11 September, 2017

Sacred Moments in Profane Times: dads, daughters, remembrance as practice / practice as activism

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.~ Thomas Merton

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My daughter came home one evening after work last week and told me she watched a man get stabbed at the bus stop.

She said a man walked up to another man standing next to her at the bus stop, stabbed him, and ran away. Stabbed him like he was just looking for a place to put his knife away. The police were called. The ambulance came. She told me she thought the man died because when the ambulance left, the lights weren't on and it wasn't in a hurry.

The week started with celebrating her birthday. She turned 23 this year. Most days I'm amazed that I have a child who's old enough to drink. I'm also daily amazed by the way she's choosing to walk through the world.

We celebrated her birthday with a short hike near this waterfall where Amanda and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrated her birthday over the entire long weekend -- her birthday fell on Labor Day this year -- with a vegan chocolate raspberry tart and a meal at a Morels Cafe, a local vegan restaurant known for its "Farby" Sandwich... which is a surprisingly accurate vegan version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich.

Amanda and I aren't vegan, but my daughter is. We end up eating a largely vegetarian diet, but we would do that anyway.

I always enjoy my daughter's birthdays. Because I wasn't the custodial parent when she was growing up, I take special joy in spending them with her now.  I was glad we spent it as a family. When we were at the waterfall, I mostly watched her from a bit of a distance, watched her taking everything in and soaking in her happiness and satisfaction. I enjoy watching her explore and grow into the beautiful person she is -- striving to find the path of her best possible self.

Even if it means eating a (surprisingly convincing and delicious ) vegan roast beef sandwich.

I enjoy the moments with my daughter -- or sometimes, just around her -- as she reaches out, tries to grow in spite of all in the world that would drag her backwards. When she came home from watching a man get stabbed, it was all I could do not to hug her forever. The world is a dangerous place. It's good that she knows this. I just wish she didn't have to.

Remembrance is such a heavy word. When I think of it, the word is burdened with religious connotation... which isn't surprising for a rural small town boy.  Lately, though, I've come to think of remembrance as something more akin to what Buddhists and monks and other Religious have described as practice. This means not limiting my acts of remembrance... my practice... to one day or to specific times. Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the contemplative life as one in which a person works to make each moment a prayer, each moment a moment in the presence of God. In Sign of Jonas he refers to a monk's life as full of hard work, but also one of peace. A peace that is earned by daily work and by daily devotion.

I'm no monk, and thank Christ for that. I'd be a lousy one. But as I work to keep my writing central -- and what is writing but one form a contemplative life takes in the physical world -- I remind myself that I need to strive in each part of my day, in every aspect of my life, to make each action a kind of prayer. The world isn't designed for this kind of thing, of course. I'm supposed to be about the business of making money and doing my part in the great capitalist machine that's been built up around us. A machine that's choking out the very sound and light of God in the name of power and money.

When I think about how to mediate the world... in the current state of the world... I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's statement in Living Buddha, Living Christ that it's not simply a matter of choosing whether to be engaged with the world or to have a contemplative life, but deciding how to engage and still have a contemplative life. I've met a lot of people who are engaged.
The tree remembers the shape of the ground.

I tend to struggle, though, when their insistence on engagement -- usually limited by adherence to concepts rather than a clearer reality -- cuts into my contemplative life.  I'm always struggling with where I ought to be -- especially in these days when the New Wave Fascists are in the news, running over protestors, claiming to defend history without realizing -- or caring -- that they are on the wrong side of it.

And while I feel like I've been clear on this point, I'll keep on it for another short paragraph:

If you aren't Antifa, you aren't paying attention. Being Antifa doesn't mean you need to join a group. You don't need to dress in black. You don't need to be a socialist. Or a communist. Or an anarchist. You just need to understand that fascism is bad and is a threat to America and to the Democratic experiment. There's historic precedence for it.

And once you understand that, make it part of your daily practice. Like prayer. Like meditation. Like breathing. Like an old sycamore tree that remembers the shape of the ground washed away by the ebb and flow of water, hold to what matters.

Do this in remembrance of your children. Do this in remembrance of the sacrifices your grandparents made. Do this in remembrance of the remembered and forgotten dead. Do this in remembrance of a world where knives are not sheathed in people at bus stops. Do this in remembrance of the living who should not have to bleed so the war machine can keep spinning. Do this in remembrance of the radical idea that all people are equal.

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30 August, 2017

Retreat, Renewal, and Arrival: From Gethsamani to Trumplandia

The Wild Man doesn’t come to full life through being “natural,” going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing, and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men 


It's good to get away. It's good for me and it's good for my family, too. It's not that they don't love me or that I don't love them. But sometimes I go away for a bit BECAUSE I love them, and I'm very lucky that they understand this part of me that has cost me jobs, relationships, and respect.

Not that I've gone out on a proper jaunt in a while. I haven't, really. And it's not that they would hold it against me  (much) if I did. But it's difficult for me to plan a jaunt with an end point. Jaunts, for me, are by nature open-ended.  Sure, there's some kind of end point -- or a break point, I should say. Generally when I jaunt, it's simply a way to amble between stops, as I traditionally break up traveling with visits. And while the visits are always wonderful, my jaunts more about the motion. Travel is it's own kind of meditation.

But there are other forms of meditation. At least twice a year, I try to get out to the Abbey at Gethsemani, outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. If you're not familiar with this Trappist monastery's significance, beyond the religious, it was also the monastery where Thomas Merton lived and worked and wrote. His hermitage is still off limits to non-Religious folk. But as a retreatant there, you can walk the same woods, soak in the same silence. It's not necessary to be Catholic, or to be particularly religious at all. They operate the retreat house based on the Benedictine Rule of Hospitality. This rule is one of five Benedictines base their daily spiritual practice around.

I go there for the silence. There's a special quality to the silence there. While the monks don't actually take a vow of silence, they do try to cultivate silence as part of their practice of  active listening and worship.

There are some kinds of silence that are empty. This kind of silence works like a vacuum, a black hole in the brain and in the heart just eating everything around it, never to be sated.

Then there's another kind of silence. This silence fills and pushes out the constant white noise that seems to fill every part of contemporary life. I go and wander the west trails, or sit in the chapel during the singing of the The Hours or when it's empty. There's a rejuvenative quality to the silence that I find helps remind me of things. Like how important daily practice is. Like how important it is to work to cultivate silence in my daily life... not just for the sake of practice, but so that I can actively listen. The Benedictine rules of prayer, work, study, hospitality, and renewal aren't as easy to apply to life here. But I think they're good rules to live by. They echo the language I've read from other spiritual leaders, including Buddhists like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

The challenge for me be active in my practice, especially when I feel so pulled by events out in larger Trumplandia. I left for retreat watching people fight over unnecessary monuments to people who were not heroes and should not be treated as such, and wondering if the solar eclipse was itself going to be eclipsed by nuclear war with North Korea.

It made a certain amount of sense to me, since Trump doesn't do anything new. It's natural that he would take up an old war to make his own (and to avoid possible impeachment) because that's how he's made his way in the world -- copying other people.

I came back to find out that he's decided to make Afghanistan is war -- which actually makes more sense because North Korea, while a credible threat, doesn't quite measure up to his hubris. He made some noise towards Venezuela, too. But that, too, doesn't have the grandiosity that, say, stating his intention to march into Afghanistan does. This puts him on par with every other deluded historical leader who has had the same intentions.

Whether a person is religious or not, whether a person is spiritual or not, whether you don't believe in the historical existence of Jesus, the fact is that the idea of a Living Christ (in the vein discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ) isn't a bad one to use as an example. The monks at Gethsamani practice the elements they see in the life of Jesus as an active, spiritual practice. And even if you're not spiritual, there's nothing wrong about being mindful (a kind of prayer), as well as focusing on good and useful work, practicing hospitality, and being open to renewal. As a writer, I see a lot in common between renewal and revision. Life is constantly under revision. If it isn't, then it's not a life. It's a dead, useless monument.



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11 August, 2017

Save me from philanthropy: cultural preservationists versus the martyrs

'...if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing' ~ Michel Foucault


When I was growing up, I was told all I needed to succeed was a pair of bootstraps and the sheer determination to pull my feet up over and behind my shoulders.

You know. Like a double-jointed hooker.

And although no one said it, the fact has always been understood that success in America means being able to face the system that's screwing you rather than taking it face down in a stinky foam pillow.

We put so much store on success -- and by success I mean not having the misfortune of being considered a blight or inconvenience to someone else.

Working in homeless outreach, I've heard it all. A lot of people -- so many that it sometimes causes me to despair when I ponder the future of the human race -- view the homeless as a blight, like aggressive red ants or the ever-increasing clouds of Africanized bees. People on my neighborhood association page regularly put the homeless in the same category as car thieves and drug dealers. Stigmatized as violent criminals, they're treated like a scourge that needs to be gotten rid of.

It doesn't do any good to explain to these preservers of a homogeneous and non-existing (not to mention never-existing) culture who say these things that homelessness is not moral judgement; people have been treating homelessness, poverty, as well as mental and physical disabilities, as a moral judgement for centuries.  The rampant spread of literacy and access to the most recent research in economics, mental illness, addiction, and disease doesn't seem to have any impact on these self-appointed pillars of culture and society.

Then there are the martyrs. They see the homeless and equate them with the sad-eyed animals they see in PETA commercials. It's not that they're any less repulsed. They see a problem that needs to be fixed. They see something broken that needs to be healed. The actual story, the actual reasons, the actual complex details behind someone's homelessness, don't really matter. The complex ball of issues -- economic, psychological, physiological -- don't matter. They read articles about how other cities here and abroad take the homeless and put them in the empty houses. They see this as a solution. Or they want to build more homeless shelters -- having never seen the inside of one themselves.They see themselves as the saving crusaders of the homeless. All they need is a job. All they need is a place to live. All they need is to see their doctor, or their shrink.

The world is full of well-intended and soft-hearted little fascists that would save the homeless-- whether they want to be saved or not-- just to save themselves from the awful inconvenience of having to be reminded, daily, of their existence.

Outreach only works when you embrace the belief that you can't save anyone. If, in the process of serving them, they decide to take it upon themselves to pick themselves up, you are there to lend a hand and help. They are not broken toys that need a little glue and dusty shelf to sit on.

Compassion is a PR word here in Louisville... at least among the elected leaders. The drive is economic and the homeless are treated with derision and apathy as people seek to "solve" the problem of homelessness without increasing funding or improving access to the institutions that over-burdened and underfunded while other organizations (one in particular) get the lion's share of public money to lock the homeless out of the one place most "regular" citizens say they belong -- in a shelter -- while managing to exploit them for profit in the name of "saving them."

At least there are good people here who counter-balance all this cynicism. I meet them all the time, work with them on outreach, hear about them from the folks on the street when I serve. I know they're out there and it gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to do right by our brothers and sisters without the burden of ego and the paternal tendency to believe they can't speak for themselves.

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03 August, 2017

Near where that barn burned, where all those people died, Part 2

Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. Let nothing you dismay. You are not utterly forsaken. I, too, am here--here in the darkness waiting, here attentive, here approving of your labor and your dream. ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again  

 The problem with homecomings is that nothing ever goes as planned. Other than two uncles I rarely see -- my Uncle Jack (my Mom's brother), who travels and my Uncle Bill (my Dad's brother) who hasn't shown any interest in talking to me since my Dad died -- I don't have any family in Bethel who is above ground.  The last time I drove out to Bethel at all was to take Amanda to see the family graves in the cemetery. That was before we were married.

We left from my Mom's place in plenty of time. The hour-long drive from Cincinnati to Bethel followed a route that was burned in my brain.

Beyond the I-275 loop, past Withamsville, and past Amelia, the geography both stretches out and gets more crowded. When you have a longer memory for a place than that place has for itself, and when land developers erase the long empty fields between towns and merge it all together in one long strip mall world, it's easy to let a bitter form of nostalgia take root.

Nostalgia is that idea that somehow, the past we remember is without question better than the present moment. Nostalgia is among the second worst lies according the ranking system created by former British PM Benjamin Disraeli . Nostalgia is the entire underpinning for our current way of life in dear ol' Trumplandia.

But I still do That Thing when I visit my old stomping grounds. I talk about buildings that aren't there anymore, like the grocery store on Ohio Pike that was my second actual job, back when I was learning about the weight* that money has in the world. Or the Blue Haven Restaurant our family would eat at on Friday night sometimes that served actual salmon croquettes and had actual homemade apple pie on the dessert menu. Or the fields that used to be the Old Man Wolf's farm, fields I used to sneak into and wander around when I was a kid, that was cut up and sold by his children and razed for the cracker thin foundations of McMansions. When I was a kid, I used to tell people that Cincinnati would eventually reach out and swallow Bethel. Right now the only thing stopping it is something as arbitrary as a county line... though I'm sure if they could find a reason, they'd find a way around that, too.

For all the changes, though, Bethel really hasn't changed that much. There are still more churches per square mile than anything else and the Gold Star Chili is still standing next to what used to be my high school. The only thing that really DOES change in small town is the signage and the occasional new coat of paint.

Although I guess that's not really true, since Bethel, which is in Tate Township, which has been a dry township for as long as it's been in existence thanks to the aforementioned overabundance of churches, can now brag of the existence of a winery. The winery is less than three miles from the house I grew up in.

Now all they need is a decent Chinese food buffet and they're ready for some serious Yelp! action.

Amanda and I drove out to the winery. It wasn't difficult to find. It was just odd that it was there. I used to ride my bike up and down Swings Corner-Point Isabel Road. I didn't need GPS.  The weirdest thing about it was that it was there... some hidden spot of something resembling civility in place buried in the backwoods of my childhood.

When we arrived, no one else was there. I wasn't surprised. Then we checked the Facebook Event Page and discovered the meeting time had been moved back to later in the day.

The owner was as perplexed as I was. She had no idea there was a reunion meeting there. The panic was etched into her face -- a face I thought I recognized but the last name tag on her shirt I didn't. I told her not to worry. Planning, details, and follow through are not attributes anyone thinks of when my high school comes to mind.  To be fair, although the event was posted on Facebook, it was pretty clear the "non-reunion reunion" was for alum still living in the area. Those of us who left -- those of use who escaped -- were not part of the thought process.

It may seem like I'm being unfair to my old classmates, most of whom probably gave my absence as much thought as they gave my presence in high school. But the truth is, people live where they are, whether it's the cafeteria table where they eat lunch with people they consider friends, or whether it's a Facebook event created by people who still live in the geographic center of their childhood. It wasn't so much that I was excluded as much as I'm not a part of that world anymore. It's entirely possible that I never was. Not really.

Amanda and I drank our wine and left. On the way out of town, we stopped and at the Gold Star Chili next to what used to be my high school. Because sometimes nostalgia tastes good, even if it's not good for much more than that.




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*Weight, not value. Weight is presence, dimension, and heft. Value means something else altogether.


26 July, 2017

Near where that barn burned, where all those people died, Part 1

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile.. - Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

I mostly refused to talk myself out of going out of pure, bull-headed stubbornness.

Anyone who knows me moderately well, and a few who don't, are not at all surprised by this statement.

There aren't a lot of things that draw me back to Bethel, Ohio. Other than living there again very briefly in the late 1990's I haven't lived there since I left for college at age 18.  Nostalgia isn't something that creeps in about my old hometown. My childhood wasn't a bad one. My parents loved me. I had a few close friends. I wasn't a wildly popular kid. Quiet. Not a jock. Not an academic star. I excelled at band, but I stayed well below the radar of the guidance counselor, the principal, the majority of girls my age, and any non-familial adult who wanted shape and facilitate my future.

It would be easy to say I feel antagonistic towards my old hometown. But the truth is, I don't. However, it would also be disingenuous to say I have some lingering nostalgia, or some desire to go back.

That's not to say I wasn't nervous. I was. I wasn't worried about former classmates I might see or might not see. I was worried about running into an older self.

This happens from time to time when you embrace change and live your life based on the idea that once you brush a coat of shellac on your life, it's done. I've seen this time and time again. People find the place in their life where they feel the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most THEMSELVES, and they stop. They stop growing. They stop changing. They stop learning. They stop adapting.

When you embrace stagnation as a point of pride, you are in terrible trouble. And so is everyone around you.

I've tried not to stagnate. I've embraced change. When you're a writer, you don't really have a choice. Sharks swim or die. Art adapts or dies. It's as simple as that.

But it's hard to face who you used to be -- or who you perceived yourself to be.

18 year-old me was broken. Broken by a youth spent hiding behind rampant insecurity and social awkwardness. I learned how to hide because hiding was easier. 18 year-old me was devastated by my father's death. It shook my whole world. Before my dad died, it never occurred to me that I would live anywhere else but near where I grew up. After he died, I didn't feel like I could ever live there again. The short time that I did live there again -- renting a bed in someone's laundry room for $80 a month -- reconfirmed it.

That was the first time I ever ran into an older version of myself. Aside from a couple of close friends, people who knew me in high school could not reconcile who I was with who I had become. Still broken -- this time from a blood-letting divorce from my daughter's mother. I dropped out of college and retreated to a laundry room on a back street in a town I knew I didn't belong in anymore.

Me and my shadow. DC, circa 1986ish


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14 July, 2017

Language front: from which all wars really begin.

The relations between rhetoric and ethics are disturbing: the ease with which language can be twisted is worrisome, and the fact that our minds accept these perverse games so docilely is no less cause for concern. ~ Octavio Paz

To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery. ~ Charles Baudelaire

Less is always more. The best language is silence. We live in a time of a terrible inflation of words, and it is worse than the inflation of money. ~ Eduardo Galeano


 In spite of the historical precedence dictating the fighting a war on multiple fronts almost always leads to disaster, nearly every war we are in is fought this way.

The culture war is no different. The New Wave Fascists have been at it for longer than most of the centrist Left realizes... and only now,  when it looks like the Nazis popped out of the closet all of a sudden to attack anything they consider liberal -- whether it's funding for the arts, free speech, higher education, or the previously sacred privacy of the voting booth -- do they decide that maybe, just maybe, something ought to be done.

Back when there were rumblings of a budget proposed by then newly elected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin that would de-fund the Kentucky Arts Council, I reached out to artists groups online, asking if it wasn't the time to begin organizing a response.

I was called a reactionary and told that the then Democratically controlled legislature would protect the arts. Then the mid-term election came and the Republican Party, with it's New Wave rejuvenation, took the legislature away from the Kentucky Democratic Party. Then, the people who previously called me reactionary, who said there was nothing to worry about, were suddenly faced with the realization that MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THEY OUGHT TO PAY ATTENTION.

By then, national politics were on everyone's minds, and the thought of a Tin Pot Fascist in Frankfort and a Fascist Godhead in the White House was just too much. And we saw how that worked out.

But the truth is that Bevin didn't win because of a sudden surge of conservatism in Kentucky. Except for Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort -- and, thanks to Kim Davis, my heart's home Rowan County -- Kentucky is largely a conservative state. It has been for years.  The reason Bevin won, other than the KDP's decision to run a cardboard cut out for Governor, is because he embraced a language and a rhetoric that was already in place. That language and that rhetoric was established by early right wing culture war veterans like Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon, Dick Armey, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Rush Limbaugh... language that later picked up and funded by the Koch Brothers, spread by the likes of Bill O'Reilly Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Richard Spenser, and others.

The same is true of Trump's election win. I have written before that Trump did not create the New Wave Fascism that carried him into the White House. I'm not sure that Trump is particularly ideological -- as opposed to Bevin and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom walk the social conservative culture war that they talk. Trump has been successful not because he's an innovator, but because he's had a good nose for where the trends are. He saw his chance and took it, and in the process took the GOP, the electorate, and the entire country for a ride.

Neither Bevin nor Trump invented the language of nationalism. Neither one of them invented the rhetoric used by creationists, anti-choice activists, or those opposed to marriage equality, LGBTQIA rights, racists, and other bullies.  To suggest they somehow crafted their messages in some For White Men Only vacuum gives them entirely too much credit and ignores history. It also lets everyone else who insisted that these folks were too marginal to ever impact the larger culture off the hook.

The ugly has always been there. And now we have to face it on every front before it consumes everything.

Part of this means that those of us who are word workers -- writers -- have to start taking the language back. We cannot speak of democracy, equality, peace, and love if we do not have the words.

from libcom.org



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27 June, 2017

Excerpt from current project: Have You Seen the Tattooed Pig?/The Dust Storm



The bus trip from Cincinnati to Phoenix took almost three days and I almost missed my job interview because of a delay in Chattanooga.  The thing most people don’t realize is that bus routes are more circuitous than direct. There are depots that operate like hubs. Sort of like airports. So even though you can look on a map see a direct route from, say Louisville to Denver, the fact is you never go the most direct route. You may transfer buses two or three times, which is pretty typical for cross country trips.
          
 So anyway, the route I was on took me through Laredo. It was night and the city was all lit up with neon, which stood in contrast to the darkness that sat like a wall across the bridge in Mexico. We rolled into the city and I at least three drug deals and one pimp hustling a john who refused to pay for services rendered. A lot of people were out. It was a maybe a Friday or a Saturday. As we got closer to the station, the bus driver told us that unless Laredo was our destination, we should not leave the station because we would not be let back in, even if we had a ticket. The station was buried under the bridge that goes across to Nuevo Laredo – this was before the travel advisory they released a few years back about Americans disappearing once they cross the border. I won’t like. I thought about checking it out; I’d never been to Mexico. But, I also didn’t have a passport, and the days of being able to your driver’s license to border hop were long gone. And, you know… the job interview.  So, when I got off the bus – I was waiting on a transfer bus west – I walked inside past a policeman wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK. The station was empty except for one guy who was stretched out across a few chairs that he pulled together to avoid sleeping on the floor.
            
 My layover was a little over an hour. The bus station was old. After a certain point, most Greyhound stations look alike. Some have more bells and whistles than others, but there’s a lot of consistency in the colors and font styles… you know, that McDonald's kind of thing? At some point someone in their marketing department decided that stations built or renovated after a certain year needed to have a more consistent look. Maybe they were able to get that industrial gray and blue paint in bulk. The walls were a dingy brown that looked like it had been left standing after the Spanish-American War. The ticket window was closed and locked. There was a space against the far wall where pay lockers probably used to be. There was one payphone that probably worked because there was a sign over it advertising a special rate to call Mexico. All the windows had heavy metal grating over them, making it next to impossible to look outside. Not that there was much to see. The station was beneath the bridge that stretches over the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo and what few lights there were right outside the station did nothing to cut the darkness.
             
The ticket counter was closed, but the bathrooms weren’t. I went and splashed some water on my face. When I came back the man sleeping on the chairs had begun to snore. They were these deep, snorkeling, passed out drunk kind of snores. I sat down in another seat that wasn’t too close to him. I’d had longer layovers. I waited something like seven hours in Chicago for a transfer. Late night layovers are a little worse, though. You don’t really want to go to sleep in case you miss the call for your bus. And I wasn’t sure this was the place I wanted to miss my bus, anyway. Seeing it in the daylight was no incentive either.
             
And I know what you’re thinking. Why think about being stuck in Laredo when I have a job interview in Phoenix? It’s hard to explain. I always have this inclination to shoot myself in foot, I guess. To run contrary to what I probably ought to do for no other reason than it’s contrary. I’m working on it.
             
Anyway, so I’m sitting there, nodding off but trying not fall asleep. Then someone says Have you seen the tattooed pig?
           
 Well I open my eyes. The guy who was asleep is sitting up and looking at me.
            
 What?
             
Have you seen it yet?
            
 Seen what?
             
He was getting a little impatient. The tattooed pig. Have you seen the tattooed pig?
             
No. Can’t say I have.
             
The man sighed like he was annoyed or disappointed. His lips flapped when he sighed, like a drunk in a 1950’s sit com.
             
You will, he said. You will see the tattooed pig. It will all make sense then.
            
 Ok, then. Thanks.
            
 Did you know there are carnivorous pigs in southern Arizona?
            
 No. I didn’t.
            
 He shook his head a bit too vigorously. Yep. Be on the lookout.
           
 Sure thing. I’ll be on the lookout for a tattooed pig.
            
 The man frowned. No. That’s different. The tattooed pig doesn’t run with other pigs.
             
Ok, then. I was a little confused, a little jealous because I really wished I had some of what this guy was on.
           
 When you see it, it will make sense.
           
 I was about to inquire further about where one might find a tattooed pig…or for that matter, why anyone would tattoo pig. I was also a little curious about what it was that I didn’t understand that seeing an ink stuck pig would clear up for me. I was about to ask when the door opened the armed cop looked at me.
             
You waiting on a bus to Las Vegas?
            
 Yep.
           
 Well, it’s here. Get a move on.
           
 So I grabbed my stuff and headed towards the door. The cop acted like I was interrupting his busy schedule of standing there looking bored and heavily armed. It was obvious the bus had pretty much stopped just to pick me up. I’ve noticed that bus drivers hate the one person pickups. They’re normally at out of the way or under used stations, and they almost always cut into the regular schedule. I boarded and found an empty couple of seats… meaning I would be able to stretch out and relax a little for the next leg. Before we pulled away from the station two cops came on board. The one in front had a drug sniffing dog. The other checked everyone’s ID against their bus ticket. After each of the 20 or so passengers were checked, they exited the bus and we started moving.
            
 The bus didn’t move more than maybe a thousand feet before it stopped again. We were still underneath web of concrete created by the interstate and the bridge. This time two different cops and a different drug sniffing dog got on and checked everyone’s ID against their tickets. Again. This time, the one checking tickets asked me where I was headed.
             
Vegas.
           
Is that your final destination?
             
Depends on how do at the blackjack tables.
             
Silence.
             
I’m on my way to Phoenix for a job interview.
             
He looked at my driver’s license again. Then he looked at my ticket, which he held in the same hand so he could keep his other hand free to sit on the butt of his gun.
            
 The cops left the bus, but then they opened the bottom of the bus and set the dog to sniffing all the checked luggage. After a minute or so, they pulled one of the bags out. The cop who didn’t have the dog boarded the bus and asked one of the other passengers, a dark complected man who was probably in his mid 30’s (around my age) to please disembark the bus and speak with him. The man obliged.
             
People are, for most part, looky-loos.  Generally, if there’s a wreck on the interstate it’s not the accident or accident clean up that’s causing the delay. It’s the damn rubberneckers slowing down to see there’s a dead body they can gossip to their friends and families about. We’re basically obsessed with what’s happening with other people, you know? I mean, we can’t help ourselves. Maybe it’s some latent ESP linked kind of empathy from when people were more connected. Maybe it’s schadenfreude. Maybe it’s a way to prove to ourselves that we’re still alive, like trying to catch a corpse breathing during a funeral.
            
 But this time, NOBODY looked. Nobody on the opposite side of the bus got out of their seats to look out the window. Most of the people who were sitting on the side of the bus that had a view weren’t looking, either. As it happened, I was sitting on that side of the bus, which was not the driver side. And, I didn’t have really turn my head and look like I was obviously gawking, so I was able to watch as the man spoke with officers. They directed him to his bag and most likely asked him to open it. The bag was a large duffel bag with a single zipper. The man shrugged and unzipped it. One of cops reached in and pulled out a bag of what looked like coffee beans. They talked some more and walked away from bus. In a few minutes the cop who was holding the coffee bag gave it back to the man. Neither cop had their hand on their gun. They laughed and the man even pet the drug sniffing dog. He put the bag of coffee back in the bag and zipped it up. The driver came back from around the front of the bus, where he was probably smoking a cigarette, and put the duffel bag back under the bus and closed up the compartment. The man re-boarded the bus and sat back in his seat, and the driver boarded right behind him. In a couple of minutes we were moving again.
             
We were not stopped again on our way out of the city. Rolling west, Laredo shone like neon pyrite against the cloud covered darkness. Across the Rio Grande, the absence of any lights at all stood out more than the lights of Laredo, spreading like giant black wings over the landscape.
             
I went to sleep thinking about tattooed pigs.

***

I was lying on the bed, trying to take a nap. It seemed odd to me that I was laying on our old bed in that white box condo in Tempe, since we hadn’t lived there in years and since Gayle and I hadn’t been together in a while, either. In the dream I was exhausted. I felt like I’d worked three days straight and I could barely keep my eyes open. I knew she was around somewhere. I could hear Gayle in background, talking on the phone. I thought that was weird too, since I wasn’t entirely sure what her voice sounded like anymore.

Part of me – the part of me that was awake, maybe – tried to tell the rest of me that it was only a dream. That Gayle and I weren’t together anymore. That we weren’t living in Tempe anymore. But in the dream it was like anything that happened outside the dream was actually the dream. We hadn’t left Arizona. She didn’t leave me for the neighbor woman. Like it was all some weird nightmare, or worse, some alternate reality I was switching back and for into and out of. Each switch meant I had to take time to remember… each reality had its own memories and its own time lines and I had to reboot… sort of.

I looked over and the screen doors to the patio were closed but the blinds were open. The balcony was gone, blown away by the dust. Then I realized the bed was in the living room and not the bedroom. Was that a detail from another timeline, another reality? I told myself to lay there and reboot. What was real (at the moment) would return to me shortly and the confusion would pass. So I turned my head to look out the window. The dust was blocking out the sun. It was then I started hearing the wind and the sound of rocks and palm tree parts hitting the building. There was a low level shaking to everything. Like an earthquake that wasn’t an earthquake.

Then I heard Gayle and could make out her words. She was in the backroom, talking on the phone. He won’t leave, she was saying. He won’t leave and we’re going to die here.

I started to get up, trying to call out that we could leave, that there was still a way. I tried calling out that I was sorry but that I had a plan. I knew how we could get out. I knew I didn’t have a plan, but I knew if I thought about it hard enough that I could pull an idea from the reality where we left and were safe from the relentless dust storm that was wiping everything around us off the face of the planet.

Is this what it was like in Ephesus? I wasn’t sure where that thought came from. Another me. Another timeline in another reality. Maybe the me that had been at Ephesus. Didn’t Ephesus sink into the river? I couldn’t remember. I wanted to ask a different me that had actually gone to seminary.

THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SINKING IN WATER AND SINKING IN SAND. IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME FROM PENTHOUSE OF HYATT IN DUBAI.

I didn’t know whose voice that was. For a second I thought it was my dad’s voice. But I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like either and the memories of other time lines were starting to fade, blow away like the dust was taking them away, too.

I tried calling out again. Gayle was crying the way she cried whenever I was too drunk. I tried calling out, asking her who she was talking to. She wasn’t answering me.

It’s ok, I said. I’m back now. We can survive this. I tried sitting up again but something bit from bit my arm. It hurt all the way up into my shoulder. I looked over on Gayle’s side of the bed… the one nearest the sliding doors… a pig with giant tusks had bitten my wrist and was trying to drag me to the other side of the bed and onto the floor, out into the storm. It was an angry looking pig with tattoos all over its face. The skin was wrinkled and grayish black. I managed to shake my wrist loose, which caused it to throb and caused blood to get everywhere. I tried calling out for help. If she would get off the damn phone with her dad and get that fucking pig away from me, we could escape. I knew there had to be a way.

But the pig latched on again and I could not shake it loose. As it pulled me over onto the floor on the other side of the bed, the glass sliding doors shattered and everything was obliterated in fury of dust and stone and uprooted everything.

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