A Pastoral Peace
It’s been a quiet week on the farm. Spring is a few months away. There is still winter misery in the valley. Over the winter Ray tore down the 9N and rebuilt it. The chicken coop needs an overhaul, including two tires. It’s been a couple of years since the bearings have been changed. Father Thomas’ homily touched on Lamentations. Guys complain about their honey-do lists. Guys that live in 3500 sq ft homes at the end of a cul-de-sac. Men who would shut their mouths after a day of chores on the farm. My Dad offered to help Ray and got to a lawn chair in the barn before he had to sit a spell.
I never lived in a cul-de-sac. My Dad’s house is in a tree-covered suburb of Philly. When I headed west in a Trailways bus out of Cherry Hill I was dazzled by the bright lights of the City 3,000 miles distant. The City by the Bay called to me and I answered with a bus ticket. I stopped on the east side of San Francisco Bay at my grandmother’s house in Albany, CA. My Dad said I’d never last living in the city.
It’s been forty years in the city. My Dad has a few chairs on the farm in Merida. One is in the living room with a shoebox full of remote controls. He commands the entertainment from that chair. Another is an Amish-made cane rocking chair with a commanding porch view of the farm. He used to take visitors and talk to the farmhands. Lately, he sleeps in that chair most of the day.
Shall I Stay With Misery in the Valley?
Sixteen years ago the reasons to stay in the East Bay disappeared. The Empress flew to Taiwan with my son. I lost another temp job. My landlord declared that he was converting the entire complex to Section 8 housing. Every tenant had to either move out or qualify for Section 8. Then and still the wait list for Section 8 is decades long. I make too much money so that left moving out.
Choices. Stay on the correct coast where my Dad’s family can trace their California story back through the San Bernadino Mormons or leave the golden state. Then there is the Mayan option—to live with my grandfather’s family on their farm in Yucatan. I chose the third option. I moved from Richmond, CA to Richmond, VA in 2002.
Even when I am in Yucatan I stay in Merida at a hotel. All those years watching the world pass by my taxi-cab windshield make the bustle & noise of the city feel right. Also, I’ve seldom lived in “good” places. Home has been cars, friend’s couches, hotels, and beggar shelters. The house in Richmond is the longest stint of stable living I’ve had since separating from the Empress. My Dad was wrong about me. I did last living in the city.
Tuning to Twilight
It’s twilight. Dinner service is wrapping up and the band is tuning up. I’ve got my Mccauley’s neat and a plate of barbacoa. The weatherman is telling the gringos that this monsoon season will be bad. The train of storms starting in Nigeria is strong. Already they have named 8 storms that have wandered near and then away from Merida. On the 9th, Ian generated warnings to evacuate. I took another sip of my bourbon.
This is the wrong side of the tracks. It is populated by the bottom third of the bell curve. The normies and good folk fear this valley. They see the shadow of death over us and nod with complicity to their preacher who tells them that we are their fate if they don’t behave. We are good with that.
When I am not in Richmond, Philly or Merida I am here in the bar or in my flat upstairs. The flat used to be warehouse space for the bar. No amount of Pinesol is enough to erase the mix of old bourbon, piss, puke, stale beer, illicit sex, and cigarettes. It has two rooms, a former office in the back with a thrift-store sourced kitchen. Someone before me put a cheap fiberglass shower with copper pipes green with age into the former office. I’ve tried to clean the toilet but even straight bleach won’t remove the years of beery piss and tossed smokes. The sink stinks of smoked heroin. The big room in front is used to store liquor and also has thrift store furniture. It offers no escape from the stench of mortal sins.
Yes I Do
More than a few have climbed the stairs to my loft and exclaimed, “you like living here?!” I do. The noise of the bar plays a melody grounded by the sub-woofer beat of freight trains that pass by every couple of hours. They hurry on to feed the hungry maw of the collected mass of normies who worry about me. Let them be scared.
Normie kids come to the bar to get their freak on. This place is exciting. Stuff happens. Girls show up ready to dance, drink and mayhaps give some. The music is awesome. The food is good, even better after a few drinks. People come here to play and then we send them home a little worse for it.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t want to be less dangerous. It’s a long drive over the hills on two-lane gravel roads to get here. An hour out of town is a gas station inhabited by a shotgun-toting old man with a bad attitude. His nose for outsiders is unfailing. He’s put buckshot into the doors of more than a few who seemed like they were lost and ought to be headed back out of the valley.
Gasoline and Buckshot
Old man Saito does sell gas. You have to get past the initial curmudgeonly greeting. You can’t be in a hurry. Most of the normie kids out for a weekend in town know enough to either tank up before they cross the pass or invest a few hours in drinking rice wine (50 proof!) with him. Those in the know bring a fifth of Makers Mark with them. He searches their car for contraband and finds it, upon which his attitude improves considerably. Also, let him find a carton of Marlboro Red 100s. Sometimes the old bribes are still the best currency to buy some freedom.
There is freedom here you can’t find on the other side of the pass under the bright lights of the city. Somebody came to a twelve-step meeting and was nervous that they might be found out as a gender-queer psychiatry patient with a thick jacket of mental ward admittance and city jail time. We were not impressed. We are small enough to not need a recognizable municipal government.
The closest we have is Saito’s son, who can be seen drifting through the streets picking the trash for aluminum cans. He’s out on parole after collecting federal time for punching a US Marshall. Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Once inside a fellow inmate threatened to rape him so Ren killed him barehanded. You have to do better than liking both sausages and clams to be interesting here.
It’s a hard life here. We don’t have public schools, public health services, or a social safety net. There are Ren Saito’s friends and there are those who either die or leave because they pissed off Ren. Those that stay figure out a truce with Ren. To survive here you either need your own money or a way to earn a living. Ren found The last guy to try standing on a corner with a sign asking for money in a dumpster at the back of the bar badly bloodied. He was offered two choices: clean the bar after it closes or leave town. He stayed and is the first to greet fellow beggars with a warning.
You know this one, that when you hit bottom the only direction is up. Our townies leave here stronger, clean & sober. We do for each other. The reason we don’t have a lot of municipal services is that we are small, we know each other, and we won’t hesitate to do the needful for each other. It’s how a lot of small-town America works.
I’ve seen the world from the 31st floor of 101 California Street in San Francisco. My suits from back then cost me what I make in three months. I had a family, a two-bedroom condo with designer furniture and two cars. My travel mug costs a month’s wages for those who don’t live under the city lights. That was then. Things are better now.
Last thing. The church is here. Father Thomas is a Cherokee, a Gulf War Vet, with a bronze twelve-step chip. He was accused by a parishioner of raping boys. Before all that he was convicted of tax evasion for selling moonshine. The county ADA could never find enough evidence to charge him with rape. The church offered to send him to Brazil. He left instead.
He went back to Seminary and was ordained in the Anglican Church. The rumblings of some that the church was out of sync with the times regarding abortion and standards of fidelity or chastity in marriage drove him to set out on his own. He planted a small monastic order in the valley. His order runs a local school, missions, and mercy programs, as well as the usual services of a local parish.
Many have underestimated Father Thomas. One seeker accosted him, wanting to know if he used the KJV, “I do not.” Which one, then? “My own.” Your own copy of the KJV? “No, my own translation.” Oh. You will find the NABRE in the pews of the order’s chapel. The order lives under a modified Benedictine Rule.
Westboro Baptist showed up one weekend and sought out Father Thomas. They expected tv cameras and protestors. They got a church picnic in full swing. Father Thomas approached them with plates. The Westboro Baptist kids were hungry. It was a great time for all.
Down here on the bottom third of the curve, with places to lay my head in Richmond, the Valley, Philly, and Merida I am happier than I was when I chased status and money. I am free. I may not be successful in building my personal brand such that I collect accolades from the normies. My virtue signal is noisy and dissonant. I’m good with it.
The band started up. Lighting Hopkins stuff. My floor is swaying to the music. It’s a good night for the normies downstairs chasing the light fantastic. I’ll sleep well tonight.