Participation Mystique: Number Six

Malaysian Spirit Log Number Two: Paraanthropology in the Raw

Our house was on a hill just above the government’s district office. There was the constabulary. It counted few in its number and had little to do until, of course, the Brunei Rebellion began and the Indonesian troops began gathering at the border (about 12 miles away). I say “our” house because after the floods, Timah and her family were with me until my stint ended sometime in June of 1964.

Then came the Ghurkas and the Malay Army and the British Commandos and reinforcements for the constabulary. They brought their tanks, and set up field tents and other equipment to create a sort of headquarters below us. There was much noise and bustling and not just from the soldiers. British jets flew low overhead where nothing noisier than hornbills had flown. They dropped phamplets upon us urging us to either surrender or stop cooperating with communists or whomever. These were printed in several languages including Jawi script, an Arabic alphabet used for writing the Malay language. It was introduced by Islamic merchants who brought Islam to the region in the 7th century.

Military helicopters flew onto the school soccer fields. At first this was a novelty and we all rushed to watch the landings and have our scarves and hats blown about. Soon it was commonplace. One day, a United Nations team came by copter to assess the situation. The Chinese Clandestine bunch were said to be hiding about here and there. In the jungle. In the shops. Growing vegetables. Selling rice. Meeting in secret and plotting to take over the country.

As rumors (and maybe even actual intelligence) spread, our house was surrounded by rows of barbed wire and a few slit trenches. These trenches were occupied by men with Sten guns in the late evenings. The Stens were British 9mm submachine guns.

A curfew was imposed and required that we be inside at dark and pass a checkpoint at the bottom of the hill. It was all very daunting. I rehearsed my Malay responses to any challenge I might receive when going home at dusk.

All I had for transport was my British made bicycle and my legs. But if were we to be invaded by the Indonesians (which the nearly hysterical Singapore Straits Times predicted would happen in every edition as did the angry broadcasts from Djakarta during which Sukarno threatened same), my next door neighbor, the Scots road engineer Tom Oliver, and I were to hustle into one of his big lorries (preloaded with dynamite) and drive to the capital of the state, Kuching, blowing up bridges behind us. I kept an oversized rattan rice basket loaded with essentials near the door for my whole second year in Bau. I was ready. Meanwhile, the troops lined up nightly outside the door of Tom’s amah’s house, a beautiful Malay woman who was sister to Bujang and Gorot and Hamdan. I could hear them taking turns with her. I wonder if she became rich? Many schoolgirls were suddenly sporting new shoes and other trinkets as well. It all happened overnight. The shops on the only street of Bau were frequented by troops as well. I drank Konchi beer by the quart with them and smoked too many Players cigarettes. They’d get so drunk they’d forget their Sten guns sometimes. They went to the border for a few days and always came back missing one or two of their mates and with tales of having their heads licked by salt-hungry rats while they slept. These fellows were around my age…young and uneducated Brits who were, I imagined , much like my high school pals who were soon to be drafted into a war I heard was cooking up in Vietnam. The shopkeepers who made the best Mei Goreng in the world were suddenly producing plates of beans and bangers and fried eggs for the boys. One day we even had the Highlanders marching down the two blocks of our kedah. It was a very functional little town that even had a movie theatre. Sort of. It was enclosed and had rows of wooden benches…much like the benches school children used in some of the makeshift village schools. They were set upon the hard packed dirt floor. The Chinese theatre owner had an imposing overstuffed chair placed somewhere near the middle of the interior, arranged for optimum viewing. I don’t remember the cost but it was pennies. I seem to remember smoking. I’m sure. People smoked, for the most part, hand rolled cigarettes. Bidayuih rolled a bit of Indonesian tobacco in a dried palm leaf. They self extinguished regularly so one could judge the distance to a village by how many cigarettes one could smoke in the distance. Berapa rokok ke Kampong Sudoh? For example one might ask someone coming the opposite directions on the path. And one could judge how far ahead someone was by how bright red the spit was on the path. Fresh betel spit was a blood red. But it gradually dried brown. A greeting in town with Malay speakers was often Pergi mana or pergi ke mana? It meant where are you going. No one really cared for an answer. It was sort of like the American how are you. Who wants to stand and listen to the woeful tale. And anyway, it is usual obvious how you are and where you are going.

So the theatre. I probably smoked too. One could buy Players singly from an open tin in the shops. I did. We had no television, of course, and to see a film out in the Bidayuh kampongs required walking in with a projector and a battery to power it. This did happen on occasion. But town folk could see a new movie every week even during monsoon. I believe the Chinese owner was thought of as a rich man.

Nothing more exciting than invasions and floods and the killing of chickens happened in Bau while I was there except Chinese festivals. Though only two blocks long, the only street of Bau was often the site of what were to me exotic, loud, and fascinating parades and promonades. I ran down my hill at the first hint of another ritual performance. Men sat upon highly decorated chairs in brocade gowns and large hats and were thus carried through up and down as drums and cymbals and gongs crashed. A makeshift Chinese opera came to town and put up a stage in front of the temple. The temple itself wafted incense into the street. Who were these people and what was this about?

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Participation Mystique Number Five: Implants

Participation Mystique: Number Five

Implants

My first familiarity with the implant scheme came after overhearing a colleague at the copy machine down the hall from my office. I was hired to be a visiting lecturer in the philosophy department.  The department had lost their Schopenhauer expert and although I am an anthropologist, I was first received notoriety for my book, An Exegesis of Shopenhaur’s Position on Marriage With Special Attention to its Meaning for Women. Schoepenhaur had famously declared against marriage for himself with the comment, “Marrying means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties.” If this were true for a man, how much more true for a woman who had no rights at the time. I argue, in the book, that marriage destroys any chance for women’s rights and piles duties on that cannot in any case be escaped. I openly wondered whether there were any advantages at all in the married state. The book proposed social arrangements between men and women that could not be called reformist. My thesis was decried by the so-called women’s movement of the period. The criticism of these relatively conservative legions (who supported a status quo with the goal of inserting more females into columns of capitalists, politicians, and other oppressors) helped to bring publicity to my book and sales were good.

In any case, here was I teaching Schopenhauer, listening in on the morning small talk among colleagues, and forever wondering about whether a malignant will was in charge of their daily drivel. This particular colleague, often copying tests at the last minute before her first class, complained about a sudden knee pain. She put it down to jogging or maybe a hike up Mt. Eleanor. In any case, in a week or two, she reported, again over the copy machine, that she had been informed that she needed surgery to repair a tear in her meniscus. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the copy machine had been tinkered with. It released gases that sedated anyone who regularly used it. The sedation enabled aliens to control the content of lectures as well as the comments the sedatees made in faculty meetings. If one goes back into the archives of the college, one will note that faculty meetings stopped making sense in about 1982, the year the new copy machines were installed in most of the buildings on campus. One will also note that sudden injuries and surgeries, especially on knees, began to be common.  Relatively fit people, still only in early middle age, were in and out of hospitals from that time on until the early 2000s. Of course, each of them became more and more impotent in the classrooms and became so irascible that they started a union. But it was not only the campus that began to change. Persons in the  surrounding community were plagued by back problems. Hospitals sprang up where none had been and large orthopedic practices opened for business. Though no one knew at the time, these surgeons happily opened back after back for the purpose of implanting radio receivers that would allow the transmission of alien commands.

The aliens had set up a post in the middle of a basalt gravel pit on a rural hillside in the adjoining county. An innocent seeming antenna was installed on top of a small shack, a structure no bigger than a fishing hut used in upper midwestern America for ice fishing. It was, and was intended to be, inconspicuous. However, I had, often late at night, occasion to drive a road that passes the gravel pit. I frequently noticed that not only were lights on inside the hut, but there were sometimes strong lights projecting from its roof up into the sky. Only after several years of careful sleuthing did I finally catch them at it. Ships as big as football fields hovered in the clouds above (they came only on cloudy nights, presumably to hide their presence from anyone who might be out in the early dark hours of the morning) and projected earthward what appeared to be strings of many colors. These were caught up by the antenna on the roof of the hut and then seemed to streak down that antenna into the hut itself. Bursts of orange and gold and blue and green and colors I could not name illuminated the small hut (in which there were no beings that I could discern) and then dissolved into a steady beam that seemed to gather more and more energy and then resolve itself into a ball that was absorbed by something, perhaps a transmitter, in the building. It was after years of noting times of these projections that I was able to see that these nocturnal visitations to the gravel pit corresponded with shopping sprees in local malls.

As I watched, read, followed and otherwise tracked the transmissions of the alien craft, I realized that implants in knees and backs were just the tip of the iceberg. Alien directed orthopedic surgeons and obstetrician had been recruited to implant receivers in every orifice that they could possibly make an excuse for entering. Meanwhile, women’s health specialists and even the National Institutes of Health changed recommendations for evaluations and examinations and legions of women, at least those with insurances that had cunningly been made to cover a new range of procedures, trotted in for appointments and left with urges they had never had before.

If one looks at the shopping behaviors of women from the 1950s on, it is clear that implanted desires outstripped good sense. Objects never heard of became necessities in every American household. A woman hither to most careful with the family budget began to crave dishwashers and garbage disposals and then foreign made coffee makers and grinders. Once the desire for coffee makers seemed fulfilled, new one cup makers became a rage as did machines the served only to heat and foam milk, something no one knew was needed in order to enjoy a morning beverage before.  Refrigerators became almost human in their ability to create ice, chop salads, and wrap and store a variety of meats. Kitchen range/ovens were now able to mix and bake breads with the flip of a switch. Toasters, toaster ovens, and hot pots came in a variety of matching colors. Homes could be programmed from long distances to turn up heat, cook a meal, and welcome you at your door with a martini and a robotic dog. All of these desires resulted in purchases that caused the national debt to climb and  enslaved the population. No one could imagine ever being free of payments. But the transmitters urged them on, issued more credit cards, and initiated more and more desire. Only a few remained debt free and these hid themselves in back woods. They tried to stay “off the grid” , avoid doctors, and tear up credit cards. They found each other as they could and amused themselves with reruns and contra dancing. They didn’t know about the aliens, but they did know something was back assward.

This is the current state of things. There is no turning back. The ships are waiting, full of immigrants who know how to sew and weld and plant crops and harvest and shovel driveways and fix cars. They all have chainsaws. The ships are just above the clouds, waiting for the inevitable calling in of all loans, depletion of social security, and aging of the resident population. They are waiting.

 

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Participation Mystique Number 4: Abductions Continued

Abductions II

The Vulnerablity of Older White Women: Abductions Made to Order

Scrabble and Crossword Puzzles Render Victims Particularly Susceptible

American white women in their sixties are particularly ripe for harvest. They are past childbearing, something abductors like. Abductors  are not interested in limited the vocabulary of still breeding women. Still, these women tend to worry about adult children even after they are past middle age. Worrying dulls or suppresses brain function, but the women do a lot of crossword puzzles. In fact, aliens, with the support of the United States Government and particularly NIMH, have planted stories that lead these women to believe that Scrabble and crosswords actually enhance brain health. Yes, worrying has a dulling effect on brain function but the crosswords counteract this and in fact renders the women rich in vocabulary resources. Something abductors value.

These women are particular good abductees because their post abduction symptoms and stories are taken for signs of aging, as strokes, as mini strokes, as ocular migranes or just neuroses. The culture is primed by the medical establishment and film industry to ignore this demographic or make light of the so called foibles of age. They tend to be forgetful, so family and medical establishment believe and convince the women to believe, so absence of time is taken as a given of their age. In point of fact, no one takes their episodic abductions seriously and because they have so little detail to report other than lost words or time, they are happily convinced that their brains, like their knees, are simply suffering from long time over use.

But I know personally of at least four instances of these post menopause abductions and am convinced that abduction among members of this demographic is rather common and accounts for most of the behaviors associated with their aging.

The first case brought to me was of a seemingly normal older woman who lived in relative luxury. She had inherited wealth, had a long marriage, and several seemingly successful children who had married and bore children of their own. Her marriage became unbearable and she separated from her husband.  Her children by now were living on their own with their families. She was alone, though, in point of fact, not often. One day, while contemplating her next dinner and staring mindlessly into the right hand vegetable bin of her refrigerator (she remembers seeing radicchio and a bundle of scallions), she found herself standing by a cracked window near the litter box in the bathroom off the master bedroom. What happened between riffling through the wilted red leaf lettuce and the damaged glass in the pane in the bath window? She felt disoriented and had no idea where she had been or with whom or why or for how long. Nothing else seemed different. But she searched the house for signs of burglary or evidence, perhaps, of her own confused and forgotten meanderings. Her grandmother’s gravy boat was missing. This was certain. The gravy boat was no small thing. It was hand carved from the tusk of a walrus and etched with images of the steamship Arctic on one side and Two Brothers on the other. Both ships were doomed. That is perhaps of some consequence.

Also missing was a gallon sized glass jar filled to the top with her father’s collection of early 20th century pennies. The sheer weight of the copper in these pennies gave value to the collection. She searched the house thinking that the housekeeper, who came once a week, might have moved the jar during a cleaning jag. But neither gravy boat nor penny jar could be found.

In her dreams on subsequent nights she saw herself handing the gravy boat to an ill clad person with large eyes and a green complexion. The penny jar she saw in the arms of a man dressed in black and whose eyes were likewise black and without whites. Though she heard herself objecting strongly to handing over these valuables to the pair, she seemed, ultimately, helpless to say no to either of them. She interpreted this as a parable or message about her own general inability to say no.

Many tests were run on the poor woman when she reported the missing time. Nothing physical explained the lapse. Fearing she would be taken for a looney, she did not report the dreams and learned to live without the pennies and gravy boat.

A second woman from the same demographic experienced a similar but not identical day. Like June Heinrich (see first abduction story), she lost her ability to speak nouns. This was disconcerting because nouns are her favorite part of speech. After verbs. Well French verbs to be specific. After the episode, She tried speaking nouns in each of the five or six languages she knew. Nothing. This odd event did not happen in the comfort of her home nor even in the woods. No. She was having a quiet dinner with a friend in a local wine bar and had just eaten a second cracker cum Fontiago cheese topped with capers. She was sipping a very dry martini when her attempt to say something clever fell flat. Her dinner partner did not laugh or even smile. There was no retort, no critique, no attempt to top her remark with something even cleverer. The partner simply looked blank. Not concerned, not worried, not engaged. Just blank. The woman tried again. This time she decided to quote someone known to be clever. The partner stared. Even blanker. What she heard was “is…..being…..were…..crazed….laughed….typed.” She decided that this was a game and tried to guess the missing words. “Monkey.” She said. The woman shook her head. “Nostril.” “Lips” “Face.” “The crazed monkey laughed through its nostril until its lips fell off its face.” The woman shook her head “no” even more vigorously. The dinner, needless to say, was a fiasco. The nouns returned within two or three hours but the friendship was at an end as was the woman’s reputation for witty repartee and compelling wordplay.

Like woman number one, her subsequent dreams were peculiar. This woman had scenes in which tubes were forced through her ear canals and long sentences were extracted. The tubes led to a series of filters and each filter dumped contents into carboy sized jars each variously labeled “French verbs,” “Spanish nouns,” “English adjectives” and so forth. The words themselves echoed into her restless nights. She tried to describe this to her physician on one of her call backs but he handed her a prescription for lorazapam and left the room.

 

The fourth case I will describe, also from the same demographic, concerns a woman who became known for her ability to decode those who had been believed to be programmed by evil but terrestrial forces. Of course, all of her talent and even the so called programmed clients sent to her were part of a grand experiment conducted by a group of extra terrestrials in conjuction with and approval of the United States Air Force. She also liked to play Scrabble. Without realizing how she was being directed, she built a rural home in the shape of a flying saucer which pleased the aliens and offered an easy target for the conveyance of their subliminal messages to her. Her abilities were enhanced. She was also convinced by an alien who opened a hair salon in her local town, that she should buy a bonnet hairdryer. The dryer was of course rigged up in a phony factory so that it too would convey information to her. She became convinced that clouds over her home were being seeded with poison and that her horses could talk. She believed that most of her dreams were composed of bits and pieces of past lives. Thus she came to understand that she had lived in Anatolia, Uzbekistan, Siberia many years before…and always as a person who traded in precious stones. Believing that these dreams signaled a calling, she began taking long vacation trips to Moab and climbing in rocks in search of bits of jasper and torquoise.

 

Women’s abductions clearly take a form unique in both purpose and outcome. One woman, for example, reported that she had been taken to the Amalfi coast for a day hike and then swooped into Milan for a shoe-buying spree. She had an exquisite pair of a buttery dappled red leather pumps with a sensible but elegantly shaped heel to prove it. These are shoes she could not have found in her own hometown or even within a hundred miles of it. And she could not have afforded to purchase these shoes on her pension income.

 

The Gay Abductee

Another unusual subset of the above described demographic of abductees is gay white women over sixty. Known in the literature as the “Gay Abductees,” these women or, as they might self identify, lesbians are understudied.

 

 

 

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Participation Mystique Number 3: Abductions

Participation Mystique: Number Three

 

Tales of Abduction: Number I

“And they descended upon earth to increase their ranks…..” Borgman

“The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.”

My first encounter with an abductee, though I didn’t know it at the time, was in Beavercreek when I was a small child. I lived in an idyllic 1950s community. It was one in transition from a predominantly German farming township to a suburban commuter neighborhood for Wright Patterson Air Force Base employees, civilian and military. Being close to Wright Patterson our population included many persons interested in space flight, in extraterrestrial phenomena, and in unidentified flying objects. Indeed we had many sightings of UFOs throughout the late 1940s and 1950s and these sightings were not questioned or thought the product of overactive imaginations. Equally unquestioned were   fireflies, the evilness of the Soviets, and the many electrocutions of men attempting to mount TV antennae on their houses. The later was, of course, later shown to be orchestrated by the government in order to thwart citizen attempts to communicate directly with Moscow via ham radios wired to these receivers not so cleverly disguised as innocent attempts to get a better picture.

We had our share of former Nazi German rocket scientists living in ranch style houses on cozy rural routes almost as innocent seeming as ours. And we had the pleasure of seeing experimental aircraft hovering over we tots in our school yards as we hefted ourselves around on oversized monkey bars and dropped knives from our nose tips in desperate games of mumbly-peg.

On one side of my house, and behind as well, were immigrants from Kentucky who crossed the river with hope on their backs and no jobs or money. They spoke with accents so thick we could hardly understand them and, with help of jokes learned from Grand Old Opry broadcasts, we made fun of them regularly. Over dinners of fried chicken. Over dinners of liver and onions. In the family room and along our tiled hallways. Their women children gave themselves home permanents and smelled always of some chemical and their boy children swung cats over their heads in grand circles, fists closed tightly around the tails, then released them flying into weed patches. In this way, we were told,  the Kentucky boys studied gravity and centrifugal force and the truth of the saying that cats have many lives.

My father’s accent was Southeastern Ohio with a bit of West Virginia and not nearly so thick. He had a job. We were superior beings.

Beyond those Kentucky houses and the high grass fields of butterflies and Queen Anne’s lace were the cornfields and the domain of Mrs. Miller’s Guernseys. They were a flaccid bunch that was easily called to the fence line when I mewled my imitation of a distressed calf. The field corn grew high throughout my small child summers and crisped itself golden in the fall. Our fir trees and floribundas ringed our small lot and sugar maples dotted the “front lawn” and grew healthy and stronger each year. It was a good patch and lovely life though hummed over each night by Strategic Air Command B-52 bombers.

Across the street to the right and beyond our mailboxes (In which arrived all wonders from the outside world: Do you think you can draw? Captain Video rings, Red Rider scarves) lived June Heinrich. She became a medical celebrity. But hers was no medical event.

One day my mother, still in her work clothes and looking very much like a nurse, made an announcement. She was seated with us all at her highly polished maple dining table and reaching for a second slice of the lemon meringue pie I had made that afternoon. She said, with little emotion, that June had been taken to hospital. She had “suffered a stroke,” mother said, as she licked some meringue from her upper lip. Between subsequent bites she said that June was not expected to survive and that she, mother, had been home for lunch when it happened. She’d seen the ambulance arrive and the stretcher load June into it. Mother rode a Honda scooter to work and because her place of work, a pediatrician’s office, was only about a mile away, she often took a midday meal in her own kitchen. There were, after all, no fast food takeaways in those days.

We children were not accustomed to a lot of death and illness, living as we were so far from our own aging relatives. We didn’t have much to say and didn’t know what to think. I know I, at least, did not want to have to see the presumably mourning dog and husband or try to think what to do in their presence.

The fat dog, some kind of over-indulged Cocker Spaniel mix, and jolly beer drinking and otherwise hedonistic spouse were in fact at loose ends in their neat little house down the neat little lane through neat little gardens that surrounded them. They ate TV dinners, and ambled silently together down that neat little lane to collect milk from the box or to see if there were mail. His name, the spouse’s, was Connie. No doubt, I came to believe, short for the more Germanic Conrad. That was surely his given name. Connie even had a decidedly German accent that I thought nothing of at the time.

Months passed as June with her Mamie Eisenhower bangs, now shorn and shaved, lay in some Dayton Hospital, or so we were all told. She could not be visited, we were told. I was delighted with this news. Surgeons, we were told, had somehow split her brain in twain. It was a miracle, doctors reported. She lived. And within the year, she was returned to dog and spouse.

She never spoke a noun again. Of course not. These had all been drained from her, sucked from her, extracted, and recorded by, and for the edification of, her abductors.

The story untold at the time was that June had been found in the forest behind her house. Connie and the dog had traced her there after an absence of at least eight hours. The dog, otherwise unaware that she was not in the house, missed its dinner. Connie himself, reclined in his chair, beer in hand, and reading the Dayton Daily News, began to wonder about his sauerbraten. It had been cooking in a low oven all day and was surely ready to be served.

The two, man and beast,  lumbered to the garden thinking she’d gone off to pick some vegetables. She was not there but they did smell an unusual burnt odor coming from beyond. It was the smell of charred grasses. They followed the smell and the trampled pathway that led to the woods back beyond the field. June’s steps were easy to follow. There were the crushed weeds but also snagged bits of threads from her garments. The dog was wary and nervous. It urinated incessantly and once even vomited.

The woods was a large one, never cut. It was an eastern hardwood forest composed of beeches, maples, oaks and hickory. We neighborhood children had worn paths throughout the forest floor and made lookouts in snags. We had made rings of logs and stones and fire pits around which we told stories. Thus dog and man followed these paths and the clear, blackened, still smoking footprints laid down by June, their mistress.

She had been set down gently it would seem in a rock ring near the center of the forest. Connie dare not move her, so dog stood watch, licking at her face and cheeks, while Connie ran for help. She lived, but barely.

What happened next? Connie apparently called a prearranged contact at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

When a voice answer, Connie said simply, “She’s down.”

The contact knew what this meant and sent a team disguised as Sloan Kettering Hospital orderlies and doctors to Hanes Road.

What Doris Patterson saw, as did any curious Kentuckians peering from their picture windows, was an ambulance. Not a daily happening in the rural community. But not so out of the ordinary.

All they were told, when they asked Connie, was that June had had a stroke.

Casseroles arrived. Pots of soup. Pies. Banana bread. Connie was taken care of by the women of the community who understood that a man would starve to death without a woman in the house.

And then the many reports and postings to “reputable” medical journals. June Heinrich, medical miracle.

She came home minus her nouns and with no recollection of the hours she’d been on board an alien spaceship operating with the full knowledge and cooperation of the United States Air Force. Connie, who was of course one of the German rocket scientists brought to Wright Patterson after World War II had cooperated with the abduction and with the cover up. He had cultivated June’s verbal skills over the years, buying her dictionaries and challenging her to crossword puzzles and games of Scrabble. He had prepped her and managed her as surely as if she were a white rat in a lab.

My mother, who slowly pieced together the story during long conversations with June in following years, secured her notes deep in the velvet lining of her Doctor Zhivago jewelry box. The conversations were, of course, long because June had no nouns. But after many cups of Lipton tea and many plates of tongue loosening rum balls, mother got the story.

Mother’s notes are not easy to decipher:

“…..took (meaningful look)….flew….sucked (grimace)….tossed…green….pinhead….”

It all made sense.

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Participation Mystique: Number Two

Malaysian Spirit Log/Para-anthropology in the Raw

We have pulled off to the side of a sticky, rutted road cut by Public Works Department through a patch of jungle, the beginning of the unfinished highway between Sirian and Simmangang. No. Unfinished is not the right word. Neither is road. This is a muddy, hardly drivable scratch through  brush. A poor effort at something we might call infrastructure today.  It is impossible to drive it after a big rain. That means it is impassable during the whole monsoon season. It will not be completed until the lorries of rocks are delivered and dumped and the Chinese and Malay carry them basket after basket to the road bed and place them one by one to make a cobble bed for the macadam surface. That surface will be rolled  several years from now. The road, as it is now, is very much like the paths I trek on to get to the villages I visit. I’m usually at least ankle deep in mud….passing sometimes through rubber plantations, each tree with a little cup under the runny slash on its trunk, and sometimes through impossibly beautiful acres of high palmate trees hanging with ferns and orchids and so thick under the canopy that nothing can pass unless it be those that crawl on their bellies or have the strength to break through it all. Beasts and demons, perhaps. Then, as I leave the untamed and  approach a village, pass the guardian totem that can call upon a hill demon to “tangle my neck” if I come bearing ill will,  I see the pepper plants or pineapple fields at my side or untidy fields of red rice growing on slashed and burnt hillsides. The mud from the journey covers my boots and encases my legs all the way up my calves.  I am tired and thirsty and wet clear through my clothing from my own sweat. My hair is dank. The skin over my stomach is inexplicably dry and cold.  Someone cuts the top off a green coconut and I drink the water.

This time, this night,  I’ve traveled in a car. We have gone to visit one of Timah’s relatives and are on our way home when someone spots a light moving through the trees just below us. No one seems afraid. But everyone wants to get out and watch. I see it too. It is ball of fire and it is moving rapidly through the brush and cover. It is higher from the jungle floor than would be a torch carried by a person. And it is rounder than the flame of a torch would be; it is bigger than a lantern or flash light beam. In fact, there is no beam nor light diffusing from the central core of it. It is just a solid ball of light. I don’t hear a noise. I don’t hear wind or branches being moved or hit. We’ve all stopped breathing as we behold this thing. Is it a hantu? I wonder. A ghost? Will it harm someone?

There are stories of shapeshifters, men and women who turn into tigers. Hantu remau. There are stories of flying eggs. I am surrounded by these tales, day in and day out. I dream them alive under my mosquito net. I hear the ghosts knocking at my door and the rattling of the WWII Japanese sword, crafted by a local blacksmith for an officer.  I have foolishly hung this on a wall of my big room. (It is said it was used for beheadings and given the bloody and cruel Japanese occupation of British Borneo, this is not a far fetched story.) I hear my name being called in the night. It is that fellow from the Bidayu kampong, “kaki kosong” they call him because he wears no shoes. He has put something in the food I’m told. It is that fellow from the Malay kampong. He is in love with you. He brings love charms. They tell me this, my housemates, living with me after the Public Works barracks are swept away by the biggest flood in the recorded history of the First Division of Sarawak.

Timah was my Amah. She did my laundry and chatted amiably with me as we poured salt on giant snails or greeted the border crossing Indonesian woman who came peddling batik. But after the flood swept away the barracks, she and her husband Gorot and his bachelor brothers, Bujang and Hamdan and two or three small children came to me…homeless. My house was small and simple, made of woven palm leaves with an attap roof and no electricity. But it was divided by an open porch with a simple shower and toilet just off the porch. This layout of the house was perfect for us. They took the side of the house with the kitchen and dining area. I kept my bedroom and the big room with the chairs and table. We shared that room at night until I went to bed. There we talked and played poker and ate the peanuts that Timah roasted. Timah went around the house at dusk each evening and closed all the shutters because there was a Hindu cemetery behind the hill below my house. If the shutters weren’t closed, the ghosts would come in. Even if the shutters were closed, the ghosts would come to our doors and could call our names. If you answered and followed, you would surely die. And they were clever ghosts. They could sound like someone you knew. So they could seduce you into following them. Because of them, all the people in the barracks had been sleeping in one big room before the flood. They figured that with the others around, each had a chance of being prevented from following the voice.

I heard the voice. I heard the knocking. It was as real as anything I’d ever heard. It called to me and convincingly imitated Timah and then Gorot. But I knew it was not them. They would not wake me in the night or call out to me.  They called my name. I remained silent and very afraid.

And then there was the fireball. There, in the dark. Of course in those days there were no city lights, nor much else save small kersoscene lamps,  to obscure the brilliant starry skies. There were no gas stations. We carried large metal containers of gasoline strapped to the back of the car. There were no motels or hotels. There were guesthouses for traveling British officers and families. But our carload had to make whole journeys in a day or arrange to stay with relatives if there were any. Of course you could not phone ahead. Each trip was a trip beyond the pale; each mile took one further into uncertainty and danger, even if the danger was seated in your own beliefs.

 

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Participation Mystique: Number One

Not risotto, you fool. Radicchio.

Participation mystique: “a kind of psychological connection with objects in which the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object.” To this I dedicate my work in the coming year.

Number One

Off to the sea, radicchio.

I know you.

I know you well.

Off on a lazy swell, radicchio.

Ridding and riding, radicchio.

Rolling your r s, radicchio.

Rising aloft, radicchio.

Two c s and one d,

radicchio.

Rough and ready, on you prance

radicchio,

Upon the raucous waves you dance.

Ah, radicchio,

I dress in red and wait for thee.

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October 13: My Birthday

October 13
October 13, 2010 at 8:56am
My twenty year old Mom was watching The Pride of the Yankees when she went into labor…Gary Cooper as Lou Gherig. She loved movies and this was a new release. She was probably eating popcorn, too. My folks didn’t have a car so my father, who hadn’t shipped out yet, had to hustle a cab to get to a hospital. That was in Springfield, Ohio. Because there were so many babies being born ( this was nine months and a week after Pearl Harbor), Mother was put on a cot in the hospital hall along with who knows how many other women. It all worked out okay. And all explains why I’m such a good baseball player and able to wait in long lines patiently.

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Remembering Anne North

Remembering Anne North
January 14, 2011 at 7:20pm
I’ve been thinking about Christina and Tucson. Among the many feelings that have surfaced, there is one long surpressed. It is a strong memory of my young friend Anne North who died at age 11 in what I now understand was a monumental tragedy for a small rural community. It was the death of ten of our folks on a train track in March of 1959. At 16 I believe I was simply numbed when I heard the news. Maybe I remained that way for a long time. I was a junior at Beavercreek High School. I remember clearly where I was when I heard what had happened……maybe a mile down the road? I was standing in the Beaver Beacon newsroom with the seniors on the staff of the school paper. I couldn’t take it in. My experience with the death young people was limited, though my best friend, Jackie Thalman, had died two years before. I had no experience with loss of this dimension. That these kids were gone from us, in an instant, simply stunned me. A single moment blasted a ragged hole in the fabric of our communal lives. I remember realizing that one of the dead was Anne. She was a bright girl whom I knew from 4-H. I knew her pretty well.
I don’t know how I made it to the viewing in Dayton. I seem to have gone alone. Could that be true? Most of what happened after hearing of the accident is lost to me. Was there a community gathering? Did anyone comfort us? Did our parents know or wonder what was happening inside of us…and inside all the kids who would have known the Girl Scouts who died? I do remember standing by her open casket. In the dimly lit room, Anne’s parents told me that I had a responsibility be worthy of Anne’s memory. I suppose that sounds a heavy load to put on a teen. But it didn’t seem so then. It just seemed true and a little overwhelming. I know that they were “older” parents and Anne their only daughter. And I got to live and Anne didn’t. Anne, her parents said, had, “looked up to me.” Anne would was already someone very special. I would have continued to be proud to have her as my pal all my life.

I guess I think we all have a responsibility to be worthy of Christina’s memory and Anne’s………and any child so tragically denied a full life.

I’m going to post here the newspaper article that we would have read in 1959. It seems so raw as I read it all these years later. How raw it must have seemed then.

RIDING IN AUTO STRUCK BY TRAIN NEAR XENIA; 8 WERE GIRL SCOUTS.

Xenia, Ohio (AP) — A freight train plowed into a car carrying 10 passengers and “split it open like a tin can” in a tragic railroad crossing accident near here Wednesday. All 10 — including eight Girl Scouts — were killed.
The “tin can” description came from the Rev. Alvin Klotz, one of the first on the scene, who added: “People were strewn over the field. There were two or three near the car but the others were all over.”
The car was dragged 50 feet along the tracks before being shoved to one side. One body, that of MRS. LUCILLE WHITE, 34, was found 75 feet beyond the car, indicating the force of the crash.

Returning From Library.
The daughters of MRS. WHITE and the other adult in the car, MRS. JEANETTE RANDALL, 38, were among the eight girls who perished.
The girls were returning home from a library here where they had been studying for merit badges. They lived in Beavercreek Twp., a rural suburb between Xenia and Dayton.
The accident happened about 3 1/2 miles west of Xenia.
Kenneth Ward, father of one Girl Scout, is an auxillary fireman. He was helping gather up the bodies, unaware that his daughter was a victim, when he recognized what was left of the car. After hunting around, he found the body of his 11-year-old daughter, LINDA.
The list of casualties were:
SHARON WHITE, aged 11.
Her mother, LUCILLE WHITE, aged 34.
PAULNETTA RANDALL, aged 11.
Her mother JEANETTE RANDALL, aged 38.
ANN NORTH, aged 11.
PATRICIA LIPINSKI, aged 12.
CYNTHIA MOORMAN, aged 11.
ANNA WILVERT, aged 11.
LINDA WARD, aged 11.
CONNIE LaPRISE, aged 11.

Six Killed Instantly.
Six were killed outright in the crash and three were dead on arrival at the hospital.
W. R. Murray of Columbus, engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s three-diesel express freight, said he saw the car slow down as it approached the crossing and he thought it was going to stop. But it kept coming into the train’s path, he said.
State Highway Patrolman J. W. Smith said his investigation showed the freight was moving 60 to 70 m.p.h. but a Pennsylvania spokesman pointed out that the speed limit in that area is 50 m.p.h.
The crossing is unprotected by flasher signals and has only a crossbar railroad sign.
Vaughn Lewis, superintendent of Greene County Schools, commented: “The biggest tragedy was that there was no flasher light there. That’s a bad crossing and we (the school board) fought for flashers and didn’t get it. This is inexcusable in a populated area.”

Hamilton Daily News Journal Ohio 1959-03-19
__________________

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Fragility and Spirit

Fragility and Spirit
February 24, 2009 at 8:38pm
I stopped to see my mother at Garden Courte Memory Care today after class and on my way to Tacoma. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks. She’s lost more weight. She was in bed. That’s what she wants, to stay in bed. She has to be urged to get up, to eat, to move at all. Her eyes finally opened and she saw me. Her eyes. They are still very bright and blue. But it is impossible for me to tell what she sees. I always touch her, rub her arms, smoothe her hair. I sit beside her, both of us silent, and look at photographs these days. Old photographs she kept in albums and that are still in boxes on her night stand near the bed. The one I have in my hand now is of the Welsh May clan, my mother’s mother’s family. The Mays stand together in this picture, all smiling and touching one another. This photograph, a sepia snap probably taken by my grandfather Zora Pleasant Davis, dates to sometime in the early 1920s. Mary Jane Owens May, my great grandmother (whose Welsh speech caused her to be teased unmercifully..all those gutteral sounds cracked the May clan up no end) was widowed. Her husband had a heart attack in a West Virginia coal mine. He came to her (yes he did!) as she sat calmly rocking on an Ohio porch swing. He told her he was dead. So she took up ironing and cleaning houses for people in order to raise my aunts Bee and Matilda (Toadie) and my uncle Lawrence. In the photograph Lawrence’s wife Bess is on the far right. Her daughter’s hands rest on her shoulders, the daughter who believed that she was unable to walk and ended her life in a state mental institution, a double amputee.The doctors joined in her delusion and made it a fact. But in this photograph, everyone is smiling and still walking and the men look relatively sober. Even Uncle Lawrence who once told my 9 year old brother that if he wanted to be a good baseball player he had to chew tobacco, drink good liquor, and run with women. Then he showed him a box of photographs with pictures of women he’d “known” in India and Bolivia and Southeast Asia while working for Marion City Steam Shovel company. I still have the doll he brought me from Bolivia when I was two. And a marble elephant from Delhi. My grandmother, Lelah, is the woman on the left. She is happy on this day. By 1942, her only son would die in a plane crash, a First Lt. in the Army Air Corps. And Zora, a concientious county prosecutor, would die two years later from the stroke he suffered shortly after watching his son’s plane lifted from the swamp near Kitty Hawk where it, with him, had fallen when he lost his bearings. Probably the result of the dizziness he suffered periodically after a football head injury.

Mother kept this picture in her box along with a letter from Mike DiSalle, the then governor of Ohio, inviting her to his office on who knows what pretense. And in the box also is a newsclipping announcing she’d been offered a post with the department of aging in Greene County, Ohio. She declined the summons, choosing, another article said, to stay with Dr. Vernier as a receptionist in his office in Fairborn, Ohio. What mysteries.

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Aunt Ethel

Vinton and Jackson Counties in southeastern Ohio were raw when I was a kid. The Appalachian hills round about Wellston and McArthur and Jackson seemed wild places, full of copper head snakes and stills and strip mines and rusty streams. We went there nearly every weekend because that’s where all our relatives lived. We were considered a bit odd to have moved to Dayton. Mother especially was suspect, a flashy impulsive redhead who had led the likeable Bill by the nose. But Mother and Dad moved for work before WWII and stayed at Wright Patterson Airforce Base after. In the southeast, even cousins my age and much later in time than our move couldn’t find much to do but to labor for the Chung King noodle factory or a short-lived turkey processing plant. We visited lots though and always made the rounds of kin. So I knew everybody well even though raised way over in Beavercreek. We always saw everybody. You couldn’t not see someone when you were in the area because they would know you’d been there and hadn’t come to see them. Everybody talked about everybody. I was often bored by these visits. I spent a lot of time sitting in corners reading the ever fascinating Lives of Saints comic books when with the Catholic side of the family.

It was different after bedtime. When I heard adults talk at night, me half awake, listening through open grates or from the top step of a staircase, it was usually in excited gossipy whispers. It seems “other” people were always having affairs with one another. Or grabbing the treasured objects of the newly departed. Or marrying too soon after a spouse’s death. Or the new spouse compared unfavorably with the old one. Or…there was always something to tsk about. My families were Irish and Welsh and Scots-Irish. My grandparents were second and third generation immigrants: coal miners and coal mine owners; attorneys; doctors; teachers. Some of them lived in the good part of Wellston, in big Victorians with deliciously long staircases and sitting rooms where the dead were laid out and peered at while lemonade and sandwiches were served in the kitchen. I still can’t stand the smell of rooms full of flowers. One Patterson, Aunt Bertha Gundlefinger, still lived in her Scots-Irish parent’s family mansion. I remember her lying in her sick bed, just beyond the crumbling porch of what had been a grand house. She married Mr. Gundlefinger “late in life” and her husband gambled away the property. All but the house and the very land it sat upon. And Uncle Charlie’s little cabin where he lived with his dog and played his fiddle and worked not at all. It was a tease, when I was a child, to be compared to Uncle Charlie. It meant you were lazy and maybe slightly off. The Pattersons of that generation teased themselves a lot. In fact one of them wrote a book about the Pattersons. His idea was that it was always great men and great successes who were described in print. It was time, he thought, that people who made all the wrong decisions in life ought to be told of. Seems the Pattersons always sold too early or moved too soon, missing great boons and windfalls that came to those who occupied their abandoned homesteads and farms.

Aunt Bertha seemed to be in her sick bed for my entire childhood. I dreaded the trips to this dusty house with its moldy, peeling wallpaper and water stained ceilings. In fact, it seemed every house I visited in Wellston was dusty and moldy because I suffered through long nights in lumpy featherbeds and coal heated homes coughing and hacking. I never could lie down all the way lest I choke in my own misery.

Aunt Ethel was a Cox and lived in McArthur not Wellston. McArthur consisted of a courthouse and one and a half blocks of small shops and housing. My Aunt Dorothy lived in a building that was on this main street, across from a bar and grill. Her apartment was upstairs and downstairs was the county switchboard and telephone company, which she was in charge of. Adjoining the switchboard room was Mrs. Mott’s tiny apartment. Mrs. Mott weighed maybe 300 pounds. She moved only from her room to the switchboard. I’m not sure she actually walked. She may have wheeled herself on the office style chair that belonged to the switchboard. It was Mrs. Mott who introduced me to tv wrestling and Tales from the Crypt comic books. To join her for a hot afternoon was to enter what seemed to me to be a den of delight and iniquity. My mother and grandmother would NEVER approve of what we did there in Mrs. Mott’s dark chambers. Chocolate bon bons were popped, comics read, wrestling watched. Until I heard my grandmother or mother in the switchboard room or a call from upstairs or it was Mrs. Mott’s turn at the switchboard. Then she’d lumber or roll out and take her place, head piece strapped across her large curly head, and begin flipping plugs on long springy tethers into holes at what I thought was an amazing pace. Somehow, her actions connected people to one another. Everybody in Vinton County still had crank wall phones with sets of domed bells under the receiver to alert them to a call. Everybody relied on Mrs. Mott and Aunt Dorothy to give them access to the world beyond their little living rooms. Of course Aunt Dorothy and Mrs. Mott listened in on everybody’s calls and they were of course the source of many of the whispered revelations I heard in the night time adult gossip sessions. What I didn’t discover then is that Aunt Dorothy had affairs too, one with a visiting novelist who wrote, “Out of the Red Brush.” Or was it Red Bush. Surely not. It must have been hard to keep this from her husband who was the county sheriff at the time of the affair. It must have been exciting and dangerous for them because I’m sure Uncle Ray would have called out “sic em” to his dogs and shot Aunt Dorothy with his revolver if he’d found out. That’s how raw it all seemed to me down there. I was too young to go to Uncle Ray’s funeral I guess. But I remember him as a tall, handsome man in tan clothes, a big Stetson, and a handtooled belt. I liked how he talked. But I was wary of his hunting dogs.

Aunt Ethel was Aunt Dorothy’s sister in law. She had a general store on the McArthur’s main street. It was a store that seemed not to have electric lights. Or maybe Aunt Ethel just didn’t turn them on. Even with child eye’s, I had to squint and peer closely to see what treasures her big glass cases held. My favorites were paraffin pop bottles, about the size of a paper clip. You bit off the end and sucked the sweet syrup out. She sold candy cigarettes, which I loved and chain “smoked” while I pranced around town in my cowboy boots and hat though no one in my extended family smoked. Probably something I picked up watching wrestling. She had sun pictures for sale too, little bits of paper and negatives you could make into real photos by cooking them in the sun. There were clotheslines strung the whole length of the barn like room that housed the store and on them hung dozens of tatted doilies made by Aunt Ethel’s life long companion. These were for sale but did not seem ever to sell. The women did not live together but always were in each others’ company so far as I could tell. The tatter sat in the store tatting while Ethel gathered the change from sales into her large National Cash Register. Chuuuuuching it said when she opened it. The quarters and nickels were placed in the Chuuuching machine. But all pennies were tossed into a can so that she could study them later. Never know when there might be an Indian head or a 1909 VDB or some other valuable penny. Once my little brother asked to look through her penny cans but she said no way. She could be mean and scary that way. Aunt Ethel made tapestries of hound dogs for Aunt Dorothy’s Christmases. Aunt Dorothy bought knitted sweaters for Aunt Ethel. But the sweaters never suited. Aunt Ethel always added length to the sleeves or pockets to the sides. You could always tell they were added on.

Aunt Ethel picked up stray dogs. All the Coxes raised hunting dogs and Ethel kept on long after there was anyone to hunt. She used all the money she had to buy them meat and feed them. And there they all lived with her behind her vast honey suckle vines, right in town. The town people were so set on edge by their baying, especially at full moon, that an ordinance was passed. But it did little good. Cause Ethel just moved the dogs into the house so that they couldn’t be heard.

She was found ill, completely broke, in her house one day. Dogs and cats were everywhere. But people forgot to go back to do anything about them after she was taken away to die. So they ripped curtains and gave birth in the bath tub and ate wallpaper glue. When people got back in the house to clean it up, they found that every room in the upstairs was filled with unopened merchandise for the store. Shoes, hats, dresses unopened, long out of date, never displayed, never worn, never sold. You couldn’t get into these rooms for all the things there were.

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