TOWOIT #223: Love and Trouble

August 31, 2017… Day 224

I got carried away and wrote three blog posts for one day.

4:45 am: Morning Edition makes me cry in the shower again

The radio takes on a different quality, early in the morning, when you’re alone and brewing coffee and it’s dark outside.

On NPR this morning, they ran a story about a reporter in Houston driving a woman named Angie back to the home she was evacuated from when the flood waters got near it. They ran into some water in the road that the reporter’s car couldn’t handle, but a Latino man in a big jacked-up truck came along and drove them the rest of the way. The Latino man talked about how in Houston during the flood, it has been everyone helping everyone—it hasn’t been about white, black and brown.

For a reason that I missed, the reporter and the other man went in to look around inside the house while Angie waited outside for them. They came back out and told her everything was dry. She’d been especially worried about her clothes, but they were fine. The water had come up to her doorstep but no further. The men had snapped pictures of the rooms to show her they were dry. As they drove away, the woman looked through the photos. She had a low, raspy voice and you heard her say—sort of to herself—“I know my house is junky, but…” and then she just trailed off.

When that recorded story ended, the reporter and the host talked briefly about how Angie was one of the lucky ones.

Although I was emotionally affected by the story, I thought “This is fine. It was a happy ending. I didn’t just see a video of a wet dog afraid to be rescued, or a senior citizen stranded in waist-deep water, or a baby floating in a storage tub. I’m fine.”

Then those tricky bastards at NPR played the first several bars of “The Water is Wide.”

The version they played was instrumental but unfortunately I knew the words. So then I was crying into my coffee, followed by crying in the shower. All the way to the bus stop, I was still humming the tune, thinking about Houston folks and sniffling.

If you don’t know that song, the verse I know goes like this:

The water is wide… I cannot cross over

Neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

 

6:25 am: Love and Trouble 

On the bus to work I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble. I was on the chapter that’s a letter to Roman Polanski, telling him what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl. At one point she asks Polanski if he only sees holes everywhere. We have to point out, because people don’t get it automatically, that a girl is not an object. It’s devastating.

Dederer takes into account the idea that Roman Polanski was a tortured genius, that the 1970s were a weird time. She’s as generous as she can be, but you couldn’t read her paragraphs out loud without tasting piss in your mouth. All the feelings she packs into that chapter—they are what saturate everything now. Rape culture and misogyny are lain bare, retroactive, stinking everything up. It’s in the Oval Office. Every day Gallup tells you what percentage of your compatriots are cool with it, although it’s really more. 53% of white women voted for it. It’s stinking up the Democratic party too.

The founders of the start-up Witchsy invented a male co-founder (hilariously named Keith Mann) to correspond with people who were brushing them off. My social media feeds are full of women I know talking about how real it is — the disrespect, the brush-off, the battle to be recognized as a viable professional. It discouraged me more than usual. I’m turning 40 next year, and I want to take risks and move toward freelancing and my own creative projects. I want to Be Excellent. How clever will I have to be, and how bright will I have to burn, to compensate for my gathering invisibility, for my high voice, for my eyes welling up sometimes when I’m frustrated, for having a woman’s name and being a woman? Because I honestly don’t know if I’m up to that level of witchcraft. (It is worse for women who aren’t white like I am.)

When I was an ecology student 20 years ago, our professor’s wife—also an ecologist—told a group of us women students that the field was changing, turning female. We beamed—sounds great! She scowled. “Oh no, don’t get excited,” she said. “All that means is that ecology will be devalued, trashed, dismissed… and the pay will go down.”

At work, I’m on the outer administrative edges of a prolonged bureaucratic snafu involving a woman my boss is trying to bring onto our team from another team. I don’t know the details myself, but there’s been some thorniness that’s above my paygrade.

Today I wrote up a statement announcing that she would be joining us, and then I took it to her. I asked her if she thought it represented her well, if she was happy with the tone and the details provided. My boss was a little surprised that I’d done that since he’d signed off on it already. I said, without thinking, “I want her to feel a sense of control over her situation, and I want her to know we respect her.”

This has something to do with us being women. And something to do with Trump.

Everything is related and it’s exhausting.  

 

12:00 pm: One of the lucky ones 

At the White House Press Briefing today, the reporters returned again and again to just two themes: Are undocumented immigrants in Houston really going to be ok? Can their safety from ICE at shelters really be ensured? And what about the 800,000 young people in this country who are protected by DACA to study, live, and work in this country despite their immigration status? What is happening with DACA?

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Trump had already decided to kill DACA—something he’s been teasing and flirting with all week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s stonewalling took on a new cruelty as she refused to confirm or deny or give any real answers. The repetition of the reporters’ questions was like bells tolling, in my mind. These were the humane questions. These were the urgent questions. These were the questions of conscience. This wasn’t grandstanding for TV. Don’t jerk people around about this. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.

Tom Bossert from Homeland Security was at the briefing too. Tom often seems like a decent person in these situations, but he works for Trump so he’s made his bed. He took two Skype questions from Houston. These Skype questions—new with the Trump administration—have been a handy way to run down the clock on the reporters in the room. The Skype calls often feature cheesy, over-eager personalities from right-leaning outlets who praise Trump and then ask a pompous-sounding question that comes across as either extremely ideological or extremely pork barrel-ish.

Today it was two white guys from Houston, at separate outlets. They were both unshaven, haggard. The first guy was from Fox and he kind of leaned in and barked a question at the camera about the reservoir infrastructure and the army corps of engineers. His craggy head took up most of the screen when he leaned in, and he didn’t care. The second journalist seemed a bit shell-shocked that he had put himself on national television in bad greasy hat hair and a short-sleeved Under Armour shirt. His question was also about the immediate safety and survival for the people of Houston. Both those guys looked like they were sleeping at the station.

After the older guy’s question, Tom Bossert signed off with him by saying, “—and I hope your house hasn’t been affected.” It sounded so inadequate. That was the end of that call, the guy was effectively hung up on right at that point, so who knows about his house. But the guy’s life is probably scrambled. And he’s one of the lucky ones.

TOWOIT #220

August 28, 2017… Day 221

I’ve mostly just been watching Harvey and Houston stuff. I picked away at my day job and then my personal writing project afterward, and I listened to some grisly podcasts that focused on Arpaio’s deeds. But mostly I just watched what was happening in Texas.

A woman is rescuing bats that are stuck under bridges and starting to drown as the water reaches them. Other people are rescuing dogs. Most people are rescuing humans. I’m really worried about all the people in their houses.

Over the weekend, I exchanged a few words with a man in Houston I don’t know at all–I found his tweet by scrolling through the Twitter hashtag, #HoustonFlood. He’s stuck in an apartment building in downtown Houston. He tweeted a video of cars beneath his window, stuck in the rising water, lights still on, people still inside. “People are dumb,” he says matter of factly, and then pans over to a big dog beside him, who is also watching out the window. He seems to have been addressing the dog, not his human Twitter audience.

I replied to the tweet to ask if he and the dog were still doing all right. He responded yesterday with information. And then tonight, out of the blue, he gave me another update. Still doing all right, and they were the lucky ones.

Here’s a thing that a U.S. president said:

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I’m tired of living inside a quirky comic book about a troublingly daft future.

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This Blog Post Is Meta

I put a very short story up on Medium. I’ve started putting a few things there to have a cleaner platform separate from the daily mishmash I’ve been doing over here. Sorry, I mean the daily meditations I’ve been doing here.

I’m going to put together a collection of essays, with a theme running through them of public spaces in the city, public transit in the city, and a sort of people-watching that often winds up having political and spiritual undercurrents.

This wasn’t part of that, though, it was just a little 600-word story that I found again and put up on Medium. It’s first-person, narrated by a child in Alaska. I’d say it’s about families. It’s also wildly autobiographical. It’s called Clean Sheets.

I’m little-by-little starting to cross-post and creep out of the Internet forest where I’ve been safely hiding for a few years. I’m taking classes, I’m sticking my neck out, I’m starting to pitch ideas again.

I’m turning 40 next year. Have I mentioned that? I’ve been acting like the first person to ever contemplate turning 40. I’ll probably just keep doing that.

Thanks to any fellow travelers who read this!!

XOXO

 

 

 

 

Sightseeing Car

July 4, 2017

I think since the Fourth of July is a travel day, that means I’ll be sidestepping the holiday altogether. It’s such a hot, dusty, crowded holiday sometimes and we’re sliding toward authoritarianism right now, so skipping it seems fine. But it doesn’t work out like that on the Coastal Starlight Amtrak train from Salem to Seattle.

By the time we cross the Columbia River and head up into Western Washington, I’ve abandoned my seat in coach and am stationed in the sightseeing car. On those big trains that come all the way up from L.A., the coach cars feel like dormitories. People are really camping out in there. There’s little babies, and odors, and sleeping bags. More than half of the curtains have been pulled shut. The sightseeing car is full of light and windows, with the seats facing out.

A couple of volunteer park rangers are narrating what we see out the windows. They have a lot of good information about rivers, the industrial stuff we pass, ships taking grain to Hong Kong, steel plants. Osprey nests. Local history. It’s a bit cheesy at times, but I enjoy the narration of the ride, and it’s kind of cute how many people are happy to be talked at by the old duffers in vests.

Different people sit around me and then depart. They half listen, half talk amongst themselves. A young man in head to toe Seahawks gear sits down awkwardly in the seat next to me for a while. I take him to be Middle Eastern. Two young Asian women across the aisle seem to just be getting to know each other. I catch snippets of their conversation. “It can be hard. Do your parents speak English?” “No, do yours?”

I’m half listening, half writing in my journal about my weekend at the coast. A little voice says, “Excuse me, but is anyone sitting here?” It’s a black girl of about 8 years old. She is wearing pink sweat pants and a grey sweatshirt with pink stars on it. She has many long black braids. She’s confident, she’s polite, she’s smiling. For the moment she’s unaccompanied by an adult. I tell her to sit down. She’s peering out the window but also keeps blatantly looking over at me writing. “Whatchu writin about?” she asks. I tell her, “Just my weekend. Stuff that happened.” She looks disappointed, like she doubted I had a very interesting weekend, and if it were her writing it would be something juicier.

A little while later, an older man comes in the car. I don’t take him for her grandpa at first because even though his skin is dark brown like hers, he has one long braid down his back and his facial features and body language remind me of the old Native guys in the town where I grew up. But he is her grandpa and they move a little further down the car to where there were two seats together. He is spare and stone-faced, with a ball-cap on and plain jeans and a t-shirt. He doesn’t react much to the girl and certainly not to anyone else around him, but she merrily fills the picture in. “Yes, this is my grandpa,” I hear her say to someone across the aisle. She’s turned around in her chair, long arms hanging off the back. “We go to the lake, but usually only when it’s good for fishing. We catch a lot of fish. And eat them.”

I remind myself not to stereotype. Just because he seems really Native American, that doesn’t mean he is. He’s just a travel weary guy with an inscrutable face. And the whole inscrutable face thing, that’s stereotyping too.

We pass a tree farm, and one of the volunteers is saying in the microphone, “This is a Christmas tree farm, but where on Earth do you think you could use a 30-foot tall Christmas tree?” The little girl’s hand shoots up. The old white guy points to her and she says, “IN A MANSION.” He says, “Well no, they just cut some of the branches off to make wreaths and the rest of the tree keeps growing.”

She turns back to the window, unfazed. She seems to know her answer was better than his. She seems pleased with herself, and reasonably sure others are pleased with her too. Not in a show-offy way, but just in a nice way.

I hear two people behind me talking. Their travel plans were both thrown off by the train derailment a couple of days earlier. They commiserate, and then start talking about other things. They both live in Seattle. The woman is white, in her late twenties or early thirties. I’d taken a peek at her earlier. I don’t know about the guy. He sat down after I looked last. I don’t want to look over and be obvious.

Then I hear her saying, “You know, that one, that loud-mouthed African woman.” I think, “Who can she be talking about?” and then realize she means Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American councilwoman. The woman is saying that raising the minimum wage to $15 has “ruined Seattle” and caused businesses to close their doors. The man she’s talking to says “Um… that’s all really… debatable.” The woman goes on to say that she herself got a pay bump when the minimum wage was raised, but she says it scornfully, like it was no good to her.

A man on the other side of them overhears the exchange and comes into the conversation. The two men are ignoring the woman now, choosing not in fact to have that debate. They are talking between themselves about volunteering for this or that Democratic state legislator’s campaign. They are both really well versed in the nuances of local politics.

The woman butts back in and says loudly, “Are you Hispanic?” The man sitting next to her says “Uh, no. Not at all.” She says “Ok, well I was just asking a question.” Then she says, “Where are you from, then?” He says, “I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio.” He is keeping his voice more casual than she is, but I can hear a certain tension sliding in. I can’t take it anymore, and glance over. The young man she’s talking to is the one I’d seen before, the possibly Middle Eastern (?) man in Seahawks gear. “Ohhhh” I think, as it all slides into place.

We’re approaching Centralia now. The little girl is still engaged with the scenery, the narration, her braids, her neighbors, herself. Her grandpa is still staring straight ahead thinking unknowable thoughts and betraying no emotion whatsoever.

The guys at the front with microphones are saying, “Centralia was founded by George Washington. No, not that George Washington!” They go on to explain that George Washington was the son of “a white servant girl and an enslaved black man” in Wherever, USA. His mother was afraid he would be sold into slavery, so she begged some people going west to adopt her son and take him with them. The family moved farther and farther west and I think George was a young man by the time they got to Washington. Stories of his entrepreneurial pluck. His ingenuity. How much the town loved him. How he was honored when he died in 1905.

I’m thinking, “Well, this is told like such a happy ending, but it’s a tragedy that this guy’s mother had to give him away because of slavery.” I think of Charles Mudede’s criticism of Nicole Brodeur—writing as if only white people are reading. I figure that’s what we’re all doing all the time. That’s America for you. One long rolling micro aggression, just like this train ride.

The train stops at Centralia, and our car is blocking an intersection. Cars are stopped waiting for the tracks to clear. A white couple in white middle age walk up and stop there, waiting. I look at them and think, “So you live in a town that was founded by a black man. Huh. Looks like Trump country.” I have no idea. I’m just stereotyping. He’s kind of sweaty and ruddy with a beer gut under his t-shirt and mussed up hair and sunglasses. She’s prim in her culottes with her little bob. I have no idea. But they seem very white and they could be Trump voters.

Then they’re smiling and doing big waves and I look over and see that they’re responding to the little black girl in the sweat suit and braids. She’s cheesing for them through the window. She’s waving like she’s royalty and her subjects have flocked to the tracks to watch her roll through her kingdom. I look to see if her grandpa looks amused. He is stone-faced as ever. I think, “maybe he’s like this all the time, or maybe he’s just really sick of white people.” As the train continues to sit there, the couple and the little girl both get distracted, but then as we pull away, there is a last beaming, waving connection—this time initiated by the white man on the sidewalk, who cranes his head and tips forward and makes the girl laugh with his goofy waving.

We’re running along the coastline now, and there are people down on the beach, on the rocks, on boats, on docks with their legs dangling off – mostly white people. The volunteer guys call our attention to a small island out in the bay, Fox Island. They begin another historical story, about how there was an Indian war because the governor of Washington was going to put “four large tribes and one small tribe” on a reservation out on that tiny island. I hear that the old white guys are trying, that they are saying the governor was responsible for the war, they are saying the names of the individual nations. They are saying it’s ridiculous that someone was trying to put all those people on a reservation on such a little island.

I think “HOLD ON” that’s not a reservation, that’s internment.

And then the guy speaking says that the tribes lost that battle but they “kind of won the war” because they got larger, separate reservations.

HOW IS THAT WINNING.

God. White people!

HOW IS THAT WINNING.

South of Tacoma, the crowds get bigger, browner, more citified. From the train it looks like some idealized version of a happy, multiethnic, multicultural society. Hijabis strolling in the sun. Big latino (latinx?) families. Kids running around. Black women with big natural hair and flowy skirts, swishing in the breeze. It’s just everybody. And people look happy. Tweets from that morning’s Black Twitter flash before my eyes. What the Fourth of July means, has meant to black people. How people find a way to carve out their own meaning, find their own sources of joy.

I read Black Twitter, and maybe I’m a bit of a lurker for following so many great black women writers on Twitter and reading their blogs and think pieces. But I figure if I keep listening to them, maybe I’ll be ready just on the off chance that I write something someday that finds its way to one of them. Because I don’t want to write like only white people are reading, or talk like only white people are listening, or experience the U.S. like only a white person can.

TOWOIT #153

June 18-22, 2017… Days 150-154

I am still assembling my notes and thoughts on the Montana road trip so I am just making this start as a placeholder. News was consumed differently, routines were disrupted, signs of political leanings were watched for, whiteness was pondered, Juneteenth was noted, an attempt at a vacation was made.

June 18, 2017        Seattle, Washington to Wallace, Idaho

Driving out of Seattle. It’s misty. We’re getting a late start. Preachin the Blues is on KEXP and they’re celebrating Juneteenth a day early on the show. They play Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come. I say to Andrew, “We’re going into the heart of whiteness. Red state road trip.”

It’s Father’s Day. We’re thinking about the Philando Castile verdict and his fiance’s little girl. This morning Trump’s lawyer said he was NOT under investigation, even though Trump himself tweeted that he was. No no, the lawyer said, Trump was just referring to a Washington Post article. Andrew switches the radio to a show about whiskey. After awhile, we listen to an episode of the podcast The Dollop. The one about Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first openly black baseball player in the Major Leagues. I say something about Colin Kaepernick. Did he just fail to vote in 2016, or did he make a point of it? Whatever, I wanted Seattle to pick him up.

They’re labeling the crops on the fences. Field corn. Potatoes. Sweet corn. Potatoes. Alfalfa. Sewage Lagoon. We see a pick-up truck painted over with a rippling American flag. We’re 21 miles from Moses Lake, Washington. When I get the internet for a moment, I find out that the police in Seattle shot and killed a 30 year old black woman, Charleena Lyles, in front of her children. When we have the internet for a moment, I read Charles Mudede’s call out of Nicole Brodeur. Saying in her columns, she writes as if only white people will read her columns. Nicole is a friend. I think “Am I doing that too?” Probably, yes. Potatoes. Field Corn. Field Corn. Sweet Corn.

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Wait, what is this picture showing? People in Seattle were really upset by the Seattle Times’s coverage and headlines.

We have dinner at the Radio Brewery in Kellogg, Idaho. “I don’t think everyone in here voted for Trump, do you?” I ask Andrew. He says, “Well, I don’t think that guy in the Sublime t-shirt working in the kitchen is *crazy* about Donald Trump, but I’m pretty sure he hates Hillary.”

At the end of the night, we are at The Metals Bar in Wallace, Idaho. A sign in the window says “We support our miners” and in the back of the bar, a circular sign is lit up, “Strike.” There are several regulars in the bar, and an old guy named Bill starts talking to us in a friendly way. Everyone is white. Bill moves a child’s Father’s Day drawing and some empty Miller Lite cans so the bar is clear and tells us to sit down. He’s sitting kitty korner from us and tells us how his father in law died in the Sunshine Mine disaster of 1972. Two women come in, mother and daughter. They aren’t from Wallace, but the daughter says she wants to move here. She’s got a cute camo hoodie, a camo purse and the butt of her jeans are bedazzled. She and her mom look like really nice people. They look at an old black and white photo of a woman working in the mine. Bill says to them, “There weren’t many women working in the mines. We call them betties.” The older woman nods and says, “My mom worked in a coal mine in West Virginia.” I say in Andrew’s ear, “Everyone here seems so nice. Do you think they all voted for Trump?” Andrew looks at me like I just said maybe the Easter Bunny is real.” He says, “Of course they did.” One of the regulars gets up and puts a song on the juke box. It’s Sam Cooke. It’s A Change is Gonna Come.

June 19, 2017             Wallace, Idaho to Missoula, Montana

“Maybe just acknowledging whiteness as a thing at least means you don’t accept whiteness as the norm, or as the invisible air we breathe. If whiteness is a thing, then it is surrounded by other things, and it is not the only thing.” I am getting too metaphysical early in the morning on vacation. Andrew is always nice about this, and I have to remind myself not to monologue too much, because he’s too generous to send me the correct signals about how tedious I’m becoming.

We’re already tired of driving. When I can see internet, my phone tells me that all my friends back home are wrecked. A 17-year old Muslim girl was found dead in a pond in Virginia. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles. People are wrecked. I’m supposed to be looking at the evergreen trees and mountain sides, and I’m supposed to be another pair of eyes on the road. In case there are suicidal deer or big-horned sheep or whatever. I put my phone away and rummage for what else is in my bag. I find a slim comic I bought at VANCAF and forgot was in my bag, like that time I accidentally took a yellow onion to the beach. The book is Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

The sound of NPR is grounding even when the news is bad. A white man in a van mowed down Muslims leaving a mosque in London. Andrew points out that we haven’t actually seen ANY political bumper stickers, signs, or bill boards. We certainly haven’t seen Trump’s name anywhere. There’s a promo for an interview with Roxane Gay. I say “Someone out here is listening to Roxane Gay.” He said, “Sometimes the NPR station is the only one that comes in.”

We get into Missoula and walk around. In historical downtown Missoula, there are signs of liberalism.

That night in the hotel room, I read that the White House press briefing was off-camera again today. I tell Andrew, “I would have been ON this if I were home.” I have access to Fox News now, so I watch Hannity for awhile. The chyron says “Russian Collusion Hysteria.” I click over to CNN. The Democratic Senators are trying to hold the floor tonight over Obamacare repeal and replace. It’s past 11 pm in Washington, D.C. and they look tired.

June 20, 2017… Missoula through Drummond, Phillipsburg, Anaconda, and Butte to wind up in Helena.

We have breakfast burritos before we leave town. When we walk in, a Talking Heads sign is just ending. “I bet this place is run by white people,” says Andrew. A Greg Brown song starts up — Greg Brown! My favorite! I say, “Shhhhh. I’m flying into the heart of my whiteness.” Today is Jon Ossoff day in the Georgia 6th, so I’m nervous. In Drummond, MT there are anti-meth signs. A mural that looks like it was done by school children shows a toilet and the words, “Meth Makes Your Life Go Down the Drain.” The town is bustling though. Men standing around a giant piece of new farm equipment are smiling and waving at us as we drive through. A few miles out of town there’s a billboard that says “Every Addict Needs His Hook-up.” It’s an advertisement for a fly fishing shop. A sign on a house says, “This Family Supported by Timber Dollars.” On the Bible Broadcast Network, which we like to check in with, a man is disputing that the heat wave in Phoenix has anything to do with climate change. I keep looking at my watch and calculating what time it is in Georgia.

We stop in Anaconda and study the informational placards about the giant smokestack left over from a copper mine. We notice the sign saying there have been 69 highway deaths in Montana year to date. We listen to Baby Geniuses–an episode recorded and posted months ago. It was recorded right before the election, and aired right after the election. The hosts come on and talk for a few moments before the recorded episode, saying they know what happened and how everyone is feeling. “We have to hold onto this feeling,” said one of them. They said if you’re white and can slip into normalcy after the dust settles, just don’t. Remember this feeling of being in the thick of it. Remember wanting to help people.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

Butte is beautiful and interesting, but it’s the heat of the day and we’re spooked by all the signs announcing mine deaths. Rolling into town we see a bumper sticker on the back of a street sign: “Anyone but Hillary.” We decide to keep driving to Helena. Jon Ossoff loses the special election in Georgia. I text a lament to my mother and she fires back, “you’re supposed to be resting your brain from this stuff.” In the morning she posts Dan Rather’s calming words on her Facebook timeline.

June 21, 2017… Helena to Great Falls to Missoula.

We still haven’t seen anything mentioning Trump by name. And not much political stuff in general. In Great Falls we see this pick-up truck. “Is it… sarcasm?” I ask. We can’t tell.

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Driving on Highway 200 back to Missoula, we see along the highway: “In God We Trust, In Our Country we Trust, In Our Government We Don’t Trust.” We see a sign that says “You want change in government? Let’s try honesty for a change.” We see a Don’t Tread on Me Flag. We still haven’t seen anything about Trump anywhere.

June 22, 2017 … Missoula, Montana all the way back to Seattle, Washington

New dash cam footage is released from Philando Castile’s shooting. Trevor Noah says he is broken. Shaun King says the fight against police brutality is being lost. Senate Republicans release the Better Care Reconciliation Act. It’s pretty bad, but no CBO score until next week. On Facebook, people are saying “I’m not even sure I can do Pride this year.” Leaving downtown Missoula, we see two bumper stickers on a truck. First, “The Precious Metals of Freedom… Gold, Silver, and LEAD.” And then, “NRA: Stand and Fight.” I look at my watch. “Thirty-six minutes till the new Gallup Poll comes out.”

Trump says he does not have any tapes of his conversations with Comey. “Why did he keep us in suspense for 41 days?” someone asks Kellyanne.

Heading into sun-blasted eastern Washington, we’re listening to the Dollop episode about the boxer Jack Johnson. When he beat the white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, there were race riots in 25 states and 50 cities. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured. Several white men were reported to have COMMITTED SUICIDE over it. And we wonder sometimes if it’s true that white people would really trash this country because a black man was president for eight years.

Joe Lewis, who came along after Jack Johnson, had a list of do’s and don’ts. One of them was, “Don’t eat watermelon in public.”

Colin Kaepernick announces that he won’t participate in the NFL anymore.

Donald Trump tweets that it’s all a “big Dem HOAX.”

We stop in Ellensburg, Washington for dinner and we see the first Trump sign or sticker we’ve seen in 4 days of driving outside our blue coastal county. And someone’s defaced it.

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Back in Seattle we see Charleena Lyles’s name on the pavement.

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from Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

TOWOIT #124

May 20, 2017… Day 121

It was a Saturday after a wild news week. Trump took almost the entire White House senior staff and went on his first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia. I went on my first foreign trip in 7 years, to Canada. My phone didn’t work reliably there and I was surrounded by festive people all day. The combined effect was a muting of my awareness of what was going on in the news.

Continue reading TOWOIT #124

TOWOIT #68

March 25, 2017… Day 65

I was out and about and away from Internet most of the day.

Forgot to mention I saw this guy at an intersection yesterday afternoon.

I was in a crowded city bus. People in cars were joyfully giving this guy dollar bills up and down the lane next to us, and everyone on the bus cheered when they saw another person had handed him a dollar. The other side of the sign reads, “Family needs blankets, food, and miracles.”

I spent most of the day on a Greyhound bus heading south from Seattle to Portland and points south from there. The bus was delayed two hours leaving, and the Seattle Greyhound station is small, so there were a lot of us packed into a confined place for a long time. Just as I got there, a man about my age came in with his mother and grandmother–they were Ethiopian. The women were dressed in whites and beiges with white lace up over their hair. The son addressed a white teenage girl who was slouched near her mother, and asked her to look after the two older women and make sure they got on the bus all right. He had to leave and was just dropping them off. The girl and her mother took their responsibility very seriously. Their names were Abby and Bambi, and they swept me into their custody as well.

The thing I noticed at the bus station was that I was surrounded by a higher than usual (for me) density of immigrants and people of color, especially black people, but I was also surrounded by more white people who seemed like they could’ve been Trump voters than I was used to. It made for a potent mix. The Bolt bus that goes straight from Seattle to Portland with no stops, is mostly tech kids and college kids and arty 20- and 30-somethings, with laptops and cappuccinos and knit beanies. Various ethnicities, but a certain type. The Greyhound bus gets a few of those but is mostly like the bone-weary, multi-generational, multi-racial heart of working class America.

I used to joke that everything I knew about prison life, I overheard on a Greyhound. I retired that joke, but pretty much as soon as I sat down, I began to hear about how in prison these guys used to wrap ramen, pepperoni, and string cheese in a tortilla and call it a burrito. The person speaking was a big beefy, ruddy, white guy about my age who was traveling to Kelso, Washington from Montana to see his teenaged son. When he wasn’t talking about that stuff with the guy across the aisle from him, he was talking to the young man and woman behind him, who were barely older than his kid. These two, who might have been 19 or 20, had just met and were hitting it off like gangbusters from the moment she asked if the seat  next to him was taken.

They both had the hallmarks of counterculture–face piercings, tattoos, dyed hair, edgy hairstyles. But they were also just coltish young people who talked about Harry Potter and guffawed over-earnestly at each other’s jokes. They talked eagerly about their growing up years, in that ping pong back and forth of people who haven’t learned to be good listeners yet and don’t really care.

The boy was of German extraction, he said. His grandfather came from Germany when he was 9 years old, and then fought for the U.S. in World War II. When he got back, he never wanted to hear German spoken in his home again. So the boy’s family, he said, was split between Nazi-sympathizers and pentecostals. He was in the pentecostal side. Then he said he was raised to not believe in the intermingling of races.

Yes, she replied, her grandparents fled from Germany to Ukraine during the war. She doesn’t say, but there is an implication that they were German Jews. Maybe I’m wrong. They intermarried with Ukrainian Baptists. This girl described being raised by “seriously conservative Christians” and that music and dancing were not allowed. The family emigrated to the U.S. and got mixed up with pentecostals too.

While they were telling each other this, I noticed out my window that we slipped by two beat-up looking pentecostal churches.

The girl had a Ukrainian accent still, like someone who had come over as an older child. She’d been young enough to be perfectly conversant in English at 19, but old enough so that her accent would stay with her. She said “I miss Ukraine but I can’t go back because we have war now.”

The boy brought up Donald Trump. What struck me was that he brought Donald Trump up as though he had just barely figured out who had won the election and what was going on. He said, “He was an actor or something before, right?” She replied, “I don’t know, I just know he was some kind of major rich guy.” He said, “I was reading about him last night, I think it’s really interesting the direction he’s going in.” The girl said, in a neutral tone, “You know there are two sides though–there are people who love him and people who hate him.” The boy was like, “Yeah, yeah…” and kept talking about how Donald Trump had some “interesting ideas about things.” Then the girl said, “I don’t know, I don’t care about politics. If I have to write an essay for school, I write an essay, but I don’t care.” The boy nodded, seeming a little chastened. After a beat he said, “I also like Bernie Sanders.”

Later he said he didn’t like that “a black guy” was cast as Two-Face in the lego batman movie, because it was Tommy Lee Jones before.

Sitting directly in front of the girl (and next to my coeval the ex-con), was an old guy who reeked of urine, had a cardboard sign asking for money, was passed out and fell into the aisle three times. People around him had to keep putting him back in his seat. When my seat mate got out at Olympia, the ex-con came and sat next to me to get away from his pee-soaked seat mate.

At one point the ex-con pointed out the window and said, “there’s my school.” It was a series of low buildings behind a big fence. It was Green Hill in Chehalis, a juvenile prison. He said, “I was there for the flood of 1995 when three people escaped.”

Over the course of our ride he told me how he was a five-time felon and a 22-year meth addict. He said he had a better life now. He’d left his teenage son behind with his grandparents, and his dog behind with a friend. He was going to visit the son and the dog. He said he left his son’s mom when she was doing dope when she was 4 months pregnant. But her whole family had more money than him and could afford lawyers. He couldn’t get custody and they poisoned his son against him. Now they talk again though, thanks to Facebook.

At one point he leans across the aisle to interrupt the younger pair’s conversation about music they like. “Hey you like Rammstein? you know, Rammstein–oh come onnn don’t tell me you never heard of Rammstein!?!?” He looks at me in disbelief, and I smile and say “Different generation, man.” I do know who the German metal band is, but more than anything i know that Eric Harris of the Columbine shooting was into Rammstein and wore a Rammstein t-shirt in his school photo. That factoid doesn’t mean anything, but I’m a little spooked since I feel like the bus is just about as tribal as prison and maybe it’s not a coincidence that we’re the only white people on the bus and for some reason we’re all clumped together. Abby and Bambi are right behind me (having deposited the older Ethiopian women up near the driver). They’ve heard my seat mate say he’s a five-time felon and they keep saying perkily, “You ok up there, Lil?” and popping up to offer me beef jerky and potato chips over the back of the seat.

 

 

TOWOIT #58

March 15, 2017… Day 55

DUTCH ELECTIONS — The “far right” candidate got far fewer votes than expected, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Looking anxiously toward France now.

“The Senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin”

—–John McCain, referring to Rand Paul.

Rachel Maddow getting dragged for doing a 20-minute A-block that provided context. The truth is, her tweet from about one hour before her show did make it sound like she might have more than 2 pages from 2005. But anyone who really CARED that much would have a) seen a clarification from other sources minutes later on Twitter, tempering expectations, and b) could have cut to other sources before her first segment was over, because it was in several places. So nobody was deprived of anything, deceived or made to suffer. People are just the worst, basically.

Senator Chuck Grassley says no vote on the Deputy Attorney General until the Department of Justice coughs up some kind of evidence on what Trump’s wiretapping claims were all about. Later in the day, Lindsay Graham said the FBI contacted his Senate committee to say they would be sending over information in the near future, and they would deal with things in a classified manner.

“Do you talk to anyone before you tweet? Is there anyone in the White House who can say to you, Mr. President, please don’t tweet that, who you would listen to?”

—-Tucker Carlson, interviewing Donald Trump

A federal judge in Hawaii freezes Trump’s second travel ban, the day before it was supposed to go into effect.

Trump has a campaign rally in Nashville. They chant “lock her up” after he makes a barb at Hillary Clinton. He says a bunch of legally unwise stuff about the travel ban and his intent.

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Rex Tillerson went to Asia with one (1) reporter only.

Republican Devin Nunes and Democrat Adam Schiff, both on the House Intelligence Committee, hold a joint press briefing. They both say there’s no evidence of wire-tapping, but they say it very differently. I’m going to re-watch it on C-span. Schiff basically implies at one point that Nunes is a Trump apologist.

James Mattis gets denied on his pick for a top appointee at the Department of Defense, because the White House signaled they would not fight for her confirmation. She was an ambassador to Egypt during two years of the Obama administration. Multiple other DoD hopefuls have fallen away, declining to go forward with the process.

Trump cuts funding to Meals on Wheels. The optimistic view on our situation is that we hobble out greatly diminished with a lot of dearly beloveds.

The consequence-challenged carry on:

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The former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, testified before a Senate subcommittee today, on Russian interference and hacking. He speaks impeccable, unaccented English, is completely fluent in technological terms and issues, and seems way smarter than most of our lawmakers (and definitely Trump). Especially in light of the election in the Netherlands today–is the U.S. just an especially stupid country?

Continue reading for a bite-sized personal essay about John Phillips Souza and small-town politics:

Continue reading TOWOIT #58

People are awful

Seeing all these hateful notes left on doors and car windshields, makes me think of something that happened to my family.

My dad was one of two doctors in town. The other one was a real son of a bitch. Black mail, handing out pain meds like candy, was the mayor for awhile and tried to do away with Martin Luther King day, called it Martin Luther Coon day. Drove a big car, and people said they were afraid for us kids to be walking down the shoulder of the road alone. Thought this guy would just take us out on a whim because he seemed capable of that. My 14-year old brother wrote a letter to the editor in protest about MLK Day and the mayor cornered him at a high school basketball game and said “Nice letter, kid. I hope your first wife is as black as the ace of spades.” So anyway, a sizable chunk of the town was loyal to or somehow beholden to THAT guy. My mom used to say, “I don’t want him to die, I just wish he would move to Mexico and never come back.”

A man came into our 8th grade health class to talk about living with HIV, and afterward he pulled me aside. He had been friends with my uncle, who’d died of AIDS four years earlier. This guy said he’d gone into that other doctor’s office when he first got to town, and he was told to “get the fuck out and never come back.” It was around that time that the bottles showed up. They were all Snapple bottles, with the lids on, and slips of paper inside that said “Doctor Wood has AIDS” meaning my dad, and “Doctor Wood is a fag.” My dad had kicked up quite a stir around that time when The Other Woman found out about Yet Another Woman, and had blown the lid off a whole small-town sex scandal. There was enough uncertainty that I thought, “Maybe he *is* HIV positive, for all I know.” My brother and I picked bottles up off the beach by our house. We thought we saw more out in the water, so we took the skiff out and collected the ones we could find.

The thing that struck me about it was that it was’t just kids. I saw three different types of handwriting on the slips of paper. It looked like a grown man, a grown woman, and a child. So somebody thought this was a good family activity.

Telling this story now, I think I’m a real idiot for being shocked that Trump won. People are awful.

the only way out is through #5

January 21, 2017… Day 2. We march.

A Facebook friend said it best when he wrote “I woke up feeling like a pile of broken dishes, but I got myself up and moving in the direction of the march.”

I woke up with that feeling like I just remembered a good friend died. But after rolling myself over and looking at my phone, there was this text from a friend: “I’m getting my whole family to the march. This is too important.”

She lives way out in the suburbs, she has really little kids, she’s historically apolitical, she’s never even heard terms like “neoliberal” or “intersectional.” She didn’t know that there was a vacant Supreme Court seat. Her husband until recently considered himself a Republican but was also mostly apolitical. She was upset about Trump, but 24 hours earlier she’d bailed on marching with me–she apologized, said too many logistics, just can’t do it. A whole day and evening of inaugural pomp later, she was galvanized to go after all.

Her text energized me. So did the flood of photos from around the country and the world. The D.C. march was already underway. I had to force myself to settle down and eat breakfast, in the midst of worldwide protest tidbits, last minute preparations, logistics, and communications.

Met a bunch of people at the bus stop. We all had to start talking to each other when we realized no bus was going to stop. They just kept passing by, packed. This is like the seed crystal of organizing. People had various ideas, knowledge, needs, and preferences. We split up in groups and dispersed to find our ways to the march. When my group finally got on a bus that was going in the right general direction, we immediately started talking to everyone else who was already on the bus about their plans to make it to the march since the bus could only get us a couple miles away from the starting point.

I bus-befriended a couple about my age (Late 30s? 40-ish?) named Derek and Corinne. They were married, had kids at home. They didn’t have bus cards and seemed unfamiliar with the transit system. They seemed very squeaky clean and square. They were wearing matching official sweatshirts from the march website. They had painfully clean and unfashionable blue jeans in exactly the same shade. They had bright new sneakers. They didn’t seem like activists. Later as we were walking up Jackson with streams of crowds to meet the march, Corinne said “We’re teachers. This is our fourth protest this week.”

The huge marches have been well-covered everywhere that attempts to report news honestly. It took me so long to get home, and I was so cold and stiff and tired, that I’m writing this the next morning, a little removed now from the glow that the marches generated. But it felt good to see tidings pouring in from all over the world–some of them through the conduit of my mom: “They’re marching in Bergen, Norway!!!” she texted me. Everyone everywhere was marching and basking in a new feeling of empowerment. And I think we knew it was a temporary feeling–but any relief from the horror of watching Trumpism take over was so welcome. And there was the hope that we could revive and use the feeling we found together marching.

Well, not everyone was feeling the glow. Near the end of the march, after a couple friends had splintered off, I sat down on a curb to rest and look at the news of other marches. I saw a Facebook post from Ijeoma Oluo that made me sad. She said she was crying because all these white women weren’t there for Black Lives Matter. Several hundred people emphatically agreed with her and expressed their own raw feelings in the comments. After several minutes I had to distance myself from the pain, had to tell myself we’d look forward and try to do better in the future. Because I can’t help anyone by falling down a shame spiral. Self-reflection is my best subject in school, so you know, I’ve BEEN feeling bad already. I had only this one afternoon to feel this togetherness and possibility, and that was what I wanted to feel.

Met up with the writer Ma’Chell Duma outside Key Arena and we sat cross-legged on the wide steps and had a laughing, sometimes gruesome conversation about our personal lives, writing, goals, feminism in Seattle, hope for the future, what Hillary’s up to — it was an unexpected meeting of the minds separate from the march, even as tired marchers still floated past  us with their signs. This too felt subversive. It reminded me that every time two women even have coffee and talk for half an hour, there’s a spark of resistance. Like they say, God is in the space between two people.

Getting home was even harder than getting to the march. On the bus home, I saw the news of Sean Spicer’s press conference — the first press conference — used to harangue the press about their reporting on crowd size. He lied. And he was obviously sent up there to lie. And then he took no questions from the press. It was absurd but also chilling. I was reminded of a sign I’d seen earlier in the day: “If they can get us to BELIEVE ABSURDITIES, they can get us to COMMIT ATROCITIES.” 

And when I got home, and staggered into bed, I just sleepily looked at pink-hued aerial crowd photos and nodded off knowing that I’d fight like hell in the morning and drag as many of my sisters along with me as I could.

Snow Day, Work Day, Bus Day

December 9, 2016

1.) Morning commute.

It snowed while I was sleeping, and in the morning there was fresh snow on the path, the hedges, the cars, and the branches of the cherry trees that grow halfway under the freeway.

My bus was half an hour late. For the first time in months or years, the people at that bus stop actually talked and laughed with me.

Until today, one of the women seemed to have been making a point of never, ever, not ever making eye contact with me. This morning in the snow, she looked right at me, smiled, and in the course of chit chat, made a joke: “In Seattle, there’s a reporter for every snowflake.” At one point I almost asked her if she’d seen Moana, but then I thought “No, no–too much, too friendly.”

Another guy called King County metro and then shared the information with the rest of us. He laughed and said, “We should have expected this, right?” and then asked if anyone wanted to share an Uber.

When our bus finally trundled up, the driver called out through the open door, “I can’t believe you’re all still here!” That was the friendliest he’d ever been too.

I enjoyed thinking that none of us would speak again tomorrow, but that our silence might be slightly warmer.

2.) Workday. 

I’ve been listening to podcasts at work that are about government, politics, history, and current events. It is all part of the big self-education plan, and I can half-consume a lot of information through my ear buds while I do my work.

But when I need to get away from Trump and the dizzying array of bad news and worse omens, I choose stories that are less sweeping and more specific. I either listen to true crime podcasts, or Mental Illness Happy Hour.

Mental Illness Happy Hour is basically long, informal interviews with people about their life stories. The guests on the podcast have all been through a lot–often abuse, addiction, violent crime–and they still have a lot to work through in their daily lives. But at the time they are giving the interview, they also have a lot of wisdom to share and a lot of power. They’ve all survived and grown to a point where they can own their stories and help listeners by being honest and vulnerable. The show is darkly funny a lot of the time.

This morning I was listening to a MIHH guest talk about how she was followed off of a bus by a stranger, and then raped and beaten within an inch of her life. She survived because the bus driver had thought something might be a little off and had called the police just in case. It made me realize that MIHH is just the flip side of the other kind of podcast I’ve been listening to–true crime stories.

The true crime cases are 90% young women disappearing and meeting terrible ends. It should creep me out but I find it comforting in these grim times, to hear a specific sad tale of how one life was snuffed out. How the universe was extinguished in that case, for that one irreplaceable human being. I enjoy the attention and brain power that the podcast devotes to the details of the mystery, as the narrator circles the empty space where a life once was. There is so much love, just ordinary love, in the voices of family members that are interviewed. It takes my mind off the country, the big picture, myself, the future.

As you listen to the true crime podcasts, there’s often a lot of incidental domestic violence, abuse, and mental illness swirling along the sidelines and in the background of the main story. Today I realized that its only luck separating the MIHH guests who tell their own stories from the true crime subjects whose stories are pieced together by others after they are gone.

Even on the scale of individual lives, far from the sick, theatrical grandiosity in Washington D.C., it plays out like Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

3.) Afternoon commute. 

After work the snow is already gone, because this is Seattle. It’s still chilly out though, and I start pacing a little on the sidewalk while I’m waiting for my bus. I turn on my heel to walk back the way I’ve come when I hear behind me, “Ma’am! Ma’am!”

I turn around and a black man about my age is bundling up his stuff and preparing to leave a bench. He’s saying, “Come back, you can sit here! I’m leaving!” I feel sad and awkward, because there had always been enough room on that bench for me to sit down if I’d wanted to. He seemed to think I’d taken one look at him and stalked back in the other direction, unwilling to share a bench with him. I say “No, no, I’m just pacing!” But I’m a little ways off from him and I can tell that my voice is getting lost in the sound of idling bus engines. He kind of gives the “roger that” body language you use when you don’t know exactly what someone said but you figure it’s not that crucial.

I go stand halfway up the block from him, and I’m thinking “Oh well, that’s another awkward incident to add to my collection.” He’s still standing near the bench, facing away from me and smoking a cigarette. After a few minutes I think, “Oh what the hell.” I walk all the way up to him and say at close range, “I was just pacing before. That’s why I turned around like that.”

He says, “Oh ok. You have a pretty dimple.” This strikes me as quite generous because in my coke bottle glasses I kind of look like Steve Forbes, dimple or no. Also, this man has TWO deep dimples so it’s like my dimple has just been complimented by a dimples expert. I say, “Thanks, you too!” and scuttle back up the block without engaging further.

Seattle freeze mostly preserved for another day.

Detail

I had an encounter on the way home from zumba tonight. I can’t even tell you how silly zumba feels to me now, like fiddling while Rome burns. Still I tell myself, “Now is no time to be soft in mind and body” and heave myself in the direction of the gym. And then the whole time I’m doing light-hearted dance moves I’m thinking, “Later we’ll see ourselves as naive in these days. I guess this is our life now. Trying to preserve something of the U.S. from creeping autocracy. Trying to keep autocracy to a creep.”

At the end of summer, in sunnier times in these United States, I was walking down the street in my neighborhood in something that could only be described as a get-up. It was layers, and flouncy, and competing patterns.

I heard a cheery voice call out “Great eye for color!” and looked down to see a wizened, nearly toothless man in a heap of colorful rags, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk and smiling at me. He seemed to be genuinely hailing me as one aesthete to another.

Tonight I saw him outside the drugstore. He asked me for a quarter because he wanted to buy a bottle of nail polish for his artwork. He had a feathery staff and a woven, feathery hat. No one would doubt that he really did need nail polish for an art project. So I gave him six bucks, which was all the cash I had on me.img_2742

In exchange, he gave me a card-sized print of a piece of artwork, and told me about himself. “I’m an artist,” he said, “but I have no patience for the academy. I would rather live in quietude in the woods than surround myself with rich people and their rabble.” He had dirt-blackened fingernails, fingerless gloves, and he swished his hands around artily while he talked. He smelled like tobacco and unwashed human. The card was a color photocopy pasted to a magazine cover for stiffness.

It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the words he’d written down in one corner: It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

And underneath that… arbeit macht frei.

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(A gate at Auschwitz. It means “work sets you free.”)

Coelacanth

I lived in Seattle for a few years in my 20s, in a crappy studio across the parking lot from the coffee shop where I worked. Outside of work, I just wrote and hung out with friends and said yes whenever someone asked me out. Then I crushed so hard on a pedal steel guitar player that I moved to Brooklyn. After several years I wound up in Seattle again.

Not long after I moved back, a customer from that old coffee shop sat down next to me on the 44 bus. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t kept in touch. He was an odd duck, lived alone with his cat, worked from home. There was always the sense that he gleaned a large chunk of his social nutrition each day from our smiles of greeting, the fact that we knew his name, the casual exchange of basic pleasantries. I respected that he was like a creature that lived near a deep sea vent—the solitude and simplicity of his life wouldn’t be for everyone, but he was well adapted to it. This was back when I viewed myself as young and full of possibility. Others as old, limited, gone round the bend. I was a smug, ponytailed angel of customer service.

When he sat next to me on the bus, he didn’t say hello or make eye contact. I was older and thicker and squarer. I figured he didn’t remember me. He was still staring straight ahead when he said, “Did you ever read that book about coelacanths that I told you about?”

I had no recollection of the fish, the book about the fish, or the conversation about the book. My mind was blank except for the way the syllables in the word itself knocked against each other. That I remembered like a song that gets stuck in your head for a whole summer. I laughed his question off and then it was my stop.

Only later did it come swimming back to me: I did read the book. I must have. Why else would I know so much about coelacanths and their rediscovery?

Northbound 16: Friday

Friday afternoon. Crowded bus, and the first person who gets on who can’t find a seat is a very tall, very rangy old man with baggy clothes that hang well on his broad shoulders even though they are the muddied, rumpled, tattered layers of a homeless person who is having a hard time keeping up with hygiene. He smells that way too. His hair is thick and white, and in its dirtiness has shaped itself into a wind-blown pompadour that is rakishly pleasing in the way it looks blasted up and away from his skull. He comes in talking to himself and instead of proceeding all the way to the back, he stops in the aisle about ten feet back and stands there facing the front, one hip jutted, one hand on each rail. He’s just a few feet back from me. The people who get on the bus on the next several stops crowd near the front instead of asking him to move back farther, or trying to move past him.

He’s saying “What’s the matter, Kevin? Are you afraid? What’s the matter, Kevin-faggot, you little squealer, San Quentin isn’t good enough for you, Kevin. Are you afraid of fainting, Kevin? I’ll bash your head in with a baseball bat, Kevin. Ahhh, come on down, Kevin-faggot, come on down.” He has a warm, sandy voice that contrasts with what he’s saying, and he draws out all his words except “Kevin” and “Kevin-faggot” which are quick, staccato, bitten off. The effect is mesmerizing. He sounds like a schoolyard sadist who is really, really good at what he does. Also like a crime boss.

The guy standing in front of him answers a cell phone call and is saying loudly, “Yeah, yeah! Everything’s great! Really looking forward to seeing you guys!” So for a bit I can’t hear what the Dickens character behind him is saying, but I catch a few intriguing words and phrases besides the ubiquitous “Kevin.” These include “Molly Ringwald’s best friend”, “Joe Pesci”, and “the Everett Herald.”

A popular stop comes and a bunch of people press off, including the man on the cell phone. A woman sitting behind me gets up, and tries to politely but assertively squeeze past the people standing to get off the bus. She’s more polite than assertive and there is a long moment when she is standing facing the front and there is no one between her and the man talking to Kevin, who is just a few feet back. I feel nervous for her, anxious that the people in the aisle let her by. I don’t think anything is going to happen to her, I just feel the social claustrophobia of the situation. She glances back at him, then forward, and he takes a step forward just as she manages to sidle past someone and get away.

The tall man is maneuvers to two newly empty seats across the aisle from me. He slants diagonally across both seats, one long leg folded over the other and a foot dangling elegantly out into the aisle. He drapes one long arm across the back of the seat, and the other rests lightly on his knee. He looks like he should be wearing an ascot and smoking a fine cigar, maybe expounding on W.B. Yeats. I lean forward and take a quick look at his face. It is ruddy and weathered with crazy teeth. He looks like he could not be a real person in real life, he is far too much of a caricature. He is a fine-featured actor having a lark in his old age, playing a stereotypical homeless guy. I am separated from him by a stoic young man who is studiously looking straight ahead. The old man across the aisle hasn’t stopped disparaging Kevin and I try to swivel my ears to catch his little phrases. “Heeyyyyy,” he’s saying, and then “Kev-Kev! How many times are you going to lie under oath, Kevin-faggot? I’ll strangle you, Kevin.”

A woman sitting in front of him hands her bag to the stranger sitting next to her and awkwardly moves up past the people standing, to get to the driver as the bus is flying up Aurora. Her voice carries back as she says “This man is being VERBALLY ABUSIVE TO ME! He does NOT belong on this bus!!” The driver hears the shrill urgency in her voice but can’t understand what she’s saying. He brakes and pulls over before we get to the bridge. He says, “What now?” She repeats, “He is verbally ABUSING me!! He shouldn’t be on here!”

A man standing near the front in a black leather jacket, male-pattern baldness, says to both the woman and the driver, “Now, in my opinion, that man is really just talking to himself and not to you.” It’s true. If anyone is being abused, it’s Kevin. The woman is disgusted by the lack of sympathy and struggles back to her seat. She’s in her late 50s, dressed in business clothes. The man behind her keeps talking to Kevin.

Several minutes later she goes up to the front again. The bus has emptied out some, so it’s easier for her to get to the front. She says “He’s saying FAGGOT an awful lot – so I guess that’s just ok now? Saying FAGGOT?”

The man stops talking to Kevin for a few beats and then calls forward in a pleasant voice, “What’s the matter, miss? You don’t know the way to the University of Washington?” The man standing up front in the black leather jacket says nicely, “It’s ok; he’s just talking to himself.” And then the talker says a little defensively, “A lot of people talk to themselves! You know what you can do, man in the leather jacket? You can grow some hair on the top of your head.” This guy is a lot gentler with people in real life than he is with Kevin. He’s leaned out into the aisle to say all this, and for the first time the driver can see him in the mirror. The driver laughs. “OH,” he says, “is that who we’ve been talking about?”

Both the offended woman and the offending man got off at the next stop and went their separate ways on the sidewalk. There’s an exhalation, a murmur—partly because of him, and partly because of her. More because of the general situation. The driver says to the man in the leather jacket, but also to anyone who can hear, “That’s the first time he’s been like that. Usually he just sits quietly, very well-behaved.”

At the next stop, the young man gets up. Before he gets off the bus he turns and says to the driver, “I thought you handled that very well. What’s your name?” The driver says “Uh… Paul?” and the young man, who has turned red, thanks him and nearly falls down the steps of the bus as he gets off.

After he’s gone, the driver says “I didn’t really think I handled it. I didn’t do much of anything.” I say, “Well, you didn’t over-react.” My voice doesn’t come out loudly enough so the driver says to the leather-jacket guy, “What did she say?” Leather jacket says “You didn’t over-react.” The driver smiles at me in the mirror. He is cute, I see now, and I wish I had done more grooming before leaving the house. He says “Riding the bus just means that you’re crammed in with all sorts of people acting all sorts of ways. I have to focus on driving safely. I can’t govern people.”

A guy behind me looks up from his book and says, as if laying the matter to rest, “The guy was just fine. Crazy, yes, but just fine.”

Bus Romance Woman, Solo

This morning the white woman from the bus romance sat across the aisle from me. No longer accompanied by her handsome black man in fluorescent high viz, she’s now left with only the patterns and textures she can carry with her. She takes off her coat and wads it up behind her. She sticks her feet out in the aisle to stretch her legs. She’s wearing fetching black and white lace-up rainboots. She has big hoop earrings and her arms are bare. The thickness of her arms and abdomen offset her long legs and lank hair. She is not bothering with good posture or trying to look cute for anyone. Her deep nasal bray is folded up behind her dark lip stick. She has a double-chin when she looks down at her phone. The light on the bus is ghoulish for her skin tone. I can see the flesh of her face drooping off her cheek bones. This is only unfair if she gives a damn about any of it and–for the moment–she doesn’t seem to.