28 April 2006


Ok, so I think I'd better do something about the back yard before Alex gets lost out there!!.. (yes, for those of you not familiar, that green stuff is called grass. and yes, it is seriously about 2 feet tall) .... One of the guys from the day center is coming over tomorrow to do some yard work and, in exchange, I'm going to do a few hours of volunteer work next week at this place that refurbishes computers. Once he gets enough hours in there, he gets a used computer. It sounded like a great deal to me.... Though Alex really does love having her own private jungle.

27 April 2006

Camp Out..

As I sit here looking at this official "Carter Family Reunion Form", I can't help but compare camping in Arizona and here in the Northwest. I'm not used to the prospect of not being able to have a fire. I guess I've become horribly spoiled by living here. With all the water, the lush greenery, the vast number of places to get away from most of the people, and the almost perfect summer weather, (and strangely, almost NO mosquitoes) the only thing that is missing is the only reason I'm coming down in June, to see all of you guys..

But just to gloat a bit about the local camping situation, the above picture is taken at the place where I went camping last. This is the lower falls of the Lewis River, about 80 miles from my house. My tent was maybe 75 yards from the top of the falls, and you could hear the waterfall all night. From the campsite you can hike 3 miles to the middle and upper falls..


This is taken at another place that I've spent many a fabulous weekend. It's Swift Reservoir, about 50 miles from my house. I took this picture while standing in my campsite. Just down this little trail is the lake. It is a bit more crowded here on Friday and Saturday nights than I like, but I've often gotten one of these lake front campsites on a Sunday night. (and I wonder why I never get anything done around my house during the summer...)


And now, because a picture seems to not do it justice- Alex at the falls..

20 April 2006

Haunted, Not Saintly

There seems to be an opinion being formed by some of my friends that I feel needs to be immediately debunked.. NO! I am neither an angel nor a saint!! Yes, go ahead. Laugh. I did... But please know that I'm not the one trying to make these absurd comparisons... Yesterday while chatting online, I was first accused by E of being "a saint". Then, not two hours later during a flurry of emails, B asked me, "are you an angel? me thinks perhaps you just might be!"

(In the interest of full disclosure; E made her comments after receiving a care package from me in the mail. To celebrate her running in the Paris marathon, I'd sent her all of the things I knew she'd most want from the US; organic pasta and energy bars, spicy bloody mary mix, a movie about Scrabble, wasabi peas, and beer.. And B made hers since over the past few days I've been fortunate enough to find myself in various situations where I could help her out. For example, helping her move- while it was raining..)

But before anyone else starts to believe that I do these things solely due to some deep altruistic tendency, I feel the truth should be explained.. True, part of me does things for others because of the great examples of others (my G'ma V for instance) that influence me. However, mostly I do it because I struggle daily to cope with inescapable, sometimes overwhelming guilt. Guilt that I will live with for the rest of my life. And because of that guilt, I only seem to function properly when I'm doing things for others..

Guilty about what?? Well, it's a long story. One that begins in January of 1991. My Army unit was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Tens of thousands of Haitians had fled their country after a coup. The situation was quickly deteriorating into turmoil and so they left everything they had, climbed into whatever looked remotely seaworthy, and set off in hopes of reaching Miami. Well, we couldn't have that happen, so Bush (the elder) sent out the Coast Guard to round them up and detain them at Gitmo until they could be processed and returned to Haiti. Camps had been erected to house the "migrants" and my platoon was in charge of securing Delta Camp, a quasi jail. It was there that my view of the world was forever changed..

There were usually 10-25 people in Delta Camp. The "cells" were divided into gender and age, each with row upon row of concertina wire and an army issue tent. The people housed there weren't bad people. Some had been thought to be causing tension in the main camp, others were thought to have stolen things (though these people really only had the clothes on their backs so I don't know what they would have stolen). I found each one to be genuine and friendly, and made many friends, though we often had trouble with the language barrier.

Suddenly things in the main camp deteriorated. There were rumors of pending riots. Being locked up for months will cause even the most patient person to lose hope. In an effort to show these people who was "boss", the US Marshals were being brought in. The night before this planned show of force, I was on duty at the main gate and, as I often did, I spent my time visiting with the guys in the camp. There was one who spoke fairly good English so I asked him, "why?".. Why had they left Haiti. I really wanted to understand. He unbuttoned his shirt and showed me the recently healing bullet holes in his chest. He explained that the people who had taken charge in Haiti had come into his village. They had killed anyone who had opposed them, including most of this his family. He said he'd rather die than go back.. I assured him that "we" would take care of things and he could trust us..

We talked until it was time for them to go to bed, and I sat there the rest of the night knowing what was to happen the following morning. Knowing that our camp was being "cleared", and many of my friends, including the man with the bullet holes were to be forced onto boats and shipped back to Haiti. But, at the time, I believed in my country. I believed that we were there to help these people. We had been told that a peace keeping force was being deployed to Haiti, and soon things would be improving for these people. And with all the naiveté of a US soldier, I trusted that we were trying to do what was right..

Shortly before dawn the following day. US Marshals, in full riot gear, stormed the camp. They used zip-ties to handcuff most of them for transport. Those who had a chance, tried to resist. Several even attempted suicide, using whatever they could find to slice at their wrists and necks (we kept any harmful objects from them so their attempts were in vain, and the wounds were just superficial).. I wasn't on duty, but I took my camera and went to the dock. There, I watched my friends, still handcuffed, being marched up the ramp to the boat. And I trusted that we were doing the right thing..

A few weeks later, I spent my day off in the main camp. A friend of mine from another platoon showed me around. I had such a great time. The people were so friendly, especially the kids. Some of them had fashioned utility belts from ropes and juice boxes, then constructed MP bands from cardboard and walked around imitating us. My friend also took me to the "orphanage", a separate camp for unaccompanied minors. I spoke to a young man who was about 9, asking him where his family was. He looked at me with a blank expression on his face and told me that they'd been killed. I had my friend take a picture of me with this young man, then handed him a 50 cent piece that I'd long been carrying in my pocket, and walked away believing that we were going to help him..

When my unit returned to Louisiana, we were given "Humanitarian Service" medals for the way we had treated the Haitians during our deployment. And I went about my life feeling proud of a job well done... Then, 5 years later, reality reached out and knocked me in the stomach..

I was driving long haul in my new life as a trucker. One night while picking up a load of Clairol in Connecticut, I recognized a familiar accent. I was signing for paperwork and asked the shipping clerk where he was from. He said he was from Haiti, and I proceded to tell him of my time at Gitmo and of the nice people I had met there. He looked at me with such contempt that I was taken aback. He then told me that those people we had sent back to Haiti had mostly "disappeared". They'd been killed by the coup that had wrecked such havoc there, though some had been imprisoned. Those people, my friends who I had grown to love, had never been "helped" as I had assured them they would be, and I am still unable to process the fact that most of them are probably dead.. How could I have been so stupid? What had I been a part of??

I know that rationale deems that what happened was not my fault. That I'd just been following orders and had done what I could to help these people. Still, I know I will be forever haunted by their memory. Haunted mainly by a ghost named Thibadeaux.

Thibadeaux was one of the men who was at Delta Camp during the entire time I was assigned there. He spoke no English, but was often quick to offer a smile as he walked around camp with his bible.. I keep his photo on the sideboard in my dining room. I do this as a reminder of just how lucky I am. Every day I wake knowing the value of everything I have. Regardless of how bad things seem, I never let it get me down. For to do so would mean to dishonor his memory. I smile through everything, because he can't. Because I'll never forget my friends who gave everything they had and then gave their lives in hope that they could find what I have on my very worst day..

I'll never accept that I deserve what I have, and as many of my friends can attest, I find it almost impossible to do anything for myself.. At the same time, I'll never feel as though I've done enough for others, but I try my best in an effort to quell the demons that will forever haunt me.. A "saint"?.. An "angel"? Hardly.. Just someone who is coping with things the best way I know how....

And now for a short history lesson...

Did you ever stop to wonder why there are African descendents on Haiti and surrounding islands, or why you should even stop to concern yourself with the situation that continues there today? Being how our fundamentally great country has it's foundation built on the backs of slave labor, you really should..

Columbus landed in Hispaniola, which is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in October 1492. The island was inhabited at that time by Arawak Indians, and Columbus described it in this way, "Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful... the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold...." The Indians "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone..."

And what did Columbus do in this place he called a "miracle"? In 1495 he took 500 Arawak slaves back to Spain with him, but 200 of them died on the way. He then ordered all of the Arawaks "14 years or older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper coins to hang around their necks. Indians found without the a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death." There really wasn't much gold in Haiti, and within two years half of the 250,000 Indians had either committed suicide or been killed. The rest were used as slave labor, and died by the thousands. By 1550, there were only 500 Indians left. By 1650 none remained..

The island eventually became a French slave post where slaves were taken to be traded to the US, and following a revolt by the slaves and the end of slavery in the US, it evolved into what remains a chaotic state. Perhaps if there was something remaining on Haiti that we needed, oil perhaps, we'd all care a bit more.. And yet, while the Haitian people continue to suffer, we all stand along roads every October and watch parades to celebrate "Columbus Day".. Such a great hero he was, huh??? Funny, we never learned "history" in those books they gave us in school...

Note: The previous 3 paragraphs was a summary of information found in "A People's History of the United States : 1492-Present" by Howard Zinn.. It's a book that everyone should read..

11 April 2006

Brokeboob Mountain

I went into the Day Center early yesterday. They were serving lunch ahead of schedule so that those of us who wanted to could go on a field trip. After a hearty meal of meat loaf, rice, and green beans, myself, one of the staffers, and 10 guys headed over to The Kennedy School (the brewery/hotel/theater that was kind enough to donate tickets) to watch a film.

The theater is set up in what I believe to be the old gym. The screen is on one end and there are about 400 "seats". Not regular seats, but most are old style, high backed (not exactly comfortable) chairs that would be more at home in an elderly woman's parlor or at the ends of a formal dining table. Scattered among the chairs, though mostly in the front half of the theater, are a couple dozen old style, small sofas and love seats as well as end tables (they serve beer, drinks, pizza and such at the concession stand).

The movie playing was Brokeback Mountain, and I believe the guys from the Day Center who'd chosen to attend the movie were all gay. As they filed in, they went in search of seats. There was already quite a crowd so they went down the right aisle, across the front, and up the center aisle to the rear. One of my friends looked at me and said, "There must be 50 women down there breastfeeding!! I think we'll just sit back here.." Yes, we were there during Mommy Matinee!! And the look on these guys' faces was priceless....

02 April 2006

Exit Stage Left..

The venue in this story is Mississippi Studios in Portland. This great little place that sits at most 100 people. I've been lucky enough to catch some amazing talent there.. However, Saturday night I left not completely sure what I had seen.

(Background info: in this photo, the photographer is standing on the stage and the seats are turned around to face the back balcony. During concerts / performances there are seats on the balcony as well. The bar is located on the back, left corner of the balcony. The back wall of the stage is the wall adjacent to the street, and so the front door is located just to the left of where this photo is taken, a few feet from the edge of the stage.)

I'd arrived shortly before the show started, grabbed a drink from the bar, and found a seat in the back row of the lower seats. (My seat was the farthest one on the left as you face the stage..) The act was "Mississ-Improv". A group of 5 guys who do this comedy bit, a little like that Drew Carey show, "Whose Line is it Anyway".

They broke their act into two parts. The first story (as suggested by an audience member) began in a cabana in Palm Springs. There was a drunk tourist, an impatient waiter, a successful business man, his secretary who his wife thought he was sleeping with, his drunk wife, their son who got lost after his drunk mom wasn't paying attention to where he is... And so on and so on.... The story continued on for about a half hour. Characters entered and left the stage. The story line kept shifting to show each sub-plot. It was fairly amusing, quite funny at times, and you had to admire their ability to come up with characters and plot lines as they went along..

After intermission, however, my opinion of them drastically changed. They said they wanted to do an act in honor of April Fools Day. They had someone suggest a "tragedy". Someone in the back yelled, "Abu Ghraib." The actors took their positions. One slumped in a chair, head hung low, arms behind him as if he was tied there. One got on his knees, head hung low, his arms held straight out to his sides. Two stood next to the kneeling man; one on each side of him. And the last stood leaning against the wall on the back of the stage.

The two flanking the kneeling man began acting as if they were playing chess. The invisible board resting on the man's back. Making snide comments about how much they hated it there and wished they were back home as they took turns moving their chess pieces. The man's arms sagged, and one of them yelled at him, "Keep 'em up!" Then the guy in the back started a rant about how much he wished he could have some McDonald's.

This all happened within the first 2 minutes of the second act, but I'd seen all I could stomach. I got up, put on my jacket, excused myself as I walked in front of the 7-8 people in my row, climbed the stairs to the bar, set down my half empty drink, and walked back down the stairs and out the door.... Everyone in the place, as well as the people on the stage, had to have seen me do this..

I only regret that I didn't ask them if they thought it was funny on my way out the door. However, I went home and immediately sent them a quick email.

"I would guess that you are still on stage at Mississippi Studios. However, two minutes into your second act, I'd had enough.. And, in case you didn't see me leave, I really wanted you to know that I had walked out.. More importantly, I wanted you to know how unbelievably offended I was by you making jokes about Abu Ghraib.. Do you actually think that was funny?? Do you have no compassion for the people who have been horribly wronged on your behalf?? Do you care about anyone besides yourself??

Perhaps to you this was all just a joke, part of your act... If you found it funny, then perhaps I should also feel sorry for you.."

The whole experience still leaves me with an ill feeling. One that will surely be with me for a long time. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of free speech. I only wish that people would practice a bit of decency....

01 April 2006

Under Construction

Sorry about the current state of my blog. I got bored with it and had this (not so) bright idea that I would make some changes. What I got instead was a crash course on how to mess up HTML.. It may take me a few days to get things sorted out.. Your patience is immensely appreciated..

And, yes, I do know it's a bit hard to read.. Trust me, I'm working on it....