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 185

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was at a kitchen table playing Dungeons and Dragons at twelve years old. It was Z’s birthday. His older brother was DM’ing. We were playing 2nd edition.

I’d rolled an Elven wizard who had 2 hit points. First level spells, hardly devastating. I spent most of the game waiting behind the party line as they fought monsters, scouted traps, preciously keeping my few spells for when they were most important. We went through a dark dungeon and came out of it. Then we met some merchants. Our warrior decided to rob them. I couldn’t handle that so I cast my first spell. I got him with a magic missile and it killed him (he’d been hurt in the dungeons). Promptly after that, our ranger got me back with an arrow to my 2HP skull. Two party members down and no high-level priests around to revive them, we all called it quits on the game. Some of the other kids were pissed. I’d put a stop to the night.

Every year I get older seems to muddy my convictions. I talk to Trump supporters and try to find the places they tuck away the good. Maybe its that I’ve had a longer life to live out my own imperfections – mistakes and missteps, tumbling off of high highways with no way of getting back.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.

Aristotle, Politics

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 149

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

When I was a kid, it was hard to imagine violence happening overseas. There were buzzwords like ‘Nepal’ and ‘North Korea,’ but they didn’t mean anything. They were unseen threats. They were happening to someone else. The worst vipers in the deepest sea.

Then, after Iraq, it got a little easier. I didn’t know anyone who was a soldier but I knew people who knew them. American men and women were cutting up other people with automatic guns (and getting cut up themselves). It was closer to home, and the news even showed you pictures: that GI standing on the naked Iraqi men they’d taken prisoner. Horror knew my name now, and was occasionally sending postcards.

I read a piece about the Nazi’s. It was a series of photos of Auschwitz workers on their off days. Men and women eating ice-cream, posing for pictures. All smiles. It said: “These people don’t think they’re evil.” And it went on to catalogue the many years it took them to get there, to where you could be smiling after a day working gas chambers.

These days, the horror’s my closest neighbor. It lives beside me, two floors down. We walk across the lawn and wave at each other most mornings. Sometimes, we run into each other at the pool.

I don’t know how long it takes to go from taking children from their families or forcing men to share such crowded spaces they have to stand on toilets, to removing their humanity with a more literal force. On our Southern border, all of us condone an organized violence on migrants trying hard to be free. We tell ourselves we don’t like it. We still cringe when we look at the pictures. But how long does that last? How long before the horror moves in?

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.

Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 147

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

I went to the shore to abandon myself. The water was the color of 2% milk. There were long lines. A woman in an airliner’s outfit was trying to guide them but everyone was pushing. Further up, kids without parents were left playing in the dunes.

I took my shoes off. My feet were calloused from all the walking, the sand was hot, so they hurt. Eventually it would be high tide and none of this would matter. ‘Eventually’ can take a long time.

At sea there was a fisher’s boat. It was painted blue. The crew had a heavy old net with weights woven in it that they were sinking to the bottom. Every hour, they’d haul the net and let it hang to let out the milky water. What was left were the effects – shoes, shirts, hair-weaves, and sometimes, if the crew was lucky, a rolex. It was all escheated – that’s what you signed up for – but before shipping it off to the State, the fishers took their cut.

No-one ever asked what happens to the bodies.

When it was my turn, the woman in the airliner’s outfit had me stamp my thumbprint. She took out a roll of string and a ruler, got my measurements. Before she was even done with me, she was looking at the next person in line.

But it didn’t matter. I had gone to the shore to abandon myself. Now, I was ankle-deep in the water. It’s milk licked my slacks until they were a darker color. It was colder than I expected, and I felt like a tree, like all the heat of the day was getting drawn through my toes, deeply buried roots. It scared me. But it wasn’t an awful feeling.

Finally, sunk to my chin, I couldn’t think about anything. All I felt was joy. I couldn’t hear the children with no parents playing on the dunes. I couldn’t see the fisher’s boats doing their drudgery a couple miles off-shore. I’d forgotten how to spell, and when I looked at the clouds the only word that came to me was ‘candy.’ Every bit of horror was gone. And with that, I let the waves crash over me, sniffing out the space I’d made for myself, comfortably disconnected, at the bottom of the sea.

(some Saturdays, it’s hard to turn on the news)

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

So long as the child was fed on its mother’s milk, everything seemed to it smooth and easy. But when it had to give up milk and take to vodka, – and this is the inevitable law of human development – the childish suckling dreams receded into the realm of the irretrievable past.

Lev Shestov, All Things Are Possible

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 120

Hi.

Coffee: Large Americano, Caribou Coffee; there was a time in my life when espresso drinks were a daily thing; a cafe on campus at Duke, a cappuccino between classes; or the days I worked for a bookstore, buying Americano’s on break; now, I drink espresso rarely; it’s never close by, like the city on the other side of the hills; today, it tasted like listening to old records bought at a yardsale, or giving your ex a call on a long drive

The older I get, the less I understand violence. Maybe it’s the youth drained out of me, a testosterone spigot, drip drip the golden years of fighting for a chance at fertility. Or maybe I’ve just clued into something I should have seen all along.

I heard a radio program about Baltimore cops who were running a crime ring. They’d stop people in their plainclothes and pat them down, taking cash from their wallets, roughing them up, pressing no charges. They targeted drug dealers and the poor, people no-one would listen to, and they got away with it for a long time.

I saw a video a few weeks ago filmed from inside a Cleveland prison. There’s an old man in a face mask strapped to a chair. Three officers enter the room, check his vitals, then two of them walk out. The last officer punches the man over and over, and when this causes a commotion, another cop walks in and starts punching the man too. He suffered a concussion, so goes the article. He was mentally handicapped, black, and beaten by two white guards.

I woke up this morning to reports of a juvenile detention center in Texas where kids are sleeping on the floor. They’re migrants, seeking asylum, separated from parents, and held in hundred-degree weather without air-conditioning, no diapers for the babies, 300 per cell, little food and water, insufficient blankets, no toothbrushes or toothpaste because that’s ‘not necessary.’ It was a concentration camp, of course, ongoing. To their credit, the Border Patrol agents (at least the ones that were interviewed) seemed just as horrified at what they were doing as me.

I sat outside today and found a small red and black bug. It was attached to the chair and not moving. I tried blowing on it, nudging it off, but it stuck there. It was alive, because its legs moved, and it was committed to sharing a space with me. I sat in the chair with the red and black bug for a long time. I was worried it might bite me. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to hurt it, because one pin prick of my skin isn’t worth the price of a life snuffed away.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

I wish only that my spirit and fury would drive me
to hack your meat away and eat it raw for the things that
you have done to me

Achilles to Hector, Homer, The Iliad

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 83

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

A kid at the Chinese take-out squirmed around in his mother’s arms enough to look at me and said: “What did you order?”

I told him what I got – two spring rolls and tofu. He was puzzled, then I asked him about his order and he lit up: “Shrimp fried rice!” All the while, his mom’s got that look that says ‘isn’t my kid everything?’ but ‘I’m watching your every move’ at the same time.

While they were leaving, she says: ‘Say goodbye.’

And he says: ‘Goodbye!’

And I say: ‘Fried rice is classic.’

That was the most interesting thing that happened at the Chinese take-out.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, it’s effectively illegal to get an abortion. The only cases where the doctor’s not liable for a life sentence are where the mother’s immediate health would be compromised. I say immediate, because there’s many physical and emotional impacts of birth and pregnancy that don’t quite tally to death but are still significant and severe. Anyway…

There’s lots of good arguments going around for why this new anti-abortion law is bullshit. A lot better than anything I can say, I’m not a woman and no-one’s got a gun to my bodily sanctity. But here’s a thing I thought about that I think gets brushed over: what does it say to parents to tell them having a child is not really their choice? Accidents happen. People get tossed up in each other and then there’s this new bit of DNA. Maybe you want what it’ll turn into. Maybe you don’t. But Alabama says you’re not allowed to make that choice. Even if you want to be a parent, the kid’s not there because of your intention. She/he’s there because some privileged men knew how to slap a legislative stamp. She/he’s born independent of want or love.

I don’t know about you, but that sickens me.

While he was still on her lap, the mom was rocking the kid with her knee and nonchalantly running one hand’s worth of fingers through his hair. She was checking Twitter with the other. Normal, calm, simple, but wrapped up in her was someone that wanted to be a part of this vibrant, questioning person bouncing on her knee. If I had to guess – accident or otherwise – when push came to shove, she made the choice to offer up nine months of blood and eighteen or more years to give life to her son. Can you feel the weight of that?

But no, Alabama says to hell with that kind of love. You might be screaming ‘state’s rights’ and ‘small government,’ but you’re eager to slip the government’s fingers into other peoples’ pants, or put your long, bureaucratic proboscis into their hearts. You rob them of both their bodily autonomy and the freedom to love. You spoil not only a woman that says ‘no’ but the one that says ‘yes.’ In a grand act of irony, you have devalued both the individual woman and the concept of a family. In fact, the only thing you haven’t touched are greedy, self-obsessed men.

Oh, I get it now.

You are the closest I will ever come to magic.

Suzanne Finnamore, The Zygote Chronicles

Coffee Log, Day 244

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I got Chinese with my roommate then went home to watch Haunting of Hill House. Everyone’s been talking it up. We popped the tops on plastic quart cartons and ran the first episode. They filmed it with a filter that makes everyone look jaundiced. All the actors and actresses looked the same. We stopped the show three times just to figure out who was who.

So anyway, I’ve got lukewarm first impressions of Hill House, but dinner was great. The lady at the restaurant always smiles when she sees me. That’s nothing special, she smiles for everyone. I ordered the Sichuan tofu. It was piping hot. At home, halfway through the show, I had a moment where I got a bit of onion and a bit of sauce, dipped it in steamed rice, and realized I’d die someday.

I’ve been thinking ‘death’ since birth. In 3rd grade I used to imagine I might get reincarnated as the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls. I’d picture myself in his body playing shows. He was the coolest person I could think of. I imagined this every night as I was going to sleep. If I didn’t, it was all cold sweats and heavy breathing, the black wall of inevitability. Like I said, I’m an over-thinker.

So it wasn’t too unusual to think about dying when the slick, red, acidic stuff touched my tongue. But the way it felt tonight was more of a ‘maybe this is okay.’ I’ve been stressed lately. Taken in full, 2018’s done a number. It’s like the third week of school: first is exciting; second’s a breeze; the third is when the tests come, and no matter how you do there’s no going back from the bright red branding of the grade. I’ve been considering next year, and the year after. I feel stretched like good leather.

After the first perfect bite I took another. Some broccoli, dipped. The rich sauce got caught in her green perm. It tasted like something that shouldn’t be so good for you. The stem snapped in my jaw. I washed her down with tapwater.

“I’m gonna die someday,” I thought, “but this is nice for now.”

We finished dinner and the episode. I feel pretty full.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“…food that can burn you down to a charred, smoking little stump.” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, Sichuan episode

IMG_1738