Monday, July 22, 2013

Too Many numbers

SLIM BUTTES - Lupe's son Chachee weighs in somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds, maybe three twenty-five. He drained the last few ounces of beer from a Big Gulp plastic cup as I ate barbecue chicken and ribs, along with commodity mac and cheese, at their small kitchen table. They had saved me a foil-covered plate, which Lupe had produced from the oven like gold from the New World to the king when I arrived.
"Here, my Bro," said Lupe, his eyes twinkling, handing me the plate like a precious offering.

"I been wanting to ask you," said Chachee. "I've noticed sometimes you disrespect my dad."

Yeah. I do, I thought, but it wasn't based upon race or class or intelligence. Not listening, mostly. Then he said it again, rubbing his eyebrows with the back of his hand like he didn't know what to do with his hands, and I thought, 'Is he getting ready to kick my ass?'

'Yeah, I do,' I said. 'But he disrespects me, too. Sometimes I have to ask him who the hell he thinks he's talking to. I have to remind him I'm not his son. It's the nature of our relationship, Chachee," I said, with Lupe right there at the kitchen sink, pouring me a glass of orange juice.

'Neither of us has a woman,' I continued, 'so sometimes we go bitching around, bitching each other out to make up for it.'

They both laughed, much to my relief, and Chachee said, 'Yeah. Sometimes he does that to me, too.'

'Yeah,' said Lupe, explaining further to Chachee something I couldn't make out, although it was in English.

Chachee said they slow-cooked those ribs all afternoon.


I'm trying hard to not say, 'I'm retired.' When people ask if I work, I tell them, 'I work evvvvery day.' If they ask what I do, I usually respond with a line of horseshit about my command of the 335th (Slim Buttes 335th Tactical Aviation Squadron), a real entity, but they usually don't pursue that any further, I don't know why. It's a job, but one of those where you can choose your own hours, one of the nice things about being ret...too old to....almost too old to work anymore.

So then there's this other bullshit story about running some kind of medical service, an emergency medical service. That's no bullshit. I do. But it's not an everyday job. It's sort of like, the hours are sort of like command of the 335th.

Then I'm a writer, and writers can go on and on working into their...long past their employment years, right up to the gravestone. Sure. Got a second manuscript right there, and boy, people like to hear that from a writer, don't  they, like, 'You working on another book?'

Answer, yes. Having a title, publisher, editor; that's another story. But yes, there's another book, I always say. And what about grants? Grants count for work, don't they? Sure. Last time I wrote one? Uhhhh, lemme think. Two thousand and...wait...last year. Wrote one last year. 

And then there's the sketches and screenplays.Got those going all the time. Three or four of 'em in what I would call the 'percolating' mode, potential works in progress. Manny said I could go all the way to the top if I could just focus, keep my guard up, not go around all scattershot, stay on track, stay with what works, don't talk to reporters, stay away from the bad crowd, exercise daily, drink more water, bob and weave, learn to smell the roses, take some time off, know when to stop, rope-a-dope, and a bunch of other stuff I half-remember because sometimes I just turned it off, tuned it out, if you know what I mean. All that harping around about how I'd end up if I didn't straighten up and fly straight. 

Landscaping is for real. I work at that evvvvery day. And I, uh,      work around the house. Some.
And, I work at keeping my weight down. Standup comic, that's full-time, every day. And then theres this coffee shop and croquet course.

There's one other thing I do for what you could call work, but I can't remem...oh...English teacher.

So, no, I'm not retired. I work every day.

You guys wondering what you'll do when you retire? That's easy; you'll do what she tells you to do. That's why you hear a lot of guys say they plan to go on working.


I've got all these numbers in my head that I need to get out of my head, and down on paper. Hard copy printouts. If I can get all these numbers out of my head, then I'll have more space for other, your garage, or upgrading your memory to 'Recollection 2.0.'

There's things like phone numbers and birthdays and bank accounts and social security number and shoe size. And there's a lot of useful numbers that I don't need every day, like how much stuff costs, comparative pricing at the gas pump, and your age.

Misty says she can remember her phone number from twenty years ago in Rapid City. I asked her why she was still carrying that around with her all these many years later, and she said she didn't know, it was just still there, just like my undergrad cumulative G.P.A. and combined points in the long jump at a Jr. High track and field meet.

Twenty nine Thai baht to the US greenback, point six to the Euro, both of which suck; there's the PSI of my 75R15 235 tires that I don't really need; 40 Celsius, my 'Last Four' digits of my SSN that the VA and the telephone company requires before proceeding any further; my arm length in a long-sleeved shirt, optimal blood pressure, blood sugar, and, get this, all those unintelligible hi-low ranges for urine and blood tests, like, potassium, glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and a whole lot of other shit like albumin that I had to ask the doctor about before she rammed her finger up my ass to just 'make sure' during my annual check up that for the moment, made me forget about all these numbers, why I was there, and why I wasn't just as insistent about her notdoing that as she was about proceeding.

"Your predecessor, Dr. Whatshisname from San Francisco, said his patients out there in the Bay Area said this this was the most enjoyable part of the examination," I told her. She laughed and said his name as she removed her blue examination gloves, but I can't remember anything behind that ass probe that felt like it reached my, whaddayacallit, epiglottis. Like, I could taste plastic.


That trip to the VA is a sure enough reality check for American foreign policy. Proudly wearing my hat and wings, I was there for the annual check up, and not because I was hurting like everyone else I saw. The lab girl who drew my blood, who I thought was a 100% total bitch last time, was extremely pleasant, and by all empirical evidence, entirely satisfied with her work and home life.

I went into my empathetic comic mode, welcoming home the viet vets, a standard practice, asking if they ever found 'Charlie', or if they ever thought of getting 'back in the game', and teasing the WWII and Korean vets about being 'too young' for the wars their hats declared they had participated. 'You guys won yours, didn't you?' I asked.

Around a corner in a waiting area were four ancient cripples with walkers and wheelchairs. I popped up out of nowhere and shocked them with, "I need two volunteers!" 

One of the first thing you learn in the military is not to volunteer for anything. They just looked at me.

"Ok. No volunteers, huh? Aright then. You and you," I said, pointing at the two with walkers, "KP and guard duty." Then at the two in wheelchairs, "You and you, come with me!"

They cracked smiles. I told them, "You guys stay loose. You never know when they could call you back up."

On the way out, having been given the all clear, I ran into a young vet checking in at the reception desk. "You just get back from Afghanistan?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"Welcome home, Soldier," I said, shaking his hand. "I'm glad you made it." It appeared there was nothing wrong with him physically. Psychiatric maybe.

"A lot of my buddies didn't," he said.

Psychiatric, for sure. PTSD. I could give the diagnosis right there. "You're lucky," I said, turning to depart.

"It's all internal," he said.

I felt an urge to listen to him more, but felt awkward about pressing him too much for his experience. They had pros over in building #5 to take care of the listening, and a pharmacy just down the hall to take care of his dreams.


Right now, after 93 degrees yesterday, we're having a cold, drizzling-ass rain, making good for all the trees and croquet course, and gumbo for the driveway, so I ent going nowhere.

Over in camp justice, just across the border from White Clay, Nebraska, my partially waterproofed 26-footer is housing Bo and Misty and a dozen or so other defiant 'AIMster' Lakotas in their several months-long, day and night occupation/encampment protest against the liquor entering the Rez from White Clay.

'We're staying for the long haul,' they say. Small successes. Media coverage. Tribal support. A vote. Bo produced a newspaper clipping of a Budweiser distributor who agreed not deliver. Facebook. More press. A tribal council presentation, a radio address. Misty says, 'We're known all over the world! CNN, the Japanese...' 

Pissing on her parade, I said, 'No you're not.'

'Yes we are!' she insisted.

'No you're not,' I said.

'Yes we are!' She said.

'No you're not. People in China, Indonesia...they don't know who Lakotas are.'

Demonstrating the stubborn, or more kindly, determined attitude of her resistance to nearly everything, but more pointedly, the future of her tribe, she insisted, 'Yes they do! We're known all over the world!'