Blackwater Gives Me Flak

Puppet Insurgency of San Diego sends envoy to Blackwater protest (Puppet Insurgency of San Diego sends envoy to protest.)

Here’s one role I never expected to play in life: organic intellectual. It’s when someone stays and works from within a community, instead of bailing when things get uncomfortable and difficult or trying to effect change from some safe haven.

It’s a term I picked up in some college philosophy class. I’d thought, hell, if the Sandinistas, the Nazis, Taliban, nay even corporate pantyhose pillagers are headed my way, I’m out of there.

But we didn’t move to New Zealand after losing the second election.

In fact, we moved to a highly conservative, traditionalist, Republican enclave, East County. We waded through streets lined with “Bush-Cheney” campaign signs, looking for a house.

The farther east, the cheaper the land, and the denser the Bush-Cheney signs. We landed 10 miles out from our beloved North Park and spanky-swanky Hillcrest neighborhoods, where I would never need play the role of organic intellectual.

No cul-de-sac utopia for me, thanks, I just needed enough land where my neighbors wouldn’t have to see things to pray about. A place for fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens, a hottub to get naked in, a place to throw the kinds of parties that attract fruit flies like me. So we’re rural, with one acre, but still sort of in a neighborhood.

A liberal democrat not getting chased out of East County after seven years gets careless, fearless of pitchforks. I volunteered at a “Vote for Change” bake sale in downtown La Mesa.

This is Big Truck country. Trucks with bumper stickers like “NØBama” and “Men for Palin.” Some of them drove down La Mesa Boulevard and hissed, booed, even flipped us off, but even more brave souls came and bought cookies.

Then an editor from a new online rag, East County Magazine, asked if I’d help write for them. A fledgling independent media outlet, with undeniable progressive leanings working in the heart of “McPain” territory.

I would become that organic intellectual. And I would do it for free.

So, for starters, I covered a protest at a new, some would say “covert,” Blackwater facility in southeast San Diego, Otay Mesa. Several police cars had arrived at the protest site and officers chatted with personnel at the facility. Gradually, many of the black & whites wandered off: It was a protest organized by people like the Peace Resource Center, for gods sakes.

To get “the other side” I called Brian Bonfiglio, the Vice President of Blackwater out here. He pulled into a parking lot just to talk to me and didn’t get where he was going for a good half hour.

Blackwater tractor

If a voice could swagger, Bonfiglio’s did. This is a guy who heads the kind of corporation that, according to Representative Bob Filner (Blackwater’s in his district), “shoots first and asks questions later.” A corporation that George Bush couldn’t run his entire war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without, according to author Jeremy Scahill. I kept my questions solely on the facility, and not about the Nisour Square shootings, which the Department of Justice is busy investigating.

Blackwater’s here to help train the Navy, but the protestors didn’t like that after “kicking them out of Potrero, where they wanted to open a mercenary training camp” they “snuck under the radar” and opened a new facility under front names in Otay.

I wrote all about that. I enjoyed Bonfiglio telling me, “I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s nothing in this process that would require me or my company to call the East County Democratic Club! Come on! That’s crazy.” I probably laughed. Bonfiglio was forthright and forthcoming, a good interview.

—Tho the protestors’ concerns are certainly no laughing matter. They’re worried about a powerful military training organization setting up shop along a border bristling with tension and racism, a mile from Otay-Mesa border crossing, a mile from the nearest ICE facility (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—that’s INS to you and me, just a rebranding), with military equipment manufacturing in Mexico and allegations they want to work with Border Patrol and drug enforcement activities in South America.

Bonfiglio said if I walked in there, I’d see ship simulators and Navy simulation stuff everywhere. (Don’t forget the firing ranges, Bri’.)

He said, “If you had real press credentials and you represented somebody, I’d be happy to show you around.”

“I don’t have official AP press credentials, because I’m working for a very small East County magazine, so, not yet.”

“You give me that name and we do a little bit of due diligence to fact check, to be honest. I don’t even care if you’re for or against a company like ours. I don’t care if you’re democrat or republican. None of that plays into this. But if you’re legitimately doing a story for a legitimate newspaper I’d be happy to show you around.”

“I’m legitimately interested in all sides,” I said, “let’s put it that way.”

So Brian Bonfiglio offers me a flak jacket. How far does the role of organic intellectual go? Is firing a gun a form of fact-checking to see if the enemy is not within?

I hope to post some more pics from the protest that were too inflamatory for pitchfork-wary East County Mag.

 Body chalk

Ovary Puree

Red ripe garden tomatoes. Yes, we know they’re fruit. In fact, they’re ovaries. Yes, fruit are the ovaries in the plant world, sorry to break it to you.

Plucking each tomato’s genetic lineage right off the vine, yesterday, hoping to end it in a lasagna, I filled my basket.  (Sure, I could harvest the pesky little seeds and start over next year, but I hate tomatoes. I planted them for a friend coming to visit from Switzerland this summer and now I have hoards of them.)

When I was little, just the smell of a fresh tomato triggered my gag reflex. I could pick chunks out of salad, but if a slimy seed stowed away under a lettuce leaf and managed to breach my mouth, I had the sensation and flavor of a corpulent garbage truck trailing that stinky trashy piss-water down a dusty alley that joined with mouldering leaf run-off to trickle a confluence of inexplicable expletives into my mouth.

In other words, probably allergic, but only to the raw acid. How could nature be so mean, masking something so foul-tasting in such a festive color.

Tomatoes and deadly nightshade are cousins, and that says it all: Lurking among their shared genes from the family Solanaceae is the gene for foul and deadly taste.

Cooked is just peachy. I love pasta, pizza, bouillabaisse all the way down to the humble tomato soup, anything red! red! red! No chunks, tho, please.

How was I ever to process these little beasts? My first attempt, I threw them in boiling water, then mooshed them hotly through a sieve, grinding their shiny backs with a marble pestle, tossing the seedy detritus. Soup tasted like battery acid.

For the second attempt, I decided to drain all the acidic juice. In fact, I could save and make fresh tomato juice, if I wanted to pull a Hamlet on the last scene. (“No, no, the drink, the drink,–O my dear Hamlet,–The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.” -Queen Gertrude, taking the first quaff)

This time, I turned off the boiling water, let the monsters bob for a couple minutes, then plunged them into an ice bath (to preserve my flesh this time), and then coolly skinned them alive, noting the lurid magenta flesh beneath the otherwise tomato-red skin. Initially, I had lopped the tomatoes in half and scooped the seed from all the tiny labial cavities, reserving the flesh for the food processor blade. What a waste of time!

Inspecting where I never dared peered before, though, I could plainly see that the seeds nested in oblong mucous pods just inside the periphery of my particular tomato variety, especially if I peeled down the outside layer. All I had to do was grip the skinned red ovary in two hands and squish! The subcutaneous seedy mucous came squirting violently out the bottom and top, nearly putting out my eye (“out vile jelly, where is thy luster now” –Lear) but leaving only a few loiterers to scrape from within.

I rototilled the meaty flesh, simmered the puree, then thew in sauteed shallots, garlic, ground turkey and beef, jalapeno, shredded eggplant, carrot, zucchini, and basil; layered it up with spinach, real, expensive mozarella, aged cheddar, jack, and freshly grated parmesan, sea salt, peppercorns, and a bit of thyme and oregano hopefully not harboring minibugs from my organic garden. And the teeniest smidge of cinnamon, a trick I learned from my daughters’ Top Chef summer camp, ostensibly disgusting, but does indeed add just a bit of complexity.

My husband and I were on a lycopene high. Had to have a couple glasses of a big red to bring us back down.

I could dig the seeds out of the compost, plant them, and squeeze more ovaries next year. But tomatoes, I am sure, are vicious viners, whether I retrieve them from the compost bucket or no. As soon as we mulch our fruit trees with our cooked compost, we will probably go out and find some volunteer Jill in the Tomato stock climbing our peaches, strangling them to get back at me.

Omelet Units

I’ve finally turned the corner, after two weeks of either viral meningitis (can’t test for that, tho the spinal tap showed inflammation) or a bad reaction to not resting after oral surgery.

Just a simple tooth extraction and bone graft. My inner world can be so chaotic that I ground myself by grinding my teeth in my sleep. A firmly clenched jaw apparently keeps me tethered under the troposphere but also can fracture a molar clear down to the mantle.

  • Tip 1: A Doctor’s Nightguard ($30 at retail pharmacies) is cheaper than extraction and implant ($3500).
  • Tip 2: An implant costs as much as a family cruise to the Mayan Riviera.
  • Tip 3: The Mayan Riveria is a hotter, trendier destination than an oral surgeon’s chair with tools.
  • Tip 4: If you are a grinder and haven’t broken a molar yet, buy the mouthguard and treat yourself to a cruise, complete with gourmet lobster dinners and complementary champagne. You deserve it. The only headache you’ll get is a hangover, which actually responds to pain killers and leaves you alone a lot faster.

My dentist says grinders make him very rich.

On the third day waking and barely able to speak, move my head, blink without pain, I went to the ER and enjoyed cruising Curious-George style down corridors for my CT-scan. I wanted to cry out “wheee” and wreak havoc, but I wasn’t up to it.

Could you just decapitate me to relieve the pressure? I asked Mark, the ER doc, who was slightly nervous with Charlie lingering nearby (voted San Diego’s best doc for three years, with the bennie that I get to call all medical personnel by their first names). Mark said that’d bring up other issues.

Trepanation? I countered. No, Mark said, that has side effects, too.

Well, it worked for ancient Mesoamericans. Or maybe not. In the Museum of Man I saw lots of ancient skulls with triangles and squares carved out with the surgical equivalent of Stone Age hand axes; whoever goes through that kind of pressure relief without anesthesia (OK, maybe there was some loco herb involved) must have had a whopper of a headache. Either way, they were gonna die.

I’ve been able to cut back on pain killers these past two days; the splitting disabling headache has turned into vague twinges and mush. I am embarrassingly not sharp. (I can hear my brothers jumping on that one.)

But—yay—I went outside into the garden on Thursday, my first foray out of bed. I propped some weighty steroidal tomato vines, then shuffled right back to that other bed. After two weeks of forced bed rest I have NO core strength left! Wah! It hurts my back to stand or move about for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

I cooked an omelet yesterday and discovered my strength/endurance time can be measured in omelet units. That’s all I’m good for. Back to horizontal!

Poor poor Charlie still has to do ALL the cleanup. Yin-yang: always a silver lining (not to be confused with mercury filling; isn’t it comforting that “mercurial,” after the Roman god Mercury, refers to the erratic, volatile, unstable? My grinding probably trips the Richter).

No silver lining for Chas, working 10- to 12-hour days outside the home. He’ll ask for the next headache.

Yoga? Oh my god. I can only make the last pose. Corpse pose.

I’ll try to show my face at this Saturday’s class, tho I’m not sure my brain can take any pressure. Usually I’m happiest upside-down.

I figure doing lots of omelet-unit reps in household/gardening tasks this week should bring some strength and Charlie back. Can’t wait to go outside and hang.

Restaurant Reification: You Can’t Eat Their Words

One of my favorite words is reification (now that you can use my most hated words against me). Sounds like a meaningless jumble of morphemes, doesn’t it?

It’s one of the most life-changing words I’ve ever experienced.

You may not know it, but you reify. A lot. We all do. Every time you regard something that’s abstract (a concept, an idea, a word) as the real thing, as something material or concrete, you’re reifying.

Take the number 2, for example. Caught you! “Two” or “2” is a concept, an idea, a word. Except in the Platonic world, there’s really no such thing as 2. Get my drift? It seems as real as the candle on the cake, I know, but “2” stands for the idea of two years. Now blow.

Here’s where I run into real-world practical trouble with reification.

We’re in a restaurant. The menu before me promises every earthly delight from beast to legume. I’m in feast fantasyland, can’t decide, want everybody to order everything so I can taste it all.

Note the menu doesn’t say “bean, slab of meat from cow, cleaned flesh from fowl, piece of pig with hairy root vegetables, mussels with brine and beard recently scraped off.”

Nope, it’s “haricot vert”—and how I love the way the French syllables tumble over my tongue while my word-taste buds salivate to “sautéed in a savory shallot-white wine-balsamic dill-rosemary-caper sauce.” Then the plate comes. And they’re just green beans, after all. Damn.

Even champignon sounds better than “pungent little fungi that feed on decayed matter.” Seems the French are best at this snow job.

Think about it:

Passionfruit.

It doesn’t taste as good as it reads.

(If only I could eat my words sometimes.)

I would imagine that reification tastes something like sawdust or the empty vacuum of space. Alienation. A separation of the word from the thing.