Monday, March 27, 2006

Llego en Bolivia

My hotel has an internet cafe. Well, not a cafe, more of a desk with a vintage computer that nevertheless fills the need. The desk clerk, a sleepy-eyed and indifferent fellow, said that it would cost me three bolivianos. I handed him one US dollar and he pocketed it with a shrug, gesturing toward the machine.

I'm waiting a day before I call Shirleen. I rang her three days ago to be sure she was still here. I hung up as soon as I heard her puzzled voice. I want to adjust to the altitude. Somewhere around fifteen thousand feet, can that be right? The weather is cool and rainy. Needless to say, I've a headache and the brief stroll along the terrace to the lobby has winded me. My heart is otherwise fine.

The flight was wonderful. I wasn't able to crack the cover of the Harrison book, nor accomplish any editing on a partial manuscript I intend to send to a curious agent upon my return. I didn't even pop the corks on the splits of Shiraz. During the longest leg, from Miami to La Paz, I sat next to a young woman with 6-month-old twins. She was a smallish woman with Andean features and a brownish complexion not dissimilar to my own. I had the window, she the middle, and a pale man with norteƱo features wearing a suit and tie inhabited the aisle seat. She struggled and I offered to take one child while the suited man preteneded to ignore us and cracked open a thriller with military jargon in the title. I figured him for Republican.

The woman's Spanish was no better than my own, but it was enough for us to communicate the essentials. I didn't ask her ethnicity. Aymara perhaps? Most among the other passengers were criollo and upper-class in appearance.

When we reached altitude the babes began wailing. It's a delicious sound. My own daughters are twins. We have a long-standing joke: I will often refer to either Billie or Ella as my older daughter depending on which has most recently used a scolding or mothering tone with me. Due to a mix-up at the hospital we don't know which of our girls was first out of the gates. They are identical twins but as different as spring and autumn. Some might think me perverse for enjoying the crying infants on the plane, but few sounds are so pure and earnest. No question what they wanted.

The woman began to feed them at her breast clearly making the Republican uncomfortable. I quite enjoyed the man's squirming. Due to the cramped space I held one babe while she fed the other, but as I was no replacement for the mother we finally arranged to place a child at each breast. I held one infant on my lap with one of my paws under the soft, velvet skull, the back of my hand resting on the woman's warm belly, my thumb pressed into the soft underside of a breast. This way she was able with her free hand to smooth the milk in her glands down toward the nipple and the babies' puckered lips. It was intimate, but in a decent, neighborly way despite the fact that I found the young woman undeniably attractive. Anyone who doubts we are all of the same human family is in need of such an experience as this. I felt grandfatherly for the first time in my life. I wished that I was a young, inexperienced father again. Ah, the miracle of it all. Perhaps with Shirleen? Now you're dreaming, Trout. I recall my dear student, Miss Lowell, and the tribulation surrounding her pollination.

The babes finished, burped, slept, crapped, and then the whole process started again. The Republican located a different seat around mid-flight, though none of us took note of his departure. I spent most of the time staring into the tiny faces, happier than I've been in ages. At one point a tear rolled off of my great, smushed nose and plopped on a chid's slumbering forhead. She wrinkled her nose as if to sneeze but remained asleep. I was reminded of a baptism, though I felt wholly unworthy.

When we landed, the woman smiled sweetly and thanked me as I helped her off with the children. But in truth she had been greater comfort to me than I to her. When I thought of the torment the four of us likely inflicted on those seated around us I was strangely pleased.

Thus I arrived in Bolivia.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A reader reminded me of the altitude in La Paz, so I decided to test out the refurbished ticker before Sunday's flight. I hiked the state park this evening, and I handled the first hill okay, but the second incline hit me hard. I was chugging like a raspy steam engine by the time I crested the bluff. When I reached a favorite overlook I scared seven turkey vultures off of a dead elm. Jesus and Mohammed, they're massive birds when you come right up on them. Big, black shadows lifting into the gloaming, eyeing me sideways from their bald, prehistoric heads. I staggered backward and turned my ankle. My heart about leapt from my chest, and the scars from my quad bypass literally burned on my flesh. I thought of Hester Prynn.

I wound up on my ass in the mud, stunned, and for no reason in particular I began weeping. A trail runner happened by and she paused, staring down at me, bouncing from one foot to the other. Embarrassed, I made up some nonsense about my pet Pomeranian dying. I gathered myself and picked my way back down the trail.

When I returned home I found a message on my machine from my second ex-wife. She was livid that I hadn't told her about the surgery, and after a string of expletives she burst into tears and then insisted we meet in neutral territory (DC) sometime next week. We'd visit with Billie, share a meal or two at Etrusco, maybe take in a movie. She said that we needed to rethink our non-relationship. She said that I had been the best friend she ever had until I ruined her life, still the thought of my near death had crushed her. In short, she missed me. New tears formed behind the bridge of my nose. This reunion sounded lovely, but I'm leaving for Bolivia on Sunday so what can I do? I sat with my hand on the phone for the better part of an hour, feeling ridiculous for chasing my ex-girlfriend, a former student no less, halfway round the world on a whim. Call your wife, dammit, I chided myself, but to no avail.

I've already decided to cancel tomorrow's class. I'm two-thirds of the way through a bottle of my favorite Primitivo, and I already know the dream I'll have: the vultures will return and wait patiently while I lie in the mud. Every woman I've ever loved, including the first, will come by to collect interest on the happiness I've stolen from them, to be paid in vials of heart blood. The buzzards will then enjoy my desiccated remains.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The spring breaketh

I'm set for La Paz. I'm toting one carryon bag, the sum total of my luggage. One change of clothes, seven pairs of underdrawers. I've also just packed three splits of a delicious though pricey Australian Shiraz (Shotfire Ridge) for the flight, plus a small bottle of olive oil (xx). I'll pick up a loaf of French bread on the way to the airport. I don't know what to do about the corkscrew, what with the nonsensical airline security regulations. I've lost at least a dozen waiter corkscrews over the years to security agents as I'm never without one in my pocket. Perhaps I can borrow one onboard, though the flight attendants frown when you bring your own booze. Any suggestions?

Inflight I'll be reading my dear friend Jim Harrison's latest collection of novellas. I'm quite excited. I'm also packing some Graham Greene.

Thanks, too, to Miss Snark for her thoughtful advice on my agent predicament. I plan to implement her suggestions upon my return. I find the internet literary community refreshing after years of those stuffy university cocktail mixers and coffeehouse cliques. I recommend Miss Snark to all of my writing students. She's clever and funny, but most important "that chick knows her shit," as my daughter Billie might say. Her blog is more useful than five years in an MFA program, but don't tell the establishment as I'd be out of a job.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring break in Bolivia

I know that I've been less than diligent in my postings but trust me that it is only because I've been writing furiously. Billie gave me one of her old laptop computers, a clunky device without a modem, and it has released me from the Internet, thus magnifying my productivity. I'm reminded of my old Remington, which is what I used to produce my last worthy novel. The battery on this machine lasts two hours, and I've been hiking into the local state forest with my collapsible canvas chair to write. I spent the anniversary of the Bush War in frigid 40-degree sleet underneath a budding willow, typing until my fingers were stiff. The day was cold enough to silence the spring peepers down in the swamp, but I nevertheless managed two thousand words. At this rate I shall be finished by the end of the semester. Which would be ideal as I expect to be fired...but more on that later.

It's been difficult finding an agent for my two other new novels. They think I'm washed up, never mind that I used to be a sure thing to reach a third printing, if not more. This newest novel, though, should prove easier to sell: it is the best thing I've done since the 70s. Perhaps if I query under a different name. I'm afraid the New York literary establishment does not hold me in high regard due to some embarrassingly colorful behavior over the last twenty-five years.

I received my spring break tickets to La Paz. I expect that Shirleen will be shocked to see me as she has no idea. I assume that her decision to flee to Bolivia was not on my account. Billie thinks I'm crazy, but Ella recalls the nude photos and has endorsed my scheme. She takes it as a sign that my ticker is healing.

Elizabeth Lowell stopped by yesterday. She is quite pregnant, and accordingly attractive. Quite apart from the garden variety fetishism, I find pregnant women at the height of their radiance as a gender. I suppose I can empathize with the Republicans who so desperately want to keep them in this condition. She lifted her shirt to allow me to touch her belly, and I can still feel the imprint of her taught skin against my calloused paw. She is estranged from her Baptist family now, but I told her she could move in with me. I then fixed a simple Spanish soup.

Use frozen stock (porterhouse trimmings, livers, calves head). First sautee 8 cloves of peeled, degermed garlic in olive oil. Remove the garlic and pour in the stock. Simmer. Add cumin, ginger and parsley snips. Simmer. Crush the garlic with the back of a wooden spoon, return to soup, simmer. Next smear Italian bread slices with olive oil and toast on one side. Pour soup in bowls, crack one egg into each dish, lay on a slice of bread and stick in a 450 degree oven until the egg is boiled and solid in the bottom. Serve with a real Caesar salad (from scratch) and more bread.

Elizabeth sipped a nip of my discount Borsoa (5 bucks, World Market), and the meal was complete.

I leave for La Paz on Sunday. More upon my return.