Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Friday, August 22, 2008

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

"At least in the Army there was plenty of food even if it mostly sucked. The National Guard doesn’t give us enough to eat," Juan explained as he prepared to inhale dinner.

He called the other night as he crossed the border into Mexico, home for a week after three weeks at Camp Roberts, north of Paso Robles, California. Apparently, according to my father, I had great uncles and aunts who worked at Camp Roberts during the war. Small world, this one. It took Juan nine hours to drive down, evidently he hit Los Angeles during the afternoon commute. He ate until he was stuffed - blackened angelfish, fried rice with chicken and egg and peas and carrots, and corn in butter sauce.

"Know what I had for breakfast this morning? Half of a bagel and a single poached egg, that’s the kind of portions they hand out, and they won’t let you have any more than what they give you," Juan told me after I took his empty plate away.

"What, are they broke up there?" I asked.

"No idea. But we pay for the food and they take money out of our paycheck. In three weeks they docked me almost three hundred dollars," he said.

"Are you fucking kidding me? I could feed a family of ten here for a month on three hundred dollars!"

Juan is attached to an infantry unit, so there are mostly marching and drills all day. And Paso Robles is hot this time of year. And he’s carrying a full pack on most days - all of this on a half of a bagel and a single poached egg. What’s for lunch, a tuna sandwich and an apple slice?

Apparently, sufficient nutrition in troop readiness is some sort of a joke in the Army National Guard – that it would depend on money and not actual physical condition is quite alarming. Not to mention the moral of the soldier, I can’t even begin to comprehend how pissed off I would become after hiking around on an empty stomach. Juan doesn’t seem to be bitter about it, when I offered to write some nasty letters to politicians that have some sort of soapbox in order to champion such causes, he begged me not to do it. Apparently, I am a troublemaker.

Apparently, Juan doesn’t want any trouble.

It is a very Mexican ideal to not want to cause any trouble. It is also a Mexican ideal to be a troublemaker. The duplicity of such ideals can be confusing unless one takes into account that Mexicans are very good at behaving in either form, depending on what is required at the moment. I will, however, guarantee that soldiers in the Mexican Army are well fed. In fact, even the poorest Mexicans are well fed. One of the few advantages in a socialist society is that people tend to eat enough in order to keep themselves satisfied.

Mexico is a socialist country, hiding behind a Democratic Republic. I am not a socialist, even though I admire some of the results that come from socialism. I am not a socialist because I don’t always feel like sharing my stuff with everyone else, especially when the government mandates such sharing. I don’t appreciate anyone telling me what to do unless I ask for advice that I am prepared to follow.

This makes me an Individualist Anarchist.

* * * *

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. proclaimed that one of the rules of writing was that writers write for one person. Mr. Vonnegut wrote for his sister, Allie, or so he said after he discovered that this is what writers do according to a psychiatrist who studied this sort of thing, apparently. I can’t argue with either of them, because they’re dead now. I think that good writers write because they are driven to make other people happy, by entertaining them in some way, by enlightening the reader by providing an understanding of something from a point of view never before considered. Not for one person, but simply for other people. I also think that most good writers are somewhat insane, and probably drink too much.

At least, I hope so.

What vexed Vonnegut, of course, was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, during the Second World War. The Second World War was brought on after the war to end all wars had somehow failed to do so. The war to end all wars was then posthumously renamed as the First World War. Everything that Vonnegut had ever written prior to Slaughterhouse Five was an attempt at writing Slaughterhouse Five without actually having to write it. Vonnegut tried everything, and it’s easy to see in every novel and even in many short stories that he was desperately attempting to spank the human race for its improper behavior. And he succeeded in so many ways except for the one way that he really wanted to succeed; that the one thing that affected his soul on a level that compelled him to write went largely unwritten.

Slaughterhouse Five really isn’t so much about the firebombing of Dresden as it is about the ironies entangled within the events that surrounded it. While the Allied prisoners of war were safely held inside of an abandoned slaughterhouse, the United States of America and Britain carpeted a city with bombs, a city that probably had so little relevance to the war that it was a waste of money and effort. The effects of the firebombs were surreal, melting concrete and so on, and killing as many as forty thousand civilians. I guess that war really is hell, after all.

Vonnegut, along with the other prisoners, were put to work attempting to bury the dead bodies, but there were so many dead bodies to bury that the German Army was ultimately called in with flame-throwers, and the corpses that weren’t already incinerated by the initial bombing were then burned anyway. That part of it might have been even more insane in Vonnegut’s eyes than the actual bombing itself, or even the irony that the prisoners of war were spared from the destruction by the enemy. Getting all of that off of his plate must have helped in many ways; it certainly helped to make his writing career blossom.

Karma, perhaps, in some odd way; after all, Vonnegut was German, and ultimately, was a socialist, too.

* * * *

Anna didn’t pass her entrance examination to enroll in the best preparatory school in Tijuana, it was a mild surprise that she somehow missed whatever magic mark that was expected of her. Attending school is a complicated process here; the student is first enrolled in a school and if there is an exam to pass then by the time the results are obtained it’s too late to enroll in another school. Except that there are exceptions. It’s Mexico, so it’s usually a question of who one knows, how much one has to pay, and how long one must stand in line. Sometimes, in order to enroll hopeful students, the line starts the morning before the day of enrollment, and people camp there all night.

Rocio is perfectly networked to arrange such complicated missions of scholastic redemption.

I cooked up some quiche a few days ago for the first time, to celebrate Rocio’s successful maneuvering and Anna’s pending enrollment in a Cobach here that is located relatively close by. Anna was home and standing by to help me prepare it, it was my first attempt at quiche, so she was full of questions. I am sure that to her, the ingredients appeared quite esoteric.

"What’s that?" she asked.


Anna looked at me, awaiting an explanation.

"Funny, you don’t ask what quiche is, but you’re all antsy about a leafy green vegetable," I remarked.

She rolled her eyes. Eye rolling is hereditary, apparently. When I was her age, my father threatened to smack me for it. I couldn’t help it. I don’t think that Anna can help it either.

"Popeye used to eat it, although it probably sucks out of a can. This is frozen, I’ve had it in the freezer for a while, waiting to use it in something. Quiche is fine use for it."

And then I made her roll her eyes again when I told her, "And it’s good for you."

Anna grated cheeses while I whisked some eggs and added nutmeg and salt and pepper, then I called her into the kitchen.

"Someone told me that quiche is just eggs and cheese,” I said. “That isn’t true. Watch closely, and learn."

I melted a stick of butter and fried some onions, then added flour and then milk and made a nice thick sauce. I mixed the sauce with the egg mixture and then folded in the spinach and cheese. I took out the pastry-lined baking dishes that I had made before she became involved in everything.

"You know, I can do everything you just did except for the pastry. How do you make that?" she asked.

"You come downstairs an hour or two earlier," I told her, which prompted yet more eye rolling.

"It’s like school. When I was your age, I didn’t feel any particular need to get up and learn anything. When I was there and paying attention, it was easy. But the stuff I missed hurt me later on. Like you, you can make the filling for quiche, but since you weren’t around earlier - upstairs watching some stupid television program, you won’t have anything to cook the filling in because you haven’t even learned how to make pie crust. And that’s so simple. Flour, shortening, salt, and a little water. Or butter if you can’t locate any shortening."

Anna again rolled her eyes like I did so many times at fifteen.

Even though only I had ever tasted spinach, everyone loved the quiche. Well, except for Rocio. She ate it, but she ate it like I imagine that army recruits might eat something on the first day of boot camp.

"What?" I asked Rocio, when she made a face I couldn’t interpret.

"Um," she said.

"You don’t like it?"

"I can eat it," she told me.

Then she asked for salsa. She ate her quiche with hot sauce. I guess that next time I’ll throw some chorizo in there. Maybe I’ll add some jalapeño. The great thing about quiche is that you can do almost anything with it. Eggs, cheese, piecrust, and anything. Someday I will make a quiche that Rocio will love.

Rocio is a conservative Christian Democrat, belonging to the Partido Acción Nacional, or National Action Party. Her choice for President of Mexico has won the last two elections. Anna doesn’t appear to be interested in politics. She amuses herself with makeup and fingernail polish, television, the internet, and writing. I have no idea what Anna is writing about, and it will remain a mystery unless she decides to share it with me.

* * * *

Daniel wonders why I don’t write what with being all hunkered down here on a daily basis, threatening to go back to the factories and so on, but waiting for the opportunity to binge on daily trips across the border to get it going. The fact is that I am writing, I’m just not throwing it up all over the internet. Sometimes I wonder if writers keep web logs because writing is a disease that some of us have, and the internet allows for some form of literary bulimia. Maybe someday I’ll wind up in a room somewhere with a dozen other chain-smoking, whisky-drinking, gray-bearded men and baggy-eyed women, chairs pulled into a circle, black coffee in a Styrofoam cup, staring at each other and thankful that we aren’t at all like they are.

I would be sitting there having to say, "Hello, my name is David, and I’m a literary bulimic."

Meanwhile, I have submitted and not heard a word of response from certain publications that should be interested in what I have to tell their readers about. I am hoping for a rejection, only because it would make me more determined, somewhat angry, and delighted that someone actually responded to a submission. I am going to imagine that they are overwhelmed, that there are so many writers submitting beautiful and articulate stories that there just isn’t time to get back to everyone. I am assuming this because were I a horrible writer then surely someone would have said something by now.

I am assuming this only because any other alternative makes no sense to me.

Daniel is a Democrat. Daniel’s choice as President of the United States of America has lost the last two elections. So far as I know, Daniel has voted in every presidential election since he became eligible to vote. The last presidential election that I participated, my candidate won. I voted for Ronald Wilson Reagan, and he won both times that I voted for him. I was a Republican back then, before the Republican Party turned into a joke. The Republican Party has turned the United States of America into a joke.

I was prepared to actively campaign for Jack French Kemp, Jr., for President in nineteen hundred and eighty-eight, but he dropped out of the race long before the California Primary. I did not like nor trust George Herbert Walker Bush, and refused to remain a Republican when he won the nomination. I did not vote in that election, nor have I voted in any election since. No one has run for office since then who is qualified for the position. I doubt that I will every vote again.

The United States of American is an authoritarian country hiding behind a Democratic Republic. I would have become a Libertarian after I quit being a Republican, except that the Libertarians will never gain any political advantage in the United States of America. Libertarianism is doomed because Libertarians cannot seem to agree on the core meaning of their philosophy, so they waste all of their time arguing about it.

Individualist Anarchists have no disagreement over the meaning of their philosophy, they simply don’t trust each other.

* * * *

Rocio rises at five o’clock in the morning in order to get ready for work. Sometimes I am awake and other times I am not, but the other morning she woke me up at about five-thirty in the morning. Rocio had gone downstairs and saw something that took a moment to register, and when it did she scampered back up the stairs and came back into the bedroom.

"Someone’s trying to break into the house!" she yelled.

I threw on my robe and ran downstairs and whoever it was had run off in a hurry. Someone had tried to break through the security bars on the window with a pair of two by four studs, but had failed to do much damage. A backpack was left behind, which contained a half-drunken bottle of Soda, an unopened can of Tecate Light beer, a medium-sized crescent wrench, and a utility knife. I had to laugh out loud. The utility knife is in my pocket - it has some pretty nifty pliers in its arsenal of occasionally useful attachments.

There were no clues as to the political leanings of the would-be burglar, we checked his backpack thoroughly and found nothing political inside.

Juan left today, he will be going to some very northern portion of the United States of America for a few weeks, and then to Kuwait, and then quickly to Tikrit, Iraq. Once there, he will be supporting a government’s notion that American democracy is something that is desperately needed in a region where grown men sometimes fornicate with their livestock. He will roll through town in a turret atop a tank ready to shoot anyone that appears to threaten his unit, while thousands of Iraqis will be hating him because he is affiliated with the United States of America and is not Muslim and is not Iraqi and is not tribal in any way.

Juan will provide cover for other units that hand out water and food and so on to people who have never before been lucky enough to have been handed free food and water. After receiving the free food and water, the Iraqi people will then throw rocks at the American troops and shout obscenities at them in Arabic. In a few days, this same cycle will repeat. At least he’ll eat better over there, better than at the Army National Guard camps.

Juan ate well here, too, I made sure of it.

Juan has no political leanings at all that I can see from his demeanor and our conversations over the years. The Iraqis are still overwhelmed by their own tribal pettiness in order to embrace any form of nationalism - which might be just as well, because the planet should be even beyond nationalism at this point. The average Iraqi will support whomever will assure that their historic clan enemy will be slaughtered in some way. Their regional history has spurred countless dictators that have relied on this fact in order to retain power.

Saddam Hussein was one of those dictators.

Saddam Hussein was Ba’ath, a socialist party which ruled Iraq from nineteen hundred and sixty-eight until recently, in two thousand and three when the United States of America and their allies invaded and took some sort of control over the politics of Iraq, and then executed Saddam Hussein. Currently, there are no politics in Iraq. There are only soldiers handing out water and food and then getting rocks thrown at them. Who knows what will happen next there?

Who knows what will happen next anywhere?

* * * *

The consequences of reading and in any way understanding Vonnegut is that one must come to terms with his politics. I don't necessarily agree with Vonnegut’s politics, but it certainly made for some outstanding stories. And perhaps, if Vonnegut was correct in agreeing with that psychiatrist’s point about writing for one person, then I would venture a guess that I was attempting to entertain my mother in some way. My mother believes that I’m a socialist. This is not true. If I am anything, then I am an Individualist Anarchist.

So be it.

My mother’s name is Dixie Lee. She was named after a famous actress and singer and dancer from the same era as Bing Crosby, and that Dixie Lee that wasn’t my mother even married the good old crooner. Two of their children committed suicide, and Dixie Lee died of ovarian cancer when she was forty years old. Chances are good that Dixie Lee spent some time in Tijuana, it is documented that Bing Crosby certainly did. However, my mother’s children have not committed suicide, and my mother has and will continue to outlive the actress named Wilma Winifred Wyatt.

But Wilma Winifred Wyatt was born in Harriman, Tennessee, which coincidentally is about eighty miles from where my mother now lives.

I reckon that I need to keep saying this: Small world, this one.

My mother named me David, after the Jewish King in the Old Testament of the Christian bible. I am not Jewish. I have never written a song about God. I have never led a nation, slain a giant, herded goats, or any other thing similar to what David did. No one has offered me that position, and I’m not sure that I would take it. My mother named me David because in the Christian bible, God loved David. And that is a noble reason for naming a child. All of my children have biblical names. I just wanted to give them a chance, no matter what really matters.

Just a chance.

Then, I offer this: Politics is like a name, is like a brand that is probably undeserved unless one wishes to be known for one’s politics. And even so, it can be easy to look beyond one’s politics. I could have written all of this without reference to politics, and I probably should have done so. Vonnegut was a great storyteller who made cash on the side by spewing anti-Republican rhetoric for a few thousand dollars per night. It doesn’t diminish his stories, nor does it diminish his desire for humanity to become the wonderful thing that he always hoped that it would be.

Vonnegut was much more optimistic than I am.

This isn’t my politics, it’s simply my point of view.

But every morning when I wake up, I hope I’m wrong.


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