Wednesday, May 18, 2016
I am hunkered down over a black ceramic cup full of dark roast coffee that has a nice espresso bloom spreading over the surface. My reflection reveals circles under my eyes, crow's feet, gray beard, but not quite the detail of hair sprouting from my nose or ears. I rode my bike eight miles as the sun broke over the eastern ridge of the Rincon Mountains to get here. The sky and the ensuing, immediate heat signal the arrival of summer. Summer means change from my Tucson life of teaching, grading, meeting, and time with friends over beer and workouts to a life of construction labor, rustic living, and utter absence of technology. Soon I will find myself off the cell phone service map, beyond the reach of DSL, and in the grip of sun, wind, and stars. Not bad work if you can get it. But the work is hard and my body has begun to decline. That transition is on my mind, as much as my mind can handle such looming and inevitable mortality. It used to be funny to joke about "getting old." Suddenly the jokes are not jokes and they are far from funny. I really do need glasses to see anything within two feet and my joints feel stiff, muscles tired, and stamina.... what stamina? Of course, my father traveled this path before me. He stands now on the brink of dementia, incontinence, and loss of mobility. I want to say I will never decline that far, that, yes, my aging is a fact, but it's only "lite" aging. The power of denial, disbelief, and an undying illusion that "it won't happen to me" staggers me. I want to go on record as not looking away. I see my reality, embrace the decline, while simultaneously blessing the faculties that linger. I almost weep at the pleasure of climbing stairs, doing a pull-up, gliding along on my trusty bicycle. I hold it all, but not too tightly. When the time comes to surrender, I will hand all these pleasures back to the mystery that gave them to me. I know it is work to sidestep the cultural conditioning that values only youth, that does not learn how to age or die with grace, but I am going to learn how to do that. I will act with patience, kindness, focus, and persistence to the end of my days. That coffee is getting cold but the heft it, the transience, the beauty... Onward, as they say, into the fog of the future, the long days of figuring out how to put things together. Summer is coming. Oh yeah. Oh shit.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The details are sketchy.
Inmates are on edge, tensed. I see many of them, in chains and escorted by two guards, moving between the yards or to the infirmary. A few of them have have casts, bandages, or splints on hands or wrists. When asked, they cover up, saying someone needed an "attitude adjustment."
Violence is in the air.
Santa Rita, one of the big units at the Arizona State Prison Complex, is running an experiment of sorts. They have designated one yard as "integrated."
That means that the races are mixing, that those on the yard agree to non-violence. They have to sign. They are assured that they will be protected from the gangs. The gangs have vested interests in keeping races separate, tensions high, violence an imminent threat, beatings a way of life. When things get hot, the officers tend to disappear.
Those on the integrated yard are now targets of the segregated yards. They tell me there is a "hit list" for those who have signed the pact of integration. These are high stakes positions, and many of the men in the workshops are afraid, but strong in their convictions.
Men who refuse to mingle with the integrated yard now boycott the workshops.
Men who come to the workshops become targets for the gangs, the OGs, the soldiers of organized enforcers. The gangs make money on the old ways.
I don't claim to understand the extortion and politicking that is threatened by prisons becoming more integrated and humane, but I do see parallels out here in the free world.
The old ways die hard. Lines drawn in the sand, divisions that perpetuate systems of power and subjugation go down fighting.
The Arizona Department of Corrections doesn't help matters much. In fact it has ramped up book banning and made it a project to shut down education programs. Literacy, and the widening effects it has on tolerance and ability to entertain other points of view, has gotten the bum's rush. Inmates learning to communicate rather than wage race war gets no help from the state.
So the tensions rise.
Good men get caught in the middle, hoping for someone to help, to tell the story.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
He pawned many of my tools. The list is too long to detail here, and the implications keep rippling out of the jobs that need to be done. For example, I want to cut a doggie-door out of a solid-core, steel-plated door. I need my jig saw. The saw is MIA because he took it and pawned it. This is when his theft pisses me off and it's also where my friends call me a fool for trusting the man. We part paths here on the theories of trust, one holding that the world is a scarce place and that you gotta cover your ass because everyone is out to rip you off. The other theory, one that puts me in the position I am in now, holds that you trust someone until they become worthy of your trust, so that they become worthy of your trust. I hate to say it -- and those close to me don't want to hear it, will get angry at me for losing all that I lose -- but I still trust the guy who ripped me off, stripped me down to my bare tool bones. I believe he is my friend and that his theft is not his best self. Now, I can rationalize here, and blame heroin and other causes, but that is not the point. In the big scheme, trusting fearlessly and unreasonably is how we pull the better angels of our nature out from the wounded places where they hide; doing so opens a door to who we, and those we trust, might become. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now where is that cordless drill? Fookin aye.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
He slides downhill in the dead of night. Gravity pulls him inexorably toward the dry creek bed next to his tent. By the hour of the wolf, his face is plastered against the wall of the tent, and he is off his sleeping pad, outside his sleeping bag, and has to pee. This, friends, is camping. He stirs to the darkness of no moon, the call of a whip-poor-will. He is sure there is a bear outside the tent, waiting for him to unzip the door, struggle to his feet, and stumble a few feet to take a cold, midnight leak. He knows he should not have eaten that second (or was it third?) burrito, or taken that fourth (as was it fifth?) shot of mescal (or was it tequila?). He looks up at the stars and thinks about the meeting he will miss today. The department head, the director, the founder, and his replacement will all be there. He should be too, but instead he is here, under the stars, trying to sleep on a slope. It will be hours before morning, hours spent listening for footsteps in the night, dry leaves beneath the pads of big paws, the coming dark night of mortality, or maybe just indigestion. His head is unusually clear here in the cold of the high desert of New Mexico. He is acutely aware that his time here is finite, limited, that the best days -- the ones of illusion and power -- have passed. He is tired, sore, and mortal, and he asks for nothing more than one more night, one more punch-line delivered around a mesquite fire. He knows he messed up his life, has floundered and flopped as well as he could, but never really caught or fed the fires of his heart's desires. As he stoops down to enter his tilted tent he wonders if he will ever post up on level ground, or find the peace that welcomes the coming dark beast from the silent woods.
Monday, May 2, 2016
Just gotta get through this last stack of papers and I am outta here for the summer. The wreckage of my life, scattered all over the front yard, eating a hole through the paper documenting my existence, will be left in the rear view mirror as I head out to who knows where. The roots holding my heart will hurt when they are yanked out of the desert earth, but what's a little lost blood? With those papers taken care of I can attend to all that has been neglected, shoved aside in this scramble to make a living: a dying father, an unfinished house, a truck in need of leaf springs and oil change, a story left untold. I'll have to quiet the anger at putting it all off until now, when I finally have a chance to breathe. Can't wait to see the sun lighting the sky as I head east, over the horizon, the hum of an engine my only comfort.