Category Archives: childhood

Repost: Closed for the season

boysfishing

 

[July 23, 2016: Can’t muster the time or energy for new posts, but I have been scanning my old ones. I re-read this the other day, and it’s really good, if I do say so myself….]

Yesterday ended up being a fantastic day.

Saturday I spent the afternoon playing golf and it went long. I walked with a couple of friends and the pace was excellent but then we ran into another group as we made the turn. As is our custom in winter golf, we decided to join up–to form a sevensome.

Returned home later than I said I’d be and well, hey, some amazing college football on, and then got a call from my friend John, back in town after two years in South Sudan. Could I meet him and his wife for a drink? How could I not?

So Sunday dawned and Heather was exuding a serious “you’re not holding up your end” vibe. She made it clear that it was a day to “do something with the boys.” They wanted to fish, and I was totally OK with that, had only the best intentions.

But then my neighbor Dave came over to move some of my hay around and I asked him if he would take a quick look at my rickety old ’88 Chevy Cheyenne. The serpentine was off and there was antifreeze everywhere. I was in a panic about being low on firewood and being without the truck for the three or more days it would take in the shop. I was (typically) focused on the wrong problem and was fretting about the tensioner, but he saw immediately that it was the water pump. “You just take the cowl off with these bolts here, and then the pump unbolts down there, and … aw, hell, you don’t have the tools. You want me to help you?”

trucklilabongo

I did what I could to assist. Holding this. Pulling that. Using my longer reach to get at places he couldn’t. Picking up bolts as they fell through to the ground (he hated bending over). I was apprehensive about working with him, having witnessed his volcanic side when he worked his cattle. But I really admired the way he worked on cars. Our ratchet sets had similar sizes missing, so there was more than a little improvisation. He got frustrated but usually chuckled at setbacks. It brought me back to the days of helping my dad with his car repairs, minus my dad’s (rest his soul) bellowing rage.

I was ever aware of Heather’s own simmering anger, as the job went from “just half an hour” to an hour, then more. One o’clock. Two. Three. Daniel, my older boy, kept asking When are we gonna go? Almost done? He looked disappointed every time, but it was a fine day and the three of them has a rambunctious Hunger Games-inspired game involving tobacco sticks and handcrafted bows and arrows. They were fine. No one got hurt. When Daniel came along to the parts store to pick up the pump, Dave grunted a few little things to him about beer and girls, and made a crack about the cologne the clerk was wearing, which made Daniel smile in a way I was unaccustomed to seeing.

Finally, job over. The last hose clamped, a couple of gallons of antifreeze poured through a funnel made with a Mountain Dew bottle, and the truck starts right up and is running fine. “You don’t owe me nothin’, Tim. But I do have a couple more lists of songs….” That’s how I’ve been repaying him for his help with the cattle and the hay and now this. Burning cds for him. Totally inadequate, but he seems to appreciate it. His taste is Skynrd-ish country, but he is (as he says himself) very particular about what he wants. “Rollin’ with the Flow” by Charlie Rich and Reba’s “Fancy” along with Jamey Johnson; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band along with Craig Morgan; Allman Brothers along with Travis Tritt. I burned an extra CD of things I thought he’d like from my collection but he said he couldn’t get into it. I had to admit his playlists were better than mine.

It was time to fish. We loaded the poles and tackle into the Subaru. With the late start we didn’t go to our usual Garrard County spots. Instead we went to the Chimney Rock marina on the Mercer side, just under the Kennedy Bridge. The boys handled their own snags and tangles without asking dad to fix their lines. It was not a good time of the day or the season for catching anything, and they were content with the few nibbles they had. It was a lovely quiet December afternoon. Everything some muted shade of blue, brown, gray–the sky, the cliffs, the water. Chilly, but no wind, and we were alone. Someone who worked in the Marina entered and left the office a couple of times. Maybe to keep an eye on us. Above the Marina an animated sign kept flashing the same message over and over. “Closed for the season. See ya in May….”

It got cold in a hurry when the sun went behind the cliffs. I had promised to let them fish after dark, but when I said, “Five minutes,” there were no objections.

The three of us then indulged in our shared passion for Long John Silver’s. “We’ll pretend we caught this fish,” I suggested as we gobbled down the tongue-burning flounder. Usually the pickiest of eaters, they were insatiable, and I had to go back up to the counter twice for more.

At home the boys and I played Texas Hold ‘Em for about an hour. Lila didn’t want to learn how to play but she did want the boys to do something else, and got into high pestering mode. Theo reached the end of his attention span, and wandered off. I had incredible cards, the kind you never get when playing for real money.

Just before bedtime, Daniel announced that he had uploaded a clip to Youtube about Bongo, our Boston Terrier we had just recently put down. We all gathered around my laptop to watch his touching, loving collection of still photos and video snippets going back to Brooklyn days. When it was over all three kids were bawling. Theo rubbed his face against our new dog Elbee’s back and sobbed, “When are we going to get a new dog?” Elbee picked her head up with an indignant look, and that made up all laugh.

I joined Heather briefly in watching an especially gruesome episode of The Walking Dead, but sneaked upstairs a few times to watch UK-Providence with Daniel. When I went up after halftime he was sound asleep. I turned the sound down. Nine blocks for Willie Cauley-Stein!

I can only blame the fried fish and hushpuppies, but I had crazy dream after crazy dream. In one I looked out the living room window to see a tsunami sweep across the pasture and crash up the walls of the house. Then was back in New York, working again at Harper & Row. I walked around the publicity office but couldn’t find my desk. The phones just would not stop ringing.

Many a day: Random memories of a brother

dannyscan

“As long as you live under this roof you WILL go to Mass every Sunday.” That was the deal. All of us kids complied, reluctantly. The Sunday before Danny died, the weather was fine, so he and I walked the eight blocks to church together. Like we belonged together, like we were brothers. I like to tell myself there was some sort of reconciliation under way.

Daniel Joseph, eldest child of Jerry and Vergie, was born 60 years ago this month. On a sunny summer day 22 years later, his life ended in a accident at his roofing job.

In remembering him, my perspective is specifically that of a younger brother. Parents in the 60s tended to let their boys straighten out disputes among themselves. At least ours did. For me, this meant constant abuse at Danny’s hands. He was shorter, but much stronger, and had a sadistic streak. He loved the “99” — his extended middle knuckle pounding on my breastbone for, yes, 99 reps. The hard punch to the bicep was another favored part of his repertoire, as was the one where he pinned my arms with his knees, and let spit dangle close to my face, and sometimes, accidentally or otherwise, letting it drip onto my nose or into my eye.

Twenty-some years after Danny’s passing, Heather and I named our first son Daniel, and it’s some sort of Gabriel Garcia Marquez trans-generational thing to watch how Daniel the Younger torments his little brother with the ardor of his namesake. The two Dans even look alike, though there’s no blood relation.

My parents adopted Danny in 1956 and my older sister Cheryl in 1958. Not long after Cheryl came home, my mother became pregnant–with me–and then my younger sister Caroline came two years later. Judging from baby books and photo albums, my parents doted on Danny, and I imagine their marriage was even quite happy when he was the only child. But by the time I came on the scene all I remember is constant fighting–between my parents, and between Danny and dad. From the age of 13 or so, Danny managed to avoid most of our family outings, even vacations.

***

Wrestling was a big deal with kids in Minnesota when we were growing up. We would adopt the personalities of our favorites. Most kids chose the Crusher or Vern Gagne, a few opted for Mad Dog Vachon. Being skinny and weak, I saw myself in Edouard Carpentier, the Flying Frenchman (who was Canadian, of Polish descent, actually). Carpentier wore bell bottoms, no shirt, no shoes. Googling turned up no photographic evidence of him in this getup, but that’s how I remember him. Carpentier specialized in drop kicks and flying head scissors, and I did my best to mimic his acrobatics when up against Danny. Sometimes I would get lucky and hurt him with an elaborate, high-risk aerial maneuver, but he always recovered and hurt me more.

***

Danny had a minibike, then a car and a motorcycle, and could fix them on his own. Not one for books, he worked as soon and as often as he could. He had money to spend, and girlfriends (I had neither). When I was 15 or 16, I remember riding down to Lake Calhoun on my ten-speed and catching glimpses of him speeding past or parked in his avocado ’69 Malibu, with what seemed like a different blond head every time in the passenger seat.

famYardBikes

That time when he lowered his voice and asked me what girls I liked at school? I knew better than to answer. I held out. But he was relentless. Finally, a little smile forming on my mouth, I whispered the name of my secret crush. He roared. The very next day I saw the object of my desire flirting pretty brazenly–with him.

***

One Sunday in ’68 or ’69, when I was at a Boulevard Theater kids’ matinee, my father took Danny and Danny’s friend Greg ice-fishing. It was March, and the ice was getting thin in places. Dad, walking where an ice house had been taken down, fell through. In his heavy wool coat, he went down like a stone, but somehow surfaced through the same hole. (Indelible image: Dad liked to remember that he never lost his grip on the cigar he had clamped between his teeth.) Danny and Greg pulled him out. As a display of gratitude, dad gave both of the boys a transistor radio from Walgreen’s, along with an unusually (for him) emotional note thanking them for saving his life.

Danny loved westerns, which I tried to watch, but always found boring. He fancied himself part Native American, and once when he shot a blackbird with his pellet gun, made a mess of hacking the red wing off, as some sort of Sioux talisman of his imagining. He was a great fisherman and was always bringing home turtles from the Lagoon off West Lake Street. He was also adept at climbing over the spiked iron fence surrounding Lakewood Cemetery, which he treated as his own personal squirrel and chipmunk trapping ground. And that’s where he is now, of course, buried next to my mother’s grave (and a stone’s throw from Hubert Humphrey’s), almost up against that iron fence on Dupont, across the street from his (and my) old paper route.

***

We went as a family one evening to a Twins game at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington. Killebew, Oliva, Zoilo, Boswell, Kaat. What a team they had! And yet,I don’t remember the game as much as I do the chain link outfield fence, which seemed cheap and disappointing, and that there were hundreds of bats flying around beneath the bleacher seats.

“It took many a day to build this place,” Danny said to me somberly. I have never forgotten him saying this, and would often borrow the “many a day” for something equally inappropriate.

***

I was not tough, to say the least, and kids would pick fights with me because it was easy. I was tall and skinny and often covered up and whimpered that I didn’t want to fight, which only made others more eager to call me out.

There was one time in seventh grade when I fought back. A tussle on the stairs coming out of gym, and I must have accidentally bumped into the quarterback of our miserable football team. Another diminutive bully, and another Timmy as it happens. He ordered me to meet him after school on the playground. I surprised him by showing up.

I had been reading the Robert Lipsyte young adult novel, The Contender, about Alfred, a dropout black kid from Harlem who stumbles into boxing and finds he is good at it. His manager Mr. Donatelli’s mantra, “Stick and run,” suddenly came to me I circled the other Timmy. I jabbed and jabbed, retreated, jabbed some more, and he, being much shorter, could never get inside. The fight seemed to go on for a very long time. A big crowd had gathered, and finally the priest came puffing along to break it up.

The fact that I’d bloodied and bruised the other Timmy didn’t stop him from saying he was going to kick my ass the next day. I didn’t challenge that, but the next day came and went. Back home I proudly showed Danny the dried blood on the knuckles of my chopper mitts. He seemed to have known about the fight before I told him anything. All he said was, “You fought with your mittens on?!”

***

He was not great at school, and when I looked over some of his homework from the courses he took at Normandale Community College, I got the sense that he might have had an undiagnosed learning disability. He took law enforcement classes, and wanted to get a job with a police force, but the economy was bad and he never got his foot in the door. He often mocked me for my higher education aspirations. “You’re book smart, but not street smart” was something he said frequently. But the year before he died, at the age of 21, he was accepted into the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I’m gonna do it like you. I’m not gonna work, gonna  take out loans, join a frat.”

I was kind of flattered to see him come around, but it had little to do with me, and more with his seeing no future working the kinds of jobs he worked. He was a week away from proper college life when he slid off that roof.

I don’t know how he would have done, whether he would have fit in. Would he have been able to do the work, would he have stuck it out and graduated, or gotten frustrated and quit? What would have become of him in those forty years since he fell? Would he have a wife? a family? Would he have lost his hair? It’s just impossible to imagine any future for him in my rational brain.

My irrational brain fills in the gaps. Frequently, in dreams, I have conversations with him. “Man, it’s weird that you were gone so long. What are you going to do now?” He’s usually his 1979 age, but sometimes, as in a Buñuel dream sequence, has evidence of the grave about his body–dirt, pallid skin. Death is acknowledged in our chats, but it’s something that we have put past us.

Waking up, mind clearing, realizing it was all a dream–that’s about as empty as I ever feel.

dannygerard
Last picture of Dan, with his friend Gerard, in front of the ancestral abode.

 

 

Model lawsuit against Next agency: WikiLeaks for really good-looking people

Karmen, her contract, and Terry

It doesn’t compare with the uncovering of 15,000 Iraqi corpses no one had previously acknowledged (but that is not exactly a trending Twitter topic today, is it?)  Still, there are some eye-opening revelations contained in “What Vogue really pays its models”.

I harbor no illusions about the fashion industry (two words: Terry Richardson!), but I was actually kind of shocked by Jenna Sauers’ examination of the numbers and arrangements brought to light by the $3.75 million lawsuit filed by three eastern European models against the Next Agency.

Really, the day rate for “new faces” at Vogue is $125. And for “established models” $250!

Although that is pretty hard to square with the only model quote most people remember (“We don’t wake up for less than ten thousand dollars a day”), apparently the editorial pay rate is hardly a secret.

BUT, in at least one model’s case, those modest fees still hadn’t been paid nearly a year after being incurred. And after looking over the contracts,  you could make the case that the agency in question, which is supposed to work on behalf of the models, offers something like indentured servitude for all but a few of  them.

The piece is funny/shocking, a perfect balance of outrage/bemusement (the author, Jenna Sauers, is a former model). The myriad ways agencies take advantage of their clients (typically teenagers, frequently girls with little or no English) is dizzying, to say the least.

A brief excerpt, and Sauers’ conclusion:

Next also includes in its standard contract a provision that it be permitted to keep up to $5,000 of a model’s earnings in what it calls a “Reserve Account,” just in case Next incurs any expenses on the model’s behalf at some time in the future. Pedaru isn’t subject to this clause — it’s crossed out. But in its standard form, this contract binds a model to a management agency that will first take 20% of everything that she earns, then take a bite out of the rest for miscellaneous expenses that it need not inform the model of beforehand or seek her permission for, a management company that may book her on jobs for clients that have a record of non-payment at her sole risk, and then, if she’s still in the black after all that — and a lot of newer models, especially those on the hook for the travel costs booked by the agency, and the rent at the models’ apartment the agency owns, and the grocery and phone bill money they have to borrow against their future earnings (at a 5% penalty) which agencies call “pocket money,” are most assuredly not in the black after the above calculations — if that model is in the black after all that, the first $5,000 left over is the agency’s to hold on to. Just in case. Pedaru was three months shy of her 16th birthday when she signed her contract with Next.

The lessons here? Vogue Paris pays crap, Vogue pays not much better, neither of them pays particularly quickly, and campaigns are worth a mint to everyone lucky enough to work on them. And if you are a 5’10” 15-year-old with 34″ hips who would like a job where you’ll bear all the market risks associated with your labor, be solely responsible for expenses outlayed by others on your behalf without your consent, and maybe meet nice, successful men like Terry Richardson, modeling might just be the ticket.

The pathetic case against Omar Khadr

The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers. —Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, September 16, 2010, at a Security Council debate on Somalia

UPDATED BELOW

Which is the most appallingly evil thing about the sad, ridiculous incarceration and trial(s) of Omar Khadr?

That a CHILD of 15, shot twice in the back, and blinded in one eye, is accused of WAR CRIMES for fighting back against an invading army that bombed and rocketed his compound before sending in the Special Forces, chucking grenades and … well, shooting children in the back?

That much of what we know about the firefight comes from the heavily redacted report by one OC-1, the “government employee” who shot Khadr in the back, twice?  And that that report only fell into reporters’ hands by accident, because the prosecution team accidentally left it where journalists could see it? And that there was a standoff worthy of the Keystone Kops where the authorities insisted the report be returned, with the reporters (naturally) refusing?

That OC-1’s testimony makes it clear that no one knew who threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer? It might have been his own comrades.

That Khadr was clearly tortured, and that whatever he confessed to must be seen in that light, and dismissed?

That half a dozen military PROSECUTORS have been disgusted enough to quit? “This is neither military, nor justice,” said one.

Another prosecutor’s case is reminiscent of Soviet psychiatric examinations for dissenters:

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, formerly lead prosecutor in another commissions case against a child soldier—a case that collapsed midway through, with the government dropping all charges. “It would be foolish to expect anything to come out of Guantánamo except decades of failure. There will be no justice there, and Obama has proved to be an almost unmitigated disaster,” he told me. After resigning from the commissions as a matter of ethical principle, Vandeveld was punished with a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and gratuitous hearings into his fitness for remaining in the Army, even though he now has only two months remaining in his term of service. Vandeveld, who has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, doubts very much that any more prosecutors will resign after his highly visible reprimand.

That Obama, who vowed to “close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions,” has not gotten around to any of those things yet. What DID he do? He

abruptly barred four of the most knowledgeable reporters from returning to Gitmo, accusing them of violating an order that the identity of Omar Khadr’s primary interrogator be kept secret. It doesn’t matter that “Interrogator Number One,” convicted in a 2005 court martial for prisoner abuse at Bagram prison, had already been interviewed by one of these journalists two years ago and that his identity is available in the public record.

That the prosecution has engaged a shady charlatan who promotes himself as an “expert in evil” as a kind of last half-hearted effort to demonize Khadr?

That Khadr’s options are still ridiculous, to face the farcical military commissions trial, or agree to a plea-bargain that will see him behind bars for eight more years?

As has been argued forcefully elsewhere, the war criminal is not Omar Khadr.

Even if Khadr did everything alleged, none of the five charges as actually lodged describes a criminal violation of the law of armed conflict (LOAC). Two of the charges, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, are inherently problematic. The remaining offenses, murder and attempted murder “in violation of the law of war,” and spying, are capable of valid application, but lack legitimacy in Khadr’s factual situation. Essentially the government seeks to distort the fundamental legal equality between opposing belligerents into a unilateral shield for coalition personnel, turning the conflict into a “hunting season” in which U.S. forces can shoot their enemy on sight but their adversaries commit a war crime by fighting back. Because the tribunals’ statutory bases, the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, were enacted after Khadr was in custody, any charges lacking sound grounding in the LOAC constitute impermissible ex post facto enactments.

It’s Sunday night. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning and Khadr’s legal team might agree to a plea bargain any minute. Which would be a tragedy. Of course, his going forward with the trial might be even more tragic.

The laws and treaties that bind the United States are clear. Omar Khadr should not have served a single day in any prison. He was 15, a child, when captured. In a just world, he should be paid massive restitution from both the United States and Canadian governments. I know. Fat chance of that.

UPDATE: Omar Khadr has plead guilty to all charges against him.

Not at all surprising, just very very sad.

Pithiest comment so far: “Well, it’s official now. Anyone fights a U.S. attacker, s/he’s committed a war crime. Even if s/he didn’t, even if s/he was a child.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-alexander/misplaced-justice_b_773060.html

Grave of the Fireflies

September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.

Just watched this powerful, gorgeous film again last night (you can find complete versions online at surfthechannnel.com).

Animation or no, it’s one of my favorite films of all time. The ineffable beauty of childhood innocence and the brother/sister bond comes up against the unspeakable evil of the firebombing of a nation, already defeated, whose buildings were mostly made of paper and wood. Not to mention the indifference of an adult population with its own survival issues.

What imagination: the visual pairing of dying fireflies with scenes of incendiary devices trailing gently down from the American planes. What acid observation: the doctor tells the boy Seita that Setsuko, his deathly ill younger sister, needs food, not medicine, and turns his back.

(FWIW I just read that in its theatrical premier in Japan, it played on a double bill with another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, My Neighbor Totoro. That seemed weird to me at first glance, but on reflection makes perfect sense).

more about “Grave of the Fireflies Japanese Trailer“, posted with vodpod</d