Corpse in the street

The last time I wrote about a cat, a reader was upset because she felt I showed insufficient respect because the cat was dead. I admit speculating about the possibility of my being able to swing it around in my front yard, which is smaller than many living rooms, “room enough to swing a dead cat” being a unit of volume I seem to remember from the works of Mark Twain, the specifics of which I had often wondered about.

This time I was in my room about to go out front to wait for a ride to see Sorin at 1078 when I heard a cat scream, a fairly common occurrence in my neighborhood. Sometimes they fight just outside my bedroom window, and I didn’t pay much attention to it.

When I went out on the porch, I could see that my ride wasn’t there yet and that in the street directly in front of me was dark mass with a small, blurry white something slightly waving to and fro. It was a rather large cat, and one of its white paws was still moving. I say still moving, because by the time I’d gotten a flashlight and went out to it, the only movement was its fur blowing in the breeze.

I could see all the blood around its head and that its essence had moved on and left a bloody corpse in front of my house. Damn. My ride was due any minute, and I wanted just to leave it, but there was no way it wasn’t gonna be run over soon and make a much bigger mess than it was already, and my ride would be aiming for just that spot. It was one of those times when I wished I had a husband to do the dirty work.

So I found the right shovel and while I was struggling to scrape, shove, and lug it out of the way yet visible to passersby, a fresh corpse being remarkably limp and pliable and hard to deal with—dead weight—a cyclist rode slowly by. He noticed what was going on and continued on his way.

While I was standing in my driveway leaning on the shovel, the cyclist came back and asked me if I was all right. Maybe he thought it had been my cat, maybe not, but that a stranger, probably not even a perfect one, had enough compassion and kindness to find out whether I was managing to handle an ex-cat touched me, and I thanked him.

The next day I learned that my immediate neighbors’ cats were all accounted for, and that night when I took the bins out to the street I laid the stiffened corpse on top of our trash headed for the Neal Road landfill, my cat cemetery of choice. I hope it wasn’t your cat.

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Everything is cool, there’s nothing to worry about, and it ain’t never gonna be over. Everything passes away. Eventually your molecules and things will do something else, become something else.

There’s apparently a Buddhist practice that involves a prospective monk spending some weeks or months with a decaying corpse, as a reminder of the transience of all forms, including his. I can see how hanging out with a decaying corpse could teach me things I maybe couldn’t learn any other way, and as it happens I am hanging out with a decaying pre-corpse—my body. I’m not dying any faster than necessary. It’s just that my contemplation of anicha in Pali, anissa in Sanskrit, focuses on the body as the most immediate evidence of the impermanence of all things, all forms, so I’m probably paying more attention to my body than I have since I learned to masturbate.

An upside of death is that I won’t have to buy and wear clothes any more—I’m very tired of buying and wearing clothes—and still I can’t bear to part with a twenty-year-old T-shirt from a nonprofit magazine I once edited. Stuff ought to be easier to get rid of, it being transient whether I keep it or not, but when I see that old shirt I remember wild-eyed discussions with our art director about the logo, and my son sleeping in a car seat in my office while I read manuscripts on Saturday mornings while my wife slept in, and how the publisher became my favorite geezer. I’m not detached enough to get rid of that shirt, and whoever manages to survive me is just gonna have to lump it. That’s one T-shirt’s story, and I have many, many more. I’d hate to have to go through my stuff after I’m gone. I hope that’s not required. I don’t like leaving a mess for my family to deal with, but that’s the only thing likely to happen.

My mother wanted a conventional funeral and burial, and when she died I had her cremated. Her ashes are still in my closet. I’m gonna make some specific bequests from my books to people I think will appreciate them, but I don’t expect to have any effect on anything once I’m dead. Not many people will care about my typography titles. Mysteries, a few; style guides, fewer.

As it happens, my fretting about what a mess I’ll leave when I buy the farm is also impermanent, and when I take three or six or twenty deep slow breaths all is well right now.

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I decided in my mid-thirties I had to get away from Chicago, no matter the cost. I’d discovered cycling a couple of years before and was working as a bicycle mechanic, and more than anything else I liked to ride a bicycle. Bicycle touring was the answer.

Over the next year and a half I gathered together a suitable bicycle piece by piece, buying everything individually, from the spokes to the brake cables.

I built the wheels first, because I could use them on the bike I had. An old racer I met at the Schwinn school had told me that the simplest way to upgrade a bike was with better wheels, and he was dead right. My new wheels were so much lighter and better than the ones I was used to that they served as daily encouragement for me to keep scrimping and saving and adding to my kit.

I’d been camping only once before, and then with five other people who knew what they were doing, so I didn’t learn much of anything other than Wisconsin Dells is crowded in the summer.

I finally got the last of my stuff and was anxious to try out my gear. I decided to ride to Illinois Beach State Park and camp overnight. My girlfriend would pick me up the next morning.

I don’t remember how long it took me to ride the 70 miles with loaded panniers and a trailer to Zion, Illinois. Let’s call it all day, the last couple of hours in light sleet. Did I say this was in November? I got there after dark and pitched my tent by flashlight.

I’d been asleep a couple of hours when a park ranger rousted me because I wasn’t in an approved campsite. Mind you, when I got to the park, there were no other people or shelters in sight, and no lights of any kind except my flashlight. He made me move maybe fifty yards away, where I re-pitched my tent.

I learned later that it got down to 28 degrees that night, surprising the weatherman and me. Suffice it to say that I at least had plenty of confidence in my equipment.

In the spring I flew to Minneapolis and then rode west, shedding weight whenever I could, including way too much fuel for my stove. I loved my trailer, and still do, but it made it easy for an inexperienced camper to carry too much stuff. I’m a lot more restrained now.

Everything about that month on the road was harder than I’d imagined, from climbing hills in the rain to dealing with mosquitoes, Minnesota’s unofficial state bird. The farm dogs and rednecks in pickups weren’t much fun, either.

I loved being outside all day, and being self-propelled, and the quiet away from cities, and not having to talk to anybody much, and the beauty of the Earth, and not knowing what the next day would be like. I still love all that and more.

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A couple of months after I graduated to widowerhood, a friend of mine in Minneapolis sent me a link to a dating web site. I have good friends who have been together for many years and who met that way. I can understand how it could work just fine. I tried a personal ad once in Chicago in the early eighties and once in the Twin Cities, with poor results, and I know that’s not much of a sample.

I’m not looking. I was curious, though, so I signed up, and let me tell you, there are a lot of women on the hunt between Sacramento and Redding, which is where most of my candidates live. Every day I get an email with nine little profile pictures of women, usually of her though sometimes obscuring her face, which I don’t quite get. One woman’s picture was of only the top half of her face. Why would she do that? Maybe she has a beard.

Most of the images are slapdash snapshots and don’t do their subjects any favors, which is good. Give me the truth right away. With each picture is the woman’s screen name, home city, and age. So far they’ve been mostly in their 50s and 60s, which makes sense, now and then a 40- or 70-something, and once a lost 38. Now and then there’s a picture of an obviously younger woman that’s apparently how she still thinks of herself. I don’t want to fool anybody, though, and I think I’d use the ugliest photo of me I could manage, so if we picked each other maybe she’d be pleasantly surprised.

For the compatibility questions, I was to answer for myself and also say what I’d want my date to pick. So I could value appearance and want my date to value personality. Some criteria, like smoking or drinking, could be reasonable starting points for winnowing the crop. Others might easily be irrelevant. I’ve been involved with women with children and, believe me, whether a relationship would be hindered by having children at home depends entirely on the children in question.

All that’s academic, because I’m not ready to take an online plunge like that. I don’t know that I’ll ever be. So far the whole process feels too strange and removed to be engaging, but I’m not ruling it out. I love women and enjoy their company. That’s been true forever and has nothing to do with my emotional state. Maybe I’ll put that in my profile, except I’m not looking.

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I do not favor gun control. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a free gun causing trouble. With the potential for fatal violence always there in a gun’s nature, it tends to sit in stillness, accepting all possibility, like a sharp rock. If guns were left alone to follow their natural bents, I’m sure guns wouldn’t hurt us.

I approve of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Since our system of evermore restriction seems to guarantee eventual revolt, we’re gonna need a way to discourage the goons when they come for us.

Actually, I don’t mean “we.” When the barricades, figurative or otherwise, go up, I’m not gonna be there. My barricade-manning days were long ago, and now I’d just get in the way. Since I want the revolution to succeed, I’d do us all a favor and stay the hell away—it’ll be my grandchildren at the barricades, not me.

I also favor the elimination of guns entirely. I can’t get with most no-gunners because I can’t think of anything sillier than restricting guns to government, and I’ve been trying. No guns, fine. Guns only for goons, no thank you.

If that means now and then a bunch of cute little children get murdered at school, too bad. We could’ve at least harvested their organs. The same governments that collude in sending drones to kill random strangers require that our children be sent to learn the approved world view all together at the same time, which is why they’re sitting ducks. If kids were with their families or off learning something they wanted to know, it wouldn’t be nearly so easy to take them out en masse, like Newtown and Virginia Tech and the rest.

Fear is popular, usually masquerading as security. Since the people afraid of being shot down on the street haven’t actually been shot down, although I guess a former victim might turn crusader, the fear, as usual, is of something that’s never happened.

I have a rather astonished love for us people and our capacity for creation, inevitably including virtually boundless stupidity. If government were perfect, it wouldn’t need guns. Since government clearly isn’t perfect, people should have guns, too. Maybe not crazy people.

I got this far with chasing the thoughts about guns stumbling around in my head when I was inspired. I left my computer and lay on my bed in the sun, where I soon remembered that all I have to do about the gun issue is keep an open heart, the only thing I have to do about anything. You, too.

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Bill Burr

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I was having one of those days. I’m tempted to say a “bad” day. I won’t, though, because the day was fine, as always. It’s just that I kept getting this lump in my throat and my eyes would tear up and there I’d be, weepy and useless.

I’ve come not to mind weepy. It feels completely natural, not to mention overwhelming anyway, and I don’t resist it when it shows up. I can’t help thinking that I have to be useful, though, even that I ought to be more useful than ever. I have children and responsibilities that go along with them, even if they’re taller than I am. Their hunting and gathering skills are coming along nicely, and meanwhile I’m still vomiting into their mouths so they don’t starve to death.

I found a good distraction, something that would occupy my mind and maybe give me an idea for From the Edge. It’s a quotation I’ve had in my collection for years about “the Negroes,” allegedly from William Faulkner’s The Bear, that attempts to explain the narrator’s perceptions and judgments about them. That’s the ticket—I could verify the quote.

I don’t know where I found the quotation, and although I have a lot of faith in the anarchy of the online world, I’d feel better if I could see the actual words or a reliable attribution on paper in a real book.

I could go to the corporate bookstore in town, except it’s not so much a bookstore as a game-gadget-coffee shop-book store, and since Faulkner hasn’t been on anybody’s bestseller list this century and when he was it wasn’t for The Bear, I feel I’m unlikely to find what I’m looking for there.

I love Lyon Books, on 5th Street across from the plaza, a terrific bookstore for its size, and there’s a chance I could score there, but you could get every book in the building on one wall of The Bookstore in downtown Chico, and that’ll be my first stop.

Like a lot of us, The Bookstore is in money trouble, and the thought that soon it might not be there doesn’t bear thinking about. The Bookstore an intellectual compost pile and recycling at its best. I seldom favor one business over another, and generally I oppose public money aiding and abetting anybody’s capitalist venture, but this time I think we should fire the cop with the most citizen complaints and give the money to The Bookstore. Crime’s down—no problem. Help The Bookstore by giving them money, in person at 118 Main Street or via www.indiegogo/ilovebooks. By the way, they had what I was looking for.

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I’m having a good day. First, The New Yorkers came. I get two copies every week because my wife and I had our own subscriptions.

When we were first married, I would sometimes look for my New Yorker and find it on her nightstand and sometimes not find it at all until she showed up to tell me where it was. We had reached one of those stages in a marriage when, unbeknownst to the parties involved, something big was about to happen. Actually, it was unbeknownst to Janice and knownst to me.

I was an only child, and once an only child, always an only child. It doesn’t seem to be something I’ll outgrow, like an allergy. Although I don’t usually mind sharing my toys, and I can too play well with others, I want my New Yorker when I want it and wherever I put it last. I’ll share money and food and most other things, but leave my magazine alone, except for Janice.

At that point in our relationship and my life I wasn’t gonna tell my mate to keep her mitts off my mag. I was 45 or -6 and still not mature enough to tell her no. Like diamonds, retardation is forever, as are mates, so I bought my wife her own subscription.

The New Yorker’s arrival makes for a good day because I know I’ll find something good to read—quite possibly something to laugh at, at least the cartoons—and I’m reminded of other useful things I did with and for Janice, which suggests that her life with me maybe wasn’t unending misery and I just didn’t know the difference.

A good thing about winter in our house is that the walnut tree is bare and the sun is low enough to get under the roof overhang, so the back rooms get direct sun, which doesn’t happen in other seasons except for a few minutes just after daybreak. I can actually lie on my bed in full sun and about 10 ayem that’s what I’ll be doing.

Meanwhile I’ve got a jalapeño-cheddar bialy waiting for me, and the little chocolate things Jeannie sent from Minneapolis are killer, melt in your mouth and caress it on the way out. Outside it’s rainy, windy, and Chico-cold, a perfect time to be inside.

I’m grateful for all this comfort—no fear to speak of and not a figurative cloud in sight. I have pleasant memories, positive expectations, and warmth on command. I’m even grateful for PG&E.

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Quotations, 2013

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.   Carl G. Jung (1875–1961)

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.   Annie Dillard (1945– )

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.   Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948)

Men are men, but Man is a woman.   Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936)

If others seem deceitful to you, it is because you deceive yourself, and then project this outward upon others.   Seth

Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel.   Anonymous

A beauty is a woman you notice, a charmer is a one who notices you.   Adlai Ewing Stevenson (1900–1965)

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.   Wayne W. Dyer (1940– )

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.   Neale Donald Walsch (1943– )

If you can learn to make the mind still, it will be the greatest help to the world.   Ajahn Chah (1918–1992)

The function of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.   Sǿren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.   Yiddish proverb

The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.   David Foster Wallace (1962–2008)

The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.   Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998)

Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.   Seng-Ts’an ( ? –606)

He will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little.   Horace (65–8 BCE)

We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available for it.   Lauryn Hill (1975– )

Think enough and you won’t know anything.   Kenneth Patchen (1911–1972)

When you can look at yourself the same way you do a sunset, or a puppy, you are seeing clearly.   Seth

What most of us think of as fear is primarily a mental process of imagining situations that do not exist in the moment.   Cheri Huber (1944– )

Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with a feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is.   Mark Nepo (1951– )

There comes a time in every man’s life, and it usually does.   Yogi Berra (1925– )

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American prisons: Slavery by the back door

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Jon Gomm

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Maybe the last about Janice

I was talking to a friend recently about grief. His girlfriend committed suicide several years ago, and he’s still dealing with it. I suppose suicide colors everything, though I have no clue how, and even if I knew I wouldn’t know what that meant to the people affected, each of us being unique and all.

His lover died quickly and unexpectedly; my wife died slowly and predictably—way different experiences for all concerned, and still the ragged holes left by their exits are remarkably similar. The world seems incomplete.

Of course, the world is always complete and changing continuously. It’s just that right in through here my world includes an unpredictable feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, like anticipating something that’s already over.

Several times a day I’ll read something or think of something that I want to tell Janice or show her or ask her about, and I can’t. I remember right away that I can’t ever see or touch her again, and that can take some time. If I’m thinking about something else—or, better yet, not thinking at all—I’m not remembering and feeling sad about her pegging out. I guess if my memory were better I wouldn’t forget that she’s not here and then have to remember it over and over and be suddenly sad over and over.

I know that Janice is fine, that her essence is ebullient and joyful. We shared that certainty, and that thought, no matter how certain, is nothing like having a real human right here for a long time and then gone. Her stuff is all over the place and there’s nobody to ask what ought to happen to it. I pick up a likely pile of apparently random papers and folders and want to ask Janice what to do with it and then all over again I have to remember she’s dead.

I’ve nearly finished with the paperwork of dying, toting around the death certificate or faxing it somewhere and signing here and initialing there and, “I’m sorry for your loss.” “Me too.”

The day before she died was the first time she was unresponsive to me. Her vitality had been diminishing for months, faster lately. She hadn’t said much for a couple of weeks, sometimes a word in my ear I could make out, no more.

Near the end I thought I could still tell what she wanted. She had no words and didn’t need them. Sometimes I think maybe I was fooling myself at the end, and she was miserable and a captive to my incompetence. I don’t think that often, which is just as well.

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A good turn

We didn’t have a car in the autumn of 2002. Janice had just gotten back from taking the boys on a tour of the northwest’s graduate schools, stopping in Chico last, and nobody was looking forward to a carless Minnesota winter.

Then at a reception for a group show Janice was in, a friend of ours said he might know of a car we could get for nothing. It belonged to a neighbor of his, and he thought there might not be much wrong with it. I had heard the not much wrong with it line before, and I still went to see the car’s family a couple of days later. The woman who owned the car and her husband turned out to be lawyers with their hearts in the right place, like Andy Holcombe. They signed the title over to me, gave me a fat folder of repair receipts, and wished me luck. She said she’d smelled gasoline in the passenger compartment, and that’s how she knew it was time to move on.

I didn’t want to drive a bomb, but if I could get it home and find a way to pay for the necessary repairs and insurance, we’d have a car. It had been sitting closed up for some days, and inside it reeked of gasoline. On the other hand, I had the title in my pocket, so I fired it up and drove home with the windows down in December in Minneapolis. It sat until I could drive it to a repair shop with any hope of paying at least for the diagnosis, and the fix was I think $82.00.

It was a good runner, and still is. While we were on a camping trip in our godawful Taurus wagon, the Civic even got itself stolen. A few days after we got back I saw it in a vacant lot a few blocks away, and the replacement ignition made it a two-key Honda ever after.

The godawful Taurus soon expired, and when we moved I drove the Civic from Minneapolis to Chico with all of us in it. Fortunately the boys were much smaller. So was I.

It’s taken us camping and retreating and to Chico Country Day and Bidwell Junior High and Pee Vee and Butte College and Los Angeles. I’ve never had a car nearly this long in my life, and now it’s got to go.

Since it was given to me, I’m giving it to KZFR—which can use the money—a good next step for a good old car.

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As Janice got sicker over the summer, I gradually stopped talking on my phone. It was always a crappy little thing and then it started dropping more calls than it completed and I couldn’t deal with its transmission delay that doesn’t allow normal conversation and having to say everything at least twice and go stand by the window and hope for the best.

I guy I know had been calling me frequently when he was in his cups, three-to-six sheets to the wind. He might bitch about a perceived slight or brag about the latest freelance job he’d gotten. Boisterous and given to hyperbole, he’s a decent guy and means no harm. We hardly ever agreed on anything, and I don’t think he ever noticed.

I know it was the stress of taking care of Janice that decreased my tolerance for technology, that and what callers usually wanted to talk about I didn’t want to discuss. I knew it then, and I didn’t care, so I told my friends that I might call them back, but I was through answering every call, and that email, being quiet and patient, was my preferred means of communication.

The fellow in question used to leave voicemails that said he only wanted to chat, which I’d guessed anyway. I sent him an email saying that I wasn’t chatting for the foreseeable future, and, if he had something important to convey to me, email was his best bet. I thought that was that.

At the end of one especially long day, with many people coming and going, I had finally gotten Janice settled for sleep and finished my chores and was lying on the bed. As I tried to gather what energy and wits I had left in order to read aloud to her, a gift she loved, my phone rang. Usually on vibrate, my phone had been set to ring so I wouldn’t have to carry it around with me, and it went off maybe a foot from my ear.

I tried to tell my stupid phone to ignore the call, thus sending the call straight to voicemail and ending the racket on my nightstand. Instead, by accident I answered the call. I broke the connection a couple of seconds later, hoping he wouldn’t notice, and then turned my phone off for the night.

The next morning I got an indignant email from him declaring his outrage and assuring me that I needn’t “worry ’bout me callin’ no damn more.” Yes, he actually wrote ’bout and callin’, and yes, I was relieved, like being unsubscribed.

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Hot water

Abraham-Hicks talks about allowing one’s inner guidance to work and actually guide one’s behavior, rather than paying so much attention to what others say and whatever passes for conventional wisdom. I think of tuning in to my inner guidance as pretty much the same as being here and now and attentive to whatever presents itself, always a good idea.

Esther Hicks used to relate an experience of hers to illustrate the point. It seems Esther found herself in a hotel room wanting, I think, a shower. She turned on what she expected to be the hot water and got cold instead. She expected hot water because, at least in the United States, hot water is found on the left. If there are separate knobs for hot and cold, the hot is on the left. If there’s only one control knob or dial or lever, turning it counterclockwise or pointing it to the left brings hot water. That’s what I expect when confronted with an unfamiliar faucet anyway.

So Esther let what she thought was the hot water run and run and still got only cold water. Then, in desperation I suppose, she turned on what should have been cold water and got hot water at last. She then congratulated herself on being able to ignore her unexamined and erroneous premises and get what she wanted in spite of them. I’ve heard that story any number of times, but it’s not something I had ever thought much about.

Last week I found myself staying in the unoccupied apartment of a friend, and after a nine-hour drive from Chico I wanted a shower. Yes, I turned on what I thought was the hot water and got cold. I let it run—still cold. Since the apartment was in a large complex, there was no telling how far the heated water had to travel, and who knew if the pipes were insulated well enough to keep the water hot until it got to me? The owner hadn’t stayed there in a while, so maybe the glitch had gone unnoticed, and I couldn’t very well complain on her behalf, so too bad about a hot shower—cold was the best I could do. That’s what I was thinking.

The next day I remembered Esther’s incident and turned on what should have been the cold water and without even letting it run the water was warm right away. I could’ve done that before, but I was on automatic pilot, and my automatic pilot is as goofy as yours. That’s it. I’m sticking to manual from here on.

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John Bidwell

I recently went on a Native American Historical Walk on the Chico State campus. I’d heard and read a little about the history of Chico and John and Annie Bidwell, but not much. I ran across the party line just after we moved here, namely that John Bidwell, a brave soldier and noble human being, pretty much created Chico out of the wilderness, planting thousands of trees and being nice to the Indians in the process.

John was a goon in the Mexican-American war and rose to the rank of major; he was a Major goon. Later he became a General goon in the California militia. A school principal in his late teens, he was an early invader on the California Trail, a lucky gold miner, and the recipient of large land grants near what is now Chico. He was also a politician—California Senator, US Congressman, and Prohibition Party candidate for President.

The talk on the walk was mostly the usual litany of aggression against Native Americans in every way possible. For a while the Indians weren’t disappearing fast enough to satisfy state government so, as a capitalist institution, it began paying for Native American scalps as a way of encouraging people to kill them, social engineering with a vengeance.

When John Bidwell bought Rancho Arroyo Chico the thousands of people who lived there were more or less part of deal, and he used them as workers on his ranch. He doesn’t seem to have been without compassion for Native Americans and was rumored to have had an Indian wife and child before Annie showed up, which seems reasonable if unproven.

John Bidwell was smart and gutsy, and he didn’t miss many chances to increase his fortune and power. He got the local Native Americans to opt out of the Federal Indian Treaty of 1851 and to stay and work for him rather than move to the reservation where they were being promised provisions from the federal government. He didn’t come through with what he’d promised, though, and he wrote to national politicians opposing the treaty, which was never ratified by the US Senate or the California legislature, leaving the Mechoopda Maidu and other California Indians in the trick bag. Many tribes are still not officially recognized and miss out on the rights and privileges that go along with that recognition.

John Bidwell also introduced buffalo grass and casaba melons to California and was influential in the anti-hydraulic mining movement. I was prepared to judge Bidwell harshly, but I don’t think I will. He was just quite a guy.

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Thanks for asking

For months now people have been asking me how I’m doing. I’m okay. Before my wife got sick and died, if anybody casually asked how I was I’d say, “Fine.” I wouldn’t think much about it, if at all. I’d just say, “Fine.”

“Fine” wasn’t based on any detailed examination of my states of mind and body. I’d just do my usual scan: No exploding metal falling from the sky? No suppurating wounds or unsightly growths? No imminent starvation? No intractable pain? Then I’m fine. I could be fine even in those situations, and so without them I’m definitely in good shape.

Then people would ask how I was because they knew something about caregiving. I’d sometimes say, “I don’t see a good place to fall so I’m still standing,” which was fairly accurate. Caregiving was tiring, stressful, all-new, and chock-full of opportunities to judge myself, but I had nothing to compare me to so I just did my best and did better when I could.

I’ve heard that somebody has divided grieving into numbered stages, which is usually a silly, simple-minded thing to do and very popular. I don’t know what stage I’m in. Although a lifelong bookworm, I didn’t think to bone up for grieving. I’ve known for a long time that Janice was likely to die soon, but I was king of denial, and now I’m too busy grieving to read about it. My official position is that I’m doing all right and in the proper stage for my age and vocabulary.

About a month after Janice left me to my own devices I began to notice changes in my emotions. Waves of sadness still took me over, but not so often, maybe a couple of times a day. Then a week ago I had a string of days of no tears. I’d choke up, moist eyes, no tears. I felt guilty, which I see now was quite an achievement, and suitably short-lived.

Recently I was going home after some death-related administrative chore with my widower briefcase when the Godzilla of Grief got me in my car outside the Humboldt Has Beans. I spent the next several minutes sobbing uncontrollably, which phrase I now know as more than just a figure of speech, while I waited for a tow truck because my car wouldn’t start. The Godzilla of Grief is a cold-blooded mother.

A friend distributed Janice’s clothes, so I have only her notes and files and books and art and supplies and equipment to deal with. Piece of cake next to Godzilla.

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A writer friend of mine asked me about the most dangerous or crazy thing my sons had done. Although my memory doesn’t come with a guarantee, I couldn’t think of a single thing, other than their not allowing enough prep and travel time, which sometimes strikes me as crazy.

Then again, crazy in retrospect, and in the moment, was the time my son got me handcuffed on our lawn in Minneapolis. I suppose it was dangerous, too, because the government goon who put the handcuffs on me had a large pistol. The one with him also had a large pistol. I didn’t, which is one reason I was handcuffed on my own lawn.

I had an armload of laundry when he rang the bell and ordered me to drop it and come outside with him. So I did. Goons are fearful, paranoid, and well armed, so I listened as he put the cuffs on me behind my back and had me kneel on the grass.

He told me that someone had called the special number from our phone and then immediately hung up. That is why men with guns wanted me to kneel on the lawn in handcuffs. The government just wanted to check things out.

By this time the other agent had learned that one of the several children inside the house had called the special number to see what would happen. My five-year-old had learned about the special number at his government school, apparently decided that not knowing what would happen if he called the number was in itself an emergency, and dialed it.

I suppose that’s when he realized that there actually was no emergency and he had nothing to say, and so hanging up was the logical next step. He was right, and that hang-up led to me kneeling on the lawn in handcuffs.

As the damp from the lawn chilled my knees, a couple of neighbors drifted over. Then Janice showed up and asked loudly for an explanation. This was all many years ago, back when you could ask a goon a question without risk of bodily harm and prison and expect a civil answer. As he released me the goon said that whenever a “Nine eleven hangup” happens a couple of agents go to the house—they can find out where you live—and put handcuffs on whoever comes to the door. No matter what else they might decide to do, standard procedure is to put cuffs on the schmuck who says hello. We didn’t believe them either.

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Robert Waggoner on lucid dreaming

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Another election

When the first of the political flyers showed up, I put them straight in the recycling basket, along with the envelopes with no return address or that say I’ve been pre-approved or ask for the favor of a response or that think they know what I’m thinking.

A few weeks ago I started throwing political propaganda in a basket next to the mail box, and just now it weighed in at one point six pounds. That’s not including the massive California voter information guide, which I deeply appreciate, or Butte County’s sample ballot, which is also handy.

The political news that seeps into my awareness makes it clear that money determines the winner, which means that the capitalists will always win because only capitalists are allowed to run. If money isn’t the most important thing in the universe to you, then it’s too bad for you and your delusions. You’re out of touch with reality.

Of course, quite the opposite seems to be the case, that our happiness and satisfaction have nothing to do with money, ours or anybody’s.

The California propositions are tricky, often being oddly worded and deceptively pitched on behalf of hidden backers. Fortunately the Cops Voter Guide set me straight on a few propositions I’d been thinking about—34, 36, and 37, among others. The Cops Voter Guide, which cries out for an apostrophe, suggests that more prisoners, executions, and secret ingredients in our food are just what we need and the sooner the better. I admit I expected the Cops Voter Guide to be paranoid and authoritarian, and so I played my part in it being all that, but the flyer was arranged for and designed weeks ago without my knowledge or help, and I’m trying to do better with my thoughts.

The CVG also endorsed Ann Schwab and Tami Ritter, toward whom I’d been leaning. I don’t know what to think about that, but I prefer candidates that the cops don’t like.

Chico Conservation Voters, a usually sound bunch, says Yes on Propositions 34, 36, and 37, in contrast to the Cops Voter Guide, and then endorses Ann Schwab and Tami Ritter, lucky for them because I was wavering.

As for national offices, I’m revising my 70’s-era “no white men” guideline into a “no capitalists” rule. Anybody who thinks any budget is the most important thing in life isn’t somebody I’m ever gonna vote for, at least not until he gets past conventional wisdom and into therapy. I’m tempted to vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, and I may, but right now I’d like to see Roseanne Barr as President, maybe enough to make Cindy Sheehan veep, maybe not.

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