The Refectory Manager

The refectory . . . A place to nourish the soul. A place to share the savory comestibles, the sweet confections, the salty condiments of the things that matter. A place to ruminate the cud of politics. A place to rant on the railings of religion. A place to arrange the flowers of sanguine beauty. A place to pause in the repose of shelter. Welcome, my friend. The Refectory Manager

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Location: College Place, Washington, United States

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Trinity of Social Injustice

I don’t often go the cinema.  Perhaps it is that I am cheap.  Or that I am affronted by the whiff of popcorned butter.  Or the assault of the shockwaves of sound.  Most likely, it is that there is nothing there to see.

Except when there is.

A trinity of social injustice playing at the little hometown cinemaplex.  

My knowledge of history is fragmented, skewed, and somewhat detached from actual reality.  For that reason alone, I hate learning history in the movies where some director has taken license to recreate some supposed truth . . . if there ever was a truth to be known that was recorded by the poor and the losers.  

“Lincoln” was powerful and griping.  At first, I didn’t know all the principle characters.  I didn’t know my history.  My ignorance was my hobble.  I could not appreciate the intricacies.  I had to come home to read.  I will return to watch again.  It was frightening to see up close, in my face, the politics of the 13th Amendment.  How it nearly failed.  Who the champions for “ney’ and “aye” were.  And the reason why.  To watch the wheelbarrows of severed limbs dumped into the lime pit behind the soldier’s hospital in the Nation’s Capitol.  To look for Walt Whitman, and not see him, reading to, comforting, holding a broken soldier dying from trying to free a slave.  To watch the lobbyists bribe, cajole, threaten, plead with the lame duck Democrats to cast a vote to violate their allegiance to their slave-master God.  To wonder whatever has happened to the Party of Lincoln for it to become The Party of Hate, the Republicans of today, and likewise the promulgators of hateful bigotry of the Democrats of then into the Party of Equality for all today.  Sobering, gut-wrenching.  Humbling.  Leaving me to ask how and why did it take so long, before and after and still yet, racism camouflaged by the politically correct.  The forces to suppress equality seem to have the intensity of infinity.

The next day was “Django Unchained”.  I did not know what to expect.  Other than the ubiquitous injection of the “N” word.  The story line pre-dated the Civil War by a few years.  The story was told by a freed slave, in search of his still-in-bondage wife, and the horrific violence that ensued.  Yes, there was the gentry.  With their house niggers and their field niggers, and their niggers for fighting sport.  And the niggers who sucked the asses of that gentry and white trash holding their Bibles and beating run-away niggers.  A story of social strata formed on ignorance and bigotry and religion and hate.

Today was “Les Miserables”.  The film version of a musical with a story encased in rhyme and rhythm, the love and despair, the plight of the miserables at the fringes of the  aristocracy.  I was overwhelmed with the feeling I was watching “Occupy Wall Street”.  After reading recent accounts of the FBI investigation of OWS as a subversive terrorist threat, after learning how complacent the FBI was with the major financial institutions to protect them, after seeing these confirmations of the blatantly coordinated and brutal suppression attacks on peaceful demonstrators, and realizing the about-to-be reality of a contemporary “Les Miserables” because of the intrenched ideology of a renegade Tea Party Nation, I felt sickened.  The lady behind me was crying.  As I bought my ticket, the patrons were all old, all buying senior tickets to “Les Miz”.  Perhaps the young don’t want to know.

Three stories of social justice.  Or rather the evil of social injustice.  In each case, a rationale based on ignorance and bigotry.  Rationales reinforced by religious beliefs held with filial allegiance.  

Three stories told to people of today for entertainment.  As if today was separated from all yesterdays.  

Yet today, those Tea Party Republicans spawned by the Democrats of yore, will bring down the United States Government to spite the “liberated slave in generations to come” that now holds the office that Lincoln held.

What will I learn from this repeat of history.

Perhaps not to go back to the cinema. 

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Image Etched

Those images that one can see but for only a fleeting moment can be indelibly etched into the eye of the mind.

A particular stretch of WA 129 descending down into the little town of Asotin, WA was narrow, twisting, and demanding full driver attention.  But I rounded a hairpin curve and could see straight ahead of me over to  the next ridge.   What I quickly recognized as tomb stones standing in stark relief against a brilliant cobalt sky were indeed tomb stones.

Another sharp corner was quickly approaching, but my eye flirted momentarily upward to the right.  

The canopy cover and the silhouette images of mourners standing beneath.  Almost beyond perception, positioned overhead,  the chalky whiteness of a waxing gibbous moon.  The Old Man up there overseeing the transition of yet another being planted on his naked butt-cheek  of a  barren bluff overlooking the entrance to his Hell's Canyon.  

Mourners.  Silhouettes.  Living symbols of the dead who haven't yet died.  

A snake of a river flowing below. Deceptively tranquil, emptying the guts of a hell of a canyon.  Letting jet skies pollute in a trinity of ways.

Perhaps the dead saw that requisite flash of light at the moment of passing.  

The look through the vagina of his new mother into the next world. 

Only the depths of Hell's Canyon would know.

I turned the next corner.  

Image etched.

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The house is entombed with a silence of death.  
Subliminal softness of  a subdued shuffle.  Non-distinct.  Hairs hackle on my neck.  Hand on my mouse . . . freezes in place.  
I listen.  
Wherefore doust thou ghosts dwell in the haunts of these thine walls?  
I slowly turn.  
Cat meanders, shoulders shifting in a bullying prance.   He looks annoyed. Pissed would be more apropos. 
Then,  subliminal softness of subdued shuffle again.   
My eye catches the glint of movement.  
Up.  High.  On top of cupboards.  Where garlands of plastic rickrack catch the settling of the unlimited infiltration of loess.  
The sparrow is panicked.  
Then oscillates again with the frantic.  
That damn cat!  
I block open the door.  
In time the frantic escapes.  
The cat dozes on the patio swing.  
Ghosts, again, are subdued.  

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He went to London to be with his friends.

Images in my mind swirled in a syncopated cacophony of myths, memories of movies, recollections of books,  imaginations of ambiences of London.  

To London I will likely never go.

In person that is.  In virtual reality I am on my way.

I think of little Oliver Twist, the movie incarnation of Oliver Twist.  A plaintive little boy from the country, dumped into London, hired out to an undertaker to lead the funerals of children.  He was so young, so naive, so tender, so angelic, the epitome of empathy stumbling along in that death march in his oversize boots, frumpled hat, and hole-infested coat.  The sanctimonious clergy in sway with the chants and burning incense to escort some little coffin-bound offspring to the nether-land of hoped for imagination.

I think of little Oliver Twist, escaped to a salvationist respite of a gang of thieves inspired by the old heathen himself, Fagan.  I think of Oliver’s lessons in pick-pocketery.  I think of him watching and listening to the sizzle of sausages browning in a stolen pot, where all his mentors are sequestered away in the depths of some rejected triumph of England’s industrial revolution.  

I think of little Oliver Twist, rescued by a man who lost his daughter, who sees her face in the face of an arrested pick pocket, who transfers Oliver to the environs of heaven on earth.

I see London as a cinematographer showed me London.

I think of another boy who went to London who makes me think of Oliver.  And Oliver makes me think of him.

I hear the bells.  The incessant, the seemingly never-ending of the peeling of bells.  Bells in celebration of royal weddings.  Bells in auditory despair in funerals of fallen royals.

I watch the pageantry of pomposity. Archbishops with flanks of accolades sashaying  down central cathedral isles.  Incense migrating to vaulted ceilings.  Massive pipe organ pipes shaking the very foundations of the bishop’s throne with harmonic vibrations of renaissance anthems. 

I listen to the boy choirs singing with prepubescent purity.  I relish the Gregorian chant.  English choral music gives me the chills of awesomeness.

I watched an Olympic epic of British Empire proportions.  I envy the sanity of the National Health Service.

I feel the smugness in my admiration for the secularization of London.  The British Humanists . . . Of which I give my allegiance.  England, emerging as a freethinking nation, as a leader in the rational world.

I think of London where I will never drive.  I am not suicidal. 

I long to be a part of London.  I long for the fog.  I long for the belonging.

The Queen is my queen too.

I wonder of London.

Wonder if the national mindset is one of making fruit salad, or fruit smoothie.

I wonder of a London in the inevitability of co-mingling of colors, creeds, persuasions, principles, traditions, aspirations.  I wonder of the strength that will emerge from which it never had. 

I wonder of how it  really is to be as an “other” in London.  In this era of emersion of things inclusive.

I wonder if I will ever know.

My imagination tells me London is on the move.  That London is an assimilator.  That London knows, accepts, tolerates, affirms.  That London harbors the Oliver Twists of yore.  That London is welcoming and nurturing of the Oliver Twists of this contemporary day.  That London is a venue of fulfillment.

For my friend went to London to be with his friends.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Idaho Driver

          His mind had gone transcendent, reflexes-only propelling him down the cement sidewalk, nose-in parked cars flanking on his right, cars patiently waiting for their drivers. The drivers in turn waiting to transact their boob-tube cable business on the inside of the Charter Communications service-center building. He did manage to perceive that the parking spot on the driver’s side of his van was empty. Cool. His reflexive autopilot could maneuver the meander across that little short cut. Instinctively he reached into his pants pocket to click the remote door-lock thingy. His mind transcendent still. Intently. Afar. Do not disturb.

Phew! Dang! That was close!

The rumpled mud splattered maroon SUV hissed and crunched to a halt. Front bumper with battered Washington license plate oscillated to immobility after the front wheels jammed the curb. The driver’s door creaked open. The old guy emerged, dogged up in dingy duds, twisted hair encapsulated by a flopped-brimmed old hat, squatly legs lurching him toward Charter’s front door.

Now fully disturbed, the transcendent one entered high alert. He could barely ascertain , because of the reflection of brilliant sunlight from off the windshield, but there did seem to be others still in that heap. To complicate the matter, the old guy’s aim was a smidgen off, not leaving a whole lot of room between their two parked vehicles.

With hesitancy he started to wedge between the two fenders. He could see that the passenger window of the beat up relic was open, and that some lady who had poured herself into a near seam-splitting T-shirt, was sitting there.

“Are you getting out?” he asked her, waiting to let her extradite herself if she should so choose.

“Growl!!!” The lunge of spitty fangs, snarl-breath, and bristled hair was mercifully jerked back. The old woman obviously knew how to handle the brute. But still, he froze his motion with visions of postmortem lawsuits now racing in his head. 

“Naw, I ain’t gettin’ out.” And then nonchalantly, “He won’t hurt ya!”

With the dog now restrained, he swiggled himself farther down between the cars, past his door, got his door opened, sucked in his gut and squished himself into the driver’s seat.

A glance to his left elicited a raised eye brow. 

Dog calmly sitting in the junker SUV driver’s seat. Paws on the steering wheel. The peaceful picture of complacent competence. To the casual observer, he was just waitin’ for the carhop to bring a bone in a basket with a side of fries.

He rolled down his window before backing out.

“You let him drive often?” He had no idea if that came across as an indictment or a hackneyed joke. Didn’t matter at this point, his car was already pro-actively in reverse.

“Oh yeah,” she says, that toothless mouth sucking in her cheeks, the rolls of ripples shaking with chuckles, “but he drives like’em Idaho drivers.”

“Okay,” he laughed, relieved that she hadn’t sicced the hound on him. “I’ll be sure to steer clear!”

“Yeah!” she giggled, pony tail bobbing in affirmation, “You better do that! And steer clear of thum Idaho drivers too!”

The transcendent mind soon found itself lost, again, this time way west of Idaho.

The Refectory Manager

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Fires of Passion

Hell fire raged. An inferno bearing down speedily and mightily, sucking oxygen from the air, raining hot embers and propagating itself with a wake of terror and death. Carrie screamed at her older sister Mary. “Run! Run for your very life! Get into the lake! We don’t want to die!”

Gold had been discovered. The Canadian wilds of northern Ontario in 1907 were quickly transformed into a feverish rush of prospectors and fortune seekers. Frontier towns erupted with their log-pole store-front mercantiles, slash-siding rooming houses, tar-paper eateries, glittered unmentionable establishments of social need, all lining the dirt main-streets rimmed with plank-boarded sidewalks. A society banding together like spontaneously generated flies on fresh carrion. A branch of the railroad was punched through the boreal so as to maintain an umbilical cord with civilization down south. Box cars being the most practical means to transport heavy supplies snaked in, and hopefully, to haul gold bullion out. The adventuresome and desperate ‘rode the rods’ north to places like Timmons and Porcupine and Golden City. Those stalwart prospectors along with the entourage of parasitic logisticians, all with their irresistible drive for quick riches and rewards and experiences of personal fulfillment, coalesced into a concentrated economy. Two of the 5 Smith sisters from Renfrew, Ontario were smitten and caught up in that frenzy. Already they were experienced in cooking, waitressing, and chambermaiding, so they assimilated easily and quickly into the ambient passions of vocation, avocation and wilderness romance.

Smoke had been in the air for some time. It was beastly hot for that part of the world. It had been months since the last rain. The conifers were tinder-dry and formed an arsenal of nascent explosive torches. There was a fire out there somewhere to the southwest. Actually, several small fires. Even so, the franticness of gold fever suppressed any notion of eminent danger. Wood smoke mixed with main-street dust was the new normal for the villagers of Porcupine. 

Porcupine, a rough town on the northern side of Porcupine Lake, a town in the height of servicing hundreds of prospectors in the surrounding hills. The constant stream of newly arriving optimistics needed to be outfitted, fed, quartered, entertained, soused and loved. Some of the long-timers now had built houses and had imported their families. There were now kids and cats and dogs and horses and men and women and priests and pimps and miners and surveyors and hucksters and traders and swindlers all choreographing a feverish economy of hope eternal. Carrie and Mary were caught up in the ferocity of supporting that logistical mission.

Baptized into the Church of England twenty one years prior, Carrie was now a-religious. It was the here-and-now that was important. Life was vibrant, free, open, and filled with adventure. The neophyte prospectors and miners and surveyors with puffed egos and ambitions of riches and glories, all cast spells of promise and enticement on the giddiness of single girls. In time, Carrie accepted an engagement ring. When that guy’s stake was to be mined, she would be in her heaven on earth. No more the days of tables and dirty dishes and stained sheets and pinches and insults and forcing her exuberance of faux excitement for bristled faces, bourbon breath and puke. Rather, she thought that one of the better ones had snagged her, or was it she had snagged him.

Alas, familiarity breeds contempt. The lover’s quarrel erupted into spiteful hate. Off to the bridge spanning the Porcupine River, jerking the engagement ring from her finger, then mightily throwing it far into the raging tumult below. 

There was not only fire in her heart, there was fire in her wilderness.

Spring had come early to northern Ontario in 1911, and now in July, there had been months of tinder-dry heat-driven drought. On July 11, a hurricane-force wind picked up from the southwest and combined several small fires into a raging conflagration, some 20 miles wide with a horse-shoe shaped frontal assault aimed squarely for the west end of Porcupine Lake. Flames, a hundred feet in the air, were driven fiercely toward the small town of Porcupine on the northwestern shore. By evening, the air was filled with blinding and choking smoke and soot and ash. It burned the eyes and fouled the lungs. Visibility collapsed. The sky was billowing in blackness. Tinder-dry roofs were bursting into flames. The only route of escape was to get into a boat and sail east on Porcupine Lake to the far end, to the village of Golden City.

With no boats of their own, and only a few boats still available anyway, terrified people ran into the water. One boat, significantly overloaded, hit a log and dislodged the propeller. It drifted into the smoke. A big Newfoundland dog with 9 pups had found a floating log and lined up all the pups alongside the log with their paws clinging for security. As baby pups slipped off, the mother dog somehow fetched them back up. They were found the next day. All had survived. 

Mary, 5 years older than Carrie, took charge. Under typical circumstances, both were headstrong, belligerent and dogmatic. They had nothing but the sack-dresses on their backs. They pitched into the tepid water, water warmer than it would otherwise be, except for the prolonged heat. Their granny-shoes sinking into the mud floor of the lake. Pinned-up hair unraveling. Dresses becoming thoroughly soaked, translucent and clingy. 

“Carrie, get down, get your head down,” screamed Mary. The blast-furnace wind raged along the surface of the lake, parching their air. They ducked down into the water, only to be forced up again every few seconds for air. The surrounding area was confusion and panic. Choking. Crying. Praying. Cursing. The hours went on. Porcupine burned. Night fell.

The fire roared up the south flank of the lake. It lit on fire three rail cars parked on a rail siding between Porcupine and Golden City, cars filled with dynamite for Philadelphia Mine. The dynamite exploded, knocking people flat to the ground in a camp 3 miles farther south, and causing a 9 foot tsunami to race across the lake. The steel rails beneath those box cars coalesced into twisted spaghetti.

Early in the morning of July 12, it started to rain. Real rain. Real water. The wind was stilled. Embers were getting soaked, the fire now arrested.

Carrie and Mary crawled out of the lake. They were exhausted. Terrified. And now destitute.

It was never known how many died. The official count was seventy one, perhaps seventy three. Unofficially, it was put in the hundreds. No one knew how many prospectors there were out in the surrounding wilderness.

The rest of Ontario quickly heard about the disaster and shipped bales of clothing and supplies on the train as far as the rail line was passable. 

By and large the people stayed and regained their optimism. One of the numerous dynamite explosions opened up a powerful new spring of fresh water. The log store-front mercantiles were rebuilt. The rooming houses, the eateries, the saloons all mushroomed back into existence.

The Smith sisters did not stay for long. Within months they headed out west. Headed to Port Arthur, Ontario [now named Thunder Bay] at the west terminus of Lake Superior. Port Arthur was another booming frontier town in the height of railroad construction. Manufactured goods had to be moved west. Grain and cattle from the prairies had to be moved east. Port Arthur was the gateway to the vastness of western Canada.

Carrie was hired on as a waitress at the hotel on main street. The bantering with the bartender bubbled. 

The memory of an old fire was squelched with the reality of a new one. Things with Carrie and the bartender progressed. Flames of a new passion. But the stories were sketchy and secretive. A few documents have recently emerged citing names and dates and places and occupations. Circumstantial census evidence has been pieced together although not conclusive in confirmation. 

Perhaps my grandfather was a bartender. For certain, my grandmother Catherine was a survivor of the Great Porcupine Fire of 1911. 

The Refectory Manager

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There was the sound of silence in that classroom. Except for the noise of the pounding of thirty or so fear-driven hearts.

The minister, with his Brylcreem coiffed hair, his rimless glasses fogged over from condensation resulting from frigid glass hitting that blast of heated air, his taking off his black great-coat thus revealing the garb of his only dull black suit and that yellowed-white shirt providing background to his shiny black tie, entered. But there was an expectation that was different this time. He had come before, often. But now, there was an electrified tension that something was dreadfully wrong. Mrs. Burgess*, the teacher of the upper-grade room of the two- room parochial school was now hovering near the back of the room. The minister singled out one of the Hitchbothom boys and ushered him into the little office off to the side of the classroom.

Silence. What seemed to be forever.


The shriek of pain!


A cry that sounded nothing like what an 8th grader boy should ever emit.

Howard was a good looking kid. No facial pimples. His blond hair combed over from the part on the right side of his head, originally originating from his left-handed mother. Typical of him, he was wearing his rough dark-green work pants, a variations-on-the-theme-of-red plaid work shirt and heavy leather boots. He was usually adorned with a shy, sly grin, and for the most part, congenial. His father was a long-distance trucker. Recently his dad had taken his two boys on a trip across Canada, from Calgary to Montreal and back. This was in 1959, still a time of two-lane inter-provincial highway travel. Howard provided an oral report of their adventure to the class. He saw that having to get-up-in-front-of-the-class thing as his punishment for skipping so much school. My recollection from his oral report, was his excitement in describing the restaurant cuisine that they had discovered somewhere back east, the novel presentation of “half-chicken in a basket.” A serviette lined basket holding a battered and deep-fried half-chicken accompanied with a mound of chips [what Canuks call French Fries], and a buttered dinner roll. This before the onslaught of ubiquitous COL McFish’n Chips. Howard, and his younger brother Frank, were already saddled with the reputation of being juvenile delinquents. There had been run-ins with the law, usually involved with petty thievery and shop lifting. A police officer, on more than one occasion, had visited the school. Even I got sucked in, unwittingly once, as the recipient of a mechanical coin-changer device that Frank had snitched from a Calgary Transit bus driver. Frank wanted the coins. I was enthralled with the device. Then there was the time, years before, when Frank snitched a Dinky-Toy truck from a display in Chesney’s Hardware on the corner of Center Street north and 16th Ave., tucked it against his belly under his shirt, feigned a stomach ache, and bolted out the door. 

I had admired Howard. He had a magnetism about himself. Frank was my friend. My father and Henry Wells, a young-adult from the church, took a bunch of us boys on an over-night camping trip out at Priddis one Saturday night. It was cold. We were so ill-equipped. We camped on a gravel bar at the side of Fish Creek. The water was low, cold, but inviting enough that two or three boys wanted to go swimming. Howard stripped naked. I had never seen a boy like that before.

Crack! Again! That curdling scream of pain!

Followed quickly. By seven more.

The minister came out of the side room. Marched to the back of the classroom, grabbed his coat and abruptly left.

Howard emerged.

His face contorted in pain. Flushed. Tears streaming down his cheeks. Wet stains on his plaid shirt. His eyes were red and swollen. Snot dripping from his nostrils. 

His right hand was purple, swollen and blistered. He gently cradled it in his other hand.

Somehow, through the horror of his public shame and humiliation, he found his desk, and slipped mercifully into his seat. 

I had turned around in my seat to look. His head was held high. He was now just quietly sobbing, shaking, whimpering, gasping for air. He cradled his swollen hand in his other hand, resting them both on the surface of his desk. He made no attempt to wipe tears or snot from his face. Fear gripped me. That portrait of acute distress is an image that haunts me to this day.

We had all seen the strap. A near inflexible band of leather about 2 inches wide, 18 inches long and a quarter of an inch thick. We had all been told that it could and would be used if necessary. My father, at the end of my 5th summer and my getting ready to start first grade, in his assumed role as a supper-table jester, told me “Every kid gets the strap the first day of school!” For the record, I did get the strap from my father on that first day of school, but that was another story. Now, nine years later, Mrs. Burgess, being the mealy frump that she was, had called the minister to execute the corporal punishment. That strap was the implementation of discipline.

What Howard had done, I have no idea. I had heard my father say more than once, that those Hitchbothom boys belonged in a reform school, not the Seventh-day Adventist church school. But I liked them. Howard was intriguing. An aura of the risqué enveloped both he and Frank. The subtle admonitions to the rest of us that we would become tainted with sin if we associated with them. Even so, Frank was my friend. In a previous year, while we were both still in the lower-grade classroom, I ached for him as the teacher in that room snapped three yardsticks, in her fit of uncontrolled rage, over Frank's head while we all watched spellbound in horror.

But on this winter day, ten cracks of a leather strap on the palm of a firmly-held outstretched hand. Ten curdling screams of agony. Thirty some terrorized kids in the classroom of a church school. A cowering teacher providing no comfort, solace, or explanation. 

Howard, undoubtedly had been guilty of something, now a publicly inflicted and humiliated young teen boy. 

The Old Testament lesson of mercy and justice inflicted on us all. 

Howard, the image you embedded in my memory that day is that you were still holding your head high.

The Refectory Manager 

*All names have been changed.

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So the assignment was to introduce myself

If pressed, I simply state that my brother is an only child. I suppose that makes me virtual. I would think so. Perhaps. But then, maybe, just implicit.

My being the virtual brother of an only child is to be able to slip out from under the shackle of fear and unfulfilled expectation. To be able to conquer the panic of the unknown. To be capable of transforming the future into the present. To relish the safety of reclusiveness. Then, at some point, to be able to look back and to be able to realistically deny that that accomplishment-conquered-fear was anything of significance. For me, to be able to minimize any legitimacy of worth. 

During a turbulent time in my life when the admission of who I am to even myself was in the pangs of emergence, I found an adapted version of the Myers Briggs personality assessment tool. No matter how I tweaked my responses to that bank of questions, the instrument identified the same conclusion over and over. An "INFJ" personality. As in introverted, intuitive, feeling, judger. Apparently, in this assessment tool, this is referred to as "The Mystic Writer."

I suppose that a Myers Briggs personality assessment is just a one-off from a horoscope and borders on psycho-babble. But even worse, it elicits the near inevitability of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hope I have enough sense to keep things in both context and perspective. Alas, the assessment tool did resonate with me. And justified for me at least, why I simply cannot help but write as a method of both healing and fulfillment.

Apparently, to an INFJer, the written word is sacred because through it, we can understand and express the mysteries of life. [Oh, if that were even remotely possible or true for me.] When it comes to affairs of the heart, the INFJer prefers to express him/herself with the pen: poetry, journal writing, and tender notes left on the bathroom mirror. [As if there actually was someone there to read them.] When not writing, we supposedly have the gift of listening - to comfort and aid those who come to us for advice and guidance. I presume my blog The Refectory Manager, is my manifestation of that. So many of those stories were/are pointed to one specific individual or another. I suppose that is why there was such resonance with a young man in Kansas who Googled a very specific phrase and then Google pointed, as its first hit, to a story in my blog, The Refectory Manager

The realization of being a Mystic Writer frightened me. The description of INFJ included powerful words of warning. It will be lonely. A Mystic Writer is found in only 2% of the population. We are intensely introverted, our soul-mate relationships, if they ever can exist, become pathological fueled by some highly developed sense of imagination in obsession with a one-best and only-friend experience. That, so painfully describes the angst in my life from my earliest memories.

The Mystic Writer is the most reclusive of the Meaning-Seeker love types. As such, it is a burden that is both difficult to bear and provides the blessed relief of being able to be virtual.

To me, the written word is sacred because through it, I try to understand and express the mysteries of soul-mate experience. As Thomas Moore in Soul Mates [page 124] expresses it, Conversation is the sex act of the soul, and as such it is supremely conducive to the cultivation of intimacy. 

My only brother and I have never had those conversations. 

I have never left a note on a mirror.

Reality tells me I have no brother.

The Refectory Manager

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Tape

"Christmas is a time to believe in things you can't see." So goes the slogan of a certain Minnesota company that makes an "invisible" kind of cellophane tape.

Her voice had that aura of ominousness about it. 

"You better watch out, you better not cry."

My activity of the hour would be impeded.  Halted.

"Better not pout, I'm telling you why."

That voice.  That song.  That angst of near five-year-old little boy.

"He knows if you've been bad or good."

There it is again . . . Christmas is a time to believe in things you can't see.  

Jesus already knows if I am bad or good.  Santa must be Jesus.   Maybe Jesus is Santa in a bathrobe.

I can't imagine the mischief I was doing to illicit that song.  She would start singing it shortly after Halloween, after my getting over the tummy aches from too much candy. 

Maybe I was, again, unwinding the toilet paper, sticking in an extra cardboard tube that I had secretly saved, inserting it down about toilet seat level, then winding the toilet paper up and over the top of the existing roll.  All to make it unroll like a block and tackle system on a big crane.  Sometimes there were two additional pulleys added.  Mother had no appreciation for things mechanical.

Or taking all of the cans and boxes out of the cupboard and setting up a store in the living room.  Using the silverware insert from the kitchen drawer as a cash register to hold and separate the cut out and colored play money.

"Oh, you better watch out!"

Salvation by works.  Christmas presents being the tangible manifestation of perfection.  To complicate the anxiety, my birthday was Christmas Eve.

"He's making a list, and checking it twice."

Or hoping I wouldn't be caught, again, hiding in the closet with a spoon and the package of brown sugar, rationalizing that if I ate the sugar fast enough, then the  worms wouldn't have time to grow in my teeth.

"So be good, for goodness sake!"

Or pulling out the old Filter Queen vacuum cleaner with its hose attached to the top.  It was so much better than Brian's Electrolux vacuum cleaner because the Filter Queen was on four wheels and made the perfect fire engine.  Racing up and down the hall going to a fire would prompt "Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice," which added to the confusion about fire fighters and being nice. 

The modus operandi of both Jesus and Santa was indistinguishable.  Omniscient.  Omnipresent.  Omnipotent.  The aura of Santa Claus was being in the here and now.  The aura of Jesus was standing off somewhere in heaven, holding a lamb in his arms with a lion lying at his feet.  Little children with wings playing nearby.  Christmas is a time to believe in things you can't see.

As the winter coldness and darkness settled in, sometime in mid-December, the ride to down town Calgary on the trolley bus was couched in wonderment and suspense.  Just the thrill of being a part of the big old trolley bus was enough, but there were still adventures to be relished ahead. We would go first to The Bay between 7th and 8th Ave and 2nd Street S.W.  Of course, there was the obligatory trip to the toy department.  Past the counters of perfume and ladies purses to the bank of elevators on the far wall.  Watching for the light at the top of the sliding door, and waiting for the 'ding' when the elevator arrived.  Entering and absorbing the details of how the uniformed young lady would slide the brass gate with all of its unfolding hinge components to secure us safely inside, then push the big wheel with the handle forward to make the elevator go up, and call out the floor number and departments at each stop.  We arrived at the toy floor with its sprawling lot of pedal cars, a working Lionel train set, boxes of Meccano sets,  Slinky's, sets of Laurentian colored pencils, and racks of color books. The assortment of Golden Books, teddy bears, police cars with friction motors and sparking red lights, Snakes and Ladders, and balsa wood airplane kits with instructions that had big unknowable words like fuselage.  Cap guns with rhinestone holsters, doctor's bag kits, hockey sticks, tobaggons, and Dinky Toys.  Oh! The Dinky Toys, with their exquisitely detailed little embodiments for vivid little-boy role-playing imagination.   Of course, the wish book had come way back in the summer, and I had devoted hours and hours to imagining the rewards of both heaven and earth.  I had made my list, and checked it many more times than just twice.   Somehow, my mother's singing confused me as to which list was actually involved.  Santa's list, or Jesus' list, or my list.  They were the same, weren't they?  Or maybe not. 

"He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!

I had never seen a Jesus in a department store.  But there, at the far end of the toy department was the manifestation of the earthly temple of god.  The god who knew.  The god who could deliver.  There he was, sitting there, high on his throne.  Accolades of angels dressed as elves ministering to his every need.  Santa Claus was already in town.

Still, the torment of not knowing if Santa would come to my house.  My mother's singing seemingly never far away to reinforce the doubt.  We didn't have a chimney but plausible work-arounds had satisfied me.  Would his checked list for me have checks beside the naughty or the nice?  Would I have been good enough? Would I be found worthy?  Would there be any reward for me?

We walked out from The Bay into the frigid air to notice the clouds of near frozen water vapor erupting from tailpipes of cars squeaking down the snowdrift-lined main street.  We shuffled down 8th Avenue, past Henry Birk's and Sons jewelry store with their little blue lights ringing the bullet-proof glass  of their display windows. 

We side-stepped the lady in the long black coat ringing a bell beside a red hanging pot at the entrance of Woolworth's, and entered into the store to get an egg salad sandwich on white with tomato juice at their lunch counter.  Finding two seats together, mother wedged little sister's stroller between.  My examining the waitress in her white uniform, the little pointed apron, her hairnet in place and her cap on her head holding her up-trussed hair in place.  Her little order pad of green paper, how I wanted a supply of little order pads of green lined paper just like that.  Then to watch her compose the sandwiches.  Extract the bread from a bread box.  Lay out the slices.  Use a little scoop to dip the egg salad mixture from a row of containers with stainless steel lids.  Cut the sandwiches in diagonal quarters and arrange them on the plates with two quarters sticking upright, anchored on each side by a quarter lying on it's side.  A little sprig of parsley for decoration,  fresh parsley no less, even in that bitter cold of winter.  Watching her pouring the tomato juice into tall, thin glasses.  And to observe in amazement her dexterity in delivering our order to our spot at the linoleum-topped counter.  Gingerly I picked up one of the little sandwiches.  The bread was soft and gooy.  The egg salad moist and cold and delectably sweet, and almost pure white like there were no yolks at all in the mix.  Sometimes, there would be a piece of lettuce incorporated.  

Then to Zeller's. There for me to find and to then point to the display bin of bulk candy and order 10 cents worth from the old lady dressed in her starched white uniform, her hairnet in place, her coiffed hair crowned with her little elf cap. I listened to the swosh of the scoop as she thrust it into the bin of Smarties*, then the cascading rattle of candies being dumped on the big scale equipped with the sweep hand referencing a dozen price/per ounce combinations. I watched her titrate out the 10 cents worth . . . and with a motherly wink, a tiny bit more.  With dexterity, she transferred the little colored candies into a little white paper sack and my exchange of dime for treat was completed.  

Ten cents worth of Smarties was far to much for me to eat at one time, so it was only the taste of a treat, to be finished over the next couple of days.  But for now, it was off to look at mittens and hats and scarves in Newberrys. 

Even in the early 1950's, there was the onset of the ravages of consumermas with the silly little Christmas songs of reindeer and snowmen crooned by Bing Crosby and Perry Como and Gene Autry, interspersed with the godly standbys of Little Town of Bethlehem and Oh Holy Night and We Three Kings and Hark! Let the Heralds Sing!  Those festive sounds rounded out the sights of flashing lights and garlands of holly and twinkling tinsel and clerks sporting caps snitched from elves.  The essence of cinnamon and cloves and spruce unblocking stuffed up noses. 

We finally got to the other anchor store two full blocks west of The Bay, that being The T. Eaton Company.  There!  Proof of the omnipresence and therefore the omniscience of Santa Claus.  He was everywhere.  No wonder he could know if I was sleeping, or if I was awake, or if I was being bad or good, or being good for goodness sake.

It was the lap of the Eaton's Santa Clause that I climbed up into to recite my little list of things expected from him, him being the tangible surrogate of Jesus.

Christmas is a time to believe in things you can't see.  So goes the slogan of a certain Minnesota company that makes an "invisible" kind of cellophane tape.

With a hardy "HO! HO! HO! You be a good little boy now," I descended from the throne of the all mighty, questioning, for the first time in my life.

It was then, with the innocence only a little boy can muster, I dared ask the question that is never to be asked or answered. 

Why was Santa's beard held on by Scotch tape?

The Refectory Manager

* Smarties is the Canadian equivalent of M&M's.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011


Filled with the angst of uncertainty, shifting from foot to foot, consumed by the pregnant anticipation on that afternoon of a late 1966 spring day, I waited to be ingested by the old Greyhound bus parked at the old Walla Walla bus terminal. In the moments before boarding, four other motleys moseyed up, having exchanged their government issued vouchers for tickets like I had just done. Small talk was sparse. This trip could end in death. The Selective Service Board upstairs in the old Denny Building on 2nd and Alder had made their selections, at least for 4 of us. I was not drafted, yet, just trying to beat the rap by enlisting in a student program sponsored by the U.S. Army Medical Department.

At least I had the wherewithal to find a seat on the right side of the bus, that way, I wouldn't have to have the setting sun blind my eyes. The belching bus rolled out from the terminal, heading west and north on US 12 with stops at all the jerk-water-holes between Walla Walla and Clarkston. Pee stop at Lewiston, then up the old Lewiston Grade to roll out onto the Palouse Hills. We stop at GEN-e-SEE, or is it GE-NES-EE, or what the hell, then Moscow, what kind of an Un-American name of all places is Moscow for this country. When you ask somebody where it is at you get a smart-assed answer ‘it’s out in the field beside pa’s cow’. How in the hell was I ever to guess that someday I would live there. Back in reality of the present, we then cross back over the state-line from Idaho and head for Pullman. I had heard of Washington State University, but had never seen it. I got a glimpse or two on the approach, then again from the west side as we rounded that steep road-cut-cliff shielding the southwest corner of the campus. The idea was so absolutely incomprehensible and absurb that fourteen years later the U.S. Army would be sending me to WSU to earn a PhD in Nutrition that all I thought about on that trip was how to deal with stomach curdling present-tense uncertainty.

It was dark when we pulled in to the bus terminal in the seedy part of Spokane. Clear sky and a lingering nip in the air. Dirty, littered streets, rows of newspaper boxes sequestering their shadows from omniscient street lights, parking meters sprouted up between cracked sidewalks and curbs, creepy looking men crawling back into door jams. Whiffs of urine, muffled honking, somewhere in the distance the siren wail of something in trouble. We each had a voucher for lodging at the YMCA, and two more vouchers for some nearby restaurant for supper tonight and breakfast on the morrow. The four of them decided to go off and find a bar or at least a source of liquor. It would be easier to flunk a physical if they were plastered the next morning, at least that is what they surmised. I started my hunt for that restaurant.

I found it. The essence of dingy grunge enhanced by flickering neon sign on the outside, a disheveled dimness on the inside.

"You alone?" the harried waiter with filthy apron yells over his shoulder at me. "Sit wherever you want."

So I do. There is already a menu at the table, along with pressed glass salt and pepper shakers, rack of saltine crackers, tiny vase of toothpicks, bottles of requisite condiments and silverware wrapped in a paper napkin.

The menu is individually typewritten with its uneven mono-spaced serif font. A single page of meat-and-three selections ranked in price from cheapest to most expensive. I made my selection, from near the bottom. Roast beef with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, side salad and dinner roll with butter. Actually, it was margarine but truth-in-menu laws hadn't been invented yet. The meal was so typically stereotypical of institutional food as evidenced by that powdered fake brown gravy taste, but who in their clientele was cognizant enough to critique that.

At the end of the meal, I presented my voucher with the meal-check at the counter.

"Why the hell didn't you say you were one of them! There is a government meal for you. You don't order from the menu." I had to break my one and only bill, a five dollar bill, to make up the difference. I take it that most inductees arrive in squad formation and are not mistaken for a singular gentlemen seeking a quality dining experience. This, my first exposure with the nuances of government procurement.

The YMCA was boisterous. Apparently a whole bunch of them arrived on the east-bound train from Seattle earlier in the afternoon. Apparently it was common knowledge to get as drunk as possible for this rite of passage.

The AFEES facility (Armed Forces Examination and Entrance Station) was spread across the upstairs in some old downtown building. Signs inside everywhere identifying station numbers. Corpsman in hospital whites scurrying around. Some 120 of us corralled in a holding room. Hippies, preppies, geeks, goons, fems, fats, bean-poles, intelligent, bewildered, stoned, sober, nervous, docile, stupid, and to a man, apprehensive. One-by-one, we are checked in with the documents we had already been given, either by the Draft Board or a recruiter. My first exposure to hurry up and wait.

Eventually we are moved into a huge room with rows of tables with the chairs lined up on each side. At the end of the tables, is a platform from which this big burly medic with both stripes and rockers on his rank insignia is making certain he is not there to take shit from anybody. He proceeds with the continuation of the paper work drill and it gets earnest. There is this long, folded DD Form some-number that is a medical history form. The usual identification stuff at the top, and then lists of question after question about diseases and injuries and deformities and abnormalities and coughs and colds and sore bung holes and pimples on the dinkus and what works and what doesn't and how you feel about all kinds of psychological stuff.

Burly sergeant medic yells out, "Look at question what-ever-the-number-it-was, it is near the bottom of the second page. If ANYBODY here checks YES on that box, by gawd, you're gonna havta come up here and PROVE it ta me!"

The question what-ever-the-number-it-was: Are you homosexual? Yes No

His implication was that if anyone did come forward to "prove it," and use that to beat the draft, he would beat the pulp out of them.

There were some gasps of horror, some snide snickers, and a 120 potential inductees furiously filling in the 'no' box.

I blanched. I had never been confronted before. Hell, I hardly knew what that was. This, for certain, was not the time or place to find out. I quickly checked 'No.' It would be years before I would concede that that was but the first lie about that that I told. It would be years before I realized that that blustery burly sergeant was typical of a deeply conflicted closet gay simply trying, in his overt homophobic way, to survive in a bigoted homophobic society.

A few more forms later, the group was split into two cohorts. The orders now were to go into this locker room, strip down to shorts and leave your socks on. Put your stuff in a locker, it would be safe. Then the lining up for blood draws, anthropometrics of height and weight measured, blood pressure taken, chests thumped, throats peered down, tongues depressed with awes expressed, ears looked into, and color vision ability ascertained. All this taking a couple of hours more of hurry-up and wait-your-turn to get the now 60 of us all processed.

There is something inherently efficient about 'processing' in the military. Especially when it comes to 'examining' the acceptability of the fitness of an individual to become a ward of the government. This initial physical examination served as a legal benchmark. Injuries or illness subsequent to this examination while enlisted (or commissioned) in the military could be deemed service-connected and thus treatment the responsibility of the government. To avoid these claims, it was imperative this benchmark legal document be as complete and as thorough as possible.

Thus, it was.

The sixty of us were herded into yet another room and lined up in four rows, fifteen guys in a row. Our medical forms placed on the floor by our left foot. Rows of butts. Tighty-whities taut on bubble butts. Blousing boxers on bloated butts. Jock straps flanking a few bare butts.

The burly sergeant making his presence known again with a Spec-4 at his side. The order was given to the first row and only to the first row to "drop your shorts". Rows two, three and four emitting the sounds of snickering. Sergeant starts at one end. Spec-4 bends down to pick up the first guy's records and the sergeant proceeds with the inguinal hernia check. "Stand up straight. Cough." Then "Cough" again as the sergeant gropes on the other side of the pendulous package. Since no abnormality is barked out by the sergeant, Spec-4 checks the "normal" box on that guy's medical history form, drops it to floor, and the process repeated with the next guy in line.

They get to the end of the line and another boisterous command given for the first row only.

"Bend over, reach back and pull your cheeks apart."

It was no longer just snickering from the peering gallery. It is overt hoots of laughter. Being hung over with a hang-over or not, the tension crackled for relief.

Fifteen pink arse holes squinting at the incandescent light of day. All of them exposing the south end pose of the Wall Street bull market bulls with their heads lowered into the feed trough.

A PFC has joined them and holds a tray containing a box of latex gloves and a paper sack for the disposables and a jar of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. The Spec-4 reaches down again to pick up the medical record. The Sergeant jams his finger into a glove, then into the Vaseline jar, and proceeds to twist and thrust his digit bluntly into the resistant orifice with the intent of sensuously probing the assessment of the size of the owner's manhood. For a closeted homo, duty like this in the service of one's country simply doesn't get any better. One wonders of the wording of the Army Commendation Medal citation as it is read at his subsequent Awards Ceremony.

First row is completed.

The room is getting thick with the musty earthy dankness of pits and groins and sweaty feet, amalgamated with essence of Brylcreem and gawd awful Aqua-Velva, being overwhelmed by the all-ready expert skills of chemical warfare warriors with their secret, silent, but deadly dispersement of toxic intestinal gas.

Second row, same story.

We in the fourth row are thanking the warriors of yore for our fortuitous placement.

Humiliation in the second row is complete. Repeat story for the third row.

Now the view is totally unimpeded! Some guy's Bernoulli-compliant pucker lets rip with the vibrating call of Gabrielle's trumpet on the resurrection morning. A couple sets of buns blushing to keep up with the color of their owner's bent over face. Some butts massively hairy. Some pale and smooth as the scotch whiskey the owner had guzzled down the night before. Analyzing the mean and standard deviation in the length of dangling participles is enough to make a statistically inclined grammarian blush.

Third row completed.

Then. So unexpectedly.

"ABOUT face!" An emphatic command. Now what was safely the fourth and back row is the new and humiliating front row. The already debased get their turn for lustful sneering revenge. At this point, there is no more personal dignity left to be lost.

There were still two parts of the examination to complete. The urinalysis and the one-on-one interview with the doctor.

We each are given a plastic cup for the urine catch and given instructions as to where to place it when it is filled.

Our group was now divided again with those with the greetings from the President lined up first for their doctor's visit. There were about 10 of us that were purposefully enlisting and we were held to the end.

I had quickly provided my urine sample, but in the process of the long wait, I needed to go again and so headed back toward the latrine.

A big guy trying to get into the Navy jumped up and followed me. When we got into the latrine with its long trough for shoulder-to-shoulder group water works, he thrust his cup toward me and begged me to fill it for him. Seems he was having an acute case of shy bladder and was terrified that he wasn't going to be able to give his sample. Of course I complied, and assured him that I did not have any known diseases. I wonder to this day if he ever became an admiral commanding some missile launching cruiser supporting Desert Storm and if it was my little cup of pee that is now responsible for winning that war effort.

My turn next for the young Captain, fresh out of medical school. The listener to hundreds of reasons why this patient should be classified F-4 and deemed unfit for military duty. And then to reasons why other patients wanted medical problems ignored so that they could be deemed fit. The doc listened to me opine about how my knees would swell up and have tubes of Mt Dew sucked out of them with big needles, but how that shouldn’t impede me in any way for the professional program I aspired to. He scanned over the forms, looking for the sentinel “no’s” and “yes’s” flagging abnormalities. With no other comment, he stamped the form, signed his name and wished me good luck.

I had been examined. My paper work stamped ACCEPTABLE.

It was a contemplative ride back to Walla Walla later that afternoon. I was filled, still, with the angst of uncertainty.

The Refectory Manager

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