Friday, August 18, 2006

The Ghosts of August

The days are becoming shorter. It is no longer sunny at 6:30, when I step outside in the morning; it is pre-dawn. Headlights are necessary as I drive down the freeway.

And yet, though the days are shorter, summer is far from over. Yesterday the temperature reached 104. We can expect the same today, and for the foreseeable future.

The heat makes for a miserable walk to the car in the afternoon, yet also for a luxurious swim when I get home. The water has never felt better.

As I float on my back, looking up at the sky, empty of all but a few scattered cloud puffs, small and white against the vaster blue, I reflect on the summer so far, and think back on past summers, past Augusts. The ghosts of those Augusts come back …

It was in August that high school band practice would begin. On the first night of practice, my heart would thump nervously as I approached the band hall—a feeling I still get when I first arrive at a party. But, as with parties, the social anxiety would pass after I began talking with friends.

My heart would thump again, however, if I caught sight of some girl that interested me—a girl I had not seen all summer, and who now seemed more beautiful and unreachable than ever.

The band director, Mr. Wilson, would appear and practice would begin. Throughout practice, I would steal glances at the girl. And I would think about her later walking home under the stars.

The ghosts of August come back …

In the August before my senior year, Mr. Wilson killed a man—his ex-wife’s husband. He had gone to pick up his son for the weekend, but was told to go away. So he went home, got his gun, came back, made demands, waved the gun around, and the gun went off.

A few days later, one of the senior girls in the band called me. Mr. Wilson wanted to meet the seniors at his home, she said. I was apprehensive, but went anyway. I didn’t tell my parents where I was going.

About seven or eight of us showed up. We sat in the living room. Mr. Wilson talked quietly. He had resigned, he said. There would be a new band director with a different way of doing things. Certain band traditions would change. But change was good, he said. Then he wished us well and we said goodbye to him. The boys shook his hand, the girls hugged him and cried. And we left him sitting quietly in his living room.

At the trial, it was ruled that the killing was not premeditated. Later, Mr. Wilson got a band director’s job in another town and we saw him no more.

The ghosts of August …

We went to a movie in Fort Worth. Afterwards we went to a place on University Drive for pizza. Later, I walked her to her front door and we kissed.

We went out again the following week. We talked a lot on the phone. We had a good time.

But her moods were strange. She would suddenly fall silent. Was it something I said? Yes, but she wouldn’t say what. We would argue. They were baffling arguments based on some strange misperception of hers about something I had said or done, or failed to say or do.

But when the arguments were over, they were over. All was happy again. I overlooked the strange moods, never guessing that they would become stranger in the years to come and harder and harder to overlook.

The ghosts of August, the ghosts of August …

The nurse placed her on her stomach. She was so small. Her eyes blinked against the bright lights of the maternity ward. She wriggled around, constantly moving.

I stared at her through the glass, unable to believe what I was seeing. A friend stood beside me. She said, “She looks like you.”

It was August and by some magic she had finally been born.

A year later, shortly after her first birthday, we moved to Austin. We lived in the Deep Eddy Apartments. It was university property, rented to married students. A great many of the students were foreign. When I rode the shuttle bus to campus for the first time, I was fascinated to hear so many different languages being spoken all at once—Arabic, Chinese, Nigerian, German, Spanish. It felt cosmopolitan.

It was August and I had finally arrived at the center of the world. Great things would happen here.

Then there came another August. My car was broken down, so the policeman gave me a ride to the hospital. There, I was led into a small room and handed the six-page suicide note. I tried to read it, but it made no sense.

The small room was claustrophobic. I was getting a headache. I put the note in my pocket and went out into the larger waiting room. After a while, they told me I could see her. She was unconscious, but alive.

They took her to the cardiac unit where she would remain overnight for observation. I was advised to leave. On the way out, I was stopped by a nurse who spoke sympathetically. I barely understood what she was saying. The headache was getting worse. I left the hospital, and walked across town in the broiling heat to the day-care center, then home.

That night I dreamed there was a hearse in the driveway.

The ghosts of August come back …

Several years later, on another night in August, I had the house to myself. I went out into the backyard and saw a blazing streak of light shoot across the sky. This was followed by other streaks of light. It was the Perseid meteor shower. I lay on the reclining lawn chair to watch. The dogs scampered around me, playing. Gradually, the meteor shower came to an end, but I remained in the backyard, gazing at the stars and the ghosts of August.

It was August when I remarried. After the wedding, we drove to San Antonio. We stayed in the Menger Hotel in a room overlooking the Alamo. At night we roamed the Riverwalk, hand in hand; café lights sparkled on the water, there was laughter and music in the air, and the smell of enchiladas, and there were also the ghosts of August. The ghosts always come back.

Sometimes the ghosts are cruel, sometimes the ghosts are sweet. But cruel or sweet, they are only ghosts, and they always vanish like vapor. They vanish, but then they come back. The ghosts always come back ...

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Neo-Con’s Nightmare

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is busily trying to encourage Republican members of Congress to pass legislation that would exempt members of the Bush administration from possible future prosecution for war crimes. As Gonzales noted in a January 25, 2002, memo, punishments for such crimes “include the death penalty” … (LINK)

“Put down the baby and step away …”

A can of Dr. Pepper, a tube of toothpaste, a cell phone, and a newspaper = Terror. (LINK)

Oh, and don’t forget the baby. Babies provide excellent cover for would-be terrorists. So be sure to take a baby with you next time you blow up a plane. (LINK)

Such dangerous times we live in. There’s no such thing as a harmless object any more, and no one is innocent, not even a mom and her baby. Everything is a potential weapon and everyone is a suspected terrorist.

In Knoxville, Tennesee, security personnel prowl the airport looking for facial tics and other tell-tale signs that someone is nervous. Nervousness is probable cause now. Nervousness will get you pulled out of the line and placed inside a metallic contraption which will measure your physical responses to a series of questions. (LINK)

Today they're using this device in Knoxville, tomorrow it will be every airport. Then it won't be just airports, it will be banks, federal buildings, courthouses, shopping malls, petting zoos, anywhere that Terrorists might strike. In other words, everywhere.

All this is designed to keep you safe. So why are you acting nervous, Mrs. Smith? Put down the baby and step away with your hands in the air …