Good Carla

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How could it still be so cold less than a month into spring?  Snow flurries had fallen the day before, and they’d made Carla nervous.  It reminded her of the dust cascading down from the blast last week.

Her heels clacked hard against the sidewalk.  They’d told her downtown could be so impersonal, and she was glad.  Hardly anyone noticed her.  She kept her arms wrapped her torso, as tight as she could get them, with the band of her purse intertwined.

A heavy hand suddenly grabbed her left shoulder.  It frightened her like nothing else; the mere thought of someone touching her.  But it also angered her.  She whirled around to see a husky, bearded man with wild eyes looking at her.  How dare you touch me, she screamed silently.  Her father had warned her about people like that.  “What?!” she snapped.

“You almost stepped right into traffic,” the man said.  That heavy hand gestured to the road.  His eyes went from wild to a normal-looking bright.

“Oh…wow,” Carla finally muttered.

“Didn’t mean to grab you like that,” said the man.

“No, no!  That’s okay.”  He wasn’t one of those people from the beige-colored building, but he looked friendly nonetheless.  Still, she remembered what her father had said: unless he knew who they were and had pointed them out to her, don’t trust them!  And say nothing to them, beyond ‘thank you’ or ‘hi.’

She continued walking, growing increasingly leery of fellow pedestrians.  When she strolled passed the federal building, she got the feeling someone was following her.  She always had that feeling.  It had started in grade school, when a gaggle of mean girls tormented her from the moment she arrived every morning until the moment she made it into her front yard.  Then her father taught her how to throw a punch.

“Just roll up your fist like this,” he’d explained one evening after dinner.

Her mother got mad.  “Teaching her to fight like an animal?!”

“No,” her father replied matter-of-factly, “teaching her to stand up for herself.”

One punch, one punch – right to the face.  And that’s what Carla did to one of those girls.  Just swung around and swiped her puny fist across the girl’s upper lip.  Not enough to bruise it or cause it to bleed, but sharp enough to startle her.  Startle both of them.

Yeah, somebody was following her.  But she knew, once she passed the federal building, she was near her next destination.  She slowed her gait and glanced around as much as her stiffened neck would allow.  She came to another intersection and stopped, seeing the traffic well in advance.  She didn’t want anyone grabbing her, or needing to grab her to save her from herself.

Damn this cold!  Spring, spring!  It’s supposed to be spring.  The wind hustled past her.  The cutting edge of it reminded her of the old house where she and her younger sister had grown up.  A breeze would roll through it, if both the front door and back doors were open at the same time.  It created a tunnel effect.  Carla and her sister and other kids from the neighborhood loved to stand in the middle area when sharp winds hurtled over and – with those doors open – through the house.

Her father liked it also and sometimes would stand with them and pretend the wind was too much for him; fake-slamming into the walls and onto the floor, yelling, “Help me!”

But they were the only ones.  Her mother hollered about the electricity bill and yelled about the childishness of it all.

“You’re all acting silly!” her mother groused.

“But, mama, we’re having fun,” Carla would say, trying to rationalize.

“Stop acting so stupid!”

If she only knew how bad that word hurt, Carla snarled into her pillow.  ‘Stupid.’  Her mother never liked to do things just for fun.  But her father was different.  He was whimsical and free-spirited.  He could actually make her mother laugh – at times.

She stopped at Elm and Pacific, the northeast corner, looking south towards the Indian deli – just as she’d been told.  She turned to her left and saw a woman slightly taller than her, wearing a police-style uniform with her hair pulled tightly back into corn rows.

Carla shuddered.  She glanced at the upper left side of woman’s torso and saw the name on the bronze-colored badge: Jamal.  Carla exhaled.

As the woman got closer, Carla began, “Are you – ?”

The woman silenced her with an upraised hand.

Oh yeah, she recalled.  No questions.  She felt embarrassed.

“They’ve found them, Carla,” the Jamal woman muttered.  “The police are there already.  Our man watched them.  You did take the bottles with you – right?”

“Yes – of course.  Into the dumpster on Turtle Creek – beside Cody’s.”

“Good.”  Jamal smiled reassuringly.

Carla grinned, but she was beaming deep inside.  Her father would be so proud.  With each step, she believed more and more her father had been right.  ‘Who says a low IQ means you’re too stupid to do anything?’

“You know where to go now, right?” Jamal asked.

“Yes, to the –”

Another upraised hand.  “As long as you know.”

“Yes.”

“Good.  We’ll see you later,” she added with a smile.  She wheeled around and hopped into the gray SUV – all so effortlessly and in a split second.

These people move and speak so fast, Carla mused with the same degree of wonder she’d had from the beginning.  Entering that beige-colored building two years ago had intimidated her like nothing else.  If her father hadn’t been with her, she would have screamed at the sight of the burly man and small woman with over-sized glasses at the front counter.  They were genuinely scary!  But the folks in the back were much different.  Much kinder and soft-spoken – a lot like her father.

“How long have you known these people, daddy?” she asked, gripping his left forearm.

“A long time,” he quietly replied.  “They’ve been good to us – to our entire family.  They’re good to everyone who’s good to them.  But you have to be good, too, you know.  Understand?”

“Yes, daddy.”

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Carla looked at her watch – 2:54 p.m. – and strolled to the huge electronics store further down on Elm.  She still couldn’t believe the number of people rushing about in downtown Dallas.

The training sessions had tested her ability to remain aloof and constrained in the midst of such human traffic.  The heavy noises had bothered her more than anything.  Enough to make the trainers question their selection.

But that’s when Carla’s mother (of all people) jumped into the mess – inherently jeopardizing the relationship they had with the group – and pulled her away for a few moments.

“Remember what I said about all those people?  Remember?”

“Yes,” Carla replied meekly after a few terrifying seconds.  Her mother – usually loud and intrusive – had vowed to stay in the background throughout the entire training procedure and let Carla’s father serve as liaison with the trainers.

“What was it I said?” her other queried.

“Just don’t talk to anybody.  And don’t stare.”

“Yes, exactly!”  Her mother smiled, which she rarely did.  “Good Carla.”

The second trial run made Carla realize she could truly remain aloof and discreet; allowing her to move unnoticed from point A to point B without interacting with somebody.  A third and fourth run solidified the group’s trust in her.

The snow flurries had stopped falling.  Carla entered the electronics store and ambled to the pre-paid cell phone rack.  Model A42997: it was almost hidden towards the back of the spindle.  Paying with cash, she hurried back outside and found a shadowy overhead.  Sticking her left forefinger into her purse allowed her to see the code embedded in the lavender fingernail polish: 990Y23L17.  She input that reference into the phone’s text box and waited.

“This is Paula,” answered the woman’s voice.

“This Ms. C496233.”  Oddly, remembering all those codes was easier than remembering which way was north and which was south.

“Hi, Carla,” Paula replied.  “How’s your hand?”

She knew she had the right person.  “It’s okay.”

“Good!”

Carla had been nervous about Paula at first.  But her father told her it was just another test.  “It’s just one of those things called a coincidence,” he said.

“A what?”

Paula had been the name of her kindergarten teacher; the one who said she was “too stupid to know day from night.”

“Paula, la pendeja,” her father had said one evening at home.

“¡Callarse!” her mother had shouted back.  (Shut up!)

Carla didn’t speak Spanish – then or now – and she certainly didn’t know why her father felt compelled to silence the teacher with a shotgun blast to the head late one Saturday night.  Sitting in the back seat of their old Buick, Carla became mesmerized by the sight of the brilliant neon lights slathered all over a part of town she’d never seen before.  “Stay down, girls,” her father ordered her and her younger sister, Andrea.

Carla peered above the rim of the window and was startled by the sight of a large group of women stumbling out of a building; all of them wearing very short dresses and skirts and very high-heeled shoes.

“There she is,” the girls heard their father mumble.  “Paula, la pendeja.”  They were parked across the street from the building.  He picked up what Carla later realized was a shotgun and pointed the tip out the window.  “Cover your ears, girls!”

They did as ordered.  But the loud boom still echoed through their heads and made them shriek.

The screaming from the crowd of women overwhelmed them instantly.

Carla’s father slowly pulled out of the parking lot and onto a street in the opposite direction.

“What happened, daddy?” Carla asked.

“Don’t worry about it.  You girls want some ice cream when we get home?”

“Yes!” the screamed in unison.  Carla glanced back and wondered what those words above the doorway to that building meant: B-E-E-R and D-A-N-C-I-N-G.

She still didn’t know what they meant.  But she wasn’t thinking about them now.  Paula on the phone instructed her where to go next.

“The furniture store two blocks down on Elm.  The one with the big clock hanging outside the front door.  Remember?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

The word ‘good’ meant so much to her.  It was actually everything.  It told her she was doing things right.  Outside the furniture store, she again found herself beneath some shade and stuck her right forefinger into her purse.  The code on the fingernail read, 990Y23L18.  Just one number different.  But the text didn’t produce another call on the phone.

Instead a picture displayed.

She recognized it: a large house; different from the other one.  It was the mayor’s house.  The last house had belonged to someone called an attorney.  “He’s a lawyer who works for the city,” her father had told her.  “He’s bad, too.  Like Paula, la pendeja.”

This person, the mayor, was another bad one, the people from the beige building had told her.  Once she got there, they said, her job was done.  Done for now.  If she handled this one right, they’d give her a bigger job.  Bigger jobs – done right – meant more clothes and more music.

She boarded the bus, number 359, at Elm and Akard.  It took her to the Bishop Arts section south of downtown where she found another deli; this one an Italian place.

The young woman in a blue coat met her at the doorway.  “Ms. C?”

“Ms. C496233,” Carla announced.

“Good!  I’m Brittany.  Let’s eat.”

They entered the deli and found a booth off to the side.  Brittany ordered for both of them.  They ate mostly in silence, before Brittany pulled a soft drink can out of her purse.  “Remember what this is?”

“Yes – soda.”

“Good.  Now, on to the house.”  Brittany followed Carla into the bathroom, and then they left the diner.

Carla got onto another bus at Zang and Bennett and arrived at the Arthur Court neighborhood; actually two blocks from it.  The residents of those monster houses didn’t want the buses coming too close to their gated estates, Carla’s father had told her.  She didn’t understand why.  “Everyone takes the bus!”

“Most everyone,” her father had corrected.

She still didn’t know what the problem was, but she couldn’t bother with it at the moment.  Brittany had put the soda can into a box and sealed it up.  Along with the mayor’s name and address, the letters ‘T-O B-E O-P-E-N-E-D B-Y A-D-D-R-E-S-S-E-E O-N-L-Y’ were printed in several spots around the front of the box.  Like so many sets of letters she’d seen, Carla didn’t know what they meant.  But, as instructed, she didn’t ask questions about them.  The drawing beside what her father had told her was the return address piqued her curiosity, though: a blue-tinted dome atop an otherwise flat-roofed building that had what appeared to be several columns lined up in front of it.  She didn’t recognize the name on that return address, Senator somebody.

“A senator is a very important person,” her father had told her.  “Not too important that we can’t get rid of them.”

“Okay,” Carla answered.  Her father always knew what he was talking about.  She barely trusted the people from the beige-colored building.  But, when her father said they were okay, she felt safe with them.  They always had to talk with him first – in private.

Carla arrived at the tiny building in front of a gigantic set of wrought-iron gates and handed the package to the little man wearing a police-type uniform inside.  He studied it for a minute or so and then said, “Oh, okay.”  He grabbed a clipboard from the desk behind him.  “Sign here,” he added, giving her a pen.

She signed the name, ‘M.S. Carl.’

“Say nothing else and do nothing else,” her father had ordered her.  “Absolutely nothing.  Do you understand me?”

“Of course, Daddy.”

“Thank you,” the little man in the little building grumbled.

“Thank you,” Carla responded brightly.  She could say that much – only that much.

That night, after her parents had treated Carla to dinner at her favorite restaurant, she spoke briefly with her sister and the latter’s two young children.

“Say nothing about what you’ve been doing,” her mother warned her – as usual.

Carla’s sister always tried to cull information from her; more than just, ‘How was school?’ or ‘What did you have for lunch today?’

Afterwards, Carla plopped down onto her favorite spot on a couch in the den, the family’s two corgis curling up on the floor nearby.

“Well, would you look at that,” her father muttered at the TV.

The local news was awash with terror.  A frazzled reporter stood outside, her stringy hair whipping uncontrollably in the wind.  Behind her Carla could see a small building and a set of gates that looked familiar.

“I’ve been there!” she suddenly said.

Her parents turned to her.  “Ay, Carla!” her mother scolded.

“What?”

“Don’t say anything!”

She looked at her father.

“No – don’t say anything,” he repeated.

“Oh – okay,” Carla finally said.  She hated when her mother snapped at her like that.  But what could she do?  She turned to the dogs.  They simultaneously rolled over, fighting for her ticklish fingers.

“…the explosion ripped through the house.  Officials say both the mayor and her personal assistant were present and critically injured.”

Carla glanced to the TV for a few seconds.  She recognized the reporter’s voice.  But she became too consumed with the dogs.

“Reports that they were killed have not been substantiated.  We need to emphasize: NOT substantiated.”

She heard her father sigh heavily, before he muttered – loud enough for her to hear – “Good Carla.”

The dogs were too important for anything else now.

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© 2016

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This Is What I Know

Questions?

Questions?

I’ve learned a few things in the more than half-century I’ve spent on planet Earth.  Actually, more than a few things.  Much of it has been about myself.  I’ve developed my own set of core beliefs.  After years of listening to other people, working in corporate America, reading, writing, eating, drinking and masturbating, I’ve come to realize there are some things that are inherently true and others that are inherently false.

Therefore, I present this random list of things I’ve come to know are factual.  I know plenty of folks – some I actually like – will dispute a few of them.  Oh well… Other people’s rules don’t apply to me.  Deal with it.

 

  • Most animals are cool, but most people are assholes.
  • Women are better at some things than men, such as negotiating and cooperation; and men are better at some things than women, such as planning ahead and taking action.  Neither set of attributes is superior to the other; they’re complementary.
  • Organized religion – especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam – serves no purpose.
  • “Seinfeld” isn’t funny.
  • Not everything wrong in the world is the fault of White males.
  • Children should learn to read and write before they learn to shoot a gun.
  • Politics is intrinsically evil.
  • Lesbians aren’t always hot and sexy.
  • Bill Clinton was the last great president the United States had.
  • Dwight Eisenhower was the last great Republican president.
  • Most Hispanic-Americans are concerned with more than just immigration.
  • AIDS is not the only disease that matters.
  • Fathers serve a purpose beyond financial support.
  • It’s okay for men to be bisexual.
  • Old people aren’t always angry, but they have a right to be pissed off.
  • Jews aren’t the only people on Earth who’ve suffered, nor have they suffered more than anybody else.
  • Real men wear condoms and don’t expect only women to provide birth control.
  • People with British accents aren’t necessarily classy or smart.
  • The biblical story of creationism is just that – a story.  Anyone who believes it is an idiot.
  • It’s alright if you drink alcohol and eat meat.  Don’t get me wrong!  I love vegetarians.  I eat one almost every day.
  • There’s life on other planets – and I don’t mean just single-celled stuff.
  • Writers, painters and other artists are weird – but we serve a greater purpose than professional athletes.
  • Women should register for Selective Service.
  • Going to church every Sunday morning is a waste of a good Sunday morning.
  • Going to a synagogue every Saturday morning is a waste of a good Saturday morning.
  • Julia Roberts is a lousy actress.
  • There are only two genders; female and male.  Transgendered folks don’t comprise a third sex; they’re fucked up.
  • Red hair is beautiful.
  • Some of the most well-educated people I’ve ever met are also some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met.
  • Male circumcision needs to be banned.
  • It’s odd that almost everyone in the Black community has a mother and a pastor, but no one seems to have a father.
  • It’s okay to have brown eyes.
  • Some people are totally worthless pieces of shit and need to be executed.
  • Women should be allowed to go topless in public, just like men.
  • Sex is way overrated.
  • If you wear socks with flip-flops or sandals, you have no idea how stupid you look.
  • Income inequality and climate change ultimately will destroy any society.
  • There’s only one race on Earth – the human race.

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Dig

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“If this rain keeps up,” said Lydia, “I think the garage roof is going to collapse.”

“What’s that?”  Miranda was leaning forward.

“The garage roof!  It’s sagging in one part.  Every time it rains –”

“No.  What’s that?”  She pointed over the dash board.

Lydia peered through the rain and, between the wiper blades, could see a small figure some distance ahead.

A young female, a teenager perhaps, with shoulder-length blonde hair and a purple tee shirt stood off to the right.  As Lydia’s car approached, the girl waved her arms.

Miranda lowered the window halfway and grabbed her cell phone.  Lydia reached towards her pistol she had tucked into the driver’s side door panel.

“Can you help me?” the girl asked.  She propped her tiny frame atop her toes, stretching so she could be heard through the partially-opened window.

“Of course,” replied Miranda.  “What happened?”

“It’s my friend.  She’s in trouble.”

“What happened?”

“Well…”  She looked behind her for a moment.

“Yes?” prodded Miranda.

“She needs help.”

“Who?  Your friend?”

“She’s buried.”

“Excuse me?”

“She’s buried,” the girl repeated.

“Buried?!” blurted Lydia.  “What do you mean buried?”

“Can you just call the police?”

“Yeah, sure,” Miranda answered and dialed 911.

“Buried?” Lydia muttered.  She took a closer look at the girl.  Her light brown eyes appeared empty, her cheeks sunken.  She’s in shock, thought Lydia.  Buried?

Miranda didn’t tell the 911 operator about anyone being buried.  “I don’t know what’s wrong,” she said.  “But I can tell she needs help.  She’s out here on this road alone in the rain.”

A few minutes later a solitary police officer arrived.  By then the blonde girl had retreated closer to a rut alongside the road.  Lydia had edged her SUV as close to the edge as possible, allowing more room for the handful of other vehicles that passed by.  No one else seemed to notice the girl, Lydia thought, except her and Miranda.  The girl had refused Miranda’s offer to jump into the back of the SUV.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Lydia told the police officer, a tall woman with her hair pulled back into corn rows.  “My sister spotted her first – back up the road.”

“What’s her name?” asked the officer.

“I don’t know.”

“I asked her,” said Miranda.  “But she didn’t say anything.  She just moved off to the side there.  And she didn’t want to get in the back.  You know – to get out of the rain.”

“Right.”  She glanced up to the sky.  “I think it’s starting to let up more.  Now what did she say?  Her friend was what?”

“She said her friend was buried,” Lydia answered.  She looked at Miranda.  “Right?”

“Yeah,” replied Miranda.  “That’s what she said.  I asked her what she meant by that, but she didn’t say anything more.  She just said to call the police.  I’m the one who called,” she added, holding up her phone.

“Okay,” muttered the policewoman, peering at the girl from over the SUV’s hood.  “Dispatch mentioned that, but I wanted to make certain.  I’m Officer Robinson.  I’ll talk to her.  Can you two hang out here for a little while?”

“Of course,” said Lydia.

“Sure,” rejoined her sister.  She whipped her head around as the wail of another police siren bellowed from behind them.

Two more police vehicles arrived.  Robinson talked briefly with the two policemen who joined her, before approaching the blonde girl.  “Excuse me,” she said gently.  “What’s your name?”

The girl finally spun around as Robinson got closer.

“I’m Officer Robinson.  What’s your name?”

“Elizabeth,” the girl muttered after a second or so.

“Elizabeth – what’s wrong, dear?”  She took note of the girl’s haggard appearance.  “What happened?”

“It’s my friend.  She’s in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“She’s buried.  Way back there.”  She gestured towards the heavily-wooded area behind her.

“What do you mean she’s buried?”

One of the male officers approached.

“She’s buried!  Someone tried to kill her.”  Her voice quivered.

“Who?” asked Robinson.  “Who tried to kill your friend?”

“Can you just help me dig her out?!”

“Where exactly?” asked the policeman.

“Back there!” Elizabeth blurted, haphazardly swinging a hand behind her.  “I’ll have to show you.  Can we just go out there?!”

“Yes, of course,” said Robinson.

Miranda had lowered her window again and tried to hear what the two officers were saying to Elizabeth, but commotion from more law enforcement prevented that.  “Buried?” she muttered.

Lydia took in the bevy of police officers descending upon the area.  “Looks like a freakin’ drug bust.”

“Buried,” Miranda repeated, more to herself.

“You can lead us to your friend?” a supervisor named Zerega asked Elizabeth.

“Yes!” she exclaimed.

“Okay,” replied Zerega.  “Take her in your car,” he told Robinson.  He turned to another female officer, Jackson, and ordered her to accompany them.

“Roger that,” said Robinson.  “Come on, honey,” she said to Elizabeth.  “We’ll go in my car.”

Jackson joined Elizabeth in the back seat.  “Which direction?” she asked the girl.

“Just back down this road,” said Elizabeth, leaning forward.  “I’ll show you where to turn off.”

“Okay,” said Robinson.

“What’s your friend’s name?” Jackson asked, but Elizabeth seemed distracted, as she stared out the window.  Jackson took visual note of the girl’s shaggy appearance: damp clothes; messy hair; mud-stained white casual shoes.  She smelled of grass and dirt, and Jackson wondered if the girl had tried to dig her friend out of…wherever she was, before seeking help.  “What’s your friend’s name?” she asked again.

“Coming up here on the right,” Elizabeth blurted out, leaning forward.  “There’s a dirt path.  It’s easy to miss, so slow down.”

“Okay,” answered Robinson.  She knew of a few uncharted paths off this stretch of blacktop that wound through some miscellaneous farmland and woodlands.

They approached a curve in the road, a long line of police vehicles behind them and a helicopter overhead.

Robinson slowed.

“We’re almost there!” Elizabeth exclaimed.  She strained against the seat belt.

Jackson spotted a news van ahead, coming in their direction.  “And there they are,” she murmured.

“Yep,” noted Robinson.

They slowed even more and came upon a nondescript separation in a thick row of trees.

“Right here!” said Elizabeth.

“Okay.”  Robinson realized she would have missed it, if someone hadn’t pointed it out to her.  She thought for a moment, as the vehicle bounced onto the muddy pathway, and wondered why she’d never noticed this particular road before.

“Just keep going.”

“Okay.”

Once more Jackson asked, “What’s your friend’s name?”

“You’ll have to turn off onto another path,” Elizabeth instructed.

“Okay,” said Robinson.  She reached for the air conditioner knob, noticing how cold it had grown inside the car.  But it was set as low as possible, without being turned off.

“Who did this to your friend?” Jackson asked.

“Someone else,” Elizabeth answered after a minute.  “Up here, off to the right.”

“Okay.”  Robinson glanced into the rear view mirror.

The car rocked in every direction, as the path became more irascible.

“Who is that someone else?” Jackson persisted.

Elizabeth remained silent.

“Elizabeth, please tell me.  What happened to your friend?  We need to know, so we can help her.  And you.”

“Some other girls,” Elizabeth finally said.

“Some other friends?”

“Yeah.  It’s coming up – on the right.”

“Okay.”  Robinson was inclined to turn off the air altogether, as the car had grown unbearably cold.  She started to shiver, but maintained her eyes on the bumpy path ahead.

Another virtually hidden opening loomed off to their right.

Robinson almost knew instinctively this was the next turn.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said.

“Yes what?” asked Jackson.

“It’s coming up on the right.  It’s hard to see.”

“I see it now,” said Robinson.  She drove the car through a thicker cluster of trees that blocked out much of the sun that had finally started coming out.

“Down here, off to the left,” said Elizabeth.

“Okay.”  She slowed and maneuvered the car down a rocky embankment.

Heavy tree branches overhead shrouded them in darkness, until they entered another clearing.

“Down here,” Elizabeth said.  “Right up ahead.  She’s buried down here.”

“Alright.”

The sun managed to poke through an opening in the canopy above and highlighted a mass of overgrown shrubbery and a fallen tree.

“She’s under there.”

Robinson slammed on the brakes.  “Stay here,” she ordered Elizabeth, while jumping out of the car.  A battalion of fellow officers swarmed onto the remote locale, as Robinson pointed to the batch of wild vegetation.  “She’s saying right under there!”

Several men and women rushed forward and began yanking away the branches, gloved hands frantically tossing the mess forward.  Seconds later they reached a mound of dirt and began clawing at it with the same hurried enthusiasm.  Zerega had ordered no one to use a shovel, for fear of hurting the victim, if she wasn’t interred too deep.

Jackson finally stepped out of the car.  “God, I hope she’s still alive.”

“No telling,” said Robinson, still watching the orderly mayhem.

“We have something!” a female voice shouted from a depression in the ground.  “I think this is her!”

“Jesus,” muttered Jackson.  She looked at Elizabeth who remained unmoved; merely staring ahead.  She started to think that Elizabeth might be involved in this, given her reticence about details.  She turned back to the activity several feet ahead.

The other officers had managed to clear away the dirt.

And the horror became clear.

They found a petite female laying on her back, hands crossed over her stomach.  A small girl with shoulder-length blonde hair.

“Ask her to come over here!” Zerega told Jackson.  “She has to identify her!”

Both Robinson and Jackson turned back to the car.

That was empty.

“Where’d she go?!” hollered Robinson.

“I don’t know!” said Jackson.  “She was just here!”  She darted around to the other side and yanked open the door.

No one.

She looked to the floorboard.  It was covered with streaks of dirt and leaves.  The car smelled of mud.  “What the fuck?!  Where is she?!”

“What do you mean where is she?!” yelled Zerega.

“She’s not here!” said Jackson.

Robinson joined her on that same side.  “Where did she go?”

“I don’t know!  She was just here!”

Robinson looked up to see a few police officers approach.

“Where did she go?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Robinson.  “I told her to stay here.”

“She was here!” Jackson insisted.

Everyone began scanning the area.  But Elizabeth was nowhere.

“What did she say that girl looked like?” Zerega asked.

Robinson and Jackson fumbled for words.  “I don’t know,” Robinson finally said.  “She didn’t say much.”

“I couldn’t get her to say anything,” Jackson stated.  She was beginning to hyperventilate.  “She just said some friends of theirs did this.  She wouldn’t even tell me the girl’s name!”

The entire group had grown frantic.  Zerega ordered some other officers to begin searching for Elizabeth.  “She couldn’t have gone far!” he said.

Robinson charged forward.  She had to see the dead girl for herself.  “This is too fucking weird,” she said to no one in particular.

Jackson followed her.

They stared into the shallow pit.

And took note of the girl.

With shoulder-length blonde hair.

Wearing a purple tee shirt and blue jeans.

And mud-covered white shoes.

The sun retreated.

everyone-needs-a-stick-pile-photoc2a9liesl-clark

© 2016

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Conduit

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Now that we’ve reached another major milestone with the 09/11 attacks – 15 years – with more moments of silence, replays of news footage from that awful day and myriad personal stories, I have to express my growing cynicism about those events.  Short of joining the cadre of unrepentant hawks who believe it was all a well-orchestrated conspiracy, I’m at least settled in the belief that those in charge of national security – from the White House occupants to the guardians of airline safety – failed in every sense to anticipate something like this.  You mean to tell me that no one, absolutely no one, in any role above a street cop didn’t think for a moment that someone could hijack a large jet liner and slam it into a building?  Did no one overseeing the nation’s immigration system not postulate that people overstaying their work or tourist visas could pose a legitimately fatal threat to a large segment of the populace?  In retrospect, I guess not.

We’re the country that developed both the first fully-functioning automobile and airplane and were the first to reach the Earth’s moon.  We were instrumental in developing radio, television, air conditioning, computers and cell phones.  We rose up from the depths of the worst economic downturn in our brief history to help defeat some of the most brutal dictators the world has ever seen.  Did no one – not even a secretary – sitting in an FBI office think, ‘Hm…you know, box cutters could be pretty nasty.’

The U.S. has failed before on such grand levels.  In the fall of 1979, we were still so concerned about the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union that we didn’t think a handful of really pissed off university students could overwhelm our embassy in Tehran, Iran and hold people hostage for fourteen months.  Less than four years later we had military personnel in Beirut, Lebanon when a dynamite-laden box truck plowed into a compound and took 299 lives.  Again, it seemed no one thought these events were possible.

On the other hand, someone did think of crashing a plane into the White House.  In February of 1974, Samuel Byck, a failed Philadelphia businessman, planned to hijack a plane and nose dive it into the White House.  Upset, in part, because the Small Business Administration didn’t grant him a loan to start his own company, Byck had actually come to the attention of the U.S. Secret Service more than once before his enacting fateful ploy.  But, in the days when people could literally walk onto an airplane carrying more than just a bottle of water, Byck stormed aboard a Delta Airlines flight; killing first a policeman and – after firing through the cockpit door – the co-pilot with a stolen .22 revolver.  After forcing a flight attendant to close the cabin door, he announced that he wanted the plane flown to Washington, D.C.  He had even nicknamed his plot: Operation Pandora’s Box.  The bomb he claimed was housed in his briefcase was actually two Valvoline containers filled with petrol, but it had no ignition device.  Out on the tarmac police tried to disable the jet liner by blasting away at its tires.  Finally another police officer fired directly through the cabin door, subsequently and fatally wounding Byck.  Officials learned much about Byck’s plan from the audio tapes he left behind.  However, both the media and the nation were enthralled with the brewing Watergate scandal, so Byck’s failed hijacking warranted little attention.  Still, did no one with some degree of authority at the FBI – beyond that nosy secretary – not view this event with ominous potential?

In the aftermath of the 09/11 attacks, the country – already heavily divided over the previous year’s presidential elections – united in a way not seen in years.  It’s a shame how people don’t often see the value of humanity or realize the fragility of their existence until someone dies.  When death occurs on such a massive scale, though, it’s akin to a natural disaster: we lowly bidepals suddenly get it that we’re just a speck in that hourglass of time.  But, no sooner had we come together in one of those Kumbaya / We-Are-the-World kind of ways than politics crept up from its sewer of a home and started ruthlessly dissecting the national conscious (as it’s wont to do).  Among the first notable reactions was our descent into Afghanistan.  Once a beacon of literature and mathematics, Afghanistan – by the start of the 21st century – had toppled into the madness of religious fervor and extremist conservatism.  The Taliban had taken over a decade earlier and – as the U.S. became drunk on a newfound economic boon – Afghan war lords never forgot the promises our nation made for helping them defeat the Soviets: promises of new infrastructure, health care and all that comes with nation rebuilding.  They didn’t forget.  The U.S. did.  Any average person knows one of the worst friendship betrayals is to forget a heartfelt promise.  Hell – some people get pissed off if you forget their birthday!  But forget about building a new hospital?!  The one holding that bloody promissory note damn sure doesn’t!  Hence, 09/11.  So the U.S. invaded – and still hasn’t left.

Next came the Patriot Act.  This Hallmark-style gem blossomed from the hearts of the U.S. body politic as a concerted effort to prevent any future terrorist attacks.  It snagged tools already in place to fight drug trafficking and organized crime and reconfigured them into a tool to infiltrate terrorist organizations.  In that case, I wonder why they haven’t gone after the IRS.  But it quickly metamorphosed into a pathetic dogma allowing social conservatives to dictate what they felt was un-American.  Any suspected anarchist – you know…gays, lesbians, atheists, abortion doctors, Negroes, Hispanics, Native Americans, feminists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, environmentalists, vegans – fell under the proverbial microscope of questionable behavior.  So, what’s new in America?

One of the most curious – and most comical – of responses was the passage of a bill by the U.S. Congress declaring that French fries in the commissary would be renamed “freedom fries”.  This was strictly due to the fact that France refused to let itself get hoodwinked into believing the Bush Administration’s claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and should therefore be invaded.  Freedom fries?!  Yeah!  Showed those Frenchies a thing or two about pissing off Americans!

Here’s the crux of my argument: the single greatest response to the 09/11 attacks is the equally catastrophic reaction of the Bush White House’s decision to invade Iraq because they maybe-kind-of-sort-of-in-a-way had something to do with killing nearly 2,900 people on that gorgeous Tuesday afternoon.  The invasion of Iraq, along with passage of the Patriot Act and overall mismanagement of the Afghanistan War, annihilated our collective response of unity and hope rising from the ashes of the 09/11 carnage.

I’m old enough to recall Watergate and the destructive impacts it had on the collective American psyche.  It brought down the notion of the imperial U.S. presidency, when we learned that Richard Nixon was a bigoted, foul-mouthed jerk.  Americans shouldn’t have been shocked, though.  Presidents are people, too.  But then again, that level of authority imbues a certain degree of responsibility the average person can’t fathom.  Or it should.  There’s an exception to everything, and Bush certainly was exception to the concept of personal responsibility and high-caliber ethics.

George W. Bush had a prime opportunity to seal his future as one of the greatest Chief Executives ever to occupy the highest office in the land.  Instead he screwed it up royally because of his own incompetence and narrowmindedness.  That’s, in part, because he was nothing more than a puppet of right-wing extremists who targeted the White House and the U.S. Congress long before the 09/11 terrorists started plotting.  Some large oil and energy corporations here in the U.S. set their sights on Iraq in the 1990s, strictly because of its vast reserves of natural resources.  I’ve consistently pointed to one critical, almost overlooked fact: in 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron declared, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.”  Derr later became CEO of Halliburton – the same company Vice-President Dick Cheney lead until May of 2000, when he abruptly resigned and moved from Texas back to his native Wyoming.  In 2000, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell dumped millions into the Bush presidential campaign; more than any other presidential race.  Their efforts seem to have paid off.  Less than two weeks after Bush took office, Cheney chaired the newly-formed National Energy Policy Development Group whose entire purpose was to lay out the course for America’s energy future.  In March 2001, the group outlined Iraq’s oil production capacity.  In 2004, Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics.  Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”

In November of 2002, the Bush Administration RELUCTANTLY established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known affectionately as the “9/11 Commission.”  The bipartisan group pulled as many high-ranking political and national security officials beneath the magnifying glass glare of its hearings.  Watching bits of the hearings again recently, I noticed a few phrases kept popping up: ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’  ‘I can’t say right now.’  Here were some of the most critical figures in U.S. national security and they didn’t know that, for example, many of the 09/11 hijackers had expired visas?  Or that “Bin Laden determined to strike US” could translate into: bombs on planes or even planes used as bombs?  Seriously!

I have one question: what the fuck were you doing in that job anyway?

If, for any reason, I had ever told a supervisor questioning me on something in a past job, “Let me get back to you on that,” there’s a good chance I’d get fired.  I’ve actually seen it happen to people.  Long before 09/11!

When you reach that level of authority in government (or business, for that matter), you are held to a greater degree of accountability than, say, someone mopping the floors at Wal-Mart.  It’s why the police aren’t really granted the benefit of an “honest mistake” when they reach for their guns and pull the trigger.  But then, we’re talking about the Bush White House.  Its people weren’t held to a higher standard than the rest of us.  They got away with it, too.

In September of 2009, political activist and author Van Jones resigned his new-found position as “green jobs czar” in the Obama Administration due to his affiliation with self-proclaimed 9/11 conspiracy “truthers.” The group claims the Bush White House was complicit in the September 11, 2001 terrorist onslaughts.  Within their own ranks they generally fall into two camps: those who say the Bush Administration (and, to some extent, the Clinton White House) dismissed a growing body of intelligence beginning in the late 1990s that the attacks were imminent; and those who declare the Bush gang actually planned and carried out the events with the express intent of invading either Afghanistan or Iraq and accessing their natural resources.  Or invading both countries.  Either theory is plausible.

Consider – among other things – that 511 executives at 186 large corporations, such as Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil, hoarded stock options towards the end of September 2001 at a rate never seen in corporate America before.  Or that one company, Teradyne, laid off a slew of employees just hours before the 09/11 events, and its chairman gathered 602,589 stock options just two weeks later.  Or that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, received $39.5 billion in no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq – the most of any company.  Remember, Dick Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton before assuming the vice presidency.

There are a few figures who have become lost in questions over 09/11.  One is William Rodriguez.  Rodriguez was one of the last people who made it out of World Trade Center Tower 1 before it collapsed.  A maintenance worker with 20 years on the job, Rodriguez is considered a hero because he unlocked doors for arriving firemen.  In testimony before the 09/11 Commission, he claimed he heard an explosion in the basement of that building as he arrived for work; which was just before the plane hit.  Kenneth Johannemann, a part-time janitor in WTC1, stated he also heard the explosion.  And a maintenance worker in Tower 2 reported a similar explosion just before the plane struck that building.  Barry Jennings, a former New York Housing Authority Emergency Coordinator, had been in World Trade Center Tower 7 (the Deutsche Bank Building) and claimed he and another man, Michael Hess, had been “blown back” by an explosion in the structure hours before it and WTC Towers 1 and 2 collapsed.  They also claimed to have stepped over dead bodies in WTC7 as they fled.  WTC7 had not been struck by an airplane, but it caught fire and crumbled within hours after Towers 1 and 2 fell.  Other occupants claimed they’d heard explosives go off in the building some time before its downfall.  But the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which investigated the collapse of the three edifices solely from a structural standpoint, highlighted the amount of debris (including flaming refuse) that fell onto WTC7 from Towers 1 and 2.  Still, conspiratorialists point to the fact that Jennings died under suspicious circumstances on August 19, 2008.  Twelve days later Johannemann also died; in this case, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

There are other mysterious deaths of people with direct and indirect ties to 09/11.

Beverly Eckert, whose husband died on 09/11, co-founded Voices for September 11th, an advocacy group for 09/11 survivors and their families.  Eckert had also pushed for the U.S. to allow legal action against the government of Saudi Arabia, pointing out that 15 of the 19 09/11 hijackers hailed from the oil-rich kingdom.  She and others claimed that, like the U.S., the Saudi government helped to facilitate the attacks.  Eckert died in a commuter plane crash on February 12, 2009.

Christopher Landis was Operations Manager for Safety Service Patrol for the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2001.  He had an unobstructed view of the Pentagon, which was struck by American Airlines Flight 77.  Landis had taken photos of the area in the days immediately preceding 09/11; many show light poles that were down near the Pentagon.  Afterwards Landis turned over the photos to authorities.  But he also kept copies and handed the same batch over to “The Pentacon,” an organization dedicated to investigating military injustices.  Jason Ingersoll, who worked for the U.S. Navy, took pictures of the same area in the moments after Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon.  In some of the photos, the same light poles as in the Landis shots are knocked down.  In November 2006, Landis committed suicide.

Bertha Champagne was a babysitter for the family of Marvin P. Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush.  Often dubbed the “neglected Bush,” he had served on the board of directors for Securacom/Stratesec, a Kuwaiti/Saudi-backed company, from 1993 June 2000.  Securacom/Stratesec provided electronic security for the World Trade Center Complex and Dulles International Airport from where American Airlines Flight 77 originated.  By September of 2001, Marvin sat on the board of HCC Insurance Holdings (now Tokio Marine HCC), which insured parts of the WTCC.  On September 29, 2003, Bertha Champagne was crushed to death by her own vehicle on the grounds of Marvin’s family home in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The car inexplicably rolled forward and subsequently trapped Champagne against a small building beside the driveway.  There were no witnesses, and nothing was stolen from either Champagne or the Bush home.  Champagne’s death appears to have been purely accidental, but it wasn’t reported in the media until October 5.

It’s all circumstantial evidence that can point to a deliberately wicked machination.  Or not.  There’s nothing like a good conspiracy, though.  Even the pragmatic, ever-cynical Chief Writing Wolf loves one.  Yet, amidst any great national tragedy, people will always make tangential connections between seemingly unrelated events and individuals.  Marife Torres Nichols, the Filipino-born second wife of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, had lived briefly in a New York City building where a man named Ramzi Ahmed Yousef also occasionally resided.  A Kuwaiti national, Yousef helped to plan and bomb World Trade Center Tower 1 in February 1993.  He and another man drove an explosives-laden truck into the building’s garage.  The resultant explosion killed 6 and injured more than a thousand.

If you think the U.S. federal government doesn’t engage in such unseemly practices, I have a couple of vials of Jesus Christ’s blood in a Tupperware container beneath my bed I’d like to sell you for $25,000 a pop.

 

Regardless of whether the tragic events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 were a carefully-conceived Mephistophelean drama or the end result of people in government who just should have known better, it all served as a conduit for poor behavior at the highest levels of authority; gateway, if you will, for a small cadre of government and corporate elitists to twist reality into a new and more affluent life for themselves.

The rest of us were forced or tricked into submission via personal shaming or voter intimidation.  Just when we progressive futurists felt two centuries worth of human rights advances had finally produced a casteless society, we got shot down like…well, like a bird out of the sky.  Many of us saw this coming.  The hijacking of four airplanes was preceded by the blatant hijacking of the 2000 presidential elections.  Once again, the message was clear: White male privilege is not to be questioned.  (And, in case anyone forgot, the Chief is mostly of the Caucasian persuasion.)

Like microwaved French fries (yes, that’s what they really are), it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  And in my soul.

Let political and business titans tap-dance on the graves of those who perished – were murdered – on 09/11, if it makes them feel empowered.  They can’t take that feeling with them when they meet their own fate.

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Still Here

Who’s there? Wolfgang peering into my parents’ bedroom on August 1, 2016.

Who’s there? Wolfgang peering into my parents’ bedroom on August 1, 2016.

My gaze remained fixed on my computer – as it always does, when I become engrossed in either a news article or my own writing, leading to that vicious brand of dry eye syndrome – and not paying much attention to anything around me.  But, out of the sandy corner of my right eye, I noticed Wolfgang lift up his head.  It wasn’t a gradual rise, like he’d heard the refrigerator door open and hoped someone was reaching for a snack.  Rather, it was more of a sudden jolt, as if a wayward noise had startled him.  Often, I don’t hear those same noises.  As a dog, millennia of canid sensory attributes finely-tuned and ground deep into his mind and body, he can hear a bug crawling in the next room, on carpet, with a rainstorm battering the house around us; he could see that same bug – minuscule as it may be – ambling across the carpet.

But this was different.  No refrigerator door; no bugs; just…something.  It was enough to make me stop; giving my eyes a much-needed break.  Then I saw a shadow; a nanosecond of movement.  Wolfgang whipped his head around, and so did I.

A couple of years ago I wondered, in an essay, what it would be like to be deceased.  I’m in no hurry to find out, but as both a spiritual person and a writer fascinated with the gothic (even the macabre), I’ve thought about it for most of my life.  It’s become an especially important matter to me in the three months since my father’s death.  Raised Roman Catholic, I was taught to believe in angels and saints.  But, when I heard an elderly nun once say “there’s no such things as ghosts,” I couldn’t reconcile the two.  Angels exist; ghosts don’t.  What’s the difference?  My first views of angels came from the stained glass windows of the church where I became an altar boy in the mid-1970s.  I acquired a more salacious vision from John Phillip Law’s “Pygar” in “Barbarella.”  (I actually prefer the latter.)

Having divorced myself from the Catholic Church years ago, I seek emotional fulfillment in the simplest of things: reading, writing, exercise, music, vodka, and, of course, Wolfgang.  I still believe in a Supreme Being, but I don’t subscribe to any religious ideology.  It’s too confining.  Yet the concept of an afterlife has remained a constant fixture in my mind.

Over the past three months Wolfgang’s behavior has become more curious.  His attention is being constantly diverted.  He lifts his head and stares at something – or someone – in the distance.  He’ll just hold that gaze – not for a few seconds, but several minutes.  One night, as I worked on my computer, and my mother sat in the den reading, Wolfgang perched himself just outside my parents’ bedroom…and stared straight ahead.  He didn’t move for what seemed like an hour.  Finally he stood and entered the room.  Turning to his left, in the direction of a nightstand, he sat after a few minutes.  And remained there for the longest time.  I didn’t want to disturb him, so I left him alone.  After a while, he ambled back to a spot near me and plopped down…still looking ahead into my parents’ bedroom.

“What’s that?” I asked him.  I knew the answer.

His eyes, bright pools of dark chocolate, bored into my face.  Those eyes – and his animated expressions – always conveyed more than the average person.

Of course, I’m biased – not just because he’s my dog.  More so, because I love dogs – and most animals for that matter – than I do people.  Animals don’t gossip; call you names; cut in front of you while driving; throw a self-righteous attitude in your face; or believe the world revolves around them, and science just needs to prove it.  In other words, animals don’t piss me off just for the hell of it.

I’d have no problems pulling out a gun and firing into the windshield of a car whose driver almost ran me off the road because they were engrossed in their cell phone.  But I’d think twice about putting down a dog that bit me out of its own fear.

México won’t execute drug kingpins because they don’t have the death penalty.  Yet, they retain the brutal tradition of bullfighting and conduct rodeos where horses routinely break their necks.  Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks that’s twisted.

I created a controversy on Facebook about five years ago, when I stated that I’d rather see a thousand drug addicts and / or sexually-irresponsible people died of AIDS than see one animal suffer because of human neglect and abuse.  Just about everyone missed the “drug addict” and “sexually-irresponsible” part.  How dare I think someone who fucks around like a rabbit on Viagra shouldn’t cry too loudly when they come down with something a tad bit more severe than gingivitis.  If political incorrectness was a course, I’d fail miserably.

“What’s that?” I asked again.  He just looked at me, and I gathered he was telling me exactly what was going on.  Domesticated animals comprehend a bevy of our words.  How many of their vocalizations do we humans understand?  I just had to figure out what those expressions meant.

And I finally figured it out.  He knows things; meaning, he sees and hears things that are there; others who are there.

And I know that who’s often there isn’t visible to the eyes of the contemporary human; our brains having become too cluttered with practicality and technology.  Yet, even before now, I had proof.  Nothing that can be verified independently, but proof to me nonetheless.

One weekday in the spring of 2011, as I crouched before my computer – making a concerted effort to launch my freelance writing career, while trying to ward off the dreaded office-chair butt affliction – I sensed someone move behind me.  At the same nanosecond, Wolfgang bolted into the hall from his spot near my chair; a modest growl spilling from his snout.  Both him and that ubiquitous figure unnerved me; giving my eyes that much-needed break.

But I kept my focus on Wolfgang.  He stood in the hall, looking towards the den.  His head cocked to one side slightly and – apparently satisfied no danger lurked – returned to his place near my chair.  He circled around that few square inches of carpet, before plopping down.  He sensed my confusion and tossed me a comforting gaze.  “Don’t worry,” his eyes reassured me.  “I got it settled.”

Settled what?  He sighed, exasperated.  I’m certain he was thinking what a naïve dumbass I must be.  In retrospect, I’d agree with him.  But I stepped into the hall and peered towards the den.  That figure – that someone – I thought, was an old woman.  I returned to my chair.

Wolfgang gave up trying to explain it to me and resumed napping.

Then my mother came out of her bedroom.  Hugging the doorframe, unsteady from a midday slumber, she gave me a confounded look and asked, “Where’s grandmother?”

I squinted at her.  “Who?”

“Where’s grandmother?” she repeated.

I hesitated, equally confused.  I knew who she was talking about, but I didn’t know why.  “Why are you asking me that question?”  It really startled (upset) me.

She woke up and rubbed her eyes.

I turned briefly to Wolfgang.  I was trying to tell you, his eyes said.

Aside from my mother’s three siblings and their father, I only met a handful of her relatives – all from her father’s side of the family in Michigan.  I got to know the Mexican side through antiquitous photographs and stories; ghost stories, in a way, stuck in my mother’s memory.

My maternal grandmother died in México City on Christmas Day 1940 from some miscellaneous stomach ailment.  Her own mother, a widow by then, had returned from living in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a nanny for the daughters of a U.S. Navy admiral.  Along with being a good cook and natural-born caregiver, she was self-educated, which included teaching herself English, and an opera aficionado.  She stepped in to help her son-in-law (my grandfather) raise his four children.

She had led a life mixed with hardship and religiosity (the latter supposed to hinder the former).  But then again, what woman born in 19th century México – or anywhere outside of royalty and the industrial elite – didn’t?  At the age of 14, a handsome, 21-year-old young man with steely blue eyes spotted her in the yard of school she attended, introduced himself and decided to make her his bride.  A few months later her mother dropped her into a wedding dress.  He gave her five children, two illegitimate children, a bout of syphilis and an early widowhood.  By the time my German-American grandfather, Clarence, arrived in México City with an uncle selling farm equipment in the mid-1920s, my great-grandmother’s husband was already gone.  When my grandfather met the brown-eyed beauty named Esperanza who would become his wife, he apparently was smitten.  He actually courted her, and it was a little while before they got married.  My great-grandmother didn’t want to impose her marital tribulations upon her own daughters.  Clarence and Esperanza married in 1927.

Esperanza’s mother was a curiosity, my mother recalled.  Not even five feet tall, her internal organs were switched; her heart, for example, rested on the right side of her torso and was too big for her body.  They could see the veins on the sides of her neck pulsate, a feature that made her wear high-necked clothing.  Her eyes were more golden in color; “ojos de un perro,” is how she described them – “eyes of a dog.”  But, more intriguingly, she also bore enough personal faith to build a bridge between her heart and the spiritual netherworld.

Supposedly women possess that unique ability more than men.  I believe women are just more willing to admit it.  Acknowledgement of contact with “The Other Side” is conceding, in a way, a dependence on the inanimate – the emotional.  And men aren’t permitted such comforts.  In México, in the U.S., or anywhere they want to call home and be considered valuable.  But I feel that having no spirit is akin to having no soul.

Shortly before the death of someone my great-grandmother knew – a relative, a friend – she would encounter a mysterious figure; a woman cloaked in black with a veil-like accoutrement almost completely covering her face.  She’d mutter the name of the individual – whoever was about to die – and then vanish.

My mother and her older sister, Margo, never really believed her, she told me.  Their grandmother was just an old woman with a strange little mind carved up by Roman Catholicism and too many health problems.  Until one afternoon shortly before Christmas 1940.

Esperanza had fallen ill, and no one could figure out why.  My mother and Margo accompanied their grandmother to a local open-air market; the type that were so common back then and now quaintly occupy a spot on travel shows.  A woman, clad in black, suddenly stood before them.  All Margo and my mother remember was hearing their own mother’s name – Esperanza.  It seeped through the woman’s lace veil and into their ears; a sound that abruptly instilled an overwhelming sense of dread in the two girls.  Hearing them both recount the incident some four decades later made my skin tighten.  Less than two weeks later, Esperanza was gone.

My grandfather was headed back to Michigan in the summer of 1942, when the train he rode stopped in Dallas.  A job ad in a local newspaper caught his attention.  It offered something like $20 per day as a machinist, a fortune in those days.  He applied for and got it.  He moved into a nearby boarding house and, within a year, had managed to save enough money to buy a house in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.  In September of 1943, his four children arrived with his mother-in-law, after a three-day trek by train from México City.  He felt he had to move.  As an American in México during a global war, he didn’t just feel out of place – he was out of place.  By then my great-grandmother had secured her role as de facto matriarch.

She died in Dallas in August of 1963; less than three months before I was born.  At the funeral, my mother almost passed out, as much from the emotional loss as from the intense heat.  Standing outside in Texas during August is not a pleasant experience.  My great-grandmother had blessed my mother’s stomach just days earlier; holding a tiny wrinkled hand above my restless unborn self, her other hand clutching an aged crucifix.

My father’s older sister, Amparo, was at the same funeral.  She knew how close my mother had been to her grandmother and (knowing those damned Texas summers) had brought a large jar of cold water.  After my father helped my mother back to the car and had her drink some of that water, my mother looked up.  And, as she recalled years later, she spotted a small figure dressed in black some distance away – a woman with a black veil covering her face.  “Go away,” my mother said into the hot air, and the woman left.

That crucifix, now over a century old, hangs unimposingly above my bed – just as it did throughout my childhood and through the three apartments I lived in before returning to my parents’ home a few years ago.  And, thinking back now, on that spring afternoon in 2011, I realize Wolfgang must have seen my great-grandmother.  Her presence most certainly startled him at first; he’d never seen her before.  But she assured him she meant no harm; she’s one of us.

On another nondescript afternoon, I was trying to help my mother find a pair of small scissors.  She always kept them in her nightstand, but she couldn’t even find the scissors there.  I looked through it, too, albeit with a greater sense of frustration.  I was enmeshed in one of those “Moods.”  How did I end up like this?  Unmarried, childless, 40-something, scarcely employed with a bad back, helping my mother search for a pair of miniature scissors.

I turned to see Wolfgang.  “Really?” his eyes bemoaned with a frustrated sigh.  “This is bothering you?”  His gaze slithered around me and towards the nightstand; he then scampered away.  “You’re getting on my last nerve!” he grunted.

I almost followed him, but something made me stop.  Look again, I heard in my subconscious.  I opened the bottom drawer of the nightstand and filtered through a menagerie of items.  My fingertips grasped a small envelope, which held a black-and-white photograph…my mother’s maternal grandmother.  It was her passport photo, probably taken in 1943 in preparation for her move to the U.S.

My father had said frequently he hoped he’d go before Wolfgang.  He’d grown so attached to him that the dog’s death would be too much to handle.  I told both my parents a while back, though, I believed he’d go before them.  I also told them that we needed to prepare ourselves for his inevitable demise.  In 1985, when we had to put down our beloved German shepherd, Josh, we had never considered the impact such a death would have on us.

Now my father is gone, having passed away in this house – just as he wanted – and Wolfgang keeps tossing his gaze around.

So I look at the various photos of my father and know for certain – he’s still here.

My father at his 60th birthday party in 1993.

My father at his 60th birthday party in 1993.

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Happy Father’s Day 2016!

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“When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman.  Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape.” – Dave Attell

 

“Four-year-old: Tell me a scary story!
Me: One time little people popped out of your mom, and they never stopped asking questions.
Four-year-old: Why?” – James Breakwell

 

“He has always provided me a safe place to land and a hard place from which to launch.” – Chelsea Clinton

 

“Me and my dad used to play tag.  He’d drive.” – Rodney Dangerfield

 

“There should be a children’s song: ‘If you’re happy and you know it, keep it to yourself and let your dad sleep.’” – Jim Gaffigan

 

“Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” – Anne Geddes

 

“I just sit there and make up songs and sing to [my son] in gibberish. I’m very good at gibberish now.” – Elton John

 

“I found out that I’m a pretty bad father. I make a lot of mistakes and I don’t know what I’m doing. But my kids love me. Go figure.” – Louis C.K.

 

“Men should always change diapers.  It’s a very rewarding experience.  It’s mentally cleansing. It’s like washing dishes, but imagine if the dishes were your kids, so you really love the dishes.” – Chris Martin

 

“I’m probably the most uncool guy that [my daughters] know – as far as they are concerned anyway – ‘cause I’m Dad.  I mean dads just aren’t cool – especially when I dance!  They don’t want me to dance.” – Tim McGraw

 

“Having a kid is like falling in love for the first time when you’re 12, but every day.” – Mike Myers

 

“Having children is like living in a frat house: nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up.” – Ray Romano

 

“The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.” – Tim Russert

 

“My sisters and I can still recite Dad’s grilling rules: Rule No. 1: Dad is in charge. Rule No. 2: Repeat Rule No. 1.” – Connie Schultz

 

“You can tell what was the best year of your father’s life, because they seem to freeze that clothing style and ride it out.” – Jerry Seinfeld

 

“Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch.” – Jon Stewart

 

“I’ve had some amazing people in my life. Look at my father – he came from a small fishing village of five hundred people and at six foot four with giant ears and a kind of very odd expression, thought he could be a movie star. So go figure, you know?” – Kiefer Sutherland

 

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” – Harry S. Truman

 

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

 

“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.” – John Wilmot

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Father Wolf Transitions

My father in 1949 at age 16.

My father in 1949 at age 16.

At one family Christmas gathering in the 1980s, someone had invited an older couple most everyone knew.  They often provided musical entertainment at such gatherings; with the man playing a guitar, while he and his wife sang.  During this particular evening, the woman brought out a set of maracas and began yodeling.  I have to concede that – up to that point – I had never heard a Mexican yodeling.  I always thought yodeling was a characteristic unique to people only of Nordic extraction.  Even though I’m one-quarter German, I don’t possess such a talent.  But, if you’ve ever heard a Mexican yodeling…well, imagine a Chihuahua having a Maalox moment from hell.

Some of my male cousins and me tried to sustain our laughter and wondered how long this would continue.  The gathering took place in the house of one my aunts, Teresa, and her husband, Chris.  A massive abode with a wide, marble-laden foyer, a living room or seating area sat off to the left upon entering, and a formal dining room to the right, which allowed entry into the kitchen.  Most everyone had gathered in the spacious den, with several others in the kitchen and another dining area.  I stood in the den, with my cousins, our backs to the covered patio, with a clear view of the foyer and the front door.

As the woman yodeled, my father suddenly catapulted from the dining room into the living, straddling a broom like it was a toy horse.  He sported a bright smile and waved to the crowd in the den.  Those of us who saw him burst into hysterical laughter, while those closer to the kitchen, against the fireplace, or against the wall parallel to the entertainment duo jumped to their feet.  They clustered en masse in the center of the den, just in time to see my dad gallop back across the foyer into the dining room.  The woman singing saw him on the return jaunt and almost lost control of her voice.

It’s those moments that kept circulating through my mind these past several days, as my father, George De La Garza, began his transition into his next life.  It began last Monday, June 6.  After enduring an array of health problems over the past few years, capped by two weeks in the hospital just last month, he’d finally had enough.  We had a brief memorial service Saturday morning, the 11th, at a local funeral home.  Both my parents were wise to make funeral arrangements five years ago.  They had initially bought cemetery plots, but decided afterwards to be cremated and sold the plots back to the funeral home.  My father didn’t want an extended funeral; no real funeral at all, in fact, with a Catholic rosary, a lengthy mass, a parade of limousines and another service at the grave site.  His philosophy was simple: “just throw me in a box, toss me into the ground, say your prayers and go on with your own lives.”

I had written of my father previously, but he didn’t like too much attention bestowed upon him.  He was a unique character who liked to make people laugh and who often made himself the butt of his own jokes.  As a teenager, he’d often play pranks on his mother, Francisca.  Once she sent him to the store with a list of items to buy.  He left the house briefly and sneaked back inside and went into his parents’ bedroom; where he called the home phone number.  In those days, if you had more than one phone in the house, you could actually call your own number from within, and the other phone would ring.  His mother picked up the phone in the kitchen.  My father pretended to be at the store and confused by what she’d written on the list.  He aggravated her, until finally he set down the bedroom phone and startled her by walking into the kitchen.

My paternal grandparents had eleven children, but four of them – two boys and two girls – died either as infants or toddlers.  That was common in those days – couples would have several kids and some may die not long after birth.  But my father often said his parents had so many kids because his mother was hard of hearing.  As they got ready for bed, my grandfather would ask, “Well, do you want to go to sleep, or what?”  And my grandmother would respond, “What?”

My mother certainly didn’t escape his humorous wraths.  He told me that she and her younger sister, Angie, were so mean and bitter because they’d grown up in México picking avocadoes.  When their father decided to move the family to the U.S. in 1943, my father said, he could only afford train fare for four people.  So he went, along with his oldest daughter, his son and his mother-in-law.  For my mother and Angie, according to my dad, my grandfather leased a donkey and told them just to ride north until you run into bunch of White people speaking only English.

Like most men, he was fiercely protective of his family.  My mother told me years ago that, if my father knew how some of the men talked to her at the insurance companies where she worked her entire life, he’d probably be in prison; meaning, he’d most certainly kill more than a few.  He always said he’d know I would be a boy.  One particular picture he took of me as an infant, he said, was the mirror image of what he’d dreamed about while my mother was still pregnant.  She almost lost me twice during what she said was a 10-month pregnancy and was in labor for several hours.  While they languished at the hospital, the staff was trying to reach the pediatrician; this being a time before pagers and cell phones.  When he finally showed up, my father asked where he’d been.

“What’s the big deal?” replied the doctor.  “You have a date tonight?”  I guess he was trying to be cute.

But my father – usually catching the humor in someone’s tone of voice – grabbed the man by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him up against a nearby wall.  “Listen, you bastard!  My wife is in pain, and I want to know what the hell you’re going to do about it!”

My dad could still find some way to turn a bad situation around.  During the extended funeral of John F. Kennedy, my parents had gathered with other friends and relatives at the home of my father’s older brother, Jesse, and his wife, Helen.  At one point, Helen asked why the “flags were halfway up the poles.”

“Because they ran out of string,” answered my father.

About fifteen or so years ago, my parents agreed to watch the pet goldfish belonging to the daughters of some neighbors; a younger couple who are about my age.  One day my mother changed the water in the fish bowl.  The next day the fish were dead.  My parents hurried to a pet store to buy two more goldfish; hoping the neighbors wouldn’t notice.  But those fish also died.  My father told me what happened, adding, “Damn!  I didn’t know I was married to a serial killer!”

I stare at pictures of my father scattered throughout the house and notice, in almost all of them, he’s smiling and / or laughing.  He was that rare type who never met a stranger.  Unlike me, he was an extrovert.  I always admired that about him.  He could never understand why it was so hard for me to make friends.

His health had begun to take a more dramatic turn for the worst at the end of 2014.  Following a partial colectomy, he was hospitalized twice for kidney failure.  He vowed he’d never allow himself to be taken to the hospital again.  “I want to die here at home.”

But, one weekday morning a month ago, he had a change of mind.  “I think I need to go the hospital.  I want to live.”

So I called 911 and had him hospitalized.  He again was suffering from kidney failure, but this time, his gall bladder had also become infected.  They got him as stable as possible, and after two weeks, I convinced the doctors to let him go.  Technically, from a medical standpoint, he wasn’t actually ready to be released.  But I made it quite clear to all the attending physicians that he needed to be home.

I had asked him only once the previous week, if he wanted to go back to the hospital.  He shook his head no.  He knew this was it.  The end for him was near.  I knew it as well, but I was still trying to get him healthy.  It’s so difficult to see a loved one in the grip of such physical agony.  It was so tough to see a man who radiated vitality – even into his 70s – gasping for air and barely able to move.  I had prayed for his suffering to end.  And we all know the old saying, ‘Be careful for what you wish for; you might just get it.’  Short of a miraculous recovery, my father’s health just wasn’t going to improve.

He wanted to die at home.  He wanted to pass away in the house he and my mother had worked so hard to buy and to keep.  And I wanted to grant him that wish.

My dog, Wolfgang, who will turn 14 this week, initially wandered throughout the house looking for my father.  Then, over the past few days, I noticed that something seemed to be catching his attention.  He’d suddenly sit up or prick up his ears.  And then relax.  I believe animals possess a stronger sensory perception than we humans.  It’s their one superior trait.

My grandmother Francisca died in February of 2001, almost three years to the day after the death of her eldest daughter, my Aunt Amparo.  The next two deaths were my Aunt Teresa and my Uncle Jesse, both in 2004.  Several months after Jesse’s death, my father had a strange dream that he couldn’t explain until after he told me about it.  He was perched on a tractor lawn mower, plowing through a large expanse of grass, when he noticed a group people perched beneath a tree.  As he got closer, he realized they were his parents and three older siblings.  He could see his father completely, but he could only see the top halves of his mother and Amparo.  Teresa was covered by a black veil, and Jesse was off to one side, shrouded in darkness.

My grandfather motioned for him to come closer and then asked him if he wished to join them.  Was he – in effect – ready to give up on this life?  My father said he turned to the field of grass and said no – he had too much work to do.  And then he woke up.

I realized the grass was a metaphor for all of the things my father still wanted to do in his life.  It was symbolic, too, because he loved gardening.  I also realized that – as my father had described them – the family’s appearances represented their time on the other side.  His father had died in 1969, so his spirit had time to metamorphose into what was a familiar figure.  His mother and Amparo had only died a few years earlier.  Teresa and Jesse and arrived on that side the year before, so their spirits hadn’t had enough time to take shape into people he’d recognize.  He only knew it was them because they each spoke to him.

I don’t believe the human soul has any definite shape, color or mass.  It’s not like what we see here.  I’m also much more spiritual, even though I started off the memorial service with the Lord’s Prayer.  I want to pray to my father to help me through the ensuing difficulties with my mother.  He’s just begun his transition into that new life, however; so I don’t want to disturb him too much.  Allow me to be greedy, though.  I miss him terribly.  My heart still aches, but I’m more at ease now than I have been in over this past week.

On Sunday night, June 5, my father kept pointing forward and uttering something.  After a minute or so, I finally understood what he was saying, “Door.”  There was a door in front of him; not the bedroom door.  That other door.  He was finally able to step through it.  And that’s what needed to happen.  At some point in time, we all step through that door.  No one really dies.  The body perishes, but the good souls remain alive.

My father and me in 1966.

My father and me in 1966.

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