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.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hosts And Legions

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

- Robert A. Heinlein

* * * *

It was a poet I met in college who introduced me to the notion that we are sort of like speedboats on a calm lake, leaving friends and acquaintances behind in time, like our movement through history creates a violent wake that eventually washes up somewhere on a distant shore. Those are my words, not his. Michael Churchman was more elegant, instead referring to those from his past as a division between hosts and legions. To be honest, at least half of that poetry class was blazing on LSD at two o’clock in the sunny Los Angeles afternoon. Michael’s hosts and legions could have been induced by a busy and colorful acid trip for all that I know. But still, it’s relevant and true and noble to see right through the mirror rather than to simply observe our own reflections.

Michael Churchman did just that, as all good poets do, and he briefly made me want to be a poet for that very reason.

The problem with my poetry was this: it was quite awful. My poetry was dark and angry because I was dark and angry. I came to realize that my poetry was bad one afternoon when that poetry professor asked me to stay behind when class ended. I did. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? I’m very worried about you.”

I was stunned. Like many of the people in that class, I saw it as three easy credits. Unlike many of the people in that class, I wasn’t experiencing an acid trip while participating. Maybe she knew that, in which case I had no excuse to write pages and pages of seething and contentious drivel. It frightened me that a college professor would think it necessary to become concerned with my well being, and I assured her that I was fine. And I didn’t write another poem for more than a decade.

* * * *

Thus began my version of Churchman’s dividing of the hosts and legions, in that freshman year of college which was also my senior year of high school. I both hated and loathed high school, and although I had achieved the prerequisite amount of work to get out of there at the end of my junior year, the school district wouldn’t allow it. The only activity I enjoyed in high school was band, and so I took band classes in the morning and then went to college in the afternoon. Other than music, I can sum up everything I ever learned in high school in two words: survival and endurance. I don’t remember ever having gone back to that school after I had the diploma in my hand.

Meanwhile, life goes on. You knock up your girlfriend and marry her, despite the fact that you both hate each other. You drop out of college, have another kid, concentrate on having a real career, and fool yourself into believing that the rock band you had to part ways with wouldn’t have worked out anyway. You tell yourself that you have no regrets, even after the divorce. This is what happens.

Within all of this, I did have a couple of friends in high school that, for reasons of their own, decided to join the United States Navy. Good for them. One served on a boat and the other on a ship. Hosts and legions. Although I was born in San Diego, I learned the city through them, limited to strip joints and a coffee shop near Rosecrans and Nimitz. I can’t say that it was helpful in the long run. But I reckon that it was fun. Over the years, they faded away, too. Again, this is what happens.

And over the years that still followed, I married again and quickly moved to Mexico, and had a daughter, and thrived. The internet was born. I looked for Michael Churchman once that search engines were invented, but to this day I have had no luck. There are a lot of people named Michael Churchman. None of these people are the Michael Churchman that I am looking for. To this day, Michael Churchman’s whereabouts remain a mystery to me, probably by design.

* * * *

Social networking began shortly after the internet became widely available, and I made a lot of electronic friends in a short amount of time. Because it was a new frontier and with all new frontiers come unknown dangers, we all mostly remained somewhat anonymous, choosing to use nicknames. My nickname was obvious, it was instantly gringo, from which refriedgringo was born on a website I owned a very long time ago. Others adopted other nicknames, and away we sailed upon unknown seas. We were cautious while optimistic and a bunch of trailblazing fools. I think we are still all a bunch of cautiously optimistic trailblazing fools.

At first, social networking was based on luck and trust, in that we are curious by nature and reaching out in order to find whatever we might have in common and to either celebrate it or exploit it. I think that Meredith’s website came first, that we all got together there, us weirdo people, posting on a threadless forum like so many worms avoiding the fisherman’s hook. I met Sammy there, and Ian, and Terry, and a host (and possibly a legion) of others. Those were the salad days. Holy hell, we were great. I felt like Babe Ruth in there, that I could step up to the plate and point and then hit one out. I think we all did.

And I met Chris there, or at least, I met his on-line personality, we’ve never met in person, but I consider him to be a very close friend. I sent him beer once, after reading an excellent story from his college days, and to this day I can’t not think of him when I get a haircut because of a very awesome short he wrote about haircuts. He’s a writer that doesn’t write much. I did meet his friend Wooby in person though (Wooby is possibly the greatest nick ever, by the way), we took in a couple of Padres games (one against the Red Sox!), and we drank a lot together and I loved it. I met Sammy and Terry and Ian and eventually Meredith and Heath when they were together. I’m better off for knowing them all.

So, when LiveJournal started up, most of us joined and I wrote. And a lot of people surprised me, and emailed me and commented that they enjoyed what I wrote. And I love to write. Ten years later, I wrote a novel. I haven’t sold it yet. The market for novels isn’t very good at the moment, so I’m waiting. I’m almost fifty years old and only now do I discover what I want to be when I grow up! Oh, and more bad news: The median income of a writer is six thousand dollars per year. Six thousand fucking dollars. On the other hand, for a hundred grand a year you can make bombs. I did that too, for while. Kaboom. Hosts and legions.

* * * *

So, I finally break down and get a Facebook account, thanks a lot, El, I blame you. But really, I knew I had to at some point anyway, and I wanted so much to connect with Anna. A note about having kids: When you really connect with one, it’s the most awesome thing in the world. Anna remarked this afternoon that I would probably love her even if she wasn’t my daughter. I’ve spent twelve hours thinking about that one. And hell yes, she’s right. And I’m going to continue to grind her in FarmVille while wondering if, God forbid, I wasn’t her father, would she love me anyway? That question goes both ways, babydoll. And happy 17th birthday, I love you very much.

Back to Facebook, I didn’t join right away, because I hated high school. That shouldn’t be a secret to anyone that knows me. But I reckon that I was afraid of reliving that nightmare. For every good teacher, there were three bad ones. But, of course, I was no picnic either. I stole Mr. Miller’s cigarettes out of his desk when he left us to take a quiz in his empty classroom. I fell asleep in Mr. Hull’s class (hell, everyone did). I fantasized about Miss Hibler while she wrote proofs on the chalkboard in geometry class (again, we all did, I’m sure). And I spent a lot of time with Mr. Revis in detention, where I learned to roll joints using pencil shavings, while he watched and gave pointers.

And through hating high school, I guess it was easy to forget about the good things. Jeff, to this day I can’t eat an egg sandwich without thinking about the times we did that at lunch, the yokes running off of the toasted bread. Doug, I thought you were going to rat me out when you caught me smoking after the parade, until you asked me for a light. Kevin, I played football with you, you played on the line and I remember thinking about how I’d have played on any team you were on, you were focused and determined. Todd, we were such dorks, we played ball together and both called Sammy Andrade’s grand slam, remember? Hey, John, remember getting about half drunk in Mr. Gullet’s RV while playing for a bunch of Avon people?

I sat on Marilyn’s lawn one afternoon, and her father called out for her and she answered, "Sir?" I thought that was the strangest thing ever until I became a father. And Margot, I sat with you on your driveway and you proudly informed me (at an unholy early age) that you wanted braces. You paint wonderfully. I can’t imagine doing portraits in watercolor, it’s hard enough to do them in oils. Matt, remember when you got that long cord and played guitar in the middle of the street at my parent’s house, and then my dad came home? Debby, you were so awesome, tall and beautiful, we never spoke much but you’re certainly a great part of those memories. Same for you Monica, but I am so impressed, you haven’t changed at all, still gorgeous and you married a guy that looks like Tom Cruise!

It’s frightening. So much of my life has gone by. And those high school chums seem to all ask the same question: How did you wind up in Mexico? Well. Jeff lives near Shasta, Doug in Las Vegas, and so on. I could write a book about my experiences here. I probably will. I came here because I fell in love. I am Mexico. She is me. We live where we love and we love where we live. And we leave behind where we came from. Hosts and legions.

* * * *

So, new friends and old ones on Facebook, feel free to mingle. Ask Jeff about the time we went skinny-dipping in his parent’s pool at a large party. Ask Margot what a young dork I was, and I never got braces, either. Matt will tell you what it was like to jam with me. Chris can relate ten years of internet awesomeness, and all things Red Sox. Sammy will go on about horse racing and Bukowski, things we both love, and the time he hit a nice show bet on Derby day. And Darren – can’t leave out Darren – will tell you about the time I pulled his ass out of a Tijuana cop car, saving us both a night in jail.

Mainly, I reckon that I feel the need to thank my high school chums for sticking around after all of these years. I am very lucky to have had such great people in my life, and luckier still to have you around now. I’m very proud of you all. I’m proud of who you are, and give you credit for making me what I am. I’m honestly very grateful to you all, and I should have joined this Facebook thing sooner and let you all know.

I looked for Michael Churchman’s poem here this morning, I wanted to share it, it would be appropriate. I know I have it somewhere. But the box I brought down didn’t contain anything from my college days. Instead, I found a composition book. It contains writing from before the internet was invented, and some technical stuff. This is part of what I wrote, maybe a decade ago:

"This corrects erroneous dimensions from the engineering drawing concerning the length of the details of the fitting, the tube, and the end. Due to the growth of joined components during the inertia welding process, adjustments are required to the details so that the final assembly will meet dimensional requirements. This change appears to have been made in order to correct mechanical dimensioning in the form of Cartesian coordinates and vector direction utilizing profile tolerancing."

And so on. But you know, I can’t for the life of me imagine that I ever wrote that. But I did. Of course, I wrote a lot of crappy poetry in college, too. I can’t go back and change anything. Hosts and legions. Michael Churchman was right. Maybe I’ll find that poem around here one of these days.


Blogger EmJay said...

That was beautiful, David. Well written, honest and poignant. I have been that college teacher worried about a student because of the darkness in their writing, and can see how her comments must have made you feel incredibly vulnerable, like the dawning awareness in a dream that you are walking around naked. And the fear that maybe you aren't dreaming.

I am sad that we lost track of each other so early on, and really only had those afternoons on the lawn and wading in the ivy. I remember a dark, brooding sadness around you, but I enjoyed your company enough to go knocking on your door, racket in hand, until I moved away. I have my own brooding sadness that sometimes hangs around me, and I think this is a prerequisite for poets and writers--for those who see and feel beneath the surface of things. It is a gift and a curse, and sometimes I wish I could just be happily oblivious. It would probably be easier to find love that way.

The more I read about you in high school--the part of you I never really knew--the more you remind me of my son who is now 20. (Mark Belzer is his Dad.) He hated it too--except for band--and mentally graduated about a year before they let him go. Intelligent, sarcastic, moody and prickly, he could often bust the class up at will. He is struggling to find his way in the world, as many in his generation are. But I adore him, and would love him even if he wasn't my son.

I am struggling with this blog thing...I don't want to vent and vomit, but feel like I keep taking it up into my head too much. I also don't want to be stripped naked in public, but if you aren't going to tell it like it is, what's the point? I look fowared to more entries from you as my teacher. :)

9:49 AM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger tijuanagringo said...



Domingo Sunday 7 Marzo March 2010
78 Winter 22 Moon 53 Space.Age

Yesterday was my stepuncle’s funeral. I have always known, or at least for the past thirty-two years I have known, that he was a great man. More or less eleven children, dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and almost all of them in attendance at the Roman Catholic services in Ocean Beach.

The only thing that made me feel bad was sitting up front right behind the widow, my step-aunt. I should have been way back behind all the children and grandchildren. But I was forced to attend my mother. My mother who is the widow’s sister-in-law, her lifelong friend and even college roomate at Berkeley; my mother who had conspired with the young lady to keep her engagement to the great man a secret from her certainly disapproving parents until she turned 18 and could marry the great man, who had, on the very California night they met in 1939, convinced her to marry him.

Of course her mother found out. But by then it was too late to do anything but come to the wedding.

Yesterday, since my mother was seated behind the widow, I had to sit there too. Mom insisted I accompany her and help her and protect her against the madness of her hordes of inlaws from all three wings of the family. But I felt extremely uncomfortable. I did not deserve to be there, not at all, not up front like that. I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was ever meant to be. Some attendant lord, some lesser figure, one that will do to swell a progress, or extend a scene. But not up front like that, no.

11:14 AM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger EmJay said...

Sometimes lesser lords are asked to step into a greater role, and tolerate being larger than they are accustomed to being. Sometimes that is their true being, which they have been hiding and running from their whole lives.

11:52 AM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger David Alton Dodd said...

Marilyn, meet Daniel. Daniel is a great poet and a great friend. We met online and then in person, he lived in Tijuana for many years. I have been lucky enough to attend some oh his readings, and even luckier enough to share some beers with him.

Daniel, meet Marilyn. Marilyn is a great poet and friend that I met when we were very young and she lived almost across the street from where I grew up. She used to beat me at tennis.

Daniel is the one to ask about poetry. To me, writing is a much easier thing to do than poetry. Poems have no gimmicks, there are no tricks you can play in order to entertain the reader and for the author to entertain him or herself.

Sometimes I get lucky when I write something that turns out pretty good after I read it a few times. But the story can really help that a lot. I've discovered that I enjoy utilizing structural conceits quite a bit, for example, so I'm able to employ that device to help shape a story and it makes the choice of words and the pace easier to manage.

Irony is another great tool, especially when writing something that's comparitively descriptive. Phrases and paragraphs sort of bounce off of each other on their own. And I think that it's important for me not to always write front to back, so I normally don't. That way, a story often has no choice but to be contained in a nice envelope.

But poetry, I can't say. I don't think that there are devices I could use, so I really don't write much poetry these days. I would probably have that naked feeling you describe if I did.

The trick to blogging is to keep at it. At first, it's a little uncomfortable, you worry about who is reading your stuff and what they might think. You wonder why you don't have more traffic. And so on.

But after a few years, you really don't pay much attention to those things anymore. You write because you enjoy it and share because it's the next logical step after writing something.

1:16 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger David Alton Dodd said...

And excuse the typos, I don't spell-check my comments ;)

1:18 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger tijuanagringo said...

Thank you David. Your introduction is not only elegant, but most appreciated!

1:44 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger EmJay said...

Hello Daniel. I apologize for what now sounds like a very presumptious response to your comment. I'm hoping that blog-etiquette is different from real life, and you can get away with saying what's in your head without questioning where the heck it's coming from! Because I think I might be in heaven if that is the case...

10:41 PM, March 07, 2010  
Anonymous Doug Coutts said...

There have been many times when I sat, wondering where all of those memories went. It's odd how a coma can bring to the forefront, not only your mortality, but your sense of worth. Did I actually leave a mark on my little corner of life. Was there something I said or did that left a lasting impression.

I have, since, found that I have left an impression; and a favorable one at that. The feeling is priceless. I don't necessarily recommend a coma as a means to that end, but it worked surprisingly well. It's like a "Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free" card for your soul. It's NOT forgiveness as much as a reason to ASK for forgiveness, which was surprisingly given more freely than you'd expect.

So if you're feeling a little down, like Life is treating you harshly, Almost Die (just a little). Things will get better, I promise.

11:18 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger EmJay said...

Doug, your comments were much appreciated. I'm glad the coma thing turned out well, and left you with an extremely valuable perspective that I suspect will stay with you forever.

BTW David, I write poetry because I don't have the stamina or attention span to write longer things. At leat, that's my story.

9:50 PM, March 08, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:27 AM, March 09, 2010  
Blogger David Alton Dodd said...

John, I promise not to give up on my dream. And, at some point when I go back there where you are, I'm going to teach you how to use a keyboard! I love you, my brother, take care of yourself.

And Doug, you really need to write more. I bookmarked your blog. Entertain me, my friend. Your story is wonderful, your sobriety is obviously your salvation, and your lesson is one that everyone should hear.

Marilyn, I'm very glad and fortunate to have found you once again. I look forward to your words, I've bookmarked you as well. You know I've thought about you at times all of these years. I think that we wonder if we left impressions on each other, and the most awesome thing to discover is that, yes, we did. And, we still do!

4:13 PM, March 12, 2010  
Blogger Wil Becker said...

dude..what's your Facebook name?

9:28 PM, April 02, 2010  
Blogger David Alton Dodd said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:19 PM, April 02, 2010  
Blogger David Alton Dodd said...

Wil! It's David Dodd. Add me at your convenience!

11:20 PM, April 02, 2010  

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