Veteran’s Day: A Day for Apologies

The military of this empire is larger and more lethal than any other institution in the world. I am not proud of that. I am disgusted by it.

Here’s a headline we should share around today: US Has Killed More Than 20 Million People in 37 “Victim Nations” Since World War II.

Horrifying.

Veterans, I am sorry for what you endured. No one should have to go through that. I don’t know why you signed up (if you were drafted or recruited or excitedly volunteered) but I am here to listen if you need someone and I support you getting the resources you need to cope with ptsd.

Any currently enlisted soldier is directly contributing to seven wars and/or innumerable other actions and stations of empire throughout the globe. Each month the U.S. military kills thousands, including many civilians, often outnumbering the civilian casualties of its adversaries. The discrepancy and overall death toll is increasing under the current administration which also seems hellbent on starting a new war or two.

This churns my stomach.

Soldiers, I implore you to quit. If that means being dishonorably discharged, please get dishonorably discharged.

We used to have a draft, now we rely upon volunteers and exploitative recruitment of the poor and young.

All of these methods repulse me.

Friends, I implore you to not enlist, and to discourage anyone you know who’s considering doing so.

I do not support the wars, I do not support the military, I do not support our troops.

That latter euphemism seeks to distract from the necessary critique of the world’s most destructive force: the United States military.

This holiday seeks to glorify something for which we ought to feel remorse.

We must condemn the wars,
and
We must condemn the actions of the military,
and
We must condemn the military as an institution,
and
We must condemn the systems in place that justify and perpetuate the military,
and
We must condemn the actions of soldiers, including the decision to be one.

We can not have a military without soldiers.

We need apologies, not medals.

We need restitution, not glorification.

Soldiers, I am sorry.

Veterans, I am sorry.

Friends, I am sorry.

I hope you are too.

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What It’s Like to Be Home

Today I woke up in a bed that I will sleep in again tonight. I did not have to unpack my life from a tattered backpack. I don’t need to set up a tent, or wait for it to dry, or pack up a dirty, soggy glob of material back into the bottom of my bag. I will not have to meticulously repack any of my things in the morning. I just place them, here or there, where they go. And when my clothes are dirty, I may change them. And when those are also dirty, I may wash them.

When I want to pee or shit or brush my teeth, I go to the room at the end of the hall. I don’t have to ask anyone if it’s okay that I go in there. If I want to, I can even take a shower in there. The shower has a shower curtain and there is soap. The toilet has a seat and there is toilet paper. I can even use the soap at the sink after I use the toilet. And I don’t have to double check with someone about the soap or the toothpaste or a towel. No one is banging on the door wondering when I’ll get out. No one is telling me, “Sorry, but company policy is customers only.”

In the kitchen there is a refrigerator. Sometimes I have more food than I can eat all at once, so I put it in the refrigerator and I can eat it later. There aren’t any bugs on it. It doesn’t spill onto my clothing. Because my clothing is not in the refrigerator. Clothing now lives in a different space than food. And the food doesn’t go sour in the hot sun.

It’s hot here in Georgia. Not unlike the summers we’ve spent the past couple years chasing around. There is a fan, right there on the ceiling, and I can turn that fan on by simply flicking a switch or pulling a string. It comes with a light. And they’re all attached right up there to the roof which doesn’t leak at all so when it rains I’m dry.

When I’m thirsty I can go to the sink and get water. I don’t have to boil it or pour iodine in it or wait for a pill to dissolve in it or swish a UV light around for 10 minutes inside of it. I don’t have to go somewhere and buy it in a big plastic jug. I don’t have to beg anyone to spare some from their jugs. I can just walk right over to the faucet and turn it on and out comes this wet stuff that I can drink. And then I’m not thirsty. I can do that whenever I want. I don’t even have to be in this house with the fans and the toilet seats and the refrigerator. I can go to other houses and they all have this same quality water in their faucets too.

If I want to use the internet I can. And if my computer needs to be plugged in, there is a plug. These things work all hours of the day and are pretty much always there. I don’t have to ask anyone for the password.

If I want to see someone I know, I can do that, pretty easily, within a matter of minutes. And if I don’t want to see anyone, if I just want to read or wallow around for half a day severely and inexplicably depressed, punching myself in the thighs as hard as I can, hoping that it may help me feel something, then I can do all that too, behind a door and walls that shield me from view and give me space to not be watched. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to sit where I am and read, nor to wallow around, punching my legs and wondering if they will bruise and then marveling at how much my legs can ache without showing any visible evidence. I can do all these things. Or not. Either way, it’s cool.

Suddenly there’s this vacuum to try and fill in. Its magnitude is immense. The abyssal freedom before me overwhelms. Where once there was a full day ahead of handling the basics, where to eat or excrete, how to get there, where to sleep… suddenly all of that is just handled. Peeing takes no more time and effort than the time and effort it takes me to pee. There is all this time and there are all these possibilities.

Depression hangs like a cloud here as it did all over everywhere I went. It does not go away, but sometimes the darkness lightens. Today has been a fascinating mix of the darkness and the lightness. Today is not unlike many days of the trip. Life rolls on much as it did for me and for others while I was on the road. And with all that, there is too the awareness of just how smoothly everything continues without me, without any of us. The inertia of life itself supercedes our own.

So we must make our own momentum, carve out our own spaces. I’m trying to do that in a meaningful way, but still wandering the funhouse of aliveness, bumping into walls, trundling through confusion and hopelessness, determination and optimism.

What do I do with all this time? What is meaningful? Years of living out questions yields ever more questions. In the hundreds of days spent wandering and watching and listening there was also a lot of time to think and reflect. All the idealism such time yields fits well in the cracks of society, fluttering in the winds of transience. Now suddenly things are measured again. There are schedules. People have bills and rent, landlords. And I no longer float in and out of their lives. The struggle of a long string of goodbyes is converting itself back into the cyclical struggle of familiar hellos. This town, full of lords exerting their will to which we are beholden, is not unlike the others through which I’ve passed, and it is not so unlike itself before I returned.

So for now I have a place where I’m allowed to be. I don’t have to ask permission. No one is telling me what to do. Survival is not a quest in the same sense as before. Maslow’s bottom tier: check. My pieces fracture at times, but I’m holding it together, about as well as any of us it seems.

So now what?

What’s It Like to Be Home?!

-Oh hey! So good to see you! What’s it like to be back?

-Well, kinda weird, really. It’s more-

-How was the trip?!

-Oh man, how do I sum up two years of my life? It was a real mix of good and bad. Some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming experiences of my life. I’m really happy I did it. But I’m glad to be in one place again. I’m definitely going to enjoy just being in one place for a while. It’s like-

-What’s your favorite place you went to?!?!

-You know, I hate picking favorites. But people ask this a lot and I usually say Uruguay. It’s gorgeous there, warm year round. The people are-

-Wow! I’ve never been to Uruguay. Where is that again?

-It’s on the Atlantic coast between Argentina and Brazil.

-Brazil! Cool! World Cup!!! I bet it’s really something, going all over the world and then being back here. You know, I went on this trip to Europe last year. It was amazing! I got to see the Eiffel Tower and everything. People are really rude sometimes. I think they hate Americans, haha. But I found most people to be nice actually. And the food! Oh, the food. I bet the food in – wait, what was it again?

-Uruguay.

-Yeah, Uruguay. I bet the food there is awesome, huh? So spicy!

-Um, yeah, kinda. You know it’s funny, they don’t really like spicy stuff there. In parts of Latin America, especially México or Perú, everything is spicy. But further south they really don’t-

-Oh man, I love spicy food!!! This one time, for my friend’s bachelor party, we drove down to Tijuana from Vegas. The fish tacos were so good… so spicy! And at first I thought my stomach was acting up because of all those jalapeños. But you know what they say? Don’t drink the water. Haha. We got so sick. But I dunno, we drank a lot too. Tequila, man. And you know what else they say… What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Ha-HA! I guess that saying just goes for that whole area, you know? I mean, you know.

-…

-So where to next???!

-Nowhere. I’ll be here a while.

500 Words

Santiago, Chile.

Wine. Red. Terra Andina. Merlot-Syrah. A fly. Hovering around the glass. Swat. Afuera. Regresa. Repeat. Try not to kill. Keep swatting.

Earlier. Human Rights Museum. Tragedy, Hopelessness, Hope. Criticisms. Confusion. “Mentira.” ¿Es verdad? ¿No es verdad?

Days ago. Completed Waiting for Godot. Question everything. Laugh at it all.

Why so serious? The Joker echoes in my brain? But how can we laugh? All this tragedy?

-It’s how we cope.
-It’s how we belittle.
-It’s how we overcome.
-It’s how we forget.

Laundry hangs outside, the patio. Nitza’s house. We met yesterday. Starbucks. Chance. Invitation to stay. Share: thoughts, time, food… Pinochet vs. Lefties. She prefers the former. Bed. Showers. Her friend in prison. War crimes.

Like Isabel. Buenos Aires. Crying, saying goodbye. Remaining in touch, Facebook. Her husband, in prison, war crimes, would’ve killed us if we were alive and in Argentina 30 years ago.

How can one make sense of any of this? Processing, or beginning to. Still: a foreign country, in motion, navigating the side of the road with a thumb, plodding about in a second language. Marveling. Inebriating. Tiring. Waiting. Absorbing. Wringing out.

The internet here is strong. The infrastructure here is strong. The strength of the dictatorship. The economy. The backing of the mighty United States. The red. The white. The blue. Lots of red. Bodies in rivers. Batons to the heads of the bold. Torture. A group of soldiers stomps a teacher to death on the floor beneath the chalkboard of his classroom. September 11, 1973. Never forget.

Graffiti on all the street corners. Across the street: “Tu comodidad avala la pobreza.” The beating heart of the people. It bleeds. It continues to pump blood. Hasta la victoria siempre

Why write? I want to scream. I want to throw fire. I want to bite off ears, hurl rocks, spit in the face of every helmeted buffoon with a gun and a twisted notion of honor coinciding with murder.

Where are the badges for the peaceful? True, maybe we should not reward those who simply do what everyone ought to do. Like praising the man for not beating his wife. But now Chris Kyle is a box office boom and I am too confused, too deflated, too thoroughly neutralized by awe to even have the energy, the conviction, the clarity to be angry, to throw fire, to take a side.

Are there sides? Yes there are. Whose am I on? Give money away. Get some more. Give  a homeless man a coin. We talk. Approach a woman in a cafe. Ask for food. Receive cake, coffee. Wash the dishes. Later, buy carrots, onions, potatoes. Cook soup. Eat, chat. Nitza has never been to Human Rights Museum. Says she will go now.

Soon: Lima. Then Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver. The journey ends. Or does it? When does it end, begin? “La vida es un viaje” – so reads the title of a future blog post. We shall explore: time, arbitrary designations, meaning.

– Jesse

Ahoy!

Boats. We don’t know much about ’em. And I can only retype this opening paragraph so many times, so on to the next one.

Look at me. Pondering the sea.

Look at me. Pondering the sea.

Lotsa people we meet think hitching a boat to Latin America right now from Florida is impossible. That’s fun for us. I mean, we’re not sure it’s possible either, but if you’d asked us in 2006 whether we thought it was possible to live two years without any money and travel all over the United States, Canada and México, we probably would’ve laughed just as hard as Jesse did last night.

Laughing-Jesse, in this case, is not the same Jesse typing this right now. It’s another Jesse we met in Fort Lauderdale who knows all about boats and has sailed all over and thinks we’re nuts. Charming, but nuts. Why? Because we don’t know anything particularly useful about boats. And the Gulf Stream makes it even harder for boats to get from here to México than other places. And because it’s the exact wrong time of year to sail South from Florida thanks to hurricanes. Hurricanes! And because three people is way too many to fit aboard a ship as extra baggage. And because who the hell wants three strangers on their boat to function as nothing but a liability in the middle of an ocean where they can’t dump us off and we can’t get out even if we wanted to?

Touché. Nonetheless, here we are. We’ve learned plenty about the power of asking and the expansion of what’s possible on land. Maybe we’ll learn that hitching a boat long distance with no money and no seaworthiness at the wrong time of year is indeed possible too. Or maybe Jesse, that is laughing-sailor-Jesse, is right. Either way we learn.

Here’s to knowledge.

Somewhere out there, a lonely foghorn beckons new friends.

Somewhere out there, a lonely foghorn beckons new friends.

Jesse, the still-laughing-but-totally-not-a-sailor Jesse
from Mark’s ninth floor flat in Miami Beach, FL

Sunrise in Jupiter, FL.

The Wild