Saturday, June 03, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation.....

In our weird life you never know when you are going to be busy and when you will be dead. We worked every day in November, for god’s sake……It stands to reason that outdoor caterers in California will be busy when it stops raining, but last month was nuts. We did not just work every day……we worked dawn to midnight every day. Customer service went to hell…..but I tell my brides up front: “We are Jimmy Stewart, not Martha Stewart…..and it is a World War II black and white bombing movie……” We can no longer pretend to care about matching the exact hue in the blood oranges in the first course salad to the bridesmaids’ dresses or the cover linen on the tables.

The May Pace only cost me two old customers and friends: one of fifteen years, one of thirty. I always hold out this faint hope that my friends and my customers, and especially those that are both, will understand (especially after more than one or two or three decades) that we focus on one event at a time, and just in time. We are really good at what we do, but if you need hand-holding…..up your medication. And if you choose to bitch at us, and get demanding and lay on guilt trips……get in line behind Ameriquest, Jaguar and the I.R.S.

Because we don’t get deliveries in Cachagua I have to personally pick up all of my food. It involves a lot of driving, since we are forty minutes from town….at best. Since there is no decent music radio on the Central Coast, I listen to KRXA 540 AM progressive radio…and KGO, and KCBS….and a little KPIG. A lot of radio… least three hours a day and sometimes six or eight.

Working as much as we do there is perverse expectation that should be some justice in the world. We try to fight for decent and sustainable fish and meat and produce, and despair at our workers’ (and our own) idea of health care planning and retirement: don’t get sick….. and die on the job.

This may be the 21st Century, but Charles Dickens would be right at home on our jobsite.

Anyway, back last winter I saw a foto of a gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. It was of a kid from Rhode Island who had been killed in Iraq on the day before his 21st birthday….and his birthday happened to be the same as my youngest son, Dylan. April 18th, 1985. The kid’s buddies try to make sure that there is always a can of Budweiser on the kid’s grave……

First off….fucking Budweiser? In a can? Jesus wept……

Anyway….I was really moved by the image. I have spent the major portion of my life trying to engage young people in the world: soccer, cooking, catering, cars, motorcycles, foreign countries, music, art…..(my crew MADE beer for their high school graduations....Porn Star Porter…..). The image of this kid fighting for his country…..and dying….before he could legally drink a beer in one of the commercial establishments he was fighting to protect…..just flattened me.

And my former friend Nigel…..also a victim of The May Pace, come to think of it…..had sent me images of the Veterans for Peace Arlington West memorial on the beach in Santa Monica. One cross for each dead kid, in the sand, in perfect rows and columns….every Sunday morning. I thought that locally, where our kids die not by insurgent gunfire and bombs but by self-inflicted gunshots and hanging and car crashes….that we could use the reality check of the Arlington West.

I set out to find some partners in the project. Like a good caterer I laid out the project first. At the time: 2200 deaths. I figured a three foot cross with a twelve inch crossbar….figure six inches in the sand (I was thinking Carmel Beach). This came to 10,000 linear feet of wood! Fuck me. Plus the screws and the idea of packing and moving crosses. Fuck.

I thought the project might be an opportunity to bring together various disparate groups on the Peninsula. My main gripe with George Bush is his cynical use of wedge issues to divide Americans. Why could not the VFW get together with the Veterans for Peace (VFP) on a project? Shit they both fought and died together against common enemies….. Plus, CodePink and the VFP had issues, and the various flavors and colors of Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and Peace and Freedom folk……And I am a Republican! There had to be other real Republicans that would be willing to memorialize the loss of so many young souls. Nothing like a single project to bring people together.

Will Rogers always said, “I do not belong to an organized political party: I am a Democrat.” No shit, Will. It was like herding cats…..

I went to a VFP meeting at the hippy bakery in Pacific Grove. I was nervous as a cat…..because I played for the other team: I may be a Republican, but I was an Irish Republican. The officers of the organization are, no surprise, officers. The moral voice of the group is Phil Butler. Phil was a prisoner of war in Hanoi something like four years longer than John McCain. Ed Leeper, performance artist and social conscience was there. Richard Miller, author, beat, surviving patriarch of the sprawling Miller/Houston clan was there.

Phil is not a Christian, and objected strongly to the use of crosses. Truly, what Jew or Muslim wants to be memorialized by a cross? I just was interested in the visual effect, not the religious. The human eye likes regularity: lines and angles, shadows and rows……offset by the sand and sea, and with Pebble Beach in the background….

It was suggested to use tombstones. I had seen some such memorials up in Washington State. To me they looked like Halloween….Death by Disney. It was Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner….but these kids were not coming back after the Acme dynamite went off…..

Richard Miller, God bless him, took the floor. Richard lost his voice box years ago, so he growls and belches….and to listen to him you have to really LISTEN: “One of the most brutal civilizations in history was the Romans. And the most brutal method of execution they could come up with was crucifixion. So it is not necessarily a positive image if you really think about it……”

Then the discussion went on to permits and liabilities and chain of command. Officers. They agreed to help if I got permission from the City of Carmel. Howard would call the Mayor, we would form committees. And maybe we should do it at Windows on the Bay….or the Pumpkin Patch at Rio Road. And no crosses. And maybe we should get permission to use the actual names of the dead, in case the families would object……

Yeah, well….Fuck that. The whole point of an action like this is to make people uncomfortable and shock them out of their day-to-day. And it must be visually and emotionally powerful.

Sorry guys. We just did it ourselves.

Two unemployed commercial fishermen who live in the trailer park near The Store and my sons and I said “Fuck it!” In the middle of our busiest month in years we figured we could do it. Our friends in Cachagua rallied around us and……

Margaret Mead said: "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."

No donations. No politics. No flags, banners or pamphlets. No permits or permission. Just the regular citizens these kids were supposedly fighting for……. recognizing their sacrifice.

In Cachagua we are geographically and philosophically close to the monks at Tassajara. We really did not care if anyone came to witness the action....creating the memorial was enough. Most of these kids were now resting, not in beautiful Arlington, Virginia....but in dry, windswept places like Plano, Texas.....and Grand Island, Nebraska. They deserved a day in the sun on the beach with their buddies, facing ''the most beautiful meeting of earth and sea....." a block from Robinson Jeffers' house. Carmel Beach is prized by the locals for its beauty, its peace, and the spirit of contemplation it fosters. Why not share?

There you go……

We had no idea what we were getting into…..


Blogger Tanguay said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you Michael and Co. for that amazing statement. It absolutely blew me away and I wish that I had known, so I could have helped. You guys are truly the salt of this spinning globe and I am honored to know you all and live in the same community...


8:31 AM  

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