Modesty test. Erika found a mid-century Airbnb house on the fringe of Fayetteville. 12 acres, encompassing an entire deep valley, complete with a meandering stream. It’s an aging, gargantuan beauty, a multi-level labyrinth. Lots of eccentricities. Towering glass, no shades or curtains. The light-flooded interior recedes to the enveloping darkness in the valley at sunset. I’m certain the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, although just on the fringe of the city, would run some people’s imagination into weird quarters. I climbed onto the apex of the roof, with a long view of the sloping property, stream, and emerald pond on the opposite side. I felt like I was 12. The master bedroom and accompanying bathroom is not for the timid soul. If you bathe or shower, if any wandering soul were to jaunt down the long serpentine driveway to the house, they could easily see what God gave you. When I showered, it evoked a laugh. I felt like Chris Farley in his infamous Chippendale dancer skit with Patrick Swayze. I’ll leave it to you to capriciously decide which character I felt like.
I used one picture of Erika from a bird’s eye perspective after I descended from the roof. As always, she’s reluctant to let people see her the way I do. Her hair was illuminated like soft fire in several of the pictures I took surreptitiously. She reluctantly stood next to me and let me take a picture of her with a backward view of the valley and pond below.
The sun finally made its way above the towering valley ridge. Everything is backlit with it and amber orange bloom.
I would describe it as beautiful, but it’s a fragile cliché compared to being present and witnessing it.
I heard it at first, unseen, a diminished thunder, a helicopter performing a growing crescendo. After a few moments, I watched its glimmering lights rise above the horizon. It was a thing of beauty against the background of a deep blue purple sky, one growing lighter by the minute by the arrival of the sunrise. Then, a sliver of realistic thought: that same helicopter was carrying a person, or leaving to retrieve one. When you’re in the nexus of so much human activity, it becomes mundane and easy to forget the countless dramas and personal stories unfolding around you. As the helicopter shrank against the horizon, I couldn’t help but wonder when we might get a reprieve..
Meeting my sister answered so many questions. Not all of them, though. Expecting complete answers at any stage of your life is a denial of the fact that as we change, the same answers can ring hollow or fail to give us satisfaction. We often don’t understand our motives or what led us to those choices, even regarding our own lives. Usually, the simple answer is “nothing.” You might be comforted by realizing such a thing. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that our lives might be a game of pinball, with our choices volleying us across an almost random field. Careful observation of other people’s lives tends to reinforce it, though.
Isn’t it strange that we stridently ask and demand explanations and answers from those who preceded us, even though we well know that there may not be a reason that falls blithely to our hearts?
When we’re young, we falsely believe that the adults and people in our lives somehow have a magic formula for safety and love. Growing up exposes us to the harsh alchemy of people being people, making mistakes, and quite often winging it. In my case, I should stop surprising myself with revelations. At this point, almost any combination of things may be valid. It took me until I was 52 – and in the face of constant argument – to find out that my Dad not only had fathered another child but that he had done so with a girl much younger than he and from a different background. For those of you who understand my hometown’s circumstances, this alone gives ample berth to find credibility in any rumor or suspicion.
It might explain why Dad decided to move everyone to Springdale and Northwest Arkansas for a new life. After he went to Indiana and ended up in prison, he returned to Monroe County to stay. Whether he would farm, be a mechanic, or work one of several other jobs available, he made it clear he was back to stay.
Now, thanks to DNA and an ongoing decision to keep looking, I’ve changed the narrative of how I came to live in this part of the state. Much of my adult life revolves around terrible misbehavior on the part of my Dad. Knowing that I live here due to it changes nothing. Yet, it does make me think about the spiderweb of cause and effect.
In the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas. It was probably August, not long before school started.
I am convinced that we moved in 1972 primarily because my missing sister was born in May of that year.
If I heard rumors of her when I was younger, they would have been snippets of angry revelation from my Mom or others, probably during a drunken tirade. I did hear hypothetical insinuations, but I don’t recall concrete accusations. Such a truth would have certainly caused a homicide between my Mom and Dad. I have to admit the possibility, though. The existence of my new sister in itself proves that we are all unreliable witnesses to our lives. I used that concept of ‘unreliable witness’ on one of my first blog posts about genealogy. We will never have all the facts of our lives coherently arranged. We can’t trust our memories, much less those around us, who actively conceal and camouflage their lives for one reason or another.
I lived most of my life suspecting that my new sister was out there in the world. She lived most of her life without the answers that could have given her the ability to understand herself better. It wasn’t her choice, but she paid the price and consequences of not knowing. I hate that for her.
I don’t know how life would have looked had Dad been honest with everyone about having another child. He died in 1993, another lifetime ago. My sister was around 21, and I was about 26. His shame or inability to acknowledge his indiscretion robbed other people of a fuller life. I can’t understand how a man who beat his wife and children, went to prison, and killed someone in a DWI accident would have difficulty saying he had another daughter. This is doubly true after his Mom died on May 21st, 1983. My sister turned eleven years old the next day.
I wish that people could be open to the complexity of their lives.
Were it my choice, all of y’all who know me well also know that I am no fan of concealment. We’ve done it, said it, and lived it, precisely in the same way that my Dad and others did before we came along. In the future, our descendants will whisper, pry, and discover. You may as well give the painful answers now if you find yourself in any way in the role of a secret keeper.
Somewhere, there is another me, looking for answers and wishing that my sister didn’t have to spend so many years without her truth being exposed.
I wish. For me, for you, for us all.
Let’s all shine the lights in whatever direction they are needed.
While perusing the local offerings, I found my way to TripAdvisor. Because I often check random details to see how a page is presented, I clicked on the website link on TripAdvisor for San Miguel Grill and Bar in Fayetteville.
Because I’m often dumb, I clicked and closed the webpage 4 or 5 times, as I absent-mindedly thought I had clicked on the wrong link.
I laughed. Either someone paid for a lapsed domain – or someone had hacked the website.
I waited a couple of days to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t. The link connected to a hacked or redirected webpage.
I wrote TripAdvisor and used the poorly-executed ‘report a problem’ interface to let them know a legitimate link went to a porn site.
The link is now gone, so I assume my interaction got attention.
I encounter this sort of thing often enough to wonder how often businesses monitor their social media and websites.
While a business can’t police the internet, TripAdvisor is one of the most critical for restaurants to monitor. Whether it is intentionally designed to allow shenanigans, the truth is that you can’t trust the internet – or the people who use it.
If I owned a restaurant, I would quickly become weary of the review systems and would have to resist pranks.
In a strange place, as dusk approached, I was alone, as if the world stood still. I heard echoes and booms. The frequency and intensity slowly intensified, much like a novice drummer tentatively using his sticks across the surface of a drum set. Peering through the window, I realized I had a front-row seat to a fireworks display at a church slightly more than a hundred yards from me. Because I was higher than the display, I had the best view in the house. It was a moment crafted just for me, though the dozens of spectators packed on the lawn and the parking lot behind the church would disagree. Before light succumbed to dusk and encroaching darkness, I could see the dozens of mismatched lawn chairs assembled in random order across the pavement. I could see the dots of both adults and children restlessly moving around. Though they anticipated the commencement of the ceremony, I’m sure many of them realized how quickly it would come and go, much in the same manner as the days we take for granted overtake us. One of our modern curses is to be thinking about getting out easily after whatever event we’re attending is over; it is the opposite of living in the moment. “Parking prevails,” a wise man once said.
I pulled a desk chair in front of the large window and sat down to observe.
Because I continue to believe that 90% of our lives lie in the spaces between the grand moments, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I knew I would always remember this moment.
Though I’ve forgotten the majority of my incredible trip to D.C. with the band in high school, I’ll never forget the backdrop of the national fireworks display in the distance. Though we were confined inside due to rain, the moment was majestic and shared. We’d burned under the July sun earlier in the day. All of us were on an upper floor of the hotel. Perhaps the fireworks display I observed at Lake Atalanta 30 + years ago was more exciting because I was dangerously close to the firework system itself. I was within feet of it and found myself mesmerized by the colors and brilliant reflection of the charges on the shimmering surface of the lake as they exploded. As each charge fired, I could feel the heat and the tickle of the powder discharged from the nozzles.
This year, I had the best view, the best outlook and the most colorful advantage. In the background, the approaching dark skies blossomed with intermittent bolts of lightning above the horizon. Mother Nature competed against man and I was a sole witness.
It was an unplanned moment. Unplannable, really.
The subsequent booms and explosions of color ejected streams of dense smoke that floated slowly across to the west. The dark clouds behind and above seemed frozen in place, even as the lightning bolted from within. The smoke billows seemed artificially 3-D as they moved across the sky in front of me.
Across that same long horizon, I watched the dueling lights of the radio tower blink intermittently and the illumination of the coal electricity plant light up a small portion above the vista. Dotted all along the expanse were other fireworks displays, some large, some small, all equally observed by craning necks and fascinated watchers.
I could sense the anticipation of those at the church after so many confined moments and small rooms, behind masks, away from shared experiences.
This unscripted moment will not be rivaled.
Afterward, I watched the human dots and the lawn chairs as they dispersed back to their vehicles. I didn’t need to hear their private conversations to know the content. I now wonder why they didn’t remain there, congregated, and joined. Even in silence. The homes they’ve become too accustomed to in the last few months undoubtedly will echo falsely upon their return. How long will their memories of this exotic Fourth of July remain in their minds? Like the fireworks, things are moving explosively and with no preordained velocity, as if life must be packed into a single instantaneous moment that escapes our grasp. Amidst the temporary sizzle, all of us would probably agree that life is simultaneously on hold and flying past us with hurried feet.
Because you were not here to see, I’ll carve a tiny slice of my witnessed memory to share with you in the most imperfect way possible.
Now that everyone has departed, I remain at the window observing Mother Nature illuminate the dark clouds and the enveloping night with immense bolts of electricity. I feel that those attending the display should have remained to see this too. This eternal power abides restlessly and insistently, ignoring our movements with disregard. It needs no Fourth as an excuse; its power conjures a glimpse of a timeline so mammoth that it drowns out our concerns.
While I filmed both fireworks and lightning in their respective moments, I won’t share them with you. I’d like your imagination to fill in the gaps of what I witnessed, much in the same way I hope you fill in your life with as much curiosity and interest as these times permit.
The picture I used is not real, no more than the already-forgotten pictures you might have taken during the holiday. For me, the surprise and delight of experiencing fireworks spontaneously would overshadow the reality of data I could see. I stole that moment from a night otherwise absent such delight.
After a dehumanizing day at work today, I made my escape. I’d delve into the niceties of what made this day of work particularly dehumanizing but not only would it fail to help me even as a catharsis, but would probably rekindle the rebuke that formed in my mind earlier. Covid-19 has amplified some of the worst tendencies of some employers – and enabled cracks along fault lines of equality to grow larger.
It was slightly before 11 when I decided to stop and pick up a couple of things.
I stopped at a little store, one common to most communities. Outside, a gentleman was using twine to re-affix a mattress to the roof of his beaten-up car. I was going to offer to help him but noted that he had double-tucked the twine like he was a master of the Mattress Haul. It was quite the work of art. I would be terrified to attempt it but I could tell the mattress was not going to fly off into the sunset after being tied down so efficiently, even if twine was all that was available.
As I entered, I saw a phalanx of men about twenty feet inside the door. With one of the men was a boy about 10 years old. One of the men was an employee of the store; the other was a vendor with a couple of shallow inventory bins.
This story is entirely true, even if I get the words a bit wrong. The quotes are from the men who stood there.
“I’m not a violent person, but when I saw that (offensive word for Latino) waving that flag, I would have ripped it out of his hands and killed him with it. I was going to literally hit him but my wife was with me. Anyone with a flag that isn’t American should be shot. We literally should be able to kill them.” The other gentlemen agreed. “I don’t want to hear no Mexican talk when I’m in public. A fist in the mouth will cut their ability to talk that nonsense around me and my family. We might need them to do our dirty work but they should know their place.”
“I’m proud we have a president who can speak the truth. We don’t need any blacks, fa%S, or sp@cs here. I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. Trump needs to have the Supreme Court shot, as well as every BLM member. Those cops? The only thing they did wrong was not kill a bunch more of them.” A hearty round of approval. “He (Trump) needs to shut down all media except Fox. People who aren’t guilty of crimes don’t get hurt by the police.”
“Yeah, I’m going to see Trump in Tulsa next week. The tickets? They are free. I want to shake his hand and tell him that we’ll help him kick anyone that isn’t one of us out of this country. Those p@ssy liberals are going to get lynched like the rest of them. We are not going to put up with it anymore.” The man took out his phone and read a couple of lines of propaganda from the event notification. Whatever he was saying, I can state with certainty that none of his words were going to make America great again. His words certainly weren’t helping improve the store any.
I stood less than 10 feet away, albeit with a tall shelf of cookies and snacks towering between us. I simply stood where I was, listening, wondering how far they’d go.
The store employee bragged that he had his Glock on him as he tapped his hip. He bragged about having a 50-round clip if the gun clip was out. He added that he didn’t believe in a reload. If he was going to kill someone, he wasn’t going to stop with a bullet. The vendor jumped in and gave a list of his guns, clips, and ammo, legal and otherwise.
“We’re going to need them. If they steal the election in November, I’m going to shoot some people. Trump is the best president this country’s ever had. If that monkey before him hadn’t stolen an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess with this hoax virus.” I bit my tongue to avoid reminding him that Obama had somehow stolen 2 elections, not just 1.
Note: none of the gentlemen talking had masks on, including the store employee. The 10-year-old with them didn’t either.
I walked around the next shelf the long way and walked within a foot of the men. None seemed perturbed by me being there. I winked at the 10-year-old and made eye contact. “How are you,” I asked, ignoring the people engaged in the ignorant and hateful talk. “Good,” he said. The men stopped talking long enough to make eye contact with me. I kept walking and went another shelf over. A female employee was stocking. She could hear them talking but didn’t intervene. I pretended to look at the salsas while I listened a bit longer to the talk going on.
As hard as it is to believe, the talk continued on from one hateful topic to another. I won’t recount more of it here.
The tone and content reminded me of many conversations I overheard when I was growing up in a family with racists in every rafter.
When I neared the register, the employee who’d actively participated in the hate speech walked around to ring up my purchases.
As he finished and I pulled my debit card from the kiosk, I told him, “You know I’m white right?”
He looked at me confusedly. “Yes, I’d say you’re white.”
“There’s no such thing as white. It’s all in your head. Our day is over. You should be careful who you voice your opinion around. Liberals are everywhere.” I shrugged. I left him, confused. He couldn’t tell whether I was a liberal or someone who agreed with his hate.
I smiled and went outside. I looked at the mattress on the old car by the door, then up to the blue sky.
I don’t know what my point is.
I can’t wrap this one up neatly in a bow.
This is America.
That 10-year-old boy in the store is going to grow up with a choice: echo his ancestors or recognize hate and ignorance as live animals, ones which must be starved into extinction.
P.S. This post isn’t anti-Trump, even though I can’t think of anything redeeming to say about him as a person or President. It’s telling that those who tend toward the most violent viewpoints tend to be his most ardent supporters. Those stuck in the middle get painted with the same brush, though, fair or otherwise.
Note: Precovid, I was waiting on someone to get back to me on a particularly grim allegation. They lost their nerve. This isn’t a fun post. It’s just commentary I had to significantly pare down to avoid being sued by the organization involved in the allegation. Whatever we hear on the news, people talk and tell their stories.
For whatever reason, I’ve been reading a lot lately about abuse and abuse of authority or position. I know a couple of incredible stories involving people locally. Both are quite simply shocking and fascinating. Those stories aren’t mine to tell. Even though it might surprise some of my acquaintances, I sometimes get to hear accounts of things that you’ll never see on social media. I’m inclined to write about such things. For every incident of abuse or rape, many more go unreported.
A friend sent me a link to one of the databases identifying the “credibly accused” clergy of the Catholic church. We’ve since learned that a huge number of clergy simply had their names omitted from the list. A few thousand of those credibly accused also continue to live normal lives, in all manner of occupations, without being required to get help, register as a sex offender, or comply with any of the other restrictions placed on people in the general public who’ve committed the crime of abuse.
The topic swirls around me periodically due to books, movies, or stories that intermittently surface about the church. There’s always another bombshell, another revelation, in part because a group of old men thinks that secrecy will quell the truth. It is astonishing to me that those in charge of a church would ever seek to silence the truth, especially a truth which reveals that the institution has a serious problem. I keep waiting for people to stand up and say “Enough!” It’s not disloyal to your church to demand accountability. It’s disloyal to fellow humans to fail to do so.
From there, I opened the box of curiosity that led me to other cases locally. I have an inside view of a couple of them. What we’re told publicly is seldom most of the story. So many victims fail to come forward. Those who do are pitted against a variety of obstacles that impede and shame them, especially if the abusers are backed by organizations or have wealth to subvert the legal system to avoid accountability. A local case here wherein a professional abused his clients drove home to me that no amount of evidence and testimony will get someone convicted if they have lawyers to stymy the process.
Another friend reminded me of Priest Joseph Correnti, who called Tontitown’s St. Joseph home from 1995 to 2002.
He admitted to abusing children and then committed suicide the next day.
His actions weren’t revealed publicly until years later, after statues and places of meditation were created in his honor. A couple of victims came forward, one of them to sue. As well he should; the church participated in a scheme to protect and conceal the worst among us.
“It just doesn’t seem like he would have hurt somebody” are the words from one parishioner, upon hearing the revelations about Correnti. Those words echo in my ears. Like so many other Northwest Arkansas professionals, whether they be clergy, dentists, doctors, lawyers, police, or teachers, it’s important to remember that these predators do not have in fact wear a headband with the word “Danger” on their foreheads. I mean no harm toward the parishioner, who was surprised by the priest’s abuse of minors. A good head always strives to see the best in people.
I am surprised, though, that people still say they are surprised by abuse with a straight face.
When the evidence is presented, it’s part of our duty as adults to attempt to examine it.
If you understand that 1 in 25 priests was accused of abuse, it would stand to reason that you would, in fact, NOT be shocked that one of those is hiding in plain sight in your congregation. Those who abuse are precisely the people you trust; anyone and any occupation can be guilty.
If you have any experience with human nature, you know that monsters hide behind smiles, charity, and opportunity. Just because someone was an angel to you does not mean that they are doing some serious perverse things in secret. As I’ve written about before, a lot of friends have shared their stories of abuse with me, whether it was sexual, emotional, or physical. Many of them were put in the position of hating or accusing people who seemed to have lived lives of morality and respectability. Even though I have examples other than my dad, I want to scream when people find it hard to believe that he committed armed robbery, killed someone, beat his family, and so on. I’ve since learned other things about him that don’t rehabilitate his reputation.
People you knew growing up were abused. People you may know are guilty of abusing others. Given that I know several people who were abused when they were younger, I can say with certainty that a lot of predators live(d) in Northwest Arkansas. Most of them, even if accused, are walking around freely among us.
There are a lot more clergy guilty of abuse – and a lot more victims that we’ll never hear about. The victims of this abuse are listening to us as we bicker and argue about the issue, much in the same way that women who’ve been abused or assaulted sit in silence as their friends and relatives say some spectacularly ill-advised things about the subject.
It’s not anti-Catholic to discuss priest abuse. It is, however, unreasonable to fail to address this sort of thing aggressively. If clergy are abusing people, it’s on all of us to report them. What particular religion, position, or church is involved is irrelevant.
One of our greatest tools to combat predators is to stop the ongoing nonsense of secrecy. If a pastor, therapist, or priest is involved, feed him to the criminal justice system, independently of whether he gets help. Stop focusing on controlling publicity. Such secrecy damages the entire organization’s credibility.
The reason I know that there’s still a huge problem, aside from the statistics, is that when I bring this issue up, I get a lot of anger from those who are members of the organizations. This signals that the shield of secrecy is still very much at play. Until people demand accountability from their church, the church won’t address the issue completely. The cycle continues.
One of our most adult realizations is that anyone can misbehave no matter what organization they belong to. We should embrace the possibility that their misbehavior does not necessarily reflect on the entire organization. Sometimes, it does, especially when the organization or its members align to conceal the problem or defend those who have no grounds for defense.
The church cannot reach a minimum level of trust until it trusts everyone with the full accounting of what’s happened in the past.
Every human system is going to have humans who abuse it. It is no shame to oust those abusers publicly. Don’t defend them or the organization that continues to fail the people who are abused. There is no defense.
It isn’t a Catholic problem. It’s a human problem, one we should discuss.
We hear so much about the Catholic church precisely because of its size, reach, and influence.
We have to stop allowing people to resist open discussion when cases arise.
Since people kept saying, “What does a GOOD near-drowning story sound like?” I thought I should tell one which amuses me. It also highlights a few anecdotes about my Dad. I have some terrible stories about drowning, but this is the furthest thing from that.
My Dad had a propensity for outlandish humor. He wasn’t safe about it, either. I have a library of pranks my Dad was involved in, some of which border on pathological. For example, one year during one of the excursions to the “Deer Woods,” he and his drinking companions tied one of the other hunters to the top of a large stump and set it on fire. I’m not sure they had a contingency plan if he failed to be freed in time, although I wouldn’t put it past them to announce that he was part of the BBQ and break out the sauce. More than once, some fool would throw a box of ammunition in the fireplace or in the campfire. When we lived in Tontitown on old 68, Dad threw a box of ammunition in the fireplace inside the house. It went as you would imagine.
Although this is a tangent, when I was very young, I couldn’t figure out which state the “Deer Woods” was in, or why so much alcohol had to be taken for the trip. It perplexed me to think that a handful of grown men needed 30 cases of beer and a dozen bottles of whiskey.
Even if bears wanted a drink, a lot would get wasted, no pun intended.
Dad was mercurial, a word often used to disguise the fact that someone is a moody, temperamental asshole. Other days, the fog would lift from his brain and he’d decide to enjoy life, or at least be carefree. Had he had more of those days, life would have been markedly different for him – and for all of us. On one such day, Dad insisted that I go with him fishing. Inviting me to fish was akin to bringing a framed picture of Satan to your first prayer meeting.
While I had hoped for a trip to Lake Elmdale on a smaller boat, instead, I found out we were going with Uncle Buck and their friend Jerry, who I’ve written about in another story, the one in which Dad sneaked into his house and poured a pitcher of water down his rear while he was bent over and washing his hair. Going to “the” lake, Beaver Lake, meant we’d likely take Uncle Buck’s bass boat. I wasn’t a boat aficionado. It wasn’t simply because I couldn’t swim well. It required me to be in close proximity to my Dad. Such circumstances often yielded the opposite of whatever a child experiences during a visit to Disneyland.
I wasn’t a good fisherman, but I did well. That annoyed my Dad. I loved watching the water and the complex machinations of those who enjoyed fishing. Most of it seemed to be entirely arbitrary. Watching Saturday afternoon fishing shows proved this to me. It amused me to think that grown men would ridicule their wives for watching soap operas, but would sit in front of a TV and watch other people fish. Additionally, like my Uncle Buck, a lot of men I knew bought fishing magazines. I used to joke I was going to do a fishing show and magazine. The magazine would just be a picture of a man casting a line into the water, followed by a page that said both “Reel in” and “Repeat.” Shockingly, no one in my family appreciated my well-aimed commentary at their expense.
If I felt really funny, I’d mock them for feeling proud that they could spend thousands of dollars just to outsmart a bunch of fish. Uncle Buck tolerated my quips. With Dad, I had to guess his mood before any such contemplation.
We went to Uncle Buck’s house. He lived in one of the first bigger subdivisions in Springdale on Ann Street. I jumped into the bed of the truck hauling the boat. It had a camper on it. Dad, Jerry, and Uncle Buck sat in front. Despite Dad’s morning sullen demeanor, he was beginning to pick at both of the other occupants of the truck. How Dad had done it is beyond me, but when Uncle Buck pulled away from the side of the house, the truck bounced crazily. When Uncle Buck exited the cab of his truck, he discovered Dad had put holding blocks a few feet from the rear wheels. “Damnit, Bobby Dean!” This would be the first of many “Damnit Bobby Dean!” utterances for the day. If Uncle Buck were particularly chagrined, he’d invoke the name of God with the phrase for special emphasis. While Dad pranked Uncle Buck less often than other people, he’d been known to lift up the rear axle a few inches off the ground, put an ignition firecracker on his truck (these things actually existed and Dad LOVED them, or do a variety of clever and interesting things to amuse himself.
Though it’s not relevant to the story, it was around that year that Uncle Buck had been pulled over in Springdale. “How’s your day, officer?” He asked the policeman who pulled him over. Uncle Buck was generally good-natured and loved to ‘jaw.’ “Did I leave an arm hanging out of my camper again?” The officer said, “No sir, but can you explain your license plate? Can I see the slip for your truck?” Uncle Buck dug the paper out of the glove box. In such matters, he was meticulous. At times he was so meticulous that I doubted he and my Dad could actually be related. The officer asked Uncle Buck to come around back. In place of his license plate, there was an antique plate from another state, one that looked to be fifty years old and shot with a .22. Uncle Buck knew immediately that my Dad had switched his plates. By the time he got to Dad, he realized that it was funny and couldn’t stay mad. He’d been driving for over a week with the old plates. For quite a while, Uncle Buck made a point to see if anything was amiss on his vehicles.
As we were leaving, I heard Dad ask Jerry, “Do you think it will work?” Jerry, who momentarily lost his sense of reason, said, “What, Bobby Dean?” Dad cackled, ready to fire off one of his favorite punchlines: “Windshield wipers on a duck’s ass.” Dad’s glee at being able to repeat this joke more than once on the same person was legendary.
We stopped at the bait shop near the old bridge by Beaver Lake, before the road was improved. Dad had a couple of containers of worms as he walked out. He wasn’t drinking, so I knew this would be a great day. My goal was to not annoy him. Because he had an audience, he walked up to the boat where Uncle Buck was talking to Jerry and someone Jerry knew. Dad took the top off the container and fished out a worm. He popped it into his mouth and swallowed it. I knew his secret: swallowing it quickly resulted in almost no taste. Before you ask, yes, I did have to eat a couple of worms in my life. I had to eat a whole lot of disgusting things growing up. None of them resulted in “making me a man,” as Dad hoped.
Dad held the white plastic container out for Jerry’s friend. “Want one?” The other man made a terrible face. Dad responded with one of his favorites Southern sayings: “Boy, you sure don’t know what’s good!” (You can still hear this today in the South. It’s the classic point made after someone declines to eat something, usually with an unreasonable amount of mayonnaise in it.) My Mom often said this, even if she eating something that smelled like it had been discovered in an abandoned fridge under a bridge.
Jerry was usually a good sport. While I don’t remember who else was present when he did it all those years ago, Dad grabbed Jerry’s face and kissed him on the mouth to flabbergast him. (Dad was drinking heavily.) “Could you put on some lipstick or something,” he asked him when he pulled away. “And I don’t like my women to have mustaches.” It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. Technically, it was assault. But yes, still funny.
As they got back in the truck, Jerry got in the middle. He started to yawn for some reason and Dad ‘yawn raped’ him. While there are other names for sticking your fingers into the open mouth of another person as a surprise, ‘yawn rape’ best describes the enthusiasm with which Dad would do it. He would almost choke you at times. Though you might not agree with it, sticking one’s fingers in an open mouth is almost a right in most Southern states, especially for dads. In this particular instance, you should remember that Dad’s fingers had just been in the worm bucket. Jerry just nodded his head. This was one of the ways he’d let you know you had drawn his attention.
Note: it’s never a good idea to draw the attention of someone who loves those 80s Charles Bronson revenge movies. Like Charles Bronson, Jerry was often silent. I grew to appreciate his ability to think about ways to strangle you while smiling.
We arrived at the lake and Uncle Buck swiveled the truck to back in toward the boat ramp. Dad made me help get the boat into the water. I was more likely to contribute to the boat sinking, truth be told. I was wearing cutoff shorts and no shoes, so I didn’t care how wet I got in the process. Dad was wearing his plain work boots, which in reality were just simple cowboy boots of some type. I never understood going to fish in boots. What did I know, though? Like the trick with Charlie Brown, Dad loved signaling to Uncle Buck that the boat was loose. As soon as Uncle Buck gassed it, Dad would yell “Ho! Wait.” He could do this repeatedly and not tire of it. It amused me, too. Uncle Buck was the perfect straight man in a comedy routine. When Dad was in a great mood, he would offer to pay me to help him pull a prank on Uncle Buck. We often succeeded. While he didn’t say, “Et tu, Brute” to me after finding out I was involved, Uncle Buck did enjoy picking on me when I helped his brother torment him.
Uncle Buck parked the boat while Dad bothered with the boat. It gave him the chance to disconnect the spark plug wire from the outboard motor. We used the trolling motor to pull away from the bank. Jerry took a moment to carefully check the cooler for the fish. On more than one occasion, Dad had packed the cooler with a snake so that the first person to open it would be greeted by a snake looking back at him. Dad was also not above grabbing a snake out of the water or the trees and throwing it in the boot at someone’s feet, either. If Dad had been drinking, you’d have to be a fool or filming a documentary about the lives of crazy people to get into a boat with him.
Dad had thrown snakes into a person’s lap before, too, as they sat in their car or truck. Often, just to alarm them more, he’d say, “You mean to tell that some snakes are poisonous? I had no idea!”
Uncle Buck repeatedly tried starting the engine of the boat. “I’ll take a look.” Dad leaned over the motor housing and connected whatever he had disconnected. “Look here, I found it,” he said, in a serious tone of voice. As Jerry and Uncle Buck looked, Dad raised his hand away from the motor. He was giving them the bird. He laughed. When Dad was in a humorous spirit, his laugh was infectious. I can’t imagine what life would have been like for him if that laugh had been his predominant characteristic.
As we sat in a cove, the three adults fished. I made it my mission to be silent and watch the treeline and water. Out of the blue, Dad asked, “Do you want to take a swim?” He was talking to me. I calculated how best to respond. Jerry intervened on my behalf. “No one wants to swim here. There’s probably snakes everywhere, Bobby Dean.” Dad thought about it. “How else is he going to make friends?” He laughed. I realized I had been holding my breath. For a second, I really considered hurling myself into the water just to be done with it. Waiting for a madman to decide one’s fate is worse than voluntarily jumping off the mountain.
If you don’t understand the above logic, congratulations; you’re normal.
Later, we pulled in another nearby cove. Jerry took over the boat because he knew the cove very well. Uncle Buck could trust him, whereas letting Dad drive the boat ran the risk of answering the question, “Can someone actually jump a boat over land like they did in that Burt Reynolds movie?” Jerry eased in closer to the overhanging trees, though still quite a safe distance away. He was a genius with anything mechanical and was the best fisherman of the group.
Dad started singing one of his favorite songs, one which he usually performed while drinking: “Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble,” by Mac Davis. It’s no accident that Dad looked a lot like Mac in his prime. “You’re going to scare the fish,” Uncle Buck told him for no apparent reason. Jerry piped in. “You’re going to scare ME with that voice. You should be singing, “Lord, It’s Hard Not To Stumble,” Bobby Dean.”
One of my best fishing observations happened one day I was out on the boat with Dad. “When the fishing isn’t going well, silence is mandatory. When the fishing is going well, most of the adult men chatter like startled magpies – and no one complains.” Fish magically knew which scenario was occurring in the boat above them.
Jerry slowly turned the boat away from the trees.
As Dad sang, he stood up in the boat and went to one side. When Dad got his fishing pole in both hands to cast it near the trees, it happened.
In a perfect alignment of opportunity, vengeance, and humor, Jerry gunned the powerful boat. The front end rose as the boat lurched. Dad surprisingly did not see it coming, which made it much more comical.
He went off the side as he fell, while holding his fishing pole. Jerry gunned the boat more. Despite the engine, I could hear Dad’s indistinguishable yell of surprise. He hit the water and went under. Those cowboys boots were probably less than ideal at this point.
Jerry let off the throttle and began howling with laughter and pride. It was a rarity to catch Dad that far off guard. He was sputtering water, trying to stay above water while holding his pole. Despite his bravado, he didn’t look like he could stay afloat.
“I think he might need a hand, Jerry,” Uncle Buck said calmly. His voice was surprisingly calm. I think he could have said, “I see a shark” with the same calm. “Seriously.”
Jerry eased the boat around and throttled it momentarily. The boat eased into the cove near Dad. Dad was still spitting water and struggling. He put a hand on the side of the boat and reached a tie-off on the side.
Jerry knew better than to attempt to help Dad get out of the water. Uncle Buck tried to help hoist him in. The water made him much heavier. I took his fishing pole.
Finally, Jerry came over the side. Instead of reaching out to help Dad into the boat, he jumped into the lake. The look of surprise on Uncle Buck’s face was complete shock. How was he going to get two fools back into the boat? And did he really want them in the boat anyway?
As Jerry came up, he said what I was thinking. “I might as well jump in. Bobby Dean won’t be satisfied until either I’m in the water or the boat is on fire.”
Dad managed to get onto the boat. Jerry swam a bit and reached up for the boat. Uncle Buck and Dad grabbed him to help. Just as Jerry started to say, “Don’t let go, you asshole,” Dad let go and Jerry went back into the water.
Finally, we ended up back in the boat. They were all laughing, even Uncle Buck, who said, “I’m not jumping in.” At the risk of being proven wrong, I said, “Me either.”
I don’t remember what kind of fishing was done that day. I didn’t care, either. As long as it was rolled in cornmeal and fried like Uncle Buck fried it, I didn’t care if they caught a used pair of leather gloves. I tended to observe the fishing process with disinterest.
Fishing, after all, could easily be ‘drowning adjacent.’
Given the choice between hush puppies or fish, I’d opt to skip the drownings on the lake and sit at home and fry up a bucket of hush puppies. Fishing was a lot of work for no greater enjoyment in eating.
That day, though… It was golden-fried, too. I see that now.
Those days help mask the others, the ones hidden in shadows.
-I’m an expert stylist now, apparently. Dawn surprisingly asked for my assistance doing her hair, including hair color. Given my prank-to-seriousness ratio, you think alarm bells would have prevented her from such a suggestion. The social distancing period is a great time to find out what works and what doesn’t. Keep your fingers crossed. We don’t own any firearms, so the odds of me surviving are good.
-My humble cousin wrote a fabulous nostalgia story about my grandma. Thousands of people have read it and rightfully loved it. Granda would shake her head at our modern foolishness but would also appreciate the love that echoes in the story. Grandma survived a tornado that demolished my original small town, as well as the great depression, multiple wars, and men in general. I’d do anything to sit in her living room in the cloud of bacon smell and listen to her take on the world we see outside.
-Tempering the joy I’ve had watching my cousin and another fellow writer realize their gifts, my trollish alcoholic relative made his return. I had to learn some new website management skills to eradicate his footprint. I’ve had to blacklist ip addresses and multiple email accounts, as well as turn off automatic comments in places where it will be a hindrance to other people connecting with me. You’d think that needing to make multiple identities would trigger a bell of caution in someone’s mind. That’s what alcoholism does. It blinds people to the harm they’ve inflicted. They build impossible narratives to reshape their role as one of victim instead of perpetrator. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t see himself in the way that those around him do. I can’t change him – and neither can they. I make an effort to avoid needlessly embarrassing him, despite his trail of angry words. I make no mention of him to family and friends. They just know I’m struggling to find a way forward with an anonymous family member who insists on control, anger, and a dedication to drink. During the last blog blitz, the person in question posted some outrageously offensive words, including an implication I’d murdered someone. He probably doesn’t realize I kept screenshots of each incident of nuttiness and hate. I don’t look at the folder containing it, as each piece is a roadmap to mental decline that should have been avoided. He still rewrites history even though everyone involved compared notes and realized that the issue wasn’t us; rather, it was an addiction that went untreated and festered. I can’t imagine cursing at someone via text more than once, or haranguing anyone, much less a family member, after being asked to stop. The anger would signal to a rational person that moving on or radio silence would best serve everyone. While I don’t wish him a lesser life, I long for a sustained silence and the absence of his needlessly erratic finger to no longer pierce the bubble of my better life. Distance is the best gift he can provide; my own monkeys and circus require my vigilance. My wish to have a life devoid of alcoholism is mine to make. I wasted too many years allowing the pathology of alcoholics to bend me. Worse, I cannot pretend otherwise.
–Note: Since I already wrote a novel during revision of the above paragraph… I don’t live a life with drama or those suffering addictions. In my world, the normal one, those with issues get help and we help them get it. People exhibiting angry behavior don’t stay in our orbit. It’s bad for everyone. Allowing the person with behavior issues to drive the car is pure lunacy. As for my relative, it was painful trying to distance myself again after years of needless strife he put between me and anyone in his inner circle and those who knew his secret. It didn’t have to be that way. He could have gone to rehab more than once. He could have stopped drinking. Once we started talking again, it took an accidental conversation with someone close to him to realize that not only had the addiction taken control of his life, but that he was actively campaigning to create differing fantasy worlds depending on who he spoke to. We’d all been “had,” so to speak. It was a crushing discovery. I didn’t recover from it. In the midst of it, I felt an immense pain for the people around him. I know firsthand the darkness that angry addiction conceals. The person I once knew was gone in spirit, leaving a resentful and angry man bent on maintaining his addiction. All of us pay. I can’t do it. I tried.
-My in-laws are finally settled in Springdale. I’m going to miss the horrible drive to the middle of nowhere. Having them so close to the things we take for granted is going to improve substantially all of our lives. I’m certain. I’m jealous of their house. It isn’t new, but I would pay a hefty price to swap neighborhoods with them.
-While next week might provide the anticipated kick in the nether regions for my daring to say it, returning to work after a bit of an absence was weirdly comforting. The day started with a bit of amusement. A knee-high black and white dog ran into the dock entrance. (It was of the good-boy breed, obviously.) Although there was a covid screening table staffed with vigilant people, the happy canine ignored the quarantine lines and admonitions. We all stopped, happily petting the dog, and giving it the good boy love he deserved. Once one of the volunteers had him back outside, he again madly dashed back inside as I started to turn the corner out of sight. I laughed harder than I have in a while. Even though I only missed three days of actual work, something substantial had shifted in that interim.
-The same is true out in the world in general. The mood shifted, too. Whether it’s advisable or not, I’ve noted a trend that brought more people back out. Whether it is crisis fatigue or attributable to misinformation, people are simply looking at the pandemic differently. The inevitability has hit a threshold of some sort. It is difficult to explain. It’s observable, though. Those of us who are essential and exposed to a large cross-section of the population see it increasing each day. If you’ve heard that essential personnel and those who simply couldn’t self-isolate look at this crisis in a markedly different way, it is the truth. This pandemic has segregated our perspective on it and its effects going forward.
-Though this prediction is not scientific, I predict we will emerge from isolation sooner than what is recommended. The things I’ve witnessed by being in the medical field have shaped me in ways that I’m still thinking about. I predict that the patterns emerging will determine our future resolve to follow the same blueprint. Along with a prediction of emerging from isolation sooner, I predict that the solidarity in resolve so many had at the onset of this virus will not sustain to the next pandemic. Again, these are not things I’m comfortable with. The trends are observable, though.
-I hope everyone who had the chance took time to sort through their old photos, the ones collecting dust in forgotten places. The people who preceded us need an occasional nod to reinvigorate us. Share those pictures with everyone you can.
If you’re being screened for COVID19 and you see that the screeners are using temporal (forehead) thermometers, you need to check your temperature with an oral thermometer. Despite what some might say, an oral thermometer will eliminate environmental variables, assuming you haven’t been chewing whole ice cubes. While the absence of a fever doesn’t preclude that you have COVID, it occurs in the majority of cases. I’ve personally witnessed a 2 or 3-degree temperature difference between oral thermometers and other types. (*Generally speaking, of course.)
If you don’t own a pulse oximeter, you should purchase one. If you are infected with this virus, the flu, or have other health conditions, your 02 level is one of the single biggest ways to answer the question: “Should I be concerned?” It will signal that you’re deteriorating or at what point you need to call 911 or go to the doctor/ER. You should buy one of these even after our current virus crisis is over.
Additionally, the number of medical people being tested is artificially limited by how willing screening clinics are in administering the test. All those saying we haven’t tested nearly enough people are correct. You would be surprised by the number of people refused tests, even those working in the medical or emergency services fields. We don’t want to squander tests needlessly, of course. With anyone in the medical field or those who must be ‘in’ the world on a daily basis, it should be automatic with symptoms. The same guidelines for the general public don’t translate to dealing with medical workers.
In Northwest Arkansas, there isn’t a big scarcity of testing kits available, compared to other regions. Our bottleneck seems to be the number of labs at our disposal to perform the lab tests. Some people are still being told it might be a WEEK before getting their results. Senator Rand Paul had to wait 6 days for his, and he’s a United States Senator, and he didn’t self-quarantine during that time. (That’s not a criticism of Senator Paul, by the way, in part because he is a Senator and his job duties are critical. *Someone correctly pointed out that he did go the gym and do some stupid things in the meanwhile, though.)
If you are tested, you are now required to self-quarantine until you get the test results, which is of course an improvement over the previous policy. However…
Those who have symptoms or are turned away then return to their jobs or their families, often with the misguided belief that if the screening methodology indicates they don’t need to be tested, that they are in fact, not positive and pose no risk. For the purposes of this post, assume that those who are turned away or discouraged from a test work in the medical field or another field in which their presence is ‘essential.’ They return to their lives, potentially infecting many more people. ‘Not tested’ does not equate to ‘not infected.’ For public health, these cases should be treated as positive, even absent a test, as it is the safest course of action for society as a whole to prevent needless spread of the virus. In a crisis in which the virus spreads so easily, it’s obvious that anyone working in a critical field should be tested immediately, even if their symptoms only include a fever – but do not rise to the critical level. If our medical system did become overwhelmed, which I do not think it will here in Northwest Arkansas, we’d have to reexamine that policy.
If you’re already quarantined, this won’t affect you on an individual level.
By not quarantining even potentially suspected cases as they arise, we’re creating an expanding circle of exposure. (Obviously, I’m referring to those who can’t be at home each day.) We all know that we’re almost all going to eventually be exposed to the virus. It’s not about being able to sidestep our eventual exposure. All of us will ultimately step up to the fact that we’ve been exposed.
Another concern that people are misunderstanding is the tendency toward a false negative test. (You have the virus, but the test shows that you don’t.) A false positive might scare you, but at least you’ll think you have the virus and take immediate and drastic measures to avoid spreading the disease. In the case of a false negative, the opposite occurs. Given the way the tests are performed, the margin of error is actually quite high. If you google “Bayes’ Rule for COVID19,” you’ll see that false negatives are the biggest threat for how we deal with the virus.
The truth is that many organizations say that all those tested should be quarantined on the side of caution, even though who are tested negative. In the short term, it may cause needless isolation. That needless isolation of critical medical staff will statistically reduce the spread of the virus. We already know that up to 1/3 of all negative tests are incorrect, depending on the variables in the testing system. For every 100 people testing negative, it is possible that 30 of them are actually positive.
After having said all that, a significant portion of the population has been infected and has no symptoms at all. It gives us a sense of false confidence as we proceed with our lives.
Even though you’ve not read my definition of a public place, here it is: any place outside your house where anyone other than the people you’ve been with for the last 14+ days has breathed. If anyone ‘new’ has entered your house, your house is public for 14 more days.
I don’t personally feel alarmed, even if it kills me. Many of us all are doing to do everything perfectly. Yet, it’s going to hurt someone of us badly. I read your posts and hope that we can get back to being pissed off at each other for stupid reasons.
We’re going to get a vaccine, eventually. It won’t be permanent, though. We’re going to need to invest in and trust researchers and science. We’re going to have to stop pretending that anti-vaxxers have a valid viewpoint. Maybe we’ll finally get universal healthcare. Maybe we’ll manage to achieve a cohesive non-profit nationwide collective of clinics and hospital making decisions from the viewpoint of public health.
Our hospital system will not be overwhelmed here locally. I also don’t think we are going to run out of PPE or necessary medical equipment. You would think I’d be cynical about this. I’m not though. I think we are incredibly more prepared that many areas around the United States. No matter what happens, I hope you remember after all this that I was optimistic in our ability to diminish the impact.
We’re lucky we live in Northwest Arkansas. Comparatively speaking, it’s a great place to be quarantined – and an even better place to be if you find yourself needing immediate medical care for the virus. We have an incredible confluence of food, resources, and medical clinics/hospitals to help us get through this.
P.S. Although a few people missed it, much of my post indicated it referred to those in the medical field or those who go out into the world because they are ‘essential.’ Taking this into account quells many of the comments people might make. ‘Err on the side of caution’ is a cliché precisely because it is true and fits the commentary here.