Saturday, June 18, 2005

Aliens Among Us

My early years were a bit of a mess.

Mostly in a good way, but occasionally the mess got a little too...messy.

Pops was in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, and we lived in a lot of different places through the Sixties and Seventies -- Colombia, Finland, Sweden, Chile, Spain, Germany. With spells at home in Washington to catch our breath. For the most part it was glorious, and I wouldn't trade childhoods with anybody.

But this sort of thing can put a bit of a strain on a family, and in the early Eighties, things kind of exploded and the various bits and pieces went their separate ways.

My brother Bob, the youngest of us kids, felt the effects of that explosion more than any of the rest of us. Excepting him, we'd moved out and had started independent lives, and he was the one left holding the family bag.

One thing about spending your teenage years the son of the U.S. Commercial Attaché in Augusto Pinochet's Chile -- you have no choice but to live intensely -- with your eyes wide open. I think perhaps the single most Magical Realist moment in my entire life was once in Coquimbo, a fishing port at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert. I was fifteen -- a very mature fifteen, but fifteen nevertheless. I'd spent the whole night on a compound for the University of Arizona astronomers who worked at La Serena Observatory. I'd been drinking wine and smoking serious doobage with the sons and daughters of the astronomers. At dawn, at the expiration of the toque de queda -- the immensely inconvenient midnight-to-four curfew during which you did not dare show your face on the street or risk being summarily shot -- my buddy Carlos Davila and I took a bus into sleepy Coquimbo -- a creaky, windswept, hilly Pacific town, all wind-blasted wood, sand and stone -- to change for a local bus to catch our ride back to Santiago.

As we reeled around Coquimbo at dawn, still pretty baked from the night before, the awakening town put on a Garcia Marquez show for us. A drunk reeled out of a toque-a-toque party and collapsed in his own puke on the street at our feet, just as a bakery opened its doors and flooded the street with warm yeast. Immediately next to the bakery, the mortuary opened its shutters. The proprietors brought out coffins of all shapes and price-points for street display as vegetable vendors pushed carts piled high with produce up the steep street past them. And through it all, dazed at the sheer aliveness of it, wandered these two stoned Gringo kids.

Nothing about the scene, it struck me like a fist, placed it in any particular century. It could just as easily have been 1875 as 1975.

But this isn't about me. It's about Bob. And me.

Only two other people on this earth have had a childhood that remotely resembles mine -- who can understand the intense loneliness, the Perpetual Foreignness, the constant feeling of being Outside, that a Diplomat Brat experiences. Bob, and our sister Nora. This is not at all a whine or a plea for understanding -- as I said, I wouldn't trade my childhood for yours for any price. But you lived intensely. This can take a toll.

I offer as evidence this post by Bobby Lightfoot.

I feel this one down to my veriest toenails, folks. This is Really What It's Like. Living at one remove. Even now, thirty years on, unable to shake the feeling you're an Alien.

Absolutely nothing he says in that post is untrue.

I feel privileged to share a life with him.


Anonymous said...

As do I. And what a treat to hear you on this subject! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Employee of the Month said...

Saturday Morning. Not a cloud in the sky. Miles Davis' Someday My Prince Will Come on the high fidelity system. Overlooking back yard, Frosty the cat chasing after the hummingbirds.

Reading this post. Shivers, Neddie. The nearest I've experienced was flying in to San Sebastian d'Oste, Jalisco, Mexico on a small plane. The village *just* got electricity. Cobbled streets (remember, each stone placed by hand). It's under UNESCO protection as culurally significant. The road that's currently being built to bring in the tourists from Puerto Vallarta will surely change it forever. Kids just getting out of school starting their summer break racing through the street.

What was best was experiencing it with my 15 year old son.

blue girl said...

"You have no choice but to live intensely -- with your eyes wide open."

God that's great. I want it engraved on my headstone.

Thanks for the link. You guys are my kind of peeps.

blue girl said...

For the love of God, should the corny word "peeps" be spelled, "peops" -- before I joined this blog world -- I thought I knew how to spell.....and communicate without ridicule.

Keepin' me sharp tho, I guess.

Kevin Wolf said...

Another terrific post. Thanks.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Nice. Thanks man. Likewise bigtime. And what about the pearl fisher next door in El Quisco who had us over for New Year's?

This guy was so poor that they decorated their walls with the packaging from toys.

Betcha he's happier than just about anybody behind a 'puter pulling down 60-80.

That's the thing about the Third World. Until, of course, We come in and make anyone who doesn't have a SUV feel like they have no right to be happy.

And what about that trip over the Atlantic in the freighter and the sailors who used your teddy bear for voodoo? And the marketplace in La Paz? And the dirt-poor Finnish countryside? And Wales and Colombia and East Berlin and Peru and the south of Chile and the Pyrenees and all?

Oh, and here's one I bet you forgot- that boat trip where we were supposed to throw each other in the pool for some crossing-the-equator ceremony?

Ha- we threw the captain in instead. That rocks.

Thanks for reminding me it's all real. We didn't make it up. Sweent.

other alien said...

Do you ever get the feeling you should be moving again soon. I know I do.