Friday, February 24, 2006

America: "The horror. The horror!"

--Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

We stopped driving last night after 2200 miles. We extended our trip by 500 miles to see the Grand Canyon. Kathleen, who had never seen it, said: "It was worth it."

Kenyon really perked up on the south rim of the canyon, trotting and sniffing despite his bad right front wheel. Although we nearly always carry plastic bags for his doo-doo, we were so weary that we left them behind. But Kenyon, whom we cleaned up after in Mexico and at cheap motels on the road, decided to donate two large steaming brown souvenirs, which he strategically deposited on the snow-patched, groomed dirt along the asphalt path. (Timing is everything, or as they say in real estate, "location, location, location.") As we'd already paid $20.00 for a two-hour visit, we left his little monuments, dwarfed by the Canyon, as mementos of his continuing recovery from PSTD, figuring our donation had covered the cost of his donations at $10 apiece, while regretting the aesthetic dissonance.

The experience of the Grand Canyon is beyond language. I can hardly whisper in its presence. Its vast, multi-colored, stratified, ancient, pyramid and temple-islanded expanse seemed to wash Mexico right out of my mind. You could throw LA and NY into its mile-deep well and they would hardly make an impact, just a little dust joined to the eons. Nature is more powerful than man, we remember on occasion, and will ultimately triumph over our brief interruption of its cataclysmic history. Anyone remember the Tsunami? How about Katrina?


Despite the temptation not to drive today, I did go on a couple of errands that required it. It's SoCal, so what can you do?

First I went to see my pain management doctor, who had lost 25 lbs. since last I saw her and couldn't stop talking, making me suspect she might have dipped into the stimulant jar for help.

Even I, as a practicing doctor, listened more than I talked. Any who know me will attest to what a miraculous discipline that implies for my garrulous nature, (later improved upon by falling in love with my deaf wife).

Our marriage has been called the "perfect match" by my immediate family because Kathleen's deafness can muzzle my bloviations. When her effort to match my lips to the noises in her hearing aid wilts under the attendant strain, I am forced to speak more telegraphic utterances in the hope of being 'heard' by her ('heard' being more symbolic than literal in this case).

So was my doctor on stimulants? I doubt it but who knows, since doctors' drug abuse averages 25 times that of the population, last I checked, through a combination of stress and easy access.

She did, however, fax her notes about to Principal Financial, the only disability insurance company I know that sends detectives from Iowa to deep Mexico to ask a doctor if I had actually seen him, only to afterwards dismiss him as "unqualified." Whether they network with Homeland Security is another question. I suspect large business interests have better intelligence about than the government does. Can you think of anything the Government does better besides print money?

Under constant surveillance by Principal I'm doing everything I can to get off disability. Some have suggested, for instance, that this blog might have commercial potential. Suggested is the key word. I've had no actual approaches by agents or promoters. So any who find entertainment in these humble offerings, enjoy. If there are any who actually know the writing business and would like to sign me, I recommend you first take a vacation, then see a shrink, and if you're still interested, well, write me when you're sober.

I am a wash-out at self promotion (see my previous blog about selling shares in my future celebrity). Mediocrity can be easily marketed while excellence is more difficult to sell, going as it does unrecognized by the great unwashed. Many of the best television commercials have never been aired because the corporate client feared something bold; this same culture brings you your next CD from
Sony Entertainment, guaranteed neither to inspire nor make you gag-- just the right music, demographically, to make a slight profit and be recycled in elevators. Quality? That's just a Britney Spears boob-job. And my does she look hefty since her pregnancy!

Back to my errands and the horror of incompetence, which I will quickly get to. I went 1) to visit to doctor; 2) to Costco to get brandy and fill the doctor's prescription (I never mix them, of course); and 3), to add credit to my Cingular cell phone and get it working again.

After dropping off the Rx at Costco (an angel of light for those lost in the darkness of no health insurance, much less medication re-imbursement), I had 40 minutes to drive to the nearest Cingular store, so I decided to tackle the phone issue while the Rx was being filled.

At a mall in La Mesa I walked into a nearby Cingular store and asked about adding time to my pay-as-you go cell phone I purchased from them a year ago for $119.99. They offered me a $49.99/mo. plan for 1500 minutes that would save me money, truly. I requested the plan. My credit passed with a 'C' rating.

After data was entered on my behalf, I said, "So I can just use this phone you sold me a year ago?"

The tall, shapely mulatto, her hair pulled back severely into an occipital bun, while some tufts of curly black dripped from her olive neck beneath her hair's tight sweep, said: "You can't have a new sim card if you don't leave with a phone."

"But I have a phone," I said, as the bubble of her butt rose from her chair like a helium-impregnated superball.

"You can't leave the store with a sim card without a phone," she said again.

Turning to her white, pimple-cheeked Survivor-hair lost goth wannabe underling and the forever-in-training endomorphic lackey whose ancestors were sold from what is now the poorest continent, she said: "That's right, isn't it?"

Her two thralls looked down and nodded, apparently afraid to stare at her butt, which I was able to do with the advantage of sunglasses, though being the alpha dog, I would have done it if I hadn't been wearing my Ray-Ban knock-offs. Her lackeys were but distant betas dreaming of her legs. Unashamedly I sized up her ass.

"You mean I have to buy a new phone," I said.

"You can't leave the store with a new sim card and no phone, that's policy, isn't it?" she demanded of her sychophantic retinue. They looked away.

"You mean I can't subscribe to this payment plan you've already approved unless I buy a new phone?"

The endomorphic young man with his pleasant, peace-making smile, offered: "If you sign up for two years we can give you the phone for $19.99."

"I don't want a new phone, and I don't want to sign up for two years," I emphatically said. Stupidly continuing, as if clerk-robots who have no idea of electromagnetic field theory could think outside the fuse box, I added: "Do you think that's a wise policy? I mean, to require a client already using your services to buy a new phone after you sold him a perfectly good one a year ago?"

I couldn't get the shapely supervisor to say I had to buy a new phone. She only repeated the programmed shibboleth of marketing and sales: "You can't leave the store with a new sim card unless you get a phone."

"Do you have a supervisor, or is there anyone I could talk to about this?" I said, without hope. Whereupon the white pizza-faced geek offered:

"You might be helped at a direct Cingular store. There aren't any in this mall."

"You mean there are other Cingular outlets at this mall?"

"Yes, three."

"God, you're worse than McDonald's."

"Not funny" their faces said.

Recovering, I asked, "Do you know where I can find one?"

"I don't know" said the bubble-butted supervisor with the dark curls hanging like pubic hair from her neck, hands on her hips (where both the kids wanted theirs). Pausing to see if he were allowed, Pizza Geek gave me directions to another mall with multiple Cingular stores, warning me only to go to the "direct" store.

I hit the freeway and found the mall, crowded per usual, although everyone moans about the economy up here. With all the late model cars and kids in designer jeans, it's hard to imagine what they mean. America in general gives the impression of immense prosperity to most of the world visiting here. Poor means a one-car family it would seem.

Keynes was right; borrow enough money to enjoy spending again and the economy cures itself.

I entered the new mall, another climate-controlled haven for the nature-challenged, and found the central heiroglyphics listing stores. I found three Cingular wireless stores, each with its own cryptic numerical designation. I located the closest store and could not find it until I discovered it was only an island kiosk in the the linoleum freeway.

I explained my problem to another descendent of the earliest humans, with a bad, diagonally striped tie leaking from a non-button down collar, blue on blue with a cheaper-than-Target feel, although he did wear a four carat what I presume to be cubic zirconium in his left ear lobe.

"No problem, he said." He took my information, promising me a monthly charge for minutes--but instead of the other store's $49.99/mo. for 1500 minutes, he could only offer 900 minutes for $59.99/mo. I quickly pointetd out that if I had gone for the previous Cingular deal, I would have gotten more minutes for the same price as the difference would have payed for the required new cell phone purchase.

Whereupon the not-as-shapely as the previous supervisor, a tall Latino, tattoos on her ankles, still very shapely (only rendered less so by the amazing figure of the first supervisor), called the previous store and told me they had approved an option no longer available.

Whereupon the blue diamond man tried to draw up my account using every ID known to the average American under constant surveillance. Alas, he couldn't pull up my previous account. He kept trying the same entry data and staring at the screen, dumbfounded that he couldn't find me in the system. (He didn't ask his supervisor for help.) The computer's failure to identify me completely paralyzed him. He entered the same data, with only minor variations, for ten minutes before I finally hit the "tilt" light in the pinball machine of my brain, and blurted out: "I have an appointment, I have to go."

I turned and walked away down the preternaturally sterile American shopping culture's plant-appended aisle, some plants being real, while he of the four carat zirconium earring stared with incomprehension at his computer.

Yes, I could have just bought a new pay-as-you-go card and begin charging expenses by credit card for ongoing phone costs.

But I was whipped by the dissonance between pretended service and technological incompetence. At least car salesman used to be able to raise the hood and say, "Look at this baby! 300 horsepower, 260 foot pounds of foot-torque."

Those days are gone. The ignorance of the average service employee for the buying public is nowadays accepted as the best we can do. God forbid we ask for excellence-- we hope they show up and don't smell too bad. Then most sheep don't make original requests as I did, or the repeated crashes attempted problem-solving might inflict on such employees might increase the cost of their psychiatric benefits. Benefits are, after all, over 50% of the cost of an employee nowadays.

I could have had the first deal if I bought an additional unneeded phone. The second deal offered me a free cell phone but worse rates, which I was willing to accept-- to put an end to it all. But the clerk with the amazing earring couldn't find me in the system and didn't think to suggest a new number.

What if his earring were real? Bigger than Jordan's? If that were true I was going to get myself to a kiosk. But I don't think he was making that kind of money.

Not trying to be curmudgeonly, just trying to re-introduce myself to a culture becoming more vacuous and incompetent each day, as human devolution before technology is making the average Joe exceedingly lazy and stupid.

The sins of countries are unique to countries. The great sin of America today is the downgrading of human capacity in order to accept a functioning drone driven by corporate manuals instructing him how to manage technologies he can't understand. Such workers are worse than phone solicitors (many of whom can think on their feet while sitting).

"Let us get down on our knees to thank God we are still on our feet," so the Irish pray in their bulls.

Tomorrow on to the two daughters in Long Beach. Already conflict has struck; daughter Keturah won't let stepmother Kathleen's guide dog into her apartment because "she hates dogs."

Kathleen responded by declaring that she would sleep in the van with her aching sciatica rather than leave Kenyon alone.

We really want a place to plant a garden and rest our old bones. We're heading for Ft. Bragg on the north California coast. Here's to marigolds and and tomatoes!

In Transitional Shock from American "Culture,"

C. E. Chaffin,

Professional Sufferer

Friday, February 17, 2006

Brief Update

Off to California today, should arrive in San Diego Wednesday night, Long Beach Friday night (2/24) and then head for parts north before my next child support hearing March 6.

The new (and last) issue of our magazine, The Melic Review, is now online: (press ¨current issue¨), in which you can judge the worth of my Eliot tome on Four Quartets, should any have the stamina. It still needs some tweaking, I think, but the webmaster wanted it up.

Now for our escape from Mexico..... can we do it? shudder shudder

¨Pray for us sinners at the hour of our death.¨


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Free, Free, Free at Last!

Unbelievable. After receiving documents that our next hearing would be February 17, the prosecutor moved the date up to the ninth, and told us to bring a truck!

Kathleen, bereft of hope, cried herself to sleep Wednesday night, the eighth, muttering between sobs: "I know he's dead Craig, I just know it."

At the courthouse Maria came with her two sons, all dressed in black and looking sullen, fearful and angry. None would look me in the eye. They were ordered to return our items forthwith, but had to actually present the dog to the judge. Kenyon looked haggard, was limping on his right front paw, and when I picked him up out of the pick-up the first thing he did was smell the fence and pee. Obviously he's still a dog.

The only thing I said to Maria as she walked away from the courthouse was:

Es mas malo que el diablo para sequester un perro de servicio desde las sordas por dinero.

"It is more evil than the Devil to kidnap a service dog for the deaf."

Naturally she didn't reply.

Before collecting our possessions, naturally, I brought Kenyon straight home to Kathleen, who woke to find her puppy curled on the floor beside her. Incredulous, streaming tears of joy, she was enraptured. In short breaks between talking to Kenyon ("Good dog! My beautiful puppy dog! Oh Kenyon! I have part of my heart back!) she thanked me repeatedly and called me her hero. She had nicknamed me "Canus Pitus" long ago because of my indomitable nature. That doesn't mean bullheadedness is necessarily a virtue, as there have been times in my life when I should have given up sooner. I was pretty close to giving up this time.

Yet it seems like that's always the time when the worm turns, or for believers, when God intervenes--after all our human resources have been spent. How could I give up on Kenyon? I mean, in essence, we already lost our son down here, who has been banished from my presence indefinitely for crimes against us I will not detail, and though Kathleen accepts and supports this judgment, she does, of course, keep in touch with him but won't allow him past our door. But for her to lose her only son and her guide dog in one swell foop was never acceptable to me. Her suffering only increased my determination.

After the joyful reunion with Kenyon, I went to the evil triumvirate's domicile, where we recovered the most important items: valuable papers, good shoes, clothes, a little furniture, all my CDs (miraculously!) and other items.

She denied possession of two refrigerators and a desk and dining table, and the computer printer was missing, among other things, but I was more than happy to recover the essentials, which ought to fit in our mini-van since one item she did not return was our back bench, likely now adorning her living room. Our other two seats we left in Texas as surety for a car repair bill we couldn't pay last November--along with Kathleen's rubies, but they have not returned my inquiries as I'm sure the rubies were worth much more than the balance. C'est la vie).

The resentment was palpable as Benjamin brought box after box to his porch and tried to drop them before I caught them. He succeeded a few times but nothing was damaged. One Mexican friend of mine wanted the extensive plants and planters we had installed in the garden, so we stripped that pretty good to their great displeasure. Their sullen, downcast faces, recalling to mind "Mr. Yuck," gave me a good deal of satisfaction. As rather ignorant if cunning natives, I think they were shocked and embarrassed by the whole process, and best of all, they endured a great loss of face. No Mexican in his right mind believes one can actually win a case in their system of justice. Here the police are the biggest thieves. I've been told by Gringos and Mexicans alike that our triumph in in just 5 1/2 months may qualify for a record.

As for my papers, the majority were hopelessly water-damaged, but miraculously (I know that's the second time I used that adverb), most of my original songs as well as the second half of my manuscript, In Search of the Spirit were intact. Much of the rest I have on disk else lawyers and accountants have duplicates.

Kenyon we took to the vet immediately yesterday morning, and he needed two vaccines, antibiotics, a program employing a special shampoo, de-worming pills, and was given a diagnosis of arthritis in his right front paw (and what I call in ignorance his ankle--fetlock?). He hardly wagged his tail Thursday but by last night it had begun to wag as he joyfully presented me with my dirty socks, which he loves to smell and chew and carry around like a prize that I must pry away from him.

Initially he looked so depressed I asked the veterinarian, at Kathleen's behest, if dogs could take Prozac, but he said no. We'll love him back into health, and swimming and grass and dirt surfaces (rather than the endless stone streets of San Miguel) should improve his limp, along with resuming his glycosamine.

He looked like he'd aged three years in one; that's 21 human years!--long enough to attain legal drinking age. Kathleen and I have likely aged three years as well, so if any of you are shocked by our appearance upon our return to the States, forgive our wasted youth--but it was worth it.

We're having a big party today at a restaurant to celebrate Kenyon's release and to say good-bye to our friends, who regularly beg us not to leave (I'm known, among other things, as "Dr. Feelgood" here, for helping with any number of psychiatric maladies, many serious, referred by word of mouth through other Gringos.) Kathleen has been dubbed "The Silver Queen of San Miguel," not only because she's beautiful, but being deaf, everyone mistakes her for the most compassionate and patient listener they've ever met.

Kathleen and I are halfway through the 3rd draft of my Eliot opus and will finish it before we leave so the last issue of Melic can be released. She's a tough editor! She makes me "want to be a better writer." And yes, Jack, I am taking my pills.

We hope to leave for the States next Wednesday or Thursday (2/15-2/16) and will first stop in San Diego for my doctor's appointment, visiting with Ralph and family, and afterwards head to Long Beach to see two of our daughters, lastly to parts north to see Rachel and our grandson, Jacob, as well as my faithful siblings.

After that we hope to settle north of San Francisco near the blue pacific and a clear river, tentatively Ft. Bragg, whose economic depression may render housing affordable.

God how I miss the greens and blues of Northern California!

So glad we can share this happiness with you, but this is not the end of my blog or the story; re-adjusting to the U.S. may read a little like Stranger in a Strange Land or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

We give thanks to God, our friends, our family, and to Prosecutor Garza who stuck with us all the way when our own lawyers deserted us.

Do take a moment today to celebrate with us. Put down that paper and enjoy some good news!

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Suspended between Pole and Tropic

The unfaithful, ungrateful, diabolical servant, Maria Martinez (talk about a generic Spanish name) was briefly jailed last Friday and posted bond and has since been released. All week I've been trying to get our lawyer to find a date to get our dog and stuff back.

Monday I signed four copies of an official letter to the judge requesting the return of our possessions, considering that Maria was guilty and did not deny her perfidy. Before composing the letter our lawyer asked me in all seriousness what he should list for recovery. I told him if her read the prosecutor's file there was a two page list of the same. Without embarrassment he said, "OK," and wrote: "All things listed in the prosecutor's file." Hard to find good help anymore. Hard to find good professional help in Mexico altogether.

I called him again today, but he was out sick and not answering his cell phone, which he rarely does, having actually returned two calls in four months. So I called the prosecutor and he's going to meet with us tomorrow to decide on a date to get our stuff back. (Every time I write "stuff" I think of George Carlin).

What that date will be, I don't know, but our stuff is now spread between three of her domiciles and we don't know where Kenyon is.

I will request a police escort for a show of force. After we have everything that remains, if she hasn't sold it all for fun and profit, nor made tacos of our dog, we can get out of here. And return to that enfant terrible to the north.

I've always wanted to eat dog. They have a special medium-size hairless breed here that some keep as pets, descended from the Aztecs. As dog was an Indian delicacy and remains a Korean one, I have an open mind. Besides, a street vender in Morelia was not long ago arrested for serving human tacos; they found a refrigerated torso in his basement, but it wasn't clear that he murdered anyone; he was just trying to lower his butcher's bill, apparently.

I have completed the second draft of my tome on T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which weighed in at 35,000 words after Kathleen's edits. Now she's begun editing the third draft, which will appear in the last issue of our magazine, The Melic Review, sometime this month. Many prominent net editors have already sent their condolences on our demise, and we really appreciate it, but it's time to move on and concentrate on my own writing for the sole purpose of filthy lucre.

I have hopes my book-length series of essays on Eliot may be accepted by a university press to ease the undergraduate puzzlement that often afflicts young readers of Eliot. If only it could become a required textbook, I could do well! Unfortunately, at UCLA, I noticed most assigned books were either written or co-authored by the very professors that ordered us to buy them (at inflated prices). And people think the Bush administration insular?

How about that great "State of the Union" speech? Bush has become the green president, and that doesn't just mean the largest budgets and shortfalls in U.S. history. Go, gasohol! Go, solar! Go, golf courses! Go, Green Eggs and Spam!

(It is said that the tides represent the greatest source of energy on earth we might employ; unfortunately, no one has figured out how to harness them, though the occasional Tsunami does try to get our attention.)

I think that's all for today. BTW, Kathleen M. Chaffin will soon be featured in Gary Blankenship's Mindfire, and I'm dem proud of her. Here's the URL for the last issue I know:

Kathleen's out looking for a dress today for our good friend Bill Taylor's 60th birthday party. The poor bastard had his first heart attack at 30 and has had three bypasses. When he says, "I didn't expect to live this long," I believe him. And amazingly, he credits his doctors! So nice to hear someone speak of my profession positively (for a change).

Anybody watch "House" on FOX? It's the first medical show I could tolerate. Rachel, our oldest daughter, recently became enamored of it. She said Dr. House reminded her of a wimpy version of her Papa. LOL!

Now that I'm done with Eliot and we almost have our stuff back I'm more bored than ever. And I was especially disappointed when I rented Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen," that Uma Thurman did not appear naked (as Botticelli's Venus) as I had remembered. Only one breast showed. Kathleen was disappointed, too.

A recent quote from my boon companion: "The only thing Craig loves more than me is air conditioning; I guess I don't blow as hard."

When she reads that I know I'm in for trouble, but hey, she said it in public in a mostly male crowd. Sometimes she can be a bit off-color, and it always surprises people, since everyone's impression of her is that of "a real lady."

Thine in Semi-Stasis,

C. E. Chaffin

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