The Richmond Beach Library (branch of the King Co Library System) is featuring my novel as a Staff Pick. Hurrah for librarians!
Old friends, old survivors, facing fathers, ghosts and women in a trailer out back of beyond, seriously off the grid. The five-member cast brought this powerful story of Viet Nam vets to life. Kevin Anderson brought an M. Emmett Walsh touch to the loquacious Jeeter, generating enough energy to light the place. Reginald Andre Jackson gave a remarkable performance as the guarded, haunted Ben, living as far from people as he can get, yet unable to escape his demon, Robert McNamara, architect of the hell that changed Ben forever.
Ben’s interactions with Jeeter are almost hallucinatory, intercutting with the manifestations of McNamara and an unnamed young soldier throw vivd relief on the different ways each of them have processed their experience, and chosen to live the rest of their lives.
I’ll write about the remarkable women in this play tomorrow. Meanwhile, I suggest your see it.
Here’s a little vocabulary lesson with a twist. Did you ever wonder where these phrases came from? A friend sent these on to me and I share them with you. (What do you want for free?) Pete Where did “piss poor” come from? Interesting history. They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. And then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery… If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”. But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot… They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low. In the 1500’s most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!” Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence. The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery In the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing.. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold. In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers In the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.” Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat. Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Bread was divided according to status.. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, And guests got the top, or the upper crust. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom; “holding a wake.” England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or was “considered a dead ringer.”
Respect for the dignity and rights of people with disabilities is a battle that is never won “Once and for All.” It is only eternal vigilance that keeps the monsters at bay. Digby at Hullabaloo links to a story at California Watch about a staff member accused of using a Taser as a cattle prod on patients with disabilities at the Sonoma Developmental Center. In 1953 my parents worked at what was then called the Sonoma State Home for the Feebleminded. My sister and I had our day care with the wife of the head of security there, on the grounds. (The name has changed to Sonoma State Hospital and now to Sonoma Developmental Center, but it is still the same Institution.) Even then the place had a troubled past: the human eugenics experiments there in the 1930’s, a breakout of juvenile psychopaths that left a farmer dead and his wife hospitalized, chronic overcrowding/understaffing, the routine harvesting of deceased patient’s brains for study. Memories of that time have stayed with me for 60 years; I finally had to write a novel (Passage of the Kissing People) about them to gain closure. Staff then fought to change the State Home to a State Hospital to force increased medical treatment and an emphasis on moving patients back into the community. The forces of resistance rested in part on the fact that high-functioning patients were the captive work force to maintain the pig farm/dairy herd/chicken ranch/orchards/truck gardens/cannery/shoe factory and all the other pieces that made the Home its own city. Raising enough food to feed themselves and sell over $200,000 worth of food kept the costs down. To move those people back out into real life would raise costs, and so would additional staff and medications. Such concerns echo today as budget cuts have brought the Center to staff cut-backs and budget stress now. It is in conditions like these that patient safety is placed in the balance. Now with the value of the land so high, any excuse to shut down the facility would provoke intense pressure to sell. The fact that this problem arises every generation is not the reason to close down the facility. Its a reminder that we can’t take our eyes off the ball. Those who would shutter the Center have no plan to serve the patients they would turn out on the streets.
The first of the films I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival was The Woman in the Septic Tank, the Philippines representative at this year’s Oscars. It’s a mockumentary, a send up of 2 young film makers trying to create the perfect film to be accepted by festivals around the world. 3 sequences stand for the whole movie they’re making. Each time they imagine a new style, or a new twist, we see the scenes played through that new lens. Eugene Domingo is a famous actress and comedienne in the Philippines. She plays herself, and she gives her all to the film. Kean Cipriano and JM de Guzman are the young film makers, Rainier and Bingbong. The whole thing felt too in-joky to me, like something you and the guys at the lab would throw together for a roast of a director. Not one I would recommend, unless you’re part of that festival in-crowd. The septic tank was telegraphed, like a gun onstage. The only bit of suspense was when you’d hear the splash. Movie Trailer