Blog Off

Red maple - wind chimeEverything in nature is lyrical in its ideal essence,
tragic in its fate, and comic in its existence.
 –George Santayana

Every so often the old Monsignor at our family parish would deliver a Sunday sermon castigating parishioners for skipping their Sunday obligations. My mother always found these performances funny. “Wagging his finger at empty pews, scolding the dutiful.”

I feel a kinship with the old Monsignor tonight. As blog readership has sloughed off, down to just the hyper-faithful, I wonder if Reality Salad has run its course. It’s been ten months now, fifty postings. Time to give it a rest, with a bow and a blown kiss to those of you who still check in. We won’t take the site down, just let it hibernate. I have Dominick novels to write.

Back in the day (that would be the ‘70s), when I was on the road a lot, I rolled my own cigarettes. Top tobacco (“STAY ON TOP”) came in a yellow paper packet with glued rolling papers. For a quarter I could roll thirty real smokes. The inner pouch was made of foil-backed white paper, which, when emptied, could be flattened out into a sturdy five-by-seven-inch piece of stationary—perfect for notes and poems with short lines. On the road that’s what I wrote on. Folded back up, foil-side out, they were impervious to the travails of backpack life. The size of the page dictated the content. My sprung sonnets matured there, constrained by the size of that foil-backed piece of paper. They collected themselves in a side pocket of my REI backpack—my blog site forty years ago.

That was a much more private time. People took pride in their secrets. Whatever was deemed worth sharing was shared with just a few intimates, and in person. Every so often back then I would go through the poems in the backpack and pick ones to type out and Xerox and staple together into a chapbook and mail out to 20 or 30 friends. Xerozines, poems for free. Rarely did people acknowledge receiving them; that was unnecessary.

So we will set the Reality Salad bowl adrift for a bit, see where happenstance floats it. Adieu, my friends.

John Enright

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Michael Maki – Breakfast With Aram

Sheridan Federal Detention Center

Sheridan Federal Detention Center

Another dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon:

There’s a stir among our Armenian-Russian brethren here (there are four of them, from all different walks of life and parts of this country, befitting a people scattered to the winds by modern history). A fellow in our wing, Elvin—better known as Elvis—got papers last night that he is being relocated. So there were hurried speculative consultations as to what might be up, but no conclusions. First thing his morning Elvis found out that he’s being shipped to an appeal hearing in Oklahoma. He learned this from a hurried phone call to his attorney, who was able to get the basic and purported facts. To get there will take a few weeks, part of the usual diesel therapy punishment for being a thorn in the side of the BOP/DOJ and asking for fair recourse in the law. He’ll apparently go first to Las Vegas/Parump, the CCA federal prison nexus and privatized toll booth for a few weeks, then on to El Reno (the now-famous federal prison visited recently by President Obama), then to another location in Oklahoma, from which he’ll attend a hearing, which will likely last a few minutes. Whether he will be shipped back here is anyone’s guess, but there’s a hopeful possibility. He thinks he might be back in a couple of months.

This morning I sat down in the chow hall with Aram, another Russian-Armenian friend. Aram is a fit, burly, fiftyish man, with classic Russian enthusiasm. He’s a Russian-trained attorney who has spent a lot of time knocking about Siberia, so we don’t have many places and experiences in common. This morning, though, as the breakfast table was discussing the future (and past) possibilities of nuclear war, and life behind our respective propaganda curtains during the Cold War, Aram jumped into his Russian army experience.

All young men in Russia are required to serve two years in the military, and Aram was sent to Mongolia, where he was six months before the full outbreak of the Afghan war. Then his unit was sent to the Khandahar area, and life got dangerous instantly. The fighting in the countryside was nothing the Russians had trained for; driving out in tank convoys under sniper fire to trouble spots on mountain roads, only to have the first and last tanks in the line hit by artillery, stopping the parade. This was the common practice, almost a daily occurrence. Then, while the soldiers sat in the stifling heat waiting for air support, they didn’t dare pop their heads out of the tanks, because a sniper hidden somewhere in the rocks had a bead on every tank. Shooting Russians in barrels.

“Why? Why? For what reason?” asks Aram. “We never saw the enemy, only snipers, always. In the morning you never knew who would be killed by lunch. I lost so many good friends. For what?! To bring freedom to the Afghan people? That’s what the Russian government told us. The Afgahn people don’t want freedom, except from foreigners. They have thousands of years of their own history, their own way of life. They don’t want to be part of ours. Just leave them alone! No one will ever defeat the Afghans, not America, no one!”

Aram said that before coming to Afghanistan, he had never drunk alcohol, but to sleep at night without a strong dose was impossible, with men screaming in their sleep every night. So after a few months he began to drink the vodka issued by the commanding officer to help put them to sleep. “I sleep with my Kaleshnikov by me every night. We never know when we will be attacked, or if we will wake up in the morning.” He said that during the day the sport of the Afghan snipers was to pick off officers only, plink, plink, plink. Maybe ten men died every day, mostly one at a time.

“You go into a village, you’re very thirsty, but they poison all the water. You make them drink it first to be sure.” His broad face took on a look of remembered fear and disgust and deep sadness. “Just leave them alone. Leave them alone.” Aram survived, and after perestroika came to California to live, working with his ex-pat community. We see each other every day, even though he is in the RDAP program, and we greet each other in Russian. He loves to work with rocks, and has volunteered to help out with a kind of crazy rock planter project one of our guys has taken up on the compound. Unlike so many of the guys here, despite his experience and no-doubt PTSD, he is always cheerful and upbeat, a man of great integrity who passes through here for reasons greater than the concept of punishment meted out by our own misdirected government.

Mike Maki

Mike Maki

Michael Maki—Snapshots Without A Camera

Mike Maki reading

Mike Maki, 2012, at home before imprisonment

Another dispatch from our POWOD correspondent at Sheridan Federal Prison Camp, Oregon:

Oh, how often I say, man, I wish I could get a picture of this scene! This is like some sordid live-in sitcom, and central casting has done an absolutely champion job of digging up these character actors. I had breakfast this morning with a young guy named Nutt (his real name), a fellow who it’s hard to tell if he’s got a screw loose or is some kind of idiot savant. He’s currently walking around with his arm in a cast, broken by another inmate who attacked him on the ball field, they say in order to get sent to the SHU (aka the hole) just before he was scheduled to get shipped to SeaTac FDC (Federal Detention Center) for relentless knuckleheaded misbehavior, and to avoid his own likely bruising for not paying off his gambling debts before he split the camp. More on this now-departed fellow in a moment. Young Mr. Nutt, with a wild look in his eye, is always whispering, although sometimes bursting out in a shout: “Lies! It’s all lies!” He claims to be a computer hacker, but who knows, really; no one’s had his case Googled or anything.

Joining us at the breakfast table is Mr. Kim, a Korean who seems somehow familiar. A lean, serious-looking guy, Mr. Kim is also known for off-the-wall outbursts. In conversation, I learn that indeed we’ve met before. He owned three convenience stores in Grays Harbor County, which I have shopped in many times, noting the same fellow over the years behind the counter in different stores. Turns out, he would buy one (usually from a white owner), turn it over for a nice profit to another Korean, and then do it again and again around Western Washington. He can often be seen practicing on one of the beat-up guitars from the music room, playing- and singing- off-key.

Sitting next to me right now in the computer room is a young man in my horticulture class, Curtis, who lost an arm in a snowmobile accident and then turned to pot growing, which somehow resulted in him being here. He has a good attitude, and has turned his one good arm into a powerful extension of his will. He’s an artful softball pitcher, and a helluva batter to boot, respected by all for his willingness to get right in and do his best in any circumstance.

Two days ago I got a new bunkie. Even though I had applied for a friend to transfer into the upper bunk, our passive aggressive “counselor” assigned me a new guy, just in from four years across the street in the medium. A big, really big guy, Mr. Singh, a Sikh, was no doubt a gangster of sorts in his street life, but is a decent fellow withal. We just have a big cultural gap between us. He’s getting used to our easy-going camp lifestyle, and another guy who came over with him from the medium now also hangs out in my cube, which is feeling just a mite claustrophobic. We’ll work it out, one way or another. Singh was struck by my announcing that we are a profanity-free cube: “I been down a while now, and I never heard that one before!” he observed in his kind of hybrid gangster street accent. “But I think I can work with that.”

The last two Sikhs here, Chadha and Singh (as most folks know, there are a whole lot of Singhs within the Sikh Indian religious culture) were my friends, one an international MDMA smuggler, the other a all-around wheeler-dealer, both stereotypical Sikh hustlers, always working some angle. But I used to join them during their reserved chapel time (at their invitation) to watch Sikh music videos, which consist mostly of three or four musicians, a harmonium player, tablist, and sarodist or other Indian musical ensemble playing sacred music, which in turn consists of sung excerpts from their holy book, cut with scenes from temples and crowds of worshippers. Very pleasant listening, though, and easy-going hang time that won me their friendship. Seems that Sacramento and south, and up into the Sierra foothills is American Sikh country these days, and I have an open invitation to visit and stay with Chadha’s folks anytime, but especially around December 17, which is their holy day.

Did I mention that this is a multicultural sitcom? It’s now nearly time for the Saturday night count, and I need to give this machine over to some more of the guys before bedtime. Ciao for now, MM