Monday, September 17, 2012

Dig Well

For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. Genesis 26:15


Damn, I hate August... hot, humid, stinking dead days entombed in boredom. Dead summer, an armpit-perspiring stink. Worm fodder doldrums. August here is a burning piss hole.

Discussed with the family when Pop suggests -- as he suggests many projects – that we dig out the old stone well in the back yard. Enthusiastic, I am for it this time, it fits me. For one, I like to dig holes, and then, it keeps me out of trouble to go along and do whatever.

Don’t go down to that place, I say inside, but I can’t help myself. My earliest memory of Pop we are at the kitchen table eating and we are joking and laughing and he throws a washcloth at me. You can say it happened then and not now, it is the past and over, and I should not talk like it is happening right now, but whenever I remember, it is just like it is happening all again, I’m afraid inside and want to escape. The cloth strikes me in the eyes and I laugh. I throw it back at him. It is a worn brown washcloth thin with holes and slightly damp with his hand sweat. It strikes him on the mouth. I throw it back at him, laughing at our game, like he has thrown it at me with the force of a child. Not funny. Pop swings with the back of his heavy arm and hits me in the head. I am knocked out of the chair onto the floor. I am not allowed to cry. A strong boy never cries. I hold my lips, they want to break.

Desperate for two wells. Pop argues. The house well beneath the garage is hardly good for one shower per day. We cannot use the new Kenmore dishwasher without waiting an hour to flush the toilet, before and after. I’m sick of washing dishes in the sink, my chore. No labor saved, we are thirsty half our lives. With budget we could have a well drilled hundreds of feet deep through gray mud and boulders to the aquifer above the clay line. (Money, who has money for sensible stuff? We live on onions, kidney beans and ground chuck. We collect food in the woods like it was a convenience store. He buys a Cadillac.) Drill a well for good water, more of what we already get, or … run into sulfur water like our neighbors. Sulfur. A stench all year of bad eggs, drill a well and then sulfur.

Depression. August. At the homestead well ring near the garden, fat Pop splays in his lawn chair. Nearby, I cut brown sod, repeating an old beginning. The stones uncovered look like a fire ring, the opposite of the water ring that these stones are. I struggle, with my ratty sneakers slipping on the shoulders of a shovel blade. I jump up and sink down, alternately swatting black no-see-ums that want to sting my eyeballs. I do not know what Pop is thinking, straining the nylon strapping of the chair, diddling around with a recent copy of Clutch wrapped in Popular Science. He says, “Son, you have to lean into the shovel when you break ground.” I lean my very hardest, and break a skinny wind.

Down we dig, then dig more, and dig again. The sun recedes into a radiant halo above my head, a 40W light bulb slowly diminished by a rheostat, or a candle sputtering as the wick sucks up the very final drop of wax. Dimness of lost light. Everything burrows down to darkness, while Pop explains stuff. Pop, his mind wandering into the fading sun of a dead August wind, drones on camped there, describing amazing wonders of the modern universe. Above me the last gasp of an aperture to the 4th dimension. I burrow. More days pass digging. I am clumsy with tools. I want to dig with my hands and sharpened sticks, claw the deep blanket of earth with my teeth. Just me and solid ground.

Days go subterranean, burrowing into the coolness of earth. Progress slowly downward day by day into a mayfly cocoon of stone. In dimmer and dimmer light I scratch mud and fibrous roots from within the circle of glacial-deposit boulders. As if they were here, those pioneers that planted our apple, lilac and quince trees, I join them in this digging.

Drops down the ladder, every morning. I climb down. Pop pulls the ladder back up. I dig with a rusty trowel, a hammer, and a Chock full o’Nuts coffee can. Earth beneath bare feet, cold feeling to squiggly toes. Crouching in this shirtless hole, abysmal. Then mole farther downward. Fill the coffee can with loosened earth – with it, crouch over and fill a tin bale bucket. Pop, when he is there at the top, pulls the clothesline rope. A tin din is echoed off the sides of the stone tube as the bucket weight rises. Some dirt escapes from the bucket and filters down through the dim light, landing on my head. A centipede crawls on the back of my neck.

Dirt, I love dirt. Snuff of dirt. Sucking out the brown-caked crust under bloody fingernails between dry lips. Sifting it through the hair, scratching my head. The funk smell of dirt clogged in my nostrils. Any time, digging well or no well, I suck and squirm and roll and bathe in dirt. When Pop is not there to pull up the bucket I wait alone and am happy with the dirt and imagine. There are no productive discoveries in an imagination frozen with fear of life, but a constant returning to the same aborted hole.

Thirst of life. Digging past everything, all the scenery down there. I look upwards to the sunlight, and Pop sits there in his regal paternity talking to the hole in the yard. On occasion he remembers to let down the wooden ladder. I ascend. Drink raspberry bug juice. “Piss in the woods, Son. Save on the well.” Pop spreads his weight and basks in the lawn chair, sweating in his shorts, and gives educational pronouncements to the hole in the yard. “I killed a man in Korea. I was lying at night in a hole I had dug, freezing in the cold, when this Chinese came out over me to kill and I stabbed him with the bayonet. We were just there on the land with nothing and we dug a hole.”

Destination eternity.  I’m no longer sure what direction to go in, like a beaver trapped in an amusement park cage: eternity. At Bible class they tell us about God the Father and Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, a trinity. Quite a big project, this beginning and end of everything. I quickly learn not to say what I think. I do not want to blow it. I learn from Mrs. Meyers in Bible class that God may speak to you, but you don’t talk back. You never throw in the towel with God.  Are there times when nobody gets the complete message? Or am I alone? Even when you are sitting at the table for the chicken dinner in the church basement and people are easy with each other and laughing, you behave yourself and take a small glass of water when the pitcher is passed. Reaching out, there is nothing but pain.

Digging a hole. Whenever I surface, the smelly neighbor kids tease, “Esek is digging a hole to China.” I don’t know where China is, but now I want to be there if that is where the hole goes. With all Pop’s other projects on the property, I also hear about Orientals. Pop says, “In China they would put one hundred coolies on your job. It would be done in one day.” Pop says he knows torments that I will never know. Hiding in the well I am one alone. There are only so many days in August. In time I will escape, though the velocity of pain is forever.

Down past the layer of worms. Remnants of a rusty hinge and a broken medicine bottle, things that I finger and turn over and examine before sending the fragments upward for further scrutiny and classification and the comment, “Keep digging.” Down past my own height. The earth towers over as I reach out from side to side, not quite able to stretch fully, confined within the tube of boulders, some larger than my belly, some smaller. I will find this water. Down I dream, and down I dig in dreaming to the core of the world or beyond, downward in search of muddy water. Like any other immigrant to here, I am mud-hogging the stone lining of a dark womb. After a lengthy silence Pop shows up. “How does it look down there?”

Dark, divining thoughts. The ladder hardly reaches this day’s work. There is no clue as to how deep this well will go or how deep it will have to be to give up life and find us water. The digging continues. Pop is distracted: we are too close to success, and success is to be avoided at all cost. He goes back to the house to watch an Abbott & Costello movie on the new color television. He does not stay with any one project for very long. If we do not arrive soon at the end of a task, he changes direction. When I follow him we are always going in circles, like the circle of the stone in this darkness. We never know when we will find water, or food, or money—but we keep on in this searching.

“Death and taxes,” is what Pop says. Yet some of us keep digging. Some of us go off in the woods looking for another hole to talk to. Some of us wander around looking for a hole that will deliberate, that will respond when spoken to, that will give up answers. Some of us keep digging despite the fact that all we find is a replenished source of dirt and murky water.

Diverted to another search, Pop comes back in the afternoon and tells me about this atomic scientist, Edward Teller, talking on the television. I do not know who Mr. Teller is. Pop says he blows things up for a living, like dynamite, but I know “atomic” means that. All the kids know about the bomb. I wonder, listening to Pop speaking from the top of my hole, how many days Mr. Teller would spend digging his well whether Mr. Teller hates August as much as I do. Does Mr. Teller wash his dishes by hand in the kitchen while looking out the window above the sink and dreaming of escape? Pop says we can turn the well into a bomb shelter if we do not find water. I go back to picking, with a piece of broken tree limb, at the pungent soil compacted in the spaces between boulders of sandstone and gneiss, feeling with my fingers the coldness of laid stone. I wonder how old this well is.

Delivered as fifteen days for fifteen years, on the afternoon it is about the sixth hour of digging, as when Isaac's servants came and told him, “We have found water.” It springs up suddenly between my toes. At first I am not sure what is happening. I see brown water mixed with mud. Then I am excited, an everlasting spring. It appears slowly between two stones and then rapidly increases in flow to fight for clearness, to be free of mud. The heel of my foot is now wet.  The well is deep, and without the ladder I have no way to climb out. I yell for Pop. My ankles are muddy, and the water is cold. I call for Pop some more. There is no answer from above. My knees are shivering. I’m screaming, for no answer. The water is cold, around my waist. Praying, I think about floating to the top. I think about climbing the stones. I am thirsty and wet, all at once. There is nothing more to dig, as the water ascends. Now my shoulders are shivering. Pop finally sets the ladder down. 

Drenched, I climb up. My hair is wet, and my breath is labored. He shows me a puffball mushroom that he just found in the woods. Cut open, the inside looks like white brains. He says that when it is fried in bacon fat it tastes like hamburger. I pay attention and wonder what the lesson behind all this is going to be. He is an artful cook, learned it in the Army. I tell him about the water. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.”

Disengaged, Pop leans over toward the hole and says he is worried. “It smells like shit. Too close to the septic tank. I think we should fill it in. You did a good job, though. I’ll say that. You dig well. A real good job.” I stoop perplexed next to the well hole, basking in the depth of my accomplishment and Pop’s pride. I want to slam a rock into his head. I’m no longer sure what direction to go in, like a beaver trapped in an amusement park cage. Trapped. Sometimes I think it is just not good to follow too close to Pop. Silently I want to slip away behind him into the woods and take a leak, then climb a pine tree to the top and watch the wind above the world, from one of those places where he cannot follow. Holding to the topmost crown, the last limb, with pitch stuck to my hands. I will never come down, until supper.

Pissed, I stick around and help Pop pull up the ladder, and then I begin to fill the hole. The trowel and coffee can, my digging tools, are left down there, to await a future excavation. The wood tools float on the surface, rising, fake battleships, which I pretend to explode and drown by dropping shovels of earth on them. The sound of a released dirt storm splashes and echoes within as it is dropped from the spade. 

I do not dig a hole to China. There is no climax. I do not explode. I go inward. The dumb motion of work takes me.

Pop goes off somewhere into the basement to play with the wah-wah peddle on his electric guitar. Oddly, shoveling the dirt back into the well does not take me enough days to notice. I work mornings and evenings to avoid the heat. I take little notice that the midges have gone to sting other eyes. 

On some days there are thunderstorms, lightning and rain striking the earth around us, and the air chills, though only for short snaps. Pop decides to trade for a cheap horse, a black stallion that will let nobody but Pop ride him. We stable it in the garage above the good well. 

In time I pretend it was not such a bad thing to fill in the old well. I went down behind the first diggers until I found water, and now I follow others in the act of refilling the well once again. In the Bible they stopped talking about digging wells and giving them these really weird names once everyone had their fill of drink. I’m still thirsty.

Today Pop talks about building an experimental airplane, but I am not so interested in crashing. I’m learning to shovel horse manure and lime it. We still take care to not flush the toilet and run the dishwasher at the same time.

September is a cooler month.

[Note: previously published onliine at Fried Chicken and Coffee and Gator Springs Gazette]

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Hampton Classic Horse Show

We went to the Grand Slam... or the Grand Whatever... I never ever go to horse shows and so to go out to Bridgehampton on the South Fork of Long Island on Sunday with my wife, who is the one with the experience and love of horses -- for me to accompany her to see the horse show was a new adventure. The Grand Whatever should be on the television so that you can see and hear what I did not see or hear. Look for it.

What did I see? Well... I saw booths of people who sell boots, very expensive boots... and there were saddles, very expensive saddles without horns and there was faux antique furniture, not cheap. There were no chairs without seats to be woven by old men with rash opinions about the Swedes. The post-colonial English style is alive in the Hamptons, proper. There was also an opportunity to purchase the golf clubs of your neighbor’s dreams, a Jaguar or Range Rover but noticeably no Hummers, a very large tree with a wrapped root ball larger than our living room, and a Learjet. The Learjet was of the most interest to me and to a line of others better dressed -- clipped of tail and wings and packed into a semi-trailer for road transport... I speculated adaptive re-use as a camper when the fuselage is no longer used for horse shows.

I would like to say that this is a love story, but to admit so at this point of my general confusion that is mildly exacerbated when I walk around in new steel-toe work boots that pain my feet -- all so that my wife can inform me gently of what I do not know about what I do not see... and we find a blacksmith who works out of a truck... not works actually, sort of sits around and shoots the breeze... but I see that he has a collection of new unshod shoes. I begin to perk up. I feel frisky. No horses just yet, but there is a laundry trailer with red and chrome scooters for sale. I'm confused as to why a laundry sells scooters, but then I see a washing machine through a doorway. It makes no more sense than previously, but I'm assured that when all else fails we can clean our clothes and make a quick getaway.

There are signs of people from Brooklyn and further points west, evidence of visitors from as far away as Wisconsin. There are signs of people that camp out, if that is what it is called out here. It is a relief that not everyone stays over with a friend at their beach house, or in a $600 per night motel.

I never saw any horse books for sale. I understand they are expensive and come with colored pictures. But, you could get your photo taken with a helmet strapped to your head and have your body superimposed onto the photo of a jump horse... a rider less thoroughbred but in the apex of a huge lunge forward just the same -- but I saw no books for sale. I think it goes to a suspicion that nobody who attended the show will read this. I feel safe to say that no horse person sequestered in the Hamptons is constrained to invest in reading. They are after all just like the rest of us.

I saw the layout of the show -- studied a map tacked up to a fence. You had to walk through three-quarters of the hubbub to find it, but there it was. The field was divided up into smaller fields with nothing to happen just then in any of them, while we were there, and one main arena for the horses to jump. Jumping horses, that is, but only at two o’clock. It was noon and we ate tacos.

Two men who sat at a folding table next to us at the concessionaire's tent talked about how long it took them to drive to the show from their residences a modest distance south of the north shore Gold Coast of Long Island, then they talked about the political problems of their country club. It was apparent that they attended at the behest of their wives and children out of love. They ate wraps, the latest solution for a sandwich.

I looked for action. Though it had been a session of contemplative feed that we went through after my initial study of the map, and short of there being nowhere evident the promised exertion of horses to watch, I set out to review and admire the logistics of the portable toilets. They had the small one-person port-o-lets in rows, blue plastic huts with doors, and then they had swankier toilet trailers. One side was for men, the other side for women. Big white things they were. There was a wait everywhere, but it was orderly and civil. There is upscale in the society here... even the port-o-lets had shelves and mirrors in them. I took off my baseball cap and combed my hair. It looked good, though sparse.

I thought it odd that I did not see any horse manure in our walk. Either it is true as I had begun to suspect that there were no horses, or somebody runs around and shovels it up at the hot time of delivery. I felt enlightened as at breakfast I had read in a book about the British and how during World War II they had a secret service that designed bombs that looked like horse, camel or elephant patties. The idea, I suppose, was that the Germans in their heavy goose step would not look down or suspect if they did, and not pay too much attention to where they jumped off, would desire to stomp on the incendiary devices. I was sincerely anxious to see the real McCoy. I'm fairly certain this was not what my wife had in mind to bring me along. I imagine there must be a national museum of these sorts of bombs somewhere.

There was a trailer full of tack. A lot of leather stuff with soap as best I could tell. I was not inclined to investigate as I knew full well I would have to ask the names of almost every item that was there. It is bad enough if you have to ask the price, let alone have no idea what the name is of the odd item that you imagine a purchase to hang on the wall in the den as a memento.  I do not like to look stupid in public. I prefer to shop online. That is how we got the gross box of super fly masks. I like the color.

I stood idle to wait for my wife to complete her pragmatic inspection of a service unit when a black Chevy sport utility vehicle pulled up, lead by a Show Security man... a handsome black man in a black suit with a stylish earpiece who walked in front of the SUV to clear the way of people. It looked pretty serious, heavy metal in those trucks accented by their blackened windows. The SUV backed into a slot in front of a vegetarian pizza truck and two kids in their twenties got out, a boy and a girl. Hand in hand they walked towards the VIP tent followed by what had to be the chauffer. Soon they were joined by a body guard. I have no idea who they were; dressed casual like people I might know. But I did not know them. For all I know they were going to visit their Aunty.

A woman with bug-out eyes walked up to me. In desire to be polite I looked the other way. When I turned she was in my face and asked me if there were any horse activities going on elsewhere. I had no idea. I told her I had never ever in my life gone to a horse show and that I was curious to know where they put the horses... it seems the price of a ticket did not include a program. I had gone to a rodeo once in Houston at the Astrodome but I thought it too complicated to explain to her that to sit up so high in the air that you need binoculars to see the riders does not quite in my imagination count as attendance to a horse show. I told her that so far what I had seen at the Hampton Classic was people. All sorts of people and a lot of them physically rude and not very well trained... they like to walk and drive into and in front of each other in the Hamptons. The Hamptonites also seem to wear funny summer hats that have no relation to the equestrian arts as far as I can tell. Sort of breezy and squashed up lumps. My new bug eyed friend, who did not wear a hat but just the same stood too close to me for my comfort, did not appear to believe me when I told her that I had no idea where the horses were at. I had to shrug my shoulders, twice, then once more. I had to repeat myself politely several times before she walked. She went off toward the horse tents where we had previously seen no horses. As she parted I blessed her that she might get to see a horse.

I like the idea of horses that stand in a field undisturbed and when we drive around the island on back roads, usually lost, I make a point to point them out to my wife when I see them. "There is a horse," I say. "Yes, dear, that is a horse." I do the same with squirrels, but it does not have quite the same effect. I know when I am being trained. But, all humor aside, despite my reading about them in a book I imagine the best use of a horse is that it hold down the field, better yet a bunch of them spread around like tacks in a wall map.

The situation was not exactly fair... we had seen a horse. It did something. It moved around in a circle on a long leash held by a woman with a very impressive whip. She could have been fly fishing if you had not seen the horse. I would say the horse trotted or sauntered or dressaged or whatever all that is... but I have no idea about horse vocabulary and so I will stick with the horse moved around in a circle. With the horse, there was a girl on its back, or on its neck, or flying off its rear, or running beside it... it was difficult to tell exactly what was intended... there was a girl. She looked like a nice girl as girls go. It looked like a fine specimen of a horse, as I was informed though I had to suppose -- we were short of other horses to make a comparison. At one stroke the girl stood on her head on the horse while the horse was moved around in a circle.

A young fellow right about then, dressed in a mustard-yellow coat with a distinguished emblem embroidered on his chest, walked briskly past us -- when he saw the girl jump up and down on and off the horse he said, "It used to be just enough to ride a horse." He then took great pains to avoid a large puddle that he almost stepped into. I looked over the puddle fairly closely; it was rather deep for a puddle and full of dirty water. I was impressed that it did not explode.

I was interested to notice the variations in sand from one area of the lot to another. You could easily tell the difference between the natural yellow sand and the white sand deposited and spread over near the VIP entrance that had been imported. I'm curious if anywhere there is an ecological concern over an intermix of invasive and native sands.

We were bored and had time to kill and the horses were shy. I had heard about this shyness in the past but did not realize it was so.... so terminal. We once more took our chances and walked past the horse tents but I saw hardly any horses... a few horse heads here and there and they looked kindly upon us. Mostly I was struck by the effort of the temporary landscape. It was as much a garden show, if not more, than a horse show. Here there would be a little corner cut out of an area of fence with a temporary tree for shade and wood-chip mulch and a row of well-trimmed bushes and a spray of bright fresh flowers with a wood table and a few wood chairs. It struck me that this rustic camp scene, assembled with such a delicate sense of industry, would be wiped out by next Tuesday if not sooner.

We walked around behind the corporate tents where we had to move out of the way for a fellow on a golf cart that was loaded with plates of smoked fish, cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. The tents were up on wooden platforms. The driver stopped in front of us, he blocked our way though I had no idea what way that was, and from the tent platform above a fellow with suit and tie told the guy on the cart not to forget the Wall Street Journal. To wit, the fellow on the cart shouted up, "Are they going to pay?"

This little interchange of capitalist commerce made me feel comfortable that all is right with the world.

So we gave out in our search of horses to do something and we went to look for our seats in the Grand Stand. They were grand seats in the second row in Area C... which was difficult because they put the alphabetic area signs where nobody would ever think to look... my wife paid extra for this... and we sat right next to a barricade that was painted white with green stripes and had columns with flower pots and a spray of white lilies... like church flowers they were. Flowers very bright and cheery with promise on this sunny day.

Across from us was another barricade with an advertisement for something expensive on it... it may have been jewelry or boots but I don’t recall other than that it was not perfume. There was perfume around us; it went by on thin legs with short skirts, a bodacious scent that suggested distant fields, the gentle roll of aromatic meadows, with apple and peach and herbaceous notes... but no horse smells. I don't know how you can enjoy a horse without you get to smell it.

When I was a kid we had a horse, we stabled it in our garage. I'm not sure if it was a thoroughbred... it always seemed to be angry. You get what you pay for. None of us kids could ride, too dangerous -- our mount was forbidden. Papa on an odd Sunday away from the television would dress up with his sequined chaps and his western hat and he would saddle up to run the angry beast up and down the asphalt street in front of the house. It snorted and whistled and made us feel Western. Mary Jane Austen next door rode English, the distinction is that she bobbed up and down. She dressed in black. It was a regal event, like a little parade, and us kids would all run around to the neighbors to tell them to get out into their front yards to see the sight. I learned to spread lime on manure.

From the Grand Stands in Area C Row 2 to the left were more barricades with little arched bridges and flowers and signs that said that they were contributed by a variety of local florist shops. The entire field was filled up with these landscape barricades and after quite a while nothing much happened -- I had begun to read a book about the life of lobsters I had brought -- two old guys got in a black Land Rover and drove around the field. They stopped at each one of the barricades. I could not make out what the old guy said into his microphone... I could see that it was him that said something when they drove close to us. His lips moved. He seemed happy about whatever it was he thought he had to say. Used to be that I thought I had to understand, but at a certain point I just gave up and figured being there is enough without the need for me to understand diddle. It was about then I realized that the barricades had numbers. It had not occurred to me that there was a deliberate order to the event. I felt consoled in my heart and very much more reassured for there being numbers.

It appeared to me that the hot spot was the VIP tent where we could view a gaggle of people who ate and drank and for all appearances had a grand old time at a picnic party. The week had been one combined with the North Fork wineries who host a marathon wine imbibe. I saw that it was a long party and we showed up at the end of it. You get what you pay for... and obviously it costs a bit to see a real horse in the Hamptons. We did not even see that many fake horses, no statues, no trees carved into horses, no leather horses... other than the pictures... I began to feel we should go get our picture taken in order to prove our adventure. But I had no idea how to get back to the photographer's tent. They may frown on two people to sit on a jump horse despite our willingness to wear helmets.

I sat at the end of the row on our bench and it was difficult for me not to notice the people who milled around in the Grand Stands, particularly when once more I got whacked in the back of the head with a large purse. There is a need for helmets at a horse show.

There were many kids... they did not seem to know where to sit, they did not wear helmets -- they hugged and crouched at the rail. There were many adults... they appeared to stand in front of us and pretend as if they were lost. They did not wear helmets, but many of them did wear hats. There were anxious husbands that showed up late and had to have the last fifteen minutes of inaction explained to catch them up. There were little babies who cried. There was one girl skinny as a rail that had to be seven feet tall. She did not wear a helmet, though if she fell over she might want one. Her small head floated around high above us. There were two older women with horsey faces and flowery hats dressed in what looked like brightly colored sack cloth. I assumed they were the misplaced literary set. I got the impression a Kahlil Gibran poem would bounce right out of them with the slightest nudge. I kept warily silent.

Then a lady from Prudential Financial came along to sing the national anthem, we could not for the life of us see her but we did hear her -- twice for the delayed echo of the sound system -- and we all stood up and turned around to face the American flag. I took off my baseball cap -- it serves as my almost helmet. I then noticed that I actually wanted the two Mexican landscape laborers, they looked like they were on their way to somewhere important when they were suddenly caught out by their boss man to work in their dirty boots. They stood next to me and secretly I wanted them also to take off their baseball caps. I did sense that they would know where all the legendary horses had been hidden. Then it occurred to me, in a look around at the assembled crowd, that at least eighty percent of the hat population at the event were ignorant of the patriotic respect to bare their skulls.

My wife often tells me that she would like to raise jackasses. She saw them on television and fell in love. I work on it. Like I said, this is a love story.

After the national anthem was slaughtered I went to sip out of my water bottle. It was announced a period of silence to respect our troops in foreign lands. I had not got the bottle down from my lips quick enough and the silence was over.

Then we got to see some horses. I think it was five, it may have been six. They had riders dressed in crimson coats. Second best to stand in a field I like the image of horses when they stand in a row, their heads lined up in a line, with riders who sit on them. When they move across a field with the horse's heads gently to bob up I'm reminded of ocean waves. We were told the horses and their riders were important for something they had done in South America. They paraded around a short bit while we were told other things over the speaker system that we could not make out. If you watch on television you may have better luck to figure out who they were and what they did that was so impressive.

Then there was the show that may have been the show that we were there for.

A rider and a horse came out and stood in the field of barricades a good ways off... but we could see them over there pretty well where they stood – it was not so distant and far off as at the Houston rodeo. There would be a horn blast and then nothing... then the rider and horse would move around the lot and come around to the corner at our left and then would sort of half charge and half hesitate until they were right there ten feet in front of us and then we could see the horse's head and see its eyes and see that it was either disturbed or mad or unhappy and then next thing you saw was the horse fly up with a jerk into the air over the barricade and the clunk clunk against the top pole and the rider held on as the horse went down the other side, hopefully we gathered with an idea not to take the top pole with them, and then they turned and were gone across the track.

My wife told me there was a lot of drama in the horse and rider in a jump. I had to believe. I could not imagine anyone doing this with a riding lawn mower, and a monster truck would make hell of the flower bed.

From there on out what we mostly saw was the helmet of a rider bob up and down across the field. We had to be particular to pick out the rider's helmet from all of the flowers as there was a slight and pleasant breeze. So we tracked the bob of the helmet and sometimes the horse's rump and the photographers that stood around with their equipment, or the men who snuck up to put the displaced poles back in place. I kept out an eye to see if I could see them put a pole back in place but each time all I caught was a backside that fled across the field. It was like a magic show. At one point there was a noticeable absence of rider as the poor chap had fallen off. The horse appeared to be relieved and went off in a new direction. A small airplane circled overhead. It dragged a long banner with red letters behind it to inform us to reinstate the local fire house. I could not help but read the banner as it was persistent with motion and buzz like a fly landed in the left eye.

Mostly the event was one of sounds. Oddly, though you could not make out just what was being said over the speaker system -- if a horse’s leg so much as grazed a pole you could hear it all away across the track. You could also hear the crowd, particularly the VIP crowd who had the challenge of a triple jump in front of them, let out their occasionally dashed expectations of a fault in a tremulous, "Aaaaawww!"

There would be three quick helmet bobs and flash of horse butt at gate number 8A, 8B and 8C in succession and then this gasp noise from the crowd. I felt with a spirit of the competition. I even saw the electronic sign board with a timer that told us the seconds and the fouls and the names of the riders and the names of the horses. I wish we could get this kind of score system on a pheasant hunt. And the names of horses, they are such wonderful names full of hope and promise: Cosequin, Edgar, Royal Kaliber, Freckles,  Newport, Playtime, Wichita, Eskadeur, Claddagh, Gladiator, and Crickett, but these are all made up names I threw in here to show that I have a heart for horse names.

I seem to recall that this run around and jump stuff on a horse happened fifteen times. It could have been fourteen. I lost track when I fell asleep. Though I like numbers I am not terribly good when it comes a need to keep track of them. When I play golf, another game that requires numbers, and where one time at a tournament I won a little statue of the rear end of a horse, which is my sole obligatory reason for mention of golf here, I tend to leave my clubs behind scattered across the yard. I always end up I have to go back to the keeper's house to ask for my loose clubs.

It was fortunate for my wife, who had a stupendous time as long as I made no remarks that two nice ladies from Hampton Bays, the pre-Hamptons to our unHamptons, sat next to her so that she had someone to talk with on the topic of horses. I was no help. When she leaned over and told them what to look for in the horse that jumped around on the field they were able to make sympathetic noises of appreciation and understanding. When she told me that a particular horse over in the corner that was about to get started with the race looked like a thoroughbred I was caught with my mouth open, "Why that one?" It is the same when we watch the Triple Crown on television. The horses are led up to the gate for each of the races and she tells me what I am to look at. I like the colors. Jockeys and their horses are so colorful. Everyone seems so damned excited. Then they run around the track and it is over.

We used to live above OTB, Off Track Betting when we lived in Brooklyn. The horses on the television there were too small and the quick announcers made too much noise and I could not understand the code they used. Now, the gamblers... now there was a lot of chums. Mostly old men with nothing else to go on in their lives, gray haired, overweight with their paunch bellies and not able to run very fast. It amazes me what modern medical science makes possible. I always thought of the guys that they were like police horses let out to the country, only they lived on the sidewalk in front of where we lived inside in our apartment. They used to taunt our little boy, pretend he was a tough guy and fake to box with him. Until the day he ran out of the door and briskly charged an old guy who had never seen him before and did not know what was going on until after he had been given a good solid punch in the groin. Life with horses is one of unexpected excitement. The old guys at OTB all look the same. I know they replace them year after year, but they always look the same. As with horses they have neat names: Benny, Luigi, Guzzler, Fritz, Sammy, Dirk and Bobby.

I could no longer handle the excitement and decided it was time for me to inspect the latrine. Along the way to the facilities I saw the llamas and the goats and a pot-bellied pig up for adoption. I really do not like it when I find out that a pot bellied pig has suffered abuse and been confiscated by animal control and now is in need of a wonderful home. Llamas you can keep, I'd rather raise ostriches. By the time I returned to my seat it was intermission and I was jostled about against the tide of people who wanted to leave the grand stands.

Intermission over it was then the long awaited Jump Off. At least some of the people were waited; others I noticed smoked cigars below the bleachers or inspected their surroundings or talked with their long lost friends. Mothers herded their children. Fathers followed their wives. Ladies ambled to hover towards the entrances to the VIP tents. The jump horses that did not jump with perfection or grace were being walked around and told sweet nothings before they would be put away for the day. And it was a distraction with all the adults, fresh ones that had replaced the last batch, who stood in front of us and acted as if they were lost.

Six riders and their horses got to go around again, only this time with a different set of barricades. Bob of helmet, flash of rump and it was very quickly over and the grand stands emptied themselves. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was presented to present something to the winner, but it was so far across the field that we could not make out any of it. They may have been getting $250,000 but we saw none of it.

There was confusion in the parking lot. We were motioned to stop and wait by an attendant dressed with a bright orange vest, we stopped, then we got honked at from behind, there were swear words in the air that were not ours, then four cars drove around us and cut into the line: a Range Rover, a Jaguar, a Mercedes and a BMW in that order. My wife had rented a compact car for this special occasion. On the way home we stopped at a fresh vegetable stand. We bought corn, chard, fresh dill, arugula, local tomatoes and white eggplant.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fireworks 2012

from Peter Janko at Lumenelle Lighting Restoration

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Utah Phillips

From 5/21 to 6/3, 2012 I assisted in work on gravestones at the Pioneer and Catholic cemeteries in Coloma, CA at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. While there we worked with a representative of the state who lives in Nevada County, CA. Several times Utah Smith, who lived in Nevada City, was mentioned. Though I was familiar with his name I had never invested any time to find out very much about him. This interview that he did with Amy Goodwin with Democracy Now in 2004, viewed here as a tribute on the occasion of his death in 2008 provides a good introduction.

My personal comments are as follows:

I never quite understood the IWW or why they were considered such a strong threat to the owners of capital. Utah in this interview makes clear the difference between organizing of united sectors of industry, as opposed to organizing along craft lines. In the perspective that he presents it is fairly clear that organization along craft lines, where separate crafts can be boxed out and then set in competition with each other, thus can be directed to use up their energy and resources to blunt their overall effectiveness for positive change. Organizing on craft lines seems very convenient to a corporate fascist dominance, just as public and private sector unionization is currently under pressure of divide-and-conquer. Note: Utah does point out that when workers (anyone who collects wages for their labor and does not own the means of production) lose they also win.

The Preservation Trades Network, though not in any sense of the word a union, is organized as an educational non-profit along the lines to bring together a community of related but different traditional trades within a specific industrial sector. Along the lines of stone masons with timber framers with slate roofers. There is a good deal to learn from Utah Phillips of value to the community spirit of PTN.

Quite a ways into the interview Utah mentions a conversation that he had with Daniel Berrigan. For a period of time in the 1970s, when he was on-the-loose prior to his arrest and imprisonment. I knew and spent time with Daniel Berrigan. The subject of the conversation that they had, as to the pressure of industrialization of Utah's songs, reminds me that at one point in my life I got the notion that the aesthetic work of our lives, for me it is writing, is not a commodity meant for sale. If I need to be paid I would rather be paid to move stones.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Local Politics

Our community recently became a Village and in the process suddenly there was such a higher level of scrutiny with 'code enforcement inspectors' that within a month they had issued 1,300 violations in a population of 12,000.

I received a violation and a notice to appear in court that unspecified debris was 'noticed' in our yard. That was confusing enough, debris for one is a rock garden for another. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as I noticed. What is the problem here?

We did previously have two Triumph sports cars in the side yard, dysfunctional and with a hope to restore them, but no money for that since the recession hit us about the same time we threw a rod. D was called, I won't go into how they got his number, and told the Village wanted the vintage cars removed... Note: I was not contacted but someone that does not even live on the premises was.

We donated the cars at a deep loss to Kids for Cars around Xmas, and thought that was the end of it... keep in mind in winter it is cold even on Long Island and messing in the yard, particularly when the whole world looks like brown crap no matter what is done, is not number one on anyone's pleasure list.

We have lived here 22 years, we own the house in full, we are not non-resident owners... we look after our neighbors to the same degree that we ignore their occasional oddity. We are not under water, despite the hurricane floods that creep into our wetlands, we are not in foreclosure, we pay our taxes, we do not burn down the neighborhood nor do we go around drunk waving pistols in the air while riding on the hood of our friend's car, like some folks here about have done.

In the past, just once, we had a complaint that coincided with one of our neighbors, a friend, the so-called functional schizophrenic, when he got hit up for 4-40 yard dumpsters worth of accumulated junk. It caused him to be one of the celebrity causes to push for the Village formation... "we need to clean up this village so that it will be the wonderful seaside community that it can be." Which is a sentiment essentially opposed to my desire to hide in a working and lower class neighborhood where we are reasonably left alone and free to leave others alone.

Suddenly we are not left alone and we are given a violation without warning. In the one past incident we got a warning from the Town (a larger entity than the Village but now we are the smaller more special Village), and we cleaned up the yard within 15 days, and we went on with our lives in an attempt to avoid any more warnings. All was hunky dory.

Court, the newly instituted Village Court, is in the borrowed hall on second floor of the volunteer fire department. I always wondered why they built that second floor and why all that exposed copper for flashing. We got to find out as K and I went there, it was a mad scene without any explanation, people lined up on the stairs all wondering what they were in trouble for. Metal detector -- now, mind you, for some of these folks the metal detector was either a novelty experience or a very normal one. I had to take belt and work boots off etc. just like in the Federal buildings in Manhattan. K when she walked away to sit down and put her shoes back on was asked to give back the one and only little yellow plastic tray as the presiding officer said, "We are on a budget, you know." The place was packed. People complained that they had been there previously and spent 4 hours only to be told they had to come back again. One woman worried it was the deflated Santa Claus in her yard that was her violation. Working mothers with their young children in tow. One shy little girl thought I was Santa Claus.

Then we found out we could get an adjournment, and we quickly took it.

D and I then over the next month went about to clean up the yard, in particular the really big dead oak tree that the electric company came around and dropped into your yard. They did not cut it in to convenient pieces, they dropped it in logs and left the scene, years back, and it had been a pain for me to deal with since then. Either my chain saw [Pull-on, yeah, right. You pull on the damned thing!] is a piece of shit or I am a mechanical moron. Cleaned up the fallen limb brush pile and spent another month just moving things around and visiting the Town dump, one of my favorite Saturday morning hobbies. I moved everything in the side and front yard that I thought could look like "construction project" into the rear yard behind the fence where the chickens could see it better.

In the mean time Village politics got roused up over a plan to Re-Zone all of the waterfront areas as commercial for restaurant and hotel development. I noticed the purplish-blue demarcation on the map did not include our house. I was quietly disappointed that I would not sooner get a lucrative offer from a casino developer to sell out so we could move to a more insignificant hole on the planet than this one.

That re-zone stuff got a whole lot of folk upset and there were a few public hearings.

The one I went to we sat around for an hour before I overhead that someone had said something unpleasant about the Mayor's wife and he had gone home, instead of presiding at the public hearing. We were sitting there for quite a while because nobody knew what to do next. Then a whole lot of people got up and each one of them said three minutes of stuff into a microphone. I felt cheated when I realized there had actually been some sort of brawl at the last open hearing that I had missed.

One lady went twice and then asked if anyone else wanted to use three minutes to read the rest of the stuff she had not gotten to tell us all about. Something about frogs eating invasive plants and how the Village should look into it. Look very deeply into it. A whole bunch of folk said how wonderful the Village is. Another bunch said it sucks.

A week later the Mayor resigned. I never got to know him. The Deputy Mayor was not so much in public favor to replace him as he owns a significant chunk of the waterfront property with a lot of boats on it. Another person was chosen. In the mean time there was an election for trustees. One person we voted for reportedly lost by 6 votes.

I went to the Village Hall, if it can be called that, and asked if I could see the section of Code that I had violated. I met the code enforcement inspector that had written the violation and he was nice enough to make a copy of the entire code for me, all thirty-six pages. I told him we were the yard that had the two 'historic' cars in it, he said he remembered us. I told him we had cleaned up the yard but wanted to make sure we understood and were in compliance. I don't like being noticed and will do what is needed to be left alone. But I want to know for sure that we will be not noticed and that we will be left alone... other than for the no-fracking sign, the colored lights for the night walkway and the highly territorial dog, I guess. It was a pleasant enough exchange and he said he would stop around and take a look and enter something in the file. I just love it when folks bring my attention to their having a file on me.

So I go back to court the other night. First thing I enter a volunteer fireman guy at the bottom of the stairs says I have to sign in. So I, and everyone else that walks past him signs the sheet. Upstairs the prosecutor is talking and says that if we want a conference with him that we need to sign our name to the sheet at the back of the room. I ask him where is the sign in sheet, he does not know.

I would like to at least know what I am in for because I really have no clue. I can think of all kinds of trouble to get into and it is all the excess speculation and imagination that tends to drive me a little bit nuts. After two decades is it time to move? Bad enough we have hurricanes, now we have a Village to deal with. We sit there doing absolutely nothing for an hour. Having a Village seems to mean we get to go more places in public and do nothing for a while.

The court officer asks in English if anyone needs a Spanish interpreter.

The prosecutor seems upset and runs around with what looks like a long list of names, several sheets worth. At one point asks if everyone present is waiting for a conference. Nobody knows what the hell is going on so we all raise our hands. Sure, why not?

Some folks get up and get an adjournment. One guy is upset because he was given a violation that was not with his name on it.

However it happens at least half the folks are now gone. Then the prosecutor starts to read off the list for people to line up for a conference. He does not seem to understand why nobody lines up as he reads the list off. Eventually someone stands up. By this time more time has gone by and the judge has finally come out to preside but the prosecutor does not move people up to talk with her quickly enough. I begin to wonder if the judge is paid on piece-work, so many supplicants passed along through the judicial funnel, or by the hour.

One corporate lawyer for a bank goes up with like 10 files (10 properties) or whatever and the judge reads off the violation citation, same number as I have, $250 fine. I think, oh, crap, that is more than the Village property tax [supposedly with the vote for the Village we were not to get any new property tax, yeah, right].

We have a new road crew that goes around and pours hot tar in the cracks in the asphalt road and the flagman holds up the STOP sign to us while he waves us through. I wonder whose idea it was to hire that nimnuts?

Eventually the judge starts to call people to come talk to her directly. She is reasonable with folks, patiently explains to them what they can or cannot do. One fellow wants to go to trial instead of pay a $25 fine. His contention is that he should not have to pay for what he took care of. She talks him through that. One couple has two properties, one outside of the Village, the judge says, "Aren't you glad you have property outside of the Village?" Eventually after two hours there are like four people left in the place. I am called up.

I still have no clue what is going on and I have had no conference with the prosecutor.

The first test is that a court officer points at a bare spot on the floor where I am supposed to stand. I mean, bare spot that looks like anywhere else on the floor and this guy wants me to figure it out, which means you need to look at the angle of his arm and the arrow of his finger to determine just where the hell on the floor he actually means for you to put your feet. Trigonometry after a full day of work and no dinner yet. I go for it and snap my feet together... let him deny this I think, I have my feet on the only right spot, the only only right spot on this whole friggin floor. The judge says hello and asks me to state my name and address.

I look at her and do so.

Then I am handed a piece of paper and offered if I want it to be read aloud in the court. I think that may be of interest as nobody else before me thought to have it done when they were asked. Why not?

But, while I read the paper to figure out, or in this case not quite figure out, what is going on, I hear the prosecutor talk with the code enforcement inspector (I think he got a new car with nifty signs painted on it this week) who tells the prosecutor that I had corrected the problem (this is where being the guy with the scraggy beard comes in handy, nobody can not remember they talked with me). The prosecutor says that they propose a $25 fine. I'm good with that, plead guilty, pay the fine with a crisp fifty and after they fumble around for change I go home.

For entertainment value alone it was money better spent than if I had gone to a movie. In future I may go back to sit in for free. Up to the point that I got to pay for the cost of admission nobody had thought to challenge my business in being there in the first place.

Now I need to deal with my lost truck keys.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Steve Reich, Different Trains

This is fairly interesting music, a combination of voice, sound recording and instrumental. 
If you have not heard it before then check it out.
Steve Reich's Different Trains (1988) background text

Movement 1: America Before the War

Movement II: Europe-During the War

Movement III: America-After the War