Sunday, April 30, 2006

Save the Old Birds

CASCABEL, Ariz. — The Oasis Sanctuary is far from the largest retirement community in the Arizona desert, but it is certainly the noisiest.

BY Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times

Along with the morning sun each day, there climbs a riotous opera of screeches, shrieks and squawks along with the occasional wolf whistle, "What's up?" and "I love you."

Tucked in a remote river valley, separated from Tucson by an enormous mountain range, the sanctuary is a "life care facility" for some 450 parrots, cockatoos, macaws and other tropical birds.

With life spans that for some species can be 80 years or longer, many of the birds have outlived their human caretakers. Others reached the end of their productivity as commercial breeders. Most were deemed too ornery or skittish for adoption as pets and faced euthanasia.

"Nobody wants these older birds," said Sybil Erden, who founded the sanctuary in 1998, noting that a parrot can take months or years to recover from losing a companion. "People call and say, 'We've had a bird for two months, and it just doesn't like us.' "

Ms. Erden's goal is definitely not to socialize birds for another try with people. "We're helping them learn to have bird friends," she said. "Some of them have a hard time understanding that they are birds."

Still, the enduring imprint of owners past, of decades spent in someone's living room or kitchen, was abundantly audible on a walk through the sanctuary grounds.

Billy, a yellow-naped Amazon, delivered the extended monologue that staff members call a "one-sided phone conversation."

"Hello," he said as a visitor approached and then continued with considered pauses between phrases: "Uh huh" ... "Yeah" ... "O.K." ... "Then what happened?"

Ms. Erden, a onetime artist who has parrots tattooed across her back, opened the sanctuary in Phoenix but moved to this larger isolated location along the San Pedro River six years ago. It occupies an old pecan orchard, miles up a bumpy dirt road, through a rocky landscape of prickly pear cactus and thorny mesquites.

Wild javelinas wander onto the property in daylight, ignored by the resident menagerie of roosters, geese, goats, sheep and cows, each animal with a back story that bears out Ms. Erden's admitted soft spot for forlorn creatures.

Sharing one aviary are some racing pigeons that had faced doom because they could no longer find their way home. The cherry-headed conure named Mingus and two other refugees from the feral flock made famous by the 2003 documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" are also here. Physically handicapped, the three needed a new home after the squatter who tended them in San Francisco was forced from his house.

Two well-trained dogs protect the birds from coyotes and bobcats.

The larger birds are usually paired in rows of large veranda-covered cages. Some, mainly smaller species, inhabit two larger aviaries where they flock and fly, getting closer to their natural state. Ms. Erden hopes to build 10 more aviaries.

Many parrots are monogamous, bonding for life with another bird or, in homes, with a human. A top priority is helping them find a new companion. Self-chosen, companions are not necessarily of the same sex or species.

Milo, a green-wing macaw measuring three feet from head to tail, arrived nearly six years ago after being rescued from an unstable person's fetid basement. Ms. Erden had already been looking to set up Rah Rah, a military macaw nearly as big, so she tried placing them by themselves in a large cage.

"The first thing Milo did was to say 'Hello' in a loud voice," she recalled. "Rah Rah literally fell off his perch."

Two days later, Ms. Erden said, the birds were perched side by side, and Milo actually had a wing over Rah Rah's shoulder. Neither is friendly toward humans. But Rah Rah, who had never uttered English words, started saying the occasional "Hello" and "How are you?" Of course, talking with Milo's accent.

Jasmine, a double-yellow-headed Amazon now around 10 years old, was given up by an owner who became infirm after a series of strokes. Here she bonded with Tabasco, same species, age unknown, and now the two preen and feed each other.

But beware to intruders. When Ms. Erden stopped to talk with Jasmine, Tabasco started biting Jasmine out of jealousy, a behavior these parrots exhibit in the wild to keep their mates from flirting with rivals.

Their mimicking skills are sometimes so acute that it is hard not to impute humanlike reasoning. As Ms. Erden neared Stinkerbelle, a small green and grey Quaker parrot, the bird cried out, "No, no, no!" pecked Ms. Erden's finger and mockingly screamed, "Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

The last thing the sanctuary wants is to produce offspring. Sometimes the birds are seen having sex. But without appropriate nesting sites, they seldom lay eggs, and when they do, ceramic eggs are substituted until the parents lose interest.

Even as she works to expand and improve the sanctuary, whose $250,000-a-year operating budget is financed by donations, Ms. Erden worries about a potential flood of unwanted parrots as pet-owning baby boomers become infirm.

"We're getting more calls from people in their 60's and 70's who need to give up their birds," she said. "We don't see an end to the problem."

Best Column on Immigration

By Ruben Navarette

As members of Congress wrap up their spring break, many Americans want immigration reform that is both tough and compassionate.

Beef up enforcement, they tell pollsters, but also grant legal status to at least some of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here.

Lawmakers appear ready to deliver along those lines. No surprise there. Whenever Washington turns its attention to immigration reform, say every 20 years or so, we always hear words like “tough” and “compassionate.”

But what we need is an immigration policy that is nuanced and honest.

Nuance has been in short supply in this debate ever since Benjamin Franklin lit into German immigrants around the time of the American Revolution.

Today, you can support increasing the number of Border Patrol agents without supporting amateur hour in the form of the Minutemen. You can support fences along portions of the border without going along with building a 2,000-mile-long wall. You can support converting unauthorized presence in the United States from a civil violation to a criminal offense – an idea that was recently squashed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist – without saying it should be a felony rather than a misdemeanor. And you can be alarmed over the cost of providing education and health care to the U.S-born children of illegal immigrants without concluding that the solution is to deprive those children of U.S. citizenship.

On the other side of the great divide, you can sympathize with the plight of illegal immigrants without convincing yourself that they haven't really committed a serious infraction by coming to the United States without the proper documents. You can admire the fact that demonstrators would protest for a cause they believe in and still feel uneasy about the waving of Mexican flags. You can support increased border security and fairer immigration laws without being branded a racist or a xenophobe. And you can oppose the concept of a foreign guest worker program not because it harms the country, or the economic well-being of the native-born, but because it's harmful to the foreign workers themselves.

Honesty has also been awfully scarce in this debate. If we were being honest, Americans would have to admit that illegal immigration is a self-inflicted wound and that the cities and states that find themselves combating an influx of these immigrants also often have booming economies and plenty of work for the undocumented. If we were being honest, we wouldn't bother acting surprised by the fact that there are so many illegal immigrants living in our communities – not when we've been hiring them or turning a blind eye to those who hire them for years. If we were being honest, we would accept that demonstrators are not demanding benefits or asking for handouts, but merely fighting back against what they see as an attack against immigrants and an attempt to make criminals out of hard-working, taxpaying members of society. If we were being honest, we would have to accept that there are, as President Bush says, all sorts of hard and dirty “jobs that Americans won't do” – at any wage – and that this is a sign of achievement and progress and not something to be ashamed of. And if we were being honest, we would have to admit that those U.S. citizens who find themselves competing for jobs with illegal immigrants who can't speak English and have sixth-grade educations – and losing out, at that – should take the hint that the time has come for them to get more education and training.

Never mind tough. Forget compassionate. Congress should ditch the old scripts and stop repeating the familiar sound bites.

What do they have to lose? They're not kidding anyone as it is. Just look at what happened recently in the Senate. Those “tough” Republicans weren't tough enough to propose stiffer fines or jail time or asset forfeiture for businesses and others who hire illegal immigrants, and those “compassionate” Democrats weren't compassionate enough not to sell out Latinos if it meant serving the interests of organized labor.

So what's the point of this charade? Instead of trying to be something they're not to fool their political bases, both parties would be better off coming clean and striving for the two things that, whenever we talk about immigration reform, always seem to get lost in the mix: nuance and honesty.

Then the American people would be wise to do the same.

Navarrette can be reached by e-mail at

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Computer dating -- craigs list


Just a girl who wants a guy, who can support himself and likes to have fun. I would love it if you were worldly and appreciated the arts. I am simple and secure with my feminine side. I would love it if you were in touch with your masculine side. I don't want to get married and I don't want you to build your life around me. I just want to meet someone who is as open-minded and mature as I. Please do not respond if you are under 42 because I am 45 and I do prefer someone older than me. I also want to meet you, I am not doing this so we can chat forever and never see one another. I have pleasant body shape, I am not a fanatic about it, I do try and keep what's left of it though. In other words you should, too.


I live near San Antonio. I come up to Austin on the weekends to visit my daughter -- and swim in Barton Springs. I work as a reporter at a weekly newspaper. It's a very good newspaper, but today I'm thinking I might want to get a job at another paper -- that's just what's on my mind right now.

I'm writing this from my daughter's house. She's getting ready to go out. She's cute and nice, and I wish she had a boy friend, because it's been a while. There's not much I can do about that but wish.

I have been single for two years. I've only been on a few dates recently. Overall, I'm optimistic that I will meet a woman who will want to share her time with me. Yes, meeting is good -- I already have some good email buddies.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Owens Ranch

I will no longer refer to this place as "Austin," but name it Owens Ranch, my spread along the Colorado River in Texas (technically and legally, my daughter's house).

I just spent two hours weeding the garden, in high humidity, sweating buckets -- that's ownership.

Damn, that feels good.

The previous post talks of being "worn out." Today, the earth gives me strength.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Worn out

I am physically weak and in bad shape. I don't walk, I trudge. There is no skip in my step. I'm 59, but it's not my age, I'm sure of that.

Today I was lying on the grass at Barton Springs in Austin, wondering why I was so tired. At first, I was worried that there was something wrong like a medical problem. No, it couldn't be that.

What it is, this fatigue, is the result of years of hard living. I try to do too many hard, difficult, and impossible things. I involve myself in harsh conflict, internal and external. It's simple to explain -- I have worn myself out, and I have little idea how to rest, or enjoy myself, or be comfortable.

Too much failure. This is not shameful. Successful people are merely those ones who do the easist thing in front of them -- no wonder they succeed!

And they say success is an illusion. Yes, it is, but so is failure.

And physical vitality is an illusion, and so is illness.

It's all an illusion, as John Kaguras once told me.

But I'm still tired -- running around the country, trying to fix everything, wanting to be in love, chasing rainbows, fearing for my life. No wonder I'm exhausted.

If I could just reach around to my back and push the easy button, and throw the go-lightly switch, and take happy pills -- then I would be dancing again.

Melodies, sunsets, picnics, old times, playing with babies and puppies, swimmin' in the pond, dropping by someone's house and they're glad to see me, being a goddam tourist for once in my life, instead of on some perpetual, authentic journey.


I forget what it was that was bothering me -- cultural isolation, something like that.

People are people, not all the same, but then why keep track of the differences?

I'm writing a story today called "The Buddha in Texas," which makes everything completely clear.

I had a good week at the newspaper. My office is homier -- Pam said so. I have some of my favorite old books, a plant, and a jar with three dead beetles. I'm hoping to get some tooled leather or some rattlesnake bones to add to it.

What may have changed my attitude was the heat on Monday -- 100 degrees -- the first really hot day of the year. I liked it.

I like the heat in Texas. It is a very substantial presence, and not anything you can argue about. It is just there, and knowing that you are at least 500 miles from a cool breeze encourages acceptance. No forgetting AC.

Summer in Texas -- it's cool early in the morning and there are so many song birds at this time. Early morning is the time for exercise.

Summer evenings -- after work -- just being outdoors as it starts to cool a little bit -- very special.

Watching the kids play Little League baseball in the park, or driving into San Antonio to a beer garden that I know about.

I'm better adjusted now.

Easy to be nice now. If only, when things get bad again, I could stop whining about it. You'd think I would know by now that it just goes away after a while.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Where I can hear the birds singing in the morning

I am at Brooks City Mall. I went to Radio Shack to pickup a connection that will work at Maria's, but it was closed, so I drove down here thinking that since they have everything else, they will also have a Radio Shack. I was right. I bought a 7-foot cable connector for $7.99. Then I bought a better rabbit ear antenna for the TV for $9.99.

However, a new battery for my cell phone was $69, so I said no thanks, I can probably get it cheaper at the Verizon store.

Then I ate a bowl of Chinese food at the Panda Express for $4.64 including tax. I asked for water. The food was OK.

After that, I drove slowly around the whole mall -- Home Depot, Target, and every franchise shop I ever heard of. There is not a single home grown business. Actually, I have a hard time telling one place from another.. They have everything. Is this why people immigrate to America, to shop? Is this why our soldiers are fighting in the Middle East, so we can buy more stuff?

I drove by the new Wal-Mart. It was all right, but it was too bad they didn't make it big enough. I mean it was almost tiny, less than half the size of the Grand Canyon. I can't wait until they build a really, really big Wal-Mart, so that we can all come here and buy all this STUFF, and then buy accesories for all the STUFF, and then super-size it.

They had a Cumbia band playing live in front of the Wal-Mart for the Grand Opening. I stopped and listened for a while. It was pretty good. Then I went by Starbucks. I like their coffee. I bought a 12 ounce up for -- I forget -- $1.35. Then I added some half & half.

I was going to use my laptop at the Starbucks because they have a wireless connection, but they charge for it -- $8 for one session. I said to the barista, "Who would ever pay $8 for just one day?"

She answered nicely, "Well, most people pay by the month, and that doesn't cost much."

Then the other barista came by and said to go over to this sports bar on the other side of the mall called Buffalo Wild Wings because they have a free wireless connection.

Geez, I don't like sports bars very much, but I thought I would check it out. It was very loud inside. They had about a hundred large TVs and each one was tuned to a different sports channel, and there were lots of kids in their 20s and it was very loud.

But I said, what the heck, so I sat in a booth, and --- this was a little daring -- I brought my Starbuck coffee into the sports bar, and just brazenly set it down on the table. Well, they didn't mind, or they didn't notice, either way. The young waiter took my order -- apple pie for $4.99. It tasted a lot better than I thought it would. I also asked for a glass of water, and now I am enjoying my coffee while I type this message.

I just hope all this Mall stuff doesn't come as far out as Floresville. I have been moving away from mall creep all my life. I am about two or three years ahead of the yuppies, but they keep following.

We already have enough stuff in America. I like people. In fact, I love people, but stuff just takes up a lot of room and makes our beautiful country more crowded and polluted.

Anyways, my ears are starting to hurt from all this noise in the sports bar. The Spurs are playing the Rockets, the Spurs are ahead 62 to 51. The kids seem to be having a lot of fun here, but I’m going back to Floresville now. It’s still quiet there, and I can hear the birds singing when I get up early in the morning.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

one hour

I could easily kill an hour on a Sunday morning reading newspapers on the Internet -- used to -- sure don't feel like that now. I just took a quick look at the Los Angeles Times -- absolutely no interest.

Instead I'm reading Ray Bradbury's 1962 fantasy novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

Last night, we camped at Blanco State Park, on the banks of a very nice river. It was a balmy evening with breezes and scarcely any mosquitoes. We slept on the ground. Eva thought it was a little unusual that we didn't have a tent, she kept saying "we're the homeless people."

But, I 've said this before, sleeping out in the air is the best. If it's not raining and if there's no mosquitoes, why pitch a tent?

And if it's raining and there's lots of mosquitoes -- go home.

I don't want anybody to think I'm a fanatic. I like tents, and cabins, and first-class hotels, for that matter. I just think that other people should consider doing this --sleeping out on the ground, cowboy style, or however you want to call it.

In fact, let's thin of a cool new name for it, and then it will catch on.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Austin, Texas

I am in Austin, Texas this Saturday morning, at my daughter's house on the East Side. She put on Click and Clack on the radio. We are doing home repair. She had me turn off the water main, so that she can change a water filter under the sink.

When I out to the front yard to switch off the water. I went accch! Poision ivy! It's getting worse. We need to get Roundup and kill it.

Then I could weed a bit in the garden. She doesn't actually have a garden, because she's not home. Or when she's home, she's inside. So the garden thing has not started with her. She's 27. Gardens happen when you're older for most people.

So I can't really plant anything for her, because it would depend on her watering it.

Now, her house plants, in the living room, where she gives her full attention -- these plants are flourishing. So, as I said, whenever her attention goes to the garden, then we can really go to town.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Stress, Part II

I took the medication for the stress.The placebo effect should kick in quickly. The actual medicine is not supposed to work for several days. If these little pills don't work, I'm just going to leave this little town and go back to the West Coast and be a Squeegee Man, odd job garden boy. There was no status and people looked down on me, either to smile, or to get me out of the way -- but there was never any stress. Wherever I was -- that's where I was, and I always tried to be where somebody else was not, and that way I did not have to compete for the space or pay too much rent.

Where there was a pretty place that other people forgot about? That's where I went.

That life is still there any time I want to go back to it. I have that option.

Today, the World

Today, I can see the World. I took a quick look at the newspaper. There is turmoil in France. There is an election in Italy. There is a rape case in North Carolina.

It is 6:40 a.m. I'm up a little early today because I'm driving to St. Hedwig to interview a family that has owned their ranch since 1904. They are being honored for 100 years. I spoke to the Mrs. on the phone last night, and she was glad we were coming and said her husband was so busy, could I come early? I said fine, I will be there at 8 a.m.

She give me the directions. It's just down the road from her brother-in-law's feed store -- the one we wrote about three weeks ago -- but it wasn't me that went out to take the photo, it was Al. I have never been to the St. Hedwig feed store.

In any event, she gave me clear directions, and I'm very good at finding things. I told her, "I never get lost, although sometimes I don't know where I am."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


In Zulu wife and woman are the same word -- umfazi. And man and husband are the same word -- indoda. It being inconceivable that a man could become a man, or a woman could become a woman, and not be married.

So, steeped as I am in tradition, I call her my wife, although also being completely current, I refer to her as my virtual SO in that I have never met her. I spoke to her on the phone once. She is not an imaginary woman.

She helps me, tells me little things, encourages me, is tender -- brings me up short now and then but even that comes within a violet-tinged context of great warmth.

I used to try to help her run her life and give her advice, but that never really worked. I think that what I do for her is give her a manageable project, something that doesn't take up too much of her time. It gives her the satisfaction of being a respected voice in my life.

There's a chain of responsibility anyway. I help other people.

It feels like love.

I'm watching TV now.


I'm having quite a struggle with stress these days, since I am no longer a moving target. Old strategies aren't working anymore. Keeping on the move was a very good strategy -- the bastards could never catch up with me, and since I moved randomly, they could never get ahead of me to set up an ambush --Ah, no, but I was free, "limpio y soplado" as they say in Spanish, "clean and blown."

Now I have settled into this job and determined to -- not stay forever -- but work my way out of it. Consequently I am encountering a mountain of stress -- every day. My job at the newspaper is not super stressful, just average -- but for me, it's an enormous load, having spent most of my life outside the system.

I am like everybody else now. All this was made far worse because seven weeks ago I abandoned my major No. 1 stress alleviating medicine -- cigarettes. The smoke screeen that I blew up around myself was a womb and protection against social battering -- it's gone now. It was too harsh for the lungs.

To complete the picture -- stressful job, old buddy nicotine sent packing, and holed up in a small town with NO FRIENDS, no pals, no sweeties, no partners -- just me and a lot of people who -- well, there's nothing wrong with them, and they all act really nice to me -- but the gap, the chasm, the enormous canyon between my life and theirs leaves me isolated to a higher degree than I have ever experienced in these United States. I felt more at home in Africa than I have in conservative small town Texas.

Anyhow, stress has expressed itself into a great anxiety manifesting in claustrophobia, the chief symptom being that I can't stand being inside any room except my apartment, and it feels kind of lonely here too. Plus when there are people near me, I feel dizzy and my knees begin to buckle, and I have to grab a hold of the wall or something, lest I fall down.

This is really weird. I've never felt like this before in my life. I am downright certifiable. I went to the doctor -- he was not particularly alarmed or surprised at my symptoms. He just wrote me a scrip for Zoloft. That was two weeks ago. I wanted to avoid this medicine, so I tried a lot of stress relieving activities, such as weekend camping and evening garden work, but that only helped a little bit.

It got down to quit the job and make fast tracks to the West Coast or take the pills.Today I decided to take the pills. If I turn into another person, please let me know right away, because I like myself pretty much the way I am.

No newspaper

A startling change in daily habit -- beginnning the day without scanning the newspapers on the Internet.

Instead, I am looking out the window. I see birds. My geranium is beginning to bloom. I can hear the air conditioner humming. I love that cool feeling. I can see the paintings in this room where I sit -- it's the living room, I suppose.

Except I don't have a chair or a sofa. I'm doing this garden work for a neighbor and she owns a furniture upholstery shop and she will trade me a comfortable chair in exchange for the garden work. This is a good arrangement.

I know my life will be better if I have furniture, but I need to get over several objections.

1. Furniture is a burden.
2. Furniture is large and bulky. When you have furniture in a room, it makes it hard to get from one place to another because you have to go around it.
3. Furniture takes up space -- my space. I need to have lots of room for my own ass.
4. Furniture makes moving far more difficult. How many times have I loaded people's stuff into and out of vehicle to move from one place to another. This problem could be alleviated if people moved, but never brought their furniture with them. Think about that -- if you are moving from Texas to North Carolina -- don't you realize that they have as much furniture where you are going as where you are coming from?

I could say more, but I will get the chair, and it will be very good.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Let my people go.

A very serious, devout rabbi that I knew, Marty Feldman, who was the director of Hillel at Northeastern University in Boston, confided to me that no matter how much he prayed or no matter what he imagined or how much he studied, that Moses still looked liked Charlton Heston to him.

Childhood -- trees and games in the yard

This is what I remember, not what actually happened. I could have discussed the details with my brother and two sisters as research, but I chose not to. Until my tenth birthday nothing happened and I loved it. Don’t expect this part of the story to move along.

I was born in Evanston, Illinois, the summer of 1946, the fourth child. My parents were renting a house on Prairie Avenue right off Central Street. It was no longer big enough, so they bought the house in Wilmette soon after my birth. The old house on Prairie Avenue stayed in the family because Uncle Ted and Aunt Bea rented it after we moved out and they lived there for many years. We didn’t visit them very often, because Uncle Ted was boring – at least that’s what I thought. He had such a big nose. Aunt Bea had a tiny nose and a sharp mouth, and the food wasn’t any good. My cousins, Dick, Rosemarie and Jerry, were much older than me and they didn’t play.
Uncle Ted was the oldest of Mom’s four brothers. His real name was Ambrose. He had been a stock broker in the 1920s and was making a good living until the Crash. After the Crash he put every last penny back into the market thinking it had reached the bottom. He was wrong of course. Uncle Ted had no more confidence in himself after that. He would not take any leadership role in our family, even though he was the first born. He just got some nondescript job and kept quiet. He might have been sad. I didn’t notice – I had a lot of uncles. Uncle Ted was a spare.

But the old neighborhood always meant something to me. Mom still liked to do her shopping on Central Street. She would take me with her to the butcher shop and they would give me a slice of liver sausage. We bought our shoes at Vose’s every year. The salesman always had a nice smile and said, “Good Morning, Mrs. Owens. How are you?” New shoes were fun, especially sneakers, because I felt extra jumpy when I got them. The salesman would kneel down in front of me, making me feel special and important. He brought out the silver-metal plate with sliding pieces that measured the length and width of my feet. This was a very positive experience, to have growing feet and to be needing new shoes, and to have a nice mother who always got them for me when I needed them.

The best thing about Central Street was the parade every Fourth of July, followed by the fireworks at nearby Dyche Stadium, the home field for Northwestern University. The parade and the fireworks was a very big deal for me, and the rest of the year, when Mom took me there, the street would resonate in anticipation of the big parade.
Not forgetting Prairie Avenue, because the way from our house in Wilmette to Central Street was down Prairie Avenue, and I always looked at the old house when we drove past. It was a stucco bungalow with dark green wood window trim. Stucco was the right and truest way to build a house, because our house in Wilmette was stucco. Everybody else’s house was different and maybe just as good, but stucco was my standard.
We moved to the new house in August, 1946, six weeks after I was born. The address was 1612 Forest Avenue. I didn’t have a stronger connection to the house than my brother or my three sisters, but I always felt that I was the reason we bought it – because we need the room.

Forest Avenue was well-named. The oak trees and elm trees towered over the house and made a canopy of shade all up and down the street. I knew at a very early age that this was better than what other people had, that a good neighborhood had good trees. They were huge at the trunk, even three feet in diameter for the elm tree in our front yard, although it wasn’t exactly in our yard, but between the street and the sidewalk.

Not for climbing, the trunk of the elm tree soared up to the sky in mighty strength, and the high branches spread out in graceful symmetry. I knew it was beautiful. The oak tree was right in the center of the backyard. It was stronger, the bark was rougher, the limbs more twisty than the smooth curves of the elm. The oak tree was not beautiful but it was awesome – so big and so old, and part of a company of giant oaks in the neighborhood. There was an oak next door, and another one across the alley. We were all under their protection.

For wildlife we had grey squirrels, robins and blue jays. There were acorns. There was a horse chestnut tree a block away that was of some interest, because we could gather the smooth dark-brown chestnuts, just to feel them and throw them away after a while.

We had a great climbing tree across the street, a maple with a short trunk and many horizontal branches. You could jump up, grab one of the low branches and swing up your feet. The bark was smooth and worn smoother because all the kids played in it. I was competent and graceful in the tree branches, never reckless. I shinnied up to a certain height, I never tried to test the limit. It was a good tree, nobody ever fell out.

I hardly noticed the weather, except when it was fun. An extremely hot day was not of great interest. Summer was good for thunderstorms and lightning. I loved the boom and the crash and the flashing blue light. We might stay out in the downpour and get all wet and jump in puddles, but usually we were shuffled indoors and just got to watch. The night crawlers came out on the sidewalk after the rain, very big fat worms, sprawled out and lazy in a warm puddle. You could fill a jar or a can with them, although there wasn’t much else to do with night crawlers except cut them in half and squash them in various ways. I had only a mild interest in worm torture.

My parents didn’t make me wear shoes in the summer. Basically from when school let out in the middle of June and until school started again in September, I was barefoot, except on Sunday at church. They were more permissive in this regard than some other parents. I had really great feet. I could walk or run anywhere in bare feet, fearlessly, even on gravel, although that was tough.

The best part of summer in our neighborhood was getting to play outside after dinner. That was never allowed during the school year, not just at our house, it was a neighborhood rule. But in summer, after being excused from the dinner table, we could go out and play until the street lights came on. That was a good standard because there was no arguing. When the lights came on, the game was over. Our street light, and I pretty much thought it was ours, I knew we didn’t own it as such, but it was still proprietary to me, because it stood square in the center of our yard next to the curb. It was our beacon, cast iron in a six-sided column, fluted, with three sides that curved inwards and three sides that lay outward and flat, rising to a pretty tower of light with six panes of mottled glass, and each pane tilted outward slightly, and the light topped by a crown and spike. The street lamp was beautiful to me, and I knew it was better than what other people had. It was the home beacon, Mom and Dad never had to call out in the darkness, we always came home.

The games on summer nights were great. There were a lot of children on our block and we played in the street. Forest Avenue was paved with dark-red bricks, as smooth as porcelain, warm or cool to bare feet, with little bits of green moss or tiny blades of grass growing between the cracks. We played Kick Ball, that was sort of like baseball in that someone pitched the soft red ball to a kicker who booted it and then ran some bases, but girls could play. We also played Kick the Can. I don’t remember the rules or how it was played. The most fun was Hide and Go Seek, and we used the big elm tree for Home Base. Come to think of it, the games always centered in front of our house and not down the block. I think that was because we had the most kids. The Giambalvos lived across the street. Jimmy Giambalvo – that made a rhyme -- was two years older than me, and Paul Giambalvo was one year younger than me. Jimmy was dark like his Italian father. Paul was freckled and red-haired like his mother. They were nice people, but their house was kind of sad and subdued. Mrs Giambalvo was an alcoholic but we didn’t know that at the time.

The Tuttles lived next to the Giambalvos. Their two kids, Sally and Lynn, were much older. Lynn was a strong, masculine type of fellow. He had a canoe. Lynn was not a regular boy’s name, to my mind. There were not too many people who were different than us, so I noticed this.

The Wolfs lived on the other side of the Giambalvos. Mr. Wolf owned the hardware store in the village. This was cool because of all the stuff they had there. They had a girl Christine who my sister’s played with, and a boy named Charlie who was much younger than me, but still a lot of fun, and we used to go over to their house a lot and read comics and watch TV. Plus the climbing tree, the maple, was in their front yard. So really the focus of the games was in the middle between our house and a little bit to the right, where the Wolf’s lived. Mom was even friends with Mrs. Wolf, and sometimes Mrs. Wolf came over to our house for a visit. Mom was friends with the other neighbors, but it was more like cordiality.

The Steinbrechers lived next door on our side of the street. Two kids, Marcia and Richie. Marcia was busom buddies with my sister Carolyn. The Steinbrechers moved away to another part of Wilmette, but we still stayed connected. They were Protestants. The Lynches moved in after the Steinbrechers. The Lynch kids – David, Katy, Molly and several others – were a ton of fun, but they didn’t stay long. Mom really liked Mrs. Lynch. After that the Soderstroms moved. They had only kid and it was boring.

Kick Ball was fun, but it was like weeny baseball and we let the girls in, although the girls didn’t see it that way, because it was understood that street games were never just a boys’ thing. Girls had jump rope and Hop Scotch. Boys threw baseballs and footballs around although we never organized regular games because there wasn’t enough room or enough boys.

Hide and Go Seek was the most important game because it was full-time for boys and girls. We knew that girls could not throw as well as boys, or hit a ball, or do cool things on a bike, but they could run just as good, and hide just as good, so it worked out. If you were It – I loved that word, It. – That was the beginning of philosophy for me, because I used to ponder the status of being It and how it was used in various games. You didn’t want to get caught and become It, of course, but the good part of being It was being the center of attention, and playing the next game well enough so that you would no longer be It.

If you were It in Hide and Go Seek, you covered your eyes and leaned your face against the elm tree – the biggest and most glorious elm tree on the block, which was Home Base and there was never a question about that – and counted to one hundred, while the other kids ran away and hid, usually not too far away, behind a car or a bush, or around the corner of one of the houses.

When you finished counting you called out, “Here I come, ready or not.” You might do this in a sing-song style for effect. And you began to look for the other players, the idea being to tag them before they could run Home and tag the tree, in which case they were safe. As soon as you caught some other kid and tagged him, then they became It for the next game. Of course there still some kids hiding, so you called out “Allee, allee income, freedom free,” also with style.

The back yard was white-fenced in rectangles of two-inch wide strips with a cap rail that you could walk on like a tightrope. The oak tree was smack in the middle of the yard, which was square. The yard just wasn’t big enough for baseball, but we had various pitching games, using the house as a back stop. It was too easy to hit one over the back fence and into the alley, or even further into the Johnson’s yard. Mr. Johnson was a grouch, and if we dug in his flower beds searching for a lost ball, it was just a lot of work. We weren’t scared of him or anything.

The big game was badminton. The back part of the yard was just the right size for a court. This was also boys and girls. We put up the net in early summer and kept it there through the season. We played so much badminton that we wore a six-foot circle in the grass on each side of the net. I loved to slam it and I loved to hit high looping floaters. We played until 21 points, and then we played again.

Mom had peonies and roses against the back fence and roses, but too many children to do much gardening. We respected her garden patch, but she was fairly easy-going about it. If you trampled something you didn’t get a big scolding.

We had a hammock hung between the oak tree and the garage. It had a soft, cotton texture, and mildewed, outdoorsy scent.

The alley was cool. It wasn’t paved. It was the wilderness and the underworld. Day lilies – we called them tiger lilies – grew in a riot between the back fence and the ruts of the cars. They just grew by themselves. We burned the trash in a wire can, so there was debris and ashes around like blackened tin cans. When we were older we went alley-hunting around the neighborhood looking for junk.

A special quiet place for me was the north side of the house, a shady grove where violets and lilies of the valley grew untended. I would sit there on the ground and pick a bouquet and bring them to Mom, purple for violets, and that special tiny white color of the lilies. This may have been why I liked that book so much, the one called Ferdinand the Bull. Ferdinand was the most powerful bull in the pasture of Spain, but they could not get him to fight. He only liked to sit under the cork tree and smell the flowers. As a child I wanted to be strong like a bull, but I didn’t want to fight, I wanted to smell the flowers. Not entirely true. I used to fight and scream with my sisters a fair bit. I never got into punching fights with the other kids, although one time, when Scottie Soderstrom had just moved in next door – he was my age and went to the public school – I punched him really hard in the stomach, I don’t know why. He just ran into the house to get away, and after that his mother wouldn’t let him play with me. Scottie was an only child and he just didn’t know how to act.
That was the yard and the block we lived on. The yard and the block were fundamental markers. The outer boundaries were the through streets with traffic lights and white stripes down the middle. Green Bay Road was two blocks towards the lake and the train tracks went by on the other side of the road. When I was really young the choo-choo trains got me really excited with big towers of white smoke, but the diesel engines came in when I was little older and I was more blasé about that. Shimoneck’s was on Green Bay Road. That was the gas station. I could buy an orange soda for a dime. My allowance was twenty-five cents a week. I was friends with Billy Hoak for a few years when I was about ten. He was pudgy and quiet and he had red hair, but the great thing about Billy was that he could a two dimes from his mother almost anytime and we went to get sodas.

Lake Street was one block from Forest Ave. We didn’t cross that. It was paved with black tar – that was fast for bike riding. Our brick street was cool, but it rumbled under the bike tires. Lake Street was fast in general with cars that clipped along, and it went east to Lake Michigan, one mile away.

Ridge Avenue was three blocks to the west. This was major. The eponymous ridge was only twenty to thirty feet in elevation, but it was the only hill we had and the only hill I knew about. You could ride your bike down the hill and go fast and take your hands off the handlebars and be coasting a long way.

St. Joseph’s church and grade school – St. Joe’s -- was at the intersection of Lake Street and Ridge Avenue, just a short walk from the house, but it was up on that ridge and the church was very tall and imposing. The school building was huge too, facing the church across Lake Street. The drugstore was at the third corner at the intersection. We could buy popsicles and candy bars there.

The last boundary was three blocks to the north. It went Lake Street, Forest Ave, Walnut Avenue, Elmwood Avenue, and then Kenilworth, where the rich people lived and the houses were much bigger.

That was my territory, within that grid. Everything was the way it was supposed to be, and it was always that way. The oak trees and the elm trees covered everything with a summer canopy. Nothing ever happened.

In the fall the leaves came down and there were huge piles and raking teams, us kids, on Saturday morning, raking them all to the curb and burning them in the street. But first we made a big pile and jumped in it. I loved burning the leaves, seeing the first curly whisps of smoke and watching it build and then get dense with rich thick white smoke like whipped cream billowing upwards, and then flames leaping, getting hot, roaring, and then it would die down slowly, or we would dump more leaves on it and start the white smoke again.

In the winter we had snow, snow men, snow forts, snowball fights, and lying down to make angels. Snowmen we outgrew pretty quickly. Snow forts could happen under the right conditions, with plenty of good packing snow and enough kids to build one or two forts and then start a war. It was stupid to get cold fluffy snow that you couldn’t pack. It was contemptible – there was no point in having snow if you couldn’t pack it and make snowballs.

The ideal was good packing snow and enough to get out of school for the day. That was heaven, throwing snowballs. When we were older we used to throw them at the icicles hanging off the eaves of the houses, to knock them down. We would go hunting for big ones and keep throwing until we got it. Even older we got into the riskier games which were to throw snowballs at the street lamps with six panes and knock them out, but usually just one of the panes, because then we had to run away. If we really wanted to be hairy we could go over to Lake Street and throw snowballs at cars driving by. The coolest shot was to land one on the windshield. This could bring the cops around.

And the craziest thing was skitching. I didn’t do it, but the Ridge Boys did. I just wasn’t that wild. You did it on a slow street when it’s packed with snow. You waited until a car came by, then you ran behind it and up to it. You quickly squatted down on your heels and grabbed the rear bumper and went for a wild ride until you fell off and went sprawling.

I didn’t envy those Ridge Boys too much because I was already having a lot of fun and to get into a little trouble was enough for me. Besides that, we lived in a better house. Mom and Dad and the other parents, always Mr. and Mrs. – I had no overall objection to their rule. I knew it was wholesome and it felt good. The world inside that neighborhood was more than enough.

Boston Legal

Boston Legal is my favorite TV show. It has been usurped by a showing of the "Ten Commandments" -- because it's Easter! Now I see Moses on the TV, in the desert, talking to God.

Who is in charge here? Who decided to take my favorite show off the schedule? How many favorite shows do I have? Only one. Boston Legal, starring James Spader, Candace Bergman and Captain Kirk.

Boston Legal, is for me, a kind of spiritual meditation on the deeper questions of existence. The show always culminates in a final scene with Spader and Kirk on the balcony of Kirk's apartment. It's twilight, at the end of a tough day at their law firm. They are enjoying fine scotch and good cigars -- this is my moment of prayer.

But instead they have Moses on TV. And I, who reads Exodus in the original Hebrew, have to watch it.

Under the locust tree

I sat under the locust tree for three weeks last year. It was in February, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, at a place called Falcon Heights. There is a campground there, and I pitched my tent near the locust tree -- or thorn tree, or acacia tree, but here folks call it a mesquite.

Three weeks alone, and yet I was happy the whole time. Not completely alone, because I could go over to the lodge and have little conversations with the somewhat older retired folks who spent the winter there.

Three weeks camping, and the weather was always bad -- It was cold and wet and windy every day -- and yet I was happy.

I had no girl friend, but only the vaguest fantasy of ever being with a woman again, and yet I has happy.

I am not that happy now.

Maybe it's because I had a little money -- about $1,500 -- and I wasn't worried about the future.

Today, I am not so happy. I worry all the time. I wish I had a little more money, and I wish I could go back to the campground.

I could do that next month, if I saved up.

Except -- what was it that made me so happy? -- I know it's that place itself. There has always been something special about Falcon Heights.

There'e no going back. Except I would like to be happy like that again. I fear it will never happen while I work at a newspaper. The work is too abstract, and I miss the earth too much.


I often feel sad, especialy when I wake up, like this morning. If I think of the past, I feel sad. I don't know why.

When I think of the past, if it was something good that happened, then I miss it, and I wish I could travel back through time and experience that feeling again. But I know I cannot, so I feel sad.

But if I think of something unhappy that happened to me in the past, then I feel unhappy all over again.

So I try to shake it off. Of course, everything has gotten works since I quit smoking cigarettes two months ago.

1612 Forest Evenue

The address of the house where I grew up was 1612 Forest Avenue in Wilmette, Illinois. We bought the house in 1946, shortly after I was born. We sold it in the spring of 1997, after Mom died.

That was nine years ago. I don't think about the house too much. I could take a mental tour and go from room to room, and by doing so, I would remember many details of those 50 years, and most of my life -- but I don't do that. It makes me feel too sad. I don't even have a photo of the old house, except in storage far away.

In fact, I don't have photos of my Mom and Dad either. But with them it's different. I don't miss them at all, because they are present to me. I often speak with them in my mind, and tell them things and ask them what they think -- Mostly Dad. I like talking to Dad. Mom is more this vast maternal presence -- non verbal.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I finally learned how to write a blog, after trying for six months. I write as if no one were listening, as if it was just myself. This is the only way to write a blog. For six months I fought the self-indulgence in this medium. But I cannot overcome the nature of any medium that I choose to use.

So this blog is only about me, to me, and for me. There is no other way to do it.

After work today, I went over to her house to work on the garden, on the small stone planter in the front driveway. I re-arranged all the stones and pulled up the cord grass. I enjoyed this work very much. Her garden is in the shade in the late afternoon, perfect for me to work on. I could keep busy there all summer -- even though her garden is very small -- I know how to expand the work, so that I have an hour or two for a project several days a week.

She came up and talked to me, with several ideas about what to plant. She's thinking of marigolds -- I told her that would be great -- or petunias, and she had some other ideas..... I think I will just go to the store tomorrow and plant some things for her.

Los descamisados

Los descamisados -- those are the shirtless ones, the ones who supported Juan and Evita Peron in Argentina in the 1950s. Now we have "Los Camisas blancas" -- the white shirts marching in America. I kept checking the Internet all day at work, trying to get live pictures of the marches from, but the fucking Internet was too slow, I couldn't get anything.

So I checked the Houston Chronicle and the New York Times for updated reports during the day. There were many marchers today, but nothing like the half million in Dallas, the biggest demonstration in Texas history. I was surprised. I thought that Texas was too conservative for such a turnout. I was wrong.

Something is going on here. The funny thing is that it is not all good for the immigrants. They will only get part of what they ask/demand. Oh, but I do like the way they present themselves.


Marching in the street. Millions on the move. I am not jealous. It's a march I might like to be in, but I've been in plenty of marches, I don't think I miss this one. My boss thinks that George Soros is paying for all this, so that all the illegals can take the day off -- George Soros sent each one of them a small check.

I certainly have done a great deal of work smashng borders, breaking down boundaries,and blurring identities.

Thirty years of work, and I now I see I may have gone too far -- there actually should be a border between the U.S. and Mexico, and between men and women.

There I go again, mixing up issues. Immigration and gender issues are closely related, because they are about boundaries.

It only makes sense to me.

But maybe I am figuring out what a blog is -- It's talking to myself.

Monday morning

I'm writing the blog rather than reading the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, and other papers that I usually scan in the morning while I'm drinking coffee.

The immigration debate is wonderful. I am strongly in favor of both sides -- my politics is all over the place these days. It's just that I feel that something good will come of this. It's all very hopeful -- we can reach a kind of solid agreement with the new people from Mexico.

And health insurance. I favor national health insurance and everybody the same. In medicine, anything for me is the same as what you get, and everybody else too.

For Americans, health insurance for all Americans. It relates to immigration, to who lives here, and to who is an American.

See? This isn't making sense, except to me. It makes perfect sense to me -- that immigration, which defines our border, which defines who we are and who we are not -- is closely related to national health insurance, which is a mututal promise of care, for everybody who is an American.

I'll just stay out of politics. No one will understand me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pas de deux

Pas de deux

What follows is a ballet story from Aurielle. You are always encouraged to read her blog. I have to thank her for the geraniums on my kitchen window sill.

I have been terribly lonely at times -- especially on Sundays. Why on Sundays? I spoke with Thelma Palmer on the phone. She lives on Guemes Island, back in the Skagit. Thelma loves me like a mermaid, and then she is gone under the waves

I was at the beach this morning, because I camped there, Fri. night and Sat. night, so I woke up Sunday morning, sleeping on the sand. People keep saying I should get a tent, but I like it too much to sleep outdoors under the stars. It was wonderful when I woke up. I didn't start to feel lonely until later in the day.

Now here is Aurielle's dance story.

I studied ballet as a girl. The mistress who taught me though my teen years was named Judith Aane. She had an apricot poodle that matched her own hair, which she gathered into an enormous bun accentuated with a silk gardenia. She wore tea rose perfume, and smelled of ashes and roses. Mave lipstick covered narrow lips, although smileless, she was beautiful. Her eyelashes were thick and coated heavily with black mascara, her eyebrows in half-circles framed aqua irises and expressionless lids. She was no bigger than a whisper and wore tiny chiffon skirts over her leotard. I once saw her en pointe, warming up before a class dancing wildly, she was music.

I walked from school and changed in a little dressing room spending every afternoon in the studio. I loved to dance. It was meditation; learned and controlled I practice a way to move. I was living art. I tortured my body the way that dancers do, with bloody toes and minimal food. I twisted my hair into a chignon and pressed down my curls with a tacky gel called dippity doo, being scolded if a rogue curl was to spring out.

I had a studio in my garage and slept with weights pressing apart my knees to perfect my turn-out. I auditioned for companies in other cities, hoping to one day leave home. I imagined living on my own with a jar of bobby pins, a box of rosin and a moody pianist. But I was just a girl and it was enough for my parents to leave me there after school every day.

My first kiss was from the Nutcracker Prince, a lanky boy named Derek. (I had been kissed previously by the other girls as this was the way of sharing lipstick backstage.) Derek pulled my legs high over my head while I stood en pointe at a barre. Letting go with my hand, I pressed into his strong arms and shoulders wanting at once to impress him with my flexibility and to rely on his strength. He walked towards me extending my leg higher. I pointed my toe and looked into his eyes, wondering if I might be split. I watched for malace, but never found any. It took my full attention not to cringe as my tendons lengthened. I mastered the pleasant smile of one used to suffering. The stretch was slow and warm and I liked him. But I never relied entirely on his balance, there was always a hand, ready to catch myself on the barre or wall nearby. We slept in corners after matinees and before evening performances. I woke to find him watching me.

I was too small to be a dancer. I have shrunken legs and it took a great deal of effort to diminish my developing curves. (The goal was to be thin enough not to menstuate.)

I was never going to dance for a living, I knew that. But I loved it still. I longed to leap and never touch ground. I wanted to spin and fly weightless and silent. Melting into the music I didn't count, I felt each step. I breathed the choreography.

The ballet mistress sent me to another studio as I improved, the one where Derek practiced. I was to learn pas de deux. She told me to buy a special undergarment which would keep the men from crushing my waist. I imagined guts pressing and bones cracking beneath these panties, and only thier tenacious elasticity holding in my organs.

Dancing with men wasn't the same. Suddenly, it wasn't my power, thrusting me in leaps across a stage, it was a concerted stillness that was necessary. I leapt, but was caught and held and then manipulated. Occasionally I was dropped and scrambled mid-air to ready myself for landing. Most often I was suspended like an object. My piroettes were no longer solitary, a man who smelled of eucalyptus rub had wide hands on my waist and spun me while I spotted and steadied myself. These men were older and loved the new little ballerinas. They carried us in the dressing rooms even after being scolded by teachers. They formed my body into arches and lifted me and spun me as if I were a marionette. They stood back during sessions of turns or mock-death scenes and then returned to hold my still body or spot a series of eternal spins.

It wasn't mine anymore. Ballet lost its charm.

I didn't realize that it was my lack of autonomy that pressed me to quit. I blamed it on wanting to go to homecoming one year and not being permitted by the mistress. I also cited a minor (imaginary?) knee injury.

I left ballet, as most girls do. I attended the homecoming and those that followed.

Independence continues to be important to me. But I wonder, if I had trusted, if I had allowed myself to be suspended by someone else's strength for a little while, if I would have found a balance.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Heaven and No Hell

No Heaven and No Hell

Before we get into serious theology, we need to talk about bugs. The two best bug poets in America are Jim Bertolino and Charles Goodrich. I know Bertolino quite well. In fact, he reads this newsletter, and it is Bertolino who told me about Charles Goodrich. These guys both know their insects.

I have a jar of dead beetles on my desk now at work. They were alive on Friday, when Ben brought them in because a woman he knew said these beetles were killing her trees. Ben asked me, “What kind of bugs are these?” I was quite flattered that he thought I would have the answer. I said, pointing to the beetles in the jar, “Well, at least these bugs aren’t going to give you any more trouble.”

By Monday it was tit’s up for the bugs. I tried clattering the jar so they would lie right side up, but if I got one up, then the other two went down. Nevertheless, their bug spirit, which surrendered to the universe over the weekend, filled my office chamber with a kind of holiness.

The Bug Muse guides my theology. I was watching the refugees die in Darfur on television, when I realized that God is an asshole. How could He do that? It is one thing for Him to cause me trouble in the way of angst – really it’s not much at all. But suffering, any kind of pain worse than a mild toothache, serves no educational purpose, and if it so happens that God is all-powerful, then it is all His fault. They say we are the children of God. Then God is a child abuser of the first rank. Terrible things happen all the time, and Who is supposed to be in charge? We are supposed to beg for mercy from a God who lets things like this go on. No fucking way.

Gentle guidance, a firm hand now and then – that I could understand. If, as so many scientists are convinced, the earth is warming because of our industrial madness, and the ice caps are melting, and terrible plagues are about to be unleashed, if God was any kind of friend at all, He would simply not let this happen – may be a couple of really nasty floods and hurricanes to get our attention, but no more than that.

And if, in addition to that, He sends his good people to Heaven, then I am going to go to Hell, because that’s where a lot of my friends will be.
I take this all personally. It is all about me. Some people read last week’s Frog Hospital, which was all about the shabby treatment I have undergone for years back in the Skagit Valley and why I am so mad at them – they said I was immature, childish, that it wasn’t all about me.

Oh yeah, it IS all about me. Global warming is about me. Whenever it rains or doesn’t rain, it’s all about me. And if God let’s all this crap happen that seems about to happen – then it’s over -- and He’s listening right now – that’s it – me and God are parting company. I don’t take that kind of shit.

What about AIDS?

Whose idea was that? God’s little scheme to teach us not to be screwing people outside of holy matrimony, making it literally true, that “the wages of sin are death.” Sleep with somebody you’re not supposed to and God will kill you – slowly. Isn’t that nice?

I lived with the specter of AIDS for many years. Precious, my African wife, was HIV positive. We met in Zimbabwe, we fell in love, we began to live together – me, her, and no more than 50 0f her closest relatives, all at my expense, of course. Then we got married and every thing was fine. We had a big wedding. I paid for it – this is what African husbands do.

After a while I got homesick for America, and I missed my children, and I realized that if I kept feeding her enormous family, sooner or later the well would run dry. So we decided to move to the U.S. She needed a visa, a slam dunk being married to an American citizen, except an HIV test was required. And it came up positive. I suppose, given the high rate of infection in Zimbabwe, I could have expected the result. Still I was shocked and numbed – God was fucking with my life again, why couldn’t He just let me be happy?

For a few days, I thought I could just quietly slip away to the airport, and fly back to America without her – just go. But I didn’t. I said okay, I’m going to live with an HIV woman, and I did for the next seven years. It wasn’t really that bad. We had to pay a lawyer and jump through extra hoops to get her visa, but we got to America.

We came to Washington state and that was lucky. Washington provides 100 percent first rate treatment for HIV positive people, and it did not cost one dollar. Precious got the best medical attention in the world. It got to be that I hardly thought about it at all – she took one or two pills a day, and had her blood tested every three months. Some months her blood scores were so good that she would go off the medication for a while. She was, and is, in perfect health.

But more than a dozen, more than 20, of her relatives back in Zimbabwe – and it was always the ones in their 20s and 30s and 40s – they all died. Nobody would ever talk about it. Nobody would ever say it. I would never say it. I agreed completely. Precious and I never once talked about it. Why talk about it? Talking is some creepy, American, therapeutic, Oprah-voodoo thing that is supposed to make things better.

African don’t talk about AIDS because they do not fear death. We are afraid to die. They are not afraid to die. So there is no reason to talk about it. Even now, I would go back to Africa in a minute, if I could get over my fear of death. African people are with God, they are not angry at God like me, but they are with God, and their beautiful African bodies, which are the most beautiful of all human bodies – they lay them aside like water and become the spirit.

I was able to be there and see it, and a be part of it for a little bit, and it was wonderful, most wonderful, just the glimpse that I saw of people who lived so close to heaven, but I’m still afraid to die and I still have to stay on the shore here.

All for you, my beautiful Africana,


Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Gulf Coast

I am camping on the beach, on the Gulf Coast, just to the north of Corpus Christi,in a hot and humid wind. It is always, always windy here, blowing off the water. If the wind ever stopped the mosquitoes would come out of the bushes and kill us all. As it is, they have mosquitoes here that can fly upwind in a strong breeze and still get you.

The good part is the space. This is the good part all over Texas, there is just so much fucking room.

I came into town, to this Internet cafe, to get out of the wind, and to check my email. I didn't get any good email. I hardly ever do. It's rarely as good as the stuff I send out, but I still like to hear from people.

Barbara Cram called from Seattle. We talked for almost an hour. She told me that a long time ago, in the 1950s, she lived in Odessa, in far west Texas, in the middle of nowhere.

I told her a lot about my current circumstances, living in this small town, down here, deep in the heart of Texas, all the good parts and bad parts, and she appreciated my situation -- what I was saying.

I have come up with a plan to visit the Skagit Valley in late May, in conjunction with the poetry festival -- back to where people know me. This will provide some nice relief. Puget Sound Yin to Texas Yang.

But Texas --- the great thing about Texas is the writing. There is so much character in the land and in the people. This is the best thing.

All pride and prejudice aside, I am the best writer ever to work at this newspaper. I am the best writer ever to work or live in Wilson County, and I am one of the ten best writers currently working Texas. That's is God's truth and no brag.