Soft shoulders

I’d had them for a long time, but hadn’t worn them in a long time, the Vietnamese fishermen pants I used for Yoga in the studio at my gym at work, standing on my head with a wife beater, I could get away with that then.

When you have to whittle your things down one by one it forces you to make decisions about each pair of socks, each sweater, and some you save or donate and others, you keep for the next adventure, they’ve got some living left in them.

The Vietnamese fishermen pants are a thin cotton with just a string to tie them, no pockets, no place for phones or wallets or notepads. Travis Green brought them back for me from his first tour of southeast Asia and after that, he quit work, went off the grid, kept going back for long periods of time, and when I’d see him he had a glow but seemed distant now too, something had changed.

I said it would just be a short walk but it turned into more than that and I don’t think anyone noticed I was gone so long, when I got back they were on another TV program: “America’s Got Talent,” the same damn format with four judges and some fool on stage standing there crying, waiting to be judged, and my family sprawled out drooling, glazed over, they don’t even know I’m there.

My mother-in-law lives in an old development in Sammamish — what used to be called Issaquah before it got incorporated –and like many of the developments, they name themselves after the country, after the woods that used to be here: they carve out the existing land and then name it after what they just removed, because it’s the idea of living in the country that sells. They take out trees and then plant new ones to make it look like nothing happened.

It says Sammamish Woods at the top of the drive and when you cross the road, there’s a sign announcing Soft Shoulders, and most times you can look down the road as it rolls up onto a hill and there’s no one there, and you can see a patch of mountains in the distance.

There’s the Second Chance Ranch where they have a llama named Dolly and a number of other big creatures milling about — it’s all this undeveloped land that’s soothing, but makes you wonder how long it can stay that way.

I take the walk to try to see the moon rising but the wildfires in Canada have turned our sky milky and weird, and the sun is a strange red stone when it sets — I make my kids come out onto the deck and they say it looks like Mars or a close-up of Venus, I don’t know why.

I pass the house a woman on my vanpool used to own: she lived there about 25 years, raised her kids there, lost her husband there, and when they sold the plot next to hers they raised it about 10 feet for some reason, added mounds upon mounds of dirt, and the first time it rained a lot it flooded her basement when she was trying to put it up for sale, so she had to take it off the market and repair everything and then couldn’t get the city or the contractor to give a damn or apologize or offer her much of anything — and now there’s some foreign investors who bought it, and they’re out there with hoses spraying their gardens down, and she’s gone, small potatoes.

And around the corner, our old neighbors who lost their house to foreclosure, his business plan gone south and overextended on his loans, and now they’re renting and probably feel strange every time they drive past their old road, or take a different route instead.

My wife and her family moved here in ’83, rented this house, then were clever enough to buy it at a time they couldn’t really afford to, but the guy had to sell.

Like some bug or rodent, I find an unused part of the house I can inhabit with my things, and set up shop in the formal living room that has a view off the side deck, the deck I used for cigar-smoking when we lived here before, when the economy tanked and we’d sold our first house and hunkered down here to wait it out, which took longer than anyone thought it would.

It’s the house where Dawn grew up, and now our kids share the same bedrooms Dawn and her brother had as they were coming into their teen years. It’s close enough you could walk to our other house, the one we’re now renting, that’s just three miles away.

Last night in my fishermen pants I got about half-way there looking for the moon, thinking about my old friend Travis, wondering what happened to him in all those trips to southeast Asia, why he seemed different by his experiences, and we could no longer relate.

Categories: travel

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16 replies

  1. Mm. The price of expatriatedom – before, during and after – dislocation, but then as Leonard Cohen says – its the cracks where the light gets in…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh now you are talking with that Cohen quote. It’s funny (and terribly verboten for me to say this) but I can’t listen to him yet. I have several of his albums and everyone around me is over the moon for him, but it doesn’t click with me yet. Of course his songs are on another level – what you might call real songs in a lyric sense – but now, with this scrap of a quote, I want to find the song to hear the rest of it. Thanks Tish – I love that sentiment and I’ve been stewing on the same a lot, about cracks and light. And the value of darkness. Hoping we can have a scone over this later this year or early, next.


      • Went for a long walk yesterday and had “Tower of Song” floating through my head — “I ache in the places where I used to play” — over and over. And, of course, “doo-down down down, doo-down down…”
        It’s mainly because of the meat.


      • My god that’s a beautiful song. Thank you Internet for on-demand, instant satisfaction. I think between you and Tish Farrell now I’m going to revisit this guy. I feel like I’m the last one to the party but there’s still a plastic cup with my name on it.


      • Of course Leonard has completely reinvented himself in the last few years. Very upbeat these days. I love it that he’s in his late 70’s and can be a new and very cool man. Saw him in London, Ontario in 2009. What a show.


      • I love that too – somehow, I have more respect for these musicians as they get older and keep kicking it, keep growing it. One of my favorite but lesser known bands, English, Wire, performed a month back or so and it was fun seeing these 60-ish guys really rock and enjoy themselves, and surely looking younger doing what they love most. Amen to that. Or should I say, “Hallelujah?”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cohen is my jazz. Being Montreal-born and raised I couldn’t not like him, but now I listen to him and think “I knew shit f-all back then”. Let me know which song when you find it.


  3. I hate that damn show. All of them. I get mad when my kids watch out and spew out sarcasm against my better judgement.
    I had a cigar sighting this morning in an odd place. There was a Border Patrol van parked on your side of the line at our international library, as usual. I’m no longer intimidated. I try to make eye contact if I can through the tinted glass and nod or wave. Friendliness is my small act of defiance for their making people fell unwelcome at a goddamn library. Anyway, the BP guy in the truck had the window down, with his hand outside holding a big ol’ cigar. Surely that can’t be regulation. He didn’t make eye contact.


    • Well thanks for opening the rant scab on the Talent Show or whatever it’s called. Is that Howard Stern on there, is that possible? It’s people like him and Howie Mandela or whatever who give Matt Groenig good source material. Ironic, because in my running around the house just now between Comments and caffeinated impulses I caught one of my kids in my MIL’s bedroom watching the show again, and I turned it off at the source, I damn near unplugged the TV, and I got the rolling eyes and the DAAAAD slouch and I said come downstairs and eat something and you need to bathe today, it’s almost noon. I watched enough of that show it was like touching a slug.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just the sounds of these shows set me off. My son is currently binge-watching something called “Suits.” I call it “Douchebags Arguing.”


      • You’re really winding me up here, stop. (Dance, puppet, dance!) I remember when reality TV set in and since it’s been like dominoes falling, millions of dominoes all around this stupid world of ours in the USA (the only world). I know you don’t remember this, but that first Eggers book has a scene that goes on like 20 pages where he’s interviewing to be on the MTV Real World show. I love that scene. I’m not so over-the-moon about Salinger, but I get some of that in him, in that scene. I want to be that kid in the chair there, interviewing to be on the Real World. Which is right here in the U S of A.


      • I’m reading Salinger’s Nine Stories right now. WHA? (Well, not right now. Right now I’m listening to Spoon and submitting yearbook pages. Speaking of kids.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Spoon is an example of a band that kept going despite success and found it on the other end, right in their midst, right under their own control. Amen to that.


      • Another one of those bands that I don’t know well but always like when I hear. Took Apple Music up on their three-month free offer.


      • You can’t really go wrong with them because everything they do is no bs, I think.


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