You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2013.
On the southern edge of town, beyond the new juvenile court building and its outliers, beyond the broad empty parking lots with a few youths idling in reflective orange vests and caps, across a dusty stretch of dirt road to county pavement and farm shacks with wide vineyards and fallow fields in brilliant sunshine, “Bldg 716”. Our two vehicle caravan negotiates via cell phone and we’re let in the compound through the electric gate. As we approach the doors of the large windowless blockhouse, an assistant approaches us and verifies who we are. The mass of the building thrusts one pillar in front of the entrance, and that pillar exhibits on one side the quadrangular stainless steel doors (each one with a handle like a car door) one might associate with a morgue. But the coroner does not allow viewing of the body on premises, and the assistant punches a code into the keypad of the automatic door to allow us into the lobby. The boy’s body will have to be viewed later a a chapel across town, across the street from a cemetery, for a fee. The assistant tells us someone will bring out the boy’s personal effects and she exits through steel doors which reveal a corridor, then close behind her. Another assistant (a young dark haired woman, seemingly little older than the boy had been) brings out the boy’s camera, laptop, wallet, cell phone, etc., in his black backpack, and tells us she is sorry for our loss. While his mother looks through the boy’s wallet and laptop and backpack on the row of chairs against the wall, and his brother checks the camera, the elderly coroner or assistant becomes curious, leaves his chair and brings his face to the large bullet-proof window and peers at the family. Behind him, a bank of close-circuit TVs show the entrance of the building, the lobby, the compound gate, the fence line, etc. A younger clerk or assistant sits before the bank of TVs. After a moment, we return to our vehicles in the full sun of the compound and drive along the fence line to wait for the electric gate.
As a reporter, Ben Ehrenreich has won awards for reporting from places like post-Katrina New Orleans, post-quake Haiti, post-war Cambodia, post-war El Salvador, drug war Mexico City, post-1070 Arizona, and post-modern Los Angeles. The following story is like some of that reportage, except it uses fiction to get there. It takes us to a far-flung extremity of the American interior and locates scars of terrible violence there, reflections of a terrifying amputation.
Ehrenreich is that triple threat: he’s a working journalist currently on assignment in a Palestinian village investigating the conditions of Israeli occupation for The New York Times, he’s a critic, book reviewer for The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books and elsewhere, and a novelist, author of The Suitors, and Ether. The Suitors retells the ancient mythical return of Ulysses to vanquish the suitors of long-suffering Penelope and recasts the tale amidst the endless war of the contemporary era; Ether likewise brings deity to earth in the extremity of the dehumanized contemporary human condition. In his fiction, perhaps even more than in his reportage, Ehrenreich goes to extremes and refuses to stop asking hard questions, refuses to look away (even if the characters may flinch).
You may flinch.
Ethan, (I speak to you who are not here, obviously);
you went out with kitchen lights on, rice cooking on the stove.
Sliding glass door to the backyard open, 9 or 10 PM,
how terrible those final hours: no equivalent is possible.
The weeping woman who cannot shield her children or her baby
from the soldiers machinegunning families in the ditch is not like
the fictive combatants coded in computer games on your console.
The thousands who were drugged and thrown out of helicopters
into the sea (their eyes torn out, some soldiers said) are not like
trash bags we tossed out after cleaning your room and your Jeep.
Room ankle deep in socks and clothes, Nerf gun, drumsticks and stuff.
The five hundred women and girls of Juarez and the thousands of women
and girls their bodies (‘showing signs of torture’) scattered across Mexico and
Central America, their terrors aren’t equivalent to the terrors of Fresno’s malls,
minimalls and avenues, suburbs of neat lawns, ranch-style houses, SUVs and
indifference of everybody in the face of loneliness and horror at the absurdity
of the loneliness and terror of daily life, absurdity, loneliness and despair of
populations going about daily lives as if it’s all a business and nothing more,
absurdity and terror of everyone going about these lives as if this is a boring job
and nothing more, absurdity of going through days killing time with movies,
PS2, drinking, marijuana, vehicles, school activities and expectation, the terror
of nothing more, horror and loneliness of nothing more. No equivalents
for those final feelings, Ethan; this world goes on. In front of the house
where you lived a little boy bouncing a basketball ignored Dave’s hello.
Empty parking lot surrounding a Black Angus restaurant. People walking by.
Fields of orchards east of town to the Sierra foothills. Jet fighter planes of the
144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard shriek over.
Ravaged face of a woman standing at a crosswalks. No equivalence;
now the final hours and their violence is over—Dave and I in the garage
took down the heavy bag and untied the rope and coiled it.
Photos classmates posted to Facebook, with dozens or hundreds of tributes and
goodbyes, show what a friend called ‘beauty’; she said you were beautiful.
Images and words, the videos, pulse in electrons through the servers
and screens. The fury and violence of feeling is gone. Pictures and
words in electron fuzz outlast us. This afternoon I was thinking of this,
and you, Ethan, as I rode my bike toward the ridge in the last eastern folds
of the Santa Monica Mountains that are the spine of Griffith Park, and speeding
downhill, I didn’t see the baby rattlesnake till too late, less than ten inches long,
a Southern Pacific rattlesnake with beautiful brown diamonds; I was thinking
of you, braking, afraid I crushed its tail. I end this with a figure for you.
What kind of life for a rattlesnake with rattles crushed by a bicyclist?
We poked at it with a stick till it went up in the dry leaves of the embankment.
You be the judge: in one, his face is too large for the screen, but in spite of massive pixelation, anyone could see who it was.
Telling about war on terror, war on everything. Me staring at his huge nostrils.
A flicker of movement—a human appendage drooped out of one nostril.
Floppy like a pale arm, then its hand waved at me.
Gracias for the Eskimo Pie of the little vagina of the squirrel or coyote and the polished aorta of the internal combustion tree: a mighty toilet paper roll-style flensing of phenomena from our meats and fatty substances and flesh of circumstance so I could sop beer sweat intelligence from North Broadway faces with their fingers and wires clacking and roiling.
Gracias for the surgeon and the steel plate.
Gracias for summer rivers and summer rocks.
Gracias for the kid and for the wife, 2 days walking out.
Gracias for Naomi’s house while the 2 drove out of the Cascades.
Gracias for the little bottle of pills and for I-5 bending behind us.
Gracias for I-5 in her eyes 2 days driving south.
juliette lee tagged me to be part of this wild zig-zagging self-interview process titled (somewhat unfortunately) the next big thing. i’d resisted participating but was lured by juliette’s invite, which is below (and which i pass along to you, from me, and mean every word of it!).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
no trashcans in this place, because there’s no one to collect the trash
no trashcans in the hills, scattered litter here and there
no trail maintenance, no volunteers
no one preserved Woodfords Indian school, long abandoned
the children used to walk across the highway—they’re gone, old or died
Washo village that was a cluster of shacks beside the stream the other side of the highway, embanked like a ditch, the Washo drew freezing mountain water from the rushing stream for those shacks, now there’s a little suburb of stucco houses on winding lanes where anglos live (it’s not racism, they just end up owning everything)
Nacho took photos of the people, mostly kids here in the 1937, 38 with his first wife Leonore who taught the school
we enter the building through the side door (the old schoolhouse with its stone masonry still sturdy)
big windows along the southern wall illuminate plank floorboards, desks, tables, chairs discarded in some of the rooms, a few items
everything is covered in dust and smells old, big one room school for the Washo children with a kitchen and a couple other little rooms on the side
glaucoma was a problem among the Washo
the hillside surveys the hazy sunshine of the yellow green Carson Valley
anglos took Washo lands, springs and water rights for ranches now Carson City suburbs, kicked the indians to the side
aspen leaves spinning yellow outside in a chilly breeze cast dappled shadows on the dirt-gray window glass, the chill breeze lifts leaves in the grassy yard
their lands and pinon groves on Lake Tahoe were taken, they lost their rights to cross this country, they lost their rights to the country
the Washo sent baskets (an item they felt most expressive of their culture) to the president of the United States on which they wove messages in english asking for help and received no reply
the highway parallels the rushing stream
in the Markleeville public library Michael found some of Nacho’s framed 1930s photos of the area stacked on a shelf in a leaky store room, glass in the frames broken but the photo themselves basically all right, no one at the library knew anything about them
later Michael paid the expenses of mounting an exhibit of Nacho’s photos in the Alpine Co. historical museum
at one point I asked Nacho if I could use his Mexico City fotos and fotos of Indians in Tehuantepec in a book, and he said, “better hurry”
some were published in 2006 but I don’t think he saw them
at Nacho’s funeral at rose hills in 2007, the priest from Jalisco talked about sin and redemption, while I watched a tractor ride back over the distant hillside, disking the dusty furrows
liminal country washo see looking out over the carson valley
liminal country anglos see driving 395 through the carson valley
liminal country zionist jews move through dreaming ever greater israel
liminal country muslims face east, or hindus or buddhists light incense and pray
liminal country christians broadcast some guy talking jesus as you drive I-5
liminal country these dreamers dream their way through, like a movie
liminal country that only exists in the 1902 overland hotel in gardnerville nevada when everybody sits down at the long tables where they set out the wine with courses of lamb and later the old lady elvira cenoz sits down to dinner with the staff
liminal country that only exists on-line or flashing on a screen or TV reruns
liminal country that only exists in papers like old magazines, wrappers, packaging and bills flapping in a freezing breeze across trash piles in the carbon county, wyoming dump
liminal country that exists only in the sentiment of pop tunes, in that noise
liminal country that exists only in images, language, data, code, streaming
liminal country that exists only in jail house skin, tattoos of pouty girls, motorcycles, cars, Jesus and virgins, skulls, gang tags, cowboy stuff, short phrases, “thug life,” “brown pride”
liminal country that exists only in electron pulses, in a haze of particles
liminal country that shimmers in the sunny haze over the carson valley
liminal country that rises beyond the last ranges of the high sierra at night
liminal country like a cat slipping into shadows beyond headlights in the dark
liminal country like the little hopeful fillip the girl applies mascara within the car
incipient, liminal, indicated
traced, potential, seeming
immanent, imminent, evaporated
relegated, lapsed, forgotten
inherent, internal, invisible
possible, plausible, permitted
impermissible, impossible, mythical
not, never, none
unlikely, coincidental, circumstantial
missing, unseen, unknown
void, inframundo, deleted
erased, lost, insignificant
nonexistent, ephemeral, impending
limned, impalpable, indefinable
insubstantial, unformed, dispersed
imperceptible, unidentified, hidden
obscured, unrecognized, secret
ill-defined, equivocal, indeterminate
dim, unmarked, unspoken
unsaid, formless, symptomatic
unproved, unnecessary, hinted
imcomprehensible, undreamt, illusory
dubious, unnoticed, undetected
unspecified, nameless, vague
negated, denied, broken
dead, initial, germinal
nascent, embyonic, immaterial
unaccountable, bodiless, miniscule
imagined, unimagined, inconceivable
shadowy, unreal, invented
absent, transitory, fleeting
implicated, evidenced, evinced
alluded, former, invalid
derelict, abandoned, vanished
disappeared, empty, emptiness
pointless, blank, vacant
lifeless, absolute, clear
lacuna, gap, vitiated
short-lived, fraught, mispelled
modical, pleuridicalist, flourmuscient
menudo (handmade tortillas) at antojiotos guerrero by 56th and York:
the fat deer has floppy upright antler-things
yellow and brown daisy-like flowers that if actual would’ve been a yard across each
blue waters flowing like striated silk down the middle of the evergreen green landscape with two Indian women opposite, one old holding a chunk of gray that says “rock”—the other one, young, a big basket; they’re sitting on a red rectangle mat in front of the door of their wickiup with a brown metate (maybe) with seeds or acorns flowing off of it in a sort of polka-dot wave………………………………..
one green hill with furry looking pines like cypresses and behind that triaungular brown peaks and, projecting from the wall the broken signage, “…and Park CLEANERS” above which they painted of course the blue sky with white cumulus clouds and (of course) above that is the sky, blue with white cumulus clouds
railroad camp near the Eel River
Cooper Rd., Sebastopol
—house at Rice & Roney
—apt. above a Chinese restaurant
—tunnels he said existed once in case of police raids between gambling dens and speakeasies of prohibition era Barbary Coast
Vacaville outskirts alfalfa fields
—Lower State Street, Greek Deli, Joe’s Bar, Azteca restaurant
—YMCA across the street from the Greyhound station
—Merve Lane’s place off Coyote Road and Bunny’s place on Banana Road
—Madame Ganna Walska’s
—Lower Wabash St. storefront with a mattress and a coverless pillow and a sink
—Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital
—Bunny’s house, Laurel Canyon Drive
San Jose, E. 1st St.
Ken Kern’s place outside of Oakhurst
duck hunting lands outside Los Banos
Lindo Vista Ave., Chico
look for “nonexistent country, part 6” in http://www.calibanonline.com/