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We spent most of the afternoon in warm surf defined by white sand and the expansive ocean leading to the horizon. The surfing spot was a forty-minute drive from Kuta, Lombok- one of several islands that is Indonesia.
Bamboo, thatched huts buffered the eye from the world beyond rolling waves, soft sand shifting underneath our feet, wide smiles, and brown skin. I wondered how long the island would remain relatively quiet, free of over powering white-noise, and how long the feeling of authenticity and intimacy could be maintained before the mega corporations and large-scale money interests bought up the land. There would always be offers people could not refuse.
I S h o u l d H a v e K n o w n
I pulled on suspenders, faked a New York accent, and sold "papes" after I saw the movie Newsies in the early '90s. I spent weeks obsessed with the idea of working the streets of a big city, fighting with other gangs, slinging rocks, and hanging out with pals. It was a fit of inflamed imagination- a chronic disorder for me. Eventually, I switched sides and became inspired by the idea of writing the news instead of selling it. Upward mobility.
My parents were the first to encourage the prospect of being a reporter. In consideration of everything I've done, it was a relatively safe and secure profession. Low wages and a long climb up from the bottom, but it was better than chasing muses as a musician and writer of fictional stories. Their pitch was on point, and they highlighted adventure and the excitement of covering stories under dangerous circumstances.
While in the first-grade, the folks helped me start a small newspaper. Really, it was an infintile newsletter covering the topics we miniature people thought were important: Girls took boy's hats, food in the cafeteria, and the rest fades beyond my memory twenty-five years later.
There were a few versions of these newsletters, and finally I joined my college's paper. I wrote a couple stories of merit, something more than a version of press-releases. One was particularly troubling, and it was hard to get the support to go digging for even more troubing answers. I moved onto the next thing. Time passed, and then I free-lanced for a daily in New Hampshire.
Writing as a journalist drifted in and out of my life for a long time. Lulls occured when I did not know how to breach the barrier between me and a paper. Renewed enthusiasm arrived whenever something of importance took place- a jolt compelling me to write. However, the notion of actually being a reporter did not materialize until after college.
At the time of the great realization, I was moving earth and laying pipe for a construction company. It occured to me that I had been accumulating the: practical skills, development of style and talent, life experience, and training for the work of a journalist. There was, however, no complimentary knowledge of how to become a reporter if one had not attended an approved production line: University To Work-Force. And so, in lieu of words of advice or helpful direction, I read. I read a lot. I conducted my own graduate course of journalism and writing and reporting and chasing stories.
Every process requires the eventual rubber to the road, as the tried cliche proclaims. True to form, I threw caution aside and immersed myself in the choice. I packed a bag, bought a ticket, and left for China-Land. Round 2.
ARCHIVE: THE REPORTER
R E L I C S o f t h e P A S T
Sounds echo off the past, bouncing off of memory like sonar- a ping and the discovery of old relics. It was the sound of whirring blades and the whine of small motors working through lengths of board that dredged from the depths of my memory images of: my father's old shop- a space of production, one hand, crafted piece of furniture at a time, piles of sawdust, and my own brief stint as a carpenter. Memories made me stop running. I forgot about the heat and the tired muscles in my legs when I began to examine the street I had been moving along.....
W H E N T H E B O A T S
A Long, Sad Road
Running East of Sarajevo is a long highway. The asphalt seemed new, or maybe it as fresh yellow paint. After the long climbs through Montenegrian mountains, where cars are squeezed between tractor-trailer trucks and the edge of cliff-faces, it was a relief to just drive. It gave me a chance to look out the window.
Along the road were fields and hills and mountains. There were also house, and every so often there were little communities. As I drove, I realized many of them were broken, abandoned, gutted. After miles and the unmistakable reminensce of towns hollowed, I knew I was driving a stretch of road that had been bombed, burned, and cast with the long shadow of atrocity and war.
The war had occured nearly thirty years before, but it had traveled that road for a very long time. In the weeds and the tall grass were the history of the tragic civilian consequence of the Balkan Wars throughout the 1990s. But, holy-shit, don't let it only be a totem of past events. Let it burn as an eternal reminder of the worst capacities of ourselves as humans.
When I was nine, in the fourth grade, I saw the news coverage of fighter jets strapped with missles and allegedly dolling out international justice. It wasn't a war, they said. Well, listen up folks, it wasn't a war for us, but it sure as hell was a war for the Bosinians and the Serbs and the Croatians. Another in a long line of regional and cultural conflict.
Throughout history, The Balkans have shifted their border and boundaries more than most regions. Geo-political fuckery and infleunce have not helped. These small countries have been manipulated and tossed from one larger power to the next. Sometimes the price of friendship isn't worth the cost.
Two weeks before, the night before leaving Munich, I had dinner with Jules's parents. They told us about their own trip to The Balkans in the 1980s. It was before conflict came knocking. They spoke fondly of Sarajevo, of its multi-ethnic feel, and the architectural trophies of the 1982 Olympics. By the time I got there, thirty years later, Sarajevo was still recovering.
The Olympic Stadium remains. The recognizable rings stand, but they are beaten and pock-marked. The stadium itself, a place where bodies had once been pushed to great extents, had become a holding pen for the doomed. The famous Olympic tower was a sniper nest, bullets projected indiscrimantly at whomever entered the malicious crosshairs.
There were other marks of the war bestowed upon the architecture and people of Sarajevo, a city bestowed the tragic note of being the longest besieged city in modern history. Locals refer to the scarring of bullets, shrapnel, and other deadly projectiles on buildings as....Rose. It is everywhere. Some were patched and others remain. It has been....years since the war ended, and so there is a new generation of people who do not know the horror beyond stories and books, but those who did experience those dark days, there is a look, and there are the missing limbs, limps, and attitudes.
Every town we visited had reminders of conflict. And yet, each town was doing better. They do not forget, how could they?
And so, we walked the streets and saw a little bit of history. We saw what mostpeople neve rdo. And, as I drove that long, sad road, I hoped I'd never forget. If we do a little more reflecting, maybe we can find a way to avoid the indiscriminate wars that are spreading throughout the world. Are we that fucking desperate?
STORIES FROM THE VAULT:
HERE & THERE: A COLUMN
I'm writing this with a tinge of shame. I should have said something sooner. I should have spoken out with a louder voice. It wasn't because I didn't want to or I was afraid. There were too many pieces in motion, and I'm only able to address this part of the pie now. You see, I was there when Donald Trump walked onto stage, one of the last to enter the hall on St. Anslem's College in Manchester, New Hampshire, a school that has become a regular host of primary presidential debates. (History of NH, MAnchester, Elections). I should have spoken sooner.
At the time, there were still a lot of political wizards dismissing the Trump Campaign staying power. "He's a flash in the pan," They said. "This is typical inflated political numbers," others cried. And yet, Donald Trump remained. He became the Republican Presidential Nominee. He became the President of the United States. The puss has risen to the surface, and now America has a reckoning with what we want our future to be, what our past really means, and what we can do in the present.
The night was frigid. St. Anslem's walkways were icy, and those moving towards the bright lights of television shuffled their feet and kept their eyes down- no one wanted to fall and miss the show. It could have been a substantive moment, but that ship had sailed.
I was a minority political affiliation in attendance. I was a registered independent that in our two-party system often voted Democrat. I was not one of the many registered Republicans dressed in what appeared to be the uniform of conservative schmuckery. I watched. I listened. I spoke very little.
Up until that night, the primary debates, particularly for the Republicans, had garnered large numbers of viewers. Many of these folks, I imagine, wanted to see the bloodsport of politics. We are not far removed from the hordes who filled the colleseums to watch men kill each other for entertainment- reality entertainment simulating war for those who would never see it. Sick.
Moderators were crumbling before the enormous front of presidential hopefuls, many of which were flaunting themselves for the "disenchanted vote." Politics often illuminates truths, but are quickly covered in so much veneer, bullshit, spin, and manipulation it is lost. There are disenchanted. There are forgotten people. There are those whose bitterness stems from a perceived failure of the American System. There are those whose do not get a fair shake at justice. But, they weren't being served by the politicians who insult the real trials and pain of American people with their placating and false equvielence they draw between themselves- no one's father's father really matters when it is you standing at the podium, seated behind the desk, a powerful pen, and a finger on the button. Is it the degree of pain that makes people not become angered by the insult of placating? Is it ignorance? is it such a desire to feel like they belong to a group deemed powerful? We make each and every politician who they are with our vote. Money buys a lot, but the vote does matter.
When Trump walked into the room, there was a shit in energy. It was not awe. It was not respect. It was the snickering and nervous giggles often present in classrooms when the school wise-ass struts through the door and gives a wink-wild-hell is coming and everyone should be ready.
People were drawn into the show. They want the gore of the arena. They elected a fool. They elected a man with the moral fortitude of a sociopath. They elected an asshole whose presence as The President of The United States dishonors the office, the country, and you. We are now undersiege from within, and we have given what we were built to oppose- one man, one party, wreeking havoc on the very lives we are trying to live. Health care is crumbling- only the rich will be cared for appropriately. The environment is scorched- the rich get profits, but money wont mean much when the air we breath is not inhabitable.
A FACE IN THE CROWD
Kurds March In Stuttgart
By Dylan Patrick
Kurdish forces have been on the front lines fighting ISIS since that bastard outfit began its forceful occupation of swaths of the middle-east.
After dinner, walking towards the subway station, I heard whistles and shouting. I walked towards the sound. Curiosity is a strong force.
There was a crowd, not too large and not too small, gathered in front of the Turkish Consulate in Stuttgart, Germany. People were playing guitar and singing and others were shouting in the way protest groups shout- with rhthym and conviction. I asked a woman on the outside line of people illuminated by street lamps and trying to stay warm, "What is this?"
She said, in fragmented, but understandable, English, "Read this."
She handed me a pamphlet. On the front cover was a picture of fighters, the kind we see a lot of now, without uniforms on the back of a pickup truck mounted with some kind of heavy weapon. The tile read, " GET ISIS OUT."
"There is a march tomorrow night," she told me.
I said I would be there.
Autumn in Stuttgart felt like an extended summer in 2014. However, the air had turned cool and the clouds threatened rain. As I walked towards the assembly area for the march, I wondered if the weather would squeeze the participants.
Police officers stood in clusters, back to back and vigilent, and wore additional armor and a variety of weapons other than the standard sidearm. The police presence was an abnormality, and it illustrated the tensions rising and the possibility of conflict between parties.
I did not envy the men and women tasked with protecting the group slowly drawing together and building in number.
Protesters arrived in groups and as solitary testaments supporting the message of the march: Defeat ISIS. Their signs, many were handmade, proclaimed this. Their words shouted this. And, underneath it all, I would soon learn, was a plea for help and assistance and support for the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, fighting Assad, and in some instances fighting Turkey, a country whose agenda regarding the Kurdish forces is questionable and frought with inaccuracies and question marks.
More police officers also arrived. Those who had been laughing and joking with each grew increasingly serious as the time for the march's commencement neared and the crowd expanded. They kept their distance and they remained primarily neutral.
I moved around the narrow street where a truck had arrived, its back loaded with speakers and a microphone. I talked to the variety of people assembling. It was a primarily Kurdish presence, but there was also a smattering of an international presence. The ages ranged from infants to elderly. wf