I’ve covered a few wildfire stories over the years as a newspaperman living and working in Cochise County and Tucson, Ariz.; in El Paso reporting on places like Cloudcroft and Ruidoso, N.M.; and in Spokane, reporting on the panhandles of Idaho, Southern British Columbia and Eastern Washington.
Finishing up an urban and regional planning graduate degree at Easter Washington University, I remember discussing intently the wildland-urban interface — an area where houses meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation.
While the wildland-urban interface is a focal area for human-environment challenges like habitat fragmentation, introduction of exotic species and biodiversity decline, at the top of the list is the very issue California, Oregon and Washington are dealing with — the destruction of homes communities and human lives by wildfires.
The reality is a new normal has emerged in the West, over the course of 30 years and intensifying now in the past 15 years. Without being overly dramatic and historical, while living and working in Spokane, I got a lot of background on the Great Fire of 1910, also commonly referred to as the Big Burn. It was August of that year when strong winds caused smaller fires to combine into a firestorm that killed 87 people, destroyed entire towns and burned more than three million acres of forest with an estimated billion dollars’ worth of timber lost.
Paul Haeder has been a journalist since he was 17. He is a social worker for veterans, foster youths, adults with developmental disabilities and those in homeless circumstances, and others battling addiction and recently released from prison.
Fast-forward to 2011, and I am working in Seattle for a newspaper and several colleges, as well as environmental groups. Also, part of Occupy Seattle. Through all of that distraction, I ended up in a couple of conferences focusing on sustainability and urban growth boundaries. For Washington, the term “dangerously overgrown wildlands” combined with the fact that more than 230,000 people had moved into wildfire-prone areas since 1990 were part of the discussion breakouts.
The lack of preparedness, poor interagency cooperation, and dwindling funding at the state and federal levels to not just fight the fires but to mitigate this reality that more and more people are ending up in places where woodlands, timber stands and national forests abutting their communities were front and center issues.
Parallel to this is the issue of libertarianism pushing many communities into an odd situation of paying subscriptions for both firefighting and EMT services. The for-profit outfit Rural/Metro Corp. years ago came into communities in Arizona, Tennessee and Oregon hawking subscriptions for emergency response. I heard from a friend recently who personally knew of a family who had a house fire raging when the fire truck came to the property. The driver looked at his roster, stating the home wasn’t covered because it hadn’t been part of the subscription service. Quickly, the owner pulled out his wallet and put a couple hundred dollars to cover a few years of subscription on the firefighter’s clipboard. Unfortunately, the Tennessee private firefighters let the house burn down.
When to and when not to evacuate
My spouse and I are hosting Yvonne and Darrel Pearce, my in-laws from Sandy. They evacuated Sept. 9 after hearing about a Level 1 warning for their area, along with some confusion about a Level 2 warning also being issued. Some of their friends in Estacada and elsewhere were not so lucky — flames from a 113,000-acre fire burned down outbuildings, overgrown land and cars.
The discussion point in our house today centers around how do we realize a society with seamless systems to protect public health, safety and well-being. Where I live in Waldport, we’ve experienced San Francisco-level pink and pumpkin orange skies, a blotted-out sun and thick acrid smoky air.
For the Pearces, they frantically called the Clackamas County sheriff and fire agencies about friends who live in an area deemed Level 3 — a sort of get the hell out of Dodge command. This is a couple living on many acres with dogs, feral cats and chickens. They are 75 and 91 years old. The husband does not want to evacuate.
This is not so uncommon — people reluctant and refusing to evacuate homes from the threat of firestorms, tornados, hurricanes and blizzards. It turns out my mother-in-law was able to persuade the wife to get out of this area around Eagle Creek.
She was on her way to Richland, Wash., to a Walmart parking lot, “to get as far away from the smoke as possible.” This woman was not able to persuade her 91-year-old husband to leave.
Again, how and where to evacuate and how to coordinate information systems are also topics on the table.
The fact that some states like Oregon make it voluntary to leave versus other states mandates forcing evacuations legally was also brought up.
Yvonne and Darrel stated that they left with very few belongings. “I said goodbye to the apartment and our things,” Yvonne lamented. “Our lives are more important.” What they did take along with them was important paperwork, a few days’ worth of clothes and two funerary urns with the cremains of two of her brothers and those of their dog Buddy. And a tuning harp her father used when directing his church choir.
It was bumper to bumper Wednesday leaving Sandy. They both said it took an hour-plus to get to Highway 26. Many people were evacuating with vehicles loaded down. They both stated people were being considerate to not block all the side and feeder roads.
I asked them both the biggest issue they faced and still face with this evacuation, which is purely voluntary, and at the lowest level of danger at that time.
“It’s very unsettling this is happening,” Darrel said. “We need one system to coordinate information. There are too many gaps.”
Here are the levels for emergency evacuation posted on Clackamas County’s website:
Level 1: BE READY for potential evacuation. You should be aware of the danger that exists in the area, monitor emergency services websites and local media outlets for information. This is the time for preparation and precautionary movements of persons with special needs, mobile property and (under certain circumstances) pets and livestock. If conditions worsen, emergency services personnel may contact you via an emergency notification system.
Level 2: BE SET to evacuate. You must prepare to leave at a moment’s notice. This level indicates there is significant danger to your area, and residents should either voluntary relocate to a shelter or with family and friends outside of the affected area, or if choosing to remain, to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Residents MAY have time to gather necessary items, but doing so is at their own risk. This may be the only notice you receive. Emergency services cannot guarantee that they will be able to notify you if conditions rapidly deteriorate. Area media services will be asked to broadcast periodic updates.
Level 3: GO! Evacuate now! Leave immediately! Danger to your area is current or imminent, and you should evacuate immediately. If you choose to ignore this advisement, you must understand that emergency services may not be available to assist you further. DO NOT delay leaving to gather any belongings or make efforts to protect your home. This will be the last notice you receive.
There is the Avamere at Cascadia Village assisted living center next to my in-laws’ apartment complex. Maybe a hundred units, with possibly twice that number of residents in various stages of ambulation and medical need. What sort of trigger gets pulled for them to evacuate? Level 2 or Level 3? The flames coming over the treetops?
While talking to my in-laws, one of my Facebook friends out of the blue messaged me: “From a social worker friend in Portland: ‘In case you were wondering how monstrous & cruel Americans can be, houseless people in Clackamas County, whose camps are threatened by wildfires, are not allowed in the emergency fire shelters.’”
I’ve messaged this writer to have the person contact me via email, but whatever happens, the optics are not too great if even a rumor like this is being promulgated.
This is from Counterpunch’s editor, Jeffery St. Clair: “Really thick smoke here in Oregon City this morning. I got up early and went to Clackamas Community College, about two miles southeast of us, which is serving as an evacuation center. About a thousand people camped there in RVs, cars, tents or sleeping bags out on the fields, right alongside their animals: Llamas, ponies, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, alpacas, ducks. All seeming to get along, as if it were Dr. Doolittle’s ranch transported to Mars.”
While people are dealing with pets, animals and loved ones, as well as barns and homes being immolated by wildfire, the reality is global warming has been changing the region’s seasons. One extensive national climate assessment prepared by 13 federal agencies and released in 2018 states our Pacific Northwest has warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900.
Yes, the trend will continue into the century, with the double-whammy of warmer winters and less mountain snowpack. Those same experts know long-term changes create an unusual risk in Pacific Northwest forests: Even a modest increase in contributing factors, like days without rain, could make them much more prone to burning.
“Those are the kinds of changes that amount to taking a forest and pushing it over the edge,” said Michael Medler, a fire scientist and chair of Western Washington University’s environmental studies department.
Two years ago, I saw a report from Tim Ingalsbee, head of Firefighters United for Safety Ethics and Ecology, which is an Oregon-based nonprofit working on updating building codes. “The western slopes of the Cascades and the Northwest are just woefully unprepared,” Ingalsbee said.
While my in-laws are concerned, Darrel stated, “I’m not surprised, by the fires. But the reality of how close we are to them has stuck.”
His 72-year-old wife understands the beauty in the area they have lived in for five years attracted both them and others in droves: “We have so much beauty around us. So much vegetation, trees. We have an angus cattle ranch near us. And all those Christmas trees.”
For both her 75-year-old husband and herself, they see their Christian faith as a salve for the situation they are in. However, they know others who have lost homes and are now traumatized by the constant seasonal fear of wildfire scare have much to grapple with.
As I sign off this piece on Sept. 10, the Pearces were glued to their smartphones listening to the Clackamas County press conference. Sandy is now in a Level 2 warning. Who knows now about Sharon and Ed, the couple who just made the decision to have the wife take off and the old man stay at the property under the Level 3 evacuation warning?
I’ll get to the punch line soon, since this is part two of a two-part mini-horror story of a neighbor’s 41-year-old MAGA son, the actual son’s 63-year-old MAGA-mean mom, and alas, the 41-year-old son’s 39-year-old brother. And then the lot of them under the roof of a 63-year-old stepfather who has “US Navy retired” on his Facebook account, as well as every single post about on-line Texas Hold’em. [Part One! Your Right Ends with My Right to Might]
The offending sign:
They are not what David Graeber said, “We Are the 99 Percent.” They are making three retirements, getting social security (times two), government (tax payer funded) Medicare, free VA, and they sold a house (obscene inflated price) in California, and have come to Oregon because this coast is almost “We Are the 99 Percent White” homeland of Sundown Laws. Their house on our street is the largest and newest built right on the dunes overlooking the bay. Cheap compared to Simi Valley. They banked the rest for their glorious days as racists on the coast of Oregon.
You know, criticize students, teachers, journalists, local elected officials, the road department, Portland in general, Democrats, anyone with a green button on, and, well, not exactly connoisseurs of our incredible Hatfield Marine Sciences Center. For them, spending money at a spendy restaurant in Newport, chipping in a $7 tip, and lording over some subservient waiter is their way of “rubbing elbows with the poor people.”
I know the types because I have talked with others around here — Californians from Orange County, Semi Valley and the like. The ones who for decades have cursed the Mexicans, the Guatemalans, the African Americans, the Koreans, the Armenians, the Sikhs, the Indians, the Chinese, and on and on and on. You know, in places named Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Diego, those all-American English proper nouns.
The single thread I have attempted to help students understand is that we are as individuals what we individually… do, say, eat, drink, watch, read, dream, hope for, act upon, see, smell, hear, hold true, protect, believe, perform, learn, value, preserve, who we valorize, what we consume, build, and write. Collectively, well, one can imagine as a society or culture or nation that we might also have all of these “what we …” to reflect upon whether we are good people or bad people, takers or leavers, kind or cruel, pacific or warring, COLLECTIVELY.
More on the MAGA deplorables in a moment.
Having lived in some interesting places – Bisbee, Tucson, Sierra Vista, El Paso, Albuquerque, Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and then many other places in foreign lands — I understand the concept of those who have and those who have nothing or barely nothing.
I understand (know closely) those in crisis, those with bad families, those who have been abandoned by the most important people who should have been there for them – mother, father, sister, brother, uncles and aunts, extended families. I know the directionless mindset of young people who join gangs, use drugs, commit violence, and are on a war-path toward self-destruction. I know the deep thread of trauma inflicted upon people, and how that stays for life, an ever-lasting series of lamentations, self-analyses, and self-doubts and self-loathing, to just name a few.
It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know bad hombres when you see them. It doesn’t take the niece or the sister of a Trump Character to know the lack of worth and the insult to humanity a guy like him reflects.
Did Hitler have adverse childhood experiences? Does it matter? Trump? Cheney? Bush? Kissinger? Milton Friedman? Colin Powell? Madeline Albright? Obama? Clinton? Biden? Every single billionaire and every single millionaire?
You know, I have a neighbor here, next door, from Arizona. Husband and wife. They hate Glendale, hate the republican Red State politics, hate the criminal ex-pardoned-sheriff Joe. They are here, and alas, they bought a lot, and built on it a manufactured home. The kind that comes in two parts. You know it from the long line of cars on the freeways with “extra wide load” pilot cars sandwiching them. A nice one with a foundation and it looks like a from-the-ground-up-with-footings house.
The deal is they (no one) can get a traditional mortgage for a trailer or park home or manufactured home. But, that billionaire Warren Buffet made some cool billions by financing mobile homes, using a balloon payment system, and his scheme (one of thousands) caused many (millions) to pay exorbitant fees, interest rates, and many-many homes were repossessed, like yesterday’s Pontiac Grand Am. Then, old Warren inflicts another layer of making money — on the used (repossessed) manufactured home market. This is the scheme of misanthropes, those that make the Forbes 1000 List, those that end up on Obama’s economic transition team. Or Trump’s. Or Biden’s.
The neighbors are nice, but alas, they are voting for Biden-Harris, and even that action conjures up fears, so much so they are afraid to put out a legal, everyday “Vote for Harris-Biden 2020” yard sign. Other neighbors want that same sign up, but fear retaliation.
I know many people living in many countries, including many in Europe, and they are sort of looking at this country from a telephoto lens, and really have not idea how bad, how messed up, how fearful, how spineless Americans are. Sure, they want USA to bomb Iran, bomb North Korea, bomb Venezuela, bomb China, bomb Russia, bomb liberals or bomb MAGA’s, but in reality, this country is all show and all bravado with a few tens of millions of psychopaths with guns running around (driving big trucks) with the red-white-and-blue dangling near the tailpipe.
Show up here on the coast a dark-skinned Italian, Frenchman, Greek, Spaniard, well, you get the picture. A deep swarthy tan, even for a so-called white man or woman, well, that’s a suspect epidermis. REALLY.
I used to work outside a lot, ride a bike for 50 miles in a day, and had dark black hair and a goatee. Sure, the hair on my arms bleached out, but still, in Idaho, in 2001 when I first ended up in the Pacific Northwest, from El Paso, one day in Idaho, while taking guests around, I was asked if I was a Heb – Jewish? Asked if I was an Arab? And asked if I was a Mexican? I am not kidding. First, you have to deal with the fact being any of those – Jewish, Arab and Mexican – I still think is legal. But then, the undertone, the very concept of questioning who I am, based on nationality (or maybe ethnicity, because you can be any racial member in all three camps – Arab, Jewish and Mexican.
Deplorables 2001. Deplorables in 1980 bombing innocents in Central America. Deplorables rah-rah Bush and Nixon and Bombing them All Back to the Stone Age. And, those who work for these deplorables, well, some can call them Eichmann’s or Little Eichmann’s like Ward Churchill called many of those working in the World Trade Center. People who work for the masters, the paymasters, the schemers, the grifters, the snake oil salesmen, the high risk loan sharks, PayDay loan sharks, all those used car salesmen who eat the potato salad at the Sunday School brunch, and on Monday, sell another car with saw dust inside the transmission casing or hawk an SUV that once floated around NOL after Hurricane Katrina. Faulty air bags, faked VW emissions, cracks in the O-ring for the NASA Space Shuttle, fissures in the metal containing the nuclear rods at Three Mile Island. You know, all those people, who, unfortunately, have been lumped into “We Are the 99.”
We can say they were duped by the money, made a Faustian Bargain, Drank the Kool-Aid, were bought out or sold out. Brainwashed by Capitalism . . . or greed. Sell their mothers down the river, because something bad in their lives turned them. Excuse/ excuse/ excuse.
I can’t go there now, or even years ago when the slogan began, We Are the 99.” I was pepper sprayed by Seattle Police during OWS. Many of those in the “99” ended up on the message boards and comments sections telling us that we deserved to be pepper sprayed, or what did we expect, or that there are other ways to make our point other than marching peacefully.
So, yeah, no, not part of any “We Are the 99.” Closet racists? Misogynists? Believers in the lie that all faculty at colleges and universities are elitists?
I was not brought up in privilege – my old man was an airman in USAF and then got into the Army as a Warrant Officer. Yes, I got to live overseas, travel overseas, be with relatives in Scotland, England, Ireland and Germany, but we are not talking about anything past lower middle class. [Of course, there are plenty of psychological studies and cognitive theses on how Americans conflate their abilities, inflate their actual economic standing, and frame their own narratives around the bastards of the world. Imagine, dirt poor people in Appalachia relating to silver-spooned, poor-hating, accent-mocking, disabilities-deriding, excon-slamming Trump or Bush or Nixon or Reagan.]
Did I strike gold? Well, I was in that time period in 1975 when a state college education was dirt cheap, and the state university in Tucson was progressive, made tons of allowances letting dudes like me major in science, English, journalism – all at the same time, semester to semester. Electives were anthropology [got to do the Garbage Project, garbology, with William Rathje]; marine biology [got to be a diver in Sea of Cortez with incredible professors who had a slew of marine species named after them]; poetry and creative writing [got to be a hanger on at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and all the writers who came through to the university]; journalism [got to get paid reporting for the then daily Wildcat newspaper, a wholly independent newspaper not under the thumb of the journalism department]. We broke stories on the veterinarian school paying for dogs (stolen) for ghastly experiments with ballistics; and broke the story on the football coach scamming refunding unused airline vouchers for his own slush fund. I even got to take a special topics class with W. Eugene Smith, the photographer. We got the Center for Creative Photography and the Ansel Adams slides. I did a first-person series on homelessness in Tucson, and I learned community journalism working on the lab paper, The Tombstone Epitaph. I got to party with Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, and even had beers several times with Lee Marvin. I got the chance to ride my motorcycle as an extra in C.C. & Company, with Joe Namath and Ann Margaret. And, much-much more by the time I was 20 years old.
A measure of an adult is not the size of his or her bank account, for sure, and alas, 43 years later, I am still lower middle class, having had a life of part-time gigs threaded into a multivariant quilt. Some of my friends are/were tenured professors, semi-successful novelists, and a millionaire or two here and there.
The bulk of my life has been teaching in places like El Paso and Las Cruces and Tucson, Spokane, Seattle and Vancouver.
The measure of some can be grasped through the quality of their living, their life philosophy and for some, an education inside and outside the hallowed walls of university life. I took education by the horns, got the paid TA-ship for one master’s (in English) and got another almost free ride getting another master’s in urban and regional planning. Learning is and was something you can do outside of a college, but a good college and good students and a vibrant campus and community life, no one can replace. They can bullshit you into thinking everything taught and learned in school is easily learned in the real world, but the problem is the real world is not our house, and the real world is the paymaster. A real education is life-long learning, a community of service learning, and one where curriculum is morphed, special projects encouraged, across disciples are the norm, and the liberal arts the foundation.
As many have said, I should/could write many books on my life and on what I have seen in so many other people’s lives.
I take radical action seriously, and I know – knew from an early age – the system is rigged for the rich, and that in this country, at least, the majority of people are colonized and co-opted by the complex forces of capitalism as it plays out as predatory, penury, parasitic, usury, sociopathic and ablaze with the profits privatized and all the external costs to us, society, and to the environment, socialized. A society that doesn’t do a drum beat around the tenets of something like War is a Racket and one that has no grasp of that the same fellow, General Smedley Butler, thwarting a military coup against FDR by a group of businessmen, none of whom got “hook-line-and-sinkered” for the crime, well, that society is delusional and infantilized.
I have studied human nature, have been in developing countries, under developed countries and what might be termed as third world countries. I understand the overt corruption of a place like Mexico, where cops-politicians-rich-narcos have laid siege on the people, on the indigenous ones, on teachers and land reformers and environmental defenders. The duplicity, the complete global thuggery of the USA – all those systems of exported extortion, pollution, hostage taking, maiming, theft, fraud, and grifting, again, make the narcos look like school bullies. Right, tales of a few tens of millions Economic Hit Men, thanks John Perkins!
In 1923, the British novelist D. H. Lawrence offered a grim assessment of America and Americans: “All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
Lawrence’s observations of the American character did not draw upon deep wells of direct personal experience. When he wrote those lines, he had only been living in the United States for a bit more than a year and had spent much of that time among artists and the literati. But he was neither the first nor the last to make such an observation. Nearly 50 years ago, surveying both the wreckage of the 1960s and centuries of archives, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.”
Here, David Graeber, Debt – The First 5,000 Years. He was one of several who helped coin the “We Are the Ninety-Nine Percent.”
Well, one of the things that I discovered in researching my book is that the kind of debt crisis we’re experiencing now, being a real debt crisis, which is a debt crisis that affects ordinary people, debts between the very wealthy or between governments can always be renegotiated and always have been throughout world history. They’re not anything set in stone. It’s, generally speaking, when you have debts owed by the poor to the rich that suddenly debts become a sacred obligation, more important than anything else. The idea of renegotiating them becomes unthinkable. In the past, though, there have been mechanisms, when things get to a point of real social crisis, that have always existed. And they vary by the period of history. In the ancient Middle East, often new kings would simply declare a clean slate and cancel all debts, or all consumer debts, commercial debts, between merchants were often left alone. The Jubilee was a way of institutionalizing that. In the Middle Ages, there were bans on interest taking entirely. There have been many mechanisms. [Counterpunch]
Now how is Graber’s untimely death Sept. 3, 2020 related to the misanthropes across the street who not only exhibit the middling middleclass from California hatred of Muslims, hatred of liberals, hatred of education, hatred of book learning, hatred of the arts, hatred of discourse, hatred of debate, hatred of countervailing beliefs, hatred of evolution, hatred of most sciences, hatred of multiculturalism, hatred of youth/color/polyglots/indigenous people.
Every week there is a new yard gnome, a new seasonal flag up – you name the Hallmark celebration, this family puts them all up, during those “correct” calendar spans. They wear sports team clothes, they shop at Walmart, they plant plastic flowers, they have a yippy little dog, they don’t own a bicycle, kayak, canoe, anything to at least prove they are part of the walking species. They don’t walk. Both have hobbled gaits, and at 63 they seem and act like dinosaurs from an Archie Bunker episode.
What takes the cake is that they, as I said in the first part, took down a smallish placard/sign from our property, at our front door. The son did the stealing, age 41, and the mother the next day out and out told me “my son would never do that.”
This is America, the nation of liars and thieves and infants. So, the sign was gone, I caught him in the act, I tried to stop him with my words, and he slinked into his mother’s house at 10:40 pm. All the lights were out.
You see, they were looking at this sign, and not only were they bubbling over with rage, they were talking about it. Somehow, this sign represents everything they are against. Steal a sign from the neighbors.
Ahh, but that just was part one. Now, two days later, we get a bang on the door. Nothing like having to utilize your 2nd amendment rights. Startled, well, I thought maybe this guy was back on a rampage. I saw a Sheriff deputy.
Well, this same boy, at 7 pm, according to two witnesses, threw a large garden cement paving stone into my passenger side window. The witness called the cops. The cop asked if I wanted to report this as a crime. The cop photographed the interior, the paving stone, and then took the stone. He also called for back-up. He told me a neighbor and visitor witnessed the brick threw my window. Of course, on the little Metro, I had the same sign on the back window.
This is it for America, in a nutshell. This is not Covid-19 stir crazy. This fellow has a history of booze and 24-hour drinking at mom’s place. I found this out later. The other son also has issues with going off the wagon. This is the reality of these Trumpies, 39, 41 and two 63-year-olds. Big screen TV I can see every time I go outside. The talking heads of the 24/7 Hate TV, Big Brother Hannity and Fox and Friends Hate TV stars.
But you see, these deplorables were deplorables way before this greasy man got into the White House. Seething against the Latinos and Blacks. Seething against the wildfires (blaming the democrats for those). Seething against the high cost of living, and seething that they were passed up on the time line the day they were born.
Trauma informed care means understanding where people are in their addictions, their mental crises and their involvement in the criminal injustice system. Not about blame or expecting people to meet some “normal” level of functioning, but meeting them there at the trauma and going from here to be an inspiring and helpful case manager.
But when the shoe is on the other foot – the neighbor committing an act of violence (yes, a brick or rock through a car window right outside your home is a symbolic threat to a person’s body) or the politician thieving or the president raping – well, the victim cannot always be so holistic and understanding of those perpetrators’ childhood, juvenile, teen, young and old adult traumas as rationales for bad behavior.
One brick, a few hundred dollars later, then cops who give citations but do not take people to jail because of Covid-19. Guys that are white met by white cops. Lies, excuses, etc. The deputy said this perpetrator was saying, “Come on, aren’t you guys part of the blue lives matter? Come on, what I did was for you.”
There you have it. Me threading the needle, since I know for sure policing has been a giant racist and punishment and sadistic thing in US society. I know if the perp had been a dark person, a BIPOC, then, one backtalk move, and that person would be in cuffs.
Instead, the deputy said this guy was all over the place, was trying to coddle up to the cops, and that he was smelling of booze and that his job was to disarm the individual’s uneven demeanor by deescalating things.
And, the bottom line is I am told to exercise my 2nd amendment rights, have the gun/guns ready, “and, if any trouble happens on the property, wink wink . . .,” well, those are the words of cops.
Oh, and they recommended to get a no-stalking order filed at the court, so a judge can meet with me via phone to determine if this one guy, the 41-year-old, will be hit with a court order to stay away from me. For each member of the family, we’d have to file individual stalking orders.
This is America, the hard, cold shallow/sallow America. The California Here You Come America. The Fox News America. The seething white racist America. The Americans who hate welfare while they scoop up all the welfare from their mercenary service (sic) in the US Navy, while getting social security, while getting Medicare and VA benefits, and maybe this fellow, the 41-year-old, he too is on government assistance – unemployment and possibly developmentally disabled before age 18?
I have friends all over the world who think the United States is something completely than it is. They consume so much Holly-dirt, and they maybe smart and read the elites and Ivy League mostly white books on this or that angle in America. Their take on things – because the Ivy Leaguers and Elite Coastal Lizards – have no real sense of how bad the country is, how tough the soul of the white nation is, how quickly the nation of immigrants will turn into a nation of haters.
The paperwork for the no stalking order is absurdly long. Then, the conference courtroom swearing in. All the other no-stalking cases up first – violent spouse or ex-boyfriend. Nothing like listening to all these cases of violence, threats, etc.to get a person re-traumatized. That’s what was on the docket — my case and then women who were in fear for their lives because of violent ex-spouses and ex-boyfriends.
So, get this – in the USA, now, I have a temporary no-stalking order, and the guy will be served soon, which means, you guessed it, more escalation of his testosterone, etc. More of the MAGA might makes right stupidity? That’s one possible scenario. The order goes to a level, according to the judge, of this fellow not being allowed in my field of vision, which makes it, err, problematic for him, since the house’s stoop overlooks the same road we share.
All the nonsense like –
You will have the opportunity to ask the judge to stop the stalker from:
Following or monitoring you, Threatening you, Talking or writing to you (by mail, phone, text, email, or social media), Interfering with or damaging your property, Coming near you in public or on private property, and Showing up at your work, home, school, or daycare facility.
Someone may be stalking you when they:
Follow you, Conduct surveillance on you, Appear uninvited at your home, work, or school, Makes unwanted phone calls or sends unwanted emails or texts, Leave objects for you, Vandalizes your property, or Hurt your pet.
Like I said, I have had an interesting life. Worked as a police reporter and even threatened as a newspaper journalist by both Sheriff deputies and a local policeman in Bisbee, Las Cruces and El Paso. For publishing too much on the PD/Sheriff. Got to hang out in Chihuahua City and on a couple of ranchos outside the city with some mean hombres – both college educated (MBA and JD) in the USA, but then, also politicos with ties to the cocaine trade. Been in small towns in the south, and up north in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah and Arizona.
The Euro’s and Aussies and Kiwis know nothing about how warped and dysfunctional this country under white banking and war rule is. Imagine, that defective set of genes then moving into 1990 and the 2000’s. Complete monsters like Zuckerberg and Bezos, the entire Fortune 5000 captains of industry, the sports team owners, Hollywood, from sea to shining sea.
The MAGA thing is real, not just some kneejerk against the orange monster/menace/accused pedophile/accused rapist. Yet, there are so many Americans willing to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt, so many Ellen’s and Karen’s giving Bush Baby the benefit of the doubt. This is the caliber of both sides of the political manure pile.
You’re 77 and Joe Biden and, bam, the slippage, big time. Then the felon, the grifter, the complete imbecile, Trump, 74. Two accused rapists, two rotten men, and one, Biden, living some fabled set of lies, the plagiarist in the Senate and VP. Then the habitual thief, Trump, lying as a tool, incompetent, and believe it or not, dumber than dirt, making Bush Junior look like Stephen Hawkins.
One hundred and fifty-one, the two of them, combined imbecility and lies and entitlement. Both racists, both lovers of the exceptionalism that is the huge American lie. Imagine, having five leaders, 30 years old each, running for president? Imagine that. “Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for holding the presidency. To serve as president, one must: be a natural-born U.S. citizen of the United States; be at least 35 years old; resident of the US for at least 14 years.”
This is the quality of MAGA, and many of them are old, Christians, sure, and they in any other time in history would not let their daughters come home with a greasy man like Trump for a date, let alone for candidacy for son-in-law. Not exactly all-American virtuous guy. No Norman Rockwell guy. No Norman Vincent Peele kinda dude.
Yet, their televangelists and pulpit punchers are all degenerates, and the country – little do the Euro visitor knows this – is steeped in magical thinking, protective angels, strong belief in papa in the head office guiding the poor and even educated people on what to think, say, mouth, and hear around what it means to be American.
So it goes, these neighbors, the quasi-restraining order (for a stranger, no less – not even work related). People of two generations hating blacks, hating gays, hating people with disabilities, hating the environment, hating hating and more hating.
A rock through the window, and what’s next? What will happen when the Black Lives Matter signs go up? When will they bring out their guns and ammo? When oh when will that restraining order come to the rescue? After two more pavers are thrown into our vehicles’ windows? Gunshots over the house, threw the window or at us?
This is the Trump-Land, and the same scum were there during Clinton (I went to a gun show in Texas and they were selling embossed bullseye targets with Chelsea, Bill and Hillary faces on them. Nixon? Democratic Convention in Chicago? School bussing? How many are dead in Ohio? Black Panthers? Which red-baiting McCarthyite went on to, well, advise Mister Queens New York?
This is how the sausage was made in America with that secret ingredient always back into the ground up mix–
400–500 years ago, Europe’s unwanted social outcasts and religious extremists began relocating to Virginia and Massachusetts. Grateful crowns back in London, Amsterdam and Strasbourg rejoiced as their most ungovernable and unwanted subjects self-exiled to the new world. There, waste people and pilgrims set about recreating the same intolerance they sought to flee. Puritan Christianity was so intolerant that they were unable to coexist anywhere – neither with their own kind back in the old world, nor with the natives of the new.
These first settlers thought the Inquisition ended too soon and eagerly sought to reproduce it – burning heretics and accused witches, perpetuating the cruel and unusual medieval tortures discarded by their European forebears, and forcing abused wives to wear the scarlet letter. Women and children had no rights; men were vicious tyrants. Colonial promoter Richard Hakluyt back in England neatly summarized the first settlers’ goals in 1585: “The ends of their voyage are these: to plant Christian religion; to trafficke; and to conquer.” Abel Cohen
I’ll go with Michael Parenti on this accord — the richest 85 families own as much wealth as the lower 50 percent of the world? Bullshit. Those misanthropes own a hell of a lot more than anything the 3.5 billion people on earth might collectively “have.” No comparison:
Regarding the poorest portion of the world population— whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.— can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are. — Michael Parenti
And so I get a rock through my car window, get to go to court to file a no stalking order, and await yet more American mean as cuss reactions as the Black Lives Matter and Ecosocialist signs go up . . . Of course, after I have to purchase and install closed circuit surveillance cameras. Yep, MAGA Mutts for Trump 4.0.
Your Right to Your Opinion Ends with My Right to Might
by Paul Haeder / August 30th, 2020
No ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest consciously trying to anticipate control / initiate events at home & abroad both overtly & secretly.
The dirty truth is that many people find fascism to be not particularly horrible.
— Michael Parenti
As a trauma-informed social worker (no, it’s not some buzzword or new age trend) who has worked in prisons, in closed homeless facilities, in memory care day programs, for teenager foster youth and adults living with developmental disabilities, as well as worked with veterans who are homeless (in a clean and sober facility) and with the basic human beings who find him or herself homeless in Portland on the streets in a tent, I understand the deep well of historical and familial baggage people have.
I understand we can either “make it” through childhood traumas with a modicum of sobriety when it comes to self-esteem, self-care, self-enlightenment or we just are in a constant stage or healing and rehealing (that’s true for most people I know, and myself, as well).
As I repeated many times to my daughter when she was growing up in El Paso and then Spokane (and she visited me in Seattle and Portland where I worked with the so-called down and out), when you see that toothless smile, the grime, the shaky hands holding up that sign, “Anything helps . . . Please Help a Vietnam Veteran . . . My Family Needs Money to Feed Themselves,” remember that that adult once was loved, coddled, and even cared for (even for a few moments in the hospital). That adult did not wake up one day in elementary school, when the teachers asked, “what do you want to be or do when you grow up?” and then responded: “I want to be addicted to pot and alcohol by age 12, meth by 17, heroin by 23 and then homeless at 25. I want to be put into the criminal justice system, have a long rap sheet, have my veins collapsed by age 36, my heart out of whack by age 40, constant headaches the rest of my life, shakes and delusions, and be carted off every month or two by an ambulance passed out with urine-soaked and shit-smeared pants.”
I recommended to her to be smart, to protect herself, to know her surroundings, but to treat these people – even the ones in the street yelling at voices and demons with their pants half down or completely naked from the waist down – as people who once, maybe for a short span of time, were honored/loved as children, as a babies, as a gifts of the world, with people galvanizing so much hope and future and potential into the thin vulnerable surface of a baby.
Story after story, case after case, and you end up age 63, still writing, still teaching, still working in social services, and now, on the Oregon Coast, in an amazing ecosystem, but also held in a kind of captivity during this time of police killings, BLM protest, lockdowns, spiraling and spiraling numbers of people on the edge, with each new day producing another 500 people ready to be entered onto that statistical category – “One Pay Check Away from Eviction or Foreclosure” and “One Mental Health Crisis from Suicide.”
If it were just that simple. Eviction, or foreclosure, well, not good on the old credit record, but if the person has safety nets, people they call friends and family and compatriots, then a soft-landing might be in store with an eviction or loss of a job or foreclosure or mental health crisis.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to not want to admit failure after failure, our precarity after precarity and certainly we do not want to see that life in the USA is one thin ice episode after another. Fine one day, the next month bankrupt because of a cancer or chronic disease. We want to have this thin gossamer of hope that tells us (deludes us) that there is a chance things will not only turn around, but that we will have learned from the hardships and will have benefitted from the all and that we will be better people after all those hardships and that we will not only survive but thrive after all those bad bad things happening to us.
Somehow people believe there are agencies and people and armies of volunteers in the ready to help. That is the big lie of dog-eat-dog capitalism. Odd.
George Lakoff used to harp on narrative framing, discussing why, say, a housepainter or truck driver or warehouse forklift driver would even have any mental or logical reason to identify with someone like, say, George W. Bush. Yale, silver spoon, East Coast background, millions upon millions in the family coffer way before 1960, and now, in that era, just a regular kind of guy.
Nope – I knew many military men and women who did not suck Southern Comfort, sniff coke, womanize/manize, do no-shows (AWOL) in their Guard unit, and alas, attack every American left of his rightwing mentality.
Really, I am not pulling this stuff out of thin air. I was a military dependent – Azores, Maryland, Albuquerque, Paris, France, Munich, Germany, Scotland, and then Arizona – who had a great life traveling throughout Europe and the UK and USA before I was 14. I knew hundreds upon hundreds of military men and women. War veterans (my old man, shot in Korea, shot in Vietnam, 31 years total Army and Air Force combined). I worked with a few World War I vets as a journalist in Arizona. Plenty of WWII vets, and of course, Vietnam vets.
I taught college-level writing and literature classes to military on an Air Force fire-fighting line, on a military post, and in an NCO Academy. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Washington.
I ended up years later in Vietnam working as a journalist/biodiversity team member. I have met and been deeply connected with ex-military in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Radical teacher, writer, activists, social services guy, and here I was, in 2018, working with down and out veterans who not only face homelessness, but PTSD, disabilities, trauma after trauma. Hands down, most of the thousands of military I worked with, then, supported my journalism, my writing, my teacher, albeit many were taken aback at my history with the military and my own familial history – grandfather who flew tri-planes for the German Navy in WWI, German uncles and relatives who were on the Russian front, Scottish and English uncles and relatives who were in submarines, on ships and as grunts in WWII.
There was a nanosecond or two where I considered attending West Point, and having a few ins there, I might have had a chance to get accepted. I understand the military, and that it is a blunt instrument, and that General Smedley Butler, who not only wrote War is a Racket, but broke up a business-influenced military coup attempt against FDR.
I’ve reported on cops as reporter on the so-called police beat for several daily newspapers. I have worked with Central American refugees, with prisoners and ex-prisoners, with seniors in a continuing education program, all with some sort of trauma and multiple traumas, including survivors of death squads in Guatemala, horrific injustices and rapes inside the wire, and a few Nazi deathcamp survivors.
Hands down, the idea for me is expression, self expression, working through (mostly not to the end of it) multiple adverse childhood traumas, and then those trauma inflicted through into adulthood. Perfectly fine 17 year old high school heavyweight wrestling champ, goes into the Marines, and comes back to Spokane, my student, completely obliterated emotionally as a man.
Battle of Fallujah, 18 years old, and three major areas of trauma – orders to flash lights twice, honk once, and if the person (civilian) is in the road, just mow over him or her. For my student, Jacob, that was a woman who looked like his grandmother, under the chassis of the Stryker vehicle, and as a private, he was ordered to “go find her fucking head and put it next to the body after we drag her worthless ass out from under the vehicle.” Imagine, taking a head, one that was just alive minutes before, to this headless body. A head that was more ways than one resembling his grandmother on his mom’s side, a Mexican granny.
Next, the battle field, Fallujah, and house to house, step-by-step combat, and again, Jacob and his cohorts (thousands and thousands over the years) told to shoot anyone left standing, sitting squatting. “If they fucking lift their hands and wave a white flag, better for you to get a clear shot . . . no worries about an AK-47 or hidden grenade.”
The last one of many traumas for Jacob happened on “Thanksgiving,” and he was on a mission to retrieve three dead buddies. They brought the cadavers back to base camp, and Jacob wanted to just crash in his cot – read, listen to music, sleep. “No way, soldier. This is Thanksgiving, and I want your ass in the mess pronto. We got President Bush coming in a live feed, and you will sit down and eat all this food shipped in and cooked by your fellow grunts.”
Oh, that, and the fact Jacob was amped up on amphetamines fed to the soldiers for long-duration battles, and the steroids they administered (ordered to take) as part of the battlefield triage – enough anabolic steroids in the body will allow for healing, no more bruised muscles, no more fagging out because of torn ligaments, bruised bones, bone spurs (how ironic, with Orange Menace Cadet Bone Spurs laughing all the way to his deferments).
And other some such stuff, like forced vaccinations and some odd duties in Afghanistan and UAE.
You can take the boy/young man away from the Middle East, but you can’t take the Battle of Fallujah out of the man. That sort of thing. Stuck in a community college class, five years later, and Jacob was up shit creek – how to relate to students, to faculty, to the assignments. I was one of his healers. I even got him in on a conference in Seattle – a first, really – as an undergraduate student talking about trauma and social justice as it dealt with his military trauma and indoctrination. He met David Zirin, the head speaker of the event.
In reality, after working so long and hard at all these avocations and these gig jobs and part-time appointments and non-permanent full-time assignments – while still writing, still reporting, still organizing – I have a few lifetimes under my belt when it comes to trauma, people, war, injustice and the will to live.
In the end, though, the concept of expression and debate and 1st amendment principles goes North/South/East/West. No matter how much the idea of free speech is aspirational it certainly is not a reality in a society that forces people to be conscripted in K12, forces people to pee in a cup before employment (guilty/suspect first until proven innocent) and to undergo credit-real estate-background checks, to be hirable only after references are contacted and work history verifiable. Think about how much free speech we have when we want to tell a cop he or she is part of a killer force. Try it, to their face. Try telling a DA or judge they are engaging in criminal injustice and arbitrary punishment. Try telling the supervisor that there is something wrong-dangerous-unethical about something in the company-corporation-factory. Try telling a governor that “to mask or not to mask” is no the way to tackle the pandemic, the SARS-CoV2, etc. and tens of millions out of work, near destitute. Try going to work NOT wearing a mask. Try giving the thumbs down (or middle finger up) to a bunch of neo-Nazi’s or Proud Boys while the cops are protecting them. Free speech in universities? Come on, there are millions of incidents of faculty, students and others who were shunted away from any free speech or so-called academic freedom. Try telling the so-called progressive union you are working for the Jill Stein campaign when the union(s) endorsed Barak Obama in May before the election.
Having my free speech taken away or questioned is a sort of trauma I relive over and over and over.
We understand the censoring of free speech on social media. We understand the algorithms that wipe clean Google searches for many many topics. We know how we are just data fields for the masters of the universe, and that if we dare kick and scream or try and buck the system, we are then cobbled or kettled away from the so-called mainstream. Our money and land and minds will be seized. Free speech my ass.
Try not standing for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance (I have not stood since age 13, with all sorts of hell to pay). I’ve had sodas thrown at me and hotdogs tossed at my back in college stadiums. I have been yelled at in high school events. I was screamed at as a wrestler when I stayed on the mat. I was pulled from wrestling matches when I stayed on the mat during the bloody National Anthem.
No hat off during a star-spangled banner rendition. That gets people pissed off.
As a follower of many revolutionaries and thinkers outside the box, I can certainly get tied up in some contradictory thinking, and, alas, it is highly probable that we all need to embrace oppositional ideas (not just black v. white, but many views and slants and POV’s) to understand our own narrative contexts and how the world really works. Of course, the concept of thinking outside the box is almost impossible in a supra-colonized society like the USA, an oligarchy, and a war and imperial nation tied to the notion of Capital Trumping All. Free speech may have a lot of grounding in what are community standards of what is acceptable speech and what the culture may or may not tolerate (my belief is close to the ACLU’s in terms of protect hate speech – for), but in this predatory and parasitic capitalism, the boss and the bank and the brigadier general the blue line trump all.
Attempting to define one’s perspective outside the lines of corporate-financial-surveillence-taxation-penalizing-fining-tolling-penury constraints is more dangerous than yelling, All Black Lives Matter or ACAB – All Cops Are Bad/Bums/Bastards/Brutes/ETC.
I have been told as a college adjunct to not force (what is that?) students to read the Fight Club and to see a few clips from the movie as a discussion point about male identity and Dystopian thinking. The idea is to give students in a state college alternatives if they have a PG13 rule at home and if they deem anything offensive, anti-American, profane, violent. Or anti-Christian.
I have been told to not bring up so many political issues in my writing classes, that too many students are writing about climate change, GMOs, collapse of civilization, social justice/injustice, USA’s role in genocide, etc., etc. “Why don’t you just keep the reading list to things like The Shipping News or The House on Mango Street, if you want to deal with multiculturalism?”
Yep, free speech gives many many Americans headaches. Fine. But, to have to deal with a neighbor’s adult son, age 41 and, and a friend of his in his 30s, on a Saturday night while I am watching a film at 10:40 pm stripes away the very definition of not just what free speech denotates, but what trespassing and home invasion does to shunt free speech, or expression (as in putting up a sign on our property).
Here I am, in a small house, with a glass screen to shunt the Pacific winds, leading up to a two-step stoop to the front door. On the window, about six feet up, the above sign — around 12 by 18 inches. Notice it is an American flag as the background. Notice it is something many of you have seen, I am sure, posted in your own neighborhood. Not my pro-Antifa sign, my upside down American flag sign, or other such radical things. Simple and easy for a semi-liberal to understand.
So, two strapping fellows yank it off while the movie sound is not that high. Thinking there is some other noise-producing thing going on outside, like a raccoon in the garden or a cat on the car roof, I open the door and the sign is ripped down and the two lurking men are dashing away, less than 20 yards across the street, with the sign. I yell at them, sort of flabbergasted that they didn’t just drop the sign when I called them “you pieces of shit … what did you do?” Then, the one gentleman yells – “Call the fucking cops then . . . . hahaha.”
We are talking almost 11 pm, and my spouse was sleeping, and, well, I went outside, with the lights on, and had a flashlight, but the two bums slinked in this guy’s retired parents’ big ass two story home with all the lights off. I was willing to talk, really, as in mediate – “You two fucked up, so now return the sign.”
You see, in America, Free Speech is trumped by the Second Amendment. What do you do knocking on a door at 11 pm when the house has no lights on? In a real world, well, you knock on the door. In America, you know that a 9mm or shotgun could very easily greet you at the door, or just go through the door.
Trauma. Now, two stupid men with nothing else to do but to take this property down and steal it can’t fathom the world as it really is. Sure, they were probably drunk, inebriated. That’s what a lot of white guys, young and old, do down on the coast. Saturday night. A big moon. No wind. Drunk.
But again, the trauma that my wife had at age 21 really plays into this scenario. I would have had no problem on my own knocking on the door. I know I would have pointed my car’s headlights over at the doorway so there would be proof they could see me. I would have asked for the sign back. I would have stepped back off their stoop because in America, a man’s stoop is his castle.
You see, coming onto our fenced property (small yard) and then physically ripping down a sign is both invasion and theft. I heard the ripping sound twice, 20 minutes apart, and alas, so, it took them two attempts to pull OUR sign down, and that is also a form of stalking.
What about the trauma of people shits like this are triggering? What about the lack of values stealing a sign? I have told many a person that the Reagan hat or Bush hat or Clinton hat or Trump hat were insults to my intelligence. However, I said it calmly, and I knew they had a right to the stupid hats on their heads. Same with yard signs –Blue Lives Matter (bizarre and racist). If the gal or guy is out watering their weeds, I have told them that the sign is illogical and out of place. And then, if there is a discussion, great. If there is a “fuck you . . . fuck off” (which is usually the case), then I laugh and walk off, keeping an eye out for my back because the United Snakes of America has a history of back-shooting Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Latinx, poor white people, women, Middle Eastern-looking humans.
A country imbued in “might makes right” will indeed incubate all manner of idiots, whether that be a college provost or president, or some Joe the Plumber making more than the college president putting in toilets and unclogging sewer lines.
So, the Lincoln County sheriff deputy is called Sunday morning. He takes down information. He makes a notation of the trauma this incident inflicted on my wife. We talk more before he goes over to the offenders’ house. It turns out the deputy had 14 years in US Army, and the last 5 years he was in the Seattle area working on a special task force and investigative unit on sexual crimes (rape) in the military.
He understands fear, trauma, and what some people might sense as an invasion of their home, their sense of safety and future engagement with these nutty neighbors. That’s how my spouse feels. And the deputy gets the “man thing,” that I am still not afraid of authority, or mock authority, or big man rules the roost authority. He knows I would be out there talking to them now, but the trauma on my spouse trumps all.
This family is an across-the-street neighbor.
So, now, ugly No Trespassing signs I’ve put up on the chain-link fence. I had to purchase and install an extra light for the front porch. That sort of crap. The deputy suggested a no stalking order requested by my spouse from a judge. In the end, the conversation with the dipshits across the way was not cooperative, the deputy said. The tall guy, one of the perps, said, “I have nothing to say.” The father hemmed and hawed, but they never admitted to it. The deputy said he told them in no uncertain terms there was no reason for any of them to be in our yard, let alone messing with our property, the sign.
While the deputy was cooperative with us and empathetic (I told him about my military experiences, my dad’s and such), the bottom line was that I did not have photographic or closed-circuit evidence, and alas, that’s the new normal. “I can’t make him cooperate, but I made it clear that there should be no trespassing onto your property.”
This is America – small town or big town. Some of the other neighbors talked to me about “the sheriff’s vehicle in your driveway . . . what’s up.” And, here in the USA, sometimes the information spigot is forceful – lots of information about the California son who did the rip-off with his male friend. “He has been there for two months and he just stays inside and drinks all day.” You know, trauma after trauma/after addiction after addiction. Another neighbor said the other son, this guy’s 39-year-old brother, well, they both look alike, and that guy has “been on and off the wagon for a year.”
Then, itchy fingers, and my spouse finds the old parents on line, on Facebook, and then one of the son’s as well, with amazingly hateful posts – “With all these logging trucks, they should go to Portland and just run over those scumbag protestors.” And then tons of likes and hearts on that post.
I am grounded, and always have been. Capitalism under the USA, NATO, most of Europe and Canada, well, these societies are war societies and war organizations with continuing criminal enterprises called banks. No matter how hard a small minority of folk tries to shed the war complex and the MIC, no matter how hard they attempt to be antiwar, anti-racist, anti-corporatist, the majority in this country (Not just MAGA) are flag wavers, believers in exceptionalism for the white race/culture and in this country, believers in the adage “the man/woman with the most things/money/power when they die are the best people on earth (or wins)”.
Know your enemy and know your debater. Know how people frame things, and know motivations, and understand/study the epigenetics of their lives, what agnotology is, and why someone like Gore Vidal might write a book titled, The United States of Amnesia.
I go to Christian Parenti for some framing and dicing of the system that is the world’s most horrific and terroristic —
Here, some riffs on free speech (does it really exist in the USA?) by the ACLU!
Finally, in 1969, in Brandenberg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court struck down the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, and established a new standard: Speech can be suppressed only if it is intended, and likely to produce, “imminent lawless action.” Otherwise, even speech that advocates violence is protected. The Brandenberg standard prevails today.
First Amendment protection is not limited to “pure speech” — books, newspapers, leaflets, and rallies. It also protects “symbolic speech” — nonverbal expression whose purpose is to communicate ideas. In its 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, the Court recognized the right of public school students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In 1989 (Texas v. Johnson) and again in 1990 (U.S. v. Eichman), the Court struck down government bans on “flag desecration.” Other examples of protected symbolic speech include works of art, T-shirt slogans, political buttons, music lyrics and theatrical performances.
In 1971, the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times brought the conflicting claims of free speech and national security to a head. The Pentagon Papers, a voluminous secret history and analysis of the country’s involvement in Vietnam, was leaked to the press. When the Times ignored the government’s demand that it cease publication, the stage was set for a Supreme Court decision. In the landmark U.S. v. New York Times case, the Court ruled that the government could not, through “prior restraint,” block publication of any material unless it could prove that it would “surely” result in “direct, immediate, and irreparable” harm to the nation. This the government failed to prove, and the public was given access to vital information about an issue of enormous importance.
It took nearly 200 years to establish firm constitutional limits on the government’s power to punish “seditious” and “subversive” speech. Many people suffered along the way, such as labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Espionage Act just for telling a rally of peaceful workers to realize they were “fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.” Or Sidney Street, jailed in 1969 for burning an American flag on a Harlem street corner to protest the shooting of civil rights figure James Meredith.
In the 1980s, Jordan Merrell often played in the wilderness near his home, located in the Siuslaw Forest in Lincoln County. Jordan was adopted by Carol Van Strum and husband Paul Merrell when he was days old in 1979. (Photos courtesy of Carol van Strum)
Opinion | A letter a day for 15 years and 9 months
FINDING FRINGE | A mother’s love reaches into the bowels of the Oregon penal system to keep her son afloat by Paul K. Haeder | 26 Aug 2020, originally published in Street Roots, Portland, OR.
I catch her in the early evening. Two black bears cross the road just before turning onto her driveway.
It’s light out, but I swear I saw two barn owls swooping into a stand of apple trees.
After I am finished with the interview, she will hold court under the stars with her two Sicilian donkeys, an old mare, a cockatiel, and Amazonian and Patagonia parrots as company. A black Lab mix, Mike, is the outdoor shadow, her sentinel.
A single barrel 12-gauge shotgun is “just in case.”
I’m on her 20 acres about 30 miles by road from Waldport. The stories Carol Van Strum unfolds are a dervish through many labyrinths. She has been in the Siuslaw Forest for 46 years, but her origins start in 1940, at the dawn of World War II. Her roots were first set down in Port Chester in Westchester County, N.Y., with a father who went to Cornell and a mother who supported the whims and avocations of their five daughters.
At age 79, she’s spry enough to live in an old garage converted into a great room with a bedroom loft. Her cherub cheeks belie an Irish heritage.
I got to know Carol Van Strum a year ago when I was researching her life and her own research on deadly chemicals for another piece — about her fight against the chemical purveyors who sell their brew of toxins to cities, counties and industries like the timber barons.
Carol’s raison d’etre is the nonfiction gem “A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights,” written in 1983, which follows the case of Carol; her husband, Steve; four children (all of whom perished in a suspicious fire in their cabin); neighbors; residents of Lincoln County; and their battle with the state of Oregon, chemical companies, the EPA and the U.S. Forest Service.
The intrigue behind today’s meeting — her 40-year-old adopted son’s 15 years and nine months of incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit — ties into the many strands to her web of life that easily could be fodder for movie makers.
In the verdant wonder of the old homestead, we are about to crack open a pitiful story that turns into triumph.
The miscarriage of justice has to do with race, those without money getting the proverbial short shrift, and a punishment and retributive system of criminal injustice that wants a piece of flesh of every targeted human being.
I am here to drill down into Jordan Merrell’s figurative hell after being wrongly prosecuted and convicted of first-degree murder with a 25-to-life sentence under Oregon’s infamous Measure 11 mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. That was 1995.
Carol and a second husband, Paul Merrell, adopted Jordan when he was days old in 1979.
“It was a doctor’s friend who had a friend who was a midwife who said she had an African American baby boy who would find it hard to be adopted. His biological mother did not want the baby.”
The young Jordan lived an amazing life with animals, under the big sky of the Central Oregon Coast Range, while communing with fruit trees and adventures splashing in streams while studying newts and chasing crazy barn owls. He played baseball and basketball at Waldport High School, one of two Black students at the school.
The story of a 15-year-old boy accused of murdering an elderly man is rare indeed. Two 14-year-old girls accused him of the crime, even though, as Carol points out, Jordan wasn’t even near the man’s house — where the murder took place. Jordan possessed no bicycle, nor a vehicle, making it impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime.
It turns out one of the girls had already attempted murdering her grandfather for money, but her juvenile record was sealed and denied as evidence in Jordan’s trial. His court-appointed defense attorney never called three witnesses who would have placed Jordan 3.8 miles away from the murder.
Jordan’s juvenile years were striated in Oregon’s MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, and when he turned 18, his life transitioned into a veritable crisscrossing of cycling in and out of all of Oregon’s prisons.
Through the hellish trial, then the early days of anger tied to wrongful incarceration, transitioning into years surviving by grit and wits, and finally graduating to learn how to mete out an existence in a dangerous world, Jordan still lands back on the power of his mother keeping him centered.
He explains that Carol is his guardian angel. “Literally, she wrote me a letter every single day. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Jordan’s stick-to-it-ness comes from his school of hard knocks and Carol’s perseverance, as well as this undying dedication to construct a lifeline of letters, books and visits.
“You know, when he went to his first adult prison, there were three Black men who took Jordan under their protection. These men showed him the ropes and protected him. Jordan was a pretty naïve and unworldly kid when he was arrested,” Carol tells me.
The rotten aspect of Jordan’s ordeal is tied to a broken legal system of bad cops, duplicitous district attorneys, incompetent defense lawyers and mean-as-cuss judges. Add to those many strikes against the teenage Draconian constraints of legislation like Measure 11.
“I didn’t have a defense really. He was a low-level lawyer,” Jordan said. “The way the legal system works is that it gets you into a corner and forces you to make a plea bargain.” At the first trial in Lane County, Jordan did not enter a plea agreement. “I didn’t know much then. The attorney tried to step down during my defense.”
The crisscrossing of incarceration blues started with Oregon Corrections’ intake center, then McLaren Youth Correctional Facility, then Oregon State Penitentiary.
In 2008, he won an appeal based on evidence of reasonable doubt — and because the attorney in the initial trial did not call witnesses.
“In this case we found that the defendant did not have effective counsel,” said Stephanie Soden, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, at the time. “It’s a fairly common reason to petition for post-conviction relief, but it’s one that’s rarely granted.”
He got a new plea deal outside of Measure 11 minimums, and the sentence was reduced, with credit for time served. He tells me he did not think he could convince a new jury of his innocence.
“I assure you I didn’t do what I confessed,” he wrote in a letter to his mother. “But it’s time to move on.”
After his resentencing, he ended up in Lane County jail. More moves to Umatilla County Correctional Facility, Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras, and then Pendleton to Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, and his last stop was Columbia River Correctional Institution.
He wrote essays during his time inside the wire, and this is from one he wrote when he was “fresh out:”
I walked quickly down the access road that led to the prison — as though the guards might change their minds and chase me down. The immediate area was semi-rural, the access road leading to a small highway that meandered ten blocks or so onto a main boulevard running north and south through much of the city. … I walked for miles through the outskirts of the city, stopping at numerous small stores, none of which accepted my debit card.
Finally, I came to a gas station where the clerk informed me that not only could I not get change from the card, there were no pay phones for miles! This was my first experience of the kindness I had forgotten humans naturally have an instinct for. The clerk let me use his cell phone to call a friend, and when I couldn’t operate it (it appeared to have no buttons — I thought about trying to give it a voice command) he dialed it for me.
“Early on I was angry, but when I got out, I was euphoric,” Jordan tells me. He ended up at a community house in Multnomah County — run by Phoenix Rising Transitions.
He emphasizes being around other guys just like him who understood his way of thinking was powerful. Learning new responsibilities at the house helped Jordan during the four months of halfway house living.
“It was a good way of transitioning, as opposed to ending up in a studio apartment by myself. Outside, people were rude and disrespectful, so having guys from prison on the same page made it easier since we understood where we had come from and understood our way of thinking,” he said.
Jordan was halfway through the ninth grade when he was incarcerated. He knows how tough it is in prison finding role models.
“While inside, I focused on change. I had to create an imaginary role model. It all comes down to being logical about things — is doing A going to get me to B and so on.”
When he was released, on a few occasions Jordan ran into fellow inmates who still stayed “involved in all the illegal stuff. They hung onto what they did that got them to prison in the first place.”
His best friend (one of only a few friends) is back in prison because of this arrested development.
Stepping stones inside and outside the wire
I ask Jordan what he aspired to be in his formative years.
“I guess I wanted to be a cop,” he said chuckling. He ended up out of prison working on a degree in accounting, married and with a 10-year-old stepdaughter.
His life moved quickly in some regards once outside the wire — he met Julie three weeks after leaving prison. Then three weeks later they were married. They have been a couple since 2013.
Both Carol and Jordan tell me Julie is a smart woman who’s organized and into logistics. Jordan said they both had aspirations of doing a catering service — a mobile pub or bar. The pandemic has put all those ideas on hold. He’s at Mt. Hood Community College taking classes for an associate degree. He’s also out on parole for life. While he doesn’t report in person anymore, he’s still charged a $35 per month supervision fee.
He continually reminds me of evolution, transformation and transmogrification now that he has family and purpose.
“I have left that part of my life behind. I am now doing something specifically focused on getting my life together and being devoted to my family. I lost almost 16 years of my life. I had no job experience, no life experience (outside of prison), no education.”
He mentions this after I prod him about why he’s not writing more, maybe even penning a memoir.
Jordan admits it’s possible a book might come later. “Before, when I was writing, I was in a cell for 23 or more hours a day. I had nothing else to do, so I could focus on the writing. Maybe later when I am more established.”
Overt racism Jordan endured in high school, Carol relays, was both ugly and absurd. “The only Black kid at Waldport High School. He was pulled out of class by the principal and was accused of being a gang member. How absurd — a gang of one.”
Much of Carol’s novel, “Oreo File,” is patterned after a young boy like Jordan.
While looking at her heritage corn stalks, I am gifted several books by Carol, including “Cross Country ABC: 1957,” which is an account of the trip she and two sisters took across the U.S. in a 1956 Chevy station wagon.
Then another book, penned in 2009, “The Story of a Barn – Alder Hill.” The barn was on her property, built in 1930 by Elihu Buck, an engineer who had worked on the Gold State Bridge. This gem of a short book is a history of the property, the surrounding homesteads, the trees, the creamery in Waldport as well as the Red Octopus Theatre performances premiering in the barn.
This is part and parcel of Jordan’s history, too, as he knows the land and knows the place. It’s tied up in his spiritual and cultural DNA. The book written by Carol as a tribute to Jordan is another gem – “Northern Spy: A Good Apple Tree.” The book is like a narrative poem about Jordan’s life here, from adopted baby to child to teenager.
On the hillside by the house is a grand old apple tree called Northern Spy. It was planted at the birth of a beautiful child.
Far away behind steel and concrete, the boy grew into a man. His faithful dog Sherlock died without seeing him again.
Then, at the end of the book, Jordan is a 33-year-old man, with his wife, Julie:
There would be difficult times ahead, looking for work, finding a place to live, enrolling in college. But good times awaited, too. By summer there would be someone to share both happy times and tough ones. Someone to take home at last and show where he came from.
“That’s my redwood,” he would say. “I planted it. And see beyond it, that’s my apple tree.”
He would show her the river, the donkey, the gardens, the flowers, an iguana’s grave.
And come fall there would be buckets of apples from his beloved Northern Spy.
No veteran shall die alone… I hear his footsteps near a focal plane he looked at a world through old lenses tripping with amputee’s lamentations, eyes bursting diabetes more than dietary benign medical diagnosis
he pushed into my life wheelchair red, hair unkempt man on a mission homeless then, institutionalized the place of my temporary work
he talked of Brazil one day skirting along Copa Cabana he shared cachaça with me and others on Pacific on my Oregon coast with vets like a blink of my eye one year ago gone
happy, a buoyant time he gushed about a trip to Europe during better times, a woman, younger met in Greece Austrian student he talked of re-meeting her
he staked out time trivial pursuit in this facility he watched movies talked it up when hard documentaries pushed his limits
hidden deep this former Army grunt, a broken family father once a mountaineer reclusive, hoarding affection yet time was a bell tolled
Chicago father dead one year before Danny’s demise old at 71 stuck in a home hospice on him like a leech he passed away unknown unknowing, trapped in lockdown
memory held by poet his case worker once holding the line as he cycled out lonely, virtually invalid life alone sucked him dry nine months later
memory I hold his photography career seen his jazzy images his big studio brand spanking new young in this zeal
memory I galvanize more dying now than living, being born how alone we are crags of some good times a continual wanting of travel, minds glued to uneven remembrances
Danny Abrego, gone August 17, 2020
another flash in my craggy life this veteran dead, alone from sweetness of hope into the dungeons of isolation
Paul K. Haeder, author of “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” captured this photo outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo by Paul K. Haeder)
Collection of short fiction relives memories of Vietnam and its American war
Author Paul K. Haeder discusses his new book, ‘Wide Open Eyes,’ in Street Roots, which launches Friday night by Emily Green | 31 Jul 2020
Author Paul K. Haeder believes that until Americans truly learn from Vietnam, we are doomed to keep repeating the mistakes and abuses that transpired there.
At 7 tonight, Cirque Press will officially launch Haeder’s book “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” with a reading from the author, via Zoom web conferencing.
Paul K. Haeder is the author of “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam."Book cover courtesy of Cirque Press
Haeder is a lifelong journalist who now resides in the small town of Waldport on Oregon’s central coast. His new book, his third, is a collection of 17 short stories. While fictional, the protagonists are based on people and composites of people he met when he worked in Vietnam 26 years ago, surveying wildlife, and in his capacity as a social worker serving veterans, many of the Vietnam War.
He also writes a regular column for Street Roots called Finding Fringe.
A reader may find “Wide Open Eyes” both beautiful and jarring. Haeder’s descriptive precision invokes a vivid sense of place and time, with the book serving as a literary time capsule containing Haeder’s real life muses, all of whom have died.
Emily Green: Can you tell me about the impact the Vietnam War has had on your life, by way of the impact it had on your father?
Paul K. Haeder: There is positive and negative impact on my life. The positive was that my dad was in the Air Force before the war. I grew up the first five years of my life in the Azores Islands, but then we went to the U.K. Then we got stationed in Paris, France. Then, when I was 14, we were living in Arizona. That’s when he went to the Vietnam War, and he was shot.
I wasn’t speaking to my dad before he was shot because I did not believe in the Vietnam War and a lot of the rhetoric that was behind it, but then he got shot, and so I realized the fragility of life. From the age 14 on, the war impacted me because he was a professional soldier, 32 years, two Purple Hearts; he wasn’t really a macho guy — he never talked about it.
I learned a lot from the Vietnam War through my sister’s friends who were soldiers who lost legs, and lost arms, and were burned in the war. I used to hang out with them — they were sort of bikers, motorcyclists, some of them were drug dealers and all that, the under-the-table economy, so that was my tutelage.
Then, when I was trying to survive as a graduate student, I ended up taking teaching assignments in Fort Bliss (Texas), at the Sergeants Major Academy, of all places. It’s the academy for all the enlisted people in all branches of the military to get their last stripe, and so I was thrown into the military and Vietnam War again and again because many of my students — when they did their composition assignments — were talking about the effects of the Vietnam War on them. They were old enough to have been in it.
Then later, talking to my dad — he finally admitted there were a lot of bad things about the war — he gave me a lot of insight into the terrible stuff that he saw was happening in the war as a professional soldier; locking up weapons at night because the American soldiers had vendettas against each other. There were race wars; there were bazaar things going on in Vietnam.
He respected the Vietnamese soldiers because on New Year’s, American soldiers got White Castle burgers, they got an Army-Navy football game, they got Blue Bunny Ice Cream, they got parties. And the Viet Cong and people fighting for the North Vietnamese Army, they got an extra bowl of rice. He told me they watched outside the wire all these crazy Americans getting drunk on Budweiser, shooting off fireworks, gorging themselves, and the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Army, would get an extra bowl of rice on their New Year’s — it was not the same day as the American New Year — and it’s their country. They’re watching these invaders do these crazy, crazy things, and they’re just trying to get their land back. They’re farmers. So it was a love-hate relationship with my dad.
It was sort of a hidden life I had with my military students because I had to keep my job, but I didn’t divorce myself as a human. I was known as sort of the liberal or the commie; they made fun that I was a socialist, and I wouldn’t hide that, but I gave them a couple ounces of respect and the allowance to learn, and not to agitate, because it’s easy to be against the war and to know more than the soldier who was there eight months.
I studied the war, people who wrote books about Vietnam; some had never been to Vietnam, and those books are the most valuable records of the war in many stages. I went to Vietnam when I was 36 and sort of saying goodbye to my dad; he had died the year before.
Now, it’s 2020, and I’m still around the Vietnam War because I’ve got these Veterans for Peace, people are dying who, when I was working at Central City Concern, were homeless veterans from the Vietnam War. It just doesn’t go away.
Green: You worked with veterans as a social worker, and I was wondering if you’ve noticed anything unique to veterans of the Vietnam War that you tried to impart in this book?
Haeder: The whole idea is that they were the ones that were spat upon; they were the ones that weren’t respected. Thank you for your service — those were lies.
There is a great documentary called “Sir! No sir!” and it’s about how members of the U.S. military were actually fighting in the military against the Vietnam War — active-duty Navy people refused to go on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. And, it’s about how a reporter studied all the news of major newspapers and never saw a true incident of girls, women, hippies spitting on people when they returned, but there is a mythology tied to that.
You have to remember, there was at one time 530,000 Americans in Vietnam. Those people mostly didn’t see combat — they were rear guard, logistics, all this stuff that Radar did on MASH, but I still think that there are older-era Vietnam veterans, they still believe in the mythology that we were treated like crap, they spit on us, they called us baby killers — but it didn’t happen that often.
They said the “televised war,” putting it on TV, would make people hate the war. It actually did the opposite. It gave people more support of the war because 1,000 hours of film was brought down to a 35-second or one-minute news clip with Dan Rather, and people felt that it was like the war movies. It was unreal; it wasn’t the true filmmaking, and like the news we have now where you have extended interviews of people coming to reckon with the fact that they hate this war, you didn’t have a lot of that on those CBS, ABC news reels.
The Vietnam-era soldiers, most of them never saw combat, but they’re receiving benefits. They’re homeless, but so are others — about the same percentage. There is a big difference between a soldier that was drafted and joined up in an economic draft versus those like my dad. My dad was (in the military) 32 years, and so somebody who was eight months or 16 months in the Army, and they are now my client, their experience of the Army is a snapshot. I have more experience with the Army than that. It’s their own focus, their own lens, so they have a very unusual viewpoint of what it was to be a soldier and a returning soldier. And they still feel they did not get their just cause — and they’re right.
If you look at the Agent Orange battle, they are still coming up with some new chronic illnesses that they are attributing to Agent Orange. It just got accepted two years ago that people who were stationed at Camp Lejeune (North Carolina) and their offspring are now getting VA benefits because of the pollutants they put into the water, that went into the whole water system that people on the post and outside the post used.
I have a soldier who is 62, and I just helped him get his disability based on his Parkinson’s disease that was rushing like a tsunami the few months I worked with him, and it was attributed to the pollutants, water exposure.
I heard every single chief of staff that went into war after Vietnam say, “This is not going to be another Vietnam.” Every war, I heard the rhetoric. And they are absolutely lying about it. Every war since has been the Vietnam War on steroids because of the civilian military industrial complex, the complete rip-off game, the bad equipment, the bad intel, the hubris, the racism and the patriarchy and xenophobia, it’s still there — every single war.
We did not learn from the Vietnam War that created terms like ecocide, and now we’re finding out Agent Orange was not just a defoliant. Robert McNamara (former U.S. secretary of defense) and the head of Dow (Chemical Company) said that this is going to be the toxin that is the gift that keeps on giving; it will destroy their rice crops, it will destroy the soil for generations to come, so there is a mythology that it was just to take off canopy in the Vietnam jungle so you could see where the Viet Cong were walking. That’s BS. These are war crimes. They did it to destroy the soil.
When I was in Vietnam in 1994, I was with a team that was studying women’s breast milk and girls that were lactating; they had 16 times the PCBs allowable by our own EPA, and it’s all attributed to dioxins coming directly from the Agent Orange that was sprayed throughout the country. And so you bet, never another Vietnam — it’s always another Vietnam, with more technology, more drones and more firepower. It’s just amazing we don’t learn the lessons.
And Vietnam veterans are dying. We’re losing groundtruthers, so we have to depend on people studying the Vietnam War and finding all these old documents that reverse the mythology of the history of the Vietnam War. Ken Burns’ history of the Vietnam War — terrible! Read the reviews from real soldiers and historians. He created a false balance.
Green: So much of your book was about the pain and discomfort, and the after-effects of violence and exploitation over in Vietnam. What are you hoping readers glean from these little slices of that experience?
Haeder: People might look for some universalities in their lives — that’s what fiction and poetry are all about. It’s about really interesting characters that happen to be in bad situations. Some of the stuff is comedic — it’s not all trauma and all of that — but I think all of us though, war or not, are working through trauma. And, I think what I want people to get away from it is entertainment, and it’s the fine line of am I telling them to be more aware of their belief systems and the history of war, including the Vietnam War? I don’t think I did that, but when you read it, I certainly think that’s there.
And there is a long preface where I pontificate and contextualize a lot of stuff. A fiction writer is like a shaman; they take the energy from their muses and from the culture and create a two- or three-dimensional written work. That’s what I hope they see, and I hope there is a newfound love of serious fiction that they may get from a short story collection. Or, I might say, it’s not experimental, but it’s sort of weirdly experimental that they are all thematically connected. The narrative voice in some ways sounds like the same voice, but in other situations, I was sort of playing around with the palette a lot. It’s ethos; it’s pathos; it’s logos. It’s “entertainment.”
I’m not sure what entertainment is, these days. Maybe this is just a slice of time that will never happen again. These people are gone; they’re dead. The way we treat homeless people and veterans, it’s so different — even the collective consciousness of those characters, it’s gone. It’s 26 years ago that I traveled to Vietnam. Things have changed a lot in 26 years, even our collective consciousness.
Green: One thing I took away from it was Vietnam as a sense of place — how vividly you were able to describe the people, the jungle, the animals, the food. What kind of place in your heart does Vietnam hold, and how has that perception changed over time?
Haeder: I have several friends who were teachers in Vietnam. Vietnam has lost one person with COVID-19, and there are a lot of stories about how Vietnam as a society, even after all the wars — remember they were invaded for 1,000 years; Americans were not the first invaders — and it’s a heroic story that Vietnam is doing the right thing to stop COVID-19 from becoming a pandemic in that country.
The Vietnamese are depicted in all the war movies or books: They’re either raped, saved, killing — but you never get Vietnam, and you never get the Vietnamese. So it hasn’t changed since my time in Vietnam; it has just become a much more dynamic and heroic country in my mind. It just symbolizes — I hate to use the term Third World — developing countries, how they can break out of these terrible imperial wars, and do they have trauma? People don’t think of Vietnamese having trauma or generational trauma. Of course they do, but when you’re in Vietnam, you don’t feel it as much as you do here. Three million people died. They had 800,000 missing in action. Many Vietnamese were blown up, and their bodies just rotted. So talk about the MIA thing.
Every day, it just becomes another touchstone. Can you learn from Vietnam? Can you learn about that agricultural society? Can you learn about that society that is blending socialism and market capitalism? Can we ever learn how they dealt with the COVID? And it just seems like the United States of America cannot learn from their enemies that have actually opened their arms and said, hey, we’ll do trade with you.
Those are things that are so valuable in our society, and we keep forgetting them and try and reinvent the wheel. We have no collective consciousness saying that if you didn’t learn about the Vietnam War, you’re never going to learn about Sudan; you let Libya happen; Somalia, come on! Yemen? Yeah, sure. Afghanistan? How’s that one working out?
In America, we’ve allowed that stupidity and that imperial hubris and lockstep exceptionalism to destroy our own people, but also those other people. The Vietnamese, ironically, they are not destroyed, and that’s a lesson I don’t know if Americans ever want to learn from. I know a lot of ex-soldiers go there, and they want to learn from it. A lot of people go over there, and they retire. Vietnam has a certain attractiveness to people. It’s this exoticism. Vietnam is Chiapas, it’s Chile, it’s Bolivia, it’s the Bolivarian Revolution, it’s Ho Chi Minh, it’s Che Guevara, it’s all of it; it’s all threaded together for me.
Living is about a revolution. It’s about radical — get to the root. If Vietnam is not your example about how the root should be, how we should treat people, we are just going to keep abusing and misusing more and more countries and more and more nations, like we are, every day, as a country.
Michael Hastie was a Vietnam War medic with the U.S. Army in the early 1970s. Now, at 75, he’s on the front lines documenting the Black Lives Matter — and now anti-federal troops — demonstrations in Portland.
This week he’s making national news as the Vietnam veteran in Portland who federal officers sprayed directly in the face at close range with OC chemicals.
Hastie likens himself as a peace photographer, a role he has held for more than 40 years. He’s taken his two Nikon cameras to places such as Palestine, Japan, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Vietnam.
He sees the demonstrations as a flashpoint for “revolutionary change” in Portland.
He’s also a member of Veterans for Peace. This is an excerpt from an email sent to the group’s supporters shortly after the incident, describing the mood Saturday evening about three hours before he was assaulted:
“The energy and Justifiable Cause was absolutely electrifying. Once I got into the middle of it, I turned to someone I didn’t know and said, ‘God I love this city.’ The solidarity hairs rose on my back and arms. There were two African-American men leading cheers and chants that hypnotically motivated what would eventually be three thousand Portlanders. At one point, all those people took their cell phones out and turned their flashlights on. What a beautiful scene of togetherness.”
He emphasizes that throughout his decades protesting, sometimes change happens one conversation at a time.
When Hastie approached federal agents just before midnight on Saturday in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, he was attempting to tell them about his experience as a medic in Vietnam.
“I was giving a lecture to the police,” he told Street Roots. “My job as a Vietnam vet is to tell people why I am protesting — to let people know the United States government committed atrocities every day in Vietnam.”
That’s when a militarized federal law enforcement officer wearing a gas mask approaching from his left, abruptly sprayed him with pepper spray — the nozzle mere inches from his eyes as the chemicals were sprayed directly onto his face.
Since then, he’s been fielding interviews, including with CNN and other national news outlets. The viral video of his assault has been viewed more than 5.6 million times.”
The attack came on the heels of another instance of brutality against a veteran in Portland at the hands of federal troops. Navy veteran Christopher David suffered a broken hand after police pepper sprayed him and assaulted him with batons last week.
“People are interested in this because they wonder why are two military vets getting pepper sprayed for standing up for our free speech rights — what we as former military swore an oath to protect,” Hastie said.
Hastie said his eyes recovered around 90% of their normal functioning by Monday afternoon. He’s been contacted by a “couple of attorneys to see if I want to pursue suing.” He said he is not opposed to litigation.
“Neither I or the navy veteran were a threat to anyone. And they just wailed on Christopher David. Two fractures in his hands,” he said.
A Vietnam War medic turned anti-war activist
In his childhood, Hastie’s family moved around a lot, living on both the East and West coasts of the U.S., and in Germany and Japan. His father was a career military man. Hastie enlisted at age 24, and ended up in a medic program at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colo.
“I spent a year there, undergoing advanced medical training,” he told Street Roots.
He turned 25 in Vietnam.
“It was toward the end of the war. We got war casualties from time to time. But everything was falling apart, chaos,” he said. “We saw homicides, suicides, heroin overdoses, addiction.”
Hastie may have gone into the Army gung-ho — due to the influence from his career military father who had fought in World War Two — but he returned to the U.S. a wreck.
“I knew I was the enemy,” he said. “We had no right to bomb Vietnam. It would be as if the U.S. military went into Mississippi and bombed it. Every day we committed atrocities there.”
He mentioned, several times, the horror around My Lai, the infamous murder of more than 500 unarmed men, women and children by a group of U.S. Army soldiers in Charlie Company led by Lt. William Calley.
Hastie has since been all over the United States and to numerous foreign countries to demonstrate against war and U.S. aggression overseas.
He infers a call of duty beyond military allusions: To photograph events and to bear witness and thereby teach people “how the U.S. is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
In 1967 Martin Luther King gave his “Beyond Vietnam” oration at New York’s Riverside Church, and it moved Hastie.
King denounced the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” and saw the war was “a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” Later that spring, he asserted that “the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together.” We could not “get rid of one without getting rid of the others (and) the whole structure of American life must be changed.”
These words deeply influenced him — and the fact that, said Hastie, “my own government was spending all this money on war, but not on the poor people, the homeless.”
Hastie quoted King again: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
With protests following the police killing of George Floyd and the wave of social justice demonstrations aligning with Black Lives Matter, Hastie has stationed himself on new front lines.
Hastie was discharged from the military at Fort Hood, and after which he decided to become a nurse. He went to Eugene to go to Lane Community College. Then, he ended up in Portland, finishing his nursing program at Good Samaritan. He’s been in Portland ever since.
For 20 years he worked in emergency rooms as a nurse.
By 1980, Hastie was facing both divorce and the impacts of post traumatic stress disorder.
He was hospitalized for several days with suicidal ideation. That bout was followed by several others — once following a visit to Vietnam where he spoke with survivors of the My Lai massacre.
[Above — Mike Hastie met with Kieu Phan, who had five relatives murdered at the My Lai Massacre in 1968. She broke down as she told him a story at the drainage ditch where 170 Vietnamese were shot at point-blank range. A total of 504 innocent civilians were slaughtered in the massacre. “The horror of My Lai was a metaphor for the entire war. The vast majority of Americans do not know this history,” Mike Hastie told Street Roots. (Photo by Mike Hastie)]
“We were talking to people who had survived it and to family members who did not, right at the very spot at the very ditch where so many murdered Vietnamese were piled up,” he said.
He also struggled with alcoholism, but stopped drinking in 1976. A decision that he said “saved my life.”
He said he realized the myth of American exceptionalism believes the country’s “good guy reputation” began to tarnish in Vietnam.
“The biggest positive thing that came out of the Vietnam War was that I saw myself as a global citizen,” Hastie said.
When the blinders come off, he said there can be a disquieting and disorienting reverberation.
“Your core belief systems are dismantled. It was like an emotional white out for me,” he said. “I was a stranger in a strange land when I came home.”
Hastie developed a new belief system based on the war experience, his awakening and the Black soldiers in Vietnam who showed him what solidarity means.
He cites Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, as another influence that helped him frame feelings he had about atrocities hooked to his own memory of the Vietnam War. Much of the trauma comes from enlightenment, Hastie said — from “knowing about the continuing atrocities” this country has perpetrated.
Frankl once said: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” He was referring to the psychological makeup and behavior patterns of prisoners in concentration camps during World War II.
Hastie concluded his email to Veterans for Peace supporters early in morning Sunday, July 26:
“Everyone at these demonstrations are committed to standing up for monumental change, at any price. While this government preaches Democracy, that is the very thing the U.S. Government steals from other countries when the U.S. Military invades them. Domestically, the militarized police in America are doing the same thing. Being in Viet Nam woke this white boy up, and so much of that awareness came from Black soldiers who educated me on racism. The Viet Nam War was a racist war, and those who resisted U.S. Power were called, ‘Gooks.’ Power To The People!”
Hastie emphasized that during the Portland protests of late, his role as a freelance photographer is often superseded by his role as sandwich maker.
“I show up three times a week to various spots in Portland with my homemade sandwiches,” he said.
“Too many people know what’s going on but don’t put their feet on the streets,” Hastie said of the ongoing demonstrations in Portland. “I don’t know if the empire can be stopped with a peace sign, but we are doing what we can. Unfortunately, and I’ve said this often, but this country needs to go through more suffering before real change will happen.”
-+- the end -+-
The following is an email from Mike Hastie, still in Portland, still downtown, still fighting fascism, police brutality, and the way of jack-booted pigs and a fascist POTUS and GOP and many in the Democratic Party . . . .
Never Surrender In Portland, Oregon
I took these photographs on the night of August 13, 2020. It was the night that I and a few others got trampled by the charging cops. I took these 4 pictures before my body hit the pavement. I wanted to send these out because they are all story telling images that have come out of the non-stop resistance against police aggression and brutality that have plagued America since the beginning of corporate power against regular everyday people. And, if you happen to be a person of color in America, you have a spotlight on your very existence. When George Floyd was executed by a white police officer on May 25, 2020, all hell broke loose.
There is a whole new generation of Americans who have decided that non-stop resistance is the only way to confront the lethal power structure that is bound and determined to tattoo obedience on their very souls. That relentless longevity of energy is being acted out in Portland, Oregon like no other city across this nation. This has really become a profound awakening of historical precedence. The Black community only represents 6% of the population in Portland. Most of the demonstrators have been predominately young white people who are strong supporters of Black Lives Matter. There has been some very effective Black leadership that has guided many of the demonstrations.
I am also seeing a strong white leadership coming to the surface. Not only are they supporting BLM, but they are also identifying with their struggle for survival. Many of them are seeing themselves as victims of a tragic system of violent capitalism that is draining hope in their stressful lives. They are young anti-fascists and anarchists who are sick of the world they have inherited. They have very little respect for the so-called ” Boomer ” generation, with the likes of Clinton, Bush and Trump.
They see blithering narcissistic monsters who have destroyed their future with terminal unbridled greed. These young people are going head-on with the police and the power structure they protect. I am going to say this very slowly: These young people have their entire lives ahead of them, and they see a grim future, and that is why they are so fucking angry. They are yelling at the cops to go fuck themselves and the lethal drug injection rules they enforce. These kids are serious, and they stand their ground with great courage. It is amazing how many of them have come up to me and thanked me for what I said when I confronted the Feds in that video that went viral. They simply identify with me, and that gave them validation. These young people take great risks every night when they confront the police with their lies. They have such a mistrust for a political system that suffocates them on a daily bases. They look at the horrifying effects of climate change, war after war, extreme income inequality,and a president who is gutting the EPA, and at the same time is so dangerous that he is killing countless Americans across this country with his lack of leadership involving the Coronavirus Pandemic.
So, there they are on the front lines every night with their armor on, lined up on the street with their shields side by side. Many of them have been injured by the police, who throw flash-bang grenades, fire so-called non-lethal projectiles that have the potential to kill you, fire tear gas canisters with choking consequences, use pepper spray up close that completely debilitates you, throw people to the ground, often hitting them with batons, and arresting people at random. You got to teach these kids a lesson, let them know who is in charge. And, while this is all going on, the American Empire of Elders is using our military to kill and steal all over the world. Corporations can’t make a killing off of peace. And to think, President Donald Trump called these Portland protesters a beehive of terrorism. Keep in mind these kids may not have their whole lives ahead of them. Maybe that’s why they are on the front lines every night.
Army Medic Viet Nam/ August 15, 2020
W A R = Wealthy Are Richer
( Closing statement I now share with young people.)
You do not win wars by just killing military combatants.
You ultimately win wars by killing innocent civilians, because they are military targets. The primary goal of the aggressor nation is to break the will of the people, and their ability to defend their homeland. This strategy is as old as warfare itself. Geneva Convention Rules are for fools.
Note — Ahh, the vagaries of working for small town (or even big town) news organs. So, here is the scam — I started the column, Deep Dive (my idea, my pitch, my creativity, my reporting, my deep dive into people’s lives. That was June 2019. For the not-so-illustrious Oregon Coast Today.. As a writer, my philosophy is to write! No matter where. Did some of my columns in the puny Oregon Coast Today resonate, and did some of them reach the level of “greatness” whereby the coulda/shoulda been published to a wider audience?
Yep. But life isn’t so simple — good writer (me); seasoned reporter (me); well-traveled thinker (me); taking it outside the box doer (me) will not in most cases get the big prize or brass ring of “journalism” (whatever that is now with AI, and aggregating news [sic] sites flooding Google, Facebook, the WWW.).
Will these Deep Dives live long over at Oregon Coast Today? Nope. But, I did contact the former owner of the weekly, and they said the pieces will be here for, hmm, who knows how long. Paul Haeder, Deep Dive. And, here. That final note is related to the trillions of unimportant stories inudating the news (sic) feed, the Internet, the in-boxes, the social (anti-social) media sites like Fuck-You-Book and how mired we get in the shit-show that is now the common thread of a shit-hole country like the USA. The media hate us. The politicians hate us. The religous leaders hate us. The corporations hate us. The banks, insurance, investment, utilities, big pharam, big medicine, big business, they all hate us. We are their marks, their slaves, their cash cows and victims for their next and their next totalitarian ways. So, getting a few paragraphs into silly Word Press on a couple who is attempting to scratch out an existence and a family in a Time of Covid-19, to me, in all my radical, revolutionary and “sophisticated” zeal, is vital. How many people should see this article? Millions. How many will? Dozens.
And so it goes!
The Oregon Coast, I have learned, attracts many different people for many different reasons. Just sitting down and talking to someone anywhere, from Yachats to Otis, I find a dearth of interesting people/characters. I don’t have enough days left in my life to record all the tales.
Artists, drop-outs, activists, scientists, environmentalists, the houseless, people with two or three previous lives now hunkering down on this both amazing and challenging area, the archetypes for a decent people-focused are on our coast.
At Waldport’s Azul Mexican restaurant (Oregon Coast), my wife and I ran into a husband-and-wife server team on several occasions. We had delightful conversations – real ones, too.
Hopes and dreams.
How they got here and why.
Even talks on the trials and tribulations of the autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, which both my wife and Mary the server have.
Get this – they moved out here from Nebraska on a flight of fancy, and a wing and a prayer, so to speak. Andrew, 29, and Mary, 24, make up two-thirds of the Tipken Waldport clan, having moved here July 4, 2019?
The other player in this trio is a new arrival: A Child in a Time of Covid. On April 24, Evelyn Mae Tipken, hit gravity and air at Newport’s Samaritan.
This six-pound bundle of joy for the Bay Shore couple is a bit of a miracle.
Technically, the trio is a quartet – there is the rat terrier/red healer mix, Lucky.
Baby almost makes a wedding – Si se puede!
The couple married two weeks before Evelyn Mae’s entrance into the world – April 10. The guitar player who riffs at Azul, Robert Mugnai, and Azul’s owner’s son, Romero, were witnesses.
One of the more engaging aspects of Andrew’s work at Azul Mexican Restaurant (he and Mary now work exclusively for The Taphouse at Nye beach) was his quick wit, self-deprecating humor and willingness to engage in banter and serious conversation about his goals.
I recently met them at their house and then at The Taphouse.
Mom was breast feeding and dad was beaming with a smile. It was their morning off before hoisting ale mugs and platters of pub food.
For all that’s been going on in the world, in the States and Lincoln County, this couple is surprisingly positive about the possibilities in their lives here, their immediate future, and their hopes and dreams.
Cesar Chavez coined, “Si, se puede – Yes, we can.” And this seems to be the Tipken Family motto.
They both state things are pretty copasetic thus far: the locals and tourists they serve at the Nye Beach establishment have been respectful and understanding of the Covid-19 mask requirements.
Early Days – Corn Huskers
Andrew grew up in Eagle, Nebraska, on a 30-acre pasture farm. His old man worked for North Tech Natural Gas company.
I asked about his roots, and it was enlightening – he counts Danish and German as part of the clan roots, including great grandfather who was Scottish.
But then 23-and-me came into the conversation.
“I was shy and quiet as a kid,” he says. “I like to learn about people. I am an extrovert who gets energized around people.”
He is the product of adoption, and that 23-and-me test showed he was 1/3 French and 1/3 Irish. It wasn’t an open adoption at the time, and his biological mother made a last-minute financial decision to adopt out Andrew when he was a few days old.
We talk about the power of separation and not knowing who one’s biological parents are. For Andrew, seeing this child ramifies the need to see oneself in one’s child’s features.
For Mary, she has a younger brother who is adopted. “My parents went to get him (Matthew) n Tennessee, but the birth mom changed her mind. He lived with his biological mom for two years.”
Matthew’s first two years was with a biological mother who drank, used drugs and partied all night long. Mary’s brother is 13 years old.
Andrew and I talk about how his adopted family “always included” him in everything.
It’s clear this couple is open about their pasts and their trials and tribulations. For Andrew, his life was one of arguing with his parents, who are “super conservative” religiously. He laughs when relaying how his parents thought he’d make a good lawyer “since I liked debating them on everything, to include religious beliefs.
His life included a bit of community college, where he was majoring in human services. “I know I’d have a hard time taking all that home with me,” Andrew states. Social work and case management are fraught with pitfalls like finding personal care and dealing with all the trauma one sees in a day.
One Family’s Success, Is Another Family’s Struggle
We talk about this odd time in the county and world. The baby is only months old, but in one sense, this time of Covid-19 and the challenges tied to less good work, shifting careers, more fear of viruses and possibly a long-term economic turn down are relevant.
It’s clear that on this journey, my MO is not to force deeper introspection about “Our Times.” I realize a young couple with a newborn needs some sense of hope and forward look.
Ironically, part of my work has been in education along the US-Mexico border – community colleges, UT-El Paso, gang reduction programs, in prisons and with children of migrant workers. In the Pacific Northwest I’ve been a social worker for adults with developmental disabilities, for homeless veterans, for recovering (not always) substance abusers, for foster youth teens, and for just-released felons.
I know when to put on kid gloves and not overreach. Andrew and Mary are on a pathway that seems simple but foundational – he is working on a real estate license (he failed the first state test last month). They want a rental home for “passive income.”
Their big dream is a restaurant.
Ironically, I know many in the restaurant biz here, in Portland, Seattle, Spokane and back east. For many, the new normal is an abnormal – fewer restaurants, fewer big places, and many well-known eateries filing for bankruptcy and folding. Family run places are the most vulnerable.
A baby in a time of Covid-19, on the Oregon Coast, well, they embrace the challenge and will to be positive. It’s not always an easy thing for anyone to encompass, but a necessary trait if we as a society are going to grapple with the new (ab)normal.
Harmonizing the Hand Dealt You
“As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was going to happen.”
—Winnie the Pooh, to his human foster friend, Christopher Robin.
“I always tell Genesis she was born from my heart, not my belly.”
— Viola Davis
Andrew tells me that both he and Mary talked about adopting. She has a chronic thyroid illness, Hashimoto’s, and the disease took her down hard with complete exhaustion, lethargy, brain fog, constant chills.
She was working at Applebee’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, and eventually at La Paz Mexican Restaurant (also in Lincoln) where the two met in 2016.
But we need to rewind a bit – she was a pregnant unwedded mother. Around 27 weeks into the pregnancy, in 2015, she was told the fetus had a genetic disorder — Limb-body wall complex (LBWC). Essentially, it is characterized by multiple, severe congenital abnormalities resulting in openings in the chest and belly and defects of the arms and legs.
The boy, Charlie, was stillborn, and she still has a recording of Charlie’s gestating heart beat and an urn with his ashes.
To make matters worse, her grandparents and other family member, being hyper religious in a detrimental way, would not allow Mary to break bread at such occasions as Thanksgiving. She married the fellow who was 15 years older: “He was not a nice guy and it didn’t last long.” Twelve months later, a divorce.
Evelyn Mae is that “surprise, surprise” as Gomer Pyle would say. For Andrew, the baby is a “happy accident.”
For them both, finding a baby sitter has been easy – there are three to rely on. The Taphouse is 20 minutes north. They both work fulltime, sometimes overtime. Andrew also cleans the beer tap lines.
Hikes, Food and Living the Dog’s Life
The four of them have been on quite a few hikes in our area. The current plan is to find the camp site where Mary ended up on a family trip to Cape Perpetua years ago. She laughs telling the tale of the brother who was in the midst of potty training letting loose in the shared tent.
“This was a big loop road trip.” She says her parents met attending a bible college in British Columbia. She has Canadian roots and family in England.
They chose the Oregon Coast sort of out of the blue. The Smoky Mountains was one possible destination.
But the Pacific Northwest called. They made an offer on a house in Gold Beach, but that fell through when they were here. The house near the Bay Market in Waldport came up. It’s a wooden beach style house with spiral rod iron staircase to the bedroom.
Both Andrew and Mary love cooking, hence their desire to get into the restaurant business.
It would be a health-focused place, with organic and locally sourced ingredients, Mary says. Andrew says he’d like to get a place eventually around Lincoln City, grow the family, grow food and be within a day trip turnaround to Portland.
The menu for this dream restaurant would include many foods from many parts of the world, on a rotating basis.
Mary says her mom and grandmother are amazing cooks, using Swedish and German recipes. Her mom would buy a cookbook and prepare each and every recipe in it.
I asked them what would be a go-to meal they’d cook for someone coming over.
“Chicken Euro” is chicken marinated in tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt with dill and olive oil), and then pan fried in the yogurt concoction, with bell peppers, onions and served over quinoa and presented with a Greek salad and homemade pita.
For me, the vegetarian, they’d do a Stuffed Eggplant a la Waldport – spinach, onions, garlic cooked in milk and served with quinoa and pita too.
Mary would like to go to culinary arts school to get a more formal tutelage in cooking. The goal is to have Andrew as the head real estate licensee and Mary coming on as an agent.
Then, a rental property and then a restaurant, A & M’s Magical Kitchen (my name for it).
For this team, Waldport is a friendly small town, and people want to see the newborn, and the place is right here, in the great outdoors. They even love the rain. “I do miss the thunder and lightning shows,” Andrew says with a laugh.
We do get into a spiritual aside, since both Andrew and Mary have rejected the stern, conservative and closed-mindedness of many of the churches and practitioners in the Nebraska bible belt.
He leans toward C.C Lewis, the golden rule, and live and let live. “We all make mistakes. I try to be kind and caring. Everyone has a desire to be loved.”
Fort Mary, moral values are keen in her life. They want to build a family and live in a place that they love.
“We always work together as a team. We have learned how to negotiate if we have disagreements,” Andrew emphasizes.
The big picture is to have a place where people will say, “let’s go to Andrew and Mary’s place.” A home of acceptance, where problems can be dealt with and where honesty is the bedrock.
Refreshing, healthily naïve in some regards, but this couple is willing to see the big world. “I always knew I was going to be somewhere else,” he says. “The world’s a big place.”
The journey I have taken has been a road less traveled, plenty of time moving, on the road, in other countries, always a writer, teacher and activist. I understand the complexities of being a human on the planet, and in a time of Covid-19, during the Dirty War in El Salvador, during the American War in Vietnam, or when I was in Vietnam during the normalization of relations with the USA, I have met people who struggle, persevere and sometimes fail.
Just in Newport, there is a Mexican family who had to shutter their restaurant last month. The place was more than an eatery. It was the hub of information, connections and support for the Latinx community – and not just Mexicans.
Covid-19 under capitalism has turned the screws a lot more on us, on the rest of the world, making it more difficult to both dream and realize those dreams. Restaurants were a tricky proposition before this new normal of the service economy being gutted. Now . . . ?
I just recently spent time in Mexico, once again, and the reality of sacrifice of those living there and those wanting to better their lives by risking coming the United States lends pause to any white male of privilege. For all citizens of the US!
Marco’s restaurant closing is for me my restaurant closing. I don’t see the world being set up as a dog-eat-dog place, but it is. Snide comments could be coming from people reading this column on this couple’s hopes and dreams.
Alas, that’s where the reader would be wrong.
Everywhere I have lived and traveled to, the people, the families, they just want safe and healthy lives. Something a bit better for their children than they themselves had. I’ve been in other circles, where wealth, status, and being on top of the manure pile are values held dear.
Anyone still with the bandwidth to understand the hardships and dreams of families who come to this country, and who have their own country of origin also as a hope and dream – Mexico – would be wise to read Paul Theroux’s latest book, “On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey.”
In so many ways, the Mexican family’s story is our story, and is the Tipkens’ story. Struggle, pain, family, many small triumphs.
Thank the stars for those stories.
Asking Key Questions
The idea is to get the couple’s responses to the same questions separately, and both Mary and Andrew were real troopers and came through for these. Below, their responses:
1. What makes for a strong relationship?
Mary — Communication and empathy are definitely the biggest things in my opinion. There are going to be times when your partner upsets you, and there are going to be times when you upset your partner. What you do in those situations has a big impact on your relationship. Communicating openly about what bothers you and being willing to listen and see things from your partners point of view when they are bothered by something you do keeps your relationship healthy. Also making time to focus on having fun together and not just getting lost in the busyness of everyday life is important. Strong relationships are like good teams. You’re always working together towards a common goal, not competing with or working against each other.
Andrew — Trust, honesty, and mutual respect are important for a strong relationship. Also having a sense of humor doesn’t hurt! Knowing that you are on the same side and working towards a common goal is important.
2. In a short response, what makes this spouse of yours ideal for you?
Mary — He is my partner in everything and my best friend. He appreciates my weird humor and quirks, and we have the same overall goals for life. Even though we have really different ways of doing things, we’re able to appreciate how the other one’s strengths complicate our weaknesses and vice versa. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with. He never stops trying to make me happy, and goes out of his way to do the little things that make me feel really loved and appreciated. I can only try to do the same for him!
Andrew — Mary is an ideal partner because she is loving and strong. She calls me out when I need it and always supports me in all of my goals. She’s also very driven and inspires me to strive to be the best person i can be! She’s also very beautiful!
3. What are the biggest challenges you see within yourself, connected to your own set of narratives and baggage?
Mary — In the past, I have made the mistake of trying to force myself into the things other people wanted for me and pretend that I was always happy and always fine with everything that was happening. If people hurt me, I would pretend like I was unbothered. I can also be really prideful, which is good when I’m taking pride in the good work I do and holding myself to high standards, but is bad when I don’t take constructive criticism well and am too stubborn to let what could be incredibly helpful advice sink in. I’ve been trying to work on myself both as a partner and in the rest of my endeavors to listen to others when they are trying to help and not shut out advice given to me.
As far as baggage and my marriage goes, I try very hard to be open and honest about both the things I’ve been through and the mistakes that I’ve made with Andrew. I tell him things I’ve done poorly in the past, what I want to do differently, and ask him to call me out on it if he sees me doing those things. I’ve shared with him pretty much everything I can recall about my first child who I lost. At first, I think it felt weird for him to hear me talk about it, he would always tell me how sorry he was that happened to me. As time went on, he began to understand that I wasn’t necessarily talking about it because I was sad, I was talking about it because it was a big part of my life, and it feels natural to talk about. I think I processed the pain of losing a child very well during the first few years, and though I of course wish things had been different, I don’t feel like there’s a huge piece of my heart missing like I did those first few years. And that isn’t just because I have a live child now, I felt healed well before I got pregnant, which I think was a blessing. I don’t want to gloss over that part of my life and just replace Charlie with Evelyn. Charlie was an important part of my life, and Evelyn will know she had a big brother, but I won’t talk about it with sadness, just happiness for the time I did get with him.
Andrew — It’s challenging for me to stay focused on the small things in life. I get caught up worrying about big picture issues and neglect the small things.
4. What would you do differently in your life, from youth to adulthood?
Mary — Some of the same stuff from that question above! As a kid, I was even more stubborn and prideful. No matter what the adults in my life told me, I just had to make the mistakes for myself and learn the hard way. As an adult I’m definitely working to listen to others and learn from them instead of clamming up and getting defensive. That’s going to be very important for me if we are able to make a foray into the restaurant business. I have a lot of things to learn and I need to come at things accepting that I will need help and advice.
One of the biggest things I’ve tried to do different in my marriage now is honesty. In my prior relationships I had tried to avoid conflict to the point of letting completely unacceptable things happen with zero complaints from me. I thought having a good relationship just meant that you both stayed together and didn’t fight, no matter how you were treated. In my marriage now I am honest when things upset me and it has helped us have productive conflict on occasion. I am a generally happy and easygoing person and so is he, and when we have conflict I think we both genuinely want to solve it as quickly as possible. Real honestly makes me feel confident in the relationship, and it provides a deeper level of connection that I love!
Andrew — I don’t think i would do anything different. It’s easy to look back and say I shouldn’t have done this or that but everything I’ve done has brought me to the place I’m at now. I might not have me Mary or have had a beautiful daughter.
5. What one or two issues or topics do you get really serious/passionate about, with some sense of holding onto strong beliefs around those issues?
Mary — Hmm. Well one would be that people in my age range need to vote in larger numbers. I can still barely believe that Trump was elected. I think if we can get a better turnout in the presidential election this year, we should be able to get someone in who will do a better job! I mean pretty much anyone would do a better job, but you know what I mean.
Another thing would be ICE and the terrible injustices committed by them. I haven’t heard of this happening in Oregon, but when I was living in Nebraska, there were ICE raids in the restaurant business and a couple of restaurants got shut down for having illegal workers. The same happened with the farm workers, and they were just out looking for people in small towns. I hate the profiling, I hate that there are children basically stuck in ICE camps, I hate it all.
Andrew — People that are falsely accused of crimes. I think it stems from my religious background and the sense of guilt i felt as a child for doing anything the people i was surrounded by considered wrong.
6. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats around owning a restaurant: SWOT!
Mary – strengths: I am great at multitasking and getting things done. I have a strong work ethic and a high capacity for work, and I really enjoy doing things that I am good at.
weaknesses: Pride, for sure!
opportunities: I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what you’re asking for here. I am hoping that having a rental property and having Andrew working in real estate will give us the opportunity to be financially stable enough to start a restaurant at some point. It’s also definitely useful that we currently have jobs in the restaurant industry and are able to learn firsthand about the business.
threats: Threats would be mostly financial in my opinion. Financially it’s a big risk to open a restaurant, and it will take a lot of money to save up to open one in the first place. If we are able to save up all that money, then it will be very crucial how the first couple years go to see if we can make our investment money back. Consumers are often looking for a very specific thing in a specific location and we’ll need to give it to them in a timely manner or we will fail!
Andrew — Strengths of owning a restaurant are creative control, mentoring employees, creating a place where people can come and enjoy themselves.
Weaknesses of owning a restaurant are its a financial risk.
Opportunities of owning a restaurant are if it goes well it would mean a better life for my family and an opportunity for my child or children to take over or at least work at.
Threats of owning a restaurant are failing. What if we cant make? What if we pick the wrong location or we just can’t get customers in the door?
7. What would you like the readers to know about you that I did not cover?
Mary — It’s probably going to be quite a while until we’re able to open a restaurant (maybe 10-15 years or so?) But when we do, my goal is to focus on local foods and build the menu around that. We’ve talked about listing the sources for our main ingredients (i.e. fresh caught salmon from Luna Sea Fish House in Yachats, OR) and showcasing one or two of them each month (with a small story/bio about them listed on our menu in a “Get to Know Our Suppliers” section or something like that. We’d have a few staple dishes year-round, but then the rest of them would rotating based on what’s in season and growing near us. We’re open to different styles and types of cuisine but the focus of the menu will be the ingredients and bringing out the best flavors. We’ll work most of the shifts ourselves at first and try to keep costs as low as possible when we’re starting out, but I always want to be involved the day to day operations of the restaurant. I want to be an involved owner, helping out whenever possible and trained to do everything as well as my employees so if someone calls in, I can fill in and not leave us short-staffed.
Andrew — Things you didn’t cover. I love to paint. All abstract paintings. I love music. From bluegrass to hip hop to punk rock!
8. Favorite food?
Mary — Can I say pizza? Hah. I honestly love pretty much everything, and I like a complex flavor profile, but there’s just something about pizza that’s comforting.
Andrew — Favorite food is chicken tikka korma.
9. Favorite movie?
Mary – “The Lord of the Rings” series for sure. I love an epic tale that gives you something to believe in.
Andrew — Favorite movie is “The Fellowship of The Ring.”
10. Favorite book?
Mary — This is an odd one… “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech. It’s a young adult fiction book that I enjoyed reading when I was about 10, so it’s fairly simplistic, but it deals with loss and meant something to me at the time so it has always held a special place in my heart.
Andrew — Favorite book is “Dune.”
11. If you were to be reincarnated as an animal, what would that be and why that one?
Mary — I’d be a dog. I know that sounds boring, but, and I mean this in the least demeaning way possible, I know myself and that’s just what I am. I am loyal and devoted to my family and super sweet, but will protect my family with my life if they are threatened.
Andrew – Reincarnated as an animal would be a fox. Foxes have just always been my favorite animal.
12. Definition of friendship?
Mary — Friendship is enjoying being in the company of someone else. Sometimes it involves talking, or doing the same activities together. Sometimes it is just being in the same place and enjoying it more because the other person is there.
Andrew – Friendship definition would be someone who accepts you for who you are and is there for you in the good times and the bad times.
13. Definition of success?
Mary — Success means being happy with what you have accomplished. You may do a lot, or it may just be a little, but if you are happy with it then that’s a success.
Andrew — Success definition would be knowing what you want out of life and doing everything you can to get that. At the end of the day knowing and loving yourself and finding people that know and love you too.
JT loves drawing sandhill cranes. Extruded from memory, JT sits on the sagging bumper of the Ford RV as he pushes capillaries of charcoal into the sky he delivers on the sketch pad paper.
Unending fire sky, he tells himself. He wants to imagine the sky this way, Turneresque, electric, something like all those village buildings he left behind in Huehuetenango what seems like a life time ago.
He steadies his hand and fingers, pushing and pulling, like an archaeologist digging through strata for evidence of life. He has no need to jump up and start over with colored pencils, Prismacolor pens, or sloppy acrylics.
The celestial rainbow of cirrus is a constant wash in his blinking moments, in between drawing birds of El Bosque and remembering war. The elegance of this bird — Antigone canadensis — JT knows is lost in his sketching, but each time a Rocky Mountain sandhill crane lifts, bouncing on air, dipping back into the water, JT understands the limits of art. It’s easy to fold back, fifty years.
A half century passes, from a youthful JT, soon a Government Issue grunt, then lifted out of Indochina with near-spiritual mortal wounds, into London to visit an aunt in Surrey. Then off to France. It’s a dream and nightmare, December 1968. A 23-year-old’s dream to see Paris.
Walking for hours in Saigon, JT finds himself in the cubby of a wood carver, Viet Nguon. In an instant of hormonic synchronicity, the Las Cruces boy is being told about Southwestern Native American masks by a bamboo-thin man in black silk ensemble. This master of wood has long graying hair cuffed into a foot-long viper down his back. He doesn’t display a traditional Fu Manchu beard of aging guys. Rather, this man’s sideburns are something out of Dickens – Vietnamese lambchops. Curly hair like the dogs sold in markets for stir-fry.
Viet’s store is on a side street near An Dong market, and the alley-sized foot-and-bike path is devoted to shops where wood carvings and wood artisan wares are manufactured and sold.
The artist Viet has three hundred masks in his cramped shop. JT is all eyes, and for the New Mexico kid, each crazed mask seems like magic.
The Vietnamese artist speaks English. “You like? Many hundreds more I sell to many kinds of people. Where you from soldier?”
JT wants the real blood of these people – words, emotions, gestures, laughing and chatter from these Homo Sapiens he was told was “always the enemy . . . left or right, north or south, boy or girl, they are your enemy, Thomlinson. “
The lucidity of his nights sweating is always about the sound of war. The screams and moans of machine-gunned farmers, VC, somewhere in the elephant and canary grass. The rice paddies at night. Groans. The odor of flesh, burning shit, tires, and napalm and diesel. It was his companion now, extracted from the field, ready to ship out and be done with the war with Vietnam. I’ll never done with Vietnam, he told himself. Even now all the way to the middle of New Mexico Chihuahua desert.
“You come from where?”
JT stumbles in his response: “First Division, but ready for home. Attached at Tan Son Nhut,” JT says as he straightens his back, in deference to the elder. The man is in his sixties, JT estimates, but that’s not always easy to gauge for so many Vietnamese – older guys sometimes look younger. Maybe he is eighty. Hard to tell.
“I see, I see. Bro’, Big Red One. It says Thomlison. Family name? My name Viet Nguon. Call me Viet. I ask where you family come from, no care about patch on arm?”
JT’s surprised – then, looks down at his fatigues, the name patch. JT touches the BRO shield and number 1 on his arm. He still never got used to the fact he had been drafted 18 months earlier, and his whole life was green, black boots, humping a rucksack, laying mines, carrying an M-16.
“Uh, New Mexico. Las Cruces. United States.” JT still can’t recall the last time he spoke to a civilian Vietnamese. Sure, the yelling and cursing his unit dramatized out of fear, that wasn’t the same. JT, remembers words, grunted words, gaseous words, lifting from the dark green of Vietnam, scattered dying enemies. Children screaming. Babies heaving. Groans. Water buffalo slogging. Civets. Roosters. Chinese music on transistor radios. Cicadas.
“You have people with beautiful masks. Fantastic features. What you call serpents. Those people in your homeland, named Hopi, Navajo. Great masks. Here, look, one I do like they say, kachina – like a bird. What, you call raven?”
Viet gives JT the water melon sized mask. Amazing details of the bird’s beak and nostrum, the eyes, blue-black, the wood almost alive with feature cuts.
“I go to your country with books, no? Inside words on page. Masks, a magic of people. You put on. Put on. Here, mirror.”
JT reluctantly takes the mask, which is light, and he touches the fine carved spaces. Black feathers are slicked back, like a mane flowing to a person’s neck. The corvid’s eyes have two perfectly drilled openings so the mask wearer can see.
“It’s okay, sir.” JT says trying to hand back the mask.
“No, good stuff, Thomlinson. Magic. You put on. You can be new Thomlinson. No more corporal, no more jungle, no more boom and fire . . . but bird man. Try on. Magic!”
Viet puts a calming but firm hand on JT’s shoulder. Surprisingly to JT, Viet is tall for a Vietnamese, almost 5’ 11”, two inches shorter than JT.
JT knows the signs of panic, claustrophobia, are telltale – sweaty upper lip, flushed neck, slurred words. He’s feeling the acrid instant coffee hit his windpipe.
“It okay, Thomlinson. Bird goes on this way,” Viet says, helping lift the mask into place. “You know, black plague? Your ancestors had bird masks. Put sage and perfumes in long beaks. Chase away bubonic plague. You know this history?”
JT imagines all these bird men, fat, big Frenchmen and others walking around with prods to keep away the plague victims. “Un, no, not that. But I remember my mother taking me and my sister to Santa Fe. I remember the dances. Lots of costumes. Masks. Just like this one. And others, sir.” JT presses the concave of the mask into his head as Viet secures the headgear with a beautiful silk purple ribbon.
“Raven. Powerful. Not what plague doctors have in seventeen century. This powerful . . . they call crow talisman.”
JT is guided by the artist Viet to the mirror near Viet’s assembling table where he carves and designs masks.
“Maybe Thomlinson clan knows raven good animal, help people. Make world for them. Raven trick too. Steal shiny objects. Raven is child, cause loud trouble for others. But wise. See, Thomlinson, see magic of mask?”
JT looks at the image in the mirror – tall, thin GI, wrinkled uniform, with this magnificent piece of art, carved and adorned with black and purple feathers. He sees that boy, in El Bosque del Apache. Mother taking the children to the wildlife refuge to watch sandhill cranes and snow geese winter over in the desiccated land around Socorro.
JT knows the transformation from soldier into this Vietnamese man’s magic bird will be his talisman. Memory molded into whatever is left of his feelings about killing Vietnamese. The goo of death and stench of heaving Americans in a foreign land disappear for a moment, maybe forever in this crystalized moment.
“You see, you feel. New you. Raven, crow. We have in Vietnam, same clown birds. They come with death. Silly creatures. Smart. Last ones standing after Big Red One bro’s come in with mortars and fire tongue.”
JT stares for what seems like ten minutes. Viet vanishes. The mind, JT thinks, plays tricks. He squeezes his eyes shut behind the mask, and he sees himself flying. Black bird at El Bosque. Jumping around all the other birds. Trickster. Pest.
You know son, either way you look at it, we are fucked, says JT’s mother, looking like cracked pasta months from her death from breast cancer.
Vagabond lives I gave you and your sister. I am okay with you leaving, hiding in Canada. Mexico. Or you go over there in the bloody morass and come back hardened, but with a chance at something new.
Their mother was an ornithologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. JT and his sis’ Roberta always got the Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall of things.
Look for the birds when you can, Johnny Boy. If you go overseas, look for birds and listen to the people who know their birds. If you go, dear, you will have bird stories only I can dream of . . . . El Bosque is fantastic but not like all those old-world jungle species. It’s going to be heaven.
When JT takes off the large, bigger than human life-sized mask, he feels tears running down to his open collar and pure white cotton undershirt. Viet is there instantly, with a wooden carving of the same sort of bird. It fits in the palm of his hand. He hands it to JT.
“You take. You hold this when you got back. New Mexico. Big land of colors I see in movies, no? You go see birds for new light. Vietnam. One day, Thomlinson clan and Viet clan come together. You go to Paris, like I study art. Ho Chi study art in Paris. Go to big museum of African work. Trocadero. Ethnology. Go see masks.”
JT never paid Viet because Viet never took the corporal’s money.
Six months later, JT is in Paris, bumming around, absorbed in the street art. Bumming hashish. And he finds the Trocadero had been demolished in 1935.
But he does find those masks and other ethnographic materials Viet Nhung talked about. At the Musée de l’Homme, housed in the Palais de Chaillot.
JT carries the rucksack and the journals his mother would have wanted to see if she had survived another wintering of the sandhill cranes. The entire list of sightings of birds throughout his humping through lowlands and jungle and alpine forests would have put her on Ornithological Cloud Nine.
Not just an artist’s obsession, but an offering for a mother’s memory. More than 880 birds in Vietnam, and Corporal Thomlinson comes back to El Bosque with more than 340 captured in notes and sketchings.
A bird professor at University of New Mexico was blown away by the lonely corporal’s bird list and his descriptions and drawings. “You’ve got to get a doctorate in birds, man. This is crazy impressive.”
He follows in his mother’s footsteps – this time state game and fish. Entire weeks in wilderness. Entire lifetimes to find the birdman’s magic.
It is birds that saved me, man. So many of my buddies from Vietnam, gone. Three sheets to the wind. Hunkered down in some flop. Lots of heroin. I did nothing more than listen to Viet and push something like magic into my being. I never got to be the fucking artist of my dreams, of that magic, but, still, the art of this, out here, now, in the boonies, with birds. The other wildlife. Some marbles still in my head pushing 74 years old. You can’t call this a blessing, but man, I have had my mother next to me every single day. She was right . . . . I would come back, transformed. I know this is a so-called sacred moment, and I am grateful, but what saved me was not a higher authority or power, but the true magic of masks and birds. – He wrote this during one of his AA meetings, that famous 20-year coin award.
JT still has the Picasso quote taped up to the tiny wall of the RV where the small bed is slung over the cab of the vehicle. Something profound enough for a drifting American ex-Vietnam soldier to have written down in his journal next to the birds of Paris he spent time cataloguing and drawing.
He found the quote somewhere on the Paris streets. Someone he shared wine with. A Frenchman who recognized in the young JT a transcendence from tool of war to a drifter in time and space . . . to magic seeker.
“You want to be an artist?” this fellow asks. “You enjoy Picasso? Oui, when Pablo was young, no pennies in his pocket, in Paris, he kept his eyes open for African masks at the Trocadero Museum. It was not an impressive musee. But the young Picasso, he fell for the magic – the charm — of Africa. Here, his actual words from a book. I give you them now, Johnny Boy:
A smell of mold and neglect caught me by the throat. I was so depressed that I would have chosen to leave immediately,’ Picasso said. ‘But I forced myself to stay, to examine these masks, all these objects that people had created with a sacred, magical purpose, to serve as intermediaries between them and the unknown, hostile forces surrounding them, attempting in that way to overcome their fears by giving them color and form. And then I understood what painting really meant. It’s not an esthetic process. It’s a form of magic that interposes itself between us and the hostile universe, a means of seizing power by imposing a form on our terror as well as on our desires. The day I understood that, I had found my path.
Sandhill crane. Omnivore. Average life span in the wild: 20 years. Body: 31.5 to 47.2 inches. Wingspan: 5 to 6 ft. Weight: 6.5 to 14 pounds. More than 500,000 sandhill cranes amass at Nebraska’s Platte River in spring.
Sand Hill Crane and Sand Creek Massacre. JT can’t shake the mnemonic. In November 1864, Colonel John Chivington and his Colorado volunteers massacre a peaceful village of Cheyenne camped near Sand Creek in Colorado Territory. Chivington the Methodist preacher placed himself in the center of the Indian wars as his opportunity to gain recognition to win a government office. Chivington burned villages and killed Cheyenne whenever and wherever he could.
JT was there, days after Calley and his men from Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment unleashed the My Lai Massacre. Three hundred or 507 dead?
This day, this war crime, a war crime that was exposed by soldiers and condemned by the U.S. government in 1864. Sand Creek Massacre unleashed decades of war on the Great Plains. Even locals are unaware of what had happened in their own backyard.
The hundreds of troops charged the Cheyenne village of around a thousand. A chief raised the Stars and Stripes above his lodge. And others in the village waved white flags.
In response, the troops opened fire with carbines and cannon, killing more than 150 Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly.
Before departing, the troops burned the village and mutilated the dead, carrying off body parts as trophies.
A 104 years later, these 1st Platoon members testified in court that the deaths of individual Vietnamese men, women and children took place inside Mỹ Lai during the security sweep. Livestock was shot as well.
JT can’t forget the testimony of PFC Michael Bernhardt describing what he saw upon entering the sub-hamlet of Xom Lang:
I walked up and saw these guys doing strange things … Setting fire to the hootches and huts and waiting for people to come out and then shooting them … going into the hootches and shooting them up … gathering people in groups and shooting them … As I walked in you could see piles of people all through the village … all over. They were gathered up into large groups. I saw them shoot an M79 grenade launcher into a group of people who were still alive. But it was mostly done with a machine gun. They were shooting women and children just like anybody else. We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons. We had no casualties. It was just like any other Vietnamese village – old papa-sans, women and kids. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive.
Band Number: 599-05468
JT goes to the small RV and pulls down one of his first big color sketches. He brought to life one of the old timers. One of those Rocky Mountain sandhill cranes with the band on his leg for more than 36 years.
It was JT’s last foray in the Wildlife Service. December 2006. In El Bosque.
The Sandhill crane started life on the Wyoming border, on the Thomas Fork of the Bear River.
Band Number: 599-05468. One of the oldest Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes. The bird was banded with its brood mate on June 29, 1973. The year his sister died in a car wreck. The year he began banding birds.
A two-chick brood is normal for Rocky Mountain Sandhills.
The magic of birds and what JT’s mom inculcated in him pushed him through Vietnam, through the dark nights of booze and massacres.
JT was there to sketch the animal when it was banded with its sister.
Then he was with it for last rites — Band 599-05468. For its 36 and a half years on the planet, the creature flew from Border, Wyoming — where he and his sister were banded at age 44 days — to the staging area for sandhill cranes the San Luis Valley of Colorado and then down the Rio Grande to Bosque del Apache. That’s a one-way trip of 700 miles.
If one were to assume this crane returned close to its nesting grounds each spring and back to Bosque del Apache each winter, the bird made the round trip 36 times, as well a final one-way trip where it was found. That is a total of 51,100 miles in a lifetime, or the equivalent of circling the earth more than twice.
JT thinks about the bird often, what the Fish and Wildlife guys call Band Number 599-05468.
The day he sketched the chick, JT knew a different name would stick for him. Not Band 599-05468. But an anthropomorphic one — Black Kettle.
Named after the Cheyenne Chief, Black Kettle, who survived the Sand Creek massacre. Black Kettle, the chief who had raised a U.S. flag in a futile gesture of fellowship, survived the massacre, carrying his badly wounded wife from the field and limping east across the wintry plains. He was a peacemaker, and in 1865 he signed a treaty, resettling his band on reservation land in Oklahoma.
Three years later, Black Kettle was killed there in 1868, in yet another massacre, this one led by Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
Corporal Johnny Boy Thomlinson remembers. Each memory captured somewhere in his 74 years of sketches.
Note: Original short fiction, to be read July 31, Zoom Cirque Press reading 7 pm PST — Link here. Join us. Here is the link.
Introductory remarks — It gets complicated, life imitating art or art imitating life. I try to go into a trance and also flow with the proscribed language of words . . . poetry as music, a song of discovery. Sometimes a fugue state, emotions drawn and quartered. There are not enough songs, and with each passing nanosecond, the new-old masters of the universe (capitalists by any other name, whether it is the digital gulag capitalists or The Jungle sort of capitalists) control the narrative . . . thoughts . . . dreams.
The piece I did first to germinate my own dream-like cognition was called, The Collector. He is a new friend but an old soul, a person captured in the works of Kafka, Garcia Marquez, Melville. And he is a friend, for sure — The Collector.
Tribute, honorific, psychological, philosophical, lyrical, imagistic, and, well, the pure hum of words decluttering my mind. I know the “subject” of the poem my have to work on his emotional squirming, and this is a microscope and macro lens into just part of his life, his psyche. But what better gift to the world than honesty, the sweat and the blood and tears and spasms of life?
An Art Poem — The Collector
vessel of father’s detachment, skies drawn from Columbia Gorge heckled, drawn-and-quartered a boy in This Portland Life
skinned heart broken dreams promises, the kids piled on, heart and soul splayed, heap of flesh
another heart beat compelling boy to structures musical, voice, effervescent light frozen, smeared into blinking eyes, boy hoping for life magnificent, a tribe of artisans, troubadours
the deserted island they sent him to father, collapsed in his own history of hard-drinking parents mother slipping deeper into illness, left to his own devices, he hunkered down into a rainbow of washes the acrylic requiem parting words of genuflection
many days turned around by life memories like hot slag skin pulled back by prying bullies, boy to man back to child repressions and booze the electronic sunset of drugs
“the forgetting” turns to toil, daily clock puncher grinding lenses, a Spinoza allusion, yet art is the crafted religion luminosity in the frame outside clarity depth of field he embraces, refocuses pain into purity
he tells me more than 3,000 art openings, maybe four a continuous loop of clowns, clumsy, cloistered apparitions of rich by night day risen with incredible lightness
of being with art like elixir even as drone of depression compelled him to jump he found the angelic great humanistic endeavor of cultural illumination
he’s a jumper for art lonely days and nights child pulled, pushed plied by the ugly gang-mentality child mobs, prodding poking turned to angry bosses
he tells me 39 years grinding lenses, two decades the barbs of bastard bully he eyed a bridge, Portland’s gift to artists, bridges the precipices of his longing to jump flattening on concrete
no one decides sanity controls pulling life from a lost landscape behind barbed wire cages yet he floats outside the haze of using every chemical self-medications
art as obsession he’s The Collector not some Mafia repo man but anchored to this art as life world, regional art in the process his life remade with each acquisition
until four decades later, a wilderness a room full of wisdom he holds a new light upwelling from Japan the chilling beach coastal range forest Siletz ghosts he draws memories now, wife and old man singing songs of freedom
but compelled to dredge up process of turning life into performance fluidity of memory clunky in the production of words, the key a crypt of a thousand illusions art like shroud from above he lives in strokes the plied hands of artists like a nurse’s gauze
childhood wounds healed over days trapped farther with each downy woodpecker any measure of a man ornithological now he sits with wife stares at the art each piece a story layered stories meaning now in
The Collector’s pathos & ego flitted away corners of a different life dog-eared memory can he withstand Pacific isolation, diving pelicans quiet nights, quelling days?
like a scene in snow globe he walks a street two paintings clutched on both sides we shake that glass orb instead of snow shards of pain float and fall fall and float he smiles in that globe a scene some artist might have conjured up
The Collector’s frozen in a time of regaling holding treasures walking a lonely path where art is dream emancipation from pain, culmination of the betterment of Homo Sapiens a gift of color The Collector’s shield against acerbic memory
… and he rejoices one day all of it goes away, piece by piece chucked away gifted one-by-one each deserving recipient now a story in that snow globe shards of pain now gestating joy, each form, an epistemological wonder