Jul 26, 2006

Also last week

While people here are ill in one way or another, and lost in the cities of isolation and desire, I got a note from Marina, who wrote in part....

also, last week there was a
serious affair that has, to put it mildly, ruined my
relations with several of my chief collaborators at
the hospital. basically, a little girl of 6 years was
tied up and raped on her way home from fetching milk
one thursday morning at 10:30. the rapist is a
20-something year old first-year medical student. the
first in his very powerful family. so, when the girl
was brought to the kapenguria district hospital to be
examined, it was ever so brief, and though lab samples
were taken, no forms were completed correctly; and the
next day, as she started bleeding again, it was
realized that the lab samples had been destroyed. by
the rapist's uncle, my dear friend, the district aids
and sti control officer for the west pokot. paul
rumosia. and rumosia was able to corrupt everyone
else so much so that even the district medical officer
refused to fill out the form necessary to bring the
guy to trial. until baptiste returned with a police
inspector who had been ordered to arrest whoever
refused to fill th eform on the spot.

it's worse than appalling. i feel like i've been hit
in the stomach several times over - like my world has
just been thrown over and dow ninto some cavernous
hole that leads to hell. needless to say, it's been
difficult trying to figure out how to continue working
with these people, trying to develop 'sustainable'
programs by working within a system where this is, i
must admit, the norm, not the exception.

Jul 23, 2006

Illness as metaphor. Really.

Everyone is ill. Many are in therapy. One was talking the other day about being in "crazy school" and how you sit there with the shards of your personality lying on the floor around you. She is on permanent disability. Someone else is taking a month off to see a therapist 3 times a week. She is temporarily disabled. These are women, but men are equally run down with sickness. The other day a man crossing a four lane avenue was caught on the island. Traffic was heavy and fast. He coudn't take it and got down on his haunches and put his face in his arms. When the light changed, and he heard the cars stopping, he walked quickly across to safety, found a bench and sat down. Another man, also chinese, ran across the street with his hands about his head, the way someone might do if they had a great idea or they were thinking, 'wow that blows my mind.' But this man was in pain. For some reason I thought he might be a painter. I thought maybe he'd been affected by the smell of turpentine. He began galloping down the sidewalk until he was out of sight.

Others are ill but they don't know it. On the cover of Parade Magazine the cover line reads "Could you have a rare disease?" If you're not afraid what with all the bad the news, the war, the economy; and you're maybe not yet afraid of old age or the fact that vitamins don't work, then here's something just for you. You might be one of 25 million Americans that have a rare disease.

And then one of B's old boyfriends is dying emphysema. From years of smoking. And all along he was told he was in danger, but he went right on. Still, death seems to have less currency these days. Everyone is doing it. So really, how bad can it be? You're here, you're there. No more taxes. Take a walk on the wild side. The biggest worry is if you have to come back and as whom or what?

Jul 22, 2006

Con ver sa tions

The blog name of one is "if i could be anything, i would be your tear so i could be born in your eye, live down your cheek and die on your lips" . The other's blog name is, "I’m just a kid and my life is a nightmare and everyone is having more fun than me".
'If' and 'I'm'. If is a 12-year-old girl with tremendous charm, wit and warmth. I'm is a 13; two years ago he was rumored to have burned up two kittens. She is Spanish; he is Moroccan. The conversation lay on the desktop, harmlessly.
If says to I'm, "r u there?"
"Yes," says I'm.
"Hw've you been?"
"Not much."
"What's it like there?"
"Hot," says I'm, who has an attention deficit disorder. HIs mother does virtually all of his homework for him.
"Here too."
"what areu doing over summer??" says If who has a job mucking out horse stalls.
"staying inside." I'm is a pudgy child and only has energy to play tennis. He did his science project last year on the length of time it takes crayfish to die in boiling water. Roughly 20 seconds by I'm's count. He's a good natured kid when you first meet him. So kind, so thoughtful. But underneath there is this other quality he cannot control. He tries to deal with it, but it's easy to give in and often he just can't help himself.
It was this boy in large measure which became the reason we left Morocco.

Jul 18, 2006


Not a hair out of place and yet the city is edgy. There's something going on. The shoe man ordered me out of his store when I asked, and not with anger, why he would charge $8 to glue a sole back together. I had to apologize, I had to cajole to get him to do it. A clerk at Walgreen's yelled at a customer mercilously. I've heard stories about people distressed by the war and by the price of gas and by bad news coming from everywhere. From home and abroad... People don't seem to want to think about anthing too deeply, just get mine and be done with it. And yet everything is still easy, the old hip hop thrill is still there, cars are still full of music.

The bumper sticker said, 'my daughter is the slut of the month at George Washington High School.

I paid the mechanic a lot of money to check the car we were going to buy. He said the car was fine, so I bought it and then a few days later the clutch went out. Now it will cost a couple of thousand dollars to fix the clutch and the transmission, more than we paid for the car. "Hey," I said, "what about giving me a break on the cost to repair this." "Nope," he said. "No chance, no discount." I said, "C'mon, this is ridiculous. Let's talk about this." He hung up the phone. It was like to talking to myself in the old days. Everyone's become like the person I was. People are furtive, unclear, distracted. And when they smile it makes me think of the way people treat each other after a natural disaster.

Then we went to a Giants game. They won, but they seemed lackluster. We were down the third base line. Barry Bonds stood in front of us, one of the greatest hitters in history and in the middle of the game, when a pitching coach came to the mound to confer, Barry went down on one knee. Like he was tired, like he didn't care anymore. And when he came out in the fourth inning and played catch with a reserve player he threw without looking and when he'd had enough he threw the ball down so that it rolled to his teammate, the way a child would do when he doesn't want to play anymore, when he suddenly wants to go home. Often Baaaaary, Baaaary would look into the stands, but like looking into a crystal ball or for someone to say, a whole wave to start and tell him, 'it's okay we still luv ya. Barry. Even though you disappointed us and you took those drugs and maybe everything you did was fake.' In some other inning he hit a deep ball, just like the old days, high, and almost bye-bye baby but at the last second the ball slid down the inside of the center field wall like a sword in a sheath and you wondered, maybe without steroids Barry can't go those last few feet anymore. Maybe he never could.

All that and then the economy is not as good as I'd heard. There are jobs but not for the people that most need them. The city needs electricians and plumbers, and teachers, I suppose. But the jobs go unfilled. As TH said the other day, "the city is so exciting, I hate driving out to the country every night to go home. But somethings going on." I drove some boys to a baseball game last night in San Anselmo. People, and these are BMW people, were subdued. Even the suburbs have changed, I thought. The kids seemed a little nervous. They were looking into the faces of adults in a way I don't remember. As though, "I see you for what you really are, you're my parent all right, but you're someone else too, someone I don't know." It was like science fiction.

It reminds me of the way I'd been feeling in the Atlas sometimes. With all the news about people blowing up I became intruiged with the idea that if you blew up you might not realize it, you might go on, in some parallel sort of way, in a bardo soundstage, where everything is the way it was, except for some subtle changes. As times go by, seconds or eons, you realize that something is wrong but you're still eating and making love, all the sensations are familiar. And yet there's a problem and you don't want to think about it too deeply...

Jul 10, 2006


At the public library the man in front of me, across the table, is black. He has a moustache. The shape of his face is narrow; he looks vaguely African. He's wearing a flannel long sleeved shirt. He's in his 40s, I think, although he looks like he's lived out in the streets and his age is unclear. He could be in his late 30s or early 50s. He's talking to himself, the two of them having a grand laugh over something. He's drawing small posters, and writing in that little tiny script that often marks the forensic. The poster reads, Cities of the Future. He has taken CDs from the classical music collection and used them to draw flying saucers. I can read these words, "Spinning mechanical gyroscope fly 100,000 light years away...." He's going over each letter over and over.

Outside the library, next to a dumpster in the park in front of city hall, there is another one, a young white man. In his 20s. In yellow sneakers and orange socks. With long hair. He's scratches himself mercilously. First his face, then his arms. Then he takes off his shoes and socks and scratches between his toes. "Life is great," he says to no one. "I'm loving life." He goes on scratching. He is clearly drugged, I'm guessing heroin, or methodone. Then he begins to scratch his legs and finally he begins to masturbate. But he's easily distracted. "Hey, hey Cecilia," he shouts. I look across the street but no one responds in the direction of his shouting. "I want to fuck you."

Jul 8, 2006

American Pie

It has been nearly three weeks since we returned from the Maghreb, since the customs clerk said, "welcome back." Which seemed such a revelation at the time, such a sign that we were re-entering our real 'home', the home of ancestors and where we belonged. But what to do with the ambivalence now... what to do with the sensation of being caught in a Sea of Sargossa, in the doldrums between one home and another.

I've always found solace and succor on the flights between places but never in the places themselves.

Now as time bends and memory becomes like so much landfill, the other place, on the shoulder of the volcano, seems more like home. I had forgotten that home is always the place you're trying to get to and never can. It's a memory of origination never anything more. And so here we are and Here seems particularly foreign and strange — if only because absolutely nothing has changed. Not a hair is out of place. The people look identical to how I last saw them. The neurotic quality of the city, the flinches and ticks I remember so well, are just as they were. Which leads to the sensation that these places we've been in lately are all so ephemeral, so not our home at all.

Back in America, you are back in MindVille. Back in the future, back to Pythagorean Theorem and the safety of intellect. And so here's an alleyway I've gone down lately: If one's world is the sum of 'formal' ideas, long held beliefs, and the mind's odd lot renderings then why not judge a place by the ideas behind it, rather than what you see. There's a difference after all. In America, for example, where car is more than ever king, not less as I had imagined, as you drive along you fall under the spell once more of all the makes and models, of design, of the importance of shapes which in turn reflects the need for individuality, as well as mobility. A curving fender, a rounded bumper, it all becomes provocative and demands critique and comparison, and finally the sense, would I want that or not.

And so if you spend hours in a car every day, then you become caught up in the intellectual world of car makers and oil drillers and the imperial armies of maketeers, and by extension their concerns, their personal histories, their dreams as kids. And then it's just hop skip and a jump to the absurd, to the neurotically infantilism of John Gregory Dunne's notion that men are ultimately divided into two groups, those that look in the toilet after they shit and those that don't.

I say all this because in my winding desire to return to Buddhist principles I've been struck by this notion of realizing emptinessness and how it demands such detachment, such an ability see the 'nothingness' in all things. Yet I can see that now, now and then, and just for an instant, the way you might notice something down a street as you drive quickly by, out of one eye. And you think, 'what was that? I want to see it again.'