Monday, April 28, 2014

The Good Student

Wild ideas had been on the decline for a long time.

Once abundant, only a few remained in idea preserves and insurgent tangles where the outcasts hunkered down in cardboard boxes. Forgotten books, ideas in them all but extinct, dried out in sheds and basements.

Endangered ideas still roamed the streets at night in hushed conversations, outside the exposing flood of titillating LED crawlers.

In a secret chamber, behind the wall of her closet, the good student still cared for the last of their kind. She kept them in the corners of her mind where no one could see them. Her favorite, self-reflection, and another related to social conscience, gave her the thrill of a dangerous secret.

She found them in a tattered book in the back of the hologram immersion theater where she worked. Some of the others wanted to throw the book away, or burn it. She said she would take care of it for them, and, being the supervisor, had the authority to convince them.

It took work and time to puzzle out the strange ways of seeing that the words engendered.

They took root and she had no one to talk to about them. She spent more time alone with words than on her cyber tether. 

Some of her friends wondered why she stopped joining them at the entertainment modules. "How will you live without fun?" they chided.

She smiled and implied that she had a new  e-boy and that he kept her stimulated.

After a while the friends moved on and gave her peace and space that she used to cultivate the ideas.

They were strange and dark and disturbing. She did not understand why she so sought them out. Maybe it was just because they were so "bad," as everyone seemed to believe.

The domesticated ideas, of course, were jealous, and patrolled the planet looking for the last of the wild ideas. When they caught one, it was big news, and the public execution of the wild idea made great spectacle.

The mottoes of "Consume!" and "It's All About You!" paraded past on the eyeglass digiscreens and were repeated in greeting as the citizens satisfied their appetites for sex, food, fun, and euphoria.

But the good student wanted something more.

She knew there was only trouble down this road, but she felt compelled to feed and free her mind. She puzzled over the words by Jung and Marx and Thoreau. The words became her friends more than her friends, her comfort in the dry desert that passed for intellectual inquiry.

But the ideas were not tame and could not be fenced in. They began to inhabit her facial expressions, even when she said nothing.

Some of the workers at the Hologram Immersion Theater noticed that she had less and less enthusiasm for "It's All About You!" or "Trivia Rules!" when they shared the greeting. They wondered if they should notify the Domesticated Idea Agents.

They worried about her, were frightened by her. She sat more and more by herself, without her digiscreen, as she mulled over some question she kept to herself, some memory of a time long gone, when it seemed so important to touch a lovely, delicate, vanishing mystery.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Turning North

The day spread out before him in an unbroken expanse of deep grass, wild flowers, and undulating hills. He stood up, rested from a night sleeping under the stars, and stretched, taking in the sunrise. The shadows revealed the slightest hollows in the broad plain that ran for twenty miles to the base of the Mountain.

There, the land rose, dark with ponderosa pines, up to the tree line to exposed rock, snow fields, and rarefied air.

He had to whole day to make his way through the pinon, juniper, and cedar pygmy forest to the base of the Mountain. He could take his time, savor each step.

He hefted his load and began to walk. The desire to move overpowered the hunger for breakfast, the habit of coffee.

It was his day to break a trail into new territory.

His mind was clear and his eyes sharp. He scanned the fields for elk. They sometimes came down from the high country to graze on the thick pastures reserved for cattle. There was a herd of about seventeen animals that he had seen before in this area, and he had heard a bull trumpet the night before. Its voice comforted something in him that needed proximity to a wild creature.

Now, there was nothing but sun, grass, scattered trees, and a breeze. He made his way north, growing  older with each step, grayer, a little less flexible.

It was his mind that really began to change though.

He saw beyond the borders of his limited perspective. He felt sad about how much time he had spent consumed by hunger, ambition, and isolation.

As a younger man, he worried about whether or not he would get enough and had made mistakes in the name of taking too much care of himself, whatever that was.

Now, the view was bigger, and he saw others as his business.

It was now, when his strength was fading, that he most wanted to apply himself, to give himself.

Of course, there were the voices he carried with him, would always carry with him.

They were packed away in the dark pockets of his pack. The told him to stop and rest; they whispered to the tired parts of his bones, saying slow down, stay here, go no further, don't worry about the others. You owe them nothing.

He knew these voices, though not exactly right, had a point to make. He had to keep his eyes and ears on the Mountain. Getting there would require every flicker of energy and strength he could marshal. He had no time or energy to spare listening to the fear hiding in those shadows.

For most of his life, he had given them too much time, had hidden out and avoided his birthright. He did what he could, he told himself. He did what he had to do, he told himself. He had been a good man, a serious man, he told himself.

And he had done these things, but he knew he had bought a lie, had failed to surrender to the work, hardship, and terror of believing in the impossible. It was for that, and for forgiving that, that he walked today.

So he walked, every step closer, a paradox of decline and ascension, invisibility and illumination.

The day was still young, but its light emanated more and more from inside as he gradually grew increasingly blind, feeble, and sure of his step.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Dangers of the Blue Pill -- A Confession

Addiction is not too strong a word for what happens when I get the occasional free moment to surf the web. I don't know the world of internet porn, but I am guessing that the pull of that, for some, is no less strong. I'm not that into Facebook, but hear that too can become compulsive. No, I've settled into a my own cyber heroin.

My "thing," my game, is to find the best deal on Craigslist. Specifically, I look for nice bikes at bargain prices. I track them down with all the persistence of a detective on the trail of a serial murderer. I compare brands, components, condition, year, trends, and add it all up to a kind of mental Blue Book for bikes. I then winnow down the candidates to the deal of the day.

Yes, I can hear you responsible types out there. I could be putting my left brain to better use by researching or writing things that would bring me prestige or publication. What's the fun in that?

I don't need these bikes, and don't actually buy them, but I am obsessed by them.

Here is what I understand about why I do this.

I wanted a bike as a kid, and I didn't get one, until it was too late. That bike would have been the ticket to acceptance by the local bike gang -- Hobie, Seth, Pug, Mook -- all of the cool kids. They had Schwinn Sting Rays, Lemon Peelers, Apple Krates, stick shifters, slicks, sissy bars, and banana seats. These were expensive bikes, way beyond what I and my family could afford. But these had them and rolled around the neighborhood like princes. I had an old piece of pig iron junk that my sisters had outgrown.

Now, when I look at the listings on line with money in my pocket, I see them still. And I see me rolling now, in 2014, along the trails near Flagstaff, on a cool, carbon, 29er Santa Cruz Tall Boy, with my new gang, now in our fifties and sixties. It is a hazy, cheesecloth vision of finality, of realization, redemption, and fulfillment.

Funny how things persist, how the desire to make right something that cannot be made right lingers there in the folds of consciousness.

This illusion, this fantasy, this unmet and requited need for membership runs beneath my days teaching, writing, supervising, and advising.

Every once in a while, it gets out of control and I abandon my work to indulge in the fantasy, haunting the listings on line, the electronic manna. I hope to find it somewhere in there, that long-lost ticket to recognition and status among my peers.

I know that it will never meet that unmet childhood need, that the game is over, that I lost. But I can't give up hope that I might get a second chance to make it right.

Self-help people are quick to remind me that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. Well, maybe.

Another take reminds me that it's hard to wake up to reality, to take the red pill, to admit that the illusion isn't what I really want, what is really good for me.

Morpheus of The Matrix, waits for me, red pill in hand, his knife sharp, ready to cut the electronic umbilical cord, rabbit hole exposed.

It's time to ascend to the very uncontrollable reality outside cyber space and go for a ride on one of those ganga machines. 

Wrong Turn

Let's say you were going somewhere one night, somewhere important, like a party where someone was waiting for you.

Say you were at a light wondering which was the right road and you took another one, one that pulled you off your life trajectory and onto another one. You took it because you were curious and full of yourself, thought you had so much power that you could do anything, become something else, and still come out ahead.

This new one asked you to twist and contort to survive. As you wandered gravel roads in the middle of the night, the moon only a sliver, if visible at all, your lights covered with dust, your mouth dry, you thought maybe you should head back. But it was too late.

The party you were going to go to had broken up. People had gone home. Someone was probably wondering what happened, but there was no way to contact her. (This was before cell phones, wifi, or even email.)

So you kept going and you ended up acting out a life you didn't think would go this way.

Now you wonder if maybe everybody takes a wrong turn, but they don't admit it, even to themselves. No matter, you did.

People out here don't know you and look at you strangely. They don't care about your family, your history, and they don't get your jokes. Not many of them know your birthday and no one knows your astrological sign. When you think they are talking to you, they are really on their cell phones talking to somebody about surgical procedures. Everybody seems sick or has gas.

In this land, you are an outsider. Just the way you wanted it.

Being an outsider has its advantages. You get a lot of time alone for one thing. That's a kind of gold, you have to admit. But sometimes solitude lapses into loneliness. In those times, you imagine how you might find your way back, and you see what a long way it is.

By now, they have probably forgotten you anyway, you who left. Plus you are dangerous now. The one who went down the dusty road, who saw what was over the ridge, who opened his eyes, who could see where he had been from a distance, with some perspective. You saw that things didn't have to be the way they were. You saw the machinery behind making up a life, you knew that you had done it, and you had to accept the responsibility for your own sadness. 

Eventually, there you are, out of gas, the end of the road taken in the wrong turn.

As you look out over the desert from your perch above the abandoned car, you ask yourself if you did as well as you could have, if, maybe, you should have done more to get back to the road you were on. At this point, likely, it doesn't matter anymore.

But you wonder anyway. No harm in thinking, right?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Temperature's Rising

The last of winter left us yesterday, after the clouds wrung remaining drops onto the windshield. Those drops are dusty now, and the windshield holds the pattern they left. It's dirty.

But I think I'll leave it as a reminder that the rains will return. They won't be the rain of winter, but will instead be the thunderstorms of July.

It will be a long wait.

This is what we desert rats call first summer. It is the hot summer, and it begins now, extends through May, and really hits its stride in June. The furnace is kicking in, in other words. Wild fires, air that feels like a sauna, pine needles that snap when stepped on, all signal the arrival of high pressure mixed with a sun directly overhead. Soon we'll begin to count the consecutive string of hundred-degree days.

It's time to hunker down, to get "sunned in," to act like the animals and get up early, retreat when the sun gets higher, and then go back out when it is setting.

It's not a bad rhythm, this desert routine, good work, in other words, if you can get it.

But, of course, we humans tend to ignore such good sense. We stick to our artificial schedules, even when they defy conditions. Instead of adapting, we drive with the A/C too high on asphalt that dries out tires and could cook eggs. We work under a sun that boils the brain. We waste energy and don't harmonize with what we cannot change.

We could harvest more solar energy, but remove credits for installing solar panels. We waste energy fighting against the heat by creating more heat, more CO2. We exhaust ourselves trying to survive conditions we might be better off avoiding.

So it begins again, this season of heat in the desert. If I could I would rewrite the script and make this place cooler, greener, more liveable. But it is what it is, and life belongs to those most able to adapt.

N'est pas?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Downward Mobility

It sat there in the parking lot at Home Depot, and it was for sale. It was humble, but strong, well made. The owner had it built to haul his Harley around the mountain states when he was younger. Now, it was time for him and his wife to travel in an RV, not a motorcycle. He wanted to sell the little trailer, to down-size, clean out the junk around his house.

I thought I could use it for our construction project up in New Mexico. It would save wear and tear on the little pick up when we hauled sheet rock, tile, concrete blocks, and plywood from Gallup or Albuquerque down to El Morro. The pick up had been sagging under the loads of wood and dry wall and cement bags and I was concerned about the life of the springs. It's an old truck, pretty small too.

So I bought the trailer. It's part of the next chapter of my life, which is a step backward in time and status to the life of a construction worker. I will be building a house in New Mexico again this summer and likely into the next decade.

At almost sixty years old, this is a crazy direction to take. It's expensive (I don't have much money); it's physically challenging (I am getting weaker, stiffer, more brittle.); it's lower status (not that I hold very high status as a low-rung lecturer); and it is remote (way out there away from medical care, hardware stores, and theaters).

That said, the pace of life is slower and the self-reliance higher. People have less and do more with what they have. They innovate, invent, grow food, set up solar panels, make their own entertainment -- and beer.

It's going to be quite a shift in lifestyle. And I doubt that it will make me look very good on paper. 

But I will have a trailer, a truck, and -- maybe -- a roof over my head. My old age will have less protection, less financial security, but more sun, more sky, more manual work, and more trail to explore as my days grown dimmer.

To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo

She places a book, thick as a brick, a cornerstone of a bank, on the table. She is studying o-chem, organic chemistry. She sets her I-Phone to one side, butters her freshly toasted bagel, and polishes her glasses. As she licks the butter off the knife, she wonders if she should get that tattoo she has been thinking about, the one that came to her in a dream a while back.

She runs her finger along the screen of her phone, just to make sure he has not sent another desperate text message. He seems to be taking it hard, her moving west to do her pre-med requirements.

The tattoo braids a sinuous vine of roses with a snake and is set in the Garden of Eden. It dances in contrast to the rigid rules of chemistry that she will spend the morning mapping out on scratch paper. She doesn't have much time to think about the tattoo, given all the pages she will have to cover before the exam next week.

There is a notice on her Facebook page, something about a status change of her best friend back home. She says she is dating him now.

A stab of shock, anger, regret, and jealousy hit her all at once. She sets the phone on the table and looks out at the other students hard at work on their projects and course work or whatever it is they do with their time here so early in the morning.

One of the women wears a camisole that flatters her shoulders and slender arms has an artful run of tattoos across her back, down her arm, and under her armpit, disappearing beneath her shirt toward her breast. This woman sits with a handsome, tall, thin man and their talk is secretive, animated, and she stares him in the eyes.

The med student opens her notebook and pulls out some three by five note-cards. She slowly lifts the cover of the thick o-chem text and locates the chapter reading for the day. She pauses for a second before diving in to the bonds between atoms and the electrical charge they engender.

The tattoo winds away in the back of her mind, food for later thought, some other day, when the work is done and the exams taken.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Into the Numbers

Sun rose at 5:55 this morning.

It was 4.14.14 yesterday.

The first of four lunar eclipses over the next two years happened last night.

My car odometer read 123456 at 6:54 when I was driving home.

And there is more. Much, much more. 

What to do with all of this?

Take a deep drink of cool water, doesn't matter when or how much.

Either that, or buy a lottery ticket...

Render Unto Caesar

Taxes are due. Like most of us, I have to pay mine. As I write the check, I think about the price I pay for what I have in this life, and the price I pay for wanting so much comfort and security.

I wanted to be a writer but ended up a teacher. That's mostly OK, but there are times when I wonder about the dreams and where they went. Who is to blame for things not going according to the dream? 

I came to writing hoping to make it as a literary icon, fatuous dreamer that I am.

I have struggled to find my way through the gauntlet of influences, genres, purposes, and disciplines that define the writing tribe. I have been caught between the conflicting desires to be edgy, hip, disaffected and passionate, beholden, and defined, between poetry and politics, between imagination and research, between safety and danger.

There was the literary scene, the aesthetic longing of poetry and story, and the draw of Richard Shelton, Edward Abbey, and an MFA. I dabbled there, but did not commit. That was the land of the genius, the star, the error of mistaking the art for the artist. I did not want to worship at that altar. And I don't have that kind of talent, that knack for thrilling fiction. I kept looking at what I saw, my life, the lives of those around me. In that I saw a subtlety that was far less interesting to an audience wanting space wars, action, and beautifully sculpted heroes.

Then there was the socio-politico-economo world of angry political scholarship. I sat in Harvey Goldberg's social history classes and soaked up the elan of his rage at lost potential in the capitalist world of exploitation and corruption. Eduardo Galeano, Cold War history, counter-insurgency, cover-ups. I wanted to be a revolutionary, almost joined the Socialist Party.

But again, saw the need to adhere to the party line at all costs as something I could not do.

I was beholden to something else. That something was the connection between soul and story. I wanted to commit to therapeutic writing, but was not strong enough. There was no there there, at least not yet.

I have been looking for answers outside myself for too long.

I love sitting and journaling, of finding life and a way into it with words. I want to live there, to read and write for the rest of my days, to produce something true and beautiful, to synthesize what I have learned in this life in a way that others will find helpful. I feel like this is my purpose, my mission. More than anything, I want to write. That is when I feel whole and at peace. Whatever pulls me away from this place keeps me from my real life's work. But to survive I have to do things I don't want to do.

That's just the way it is.

When accounts are tallied, you either made it or you didn't. I made it as a teacher, not a poet. I have no one to blame but myself. I have not worked as hard as I could, nor have I defined what it was that gave me life. That is what I will have to answer for in the end.

When it comes to rendering unto soul that which is soul's, I am in arrears. I have forgotten that debt, or put it off, or decided somewhere that it was something I could not afford, did not deserve.  

There it is, and I find it gratifying to lay the cards on the table to see where I am.

The rest of the story is up to me. 

Beneath the Blood Moon

It hung there in the sky, just above the palo verde tree. A silence pervaded the yard before a dog barked nervously too near. No dog lives so close.

The gravel was cold on my bare feet, hard and sharp. I stood in my underwear with my crappy camera and looked at the blood moon.

Why I was up I can't exactly say. I just was.

Something pulled me out of bed. Bad dreams maybe. Good dreams probably.

It seems like these moments come too few and far between, so I grab them when I can, when the responsible side of me is sleeping. That guy is a good man, the part of me that tries to be a good father, worker, husband. But other parts of me get tired of, as Stanley Kunitz says in "The Long Boat," "all that caring."

It's not that this part of me doesn't care, it just cares about wilder desires -- alll of the things I have put off -- art, writing, music, bike racing, travel, late nights.

He is here now, under this blood moon, looking at the impossible roundness of that floating, dry marble up there. It is suspended; we are all suspended, up and out here in space. This dusty planet has a thin layer of breathable air, a little water to drink, some soil that grows food. It's nothing short of the most valuable of gems, of the least likely jackpot of a galactic lottery.

It's cold in my underwear. Time to go back inside and dream the dream of days when I might join in the race. But for now, I have taken on duties that I will complete. I gave my word.

But it is good to know that a wild world is waiting when the time comes, when the moon quiets a dog barking a bit too close, and a silence sits on the yard like a beckoning lover.

She lifts a blanket and calls me home when the moon is red and responsibility sleeps.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Transitions, Fear, Longing (A Meditation)

While Megan was doing a  job interview yesterday afternoon, I was in an English Department meeting. Megan's job would take her three hundred miles north into New Mexico. The departmental move to new college would mean new work for me. She will move. I will be here, at least for a while.

The details are myriad and complicated. Suffice it say that this is one of the big, honkin', growth spurts that humans go through. Sometimes, most times, in my case, I just survive. This time I want to meet it, feel it, make it deliberate, make it my own, remember it when I die. 

A new path waits for each of us, for both of us. The particulars are not clear, and the uncertainty fuels anxiety, lots of anxiety.

In the meantime, we have work to do. Between teaching, building, kids graduating, and bodies declining, I feel lost and tossed on a sea way beyond my control or comprehension.

Yes, I know that control is an illusion, a fallacy, a construction of mind that keeps us from going crazy when confronting a constantly shifting reality. But I have to say that I want that illusion.

I want something to cling to, a raft of familiarity, of comfort.

Aint gonna happen. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I also want the full frontal zing of this moment, with all the fear, intensity, excitement, and urgency to respond.

I have to think, but I also have to surrender to currents of chaos. Part of me doesn't want to think, to take responsibility for being pro active, for learning, for adapting. You might say I avoid pain as a default SOP (standard operating procedure). Having some addictive and OCD tendencies, I have "medicated" with various substances, mood altering behaviors, and obsessive patterns to stay away from the pain. This coping strategies have worked for me, but are in my way now.

In addition to the external changes, I have some internal changes to make as well. Damn.

I need part of me that I abandoned a long time ago. This is the part of me that plans, that balances his checkbook, that prioritizes, that steps up and into the wind when it is time to adapt and change. That part has gone off to some distant forest of the mind, long ago exiled when I decided I wanted the world to take care of me, rather than assume responsibility for taking care of the world, or myself.

Where are you, lost and exiled accountant/project manager/detail oriented/deliberative/leader/king?

I need you now. It's time to come home.

These moments early in the morning, just past the edges of sleep, cut a clean, sharp focus on what is. Before I can crank up the spinning illusions, I see what is really before me, the inevitability of my life, what I have taken on, where I need to go.

Just sayin. Out loud and on the ground. Come home.Don't make me beg.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Little Dramas*

We're on a tight time leash: Megan wants to climb Tumamoc, the local steep hike to a radio tower, before going to teach at her inner city school; I plan to pick up lumber and PVC elbows for the vanity in the bathroom project before heading to the classroom myself; phone calls need to be made; papers need to be graded; memos need to be written; appointments are pending and need to be made. The list, as usual, is long.

Megan is out before the sun is up, dressed in her workout duds. I am packing up my book bag, charging the phone, the laptop, and getting the bike ready for a seven mile commute.

Then I hear the car. Wap. Wap. Wap. There is an ugly clunking sound as the motor mounts shudder under the wobble of the engine. The car wheezes and then dies. I hear it start, and again shudder a painful effort to run before dying.

I hear the car door close, the gate to the yard unlatch, and the back door open.

Megan enters, exasperated, and says "Pack rats..."

As I lift the hood, I see two plug wires severed, whole inches of the wires missing. A little nest of hood insulation is tucked into a cavity between valve covers and fuse box.

A fork in the mental road thrusts itself in front of me. He gives me a chest bump, a shove, a confrontation. It is the moment demanding my attention, my decision of how I will respond.

Down one fork lies the reflex to blame, to turn on Megan, to remind her that I told her the packrats would eat the wires if she parked here. The temptation to rage, to worship at the altar of adrenaline, activation, of energy, of railing at the world for withholding so much, for making my existence so miserable.

Down the other fork lies a response rather than reflex. This fork sees the problem and the need to deal with it, but not in anger. This path does not blame Megan or me or even the packrats but looks at options. What should we do about this?

I take a breath and look into the eyes of my opponent, my nemesis, my gift. I wait before telling him, "I've got this."

He smiles and says "next time" with his expression, before standing back, out of my way, to see what I will do.

I decide that I will attempt to drive the car to a shop before it opens, drop the key, and get to work. 

I get the key, start the car, let it warm up, and put it into gear. It dies. Repeat. Repeat.

My buddy climbs in beside me, elbow resting on the door, window down. He would smoke if he had one. Let's see how you do with this, he says, not giving up. We have a ways to go and a lot can go wrong, no? he says, eyebrows up in mock fascination. 

Then, the car runs when I put it into gear. As the RPMs rise, it runs smoother. I back up; the car stalls. I start, wait, try again. It runs. I slow for speed bumps; the car almost dies, but not quite. Now I have to get up over the hill to make it to Swan Road, where I can descend to the repair shop.

The little Toyota feels like it will shake the fillings out of my teeth as the car and I creep up the hill, my foot pressing the accelerator to the floor, my body rocking forward to gain more momentum. I think we will stall,  but we make it.

The downhill is easy. Running on two cylinders, though, I am much slower than traffic coming down from the foothills. Cars close in on me, and I can see irritation as they signal to pass before flying past with a middle finger in my direction.

A yellow Lotus sports car (I am NOT kidding; I could not make this stuff up.) passes aggressively and swerves in front of me. I can see the driver is a young guy, delighting in his anger and ability to dust me and my dweeb of a car.

My companion looks at me, knowingly. What jerks, he says. Give 'em the fuckin' bird man. Let's hear some cussin', some energy. This totally sucks and you know it. 

I want to say "asshole," but instead say "Buddha."

I make the turn into the shop just as the engine dies with a final "Wap!"

Megan picks me up and takes me, my bike, and herself, to work.

"That could have been ugly this morning," She said. "But it was lovely."

She put her hand on my thigh.

"Thank you."

My buddy rolls his eyes and lifts the slightest hint of a Mona Lisa smile.

*This essay is dedicated to Ken Bacher: teacher, poet, example.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gabriel and the Tarantula

We don't know how it got inside, but it seemed to know exactly where it was going.

It headed for the kitchen, where Gabriel was sauteeing some peppers and onions for his vegetarian tostada. As the pepper's scent wafted into the air, and the cayenne darkened to a deep brown, the tarantula advanced. Its elaborate lifting, weighting, unweighting, and toe points gave it the impression of a dance step -- the tarantella to be exact.

The sultry August night in Tucson was familiar with such things. This was the season of monsoon corn, Sonoran toads bleating like babies after a rain, Mexican bats dipping and darting for mosquitoes. The nights were an explosion of life. The air was thick with the urge to eat and mate. Some things try to address unfinished business, and take the days to move and make things right. 

It made straight for Gabriel, rounding the corner of the fridge and advancing onto the kitchen tile.

Gabriel still did not know why he happened to turn around, but he did.

The tarantula, sensing the movement, stopped in its complicated tracks, and looked at Gabriel through its compound spider eyes.

Gabriel froze as the peppers and onions began to carmelize.

His tostada would have to wait.

Nobody knows how long the two of them sized each other up in an arachnid/human face off.

The tarantula did not rear up in defensive posture, nor did it kick any stinging hairs in Gabriel's direction.

Gabriel did not raise his sandal-covered foot, nor did he roll up a news paper and crush the interloper.

Instead he turned down the flame, reached into his pocket, found his phone, and called me. Then he backed away from the big spider, and slowly exited the kitchen.

Before I could pick up, the tarantula resumed its trek and followed Gabriel out of the kitchen, down the hall, around the corner, and then under the door into Gabriel's bedroom. It climbed up the wall, about eye-high, and then stopped, head up.

"There's a tarantula on the wall," Gabriel's voice said when I finally got back to him.

"On the wall?" I said, not quite grasping the situation.

As his landlord, I felt responsible for heating, cooling, roof integrity, and wild animal intrusions into the small apartment.

"I'll be right over."

He was right. There was a tarantula on the adobe brick wall.

Gabriel was on the phone with his grandmother.

"Kill it," I heard through the receiver.

"Yes, Tata, I know that they are not friends, that we go way back," Gabriel conceded.

After a few more choice phrases on the reprehensibility of tarantulas, Gabriel hung up and looked at me.

"The was my grandmother. She says our family has a long history with the tarantula clan, that we always kill them when we see them. It's a kind of feud or vendetta." He looked at my incredulity of a feud with tarantulas.

"It's not the tarantulas themselves... it's that they show up at bad times, and my family sees them as part of the bad times."

I nodded. I did not know of such things. I was a white college teacher, and Gabriel was a Tohono O' Odham graduate student. We were working together on a summer course teaching research to undergraduates. He was a smart, curious guy with an iron work ethic. I respected his advice about the course and needed him to help with all the paper grading.

"She ordered me to kill it," he said.

"Well, what do you want to do?" I asked.

"You're not going to believe this, but I want to take a different path."

I nodded, listening, waiting for him to go on. I wanted to know more and he was clearly uncomfortable with his thoughts.

"I want to end this war my family is fighting with the tarantulas. I want to make it right and move on, not as friends necessarily, but in peaceful coexistence. Even if the thing gives me the creeps..."

"We can catch it and move it outside if you want," I offered.

"You could do that?"

I was surprised that he was surprised.

"Yeah, no problem."

I went to get a manila folder and a Tupperware container. I would put the plastic dish over the tarantula and then slide the folder underneath, making a trap and transport container.

When I returned, Gabriel was talking the spider, and it seemed to be listening.

"This has gone on too long, and you and I know it's time to move past all this. We know better now. We share this place. We are brothers in a way, both trying to make a living here. You pose no real danger to me and I don't get anything out of harming you. We are both expressions of life here and can again remember that."

He stopped talking when he saw me, a little embarrassed, but not much. I agreed with him. We had talked about these ideas before, many times.

In fact, we were reading folk lore about spiders as weavers of stories and dreams. They have a magic, a superpower, if you will, and deserve respect, like all living things.

Gabriel had seemed conflicted during some of our discussions. Now I understood why.

When he was ready and stood back from the spider, I approached it and quickly placed the deep dish over the creature. It was easily as big as my hand and did not move so much as a muscle in alarm. I slid the file folder up under his delicate feet and he lifted them so the file could pass under. When it was sealed, I pulled the lid and dish and spider away from the wall and flipped it so the spider was standing now on the folder.

I looked at Gabriel. He nodded. We took the big spider outside to Gabriel's garden. He grew corn and peppers, like his ancestors, but also some basil and kale -- new crops for him.

We released the tarantula. When I shone a light on it, its eyes lit in brilliant reflection before it slowly danced off into the cover of night.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Del Does Security

He looked like Colonel Sanders in his beige linen suit and banana colored Windsor golf cap. Well, the cap threw off the KFC look, and Del did not have a goatee. But he had the white hair and the ease of an elder. I noticed that strangers smiled at the sight of him.

He was losing some of his memory, his ability to cope with stressful situations, like airport security, which, by the way, was where we were at the time. My 92 year-old father-in-law was navigating Sky Harbor on his way back to his summer home near Portland, Oregon.

This trip has gotten more and more stressful as the years have passed. He and Stella needed a bit more help with the labyrinth that flying is in the post 9 - 11 era. Their decline adds poignancy to the moment; I don't know whether or not this will be the last time we will help them get to their flight.

Megan and I drove them up from Tucson and were shepherding them to the gate. I could see bewilderment in his otherwise incisive, playful, confident gaze. He likes to laugh, but couldn't find the humor in laser scans, long lines, and metal detectors.

I held Stella's passport and boarding pass, just in case. We had made it past the ID check and had moved on to the X-ray station. We loaded his bag on the conveyor belt, along with his keys, glasses and belt.

He smiled and joked with the security officers. A few of them smiled back. Others looked at him suspiciously.

Why so friendly, you could see as they lowered their eyes. You never know who will try to mess with the system, to pull a fast one in the baggage lane.

That's when Del got busted. The metal detector went off when he walked through. The suspicious types jumped into action. See, I knew it, was all over them.

They wanded Del and found nothing. Very suspicious. Then they got to the shoes. Aha! Beep. Beep.

Del looked confused. The rest of us had made it through, no problem. But we wore shoes made in the late 20th or early 21st century. Del was wearing shoes with metal shanks -- Hush Puppies -- from the 50s. They made 'em well back then.

The security guys marveled over the wearable artifact from another era. Have you ever seen anything like these, they asked each other.

Just as the shoe mystery was solved, Del's suitcase was pulled over for further inspection.

A dangerous character knows to throw us off the scent with something like Hush Puppies, they thought. 

"Sir, could you step this way?" a big security woman half asked, half ordered.

Del did as instructed, a little rattled.

I was told to stand back, that they wanted to talk to him alone.

"Sir, is this your suitcase?" another uniformed official asked.

"Yes, that's my bag," Del answered, smiling, hoping to relieve some of the tension.

"Sir, stand back. Don't touch the bag. I'm going to open it and point to objects. You will then identify and explain those objects. Do you understand?"

Del nodded, with just a moment of hesitation.



"That will have to be confiscated," the officer said, as he set it on the shelf of liquids non-grata.

"How about this?"

"Soap on a rope."

"Hmmmm." You some kind of clean freak or what, went unsaid, but written in a look.

He dug into the case, carefully, with gloves on.

As he lifted the hem of a perfectly folded pair of trousers, he saw the plastic container. He pulled back his head like he had just seen a snake.

"This?" he asked, pointing.

"That's my Dulcolax," Del answered, relieved to know the correct answer.

"You are traveling in possession of Dulcolax? Trying to get through security checks carrying a large quantity of the stuff?"


"I thought age came with wisdom," the officer asked laughing.

"We could pull you over just for possession, but we want to monitor you to see if you plan to deal once you pass security. We will have cameras ahead, even in the bathrooms. So watch yourself."

"Can I go now?"

"You can go, but let this be a lesson for the next time you fly."

"That it will," said Del, giving me a wink, as he cinched up his Hush Puppies and pulled down his golf cap.