Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bad News.......Good News.......

Sorry, folks.....

We are still trying to unplug from Europe and return to 60 cycle, 117 volt alternating current.....oh, and the whole time thing. Right now it is 9pm in California.....for my body it is 5am. I pop wide awake at 2am (10am......fucking sloth!) and start drifting off to sleep around 6pm (2am).

So it is playing havoc with posting and trying to untangle the menus and fotos and crap that we have brought back from 21 days and 18 Stars in Spain.

Therefore.....when the phone rang at 4am this morning, I was already awake.....reading a possbily dumb new novel from Robert Harris I got at Heathrow that has not yet been released in the US.

(This is the kind of prick I am......I bought the book thinking of my friend Rod, who has nine kinds of crazy cancer and is trying to hang on to life. But.....I figured I can read it in two days, and if I send it to Rod unread, maybe I won't ever see it again....Sorry, Rod.....)

This may be the indication of some kind of printed word addiction. Is there a BA....Books Anonymous?

More like TA.....Trash Anonymous. Hey, beats some of the other drugs out there.......

Back to the phone call.

It was the dreaded parental phone call......child in major distress. My youngest......the impermeable, happy child......the one wending his own way through the world, mostly independent of familial financial and housing injections....the happy child was melting down.

This is the parental nightmare just short of the call about the motorcycle crash.

Your child has discovered that the world sucks, and is looking for guidance.

After a few minutes of awful ATT cell phone reception in a critically emotional moment, I was able to communicate to him that: a) we were not in Spain, and it was not noon; b) despite being 4am we were wide awake and unsure what we should be doing; c) we were hungry; d) we were ready and willing to do whatever we could to help.

We jumped in the car and drove to meet him in Santa Cruz for a breakfast at The Santa Cruz Diner. Edward Hopper Land. A diner in Santa Cruz at 5am. Edward Hopper blended with Stanley Owseley.

All the way up we worried about what the problem could be......really.

Drugs? Alcohol? Money? Girls? Pregnant Girls? Vicious, Abusive, Rejecting Destructive Girls? Lawsuits? Unemployment? Homeless? Disease? Dead Roommates, With Needles Still Sticking Out of Their Arms?

This is what you get when you project your own life on to your children.......

To make a long story short........

Awww, fuck it......I don't have time for short stories.

YS....Youngest Son.....had only called because he thought we were still in Spain and he would not be waking us up to deal with his Dark Night Of The Soul (note extreme left wing Catholic/Spanish allusion.....St. John of the Cross......). What would have happened if he didn't call?

YS was not fact he was working four jobs. Moving books for an underground publisher, working in a state supported day care, dog walker, and private child care.....aka babysitter.

YS is healthy and lives in a wonderful big house full of intelligent, wise friends.....blocks from a major State Park, and close to both bars and a Safeway.....and a cheap Thai restaurant.

YS is still pre-drug. YS has Girl Friends that are still Friends.......

YS's problem turned out to be work related......

He works eight hours a day....well, 7.9 hours a day, so they don't have to pay him a state supported day care. One of his kids' dad just went up for life, no parole, for murder. A typical day involves juggling recovered meth addict moms with caring grandmothers who hate the daughter and plus just-released from prison, tatooed violent dads. He has 14 kids, by himself. All day.

Some of the kids are dropped off at 7am.....and left until 6pm. The parents are on welfare or in jail.....and have nothing to do all day, but count on the Great State of California to relieve them of their responsibilities so they can smoke crack and watch soaps in peace. And the moms try to chisel the extra 20 minutes out of the State by trying to get YS to falsify the sign-in log so they get their full check......even though their kids are not being watched while they take that last pipe hit before driving over.

Other kids are dropped off at the last possible second by harried parents working two jobs.....and sneaked out by the same parents on the rare day off, off the books, so they can be with their kids every second they can because they love them. YS feels pressure to falsify the sign-in log for them so they get their full check.....even though their kids are not being watched, either.

YS....raised with too much sensitivity......observes that his kids trust him more than anyone else in their lives......and still, YS has no power. YS only has the kids a few hours a day, and only for a few months before they are swept away in the legal, economic and pharmaceutical currents that envelope them.

He can't tell the parents of the preternaturally shy girl who never speaks to anyone but YS that she loves working with paper, and is beautifully gifted, and they should get her an origami book. YS can't tell the tatooed mom or drunken dad just out of the slammer of the 10 year old boy that YS watches after hours, off the books, and in danger of losing his job and being sued over.....that the kid is fascinated by American history and politics, and revels in knowing the real story of the first Thanksgiving.

"There may have been cannibalism! Because they had no food and no hope!"

Wow! Just like home...........

YS was brought to an emotional standstill because he had a momentary vision that he was having no effect in these kids' lives.....and that therefore his life was worthless.

"Dad, I just care too much! I want a job where the stress is in the moment.....not stress when you leave the job and go home.......I can't sleep! I think there is something wrong with me. I am stressing out. Not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel.....there is no tunnel!"


I can't claim tatooed or jailed parents......but we moved a lot. Seventeen schools before I got out of high school, scattered over 6,ooo miles and four states. Alcohol may have been involved, somewhere in Dad's CV.

Around about School 15, in Reno, Nevada.....I was really stuck. I moved into the mid-60's nightmare, small town social clique school.....and I was a complete fucking geek. I worked in the cafeteria. I wore Madras shirts. We just moved from Anaheim, so I could not ski, fish or shoot. I taught Catechism, and was the Bishop's altar boy. Sheesh. Even the Bishop didn't grope me.

Part of the curriculum for everyone was to study a semester of every language: Latin, Spanish, German....and French. The French was a kicker.

Madame Laxalt lit up my life in three short months. She was gorgeous....always a plus with tenth, smart and she cared about her kids. She didn't care if you could say a word in French, she just wanted us to ACT French. Each class started with a Pepe LePew cartoon....and everyone was required to talk lak Pepe LePew.....even if your French failed you. Classes were a riot, almost literally. Mme Laxalt unleashed pent-up adolescent hormones in search of higher learning.....and set all of us on fire. We did skits, we did plays, we made costumes, we laughed......and never realized that it was work and study. It became part of us......

I got A's.

At midterm, we moved to New Jersey, and I got F's in my new class.

We moved again.....luckily..... and I went back to A's, and finished with an 800 SAT French score.

I struggled as an engineer in college, but somehow passed a graduate course in philosophy, conducted in French by a loony named Jacques Derrida. I got an only A in college.

At the depths of misery over my failing career as an engineer, I met a lunatic Frenchman in a cornfield and wound up working in a French restaurant.......and from there on to France, and Switzerland, and French restaurants in New York.....and le voila. Here I am.

Last week in Spain we took the day off to go back over the border to Baigorry in France. There is almost no border, Basque country. Everyone is related and they all speak Basque anyway. The big difference is the "Eskerrek asko" (thank you) becomes "Mila esker" (a thousand thanks) in France. In Spanish Basque country they speak Spanish to the white folks, and don't admit to French. In French Basque country they speak French, and don't admit to Spanish.

Mila esker.

I still struggle with Spanish. I can conduct high level meetings with agricultural ministers about importing Basque apple cultivars.....and I can referee and coach soccer, and do anything in a kitchen and order anything in a dining room.....but I struggle, and I am still constantly on edge at least a little.

Alcohol helps.


So, anyway.....we went over the Pyrenees to Baigorry for Amanda's soup in the beautiful working class country inn that she loves....and I spoke French.

As soon as we sat down, and the owner came for our order (in the pricky French way not admitting that we come there every fucking January.....and she knows us, goddammit) I literally felt the language wash over me like a warm bath. I relaxed and just spoke, and I could feel the French culture just seep into my bones and I could feel it in the air and breathe it into my lungs....

I was completely at home, and completely comfortable......and I teared up.

This was a gift from Madame Laxalt.....laying ticking away there all this time. A gift that possibly took 90 days to transfer back in 1964, but I suspect took much less time. A gift of joy, fun, comfort in another people's culture, history, quirks....a gift of self-confidence.....a mind expansion that changed my life.

Madame Laxalt was married to Robert Laxalt, now dead. His brother is Paul, former governor of Nevada and Reagan Kitchen Cabinet member. Madame and Robert wrote a sweet book about Basque country....."The Land of My Fathers", that you have to have if you ever go near Basque Country. As I sat eating my beautiful five course French country meal (12 euros, including a litre of wine each) I realized that Madame was from Baigorry....

Goosebumps....I was a wreck.....

So, now....a week later.....sitting across from my Youngest Son who is having a near breakdown because he cares too much about his job.....and fears that his small contact with his charges is hugely meaningless in their lives.....

I was so fucking proud......I was sorry for his pain, and worried for him.....

But it was like being handed a Harvard diploma......

My kid hates his job because he cares too much about it, and fears he is not doing enough to help his people......

Merci....merci bien, Madame Laxalt.....


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