, important papers, silver, some figurines, my baby clothes, and two boxes of pages ripped from decades worth of Redbook and Better Homes & Gardens. (No, I have no idea why we’re toting 35-year-old magazines to Michigan.)
Mother says she’s getting excited about the trip, but is sad to say goodbye to her friends. After dinner, Doris had Betsy drive her back to the house. She suggested that Sam and I move to Marble Falls so my “old mother” doesn’t have to leave her home. Doris unnerves me.
I saw Brother Carl this afternoon. He’s not the same man I met a few weeks ago. It’s like he’s empty, without purpose. I understand what he might be going through more now than I would have before Sam gave me the news, but not nearly as much as a man who has poured his life into his child. It’s impossible not to hurt for him. He’s devastated.
I spoke with Sam. Jason’s wife, Amy, and their eldest daughter spent the evening at our house. They brought dinner and talked baby stuff. It’s comforting that Sam has women to lean on with whom we have a connection who have been pregnant themselves.
Time for bed. I expect to wake to four slashed truck tires – and orthopedic shoe prints leading from the scene of the crime.
Doris is dialing Betsy, and Mother has returned to the bedroom to sort through her drawers.
“Mother,” I said loudly enough for Doris to hear. “In seven months, you’re going to have your first and only grandbaby. If you stay here, you’ll have Doris’s grandchild living with you, but you will never see your own. What’s it going to be?”
Betsy dropped Doris off at our place “to help.” To help? The old girl can’t see squat and can barely stand. But her mouth works just fine, dammit, and she’s telling my mother that she should stay in Texas, should stay close to her friends, close to the people that love her. (The people that love her? Hello? I’m her son.) And she’s assuring Mother that Betsy’s daughter can still move in “with her gun. She can protect you!” And so now, before the floodgates of old woman advice and warnings and the promise of heavy artillery, Mother is losing focus, is telling me that this move is too rash, that the Mexicans don’t care about old women like her. For the love of God…
The Mexicans/Chinese are within a few days of taking full possession of McAllen and its metro, according to first person blogs and CNN. (FOX, of course, says the ISA line is holding.) And while the drive-bys and unrest continue in the south’s major cities, small towns like this one have so far been removed from that hell.
That’s the paradigm within which we’ve rescheduled the movers for Thursday. They will take Mother’s eight decades of history to a storage unit, where it will remain until the war is settled and she returns – or she remains illegally in the north. We leave for Michigan Friday morning. (You don’t box up eighty years of memories in twenty-four hours. A Wednesday departure had never been realistic.) With our extended window, Mother has calmed down and we’ve begun making progress boxing up those things she wants to take with her that will fit in the back of Jason’s truck. So far, he and I have packed a half dozen boxes of Mom’s more precious possessions amid far fewer rounds of tears; she seems to have gotten into her old Queen of Moving groove.
When I called, Sam said none of her pants fit. I asked if she was showing, and she said no, that it was bloating and constipation. This, I’m afraid, is going to be seven months of TMI. That said, it’s remarkable. Just a few months ago, she and I we were roaming around a house that we had for a decade known like the back of our hands talking about how our personal life had entered its “comfortable stage.” I mean, we knew the move was coming, but pregnancy and my mother’s emergency evacuation from a war zone? How did life so quickly and radically change? I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe.
Mother spoke with Doris and her daughter, Betsy, today. Betsy and her husband, Ben, are coming over Tuesday. They’re going to check out the place for their daughter, who needs a rental between her graduation this month and her entrance into grad school a year from now. We’ll give her a hell of a deal: free rent for the promise that she won’t drop her Marlboros in her bed and burn the place down and will in other ways keep the home in good repair. Luckily for us, the kid’s a Southern Baptist. (Yeah, I know, Baptists aren’t what they used to be.)
As for the more mundane activity before us, Mother has for years bragged that she’s the Queen of Moving after those decades following Daddy’s job. But she hasn’t moved in thirty years, and trying to follow the comings and goings of an eighty-two-year-old who doesn’t want to leave her memories behind is proving maddening. So while Jason and I spent the first part of the day collecting boxes and bubble wrap from U-Haul, we spent the rest of it sitting in limbo in front of ESPN while Mother wandered aimlessly around the house alternating between muttering to herself and asking my opinion as to the merits of every piece of memorabilia and magazine clipping in her possession. (I know, she’s my mom, so don’t be a dick. But. Well. Okay, you’re right.)
Anyway, over a period of twelve hours, we’ve packed all of two medium boxes with old figurines from the forties and my baby clothes – because our baby might need three decade old baby crap. (I know, she’s my mom, so don’t be a smart ass. But. Well. Okay, you’re right.)
I guarantee you that we’ll have another day of this, although I do assume that at some point we’ll be packing her clothes and not just memories. (I know, she’s my mom. See above.)
We’re not going to be out of here until October…
Jason and I woke around 11:30. The oven was warmed up and waiting, and fresh cornbread and black-eyed peas were quickly delivered to us in the kitchen. “Sweet tea?” she asked Jason. (She already knew my answer.)
We spent lunch discussing the trip. Jason said he knew a guy from his hill climbing and mudding competitions who could get us through Oklahoma. Mother asked if that wasn’t dangerous. We admitted it was, but Jason said he trusted this guy, “He’s a Tea Party type, but a good man. And while I doubt he would have defiled his precious south by letting us Democrats in…”
Mother interrupted Jason with a growl and a protest. She said firmly that it wasn’t his friend’s south and that liberals were “far less defiled than those self-righteous conservatives! I hate how they think their behinds don’t stink!” You tell ‘em, Mom. Jason waited until the smoke had cleared…
“So he’ll get us through,” he concluded.
Mother told him that she would rather go through Colorado than depend on a man like Jason’s friend, but we told her how Yuma was a dangerous patch of real estate for me, and how Annie’s place was being watched. She conceded that she trusted our judgment, but said she would have nothing to say to Jason’s friend. I then told her that I wanted to go give Brother Carl my best. She said she would call and track him down, and I excused myself to call Sam and to publish the posts Jason had forbidden me to send until we got out of range of Yuma County.
We rolled into Marble Falls at 8:15 this (Monday) morning. Exhausted, I knocked on Mother’s door. She opened it and saw me. She appeared bewildered, almost frightened, yet instinctively aware that the reason for my visit wasn’t bad, merely unknown. “How you doin’?” I asked.
“Well, I guess I’m fine,” she said in her gentle drawl. She unlocked her screen door and opened it. I stepped through. Jason followed. “Little Jason Vanderwier?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yes, Ma’am.” She gave him a quick hug, then returned her gaze to me.
“I’ve come to get you. My baby needs a grandmother,” I said. That was the best I had.
She asked in disbelief, “You want me to leave? You came here for that?” I told her we had. “But I don’t want to go.” I reminded her about the Alamo, and she assured me that she lived in a small unimportant town ninety miles north of there.
“On a river that is Austin’s sole water source,” I countered. “Plus, my grandchild needs both grandmothers. Ask yourself what Daddy would do.” WWBD = What Would Bubba Do? She knew exactly what her late husband would have done: He would have badgered her until she submitted and sat angrily in the car and they hustled their way north. “We need to get you out of here,” I said. “You can come back when it dies down, if you want to.”
“But I would be an illegal alien.”
“Si.” She appeared both resistant and relieved; it was clear she had been more afraid than she had let on.
Her eyes watered, “If you think it’s best.”
“I do. We’ll head out day after tomorrow. That’ll give you enough time to tell everyone goodbye and line up people to take care of the place.” She said she’ll go. Good, we have a plan.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. She hurried into the kitchen, “Let me make you something.” Neither Jason nor I wanted anything more than sleep, but you never turned down a southern woman’s offer of a meal – for her sake and yours.
We arrived at the Texas border at 9:45 PM. Jason had switched the Colorado plates for my Toyota’s. A group of scruffy looking militia – kids, mainly, none older than 23 – tried to look tough, like they had this border protection shit under control as Eminem blared through the speakers of one of their pickups.
The mix of the Colorado and Texas militias, each protecting their respective border, were armed, almost all with handguns, some around their waist, most in shoulder holsters. In addition, a few carried hunting rifles. A couple sported AR-15s. (The ISA has created one hell of a New World, where boys not old enough to drink are encouraged to carry semi-automatic weapons. Any uncertainty I had relative to which country I chose was vanquished by these locked and loaded cub scouts.)
A half dozen of the boys swarmed us and clamored over one another demanding our IDs, until one of them, one of those that appeared oldest, turned toward them and made it clear that he was taking control. I passed Jason my fake ID, and he passed both to the leader. The kid looked at them like he had been trained to spot a fake. Then he handed them back and asked, “Where y’all headed?”
“Home. Austin. We’ve been helping a buddy move,” Jason said. The boy looked around Jason and checked me out. I tried to stay calm, felt like I managed it well.
“You’re from Austin?” the kid asked, and I told him yes. “Your ID says Colorado.” Jason told him that we’d just moved for work. The kid looked like he was going to give us a pass, like he was doing us a favor, but that we’d better not push our luck. “Drive carefully,” he said like an adult as he stepped away from the truck.
As I write this, we’re an hour out from Marble Falls.
Jason wasn’t kidding: We’re sitting at the edge of the John Martin Reservoir. Its rocky shore reminds me of Lake Brownwood in Texas. We’ve each got a rod and a line in the water. (He brought a few poles and a full box of lures.) I told him it seemed he had this trip planned down to the subatomic level. “So tell me what happens next,” I said.
“Cool with you if we skip your friend, Jim’s, ranch?” He said we didn’t need the risk, that getting into Texas wouldn’t be a problem for two ISA citizens. Two? I reminded him that I’d forfeited my southern citizenship when I chose the USA, and that he had never lived anywhere other than Michigan. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two small cards. “Welcome home,” he laughed. He handed me a fresh ISA ID.
“Where did you get these?” I asked.
“Lincoln’s a college town, so it was an easy assumption that somebody there made fake IDs. And anybody willing to sell you valid Colorado license plates is probably going to know those people. I pulled your photo from your website.”
It’s a little unsettling how good Jason is at this stuff.
An hour after he took off on foot to check out Annie’s place, Jason returned to the truck. “They put a wifi camera near her gate,” he said. He climbed into the cab and dropped into his seat and set his night vision binoculars in the console, “It’s like I told you. They get bored.” He said he scoped out the next ranch over past Annie’s, and that it was going to be our route into Colorado. As he climbed down from the cab with a screwdriver and a set of his freshly purchased Colorado plates, he told me to reach into the toolbox between the coolers and grab the bolt cutters.
This adventure (and there’s no other word for it) with Jason is unnerving. Coming north was crazy, like something from a movie. Yet that felt somehow manageable, simple, like my job was to drive. That was all, just keep driving north. But this has been different, has been a criminal enterprise – stolen plates, bolt cutters, night vision goggles, trespassing. And that complexity makes me feel far less certain of its outcome; and with my confidence gone, that void has been replaced with fear.
A couple miles up the road, Jason had me get out of the truck and cut the chain on the lock that held shut the gate to a ranch that appeared to, like Annie’s, span the border. Then, with his night vision goggles strapped to his head, my chauffeur took us onto the pasture sans headlights. We were “driving dark,” as he put it, as if people did this all the time.
While Jason could see, if in monochrome shades of green to black, I felt like I was riding a roller coaster blindfolded. Robbed of light, I bounced around atop my seat, no gauge of what was coming to help me maintain my balance. When I was a kid, that sort of uncertainty would have been thrilling. But my life as it is now, I have far too much to live for. Now, all I want is to get to my mother and bring her north to her growing family. That singular focus makes uncertainty extraordinarily unwelcome. Jason slowed the truck to a stop.
Before us, I could see the gray outline of a gate. He said it opened to Annie’s county road. “Get in the back,” he told me. I asked why. “We’ve got a sheriff’s cruiser parked one click ahead, up around the corner – appears he’s keeping an eye on your friend’s ranch.” He shifted the truck into park and nodded to the back, “I’ve got a storage compartment under the seat. Climb in.” Excuse me? He repeated himself and leaned over the coolers and lifted the seat and the blanket and pillows. The container was empty. “I thought we might run into this.” He repeated his order, and I slithered around my seat and into a container more appropriately sized for a small gymnast than a six-foot-two-inch man. I curled inside.
“I’m kinda claustrophobic,” I said.
“Then you’re going to want to avoid a jail cell.” I reached up and placed my phone beside the console. I left its voice recorder on. Call it playing a hunch. He closed the lid, got out of the truck, and cut the chain. Then he got back in and quietly closed his door.
A minute or ten after I crawled into my hole (you lose track of time slamming against the top and bottom of a suitcase) the truck pulled up onto a smooth road. A few minutes more, and it eased to a stop. The transcription from the phone:
“Where are you stationed?” Jason asked as he initiated the conversation. Silence as the deputy spoke; the mic wasn’t picking up outside the truck. “Any decent motels there?” Jason asked. Silence. “Good rates?” Silence. “Pawnee Grasslands, and then a buddy’s place up in Sedgwick County. Overestimated how much oomph I had left in me,” he laughed. Silence. “Yeah, spent the day there birding. Amazing.” Silence. “You live here and never been?” Jason laughed. “I guess tourism’s the territory of us newbies.” Silence. “Indiana. Freaking love it here, away from all those liberal assholes up north!” More laughter. More silence. “Trinidad. Been there two weeks.” The final silence. “Thanks. You, too. Have a good one!” The truck started rolling.
We drove another ten or fifteen minutes before Jason leaned back and freed me from my prison, “I met your buddy, Nordhues. Looks like a prick. You up for putting some distance between us and Yuma County?”
That was four hours ago. We’re now checked-in at the La Junta, Colorado Travelodge. Jason’s crashed, but said before he slipped into his unconscious gigglefest that when we wake-up he wants to cut back and get in some fishing at the reservoir while we wait for nightfall.
The Nebraska side of Annie Wilson’s ranch connects to a narrow county road one mile down from its intersection with US-34. Jason dropped the truck onto the shoulder of that middle of nowhere intersection and threw it into park; his move down into the ditch lacked hesitation, appeared oddly instinctive, like he’d driven these roads all his life. I asked why he stopped, and he reiterated that he was concerned my blog had let Yuma in on our plans. I reminded him that I’m a nobody. “Yeah,” he said, “but you’re a nobody that embarrassed them. Plus, sheriff’s departments don’t have jack shit to do at night. Stay with the truck.” He headed out on foot.
And that’s where we are now. I’m sitting here dictating into my phone while he’s been out doing recon for forty-five minutes. Part of me’s debating going after him, but the other part of me is reminding myself that he has a gun, and I do not, that he revels in this shit, and I do not. So like a pussy, I’m playing on my phone. Call it emasculation by inertia.
We rolled into Lincoln at 11:25 AM. Jason slept the entire way, but awoke the instant we pulled into the parking lot. It was as if the motel had a scent or a sound that yanked him from his slumber. As I parked under the canopy in front of the office, he told me that he was taking the truck and running some errands. I was too tired to bother to ask what kind of errands were pressing in central Nebraska. All I cared about was a bed.
I woke a half dozen hours later (about half an hour ago). Jason was on the other bed watching TV: Pinky and the Brain. He asked if I was ready to leave. Half awake, I asked where he’d gone, and he said a police impound lot. “Why?” He told me he wanted a couple sets of current Colorado plates and a set from New Mexico. (His answer was funny, in both the ha-ha and weird senses). I asked if he planned on impersonating a Texan, too, “You’ll need to get your y’alls right.”
He said dryly, “That reminds me. Be sure and tell Sam that your Toyota’s missing its plates.”
About Sam: I called. She said she felt sick again this morning, but was fine. She added, “I want you to get your mom and hurry home.” Yeah, I get that, too; weird how different this trip feels, the pull to rush back to Sam’s side. To that end, we’re on the road again. Jason’s at the wheel. He’s got the shift that’s taking us into Yuma County.
We left Three Rivers at 2:00 AM Saturday morning. I took the first shift while Jason sprawled out on his truck’s large backseat and slept with coolers, a rifle, and a handgun at his side. As I drove, my copilot snored like a freight train and laughed in his sleep and was oblivious to the sound of the radio, but at least he was armed.
Mom doesn’t know we’re coming. She would have put up a fight, and there’s no room for that. But I’m getting her out of there, even if I have to play it like a bitch: “But I drove two days here to save you!” (The prospect of a grandchild isn’t going to hurt my case any, either.)
With a fresh Coke and a bag of peanuts, I’ve settled back at the wheel after stretching my legs. (This Peoria truck stop is starting to feel like my vacation home.) Behind me, Jason’s already asleep after he stepped out to pee. Time to get onto I-80. Nebraska, here we come…
Jason’s truck is big and high off the ground and looks like a pair of monster trucks had a baby. That’s all I can say about our ride, as I’m not allowed to tell you its make or its color, by order of its owner. He says he doesn’t want his “ass killed” just so I can publish a “vanity project.” Neither am I allowed to tell you our route, nor anything else, for that matter, until we arrive in Texas. This blog is being put into blackout: the only condition for Jason’s participation.
So while I’ll be writing on the road, my posts won’t be published until we land at Mom’s. Wish us well. With drone attacks near our destination, we might just need it.
One hour ago, two drones struck the Alamo.
I’ve put Alison on notice; she’s in charge. I’ve called Jason, and he’s prepping his truck. I’ve finished packing my shit. He and I are leaving tonight. We’re going to get Mom. She’s coming here if I have to drag her. I’m finally playing that patriarchal card.
Sam is sitting next to me. She’s watching me type. Just squeezed my wrist. Just laughed because I typed that. Just swatted me because I typed that. And now she’s resting her head on my shoulder and wrapping her arm around my back. She told me earlier that I have to do this, that God will take care of us. She was calm about that, more calm than she’s been about any of this, like she’s certain. But inside the petite brunette reclining warmly against my side is our child, and how do I trust even God with them if I’m not here to back him up?
I feel ill at ease with this departure, but I don’t feel I have a choice. The war is migrating northward. Ninety more miles, and it’s at Mother’s door.
My team met this morning and refined our project goals, reviewed work accomplished, set deadlines for next week. It was a good meeting. Now they’re at their desks. We’re moving forward.
I have an amazing group. On her first project, Tallah’s shown insane insight into the client’s database needs and the security issues we face. (Online security is the nightmare you never wake from. The best you can hope for is the tech version of a sea captain, a skipper who can navigate you past the icebergs without sinking the ship. Twenty-four-year-old Tallah is our Nemo.)
And Alison. Thank God for Alison. She has this way about her that keeps everybody focused. The best example of that was Ram. Bless his heart, he was like a kid hijacked of his Ritalin, the poster child for ants in the pants. But that didn’t matter. Alison could focus him so keenly that he cranked out work that surpassed even his own expectations. But in private after the meeting, she confided that working with Austin is like trying to steer a rocket. “He’s too damned good,” she told me quietly. “Every idea I come up with he’s already moved past.” She grinned, “I’m going to like this.”
Yeah, Austin’s the whole package. And he can never know how good he is or he’ll break my bank.
Where I’m sitting with my morning coffee is sixty feet from where my father ran beside me as I learned to ride my bike: gold, a Schwinn, small. Barring a dramatic change in plans, that’s where I’ll teach my child to ride like Daddy taught me. And while I guess my kid (holy shit, “my kid”) is a little small for a bike, it will still, in eight months, look like Sam and me and our parents and theirs. It will be part of a continuum, the stream of life that is sprinting upon this wheel that nearly every animal wild or human feels it’s here to tread. And its appearance will reach back hundreds of years, maybe thousands to ancestors that lived in a world that was a different place, where this child’s blood experienced the advent of the automobile and electricity, the expansion westward, the crossing of the Atlantic, kings and feudalism, the advent of Christ, fire. Suddenly, it seems, my small household has become part of the opening credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is our turn, Sam’s and mine, as that child who’s now the size of a grape has our DNA. Yet one small twist of the strand makes this baby unique, not only us but new, the first and the only. And my job is to ensure that this unique collection of cells survives until he/she is taken by old age.
I prayed this morning. Any wonder why?
Austin and I crossed the street. Alison stayed behind, as if she wanted the two of us to have some guy time, some dad-to-dad time over lunch. “What do you think about all this baby stuff?” he asked as we settled at our table. I told him I was too numb to know, that I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. “Let it bake,” he said. “It’s all the mom’s gig when they’re pregnant. Our job is handling the cravings. Plus in your case, I’m thinking painting.”
“Yellow,” I said. She wants everything yellow.
“She’ll change her mind once you know the sex. Yellow, Blue, Green,” he said. “That was our order. She talking names yet? Nadine started that first night.” I told him yes, that she’s got like a half dozen of them already. And every one has meaning, yet every one of them’s wrong for some reason or another. “It’s like sudoku for them. There’ll be hundreds before she’s done.”
“Maybe,” I said. But at fifteen hours into this thing, like I have a clue.
He got serious, and gave me a warning, “Get ready for the crash.” I asked what he meant, and he said it won’t stay this exciting, that it’s like anything: The shine wears off. “The whole thing’s effing amazing, how the baby grows inside her like Alien. But it’s her show, so it gets routine. Your job is pretty much just keeping her safe and fed and listening to her bitch. Focus on that and leave the kid part to her.” He said to set aside an ice cream budget, that he should have bought stock in Ben and Jerry’s.
“What was the birth like? Besides the screaming?” I joked.
He shook his head, “Nadine didn’t scream, just moaned a lot. Loud effing moans. Rattled the damn walls, but no screaming.” He struggled to lift the sandwich to his lips. His slow motion battle made me want to help, even though he didn’t seem to need it. It was weird how little help he needed with anything, considering. “And don’t expect the birth itself to change your worldview,” he said after he sucked down some tea. “It doesn’t.”
“It feels like it’s going to,” I said.
“Yeah, well, after that first time you see your kid, it’s not gonna be what you think. TV blows that shit out of proportion. It feels more like when you get a puppy – at least, that’s the way it was with me.” I was wondering if I’d hired some kind of sociopath when he clarified what he meant, “It took thirteen days. That’s how long it was before Marcus looked at me like he knew who I was. I was his dad. That’s when he changed everything.” Austin shook his head, “Naw, fuck that. He didn’t change it. He killed it. And it’s weird what replaced it, the person I’ve become. It’s like I’m this doting dad but like the most heartless baddest mother fucker…” He stopped and apologized for his language, and I told him that I encouraged bad language in my employees. He laughed and then continued. “I would kill anybody and anything to keep that boy safe. Fucking stab them ’til they’re dead. That’s all I meant,” he said like the willingness to murder another human being was the most natural state of being in the world. He moved his wrists clumsily to his cheeks and wiped at his tears, “Sorry, man, it’s powerful shit.”
After lunch, the team got back to work, and I came into my office and called Sam. She said they were fine.
What else is there to say?
There’s not a guy alive who wants to be confronted with that query. But tonight my wife turned that question into the most remarkable moment in my life.
Sam stood in front of me, nude, and she asked, “Does this make me look fat?”
I stared at her in the buff, as baffled as aroused, “No?”
“It’s going to,” she smiled, and then she handed me the stick. It had two thin red lines across it. The doctor told her this morning, she said, shaking her head like I’d better believe her, that the lines weren’t a fluke. Seven weeks. “March 30th,” she said. “We got pregnant in Rochelle.” She sat on my lap and wrapped her arms and body around me. And maybe it was my imagination, my reaction to the moment, but we felt closer then than we ever had, more intimate even than the first time we melted flesh into flesh. It was like the end of days, the beginning of no end. In fact, maybe that’s exactly what I felt, eternity, as it now appears that we will live on after we die.
I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved Sam at that moment, like I love her now as she sleeps in front of me, underneath the sheets; inside her, us.
I’m going to be a dad.
The meeting took place after my lunch with Sam. It resulted from the months of telephone calls that I began making before our move from Texas, when I culled through the names of friends who remained in southwestern Michigan after I moved to Nebraska.
That effort was built upon after we arrived in Three Rivers from Garry’s, when I became a social beast, talking with what felt like every person in every grocery store line, hardware store aisle, gas pump. Each was presented with a card and an introduction, “My team builds websites.”
The third group of contacts followed Tallah’s hire, when I pushed through my emotions surrounding Ram’s funeral and connected with those prospects she and her family knew. (I called them from Marble Falls, from the highways and ranches of Texas and New Mexico, although not from creepy Colorado.)
Today, that work paid off: At 2:00PM, Rowlandville signed a $40k contract for a small enterprise website for a local auto parts manufacturer. It’s only one, but it’s a start. We have four months to get it launched.
And so over the past couple hours, Alison, Tallah, Austin, and I have been mapping out the basics. Now each of my crew has their assignment and a day to knock it out. We meet again on Friday.
Sam met me for lunch. She said she’d been running errands all morning. She looked happy, like really happy, almost giddy. I asked what was up with the silly grin, and she said she likes it here, “It feels like home, like this is where we’re supposed to be.” I asked what she meant, and all she would say was, “This is where God wanted us.” And then she kissed me like there’s no tomorrow. And then she kissed me again. I’m thinking we should do lunch every day.
I detoured fifteen minutes west. It was going to make me late for work, but it was a turn I should have made far sooner, like on Sam’s and my first day back in Three Rivers.
Rich was my best friend until my family’s move to Nebraska. We met when when his mother and stepdad built a place lakeside across the street from us where the three moved from Kalamazoo. It was the summer before his freshman year. He was one year older than me.
I’m not sure what it was about Rich and me, but it was like Garry and me, like Michael and me, like the friends version of soul mates where two people seem destined to become buddies. And we did. We clicked like that.
Rich reminded me of a teenage Jerry Seinfeld. He had the same sort of face: angular, a little long, prominent features that added character rather than overwhelmed. And he was funny, had an outlandish wit. (I think in those few years before we moved that he may have made my mother laugh more than I ever have.) One her favorite stories still is when Rich’s mother called and asked why her son’s plaid stocking feet were waving in my window. Mother said she didn’t know, and came back to check on us. As she looked in, she put the phone to her mouth and told Rich’s mom that he was standing on his head. Mother was instructed to tell him to stand right end up, that he had enough wrong with his head already. That was the least of the stupid crap we did during the two years that led up to his sixteenth birthday.
The change in Rich began the day he got his driver’s license. From his newfound freedom, he developed this wide-eyed sense of adventure, like he’d found a window, a means of escape from his troubled home. Along with that liberation came an exaggerated sense of invincibility. And alcohol. It was as if overnight he stepped from complete sobriety into another place, one where alcohol owned him, as though the lessons he witnessed in his home and in mine hadn’t been enough.
Quickly, alcohol morphed into weed. And with marijuana came the harder stuff, the shit that left dark circles under his young eyes when he piled into our place for what became increasingly rare visits. “You want to come back to Kalamazoo with me?” He asked me that almost every time he left, like brothers should hang with brothers. “Come on!” he’d plead, always with a smile, “let’s do this!” Every time, those exact words, “Let’s do this!” But his dead eyes offered nothing I wanted. Rather, they frightened me, made my dad’s alcoholism look like child’s play. And so I’d tell him I couldn’t go, and then I’d ask him to stay, but he never did.
You can see when blackness is overtaking a soul, and you never forget it once you do. It’s like watching someone being consumed by an unseen demon. And even as you beg them to grab on and take hold of you, they refuse, and instead stare at you like you’re speaking a foreign language as their dreams are gnawed from the bone. Then, either quickly or languidly, depending on their endurance, I guess, only their shell remains, and darkness moves in for the kill. As my family prepared for our move, night was working its final stages on Rich. He was all but gone.
I could tell you that I missed my friend after we moved, but that would only be partially true. My dad, like Rich’s mom, was an alcoholic, and he had stopped drinking just the year before. So watching my friend slip into that same tunnel was almost more than I could bear. Nebraska offered a fresh start with no brown paper baggage.
Four days days after Rich’s eighteenth birthday, a Fed Ex envelope arrived in Nebraska. It followed a private phone call my mother received the day before. At the package’s arrival, she ushered me into the living room and handed me the letter’s contents. It was a clipping from the newspaper. “It’s about Rich,” she wept. “He’s gone.”
From the Kalamazoo Gazette:
Richard Marsh, 18, of Kalamazoo, was fatally wounded Monday night when he suffered a single gunshot wound to the head while reportedly playing Russian roulette. Little information was known about Marsh, as detectives were still attempting to contact his family members who are reportedly vacationing in Florida.
I shifted my old Toyota into park next to three dew-covered black marble slabs. They glistened in the morning sun. Beneath the stones, Rich’s father, his mother, my friend. I stepped out of the truck and kneeled at Rich’s side. “I’m back,” I told him. “I’m married now. She’s beautiful, smart. You’d like her. I’ll bring her by.” As I returned from the truck with a towel and dried Rich’s grave, it felt like I was wiping away his tears, and I wondered if they were my fault, if his stone was my fault. How much of that young man’s passing was on me? I wonder that every time his face comes to mind.
I loaded into my truck for the trip to Kearney. “Write me,” Rich said, his forearms resting on my open window. His eyes were desperate, like his only connection to sanity was moving away. I thought about those lonely eyes across half the midwest. And more times than I can count, I thought about cranking that wheel and going back home to be with Rich until he was okay again, but I didn’t. And with my knowledge that I wouldn’t, I refocused on my future, slowly at first, until I was immersed in it; my new life was being born, one apart from addictions and their dread. I didn’t write.
Maybe it was the funeral my mother attended and the shooting that preceded it: the shared loss of a brother to a bullet. I don’t know. But I’m glad I went to Rich’s grave. And I’ll go back, because I miss him, and because I should.
I spoke with Mom a few minutes ago. She was sad, she said, but had it together. No crying.
She told me the funeral had been nice, that the church had been packed, that Carl, Jr’s high school football coach had given the eulogy. She said everybody she spoke with respected the boy, that he was thinking about becoming a police officer. Carl and Cristina had held up well, she added, but his brother had been inconsolable. He’s the last of three. His sense of loss must be unimaginable, as must his panic; it’s all on his shoulders now.
I asked my mother if she wanted to come visit. She could spend an unlimited amount of time with us, I reminded her, and she could enjoy time in the water and the town she loved so much. This time, there was no immediate refusal, which makes me think she might. While she ponders, I need to come up with a way to get her here.
Overnight, Carl, Jr’s killer was caught. He’s 15-years-old. The driver was 16.
In the past 24 hours:
2 killed during/after protests.
0 killed by interracial drive-bys.
4 arrested for previous drive-bys.
The ISA is cracking down at home, but it’s getting worse on the front, where three soldiers have been killed in combat since midnight Saturday. More concerning for the ISA (and for those of us who don’t want in this war or even support it, but who do support its soldiers): Sunday night, six white ISA soldiers were killed by a Hispanic private who turned his weapon on his brothers-in-arms. Does this explain why the ISA military has been so ineffectual? Are they losing cohesion within their ranks? Is the trust a military requires coming unwound? How do you put your life in the hands of your buddy when people of your race are shooting down unarmed people of his race back home? I’m not sure you can.
One lightweight question this week. (I’m too pooped from that dock for more.)
Jenn Marx, Cambridge, MA
Have you talked with Lori or any of the others you connected with on your way home?
Yeah, with each of them, this past week. Let’s start with Lori, because I’ve gotten about 50 emails from women wanting to know if she’s a threat to Sam. The answer is no. I’m married, I don’t cheat, and a twenty-year-old fantasy isn’t worth the price. But I’ll be honest, I considered it. But no, I love my wife, and so the option was wiped from the table within seconds of its consideration. That said, I did check on her. She’s fine. She hasn’t filed for divorce yet.
I spoke with Jim. He said nobody has been in touch with him, but that he spotted some “Colorado boys” sniffing around his north gate. He said he asked them what they wanted, and they said nothing, that they’d had some reports of loose cattle. He said he didn’t like calling people liars, but “it was obvious to the biggest dummy that field didn’t have no cattle.”
When I contacted Tom, he told me that he’d been visited by some local law. They had been asked by the Texas Department of Public Safety to come check on him, “to make sure we hadn’t had any questionable folks traipsing across our land.” He laughed and said they didn’t accuse him of anything, just made it clear their job was to keep an eye on the Texas border – especially during the war. He said there was nothing to worry about, that they were okay, and then he asked me if I’d heard about Carl, Jr.
Finally, Annie said she and the sheriff “had a right nice time” the night I left, and that she made sure I was forgotten. (She said old girls had the experience to make a man forget God himself, “Those young fillies got nothing on us.”)
Mother called. She had just gotten back from a gathering the church held for Brother Carl and his wife and son. She says she still doesn’t understand where people like Carl, Jr’s killer come from, “How can somebody be this cruel?” Between the protests, the cold blooded murders, and war, I guess over 150 sets of ISA parents have asked that same question of men and government, and that doesn’t include the Mexican and Chinese families who’ve lost their children.
The ISA military has been held up at the Rio Grande since they started this thing. They’ve lost McAllen (CNN and FOX confirmed that today) and gained nothing. But here in Three Rivers, we’ve put in a dock and I’m considering a boat. That feels very wrong.
Jason was tooling around on his father’s boat, doing something to the motor. I walked over and looked down into the engine compartment at the small block Chevy engine Jason had dropped into it. “Better mileage and more power,” he smiled, “at least the way I do it.” I asked him if he was free next weekend. He said yes, and asked why.
“My dock,” I said.
“You wanna do it now?” I told him I didn’t want to interrupt, and he said he would be working on that boat from his grave, “It’s like breathing, but without the payoff.”
It took most of Saturday and all this morning to install the dock that looks, I assume, much like it did back in 1934 when this place was built; the same family had owned the home for all eighty years, and they must have thought the long slender strip of white slats was plenty for the job, or each generation saw not its antiquity but their memories. I saw no reason to change that now. And maybe our kids, if we ever have them, will feel the same about it when we pass, and their kids after them.
Despite my request for help, the thought of working with someone for a full day (a day and a half, as it turned out) whom I hadn’t known since high school was daunting, but it was less daunting than the prospect of attempting to put in that wooden dock on my own.
In the end, my concerns proved to be unfounded, as what Jason lacks in height he makes up for in personality; it was a great day and a half. Not to mention, my friend’s experience compensated for my inexperience in spades: Board by board, he pointed out the ones that were becoming unsafe; he showed me, too, where the trusses were going bad, and suggested we go all-aluminum.
It was a fun and exhausting (and expensive) weekend. But now, I told him, it looks like we’re ready for a boat. He laughed.
Brother Car’s wife, Cristina, gave birth to three sons. Their ages spanned nine years. The youngest was a fortunate accident. They named him after his father at his birth twenty-three years ago. The eldest, James, died during a firefight in Fallujah in April of 2004. The middle son is in med school at Baylor University.
Last night, in front of an Irish Pub in downtown Austin, Carl, Jr., who shares his mother’s Hispanic features, was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The car’s blonde shooter screamed “Wetback” as the vehicle sped away. I stayed on the phone as Mother wept. She said, “He was such a good boy.”
According to CNN, over forty young men and women died overnight, both Hispanic and white. It was the highest single day death toll so far.
Since Wednesday, seventy-plus lives have been lost to interracial violence. Six of those have been under the age of sixteen; four have been under the age of twelve.
Carl, Jr.’s funeral will be on Monday.
Sam and I spent the evening in the lake and laying out on the raft. (We still have to get the dock in. I’ll give Jason a call. Maybe we can knock it out next weekend.) She said she’s worried about Mom. For while she knows that my mother has been an independent soul since she was a girl (she was her rancher father’s only son, she always jokes, and was driving by the time she was thirteen), she also knows that age robs even strong souls of their independence: a sign not of weakness, but decay.
I think about Mom, too. I worry. But boundaries are a bitch.
Yet tonight wasn’t about my parent, but Sam: my sweet brunette’s flesh, scent, smile, laugh. Ever notice how some women don’t need makeup, how it ruins the art of God? In the water at night, with a big moon and small waves reflecting a shifting light, magic happens. No, that’s wrong. Not magic, but life sans maquillage, fashion, illusion. You know?
Austin spent yesterday with Alison as she familiarized him with our previous projects, walked him through our workflow, and handed him some old projects and asked him to show her how he would improve them. I pulled him from his work station this morning and told him I wanted to get to know him. We headed downstairs to the coffee shop and talked A&M and football, and then about him.
Austin said he and Bee had just gotten settled in. I asked him how he liked Kalamazoo, and he said he liked it fine, but that he already missed home. I asked him why Kalamazoo. He reached into his pouch next to his Skoal can and retrieved his phone and set it on the table. He tapped it with his uncooperative finger, and his home screen appeared. On it, a photo of a biracial child, “He’s the reason. That’s Marcus.”
“Yours and Bee’s?” I asked, weirdly uncomfortable at treading into any sort of assumption regarding Bee’s gender. He said no, that Bee’s a guy, “and he’s just my attendant. I don’t fly that way.” He went on to explain that his ex had moved here in May, and that he followed as soon as he could. “My whole family’s coming north. All Democrats. I’m the black sheep, would have stayed in the south, myself, but I go where my boy goes.” He said that he and Nadine, his ex, had been together for five years when they had in vitro to conceive. Then she gave birth to Marcus. “That’s when everything just kinda went off the rails. She moved out.” I asked if it was postpartum depression, and he said he thought so, although she never had it diagnosed, said he thought she was scared that some doctor would tell her she’s crazy. He spit brown tobacco juice into a paper coffee cup, “I’m here for Marcus, but I’m hoping that when things chill out and her hormones get back to normal that we can be a family.” You could sense the emotion behind his smile. He loves the girl. But there was fear there, too, like he was afraid his hope was pointless.
“Where are your parents moving?” I asked, and he said Cincinnati in September. He added that his brother is already in San Diego, and that he was the one who designed the mechanics (along with his brother’s friends, software engineers) that are at the heart of the gear that allows him to draw so well despite his injury.
I finished my coffee and he spit out his chew, and we headed back upstairs. He’s at work now designing new wireframes that will allow us to move quickly with our new clients – as soon as I find some. Back to the phone…
So much has been going on since my return (sleep, jumping into work, my obsession with the news) that I’ve hardly had time with Sam. Tonight, she came out on the porch and slid her chair next to mine and wrapped her arms around mine and rested her head on my shoulder. Name one man who doesn’t melt when his woman does that. “I love you, too,” I said. She kissed me on the cheek.
I don’t know how long we sat looking out over the water, but for a while there was no war, my mother was safe, the business was fine. I had her. All was well. Then she asked when I was leaving. “I don’t know,” I said. It could be tomorrow or next month. Mother is being stubborn. At her age, I guess she’s earned that right. “She’ll let me know,” I said. Sam said that by then it might be too late. Yeah. Then she stood and took my hand, and I followed her upstairs.
Daddy died when I was 32. It came quickly. One day, he had pain, and then four weeks later he could barely breathe. Two more after that, and he was gone.
On that last day, the ER doctor stood with us as my father’s heart refused to play ball; he spoke quietly, gently guiding us toward the inevitable as my father slept, unconscious. The doctor, curious but respectful, asked if my dad had ever been diagnosed with Lyme Disease, that he could have picked it up where there were a lot of deer. We told him Daddy had been working in the Piney Woods near Palestine, Texas. “That would do it,” he said. “He has every symptom.” Yet no diagnosis had previously been made, nothing that would have stopped this night, not that much effort had gone into it.
Four of the previous six weeks, Daddy had been an in-patient at an Austin hospital, although the old physician that had him under his care offered little in treatment: He visited daily, he smiled an old gray smile, he told us he was doing all he could. “All” is a relative measure.
Over the first two weeks of his stay, my father’s slide had been consistent and dramatic. You could see death coming. I’d been under the care of another doctor at the same hospital the year before. He was young, smart, aggressive. I sought him out, asked him to take my father’s case, to try and stop the slide. He agreed, but said the senior doctor would have to release Daddy first. No problem.
That afternoon, I spoke with the old doctor. I told him I respected him, but that I preferred a new set of eyes. I wanted my father’s case transferred. The old man refused. To change physicians, he said, my father would have to first be discharged. He could then be re-admitted 72 hours later.
I went to the administration. I raised hell. I told them a discharge at this stage in my father’s decline would put his life at risk. 72 hours was too long. He needed a new doctor. Now.
24 hours later, my father was transferred to the younger doctor’s care. 24 hours after that, that same doctor pulled me from my dad’s room. We stepped down the hall. He told me he was resigning as my father’s physician – pressure from the old man.
Less than one month later, Mother and I left the ER. Daddy had had his 4th heart attack. He was no longer there.
My father was 72-years-old when he died. Sitting on a planet that is billions of years old with a DNA strand within us that is so ancient that it borders on the absurd, my father’s and my forty-year differential in age made us cosmic twins. I could have died the same night as him, and in the grand scheme we would have died the same age. That recognition didn’t make my dad’s death easier, but it did change my view of mortality: it stripped away my fear.
The scope of a human’s insignificance is both horrifying and liberating. Live! Our existence is brief no matter how you measure our years. 40 or 80, it’s all the same. So blow the fucking doors off. Be good – to everyone. But don’t be still. And don’t be cautious – except with other people’s hearts. Play.
When Daddy died, he left me an only child and the patriarch responsible for ensuring that my mother does okay. Yet in the decade or so since that became my task, I have never managed to discover that line between her position as my mother and mine as her caretaker. When does love overrule deference? When does her well-being trump her will? When does my duty to drive her north to safety outweigh her right to live?
I failed my father. I can’t fail here.
Okay, I’m tackling the Q&As I slept through on Sunday. First, a question from Philly:
Adam, Philadelphia, PA
You act like you think Mexican violence/terrorism is justified. Is that what you think?!
Hell, no! I’m a non-violent guy. But I do think Mexicans have a right – in fact, a responsibility – to confront the racism they’ve been subjected to. The way they’ve been demonized by the ISA is abhorrent, just like this war with Mexico is. And you can’t lie there and allow your people to be your own country’s punching bag.
So like I’ve implied in other posts, I understand why they would want to lash out (except at children). It’s a natural response to the treatment they’ve received. That said, civilized society demands that citizens resist “natural responses” when they are destructive to their country, as these retributions are. Rather, in my opinion, they should take a page from Martin Luther King.
Jane, Boston, MA
Are you going to go get your mom?
Mark, Eugene, OR
Any word from your friends on how it’s going along the Mexican border?
My buddy from McAllen fled to Austin on Sunday, so all I’ve got is second hand news through him. And he says what he’s hearing is that the Mexicans have made their way into the city, and with them a large contingent of Chinese. On CNN, they’ve said there’s fighting near McAllen, but said nothing about the Mexicans crossing the border.
If I had to choose which report to believe, first hand reports from friends of someone I trust (whom I assume have his level of character) or a media company that has parameters placed on it by the ISA, I’m taking the first hand accounts.
That said, if the Mexicans/Chinese are in McAllen, it raises some troubling questions about the efficacy of the ISA military, which is for the most part the old American military:
1) If they’re losing ground (hell, if they’re not gaining ground), has the ISA’s internal strife weakened them?
2) Are they losing a significant number of Hispanics, and is that weakening them?
3) Is the current racism causing black soldiers to question their loyalty, and is that weakening them?
3) Or are the Chinese really that good and/or numerous?
I guess what I’m saying is that at this point, I have more questions than answers.
I finished writing my post this morning and headed to work. I didn’t read the news, didn’t watch it, but buried my head in the sand and kept my focus narrow. I need to sell today. I can’t be imprisoned by the news from the ISA. I don’t live there, anymore. My business isn’t based there, anymore. And if I obsess on there instead of here, I lose Rowlandville. It’s that simple. So I called Mom on the way to Kalamazoo, made sure she was okay, and then I rolled in here and began cold calling. That lasted about three hours before I hit the web looking for news. God.
Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Killeen: Drive-bys. Nine dead.
Looting and fires in almost every major ISA city west of Mississippi. Twelve dead.
There’s no way the ISA can stand at the Mexican border with this shit going on. They’re going to lose this war.
Rowlandville hasn’t earned a dime since we moved to our new city. And with the south in flames and the Chinese looking to head our direction, the prospect of easy cash flow is right up there with the Cubs winning the World Series. It’s like I moved Alison to Kalamazoo only to lay her off. And while I may have saved her from the possibility of Chinese Communism, Capitalism isn’t any good if you can’t afford to eat. So I’ve got to get my butt in gear and find us some accounts receivable.
Business owners are nothing if not optimists.
Austin & Bee
Austin showed up yesterday afternoon with his helper – slash significant other? The helper’s named “Bee.” Bee is five-eleven, slightly rotund, African-American. And while I wish I could tell you whether Bee is a male or a female, I’m not exactly sure.
Standing next to Austin and both doting on and bitching at him like only intimate couples do, Bee was my new designer’s hands as the skinny redneck instructed her (?) where plugs went and how the monitors and keyboard and tablet should be positioned. As he matter-of-factly told her what had to be done, his conundrum bickered that her charge was being too bossy, that he needed to treat her like a lady and not his “bitch. Isn’t that right?” she asked me. I shrugged and suggested that smart men knew better than to get in-between… (Then I realized I didn’t know how to finish that sentence, and I quickly shut up.)
By the numbers, Rowlandville has enough cash reserves to maintain staff and expenses for two months. I’m willing to sink another four months into it from my personal coffers. But by the end of the sixth month, we’ll need at least two moderately-sized projects in the pipeline and a third completed in order to keep our doors open for month seven. Three sales and one completion over a six month span seems reasonable. Yeah? I hope so.
Do I go get her now and drag her up here against her will or leave her down there to manage her own life? No clue. I’ll call tonight.
In Houston, drive-bys have started, not against rival gangs, but against whites in two upper and middle class neighborhoods, where living room windows and car tires were blown out by AR-15s two hours ago. The targets: bankers and lawyers and successful business owners terrorized for being white or coconut – Hispanic on the outside, white on the inside. CNN says two children and four adults have been hospitalized, and one eight-year-old was killed in her front yard along with her father. As the windows shattered and the children dropped, the cars with the shooters didn’t slow. They hadn’t seen their victims fall or they hadn’t cared.
It strikes me that this wasn’t a Mexican thing, not really. These guys were like McVeigh, men who no longer considered themselves part of the greater society, no longer feel connected to the country in which they were born. Their rift is complete. And that begs the question: Have they come to view white society as their enemy? If so, as America did when it was attacked on 9-11, will men like this lead a war against their enemy on its home turf? And like Iraqi children, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of whom were “collateral damage” as the larger war raged on, is it white children who are this war’s “collateral damage?”
I’m watching the images, reading the reports, listening for locations, and worrying about Mother as I plan my certain return – with her approval or without. Sam knows and understands; she loves my mom and is scared for her, too. Jason said that if I need help, he’s in. It’s not his fight, and I am leery to take anyone into that mess who doesn’t have a personal stake in the situation, but he’s scrappy. And scrappy ain’t bad when you’re running from the good guys and the bad guys, the cops and the terrorists.
The protests are spreading, across the north, too. In the south, the scenes are reminiscent of America in the 1960s (like Chicago 1968) or a foreign coup; it’s getting violent. And while protests are so far peaceful in the north, I’m not sure they’ll stay that way; anger is contagious. But I’ve got to focus on work…
Alison was straightforward, “What are you going to do?” My projects manager was talking about my mother and her safety. I told her I didn’t know. “And what do we do about the business?”
“I get us clients,” I told her. And then I excused myself into my office and pulled the blinds. Focus. That’s my biggest challenge, that and the unrest in the ISA as it creeps north. How do you sell websites when the world is going to hell?
Houston: 9 dead from intergang skirmishes, 3 square blocks burned to the ground.
Fort Worth: 1 dead, 1 block torched.
Phoenix: 5 dead, 2 square blocks burned.
San Antonio: 6 dead, 3 blocks burned.
Dallas: 2 dead, 2 blocks burned.
Across the ISA, there was sporadic overnight gunfire in Hispanic neighborhoods. Police say some was gang-related, some white vigilantism.
As of 8:00 AM CST, protesters are already arriving in Dallas, Denver, and again in Houston. (They never left San Antonio.) In the north, crowds have begun gathering in LA, Chicago, Detroit, and Philly and NYC. This shit is growing bigger than law enforcement. It’s taken on a life of its own. In the middle of a war.
My father was hyper-superstitious. He had concerns about everything: Putting your hat on the bed brought bad luck; ditto on wearing a hat inside; and God help you if you spilled salt. I suppose I’m superstitious, too.
San Antonio is two hours from my mom, and it’s the center of Hispanic culture in Texas, maybe the center for all the southwest, and the protests there this past day or so have been some of the biggest in the ISA. So why didn’t I mention that a couple hours ago?
I asked myself that a few times before I began this post, and I still don’t know. But I think I subconsciously set it aside, like, “I’ll deal with it in a minute,” knowing full well I wouldn’t, because doing so would acknowledge that Mother is at risk, and that would somehow amplify that risk: superstition. But irrational fear is crap, so this is the story:
A city two hours from my mother had five killings in its barrios last night. Protests there have been non-stop since a couple hours after those three police officers were shot in south Texas. The woman who gave me birth is too close to that, and she’s in danger, as will be everyone until the dust on this war and racism settles – which will be weeks or years from now, most likely the latter.
It’s ironic: Could the people who made the decision that split America into two countries now have their own nation divided?
The cable networks have been eating up the spectacle for almost twenty-four hours now, especially since noon: Hispanics and white kids marching in Fort Worth and Houston and Phoenix. (I guess there are big ratings for civil unrest; mayhem sells.)
Conservative coverage of the “Texas Heroes’ Murders,” as FOX is calling the killing of the three police officers, has been ferocious, as if these young protesters are to blame for those three deaths. With that said (with FOX’s biases dutifully pointed out), the gang colors and semi-automatic weapons brandished at the protests are fucking horrifying – you can feel the presence of those guns is just the start.
On the upside, ’til now we’ve gotten off without a repeat of last night: no arson or looting, and no one’s yet dead, although the odds are stratospheric that that will change before sunrise.
I am alone at the offices of Rowlandville. My crew has gone home, the crew that two weeks ago lost their team member. Ramiro.
I placed the ad for my new third while I was in Boulder. By noon Monday, I had five applicants. Today at three, after two interviews, I had my new man.
For his 11:00 AM interview, my future graphic designer roared into the office sporting dress Wranglers fronted by a large silver buckle. Below, he wore a pair of shiny black Luccheses; above, a pearl-buttoned shirt. He was capped by a palm leaf cowboy hat. In the left pouch of his power wheelchair, a long series of small tin cans had burned in their signature ring. We had us a redneck in the shop.
My new designer’s name is Austin, and he’s from a small town southwest of Dallas. He is also a graduate of Texas A&M University, Class of ’06. (For those of us who attended the school, that matters.)
Austin is six foot four and weighs a buck forty soaking wet. His fingers are long and thin, and so is his neck. Part of that is his genetics; he says he was a tall lean running back in high school, said he had always been thin. But part of his skinny build is no doubt due to the muscle waste that has accompanied his quadriplegia, the result of a broken neck suffered during the last football game of his senior year in high school.
Yet despite his disability and small town pedigree, Austin exceeded my every expectations with a portfolio that was both button down business and creative as hell; the boy is the real deal. And while I don’t understand how he does what he does with paralyzed hands that must surely move clumsily across his Wacom, he says he manages “good.” I hired him on the spot.
Timothy McVeigh revealed that a terrorist can be the guy down the street (albeit the psychopath down the street) as easily as a Jihadist with a foreign tongue. It’s been proven repeatedly since, and it always comes unexpectedly. We wonder how that guy who looks like us and talks like us can justify killing others of us; always without regret; usually, with no rational cause. But sometimes, as uncomfortable as this makes us, the actions of a killer are based on reason.
As of noon today, two young Hispanic men, both born and raised in Texas and each apparently unaware of the other, shot and killed two police officers in Victoria (an hour and a half north of Corpus Christi) and one in Edinburg (twenty minutes north of McAllen). All three officers were white.
These acts don’t feel like an anomaly. They feel like harbingers of things to come, foreshadowing, as Hispanic men tire of being demonized, tire of seeing people of their descent spit on and beaten and, in cases like those in Oklahoma – like Ramiro, killed. Were these murders today a reaction to three years of incessant anti-Hispanic propaganda and now a war which appears to be waged on an ethnicity not a nation? Has the government and its supporting media pushed the envelope too far and created a class of citizens who are rising up against those who view them as less legitimate than the immigrants who preceded them? And if that’s the case, and if these two young men are the first of a wave, can the ISA fight Mexicans on two fronts, both at the border and within its own walls?
CNN (but not FOX) is already reporting that militant Hispanic leaders are calling for more Mexicans to raise their voices and their weapons in unity with these two men whom one called “nuestros libertadores” (our liberators). It reminds me of videos from the 1960s that show college kids on hunger strikes against the Vietnam war and men like Malcolm X repeatedly calling on black people to strive for equality using “any means necessary.”
I wonder where this is going. As I do, I am ever mindful of Mother’s location in Marble Falls and her proximity to everything I am reading and seeing in the news.
The highway mesmerizes. But rarely from its repetition of yellow line – none – yellow line – none do you physically collapse. And so it was Saturday night as I drove the final few hours into Three Rivers – until I settled into a house completely unpacked and freshly decorated by my lovely Sam, and I allowed myself to relax. It was then that I fell apart.
With the trip and the drama behind me, my body and mind instantly retreated from the stresses I had subjected them to. I barely made it up the stairs. I don’t remember falling onto the bed, don’t remember Sam slipping off my pants and shirt, don’t remember her pulling up my covers. I was again an unconscious three-year-old settled into bed by its loving mother; all that was missing were my Curious George PJs. I slept until three Sunday afternoon.
Upon waking, I ate some toast and took a swim in the lake, then slept ’til six, and I still fell asleep at midnight. Needless to say, I missed creating the weekly Q&A session. I’ll try to get you a midweek edition to make up for that.
Anyway, I’ve just arrived at the office. The girls have the place wired and ready for business and doughnuts on the table for my return. Now it’s time for me to wind up the sales – and begin interviewing for Ramiro’s replacement. That’s still hard to say.
I’ll try to write more tonight, but it may be Tuesday.
Sam doesn’t read my blog. She says it’s my diary, that this is where my private concerns and aspirations are recorded for later reflection – and for the world to see. She says she has no need to read it, that she’ll discover my heart the way a wife should, between us, privately. “So spill your most intimate secrets for the world to see,” she’s told me, “but don’t spill mine.”
The woman Sam has never met sat across from me, breakfast plates and orange juice and half-empty cups of coffee between us. “He’s been cheating on me,” she said.
We arranged our meeting after a late night text in which she wrote that her kids were at camp, their last shot at weekend fun before school preparations began for the fall, giving her time for adult conversation. “Tomorrow morning?” her message read.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to Lori since we were eighteen and I was leaving Nebraska a heartbroken mess. Now here we were at an outdoor table because of a phone call between her and Garry on Friday, when he asked her to manage some of his affairs due to his and Dutch’s extended vacation, and he told her about my arrival. It had been twenty plus years since I had seen her, and I’ve aged every year of them, but she aged maybe one year for every two; she’s had three kids, one of whom is learning to drive, she said, and she looks maybe twenty-nine.
As we spoke, her eyes were bright, if at moments teary. She said it happened four weeks prior, the note she found in his jacket, a phone number, a woman’s name, a perfect red lipstick imprint on the paper, an intimate message. I asked what his response had been to her discovery. She said she didn’t know, that her lawyer hadn’t contacted him yet. “So you’re leaving?” I asked.
“This isn’t the first time,” she said. She mentioned her son and two daughters, “One day, they’ll find out what happened. If I stay, what lesson am I teaching my girls about their value as women? And what would it teach my son about keeping trust with the one person you’re most responsible for protecting?” She said she would probably leave if they had no children, but that she has to leave because they do.
We talked for another hour about high school and college and the years since. She said I looked good. I said she looked great. And then at noon, we hugged, and she kissed me on the cheek like she used to. Her lips were warm and soft, and after all those years, still at home against my flesh. She pulled away and looked up at me. She said, “I don’t know how I’ve survived without this.” And for the first time since she arrived, I smelled her scent. It hadn’t changed, much like she hadn’t, much like I hadn’t, we hadn’t. Everything was eerily the same except for the miles.
“I hope you come back,” she said. “It’s been nice being a girl again.” She laughed and said that after our three hour walk down Memory Lane she felt the need to dig out her Bryan Adams’ CDs.
On the highway through Iowa, its unending fields making you feel like you’re riding a stationary bike, I found my memories connected not to Bryan Adams (I hate Bryan Adams) but to the song that summated my senior year:
People are talking, talking ’bout people,
I hear them whisper, you won’t believe it.
They think we’re lovers kept under cover,
I just ignore it but they keep saying we…
Laugh just a little too loud,
Stand just a little too close,
We stare just a little too long.
Maybe they’re seeing, something we don’t darlin’.
Daddy used to say “Goose it!” when he wanted me to accelerate. I’d never heard anybody else use the term in that context.
I left Garry’s early, before sunrise, before rush hour. I made good time, but had a hard time shaking the paranoia that Yuma County was somewhere on my tail. (Funny the effect a night in jail will have on you.)
That fear that I was on the sheriff’s radar kept me in check across Colorado: I obeyed the speed limit, never passed, just blended the fuck in. Yet for most of the 175 miles between Boulder and my final stop before Nebraska, my eyes were locked onto my rearview mirror and not the road ahead, although what I was searching for wasn’t there; no deputies were in sight.
Meanwhile, my Alone in BFE insecurities weren’t being eased by my phone, which I was clinging to like a child to his mother; the way it was losing juice, it was going to be useless to me if I encountered another Nordhues. (It had been draining its battery like a sieve since Wray. God knows how badly they banged it around when I was in the tank.)
Annie Wilson – yeah, like that hot rock singer from the seventies, but half her size – met me at her farmhouse door. Annie’s in her mid-sixties with silken white hair that falls past her shoulders and a lean body and cut face that exude strength. (Picture Sam Elliot with breasts, and that’s her.) She said Brother Carl had told her there’d been a hold up, and that she was glad I’d made it safely. “Come in,” she said. It was more a command than an invitation. I stepped into her low-slung clapboard home.
“You hungry?” she asked. I told her no, that I’d been stopping every hour or so to make sure no one was following me, and that I was jacked up on soda and chips. She shook her head and told me that I needed protein, “Sit.” Again a command, not an offer.
Annie was pulling cooking utensils from the drawer when something caught her attention outside. I knew instantly what it was; call it instinct. She said, “We’re walking out together. When we clear the porch, you run like hell for that truck.” She reached to the wall for her shotgun, “They’ll be too preoccupied with me and my buddy here to come after you.” She pumped the gun’s forestock back over its magazine and gave me instructions for my escape, “You get in that cab and goose that bastard up the trail behind this house and you don’t let up ’til you’re past the gate. It’s already unlatched.” She stepped to the door and grabbed the knob, “You ram that bitch open and get to the other side. Past the fence, you’re in Nebraska USA, and Yuma can’t touch you.” She glared at me, “You do what I’m telling ya, you hear me?”
“What about you?”
“They ain’t gonna shoot the old woman that beds their boss.” She grinned, “That would be ungrateful.” She swung open the door, and we walked across the porch to the edge of the step. The deputies, two of them, saw Annie’s gun. We stepped off the porch, and she glanced my way, my cue to run.
As I lit for my truck, Annie swung up her rifle. The deputies lost their focus on me as they stared down the barrels of her six-cartridge shotgun. With my driver’s door still opened, I cranked my ignition, dropped it into first, and threw a cloud of dirt and stones as I launched toward the border. Less than five minutes after I sprinted off Annie’s porch, I raced through her gate: I was in Nebraska. USA.
As I abandoned the rain-starved ground for the black asphalt of a no-name road, I watched a Yuma County cruiser fade into the distance, but I still didn’t drop below 75 MPH until I hit the small town of McCook, a solid hour away. From there, I followed US 34 to 183. (It was melancholy; a right turn at that intersection would have taken me straight to Austin and on down to Refugio, a few miles north of Corpus Christi Bay. 183 splits Texas east and west; from it, I could have gone everywhere I loved.) But I turned the wheel north, and the old highway took me to I-80, over which I headed east toward Kearney, the place I met Garry and Lori, and then on to Council Bluffs, and Garry and Dutch’s place.
In the guest room of the luxo-condo, on the bed exhausted but still unable to sleep, I’ve been tooling around with my phone, running a few diagnostics to try and figure out the battery problem. And I’ve found it: Nordhues or one of his compadres put a tracking app on my phone. That’s how they found me at Annie’s. It makes me wonder if they agreed to let me out of their cage just to follow me, to discover who was helping me.
Mother’s deacon told me the feds don’t care about my blog, and that did and still does sound reasonable. But my guess is that the Yuma County cop shop never got that memo. God bless you, Jim. Hopefully, their interest won’t extend into New Mexico. The same good wishes to you, Tom and Nancy; and of course to you, Brother Carl. Thanks for having my back.
I’ve just sent those mentioned above emails advising them of the situation; emails of gratitude went to Garry and Dutch and Annie, too. (I’ve asked Annie to give my best to the sheriff when he comes to call. )
A Note to the Yuma County Sheriff’s Dept: Keep my last comment in mind, because I would hate to break up your good sheriff’s marriage or cost him the next election – or both – with an expository website that reveals his personal indiscretions. To that point, you don’t want to test my website/search engines skills, because on that front I will bury you. So maybe leave my friends alone, what do you say, boys?
I’ve been sitting with Garry on his and Dutch’s seventh floor balcony looking out on the Rockies. (Seriously, what’s up with gay men and fantastic views?) Dutch sporadically joined us as he flitted out and in, straightening, cleaning, complaining about Garry’s slovenly ways. Over a beer, I asked Garry if they 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 we can 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.
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.
“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.”
“And we’ve established that you’re aware our state borders are sealed to non-residents.”
“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?”
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The truck is packed. Mom has been kissed. It’s time to hit the road.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apart from minor skirmishes, war did not break out overnight.
The good news is temporary.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Ramiro’s death, I’m not in the right head space for this. Questions next week. Take care.
I received a phone call. Ramiro is dead.
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.
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?)
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.
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 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.)
Alison’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.
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:
And now back to boxes…
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.
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.
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.
Mayflower’s here, and not a minute too soon. I’m out of underwear.
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.
Gas. Pee. Tampons. Chocolate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.