Monday, August 25, 2008

start of train job

I've always considered myself a "student of life." That's always a convenient way of explaining away longs stints of unemployment. It didn't just pop into my head, though. People always assume, from my cherubic visage and ample free time that I must be a student.

"So what are you doing with yourself?" a stranger at a cocktail party might ask (if I ever went to cocktail parties).

A long silence would ensue, and the stranger might say, "Are you a student?" To which I would nod and head straight over to the bar for another martini.

But I suppose it makes sense in some way. Last week, for example, my teacher could've been that policeman who accused me of drug experimentation and "being a goddamn hippie," the supermarket checkout lady who wondered why I was buying ten cans of chili, or the bus driver who shook his head in scorn when I hopped on board without a shirt.

I can't really limit my teachers to just humans. All the world is a potential teacher; anything, it looked at pessimistically enough, can remind you of your faults and failures. So perhaps I am a student in direct proportion to my despair. Piles of dog shit on the street have probably taught me at least as much about life as my entire freshman year of high school.

So, yes, I am a student, and tend to gravitate towards student-type jobs. Ironically, these would be jobs which have no responsibility and teach you nothing. One such job would be my stint at Zilker Park, as a train engineer.

I reported to my job "interview" in swimming trunks.

"Sit down, uh, Bill?"

"Yes, Bill. That's my name."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

LETTER FROM THE ROAD, 1998

i missed the ferry going to alaska last week so i'm gonna take the
ferry there tomorrow. which means that i'm going to be giving my
thanks this coming 24th in sunny ketchikan, alaska. should be more
interesting than any other thanksgiving i've ever had. in the days
since i missed my ferry, i met this strange woman in vancouver. i'll
just tell you a few of the details :

i met a guy from malaysia in a vancouver bar last wednesday night.
his name was speck. after several rounds, we both agreed that in
order to "grab an asshole" (his words for getting some), i had to
have some sort of distinguishing characteristic. he suggested that i
play up my being a texan. "the girls will come," he said. ok.

we stumbled outside, guessing our way back to the hostel. to pick up
my cowboy hat. i had become convinced that the only thing keeping me
from "an asshole" was my $6 flea-market acquisition.

we wandered around. we were both very drunk. needless to say, we
were completely lost within a block of the bar.

after 10 minutes of walking in the rain, i stopped a large female
pedestrian to ask her for directions to our hostel. she offered us a
ride. we took it.

"i'm alexis from greece. greece is a small country but we have big
hearts."

she continued talking about her greek heritage. i'm not sure why. i
started talking about how ancient greek men went to war without
clothing. this interested her. we proceeded to her van, a mangled
mess of missing fenders, spare tires, and party favors. turns out
that this woman ran a business called balloon action. she handed me
her business card, which said, "We deliver anything for any occasion!
Balloon assortments, strip-o-grams, singing telegrams, gorillas,
clowns, and belly dancing!"

interesting situation. but it got better.

she invited me and speck to a black tie affair the next night.

turns out that this "black-tie affair" was the smirnoff ultimate
martini challenge. the canadian national championship for martini
making.

it quite a scene. i sat at the bar and ate patee, liver, skewered
chicken, avocado-ginger wraps, and caviar, drinking martinis and
champagne brought to me by waiters in starched-stiff tuxedoes. i sat
next to a dirty old man dressed in black plastic pants. he gave me
pointers on how to pick up women. "always sit next to the women's
bathroom." "never make your move until after midnight." i was
amazed by this man. as each woman walked into the restroom, he
would tell me, without hesitation, the woman's marital status, sexual
orientation, and drink preference. "i've been doing this for a long
time," he said between puffs of his cigar.

ok. to make a very long story short, i hung out with this woman for
several days, met her father, went with her to an international
ballroom dancing competition (another interesting story). i went
with her to the barber shop and took two rolls of film. i also met a
man in vancounver who referred to himself as "the lord of falafel."
he offered me a job delivering drugs. he said it would pay $10,000 a
mon

BORDER INCIDENT, 1998 -- "CANADIAN BACON"

this morning i had an interesting incident. when driving across the
border, the fat man in the border control booth asked me if i had any
mace or pepper spray. "if you have any, then it's no problem at all,
as long as you declare it. if you have some and haven't declared it,
then i can give you a $500 dollar fine."

simple so far. i'll be a law-abiding citizen and feel good about it.


"yessir, i have a bottle of pepper spray."

now i look at the guy and his smile has been replaced by a stern,
scolding look and a slow nodding of the head. "take this form and
give it to the man inside. "

(pointing to a side parking lot) "pull her on over here, boy..."

i parked my car and walked into the adjacent office. i handed
another fat canadian my form. "oooh, what we got here? a texas boy?
long way from home, eh boy?"
i didn't understand where this guy's tone of voice came from. this
was the second time within two minutes that a canadian officer (i like
to call 'em canadian bacon) had called me 'boy.'

now a burly, butch chick grabbed my arm. "where's that pepper
spray?" this lady obviously saw me as a threat to the greater good of
canada. she clawed my arm with dirty fingernails. dandruff was
visible on the shoulders of her heavy green jacket.

i handed her the pepper spray. she wasn't done with me yet.

"let's go out and take a look at that car, shall we?"

when i got back out to my car, there were already three slabs of
canadian bacon searching the front and back seats.

"ok boy, have a seat on that bench while we search the car. i need
your keys."

i was still willing to cooperate because i knew that i had nothing to
hide.

ten minutes later, shivering badly, i approached the car to grab a
jacket. this startled the officers and they reacted as if i had
approached with a machete or shotgun or something.

"BACK AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE!! NOW!!!"

"i just want my jacket, maam."

"I DON'T CARE!! ON THE BENCH!!"

i sat back down. ten minutes later, i really had to go to the
bathroom. i stood up, stretched out, and started towards the bathroom
about 10 feet to my left.

"WHERE ARE YOU GOING BOY!! SIT THAT CABOOSE DOWN ON THAT BENCH
PRONTO!!"

i couldn't believe this bitch. she yelled like an assistant football
coach, she had the brains of a high-school counselor, and she did it
all in the name of the law. bureaucrat.

"i'm going to the bathroom maam. i really have to go."

"YOU DON'T GOT NUTHIN TO DO BUT SIT YER LITTLE BUTT BACK DOWN ON THAT
BENCH!!"

this whole time, the officers were going through every one of my
possessions. i saw them examining my box of powdered milk. they
tasted it.

(not cocaine. ok. move on to that thar sack of bananas. )

they actually sniff the bananas.

(smells ok. where did this kid stash his stuff? a-ha, the trunk)

they open the trunk and start pulling out my dirty socks and
underwear. within a minute, all my stuff is lying on the pavement.
and still nothing.

now they discover my notebooks. they start reading the notebooks,
going through page by page. they're actually reading the stuff. at
this point i stand up.

"what are you guys doing?"

a canadian officer, with faceful of fat and razor cuts, barrels over
to me, reeking of cheap after-shave.

"Nobody asked you to say anything, did they?"

"they're searching through my stuff"

"I know that. That's fairly obvious. Yes, there they are." He
points to the crows of officers, now 5 in number. "I see them right
there. And yes, they are searching through your car. All Standard
Procedure."

"but what for? i don't understand why this is happening?"

"You trying to hide something? What are you trying to hide from me,
boy? I know there's something. I seen you over there on the bench,
shivering like some freak. I seen you squirming around. (i really
just had to go to the bathroom) What are you so nervous about?"

"nothing. i just don't understand what's happening."

"It's just Standard Procedure around here, boy."

that didn't clear anything up for me.

"why are they reading through my notebooks?"

"Oh, I see. You got some sort of secret information in those
notebooks."

"no. it's just my journals."

"Well, if it isn't secret, then you won't mind us checking through,
will you? Besides, we need to check through everything. Standard
Procedure."

"standard procedure?"

"The Way We Do Things."

"you always read through people's journals?"

"What does standard mean, boy? Think about it. Or didn't they
teach you how to do that at your college down there in Texas?"

i had nothing to say to this imbecile. the situation had gone out of
control. i had nothing in the car that they could get me for,
though. i was safe.

or so i thought.

"Boy, you the registered owner of this car?"

"yeah, i think so."

"What do you mean, YOU THINK SO?"

"well, it's registered either to me or to my dad. we have the same
name."

"I just called in you vehicle's license plate and nothing came up.
WHY do you think that is?"

i really didn't know.

"umm, i'm not sure."


"Well, I got my suspicions. Are you sure this car is yours?"

"yes, of course. " (shocked, surprised) "what are you trying to say?"

"I'm just wondering if this might be a STOLEN CAR. So, is this car
stolen?"

he just came out and asked me. pretty stupid of him to ask. if i
had stolen it, i wouldn't tell the guy.

"NO. i have the insurance to prove it's mine. " i pull out my
insurance card. "see, the VIN # on the card matches the one on the
car."

"That doesn't mean anything to me. If I wanted to, I could insure a
stolen car."

this guy. oh man.

"I'm going to ask you one more time. Did you steal this car? DID
YOU?" His nose is right at my forehead. The steam of his breath
condenses on my cheeks. He stares straight at me, looking for
flinches, uncertainty.

"NO IT IS NOT" i manage to get out a stiff sentence. i think that
the only way to get this guy's respect is to speak like i've got
something up my ass.

"You - had - bet - ter - hope - not - boy" with each syllable he
pokes my chest with a fleshy finger.

i sit back down on the bench and this fucking pig waddles back over to
my car.

after another 10 minutes of searching, the guy comes back over to me.


"Your car's clean. There's nothing I can do to you. But I smell a
rat." he stops and wheezes a deep, rattling breath "Remember, people
are watching you. Remember."

i walk back to my car and the butch bitch hands me my keys. "Have a
nice day!" she says. with some terrible attempt at a smile. close
enough for government work, i guess.

starting the car, i speed across the isolated parking lot's cracked
pavement which, minutes earlier, had been covered in my dirty laundry.

i look ahead and see a sign "WELCOME TO CANADA"

Friday, July 13, 2007

TRANSCENDENT MUSICAL MOMENTS 2000

i hear your music and thoughts and get a half-glmipse of where and who you might have been in the past, and it makes me just want to reach forward and share everything that i've seen - full moons in south dakota, alaskan bears and swirling motions of the heavens known as aurora borealis, thinking about being the young wandering sensitive artist, who wanders through trees and streams, sleeping under the stars, building fires at night for warmth, cooking my own food, my own rich fine food, and leaning back after dinner, contented, sipping a glass of whiskey or beer, smoking a cigar by my fire. writing all my thoughts in a flood, waking with the sunrise, toasting the sunsets, smelling saltwater and feeling sand between my toes, climbing mountain tops, and basking in that two minutes of triumph following a successful mountain ascension, drinking from a canteen, hitching rides in the back of pickup trucks, walking down railroad tracks like a balance beam, riding trains and letting the scenery just flow into a timeless blur, as if somehow, on this little journey, i'd stepped outside of the world, outside time and space, because i'm nowhere distinct, every second i'm in a new place, and everything just flashes by, a divine blur. and meeting people on the trains, straining to understand their english, straining to learn bits of their language, sitting in cramped smoking railcars with general admission seating, feasting on $2 wine and cheese, bathing in hot springs, rivers, and lakes, sending postcards, unknowingly humming happy tunes to myself, strumming a guitar under a full moon in a field of daisies, heading across borders and dealing with those poor, unhappy souls - the border police - and trying my damndest to send them positive thoughts, if that's possible.

these are all things that i love, my friends. someday music will say all this for me. but how? it's all so hard to just spill out, to let it all flow out. it's just an ache, a terrible ache, for beautiful thoughts demand expression, yet sometimes i feel it's just all too much to express in words, something else must work. last night, i played hard, loud rock and roll for the first time in years. a house party with 100 people and 20 or so paying deep attention. the rest jsut there for background noise, i guess. playing guitar, strumming the fuck out of it. it felt beautiful. loud, ringing ears. dull sounds afterwards. the victory beer(s). and it spoke of such possibility. rock music! life suddenly seemed as a lucid dream. and so much more to come.

LETTER TO MY FATHER FROM NICARAGUA 2000

i´ve arrived into expatriot land. as per the norm with most cities i´ve visited, there stumble about a few backpickers- dirty, smelly, lost. but here in san juan, half the americans are old, as in over 50- grey hair, grey beards, southern accents, stumbling along the beach in tourist t-shirts they can´t understand. not a one of these old folks speak spanish. i´ve never quite experienced an ex-p├átriot scene. most of these were men who traveled to costa rica, seeking their fortunes, found the country too expensive, too developed, too americanized (many costa rican restaurants have english menus), too crowded. and here, just across the border, they found the emptiness, the opportunity. a land of empty beaches, high inflation, massive trees. it´s everything that costa rica was supposed to be for them, what costa rica was 30 years ago.

so these old men arrive with stuffed wallets, bloated bank statements, ready to live out the american dream- to stake one´s claim on a hunk of land, to live close to the sea, the trees, and the wind, to achieve distance from their neighbor. there exists no place like this in america. nicaragua seems, as of yet, unspoiled, untouched, ripened and ready for any typical american with typical american dreams and a pension plan.

next door to my hotel sits "nicaragua properties." a sleeping dog guards the door. i´ve never seen him awaken. it´s inevitable that any american who comes here will want a piece of this pie for themselves, for it´s a pie so unsullied that the illusion strongly holds that this place will last forever. it won´t, of course. most of the guanacaste beaches of costa rica followed the same course back in the 70´s, as hippies moved down here with what little money they could scrape up and bought their little plots of land. and now, 20 years later, families on vacation package plans arrive in hordes to their beachfront plots, ready to snorkel, surf, and get overcharged. most families will gladly be overcharged in exchange for a set itinerary.

not that costa rica is an overly expensive country. it´s certainly cheaper than the united states. but one can say with utmost certainty that you´ll never find a local on your snorkelling tour.

i have so much more to tell about this latest trip. it´s re-awakened my love of travel, certainly. i haven´t yet told you about schuyler, the fast talking american real estate developer who met us on a bus, guided us through the border crossing and had his driver take us all over the country. laura and i spent a night in huehuete, a village which had never met gringos before. the children just walked up and stared. we slept oin hammocks outside the home of don segundo cruz, surrounded by his two dozen pigs, cattle, dogs, chickens. we slept in a concrete box in managua. and now san juan del sur. from here, we venture to the middle of lago de nicaragua, to sleep on isal de ometepe. i´ll write more as it filters from my brain.

my hotel room consists of an creaky iron bed, a large mosquito net, and a fading photograph on the wall of a smiling couple. The look happy.

Last evening, followed olive ridley turtles as they laid their eggs on a hidden beach. a teenaged guard stood with a machine gun under a sign that warned folks not to collect or eat the eggs.

WANDERING 2001

a deep, deep romantic mood: thinking about being the young wandering sensitive artist, the boy who smiles at every passing woman and receives smiles from the women as well, who wanders through trees and streams, sleeping under the stars, building fires at night for warmth, cooking my own food, my own rich fine food, and leaning back after dinner, contented, sipping a glass of wine or whiskey, smoking a cigar by my fire. writing all my thoughts in a flood, waking with the sunrise, toasting the sunsets, smelling saltwater and feeling sand between my toes, climbing mountain tops, and basking in that two minutes of triumph following a successful mountain ascension, drinking from a canteen, hitching rides in the back of pickup trucks, walking down railroad tracks like a balance beam, riding trains and letting the scenery just flow into a timeless blur, as if somehow, on this little journey, i'd stepped outside of the world, outside time and space, because i'm nowhere distinct, every second i'm in a new place, and everything just flashes by, a divine blur. and meeting people on the trains, straining to understand their english, straining to learn bits of their language, sitting in cramped smoking railcars with general admission seating, feasting on $2 wine and cheese, bathing in hot springs, rivers, and lakes, sending postcards to the unlucky stagnant people back home, unknowingly humming happy tunes to myself, strumming a guitar under a full moon in a field of daisies, heading across borders and dealing with those poor, unhappy souls - the border police - and trying my damndest to send them positive thoughts, if that's possible.

MOVING TO WASHINGTON 2001

i'm in tacoma now and it's been really crazy ever since i left texas. just drivng, driving, more driving, beer, women, 100 foot trees, snow-capped mountains, cold breezes, incessant rain, rare shine, scalding coffee, parties where i know nobody, random sadness, random elation, relentless rejection, days without showers, holes developing in my jeans, angry rednecks, plaid clad lumberjacks, lost toothbrushes, elvis presley on the radio, a meatball stain on my t-shirt, thrift store hunting for cold weather gear, 6 days without changing socks, cheese and bread for every meal, fresh apples from roadside fruit stands, being scared of strange noises, marvelling at snow covered mountains, sacred time with my girlfriend, long talks about being scared or alone or the future, marvelling at the fresh air and clean sky and stars and everything just flying by- days, hours, towns, miles.