June 10th 2010

Summer

Summer

The grey long-haired cat from next door runs for the tunnel he’s created in the thin leaves of the deer grass in the front yard. I have startled him–nothing else is moving in this heat. I would follow him if I could.

Summer has arrived at last. I could stand perfectly still and sweat. Today, though, I am moving boxes from the garage to storage and I am soaked with myself. If I give it an hour or so, think only of the shower I will take afterward, I can do this chore. This is how summer passes: I negotiate with my body, promise it future reward for present discomfort. As long as I’ve lived in the Central Valley heat, I’ve done thus. My body is quick to forgive–it lives in the moment. But I remember, and I’m ashamed to mistreat it so.

I worked 13 years for an ice company. Summer was measured from Memorial Day to Labor Day and every day between was a Wednesday–there seemed to be no end to demand. I would step into the freezer and steam would coalesce around me. Later, when I stumbled upon the works of Andres Montoya, his iceworker persona resonated with me. It was the way the iceworker spoke up for those who don’t speak, who aren’t allowed official speech. Montoya’s iceworker was a champion; my experience was the opposite: long demeaning hours away from family, corporate disregard for employees, the Rockwell image of the iceman and cart, children running behind for ice chips, hiding the predatory nature of business. One summer, on a Sunday, there was a massive blackout in California. I was at my then girlfriend’s apartment with my kids when I was called in to work. I was told we were helping people keep food fresh and survive the heat, but we were getting top dollar for every bag sold. Meanwhile, I lost time with my family. When they fired me several years later, none of those sacrifices mattered.

My body has long forgotten those iniquities. My whole life has moved on–I have a career so different now that I wonder how it happened. I used to think I would leave the Central Valley and never return. Many of my friends did so, but I didn’t. I married, raised kids, went back to school; now I have a new career and friends here. I like that I empower people in my job, instead of contributing to their continued servitude. I like that I’m valued for my intellect and critical thinking skills instead of punished for them. My new job is like a grass tunnel–a retreat from the capitalist blast furnace. I no longer have to negotiate with my body to get up for work.

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June 13th 2009

colonoscopy

colonoscopy

My summer session English 4 class (a literature class) has been focused on men and women and class struggle, so we have read and had numerous discussions on the “nature” of men and women (keeping in mind that as individuals we’re all different). It is an intensive class, with a lot of reading and I’m rather proud of how my students have responded. The conversations we’ve been having have really been exciting for me.

Because we’re reading non-fiction prose along with fiction, I have felt it important to be open about my own life and my own questions on the nature of men and women and relationships. So, I was open with my class about my feeling relative to a colonoscopy I have scheduled this month.

On the surface of it, there’s nothing remarkable about this procedure and the statistics on colorectal cancer show it affects men and women virtually equally. Instead, my musing on the procedure has to do with the doctor performing it, my “male” inclinations and social conventions. When I received the notice from the gastroenterology group I was referred to that a consultation had been scheduled, the name of the doctor was a longish Indian name which I couldn’t pronounce. I assumed the doctor was a male and thought nothing of it.

Of course, he was a she. Perhaps more importantly (and at this point, I’m beginning to move into the queasy territory of literary nonfiction–the exploration of the inadequacies and foibles of the self, exposed to all) I found her quite attractive. She was neither skinny nor overweight, about 5′ 5″ I’d say, with (it looked like–I didn’t touch it) soft, medium-length hair and a smooth, creamy complexion. Her voice was low, almost husky, and I guessed her age as mid-thirties. She was wearing a black knit blouse and brown slacks–conservative, but fashionable. I’d been waiting for nearly an hour when she came in and my first inclination (to complain) disappeared as she smiled and began talking to me.

When she introduced herself, she mentioned her name was changed from the card they’d sent me because she was divorced now. We shook hands and she sat across the room from me (it was a largish exam room). I was wearing a T-shirt with Greek letters on it and she assumed it was from a fraternal order, so she asked me about it. I’ve never been in such an order, but I told her I thought they were more effective for women (sororities) than for men since I felt women networked and supported each other better. I said that I thought men were too immature and competitive at the age that most join these fraternities for them to have lasting value.

At this point she began to speak of her divorce and how ostracized she felt, of the way her ex-husband’s friends never called her, etc. She spoke of the effect of all this on her son. She talked about being the breadwinner, and thus having to pay alimony and child support. I listened to her, watching her, and I was keenly aware that I felt the urge to do something! I don’t believe in “male” roles any more than I do of “female” ones, but there I was suddenly feeling protective and wanting to comfort her. It was a strange feeling and as I became more aware of it, the more uncomfortable I became. It was almost a sexual response. For example, I found myself consciously trying to find anything to look at besides her breasts, which in turn meant I was hyperconscious of them anyway.

To make things worse, this woman will be sedating me to thread a camera and some sort of clipper thing up my butt in a couple weeks! I guess I’d have felt less self-conscious if she had been a 70-year-old grandfather-like guy. I mean, there’s no way in our next meeting I’m going to leave a good impression on her even if I cared to. And I don’t care to. I have no interest in her besides my continued good health. But that didn’t stop my mind spinning off on all the tangents…

That’s where this musing ends. Except it doesn’t–women have had male doctors and Ob/Gyns for forever. I’m just seeing this dance between the sexes, sexual (intended or not) and non-sexual, now with new eyes. I cherish my female friends as I do my male ones and I don’t sleep with any of them. But I am a little shocked at how quickly that detachment drained from me in that exam room.

[image credit]

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February 26th 2009

Waiting for Opportunity

Waiting for Opportunity

I’m almost certain those book publishers will be showing up at my door tomorrow or the next day.

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February 24th 2009

Unending Rooms

Unending Rooms

This collection of Daniel Chacon’s recent short fiction kept me spellbound.  My favorite moment:  the end of “Regalito” when the entire story, book, setting, planet recedes into the distance as the reader becomes the eye of the universe.  Check out Daniel’s blog at http://soychacon.blogspot.com/.

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July 14th 2008

Dan’s Got a New Book Out

Dan's Got a New Book Out

My friend Dan Chacón (on the right) has a new book coming out in November, Unending Rooms. It is a collection of some superb stories that display Dan’s quirky humor as well as his remarkably clear perception of human nature.

For those unfamiliar with Dan’s work, his first collection of stories, Chicano Chicanery, challenges notions of loyalty and friendship. In his writing chicanery is not an excuse but a reality,” according to one reviewer. The plot of his first novel, and the shadows took him, “extends like a dead man’s arm into a dysfunctional family’s life” according to a review by the San Antonio Express-News. Wry humor and a sort of quantum realism–Chacón’s extention of magical realism–pervade these stories, making them both disturbing and compelling.

Check out Dan’s web site, The Field and the Labyrinth, and his blog, At Play in the Quantum Field, the latter replete with fascinating glimpses into a writer’s consciousness. Oh, and buy his books!

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