Princeps

class photo 1

5 April

There may be people who have not felt it, people too dense or too much into themselves to get it, but I can attest to it and so can you—that there are certain, rare human beings who just are leaders, whether they like it or not. I’m not too good with my own chronology. I was maybe eight or nine when I got to know Lawrence. That was his name, never Larry.

Lawrence was quiet. He wasn’t big or anything. You’d have trouble picking him out from all the other guys in our fourth-grade group photo, all lined up like props on the front steps of Mt. St. Monica’s. Who can remember names that long? I have trouble finding myself there. That’s Barbara Zimmerman, though. Who can forget her? But even then, in that group of twenty-eight, if you had asked who should speak for the class, they would have said Lawrence, even though he didn’t talk that much. It wasn’t that he was different in any way. He was just another kid like us, but, I don’t know, you could trust him to say the right thing.

Later in grade school, to no one’s surprise, he was elected class president and was captain of both the baseball team and the crossing guards, all of which duties he reluctantly accepted. He was MC of our dance and talent shows. The nuns would call him out of class to run their shopping errands. When we graduated, Lawrence was the valedictorian. He had no close friends.

All of that was sixty-some years ago. Today, I got an email message that Lawrence was dead, had died two weeks ago in Arizona. The message didn’t say what of, not that it makes any difference. At our age, death is mundane, remarkable only if you were shot robbing a bank or set yourself on fire in some stupid protest or something equally out of the ordinary.

It’s been a dozen years since my last meeting up with Lawrence. It was in L.A. I was still with the airlines. Somehow the nuns at Mt. St. Monica’s had found me. They were launching a fund raiser to try and save the school and wanted my help. Our class’s fiftieth anniversary was coming up. They wanted not only to touch me up but for me to see if I could lean on some of my classmates, such as were still around and they could track down. Lawrence was on their short list. Either they were afraid to approach him themselves or they had already tried to no response.

I thought it funny that the church needed money. Had they gone broke paying off victims of predatory priests? Maybe they hadn’t yet equipped their collection baskets to take credit cards. I sent Mother Mary Angelina a check. I tossed the list—Barbara Zimmerman was not on it—but I copied down Lawrence’s email address and number, an L.A. area code. My job often took me to LAX.

The next time I was there, I called and left a voice-mail message. To my surprise, Lawrence called back. He remembered me—third base, couldn’t bunt. He even recalled my sister Helene, who was two years behind us, and asked for her. Alzheimer’s, a home on Long Island. We arranged to meet for lunch at a Mexican place in Santa Monica. I got the impression he lived nearby.

Lawrence and I had gone on to different high schools and in different directions, but every so often I’d wonder about him. If I was back in Pittsburgh visiting my mom, I’d ask around about him, but he had pretty much disappeared. “Nam,” one person told me. Another thought he had gone into the Peace Corps. Everyone remembered him.

I was sitting at the bar in the Mex place when Lawrence came in. We recognized each other right off. He hadn’t changed much. His face had aged and his hairline had receded, but he hadn’t gotten much bigger either in height or girth. He still had the build of the compact second-baseman I remembered.

I don’t remember much of what we talked about. Christ, that was a dozen years ago. Nothing earth-shaking for sure, probably mostly about me and what I was doing at the time. He didn’t say much about himself, asked a lot of questions and listened. He was a good listener. We stayed sporadically in touch via email after that, which devolved into Facebook, the impersonal.

Via Facebook posts, I learned of Lawrence’s favored causes and political bent, none of which I shared. Normally, I dump people I don’t agree with, but I didn’t defriend Lawrence for some reason. I even followed links to a few of his sites and discovered, yep, he was the head of two of the organizations.

I said the last time I met Lawrence was a dozen years ago, but I did see him once since, by coincidence. It was in Jacksonville a year or so after our meeting. I was there on business, staying at the Hyatt, and bored silly as usual in that most vacuous excuse for a city. There was a conference going on at another hotel, and I noticed Lawrence’s name listed as one of the featured participants. It wasn’t a conference I’d choose to attend, but, like I said, it was Jacksonville. I went over. They wanted twenty-five bucks for a one-day entrance fee. I put it on my company card.

It was a panel discussion, more like a debate I gathered, though I had zero interest in what it was about. Up on stage, Lawrence was one of five people seated at a long, black-draped table, sitting at the end. He didn’t have much to say. The other panelists were all trying to sound important. They had their own special vocabulary laced with acronyms that meant nothing to me.

The auditorium was full. I found a seat in the back. I couldn’t decide whether Lawrence’s look said boredom or embarrassment. When he did speak at any length, toward the end, as they were summing up, it was only for a few minutes. He leaned into his microphone, his eyes downcast, and used simple words, simple sentences. He didn’t say anything I could disagree with. No one else did either.

I’d come with the idea of meeting up again, maybe having a drink together. But when the event finished up, there was no getting close to Lawrence, and the people around him were not the type I wanted to mix with. As I was leaving, two separate women with clipboards stopped me to get my signature on their petitions. One of them followed me out onto the sidewalk.

“You’re a fed, aren’t you?” she said. She was an attractive young lady.

“A fed what?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t really care. You’re here to watch us. I was just wondering what you think.”

“If I were a fed, would I tell you?”

“I don’t know. Would you? Why not? I’m nobody. I’m just curious.” She was younger than my daughter.

“I was only here to see my old friend Lawrence,” I said.

“I bet you have quite a file on him.”

There was an official-looking laminated ID on a string around her neck. I looked down at it now—Sarah something long and foreign. She noticed.

“Now you can start a file on me,” she said.

“Do you know Lawrence?”

“I thought he was your old friend.”

“Tell me, why did you think I was a fed?”

“You guys are everywhere. I was standing in the back. I watched you. You weren’t there to listen. You didn’t once react or clap. You were just checking out the crowd, like you were looking for someone.”

“Well, I’m not a fed, not any kind of cop.”

“You are kind of old, I guess, up close.”

“Lawrence and I were classmates,” I said. Had that been meant as some sort of defense? Why was I still standing there talking with her? She was pretty. Or was she just young? I turned to go.

“We’re only trying to make things better,” she said.

I heard from Lawrence once, too, after that—an email note of condolence when my mother died. The devil knows how he learned about it.

21 April

Damnest thing. This morning I got an email message from the sheriff’s office in Gila County, Arizona, a mass mailing to everyone on Lawrence’s email list of contacts, asking for any information on his next of kin. They wanted to know who, if anyone, wished to claim his remains. There was a number to call. I called. Hell, I got nothing else to do these days except watch the news.

I told them I was his cousin. They didn’t offer any condolences or ask for any proof. I told them I wanted him cremated, and they told me that as next of kin I’d have to arrange for that myself. I tried to do that over the phone, then gave up. I can’t reach anyone who is any help. I’ve decided to fly out. I sort of miss flying since I retired.

24 April

Globe. Got in yesterday. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix to Globe, the Gila County seat. Two-lane black top—hot, hard, empty country. Checked into a Travelodge. This morning found a laid-back clerk at the County Courthouse who condescended to help me out. Less paperwork than I expected. For cremation they have to send the body back to Phoenix. I only had to hit a couple of offices plus a local mortuary to arrange and pay for the burn job. I offered to buy the clerk a drink in thanks for his help, and he suggested a dive across the street from the courthouse when he got off work.

I don’t know what Humphrey’s 2 Lanes Saloon is named for. There are three billiard tables. It’s purple inside. There were pool games in progress, the sound of games at all the tables. The clerk, whose name is Clark like some unfunny joke, met me there. A double Wild Turkey on the rocks.

Clark brought with him Lawrence’s case file, not a copy, the file itself inside its official brown folding file folder. “You might as well have this,” he said as he pushed it across the bar. As I flipped through the thin file, just four or five officious pages, Clark struck up a conversation with the woman bartender.

“What’s the Rock House Trailer Park” I asked. The woman gave me a funny look.

“Just what it says,” Clark said. “The trailer park up in Rock House. That’s where they found him.”

“That loner last month?” The woman asked Clark, who nodded. “Ray answered that call. He said the stench in that little trailer was even worse than the Orbach’s rotting horse.”

“Been dead a week or more the doc figured,” Clark said.

“Warm for March, too,” she agreed.

“It says here the cause of death was O.D.,” I said.

“Overdose,” Clark said. “They don’t know that for sure. Doc didn’t run no tests. They’re costly, take too much time.”

“Figures though,” the woman said. “Anybody dies alone like that out there probably did OD on something.” She went down the bar to other customers.

“But an overdose of what?” I asked.

“Don’t matter. Just OD bumps our stats up for more drug-control money.”

“Did they find any drugs?”

“If they did find any, either Ray or his partner would have taken them.”

“I heard that, Clark,” the woman said from down the bar.

I closed the file and pushed it back to Clark.

“No, you can keep that. We got no use for it. Case closed now the body’s gone. They want no record of it. I went to check about his personal effects, like that laptop they found there and any of his other stuff. I figured you might want it. All gone. No record of it. Freebies.”  Clark took a long sip of Wild Turkey. “Things get stripped clean here in the desert.”

1 May

I never did pick up Lawrence’s ashes. It was Sunday when I got back to Phoenix. The place was closed and I had a flight out. I can still fly for free and I didn’t feel like going home. So, I came on here to Maui. It’s not so much fun when you’re old. It’s funny—all these years I’ve had to edit myself from calling him Larry. Always wanted to, never did. I wonder if anyone ever called him Larry.

 

 

 

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Random

Dead sign

Coincidental with the calendar change, I’ve retired a used-up spiralbound work notebook. Below, in chrono-order, is a selection of uncrossed-out marginalia.

Hereonout (nice word)

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it is in the muscle.” Goroka (PNG) saying.

Supernatural is our term for mother chaos and her husband chance.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Chionophobia—fear of snow

Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.

Pussy—possibly from Icelandic for horse’s cunt.

Whispering her own praises.

Reality is more inventive than I am.

Entheogenic—god-enabling

Book ideas: Witchcraft Cookery, Create Your Own Private Language, Midwinter’s Nightmare

Stradivarius’s first violins probably weren’t that hot.

In a land where ignorance is not just bliss but blessed.

All good books manage to satisfy and surprise.

Memory hacker.

He bought her green bananas so that she would have a reason to hang around another day or two.

The best jokes—when the punchlines are the unexpected truth.

I don’t write books. Books happen. I write scenes for my characters. I write the beginnings and ends of chapters.

Obstruction of misjustice.

A passionate person—someone on the side of their hormones.

Lost like noses from Roman busts.

Someone who feels self-righteous about not cheating at solitaire.

Prayer—the solace of thinking you are doing something while wasting your time.

Selfie death rate.

People who flaunt their intolerance wear their insecurity with pride.

A shadow mistaken for a stain.

At least I don’t have digital dreams.

Vampire dopers only get stoned after dark.

Her conversation was like verbal charades—she talked and you tried to intuit what it might mean.

“A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it is built for.” A. Einstein

Huaorani full

Huaorani (Amazon)

 

Old Photographs

row boat

I like the way the horses keep running

after the race is done. I savor the last

flowers of autumn, the last glass of wine.

I prefer landscapes void of humans.

 

It is not a love affair with the past.

I am glad all that is done as well. It’s

the pleasure of resting on my oars,

the sweet taste of solitude, not loss.

 

When I look at old photos I see the sin

of  moments arrested, memory enshrined.

Time will not be stymied.

I drift with the current into the dusk.

The Persona Challenge

pedicure

Pluck an eyebrow

shave a pube or armpit

change hair shade

add highlights and extenders

a tattoo or two?

a pedicure, a manicure

what color this month?

Wipe Nair on, wipe hair off.

A halter for your breasts

an aroma from a bottle.

The face, the face!

add hues, add contrasts

dark above the eyes, light below

fake lashes or just tar?

The statement of the lips

daring brash or falsely cold?

The decisions, the decisions.

How to be seen

as you wish to appear

the world your one-way mirror.

Red Letter Day

Catherine's Buddha

Buddha.  Catherine Buchanan

It’s a special day today. I’ll shave.

I’ll look in the mirror and remember

to nip the white hairs on the end of my nose.

I’ll be young again today, as young as

a beach without waves

a fresh bag of chips

a rogue asteroid or

a Tourette’s outburst.

 

It’s a special day today.

I’ll put on shoes and leave the house

without locking the door behind me,

without knowing where I am going.

I’ll count my strides

like a Roman legionnaire

before losing count

when I turn the corner.

 

It’s a special day today.

Overnight the past just vanished,

the names of everything erased.

Today I can begin the reinvention

of the compass rose

of sacred superstitions

of verbs that fly and

a reason to ever return.

When elders…

Solityde

When elders tell stories of their youth, they are that young again in their minds. They will retell the same story because there must be some reason why it does not leave them alone, some as yet undeciphered meaning hiding in the story’s shadow, a piece of that wisdom old age was supposed to have bestowed upon them. These are not dreams, not even memories, but unanswered dispatches from the past, part of a never-achieved understanding.

Disorder

 

Escher

Wesson Smith          Sachs Goldman

Davidson Harley     Fitch Abercrombie

Marietta Martin      Howell Bell

Dixon Mason            Packard Hewlett

Fargo Wells               Clark Lewis

Jerry Ben                   Marcus Neiman

Lynch Merrill           Decker Black

Roebuck Sears         Myers Bristol

Vanzetti Sacco         Brimstone Fire

Fear

Prophet's Brain

The Prophet’s Brain. Connie Payne and John Enright

Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.” William Shakespeare.

            Fear is the property of the amygdala, an almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain. Evolution has confirmed its usefulness as an emotion. The brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, the bronchi dilate, and breathing accelerates. Heart rate and blood pressure rise. Blood flow and the stream of glucose to the skeletal muscles increase. Organs not vital in survival such as the gastrointestinal system slow down. Fright leads to fight or flight.

But fear, as a human emotion, passing through our higher hippocampus, can be altered by social/situational context. A tiger in a zoo elicits a different response than a tiger on the trail in front of you. A stranger’s pit bull is not your harmless pet. Fear can also be learned. The brown snake is benign; the striped one killed your uncle. Fear is teachable.

Fear can have a cultural component. In America we have a fright holiday, Halloween, in which fear is outed through a social consensus. For a day we can laugh at skeletons. (Imagine a Christmas creche with skeletal Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.) The semiotics of the skull-and-crossbones flag is widely understood. Fear can be propagated and transmitted. Fear can be an infectious affliction.

Actually, it was Halloween that got me thinking about this. My town just recently introduced a policy of nominating one street as trick-or-treat street. Parents were directed to take their costumed offspring there to troll for candy. This directive—almost universally observed—burdened the residents of that street with dispensing a town’s worth of candy to kids from all over and deprived everyone else in town of the traditional pleasure of participating in an essential aspect of the event and the neighborhood bonding that it enhanced.

When asked for a reason for this fresh expansion of the administered world, all that was offered was the children’s safety. Traffic was blocked from that street that twilight. They were saving the kiddies from danger—a fear-based explanation. Of course, no one could name a single instance of trick-or-treaters coming to harm on previous Halloweens. It reminded me of all those apocryphal—never substantiated—tales of poisoned treats and razor-bladed apples. It was sort of ironic in a sick way: here on the feast day of not being spooked, the kids were being schooled in being scared of the mysterious unknown, in their own, hyper-safe hometown.

Fear, such a weapon of persuasion, a favorite these days of the secular powers that be. Of course, for millennia spiritual hucksters have used the threat of an invented inferno as their meal ticket. It does not get old. But this contemporary twist is additionally insidious. We seem intent on raising a generation tutored in dependency upon the administered world for their safety. Kids do not play ball without adult supervision. Their days are a schedule of overseen events. Independence, self-dependence, freedom from adults is dangerous. Beware of strangers, if you ever get to meet one. Don’t leave the house without your helmet and your cellphone—just in case.

What is a fascist state but one that wants as much control as possible over personal freedom? An essential component of fear is the other. The other is unknown and therefor dangerous. Fear it. Fear now fuels our national politics. Safety is surrender to the administered world, to armed troops at our borders and kids caged or confined to where the cops want them.

In time we hate that which we often fear.”  William Shakespeare

14 Degrees South

14 Degrees South scanned cover

Winner of the University of the South Pacific Press’s inaugural International Literature Competition.

              Now available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BC3212O                or my website http://www.johnenright.us

Virgin Frontiers

fr. the journals of John Williams
the first white missionary to reach Samoa
describing the sa`e the concluding
section of the poula or night dance
that the new church would keep
banning for decades:

“This scene concludes
by the men approaching the young virgins
& with their tongues perform what
one beast does to another.”

The Pacific Ocean covers 70 million
square miles of the earth’s surface.
One song that was sung in the sa`e
directed:
Untie your `ie and throw
it into the house
Then dance the sa`e naked.
When one side of the papaya
is golden
the whole papaya tastes sweet.

Less than 2% of that area is land.
The virgins have taunted the men for hours.

 

Island Uber

Samoan pickup truck

Junior’s business card read, in Samoan, “Have Truck Will Travel.” He had had only fifty of them printed up. He still had thirty-six left. So far, his fares had been mainly taking farmers and their baskets of taro and coconuts to the market, plus pig transports—some alive, some gutted and ready for the umu.

It was raining tonight. He had just taken his wife’s cousin’s neighbor along with a husband, an auntie, and several small kids to the hospital. The neighbor was in labor. They had stretched her out in the back, in the rain, her head in her husband’s lap, the rest crouched all around her. Of course, they hadn’t felt the need to pay—friends of the family, aiga pikiupi. His cell phone went off, the Star-Spangled Banner. It was Fia, his waitress friend at Sadie’s. She had a very drunk customer there she wanted to get rid of.

“Where is he going?” Junior asked.

“I don’t know, don’t care,” Fia said, “just out of here.”

Unless you’re a stranger there is no anonymity in Pago Pago. Someone will know who you are. In the case of Junior’s passenger, everyone would know who he was. That was part of his job. He was a politician, a holder of one of the higher titles in the Eastern District, a familiar face from the evening TV news and the local paper. Let’s call him Sir, as Junior did in Samoan. Actually, properly translated, Junior’s term of address would be something more like My Most Honorable Sir, but we’ll stick with Sir. Sir was, as Fia had claimed, honorably smashed. It was at times like this that Junior wondered why he was doing this. Why was he a ride for hire?

Junior had a day job driving a school bus. But his DOE paycheck barely covered the grocery bills for his eight-person household, his church dues, and his wife’s bingo habit. His wife Taipupu, of course, figured that what kept him out of the house at night and on weekends was another woman. As if he could afford another woman.

Sir refused to leave his booth at the bar. Fia refused to bring him another drink. The manageress came to cajole him into departing. Sir made a clumsy pass at her. Finally, two other men at the bar, lesser chiefs, came over and picked Sir up. He objected at first then gave it up, forgetting what he was objecting to. They deposited Sir in the cab of Junior’s pickup.

The rain, which had been steady, now picked up. Rainmaker Mountain across the bay was doing its job. All Junior could see in his headlights was water, both in the air and on the road. His windshield wipers were on high, but they hardly helped. It happened like this sometimes. You don’t think it could rain any harder, then it does. The end of the world will come as water. Both he and Sir were soaked. Junior was thinking about the leak in his kitchen’s rusty roof. Sir was mumbling the words of a pop Samoan song. Maybe he thought he was singing.

O fea?” Sir asked. He wanted to know where they were going.

Junior was headed east. That was the direction his truck had been parked in, and he knew Sir came from one of the villages in that direction.

“You tell me, Sir. Home? Back to your village?”

“Take me to the Tepatasi,” Sir slurred.

The Tepatasi, a harbor-side dive, had burned down years before.

“The Tepatasi would be closed now, Sir. What village?”

“Whose son are you?”

Junior told him. He was not ashamed of his heritage. He named his father and his grandfather, who had held a talking chief title. It was always thus. You were not yourself or where you were headed but where you came from, who preceded you. Someday would his sons be able to say with pride their father’s name?

“Never heard of them,” Sir said. He went back to mumbling his song.

It didn’t matter. How long had it been since such things really mattered? What did anybody know any more about why it ever mattered? Junior never got out of second gear. He was sort of feeling for the road, or rather feeling if he got off it. You can take pride in something, but if pride takes hold of you you’re lost.

The road skirted the edge of the bay here. The rain cranked up another notch. Homage, fa’aaloalo, servitude, your only strength is your family’s strength, your village’s strength, your high chief’s will to be strong. No one stood alone. His right wheels threw up gravel, and Junior pulled back left onto the road. He had the road all to himself. No one, he thought, did something so stupid as strike out on their own. No one started a business of being alone in the middle of the night driving strangers and drunks to destinations unknown. That Greek guy in a dugout paddling lost souls to hell.

Junior lit a cigarette and looked over at Sir, who was slumped against the door now, eyes closed, passed out. What was he supposed to do with him? He could always dump him at the side of the road. Maybe the rain would sober him up. He wouldn’t remember how he got there. Jettison the past. But Fia would know and the two other chiefs from the bar. That could be bad for business. Sir had never heard of his grandfather’s title? What sort of chief was he?

Somewhere past or maybe still in Leloaloa—it was hard to tell exactly where he was—the road was suddenly flooded with rushing water. A stream off the almost sheer cliff of the harbor caldera had backed up at its viaduct under the roadway, probably clogged with village trash. It happened so fast in the headlight-white curtain of rain that he hit it just as he saw it. He had no choice but to try and drive through. He downshifted to first. The force of the water pushed the truck sideways toward the bayside edge. He jerked it left into a whitecap, and the engine stalled. Sir was still passed out.

To Junior’s surprise, the engine coughed back to life on his third try of the starter. Good truck. He patted the top of the dashboard then plowed cautiously ahead, trying to keep in the middle of the road and not make a wake. He saw the headlights ahead before he saw the flashing blue and red roof lights. They were coming at him faster than he was going.

When the police car, going too fast, hit the edge of the flood, it tried to brake and slid sideways. It was only a two-lane road, and Junior was in the middle of it. There was nowhere else for the cop car to go besides into the front of Junior’s truck. It took but a second. The crash was not really that dramatic or loud. Everything stopped except the rain. Sir came to.

The rest took place in the rain, Junior and the two overweight cops, one with a flashlight, standing calf-deep in the tugging flood of the road as they examined the damage—major to the side door and rear quarter panel of the black-and-white, minor to Junior’s truck, which was still running and whose headlights were still on. The fatter cop got angry. It was all Junior’s fault. Was he drunk, driving down the middle of the road like that, hitting a police car? Was he on drugs? He’d have his ass in jail. When Junior pointed out that it was their car that had been out of control, fatso got his handcuffs out of the snap pouch on his cop utility belt.

Cops liked to act like the uniform made them everybody’s chief. This one tried to shove Junior back toward his truck and ordered him to turn around and put his hands behind his back. Junior wasn’t that easy to push around and he was in no mood for this shit. The other cop, the one with the flashlight, came forward now. Fuck ‘em. He would take them both on.

“What’s going on here, officer?” It was Sir. He had pulled himself over into the driver’s seat and rolled down the window. Even in the rain you could smell the alcohol.

“Oh, two drunks,” fatso said. “Out of the truck.” He again tried to shove Junior backward. The uniform with the flashlight came over to the truck. “You heard him. Out of the truck.”

“Who do you think you’re ordering around?” Sir said, clearly if slightly slurred.

“You, you piece of shit. Out!” He showed the flashlight into the cab and onto Sir’s face. There was a long pause. “Oh, my apologies, sir.” He used an honorific even higher than the one Junior had used. “I didn’t know that was you. Are you alright, sir? Not injured?”

“Why are you molesting my driver? I must get home.”

Fatso, who had grabbed Junior’s shirt with both hands, now dropped them. “We’ll take you, sir. You’ll be safer with us.” He put his handcuffs back in their little pouch on his belt, still glaring at Junior.

The flashlight cop helped Sir out of the truck and through the rain and the rushing water to the cop car, the other side where the rear door still opened.

“You’re lucky this time, prick,” fatso said before turning and getting into the driver’s seat. “Next time, without chief, you won’t be.” He did more ripping damage to his fender as he backed up to pull away in the direction they had come. The other side of the car looked fine. Junior stood there in the rain. Of course, Sir had not paid him anything. His truck’s front bumper was pushed in. The rain did not let up.

Junior got home late, but Taipupu was still up, just returned from her church bingo game and having a cup of tea. “Oh, did the bitch throw you out into the rain?”