At 3 a.m. I Understand

asteroidrendering

Rummaged through the evidence files again tonight

the moon past full and all the crows asleep inside the woods

 

the past dealt like tarot cards laughing at their own predictions

avoiding the present as the transparent pox that it is.

 

At three a.m. I understand that what we believe in is no more

than past hopes dressed in armored denial, the lies of survival.

 

We are each an archaeological site, an arrowhead here, a bone

fragment there, cracked and crushed to suck the marrow out

 

long-forgotten memories properly encased in common earth.

Imagine the chaos if death was not the only truth.

Advertisements

Cultural Appropriation

Liam in hat 2

            The photo is of my son Liam, on a beach in Tutuila, American Samoa, getting on a quarter of a century ago now. He had appropriated my hat. It is not a Samoan hat, though he is a hundred-percent Samoan. It is a palagi hat. Palagi, properly papalagi, sky breaker, is the Samoan term for Caucasians. I’m a hundred percent palagi. I adopted Liam, in Samoa, when he was one-month old. We spent the next eighteen years together there. He was an exceptionally brave child. You can see it in his face. He was fearless when it came to doing what he thought should be done.

            Fourteen years ago, while still living in Samoa, I started writing a series of police procedural novels set in Samoa. I had lived and worked there for more than twenty years. I wanted to share what I had learned about this richly different place. I invented a Samoan detective, Sgt. Apelu Soifua, and through four books dwelled in his bicultural conundrum of an American-trained cop in a Samoan world. For years I had demurred, even though my island mentor, the Samoan playwright John Kneubuhl, had told me to just fucking do it. After Uncle John died, I took his advice. I had no idea at the time that I was committing a literary crime.

            How dare I, a palagi, assume to write about the experiences and thoughts of a man from another—indeed a colonialized—culture? What presumption! Larceny!

            I wish Uncle John was still around so we could mull this over. John was afakasi, half Samoan, half palagi. Born in Samoa, he had learned his trade under Thornton Wilder at Yale. He had spent decades in Hollywood as a very successful TV/screen writer, churning out scripts for such shows as Star Trek, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, The Wild Wild West, and Hawaii Five-O, among many others. He was a master at cultural appropriation. In the end, he returned to his island home and roots in the masterful trilogy of plays in Think of a Garden.

Uncle John would have warmed to this debate. I know he would have railed against any ideology placing borders on an artist’s creativity. “How dare Shakespeare write about Danes or Italians?” “White-out Twain’s Nigger Jim!” A fifth of Scotch and a lot of laughs. Then we would have moved on to some more serious topic.

Is exclusivity essential to diversity? Is there any need in art for political police? And who are these people? Don’t they have anything constructive to do? How about trying on someone else’s hat?

(Det Sgt. Apelu Soifua Jungle Beat Mysteries: Pago Pago Tango, Fire Knife Dancing, The Dead Don’t Dance, Blood Jungle Ballet. Thomas & Mercer. Available via Amazon.com and http://www.johnenright.us)

San Francisco, Summer ’66

Haight-Ashbury

There was a bakery over in the Mission that sold its day-old bread for ten cents a loaf. Every couple of days I would hike over there and bring back as much as I could carry in my rucksack. It wasn’t much of a hike, just a mile or so each way from the Haight. The bread was my contribution to the commune. In return, they let me sleep and eat there, a big old run-down house in a working-class neighborhood. I’d hitchhiked out from New York. I was the only one in the house from the East Coast. At 20, I was also the youngest. I didn’t fit in too well. One of my first nights there, we were all sitting around on the floor in the common room getting stoned, and everyone else was drinking cheap dago-red jug wine. I went out and came back with a quart of Rainier Ale. That somehow made me weird.

Often, the jug wine, or the sangria they fixed to try and make it palatable. would be laced with LSD. This was the summer before the Summer of Love. Lysergic acid was not yet illegal. And in the Haight was a small ghetto of adults who had not so much dropped out of their old world as dropped into a new freedom sphere of their own invention. Psychedelics had freed them. My commune mates were ex-lawyers and -teachers and -real-estate agents. One of the things they all had in common was that they no longer were what they once had been, like married or on a career path.

I had come to San Francisco on a vague poet’s quest. New York was still the literate center of the universe, but it was stale. The so-called Beats had abandoned Manhattan for the City by the Bay. In those halcyon hitchhiking days, a visit west was only four or five days of free rides away. I had been fired from my stat-analyst job at Fortune for showing up one Monday morning with a shaved head. (It was not attractive.) Such expressions of personal freedom were not tolerated at Time-Life Inc. So, I was collecting unemployment, $48 a week, and learned that I could collect it as well in California.

There was a man whose name I then knew, who that summer was sort of royalty in the Haight. He dressed in Oscar Wilde hats and capes and toured his tiny principality with a pair of exotic wolf hounds. Supposedly, he was the font of all local LSD. With caution and diligence, I managed that summer to avoid ingesting any of his product. Though it felt at times as if I alone was the only one not tripping, I confined myself to weed and Rainier Ale and became a non-participant observer of the encompassing alternate reality.

The source of my reluctance was quite simple—the verse the acidhead poets was churning out. I thought it was awful. The purpose of poems, I thought, was to clarify, to distil experience into shareable insights, not celebrate personal confusion. The solo inner vision is not communication. Much of what I read, in my jejune opinion, seemed speaking-in-tongues gibberish. They lacked all discipline, were amorphous, pure personal indulgence. I did not want that to happen to my poems.

This substitute for poetry was emblematic of the scene as a whole. The gaseous comfort zone this mini-subculture subsisted upon was comprised primarily of self-righteousness, a snotty self-righteousness at that—the less sense you made, the higher your status. That defense—it’s not that I’m not clear, it’s your fault for not understanding. The literary analogy was to jazz. But even jazz had rules and framework and was played by groups of men who understood one another. Coltrane always returned to the tune right on beat.

The smells—patchouli oil and incense, marijuana and unwashed bodies—and on the streets, the fog-cleansed air and the always chilled Pacific breeze. North Beach saloons and cheap Chinatown noodle houses. Stoned side trips to Mendocino and Big Sur. In 1966, $48 was equivalent to $480 in today’s dollars. I got to hear the music and watch the lightshows and the people at The Fillmore and The Avalon—the Airplane and the Dead, Big Brother and Grace Slick, Country Joe and the Mothers of Invention. The musicianship was often not the best, but it was the experience you went for, the comradery of crazies.

On the radio, ’66 was the summer of “California Dreamin’,” “Paint It Black,” “Good Vibrations,” “The Sound of Silence,” and “Yellow Submarine.” But that was the other, regular world. As the summer went on, the lightshows got more psychedelic, Janis Joplin went beyond extreme, and the Grateful Dead would refuse to stop playing. How many rules can be broken?

Then there was the Oracle. In subsequent years, Haight-Ashbury became famous as a flowerchild haven, a refuge for damaged and disaffected teenagers. But in ’66 there were no kids there. It was all adults. They weren’t adolescent escapees. They saw themselves as pioneers. I was just an inexperienced kid and ignored. So, when a cadre of the senior acidhead elite decided to put out a community newspaper, I got to hang out with them as a goffer, the practical kid who remembered stuff. No one remembered my name.

The money all came from acid sales. A space was rented above the Haight Theater. Someone who said they knew what they were doing bought an ancient press from a shuttered newspaper upstate. A staff of exotic misfits was assembled. I don’t know what they were paid. I never was. At least at first, no one was in it for money. It was a community project. The explorers on the frontier of alternate reality required an organ to relate back their inner discoveries. It took us weeks to get that old press adjusted and balanced enough to print. It didn’t help that everyone else was tripping.

San Francisco Oracle

The San Francisco Oracle fulfilled and exceeded its mission. Its success and impact far exceeded the worth of any combination of its contents, much of which was either unreadable—due to the liberal application of colored-ink washes (ala Fillmore lightshows)—or intentionally unintelligible (unknowability being the hallmark of all true wisdom). The few pieces of mine that got published were unrecognizable, chopped up to decorate some mandala or unicorn graphic. Printed badly on cheap coarse paper (a bitch in the press), it had a good feel in the hand. It caught on among those who cared little for words.

At the end of the summer, with $40 in my pocket, I headed north, hitchhiking up to Vancouver to take a new route back to Manhattan across Canada 1. For the next couple months, I acted as East Coast distributor for the Oracle, until it became too popular and profitable. When it started making money, everything changed and I was out. Just as well. Its many-colored inks came off on your fingers.

February

Crows 1 - Copy

Slanting sun through barren trees laying bars of shadow

across the awe-filled after-blizzard whiteness.

A murder of crows, fifty strong and as black as the snow is white,

fills the bare silhouette limbs, announcing themselves

in a fractured chorus of their only call.   It is their season.

They rule the airways of my thought.

They depart en masse confusion, a cloud of dark chaos

and stragglers, leaving behind only frozen silence.

 

 

 

The Narragansett Council

american-flag

They were just a bunch of retired old guys who had outgrown the need to be authoritative. They met every Friday after four at the village saloon for drinks and a review of the week’s updates. They were: the former long-time town manager who now ran the community farm, the former publisher/editor of the island newspaper, one of his former columnists with a mysterious past, a poet/novelist who was respected if little read, and a rock-music reviewer/song writer. They were an institution unto themselves and no threat to the womenfolk. It being New England, not one of them was a Republican.

The name of the establishment where they converged was the Narragansett Café, though it did not serve coffee, never had. It was where the guys in outdoor work clothes drank when they got off work, where the village alcoholic widows felt at home, a block up from the waterfront. There was the requisite pool table, juke box, bar shuffle board along one wall—a proper chapel of ethanol culture with four muted flat-screen TVs.

The past and its players played a part in the group’s disputations—Brian Wilson, Bill Russel, JFK, Roy Orbison, Ted Williams, Fidel Castro—but the commonest theme was generally how to make sense of what was happening in America. As all Americans who cared were aware, this was a daunting task; but to these septuagenarians, the current social/political landscape was especially disconcerting. “It’s like a trailer park after the tornado,” one of them observed, “with survivors searching through the wreckage for whatever fond possessions they can salvage, like pieces of the Constitution.”

In their shared opinion, the democracy had been mutating into a financial oligarchy for some time. It seemed inevitable. Socrates and Mencken had predicted it. But the latest collapse of old values did seem extreme. They all had assumed that true social chaos would arrive after their departure, like the rising sea levels that would drown this oceanside saloon, but decades hence, long after their last drink. They had worried how their grandkids would cope. But like anything headed downhill, the disintegration had picked up speed.

One thing the old farts weren’t was naïve. They had been paying attention for more than half a century, through Vietnam and Watergate and a dozen bogus wars. They had heard all the prevarications, the dishonest disavowals, the “unknown unknowns,” and flat-out  misinformation. They’d been around. Sometimes their leaders had lied. But those were lies that at least paid tribute to the truth by pretending to be true, and politicians caught in a lie paid a price for tarnishing the truth. Truth was different than belief or shared opinion or repeated assertion. Truth was provable. Truth was rational and scientific, based upon observable fact. Truth was undeniable and would win out in the end. No longer.

Truth, like politeness and courtesy, was no longer fashionable. Truth, in fact, had become the enemy of many. Unfortunate truths could be ignored, despised. Now it was the facts that lied, if they contradicted what one wanted to believe. Untruths were now just “alternative facts.” Reality was whatever best served your purpose. And no one seemed to care very much that the basis of all honest discourse had just vanished. If you don’t like my truth, make up your own. They shook their heads—unsustainable.

And then there was social media. None of the old guys quite knew what to think about that, except that it was not their mode of communication. It seemed to be all about speed and brevity and surface. Three qualities they no longer valued. An embarrassing constant contest of self-important distraction, a crowd to be lost in, and at least coincidentally complicit in the larger cacophonous chaos. One thing they were certain of was that any endeavor without gatekeepers could not maintain or even appreciate quality. It was emblematic of the society as a whole—all about more, not about better.

They had a lot of laughs. There was much to laugh about. It was hopeless, of course, which made humor all the more essential. Selfie-sticks, Twitter accounts, a newly elected illiterate buffoon for President who personified the tragic-comic punchline of it all. They never drank that much. Those days were behind them. They flirted with lovely Caitlyn behind the bar, young enough to be their granddaughter. By six they would disperse, their inconsequential council taking a recess until the next Friday, but never adjourning.

Entheogenisis

golden-eagle-flying

A new year greeting, a letter to Michael Joyce.

Mika:

After midnight, day’s shift done. I work at the new book every day now. It is pretty much my sole waking escape from circling reality. So much aggressive distraction to ignore. The menu of things and events that interest me has shrunken drastically. Yesterday I tried and failed to watch a football game. I have the feeling I’m searching for something, but it’s not out there. Is it hidden in the words? Like a puzzle-lock–seven common words arranged in such an order that a hole is ripped in the scrim of illusions to reveal the glowing truth beyond.

I need some mushrooms. I need to go back there. That’s the right neighborhood. The simplicity of unity. Ran across a word today–entheogenic, “God-enabling,” as in an entheogenic experience. I once had those–in the redwoods, the Nevada desert, on a Marin ocean bluff where I knew I was the Golden Eagle I’d been watching all day, coming back to our nest. All thanks to the Fungod.

Just Jim Bean and ganja tonight, some barbecue chips. Time was never mine to waste. You can’t own time, rather vice-versa. There was a truth at the center of everything, just as in all dimensions, before the big bang. We all are particles of it, racing outwards. There is a truth too big to understand, but we will know it when it meets us.

Oh, and happy out-of-sync-solstice holiday. I have several times employed your Uppsala solstice celebrations account to remind people that they are still mammals first, only later one of the faithful.

Your ancient pal,
Ioane

 

 

Fridays at the Rainmaker

rainmakerrestaurant1

It was a beautiful room—tall windows on three sides with a panoramic view of Pago Pago Bay and its lush encompassing collapsed caldera, a high-domed Samoan ceiling from which hung imposing chandeliers of strung seashells. True, if you looked more closely, there were vertical cracks in the arched concrete columns and some of the windows could no longer be opened and others no longer closed. The carpet was best ignored. Who knew the last time the chandeliers had been lowered and cleaned? The main dining room at the government-run, once luxurious Rainmaker Hotel was slipping into its final days, but it was still a place where, out of habit, businessmen took politicians for lunch, the late ‘80s. Every Friday, John and Colin and I would meet there for lunch, and sometimes the entire afternoon.

            John was John Kneubuhl, the afakasi Samoan playwright and retired, highly successful Hollywood writer. Uncle John, as we all knew him, was my island mentor, who had taken me into his family. At the time, he was writing his final great trilogy of plays collected in Think of a Garden. Colin was the British anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Colin Turnbull, author of The Forest People and The Mountain People. Colin and I had become close through letters before he retired to my village out on the western end of the island. Colin would pick up Uncle John then swing by the museum where I was working at the time running a folk arts program. We always ate at the Rainmaker, at the table closest to the view, our backs to the room.

            What I remember best is the conversation. That is what I meant to write about, the sensation of those free-floating hours of talk. After thirty years, I can be excused for not recalling the topics of our conversation. Much of the time I just listened. I was junior to both of them by twenty-plus years, and I very much felt that. I can tell you what we did not talk about—politics, sports, current events, religion, ourselves. Both John and Colin had been trained as classical pianists, and sometimes they would disappear into discussions about Shubert or someone and I was wholly excluded. There were never any arguments. Voices were never raised, except in laughter or to get the waiter’s attention for another round of drinks. Usually, we three were the last luncheon patrons remaining.

            Both John and Colin have been dead a quarter of a century now and the Rainmaker removed as rubble. Nostalgia serves no one, but I wonder where that world of conversation has gone, that camaraderie of minds dueling with reality? Not a Tweet nor text nor voice mail, but that open-ended art of personal discourse that engages all the senses with the intellect, the leisure of it all. We three amigos leaving the Rainmaker on a late, hot Friday afternoon, already looking forward to our next raconteur rendezvous a short week hence.

Maps

map

Maps all start with where we are

–the eye of the web, the confluence

of tenses–then move outward into

suppositionals, into the other.

 

Maps are all about that savage other

space that stretches out beyond the walls,

at the edges always Here Be Dragons.

Only foreign shores require portolans.

 

Paradise once meant a private garden,

walled and enclosed, safe and protected.

No maps of paradise exist.

The Friday Night Saloons of Fagatogo, 1976

goat-island-cafe

 By then the villages all blended together along the shore of Pago Pago Bay. There were no clear demarcations where Utulei became Fagatogo became Malaloa became Pago Pago. For the rest of the island this was all downtown. It was where the U.S. Navy had set up shop when they took over the island 76 years before, built a dock and the Naval Station Tutuila. Fagatogo (fahnga-TONE-go) was the official seat of government. The courthouse—the old Naval administration building—was there, along with police headquarters and the legislature and most of what remained of the defunct naval station buildings. The original business district, such as it was, had grown up there on the edge of the station, close to the dock.

Pago Pago Bay is a dramatic collapsed caldera, and the only space for village habitation was along its narrow shoreline. Its encompassing cliffs and rainforest hills have little changed with time. In ’76 I was staying in a place on one of those hillsides in Malaola, looking down at the bay. It was a feral time for me, a Berkeley escapee. I was thirty and vaguely Asia-bound, my first time in the South Seas. I knew nothing about Samoa. I was just passing through, though I dawdled longer than I had planned. It was a hard place to leave. To start with, there were only two flights out a week, easy to miss and often full.

 Flashbacks are a wonderful gift of aging. And there has to be a better word for them than flashbacks—chunks of past times that spring into the mind in vivid detail, like muted home movies found in the attic. Blessedly, most of my past has slipped permanently into the mists of lost memories, but now and then—and more frequently as I age—snatches of real time history intrude into the present, as actual and unignorable as when they happened. That first visit to Samoa, forty years ago, has recently been the source of many of these reveries. It was a time my mind recorded well.

Previous to this flashback onset I had written a half-dozen books set in Samoa. There was a lot to say after a quarter century living there. Five of those books I wrote while still in the islands, the last right after I left. They were all homage of sorts to a place that allowed me to call it home. No one objected. I had put in my time. I tried to get everything right. But recently I have learned that my books are open to the charge of cultural appropriation. How dare a white guy write about a culture and a place that is not his own? An after-the-fact, politically gross gotcha.

 But then, as a writer, what am I to do with these flashbacks, which saved and stored themselves in such perfect tact with the obvious intent of being transcribed later in tranquility, like now? The best I can do is claim them as mine, just my observations—become a travel writer, but a writer travelling into the past. I am going to try that approach here, writing about the saloons of Fagatogo.

 What could be more politically safe than an American writing about saloons? There were no saloons in Samoa before the papalagi arrived, the white guys, literally the “sky breakers.” There was no alcohol at all consumed, not even the “palm wine” ingested by tree-top tipplers in other islands. There was ava, a mildly sedative euphoriant, a suspension of the ground root of a pepper plant (Piper methysticum) in water. Alcohol—rum, whisky, lager, and wine—came with the white guys (along with religion). It did not catch on (unlike religion). When the U.S. Navy took over control of the island in 1900 they outlawed its sale to natives anyway. Then, with the onset of Prohibition in 1920, the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels made the navy booze-free, too. (Hence, “a cup of Joe” for a cup of coffee, which was all there was left to drink in the officers’ mess.)

Even with the navy base, the Caucasian population of the island was never more than one percent, and what little smuggled booze that was consumed was purely a private affair. Then came World War II, and at one point the number of U.S. Marines on-island equaled the number of natives. Some of them were thirsty. The navy outlawed the local sale of sugar to try and stem the making of homebrew. But where there is thirst, there is a way. Palepa, my Samoan grandmother-in-law, proudly recalled the profits she made from the still she ran in the bush up the cliff behind the village of Leloaloa across the bay. For her sugar content she used pineapples, bananas, guavas—I cannot imagine the taste— and sold her brew to the malini for $20 a fifth.

That was thirty years before I got there. By ’76 booze was much cheaper. The navy was long gone. The only liquor store in the territory was run by the government in the old native jail in the line of repurposed naval station buildings along the former parade ground down in Fagatogo. Liquor was untaxed and sold for half what it cost back in California. There were also half a dozen places to drink within walking distance of my place in Malaloa. Let’s take a walking tour. No need to get dressed up—shorts, flip flops, an aloha shirt. Sunset lingers over the harbor. The peak of Rainmaker Mountain across the bay is still in bright sunlight.

 Let’s make it a Friday night. Friday nights always began at the Sadie Thompson Lounge at the government-run Rainmaker Hotel on the beach in Utulei, just a short hike along the harbor. A local combo will be playing, the room will be packed with politicians and young professionals, ninety percent Samoan. This place would soon enjoy some temporary renown thanks to Nicholas von Hoffman’s book Tales from the Margaret Mead Taproom (with cartoons by Garry Trudeau, published in 1976), a best-selling comic classic piece of cultural appropriation. But this Friday night it is just loud. There are a few tourists—this is the sole tourist hotel—and they are not sure whether they should play it safe and leave or relax and enjoy it. The view is panoramic, of the mountains and the bay all the way out to the ocean. The locals are making plans for the evening, where they will regroup later. Cocktail tables grow full of empty bottles and glasses, which are never removed. It seems to be a custom—to show how many drinks you and your friends have paid for? There is a sense of competition in the scene. The drinks are most expensive here.

margaret-mead-taproom

Next stop, the Pago Bar, back in Fagatogo, which is the closest local equivalent to a western saloon. All locals here, no tourists, a friendly place, more laughter than the Sadie Thompson Lounge. No music yet tonight. A few palagi teachers and contract workers hang out here. A few doors down is The Captain’s Table, where Samoan waitresses dance with Korean fishermen and no one talks to one another. My British anthropologist friend Colin Turnbull and I got drunk there one evening and I danced with the waitresses. Colin liked the place because it reminded him of central Africa. “You dance like an African,” he told me.

Up the hill a bit, behind the courthouse and the humble Catholic cathedral, is Herb & Sia’s, a small Samoan hotel with a restaurant and bar, renowned for its fa’afafine (transgender) maitre’d everything, Rosie. More a family place. On Friday and Saturday nights they would have the best Samoan floor show, comprised of kids from the family. Five years later, when I returned, we would have our poetry readings there.

Down by the harbor is The Seaside, a classic saloon that could have been dockside in just about any third-world port. Men who came here came to drink. I used it as a setting in Fire Knife Dancing: “a low, patched-together, tin-roofed building near the water’s edge beyond the farmers’ market. There was a back entry from the dockside, and Apelu used that one. It took his Ray-Ban’d eyes a minute to adjust from the full-sun glare of the streets and the bay and focus inside the saloon’s gloom. What struck him first was the smell of the place—a beer-soaked waft of cigarette air and the twin aromas of the bathrooms’ disinfectant and what it failed to mask. The place was echoingly empty, just a few regulars hunched in drunk meditation at the beer-sign-lit bar.” A place where cops drank with criminals. On a Friday night, though, there would be a house band with the same playlist of C&W covers and Samoan standards as every other local bar band. There were still a few bulbs left in the spotlights on the disco ball above the dance floor. Of all the places I’m remembering, The Seaside lasted by far the longest, functionality outlasting fashion. It was still there, serving its public, pretty much unchanged, seventeen years later when I met Connie there at a Mardi Gras party. I was dressed in my Cardinal’s cassock and she was disguised as an M&M.

From The Seaside it is a peaceful moonlit walk along the shore of the inner harbor to the Tepatasi Terrace on the edge of Pago Pago. There isn’t much traffic in ’76, especially at night, even here on the main road in “downtown.” The Tepatasi is the beginning of the “dark side,” which is how everyone refers to the nightlife on the eastern shore of Pago Pago harbor, where the tuna canneries sprawl like a twentieth-century blight, and the stinking polluted bay is routinely filled with the moored-together rusting hulks of Korean longliners— “The Hell Ships of the South Pacific”—that supplied the canneries’ fish. The convivial establishments on the dark side were of another place and sadder time, indentured fishermen’s drinking holes and joyless brothels. I never go there. It is too far to walk and stinks of rotting fish. The Tepatasi Terrace is adventure enough.

If you travel solo a while in foreign lands, you become inured to not understanding what people are saying. Essential communication will happen, or not. Your hosts are under no obligation to try and include you. In a way, not understanding makes you more alert to all the other communicative channels. I am usually the only white guy in the Tepatasi Terrace, where the clientele is working class Samoans and Korean fishermen. An anomaly, I am ignored. I can just sit at the end of the bar and sip my under-chilled Vailima lager and watch. It is a good place to end an evening’s barhopping.

One Friday night, though, a French cruiser is anchored in the bay and the gens de mer are ashore. My friend Randy—another palagi—and I drive down in his jeep to check it out. We end up at the Tepatasi, where, for whatever reason, all the French officers have ended up, huddled together at a table, like fraternity boys, in their Bermuda shorts avec knee socks white uniforms with epaulets. Their flat, stiff, and silly white uniform hats are piled one on top of another like a wedding cake in the middle of their table. The usual four-piece band is playing, and one at a time the officers get up to dance at the invitation of a Korean fisherman, until the dance floor is filled with happy same-sex dancing couples and the wedding cake of hats is left alone. Randy is a Vietnam vet and has no use for the French. He covets one of those hats. He gives me the key to his jeep and tells me to have it running at the curb. When he gets the chance, he will do a grab and scram. Such is the Tepatasi, the entry to the dark side, where even innocent sailors’ hats  may be inappropriately appropriated. Randy looks like a doofus in that hat.

My flashbacks have no soundtracks. They are like dreams that way. All aural details must be invented to be remembered. Bands playing Beatles’ songs with Samoan lyrics. A couple with two laughing faces. What did I know about why they were laughing? By writing about it do I steal their laughter? By describing what I saw do I diminish it somehow? If it is all about property, then I give up. We none of us own anything, least of all our cultures, group-created to be shared.

All the places I have named are gone. All that is left to be shared are these flashbacks. So sue me.

uncle-duck-at-piano