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Welcome to Cambodia September 13, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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First posted January, 2012, then moved to a more private place. I think that was a mistake.

Snakebite leader, Bravo Six. For the record, it’s my call. Dump everything you got left ON MY POS. I say again, I want all you’re holding INSIDE the perimeter.

When you start thinking of your life in terms of war movie lines, you know shit is well and truly fucked. We are not talking Audie Murphy and John Wayne here. The quote is from Platoon, and it is the moment the commander of the firebase calls on his air support to attack his own, overrun position, a desperate “let god sort ’em out” move.

It was over two years ago, when Toulouse Street was still on Toulouse Street, that I could not get “never get off the boat unless you’re going all the way” from Apocalypse Now out of my mind.

Welcome to Cambodia.

You go through life with all its suck, holding out for and onto the moments of joy. You slog through the things you must, the soulless corporate drudge, the problem with your car, the bills simple and monstrous, the crumpled clothes and clotted dishes. You try to protect and cherish and share joy with the people who matter to you most but the air crackles with static. Lightning is about to strike and everyone is huddled beneath their own separate tree.

Some of my problems are simple enough. Moloch relocated my job to another state. There was no way I would leave my children behind and no chance his mother would relinquish our son to follow me. I would only leave New Orleans under the most desperate of circumstances. It was time to find a new job, or an entirely new thing to do, and move on. I had plan: go back to school to finish the B.A. I abandoned 30 years ago, stretch the severance as far as I can. Soon I could see that would not work, and Moloch called to offer me a contractor gig at my old rate, minus benefits. I took it, part-time. Between those hours that barely keep body and soul together I study, read, write, keep up Odd Words, try to have something like a normal New Orleans life.

My net worth is a negative number, and my COBRA health insurance runs out at the end of this month. Time to readjust, make a new plan but if I find a new cubicle, what, I’m all set? Set for what? Load up on anti-depressants, buy my whiskey by the case and stop reading and watching films that put ideas in my head? Ideas are dangerous things and dreams even more so. Dreams begin as ideas which then rehearse themselves out on the night time stage of all your memories and anxieties and infantile fears and when those fanciful ideas peek into the day fully formed they are game changers, dangerous animals that have navigated all of the why-nots and oh-my-gods your subconscious can throw at them. If you wake up at 4 a.m. not in a fright and a cold sweat but instead immediately reach for a pen or the computer on the floor, not even bothering with coffee, the old rules no longer apply. All that matters is putting it down into words.

The personal situation is more difficult. If you haven’t figured out until a few paragraphs ago that the Toulouse Street blog is now published from a month-to-month apartment on Fortin Street then you haven’t been reading closely, haven’t noticed the suggestions of The Narrative hidden in the camouflage of other things posted here. That’s OK. It is not so much a finished story as something in rehearsal, a fragmentary draft, and to borrow Time O’Brien’s apt subtitle for his highly autobiographical novel The Things they Carried, A Fiction: full of false starts, imagined parallel lives and bits of trickster misdirection: Southern yarns intended to advance The Narrative. It would be easy to miss the The Narrative threaded through all these words and that’s OK: I mostly write it for myself, as a rehearsal for other writings, other lives.

I never write about my practically perfect children here. It is not that kind of blog. I think of them often when I write, believe they don’t read this (they say they don’t) but still I am careful. Once we get past careful, into the place where they are almost grown and I say it aloud-–we’ll never be that sort of family again, that I think a whole father on Fortin Street is better than a broken father on Toulouse Street, that the papers have been filed–-it is then the desperate scene from Platoon comes into my mind. They know things have changed irreversibly since the split but there are milestones ahead on that road: lawyers, visitation, custody, money. There are craters on that road and the hulks of burning vehicles. In the dark ahead there are flashes and the distant whump of artillery.

I would step in front of a bullet for my children but if I don’t go down this road I would not be that person anymore. I would be the figure cowering behind a tree, a broken coward, unable to advance into whatever life holds, unable to have their backs when they need me, unable to stop that bullet. There is no safety in cowardice. You can’t hide from your own terrors. Only action–-the head stuck bravely under the bed to see there are no monsters–-will work. If I can give them no other lesson in life, I would give them that.

My personal tangle is no doubt exacerbated by blog pieces like this (imagine the phone ringing, the lawyer’s name on the display, the what-the-fuck-are-you-doing conversation), but if I’m afraid or unable to write this down then I am changed but become a nothing, an undeconstructed cipher, Tyrone Slothrop vanishing into a temporal wormhole. What I write here is too much a part of the person I am becoming and for a year now I have been pulling punches because others read it closely, looking for accidental confessions, for advantages.

If what I wrote over the last several years were read as closely as things are now the situation might be entirely different but you can’t go home again. It’s a different river.

The fact remains: either I am the person unfolding here or I am nothing.

I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.

— Samuel Beckett

I posted that on the blog in August 2006. At the risk of repeating myself, nobody who might find that disconcerting was paying attention. And perhaps that is a good thing. What if I had been saved from myself, subdued by the pentecostal Taser of duty and remorse, become the very model of St. Joseph, the New Testament character who vanishes into irrelevance? Look at paintings of the crucifixion. Where is he? Drinking alone in some bar?

A proper husband and father. A dutiful breadwinner. Like Willie Loman.

In the event the oxygen masks deploy, put on your own mask first before assisting others.

What fuck does that mean? she asked once when I quoted it in one of those conversations in which words circle each other like angry dogs, but in the context of the emergency those instructions are critical. Something is horribly amiss and the best hope is a hard landing. Try to put the mask on the others first, fumbling in panic, and no one is awake to brace for the impact. No one survives.

Seven cigarettes, three cups of coffee, and the Publish button begins to resemble some high-tech, cockpit trigger. “Snake bite leader, this is Bravo Six…”

Perhaps it does not matter what I write here. It is text, not life, and I have warned you before my reader not to confuse the two. You want Truth, go up to the altar and let them lay their hands on you and surrender your reason to the spirit, because you will not find the absolute, Biblically-infallible truth here. You want facts, I don’t know what to tell you. Pick up the newspaper or turn on the television and the only reliable information is the count of bodies. All the rest is a fanciful blur of accusations, excuses and unquestioned fabrications.

Memory is fallible and has its own agendas we do not understand. I have acted out in my blogs imaginary and desired lives that blur the line between reality and desire. In the end, memoir, journal, this version of Creative Non-Fiction, are merely first drafts of a history, one which may not yet or will ever occur. History they say is ultimately written by the victors with the facts of their own choosing or fabrication. When there are no victors, only survivors, then there is no history, no canonical Truth. There are only words. And if I don’t write them, there is not even that. Just silence.

PBR Street Gang, PBR Street Gang: this is Almighty, over.

PBR Street Gang, PBR Street Gang: this is Almighty, over…

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