American writer & activist
Author of Ghetto Plainsman
Her Blue Watered Streets: An American Novel
and the 2-year blogstory
Fear & Loving: Where the Ocean Meets the Streets
Founder & CEO of Great Plains Restoration Council
A new 2-year blogstory by American writer Jarid Manos
If the oceans are dying, what happens when we live?
(Launched January 2014)
Sometimes at night I’m sitting on the white silt bottom of the ocean some 50 or 60 feet deep, waaay deeper than I’ve ever gone; the blue water is dusky almost dark from the depth. My veins are racing; with my gut I tamp down a fear that could become feral. I can see nothing but the blue and black, and this beam or shaft of yellow sunlight impossibly penetrating all the way down yet lifting like the tail of a passing tornado. I can feel its force, its sidewall is pulling at me. I get caught — it pulls me up through the water to the glassy underbottom surface. And I always wake up before I hit. I imagine it shatters like glass, like water, and there is bright daylight…
Jarid Manos is the author of Ghetto Plainsman , and the upcoming Her Blue Watered Streets: An American Novel. He also contributes to The Huffington Post. He has been published or featured in U.S. and international media. He is founder & CEO of Great Plains Restoration Council, and is a nationally-recognized published author, green leader, youth worker, vegan athlete, health advocate and public speaker.
Jarid Manos’ second book, over five years in the writing, and coming soon…
Summary: After a bad breakup, a mixed-race gay black man from Houston has a daughter and they start a new life in the violent tropical paradise of Puerto Rico.
Buy Jarid Manos’ first book, GHETTO PLAINSMAN (Third and Final Edition April 2014) at local and national book stores as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com and all e-book devices, such as the Kindle, iPad and Nook. All author profits are donated to Great Plains Restoration Council, the author’s 501(c)3 non profit organization, and its signature program Restoration Not Incarceration™
“Like a modern-day John the Baptist emerging from the wilderness … a poetic lyricism that rivals the world’s greatest writers.”
~ Bob Ray Sanders, Associate Editor/Senior Columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; award-winning member/National Association of Black Journalists
Contact us to book Jarid Manos at your local university, book store, church or other place of faith, County Jail, book club, conference, convention, organization, and more.
Dearly Beloved: 100 Years Ago the Last Passenger Pigeon Died by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post
A hundred years ago, Martha died. At 1 p.m. on September 1, 1914, the last individual of a wild blue dove whose flocks once numbered billions and blackened the American skies for days fell over dead in her Cincinnati zoo cage.
With the magnitude of her race’s extinction, the American story – which is particularly the story of people on the land – ripped deeper into loss.
Almost no part of early American life went untouched by the passenger pigeon. Nearly 40 percent of all North American birds were passenger pigeons. The fact that most people today never heard of them shows how quickly we get accustomed to poverty.
Not confused with the city pigeon (an invasive species from England), the passenger pigeon was our continent’s blue-winged exclamation – sleek, larger than a mourning dove, incredibly beautiful with an hourglass neck, iridescent blue body, apple breast, and white underside. In their billions – and they needed huge numbers to survive – they migrated north and south, creating their own wind and weather.
Integral to native peoples, it’s likely they also touched Esteban the Moor, the first African in Texas and former slave of Moroccan descent, who washed ashore with failed Spanish conquistadors in 1528. Thomas Jefferson ate them, as did most people in American colonial times. Look closely inside Toni Morrison’s A Mercy to see passenger pigeons mentioned for dinner. You could shoot once into a flock and kill several. Tecumseh, 1768-1813, the legendary Shawnee prophet and leader in the old Ohio Country, who tried mightily to bring Indian people together to protect their way of life, lived in the passenger pigeon’s heartland.
I sometimes wonder what enslaved blacks working in the cleared fields of Georgia or Kentucky thought as the gargantuan flocks flew overhead. Did they stop and look up as the first living thunder approached?
Did that bird’s wind seem like the blue breath of God as it pushed against their stiff clothes?
Before the gunfire of Gettysburg, were young, recently fledged passenger pigeons roosting and feeding in the oak and pigeonberry hills, their brand new feathers gleaming?
As a child in Ohio, I was likely already a goner by the time I read of the passenger pigeon. But when I learned of how they shook the world, right where I stood that now was so emptied of life, it perhaps gave a tipping point to my trauma.
I read how the term “stool pigeon” came into common lexicon. Hunters would sew a live passenger pigeon’s eyes shut then tether him to a stool, where his flapping would attract a flock to be shot or netted. When they’d nest in massive colonies, millions were killed by burning sulphur pots beneath them, shooting them, smashing them with poles, and more, to ship them to markets via the new railroads, at the same time their ancient oak, beech and hickory forests and tallgrass prairies were being destroyed. Advancing telegraph lines helped detect the last nesting colonies.
Recently, in Washington, D.C. for the launch of the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau, we were given a private tour of Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln, who hailed from part of the passenger pigeon’s northern homeland, was shot.
Afterwards, a friend took me to the Smithsonian, where Martha and two unknown dead male passenger pigeons are exhibited for their extinction centennial.
It was unnerving to have my body so close to theirs, just separated by a glass wall. The brilliance in feathers is faded.
As James, my friend, pulled me away, I lingered, my head crooking backwards. A white father and his two kids stopped and stared into the glass exhibit. Then a black father and his pigtailed daughter came and she jolted “OOH!” at the sight of the stuffed dead bird on his back. I thought: How tender and new this child was, not yet exposed to the world.
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which so hauntingly imbues us with the American story of people on the land, of motherhood, and grief, and the pungence between the three, Sethe struggles barefoot through Kentucky wilderness and human danger to get across the Ohio River to freedom.
It’s the same route passenger pigeons took north for millennia to their primeval nesting grounds.
At one point in the book, Sethe’s throat-cut daughter appears to return from the dead. Her neck is crooked and disjointed. The daughter’s gravestone merely says Beloved.
Today some people are trying to resurrect the passenger pigeon, mashing DNA strands with biotechnology.
But when they’re conjured back from the dead, made from cells and pieces, to face us in a world they don’t know, will their necks be crooked too?
July 8, 2014
A very little boy once thought the summer sun was bright because it was smiling and that’s why everything grew green and lush during the peak season. “Knee-high by the Fourth of July” was the ‘country’ expectation in the Midwest when looking at that them corn plants.
The Summer Solstice and July 4th, 2014 are now past. Over the last couple months as the Earth shifted on its axis I watched the sun of another year race to the north in the western sky and reach its zenith; we’ve now passed the highest point and things will start sliding back down again.
On the concrete causeway between the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach I dug down into my bike pedals at 20+ human miles per hour.
Too fast for the lowering red-and-white striped barricades I shot across the drawbridge as the warning buzzer blared and inside the little control house a black female stared outward at me from her watchtower, her face inscrutable. The afternoon sun struck the glass at an angle making the window dark almost charcoal-smoked and her face a half-seen painting behind it.
The metal grate bridge vibrated, grinding open at its middle as it rose and split apart like James Cameron’s Titanic and my belly imagined for a moment miscalculating and getting caught in its gap, pulled off my bike and thrown into the tropical bay waters below.
But I was already threading through the red-and-white barricade arms on the other sides, faces of lined-up cars in front staring, immobilized.
I brushed them all off – the bridge, the barricades, the watchtower, waiting traffic – like sweat off my shoulders.
I dug into the pedals again and scissored across the water. I ride the Venetian Causeway – lot less traffic than 395!
Nighttimes when I’m coming home Miami Beach and its lighted buildings can seem like a floating apparition on that strip of land between the bay and the ocean.
Sometimes I blink. The last of the city’s lights are flickering out. Some of the buildings are already falling over, the water up a couple stories, the place abandoned. Wait – it’s just the bay’s shimmering reflection and the quiet of night.
Don’t just workout at the gym hit the parks and especially the fit bars at the beach! Yeah you can do standard fit work like dips and pullups and chin ups but how about muscle ups and flagpoles and flips and 360s and upside-down ninja abs and handstand pushups??
I’m still learning a lot. Hey I’m a vegan athlete who can do a lot of things but this isn’t just upper body strength it’s like climbing a coconut tree – technique!
Fine women with curves get on the pole and become almost contortionist snakes in beauty and perfect form and the dudes can’t help but stop and stare.
Some of the women obviously work at strip clubs; other women come to the workout beach just to put us in our place and show what an athlete can be. Pole fitness ain’t no joke!
This Dominican Buddhist dude with a huge beard and skinny body climbs like a monkey up a coconut tree and drops down 2 dozen coconuts. Don’t walk beneath you’ll crack ya muthafuckin head. Tourists and pics and upturned faces. Friends help him gather the cocos. He has a machete and straws. He will sell most of them.
The sea on the other side of the dunes changes its mind and moods throughout the day.
That’s one thing you’ve always got to be prepared for.
Tattoos, shorts on the dudes, sports bras on the females, brown, black and light bodies, a thick white pit bull with a bucket mouth and slobbering pink tongue the size of a lion’s who joyfully runs with 30 pound harnessed weights dragging behind. The dog is as muscled as any human and apparently very happy. He’s always got a smiling face.
South Beach for black locals slides like a handshake between two people who know each other – even if they’ve just met. The rest is like Cuban haircuts on an upside-down bucket in the alley. And the tourist zone, well that’s an opaque outer layer that sheds like a skin repeatedly.
I leave the gym bars and my knobby mountain bike tires that make the pavement hum go quiet in the sand and pillow forward till I hit the packed sand road – it’s great for jogging. Beneath bike tires it grinds dry butter.
The sun blazes. Never think this plainsman at the edge of the sea where Africa is just over that way doesn’t love the heat.
The sun is God reaching down through your flesh to grip your bones your bloodstream your guts and turn you inside out and you might be split open with fullness and love. I can smell saltwater, coconut oil, clean sweat, skin – like warmth after sex.
The shallower layers of the ocean have heated up now and it is rainy season.
There’s a point where the storm clouds surging in from the west take over the bright sun and blue Florida sky and suddenly all of us are cast in shade. We feel small and thrilled.
Afternoon tropical thunderstorms are Great Plains in the sky. They come in big like alien spaceships condensing black clouds then thunder cracking overhead, and lightning somewhere else, always somewhere else. Until one day that pointed somewhere else might be right here. I wouldn’t mind.
Curious we look out to sea and they – the fishes or whoever is out there at that moment – are still in bright sunlight.
Back at the bars, a 5-foot boa constrictor who is curious about everything sticks her black forked tongue out, testing the air, snake eyes shining.
The Cuban dude Hivo is her pet and a YouTube star athlete. While he works out on the bars she’ll hang like a jungle, body coiled around one bar.
I got close. Her flat diamond-shaped head and neck surged down and around my chest at the same time I realized I’d never held a snake before.
I was surprised how strong she was. Not a sound. She was like living Earth surging over my body, moving, molding, pressing into and over my flesh and muscles, and the contact inside her grip was a hard heated hug or lying face down on the ground with your arms spread wide and full body contact with what is bigger and even more alive.
She took over me. She held her head in the air off my chest looking at something else, not even thinking about me.
Time flies. It’s hard to grasp that it’s been almost 10 years since the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami, in which over a quarter million people perished. That was a sunny day inundation.
As the reeling aftermath subsided, I remember reading about a young local man who had survived. Speaking to a newspaper reporter, he said something to this effect:
My whole life has been the sea. I knew it like the closest friend. Now I can’t even relate to it.
The tsunami was a freak act of nature.
Sometimes I get so angry I could split in half and break apart when I think about the forced loss of time and forced act of climate danger we’ll all have to suffer. Here in Miami Beach we’re already experiencing the occasional sunny day flood – on Alton Road the sea bubbling from the back bay through the sewers. The sea is coming.
In the hot ocean shallows maybe at 5 feet deep I spoke to a dude holding up a clump of that gold sponge-like seaweed. He was staring into it.
“You can eat that,” I said jokingly, ribbing this thug-looking dude for his nerdiness. He said he was looking for seahorses or anything else that might be in its tangles.
Turns out he likes to go snorkeling down by the rocks or the Key Biscayne bridge. He works as a janitor now because as a convicted felon he has a hard time getting a job even though the burglary he served 3 years for was at 16 years old some 20 years ago.
“I was a kid,” he said. “I didn’t have a dad or nothing and that was all I knew. I did my time. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Out of the blue he said he was bipolar and they’ve put him on meds. Says he is trying to finalize a career by going to school to become a mental health counselor since he feels he knows about ups and downs.
I said life is rough but man it’s like the waves it comes up and it goes down. I would never consider taking drugs for that shit. It’s just life.
In many cases men can learn to manage their feelings.
I said I used to have intensely self-destructive anger, depression and self-hatred.
He said they’re even trying to put him on Xanax but he doesn’t like the way that weighs him down. He said he’d like to eventually get off the drugs.
I said I use fitness and helping others as a main lifeline to walk through the war zone world and all the chaos and shit bombarding us every day. For better or worse I keep it moving forward – “I got this”. By staying healthy I count on the surety that when the water comes in, the tide will go back out again too.
Even the tsunami, which took so many lives, went back out. In May it was reported that the melting West Antarctic ice sheet had broken its point of no return and sea level rise of at least 4 feet was guaranteed, and likely 14 feet. This does not even include anything else, like Greenland ice sheets, or permafrost melt, or thermal expansion, which will be combined and added.
At sea level I can feel all of us caught in this tension of our times like a band stretched slow-motion to its breaking point. God I can’t believe we’ve allowed the big polluters to do this and happily paid them to do so. Lately the news has even written about “near-term extinction acceptance” articles preparing people for the abandonment of hope and self-extinction.
I am healthy, vital and alive. My body works well, my mind and heart are strong, I manage feelings and expectations, and through health and service to others I’ve always believed we could “go back – and fix things, to repair the things that have been broken” as Laurie Anderson sings so hauntingly in The Dream Before.
I still believe in what we can do – even as I know that where I stand at this very moment will drown unquestionably.
May 29, 2014
When you lay on top someone
and feel nothing
how does nothing make you feel
uncensored that’s what I promised myself when I first launched this blogstory artist freedom
One night is not my character man I went more than 2 years without hitting anything
I was angry at a previous is my excuse but truth is fed up momentary gratification too
Afterward, a friend visiting MIA said “so after 2 years you randomly hook up then just go back to being celibate right”
yeah – shrug.
* * *
Dark and yellow we beat each other up pretty good wrestle match with baseball bats dude said hey “it’s just foreplay” – diff people view diff things.
During I didn’t even have to wait till after to feel nothing but the physical grip at that moment better than nothing.
It was hot I had the windows open nighttime cleaning my wood floors with a bucket of hot water, Pine Sol, a mop, bare feet and drawers no A/C just the ceiling fans when he called. Quick fresh shower.
You know I’m a minimalist just a firm mattress on the floor with fitted gray and blue sheets.
In February I made sure the apartment I rented in these old two-story blocks was on the 2nd floor because you know the storms and floods will only increase.
And hurricane season’s about to start.
I’m a track star I can sprint or go long distances I’m healthy I find a lot of people have problems sometimes I feel like Benjamin Button
When we were ready to finish he needed lube his hand I never do I only had regular lotion Desert Essence Organic Coconut $8.99 at Whole Foods that is the shyt
But it apparently got friction hot
To wash the lotion off he stepped into the white tiled shower stall across the weird-sized small window I have a fluffy white kitchen towel strung as a curtain on a metal unwound white clothes hanger because otherwise I shower nekkid with the Cuban woman in her kitchen across the alley and the large green Bolivian parakeets on the wires who scream at each other like the Puerto Rican woman in Flamingo Park does at her black boyfriend Courtney
The shower revived us – and we still had to go
Drying off wet – couldn’t tell the diff between shower wet and new Miami sweat. Slick
You know I had two years backed up and I was been ready just holding my breath like you should never do in scuba – I told him get the extra virgin coconut oil from the kitchen liquefied in the air temp; that helped him. He said he hit himself every single day.
I’ve lately been thinking about people who glut themselves with things daily – surfeit; anything means nothing and everything is dulled.
It’s like people become old men and women in their prime with no edge or hunger just hey it is what it is I’m sure glad I don’t live like that.
Finally we played ball I knocked it out the park he dribbled I told you I’m a track star
Mixing metaphors I laid down on top him and again had that nothing I’ve tried to avoid he passed out a lil shook-snore rubbered out his lips 2 black beards I closed my eyes
Anger before because the previous something – second time in the last year I opened up and allowed myself something – waited till I was in enough to tell me about the 5 felony gun charges. Then shut down under the stress of the pending trial. And I’d specifically said, “Don’t push your way in.”
Trial is in a couple weeks. We haven’t spoken in over three. Get right or get left. Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” is one of the top ten best films in the last 20. Even before a lockup, you can be at that bus stop in the middle of the desert. I want to say fuck that.
Miami 2:30 a.m. I woke one-night up and we showered again. My Oceanic dive mask and snorkel tube stared back at me hanging from the shower rod, waiting for me to really dive.
I didn’t walk him to his car out there parked somewhere on the street. Dressed with his baseball cap back on he stopped at the door.
Alright I said.
Alright he said.
May 15, 2014
Screw robot intelligence. I’m going back to mapping my own directions. Once again, I needed Siri to get me to a Broward County location and she got me lost.
I told her she was wrong.
She actually replied, “You’re entitled to your opinion, jarid.”
These robots sure are getting some nerve.
I asked an Apple Genius if artificial intelligence could take over in 50 to 100 years, becoming superior and indifferent to human life and needs, and he said “What – with all the bugs we gotta deal with everyday?”
Interesting but it’s possible they could eventually become an exponentially self-improving “alien” civilization on Earth, once they reach a certain point.
Anyhow, I’m excited about SCUBA. On Monday, my instructor G opened up the Delray Beach pool and I passed Chapters One and Two on the first knowledge test for my PADI /Open Water Dive Certification course.
At first, the technical equipment seemed intimidating. My mind shuts down when confronted with math stuff. (I even had to have my son Kaiden show me how to use the toaster oven.)
But once I placed my hands on the equipment, and understood how each piece relates to the body, the ocean, and its designed function, I began to get it.
I can see the equipment now – the BCD (buoyancy control device), SPG (submersible pressure gauge), regulator, alternate air source, weight system, compressed air cylinder, dive computer, compass, low pressure inflator hose, and the valves, clips, o-rings, buckles, yoke system, and more – rather than just a blaring mess of hoses, gauges, knobs, and things that look like an airplane cockpit or medical operating room or calculus class.
After the written test, we defogged our masks, put fins and snorkels on and got into the very, very clean pool – I’m always glad to see nice park facilities in low income neighborhoods,
I really want people to have nice things and outdoor opportunities.
I demonstrated my ability to swim, dive below, and clear the tube with a breath blast at the surface.
We turned the corner into the deep end – 12 feet. Underwater I saw G react. We had to get out of the pool.
Over the weekend somebody had climbed over the high fence and taken a shit into the deep end. Hung themselves ass out over the edge and crapped.
Wet and cursing on the concrete, G tried to scoop it off the bottom with a long pool net but it began breaking apart into a nasty brown cloud.
Maintenance came and started sewer vacuuming. Later they would shock the pool heavily and leave it closed for a few days.
Surrounding old homes have been renovated and turned into drug rehab houses. We talked about how in social services and non-profit work a lot of grounded patience is required, and yes sometimes some people are beyond help.
But you know me; I rarely give up on people, even those who’ve given up on themselves. Grow life from nothing. At the same time, I’m about tough love.
They’re installing security cameras at the pool. Robot eyes vs. transgressors.
I dried off in the warm South Florida sun as we finished our study.
Winds from the east blew hard the palm fronds; ocean waves were surely rough. Purple flag day. The May concrete expanded into my barefoot soles.
G is cool. He even gave me a nice pair of full foot long fins, saving me nearly $100. You never know when somebody’s going to pay blessings forward your way.
We talked about swimming with the ‘street life’ out in the ocean. With the bigger aggressive stuff it really is like moving through gangs. Respect and confidently going about your business.
He told me of a recent incident with a bull shark circling him and two friends up in Palm Beach County with his pectoral fins back, which means ‘business’.
Apparently locals know the shark – they call him “Bubba”. Somehow that made G’s story softer to me, as if when I meet Bubba it’ll be easier. Right.
Bulls and hammerheads are considered the most aggressive.
There are lots of variables, challenges, and dangerous situations ahead. I’m down.
The smell of the human shit stuck in the mesh net over the trash can particled out into the wind like a zoo. Buzzing with flies.
Random: What’s up with genius octopuses! Watch this aquarium octopus get mad when a lid is screwed down onto his jar. From inside he unscrews it and throws it off.
And this large octopus who, caught on a fishing boat, escapes his whole body out through a tiny sideways-facing hole:
Alien intelligence? The world blows my mind.
I look pretty sharp in the Mares dive jacket don’t you think? #sportstyle
May 8, 2014
“No go ahead sit!” she said in that way old Jamaican ladies often sound, like they yelling at somebody. I was stepping away to give her this little access spot on the back bayfront. Somebody’s ma, somebody’s grannie for sure. She shoved the black milk crate down onto the ground. I didn’t know if it was an offer or an order. She was probably 70 pounds and I weigh 180.
Paper trash, cups, beer bottles, the fallen pavement sinkhole and broken up slabs of concrete breakwall facing Biscayne Bay, chain link fencing, and to the side a small metal gate preventing people from getting onto a dock. Only one boat still using it.
In the water, a yellow algae-covered boom stretched 30 feet around the mouth of an outflow pipe to catch shit people might dump in the streets. It all starts there.
Sticking the spool of fishing line onto a metal pole, she grabbed a shrimp from the live bait bucket. Her fingers, those sticks of wood, bent perfectly like animation puppets in film. The shrimp – his long fairy arms and antennae waved. She impaled his unprotected belly with the silver hook and followed the curve. He froze, arms and antennae splayed. You could see the hook moving up through his gut in the plated, semi-translucent flesh.
Wearing an elegant ivory v-necked sweater with black slacks, a watch, a silver necklace and earrings as if going to play golf with Bill Clinton, she wound up and cast the baited handline.
“Fucker,” she said in that Britishized Jamaican voice beneath her baseball cap. Sounded like “foker”. Her cap had a Roswell alien face on it. Without a tangle she brought the line in one hand over the other, re-baited and tossed out again.
I simply rocked a gray Target tank top and satin black and red basketball shorts.
Occasional wafts of sewer methane mixed with the fertile bay’s smell of salt water and coconut oil baking in my skin. Downtown Miami in the distance you’ve been here before and the silky almost-hot afternoon sun – heat in the South relative, only the end of April. It felt good.
She brought the line in, hook empty again.
“I can see I’m feeding the fish today!” she said, or yelled. “These shrimp I kept by my air conditioner! Maybe I should just stayed in my apartment with them but you know I come here to fish at tree o’clock, or sometimes in the morning!”
A big swirl opened in the bay and something large caught our side vision. “Oh there!” she said.
A mermaid’s broad flat tail, brownish-yellow, slipped back beneath the waves. I jumped up – it was a manatee. First time for me. Over the decades boat propellers had sliced them to near extinction.
“A maaahther and a babie,” she said. “Yep.”
I stared, hoping for another sight. It’s always a little startling to see something big in the water. On the other side of the gated dock, a big brown back rose at the surface. “There,” I said.
“Yep, sure is!” she said, handlining in her shrimpless hook again.
Supposedly manatees are what actually started the sailor legend of mermaids long ago. Big ol homely pretty sea cows.
Long trips across the ocean away from women must’ve really been something.
I had a thought: how come there never were any black mermaids? I pictured a Jill Scott-looking mermaid.
Or how about some old azz mermaids? Or a Mom mermaid?
“What you fishing for?” I asked.
“Snapper. I fish for them mangrove snapper. But not the small ones. The police take you to jail with a bunch of those.”
I sat on the concrete wall by the algae-covered yellow boom and hung my legs over.
She looked south, motioning her head at the busy causeway about a mile away that connected the island with the mainland, where somebody driving a Lamborghini at 100 mph had recently crumpled it under the back of a Tahoe and they had to put a blanket over the passenger’s side because the body was too mixed into the car and they couldn’t get it out. The driver and the lady in the Tahoe made it.
“I wouldn’t mind go up there. Drop my line straight into the water and catch a lot of fish. I would go there if my son were here.”
I stared into the water below my feet, seeing tiny little fish. “I’m looking for one snapper down here,” I said.
“You not gon find one. Another one. Umm parrot.”
“Parrot?” I said. At that moment a fat football of a purple and lime-green parrotfish with a little beak mouth looped up to the surface and slid back down along the boom.
“There one is,” I said.
“Parrot not biting!” she said, whipping the baited hook and lead weight again. The line threaded through her left hand, shooting out like a strand of spider web. “Yeah I try to catch them but they only eat the moss on dat ting,” she said.
The fishing line straightened. She handlined in a flapping little mangrove snapper maybe 6 inches long. She pulled out the hook and tossed him back in the water like Mariah Carey flips her hair. Glimpse of the shining fish – open mouth. Body silver-red; trace of yellow. Whitish pink forked tail. I worried – I’d read that if you touch a fish’s body with dry bare hands you can damage their protective coating and days later they’ll get an infection and die.
“The Cubans and the Jews fight over everything!” she said, looking out over the bay, as if yelling at a cat in her kitchen. I stiffened. Don’t start on some racial shyt.
“When I come here 26 years ago, there were tree or four black police. Now it’s pure black police! Everybody tink all blacks are the same, too. Jamaican and Caribbean is different from Africa or America.”
“Like Asians, huh. People can’t tell between Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese or Korean. It’s a big difference.”
She nodded her head. “Yah. Dey all the same. Except for wicked Red China. Oh and da Philippines. They Magay over there.”
I searched my memory for what Magay was – some thing or place Filipino.
“Over there, yah, a lot of boy go with boy. Ma gay than anywhere. Crazy. And when the white bring Africa over to here we all end up mixing.”
“Well you know everybody mixed now.”
She looked again at the causeway. “I wouldn’t mind go there at night if my son were here.”
“Sometimes I ride my bike across there.”
“They don’t want you to fish up there. And a lot of homeless. They kick them from under the bridge or the beach and they go up there” She paused. “I wouldn’t mind going fish on there if my son were here. I’d drop my line between the bridge.”
“Catch lots of big fish.”
“Yah lots of fish.”
I said nothing else. I had heard her. I didn’t want to even know her name yet. I would see her again.
“Miami Beach is not for the poorer class.,” she said. “Ya just come in, get drunk, and kill one another. That’s what dey doing.”
“I seen this one woman, this one white woman, she walks down the street and screams her head off at everybody.”
“Yah. One white one? Uh huh.” She nodded her head.
She pulled up her empty hook again. “What the fuck you doing that must be two dozen shrimp! When I get off work, I could just stayed in my fucking apartment and get someting to eat and relax by the air conditioner! When the water go north, it bad. It better to go south. More fish.”
I decided she was talking about the tides.
She said she needed to change the water for her shrimps. “One die dey all die.”
I took the extra bucket, leaned over and hauled up a fresh load of salty bay water, still cool with the season.
I thought about those mangrove snappers out there at the bottom of the bay smart enough to mouth off the impaled live shrimp from the sides of her hook. And what were the stuck shrimp thinking?
“I used to be able to catch shrimp but now they not here. You buy them.”
I thought about them in the bucket of water… very alive, like suspended backward-darting insects. What made them all die when they saw one die?
She began packing up her cart.
“Kingston,” I said randomly. “Now I hear that’s crazy.”
“Kingston! I’m from Jamaica and I don’t go to ‘Kingstone.’ Everybody kill each other over there. The cops too. In Jamaica they don’t ask questions. This one cop we called him Idi Amin that’s about as ugly as you can get he was that ugly.”
We started walking out. At the corner I put my hand on her upper back. Her small body was dark brown wood.
Alright I’ma get something to drink. Nice meeting you.
“Ok Baby”, she said looking straight ahead. I be back out here tomorrow.
I knew I wouldn’t. I simply wanted to remain random and untethered. I’d see her again.
“What the fuck you doing in the middle of the street you stupid!” she yelled. I looked back. Some dude was crossing busy West Ave. in traffic. She was glaring at him.
Back in the 90’s, out on the collapsed High Plains grass sea of western Kansas, north of the meat-dismembering town of Scott City, I’d fugitived up in a small State Park, a pup tent my home. At night I had become awed there were fireflies, tons of them, in the unusual rich vegetation by the spring-fed creek. That far into the dry American West. Little glow sticks twisting up then winking out. I hadn’t spoken with anybody in a few weeks. For hundreds of miles around, the land writhed with emptiness and devastation except in stricken imaginations. A region where history was still bloody on the ground, right at your feet.
Western Kansas was the first time I’d gotten that the Sun was not overhead but out there, just blasting away at all those millions of miles, incidentally smacking Earth in that outward force. And even in the face of that, our delicate little atmosphere could make us cold as well as hot.
The summer was ending. I walked in the sun-balmed afternoon, favorable prairie winds temporarily freeing me from the death stink of cattle feedlots and slaughterhouses 15 miles away. In moments I could believe in warmth and vitality. A scrim of clouds slid across the sun like 1930s curtains above a sink.
A woman a black woman an American black woman was standing near the earthen-dammed lake with a fishing pole casting her line. I noticed her head turn a little to the side, and again, not looking directly, the way mine was probably too, the way a person wants to look, say something, but just for whatever reason doesn’t.
I walked up. She reeled in and her hook snagged on a long root. I stepped out onto it and freed her little chartreuse plastic worm with the curl tail and a hook inside its plastic belly.
The lowering sun was across the plains sea and bigger than you probably know. We were the only two humans around. The air was dry and clean. Neither asked what the other was doing out there, though I surmised that she, for some Godforsaken reason, lived nearby. North, South, East, West, the nearest big cities were Bismarck (660 miles), Kansas City (380 miles), Amarillo (255 miles), and Denver (285 miles). Green cottonwood leaves on the tree branches above rippled like water, and soon would turn bright yellow then fall.
I was pretty grim and silent during those years. We talked; I’ve forgotten a lot about what. Her son was gone out of the house, or maybe she didn’t have one.
April 25, 2104
I was probably a ¼ mile away from the cop, and out in the sea, but the cop car driving the back of the beach with his flashing lights and spotlight kept making me jerk and tighten like he was on me. I told myself three times he couldn’t see me.
Because of the low tide I had to swim farther out. After-midnight run and swim. No wind, low tide, and very calm water.
From shore, with the waves just barely rolling in, the flat night sea looked like milky jade. But out in it, clear as glass. Even in the dark moon. No moon at all. Just a spare splash of stars – and red Mars – in the black sky overhead, the others washed out by the upward sprawl of city glow.
I did a double-take. Tiny bright stars in the water were lighting up yellow-green and tumbling off my arm strokes before they winked out.
I hadn’t seen bioluminescence in a few years, and never in Florida. Only in that hidden lagoon where you have to night kayak through the mangroves on the east side of Puerto Rico, and also on the west shore of Jamaica.
Tiny microorganisms that light up with the friction of something passing through, an arm or leg or whole body. Person or fish. Not a large burst of them here, just a silent handful of falling stars. I swirled my arms. I cupped my hand like Jodie Foster did with those sparkling grains of desert sand at the end of that extraordinary film Contact.
Over the last week I’ve been getting through the shocking acceptance that I attach to abuse. How can that be! I have this self-image of what we call “gym-thug” lol. I’m not talking about physical (though it’s true a long time ago I sometimes did find myself getting involved with possessive mf’s who might want to pull a knife or fists when they got mad). (Only thing about me is I’ll fight back.)
A man and woman were standing on shore silhouetted against the low lights of South Beach’s Ocean Drive behind the dunes.
“Aint it cold out there?” the dude asked as I walked out in my black long-cut boxer briefs with the red waistband. Don’t hate – I’m a fool for premium Chanpion athletic fit gear.
“Naah it feels great.”
“Does the beach close at night? Is there a time?’ the woman asked. You could tell by the sync of their voices that they loved each other.
“Naah, not really. You saw the cop, but they’re mainly interested in making sure no homeless people sleep or set up camp overnight.”
“You were far out,” the dude said. “I was like, ‘there’s somebody out there!’ Aren’t you a little scared to go out there?”
Tried to imagine from their eyes, from shore, noticing this head out there in the plain of water in the dark. Then seeing this light-skinned black-something dude with abs emerging out of the sea like a Creature From the Black Lagoon.
“Push through fear,” I said, smiling, sheeting some of the water off the side of my head with my hand.
“Push through fear,” he repeated.
“We’re from Louisville,” she said.
“Kentucky,” I said. “That’s one of those places you hear about but most people never go, huh. Except for – isn’t that the place they have that horse derby?” I realized they probably hear the same damn thing from every person they meet. “Where the women wear them big hats?”
For a moment I tried to visualize what it would be like to live there, south of the Ohio River, and what I knew of the black communities there. I think there is a lot of interchange between Louisville and Cincinnati.
I thought of Beloved, and that story of the land, of journey through wilderness not yet fallen, and bare feet. The American story is particularly the story of people on the land.
“Yes. We’re here on vacation,” she said. “It’s our first time here.”
They asked questions. We talked like family. I told them about some of the regular-life, non-tourist places like Flamingo Park, where people play basketball and hang out.
I told them about the bioluminescence I’d just seen. I leaned my head back and pointed up at the flung stars. The only way I could explain. Again I had that open country feeling of hugeness all around me. I’m such a plainsman.
They told me they had seen some “really big seals. Right off the beach!”
I didn’t understand. Turns out they were manatees. Big ass sea cows. Endangered. Not many left.
She pulled out a little camera to show me. The screen was so bright. The electronic image of water too. I’ve never seen a manatee. In the pic there were three large blobs in the bright blue midday water. I kept trying to finger-expand the image, not registering that it was a camera and not a phone. Just like sometimes I’ll keep pushing my hands under a public bathroom faucet with handles and getting mad it won’t turn on.
I wished them a great vacation. People work hard and deserve quality time in a nice place with those they love. I felt proud like a local.
I know I’m behind on the dive study, but I’m getting better.
April 14, 2014
I haven’t had sex in over 2 years. By choice.
And before this past January, I hadn’t cried since 1999 and the Denzel movie The Hurricane.
Even if I get smashed by a pickup truck, my torn flesh may cry that clear liquid before red blood pours, but my eyes will stay dry.
It’s not like I don’t feel. Being an activist for so long under constant siege from problems, suffering and loss all over the world, you have to be passionate.
Before I came to Miami, I had a stone-cold moment: “You have to change everything.”
I realize I’ve always been drawn to unavailable men, and allow myself into situations that aren’t good.
This past 106-degree summer in Dallas, though it’s hard to admit, I fell for somebody I shouldn’t have, who gave huge mixed signals. Even though I knew we weren’t compatible, I got caught up. (Also he didn’t tell me he was seeing the dude of an old friend at the same time.) Def thankful we never slept together. It’s very embarrassing to like somebody so much you actually have to ask God to be freed of it, like it’s a flu. I never like anybody. I’m used to everybody liking me. Now I look back and think “what the hell?”
In January, a couple weeks before I left Dallas, a few months after getting over that “flu,” I rode my bike to the largely ignored Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial, a little park honoring freed slaves who’d built a community and were buried there. Years ago, nearby Highway 75 had obliterated many of the graves.
In the center a bronze statue rises of a barefoot, full-hipped woman kneeling next to a barefoot man sitting on a tree stump. Their heads are down, as if crushed by monumental grief. One of her arms is around his waist. He is holding her. His bare back is keloided in massive whipping scars.
In the cold North Texas afternoon, with a recent winter rain passed and mist dissipating over grassy areas, I sat on the granite bench encircling them and it was like they were a bronze upwelling from the Earth.
A few weeks ago I rode ten miles up to a Florida park beach to be alone and think. The broad sand was like a desert; at ground level you’d never know just over the ridge was a light blue ocean.
I swam about a hundred yards out. A similar but different situation like last summer was brewing. People hide sh*t, but damn. The aqua-clear waters were largely flattened by cold-front winds pushing out from shore.
I came upon a honeybee floating. Bright sunlight dazzling. Something made me touch her. Her legs moved. She continued drifting.
Bee colonies are dying worldwide. She could’ve been a hundred miles out. She could float to the Sahara, where my own blackness is from. She was just a bee. I’m sure I stomped my share of them as a kid with no proper influences.
I swam over and got her. She was very waterlogged, but once on my hand she showed life.
I put her on my thumbnail in case she got too feisty. Like a cat cleaning her ears she pawed at her black antennae that looked like the few curls of hair on my chest.
Holding her above the water, I side-kicked in. Dripping on dry land, I grabbed my shirt and placed her onto it, held her close to my chest.
As I carried her to the dunes she collapsed face down, arms spread out onto my shirt. With my hand I tried to cup her into the face of a yellow dune sunflower but she couldn’t hang on and fell between the sea oats.
I could never find her again. I parted as much of the long raspy grasses as I could to allow the Sun to reach her. She probably didn’t make it. No secret that most who are lost to sea, or at sea, never do.
Thursday, 3 April 2014
If you should die yet somehow stay alive, can you thrive, or would you drift through your allotted remaining years?
So I just had my first meeting with G, my upcoming scuba instructor. He’s a master diver who’s dived a couple thousand times. He’s gone as deep as 225 feet and wants to go below 400.
That’s some serious shit. Even below 33 feet – one “atmosphere” – dangerous things can happen to your body.
I got live with the stories he told me about going into the “underworld”. He spoke about diving reefs, wrecks and at night. He told me the two biggest fish he ever saw were a giant ocean sunfish off the murky coast of Virginia, which “basically looked like a 2,000 pound hand with two thumbs.” The other was a goliath grouper lit with brownish-gold skin that can grow to 800 pounds.
I replied: Goliaths can suck you in if they open their mouths, right, like Jonah and the whale??
He said “Naah they’re really just like cows man, grazing underwater [on crustaceans]. Once I saw 7 of them during their migration, now that was cool.”
I laughed to myself, divers getting all excited about things like that. Tough Southern Black Slang warmed my earbones – guess I’ve been a lil Texan homesick here not knowing many people yet in this international place – and it was funny to be talking about fish. Several times he used the word “animals” instead of “fish”.
I’m so attracted to scuba because most divers simply want to see the animals below. Seeing their awesome power, beauty and mystery in that alien world is more than enough. For many divers, there’s no desire to harm, kill and take.
I asked him about sharks.
He said, “First off, most sharks you’ll see will be between 6 to 8 feet. They not paying you no mind. The main ones not to fuck with are bull sharks and hammerheads.
Sharks are like dogs. You just don’t do things to excite them. Don’t swim with open wounds or make sounds that might get them riled up. If one comes up to you just push him away.”
Umm okaay… I thought.
“You ever been around a rottweiller?” he asked.
I said “Yeah when I lived in Denver there was this big rott on the other side of the alley’s wooden fence and every time I rode or walked past he’d hurl himself into the fence and his huge head and jaws would be straining to slam over and rip my throat out as big wads of spit flew out his mouth and slapped me in the face before he fell back to the dusty ground.”
“Well not like that,” G said, laughing. “But look at it like this. We have dominion over all the animals in the world. Every last one of – ”
I stiffened, bracing for a Biblical lesson. At some point in my lifetime, I became an accidental animist. Nobody taught me this. Wasn’t even conscious of it for years and certainly didn’t know it had a name.
But honestly, I don’t see myself as “over” other animals, or really even the organic carrots, golden apples, kale and jalapenos I obliterate in my Nutribullet each morning.
Life is, and I’m just a part of life. Under God. And I try to live through a private set of moral objectives and thoughtful decisions.
But as I listened, I saw G was talking about something more. We have become lord over every single other being on this planet – they’re all impacted. We choose; they lose.
When I was a child I cracked my head open. Maybe I died. Or was supposed to. Even needed a blood transfusion. Ever since then I’ve been a little “different”. Many years later I got a concussion on top that. If I don’t manage for quiet time, sometimes my head has the urge to have a “passout”. During these passouts – and also when I am asleep – I often have intense ‘dreams’. I call it going into the Shadow World. It’s really like a whole other world.
Jazzed by the conversation, I made plans with G to try out gear and get the study book, my first formal steps toward becoming a certified scuba diver.
Later that night, passing out face down onto my mattress I bobbed in the dim northern Atlantic off Virginia’s coast. The water was like thin tea under cloudy gray skies. About a quarter mile out, a dead amusement park rose from the temporarily flat surface. I treaded, watching and looking. Belts and cables hung from the broken rides and the high trestle of the rollercoaster. The coast had flooded. Far more than Hurricane Sandy. And the water was staying. It would not be going back out.
A big shark came bulleting below and I scrambled backward trying not to splash, heart racing as I flailed, losing my cool. Swallowed water instead of air. The shark circled and headed back this way. I reached a broken concrete wall, part of some building detritus, and pulled onto it, clothes pouring water, bare feet crunching in the rough top.
Plastic bags, thick green ropes from industrial fishing boats, snarled monofilament fishing line and other snagged trash hung in my face from the overhang. Behind, inside whatever infrastructure I stood on, was a tunnel. I could hear water dripping. I looked for the shark through the dull waters.
Across the bottom a cow-sized brownish-yellow fish swam slowly, big-azz tail sweeping from side to side.
I thought I saw a red blinking light at the top of the rollercoaster out to sea, like those used to alert planes at night. The metal skeletons of the amusement park stuck out of the new ocean. And there had been no red warning light. At least not one that people could see.
Saturday, 29 March 2014
How many people you know googled “hope for ocean acidification” last night at 12:31 a.m.?
Been having dude problems and also been feeling tons of pressure from all the probs in the world like I can’t breathe, so couldn’t sleep.
Alone in my apartment with the light post by the bed still on I decided to check email on my phone. Any distraction welcome.
Saw a message from Theresa, one of our long-time GPRC Youth Mothers from Dallas. She’d recently taken her daughter and son to Galveston, where they volunteered for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – a bunch of cool folks for scientists btw!)
Theresa wrote that one of the things they did was an experiment showing how acidic waters degrade calcium in shells.
Of course climate change’s equally evil twin is ocean acidification – the oceans are absorbing so much carbon pollution from the atmosphere that it is changing the chemistry of life. The first to go are the corals and the shellfish. The current rate of acidification may be unprecedented in Earth’s history. Here are “20 Facts about Ocean Acidification”.
I walked into the tiny bathroom of the old beach apartment, quietly flipped the toilet lid closed and sat down. In this old school Cuban apartment I lucked out with two bathrooms but in this one you can’t really sit straight without wedging yourself in with your knees pressing into the super smooth white-tiled wall in front of you. If you lean forward you can rest your forehead against the tile wall or press the top of your head into it.
Thinking… Yesterday, my upcoming scuba instructor told me how even since 2006 he’s seen a change in the coral reefs… He’s seeing dead patches… Also increasing storms are smothering or wiping out coral reefs too. He says Hurricane Sandy affected the coast all the way down here to South Florida.
It’s expected that all coral reefs will be extinct by 2100.
I love the night quiet. You can hear an ocean of silence, and all the little things going on in the alley. But especially all the silence.
I closed my eyes and pressed the top of my head hard into the super smooth tiles and the crevice of grout.
I opened my eyes and just needed some release from the pressure. There has to be something. Opening Safari on my iPhone I randomly googled “hope for acidification”. Just so overwhelmed all the time. I will squeeze out any drop of good news I can find. I’m an occasional Google randomer – just to see if there is something going on, or new, I do not know. Sometimes, anything just to focus my overheated mind on something else.
Check this out: one coral reef off Palau is thriving in waters that happen to be naturally as acidic as all the oceans are expected to be in 2100.
Waters much less acidic are killing off the corals. But for some great mystery, this one is surviving.
If you get a chance, give 9 minutes and listen to this public radio piece. Listen to the sounds of the water and the people speaking.
Scientists are studying this beautiful vibrant hopeful exciting Palauan reef to try to figure out what is its super secret.
And while all our other coral reefs may die off within 80 some years, it’s possible this one mysterious glorious survivor may, as the narrator says, keep us company into the 22nd century. It may – just may – no promises BUT just might – even offer us a mystery clue to help others.
I’ll take any hope yo.
March 21, 2014
So much I don’t know. There’s a little abrasion or skin irritation on the back of my left knee. Is it from waves bumping me into the jetty rocks or something else in the water? The sea I want to take lightly and comfortably, at least walking out from shore.
Only by repeated immersion am I going to make this like butter. Just get my skills and swim/snorkel/dive until it’s nothing. Several years ago I wanted to fly on rollerblades like I do on my bike – as if born with it. After I cracked my tailbone you bet I never leaned back again. And despite fears, I kept on till I was night blading down that steep 4th Street hill in Fort Worth, shooting under the railroad trestle toward the Trinity River – eyes peeled for concrete cracks because any mistake at 25 mph would not be pretty.
Government Cut is one of those big old-school federal engineering projects. Opened in 1905, it’s the shipping channel for the Port of Miami. It marks the southernmost end of the barrier island of Miami Beach (South Beach). A jetty of large rocks as big as Smart Cars line either side. Mountain goat skills help to climb over them.
Big, jagged, one slip and you’ll hit something soft on your body with something very hard and maybe crumple down into those wedges of water. Only close to shore is a top spatter of concrete for a walkway.
The waves on the beach side of the jetty were too rough. Surfers were happy. On the other side, inside the Cut, the water seemed calm enough.
I didn’t want to not go. I hate not doing something I say. This past Sunday, closer to shore, I saw a homeboy spearfishing the rocks, baseball cap backwards beneath his dive mask and tube and wearing big yellow work gloves. I climbed past the new telescoping pier they’re building alongside. The last pier was obliterated in storms. A lot of summer storms now, I hear. Supposedly they’ll be able to reel the thing in when the next hurricane comes. Something new.
Keeping my bike gloves and Champion shirt on, I climbed down onto a flatter rock, took my UnderArmour shoes off and fitted the fins and mask, making sure of a good face seal. Slipped into the water. A swirl of flashing gold flakes – sand particles – and a clump of little fish the size of arrowheads all pointed face forward like one large composite arrowhead. I don’t know who they were.
The water was lower visibility than expected. Only a few feet. Translucent blue-greens and yellows, with sand bottom below, then sudden rocks right in front of my face. Sand and silt. Fine-tuning my kick like coach Thaddeus’s been showing me in a Lauderdale pool, I swam out along the rocks maybe 50 yards. The rolling waves inside the Cut were picking up. Occasionally they crashed with white spray against the rocks. They tried to push me. At water level I imagined caves along some remote Yucatan coast.
I swam back and rode a break in the swells to slip onto the flat rock I’d come in off. Many rocks closest to the water are concreted with hard little whitish shells. I think they’re barnacles but again I don’t know. I saw no other fish.
Hidden out there, I sat for a while like a seal pup as water drained off my body, until the increasing waves seemed they were having second thoughts about me being back on land. It’s always cool to be somewhere where nobody else knows you are.
Had a thought: Do you think the term “sea change” comes from how things change in the water suddenly, so completely?
Heading back, somebody had spray-painted in black “Rome wasn’t built” on one of the rocks. A three-pointed crown was on top that.
I rode my bike up the beach road of packed sand then through the dune cut, parting through a flock of vacationing black women heading to the ocean. The fluffy-haired one grabbed my wet butt and said “Hey Boo!” as I passed. I smiled.
To finish drying I sat like a lizard in the sun on the boardwalk’s rock wall. 100 yards away this older blatino man in a baseball cap with a little pot-belly straining his red t-shirt and jeans tapped two bongos. They sounded as if their skins were not tightly stretched, drums distant like a jungle coast somewhere.
March 6, 2014
South Florida is so different from the rest of the United States. Feels more Caribbean, which often feels like a mashup of Latin America and Africa.
I’ve been thinking – what does it mean to be here, instead of visit?
All around me people’s lives and moments are happening. Haven’t made any new friends yet. Don’t even know most of the plants or birds.
As I rode my mountain bike up the barrier island of Miami Beach I felt the excitement again of a new land. #NomadCulture
Any story is always told through its details.
Some things false trigger what I know – Texas and the drier West. Like coastal riding on a sandy gravel road with short weeds growing out of the poor dirt. I find myself on hyper alert for goatheads fallen off weeds, those “stickerbugs” whose fat little thorns will easily puncture bike tires or bare feet.
Or leery of chiggers in grass, those tiny invisible beasts who corkscrew into your skin causing hardened circles of burning itch that can drive you mad. People in Dallas or Houston would rarely chance lying down in grassy areas in summer. But those things are not here. In South Florida people sprawl out with bare flesh exposed against park grass. It’s soft here.
A huge melting pot of people too. From extended Cuban familias to several different black nationalities to (mostly) well-off white folks to Hasidic Jews in full orthodox suits, hats, and long beards to people from many different countries to a lot of Miami street level “weirdness” of all ages, races and genders that keeps reminding me of the old Tompkins Square Park and Alphabet City in NYC. The linear tourist zones of Collins and Ocean seem like a haze, and I cross straight through with a mental buffer when I need to get to the beach.
Up north people are talking about the winter, which has been harsh. Even in Dallas and Fort Worth. And more rumblings about a changing climate. Ever since I read this article last year “Kicking the Refrigerator Door Open”, I’ve had additional queasies – this new sense of being connected to the Arctic in ways we never thought. So much we don’t know.
Riding up the island of Miami Beach you go from South Beach to blocks of quiet Jewish neighborhoods to working class and often Haitian or Bahamian North Beach, then you hit Surfside, where condos begin to rise, then very exclusive Bal Harbour right before Haulover Cut, a channel dug out of a narrow point in 1925 that connects northern Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic.
Finding my place under the bridge on the south bank of the cut, where most people don’t go, I realized it was an old handicapped fishing spot. Even had a sign. Why was it in a cage? There was a small spot of ground-up and shit-out fish death about the size of a quarter on top the concrete wall – likely from a bird. I could smell it from here.
In that one little bit of dribbled then dried rectal gruel there was the essence of that fish’s life and death and that bird’s digestive processes. Tropical South Florida is filled with many dense smells.
Over the years my senses have gotten very heightened. The clarity of the water will take some getting used to. In Texas, the Gulf waters close to shore are muddy and fertile from all the biblical rivers draining into it. Here I will be able to see everything. Def.
Bal Harbour’s tiled walkway along Haulover Cut is where the masses and exclusive people of means might meet. A high-rise condo touts its sea turtle protection efforts, approved by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission. A resident had left the gate open to the steps to the private pool and spa. I was reading the sign about saving the sea turtles when a worker, a dark skinned dude in resort white shirt, khaki shorts and white kicks saw me and ran down to close that gate. Our eyes met. You can be on the same yet opposite side of the fence.
Out at the end of the jetty several Cubanos were fishing with this one female pelican whose fishing method was not dive bombing the sea but standing there with flat webbed feet waiting, staring or maybe glaring at the men with poles, nets and other wheeled-out fishing equipment.
A young dude in a skull cap decided he was going to fish further back on the jetty, He walked past the female pelican. She jutted her head to the side like some black females would as if saying “uhhh where you think you’re going!” His black t-shirt with red lettering said DON’T GIT BIT.
February 25, 2014
I live in a Cuban hood filled w Cubans,
a smiling Asian chick wit a baby,
a lil ol white lady who reads a book in the park every evening,
lots of bicycles, basketballs, baby strollers, beer bottles, banana trees, & beaches,
and a Whole Foods just a few blocks away staffed almost entirely by Black Folks.
The Atlantic smells like fish.
February 19, 2014
Couple more wrong turns. This plainsman / nomad / traveler through life wasn’t getting it right tonight. Dead of night. Poorly or unmarked side roads sliding down into Louisiana. On one wrong turn I saw a cop car idling in an abandoned driveway and you know you can never blink or make any unusual or sudden movements around them.
Going the wrong way. Had to turn around. I drove miles further before I finally did. Look straight ahead. 2 a.m. Drive like you know where you are going. A pickup truck had pulled up alongside the cop. They were talking at each other through their open windows. I escaped.
These states, East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida … something there is that creeps you out/ causes your wires to be up……. when it should be beautiful. That family man just got his throat slit and ear cut off and they claimed he drug overdosed. Idaho is like that too. By the way.
Been thinking lately: Have things gotten worse? And was there a pause in this hatred in the mid-1990’s (James Byrd notwithstanding)? Why do I get a sense that in parts of the country, things have hardened, become more dangerous since the Tea Party and the election of Barack Obama? My wires are up more than ever. The only place that pall of danger and hatred lurks harder than the Deep South is the outback American West, which is still 1870.
I just drove and drove, drinking my cans of Lemon Elation and Enlighten Mint Yerba Mate that I’d bought at the Whole Foods in Highland Park. (Just down from President George W. Bush’s place.) Yerba Mate is great for the gym, and great for the road when you want to stay conscious and not too loopy. Push yourself.
Finally made it to the Interstate.
Louisiana is a Southern cowboy in a black hat and black button down shirt and black pointy boots throwing up repeatedly in the sink at a Love’s Truck Stop and clogging the sink. Constipated truckers noisily trying to shit behind stall doors. Gas stations selling cracklins and beer, and add-on rooms to the side with red and purple neon signs CASINO faltering in black-cellophaned windows.
I don’t remember much of Mississippi and Alabama, lots of mid-winter dead leaf woods. At stops I saw large-bellied black men in XXXL red or black t-shirts with even larger-bellied white women wearing pink t-shirts while their large-bellied children who could use a brush or comb ran for the Walmart entrance. I got to Mobile and the Gulf Coast near sunset Saturday night. Mobile Bay is wide and you drive right across a long causeway.
Feeling like midnight when it was only after 8 in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, I turned on the radio and caught the end of a public radio show “American Roots”. Stopping at a deserted rest area, I shut the car off, but left the radio on. Hanging on to what I was hearing.
American Roots tonight had been covering music originating from black men jailed in the South. They mentioned the American folk and blues musician (and felon) Lead Belly and his famed song Midnight Special. The narrator spoke of a notorious 1920s prison in Sugar Land, TX, a town which of course is now a suburban part of the Greater Houston metropolis. Cotton, and sugarcane plantations, lie beneath. Midnight Special was about a train that came through at night in Sugar Land and its locomotive headlight flashed through the prison cell’s tiny window onto the black men’s grimy, humid faces… and they could hear the rumble of that train going free through the night.
“Let the Midnight Special … shine its light on me… Let the Midnight SPECIAL… shine its ever-loving light on me…” (See previous blog post to listen to the orig track.)
I sat there in the parking lot of the Rest Area by the night freeway. What I think was a tall blackjack oak dripped with very long curling strands of Spanish moss. Some females would love for weaves that long. Blackjack leaves drop in the winter, but during growing season people say they look like the bottom silhouette of the space shuttle. A lone lightpole cast the Rest Area in orange glow. Nobody in the entire world knew where I was. Well besides my iPhone and the NSA. Same set of clothes – old camo pants, blue Old Navy thermal, old blue Adidas kicks. Driving gear. I hate to sit. I stop a lot. My hip (a lady driving out of an Albuquerque parking garage a long time ago when I was walking on a sidewalk fractured it) kills me a lot when I sit too long.
They ended the American Roots program with a cover version of Midnight Special by American rock band John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They may not be black, but this jams.
I ended up driving all night again. Time to arrive already. And finally, somewhere by Lake City, FL, the hardwoods and the “normal” temperate nature of America was over, and the dank wet soil and vegetative smells of the tropics had taken over. An East Indian man had to lock up his convenience store/gas station each time a truck or carload of drunk white girls and their boyfriends came to buy liquor in his adjacent Package Store. Waiting for him to come back, I just wanted a jug of water. I inhaled.
The Florida Turnpike took me diagonally southeastward through the hinterlands. Signs warned repeatedly of HEAVY FOG. USE EXTREME CAUTION.
I foolhardily tend to dismiss these kinds of things as worries for other people, because I think of myself as being always aware. (Funny I went 80 miles out of my way the first night huh!) Soon night fog swallowed me like an alien world. I did drive carefully. I have no idea what I drove through. I was so surprised how many hours me and that little silver Kia traveled without coming upon any town or city. Occasionally a couple lightpoles rose up, emitting that orange light, shrouded. I did not want any strange fruit. I drove long through what I believe were swamp and trees, but aside from the fog and the very fresh blacktop of the road painted with a very bright reflective white line down its middle, I actually have no idea of where and what I passed through. A couple service plazas, space outpost domes of orange glow in the thick fog and closed for the night except for the bathrooms and the self-serve Shell station, were the only signs of civilization. It’s true I could have been completely in the dark, but cutting diagonally through the middle of the state, it was almost like most of Florida was devoid of people.
Radio station highway: Creedence Clearwater Revival covering Lead Belly in the middle of a northern Florida night.
February 17, 2014
So I finally left Dallas, Texas around 8 p.m. Friday night, January 31st. I was originally supposed to be in Miami by Saturday February 1st.
I downsized my entire life to what I could fit into that little silver Kia. Not that I ever owned a lot of stuff.
I am honored and extraordinarily grateful for the generosity of my literary donors. Without them, this mid-career 2 year blogstory journey Fear & Loving: Where the Ocean Meets the Streets would not be happening.
14 years after founding the non-profit organization Great Plains Restoration Council (GPRC), I’ve got our current main projects in Fort Worth, Houston and Santa Fe County (NM headed by capable people on the ground, so that I can manage those non-profit efforts by computer, phone and plane for these next two years. This writing sojourn is actually a detailed and well-organized strategy with my top team and funders at Great Plains Restoration Council to not only use literature and the arts to advance our mission of connecting people deeper with the world, but build our non-profit organization stronger and more supported in the long run.
“One writer is worth several activists,” GPRC board chair Frank Popper remarked last year.
As I write this I’m sitting on an old graffiti-tagged concrete wall by Biscayne Bay, with downtown Miami skyscrapers and the Port of Miami’s big shipping cranes visible in the near distance.
Wondering how I will be struck these next 2 years… What’s going to happen? I can sense it. 2 years from now I will look back to this day, and smh at what I didn’t know. At what happened, which at this very moment right now today, is still the future and ‘un-happened’.
I’m actually really excited. I have specific plans. Let’s do this blogstory journey together in layers, one peeling off into the next, as we go deeper and deeper. March 1 is when I first start training for more skilled ocean swimming.
Sunday afternoon when I arrived in Miami I walked to the beach. Looking to the aqua-fading-to-darker waters of the Atlantic Ocean beyond these two black men having their pic taken together, I suddenly thought:
I can’t believe I’m really going to become a scuba diver & dive deep these next 2 years.
It’s big & scary and there are all these THINGS swimming around I’m gon have to face!
Last night I walked to this same bay where I am right now and looked down into the shallow waters as a dinghy floated tethered. The water is pretty clear, even at night. What is it about night that adds another layer? I imagined what it would be like if I jumped in at night. Crazy. What the hell would I do that for?
Leaving Dallas two days later than planned, I was already tired. Long night of driving ahead.
I-30 east out of Dallas merges with I-20, which takes you across the Deep South. Can you believe I actually drove 80 miles before realizing my mistake? I’m embarrassed to even admit that somehow I missed the merge and kept driving. I mean I’m a plainsman, a traveler, a nomad! I had my iPhone earbuds in my ear but wasn’t listening to music. Was talking to a new friend in Philly. He’s a sergeant in the Army and also works on the tarmac at the airport up there.
It’s been a long time for me. We’ll see. But so far…
Dimly I recall thinking “why I keep seeing signs for Texarkana?”, which is in the far northeastern part of the state, near Arkansas. What distracted me so much I went 80 miles out of my way??
By the time I realized I’d fucked up = no exit, just deep woods and the freeway. Pitch black night. No choice but to drive the last 20 or so miles all the way into Texarkana then try to work my way back down through side roads at night to Shreveport, Louisiana and Interstate 20 East. This is not prairie wide-open Texas, but part of that closed-in deep woods looming on either side of the road East Texas.
Was pretty agitated, but since I teach my Restoration Not Incarceration™ crew members how to manage feelings, I applied that to myself and let my pissed-offness dissipate out the cold open window. Just drive.
So Thankful to God and Earth for Blessings by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post
I recently realized how much I love. It is possible to love so hard this love becomes holy.
It took years. My adult life has been spent navigating the violence we do to the Earth, each other and ourselves. As an informed activist who tends to live in the apocalypse with no shortage of daily traumas, my grown tack was to convert helpless rage into positive action. But that is different from loving.
Over the past few months, things began to change, like shedding another skin. I feel excited.
A couple weeks ago I was in L.A. to grind out the movie treatment of my first book with screenwriter Carlton Jordan, and also to visit a few area foundations and non-profits. I saw the city differently this time, a creative desert city by the cold Pacific.
The Pacific Ocean is always cold any month of the year, deep blue not bright, and briny. It even smells different from the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. The last day I drove an hour north to Ventura to visit Patagonia, Inc., one of the most conscious companies in the world, and a longtime non-profit benefactor. Afterwards, I walked to the beach.
Something about open, dry country in the American West. Afternoon mountains turn to shimmering blue dust.
Stepping across the railroad trestle tagged in Spanish graffiti above where the Ventura River meets the sea, the blinding white sun hurtled into me from 93 million miles away. To my left the cold Pacific washed onto the driftwood-like-bones beach. The blue dust mountain in the north soared to its sharp cut-off ridge line. Green reeds reached up from the fresh and saltwater mixing below while fish swam (fish are my friends), birds wheeled in the sky and the accidental date palm ahead like an oasis brought my body to bursting. The spirit is not separate from the flesh.
My heart hurts. It’s always been hard to be thankful in the moment. I want so much for people — especially people who have suffered — to experience the indescribable beauty and hope of Earth and being outdoors, both in places they feel they can’t go, and right at home in our neighborhoods.
Ventura is such a nice beach town filled with really good people, but I usually only see one black person.
Even down in very diverse L.A., there are people who’ve never been to the beach but live only several minutes away.
Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based non-profit, is helping South-Central L.A. residents who want to restore Compton Creek. You know Compton — that’s where, umm, loquacious Seattle Seahawks cornerback, and upcoming Super Bowl star, Richard Sherman is from, as was N.W.A. “Straight Outta Compton.” People now want to connect a green trail all the way to the ocean. That is what’s up.
Getting gas for my hybrid rental in Ventura, I finally saw someone black. A young thickish female, maybe 19 or 20 years old, obviously homeless or close to it, in old jeans, Converse sneakers, a v-necked t-shirt struggling to hold in her natural chest the size, of which seemed to bewilder her, and an old zip-up hooded sweatshirt. Her hair pulled back was slightly mussed. She was pushing a single speed bicycle.
Homelessness can twist you as hard as blackened sick-food feces wrenched out of guts in a hidden corner or under a bridge. But not yet for her. The furnace of her youth was still flushing red in her brassy cheeks, and her voice was light and sweet, girlish. She asked for a dollar. I wished later I had given her more.
On the other side of the ocean, in Fukushima, a place famous for fresh peaches and lives woven into the sea, people can never go to the Pacific again. From there, who knows what spreads.
Separately, if the seas rise much worldwide, as expected, there won’t be beaches at all for a few generations. But no beaches will of course be the least of our climate-disrupted problems.
I love wisdom and a wiser older woman said before we ask God for something we should always give thanks. For me, thanks is letting myself be blown away by the beauty and blessings of life on Earth, and then working for renewal before it’s too late.
I have been given such a blessing of life; I damn sure am going to use it and make it count.
January 7, 2014
I’m uncontainable. I can hardly sit still for long. Often I have moments where I feel I might spontaneously combust – implode and explode in the exact same instant – and all that will be left will be some smoke poofing out in mid air.
Sometimes I feel like this wherever – at any moment – even in a grocery aisle.
A few years ago on a short trip to South Beach in Miami, at water’s edge I really felt the continent at my back, even if the spit of land that is Florida is actually all that is between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico then the Desert Southwest and the Pacific.
I looked out, southeastward. I’m an ok swimmer. I can get better. In my spontaneous moments I dream I can leave the land and swim to Cuba. Or Africa. Just get in the water those turquoise fading to deeper blue Atlantic waves and leave everything and everybody behind.
Once you leave the land, it doesn’t matter anymore.
It’s just you and the water, and the closeness of your breath inside the waves inside your ears. All that water.
I didn’t have goggles, so whatever or whoever was with me was out of mind. It was just me and the open plain ahead. The lifeguard lady or man in the painted stick house on the sand always hates me as I start to pass the buoy line. They blow the whistle but what really can they do? The crowded beach doesn’t notice or care. Soon I don’t hear the whistle, and I never cared.
Without goggles, seriously I have no idea who is beneath, or how deep. I could swim outward forever.
I love my body. I love living inside my body. I love anatomy. Fluidity in motion. Did I tell you I’m a shark?
Why is it when at last I decide to turn around the dream dissipates instantly and you are vulnerable, your back exposed to the whole mouth of the rest of the ocean? The shore seems far away in front. Now my movements get jerky. I had joined the land again and had to get back there. My breathing is a little off, but I’m cool. Then something big and rubbery bumped into my leg and yeah I shot out of that water probably making a big ol UGLY splashing my body accordioning but I regained my cool and swam inward, not feeling this at all now, but arms knifing into the water one after the other.
I need to face my fears. I’m always cool. I think I should be able to go anywhere. I have been staying on the surface even when I’m certainly known as a deep muthafucka. I need to swim with my bare exposed body with them.
Did I tell you I’m a shark? I need to learn to swim better and dive with them, like them.
I go anywhere.
The current had pulled me down the shore. I dripped back onto land and went about my biz. Nobody knew.
Happy New Year. It’s January 1, 2014. Today we start our 2 year adventure together: Fear & Loving: Where the Ocean Meets the Streets.
– Dallas, TX (for a few weeks more)
Brandy Gets Caught in the Media Fly Trap by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post
The media’s gleeful and jeering misrepresentation of what happened to Brandy in South Africa is a cautionary tale for those in the media, the public eye, and the public itself.
Recently, to cap the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day at the 90,000 seat FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, Brandy was slated to be the surprise guest.
The event’s organizers did not inform the public that Brandy, a major star, was appearing. After the football (soccer) and rugby matches were over, the crowd left, and by the time she came on only about 40 people remained. Nobody knew she was coming.
And so, in a story that has gone viral, the media shouted breathless headlines around the world giving the impression that Brandy was rejected by 89,960 people. Left to perform for 40 people and a sea of empty chairs. What a loser!
Not just sensationalist gossip sites but serious news outlets ran with this headline impression. You’d have to actually read deep into the articles (which few people do in celebrity gossip) to discern what actually happened.
This speaks to a larger issue of media responsibility, and how the media can run amok shaping a public conception that is not true. Years ago, when I was first getting started as an activist and writer, an advisor warned me, “You have to spoon feed the media.” Even when you do, they often have their own agenda — or jaded carelessness.
I’ve seen it time and again in stories about colleagues’ as well as my own work. I’ve also noticed that in nearly every article that my non-profit organization or I were involved in, there was always some detail — thankfully most of the time minor — that was incorrect.
At times, though, this can come with somewhat harmful repercussions, such as when a young ex-offender privately struggling to overcome depression and worse is paraphrased or quoted thuggishly out of context in a way that is not what he intended; this can be shocking to a person in recovery who is not used to the public blatherground let alone the public eye.
Or, even more dangerously, when the media does not get the facts right — or reports as fact, but end up to be a clear lie (say from a big polluter) instead of an opinion within quotation marks — in a life or death social justice or environmental fight. And other times, it can be simply aggravating and a little smh-funny, such as when a front-page story quoted me directly saying I used to sell “grass” earlier in life. That’s the reporter’s era, not mine. Nobody says “grass”; I said “weed”. Grass (America’s endangered native prairies) and our prairie urban youth are what this Ghetto Plainsman helps save! Direct quotes are supposed to be verbatim.
So, does this mean that a lot of what the public trusts as true in the media’s reporting isn’t?
As for Brandy, I am sorry that she got caught in a manufactured worldwide embarrassment that has nothing to do with her unique talent. I know it’s a shallow world and everybody’s just looking for the next thing to LMAO or gawk at, but for those who aren’t afraid to go a little deep, Brandy’s vibrational, even transformational voice — and the spaces she inhabits between sung words — resonates in the lives of people who experience the depth of human emotions. That’s pretty remarkable for a popular, mainstream artist.
There are actually a couple songs on her Full Moon CD that I haven’t listened to in 10 years because they are that powerful and haunting and beautiful. Back then, for a little while, I felt some kind of way, and I haven’t felt that way again. Like fine wine, I’ll save those songs for some other time, undiluted by familiarity. Their intense abundance will stand alone in a new moment.
How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic? Jail Me—Or Not by Jarid Manos, for Center for Humans and Nature
When people actually drown, it’s usually not the Hollywood “HAAALP ME!!!” everybody thinks. People drown all the time within a few feet of loved ones who never know a thing until afterward. Sometimes it is peaceful. Your lungs fill, and suddenly this is what you are doing right now. The other world slips off and away just like that. And that’s okay. I know a beautiful brother who this happened to, off Galveston. He lived to tell me about it years later.
Prince Charles says we’re “sleepwalking into catastrophe.” I try not to watch, and just work.
Will we scream when it’s too late to hear ourselves? Or will we slip beneath the waves hardly knowing a thing?
Right now I’m in Dallas for six months. I’m working to bring the greater Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex into a last-ditch effort to save this 10,000-plus-year-old prairie known as the Fort Worth Prairie Park. The Texas General Land Office wants to sell it to developers. We’ve kept these 2,000 acres alive for seven years. This last prairie on the backdoor of six million people offers an Eden of wildlife and sun, wind, grass, and blue sky. Our coalition’s goal is to create a regional grassland park for all of North Texas and a national epicenter for Ecological Health.
From Canada to Mexico, and from just east of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountain Front, the prairies have been ripped up for monoculture crops or overgrazed to lifelessness, their legions of wildlife trapped, poisoned, gassed, and shot. You swoon for the open space then realize you’re fenced and squared in.
In the big, relatively new American city all around me, the world seems to hiss and whisper and breathe, like the secrets of cities do. My hand brushes yellow-white blocks of Texas limestone pulled from rich Texas soil and cut for new or historic walls. I know where the natives are. My eyes connect to a string of life dots: planted live oaks and post oak trees and accidental hackberries growing out of the concrete city, and the yucca plant and fugitive native prairie grasses pushing aside the railroad scrabble.
My local and national job—getting Americans to care about a land it has so violently killed—is not without its, umm, challenges. From Canada to Mexico, and from just east of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountain Front, the prairies have been ripped up for monoculture crops or overgrazed to lifelessness, their legions of wildlife trapped, poisoned, gassed, and shot. You swoon for the open space then realize you’re fenced and squared in. And the cities? It bugs me that the majority of the Great Plains states and cities have created so few parks—even city parks—in general, and have protected almost no wild prairie of any size in particular. I “brain-sweep” from my mind the darker thoughts of a deeper murder—a worry that the original American prairie was so full of abundance and wildlife, so free, and populated by such healthy, self-determined savages whose existence counterpointed stories other people were telling, that all traces must be extinguished. People should have no freedom on the land.
But I know better. Every day I insist upon an ultimate goodness in people.
In the Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln speaks about how the Washington establishment was continually looking for “…Further proof that my husband and I were prairie primitives, unsuited to the position… [and elevated by] an error of the people.”
Mrs. Lincoln and the President hailed from twenty-two million acres of Illinois prairie falling beneath an advancing frontier of settlement, its grass jungle of ten-foot-high big bluestem, bison and wolves still fresh in the nation’s blood. The prairie wilderness was part of the common American story.
If fellow Illinoisan First Lady Michelle Obama said that now, nobody would know what the hell she was talking about.
In President Obama’s second Inaugural Address, pledging action on climate change, his American words soar over our nation: “…our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.” The breadth of the country has a gap. Our prairie middle is erased from culture and memory. Recently, as the President (at last) unveiled an Executive Branch climate change plan, he reduced us again. “Croplands.”
Our prairie middle is erased from culture and memory.
I take people out to the last of our living tallgrass prairie here in the DFW, where they can walk a few miles in a land that is ancient yet fresh and alive as if born this morning, and connect with the power of something almighty. Breathe, work. Let themselves soar. Then I help them see that even in the city, we still live on the prairie—so we can keep it in our hearts. Our bloodstreams flow like creeks. We all live downstream. Prairie storms consume us from overhead. Sometimes I work with young felons or other troubled youth who feel like they are at the end of their lives. We try to learn two things: to take care of body and Earth as one, and by taking care of others, we take care of ourselves.
Years ago, driving cross-country in early spring to New York City, escaping the Great Plains torment once again, I stopped at a roadside rest area in cultivated and pesticide-sprayed Illinois. A sign described the former twenty-two million acre tallgrass prairie. I walked to the fence to look over the endless horizon. Harvested feed corn stalks were mashed into the soil that awaited another year of plowing. Looking down, I noticed the corner of the fencerow. The machines couldn’t reach there, and a browned thatch of prairie grass stood. Something else caught my eye, shining, yellow, black-banded, and wet with mud. Down in the grass, holding on to what’s left, two bull snakes three feet long were wrapped around each other, twisting and fucking in slow motion, constricting the life out of each other, into each other, to make something new.
Thinking of Whoever Sewed My Drawers by Jarid Manos, originally published in The Huffington Post
I have a thing about boxer briefs, especially Premium sport style blends of cotton and spandex that wrap you up good like compression shorts but give a little more breathing room. If you ever see me walking into Target or Sport Authority, you know where I’m probably headed.
Recently, after a day of athletics, as I peeled off a pair of black boxer briefs that fit perfectly, I stopped and studied them. With the catastrophic clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh, I’d read about the question of why making clothes wasn’t more automated, and somebody saying, “Nothing beats human hands.”
Turning my somewhat fragrant drawers inside out, I realized I had never really thought about them. And I think about a lot of things. These were made in Bangladesh. White and silver stitching in the elastic waistband and thigh bands, and double black thread stitching around the pouch. Peering closer I saw the human hands at work inside my drawers — you could see the near perfection but still see they had been handcrafted.
For somebody who needed his son to teach him how to use the toaster oven, I became fascinated with such intricate technical skill by a person I would never know, her tactile hands all up inside my drawers, putting together the supple fabric that would take care of me, hold the most intimate parts of my body. All I’d done was scoop a two-pack off the Target rack and whip out my Visa. $14.99 + tax.
I consider myself a progressive, fair-minded person who is pretty conscious of everything around me. And without driving myself crazy I’ve tried to vote with my dollar. In fact, since reading a column in 1996 by former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert about Nike sweatshops in Vietnam (reprinted in the free Colorado Springs Independent, of all places), I haven’t bought Nike. (My son’s mother laughed and said “You just gave it to God, huh?” when I came back just once with a pair of Nike football cleats after being unable to find any other brand of the kind he needed.)
And one time, in California, as I was driving through Oxnard on my way to visit Patagonia, Inc.’s foundation in Ventura further up the coast, I saw all these Mexican workers with eyes so red it almost looked like they were bleeding as they bent over, their bare hands picking the pesticide-soaked strawberry fields. To this day I won’t buy non-organic strawberries, not even in a Jamba Juice smoothie.
I know this is all selective in a world of impacts everywhere.
But whose touch is on what we bring into our lives so intimately?
And how are we touched by words? Remembering Mr. Herbert’s column, and that it has reverberated in me all these years, makes me think the word might actually be more powerful than the sword. My non-profit’s board chair has chastised me, saying, “One writer is worth several activists.” As an American writer who is also founder of an Ecological Health organization, I’ve simply been too overwhelmed to write more.
Like boxer briefs, I guess I’ve got a thing about body integrity, words, hands, intimacy. The placing of hands on others is such an intimate act.
I keep things close, and won’t let just anybody touch me. This extends outward too, in my own touch, to being a longtime vegan. I would feel like a zombie if I ate meat.
Which brings me to my own death. What am I going to do when the time comes? I viciously cannot stand the thought of someone putting their hands on me against my will or outside my control. What am I going to do when people are pulling my dead body somewhere with their live hands and looking into my dead face and touching me and undressing me and all that and I can’t defend myself, keep them away, be in control? Jeez. And God forbid, an autopsy would be worse than rape!
I don’t feel the spirit is separate from the flesh.
I’m sorry for those who have been crushed.