Thursday, July 18, 2002


In his essay "Marriage is Impossible" written for the Marriages issue of James Hillman's "journal of archetype and culture", Spring, Joseph Jay Landry expressed "One final crazy idea:

Make all marriage licenses expire after five to seven years. Instead of going to court to get divorced, make couples who wish to remain married go to court to present their case for marriage license renewal. Eliminate divorce lawyers in favor of barristers who can clearly articulate the mystery of each marriage case.

He goes on to imagine a bit of what such courts might be like:

Testimony from both husband and wife, children, relatives... teachers, coaches... could provide the court with children's report cards, science projects, Little League participation, etc. as a measure of the family's success. And last but not least of all, attorneys could get depositions from all in the community who act to support the marriage. Maybe all who were present during the wedding could be re-invited.

This "crazy" idea which I actually find rather a sensible one has been much on my mind of late as I prepare to take part in the wedding of one of the people I love best in the world (I would dare Chicagoland in July for no less a person, I assure you). I will witness their vows and sing and dance in the square because they have found each other and decided to get serious. I will toast them and their hope and their love and give my blessing on the creation of something new, the joining of new ancestors.

And in being there, I'll be making a pledge, too. I'm pledging that my love for my friend will extend now to his wife and to their marriage and any future children, and that I will be a friend, advocate, helper, counselor, crutch, for any and all of them. I imagine it being rather like standing as a godparent to a newborn in its implied shift in priorities; I've got more to look out for now.

Another friend of mine, who is divorced, remarked to me as I was musing over this essay that she had found "very little room for error" in marriage. I'm still recovering from this statement because it bespeaks an attitude toward marriage, what it is for and why we as a culture and as individuals keep on trying it even if it is "impossible" that is exactly opposite to what I (engaged twice but never married) would ask of marriage were I ever to undertake it myself.

There should be every room for error. Marriage is meant as a place where it's enough to be human, to make mistakes, accept mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. Not unconditional love (another Platonic abstraction we could all do without) but conditional love – the conditions being a very generous margin for error, change, surprise, failure, hope, loss. Any other approach to marriage – expecting, for example, perfect sympathy, perfect accord, perfect devotion, all the other idealized crap implied by all of those novels and movies and folk tales in which marriage is the goal, the end of the story when it's really just the beginning – is childish and is the surest way to make it fail (aside, of course, from shutting out all those godparents, all those witnesses who saw the two of you coming together and said yes, this is okay, this is good for them and for us).

My parents' marriage hasn't succeeded because they approached it with those illusions or thought they could do it themselves, for example. They're still learning to live with each other after 35 years. But they're doing it with help, a lot of help. Sometimes it's a moderator that's needed between them. Sometimes he needs to gather with other men and swap bossy wife cliches and laugh. Sometimes she has had to turn to her mother, her colleagues, her daughter, to get over some horrible thing he said. Sometimes he has needed the same thing.

And it's on-going, and will never stop, this round of little wounds, adjustments, patch-ups – all necessary work on their part and ours to help them keep all the good stuff: the companionship, the environment they've created, the stories they have to tell, the mutual attentions, the small kindnesses, the knowledge of one another that has evolved over years.

Yes, ultimately it has been up to them. But it has been easier for them because we have all surrounded them and nurtured them, their marriage and their children.

And that's what I'm hoping for my friends who will wed on Saturday. I worry, though, I really do, as I worry for many of the marriages I've helped to bring about, because these two, like so many of the others, do not enjoy the kind of intimate community life that has been a factor in the marriages I have witnessed here in Wyoming, where in the summertime the classifieds in the newspaper are cluttered with 50th wedding anniversary announcements, 60th, 75th.

No, the weddings of which I have been a part so far have led to marriages lived in big cities or bigger suburbs: dwellings in which the neighbors are strangers or at best barely tolerated acquaintances, teachers have 50 other sets of parents and step-parents and whatnot with which to deal, workplaces are vast and impersonal, pals live miles of hideous traffic away, and the "close" friends are ones from the past who visit occasionally from far away to "catch up" but are not part of daily life. In such circumstances, a lot more of the daily grind of marriage, the toil, the effort and the strain fall on the two people who said "I do."

I've drifted away from most of these marriages because of the distances – Boise, Las Vegas, Vancouver... So I have not been a good steward for them, and I'm feeling this keenly as I write.

Now that I am aware, will I do better for Buzz and Gravy (not their real names) (well, their Sec-J names)? I want to think so. I want to believe, for instance, that our connection through the giant never-ending chat-cum-work of performance art that is Secular Johnson will make a difference. It does a lot. But can it substitute for my presence in the kitchen over coffee lending a willing ear while Gravy freaks out about Buzz's stupid RPG buddies who are always underfoot and then reminding her why he and they are still worth having around?

I don't know.

But I hope for them and for me that we can prevent either one of them from finding little room for error in their marriage.

I don't know - having never married I'm probably still just naive about the whole thing, too much so to be hoping anything but general good fortune for them both. I am certain my divorced friend, who quietly went into the house to play in the kitchen when I told her to shut up and let me write this and then I'll argue about it with her (at least she no longer gets mad when I ignore her [on good days] or snap at her [on less good days] when she wants to talk and I want to scribble. Friendship is an art just like marriage is) thinks I'm completely off base on this.

But I call 'em as I see 'em, as she likes to say, and these are my thoughts as I pack for my trip to go to the wedding.

And the completely amazing wedding present I'm bringing with me will be pretty hard to divvy up if they split.

A final note: Otto von Bismarck had it mostly right, but he forgot one thing one should never see being made. Not just law, not just sausages, but wedding plans, too.

I wanted to get this on yesterday, but I had other things to post (the landfill stuff is important, the landing stuff is entertaining, and this guy could just get his own website), and anyway I’m a horrible, horrible slacker. So shoot me. This guy apparently wants to, or something.

This guy being the provocateur who made last week’s classified section so spectacular. He’s outdone himself this time, and put it in the main part of the paper, and I just have to share it (even though I’m being tarred with the same brush – actually perhaps heavily tarred, as the phrase “Good Times Valley” is a slogan I use in promoting our area in newspaper and radio advertising. Woo Hoo!). It’s too good not to share with the masses. As was true last time, what follows is verbatim and (sic). Here goes:

Polise Report

The following was reported by the Saratoga Polise Department.

July 4 - Received a report that people who came to the Good Times Valley were having too much fun down town at street dance and 4th of July celebration (no alcohol involved) four uniformed officers and two patrol cars were dispatched. People having fun took smiles off faces and had less of a Good Time, Officers kept up intimidating presence and many people left area, looking to have a Good Time and spend money in other town, local economy suffers.

July 9 - Complaint of smelly gas, with loud inane pompous redundant and unnecessary noises coming from River street. Officers responded and found town council meeting in progress. Officers supported loud inane, pompous, redundant and unnecessary behavior, joined in and no citations were issued. Look for more redundant, inane, pompous and unnecessary legislation at next town council meeting.

July 2 - Reported that people were having Good Time at hot pool. Polise responded and tourists toned down Good Times, stopped laughter and became quiet and subdued by over reactive polise supervision. Many tourists heard to comment that polise were not friendly and they may not come back to the Good Times Valley, local economy suffers.

July 10 - Emergency personal was summoned to Bridge Street. Found that call was for officer with strained neck caused while looking too hard on streets of Saratoga to see what hard working citizen was breaking some insignificant law not relevant to our everyday lives. Neck brace was issued and officer continued search.

July 7 - Report of Polise Officer who smiled and waived at local resident while on patrol. Officer was demoted and reprimanded, promised not to do it again. Case still under review.

July 5 - Man and dog from Colorado spotted swimming and having a good time in lake. Man given citation for dog not on a leash while swimming in city controlled lake. Dog comments that he will not return. Local economy suffers.

Local elections are coming soon... you can make a statement for change. Remember the Town Council, the Mayor and The Police Force works for you the Citizen , not the other way around.

This Polise report brought to you by The Bob For Anybody else but the Present Mayor and Town Council Fund and Police Chief. Donations welcome.

There was also a short news article in the same paper in which BB declared he is not running for political office.

A pity.

(Niggling, nitpicky note: July 9 was the planning commission meeting, not the council. I agree 100% about the planning commission, though. That's why I go to the Joint Powers Board instead. I'd rather talk sewers than zoning any day of the week.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2002


I can't think of a worse time ever not to have a functioning camera on hand than this evening at Kate's Landing.

Picture this: as I sit in a comfy lawn chair sewing a new button onto my favorite pair of khaki shorts, the Toast Mistress seated calmly at grandpa's picnic table, a citron and tonic in within reach and a beatific smile on her face on this, her first visit to my funky little abode. She is watching the hummingbirds at my feeder and the ducks on the river; the Collie of Folly rests adoringly at her feet (until very recently the Toast Mistress, she who not only made our toast but brushed it with melted butter, was also the Jerky Mistress. Dogs who came to morning coffee on her watch were always invited behind the bar for a snack while we old farts chawed the fat, so yes, the Collie adores the Toast Mistress).

Hovering above her is Erin-Go-Braless, brandishing an intimidating array of clips and spray bottles and SCISSORS! EGB, you see, is a cosmetologist of some renown, formerly the manager of the salon at that summer camp for grown ups, the Old Baldy Club, always happy to engage in the local bohemian barter economy. Obie the Artist will paint for food, I write for Guiness, EGB cuts hair for green chili. And the Toast Mistress makes some fine, fine green chili.

Speaking of chili, my dear brother Chilly showed up just as EGB was finishing up. And to him we all owe a debt of gratitude for helping us to narrowly avert the disaster that loomed, that of EGB's dropping hair into the Toast Mistress's drink.

As she sipped that mercifully hair-free drink a few minutes later, the Toast Mistress observed that in her opinion, the Kate's Landing Beauty Salon was even better than that at the Old Baldy Club.

Hey, I'm not going to argue with HER of all people. Because after all, the view is much better. And I certainly don't skimp on the booze...

I was expecting to have to call this one something else, but I was actually on the winning side of the latest town council controversy (the advertising antics of Beautiful Bob [sorta his real name] notwithstanding), albeit narrowly.

We renewed the town’s contract with the Upper Platte River Valley Solid Waste Disposal District (aka the landfill board) last night on a narrow 3-2 vote.

Why was it a narrow vote?

Because the landfill board wants control of its money – a perfectly legitimate thing to want.

The way our agreement with this board has worked since it was formed and the town gladly, GLADLY! gave up the headache of administering the dump, is that in exchange for a waiver of dump fees on trash removed from town dumpsters and trash cans (i.e. the nice ones along Bridge Street, the dumpsters at the lake and in the parks, the cans at Town Hall and the town shop, etc.) and 45¢ out of each billing, our Town Hall staff takes care of all of the landfill board’s billing and collection responsibilities. Your share of the baseline landfill costs shows up as a $9 line item on the same little postcard that also bills you for water, sewer service and weed & pest control.

Our staff has also had the responsibility of depositing the money collected through regular billing and “excess fees” (what you pay if you bring an appliance or a lot of construction debris) into a WYOSTAR account in Cheyenne (click on the link for full details on WYOSTAR. Basically, it’s an investment pool for local governments maintained by the Wyoming State Treasurer’s Office).

Now, however, our staff is going to begin transferring this money directly to the landfill board, who plan to deposit it in our two local banks. It may earn a miniscule amount less interest there than in the WYOSTAR account, but on the other hand it will be staying in our community and will be easier for the board to access when it gets going on the projects coming up – namely the necessary expansion of the actual physical landfill.

Really, that’s the only thing that’s changing from the old contract.

But that’s not what caused the discord!

The bone of contention actually just boiled down to who eats it if a lot of individual accounts go delinquent. Who gets stuck if a bunch of people decide not to pay, the town or the landfill board?

Of course, that wasn’t the language used until a certain colleague of mine on the council finally quit interrupting me for long enough to allow me to point this out. He, dear man though he is, had decided to make an issue over the fact that the contract contains two numbers.

Those numbers are 95% and $134,000, as they appear in the following exerpt:

...These fees will be forwarded to the District on a monthly basis. The fees forwarded monthly will be at a minimum, 95% of the total of:
*The number of municipally billed households within the Town limits times the resident fee plus the number of commercial accounts within the Town times their respective District established fee.
*This total currently equals $134,000...”

So yes, we are expected to pay at least 95% of the amount we have billed for landfill services every month, whether or not we have collected it all.

My colleague did not want to commit the town to an agreement like that, even though historically there has never been a problem in meeting this commitment. Last year, for instance, the landfill board was expecting $140,000 in monthly fees from us, the citizens. The Town collected from us and paid to the board over $160,000 because of those excess fees I spoke of. And last year was not a great financial year, was it? Still, no problem.

But, but, but, Chicken Little would say. What if times get tough and people start defaulting on their landfill fees? Should the Town be left owing $134,000 (which is 95% of $140,000) to the board anyway?

I say yes. Or at least, better the Town than the landfill board, which doesn’t have the resources the Town does to enforce payment. Joe Average might not care at all if the landfill board considers him persona non grata. Hey, he never has to go to the dump, does he? Ooh, he’s so scared.

But chances are if he’s delinquent on his landfill fee he’s also delinquent on his water bill, since it’s all on the same convenient little postcard.

He will care, when his water get shut off.

See where I’m going here?

But this is all theoretical, because people do pay their bills!!! They really do!!!

Sigh. At least the mayor and the other guy who’s definitely still going to be on the council next year (well, unless he gets elected county treasurer, in which case I might be the only holdover!) voted with me. ‘Twas the lame ducks voted no...

...As the minutes will show or Squeaky is going to get a come to Jesus meeting out of all of this...

Monday, July 15, 2002


How do I love my by-pass lopper? Let me count the ways. There is the elegantly fetishistic language with which it is described in the packaging – straight out of William Gibson's material porn. I mean, read this copy and try not to think of Neuromancer – "High carbon, non-stick coated steel blade • Hardwood handles." Sounds almost too nice to use in the yard, doesn't it?

By the way, what is "high carbon?" Carbon that has taken too much of its medication? Is carbon a quality of something a blade or anything else that can be described in degrees? Is it possible to say something like, "that diamond is sooooo carbon?" the way we say "those eyes are sooooo blue?" But I digress, as usual.

As already discussed several days ago, I am also deeply amused by the name, though upon closer examination I have learned that is simply a "lopper" rather than a pair of "loppers." However, like a pair of "scissors" or "clippers" this device has more than one blade. I'm not going to dwell too much on this detail, however. This may just be some kind of linguistic oversight on the part of the GreenThumb company. The lopper was made in the USA, so the manufacturers' grasp of English syntax might not be so good.

How do they work? Beautifully.

Over the last two days I have completely cleared out the riverbank that forms the back boundary of this property I'm renting, a bank rank with dense willows and grasses and weeds, oh my. There was nothing there, though, that could stand up to the unstoppable lopping machine that is formed when the raw animal strength of my own two hands combines with that high carbon and I go to town.

Lop! Lop! Lop! And the willow switches piled up beside me (village small fry, beware!). Lop! Lop! Lop! And the view from my kitchen window improved dramatically. Lop! Lop! Lop! And now Kate's Landing is truly a landing. All I need now is a little dock or something.

Actually, "All I need now" is becoming rather a dangerous phrase. Every weekend this summer has brought new little projects, purchases, all aimed at some heretofore unknown and ultimately unreachable peak of outdoor leisure perfection. The cintronella-saturated tiki torches. The paint on the picnic table. The lawnmower. Two or three different varieties of bird feeder. Inner tubes to float on the river...

And that's where the latest idea has come in. Once the lopping was done, how better to relax than to throw one of those tubes into the river and flop onto it, more or less fully dressed, to cool off? We lazily enjoyed the rest of the scorching afternoon, splashing ourselves down every few minutes to further lower our core temperatures and wash off our sunscreen and watch the golf carts go by on the Bridge Street bridge. We'd been there for maybe an hour when I piped up with the following suggestion:

"You know what we need now? Those drink holders that you just screw into the ground!"

And so, we will not be satisfied again with merely floating about on the surface of our sluggish little river until we can do so with a beer holder handy. Sure, we could make do now by just holding the damned cans in our hands and keeping a cooler on the shore, but that would involve effort and mar our effort at perfecting our leisure.

This is not without irony: I have cut myself from as much media as possible largely because I have concluded it is designed not to inform or entertain or enlarge the soul so much as to make that soul dissatisfied, crave more shit that it doesn't really need. It's why I'm so picky about the films I bother to see (oddly enough, my favorite of recent movies is Minority Report, a film so saturated in media-to-come that its paradoxical plot is almost completely obscured, a film in which holographic ads identify each individual by his retina pattern and tailor their pitches accordingly. At one point, a huge face appears out of nowhere, brandishing my favorite big dark can and saying "John Anderton, it's time for a Guiness." But such films as these only re-enforce my stance on avoiding magazines, television, and anything else that might tempt me to spend money on things other than books and alcohol) (didn't know I was an ascetic, did you?) and about where I get my news. I crave the feeling that my choices are truly my choices, even if it is an illusion even on my restricted media diet.

But still it gets to me. I walk into my local hardware store or the grocery store or the feed store and see something I don't need (caramel flavored coffee creamer, a hummingbird feeder that looks like a hot air balloon, shoelaces tougher than the actual shoes I would lace with them) and take it home, just like everyone else.

So my stance is all a fraud.

But, when the rest of you are sucking on the glass teat (Harlan Ellison's memorable name for television), *I* am sitting lazily on the river, cold beer in my hand, watching the blackbirds fuss and the mallards muck about and Erin-Go-Braless jump 20 feet out of the water at the sight of a six-inch-long water snake.

I think I'm getting the better deal.

Sunday, July 14, 2002


Hmm. It's been quite a while since I've written about a film, which is odd since it's something of an obsession of mine.

Caveat lector: I have, especially for Saratoga, a very rare taste in films; what I like is what is frequently called "disturbing" cinema, so in general what I recommend might not be for everyone. Peter Greenaway and David Cronenberg and Wim Wenders are my favorite directors, and films with endings that bring the entire preceding narrative into question and force one to watch again and again to catch all of the possibilities, hints, nuances, are my favorites. Thus I particularly like the director's cut of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, which demands the viewer rethink the protagonist's identity and role completely. Ditto M. Night Shamalayan's The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that Robert Kelley's Donnie Darko is right up my alley. It's full of mordant humor, disturbing imagery, wild metaphysics and has an ending that demands a second, maybe even a third or fourth, viewing almost immediately (such films are great in theaters, but really come into their own on video. I think some directors have totally tapped into this potential for videotapes and DVDs to transform the way people read movies, and this explains the explosion in seriously tricky films like Christopher Nolan's Memento and Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects. I, for one, applaud this trend, but I do sympathize with people like my young friend the Ski Bum who screams about them as "mind fucks" and refuses ever to discuss them).

But it's got something else, too, something that I find makes it a film worth being examined much more widely than it has been before now.

Robert Kelley has found a way to make sense of senseless tragedy, and has found a way to communicate it with enough style to reach even the most benumbed teenaged moviegoer yet with enough substance to keep even a picky movie snob like me paying attention.

There is, Kelley maintains, a way of dealing with whatever horror has hit you, and it ties bizarrely in with a concept from Microeconomics 101: opportunity cost. If one particular life is saved at a particular time, what are the repercussions of that apparent thwarting of fate, of God's will (this movie is largely set in a Catholic school; I'm not engaging in bullshit theology here. God is part of this film, in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways)?

The film really gets going when protagonist Donnie is rescued by a hallucination that resembles nothing so much as a demonic vision of the easter bunny, who summons him from bed to tell him the world is going to end in 28 days. His life spared, Donnie's questions are what to do in those 28 days, how seriously to take Frank the Bunny, and what really is going on with all of his weird intuitions and visitations. Is it because his therapist upped his meds, or is something bigger going on?

"Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?" Frank asks Donnie at one point, and by that point in the movie the idea that life, that humanity, might just be another suit to choose to wear can send the viewer reeling.

Meanwhile, Donnie meets a girl just as weird as he is and falls in love, and engages under Frank's tutelage in a spree of mayhem that is truly inspiring for an old high school anarchist like me to watch (the film is set in 1988, the year I graduated and the year in which a number of truly unpleasant tragedies happened in my little town, the kinds that leave tremendous holes in untold numbers of families, group efforts, hopes – and a year when, as Kelley none-too-subtly points out, this country could have been very different now had the voters of the time chosen Dukakis over Bush. Myself, I voted for Frank Zappa, so maybe I bear some of the blame-according-to-Kelley?). He brings about the downfall of a truly evil man whom many have adopted as a guru (and whose fate and purpose the ending calls into serious question, and rightly so. It would be a betrayal of all the craft of this film to tie up all of its loose ends and make its strangely happy ending too perfect). He broods and laughs through madnesses and moments common to us all.

Honestly, I am somewhat surprised to see this film available at our local video store, which (sorry, Michelle, I know business is business...) is mostly crammed full of big box office crap. But there it is and since there's no Frank Capra or Christopher Nolan or Peter Greenaway or Wim Wenders to be had (though oddly enough they have one of the most amazing and crazy-making films ever, Warner Herzog's Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes [English: Aguirre, Wrath of God] stashed in amongst the Rambo films in the Action/Adventure section), it's pretty much the best thing currently on offer at Saratoga's Video Home Theater.

I'm probably going to hang on to it and watch it a few more times before I turn it back in, though, so be patient. Maybe even wait until such time as you find you need it; such time when you are regretting a stupid loss or just wondering how in the world anyone could ever explain the kind of horrors we endure just in being human. Donnie Darko doesn't have THE answer, but it has AN answer that will do pretty well for a while.