Jun 29, 2004

Aporia philosophy:
        Looking for an opening.

Jun 27, 2004

Elbows on the tabe
My first lesson in the aesthetics of imperfection

Down on a violent double-curve in the too narrow road between here and the used-book store, a house juts out of the hills and trees to the pikeway and, today, had a table in the drive way with black sign saying FREE. Medium brown maple and four feet square, plain and worn, stain wearing through in the center, corners worn shiny by elbows, I turned around and shook it a little for sturdiness and took it, turned it upside down in the bed of my truck and took it home. It’s in the kitchen now, hanging lamp shining on the mellow brown, my arms resting on the firmness of real wood beneath the wall of friends photos and the county map with Orthodox churches marked by pins.

If I try and tell you about my family, I’ll probably tell you about our table and how we talked through every meal telling stories or doing theology and passing giant pots of noodles and serving from a massive centerpiece of a salad in a steel restaurant-sized bowl, how we’d always all eat together, loud and hand waving, and after dinner we’d ignore the towering dishes to tip back our chairs and talk. I’d probably forget, though, to tell you about the table itself.

My mom got it from her mom, the one year we knew her mom, when we lived in the Northern California suburbs. If furniture can shock, then this table shocked us. “What happened,” we said, standing in the kitchen a little amazed and confused, wondering if we should be frightened. “It’s distressed,” Mom said. “It’s a style. But maybe we’ll refinish it. Sand it all down and make it nice.”

What it looked like though, was attacked and beaten. It looked like someone – my grandmother – had beaten her table with a chain, a hammer and a wrench. There were valleys and craters and rough wiggling trails stained a deep dark brown, looking, more than anything else, like a pocked and cratered moon flattened into a table. Mom covered it with a tablecloth, for a while, leaving tufts of the fuzzy underside caught in the table’s roughness. She never did refinish it. We packed it across the country to Texas and back again, took it up into the mountains and down, had it in the woods and the hills and the deserts and the valleys and finally North to the peninsula at the end of the world.

It seated six, officially, but officially doesn’t count corners and we all sat there. Dad at the head and Mom and Val and my two– four– six brothers with ever longer legs kicking each other, talking loud and laughing in the precursor to the family reunions we’ll have. Maybe distressed was a style, but I’ve never seen another piece of furniture that looked so beat and lived, ‘nother table abused out of a tidy polished Platonic perfection and occupied by forks and elbows.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll take a tire iron and a crow bar and beat on this table until it’s amazing, confusing and maybe ought to be scary. Maybe I’ll pound a Pollock into this table and soak the wounds with a can of wood stain as a testament to laughing stories with mouths full of food, loud theology over dinner and winters you can only afford rice.
Words in the wrong order again

tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar
people were shouting and pushing and saying
and when I traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
        - elliott smith

If he doesn’t answer
Genuflecting before the void

The mountains stood unmoved.

I screamed, 16 years old demanding one hill be moved into the sea, one leaf burn without being consumed, one moment of clarity, one moment of knowing. I wept, arms upraised pleading with the November sky to split in one sure assurance of divine existence. My prayers of tongues went out into the darkness of the foothills, a stuttering of angel nonsense, and fell into silence.

God said nothing. I’ll love you and serve you forever, I said. And God said nothing. I’ll sacrifice everything, I said. And God said nothing. One revelation, I said, or I won’t believe in you. And there was only silence. Heaven was silent and the mountains stood unmoved in mockery, cows chewing and grasses blowing unconcerned as I stood before the void of a dead God.

My father always told his story, one story, which we were raised on. He’d start with how organized crime consolidated the LSD market to this one pharmacist and picked my dad, a hustler on the street corners naming drugs in undertones, to be the only LSD dealer when it was the drug of choice. He’d talk about Holy Hubert, the aggressive street preacher who’d memorized the whole Bible and would stand on a box shouting about hell, who told my father he was going to hell every day for two years. He’d tell how policemen were guaranteed promotion for imprisoning my father, how he was arrested three times but never convicted. He’d tell about smiley beat cop who said God told him to protect my father, and the woman who thought she was a frog, and the bodyguards, Greek and Marty. Sitting at a table with new friends in a new town, my father would tell the long version of his story about how he’d been a drug dealer who’d been found by God.

We never heard the short version and knew every character and every character’s role, and would remind him not to forget the woman who thought she was a frog but was healed on hearing the name of Jesus while throwing Tarot cards on the table of the Baptist student union. I grew up on my father’s stories and every story, from him standing on the top of an escalator hoping his depth perception would return to the cops shooting without saying “stop or I’ll shoot,” lead to and ended at a Christian commune, waiting for a marriage, feeling weird religious feelings, reading a little box in the corner of a little newsletter that said:

IS GOD REAL? Why don’t you ask Him? If He doesn’t answer, you’re free to go on your way, but if He does then you must make Him Lord of your life.

Every story was one story ending with my father knowing. A woman overdosed on cocaine raised from the blue-veined dead in a weedy lot behind a church, and my father knew. He woke up from amnesia watching a basketball game in the hospital and my father knew. One of the bodyguards was found beheaded, and my father knew. Hubert was healed of point blank gunshot, bailed out his heckler and attempted assassin, and my father knew.

Which is all I wanted, standing beneath the November sky that refused to open – to know. I wanted a Cartesian ergo, a revelation to found my faith. I wanted my father’s faith for my own. So I looked, and saw darkness. I asked, and heard nothing.

Anselm said that if it’s good to exist, then an all-good God must exist. Pascal said the odds are in favor of God’s existence. But the absoluteness of the void, the totality of the closed sky, refuses to give odds or bow to ontology. If he doesn’t answer… If he doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t, answer. If he doesn’t answer then you’re free, the tract said.

My father’s other story, the story that wasn’t his story, that didn’t wend its way to that moment of peace, that wasn’t fit to tell at church gatherings and social functions, was a story of how the world had told him to curse God and die. He told me, in the dark of the van driving to East Texas trailers we were insulating in the winter, in fragments separated from the meaning and the package of the story, about resigning from the ministry, about his fellow pastor denying he knew him, publicly ridiculing his stupidity and zeal. About confessing sins to a church that just looked at you. About my brother’s hospitalization and how the only man to stand with him and cry was his atheist brother, because blood is thicker than faith. About how no one hires a former pastor and nights stocking grocery stores. About crying when the nominal Catholic neighbor loaned him a lawn mower, because it was the first gift in a long time that was freely offered. About how he’d come into my room and talk to me and cry, and I would pray four year old prayers and hold his hand, seeing death and doubt and looking, clear blue eyes that hadn’t learned to lie, into the void.

I don’t remember hearing my father’s doubt and pain, only the dreams that came later, dreams of blackness, dreams that seemed fulfilled in the foothills, when I was 16.

Deny God, said the mountains, he has said nothing to you. Curse it all, there is nothing, said the wind in the grasses.

If you don’t answer, I shouted. If you don’t if you don’t if you don’t answer, I shouted at the hills, then I’m free to go. And my voice broke. My words stilled, looking to the place where God was blotted from the sky, and I heard myself whisper a confession, did God owe me anything, even his existence?

Jun 25, 2004

The storm siren down the street doesn't sound like a storm siren, but a very lonely moose.

I'm always reading the backsides of compliments.

Jun 23, 2004

'Setting this world back again on earth'

Because multiple people have asked, the five writings I've been most influenced by in philosophy, which is to say, the five writings everything I'm doing philosophically is realted to, a tangent off, and birthed from are:

On Certainty, by Wittgenstein.
The preface to Phenomenology of Perception, by Merleau-Ponty.
First Attitude Towards Others, in Being and Nothingness, by Sartre.
Signiture Event Context, in Limited Inc., by Derrida.
The Origin of the Work of Art, in Basic Writings, by Heidegger.

(Listed roughly by increasing density.)

Jun 21, 2004

Hey brother, spare me your dime

If they'd say, even once a month, I don't know, that's an interesting question, maybe faith would be saved.
      But they've got 10 cent answers for everything.
Hair 22 in D

My hair's growing out. It lays down now brown with tinges showing it first sprouted blond.

I cut it in Ohio, from the college un-cut hanging shaggy over my eye brows and playing wild out from under my wool knit cap catching and tangling with middle American straw and hay to short hair, a violent buzz, a post-prison hair cut, the kind that comes free with a swastika tattoo. (Very funny, they say.)

Now it's growing out, laying down and not looking like anarchy on my head, but merely curious about where it's going, ends of hair playing with the edges of my ears. It's an indecision hair cut. It's I could go a lot of places but where hair.

Jun 20, 2004

Nice like that
What do you think?

She’s a nice girl.

Uhhhhn. What’s that mean?

Uhhhh. Well. I guess when I say a girl’s nice I mean either that she’s a wonderful and lovely person who’s not going to be in my life, but I feel better knowing there are these good people out there.


Or she’s a nice girl who’s fine, a good person, a decent human being, but so impoundingly dull that it’s not worth the pain to try for five minutes of an interesting conversation.

Yeah. Exactly.
Translates as elephant
I’m playing chess with an african set, little spears and axes attached to unstained pieces with deep cuts for features, and the clock’s turning to 1 a.m. above the priest’s stove while his wife and two daughters teach me honorary egyptian.

It’s not a bishop in arabic, they say. Translates as elephant.

Elephant, I say?

Yes, they say.

Elephant, I say, going over it until I have Elvis eating elephants in Montana with a bishop’s hat and a bib, Hemmingway hunting bishops and elephants in ordination. I don’t say that though, I only get a funny look on my face and the girls laugh.

The priest’s wife points at her king and my bishop. Fein she says. Malach she says.

Yes, I say and we laugh, they laugh, because they know she’s speaking in an arabic black-eyed and curly haired, calligraphed and over-dotted. I can’t even tell where the letters are separated.

But I’m just working with a little mess of conversational absurdism. But I’m just- playing loose.

Jun 17, 2004

I had a name once (frayed in fake folds of leather)

The thing about committing the sins of your father, more than any talk about familial failings of genetic weaknesses, is you feel really stupid. I was feeling, and this is the only word for it, imbecilic.

I had this niggling thought about the weight of my pockets being wrong and then I focused, wait, I thought, and saw my wallet’s worn edges in the shadow of the mini-juke box on the table at the diner. Damnit, I said, I lost my wallet.

Once, when I was 13 or something, the whole family searched every street thorough throughout the neighborhood riding our bikes and walking up both sides looking for my dad’s checkbook, last seen on the roof of our wood paneled station wagon. A million times, growing up, we’d hear my dad at his desk, doing paper work, doing the books. Uh oh, he’d say. He’d say it loudly and we’d all stop, looking up from our books. What? Silence. Elongated pause leaving the concern without context, leaving the uh oh open.

Never mind, he’d say, without bothering to tell us what wallet, what crucial piece of paper, what world, had been lost and found while we waited. And we’d go back to reading.

So I hoped on my luck, hoped that the waitress had picked up my wallet and it was sitting under a counter waiting for me and they were wondering how to make me identify myself when I returned.

But it wasn’t there when I got back. The bar crowds came through the diner after we’d left, a bar crowd all raucous and, damnit damnit all to hell, wallet stealing. The waitresses were sympathetic, took my name down in case of morning-after-honesty but no, we didn’t see it, they said.

So I swore, and walked around for a day without proof of identification, not losing my identity, not quite not exactly, but without any paper naming my name or authorizing me to be me. They didn’t allow me to make a withdrawal on my paycheck deposit at the bank that day because they recognized me, but didn’t really know who I was and I had dark mother-worrying visions of being dead and unidentified. I had strange half-dreams about God’s lost ontological ID, the Divine walking around without any but circumstantial proof of being who he was. I had uncatchable thoughts about burnt social security cards and identities abandoned for a life tour of colonial dockyards under a name like Lucky.

The next day though, my wallet was back at the diner under the counter with a note about lost paperwork of personhood. It was there, folds of frayed fake leather missing $12 that whoever it was decided to claim as his earthly reward of eventual honesty.

It was there, my identity that some drunken clown had considered stealing, thought about taking, and returned.

All of the contents are dumped out now, here on the table before me.

$12, taken. Two bank cards: one without much money and one never authorized. A drivers license, signed, giving a Washington address, sex, height, weight, eye color and a date of birth that was the same day it was lost. A social security card. A worn out picture on a college ID with a crest and a bar code. Voter registration with a Michigan address and a signature. Voter Registration in Washington, a few years old. A gaudy orange Washington Hunter Education certificate listing D. Silliman with a pledge to treat weapons as if they’re loaded, to ask permission, to be sure of my target before I shoot. Two losing lottery tickets. Two library cards. A movie rental card. Phone card with a medium amount of minutes. Club card of a local grocery store. Scattered receipts to bookstores, gas stations and diners.

I look at the phone numbers, my on-the-road rolodex on the backs of business cards. I wonder if they called the indie punk as he tours with that Seattle band and did they call my brother in New York of the Greek Orthodox Seminarians in Boston or my philosophy professor’s cell or the post-Hillsdale crew at their common house in Ann Arbor or my bishop in British Columbia?

There’s a list undated: finish Trinity’s letter. Write Blum, Luke, Jeff. Summarize death of God theology. Do laundry. Old Crow Medicine Show. Dalloway.

I look at this pile of paper bits and think maybe this is a poem I’ll pretend I don’t understand because I know they’re talking about me. At this fragmentia, from this someone looked, and decided they didn’t want to be me. Pocket litter. If I killed a president this is where the search would begin.

From this I was summed, conjured through information bits, existing as scraps of paper and scribbles and numbers and I wonder if he did this, spread out this litter and looked at my picture and said who are you and looked on the back of the list to see if I’d written anything else. I wonder if he thought about checking something off my list of to do. I wonder if he looked at my handwriting and wondered what it meant, if he wrote his name and number on the back of a business card and thought about maybe, maybe mixing it in with the others.
Happy Bloomsday folks

Dave Frank is mad, a flightless lightning bug that had the misfortune of stagling into the 5-house cat living room. a brutally unpleasant end to his 3 1/2 day existence.

I love this guy.

And ~FScott? ~FScott back and claiming a return to faith by telling stories, stories of pain and pearls?

I could cry.

Jun 16, 2004

My uncle reviews Coffee and Cigarettes, a movie that has me pretty excited and is coming to Ambler's little art theater sometime this summer.

Jun 15, 2004

Upon your marriage to the stuttering half-wit
        to RJ for a private conspiracy

I could propose
        that we eat rocks and cabbages
        that we cut your hair on the bus to Ontario
        and make you read Marx
I could laugh
        tearing screws from fleshy fiber
        throwing hinges overhand into the corn
        as my maniacal offering to the raccoons
        the little gods of shiny things.
I’d give you my jacket
& betroth you with a dozen hail Marys
in the dark if only you’d admit to,
you’d commit to confusion.

I’d come upon that marriage’s crap game
& sacrifice a dowry of fog if only you’d say
you’d say goodbye to the valley’s little lights
& engage
in a bus riding to the cliffs of rain
where some birds only sing
& everything ends
where everything ends
if only you’d say goodbye.

But we both know
I’m only burning effigies.

But we both know we never.
        So mea culpa to secrets unfounded
        so mea culpa to curly hair & conspiracies
        may a mea culpa
        keep the books I loaned you..
We both know.

So please
accept these flowers I’ll send.

Jun 14, 2004

The thing about music

What counts as noise?
What counts as order?
They call me the king of broken glass

I do aesthetics, little a. Those are questions I find written in the face of my world asking: how do we understand Superman and his middle America as a creation of two jewish immigrants? what is the difference between the re-exploration of gothic architecture in the Notre Dame school and the postmodern architects and how do they compare to the renaissance use of Greek and Roman structures? how does art age? what’s the role of work? what do we think about the inescapable violence of form? what’s the involvement of economics and politics in art?

So I’ve been drawn to Aesthetics, had my interest rise to meet the big A, only to be confused by the questions, finding them unasked by my world and unaskable, the questions of a sophomore and a Socrates impressed by the intonations and demanding a simplicity that’s crude and goofy.

Where am I supposed to find the answers to What is Beauty? Can I spend enough days in the museum, pause long enough the sound of a poem, love someone enough, to answer that question? But we know that Beauty, Beauty like that, isn’t something you can see and it’s not even something that is in art.

For Beauty to be big enough, it can’t be tangible. It must be beyond the mere beauty we find in the world around us. It must be an abstraction casting shadows into the gallery-cave. Every beautiful thing can only be a participation, a pale representation of Beauty (capitalized). If we ask What is Beauty? we must wave away every example, devalue every beautiful thing as being shadows not interesting us. We must, to do Aesthetics like this, we must abandon the world of art, the world of beautiful things, and climb out to the intangibles and the abstractions.

But if we do think of Beauty that big and think about the claim made by Beauty that big, we run a course through Anselm – 1) I can conceive of something more beautiful than which cannot be conceived; 2) it is more beautiful to exist than to not exist; 3) that-which-greater-than-which-none-can-be-conceived must exist – and reel into theology.

Aesthetics, when capitalized, seems to me to be either something that falls out of a theology, or a slate of pretensious questions that deny art and beauty everywhere they find it.

Jun 13, 2004

New friends



Thomas Aquinas?

No, his brother, Bob.

Jun 9, 2004

Geraniums red

I’m buying a red geranium. Setting it in the window. I don’t know why. It’s a symbolic act but I’ve forgotten what it symbolizes now.

Like it’s a dream that maybe I had before and almost means something and I can't quite convince myself to focus against the pleasentness of letting it slip away.

I just want to look at a red geranium in my window. Stare at it.

Get lost in the red.

Jun 8, 2004

Robert Quine, punk guitarist who played with Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Lou Reed and Tom Waits, is dead at 61.
Whatsoever you lock

When my brother was 6 he had the key to the Bank of America, our local branch. He'd found it in a parking lot, I think, stamped "BANK OF AMERICA" and I don't know why Dad didn't take it from him and return it, but he didn't. David added it to his key chain, another one in this mass of keys that went to every lock he'd ever known. It looked like a huge softball jammed in his 6-year-old pocket and he jingled more than Christmas when he wore those keys and grinned.

We talked about how we could get into the bank because David had the key and we could rob them. This outlawery appaled my mother, and she'd remind us it was wrong to steal, but it wasn't about stealing it was about power and how David had found some in the parking lot.

Marvin knew that and kept giving David keys. Marvin was this woodcarver, pecan farmer, and Texas good old boy we knew who'd lost two and a half fingers in a tractor accident and had his wife leave him because she wouldn't live with a cripple. He had a dark sense of humor. He'd always promise to "be there - unless I'm dead." But he taught us a lot about knives and gave David keys.

We'd ask, but he didn't know what they were to. "I've got keys to half the old trucks in McClennan county," he'd say, waving his half a hand, "I don't know what they're too."

And when we drove around David'd sit by the van window, looking for old trucks he might have the keys to.

I got keys to the apartment second or third day I was in Ambler. A couple weeks later I had keys to the Texaco station - the wanted sign was cumpled in the trash and I had a jaggedy little key on my ring that fit the front door of the Texaco if I gave it a good stiff wiggle.

Two more keys on my ring. It made me nervous, actually. The weight of my pockets was off. I started worrying about remembering which of my four keys was which and started thinking about how I've never settled down.

I never liked keys. With power comes responsibility, they say, which is a pretty goddamned benign way of saying it when you realize it's a Faustian proverb. Other men are rattling around their keys scaring away ghosts and for me, they're being conjured. I understood that kind of power. That deal.

I'd seen furniture hawked to pay rent, seen vehicles stranded on the edges of highways and on the back sides of parkinglots. I'd seen where the sweat rolled through the grime that made you look like someone they'd decided not to bury alive afterall, at least not today, and they paid a quarter of what they leached from your soul.

And when we drive around I'd look out the window, looking for abandoned old trucks and wondering who's still carrying that curse of a key for seven years, who's soul is still locked by that lock, who's ghost is still trying to get the engine to just turn over.

Jun 7, 2004

Drawing doors on rocks


Jun 6, 2004

Riding a bicycle in circles.
Growing a Prussian beard.
Accidentally eating Hunter Thompson.
Smelling a woman’s hair.
Holding books between my teeth.

and other pleasantly odd dreams on Sunday afternoon.
This week

This week I was twice introduced as a philosopher.
This week I was made an honorary Egyptian and named “Dan the white guy.”
This week I told a customer flirting with me to “just go away.”
This week I had my kitchen cleaned by a woman with tribal tattoos.
This week I received a letter of apology for the way someone acted when I was 13.
This week I dealt with one angry customer and one computer break downa day.
This week I went to a diner with the friend of a friend to talk about watching a baby die.
This week I was sworn at by my boss for three days.
This week I ate with the girls named “the brides of Dracula,” twice.
This week I was confused by their jealousy.
This week I realized my roommate’s plans are a mask for winging it.
This week I re-read Heidegger.
This week I had my first day off in since mid-May.
This week I couldn’t remember who I was.

Jun 5, 2004

Always the akward subtext.

What you weren't buying but they sold you anyway.
Broodng on the darkness in the deep

“What are you doing Dan” she asked, and then, playfully, “philosophizing?”

I was sitting on the church steps, fingers massaging my jaw, starting in the street I didn’t see, trying to sort out the examples on meaning and reduction, going over color reduced to wave length and an orchestra reduced to pressure variations and wondering why those seem different than heaviness reduced to weight or a story reduced to it’s point, trying to remember how Heidegger said “undisclosed” and “unexplained.”

“Is that a word? Philosophizing?”

“Yes,” I say, "but philosophizing is kind of flippant, kind of – ah, a thinking that isn’t concerned. That can go home at night.”


“I’m brooding. When I do philosophy I brood.”
Seminarian roommate, looking at Radical Theology and the Death of God: This stuff is pretty strange and a little scary when you first look at it.

Me: Un huh. So is "My God My God why hast thou forsaken me."

Jun 3, 2004

Testaments of tumbleweed

I'm buying a cardboard camera, the little box-with-a-flash affair they sell to tourists who weren't planning, and starting an album of dives.

Coffee shops, bars, diners. Laundry mats, factories, docks and bridges, bus stations and alleys. Places that advertise with a neon EAT sign, are frequented by Elvis and have tables waited on by failed actresses and bussed by tattooed illegals.

I want to find and take pictures of the dives, the holes the road calls home, where one throws away the bus ticket and moves into the rent-by-the-month hotel, getting a job washing dishes.

I only wish I'd started taking these photos two years ago, when I began to live and love the dives. I wish I had taken pictures of Gerite, the mannequin in the bathroom at Pollard Flat, the counter at the diner in Nebraska, the gas pumps in Alberton Montana, the dishwasher in Spokane, the saloon in Custer. But then some decree of the fates has me on this Sisyphean road trip. So I'll be back.

And I can start with the orange and white silos behind the airport and the graffitied shed in the alley and the boxing-watching bar tender in Cheltenham.

Years from now I'll have a shoebox of snap shots about how I loved places that reeked of crippled glory.

Jun 1, 2004

Growing up grinning barbarism
When we lived in the Mountain House

We burnt a couch, first thing we moved in this the house on the Sierra side of the mountains. We moved the giant once-white mouse-eaten monument to the folly and unpreparedeness of the former residents out beyond the gate, below the cliffs that rose out of the driveway, and set it on fire. We shouted for our barbarianism, grinning delight at our destructed of civilization and joined the wildness of those mountains in a flame that left nothing but a burn black patch and a pile of springs sifting into the dirt.

The house looked like a lodge, or sometimes a monastery, and felt like a castle. Built out of square rocks the size of giant’s head and beige wood. The fireplace was as large as an entryway, the small bedroom was 16 feet long, and medieval cast iron chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The place was built on the scale of Montana, where everything always looks small. It was on 10 acres, inside 10,000 acres of ranch, inside the national forest. It had been someone’s escape in the late 60s, someone’s manifestation of their personal boom, someone’s declaration of having it all. It was oversized, and I learned to pace there, to occupy space as a way of thinking.

The roof leaked. When it rained, my sister cooked under an umbrella and we readjusted all the furniture. In the early summer we’d fight the bats, three brother’s with brooms raised in the air trying to outwit sonar in a sport we didn’t have a name for. We insisted they were harmless but my mother and sister wouldn’t listen, so we’d keep score of bats knocked out. To the envy of my brothers and the horror of my mom, I discovered I could shoot the bats off the ceiling with a bb gun and they’d drop paralyzed and we’d throw them outside.

Those were the days of Y2K so we stored grain in the bomb shelter and I read militia literature and conservative doctrinaires. I starting writing an anti-ecclesiology and read everything I could raid from the bookstore and the library in the valley and bring back to my mountain house. I’d lay in bed looking at the rock wall or reading 1984 and listening to my first album, Dylan, whine that “the Lone Ranger and Tonto, ridin’ down the line, fixin’ everybody’s troubles, everybody’s ‘cept mine, someone must a told them I’s doin’ fine.” I split a lot of wood those summers, listening to talk radio and books on tape. I read Tom Paine and Steinbeck, the Greatest Speeches in American History, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and histories of post-colonial guerrilla war and when my mom asked me what I was preparing for, I didn’t know.

I had a .22. and a 30-30 I’d earned painting bee hives and my brother and I’d sit on the ruins of the swimming pool shooting soda cans lined up along the cliff. We’d see how high the cans’d jump if you shot them on the bottom edge. My brother shot a six-foot rattlesnake under the porch with Dad’s shotgun, saving the rattles and burying everything else, though I wanted to eat it. We wanted to shoot the bear that ate our dozen chickens, caving in the side of the coop wall and leaving feathered legs and wings strewn at random.

My little brothers caught fish without bait in our over stocked cow pond and we used to go swimming there on hot nights when there was a moon. Mom hated that pond, with cows drinking from the edges and six inches of mud on the bottom. We built a raft that half floated and would laze out to the middle on summer afternoons while our rancher neighbor bounced past in his jeep guiding some Hollywood producer wanting to bag our bear or some other trophy of the wildness we lived.

My brother and I learned to drive on those unpaved roads – seven miles of dirt driveway to the mailbox – gunning curves, jumping potholes and sliding washes. When it snowed we tried to make it up the hill but slid off the road you couldn’t see and had to walk back to the house for the other truck and a chain. The house was impossible to heat, so we wore our coats and hats all winter. I wore an old trench coat and mud boots, looking like some knock-off version of Mussolini.

In some ways, it was like Old Yeller but without a storyline, but mostly it wasn’t like anything at all. We made no apologies for the uniqueness: we weren’t a normal family; this wasn’t a normal house; these weren’t normal times. We were squatting in the ruins of normalcy and laughing a foreign laughter, scoffing at the lights below the mountains.

It was the only place I ever called home after we moved away.