Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 198

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I met a woman who’d been evicted twice, soon to be three times. She lost her house to late payments on a mortgage. She lost her rental when the landlord sold the property. She’s been staying at a hotel the last few weeks but can’t pay anymore. Not quite an eviction, but close enough.

There was an expose’ on MK-ULTRA written recently. I read an interview with the author on NPR. Sidney Gottlieb, chemist for the CIA, was given carte blanche in the 50’s to fulfill one objective: mind control. There was a lot of fear in the 50’s of communism’s ever-growing fingernails, a lot a paranoia about what a bunch of authoritarian Russians with enough motivation could do. The CIA thought it possible that Soviets had already worked out the kinks to controlling a human mind. So they set about hiring up ex-Nazis and Imperial Japanese torturers and went to work. They tried everything from electroshocks to giving prisoners daily doses of LSD. Here was the hypothesis: to control someone’s mind, you had to destroy it first.

In the end I couldn’t help her. The things she was asking of me were out of my offering. She had sad eyes and well-combed hair. She made a point to smile, and if I wasn’t talking she’d start talking with herself. Once, she said “I’ll just keep going because I don’t want to hear what he has to say.” The ‘he’ was me, of course.

It doesn’t take ten years of surreptitious torture to destroy someone’s mind. All you’ve got to do is marginalize them to the edges of society, to the thin gray scud, out of sight of anyone, so they’re left not having any reference with which to fix themselves, no place to go to, nothing that looks like home. It’s easy. We do it all the time.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Gottlieb wanted to create a way to seize control of people’s minds, and he realized it was a two-part process,” Kinzer says. “First, you had to blast away the existing mind. Second, you had to find a way to insert a new mind into that resulting void. We didn’t get too far on number two, but he did a lot of work on number one.”

Terry Gross interviewing Stephen Kinzer for NPR, The CIA’s Secret Quest For Mind Control: Torture, LSD And A ‘Poisoner In Chief’

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 197

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place Roast, Apartment Lounge Coffee

A 4-year-old girl drops a rock a few feet in front of me. “That’s a rock!” she says, then picks it up to show me. I tell her it’s a good rock, the best one I’ve seen, and she drops it again.

“You dropped your rock.”

“I don’t care!” she says.

I know this girl’s story. She moved in a few months ago. She’s my neighbor. Here’s the questions I don’t ask out loud: Are you old enough to know that your father died because someone put a bullet in his head? Are you old enough to have known you ever had a father, or is grandma and grandpa your now and forever? Do you have sly dreams of Pittsburgh in the winter, the city under five feet of snow? Does that same bullet sit inside you now, passed down, inherited like your pigtails, or pink lips, or small fingers? What do you remember? Maybe it’s better if you don’t remember anything.

Five kids came down and now they live below me. I’ve only see them with bright smiles. The only bleak is what sneaks into the faces of their grandparents who had to bury a father, a son.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Snow is…a beautiful reminder of life and all its quirks. It makes me pause. Think. Stay still. Even my mind takes the hint. It makes me feel giddy. Like a kid. I bring my hot cocoa to the window and simply sit and reminisce…It brings me back to days of school cancellations and snow igloos and King of the Mountain games in my childhood neighborhood…That for this one moment in time, I’m not an adult with all the headaches that can accompany that responsibility, but instead, I’m still the girl in pigtails with the handmade hat and mittens, just waiting to build her next snowman.

R.B. O’Brien

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 196

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was driving down I-40 when the light cut out. The sun gave up enough to kneel behind the treeline, but it was only 7:30 so the streetlamps weren’t on. A bluish-gold darkness, like ducking your head in old bathwater, or under sheets in the morning, or below two bare thighs. Comforting, but dangerously taking your breath away.

I took off my sunglasses. I’d bought a pair of aviators to replace the old ones my uncle gave me. It didn’t help much, trying to see the world without lenses, only bolded the backlights on fast cars and Saturday fleetrucks tanking overtime. Didn’t change the fact that nothing I was seeing was new.

I have five ghosts that follow me but only know four of their names. They peek through trees around sundown or finger soft scratches on the underside of my car. Mostly they’re reminders of the people in my genes, the squeeze of history, blue smoke, different cancers. The fifth ghost rarely shows itself, though, so I’m wary of it.

I got home at 8:00, pulling in the parking lot when porchlights cut on.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

You got to tell me brave captain, why are the wicked so strong, how do the angels get to sleep, when the devil leaves the porchlight on.

Tom Waits


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 195

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was going to write another ghost story, but the world’s too tired for the ghosts to get out of the grave.

Robert Mugabe died today. If I said that sentence out loud in the biggest square in Cary, maybe ten people would know who I’m talking about. In another world corner, a separate continent, Robert Mugabe is a known name and a mixed bag.

He came to power in what would become Zimbabwe. A freedom fighter, he led largely black African armies in the fight to decolonize their own country. He won. In the new Democracy, he was elected head of state. He set out education reforms. Those reforms stuck so much that just this week there are Zimbabwen immigrants getting the best tech jobs in South Africa. And, as it happens, there are frantic South Africans blaming these immigrants for their own unfair lot in life and stoning them, sometimes literally.

All things change. This is especially true for people.

Mugabe got hungry over the years. He wanted to hold onto his power and started committing abuses. He rigged elections, fed fear to his populist base. At one point, he participated in ethnic cleansing. But the great tip of the spear on which he’d impale himself was a program of reclamation – he urged black Zimbabwen farmers to take lands from the white landowners, even by force. After international outcry, condemnation, he was eventually ousted from power, but this took 40 years. By all accounts, many people died under Mugabe’s rule. Like all people, he wasn’t always good.

I get this tick when pundits talk about ‘Africa.’ They say ‘Africa’ first and then they mention the country, if they mention it at all. This isn’t equal to other reporting. No-one starts with ‘North America’ when they’re about to talk on the United States. And even more nationally populous places like Europe give their countries first order – nightly news knows how to mouth the sounds for ‘France.’

This matters – to us, Africa is always the ‘other.’ It is one gray lump of undefined boundaries. It’s the place where ‘those’ people live, the holding cells for pure dark skin, the graveyard of old desires that ran in all our white western families to hold the reigns to other humanities, to bathe ourselves in someone else’s sweat and blood.

Robert Mugabe died not a good man, but not a wholly bad man either. His deeds brought both freedom and disaster. But in the end I’m not the man to judge him. I don’t know Zimbabwe the way her sons and daughters do. So instead I sit and listen to the radio plays, the ways my people talk about him, the sounds of our assumptions, the subtle knife cutting holes in the globe and carving out Africa – something we can covet, but never warmly touch.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

How can these countries who have stolen land from the Red Indians, the Aborigines, the Eskimos dare to tell us what to do with our land?

Robert Mugabe

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 194

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There’s a man in a long tweed coat walking hundreds of miles to meet me. He’s got a long stride. He keeps his hands in his pockets with bent elbows. He keeps his hair tied up in a wide-brim hat. Nobody knows how long it is.

On his coat he’s woven pictures. They’re scattered like tattoos. Bright white fishes spring like chickens on the hem, dancing wildly around underwater mountains. His back is seabirds, and he’s fixed old wet trees around his loin. The tweed coat is so expansive there’s no limit to what it can capture. On his left shoulder is a small picture, two children, a torn down house, and gray rising water.

There are rumors: some say the man was born just one week ago, others say they’ve seen him for a hundred years. He’s the kind of character that creates stories in dark bars or the backseats of fast-moving cars as they hurry away from something. Like all stories, he slips in and out of different colors as he’s passed along.

I heard a story about hurricanes on NPR. It said that as the world warms the trade winds weaken, so big dark storms will move slower and with more force. Hearing that made me think about a paper mill I used to pass riding with my parents on the way to South Carolina, the way it stank like scared animals, and the heavy white cloud that cast off from the factory, rising through the atmosphere, angry at having been kept cooped up for so long.

Right now, the man’s walking around Wilmington. He’s reaching out his long, sweat-thick fingers. He might not find me – I’m good at hiding – but he’ll leave his mark, making sure I can’t forget that he’s here.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 193

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There was a patch of trees between an old motel, the fire-hose plant, and the house I grew up in. Eventually, they demolished the motel and the plant became a plumbers operation. The trees were cut and burned. It’s a car park, now, city trucks.

I remember two things about those woods: sledding through the trees in seldom NC snow and being watched by The Beast that lived there.

The house on the corner was lived in by a few kids and their grandparents. Off and on, their parents would be there, too. I can’t remember their names or faces, only that we played together. One day, the kids went away. They started showing up only sporadically, the way you catch the moon coming in and out of clouds. My parents told me something had happened. I saw dark looks on the kids’ faces. They had a tree fort we played in. The walls were painted blue. Later, I learned one of their parents had killed themselves.

The Beast was faceless. It had brown fur, dark and hard to get your eyes on like sesame oil. It stayed hidden in the day but stalked our neighborhood at night. Any stray cat that died was taken by it. It’s nose could smell you through brick walls, especially when you were sleeping. In the mornings, sickly white mushrooms grew in its footprints.

The Beast had two rules: 1) Never look directly at it; if you broke this rule, the punishment was that it would take three steps closer, a direct line to wherever you were; and 2) Leave an offering every New Moon, something significant, like a clean sock, or fresh mulberries, or a bit of your dog’s fur. Without the offering, The Beast would have free choice over what it took from you.

Eventually, the kids stopped coming altogether. I don’t know where they ended up. The grandparents lived on for a long time but we never talked to them. Finally, they moved too, or maybe passed over; death and departure are indistinguishable when you’re young.

The woods kept on while new residents moved in, and the old blue treehouse stood for a long time. As I got older, I stopped looking in the forest so much at midnight. I stopped catching eyes with The Beast. I was leaving little messes everywhere as a teenager, beautifully important things I cast off and couldn’t claim back, and I’m sure it took a few of them for offerings. But eventually it was gone. I can’t pick out the exact time, but somewhere between then and now The Beast had left us for good.

No-one remembers what happened in those woods. And maybe that’s just as well.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?

William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 192

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

My white bones crept out to have a walk around while I was sleeping. I was deflated. They tucked the covers up to my chin.

Outside, in stark moonlight, my white bones walked only the back roads on their way out of the city. They left the comfort of our culdesac and ducked alleys in old neighborhoods. The dogs barked, but no other creature knew me, or had the senses to sniff them out.

At the edge of Wake and Chatham, my white bones licked cold stones below a highway. It was gravel, refuse, dust. They slipped into tall grass where the ticks live, and into dark trees with rough baubles left by some other traveler in the branches.

At the river, cool water stopped them. My white bones found an old dead beaver and finished its work, wrapping its teeth in reeds until the tool could fell a rotting birch. There were no splashes when the tree fell, only whimpers. My white bones had found a route to cross the river, and they did.

It was the swamps they were looking for. An old bog in the forest that’s too crowded in oak groves to be seen during day. But the moonlight had it, and my white bones knew how to seek it out.

Each night, it happens like this: the branches clear. Soft black snakes wreath the space where there used to be arteries. In the Chatham bog at midnight, my white bones sink below the surface. They spend the hours passing into peat and pumice, and just before the sun comes up they surface a little darker, creeping back into me, still wet with what I cannot know.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Thank Goodness I have nearly
unlearned
folding my desire into itself
being afraid to claim it.

Yrsa Daley-Ward, bone