What I think is helpful is not to conflate these two things or not to suggest they are the same, but to put them in conversation with one another so that we can learn about them, so that I can think about what it means that Angola prison in Louisiana – the largest maximum security prison in the country where 75% of the people held there are Black men and 70% of them are serving life sentences – what does it mean that that is built on top of a former plantation?
I’ll always remember my trip to Dachau and standing in Dachau and seeing this sort of vast expanse of gray land. Look to your left – you see the remnants of the crematorium. You look to your right – you see the remnants of the barracks. And I close my eyes and I imagine what it would be like if; on that land, they built a prison. And in that prison, the vast majority of the people held there were Jewish.
I couldn’t even finish the thought exercise because it was so viscerally upsetting. It was so absurd. It would be such a horrific, inexcusable manifestation of antisemitism.
…And yet here in the United States, the largest maximum security prison in the country in which the vast majority of people are Black men serving life sentences, many of whom work in fields, picking crops for pennies on the hour – what does it mean that that place is built on top of a former plantation? The failure of American memory around chattel slavery allows a place like Angola to exist in a way that a more direct confrontation with memory in Germany would never allow a similar space in Germany to exist in the same way.
“Carol of the Bells” returns to Carnegie Hall 100 years after its North American premiere on this stage, when New York audiences first experienced Ukraine’s unique choral tradition thanks to a historic tour by The Ukrainian Republic Capella. “Carol of the Bells” has since become a worldwide Christmas favorite. Hear it and other beloved Ukrainian carols in a once-in-a-lifetime holiday concert that also features contemporary choral works, a world premiere by composer Trevor Weston, and artists including conductor Daniela Candillari, soprano Janai Brugger, Ukrainian-Canadian singer Marichka Marczyk, the Shchedryk Children’s Choir, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York (as seen on Saturday Night Live), and Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America.
Bountiful evening, bountiful evening, a New Year’s carol; A little swallow flew into the household and started to twitter, to summon the master: “Come out, come out, O master, look at the sheep pen, there the ewes have given birth and the lambkins have been born Your goods [livestock] are great, you will have a lot of money, by selling them. You have a dark-eyebrowed beautiful wife If not money, then chaff from all the grain you will harvest you have a dark-eyebrowed beautiful wife.”
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects.
…But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
The reverence for the founders is at once misplaced and well earned. Any number of people could produce a better document now than they could then; what is a shame is that most of those people are not to be found in government.
That the signing of the Declaration of independence is celebrated on 4 July is one of American history’s more singular mistakes. America did not declare independence on 4 July 1776. That had happened two days earlier, when the proposal was adopted. The proceedings on 4 July were a mere formality endorsing the form of words that were to be used to announce this breach. Most people had no doubt that 2 July was the day that would ring through the ages. … Still less was the Declaration signed on 4 July, except by the president of the proceedings, John Hancock, and the secretary, Charles Thomson. (Though John Hancock became immediately famous for his cockily outsize signature on the Declaration, the expression ‘Put your John Hancock here’ for a signature didn’t apparently occur to anyone until 1903.) It was not signed on 4 July because it had first to be transcribed on to parchment. The official signing didn’t begin until 2 August and wasn’t concluded until 1781 when Thomas McKean of Delaware, the last of the fifty-six signatories, finally put his name to it. Such was the fear of reprisal that the names of the signers were not released until January 1777, six months after the Declaration’s adoption.
Equally mistaken is the idea that the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was announced to a breathless Philadelphia on 4 July by the ringing of the Liberty Bell. For one thing, the Declaration was not read out in Philadelphia until 8 July, and there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 when the whole inspiring episode was recounted in a book titled Washington and His Generals, written by one George Lippard, whose previous literary efforts had been confined almost exclusively to producing mildly pornographic novels. He made the whole thing up.
John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, hastily ran off an apparently unknown number of copies. (Until recently only twenty-four were thought to have survived – two in private hands and the rest lodged with institutions. But in 1992 a shopper at a flea market in Philadelphia found a copy folded into the back of a picture frame, apparently as padding. It was estimated to be worth up to $3 million.) Dunlap’s version was dated 4 July and it was this, evidently, that persuaded the nation to make that the day of revelry. The next year, at any rate, the great event was being celebrated on the fourth, and so it has stayed ever since.
if the Russian leadership does not want to sit at the table with us for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at the table with you. Do Russians want war? I would very much like to answer this question, but the answer depends on you, the citizens of the Russian Federation.”
I’ve never been a fan of a foreign leader before. I have a fanboy crush on Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Who doesn’t these days?) I think I have to reveal my crush right up front in this article because I’m not thinking clearly right now. Or maybe I’m finally thinking clearly for the first time in years. Who knows? What I do know is that I love Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Despite all the odds, he stood up to Vladimir Putin’s aggression and has defined courage for the world in the current European crisis:
…and inspired the citizens of the world to come together in support of his country. I love the guy. If I was 20 right now I’d get on a plane and fly to Ukraine to fight beside him in defense of him and his people and their homes. His is a profile in courage.
Stonekettle asked the collective consciousness of Twitter back on February 19th:
…and that is the essential question here; should we support Ukraine or not? We being the United States in this question means that there is no easy answer. Each individual can make that choice for themselves, certainly. However, this isn’t a question that can be answered with a single word, positive or negative when it comes to the participation of outside groups in what amounts to a regional power struggle.
Modern warfare is evil incarnate and this makes it hard to justify any action that isn’t self defensive in nature. Is it in our own defense to save Ukraine from Russian aggression? That is a difficult question to answer with anything other than a regretful no or a twenty page essay explaining why it should be yes but can’t be.
What follows will probably a twenty page essay. We’ll start with a grammar lesson. It is Ukraine not the Ukraine. It is a country, not just a place, no matter what Vladimir Putin says. You don’t go around saying “we’re going to the Texas” unless you’re going visit the battleship museum. It’s Texas or Ukraine. It is the name of a country or a state.
The United States of America is a union of states or nations. That’s why it was historically referred to as a union or The Union. The United States was never supposed to be the name of the country. They argued about the name for a long time, just like they argued about what to call the office of the president until just giving up and referring to him as the President (a practice that has spread widely) they gave up on giving the collection of states or nations another name, and just used the kludge of a name that was on the Constitution itself.
It’s quite possible that this was a signal of the imperial aspirations of the founders. They knew that there was a lot more land out there to conquer to their west, not to mention to the North and the South, before they ever needed to worry about the phrase of America in the name on the founding document.
Both the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the European Union (EU) were styled after the founding ideals of the United States; principally, the enrichment of the powerful inside those unions, clothed in the garb of caring for the general welfare of the masses of its residents. Neither of those Unions bothered with popular direct elections for representatives for those bodies. The powerful within the United States have come to regret including those provisions in their documents.
Providence, Rhode Island is a city, county, state and nation all at the same time. Let that understanding sink in for a minute. All fifty states are nations tied together within a federal structure, yet retaining independent laws and governing structures. The only interests of the various states that were ceded to the federal government were the issues of interstate trade and the relationships with foreign governments. Everything else was and in a general sense still is an internal issue to be settled within the state itself. This arrangement has the advantage of hiding from view most of the politics that matter for governing inside the United States.
You don’t get a view of local politics unless you dig for it; ask any resident of any decent sized town whether they care more about their local infrastructure or their federal government’s policies. Anyone with an understanding of just how precarious our system is will know that the politics that really matters is local politics. It determines the priorities of all the levels above it that can interfere with its operation.
When that power structure is reversed the result is almost certainly catastrophic. Case in point; the recurring lack of preparation or understanding on the part of the whole state of Texas has led to individual suffering on an unprecedented level all across the state. Power outages, healthcare unavailability, etcetera. The city has to be able to act to protect itself or it becomes the victim of charlatans and demagogues.
All governmental requirements radiate out from the needs of individuals that go unmet; whether those requirements are more doctors or more police officers. More housing or more jails. Federal mandates almost always miss their targets because federal mandates almost never take the needs of the suffering into consideration. That level of granularity is almost beyond grasping from the distance of the White House whether the White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or 1010 Colorado Street.
So Joseph Stalin took a different title after he arranged his ascension to power, but he held pretty much the same power as the Czar; and life went on in the USSR under different management, the lot of the common people possibly worse than it had been under the Czar, but nobody being willing to say anything about it. Ukrainians no different than Poles, no different than Czechs no different than Kazakhs, Tajiks or Tatars. All suffering equally under the yoke of the new leadership.
Ukraine was a country though. The primordial Marxist state that Lenin and his Bolshevik’s created out of the ruins of the former Russian Empire engineered a compromise to maintain control of those lands. Granted them all a measure of cultural autonomy within the bounds of the Soviet Union’s authoritarian political control (Correction: Stalin did not give the Crimea to Ukraine. He died in 1953 and the transfer was in 54. I will however maintain that the USSR continued essentially on autopilot for almost forty years before expiring. –ed.) Then Stalin died and not too long after he died his empire crumbled as empires tend to do without the leaders that created them.
What the Bolsheviks and Lenin did really for the first time, they created a separate state, a separate institutions and a separate territory for Russia, which became known as the Russian Federation. Separating, at least symbolically, for the first time Russia proper from what used to be the Russian empire. Before that, there was no such separation.
As a typically educated person in the middle of the American West I was shocked and outraged while watching all the maps I had spent so much time trying to learn and understand change overnight. So many more countries to try to keep track of. Gone were the days when the Northern half of the Eurasian continent was engulfed in a sea of red with a yellow hammer and sickle on it. What was most puzzling to me, as an outsider, was the breakup of what I had thought of as traditionally Russian countries. How could there be three Russian governments?
That is what also seems to puzzle Vladimir Putin. He has done his best to preserve as much of the historical Russian empire under some semblance of Moscow control since he took control of Russia in the 1990’s. Crushing rebellions here, subverting elections there, the kinds of things that a leader with imperial aspirations engages in.
It was obvious to me then, just as it remains obvious to me now, that if the United States is a free country then its citizens can and should go where they like and agitate for change that some governments may or may not approve of. Even take up arms against governments against the sincerely expressed wishes of the United States government. If we are free, then we are free to do these things, too.
It is virtually impossible to discern the difference between a non-government organization (NGO) working for democracy and economic reform for its own unique purposes, and NGO’s that have been infiltrated by the CIA or any other nation’s intelligence service. If the intelligence services are doing their jobs properly, ALL OF THEM have been infiltrated by all of the intelligence services, and the various NGO’s should take this fact into account when they go about doing the business they are doing.
However, there remains a difference between acting in accordance with your government’s wishes, and acting on the orders of your government’s officers (where Buchanan’s predictions fail) Putin has had NGO’s working in the United States for every bit as long as any American NGO has been working in Ukraine, and it never started American’s thinking that Russia was trying to control its citizenry. We let Russia Today (RT) run unfettered promotions of Donald Trump for a year and never even thought to ask why RT loved Donald Trump so much.
The results of the NGO’s and the US government’s combined campaigns in Ukraine, stamping out corruption, un-rigging the electoral process, were that Viktor Yanukovych lost the Ukrainian Presidential elections that were called in 2014 after he acted against the expressed wishes of the Ukrainian people. In a huff, Vlad the Corrupter invaded and annexed Crimea, his preferred summer vacation spot. Queue the outrage from everyone who thought that Ukraine was Russian all along. Add to it the fearful outrage of people who will do anything to avoid a confrontation with Vladimir Putin on the international stage. Queue my exodus from Dan Carlin’s listening circle due to his clueless insistence that Pat Buchanan was some kind of a reputable psychic, as if that phrase isn’t an oxymoron in and of itself.
The Russian interference in the the 2016 election that put Donald Trump into the White House was one of the responses to the sanctions that President Obama imposed in 2014 after Putin annexed Crimea. We know this because Trump promised to get the sanctions lifted and then had to backtrack on the promise when it became public (the idiot never could figure out how not to say the quiet parts out loud) Fast forward to 2018 and Donald Trump’s attempt to blackmail Ukraine into playing dirty tricks in the 2020 elections lead to his first impeachment.
Ukraine just can’t seem to leave the front page. I’m sure they’d like to. Fast forward again to 2022. Putin continues his aborted invasion from 2014. He was always going to do this just like the United States was always going to invade Iraq under a Republican president. It was always the plan. Invading Ukraine was what he planned when his puppet (Paul Manafort’s buddy, Viktor Yanukovych. You remember Paul Manafort, right? Trump’s campaign chairman?) lost his election.
It is a sad historical truth that Ukraine was stupid enough to give up its nukes. The preservation of Ukraine’s independence that all concerned parties signed onto (including Vlad himself) in exchange for Ukraine giving up the nukes stored inside of its national borders was just the initial move in an undeclared war. If Ukraine still had nuclear weapons we would not be seeing this invasion live on screens today. Is it really any wonder why Iran wants nuclear weapons? It should be obvious by now. If you have the ability to destroy life as we know it at your fingertips, people take you seriously. Weird how that works, isn’t it?
Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, Zelensky said, in return for a security guarantee signed by the U.S., the U.K., and Russia. What happened to those guarantees? Ukraine had been told that the doors to NATO membership remained open, but Ukraine had never been invited inside. Because the Ukrainians are not members of NATO, they know they cannot count on allied forces to come to their support. And as for those “lessons of history” that Baerbock and other German politicians have referred to in recent days, Zelensky wondered aloud whether they had been learned: “I just want to make sure you and I read the same books.” And then, in defiance of everything that everybody else had said, he used the word appeasement, to describe not Munich in 1938, but Munich in 2022.
Anne Applebaum – theatlantic.com (gift subscription for the blog author still greatly desired)
At the end of the day, it’s going to be the Ukrainians and their bravery and their dedication to this very old idea, the idea of sovereignty, the idea of freedom. It will be their dedication to that that determines what happens.
That is what it looks like from the UK, it’s what it looks like from France and Germany and from the Balkan states that are right now very, very thankful that they joined NATO. Putin being a twenty-first century Hitler is what it looks like when you see any Ukrainian being interviewed; whether they are in the UK worried about relatives or in Kyiv worried about what’s going to happen next. If they are being interviewed on the BBC, maybe the BBC has an agenda, maybe they don’t, but they’re interviewing ordinary, regular people; people who probably would be sitting at home watching TV at that precise moment and would prefer to not be interviewed by anybody except that a lot of shit is happening right now. Shit that has forced two million Ukrainians to leave their homes in fear.
(h/t to Stuart Surridge)
Ukraine was recognized as an independent state by Russia more than 30 years ago. The Charter of Paris, signed in November 1990 by the United States, Russia and 30 European countries, established essential principles for a post-Cold War era based on international law and global norms. Subsequently, Russia, the United States and Great Britain guaranteed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in 1995 in the Budapest Memorandum.
Moscow has no more legal basis to insist on any portion of the territory of Ukraine than Germany has the right to demand the return of Alsace and Lorraine from France. If the West accepts such Russian claims, it will not only undermine the sovereignty of all countries but also invite other nations to seek territory through military force.
I would prefer that there was never another war but that has no bearing on whether Putin is an aggressor or that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was heroic when he chose to stay with his people and fight to the bitter end. If the US had supported a real leader during our fiasco in Afghanistan the Taliban would not be in power there now. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a real leader.
Ukraine has been an independent state for thirty years. It’s President will likely give his life for his country as will many thousands of it’s men, women and children. It is time and long past time to start treating it the way we do every other country; and with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia now being separate governments today, separate governments and distinctly unique peoples, it is long past time to admit that there is no longer a Russian empire. There are just the three countries who were once the core of the empire, two of which are lead by the same cruel little spider, Vlad the Corrupter in Moscow.
All of this is aside from the fact that we, the United States government, cannot be allowed to be seen as starting a war in Europe, which is what it will look like if we were to interfere in Ukraine directly now or in the near future. What is going on in Europe is a Russian or Eastern Slavic Civil War, no different than all the other uprisings that Vlad the Corrupter has put down in the former Soviet Republics. He saw all of them as the unwanted intervention of the United States and its allies and accomplices in strictly Russian affairs. Up to this point, he has been allowed to do what he wants with these places.
I don’t like any of this in terms of how it worked out because I don’t want a more militarized Europe, I don’t want another cold war, I don’t want the massive defense spending, I don’t want everything that this is going to entail; but I’m not the one that invaded Ukraine. Sometimes it’s not up to us what we want.
If you grew up during the Cold War you can understand why most people don’t want to return to those years, and resuming hostilities with Russia because of Vlad the Corrupter’s actions feels a lot like the cold war is starting back up again. However, this isn’t a return to the cold war if we can keep Ukraine independent and opposed to Russian control.
…And we want to avoid a return to the cold war almost as much as we want to avoid a nuclear Armageddon. That outcome would be a setback for world peace and our need for mutual cooperation on limiting climate change. The world-wide antagonism that comes with a return to a cold war footing that might as well be read as the end of life as we know it on this planet, much the same as an all-out nuclear war will spell the end of life.
It isn’t a nuclear exchange that I fear. We are already in WW3 as far as I can tell and it may well end in a nuclear exchange for all that any of us can tell. What I fear is capitulation to Russia on the one hand and the resulting rise of authoritarianism around the world that would follow; as opposed to the standard American military response that will end in a nuclear exchange at some point.
On the other end of the spectrum from Dan Carlin’s handwringing about potentially starting a nuclear war we have this:
We must not only stop what’s happening in Ukraine, we must stop it before it happens here.
We cannot go into Ukraine and fight Russians directly. That is the conflict that every nationalist everywhere has been primed to fight to the death over. Being in the war should not equate to “running the war.” We must avoid that impression at all costs if we want any chance of victory for democracy and Ukraine. This has to be, first and foremost, Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. Against Putin’s aggression, his denial of their own separate personhood as a nation. As individuals who don’t want to bow down to his criminal organization.
The United States needs to figure out how to assist Ukraine and the wider European theater of operation without making the conflict all about us. It ain’t about us. It’s about Ukrainians not wanting to belong to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. IF WE RUN THIS WAR we will lose this war. There is nothing that Russians want more than to make the United States suffer after all the suffering they’ve been through, suffering they’ve been told is at our hands for more than seventy years now.
We can not be the center. Ukraine has to be the center.
We should make Russia pay for all this destruction. This is what didn’t happen in Syria. This is what didn’t happen in other countries. Russia is saying, I will destroy, you will pay. And this is incredibly wrong.
One of the light motifs of Russian culture, by the way, is the motif of “Crime and Punishment,” as we all know. The novel of Dostoyevsky. But actually, what we have in Russian political culture, in Stalinism, for example, is crime without punishment and punishment without crime. All those people who were sent to gulags without any trials or were exterminated, killed, they were punished without a crime.
And I think this is the most dangerous thing when we’re looking for — when somebody is looking for compromises with Putin, something that we need to avoid. Because if Russia is not punished, is not kept responsible for its crimes, obviously it will continue them.
We as a country have to stand on the sidelines and do the equivalent of provide resources to the defenders of democracy and independence. Ukraine has to dictate what its victory conditions or cease fire conditions are. Ukraine has to meet at the table with the Muscovy-Russians as equals. If that is what come to the aid of means in the question that started this article, then the answer is yes. If anything more than that is what it means, then the answer is no. No, because we can’t destroy all life on the face of the planet in the name of protecting it. Anything short of that should remain on the table. How to successfully draw that line is where we are in this war, six months later.
So much for Vlad’s promises of a short war and a glad reunion of brothers. The Ukrainian regions he lays claim to now lie in ruins. The regions that Ukraine still controls are actively being rebuilt and returning to whatever passes for normal in the middle of a war. Vladimir Putin will pay, eventually. His own people may well make him pay before this is over.
The first anniversary of Putin’s war has come and gone. Here’s an hour-long retrospective from NPR:
I get most of my news from NPR even though I don’t link any of their podcasts in this article. Most of what they broadcast is transitory. The feeds mount up and the information becomes stale and the attempt to narrativize the information becomes unwieldy very quickly. The anniversary hour-long episode is an entirely different bit of business.
Some were surprised that Ukraine has held out for an entire year. Once I had seen the kind of leader that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was, I knew that Ukraine would hold out as long as there were people willing to follow him and materials to carry on the war. Putin may have the nukes but Ukraine has leadership and the arc of history on its side. Here’s hoping that there is still a world with humans in it this time next year because Putin keeps threatening nuclear war if he doesn’t get his way. Will he kill humanity in order to get his way? Stay tuned.
The Kingdom Hall was across the street from our house in Leoti, Kansas (112 N St, Leoti, KS 67861. It’s a home now. Interesting fact, there are technically two locations with the same address in Leoti, one block East and one block West from 4th Street on Avenue N. One of them was probably always a house. The other was not. -ed.) The Jehovah’s Witnesses came by our house after every service to tell us the wonders of their God Jehovah and how we were all going to miss out on resurrection if we didn’t come across the street and worship with them. Didn’t join them in denying all earthly pleasures so that we could ascend to heaven after death or whatever the particulars of their belief were at the time.
I had been forced to go to the Methodist church with my grandparents for as long I as could remember as a child. I hated church and wondered at why everyone else thought that god and church were so important. Why they all seemed so happy believing this stuff that seemed so transparently fake to me. Their insistence that the beliefs weren’t fake were as terrifying as an eternity of torture in Hell was to me.
I never wanted to believe the afterlife crap. I never wanted to believe it because I have an active imagination and the idea that you could live forever in bliss or in torture, either one, scared me more than anything else these church goers said. I didn’t and still don’t want to be confined to eternal existence. Yes, I said confined. Confined to an eternal, unchanging existence.
Infinity isn’t graspable by most human minds. If it was they would all be terrified by the notion that you could be mentally present for an eternity. Time itself collapses under the requirements of accommodating eternity, infinity. Eternity/infinity never ends. Do you understand never ends? Your favorite movie watched endlessly forever? Every movie ever made through the span of millennia strung together end-to-end in a loop is still not enough. Gone everywhere, seen everything, done everything once, then what? Do it all again? How many times? Eventually everything would become boring after you’d seen or done it a hundred or a thousand or a million times, and you would have to find a way to kill yourself anyway.
I considered it a blessing and a high irony when the Kingdom Hall building was purchased by the newly created Leoti or Wichita county or Great Plains cable company. Leoti had a cable company once, believe it or not. I may not remember what the outfit was called but I do know we couldn’t afford to have cable entertainment installed and that the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped coming by regularly after they were no longer going to church next door to us.
If Jehovah’s Witnesses are capable of self-reflection and if they thought about their behavior dispassionately, they’d understand that forcing their believers to individually proselytize to people who told them not just once but a hundred times that they didn’t want them ringing their doorbell after church; that regular, predictable torment of the non-Witnesses next door tends to make these people want to take their years of frustration at finding their Watchtower garbage littering their front porches out on believers of the same stripe. If Jehovah’s Witnesses took this real human reaction to being forced to say FUCK OFF and GET OFF MY PORCH every week for years just because the Witnesses weren’t allowed to take no for an answer, maybe they’d understand why the group seems to be so persecuted. It kind of goes both ways. Persecute us with your delusions of true belief and we will persecute you in return.
It seemed like justice delivered to me watching that cable installer’s truck coming and going from the temple that had been founded on the principle of denying Earthly pleasure in favor of an everlasting afterlife. To see those parsimonious simpletons and their wrathful, imaginary god be replaced by a very real entity offering all the available Earthly amusements for a set dollar figure; even if that dollar figure was too high for us to afford. Such is the way with worldly things, the cost is higher than you want to pay in the end.
I just got back from my daily walk. It’s not been daily for several weeks now due to Meniere’s symptoms triggered by a cedar allergy, but it’s a daily walk in an aspirational sense. I’m coming in from my more than aspirational daily walk today and it’s sleeting on me and the dog all the way back home. This is not a good sign.
We are about to hit the one year anniversary of SnoVID. On February 15th, 2021 at about 2:00 am, the power went off in Texas. It went off and stayed off across the entire ERCOT grid for more than a day. Here in Austin where I live the power was off for five days. I detail those events here:
A year later, as the snows fall again, we residents of Texas have to cross our fingers and hope that the electric service providers have done the job they said they would do thirty years ago. Done their job and weatherized all the parts of the electric grid that failed last year. We have to cross our fingers on the subject because the Texas Republican lead state legislature and Governor Abbott failed to do anything substantial in the way of mandating that ERCOT and the public utility commission do the jobs they should have done the first time the power went off in Texas.
The SnoVID event was just the latest in a several decades-long festival of kicking the can down the road for the next group of Texas leaders to deal with. I have no hope that Abbott or his flock or Trumpist cohorts in the legislature are any different than their predecessors in office, so I will resign myself to camping next to a fire in the fireplace again this year, just as I did last year. The prospect doesn’t alarm me because I have the lessons I learned from my Uncle Roge to lend me strength in times like these.
Uncle Roge was my Great Uncle Roger Heim, the brother of Dorothy Heim/Steele my Grandmother, but he was Uncle Roge to everybody, even people who weren’t related to him. He had a farm somewhere between Marienthal and Modoc, just off the highway between Leoti and Scott City, Kansas. He was close enough to home to be a regular visitor in Grandmother’s house, a face I grew to know and love along with the rest of the people that entered our little family circle in Leoti.
He was a hard man to love. Stoic. Gruff. Reserved. I’ve met a lot of old farmers over the years, most of them were a lot like my Uncle Roge. They know what they know, and you’d best not argue with them about the things they know because they’d put you in your place if you did. I would have sworn that he was always seventy for the thirty years or so that I encountered him. He always looked the same, old and angry. I was surprised to learn that he had been a child once, but Grandmother swore she’d known him as a child and he was such a sweet boy. I couldn’t picture it, but Grandmother never lied about anything, so I guess he was a sweet boy once. I still can’t picture it.
He had served in World War Two. He never talked about it, like most vets, but it was a thing that was known about him. There were deep reserves of strength behind those eyes. You could see them if you held his gaze.
He was one of the senior members of the Leoti Gun Club or Wichita County Gun Club or whatever it was called back then. Dad was a member too, as were most of the men who lived in town at the time. Shooting was one of the few things to do in small town Kansas; and if you were going to go out and shoot things it was better if you knew where to point the gun and what to pull the trigger on. That was why the Gun Club existed, to train your neighbors on where not to point their guns so that they don’t inadvertently shoot you due to their lack of training.
Uncle Roge was my instructor in firearms safety in more ways than that one. There was always a tale about what happened to somebody’s kid somewhere that Dad would relate to me when I would do something stupid with a gun. Then he would turn to Uncle Roge, the one who had caught me doing the stupid thing, and ask him to confirm the story. Roge would say “yeah, that’s right” and the two of them would laugh and walk off to go find something else to shoot at. Or to not shoot at. Uncle Roge rarely wasted a shot on anything that he couldn’t eat, the occasional coyote being the exception to the rule.
The Gun Club had a hunting spot that they called Twin Buttes somewhere between Eads and Kit Carson, Colorado that they held a lease to hunt Canada Geese on. To call it remote is an understatement. There was another club who had a lease next door and after them there was nobody for about a hundred miles in any direction. There was sporadic electricity on the lease that you could pull to the travel trailers that were mostly permanently parked there. There was no running water, no sewer, no garbage pickup. No civilization of any kind other than the electricity and what the men who occupied the lease brought with them from home.
Uncle Roge would pull his trailer up there early every hunting season so as to get the property ready for the rest of hunters who showed up later. He’d clear the road and fill potholes, cut down the two foot tall weeds that had grown up over the previous year. Basically make the area accessible for the towners who showed up barely capable of getting to an from the site without injuring themselves on a good weekend.
Dad used to joke about how we were living rough when we’d go hunting. We had propane heaters and hurricane lanterns. The pits that we hunted from were concrete lined and had their own space heaters. You’d go out and light them early so that the pit would be warm when you had to go out later to sit in it and wait for the geese to fly over. You didn’t want to rely on the electricity, but there were plenty of beds and down-filled sleeping bags to go around. It was roughing it for a teenager who was used to television during the day, but I was a reader anyway. I hardly missed the TV. I did miss the indoor plumbing.
Uncle Roge went out one year to prepare the lease for occupation and a blizzard blew in while he was there. It dumped several feet of snow all over the area, all the way to Leoti where we were snug and warm. Roge knew that it would be awhile before anyone would be out to get him. Could be weeks before the plows got to the roads that lead to this remote outpost between nowhere and nowhere. So he did what he had to do. He’d go out every morning and shovel snow into a melt bucket and put it in his warm trailer. Then he’d wander out to the pits and shoot something to eat that day. He hadn’t brought much food with him, so he was going to have to live off of whatever it was he killed in the meantime.
When he got back to his trailer and the now-useless power pole that marked our camping spot in the wilderness, he’d clean his kill, start it cooking and melt another bucket of snow. In between these routine tasks required to stay alive, he’d play solitaire dominoes and wait to hear the snowplows. Rinse and repeat, day-in and day-out. They’d get here eventually, the power would get turned back on eventually, the snow would melt eventually. It was all just a matter of time.
It was a whole month later when the snow plows got to the road that lead past the Twin Buttes lease. Uncle Roge was there at the gates to greet the plow drivers as they went past. He was very glad to see them. I imagine he even smiled at them as they drove past. It was probably a soul-lifting event to see him smile; a rare event in any case. He had gotten pretty tired of eating boiled goose and saltines by that point. It was well past time to head into town and see about getting something else to eat for a change.
So when the power goes out in Texas again, as I’m sure it will, I’ll just remember my Uncle Roge and then grin and bear it. At least I have more than boiled goose and saltines to live on for the next month. I have cards and dominoes and opponents to play against instead of having to play solitaire. Hopefully the power will be back on in less than a month. I’m not as good as Uncle Roge at living off the land, but I can give it a try if I have to. I might find out what squirrel tastes like if the power stays off for that long. I guess there is that to look forward to.
I remember those days like a nightmare that you can’t seem to escape. I was walking to work from my remote parking space. I had been loaned out as a draftsman to another firm while working for the architecture firm Graeber, Simmons & Cowan back in 2001. I don’t recall the name of the firm I had been loaned out to, but I can point you to the building it was in on Congress Avenue if I happen to be driving with you downtown.
I remember the second plane strike most vividly because it was one of the first times that I was forced to use the internet to get essential news updates, there being no television in the office I was working at. We watched the video of the crash over and over that morning, before leaving to go home and contemplate what we had just witnessed.
When the Travis County Libertarians convened later that week to try to pass an antiwar resolution, declaring that Travis County Libertarians were opposed to the war in Afghanistan that the President was proposing, I motioned to table the declaration. With a second and a majority vote, we did table it. The majority of us at that meeting that day knew that blood called out for blood. It was inevitable and probably right for the United States to seek vengeance against the instigators of the plot that destroyed those towers in New York City. I don’t regret doing that; even today, twenty years later I don’t regret it. I regret that we violated parliamentary procedure to get the resolution tabled, but not that we refused to say that the United States had no right to seek vengeance. Blood called out for blood.
By October 7, 2001, when the war against the Taliban started:
The U.S. military, with British support, begins a bombing campaign against Taliban forces, officially launching Operation Enduring Freedom. Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledge future support. The war’s early phase [PDF] mainly involves U.S. air strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that are assisted by a partnership of about one thousand U.S. special forces, the Northern Alliance, and ethnic Pashtun anti-Taliban forces. The first wave of conventional ground forces arrives twelve days later. Most of the ground combat is between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents.
…I was actively planning to go overseas to help rebuild Afghanistan. They needed engineers and experienced construction personnel, and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, my expertise to work at something that would hopefully inspire a lasting change in the country that had fostered so much hatred for the United States. This was a radical change from the teenager I had been a scant decade earlier. I was ready to go to jail rather than even register for the draft when I turned 18 in 1980. I was that opposed to war.
I knew that if we wanted to avoid a quagmire in Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires, it was going to take finesse and a deft hand on the tiller, and I hoped that the former Texas Governor was up to the job that he had signed himself up to perform as President of the United States. I wanted to be part of the success of that effort. I wanted the cycle we were caught in to end.
My hopes were soon dashed, though. By the middle of 2002, before I had made any headway in deciding if it would be smart to involve myself in Bush II’s ill-begotten war on terrorism, he was already taking his eye off the ball and had begun flirting with conducting a war against his daddy’s nemesis, Saddam Hussein:
There’s an old line: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And so it was with the Iraq war. Bush and Clinton and Powell and Blair knew quite a bit that wasn’t true. As Robert Draper shows in his book “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” they were certain Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Only he didn’t. They were also certain, based on decades of testimony from Iraqi expats, that Americans would be welcomed as liberators.
We ultimately squandered the opportunity handed to us by our allies in Afghanistan. Instead of pursuing a limited campaign that would destroy Al Qaeda and kill Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush betrayed the needs of the nation and instead pursued imperial goals, trying to bring more countries under the direct control of the United States military through a permanent troop presence and a widening field of battle that essentially encompassed the entire globe, much less all of Afghanistan.
Osama Bin Laden left Afghanistan while we were distracted and took up residence under the protection of one of our purported allies, Pakistan. He lived in hiding there for another decade while our President’s dreams of empire were pursued at our nation’s expense. At the cost of nearly a million lives. Iraq’s government was destroyed and the entire region was destabilized because of the War on Terror. President Bush played right into OBL’s hands and attempted to colonize not just Afghanistan but Iraq as well.
We betrayed our allies, the Northern Alliance, the people who should have been the tip of the spear in everything we did in Afghanistan so as to keep our footprint in the country to a minimum, and instead tried to occupy the country. Time and again it was shown to us that this effort was doomed, and yet we kept doubling down on the investment of blood and treasure, with no one in leadership willing to admit that we were never going to be able to leave the country that we stupidly thought we could control.
We know now what that error has cost us. Has cost the people of Afghanistan. Twenty years later, the United States lead war in Afghanistan has finally come to an end, and the war between conservative governing factions in Afghanistan is set to begin. No one knows how long that war will rage, or what the ultimate outcome will be, but there is little doubt that the next war in Afghanistan is about to begin. Begin without our presence for the first time in a generation.
Donald Trump, the only president in history worse that George W. Bush, was left in charge of the United States when it came time to cut a deal to get us out of Afghanistan. President Obama could have done it, should have done it, but he thought he could turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse (the same hope of every leader left in charge of a debacle in the making) and kept us fighting an unwinnable war for the entire eight years of his Presidency.
Barack Obama, to his credit, did finally see to the death of the architect of the attacks on our country, but he failed to realize that with the death of OBL we no longer had a reason to stay in Afghanistan. We should have gotten out then, at least. Instead we kept lying to ourselves about what the ultimate outcome of the boondoggle would be. Another ten years went by.
Donald Trump, in his infinite lack of wisdom, decided the smart thing to do was hand the country of Afghanistan back over to the people we had fought for twenty years. He released the prisoners of war that we had captured and had them sign his peace deal, tying the hands of Joe Biden to the August 31st deadline that we have just gone through.
Make no mistake, Joe Biden understood what needed to be done when he was Barack Obama’s Vice President. He opposed the surge. He wanted us to get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. As Ezra sums up in his article in the NY Times, it was always going to end this way. President Biden knew this just as well as Ezra’s guest in the podcast embedded above knows this.
There was never going to be a time when the coddled, corrupt Afghan puppet that we installed as leader of the country was going to be willing to risk his life for the country that we created. The same clearly went for all of the military personnel that we meticulously trained alongside us for twenty years in-country. Without leadership that would stand firm beside them they would melt away, leaving all the technology we had left in their hands in the hands of the enemies that Donald Trump put in charge with a stroke of his pen.
The Northern Alliance might have been up to the task if we had allowed them to lead, to put their blood and treasure on the line as the cost of not supporting the central government in Kabul. We’ll never know, because that eventuality never occurred. Instead we colonized and set up a puppet government just like we did in Vietnam; and the entire façade collapsed without our constant support, also just like Vietnam.
Now. Now we need to be working with Afghanistan’s neighbors to insure that it doesn’t devolve into the hellhole the Taliban made of it before. If we don’t do this work then we will find ourselves once again drawn into conflict there sometime in the future. Drawn into conflict or attacked by terrorists that found safe harbor there just as they did before. This outcome can’t be allowed to occur; and the only way to stop it is to help make Afghanistan the place it should have been all those years ago when we decided to continue being an empire instead of being a republic of fellow humans that needed to see past wrongs righted and the guilty brought to justice.
How can we, the country that still can’t come to peace with its own slave history, its own genocide of the original population of the land our country was founded on, how can we hope to ever show others how they can move past the point were blood calls out for blood? Who else is there that will do this work if we don’t?
I’m appending a series of podcasts I listened to following the collapse of the government in Kabul. Collapse? More like abdication and retreat to tropical villas paid for with money that the government officials stole from the Afghani people and from us. Compare and contrast the historical treatment provided by Dan Carlin:
With the historical treatment provided by Throughline:
You should be able to see the reasons why I value the episodes of Throughline as highly as I do when you make that comparison. Dan Carlin is a credible source of historical information and storytelling. Throughline brings you to the information from a completely different perspective.
It is understandable that the Afghani’s don’t want their country to be thought of as a graveyard. I don’t think they understand what the phrase means, though. It is a salute to their intransigence, their unwillingness to just go along to get along and endure the yoke of the imperial master. How many countries can boast that contentious history? The crime is that these people have been forced to endure so many attempts to colonize them, not that they destroyed the imperial dreams of so many different colonizers. I don’t know If I’d go so far as to say Afghanistan is the center of the world. When it was most of the trade route between China and Europe, that was certainly true in an economic sense. Every place can become a backwater, though. This is doubly true of Afghanistan. It has happened before. It was why the Taliban were allowed to do what they did for so long.
Award-winning Afghan British journalist Najibullah Quraishi is on the ground in Kabul where he has been interviewing Taliban leaders and fighters, women who have lost their rights, and citizens trying to escape. He believes that the country is on the brink of civil war. Quraishi is the correspondent for the forthcoming Frontline PBS documentary, ‘Taliban Takeover.’
Afghanistan’s economy changed — almost overnight — when the Taliban retook control of the county. What does that mean for Afghanistan’s access to foreign aid, trade and the bricks of Afghan gold sitting in the basement of a New York building?
Baher Azmy is the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s been challenging the American government repeatedly over the last two decades. Right now, he’s on leave from his faculty position at Seton Hall University School of Law, where he taught constitutional law, directed their civil rights and Constitutional Litigation Clinic. The article I was drawing from today is in a book entitled Crisis Lawyering, published this last year by NYU Press, and his chapter is Guantanamo 20 years of lawyering in a lawless space.
I hope that the United States dreams of imperial conquest are truly dead and buried with the war in Afghanistan. I hope this is true, but I also doubt that it is true. Every time I think we’ve gotten smarter, I discover to my horror that people still believe the bullshit that has gotten us into bad war after bad war for more than 200 years now. I was never a pacifist, but I’m beginning to think that I should be one.
She doesn’t want to see her name used on the blog, or when I happen to reference her in other online forums. She probably doesn’t want her name associated with my writing in much the same way that Margaret has been associated over time with an amazing ability to argue about anything. She has never understood why I use my own name on my own work.
I am who I am. Like Popeye. Or Descartes. There is no hiding who I am behind another name. It will eventually come back to me as it does to other authors who continue to work at their writing. All I have to do is keep writing long enough and someone will notice it is me writing whether I want them to or not. But I don’t have to use her name or the children’s names. I can do that favor for them, so I will.
I started calling her the wife because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way. This was back when I worked for Tom Hatch, a lifetime and more ago. So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since that time and the appellation just naturally migrated to the blog because of this. The wife has always referred to me as her significant other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. This is probably the reason we are still together after all these years.
At some point in the fourteen years since I first crafted a narrative for explaining the significance of the wife the proverbial “I can’t remember when we weren’t together” moment has occurred. I know that those moments existed, and that they mattered to me before she was a part of my life. They mattered until they didn’t matter anymore. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I’ve been married to for over a quarter century. Defined by the two children we’ve raised together, both of them adults now.
Does this mean that I’m old? Never. The children keep me young. They keep me young, while reminding me just how old I really am. Reality is a bitch like that. We both agreed we wanted children, way back in the pre-marriage days. If we were to get married, we would have children. We would be for each other and nobody else, until death do us part. Straying from each other would mean death showed up just a little bit earlier than death had planned.
I moved to Austin alone at the end of 1988, the beginning of 1989. Moved in with friends who were renting from a homeowner. In between the time I moved to Austin and the time I went back to get married and bring the wife to Austin with me, the housing market had collapsed in Texas and our friends were squatting in the house they had been renting, a house that ended up being owned by the Resolution Trust Corporation. The precursor tremors of this collapse is what made me relocate from San Angelo to Austin in the first place. Architecture work had dried up and so had a lot of the other work that easy access to Savings and Loan money had made possible. The tightening financial situation had everyone at each other’s throats and it felt like it was time for a change.
When I moved to Austin I also wanted to confirm, in my heart, that I couldn’t live without the wife-to-be. I suspected this was the case, but I had been utterly wrong on that score before, many times. There is nothing quite like temporary separation to prove where one’s heart lies. It took scant months for me to realize I was completely out of my depth in Austin without my trusty wingman. I had to have her back at my side. I would make an honest woman of her or die trying. I made a special trip back to San Angelo just to propose to her.
We were married thirty-two years ago today. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. Her parents were in town for the graduation and helped us pack up the house the day after the wedding. They stayed to haul all our worldly possessions to Austin and brought the big horse trailer along with them from Oklahoma to do the job.
The wedding was planned by several mutual friends. Colors selected, dresses made, location reserved. Judge in attendance, annoyed at the lateness of the ceremony, but happy to be there for us all the same. It was a beautifully scripted event right up to the point where it ended. The happy, barely conscious couple kisses and then realizes no one has choreographed how to exit the arbor the wedding was held in. We all look blankly at each other.
The wife says, “Weddings over, see you at the reception.” and I laugh.
Did you notice the arbor reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. It didn’t rain much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. It’s the principle of the thing. Mother nature rained on our outdoor wedding, whatever that means. That wasn’t all. There was also a tornado after the reception and the trees across most of San Angelo were stripped bare of leaves when we emerged from the hotel we spent our wedding night in.
Late ceremony? My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony. They went to Dunkin’ Donuts in their tuxedos on the way to the wedding. Of course there was a delay getting the donuts so they were late. The soon-to-be-wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (moving next day) At the reception, opening the champagne for toasts, I was instructed to “aim for his head!” My brother or the best man? Both at the same time? I missed everyone with the cork. This was probably the smart move.
When my brother was married a few years later, we wrapped their wedding present in donut boxes. Bright pink and orange Dunkin’ Donuts to go boxes taped together in an unholy hodge-podge of a wrapping accident. I don’t think either one of them appreciated the joke. The wife and I laughed for weeks. Joy is in the ears that hear, or maybe revenge is a dish best served cold. Best served cold, like donuts are before you dip them in coffee.
Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. It was the drunken wedding march before the player crapped out completely. The wife-to-be’s garter fell off more than once and had to be retrieved so that it could then be removed again properly at the reception. The Superman and Lois Lane outfits we discovered secreted away in our hotel room on our wedding night. The tornado damage the next day as we are driving out of town, heading for Austin.
Driving, not much unlike how we met the first time. We met at work, four years prior to that day. We both drove test cars. Not vroom-vroom racing, and not on a track. Tire testing on regular highways in stripped-down cars:
The too long; didn’t read version of the story is this; eight hours a day trapped in a car, driving what was known in popular parlance as the double-nickel. Boring fifty-five dead-level miles an hour for four hundred miles per shift. The cars drove two shifts a day even if the drivers didn’t and since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly. If you were the lucky one whose car broke down, you were stranded with that broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you and your car.
Some of us were a little edgy about the wait for the tow truck for up to three hours situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them while trapped sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.
I did nothing during my driving shift aside from chew up my guts worrying about everything that I wasn’t doing because I was trapped in a car. No phones, not even radio stations for most of the drive. Just a CB radio and whatever portable music you brought with you. I hated the job. It was the destruction of my one avenue of solace at the time, driving for pleasure. The only time I had to think was when I was driving, and driving eight hours a day every day was killing me with over-thinking my far too simple life.
This was where I was mentally on that fateful day when I was introduced to the person that I would come to affectionately refer to as the wife. Strung out on too much caffeine, like all drivers are. Mentally frazzled from eight hours of self-flagellation at all the mistakes I had made in life up to that point, including the screw-ups in timing and spacing that I was supposed to keep track of as the tail driver over the last eight hour shift. Bored with my music. Bored with my life. I was anxious to go home, smoke a joint and just mellow out.
Over my shoulder I hear “Hey, Tony, this is that girl I wanted you to meet.” Oh, right. The one with a knife like mine. She said she would show me how to use it. I turn around and I notice her grin first. This was a setup. I should have known. “I hear you want to meet my baby.” she says. “This is my baby.” She draws out a blade that is a good two inches longer than the butterfly knife that I carried and casually flips it back and forth without even checking to see that she is holding it right.
I don’t know if I’m going to see blood or some other kind of demonstration next. Then I notice her eyes. They were grey-green. I’d never seen anything like them before. Not anywhere. Those witches eyes, framed by strawberry-blonde hair, and that impish grin on her pixie face. I was simultaneously in love with her and terrified of her all at the same time, in that very first instant. Casual authority. The way she just flipped that knife around, in exactly the kind of way that I didn’t do unless I wanted to be bandaging a cut in the next moment. That was freaking me out the most.
I think I said “Oh, is that how it works.” Then I showed her my tiny blade, which she laughed at. She proceeded to show me which end of the handle to hold and how to flip it around without cutting myself. Then she demonstrated how to stealth drop one side of the two-part butterfly handle so that she could gut someone in a single motion from draw to finishing stroke. A stroke that stopped mere fractions of an inch from my gut. Yep. I was terrified. She was my dream and my nightmare all in one woman. I had to get out of there or I was going to faint. I made my excuses and fled home to the apartment I shared with a roommate, a roommate who was rhythmically banging his date of the week on the other side of my bedroom wall.
I was out at a Circle K down the street from my shared apartment, meeting another friend a few days later. I was there to pick up a box of comic books, the third one that this particular friend had sold to me. I’m pretty sure he was trying to seduce me with this contraband. Why do I think that? He had tried taking me to gay bars for several weeks at this point in time. Gay bars that he pretended weren’t actually gay bars and then feigned surprise when I noticed that there were no girls and that the guys around us were sitting just a little bit too close. Since that tactic hadn’t worked, he had decided he might have more success appealing to my love of heroic fiction and calling me back to a time before inhibition had closed off the kinds of drives he wanted to exploit with me.
As I was standing there going through the box of books, haggling over a price, I notice a familiar face drive up next to us. It’s that knife-girl. My knees got weak. She was there to get her Dr. Pepper, her lifeblood. She had bailed out of the little lakehouse that she and her estranged husband still shared on inertia alone and drove into town to get a change of scenery and to drop some quarters in the video game arcade down the street from where I was haggling over comics with my friend.
She saw the box of comics and her eyes lit up. “Is there any Superman?” she asked. I knew I had to get to know her better, right then and there. I completely forgot about the friend who had been trying so desperately to get me to open up to him for weeks and I don’t even remember his name now. She and I thanked him for the trade and we piled into our separate cars, then she followed me back to my apartment.
As we went through my most recent acquisitions on my bedroom floor, as well as dragging out the two previous boxes of books that I had acquired so she could see what treasures were hidden there, we discussed the other things that we had in common. Not only was she into comic books and a video game fanatic like me, she was also into Star Trek and speculative fiction too. This was too much for the both of us to ignore.
I had been looking all my life for another castaway from my home planet. Another refugee in this backwater chock full of mundanes, someone who understood what Science Fiction was and why it was the modern day equivalent to mana from heaven. We looked deep into each others nerdy eyes, and then kissed like it was the first time for both of us. We made love for the first time right there on top of that pile of comic books.
So the way into my heart that my friend had tried to exploit worked perfectly, it just didn’t work perfectly for him. I used those comics to seduce The wife instead, and then I married her. Thanks, man. I wish I could remember your name.
32 Years Ago Today Babe. Happy Anniversary
We lived together for just shy of four years before we tied the knot, got married, made the relationship official. We pretended that we weren’t living together for all of those years so that her parents wouldn’t know she was living in sin. They were from a different time, a completely different world than ours; and they’re both gone now. No harm in letting that cat out of the bag. We were shagging it for years before we told you mom and dad. Hope you didn’t mind.
In 2006 I started marking anniversaries by writing a piece with this title, adding to the first one rather than subtracting from it when I could, Just like our love for each other evolves and becomes more complex over time. May it continue on in this fashion forever. It is an interesting dream to contemplate.
She will not appreciate the song list I’m adding to the versions that occur after 2019. Those are not her kinds of songs. This is her kind of song:
It’s also her kind of movie. Giant monsters stomping on buildings. Explosions. I love drama, romance and intrigue. Explosions are nice, but they don’t keep me interested for long unless there are some decent characters on screen as well. These are my songs for her, and the lyrics of these songs still speak to me even if I can’t hear the music anymore:
Love I don’t like to see so much pain So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away I get so tired working so hard for our survival I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive
And all my instincts, they return And the grand façade, so soon will burn Without a noise, without my pride I reach out from the inside
It’s hot. It’s summer in Southwestern Texas. I’m sitting on the hood of a 1974 Thunderbird that we’ve nicknamed the Thunderchicken. This piece of crap of a vehicle that I’m stuck with has been driven millions of miles since it rolled off the assembly line in Detroit more than a decade ago, and it’s not even the oldest vehicle in the tire test fleet. That honor went to Bronco Billy, an off-white Gran Torino sedan that wished it could have been the sexier coupe, but instead was the four-door sedan that nobody wanted. That car was waiting at the shop, probably destined to take the Thunderchicken’s place, even though the floorboard on the drivers side had been patched with plywood so that the driver wouldn’t mistakenly put their feet down while traveling and lose a leg in the process. This is the life of a test car driver, if the tests you are doing are tire tests.
The Thunderchicken, in typical Murphy fashion, has picked the farthest point from home to break down. We’d just made the turn-around outside of Comstock and were heading back towards San Angelo, the shop, and home. That description cuts the story short a bit. We’d drive the North loop up towards Robert Lee first and then go through the stop and goes and then finally back to the shop and rest, but all that stuff was a few miles from home. A hop, skip and a jump away from home compared to being able to see the US-Mexico border from your car window.
The car just stopped in the middle of the road. I don’t mean the motor stopped running, I mean one of the front wheels stopped turning as if it had never turned before in it’s life and wasn’t about to turn again no matter how much gas you ran through the engine. So I gunned the thing to the side of the road leaving a skid mark and a crease in the asphalt the whole way, and then radioed ahead to the rest of the convoy who promptly turned around to see if the breakdown was something we could fix.
Tire tests were run in convoys of four vehicles, back in the 1980’s when I was working as a test driver. The lead driver was generally in charge of the crew and would make decisions for the convoy as a whole. I was not the lead driver. I drove tail when I was lucky. I was driving tail that day, which is how you can have a catastrophic vehicle failure and yet have no one from your crew notice it.
A brief inspection ensued when my buddy Harold, who was driving lead that day, came back to check on me. I’d met him at trade school a few years previously. When my job in Abilene fell through, I called on him to see if he had someplace I could sleep. I wanted to see if a change of scenery might make for better job prospects and I’d heard good things about San Angelo while living in Abilene. I knew there was no future for me back in Sweetwater with my family, just more dead-end work to kill time until time killed me. So I wasn’t going back home to Mom.
“Dispatch, this is Lickity Split.” “I hear you.” “We had to leave Palomino down on the river. Her car was trashed by some Javelina hogs that are running wild on the road. She was safe on the roof of the car the last time we saw her. Could you get a wrecker and some game wardens out there to her? I’m kind of worried about her. We didn’t dare go close with all them hogs milling around her car. We didn’t want to loose another one.” “Will do Lickity Split. Be careful out there.”
Harold said “sure, come on down” and so I moved to San Angelo and started looking for work that might suit my interests. That was when we stumbled across the job that had left me stranded in Southwest Texas in the noonday sun, a business that was peculiar to San Angelo, Texas in that time and place.
Every tire sold in America is certified by a tire test that travels a route from San Angelo through Eldorado, Sonora & Juno, making a U-turn at the Camp Hudson historical marker. I think we even stopped to read it once. Don’t remember what it said. You then drive all the way back to San Angelo and proceed onto the North and East loops I described previously. Every manufacturer in the world was required to have this test performed on these roads by a testing company certified to do the job. We worked for one of these companies and the tires I was testing had fallen prey to a mechanical malfunction. Their time as test tires was over.
As it turned out, the fault wasn’t something we could fix. The lower a-frame on the driver’s side front wheel had come loose from the ball joint and jammed itself into the rim of the wheel. Had the a-frame missed the rim, I wouldn’t have been able to move the vehicle at all since the frame would have dug into the asphalt, tearing itself loose in the process and rendering steering useless. At least this way I wasn’t in the middle of the road, but I was still stuck; and after the relay call came back the rest of convoy was ordered on to finish the test. I was told to wait with the vehicle for the wrecker.
Harold wished me luck and headed back out on the road with the two other drivers in tow. As I watched them vanish over the farthest hill, I gripped the tire iron that was my only weapon that much more desperately and prayed that the wrecker would show up before dark.
It did, but just barely.
“Hold up Lickity Split” “What’s the problem Palomino?” “A deer ran into my car” “You hit a deer?” “No, it ran into my car. Ran headlong into the driver’s side door. Scared the shit out of me.” “Wait a minute. It looks like it is getting up.” “Nope, it broke something. Poor thing is suffering. Dammit, I don’t have a knife here! Wait, here’s a screwdriver. I’ll be right back.” “Okay Lead. I’m ready, let’s get going.” “You put that deer out of it’s misery with a screwdriver, Palomino?’ “Yeah. I’ve got to get a knife. I can’t be using a screwdriver to do the job every time.” “Are you planning on hitting more deer, Palomino?” “It ain’t got nothing to do with planning, Lickity Split”
Harold had been working for McDonald’s and he was sick of it. He had injured himself throwing milk for Gandy’s dairy and decided that the fast food job offered more interesting work than loading milk trucks, but had soon discovered the grind that I already knew fast food work to be. Winter was just around the corner, and we needed work if we were going to keep a roof over our heads while the snow was falling. If it fell.
This was West Texas after all, so snow might not fall at all. It wouldn’t be the first warm Winter on record for San Angelo. It’s hard to say what the weather will be like in Texas, from season to season, sometimes from minute to minute. “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” as the old timers will tell you.
It was all fine and good to smoke our way through the summer in San Angelo, spending time down on the lakeshore getting stoned with the college students who flocked there over the summer. Summer was over now, the students were all back in school, learning to do jobs that paid better than the shit work we could find with our technical degrees from TSTI.
He had gotten a lead on a different kind of job than what we had both done before. It just required a drivers license, which we both had, and a clean driving record. Our driving records were clean, even if we weren’t. We decided that we would go see if we could get a job at the same place and thereby share the commute to and from work.
“Dispatch this is Red Squirrel” “Go ahead Red Squirrel” “I’ve just hit a cow.” “Do you need an ambulance?” “No, no. I’m fine. I think the car’s fine too.” “I thought you said you hit a cow.” “I did.” “Well then, how can the car be fine? You don’t just hit a cow and drive away.” “Well, I saw it just in time to brake. I had them brakes locked down so hard that the nose of the car went under that cow’s ass. She was so shocked at the intrusion that she shit all over the hood of the car and then ran off. So I’m fine, the cars fine, but the shop boys are going to have one hell of a mess to clean up when I get back in tonight.” “Did you get that dispatch? Dispatch?”
We started out at Texas Test Fleet. They hired us pretty much on the spot, but we went ahead and went across the street to Smithers and put in an application there as well. Word was that Smithers paid better and their cars were of better quality. We didn’t really care, we just needed jobs that paid real money to pay the real rent that was going to be due soon.
We came back to work our shifts that night. Just two idiots who had no idea what we were doing other than that we would have to drive for eight hours at a stretch. I had driven that far on my many trips to see family in Kansas over the years. I could handle eight hours of driving that would see me back home at the end of the day. At least, that is what I told myself.
Five miles from the shop, the passenger side rear tire came off of Harold’s car. “I looked up and the tire was passing me in the ditch. I was wondering whose tire that was when the horrible grinding noise started, and that is when I realized it was my tire.” So the lead driver called in the tow truck for the now permanently disabled vehicle, and the three remaining drivers, myself included, continued on down the road to Sonora and the Devil’s River, leaving my best friend and my ride back home in the ditch waiting for a tow truck. The rest of that night’s work was largely uneventful, which was good. I don’t think I would have wanted to go back to work testing tires if we had lost another driver that first night.
“You aren’t going to believe this Lickity Split” “You hit another deer Palomino?” “No. I just drove over one.” “What?” “It jumped off that ridge you just passed on the right. When it hit the road it’s poor legs went out from under it and I was too close to do anything but keep driving.” “Do we need to stop, Palomino?” “Hell, no. Damn thing is blood and guts all over the road. There isn’t enough left to pick up without us risking getting run over trying to collecting the pieces.” “Roger, Palomino. We’ll report it’s location when we get back in.”
We were offered jobs at Smithers the next day, which we gladly took. Their cars certainly did look nicer, the shop was cleaner and they did pay better than TTF did. Within a week the lead driver we had been following flaked out and left, and Harold was promoted to lead in his place. This meant that he and I were entrusted with the lives of two other people and the value of four automobiles each and every day that we drove test cars. I don’t think they understood who we really were, but we were happy for the work.
We usually drove day shift five days a week. There were weekend crews that worked part time, and there were frequent vacancies for anyone who wanted to work a sixth day during the busy driving week. We were subbing for some missing drivers one night not to long after we had started our new jobs. This was the second time I had been down on the river at night. It gets a little freaky down there at night. It is a hundred miles in any direction to civilization on that stretch of the river. The only light that is visible comes from your headlights. The sky is pitch black, with piercing white holes of light for every visible star. It reminded me of my bygone boyhood camping days, but there were no adults on this trip to protect us from our own stupidity.
It’s called the Devils river. The name gave it the ominous tone that we drivers assigned to it. In addition to being remote it was also out of radio range for the CB radios we had. We called it the hole. We were functionally alone through that stretch of road and as I said, it was dark that night, no moon in sight. In the light coming from our headlights we saw a jeep on the opposite side of the road, off in the ditch.
This thing looked like it had been on the losing end of a three-way bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etcetera. We didn’t dare stop. Not without functional radios to radio in help with. We called it in as soon as we got back up out of the hole. That wreck was gone before we drove that way again a few days later. I never did find out what the story behind the jeep was.
On another night we came across yet another wreck, this one in the clearing stages. A car had run head-on into a tanker truck. Everyone in both vehicles was dead, as far as I could tell. I found out later that a baby had survived in the back seat of the car, because the backward facing child seat had saved it from being crushed. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go on down my hellish road that night, a highway patrolman wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, a shoe with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. I had to look twice to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. At least they had a tarp over the car by the time we got to the wreck. I did not want to see what was inside of it. I’ve never had a stomach for blood. To this day I curse at the looky-loos who stop to gawk at roadside accidents. Stop looking and drive unless you want to be a statistic too.
“Hold up Lickity Split” “Another deer Palomino?” “Yeah, I finally hit one. The knife came in handy, just like I knew it would.” “Do I need to turn around for you, Palomino?” “No, no. We got it. Third here grabbed some rocks and we wedged the headlight back into place with them. I should be good till we get back to the shop. I think I’m going to call this car Rocky from now on, though.” “10-4 Palomino. We’ll look for your lights before we continue then.”
The tow truck driver laughed when he saw the damage the car had left on the asphalt, all the way to the edge of the road. “Damn! It’s a good thing you got it to the side. Otherwise you’d have been stuck out here waving people around the car all day.” I explained to him that he was the one and only person who had been down that lonely road since I had my accident with the steering, and that I was really, really glad to see him. I could finally stop gripping that tire iron in fear because I at least had someone to talk to, even if all I had to do was ride shotgun all the way back to the shop, a full three hours away.
I started thinking then, though. I need a weapon the next time I’m caught out here like this. Something better than this dumb tire iron. Something I can carry in my pocket. Maybe a knife? I’ll have to get someone to show me how to use one, though.