Friday, March 31, 2006

Day 5: Hollow Men and Poetry Addiction

Day 5

VIII Hollow Men

There is an absence greater than absence of life
there is a hollow hollower than death
when the lights go off in the gunman's eyes
and every man becomes a purse.

There is a loss greater than loss of pleasure
when there is no breast or nipple
and the nurse removes your pacifier
and the wailing of your deprivation
goes unnoticed in the bassinet
and your infant body shakes
into the grief of sleep.

Or when standing at the railing of your crib
and there is no mother
and no substitute for mother
in the endless darkness
might as well change yourself.

After this you may spend your life
seeking a substitute
for the milk-dewed nipple
and the warm pillow of breast
pressed against your face during
the rhythm of the bliss of your sucking.

IX My Poetry Addiction

There is so little poetry left in the world
I suffer its loss as much as cigarettes.
It may, in fact, leave a bigger emptiness.
Is it love or addiction?

Sometimes I think the latter, especially when I am around poets
and feel the heat of their narcissism rise like steam from a meatloaf,
most without craft, an ear, rhythm or form,
who cannot write a sonnet to save their souls
despite their endless infantile hunger to be heard.

The difference for these junkies is external dependence:
Only another can shoot you up with self-deluding praise.

Plato was right and wrong.
He never imagined the democratization of poetry,
fearing Aeschylus and Aristophanes
not Angelou and Bukowski.

You say I have switched to prose.
I say form must fit function
in this proliferation of venues and dilution of talent
on the Fleet Street of the Internet and overpriced coffeehouses.

Forget poetry, poetry sucks as much as cigarettes.
Poetry sucks donkey dicks in the dead of night.
Poetry sucks the butt holes of rabid bats
Poetry sucks the big Walla-Walla like a Staubsauger.
Poetry is a concentration camp for narcissists.
Poetry is eternal competition with every poet, living or dead.
Poetry causes stillborns, curdles milk and stains the altar with pig’s blood.
Poetry is bread in the mouth of a pigeon spreading Legionnaire's disease.
Poetry is the word flu.
Fuck poetry.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Quitting Smoking Day 4: Continued Unrest

Day 4

VII Continued Unrest

I can’t rest without a cigarette.
Withdrawal still twists me on its spit.
I suck my toothbrush in rage.
When then is there an end to it?
Was carbon slavery worth its wage?
No—I must not think of it!—
I’ll wash my windows today.

After the windex and the suds
their slime runs yellow and gray onto my rag,
that same sick mucous color you get
from washing an ashtray.
I was living in an ashtray—no;
I was a living ashtray.
I don’t want to die an ashtray.

Yet after the windows were done
I was at a loss at how to reward myself.
With a glass of water? A walk in the park?
A swim at the gym? Shit!
Nothing trumps a fucking cigarette!

I must hold on hold out hold to
hold forth hold back hold sway—
Mommy, don’t let me die an ashtray.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Quitting Smoking Day 3: A Sexualized Vision of My Addiction

VI: A Sexualized Vision of My Addiction

I saw the spirit of fire,
in her coronet of coals
dancing in a leaf skirt
of golden brown,
her incendiary thighs

burning burning burning.

Before her only God breathed fire.
Afterwards came dragons,
venomous snakes and toads.
Finally man's penis swelled
and woman's labia grew
bloody-purple, pink and wet.

I heard Tobaccohontas speak:

"I burn for you, Brave.
Do not forget your love.
Cleave me with your tomahawk,
undo the seam so lightly stitched by nature
or my own nails will ream it,
drive your spear into the ravenous slit
beneath the golden curls of my mons,
pound me as a bear ruts a sow
in a ditch littered with salmon bones and acorns.
My mouths have swallowed
the seed of many warriors, come.”

Ah, Tobaccohontas,
I once fingered your moist fragrance
in blue pouches of Drum tobacco.
Your scent still calls to me
from the tent of elders puff by puff
but such stoic moderation is beyond me.
I cannot sample you, I must
devour and be devoured.

My lava grows hard in your ocean.
Your undersea cleft shapes me.
My tip breaks off like a coal in your wet purse.
I shudder, deflate and die.
You are the siren of my death.
I stub you out in ashtrays
as if they were vampires’ coffins
through which to pound my stake.
Now I can only suck
the memory of your forbidden pleasure
and cast its usage toward some future
beyond obsession. Forgive me
Princess; you were the best.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Quitting Smoking Day 2

Day 2

IV Withdrawal

Depression and loss look much the same
along life's hedgerow; still, differ
as hawthorn from holly, as grape from pear.
Loss is a coin tossed down a well
until you hear the plunk of water and weep--
in depression you never hear the coin

Nicotine, like Benzedrine,
has antidepressant properties.
Deprived, the mind shudders
like an old engine.
Who will pull this train?
I think I can, I think I can,
desiring this man's art and that man's scope
the sea has jaws and a gray-green coat
what hangs from the jaws is pulverized
to pebbles until the shingle rattles
before an otter floating in caramel kelp.

This disconnection, stoppage, hesitation, grappling
for numbers, addresses, details, sans nicotine
I mourn the vanished power of the chemical reign!

V Their Fault

My parents smoked, it was not unpleasant.
It was present at Christmas
with the holly wreath
in the brown couch
with the little nubs
and legs of wrought iron
from which my mother
read Hiawatha to us
and smoked.

My mother smoked
when I was a fetus.
Bad, bad mother.
My mother withheld
her nipples from me.
Mean, mean mother.
She tried but failed
to nurse my older brother.
Weak, weak mother.
At birth I knew
there was something even better.
I was born for cigarettes.

Monday, March 27, 2006

We Found a Rental! Quitting Smoking (Again!)

It’s after 3 PM and neither Kathleen nor I nor Kenyon has had a cigarette. We’ve taken our Wellbutrin and slapped on our nicotine patches; unfortunately, Kenyon had no hairless place to put a patch, but unlike humans he has no power to obtain cigarettes without our help, so he’ll just have to go cold turkey.

We quit last year from September through December but faltered on New Year’s, not from partying but from an emotional blowout with our son, the details of which I am not at liberty to share. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t buy a used car from him, although he is a handsome and lovable young man.

Further, today we were confirmed as new tenants in a spacious, light-filled one bedroom house along a whispering creek in the redwoods. If things progress as planned we’ll actually be moving in next Saturday. Having a place of our own (as you may not be able to imagine if you have not been virtually homeless for well over a year) is to us a scary prospect. We will be pinching ourselves for weeks in gratitude and disbelief, and then, like all humans, we’ll begin to take it for granted, and later aspire to a larger place. Such is our fallen nature; for now we have a chance to be grateful.

Instead of blogging for the next week, I invite you to come along on my journey of quitting smoking. There will be a poem posted in parts with each blog rather than more prose accounting of our adventures. I’m also going to change key words in the description of my blog to garner more attention, like free sex and drugs. Please ignore that ploy.

I think those who have been cigarette addicts will enjoy the poem, and those who have not may gain compassion for our minority, especially in view of the new Calabasas, California law that allows smokers to smoke in public only in their cars with the windows rolled up. To defend free speech for Nazis and the right to Internet porn is all very well, but where is the ACLU when it comes to smokers? Herein lies the ongoing Puritan hypocrisy on which our nation was founded.

As for hypocrisy, think of George Bush encouraging us to have private Social Security retirement accounts and private health care accounts while he and congress pile up a trillion dollars in debt. Yes, Americans: It is your responsibility to plan for the future while the benefits Government promised you go down the toilet. So kind of Uncle Sam to demand a virtue from the populace he cannot perform.

I have one word to prepare baby boomers for the upcoming crash of Medicare and Social Security: Sacrifice! This seems to be the one thing no one in America is prepared to do, especially our representatives. As George Harrison sang, “I, Me, Mine.”

Now for today’s installment of “The Deprivathon,” a poem I admit I did not compose spontaneously. I am revising an earlier draft from when I quit for six months in 2002. I want to thank Jim Zola for a critique of that earlier draft, my co-editor for Melic’s last issue, who (among a few others) actually had the patience to read the whole thing in its earlier form.

Happy no trails! No fuming!

C. E. Chaffin

The Deprivathon

(A diary of quitting smoking)

Day 1

I Invocation

Nothing fills the body like tobacco gas
sating each bronchiole
until alveoli collapse
like punctured bubble wrap,
yet it is not the health risk
but the slavery I address,
the false comfort of filling
Augustine’s God-shaped vacuum.

Have mercy, God, for without smoke
my lungs are empty gloves,
my chest an abandoned altar.

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
This day by the grace of God
I will not smoke.

II Howl

How can I wax oracular about a deadly habit? Shall I say,

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by white voodoo missiles from the military industrial suicidal tobacco coven,
Red Man's revenge funded by oil-wealthy Oklahoma Indians,
Saw the blue smoke climb the undefended caves of their nostrils like mutated kudzu planting a Manitou deep in their unsuspecting ribs to one day metastasize and waste their brains, the Nobel Prize is a green oxygen tank and a wheelchair!
O Cancer! O Emphysema! O Stroke! O Coronary!
O insidious degenerative enzymes from secret hybrid leaves developed for mass destruction!
O refreshing Salems in a waterfall among the green ferns!
O perfect models with sweaters tied around their necks and khaki slacks sailing off Martha's Vineyard, liberated by Newports!
O Marlboro man who never talks but rides by purple mountains and orange sunsets in his fleece-lined suede jacket!
O Virginia Slims who keep that weight off for a woman who is only a clothes rack for gay designers, tennis anyone?
O be happy, go Lucky, Winston tastes good, the pause that refreshes, smooth, smooth, smooth as polished agate… hack hack….
but I'm not starving hysterical naked only addicted and I hate to smoke but hate not smoking more because
inhaled nicotine jolts the brain in seven seconds, talk about a hydrogen jukebox, instantaneous pleasure loop!
It calms, suppresses appetite, grants euphoria, helps concentration, ask any student, nicotine works long after caffeine quits.

III Consequences

Mornings are made worse by alcohol at night
which dulls the brain to pain of inhalation;
you wake up feeling like a crematorium,
still have to have that morning rush
or fear you won’t awaken.

I can’t ignore the pleading quality of machines—
a whir, a whine, as if a wish for petting,
as if they wanted a cigarette—
addiction is a machine.

No addict can adequately apprehend,
foresee or even imagine his actual end.
"One of three" they say will die
from cigarettes but this is only
pseudoscientific propaganda.

Is easier to see the damage
in finely furrowed faces,
gray with sunken cheeks
who purse their lips to exhale
and afford increased resistance
to move their palsied bellows.
These are the "blue bloaters" of emphysema.

There are also the barrel-chested wheezing types
who hyperventilate to compensate.
These are the "pink puffers" of chronic bronchitis.
I learned these facts in medical school
where I took up smoking as a tool
to study past the point where caffeine fails
but my excuse is only a denial of death.

Yet emphysema, chronic bronchitis,
the risk of stroke and heart attack
do not terrify like the black crab of cancer,

Lung cancer patients stink.
No one wants to play with them
on the field or at the rink,
no one wants to stay with them.

Cancer is more feared because more alien
a thing inside composed of altered cells,
cells you were never born with, cells not yourself,
that mutating Manitou within
that killed Bob Marley and the Marlboro Man.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Update on Kenyon; Operation Seagull and the National Debt

Yesterday we went to Van Damme State Park beach to exercise Kenyon. He continues to limp on his left forelimb, which the vet diagnosed as osteoarthritis—no need even for X-Rays. Yet it still grieves us to watch him lope unevenly rather than run outright.

At the beach we tossed a chartreuse tennis ball into the Little River and watched him swim and fetch, gradually working up to the ocean, where he braved bigger and bigger waves to fetch his ball. Because he has one cataract his vision is not as keen as formerly, so we also use a green 7-Up bottle half filled with water for fetching.

Kathleen and I also engaged in a little batting practice with a piece of driftwood and Kenyon’s soggy tennis ball. She hit it hard twice but more often whiffed, for which I blame my pitching. Kenyon meanwhile played catcher and chased down every missed ball before grudgingly, and with much encouragement, returning it to the pitcher.

The good news is that Kenyon’s personality has made quite a comeback, overcoming his canine PTSD in increments. He will now wander out back of our motel without accompaniment, though most of the time he still stays very close to Kathleen. When we come home he now greets us with as many items as he can stuff in his mouth, including his favorite sock and rawhide bone. (Sometimes he gets two socks in his mouth but it’s hard to add the tennis ball.) He’s been up in our bed to be doted upon but has trouble climbing up without help. It’s always the left front leg that gives him trouble. I suggested a neoprene sleeve support to the vet, but she’d never heard of such a thing, so I think I may go to the local dive shop and have them make one.

As we were preparing to leave the beach yesterday, Kenyon happily tired out from his swim and fetch session, we noticed a mottled brown seagull flopping around in the parking lot. From a distance it appeared to have a broken right leg. On closer inspection I noted that it had been hamstrung by a long leader used for salmon trolling (which I believe is out of season and illegal now), including a hook through his right flipper and one deep in his gullet. I threw a towel over the bird and lifted it carefully into a box in the back of our beat-up van. As we drove back to Fort Bragg he escaped from his box and began fluttering amidst the luggage in the back (which made me feel like Tippie Hedren in a phone booth). Kathleen steadied Kenyon but he wasn’t terribly interested, once again confident that he is the center of the universe.

Returning to the motel, I called a number of state agencies for wildlife rehabilitation, only to receive the final recommendation that I should call a local vet. Your government at work. “Save the teacher’s union, not the seagulls.” As all the vets’ offices had closed, and being a qualified physician and surgeon myself, I thought it would be easier if I did the job. With the help of Suzanne, our motel manager, and Kathleen, I was able to remove both hooks and untangle the leaders and snap-swivels from the bird’s right wing.

Its tongue had been partially severed in the middle by the fishing line. The hooks were large and of stainless steel, so wire cutters were of no use; I had to crimp the barbs and back the hooks out, which worked, although “Benny” (I named him afterwards but his pronoun will now change from “it” to “he,” though I have no idea how to determine the sex of a seagull) was obviously in pain during the operation on his gullet. I did learn that the pressure of a seagull’s bite is not powerful enough to seriously injure a human finger, although it can be impressive to the uninitiated. I wore gloves in any case. Afterwards Kathleen soaked the gloves in detergent.

Only then did I realize that “Benny” might have given us the bird flu! Oh well. I wouldn’t have done anything different if he were the first North American case except to wear a mask and quarantine him. I don’t recall any cases in seagulls or vultures anyway, as their scavenging ways require a very aggressive immune system.

I let Benny down in the storeroom after the operation and he could walk normally again, but I wasn’t sure he could fly. Suzanne suggested we keep him in a box overnight to rest. This morning I released him and he seemed dazed; I gave him some bread and sardines and he ate them, though his aim in locating the morsels seemed a little unsure. Concerned that he couldn’t fly, I gave chase to him on foot, feeling like Rocky Balboa, only to see him take off from the parking lot, whirl around the trees at low altitude, and then land in the middle of Highway 1. What a bird brain is Benny! Kathleen and I raced to the median and held up cars in order to shoo him off the road. In the gas station across the street I couldn’t capture him with a towel, but he finally took off and flew back across the road. There he located a pool of fresh water flowing by the curb and drank his fill. I watched him a little longer before leaving him to his own wiles and the elements.


Yesterday we learned that we’d been declined as tenants for a second hoped-for rental, and we know it’s our credit scores doing the damage. As mad poets, Kathleen and I are occasionally seized by guilt at our joint unreliability when confronting the mechanics of modern reality. We’ve owned three houses between us and have nothing to show for it. We’ve both been through bankruptcies. In Mexico we spent way too much money, including the little amount of equity (by today’s housing market standards) we managed to recover when we sold our re-financed condo.

Sitting on the bed together, admitting our lifetime lack of interest in things material as well as our failure to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s of modern living (we have no health and I have no life insurance, though we do have car insurance), Kathleen remarked, “It’s not so bad, Craig. That’s just who we are. We saved a seagull in distress that other people at the State Park ignored. We helped bring back Kenyon’s health. We had a good day.”

And you know, she’s right. We are truly God’s children, and though that’s no excuse for not doing better in the real, material world, we’re just the kind of people who more easily give away a dollar than pinch a penny. We do, however, believe in karma, that the good we’ve done in our lives (though it will not insulate us against suffering as this blog has pointedly illustrated) will ultimately rebound to us in times of need—and it has. “Cast your bread upon the waters.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” “Behold the lilies of the field.” And so on. For us this is not an excuse but a matter of faith. We are not in denial about not building bigger barns. We’re just not very good at it, but God is faithful even to the foolish.

Now I did pay all our bills yesterday, including half of the money my sister loaned me short-term when Child Support Services left us penniless again two weeks ago, and I am current with the car payment, the motel bill, the storage payment, and child support, so it’s not as if we’re totally irresponsible. What truly galls me is that three years ago, when we sold the condo, I was entirely debt free. But when I went to purchase a car, I couldn’t get a decent loan because, God, of all things, I had “no credit.” No payment records. A debtless soul. Thereby I learned again the logic of American consumerism: if you can’t be trusted to keep on borrowing, we can’t trust you to keep on lending.

So a word to the wise: do not become debt-free. Pay your credit card bills on time; in fact, it’s best to run up large bills and make large payments for at least six months to improve your credit. But never, never get entirely out of debt or the system will punish you for your frugality.

And remember our great example: a government of the consumer, by the consumer, and for the consumer, shall not perish from the earth, as Congress has just raised the national debt ceiling to nine trillion dollars—$9,000,000,000,000—more eggs than a million seagulls could lay in a lifetime. Still the thinking goes that compared to our yearly GNP it’s not that bad. Besides, if American credit goes down the drain, the global economy will tank as well, because those who have invested in our debt, like China and Japan, would be shaken to the core. Thus they would do anything to prop up the credit of the U.S., as we are all so economically intertwined—like mating snakes.

The moral of my story? A penny borrowed is two pennies earned.

And don’t waste your life on wounded seagulls unless you’re willing to pay the price.

Thine as ever,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Headlines 3/15, 3/16, 3/21

I expect my readership to be middle-aged educated upper class whites, as I like to think of myself, despite my late bout with homelessness and poverty. Well, at least I’m educated, though my siblings may argue I lack a degree in social graces.
Unfortunately this antiquated medium of print has already become passé on the net, as video blogs are all the rage. Yet if you shake your head at just the right frequency while staring at my beaming portrait, it will appear as if I am in motion. The General Theory of Relativity completely supports this illusion.

Are you moving your head? Good.

So today let’s make a nod to Jon Stewart, who bombed at the Oscars (one reason to preserve Bob Hope’s head in liquid nitrogen), returning to the mordant ramblings to which my tiny readership has become accustomed. I keep no stats either for my blog or my magazine, which incidentally just put out its last issue:

Its theme is Death, one of the four great themes in the history of English literature (which includes the subsets of loss and grief, naturally), the other three great categories being Love, Nature, and God. Trust me on this. I’ve read a lot.



Quick cut to today’s headlines, which could be any headlines from any day, unless flattened even more by Botox, as history is mainly mundane (exceptions like 9/11 and Pearl Harbor and JFK’s are exceptions, as is this tautology in my normally taut prose). These headlines have been filched from The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, followed by comment.

“3rd mad cow disease case found in the U.S.”

The animal was sent to anger management class.

“Pat Robertson critical of Muslims.”

This is news?

“Speaking of radical Muslims, he said: “These people are crazed fanatics, and I want to say it now: I believe it’s motivated by demonic power. It is satanic.”

Obviously Pat doesn’t know Satan. Satan would never expose his evil so publicly; he much prefers to pull the Alzheimer-laden strings of American Evangelicals to discredit Christianity.

“Isaac Hayes has quit ‘South Park,’ where he voices Chef, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion.”

Hmm... this came after the first episode to mock Scientology, Isaac’s “religion,” after years of pummeling Christianity. Isaac’s “hot-buttered sell-out” only demonstrates what we already know: the Stepford Scientology Celebrities march in lockstep when Hubbard’s cupboard is raided. It’s not,” whose ox was gored,” but “don’t step on my blue suede engrams.” If Scientologists actually read this criticism I will be forced to look for rattlesnakes in my mailbox, the old Synanon trick.

“Carla Martin, prosecutor against Moussaoui for the Transportation Security Administration, e-mailed seven witnesses yet to testify, including portions of last week’s trial proceedings, and seemed to tell some of them how they should testify.”

This may spare Moussaoui the death penalty. Perhaps she is a closet opponent to it. But her real mistake? Not meeting privately with the witnesses the way most prosecutors do in their slanted prepping. Her temptation? The ease of e-mail. “The road to hell is paved with digital convenience.”

“Franciscans settle sex charges for $30 million.”

Imagine falling that far behind on your internet porno bill—but enough celibashing.

Quantum sufficit: “The former host of the 1980s game show, “Press Your Luck,” died when his small plane crashed into Santa Monica Bay.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

“A 12-year-old girl recanted her report of being sexually assaulted by a stranger in a school bathroom.”

Hard to keep up with Britney Spears. Oh the pressure of puberty!

“Democrats cautious on Bush censure.”

Obviously their handlers have not yet seen the new opinion polls they immediately commissioned.

“Colleges open minority aid to whites.”

Glad they decided to continue minority aid.

And what did you have for breakfast today? I had a Hostess blackberry pie, near 400 calories of carbs—Mmmm, delicious—though I hate how the little seeds stick between my teeth.

“Feds cutting back on testing for mad cow.”

Obviously the anger management courses are working.

“Rice mending fences.”

Rice is an excellent source of glue, though one grain would stick out in Condie’s throat as in that old joke about the starving Ethiopian. This might be her only way to achieve love handles.
“Lightning blamed in W. Va. mine blast.”

If we can “blame” lightning, the pathetic fallacy is alive and well. Then we are a Protestant-based “guilt” society; thus in Japan they “shame” lightning.

“Shuttle won’t fly until July, Nasa says”

Airplane psychologists are interviewing the shuttle about her hesitancy.

“Bush stumps for Medicare program.” Bush admitted the program began with “a little confusion.”

Question: How can the confused properly identify confusion? An Alzheimer’s patient might as well question another’s memory. (What did I just say? Whose memory? Where’s my pudding?

“Milosevic had access to alcohol, drugs.”

No better place to score than in prison.

“Khamenei unbending as U.N. debates Iran nuke issue.”

Interrupted during his Yoga class?

“China adopts plan to spread prosperity to 800 million poor.”

Sounds as easy as peanut butter. Have they never heard of Lyndon Johnson?

“Obscure official now talk of town.”

Formerly obscure?

“Judge to limit data feds get from Google.”

Why not just ask Google to censor their information as they happily did for China?

“87 found slain in Iraq bloodshed.”

Glad to know they weren’t bloodless zombies.

“Aryan case gets under way.”

They’re going to need a lot more beer for this one.

“Moment of silence draws suit” David and Shannon Croft say a teacher told one of their children to keep quiet because the minute is “a time of prayer.”

But it’s OK, I suppose, to tell the class to shut up for five minutes during the condom distribution?

“Israelis seize 6 W. Bank prisoners”

Liberate to incarcerate. Perhaps the Palestinian jail didn’t have a decent deli?

“FBI documents may show wider surveillance”

In a related story, the American obesity epidemic continues.



“IRS moving to allow sale of tax return information.”

Are they jealous of Home Security privacy invasion? Or just eager to make further profits on their theft? Just like the government to steal from you and then sell the goods back. I’ve often wondered where all the knives and nail clippers confiscated at airports will end up. My guess is a government warehouse, from where they will eventually be sold to an enterprising Arab at 5% of their value.

“In ’05, airlines lost 30 million bags.”

And that was just the drugs.

“Bush’s Iraq picture grim, hopeful.”

Hopefully grim? Grimly hopeful? Oh fuhgedaboutit.

“Neighbor kills boy on lawn”

Glad to know it wasn’t on the street. Actually, the man loved his lawn. “Martin, 66, allegedly told police he had several times had problems with neighbors walking on his lawn.” One wonders: Bermuda? Dichondra? Decorative trolls? Or was his little black jockey defiled?

“New Iraq violence kills 39”

What makes it “new?”

“Australia begins cyclone cleanup”

Cyclone not cooperating, insisting that it flosses and bathes twice a day.

“Hoard of Cold War supplies found inside Brooklyn Bridge”

Class action suit begun from all purported owners of the Brooklyn Bridge to recoup stale survivor crackers.

“More indictments in scheme to defraud Red Cross

More than 61 people obtained free ATM cards in Bakersfield, CA, for access to government funds, claiming Katrina had induced PTSD in a town where the failure of air conditioning poses the biggest natural threat.

“Community college degrees may get tougher”

Eighth-grade reading equivalency threatened!


I think that’s enough milking of the news, which is like shooting fish in a barrel. Strangely both Kathleen and I never understood that metaphor until our 50s, when we realized it wasn’t meant to be live fish swimming around but stacked, salted herring. The image of shooting live fish always seemed a little difficult to us, especially if they were small, tropical fish. And speaking of that, infants have a disproportionately strong grip, which makes me doubt "Like taking candy from a baby" as well.

I’m sure all of you have heard by now about the Ambien-induced sleep-gorging. People sleepwalk and chow down, even cooking in their sleep. One woman claimed to have gained 100 lbs. in her sleep-gorging. This gives new meaning to the question: “How’s your new girlfriend?” “Well, I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers.”

What about smeared bacon and eggs?

All for today, the Vernal Equinox, first day of spring. This means that Easter will be the first Sunday after the first Monday after the first full moon after today, as my mother so well taught me, which for us Lutherans always gave the holiday a nice pagan flavor. And we know for certain that Jesus was born on Christmas because otherwise the retail industry would suffer--unlike Jesus. As I’ve long preached, "Let's not take ‘X’ out of X-Mas!

And now a moment of silence as I pass out.

Thine in Truth and Farce,

C. E. Chaffin

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Beach Glass and Glass Beach

I forgot to mention a very disturbing dream I had last night, which I attribute to eating a Uno bar before sleep. Chocolate has psychedelic properties, I’m convinced, and I think it raised my dopamine levels, which are low in Parkinson’s patients but high in schizophrenics.

For starters, Kathleen, Kenyon and I had visited Glass Beach the day before. Glass Beach used to be a dump before 1970, on the coast at the north end of Fort Bragg. Since its closing it has been transformed into a cove of shingle, pebbles and sand with a higher proportion of sea-smoothed glass than any other beach in California.

I collected beach glass in San Clemente for a decade, and after becoming choosey—that is to say, I came only to accept beach glass for my collection whose rough edges had been sufficiently sculpted into dull gems—I was able to fill over half of a medium-sized fish bowl with specimens. These included one yellow piece, one red piece, and two blue fragments I assumed were from Milk of Magnesia bottles. I was proud of my collection,

Then we visited Glass Beach, whose smoothed glass fragments were so plentiful the guide book said, “Be sure to visit it in full sun to see the glitter of the glass and ceramic on shore.” Imagine my surprise, even wild joy, when after years of collecting I could fill the same fish bowl in one day if I tried.

This experience reminded me of the principle of diminishing pleasure in unexpected returns. After the rare and unpredictable joy of finding one or two worthy specimens a day in San Clemente, to find such a plethora of specimens in Fort Bragg devalued my earlier exertions with the sweep of a magic wand. I found three blue specimens at Glass Beach in one afternoon, even a specimen of reinforced glass with the wires visible within, something I’d never encountered before. And I didn’t even look very hard; I was half-hearted about the effort. At first happy, my happiness had been diminished by an unprecedented abundance, as if the glory of my former finds, purchased with great effort, was now too easily attained--like climbing Mt. Everest via a helicopter. The value of these easily found specimens caused a great inflation in my spiritual economy, much like Twain deriding heaven as a boring vacation destination where harps and clouds and saints were all too commonplace.

I cannot help but think that the shock of the ease of collecting my previously hard-won trophies put me in an unconscious spin, which may have been the cause of my dream (combined with the late dose of chocolate).

In my dream I was seeking heaven or some sign of heaven on earth. Through secret communications I was directed to a group of people in a spacious, rustic house of great proportions. There the goodness was overwhelming. The presumption of eternal life and the ultimate triumph of goodness in this world was a given; people were confident in their faith and full of good humor, though also cognizant that they were an anomaly in this world of evil, which required of them a strict secrecy.

Amazed, overjoyed, I socialized with these souls who seemed to live in a glorious eternity most would never attain, much less suspect as a mode of being obtainable on earth. This vale of tears was completely subsumed by the generous smiles, glowing miens and forgiving natures of the secret conclave—all attractive, gracious, well-spoken, and guiltless while enjoying caviar and drinks.

Yet as I listened to their conversations, it occurred to me that they seemed somewhat bored, and that their concern for genocide in Darfur and Rwanda and the destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest had been superceded by their supreme and well-justified confidence in the future, knowing how it would all turn out. Gradually my joy at having discovered these spiritual giants was dampened by my disappointment, not in their self-satisfaction, but their seeming unconcern with the world’s current needs. To find my more spiritually advanced brethren unable to share the desperate compassion I felt for those on this dark planet still suffering, however blind, made for a guilty disillusionment on my part. Not that I found this company of saints evil, or proud, or condescending, or unconcerned, simply above the fray and thus slightly bored. However much I wanted to stay in their company I began to feel uncomfortable, as if I didn’t deserve to be in their company, while at the same time my sinful resentment surfaced in the suspicion that they might be “too heavenly minded for any earthly good.”

Like the unexpected and easy harvest of beach glass, these beings’ angelic, joyful insularity became too easy to countenance. Mournfully I realized I could not stay in their number, that I must return to the struggle of those still suffering on earth, however blind they might be to the all-conquering faith of the spiritual cognoscenti. They did not need to nurse AIDS patients because, as in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, they knew that “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Their company struck me a little like an inauguration gala just waiting for the second coming. In contrast I felt like a spiritual Neanderthal who wanted to return to the playing ground when the victory was already assured. In my heart I felt it was too early to celebrate the triumph of goodness, however much I ultimately believe in that outcome. We parted amicably and though I sensed no pity on their part, I considered the price they paid for their assurance and easy grace: they were no longer in the fight. There was no point anymore, in their view (though never directly stated), to get their hands dirty as Mother Teresa had.

I woke from the dream with a sense of regret; I felt I belonged with them; I was grateful to have discovered their secret society; at the same time I was not content to rest on the promise of faith when so much still hung in the balance.

The whole dream was like an acid flashback; twice before as a teenager I had similar visions on LSD, visions of humanity united in a loving, telepathic unity of eternal spiritual bodies (“How does it feel to be / one of the beautiful people?”) But it was not for me; even wigged out on acid such a blessing seemed premature. As lucky as I was to encounter them, I knew I could not continue among them without the eventual tug of a spiritual lack, and this grieved me to no end, as their attitude toward the ongoing spiritual battle confirmed my best hopes for humanity. So I left each time discouraged but resigned to my lesser fate of trying to love my neighbor in this fallen world despite my many defects.

Sometime ago I wrote a love poem to Kathleen wherein I theorized a similar phenomenon. Here’s an excerpt from “About the Bracelet”:

“What if all the righteous faded
by subtle increments to stark transparency
until no one could see them but themselves?
Left to our sordid board games,
would we even notice their absence?
In this scenario, you'd have disappeared
before we met.”

This stanza plays off the cabalistic notion that if only a few righteous men remain on earth, like Abraham arguing for Lot, they retain the power to extend God’s compassion before the inevitable day of judgment.

A strange dream, no? Yet the scriptures encourage me against any such premature fulfillment: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, for we walk by faith, not sight.” “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” “I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

The parallel to the disappointment of Glass Beach is obvious, though I don’t know if it’s fair to blame the chocolate.

I’d like to close this account with a poem I wrote about beach glass before I knew about Glass Beach.

Beach Glass

and soft to thumb
down in a palm
like a familiar coin
but heavier,
its once jagged face
has suffered the sea
and no longer fractures light
in glints and glares.

Ground to dull edges
by sand,
it welcomes light evenly
and glows
luminously green
beside the dark,
wet pebbles.

I do not know if nature’s transforming magic (in the face of man’s irresponsible litter), would have inspired me to pen this encomium if I had encountered Glass Beach before beach glass.

C. E. Chaffin

Chaffin "Light"

If you care to notice, though few will, I have already revised the poem posted in the last entry. Some poems I’ve revised 100 times, appearing in successive publications successively altered, but I’m told Yeats suffered from the same obsession about his own works, though I would not dare compare my work to his. I now try to limit myself to five revisions per piece, though my as yet unpublished poem, “Message from Mexico” is undergoing its 30th, an exception to my recent practice perhaps justified in proportion to the suffering Kathleen, Kenyon and I endured in Mexico.

For what it’s worth, here’s a non-poem about writing poems that I sometimes share with my students:

how to write a poem


(the brain will mix it)

write it down
say it out loud

put it away for a month
say it out loud

put it away for a year
say it out loud

publish maybe

In posting a “new” poem I obviously violated my own advice. Still, verbal artistry is wonderful in this: one can continually alter former works, unlike a finished sculpture or musical recording, although painting in oils may allow similar advantages.

We have our eyes on a rental here, but until our butts are there ensconced I will say no more for fear of bad luck. For now our address is

P. O. Box 2436
Fort Bragg, CA

should anyone want to snail mail us. We have no phone. I already blogged about cell phone difficulties.

On to lesser things...

Our prospective landlord, incredibly, gave us the same quote about the Mendocino Coast that we’d heard about San Miguel de Allende: “This is the largest outdoor insane asylum in the world.” Whether due to crystals or a nexus of free thinkers telepathically attracting others, or mercury in the seafood, or tannins in the redwoods, or any other number of reasons, I don’t know. This signature quote does give us hope, however, that we may fit in and be of benefit to the community, as Kathleen and I each have four degrees of sanity. Both she and I have graduated from mental hospitals four times. To have your sanity so affirmed by the authorities is some comfort, especially when you meet so many people more deserving of a stay than yourselves. I mainly suspect they pass for normal out of cowardice, unable to confront their insanity and submit to treatment—spiders inhabiting the fringes of society, fringes on a mud puppy’s neck, like the overwrought turquoise and silver jewelry adorning nonagenarian pedophiles.

Did I actually write that? Never mind, I have four degrees of sanity.

I read yesterday (in The San Francisco Chronicle) that the chief neurosurgeon of an area hospital was arrested before a surgical procedure on suspicion of drunkenness, while crudely railing against the nurses. Abusive, he shoved a cop and would not stand still for the breathalyzer—which registered the presence of alcohol but could not determine how much because of his lack of cooperation.

All ye who fear the breathalyzer after a good party, heed the example of this neurosurgeon, who should know something about drunk driving from experience. (As residents we called the neurosurgery ward “the vegetable garden”— for all the comatose head-injury patients on life support. “Cabbage patch dolls” also enjoyed some currency.) So if they put the mouthpiece in and say, “blow,” squirm, squirm I say! Squirm against the dying of your rights! The worst you’ll get is resisting arrest.

On to even less important things. The legal tangles described in my last prose blog were untangled with an alacrity beyond belief; the government removed the levy from our account the very same day I called. The CSS officer said he went out on a limb for me since I had been sending generous support to my daughters in the absence of any court order. Sometimes good deeds do go unpunished. A miracle.

Perhaps our luck is changing.

We continue to rehabilitate Kenyon. He saw the vet today, who did not recommend X-Rays, believing his joint problems indicative of his age. But Kenyon is gaining weight and we’ve had him swimming nearly every day in the cold Pacific, good therapy for his joints. Unfortunately his eyesight isn’t what it once was, so I go through ten fetching sticks in a session. I plan to obtain a floating fluorescent object soon as a visual aid for his seagoing routine.

I splurged and bought Kathleen new hiking boots today; she claimed they helped her hip and back when we hiked to the beach for Kenyon’s session. Since she’s been nagging me about new hiking boots for at least two years, the expense was definitely worth the escape from her whining, self-pitying, constant verbal abuse. I couldn’t eat breakfast without hearing, “What about the boots?” These boots are made for nagging...

When she again claims, “I have nothing to wear,” I can now say, “But what about the boots?”

Among our other secret clichés we’ve added a new one—a “sign- countersign” device. Imitating Nelson of the Simpsons, one of us says “Hmm-hmh.” The other replies, “Hoo-Haw!” This links Al Pacino’s self-parody with the smartest show on television. Thus when we meet strange people, who seem to make up the majority here, we use our code to acknowledge when they say something really strange. Of course our code also warns them that we may be even stranger. Then every married couple has its peculiar private language, else it is no marriage.

(Aside: I can’t think of a worse movie I’ve seen in recent years than “The Informant,” where Russell Crowe and Al Pacino try to out-underact each other. Although Pacino begins with his usual frothy, alpha-male shtick, Russell Crowe’s understated performance dampens Pacino’s overacting below the Steiger counter level, making for an incredible collision of bad chemistry and worse acting. Anyone who can make it through the movie, which I couldn’t, is invited to be a stand-up guy and explain its merits on this blog.)

Geoffrey Rush, Johnny Depp, Edward Norton, Ian Holm, and other dramatic chameleons—the younger Brando, for instance—have my votes for best acting. But what do I know? In my academy ballot I voted for Kodak as best picture with Fuji as second choice.

Hey—we just bought a digital camera for $9.99! (I said we’d been splurging since the levy was lifted) and I may soon be able to add photos to this blog. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Given that I can bloviate 2000 words in an hour before my back gives out, I suppose the word count, in my case, should be adjusted upwards.

So do I have anything of substance to say today? Just that we’re happy, happy for the first time in years. And what I mean by happiness is a general contentment in our surroundings and the hope of a home after protracted homelessness. Joy is entirely another matter, but happiness has to do, in my humble opinion, with the fortuitous concatenation of circumstances and personal preferences. I think Fort Bragg is the first place in my entire life where I have chosen to live intentionally; everything that went before had to do with finances, education, or propinquity to family. I spent fourteen years in SoCal just to be close to my youngest daughter, Sarah, while my soul continually longed for the north Pacific coast.

You can buy Dungeness crab here for $3.99/lb.! And the waves, the cliffs, the knotted Bishop Pines, the wind-twisted Monterrey Pines, the mammoth waves crashing on the dark rock bones of the continent, the gray whales spouting offshore—it’s a terrible place to live and I don’t recommend it to anyone, as my tastes in geography are contrarian. I love wind and hail and rain and cold and that green-gray sweet mother of us all, the ocean, with her thundering froth. So don’t move here, don’t talk about the Mendocino coast except in terms of dismissal and disgust. That we are happy here should only be interpreted with our four degrees of sanity in mind, as we seek a cold, damp habitat with no Costco, Wal-Mart, or even our favorite French restaurant, Jacques-in-z-Box.

So, a little fluff about nothing today. I had more momentous things to say but my back is giving out. I’m fond of physical pain, btw, because it helps stabilize my mood as a bipolar. When depressed I’m absolutely grateful for pain’s distraction; when manic I don’t have any and pay for it later. (Then in that state I can’t be bothered with sleeping, eating, or anything but my progress towards the New Jerusalem of my quasi-religious psychosis. As one friend remarked, I become “The Kentucky-Fried Christ.”) This manic side also distinguishes me from Kathleen in our degrees of sanity; she’s never been to a mental hospital in handcuffs, while I have twice. Then we do share going to jail in Mexico over our dog.

Kathleen just informed that once she was taken to the bughouse in handcuffs. I am in awe.

I should mention that I narcissistically googled “C. E. Chaffin” today and found 12,700 references, but was happy to see my blog listed first. As I do not advertise or promote myself beyond my anemic mailing list, this implies, I think, that my blog is getting more hits than any of my other writings. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, please write me. My e-mail is available on this site. If too lazy to look it up in my profile, here it is:

All for today,

Dr. Chaffin “Light”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Poem: Mendocino Woodlands

Here's a new poem I wrote in my old haunts of NorCal:

Mendocino Woodlands

A cataract of cloud slips from the sun,
lighting a meadow of nettles
whose sting, soft but persistent
clings to my wrist all day.
Ferns droop from banks of moss,
blackberry vines clutch at my jeans,
pleading spring. Young horsetails,
cattails sprout along the path
like oversized asparagus.

In a redwood grove huge stumps
dwarf trunks of living trees,
witness to the slaughter of loggers,
monuments to a time
when thick-barked monsters
ruled the forest.

Over redwood needles
and mud carpeted with leaves,
our dog’s limp is less noticeable
than in the pitiless city.
I throw a stick into the river
swollen and browned by rain
but Kenyon is slow to fetch.

Stick in mouth, he seeks asylum
on an island of bare-limbed bushes
beaten down by rain-gorged waters.
I call; reluctantly he paddles
back to shore, ditching the stick;
the river’s too cold today
for his emaciated frame.

Later in a gravelly pool
water streams beneath his chest and belly.
Contentedly he licks his forelimbs clean.
Kathleen will brush the bracken from his fur
but he may never rebound
from a year with former “friends,”
friends I now think capable
of slaughtering these great trees again.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crystals and Oil

“Just because things are looking up doesn’t mean one shouldn’t look down to prevent stumbling over one’s own optimism.”

--Mycroft Cramden

Before introducing some characters already encountered in Fort Bragg, I should mention where the nameless authorities and bureaucratic machinery have left me as of this morning.

I tried in vain to communicate with Child Support Services on Friday about the levy on my account, which once again rendered us penniless. I have noted in the past that any government office which touts phone services until 4:30 P.M. fails to answer phones after 4 P.M. No doubt there is so much to do (in that last hour of paper clip mangling) that the public’s employees cannot afford the interruption. I should be grateful for their dedication. Nothing could have been done on Friday, anyway. And Monday is always overloaded with things that ought to have been done on Friday. And so it goes.

Luckily I had a hearing regarding child support today by phone, scheduled for 10 A.M., though at first contact I was told to call back at 10:15. At that time I was duly sworn in over the phone, asked to raise my right hand, but first questioned if I were alone in the room. Since I was not sworn in until after I told the court officer I was alone, I could have been prevaricating, as I had not yet been sworn when questioned as to whether I was alone or not.

If one’s sworn testimony is preceded by a question meant to authenticate privacy, and if one initially lied about it, wouldn’t that invalidate the oath that followed? As Xenon pointed out, in a race between a tortoise and a hare of say, ten feet, if the tortoise gets the first step and the hare the second, and every step thereafter must be half the distance of the previous, neither the hare nor the tortoise will win, as the goal will never be reached. Likewise one can never start a motion, as one begins from a stationary position, whereas once in motion, one can no longer be stationary. Therefore one can never begin to move, as one is already moving once motion is begun. Since the validity of my oath was preceded by an inquiry about circumstances that might render it inadmissible, my testimony can therefore never be considered truly admissible, as it depends upon an unsworn statement.

It follows that if one is questioned, “Do you swear to tell the whole truth?,” the future is implied, as in “Do you intend to tell the whole truth?” That question, however, occurs in the present where one is not yet under oath, so to answer “I do” only admits the truth for some future as yet undetermined. To amend the question, “Do you swear to tell the whole truth beginning now?” would not improve the situation since no is always becoming then, thus the questioner, to make the promise valid, would continually have to ask, “And now? And now?” Such questioning would make it impossible to testify in any case. And to ask, “Do you swear you are now telling the truth, and do you pledge yourself in every moment hereafter to tell the truth?” would be invalidated by the passage of time, as every “now” would require a new pledge.

I suppose this is why most lawyers choose political science or English as undergraduate majors rather than philosophy. When Supreme Court nominees are questioned about their “judicial philosophy,” this may be an oxymoron, particularly since nominees usually dodge the question by saying they must decide the merits of a case on a case-by-case basis. Returning to Xenon’s paradox, they could also never form an opinion because as it is being formed one is moving towards an opinion, and after an opinion is reached one is no longer without an opinion.

For those more factually oriented, here’s how the case went.

Child Support Services had no idea that the Franchise Tax Board’s Child Support Collection Services had put a levy on our bank account. When I explained I had only been obligated to pay $50/mo. in child support arrears since September 1, 2005, the CSS representative explained that the State could nevertheless, unbeknownst to the local CSS, file a levy against my account based on previous notice without having been informed of a new order. Thus despite the order of September 1st the State was nevertheless justified in claiming all the money we have to our names. Like the Kafkaesque machinery that put me in arrears in the first place, once this violation of a judge’s order was in motion it could not be stopped, and was justified ex-post facto.

And why was I in arrears in the first place? Because in November of 2002 a server claimed to have served me at a certain motel in Long Beach—though I never personally received the notice. Yet because I admitted that I had been at said motel, the court automatically accepted the server’s testimony (never mind that he gets over $80 a pop for each service, which undoubtedly would never influence his testimony).

Then there is the little matter of my ex- not including, in her original petition for increased child support, the fact that we had a standing agreement where I sent her four times the last order per mo., which she continued to accept—while, unbeknownst to me, petitioning the court for three times that amount, which was granted in my absence and without my knowledge or chance to object. Add to this the fact that the court accepted her information for said award, which failed to mention that I had three dependents as well as exceptional expenses during 2003 and 2004, which would have reduced her new claim considerably. Thus I was held accountable, with accumulated interest, for an egregious award of $1225/mo. for two years while she continued to cash my checks for the usual amount without complaint. By the time I found out about my altered legal circumstances the court informed me that it was “too late” to change the order.

Arrears? I’ve had a few.

Since this egregious order was set aside September 1st, 2005, I foolishly (though generously) continued to send money to my last dependent daughter, Sarah, in an amount of roughly $700/mo. for the six months—for which I received no credit towards my arrears.

Back to today: Orange County CSS informed me that with my ex‘s permission, he would only take $500 from my account and return $3000. Unfortunately, this could not be done immediately—though he had given the problem to his “special projects team.”

Meanwhile the bank would not talk to him directly about the situation, as that would be a breach of confidentiality. All they could do was fax a copy of the levy from CSS, of which he was not aware, back to him—but first they had to submit a request which to their fax department, which should respond within 24 hours.

I am to call CSS back in a week to see if there has been any progress. I expect more regress, but who am I to question the machinery of the State? And if Mr. Bush is listening, I cannot with certainty state, even if sworn, that his blog does not contain secret codes for Osama and Co., especially if every 26th letter corresponds to the nickname of a nephew twice removed, that when combined form an acronym (masquerading as a palindrome) with the plans to Fort Knox—even if we have changed from the gold standard to the oil standard long since.

How many barrels of crude are stored at Ft. Knox?

Thankfully the angelic manager of Shoreline Cottages, where we are staying, offered us $50 on Friday when we found ourselves pennieless. Subesequently my angelic sister, also a lawyer, gave us a short-term loan to keep us in food and shelter until either our money is returned or my next pension check arrives. I think I have better hope of receiving my check than the government correcting its computer-driven theft in a matter of weeks. A further inconvenience is that I must stop the electronic deposit of my checks before that money, too, is wrongly claimed in opposition to the judge’s last order.

I tried above to simplify the Byzantine. Admittedly I clouded my attempt with Xenon to help ameliorate the pangs inflicted by an impersonal institution, whose errors rise exponentially in accord with the size of the system (making the U.S. Government the most error-prone of all systems. We sue tobacco companies while paying for cancer chemotherapy subsidizing tobacco crops, for instance.)

As for me, it helps to write some of the details down in order to remember that “Catch-22” is not just a catch phrase. As Kathleen and I like to say, “Monkey, monkey, Kafka, Kafka, blah, blah, blah”—although our backs are too bad to skip rope to it.


I fell in mud up to my knees last night while walking Kenyon, no doubt karmic payback for the icky green Mexican shampoo I inflicted on him earlier, prescribed for his skin condition. I don’t hold the poor dog personally responsible, as he is just a representative pawn in the karmic system. Even so, it did take me four scrubs to get the smell of that awful shampoo out of my hands.

As to Fort Bragg, I have been given a lot of free advice from people here, which is the best kind since in not paying for it one does not feel obligated to necessarily make use of it.

The astrologer behind the counter at the Smoke Shop, sixtiesh and blonde with the fine lines and smoky voice of a smoker, assured me that since Mercury has gone into retrograde for three weeks there would be many inexplicable errors, especially financial ones. The retrograde happens three times a year and started a day before our money was frozen (despite the fact that I was careful never to reveal the number or location of my bank to CSS, which I changed after their last theft of September 2004). The astrology lady also told me not to start any new projects, only to finish up the old. As this blog is not a new project I hope for an exemption
(while many, no doubt, bored beyond measure, hope for its extinction).

Another man, whose accompanied by a large Malamut-Wolf mix and always wears high rubber boots and a yellow windbreaker, has tried to console me with a philosophy that revolves around “sovereignty,” advising me to expect such injustice since everyone knows the government is controlled by corporations. We must therefore expand our “personal sovereignty,” which will in time result in shared sovereignty for people in the know already banding together for this reason. For a living this man puts together tourist “guides,” whose short articles about restaurants, motels, and other concerns are only puff-pieces, advertisements for businesses. He assured me the businesses he represents are not “corporations,” just “Mom- and-Pop businesses.” I chose not to argue, although all businesses start out on that level, as when Rockefeller was fetching his own oil to sell as an industrial lubricant before the internal combustion engine was invented.

Another woman, a hefty fortiesh recent transplant from Wisconsin who was "sent here by God as a missionary" told me it was “all about a personal relationship with Jesus,” although “organized religion” confused her—-while she passed a joint outside a coffee house at which I performed. I suppose her sovereignty, being yielded only to a single entity, protected her from corporate churches, some of which might actually frown upon her smoking dope in public. Then this is Northern California.

All such advice seems normal to me, although Kathleen wondered whether crystals from Atlantis had been buried under Fort Bragg as many claim have been buried under San Miguel de Allende where our luck was no better. This made me smile but also seemed a legitimate inquiry, because as a California native, sometimes mental patient and psychiatrist, my capacity for treating the bizarre as commonplace seems to increase with every year. If my mind were any more open it would be a golf course for lunatics.

I hope the ravens that seem to follow me here are not spy drones controlled by Donald Rumsfeld. And come to think of it, I would rather have crystals under me than oil.

Sincerely, though not a sworn statement,

Dr. Chaffin

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fort Bragg: Our New Adopted Home? Not yet! Abused by the American "justice system" again....

I apologize for my last entry. It was too long. I think a blog post should not exceed 1000 words, though today’s does by a slight margin. In trying to wrap my brain around the general incompetence of American first level employees, I incorporated unnecessary detail as a defense against the horror with which you are all, no doubt, familiar. Mea culpa.

We know the generation that now inhabits the service counter at cell phone outlets and Sears alike are almost always incompetent. I accept this without any Andy Rooney-like ravings.

In Mexico I experienced a great deal of ignorance from the same level of the work force; here I find a variation on the same thing, an arrogance based on a sales-driven economy without the necessary attendant knowledge that might make a salesperson helpful.

Miraculously, in our new adopted town of Fort Bragg (roughly three hours north of San Francisco), we have encountered a helpful and informed mentality among such close encounters of the first kind. We know from previous expeditions that folks in Arcata, Eureka and Crescent City (all north of here) are generally worse; we feel lucky to have chosen Fort Bragg. The question remains: Has Ft. Bragg chosen us?

After I’m elected mayor and coronated as the greatest thing to have happened to this town, I may have to resist the petition to re-name the town Fort Craig. For now, I am content to be incognito, though not without ambition.

We’ve only met one grumpy person in town so far, wispy, white-haired septuagenarian who breezed through the post office line without so much as a “beg your pardon” as he proceeded to the outgoing box with fifty-some letters. He’s probably into something-- whether Amway, Mormonism, or a new age newsletter, who’s to say? I just don’t want to be on his mailing list. Everyone else has been personable and helpful. And we’ve already made social connections; the manager of our cottage rental recommended us to a vet for our suffering dog, and the vet’s secretary inquired about the manager’s health, through which we learned the rental manager had been in a recent auto accident (without serious injury). She, meanwhile, informed us of the best Laundromats, a Thai restaurant, and other indispensable information. And she loves Kenyon and can’t stop petting him. Unfortunately she has pseudoxanthomatous elastica, a rare disease of the retina, from which she will eventually go blind. She can no longer read, but her spirit oss indomitable, reminding me of my Nordic ancestors in Moorhead, Minnesota. “What can you do? Just get on with it,” is their attitude toward any disability. “Make yourself useful and forget your past.” The luxury of self-indulgence sits at the opposite pole of survival. I am also reminded of a former poetry student from Chico, CA, Jill Beck (whose publications you can google) who now, from familial ascending spinal dystrophy, is paralyzed and on a ventilator, but to the last tried to communicate with me via her computer voice program. If any have news of her, please write me, as I have been very concerned about her state.

Tomorrow night is open mike at the Vienna Cafe, so I will play a few songs and read a few poems (under my manager’s direction Kathleen, who is likewise happy with our choice of locales in trying to establish a home again after a year-and-a-half of relative homelessness, though only sometimes accompanied by destitution). She plans to attend the local garden club, knitting club, and so forth. I shall assay the Rotary Club, the Coast Poets, while we have a choice between a Lutheran and Episcopal church for our spiritual needs as abject sinners. The Episcopal church sounds more promising, because for my besmirched soul they offer mass several times a week, while Lutherans make you suck up your sins for a month before you can receive the wafer-waiver, which baptism guarantees you even if hung-over from Saturday night. Their Sunday services also begin later than those of the Lutheran church, a distinct advantage when trying to sober up for God.

The whale festival is coming up March 18 and 19, where we can gather with the locals and hail the gray whales’ migration. The whales don’t obey those dates, of course, but are nearly guaranteed to make an appearance, though their float parade will clog the two-lane main street, I’m afraid.

Tomorrow we have an appointment to tour a possible rental, some 2.5 miles out of town with a stand of redwoods in the driveway and a huge, unfenced yard, flanked by neighbors with llamas, sheep, and horses. It has the fireplace Kathleen demanded, three bedrooms, two baths, and is rumored to be spacious. Available 3/21, it was the first place I scouted, and Kathleen gave it her external blessing, although she has a list for the interior portions with which the potential domicile must comply. Compared to rents in LA it is also very reasonable.

I would give out our new prospective address if I did not fear bad
luck. I have become somewhat superstitious since our last stay in Mexico, but up here on the coast with the Monterrey pines and the blessed ocean breaking on a rocky coast, that karma feels as if it’s dissipating; yet I am still not so confident as to trust the future.

Tomorrow night I begin my campaign for mayor, as noted above, with my performance at a coffee house. What my unsuspecting marks don’t know yet is how ubiquitious I plan to become in this town of a little over 6,000 souls. I recently read a biography of Benjamin Franklin which inspired me to public service—although his proposals both to the Pennsylvania and United States constitutions that salaries of public servants should not ascend to a level that might make them financially advantageous were soundly rejected.

A great man, certainly, Old Ben, though Jefferson likely gave the best advice about him: “A man of such genius should not be wasted in public service.”

Franklin was more a man of principle and silence than unbridled wit and entertainment. He listened more than he spoke; he subjugated his best ideas to the compromises his countrymen required; his greatest ambition was to be useful, which, although a Puritanical sort of ambition, or say Athenian, was fueled by his mild Deism, as he was no avowed Christian.

Almost all of America’s founding fathers were Deists, which always makes me bridle against this “Christian Nation” notion of current zealots. America was founded on the concept of natural rights and a just but distant God, the God of Newton and Pope. Later this led to the Transcendentalism of Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman, but let it never be said that the founding fathers were Christian—their God was too reasonable to require either a supernatural incarnation or a bloody sacrifice, Cotton Mather and the great New England Revival notwithstanding.

So pray for us that we may achieve a domicile in order to offer a permanent address to our creditors and junk mail. When Ed McMahon’s face arrives through Publisher’s Clearing House we shall feel truly at home. That actual letters may come is beyond our expectations; we expect our friends and family to use e-mail. (And that includes you, Aunt Pearl, though only an octogenarian. Kathleen’s mother, a nonagenarian, has already adapted to e-mail, so get with it!)

“He that isn’t busy being born is busy dying.” –Bob Dylan

I find it a symptom of advancing baby boomers that reading glasses at local convenience stores have become almost as plentiful as sunglasses. I hope that means we’re busy being born. At least some of us read.

It’s been raining here, so sunglasses are of little utility at present. We even experienced a bout of hail today but I was too slow to harvest the nuggets in order to avoid buying ice for our drinks later. If only I had been more prescient! But I did enjoy their clatter on my shoulder and the sidewalk. Rock candy from heaven.

Despite my best efforts I have once again exceeded 1000 words today. I can only hope their perusal was slightly more interesting than their non-perusal, briefly lifting the reader above absolute boredom. If I were to continue to write of our struggles without pause this blog might not have a happy ending, limiting its film rights value.

Yet if I change the general tenor from dire straits to poetry and garden clubs, will the reader find my reduced tabloid impact an anachronism on the order of bustles? Do follow and I promise some continuing adventures. For now, rejoice with us at the prospect of some stability in the land that I love—I mean the Northern California Coast, of course, not Gulag Bush.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

(Restored to his favorite places: redwoods, the untamed ocean, whales, Monterrey pines, and the dark cedar green you can never get in Mexico. I will try not to mention Mexico ever again, but you know the grieving process takes some time.)

Alert: Friday, after I wrote this on my laptop, all our funds were again frozen by Child Support Services in violation of the judge's last order of September 1, when I was released from further child support. They have frozen funds I did not owe for an order that has been rescinded, despite my letters and their having been present at the last hearing. Ouch! Fortunately I have a hearing Monday, but how long it will take the bureacratic wheels to return the money to my account God only knows; meanwhile I have contacted my angelic sister for a short-term loan in order to maintain food and shelter. So our bad luck continues, transcending national boundaries, and impairing our credit for a rental at the same time. For this glitch I am truly not to blame, rather the incompetent judicial system, whose weaker sister in Mexico held us hostage for six months. And so it goes.... more anon. --CE

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!