Sunday, June 28, 2015

By The Wind

I know I am a racist. Not the KKK sort of racist, some call it white privileged, or even prejudiced, but I know it is there. It is subtle and that is what scares me the most. The dictionary definition says something about thinking my race is superior. Well, I don’t exactly fit that. I was born into a privilege, a class, a time, and a place of the world that mirrored me, that told me I could be greatness. It isn’t all about skin color either, but it does have to do with a type of segregation. My parents never said any racial slurs that I remember. Perhaps that was part of the problem. My town and my elementary school didn’t have any black people in my class; none of my teachers were from other races; none of the presidents during my youth were other than white males; however, we did have Hispanic or Mexican people around us. That is part of the history of California. Many that I would see were migrant workers. I noticed a difference and I don’t ever remember that being anything about skin color; however, there was a difference—economically, culturally, and even in school and education. To my untrained brain, the students in the class and the people around town seemed less educated; I couldn’t understand that they were navigating two languages and two cultures. I wouldn’t understand for many years the beauty and power of the Spanish language.

Now I love the Mexican culture. I find myself more at home there. I love how they cherish family, and gather together to BBQ. I love the stores and the food and language. It took me a while to appreciate the music, but I love some of the mariachi, rancheras, and corridos. One of my favorite songs is La Malaguena, especially with Trio Calavera and Javier Solis wailing the falsetto. There is something so romantic and beautiful about the old Mexico. I loved the movies from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, movies with Pedro Infante. I loved the stories of the Aztecs and Conquistadores and the Spanish Mission period of California. I love the stories of Zapata and the revolution. To me, California is part Mexico; that is our history.

Chico and I are travelling up the north coast, out of California and into Oregon. Today we run a rugged bit of the Oregon coast just North of Coos Bay. It is no more ugly or more beautiful than many coastlines of my life. It is solitary and nobody else can be seen for miles either way and that makes it perfect. There are many beaches like this haunting my memories, places of the past that will never be the same. This one is an open dog beach and Chico can run it without fear of rangers, no cars driving, and only one ATV rides by on my way out yelling at me about needing a flag. I ignore him and figure I will deal with the consequences if a ranger does find me out there—that is part of my privilege too. Often in this life I have done the wrong thing but believed I would be OK: stolen baseball cards from the store, snuck into gated lands to build forts in the grass, climb neighbor’s fences into yards without permission, drunken late night bike rides, illegal skateboarding, speeding on the freeways, my dog off the leash, and even driving onto private property, and fishing without a license.  I was never that worried. What could really happen?

We run down wind, enjoying the silence, the way the world hangs with you in the wind, the push to your back, and the return run with the wind thrumming into your ears along with the roar of aerated water pushing deeper into me. It is meditation for me. I usually run past the starting point heading back north further against the wind, just so I can turn to walk back south with the wind at my back again, the silence returning, my savasana or something, the world dead again in quietude.

Terrorism does something to us, like injuries to self-confidence, maybe on purpose. Maybe this is how we form the stories we need to tell; we shape the morals of our future through the mistakes of our past. It is fear, ancient fear, big cat fear, and thundering gods with our lives in their whimsical command, the waves pounding the shores, a boat without mast. Perhaps these attacks need to happen; we attack each other to build more and better social rules. Maybe it is built into the system. We clash. However, the new rules are key, the new stories in all their varied forms, they define something, tell a new narrative and move us to a new future. What if we never move and every story is just a re-telling of an ancient story and Moses always heads to the desert and always returns with vengeance? Salvation is a tortured child? Love is unrequited? War is fought because of ignorance?

Chico knows when we are close to the truck again. He knows when we are heading back. I wonder how he knows this. The wind is blowing on shore, and I am elated about having the sand and the ocean again…alone. My heart sings for the solitary beach, no sport needed. I am supposed to be looking for surf and paddling the new inflatable stand-up-paddle board (SUP) I bought, but they are just excuses to get away from it all. Like fishing, I never needed to catch anything—just a reason to stand in the water and stare into myself.

Last night, Chico and I rode the tides of the ocean and the currents of the Coquille River as the sun set on the lagoon. Two young seal pups followed us around with their eyes peeking from the water. Nobody else was on the water but a couple of fishermen when I launched at the boat dock. Their first and only question was about Chico’s breed. He was meant to be on a boat, the wind in his fur, and the salt on his tongue.

I am grappling with the world and the hatred, the division and ignorance, and questioning my own part, my own division and ignorance. I am working on letting go of right and wrong and focusing on communication, awareness, and openness. My mantra to my life lately: open.

After the Coquile, we drove north to here. I love the way the grass holds onto the sand, it dances in the waves of wind, the same swell of the ocean, the power of change across temperature, the movement of the unseen. Beneath my feet, while I walk in the sand, I can hear the breaking and tearing of roots from the grasses.  I wonder how connected each bunch is to the next. There is something about the breaking sound of the roots that is both exhilarating and horrifying. I want to hear it, but regret doing it each time. This beach is a long sand bar north of Coos Bay. The whole Oregon coast is either cliffs or sand, and every so many miles there are large lagoons from another large river carrying sediment out to sea, the long shore current carrying sand south. Perhaps this sand is mostly from the Umpqua River north of here. We put the truck in four-wheel, after first helping pull a small Prius out of the sand, and found a small hill overlooking the ocean from where to sit and relax, read and write, and run the beach. Behind us is a lumber mill and a large lake labeled on the map, “Industrial Waste Pond.” Don’t think we will go swimming there and it makes me question even the ocean waters surrounding such a place. It is interesting to me how we can take something like timber, something pretty natural, and end up with a lot of industrial waste making our products from this. I am sure there is a better way.

I have had a few friends from different races and different cultures. I don’t think of them that way when with them, but I am not blind or ignorant to it either. The first person I vividly remember who felt and seemed different from me was a young boy I rode the bus with and I don’t even remember his name, but he always had bags of candy he shared with me on the bus. He was gone after less than one year.  I look back now and think he was Hispanic, but all I knew was that he was different from the other kids I knew.

Because I played soccer, many of my friends were Hispanic. I learned a lot from Raul Salto. I used to skateboard with one of my best friends Zamna. His mother had to get him an ID card because police wouldn’t believe him when he gave his name. I still love the sound of it as it rolls off the tongue and want to scream it like a super hero’s name.  He went to Alaska with me.  There, I became best friends with a native Aleut named Cecil and we would spend countless hours together wondering around Karluk. In San Diego I played on a Mexican soccer league with a friend who lived in Tijuana. I guess that goes with moving around a lot. I can’t say that I have a lot of black friends, but as a child I worshiped Bo Jackson. I collected his baseball cards, magazine articles, and hung posters in my room. I don’t ever remember thinking about him as being “black.” He was an idol for me, but I remember when my mother bought me his autobiography and I read about how he learned to run by running from the white kids who chased him, I thought that must happen in Alabama, not here in California.

In college I used to have a friend I really cared about who was black. I say “used to” because Jamel committed suicide a few years back. I have tried to write about it, but never found the right way yet. He messaged me a couple days before and I missed the message.

I met Jamel in my poetry class with Jeanne. I was sitting in the desk waiting for the first day of class, so confident about all I knew about writing already and how I would amaze everybody with my skills, when the window slid open, a leather satchel placed through the window, and then a foot with a nice pair of dress shoes, and slacks reached through the window, until the whole body came through it and there, like a magician, stood Jamel. His beautiful smooth skin and larger than life smile beamed to everyone in the room. He appeared an extreme extrovert to everyone. I knew we would be friends from that very moment. We wrote poetry together, went to parties, and wondered around the streets. He would stop at any moment and capture audiences with his spoken words. I don’t want to write about him right now, but he taught me a lot about growing up in South Central Los Angeles and how he felt moving to Chico, how his anxiety would climb because he felt so out of place. I am frustrated with our society right now, and trying to understand my own faults better. I keep seeing my own privilege and the way the world opens for me, but I want equality.

On the beach, millions of by-the-wind sailors or sea rafts, also known as velellas washed onto the shore. This happens at times. Without any means of locomotion except the small sail reaching into the wind, they ride the winds of the ocean. Each one is not really an individual, but a hydroid colony with individual polyps, the dangling strings that sting and “fish” for food. Related to the Portuguese man o’ war, with their long, sometimes 30 foots tentacles dangling down into the ocean with stinging nematocysts on the end, the by-the-wind sailors are tiny versions of those, with the tentacles normally unable to sting humans. Nonetheless, each small sailing velella is actually a colony of multicellular organisms called zooids connected together, like coral, through a tube where they share the small algae they hunt. Sometimes thousands of these colonies drift together in the ocean currents. When surfing, if you see one man o’ war, stay out of the water because there might be many more. The by-the-wind sailors are mostly harmless to humans; however, when the winds shift, or warm waters move closer to shore, they are pushed into the surf, eventually left on the high tide line to wither and dry in the sun. Each colonial velella reproduces through a budding process that makes them all clones of each other.  They are all the same. All of them, washed to the shore to die together in the sun.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Every Dog

Every Dog

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.”  JD Salinger

I have thought about the ways male bodies want to put sperm inside females. Not talking about porn, per se, but the biological desire to procreate, and how it has to be inside of us. Not different from a dog in heat.
Chico, my dog, is neutered. I promised Jeanne, my mentor in all things writing and dogs (general life counselor), to have him neutered when I got to Idaho with him. I am sure Chico holds it against me, but he doesn't understand how that has allowed him to go many more places in the world. If you know me, you know my dog, or we haven't spoken in eight years.

Nonetheless, a few years later, I was helping my sister find a dog, and they wanted something like Chico. I was up north, and found a dog to adopt, and they had been looking and trying. She is a wild and rambunctious bottle of energy. Her name is Daisy now. I think they said it was Marley. We did a three-car shuffle from mine, to my brother-in-law's mother’s car, to my sister and more specifically to Larkin, my niece to get her from Paradise, California to Oceano, California. I couldn’t come down then, but did shortly after. We didn't know much about Daisy, not her breed, but a few guesses, nor her siblings. The vet said he couldn't tell for sure if she had been spayed. He said to wait and see if she goes into heat and she did. And Chico was excited.

            I don't think there is much worse in life than watching someone go through troubling times. To go through them yourself, of course sucks, but they are your own.  To watch, to feel helpless; however, we all try. That is the beauty of having friends raise you up when you are down. We all know it isn't the friends doing the work. In the very end, you have to, even at the very least, ask for help. You don't have to do it alone, but that decision, that surrender, doesn’t happen easily. I hope to think I am getting better.

When Daisy went into heat, it was wild to watch, especially to see how Chico reacted. He didn't quite get it. She would walk up to him, turn, and put her pussy into his face, and he would wildly smell and lick. It was kind of gross to watch.  He was turned on and would try to mount her, mostly her head, but she kept coming back to him, trying to get him to understand. I didn't think much about it because he was fixed.  I didn't think he really could do it, but then I turned around and there they were stuck butt to butt and he’s looking at me for help, kind of the embarrassing look he gives when he ate too much grass and his poop is stringy and it won’t break free from his ass. It gets worse…I found this out soon, to be a pet owner.

I have always been fascinated with cycles and systems: cats having kittens, trees flushing new, a season for camping in the mountains, and of course when the fish are in. That has followed me places.  I still get the fish run counts for Kodiak Island via email during the summer  runs to follow how many of each major species gets up to the fish weirs. Today, 2733 sockeye made it past the fish weir on the Karluk River. All these fish, sometimes hundreds of thousands in a day will pour into the lagoon and up into the river pushing with the rising tide, pulses of fish moving along the channel, then, from rock to rock, from deep spot to deep spot, spawn until they die and let the current wash them back out to sea, what post-coital surrender. Five steelhead went back down and back out to sea today. They keep coming back and do it again. I'd rather be a steelhead.

For three days, all Chico wanted to do was fuck. His every waking second was busied with my sister’s dog. I’d look over and they would be stuck together again. I figured I owed it to him after removing his balls. I figured what was the worst that could happen. After three days, Daisy stopped being in heat, and just like that, it was over. That night Chico is sitting on my sister’s couch next to me licking his pink penis over and over. I joke that he is rubbing it in. My dog is getting laid more than me.

I tell him, “Put it away. It’s gross.” I sort of hit his side to get him to stop licking.

My sister gets on the Internet and then says, “Oh this might be bad. You might have to help him put it back. It could lead towards serious complications.”

“Help him!” I repeat back to her. “Let me see.”

Sure enough, there it is right on the Internet, sometimes a dog's penis might get too dry and it won’t go back. You might need to help lubricate his penis to get it to go inside. I inspect closer. Sure enough, the skin and hair was folded over, stuck, as the penis tries to go back inside. This is something no one tells you about being a pet owner. Nobody tells you that one-day you might have to help put his penis away for him after three days of frolicking.

I often think that this religious view that humans are somehow closer to god, or somehow raised above animals, does us no good. So much of what we go through is biological. So much of the ways we suffer have connections to our animal selves. The animal inside us gets us in trouble. But I also know that we are pack animals, tribal people. When we see one of our own hurting, it hurts us too. With our great culture of humanity come all the violence, the abuse, the drugs and alcohol, the addiction, and the despair. We sometimes feel so alone when surrounded by so many people who love us. Jeanne once told me she rescues dogs because it is too painful to rescue humans.

I prepare to do it. We get some olive oil out and I am about to lube up his penis for him. My sister sets the olive oil down for me. First, I just move in and pull the skin and hair, kind of trying to open it up again and clear the passage, and it does.  It goes right back in and shrinks up around it. Gone, back into the mystery of the body. I didn't have use the lube or touch the actual pink part of his penis. I am damn close with my dog, and I wake many mornings to his ass in my face his back paws up over my head. It is my fault.  I pull him to use him like a pillow, and he doesn't want his head next to mine, and I'd prefer to not smell that or listening to his snoring quite that close each night. Actually I feel the same with any sleeping body, including humans. I feel as if they are stealing my oxygen from me all night long. Nonetheless, I can safely say, I have never touched the pink part of my dogs penis and that seems to make everything OK then. Some things end up being easy fixes. I wish more things were like that. And, there is no way to write this sentence without it sounding dirty, but I would touch that pink part to help you if I could.