Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

“Exploded Heads”

Dad lying in his bed at the VA hospital,  dying and daydreaming of exploded heads with brains like scrambled eggs.  The young kamikaze pilot crashed onto his destroyer in the South Pacific.  Dad was the first on the scene of the flaming wreckage.  He led the fire brigade, a bronze star’s worth of bravery.  His young son, head smashed like a pumpkin on the dashboard of his drunken buddy’s truck.  It was too much to remember and he drifted into sleep where he dreamed of heads he smashed in the boxing rings up the Hood River  in a dozen lumber camps when he was sixteen and in the rings on the decks of his fleet aircraft carriers then to his daughters when they were very young girls in grade school and again when they were in high school and were sassy.

He “lowered the boom” on strangers in bars who approached his fifth beautiful wife and he “cold-cocked” a recalcitrant cat-skinner on his construction site on the Alaska pipeline.  Like most Highland Scotsmen, he was hard-wired for violence.  Maybe it was PTSD.  He drove my mother crazy and after her third suicide attempt in a season in 1955 (pills, wrists, bridge) they took her away for a few years.  Maybe it was the five babies in six years, one of which wasn‘t his, Post-Partum blues.  She always said the last straw was when my dad went out for ice cream for her hot apple pie and came back with blueberry flavor.  “How could I have married a man so stupid?”

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Year of Work – 1969

I had some  interesting jobs between June of 1968 and June of 1969 as a nineteen year old.  Many thanks to my father for a union card – Local 242 Laborers and Hodcarriers necessitated by construction labor on his bridge in Montana.

1.  Placing (vibrating) concrete at the top of a 110’ high bridge pier down deep inside of a steel form and a rebar cage made of number 18 rebar (2-¼” in diameter) Glad I’m not claustrophobic or agoraphobic.

2.  Volunteer fireman at lumber  mill conflagration in Rexford, Montana.  This valley, in which the boy became a man,   is now under 150 feet of water, Kootenai River became Lake Koocanusa due to Libby Dam.

3.  Tearing worm-rotted wood out of a drydock as big as a football field in Seattle for a week.  This vast field of soggy, mossy wood was filled with a billion long, green piling worms that had turned the 8” x 8” timbers to black, gooey, shredded wheat.  Whenever people refer to Seattle’s yuppie / Starbuckness, I think of many jobs like this I had in Seattle’s industrial area.

4.  Spending two full eight hour days swinging a nine pound double jack sledgehammer into the concrete blocks of a small building, reducing it to rubble – intensely therapeutic.

5.  Working as a longshoreman unloading bananas from Nicaragua (tarantulas hitching a ride at times), Volvos from Sweden, Salmon from Alaska, Scotch from Brazil….just kidding – from Scotland.  Frozen mornings hanging around with the guys waiting for the ship boom operator to get moving.

6.  Scraping chewing gum off of the exposed aggregate plaza in front of the Bank of America building in downtown Seattle for two days.  A Zen experience.

7.  Breaking up concrete pavement with a jackhammer for a week – noisy, also very therapeutic.  Same goes for swimming pool demolition (smaller hammer)

8.  Setting steel pan forms as large as bathtubs for a small suburban church.  We carried these things on our backs, walking along flat 2 x 6s a story above the ground.

9.  Graveyard shift at San Jose Der Wienerschnitzel.  Only three or four customers per shift – usually  low-riders.  Got bored, made wall sculptures from condiment packages, stir-stix, sweetener paks all taped to wall like a big totem – got fired for this stunt.

10.  Obstructed from racially segregated San Jose labor union local so:  Dishwasher / Busboy at Host International Restaurant at San Jose Airport.  Favorite things  after a long shift at steaming auto-washer scraping lobster tails and yelllow rice into garbage, was to spread a thin layer of molasses over the stainless steel counter and draw pictures into it a la Peter Max.  Also enjoyed going out onto tarmac where I could walk up and into parked, empty 737s late at night and sit in pilot seat.  I doubt  this is allowed anymore.

11.  During May I was focusing on my art career painting almost full-time using savings from the miscellaneous jobs and upon being hounded by the Seattle draft board, joined the Army.  It was like going on vacation.  I could sleep in until six every morning, three square meals a day, lots of good company, fun activities like shooting guns, tossing grenades, judo, bayonet practice, rope climbing, camping, jumping out of planes and helicopters, lots of great music.  Surrounded by complainers, I was having a nice rest and getting paid!

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Motherhood in America

The following is a letter to the author of a book on raising children in America, an acquaintance.  I read this book in manuscript form and do not remember the author’s  name. She’ll be glad I forgot.

While your observations regarding the lack of acknowledgment and proper respect for particular mothers in specific circumstances throughout the land ring true and unassailable,, it seems to me that you are seeing the forest and that the forest is beautiful and nourishing and custom made for motherhood.  While I’m creating analogies, picture a vast, slowly spinning spiral galaxy way off in the distance, far enough so that its astounding magnificence is fully perceivable – surely one of the most striking, mind-numbing wonders of our universe.  Such is motherhood in America.  Our entire culture, with its vast economic structures and mores, its complex legal system, its patterns of socialization of the young, of marriage, work and war, are all geared to create the best of all possible worlds for the mothers of America.  Our Western Culture is that nebula and it spins for motherhood.  Upon closer inspection, this galaxy is composed of stars that will burn you if you get too close, of planets whose atmosphere is not suitable for a breath and even our own hospitable planer Earth has very cold polar regions and equatorial zones that are too hot.  The oceans are large and not suitable places to live either.  There are relatively few nice places for people to live on Earth but they exist and in these places, life can be beautifully, gracefully explored.

In my experience, including first-hand observation of a mother in great turmoil, it appears to me that our culture rewards those who buy into motherhood and it destroys those who do not and it destroys many innocents who are not given a chance to demonstrate a leaning one way or another – for or against motherhood.  The executive suites of a thousand corporations are occupied by men who obeyed their mothers, who sublimated their innate propensity for physical mayhem and focused their energy on achieving social status and the hard work and subtlety required to achieve it.  They have lived lives of delayed or transmuted gratification of violence in order to propagate our way of life and its proven success in providing homes in the suburbs and big  SUVs  for mothers and their young.

The prisons of the United States are filled with millions of men who failed to get the word that their country is all about the mothers.  American cemeteries are filled with the remains of young men who were called to defend the economic entities that were providing so well for American mothers.  While the United States provides for its mothers in a bountiful way, it is clear that women who have overtly abandoned  the mother path are ostracized.  We are good to our mothers but the ferocity of the pressure for women to conform to motherhood is disturbing.  The essence of your book is that women who wish to participate in the world of men are not vigorously encouraged until recently.  It was odd that you selected Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton as poets of the trials of motherhood.  These two women had much deeper issues with their brain chemistry that colored their views of their children that go far beyond the normal miseries of raising young children.  You are hitting below the belt here with Ann and Sylvia although the notion of using poetry and poets to make your points is laudable. I do not believe for an instant that the United States is an inherently inhospitable culture in which to be a mother and raise children, as you assert, even after reading your book.  I do believe that the path to savoring the opportunities of U.S. motherhood is very straight, very narrow and very white but our entire civilization is geared to providing that path.  Your premise appears to be that our culture is headed in one direction and mothers are left out in the suburban wasteland to fend for themselves.

My mother attempted suicide three times before I was six and twice more before I left home.  My eldest sister had her first child at age seventeen, her second at twenty.  My second eldest sister gave birth at sixteen as an unwed mother and gave her baby up to adoption.  I can see from immediate experience that motherhood is no picnic.  I am aware of the turmoil among mothers in America but it is still clear that our entire galaxy is tailored for motherhood.  The cliff along that straight, white, narrow path is steep and ugly.  The women in my family lived hanging onto various ledges and scratchy side clinging sagebrush for most of their lives, nonetheless, the great beast that is America serves the mother in its own crude and ugly way.

In a final note, many of your complaints about life in America for mothers smacked of kvetching.  Soldiers die in battle,  men slave away in the corporate jungle chewing each other up and  the citizens of the second and third world are harnessed into submission by American corporate interests to make clothing, toasters and dolls for American mothers and these mothers still gripe because there is no award ceremony for “Most Patience During the Terrible Twos” or “Most Meals Prepared for Ungrateful Brats”. There is a point, and it is not very distant at any given moment, where life is simply very difficult whether one is a mother or a corporate / academic soldier or an artist – life is tough – people suffer.  It’s tough on mothers high up on the straight and narrow and it is tough in the ghetto.  Whether a mother is generally happy or not happy is related more to her own level of resolution of unresolved swaths of blackness in her own heart that will haunt her on sunny days and lie heavy on her heart in the midst of what should be happy times.  There has never been a more mother-friendly society in the history of civilization than our own.

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