Paul Haeder, Author

writing, interviews, editing, blogging

terminal velocity is for me the head-first, feet-pointed, straight into the miasma of all our hell’s — otsukaresama deshita.

At the end of the working day in Japan, it is customary to thank each other  for a job well done. The phrase お疲れさまでした.. | VK

Then you come out one end of the worm hole jitter bugging, while part of your brain is squeezed into black hole nothingness which is for me the whole of it all, the big picture stitched into your narrative, kind reader, and fused with mine.

Until there is a galvanizing force. Again, who and why is big for me, here at ‘Terminal Velocity,’ or elsewhere because the reader is in fact the captain of the ship of words and pasted together sentences that come hurly burly from my noggin’.

So the microcosm, the representative things, all come crashing into my psyche as I attempt to do just “normal” stuff.

Duh, little town of Newport, Oregon, and here we have Founders’ Day Parade, with Highway 101 closed down for the procession of vehicles and fire trucks and horses to file through with bundles of candies to throw at the spectators.

Shit, the triggers were galore, if I was really seated with any form of deep running PTSD: all the U$A flags lining both sides of the road; meeting at the Walmart parking lot for float decorating; all the rah-rah cops and sheriffs; even that coast guard rescue helicopter overhead.

I threw in with the Special Olympics since I am a coach for the Lincoln County contingent. I would have been on the road to Portland, to attend to my wife’s mother’s husband, 78, at OHSU, with the second major glioblastoma surgery cut getting infected, and back to the hospital. We delayed that 150-mile trip a day. That’s a death sentence, the form of brain cancer, and he opts for heroic measures at age 78. He is basically bed bound, and incontinent, and then his wife is 24/7 caretaker. What a hell of a life at age 75 and 78. He had a 104 temperature, and the fine print on the surgical procedure said an infection was possible for the bone flap they cut out to get to the cranium and gray matter while digging out the array of cancer mats, sort of like mats of seaweed in the ocean. The flap is now cut away, out, and a mesh has been inserted, and the fellow lost who he was and was catatonic for a few days, and alas, doctors shooting him up with the most power antibiotics and steriods, the solution, that combo has brought him around a bit, but he’s not the same old father-in-law.

Surgeries and hospital stays totaling $180,000 each time, and then the skilled nursing aftercare, all of it on our dime, US taxpayers (not Zelensky) vis-a-vis the VA and Medicare. The resonating feature is, shit dog, give me my .357 magnum and, bam-oh-bam. Or, if I had some sort of other terminal cancer? One-way trip to Belize or even Cozumel, and then a quick swim with scuba tank to 200 feet, and bye bye regulator and hello barricuda and dark, deep arm trench.

Or, extra pills, extra tequila, a little bit of this and that for the last few meals, a line of cocaine as long as a garter snake, and then seppuku without the sword.

I’m looking at the people on the side of the road, and they are a funny mix of folk, and there is a curious brokenness in their eyes, and their frames and faces all have similar cracked DNA and addiction and post-addiction hues. I am their friend, for sure, but with another turn of the cheek, shit, I see this in Wisconsin, everywhere, there are some sad sacks for Americanos: many are stunted, failure to thrive folk, and others are just huge, loggers and worker bees. The Mexicans and Guatemalans here are short and their broods are facing lots of weight issues. The candy shit is representative of the sweet coated know-nothing of society.

These people are the ones the elites, the beautiful ones, the Poison Ivy Leaguers see as universal marks — Soylent Green is Food, or useless eaters, useless beings, deplorables, but for now, marks, since the systems of oppression are set up to gouge every last dime from the forty-seven percent (remember Romney and his 47 Percent Solution?)

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” (source)

Ahh, those payroll taxes we all fucking pay. Ahh, all those combinations of state, local, sales, gas and property taxes we all pay. Ahh, all those fines, fees, tolls, penalities, tickets, add-ons, all of that, working for peanuts. In 2011, 78,000 tax filers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no income taxes; 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million paid no income taxes, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no income taxes.

Yes, those Clinton-Obama-Trump-Biden-Romney-et al deplorables, useless eaters, we sit on the curb and wait for the parade of cars, trucks, cool souped up vintage wheels . . . and the candy! It’s a hell of a society, no tribes, just amorphous groupings of people who toil, work, have their small values, and are the fodder, man.

Here, Australian Caitlin Johnstone says it clearly what the Romney’s and bigger fishes in their shit pond want for us:

Your rulers do not care what race you are. They do not care if you are gay, transgendered or nonbinary. They do not care how many bullets you are allowed to have in your gun. They do not care whether you are allowed to have an abortion or not. They do not care if you are racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic or fatphobic. They do not care about diverse representation in politics or media, and they do not care about any lack thereof. All they care about is that we all keep thinking, speaking, working, consuming and voting in ways which keep them rich and powerful and keep us poor and powerless. And they will happily keep us arguing as intensely as possible about the things they do not care about so that we don’t turn our attention to the things they do care about.

This doesn’t mean those other issues aren’t real concerns, and in fact our rulers stand everything to gain by exacerbating the injustices involving issues they don’t care about in order to keep attention in those convenient areas. But the solution to the problems our rulers don’t care about is the same as the solution to the problems our rulers do care about: overthrow our rulers. (source)

No fucking phalanx of “Go Jew Zelensky” signs today. No Nazi flags of the blue and yellow vintage. No “My Heart in Ukraine” shit out there on Highway 101. I wonder why? But all of us, even a man lost of tribe like me, in permanent terminal velocity, have zero power to pull any levers.

I did see this one later in my smalltown at the blues, bike and beer festival: Fuck Putin Bumper Sticker Featuring the Ukraine Flag : Handmade  Products

I stood in the road while his fancy SUV took off, with my own finger in the air. Just wanting a conversation. No way, Jose.

This world is la-la land, immediate gratification, people in their 50s who are giddy over Disney cruises, who wear fucking Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirts.

Booze, beach, bikes. As we continually get screwed blued and tatooed by the overlords.

Wisconsin Afterglow

I’ll continue forward and backward with the Wisconsin Fear Porn, for sure, coming up, but not today (you must be bored by now with all my bantering). You have read the many parts to this pasted together Wisconsin life in many parts. This Wisconsin fellow, KK, is amazing, and he is on the tightrope:

The real story behind Philippe Petit's World Trade Center high-wire stunt -  Curbed NY

My decompression now is getting some of this shit off my chest, and to regroup, as both KK and a fellow, Robert, have emailed me some things regarding the series and my own presence up north in Wisconsin. Vital words from two men, fellows in the slipstream of life. Mostly women do this memoir and self-referential stuff, and it’s me shedding light on thoughtful words from two blokes. Enjoy:

Here, from Robert Norris, who is in Japan, and I am still winding around to finishing up his memoir and writing some good words about his life, man, and the conscientious objector Norris, his Vietnam tornado of broken dreams and new history . . . the linchpin in his book, but his life is more than that time in prison, and he is more than the sum total of being a resister. Mother, man, mother!

He’s deeply ensconced in Japanese language, the culture, and he is there as an ex-pat, but so much more, having married a Japanese woman. He will not be upset that I include his most recent email to me, since it reveals only goodness and concern and deep analysis about himself, the word, and witnin him.

Good Lord cover

Hey Paul,

In Japanese, there are many formulaic expressions that lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations, nuances, and uses, all depending on the tone of voice, the social circumstance, the intonation, the tense, and the addition (or lack) of prefixes and suffixes. One of them is “o-tsukare-sama deshita.” The expression came to my mind a lot while reading your recent Substack series about KK and Wisconsin.

Hey Paul,

In Japanese, there are many formulaic expressions that lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations, nuances, and uses, all depending on the tone of voice, the social circumstance, the intonation, the tense, and the addition (or lack) of prefixes and suffixes. One of them is “o-tsukare-sama deshita.” The expression came to my mind a lot while reading your recent Substack series about KK and Wisconsi

Just the other day, I got an email from one of the consultants who works for my company. She had spent 12 hours at our client’s office, involved in various meetings. When I read about her long and tiring day, my first reaction was that I really wanted to tell her otsukaresama deshita. However, because she is American and doesn’t speak Japanese, this was not possible. And I struggled a bit with how to say it in English.  Finally I had to separate it out into its two key components — acknowledging that she had done something very tiring, and thanking her. So my message became: “Wow, that was a long day. You must have been exhausted! Thanks so much for your hard work.”  That served the purpose, but to be honest wasn’t quite as concise and elegant as the Japanese original.

Similarly, I recently had another team member who has been wrangling a very difficult client, and had spent three hours hashing out the details of an upcoming program with her. I know that this particular client is quite demanding and indeed can be very tiring to deal with. So again I really wanted to say otsukaresama deshita, but knew that wouldn’t be understood by this colleague who does not speak Japanese. So I settled for “I know it takes a lot of energy to deal with this client. Thanks for having the fortitude to work with her for so long at one sitting.”

Thinking about these two examples, I think that otsukaresama deshita is a great case-in-point of how Japanese can compact lots of meaning into a short phrase, whereas it takes a lot more words in English to say the same thing. And also that depending on the situation, the exact words that would be most appropriate to use in English can be very different. I think that this is something that makes English particularly difficult for Japanese speakers, who have handy expressions like this available in their native language.

To accurately render otsukaresama deshita into English, it is important to include both those elements of acknowledging the tiring situation and expressing thanks. I heard recently of a Japanese expatriate working in the U.S. who only did the former, and on top of it the way he said it struck the wrong cord. He had blurted out to an American colleague “You look tired!” but rather than being taken as the sympathetic statement he meant it to be, instead it felt strange to the recipient (and led them to feel concerned about their appearance). “I’m sure that you’re feeling tired after how hard you worked on that.” would have been more effective phrasing for the “acknowledgement of likely tiredness” portion. And including the thanks part is also important.

It’s actually quite a complicated construction. The “o” part is an honorific prefix; “sama” is an honorific suffix. “Deshita” conveys the formal past tense form of a noun. The root part of “tsukare” comes from a verb for “become tired.” The expression can be used simply as a greeting among colleagues or when parting after working together. It can be a means of thanking someone for putting in a long day or of deep appreciation for someone who has struggled through an arduous ordeal. It can even be used sarcastically when you want to tell someone you’re not satisfied with the work they’re doing. I did a little searching on the Net about its usage and found this:

I use it here in its most sincere and appreciative sense because I don’t have an English equivalent for expressing my admiration for the efforts, friendship, and commitment you put into piecing the Substack series together. Many parts of the series, especially in the first two articles, resonated as strongly with me as your piece on the wrestling trip with your dad did a while back.

Among the things that stick with me the most:

Merrill and all its bars reminded me of the Humboldt County, California logging towns I grew up in and all their bars and associated problems and how so many of my friends ended up as green chain pullers, timber fallers, logging truck drivers, mill workers, what have you. For many, the 1970s in particular saw the advent of a “redneck hippie” lifestyle that revolved around working 60-70 hours a week and using up all that overtime pay on inhaling, snorting, guzzling, tippling, and toking every substance known to man in their few off-time hours. A large portion of my best buddies in high school are now six feet under. I was one of the lucky ones who made it out, but not before almost destroying my own liver and other parts of the mind and body.

And yeah there are a few Indian massacre stories connected to those towns, too. In fact, Bret Harte, the 19th century writer, was literally run out of Arcata for writing a story in the local newspaper that exposed the slaughter of supposedly up to 200 Wiyot Indians by a local vigilante group. Details on this story can be found at

Nice touch at the end of episode three — mixing your poem with one by Medorra Addison and another by Bukowski.

Good thoughts included in “Freedom of the Press Means Having a Press in the First Place.”

Of all the stuff I read, there’s one phrase you used that kind of sums up everything: “Toothless in Wisconsin. America.” I can’t get that out of my head, that and all the accompanying details that led to KK becoming so.

Random thought from an older reader’s point of view: You are at your most powerful when your journalistic instincts take over — the dialog, the give and take with the people around you, the details of the environment in the moment, the smells, the sounds, the summary of ideas and thoughts discussed, descriptions of other people’s movements and gestures. It’s all there. Your choices in subject matter convey the message. When you start on a rant, it’s usually engaging in the beginning, but occasionally in your excitement, anger, frustration, or whatever emotional wave you’re riding at the moment, you begin to take the reader down a completely different road. Proustian, yes, but sometimes with an abruptness that confuses the reader a bit. Not that I don’t like being led on a new and intriguing adventure, but in a sense, you’re preaching to the choir and the choir doesn’t really need to be convinced. They’re going to ride with you till the end anyway. For older readers like myself, there’s already a permanent fatigue from carrying the weight of decades of similar anger, disappointment, frustration, etc. that comes from dealing with whatever system holds us in tow and is leading us toward the abyss. What we look for now when we commit ourselves to concentrating on a piece of writing is a little balance and even dark humor to lift us up and give us a shot of courage to find the energy to do battle one more time.

But really that’s just a minor thing, an insignificant critique. Just finished reading the most recent piece “Scar after Scar” and got a lot out of it.  Good strong ending — yeah, like almost everyone I know, hanging on by a thread. That pretty much sums up the state of affairs for the lot of us. Sorry about going off on my own tangents. I actually started out with the intention of telling you that I finally got my website a secure connection. New domain name at

Robert Norris!

If you’re still up for a video call one of these days, I’m free most anytime other than Tuesdays. That’s my physical therapy day for trying to keep these aging, arthritic joints from freezing up entirely. It doesn’t cost much and is one of the benefits of having paid into the teachers’ union here for nearly 30 years. Japan’s social security net is still functioning but just barely and probably not for much longer. If you want to put a face and a voice to the person behind these ramblings, there’s a link on my website’s “Media” page to a recent YouTube interview I had with the editor of a journal in India. You might get a chuckle.

That’s it for now. I need to take a nap. “O-tsukare-sama deshita.” Write back when you get a chance.



Ahh, schucks, you know this sort of communique warms the communist cockles of my heart. And, “them’s fighting words” also seems to percolate from my 148-mph terminal velocity sum a bitch freefall mind when I get yanked on the chain about my diatribes, my stream of consciousness and those so-called rants, taking the reader astray.

Just kidding, since Robert is a comrade, for sure, and I am not as touchy as I appear. Drama school, man, call it the Gonzo Method Acting School, a la, much animas thrown in, with doses of real communistic zeal.

Helen Mirren, the Oscar-winning actor, has criticised drama schools for “stifling” the natural instincts of young actors.

The star, who appears in a series of online acting masterclasses, told the Observer: “I’m very ambivalent about drama teachers and the classes that people go to. I think people’s instincts are crushed by bad drama teaching. I’ve watched it happen.”

While acknowledging that people “can be really opened” by drama training, she said that others suffer because “individuality is stifled”.

“It’s so often that the people who are actually the best are the ones who are thrown out of drama school because they’re idiosyncratic. They’re peculiar. They don’t fit any nicely tied-up box. In fact, they are the most interesting artists,” she said. “I’ve known people who were thrown out of drama school for not conforming to what the school felt was going to be a viable option in the profession.” (source)

Here, a little shit piling on over at Ed Curtain, who I love as a writer, but then, the RFK, Jr, for President thing kills the older man. “Although Scarred by Violence, We Must Not Be Scared into Silence”

It’s the old saw, “My Man is the Man Now for the Job of POTUS.” I know I speak another language in every venue I end up in, but here, some of the back and forth on that piece:

Ed Curtain says:

May 4, 2023 at 7:40 pm

Stop the bullshit, Paul. You applied for a job with RFK, Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense and are pissed off. Resentment is not appealing.

Paul K Haeder says:

May 4, 2023 at 11:23 pm

Oh, no, Ed. I needed a job, and I am a journalist, and so I applied and did my duty. The job was not about RFK, and I thought I’d be an asset. You know, they wanted me on toxics, environment, pollution.

Nothing about backing or bashing RFK or pharma.

Now now, thanks for the working class shout out. I do not resent CHD or RFK. Are you kidding? I am a communist, dude, and nothing the democrats and/or republicans have served up as hell in my neck of the woods is good.

So, you are now telling the world that my points are illegit because I applied for a journalism job that happens to be with CHD?

It was clear I was applying for science writing, which I have done.

Now, if I sequestered myself from everything American and USA, then I’d have a hard time taking Benjamins for anything I do.

Now, if I got the job, and then this happened (see belo), I’d say adios, CHD.

Goddamn, Ed, now you are an armchair psychiatrist?

Enjoy your man, his CHD.

And, alas, I am done with you and your attack on me. What pathetic treatment of a commentator who doesn’t have the gobsmacked disease for any of these multimillionaire charlatans.


Allan says:

May 5, 2023 at 1:07 pm

“I am a communist [i.e. a thirsty totalitarian]”, and personnel is policy. So it does not matter what you imagine your “science writing” credentials and skills to be. You’re so radioactive that CHD and RFK would have be foolish and desperate to hire you for anything, even stuffing envelopes for the next fundraiser. And now, thanks to so-called AI, one can obtain tweakable science writing without associating directly and publicly with a thirsty, burrowing commie.

Art Costa says:

May 5, 2023 at 4:17 pm

Red Herring.

Paul K Haeder says:

May 5, 2023 at 6:43 pm

Are you just dead? Ahh, radio …. active, that should be up RFK’s alley since he wants nuke energy to bring about this digital dashboard/social impact Brave New World.

I’ll take a Communist Mayor over probably all of your yokels, Allan . . . .


“Grigny isn’t often in the news for good reasons. The poorest city in France, this banlieue south of Paris is marked by massive unemployment and abandoned housing estates. For much of French media, Grigny is the very image of a “no-go zone”: one of its sons, Amedy Coulibaly, murdered four people at a Kosher supermarket in the 2015 terrorist attacks.

Yet there is also a fight to save the city from its plight — led by local mayor Philippe Rio, a member of the French Communist Party. In 2017, he organized the “Appeal from Grigny,” signed by hundreds of other mayors calling for investment in the banlieues. His innovative social programs and a COVID response based on locally issued emergency food vouchers this year saw him handed the biennial “best mayor in the world” award.

The prize given by the World Mayor Foundation hadn’t gone to a Communist before (and even this time around it was co-awarded to Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, a member of the Dutch Labour Party). But Philippe Rio’s administration has also had a wider impact in his homeland, especially through its lifelong education programs and its success in geothermal energy production, which has slashed residents’ bills.


Yeah, totalitarian.




I’ve been a member of the PCF since 1995 — since the last century. I’m often asked what it means to be a Communist. But I remember why I joined the party back then — and looking at France, today I’d have twice as much reason to join a movement whose guiding star is indignation against injustice.

I am myself a product of municipal-level communism. I’ve never been around what’s happening at the “top” of society, but rather the work of all those invisible activists — blue-collar workers, employees, and public servants — who devote their free time to helping others live better. It was they who trained me up in the life of associations, first of all on the sports field, which is about the people who give their time and money to helping you play in a football match.

We don’t exactly have oil to tap. But we do have geothermal energy, and we do have a totally different vision.

In this context, you experience magnificent things, even if you come from a poor background like mine. My dad was an unemployed worker, my parents experienced the downgrading of the working class, and sometimes there wasn’t even much to eat. So I had the food aid and the Secours Populaire [a grassroots solidarity initiative], including from the Communist town hall.

It’s probably too long for a knee-jerking funny guy like you, but give it a spin:

Selling RFK Jr. On Next-Gen Nuclear Part 2

Alas, I am breaking Robert’s Rule, here, going off the rails, tangents galore, way-way stream of battered brain syndrome consciousness, but that’s how I am wired, sort of, now, while yelling at those windmills, or wind turbines, something out there ready for the Haeder Raider Effect. I still got my .357 magnum and double barrel 12 gauge.

If you get a chance, read the piece on this Mayor:

Philippe Rio

The Communist Party has its victories and defeats. Life’s like that — there are no strongholds and no election wins are guaranteed. We have to pick ourselves up and continually reinvent ourselves.

It’s true — today the working class has changed. But I can assure you, the poor are still here. When people ask me, what’s the difference, Philippe, between when you lived in Grande Borne forty years ago and today, I say it’s that then there was 5 percent unemployment and now the figure is 50 percent. With its renewed hunger to capture wealth, liberal society is also creating poor workers.

In France, mayors are the most respected politicians. People have a more positive image of us than MPs, whether they vote for us or not. So we have a special responsibility as a last defensive dam of the Republic, in a moment where people no longer believe what the president or national representatives say. That’s also why we’re working on proposing national solutions, to answer the questions people are asking me face-to-face. That means confronting the challenge of the social transition, but also ecological transition. As a nice line by Nicolas Hulot puts it, that means connecting the problem of the end of the world to the problem of how people can make it to the end of the month.

[No Monster here, photo credit!]

Now, KK, Kelly, sent me this kind, comrade sort of email, and I reproduce it here to emplify his humanity, and he did get my own forwarding of Robert Norris’ email to me last night, and, here, more humanity precipitated by that Norris email, even or especially because HE IS TOOTHLESS IN WISCONSIN.

Paul: I was thinking about family, last night. And, when I think about my past, going all the way back to a severed finger, I have a revelation about family. My family consists of people named Paul, and Lisa, and Jojo, and now, Robert.

People who seem to at least give a god dam.

I’ve tried to covey to you, just how extraordinary that I think that you are. Talk-walker is the highest praise that I know of. A man of his word. A rarity in my experience.

Your generosity, in deed, and in your expressions of humanity, while unusual, are par for the course in the way that I have tried to conduct myself, with folks that I have taken an interest in, and pity upon.

Maybe I admire in you, what I admire most in myself. I see what Robert is saying about preaching to the choir. And, we are definitely on the same page when it comes to employing dark humor.

The chaos of our eight days has been replaced by stone silence. Not a voice to be heard since Tuesday. Except for a wary, crooked lawyer, that is. That’s not really a human voice anyway. Just kind of a bot, making sounds.

I know that Elldee (the weiner dog) really enjoyed your time with us. He appreciated having some lovin’ from someone besides the old man. He hovers now, always wanting to be next to me, on working his way onto my lap. His bed on the floor isn’t cutting it anymore.

I don’t know if I have adequate expressed my deeply felt gratitude for your friendship, manifest in so many ways. Your visit, a manifestation of your friendship, writ large, is but the tip of the iceberg, in the myriad of ways that you have propped up this tired old man.

Your humanity, towards this broken thing called Kelly, has been bearing fruit, for what seems like years now. Day in, and day out. The notebook that I gave to you, exemplifies how it has been between you and I.

I want to be able to stand on my own two feet. But, I’m not sure if I was made that way. Maybe before Fishbone (Cheri, his deceased wife) came along. Maybe then I could face the world alone. But, when she became part of me, I found a new, and better way of living. In concert. Self sacrifice, that felt so good. Not a sacrifice really. A joy. My pleasure.

Having children only expanded, and intensified those feelings. But, the flip side is loss, and rejection. In spite of all the beatings, both literal, and figurative, I always had a spark. Determination. The will, and the energy, to overcome anything. I was beat down, but I was never tired. Now, I feel, not tired, but exhausted.

And, when I look at the photos that you took, I see tired, exhausted. I don’t see the fight in that face, anymore. I see a person marking time, and not resisting the end of his time. Maybe not welcoming it, but then again, maybe hoping for a conclusion.

I’ve been trained well.

The tendency is to call myself a weakling. A crybaby. A wimp.

Those tropes don’t get through anymore.

I feel like crying, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have a right to be sad.

If someone says that I don’t, then either they’re crazy, or I am. And, if I am crazy, then I embrace my craziness, and embrace what feels real to me. The sounds of silence.

This iPhone typewriter doesn’t even have the decency to light up the room with the sounds of ideas, like a real typewriter.

All I hear is tinnitus.

I’m proud of having figured out how to play the few CDs that I have remaining. I accomplished something worthwhile. The Clockwork Angels album. A big concert for Fishbone, and I. Our only VIP show. Give the album a listen. Especially, The Garden, and Wish Them Well.

I wonder if I’ll ever mimic Geddy Lee, ever again? Of course I wonder. I’ve been with the bass, as long as I’ve been with Fishbone. When I would tear it up, on the stage, Fishbone was there, having joy for me, seeing me in my element. Nailing it. Every note. I was playing for everyone, but always for her.

And, later, for Molly. The infant. Screaming into the microphone. How we all laughed. “That girl’s got some pipes on her. Get her in the band.”

And, now it feels like it’s all dead. I’ve waited for over ten years for all of the kids to come around. It’s been a wasted ten years. I don’t think that I have another ten to spare.

But, my love for these kids just won’t go away.

Please tell Robert that I really appreciate him reading, and listening, and relating. And, I appreciate you for telling this part of my story. Even if no one is listening, still.

Finally, someone is offering a look at reality, instead of a contrived, exploitative, narrative. And, it’s not mine.

It’s a fresh pair of eyes doing the talking.



Need I say more? They — both Kelly and Robert — say it all:

And, a short story, as a kicker, referencing Norris’ letter above, Bret Harte:

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte

John Oakhurst was a gambler. He had lived in the small western town of Poker Flat for only a short time. He had defeated many people at cards. He had also won a lot of their money. For that reason alone, he was not well liked.

On the morning of November twenty-third, eighteen fifty, he saw some men talking as he walked down the main street of town. As he came near, they got quiet. He said to himself, “Hmmm, I guess they are talking about me. And that can’t be good.” Oakhurst was right. Some of the town’s leaders had met secretly and decided to force some people to leave. They thought Poker Flat would be a better place to live if those people were gone.

Besides Oakhurst, two women of low morals were led to the edge of town. They were the “Duchess” as she was called, and “Mother Shipton.” A man called “Uncle Billy” was added to the group. He was known to drink too much. Some people thought that he had also stolen some gold. They had no proof. But that did not matter. Uncle Billy was just no good, and he had to go. The “outcasts” were told that if they ever came back, they would be killed.

So, the four of them slowly rode out of town. The “Duchess” cried and said she would probably die on the road. Mother Shipton and Uncle Billy cursed. “Mother” said she would like to “cut the heart out” of the people who done this to them. But John Oakhurst rode in silence. He thought all of life was a gamble. He had just run into some bad luck. That was all.

An picture of men at a bar used with one of Bret Harte's stories in Harper's magazine in 1902.
An picture of men at a bar used with one of Bret Harte’s stories in Harper’s magazine in 1902.

The outcasts were headed for Sandy Bar, a camp not too far away. But it was high up in the cold Sierra Mountains, and the path was anything but smooth. Around noon, Mother Shipton became so tired she fell off her horse. She said that was as far as she was going today. Oakhurst tried to make them move on because they had no food or fuel. But the three would not listen. Instead they began to drink alcohol that Uncle Billy had hidden. Soon they were quiet and asleep.

Oakhurst did not drink. He stood nearby and watched them. He began to think about his life and about how lonely he was. Yet he was stronger than his three companions. He could have left them there and set off alone. But he did not.

Then, he heard someone call “John Oakhurst.” A young man named Tom Simson came riding up. The gambler knew Tom. They had once played cards and Oakhurst had won. But after the game, he told young Tom that he was too easy to beat. And he gave him back his money. Tom said Oakhurst would be his friend for life.

Tom was not alone. From behind a tree came his new wife, a girl named Piney Woods. Her father had not wanted her to marry Tom. So they had run away. Tom told Oakhurst that he had a little food. He also showed him an old log house just off the path. Years of harsh weather had nearly ruined it. But it was all they had, and it would have to do. The women could spend the night in there. The men would make a fire and sleep on the ground by the door.

The night seemed to pass quickly. But the weather became colder. The wind increased, and it began to snow. Oakhurst had a bad feeling. He turned to where Uncle Billy had slept, and found him gone. He had left the others and even taken their horses. Oakhurst said Uncle Billy had probably gone for help. But he knew better. The group of five decided to wait for the snow to stop before traveling farther. They no longer had horses. From here on, they would be on foot.

By the third day out from Poker Flat, the snow had gotten deep. They could no longer see the path. Food was running low. Everything around them was white and cold. One week later they still had not moved. The snow had continued to fall and was deeper than ever. And it continued to fall. It formed a prison they could not escape. Still, they could see smoke rising from the warm fires in the houses down below in Poker Flat. The site seemed especially cruel.

But the little group of outcasts tried to keep up their spirits. They tried to stay as warm as they could. They sat together by their own open-air fire. And Tom Simson pulled a small accordion from his pack. Piney Woods played the instrument. They all sang songs. The music took on a defiant quality, a quality of resistance. But the outcasts had to listen to the sad cries of their mostly empty stomachs. The hunger got worse with each passing day.

At midnight on the tenth day, Mother Shipton called Oakhurst to her side. She said, “Give this to the young ones.” In a bag was all her food. She had not eaten for days. She had saved the food for the others. She turned quietly to the wall of the log house, and died.

John Oakhurst began to think that none of them would live out the storm. He gave Tom Simson a pair of snowshoes and asked him to try to walk back to Poker Flat for help. He guessed it would take Tom at least two days, if not more, to get there. Tom kissed his new bride and left on foot. Soon he was out of sight. The Duchess and Piney were surprised, and frightened, when Oakhurst also turned to leave. “You’re not going, too,” they cried. He said, “Only a little way. I need to find us some help.”

At that time of year, daylight did not last long. When night came, Oakhurst had not returned. The two women were too hungry, weak, and cold to even add more wood to the fire. They passed the stormy night holding each other close. And that is the way they were found the next morning when help arrived from Poker Flat. They had frozen to death during the night.

The rescuers from town said that they had been right to force the outcasts to leave Poker Flat. But they never thought the punishment would end up like this. Justice was one thing, but freezing people to death was not their aim. And then they thought of the gambler. Where was he? What had happened to him? They searched as best they could. And then, they found him.

Under a tall tree a playing card was stuck into the wood by a knife. On the card was written: “Beneath this tree lies the body of John Oakhurst, who had some bad luck starting the twenty-third of November, eighteen fifty. He handed in his cards on the seventh of December, the same year.”

Oakhurst sat there, cold and still. They said he looked peaceful. A single bullet from a small hand gun nearby had ended his life. John Oakhurst had been both the strongest, and the weakest, of the outcasts of Poker Flat.


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