Tonight, Janice and I will probably watch Roma. I watched about fifteen minutes when I was visiting a good friend in Fort Myers, but then got drawn into Occupied, another show recommended by my host Mike. Occupied is a Norwegian series about Russian aggression there, set in the near future, and mirrors our current situation in the US to an extent, the main difference being that in Norway the invasion is “boots on the ground,” and that Norway’s leader is a patriot, not a traitor.
My wife could never stomach Occupied. She reacts viscerally to media violence, and the obvious parallels between the two collusions with Putin would upset her. Me, I nod and go “yeah,” and open another Jai Alai IPA—the first good beer I’ve had that was made in Florida, which proves they’re not that dumb.
Nor was Sir Francis BACON, who said “Outside of a dog a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read.”
Reading a lot today, researching Andrew Garcia, whose book Tough Trip Through Paradise is a very tall tales about among the wild tribes of Montana back in 1878, when those folks were being herded into reservations. I’m wondering if I can steal his title for my memoir of my tenure fronting the Live Wire Choir out of Missoula, roaming the mountain west as far north as Lake Quesnell in BCs Cariboo Interior, and as far south as Big Sur. I feel if I can steal the title, I should include more about Garcia, drawing parallels between our journeys, albeit mine was more modest. Garcia claimed 32 half-breed kids from three Native wives and friends, earning him the nickname “the Squaw Kid.”
Fact checking myself, I came upon a newspaper article by David Stein, whose father Ben Stein dug Garcia’s scrawly and misspelled two-thousand pages out of some dynamite boxes and edited them into the version of Tough Trip I have in the 364-page Houghton Mifflin paperback. Stein’s son David, a filmmaker, was prompted by a query from Robert Redford to do a heap of investigation which he wrote, in a 2005 article for The Montana Pioneer, revealed a whole passel of inconsistencies in the book.
For instance, Garcia gives three different versions of his first wife’s death. In-Who-Lise, Squaw One, was a Nez Perce wounded by the US cavalry and living a precarious life among the Pend Orielles when Garcia found and later married her in a legit Catholic ceremony. David interviewed Garcia’s white descendants, who contend Garcia may have shot her in the back as she paddled her canoe off to an assignation. The Nez Perce side of the Montana Garcias, who by 2005 numbered a lot more than 32, concurred with In-Who-Lise’s account of the Battle of the Bear Paws, when the Chief Joseph’s band almost made sanctuary in Canada.
While Ben Stein had a challenge editing the messy manuscript, the Padres of his native Texas had schooled Garcia in the Bible and the classics, and Stein left in much of his heroic dialogue, as his frontier heroes faced off and hurled epithets worthy of Hector and Achilles.
“ ‘See Spel-a-qua has his knife. If Anta-a-lee the white-faced dog stands there like a fool hen in the way and says to Spel-a-qua “Nay,” then it will feel your heart. Spel-a-que will leave you here for the coyotes to feast on.’
“Then the worst one of them all rode into camp, Madame Cha-ki-a-ki, Spel-a-qua’s sister, who nature intended in the beginning for a Roman gladiator, but got sick of the job and turned her into a squaw, forgetting to take away her fighting disposition. Now, as graceful as a swan, she let her nearly two hundred pounds of bone and muscle light on the ground, proudly brandishing her squaw whip, which had a wagon spoke for a handle and was heavy enough to brain a crocodile.
“ ‘This is how I find our the Nez Perce strumpet, In-Who-Lise,’ she said. ‘Wait until I get through with her; then she will know better the next time than to play the snake to those who were good to her.’ [Co-quay-ah-tam-a-la] said to her ‘Harken, squaw of wind and trouble…, Ant-a-lee is going to give Cha-ki-a-ki horses to pay for keeping her in your lodge and for giving her a horse to ride.’ ”
BACON is America’s favorite food, and Roma was the critics’ 1968 darling. Roma follows a year in the lives of a 1970s Mexican middle-class family and their maids, two indigena girls, in the big city working as nannies. As they toil, the young women laugh and sing and hug the kids, sort of bubbling over with love. They do the wash on the roof sometime between breakfast and when they have to prepare lunch.
Watching these two girls reminded me of the couple of summers I worked with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and a few elderly black men, digging basements in north Wilmington developments. The Puerto Ricans introduced me to their custom of drinking hot coffee, with lots of sugar and cream, in ninety-degree sun. It’s true that cold drinks are bad for you in hot weather; but I think it was more the sugar that gave us go-power.
That and the singing. We sang all day: what a jolly bunch. I truly miss that attitude. White people take everything so seriously—goes along with the assumed entitlement, I guess.
Funny how contemporary Americans, if they’re not homeless, despise physical labor. They’d no sooner have their kids dig basements than my Chinese English students would drive a non-German car. You crazy, 契仔?
My first nine-to-five summer job was at Atlas Point, a chemical plant just below the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It was hard and dirty, but often fun—for me, anyway. I knew it wasn’t my career; I was getting paid to build my bod for football in the fall. The only white kid, the guys knew my dad was with Atlas. They must have—I’d have told them within five minutes. Didn’t say I was smart. They didn’t hold that against me, though, and I felt like one of the gang, even though I arrived at work each day in an MG midget. It wasn’t mine; it belonged to Bill McKinney, a neighbor in the north Wilmington suburb where we lived, between the DuPont golf course and Alfred I Dupont’s walled estate with the carillon that toiled the time and let me know when it was dinnertime and I should get out of the woods and check for ticks.
No, I didn’t HAVE to work on a feckin’ garbage truck or dig basements or pack turkeys—the filthiest job I ever had and one solely for Mexicans and Guatemalans now. The plant I worked in is still there, in Storm lake, Iowa, where I went to Buena Vista College (now U). My buddy Frog and I only did short-term there, and even then I could feel the creep of carpal problems.
There was always a lot of laughter among the Atlas Point crew, as there was among the basement diggers. Lots of hilarious insults. The white construction gangs I worked with in South Lake Tahoe, insulted each other for real, and more than once I had to force my ego on a redneck who wouldn’t back off until I explained the possible consequences of such lack of civility—even he point of using using bad language. Made me tired.
The foreman at Atlas Point job was an aged white Georgian named Forest Stuart, who, while he bore the names of two Confederate generals, was both kind and efficient.
“You three boys,” he’d say at our morning gathering “go down to the railroad and load them barrels into the open car. That should take you ‘bout an hour. When you finish, stay there. I’ll come and find ye. If you finish early or I’m held up, you can take a nap, but do it somewhere where nobody can see you and where I can find you.”
A perfect system he had worked out, and everyone respected him for it. My favorite job was loading those barrels, because the guys showed me how to tip them on an edge and give them a spin so that they’d roll into place on their own. A lesson in physics. I learned to spin a barrel while standing on the train platform, and have it roll, describing an ellipse twisted to the side the barrel was leaning to, its trajectory bending in the direction of the barrel’s lean as the barrel’s speed slowed, so that it would actually veer to the right as it bumped over the crease between the platform and the car, settling itself with a thump as it settled into its slot next to a stationary barrel, and you might not even have to tweak it. I saw a kid doing something like this with shopping carts in the Giant parking lot, and I wanted to hug him and tell him to hold onto the giggle in life, and to put joy into his work; but instead I just gave him a thumbs up. He had other things to do.
Seems to me no physical labor is demeaning. And with 30% of Americans obese, maybe it’s even good for you.!
But then, I believe we should re-institute the draft, as long as we draft women, too, and provide for alternative national service. Two “gap” years when you go military or plant rice in Somalia, or if you’re really a Mormon you can wear a little black suit and stack library books. Guess you’d have to pay the military guys more—not liable to be shot at stacking books unless the library’s in Florida.