When Screen Saver Went Final

There still were a lot of things to say. The ouija that I had released into my life wouldn't go back to wherever he or she had come from. He or she kept wanting to sit across from me at the board and see what would come out. And a lot did. Here is some of it.

 

 

 

Some Stuff I've Been Writing

  • Chesapeake
  • Yucca Residents
  • Genesis
  • Staying Power I
  • Staying Power II
  • COIN
  • Opportunity Lost
  • The Day After
  • Pogo Was His Hero
  • The Tombstone
  • The Bath at Cluny
  • Sadness
  • A Rembrance Of Things Lost
  • Re-Run

In Screen Saver I tell a story about one of my three times in Wyoming.  That story was about the first time I was ever in Wyoming and the story doesn’t have much point to it except to set up my assertion that there didn’t seem to be much there and getting in and out of it as soon as possible had always seemed to me to be the best way to think about Wyoming.  All that had been to set up the fact that on my third time in Wyoming I had had an experience that had totally belied the accuracy of my former beliefs about the place.  But the real point of interest in that first experience, if not the story itself, had been one of my hunting companions.  His name was Glen, and I mention in that first-time-in-Wyoming story that he had grown up on Chesapeake Bay and probably should have been a waterman rather than being in the US Navy which was where he was and which was how I had met him.  We were both officers, I in the US Air Force and Glen in the Navy, at Lowery Air Force Base being trained to be Intelligence Officers so that we would have something to do when we got to Vietnam.  Glen had set the stage for events on a subsequent trip with the story he had told of the day, when hunting on Chesapeake Bay, he had shot a goose and it had gone down far out in the water.  It was dead and it was far out in the water.  Glen didn’t have a dog and the bird was too far out for him to get it, even by wading.  So, he told us (“us” not “me” because we were accompanied by another Air Force officer named Gerry) he did the obvious.  He played the dog.  He disrobed, swam out and retrieved the goose.


That had made a good story and filled some of the dead time that had hung heavy on our hands that day on my first time in Wyoming.  We had gone up there – just outside a town called Chugwater -  from Denver for the day to hunt for the, we were assured by a recent article in the Post, hoards of cottontail rabbits that were thronging around the Chugwater area.  Time had hung heavy on our hands because we never saw a rabbit.  But I had heard Glen’s story and on a subsequent hunting trip that story was to turn out to be mildly prophetic.


It was a cold overcast mid-morning somewhere north of Denver.  The three of us, Gerry, Glen and I were wading in slightly deeper than knee deep water that had impinged and surrounded a copse of some kind of deciduous trees.  But it wasn’t as easy as the description sounds.  The bottom of this forested pond was ankle deep mud.  The surface of the water was a crust of half inch thick ice.  So wading through this icy soup involved crashing a foot through the ice, letting the boot - we were wearing waders – settle into the mud until it got sucked solid and then rotating the other foot forward and backward until it could be broken loose from the sucking muck and lift it out of the water, crash it through the ice and repeat the whole process again.  In this manner we were walking through this treed slough looking for ducks.  We each carried a shotgun.


I said it was cold.  It was bitterly cold.  I had known prior to leaving home how cold it was going to be so I was well layered with warm clothing.  I was so well layered that I looked several sizes larger than I actually was.


We had been crashing and mucking for about half an hour without seeing anything to shoot at when, from behind us, the air became filled with large numbers of mallards.  They swept by to our right from back to front and skidded into some water ahead of us that was free from ice.  And more followed them; and more followed them.  It looked as if we might get some ducks.  And it was going to involve a classic form of duck hunting: jump shooting as they flushed ahead of us.


We edged closer to the outer edge of the trees where the ice was somewhat thinner; the muck on the bottom remained the same but not as much noise and effort were necessary in the thinner ice area.


As we moved into range some ducks leapt into the air and the three of us drew down and fired.  Gerry dropped one just to his left a little deeper into the trees where the ice was thicker and the duck dropped with a thud to the ice.  I had similar luck and my duck hit the ice not far from Gerry’s.  Glen’s duck hit the open water to his right and about thirty feet away.  Glen started walking toward it and was about half way there when an amazing thing happened.  Glen disappeared.  Then he re-appeared, but he was sputtering and flailing about as he assumed a swimmer’s posture and, fully winter-hunting clothed, swam back to shallow water.  It turned out – and it was something that had completely eluded all three of us – that the water where Glen's duck had gone down was open because, unlike the water in the trees, it was deep.  It was deep and it had a fairly swift current.  It had a fairly swift current because it was a small river or a big creek and it had overflowed its banks from the winter storms into the trees that in more clement times lined its banks.


Glen hadn’t gotten close enough to the duck to retrieve it, but he had dropped his gun which was now somewhere at the bottom of a deep body of moving water.


Then Glen did something that would have appeared irrational if he hadn’t previously told me the story about the goose on Chesapeake Bay.  He took off his clothes down to his underwear.  And he went into the water and dove, doing one of those bend at the waist and go straight down surface dives that we all used to do in the swimming pool.  But we all did it in the swimming pool in the middle of sunny days in the middle of the summer in pools filled with crystal clear tepid water.  Glen was going down in an icy coffee- colored soup of uncertain depth.  And he was going to be looking for something that probably had been moved along by the current, just as he had been moved, giving him a starting point with three unknowns: where he had been at the point of his plunge and where the gun might have been dropped in relation to that plunge, and where it might have been moved to in the interim.
I gave the endeavor no chance of success.  I was actually pretty concerned about the chances that I would ever see Glen again in living form.  But after a long time in slow motion movie terms he surfaced, with the gun and got to the shallows, handed the gun to me and swam back out and retrieved the duck.  Once the duck was safely placed in the crotch of one of the trees reality began to manifest its ugly face to Glen.  He commenced shivering with his teeth chattering at such a rate that I feared he might come apart at some heretofore non-obvious set of seams.  He was not a very tall man and what height there was of him had no excess flesh on it; there was no fat; there was no insulation.  And we were a long walk from the car.


It suddenly hit me why I had worn all those clothes.  It hadn’t been because I had been aware of the coldness of the day and had prepared for it.  It was because the great god of the Chesapeake had called out across the country and had told me to prepare to be the provider of a change of warm clothes for one of his children.


So Glen and I climbed into a tree and I peeled of a layer or two of my garments and Glen donned them, tying them in knots in many places to accommodate the fact that I was about half again as big as he, and he and Gerry and I spent the rest of the day harvesting our fair share of the duck population of the locale.  We stayed away from the open water however.

A couple of years ago my wife and I stopped at an attraction on the way back to Seattle from a bike trip in the Santa Fe and Taos region. The attraction was called the Pink Dunes National Monument. Or maybe it was the Coral Sands National Monument. The place was amazing.  Everywhere one looked there were pink dunes.  That was probably why they called it the Pink Dunes National Monument. Or, if the color was actually coral, that was probably why they called it the Coral Sands National Monument if indeed that was what it was called. There were some hiking paths indicated and we set out on one of them.  Almost immediately the pink dunes were full of interesting and beautiful plants, most of which I had never seen before.  In the process of photographing one of the ones that I had seen before – yucca – I noticed that it was alive with lady bugs.  Closer examination showed why.  The yucca was also alive with aphids.  There were a great many more aphids than there were lady bugs and that was good for the lady bugs because aphids are sort of like cattle to lady bugs.  I’ve never been clear about what it is that lady bugs do to or with aphids, but it has something to do with food.  The lady bugs either eat or milk, or both, the lady bugs.  I could visualize the lady bug eating an aphid, but I had a lot of trouble picturing the lady bug milking an aphid.  I didn’t even know where the aphids’ udder and related equipment might be located.  I wasn’t even sure whether they had such equipment.  And that was, in substantial part, why I had such a problem with visualizing the milking process, if indeed such a process actually existed.  In any event I saw neither eating nor milking while I was observing the creatures, but I got some good pictures and when I got back to Seattle and took a look at the pictures I had taken, I discovered that, due to the fairly dense pixel depth of my pictures, I could zoom in on them with Photo Shop and extract fairly intimate pictures of the lady bugs farming their aphids. 

 

One blustery December afternoon in 2006 I was walking back to my apartment in Paris.  The last leg of that walk, no matter where I had been coming from, almost always involved walking along Avenue Rapp.  When that was the case it always included my passing of two guys living on a quilt on the sidewalk and back into an alcove of the Post on Avenue Rapp.  I had been seeing them there for two years.  They were always there.  I always saw them.  But on this day something different, something additional happened.  What was different was that when I got back to the apartment I got out my constant companion, my yellow tablet of lined paper, and started writing.  “We were no different, those two and I …” 


Were these, I wondered, the seminal words for the book that I had always believed I would someday write?  If they were so to be, they remained as the solitary seminal start for the balance of that visit to Paris.  But they remained.  They existed.  The tablet returned with me to Seattle and all of its pages, those written on and those blank remained attached.  I used those tablets in the same way that others use spirals.  So they weren’t gone.  But they weren’t growing.


Then in January of 2007 I revisited those words.  I re-read them; I savored them; I pondered them.  Then I worked and expanded them into a little tableau.


That little tableau became significant: it did constitute a spark for what became Screen Saver; they weren’t seminal, as in being the beginning, but they were motive.  I am including them in today’s post, because they became what ultimately turned out to be chapter nine, and then later on toward the finish line, chapter ten of Screen Saver.


“They are two guys living in an alcove doorway of a post office on Avenue Rapp.  They talk to passers by, sometimes with significant animation on both sides of the discussion, and with apparent respect on many occasions from their passers by guests.  They drink quantities of an amber colored liquid purveyed in large, probably litre plastic bottles.  One would assume the liquid to be alcoholic in nature, helpful in creating the numbness necessary to live in a doorway, in the cold of a Parisian December, and with little or nothing to do except the occasional talk with passersby.  Their meals appear sporadically and mysteriously, apparently supplied by some of the passersby.  The meals are usually good looking sandwiches (hard to get a bad one in Paris) or bread or pasta.  Always they carefully monitor a shallow, small cardboard box lid on the sidewalk in front of them.  Over time coins appear – centimes and infrequent euros – and these constitute the gross daily financial input to this tiny island of near-the-edge human civilization.”

A number of years ago my wife gave me a pair of flannel pajamas from Nordstrom.  At that time in my life I slept in my underwear.  I had decided somewhere along the line that sleeping in one’s underwear was some sort of statement of resistance to something that should be resisted.  But the point in time at which I received that gift of Nordstrom flannel pajamas was also that point in my life when various chemicals in my body had apparently begun to atrophy causing the cold that often accompanies the sleeping hours to begin to invade the curtilage of my soul, to say nothing of my body.  So pajamas seemed a suitable solution to the cold.  So I started wearing them.  And then I couldn’t stop.  They were so warm.  They were so soft.  Except for the inevitably necessary bouts with the washing machine, those pajamas were never away from me when I slept.  And time passed.  And time, as it so passed, was not kind to my pajamas.


The first to begin to go were the draw strings.  They just began to fray.  They just began to break when drawn.  They just seemed to be pointing to the doom of those garments which had become so indispensible to my warmth and comfort when sleeping or preparing to sleep.  I tied those drawstrings back together again and again and I figured out ways to keep the lumps of those knot-bulked draw strings from hindering the performance of their draw string function.  But they continued to deteriorate and I continued with my knotting counter measures.  I was able to continue using those pajamas.


But then the pajamas themselves began to develop rents and holes and massive fissions in the fiber.


And then one day I had to face the fact that they had turned to rags.  And as rags they were consigned to the rag bag.  Sad is not an adequate word.  But sad is the only word at my disposal to describe the pall of gloom that descended upon my life, at least the pre/during/and-immediately post sleeping portion of my life that had been affected by that ragbag consignment.  Luckily for my happiness this story has a sequel.

Very near the end of my time as an employed person I had a job that required me to go most days to downtown Seattle to a large multi-story office building.  I resisted going there as much as possible, preferring to work in my home office.  My boss was in Denver so I was as close to him if I needed anything from him in my home office as I was in downtown Seattle: I had broadband internet and several phone lines and a full complement of computer equipment, including the one provided by my employer.  But it was not considered good form to indulge in extended periods of absence from the office, even though when there, I was substantially less productive than I was in my home office.  There wasn’t a water cooler around which everyone gathered, but “everyone” was, nonetheless, quite creative in indulging in work-like activities that could waste vast quantities of time.  I spent as little time at that office tower as possible, but I spent substantial time there nevertheless.


One of the benefits that flowed from being downtown, having nothing to do with the needs of the business for which I worked, was the variety and quality of places that could be chosen for lunch.  One of those places I had discovered, and it seemed odd that it was in a department store, but it was, was the restaurant at Nordstrom.  I ate there often.


One day when I was eating at Nordstrom I thought of my long rag-bagged flannel pajamas.
“I wonder” I thought to myself, “if they still sell those things?”  After lunch I went to the men’s department and asked.  They did in fact still sell those things.  But it was February when I had asked the question and they were all sold out for that pajama sales cycle.  They got the pajamas in September or October and sold them until the last pair had been purchased.  And that last pair was usually purchased long before Christmas.  I learned from this post lunch query that I wasn’t the only person in Seattle who prized those pajamas.  They were exceptionally popular.


So I made a mental note to check in when September had arrived.


And I did. And the pajamas were in.  And I bought five pair.  And all was once again right with the world.  Or at least all was right with that part of the world that I was part of during my sleeping hours.


As with my previously possessed single pair, time wended it way forward: the shortest day merged with the longest;  the chestnuts waxed, waned and disappeared;  the mountain ashes scented the early spring air and then disappeared until that magic autumn day when the leapt forth from their anonymous green raiment with massive flashes of orange.  And those chestnuts, and those Mountain Ashes joined all the rest of those things that I had gradually begun to notice were marking the passage of time , and marking the swiftly accelerating passage, of my life.  One day the drawstrings of the pair of pajamas that I was wearing on that day began to disintegrate.  Then so did the next and the next and the next as their hosts were put into service.  And then all five were bound up in the death spiral of breaks and knots and lumpy congested attempts at still utilizing them for their intended function; and all were rapidly descending into unusability.


But this time the disintegration was confined solely to the drawstrings.  The reason that I had bought five pair of pajamas had been to give four of them an extended break from wear and tear in each wearing cycle. That concept had proved to be a valid one with the pajamas themselves.  They showed absolutely no sign of wear. But as the drawstrings began their descent into disintegration I was, I began to believe, apparently going to be confronted with the need to dispose of five perfectly good pairs of pajamas once the imminent lapsing of their drawstrings into un-usability had been completed.


But then I had an idea.  I took a pair of the failing drawstring bottoms with me to my cleaners.  I also took some suits and shirts and sweaters to cover the real purpose of the visit.
After the always pleasant acknowledgement of how much I enjoyed the Chinese pop music that was always being played, and after the interesting if incomprehensible discussion of why the statue of Ho Ti was facing the opposite direction from the last time I had been there I pulled the pajama pants from the pile of cleaning and laundry and showed the lady the problem and posed the question, could she make new drawstring.  She had done some minor zipper work for me previously and had performed major and successful surgery  on a rip that had occurred in my Facanable jacket resulting from my stumbling into a sharp door handle on rue de Grenelle, so I had a lot of faith in her abilities.  The Facanable repair had involved some pretty tricky opening and  re-sewing of the lining of the jacket’s sleeve, so I was pretty sure she could figure out how to get into the enclosed trace that housed the drawstrings and detach them from their moorings, build their replacements and repeat the whole process in reverse.  If only she would.


She looked at me.  I looked at her.  Neither of us said anything.  She took the pajamas away to a place out of my sight.  Time passed.  And then she re- appeared.  “Fifteen dollars” she said.  “Do it” I said.


A week later I picked up my cleaning and before leaving, I inspected what she had done.  I had brought the other four pajama bottoms with me in the event that it looked as if the lady had been able to solve the problem.


Inspection revealed that she had solved the problem.  The pajamas possessed perfectly installed, perfectly functioning new drawstrings.  Where their predecessors had been slender quarter inch strands of flannel rolled and sewn closed I now had inch wide pieces of double layered and double sewn cotton material whose probable primary function prior to being redeployed as draw strings had been to be used as backing for material needing reinforcement and stiffening.  But they fit in their traces and they were fastened firmly to the interior of those traces and they worked.  The pajamas could be cinched up smoothly and the strings could be tied and there was no resistance or sluggishness in their opening or closing; they worked.  They were a marvel of over-engineering, but they worked.


So I flung the other four pair on the counter and said “these too.”


Now I have a new and philosophically interesting situation: those drawstrings are, I believe, as close to indestructible as it is possible for humanity to produce from cloth.  They will far outlive the garments for whom they serve.  The pajamas are still showing the wisdom of my decision to have five pair, thus allowing mostly off duty time. They are still not showing any evidence of disintegration.   But the Chestnuts are flashing by with increasing temporal velocity and it is inevitable that the soft, warm flannel will at some point shout “uncle” and begin to descend into the rents and frays and fuzzes of their single predecessor.  But those drawstrings seem to be destined for immortality.  They will surely outlive me.  They will almost as surely outlive this century, even allowing for its current extreme youth.  They may even nearly outlive the planet.  I can easily imagine them among the final physical things that finally burst into flame as the earth is incinerated, or leap into nothingness as the earth slips with dramatic silence like some spherical version of the Titanic into its predestined rendezvous with its previously assigned black hole, or are called to final judgment in the event that such an unlikely thing actually occurs.

COIN – counter insurgency – is not an acronym that has just been recently invented by some sprightly young Washington pundit.  We used that same acronym back in the last century.  We used that acronym mostly in relationship to the Vietnam Debacle.  It was not named the Vietnam Debacle at the time we were using the acronym though.  The name Vietnam Debacle came into being after we had declared victory after eight or ten years of thrashing around diplomatically and militarily and had gotten out.  I was s never sure what year that exit had occurred because by the time it had occurred I had spent my pre-requisite year in the war effort and had, after another subsequent year spent in a sub basement of some building at Offutt AFB in Omaha gotten out of the Air Force.  Once out of the Air Force I had stopped paying any attention to what was going on with the war effort.  It was my version of post non-combat stress disorder.  But apparently it (getting out) had occurred because not long after the time it must have occurred the guys that we had been fighting while we were thrashing around had come into South Vietnam and had set up a government.  My disorder never allowed me to know, or care, when that had occurred but it must have occurred because I am told that there is a country called Vietnam.  I gues we like to trade with them.  I guess we need their rice. 

I never knew.

But back to COIN.  What I learned when I was in training at Lowery Air Force Base in Denver being trained to be an Intelligence Officer was that there were very few – really only one – examples of successful COIN operations on the part of Western Powers.  The one example that our teachers – one of whom was an RAF Flight Lieutenant (there was an “F” in there somewhere, but I know not where) – could reference was Malaysia.  The British had conducted a successful COIN operation in Malaysia.  And it had only taken thirty years.  In fact the key take away from the example of Malaysia was that if a country signs up for a COIN operation, that country had better be ready for a long slog, of thirty years or more.


But all of that is just background information.

I heard today that the republicans are all saying that we can’t afford a trillion dollar health care reform bill.  I keep hearing, but it is probably all lies, that that trillion dollars is paid for in a variety of cost offsetting ways.  Anyway, the republicans are, on the other hand, pretty enthusiastic about war in any form and the one in Afghanistan in particular.  That may be because both the Afghan Debacle (is it too soon for that name?) and the Iraq Debacle have been conducted off budget.  Apparently that allows the trillion or so that those two debacles have cost to date to flow straight through to the aggregate national debt without stopping off as a part of any annual deficit.  Adding to the deficit would have been pretty annoying to the American people, so our leaders of all stripes and colors just let it flow through to the debt.  Since that debt is something about which we rarely speak – probably due to its enormity – the whole war financing method is pretty good politics.

The republican’s enthusiasm for the Afghan Debacle, should, I would hope, but I may be assuming where I should be verifying – those guys are pretty slippery – include the fact that they accept the hundred billion a year price tag.  Again, even if they accept it they are really off the hook because, unlike health care which needs to be accounted and paid for, the twin Debacles are just paid for out of some magic purse full of foo foo dust.
So what I am about to say is already, even before I say it, trumped.  But I have to say it anyway.

If I take thirty years and multiply it by a hundred billion - not counting the post war costs of veterans’ medical benefits (we learned from the Walter Reed Debacle – there is a mounting number of Debacles here – that we really don’t intend to offer much in the way of veteran’s benefits anyway), inflation and related nuisances - I get three trillion dollars. And that is three trillion that, although it is off budget it does go to the aggregate national debt.  Last time I looked that aggregate national debt was about eleven trillion.  Good thing that interest rates are so low. 

I guess three trillion not budgeted and not paid for compared to one trillion which is to be budgeted and paid for is a much better deal.


Of course the crowd to whom that appears to be a good deal mostly believes that the earth is six thousand years old.

A guy named T.R. Reid has written a really good book on healthcare around the world. Specifically, he has written about how five of our kindred modern industrial democracies provide for health care for their citizens. He discusses the pros and cons and the variances in approach between them. He compares all of that to how we are doing it – or how we think we are doing it. He points out a lot of things that everybody has heard before; he points out much more that most of us haven't heard before. He has also made a really good documentary which has been aired on Public Television about all of this. And he has gone around the country promoting his book. That has often caused him to be interviewed in depth by Public Radio. I have heard him a couple of different times and have been impressed by how much he knows and how useful that which he knows could have been to our elected leaders as they went about trying to implement health care reform; or, in the case of the out of power party, as they went about trying not to implement health care reform. My net net reaction has been that Mr. Reid has learned a great deal of useful information, and that if he could learn it, perhaps all of us Americans could learn it. Perhaps even our elected leaders could have learned it. Perhaps all that learning could have produced a rational national (poetry intended) discussion about what can be done about our health care system. Perhaps we could have learned a great deal from discussing what many other successful and intelligent democracies in the world have been doing. Perhaps we all, citizens and leaders alike could have learned – jointly – a rational and effective way to improve a system which is clearly broken, from a cost viewpoint, from a results viewpoint and from a coverage viewpoint.

But we didn't, or at least we haven't had that discussion. Instead some of us all got together in public meetings and turned red in the face, shouted, followed the redness with purpleness and shouted some more. It strikes me as interesting that the people indulging in this simian sort of behavior are typically the same people who advocate teaching intelligent design. But that aside, we had some loud shouting and some sloganeering and some not so very well veiled racist assaults on our president and little else related to one of the most important issues facing us. And the republicans have just said no. I guess that's the best to be expected from America.


Too bad – it was an opportunity lost.

The Day After The Day Before

The thirteenth has come and it has now gone.  The scallops offered in sacrifice to the celebration of the passage of time- the passage of another, the sixty-seventh, year - are mostly gone, although some wait in refrigerators hither and refrigerators yon for their ultimate – one would hope- inclusion in  Sunday omelets or  Sunday scrambles.  Whatever their ultimate fate, they are certainly gone from the immediate arena, of the immediate celebration of the immediate passage of yet another immediately-gone year.


And before the dawn, even though the fourteenth is a Saturday it will be a Wednesday and then almost without noticeable boundary it will be Thursday and the recycling trucks will be forwarding and the recycling trucks will be backwarding and there will be the  crashes of glass and the interludes of silence and the interludes of the bells.  And soon it will fade to Wednesday again.  And the shortest day of the year will be imminent; and it will almost immediately fade to the longest, and then the shortest, and then the longest.  Who knows for how long, but it is certain that the days will so fade, and will so fade until they stop.  And what then? Indeed. What then?


And the cycle of the chestnuts and the cycle of the mountain ashes provide the flashes of silent wallpaper-like color for the motion of the days and the sounds of the trucks and the bells and the silences.  For silences, we have been told, have sounds.


And the pictures on the variously abandoned driver’s licenses rattle their arrangement – oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, back and forth, back and forth in the panic drawer of my life and the panic drawer of my bedroom and in my field of vision.


It seems to continue rather than to cease, so who am I to judge its merit or its value or its meaning, or even its actual existence?  Who after all am I?  Indeed.

Dave was a member of the RF Trio. The Trio was one of the major themes in Screen Saver. When Dave died a couple of years ago I wrote this memorial. His family preferred the "Dave was born ... Dave always liked ... Dave leaves ..." format. So I have finally decided to publish mine.

Pogo was his hero. Until or unless one reads some volumes of Walt Kelly’s stories of Okefenokee Swamp and its denizens, that statement seems somewhere between meaningless and ridiculous. After such a reading one joins Dave in acknowledging his hero, and acquires a sense of wonder at Dave’s grasp of the absurd.


Music was his essence. When one watches Yo-Yo Ma play the cello it is his face that becomes the center of attention. The contortions and grimaces that accompany (perhaps provide) the verging on heavenly sounds are amazing. When Dave played the banjo similar facial gymnastics were present. And the sounds, while not Bach or Beethoven were equally heavenly.


Versatility was his forte. He excelled at singing, magic tricks, story telling, writing songs, selling appliances, being a fireman, being a health care worker, being an executive administrator, being a father, being a husband, being a friend and being a confidante. He was about as complete as any individual human ever is.


Whimsical was his spirit. When much younger he named a group of neighborhood friends the Simpson Street Marauders. The group still exists.


A real life was his goal. A friend once observed that Dave wished “to navigate the sea of life in an inner tube of happiness while strumming the banjo”. Those of us who knew him think that he succeeded, and have a deep admiration for his success.


But that life has ended. With Dave’s passing, the other side now has two Simpson Street Marauders. That is joyous news for the other side.

Ruth and Noel and Joe and I went to Moscow Idaho one Autumn weekend. If you read Screen Saver you know that Ruth was my first wife and Noel and Joe were our sons. If you didn’t read Screen Saver, Ruth was nonetheless my first wife, and Noel and Joe were our two sons.

We went one time to Moscow to visit Jack and Ted. Again from Screen Saver, Jack was a close friend whom I had met in high school and who remained a close friend for a significant portion of the rest of my life; Ted was his roommate for awhile during their time in law school; Ted is still my friend.

We went to visit the site of their being roommates, a beautifully finished daylight basement apartment on Moscow Mountain, not far out of Moscow; Moscow is the home of the University of Idaho and the law school that Jack and Ted were attending.
The daylight basement apartment where they lived was the lower level of a recently built house belonging to Doctor Tenny, a professor in the English Department at the University. Doctor – inevitably he was called behind his back “Doc” – lived in the upper rest of the house with his wife.

The day we arrived we met the Doctor before we had found Jack and Ted. It was late mid-afternoon on a beautiful blue and gold shimmering October day. Doc Tenny was in the rather large driveway terminus that doubled as a parking pad directly in front of the windows of Jack and Ted’s apartment. Doc Tenny greeted us with almost courtly welcoming courtesy. The majority of that attention and courtesy seemed to be directed to Ruth, but that didn’t particularly surprise me. Ruth was thought by many people to look like Ingrid Bergman – I wasn’t one of them – and I assumed that the Doctor, a man in his seventies, didn’t often have attractive young blonde women as his guest. I quickly felt as if I were a hindrance to something, but that was a fleeting impression. One of the things I learned before leaving was that Ruth was certainly not of a scarce or unusual genre at the Doctor’s abode. He conducted an honors upper division literature class consisting mostly of young women not much different from Ruth, and part of the potential advanced credit curriculum involved visits to the Doctor at his domicile on the Mountain for in-depth literary analysis.

As a part of the welcoming pleasantries the Doctor gestured vaguely in the direction of what appeared to be an automobile. It must have been a 1957 Dodge, but it was somewhat hard to ascertain its exact lineage because where there once had been fins and fenders and lights there were dents and holes and bumps and roundness. Not long in the future from that October day the snows would come and, being on a mountain, the ice would follow. The garage and driveway during that time of the year became a place requiring caution, and caution was a thing that the Doctor, it seemed, lacked. Old Overholt apparently made a bad time of the year for driving not seem so bad at all; apparently due to that spiritual influence, the Doctor’s car had gradually become a shapeless lump of dented and rounded sheet metal. Jack and Ted said watching him get the vehicle out of the garage and launched out of the parking apron, down the mountain-trail-like driveway to the main highway was an experience not to be missed; the return, they said was equally exciting. The essence of the fins could still be perceived, which is how I knew that it was a Dodge; it was a well used vehicle.

The gesture to the lump-like automobile was accompanied by a running dialogue in something resembling drunken Elizabethan (or at least not contemporary American) English. “Behold yonder stands the noblest of steeds. She carries me unto battle and victory over the stanchions of evil.”

Noel and Joe were beginning to pay attention. Ruth didn’t know what to say. Nor did I. With murmurs from the two boys – murmurs of something between admiration and caution – and silence from Ruth and me, he continued. “I gainsay those who call her a cheval qui a la coeur brisé. She is merely reaching her threshold of greatness.”
With that he lurched toward the steps leading to his portion of the domicile. “Join me, children, in the curtilage for an imbibement. “

And up and in he went.

We were just looking at one another, wondering what to do next and wondering where our friends and hosts were when they appeared.

“We saw you coming and saw him out there and decided the only proper entrance for you – since such an opportunity was available – was for you folks to get a shot of the Doc unfiltered. You would have thought we were making it up otherwise,” said Ted. He was something of a poet. “He invited us in, and that isn’t an invitation to be taken lightly,” said Jack.

“What dost thou desire, fair damsel?” boomed across the large great room-with-massive-fireplace. Ruth being the only damsel present, assumed the Doctor was addressing her. “Gin and tonic?” she asked. “Your every wish shall be granted,” rejoined Doc Tenny. And he set about making one.

As we all sat around talking, and drinking - Jack and Ted and I had helped ourselves to beer from the refrigerator, and the Doctor had poured a large tumbler of Irish without ice – time just seemed to pass. In spite of the awkwardly surreal nature of the encounter to that point, I had to admit, and I assumed the others had had to as well, that the Doctor was a good host and terribly entertaining.

After some time and some drinks he began to speak in a more contemporary manner. “ I have a treasure in the trunk of my car that I rarely share with others, but for this august group, I would like to make an exception.” Ted and Jack just looked at one another. I saw a flash of something pass between them, but I had no idea what it might be. “Yes, after our next re-fill we must go out; we must go out before darkness settles upon us, and I will show you my treasure.” And then we did another round.

Once out on the twilit parking apron, the Doctor moved to what must have been the rear of the amorphous mound of metal that was his automobile, and with a flourish withdrew a key, shakily thrust it in the direction of what was most probably the trunk and a piece of flattish metal popped up at a forty five degree angle.

In the waning light one could see a mass of things, but there was one thing of note. It was the biggest thing in the cavity: it was about three feet in length, eighteen inches in width, was curved on end and was flat on the other end. It appeared to be made of stone. It was a tombstone.

“I found this in the woods several years ago, and I want it to adorn my grave when I’m gone. It sums me up better than I could have ever contemplated doing myself. I doubt even if Marian would have done as well.” And he, with grimaces and grunts – it was, indeed made of stone – horsed the thing out of the trunk and leaned it against his leg so that all could see. In the rapidly waning light it was still possible to read the chiseled words: “He Was A Good Woodsman”.

Thinking about this story and then telling it as I just have completed, from the vantage point of all of those intervening years has caused me to ponder what might be my exit line, my epitaph. And, I think I have it:


He Nearly Accomplished Quite A Number Of Things

cluny

There are a number of Roman ruins spread around France. Among them are the remains of a coliseum at Bordeaux and the still-being-used coliseum/bullring at Arles. But my favorite is right in downtown Paris. It is the Bath at Cluny. It is on Boulevard St-Germain not far from where Boulevard St-Germain bends to cross the river at Pont de Sully and becomes Boulevard Henri Quatre.

The Romans built it sometime in the early centuries of the first millennium, and, after they left it was turned into a monastery or convent, I never can remember which. Actually I can’t remember whether it was turned into either of those things. But it was turned into something other than a Roman bath, and that something – whatever it might have ever been - caused the then residents to install stained glass windows. I really like stained glass windows, which is odd because I don’t have any affinity for churches or religion.

Actually I have developed a great deal of affinity over the last few years for the cathedrals of Europe. Except for London and Brussels the only cathedrals I have ever actually seen are all in France, but it sounds more impressive – to me at least – to claim affinity with the cathedrals of all Europe rather than just those of France; and cathedrals, I have been told, are churches, although they have no similarity to the down-at-the-heel things that are called churches and are on offer in the United States; and I really like the Cathedrals’ stained glass windows. Even though Cluny has stained glass windows I don’t think it was ever a cathedral.

So that is what is imbedded in the beginning of this little drop of drivel.

I really wish that Blogger would let me, or I could figure out if it does let me and I am just too stupid to figure out how, to put my pictures where I want to put them.

But I guess campared to the implications of the new republican super minority in the US senate, or the bothersome realization flowing from the fact, that, thanks to the strictly constructionist five judges on the supreme court, we won't even get to choose who to send back to Washington to get bought by the lobbyists, my problems are really trivial.

When I left IBM I was too young and too poor to retire. I waited until later when I was older and too poor before I retired.

In the first phase of my post IBM life I didn’t get very far from IBM. That was because the only post IBM way of earning a living that I was able to find in the short time that I had available for that discovery process was to be an IBM Agent.

Being an IBM Agent was something like being an Agent for an insurance company. The similarity was that, like an insurance company, IBM was a huge international corporation that wanted to reduce or eliminate as much direct sales expense as it was possible to eliminate without losing some semblance of loyalty from that replacement sales force.

For years that had been a work in progress. In Screen Saver I recount a number of stories about that ongoing process, including the time that I spent getting on a plane at LaGuardia or Newark every Sunday and returning from Atlanta every Friday. The week that that traverse allowed to take place in Atlanta had been filled with work on a three person task force which was trying to figure out how to sell new business solutions (small value-added computer systems) through some channel other than card carrying IBM employees. It was odd that the answers that the task force came up with ended up being my third-to-last IBM job and my first post IBM way of earning a living. Those answers were two things: independent businesses to be constituted as IBM Agent Firms and a new IBM function called the Complementary Resources Manager – an IBM employee whose job it was to provide for the care, feeding and IBM interface to those Agent Firms. I was the first CRM in Spokane and I later became the IBM New Business Agent Firm in Seattle.

As things turned out, the Seattle endeavor probably would have been successful, both for me and for IBM if IBM had not perceived itself as being in the process of going out of business. That meant that the expense of nurturing a brand new business long enough to become successfully independent was not an option and what probably needed to be a three to five year transition plan became an aborted one year. IBM tried to dress the abandonment of the Agent Program in its best go-to-meeting clothes, but I had worked for the company for too long to fall for that artifice. So after a year of being an Agent firm with four employees I went to being a loosely affiliated IBM ally with no employees who made more money from consulting and technical writing than I made from the IBM relationship. Ultimately we migrated to being soley a consulting and technical writing firm.

But during that start up year, the full twelve months of the non-diluted IBM Agent relationship, I had a lot of support from IBM. That support included office space for me and my employees in the IBM building, a monthly non-recoverable stipend for each of my sales territories, a variable payment for just taking the responsibility of the territory and commissions for whatever IBM goods and services we sold to our customers.

All of those payments added up over a little time to a surprisingly significant monthly payment from IBM. Those payments came to me in the form of a monthly check from IBM. For whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea to have my business bank account close to the IBM office. The closest bank was a small branch of US National Bank – at that time still a Portland business, and as an almost native Portlander I had had a US National Bank account in my previous life – so it just seemed natural to do business with them.

The branch was in a quaint, old, not many storied building that had somehow evaded the all too prevalent downtown Seattle wrecking ball. After US National, for whatever reason moved from the location it became a Starbucks. It was on the corner of 6th and Seneca.

I had two contacts. One was a dithering young woman who was, she assured me, my Personal Banker. The other was the Branch Manager. I didn’t have much contact with the Branch Manager, but since I was the CEO of a member of the small business community, a new customer, and it was turning out, a fairly significant depositor, my “Personal Banker” had made sure that I had been exposed to that level of executive bank contact.

The Branch Manager was a quiet-spoken, rather slight of build African American. In my little contact with him he seemed to care about his customers, know a lot about his business and how it might be of service to people like me and was credible when he said that if I ever needed help beyond what my Personal Banker could provide that he was ready to serve. I believed it and that was a tribute to his credibility. There are a lot of glad–handers in positions such as his; I felt that he wasn’t one of them.

But that is all told to set the stage for my short, sad tale.

One late mid afternoon I needed to go over to the bank to make a deposit. I left the IBM building and crossed over to the bank, tried the door and found that it was locked. The bank was closed for the day.

The sidewalk, being in the middle of down town, was fairly busy. As I turned to go back to IBM, and as I brushed by a few bustling passers-by I became aware of a person a little farther away from me than those that were immediately around me as I turned from the bank doorway.

I didn’t really look at him, but I must have glanced in his direction. Because I formed the immediate impression that he was a he, not a she. Somehow, because it was downtown and he was coming directly toward me, I formed the immediate impression that he was begging.

As the word “no” was forming for articulation, one additional random piece of data was added to my fairly amorphous grasp of the situation. The guy was African American.

Before I could say my incipient word he spoke. “We’re closed for the day, but the branch down two blocks is open until six.”

“Hey, thanks” I must have said. I never really knew because in that split second I recognized my “Personal Banker’s” boss, the Branch Manager of the bank.

As I walked down Sixth Avenue to the other branch I was unable to stop the instant replay of the whole just-completed encounter. And it always ended the same. And before long the only thing that remained, playing over and over and over until I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and not come out until it stopped playing was the same thing.

The only thing that remained, the only memory, the only real and tangible image being flashed by my personal screen saver then, and even now as I write this, was a look of utter and profound sadness.
If one were to go to the “Black And White” section of my web site and if one were to click on the “A Fish” tab, one would see a picture of me, my mother and a 20 or 25 pound King Salmon. I wasn’t in the boat when the salmon was caught. That honor was reserved to my father and my mother’s father, my grandfather, Bobby. But by the time I had awakened that morning and the three of them had returned with my mother’s fish, a family legend had begun. The tale of how the fish was played and landed – the reel fell off the pole at one point among other near catastrophes – started that morning and grew in family significance over the intervening years.

I wasn’t in the boat that day, but I was in the boat the next afternoon when I caught one of my first fish, a ten or eleven inch trout shaped creature that Bobby referred to as a “salmon trout”. I have thought in years subsequent, when I had learned that it is illegal to keep salmon smoults, that “salmon trout” was a class of fish that Bobby invented on the spot to justify in his mind letting his grandson keep what was, from his grandson’s viewpoint, quite a nice fish. As we were approaching the giant rail ramp that would drag the boat back into the boat house, and I leaped up brandishing my salmon trout proudly to anyone at the boat house who wanted to see, Bobby might have momentarily had second thoughts about the wisdom of his invention, but nothing bad came of it. Only great good came from it. “It” in fact became the beginning of a gallery of memories, of smells, and sights and sounds and feelings and emotions that were incremented every time I found myself on something resembling the open ocean.

The salmon trout incident was in the San Juan Islands in the very early 1950s. The gallery of “it” is populated with additional content from the San Juans; that gallery is populated with material from the North Pacific off the coast of Oregon; it is populated with material from various bays and estuaries which indent the coast of Oregon; it is populated with material from the beaches of Oregon; it is populated with material from the Mid Atlantic off the coast of Florida near Boca Raton. The gallery is an accretion of individual incidents, occurrences and impressions. But they all add up to one unified thing. I call it “it” because I lack a word that describes it beyond that two letter reference. But keep it in mind because it plays an important role in what I am ultimately trying to say in this post.

One need not be catching fish to feel maximally fulfilled when on the ocean. There is too much going on for not catching fish to be a problem. In fact once one lapses into the intense enjoyment of all it is that is going one, one contemplates whether one wants to catch fish anyway. They might just take one’s mind off all the other things that there are to savor.

In no apparent order here are some of those things.

Some jelly fish look as if they have muscles, or something like muscles, because I have seen big semi transparent white ones seem to move rapidly off to the right or left of the vantage point of my place in the boat by seemingly undulating themselves and shooting off in whatever direction they appear to have chosen. Whatever the truth of the matter, hours can pass as minutes when the white jelly fish are swarming around the boat shooting hither and yon and yon and hither and then back again.

On the other hand, being in a vast hoard of red jelly fish, which don’t seem to manifest any ability at locomotion can be equally mesmerizing. They are usually big, the size of an adult human head and they have long, long tendrils of – I guess – stinging cells trailing along beneath and behind them as they flow by with whatever tidal current is in motion.

Kindred in form with the swarms of red jelly fish, although obviously completely different in genetics are the birds. I don’t know much about sea birds. I know a lot about their land based relatives, but not sea birds. But one doesn’t need to know what kind they are to savor a huge never ending flock of some kind of highly aerodynamic pigeon sized bullets streaking past just above the water, probably drafting on some uplift from the waves; they seem to be never ending when they are there; and then they are not there and one wonders if they ever were there; and then they, or some tribe of replacements are there again. They pass in massive liquid swirls.

Not everything that flies by on the ocean is a bird.

The first time I was in a boat on the Atlantic off the coast of Florida I asked if we were likely to see any flying fish. Absolutely I was told, lots of them. “What do they look like” I asked. “Just like a silver pencil” said one of my friends.

That was a perfect description. In fact, without that description, I doubt if I would have known what I was seeing when the first silver pencil sailed by. At times the air was filled with them. At other times there were only a few. Sometimes there were none; and there were silver pencils again. And they came in several sizes. Their size ranged from creatures actually about the size of a pencil through several larger gradations of size and culminating in fish about the size of a salmon trout.

But it need not be alive to be a contributor to the aggregate “thing” gallery of the sea.

Smells abound. There is just the sea smell itself which varies depending upon the temperature, wind, geography, proximity to land and, I suppose, myriad factors which somebody may know, but I don’t.

It is not uncommon to pass through one color of water to another color of water. That water may be quite blue, quite green or depressingly gray. It may just be foamy and white, or at the place where it touches the sand of the shore, it may be foamy brown. And in the water there are all kinds of colors from the white jelly fish through the red jelly fish to the brown kelp to the bright yellow air filled pods of seaweed whose name I have never known.

The water has texture. There are places where several tidal currents get in a fight and an area of amazingly choppy and dangerous water results. These rip tides seem to gather food at their edges and are therefore good places to fish. These rips are not good places for a small boat to fish inside of. The texture of a rip is like the teeth of a bastard file. The texture of some full-fledged waves created by the battle between the fresh water rushing out of a large river like the Columbia and the salt water of an ocean such as the Pacific can produce a texture that resembles the Rocky Mountains. Or that same stretch of water under different tidal conditions can have the texture of the frosting on a maple bar.

To avoid giving the impression that all of that which has so far been described can replace the intensity of feeling that accompanies the catching of fish, the last non-living factor that comes readily to mind from my aggregate gallery of the sea is a sight – the intense spray that a filament of fishing line throws off when being hurtled through the water by the freight train like run away from the boat of a King salmon that has been hooked. That spray is also a sound: I swear one can hear a hiss as that spray flies into the air angling madly off into the distance, but away, always away, from the boat and the fisherman.

The “catching” can be of fish such as the King after the spray has finally run out. It can be of small silvers when one is lucky enough to realize that a school of them has for some reason started chasing one’s boat. When that situation ensues, one puts the motor in neutral stops trolling the herring and starts jigging it off the stern as if fishing for fresh water crappie. A limit of eight to ten pound glittering silver rockets can be the result. Or they can disappear as quickly as they appeared having abandoned any interest in the herring dangled to entice them. Who knew why either occurred? Who even really cared? The adrenalin that got pumped on account of the brief encounter serves to keep the moment fresh for quite some time. And when the King gets finally boated the adrenalin causes the right leg to go into a spasm with the foot tap, tap tapping madly on the floor of the boat.

The “catching” can be of fish of a the species thought-to-be-lesser-than-salmon: the rock fish, the ling cod, the sea bass, or even, when hoards of them are running, of silvery herring that will strike at empty hooks as they stream by the boat. It is possible to catch several herring at a time if one deploys a multi-hooked rig. Since sea bass, cod and rock fish inhabit the depths of kelp forests it is necessary to poke one’s boat into the middle of such a forest and drop one’s herring to the bottom with the impaled bait streaming at a ninety degree angle to the drop line and its terminal pyramid of lead. In the old days hoards of willing victims fought to be the first to be hooked. In more recent times those populations have been depleted, but there are still times when the kelp will yield some kind of highly desirable multiple-pound-weighing thing that isn’t very pretty but that makes a great dinner, lunch or breakfast.

And sometimes the kelp forest harbors something else, something that I have never seen, but something with which I have done battle to unsuccessful conclusion more than once. Not ever having actually seen one, but having felt their power and force and pull more than once, the people and I who have had the privilege of trying to catch them have named them the “Great Something”. I have been told that they are probably halibut. I prefer to keep them as the “Great Something”.

“Catching” sometimes isn’t really catching at all. Sometimes it is digging. That is how one gets a bucket of butter clams. They are dug like potatoes. Razor clams, on the other hand, are different. Although a shovel is used in pursuit of them, they are not dug. A razor clam lives in the sand that is usually under the waves of the North Pacific. Only the lowest tides ever expose them to something resembling dry sand. And even then, that sand is so seldom and so briefly exposed that even when the occasional low tide does make them accessible by somewhat dry land the sand is still more of a liquid than is it a solid. And the razor clam is built in such a way that they somehow motivate through that liquid like sand at amazing speed. The act of harvesting one is like Wayne Gretzky’s approach to hockey: figure out where the puck (razor clam) is going to be and intercept it. That is why the razor clam shovel is a specialized instrument. It is short handled because the digger is going the be bending at a ninety degree angle in the initial thrust and is on his or her hands and knees in the follow through. What the shovel lacks in handle it makes up for in blade. The blade is about half the length of the handle and is narrow. It is designed to be easily thrust into the sand just ahead of the retreating clam – the clams always rush back at forty five or so downward thrusting angle to the surface back to the safety of the waves – such that, if the Gretzkyesque calculation has been successful, the clam runs headlong into the blade. Since even if that level of success is achieved it is at best only momentary, and since the only way to find out if one has, in fact been successful – because the clam is really smart and he or she will feint to the side and be gone in a moment if the digger tarries even a moment – the digger’s next move is to hurl himself or herself to the sand, rotating the handle of the shovel on the way down and thrusting his or her hand into the cavity briefly exposed feeling for, he or she hopes, the razor clam’s shell. If such a feeling ensues, the battle commences. Even if so felt, the clam is moving toward the sea at an amazing speed. At this point the digger needs to try to take advantage of the sand’s liquid state and force his or her hand through that medium down and out toward the ocean, hoping to keep pace with the clam and, ultimately grasping it. Depending upon how deep that capture occurs dictates whether the digger concludes that he or she has the clam or whether the clam has him or her.
Catching can also be more like entrapping.

Dungeness crabs live at the bottom of the near-to-the-coast Pacific Ocean and its associated bays and estuaries. There they wait for food to drop down to them.

In the olden days one deployed a crab ring to harvest Dungeness crabs (rings have in recent times been replaced by foolproof traps; my gallery is populated with events surrounding the use of rings). A crab ring was really two rings, a big one and a smaller one. They were joined as one by a net. They had a triune rope-set tied to the big ring which were, in turn, all three joined to a fourth rope whose length was dictated by the depth of the water in which the crabs were to be pursued. The end of that rope farthest away from the joint with the triune rope set had some sort of flotation device – like three empty Purex bottles – attached to it. The bottom ring – the small one – had a mesh of wire strands woven into it to act as a porous bottom for the crab ring which provided a substrate for holding the meaty fish skeleton that one wired on top of it to act as bait, and which also was of dense enough weave to keep any crab of legal size in the ring once it had been lifted from the bottom.

“Once it had been lifted from the bottom.” Therein lies the trick. Just as with razor clams, nothing involved in the process of “catching” Dungeness crabs with crab rings was ever easy.

The most common hunting ground for the Dungeness was one of Oregon’s or Washington’s bays – Tillamook Bay for example. All that was need was several crab rings, some fish skeletons a small boat with an outboard motor and two or more people to crew the boat.

It turns out that Dungeness crabs don’t just sit evenly distributed all over the bottom of the bay where they reside. They have special places that they like and lots of places that they never go to. The first order of business in being a successful crabber was to know those places. That knowledge usually occurred through trial and error. Nobody was willing to tell anybody else where the crabs resided any more than mushroom hunters are willing to tell anyone where the morels are. But once the trials and the errors had passed through the lives of the incipient crabbers the quarry could be pursued on a fairly successfully iterative basis. Except that the state of the tide also plays a major role as to where the crabs might be at any given time. So that whole process of trial and error needed to be traversed multiple times.

Once that additional process had been traversed all the crabbers needed to do was to utilize their knowledge of the migratory patterns of the crabs and propel their boat to the various locations as time and tide dictated, drop the baited rings into the water – either leaving them in place marked by their floats or tied to the gunnels of the anchored boat – and wait. After the appropriate waiting period had passed – there is a whole mythology surrounding what that length of time ought to be – if the boat has been anchored the next step was fairly easy. All the crabbers needed to do was to, one by one, and only one at a time, lift the rings up to the gunnel of the boat, having been exceptionally careful to have made the initial lift off the bottom as swift and as vertical as possible. If the ring was bumped and allowed to settle and then brought up, or if it was brought up at a very acute angle the crabs, or at least most of them, and for sure the legal ones – they needed to be of a certain size and be males (I actually know how to tell the difference) would have all escaped the ring. Assuming nothing bad had happened and assuming that the lore of where the crabs were supposed to be at the time of the retrieval of the ring had been accurate, the final act was that of measuring and classifying the catch and releasing all those that were not legal.

If the rings had been left in the bay on their own marked by their floats the retrieval process was more like a contact sport. The crabbers needed to identify their floats from all of the floats that were on the water. They needed to approach the float from down current and needed to intercept it just as it passed the very beginning of one side or the other of the craft. And once intercepted the boat needed to continue in a direction and at a speed such that the slack in the rather long rope – one virtually never was in water so deep that the float was directly over the ring – (the more common occurrence was that water was massively deeper than the length of the rope and the float was nowhere to be seen, except at the trough of any occasional waves that might have been present) can be taken up at a speed and efficiency that caused the ring to be initially lifted in a manner similar to that described for the lift of rings attached to the anchored boat. If the slack didn’t come up smoothly and rapidly there was an initial bump with an inefficient subsequent follow-through and the prey was back on the bottom by the time the lift was re-initiated.

The co-ordination required for the free floating pickup was significant. There needed to be a person in the bow directing the person in the stern at the tiller of the outboard motor. The person in the bow shouted directions – “to the right, slower, now a little faster, to the right, now left, no straight, faster, slower” – to the tiller person. Since the bow person needed to be looking forward to draw conclusions about what directions to be shouting, the bow person usually shouted directions forward, into the wind – there was a wind created by the boat’s forward motion, and it was usually augmented by the wind that inhabited the water without any help from a boat’s forward motion. The result of shouting directions forward into the wind was that the directions disappeared into the wind making the tiller person look to be a goon, always shouting “what?” or “where?” while the boat careened about with no apparent relationship to the needs of retrieving the float and its rope and crab ring. Numerous friendships were strained to the breaking point by maneuvers related to retrieving crab rings. Given the even more fragile nature of many marriages, the divorce courts of the North Pacific region teemed with refugees from what had been planned to be a happy day of togetherness and crab ring retrieval on the water.

These are a few of the screen saver-like flashes of personal memory related to fishing, catching, traversing or just being on various portions of the salt water of our planet. In aggregate they add up to that “thing” for which I have no better name. But it is profound and deep and intense and it is satisfying in a manner transcending most other satisfactions of which I am aware.

Since I am, except for the few occasions that I have spent time on the oceans, bays, estuaries and littoral immediately adjacent to the waves, a land dweller, and since my livelihood has never been achieved in any manner that wasn’t completely and exclusively land based I have no idea what the life of a fisherman, oysterman, crabber, or waterman must be like. But I have to assume that a large part of it must consist of the “thing” I have attempted to describe. A major part of the act of going out on the water every day to earn ones living must consist of savoring the reservoir of that “thing” that has been accumulated up to the beginning of each new day. It must include the savoring and the looking forward to the inevitable but, until they occur, unknown increments that will probably occur with each new day. It must be a wonderful way to exist and earn a living. In Fact it must be a great deal more than just earning a living.

And then one must consider the added dimension that many if not most of these ocean dwellers are second, third or nth generation practitioners of their activity. The fact that the current generation not only has the exhilaration of living in the constant state of that “thing”, whatever it may be, and the fact that that it is an accumulation passed from parents and grandparents and from the current generation to children, and perhaps on and on to generations as yet unknown must be a condition bordering on the mystical.

All of this must be true because the life being described is far from easy or safe or necessarily particularly financially rewarding. So making it one’s life work must have a lot to do with that accumulated mysticism.

It is this viewpoint that should provide perspective to one aspect of the monstrous scope of the catastrophe that has been unleashed by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has put an end to a way of life. And that way of life will never return because filling an ocean with poison – oil and dispersant – with no apparent end in sight can have no reasonably expected outcome except extinction of every form of life that had been the carefully husbanded crop that made that way of life possible.

There is no amount of money that can repay for that level of damage. But anything less than whatever amount of money those fishermen and oystermen and all the other men and woman who have had their ways of life abruptly and permanently terminated need to try to start over is an amount that cannot be accepted by this nation, if we desire to continue to have the honor of being called a nation.

I've seen this movie before. I didn't like it the first time I saw it and I don't like it any better this time. The basic plot of the movie involves the iterative increase of hoards of American military personnel who get sent to some country that nobody in America except those who are in the process of being iteratively sent in ever increasing increments can find on the map; a sub plot is that nobody except those who are being sent have any clear idea about why they are being sent. For example, a while back my brother in law, who spent a year in Iraq, told me over a friendly martini that he had spent that year in Iraq defending the American Constitution. I lacked that sort of clarity about what our purposes had been in Iraq, although I had had some memory of there being vast numbers of nuclear and biological weapons stored there for use against the United States. I suppose if those weapons had been used against us it would have been a bad thing for the American Constitution, so perhaps my brother in law was correct. I can't remember whether we actually got any of those weapons, but since we are still physically intact I guess we did.

The first time I saw the movie I was among the iteratively increasing hoards. We were all being iteratively and increasingly sent to Vietnam. When we got there (we called it "in-country") we all learned where Vietnam was. That was because we all wanted to know how to get back from it, so we needed to know where it actually was on the map. If we had stayed uniteratively increased I suspect we never would have known where it was. And that probably would have been good. Anyway, when we got there some of us got sent "up-country" and some of us stayed in Saigon.

If one was sent "up-country" (some of us were actually sent "down-country"; there were places like the Rung Sat Special Strike Zone – I never knew how to spell it - that were distinctly south of Saigon; I think John Kerry spent a lot of time "down-country") one got to get shot at quite a lot. All that shooting was one of the key contributors to the interatively increasing requirement for hoards of additional military personnel. One of the advantages of all that iteratively increasing need was that it provided employment opportunities for vast numbers of young men who might have been otherwise unemployed, and that was good.

If one stayed in Saigon one spent most of one's time saluting the vast hoards of senior officers who all had flocked to the "war effort" to further their careers. "It may not be much, but it's the only war we've got" was a commonly heard witticism. When not saluting one probably spent most of the rest of one's time dodging large Cadillacs with starred flags affixed to them as they hurtled around the city. Occasionally one had to dodge a large limousine Mercedes that hurtled around with Nguyen Van Tiu in it. Nguyen was the president of Vietnam and he needed to hurtle around the streets a lot. H e couldn't let the American generals out hurtle him.


That movie turned out really well. I just didn't like it. But that's probably because I have always been pretty hard to please. After eight or ten years of thrashing around militarily and diplomatically the United States declared victory and the iterative hoards all went home. Not long after the hoards had left the guys who had been shooting at all of us formed their own government. I had always thought that we could have achieved the same result by just cutting out the iterative increases and the thrashing about and the shooting and just let those guys set up their government. They seemed to be somewhat of an improvement over the government provided by the guy in the Mercedes limo, but I was never sure. Apparently whether it was better or not was moot; we just left after spending a lot of money and sending home a lot of coffins.


But all of this is based on memories, and memories are at best phantoms.