Monday, March 22, 2004


You can take the white out of the trash...

When I was in Tacoma last week, the big news story was about a sheriff’s deputy who was being prosecuted for spousal abuse. When I was there last year about this time, the chief of police—the chief, for christ’s sake—had murdered his wife and killed himself. They were merely upholding a tradition of corruption that goes all the way back to the seventies, when the sheriff had moonlighted as a mob enforcer.

Most people in Tacoma would tell you that these are isolated incidents, and should in no way affect your image of the town. Here, look at the thriving arts and theater community, they’ll tell you, and hey, look at how the new mass transit system has revitalized downtown!

Don’t believe it. This is a town that once held the dubious honor of “smelliest city in America.” Tacoma holds both an army and an air force base, dozens of casinos, and one of the worst gang problems on the west coast. Tacoma, Seattle’s smaller, disreputable neighbor, is a town with a massive chip on its shoulder, and the more time one spends there, the harder it is to break out of the resultant suicidal funk.

I was there this week for the one-year anniversary of my Mom’s death--or, as everyone in the family insisted on referring to it, her “passing.” There was also Redneck Sister, along with Sulky Third Nephew (the one who was kicked out of the army two years ago for smoking weed, for which my Dad has never forgiven him), but thankfully, minus Dickweed Husband. Cop Brother lives up there. The only one missing was Army Brother, who just started a new job in Florida.

Apart from a solemn moment at the brick bearing Mom’s name, in the Memorial Park on the air force base, the week was spent listening to some truly epic screeds from Dad, Redneck Sister, and Cop Brother, some highlights from which I’ve already shared with you. It’s truly terrifying to spend so much time around these people, to glimpse this scary alternate universe they inhabit, where the Hindu working at the 7-11 is in league with al-qaeda, where George W. Bush is the greatest hero of our time. And they make great sport of sharing their sociopathic worldview with me—I was long ago branded the family “liberal,” in this case meaning, “person who acknowledges that Rush Limbaugh is a shithead.”

I didn’t rise to the bait, though. Dad and Redneck Sister could go on all they wanted about how “those people” want to name a street after Martin Luther King, but I was a rock. I had to be; when you’re dealing with people so far divorced from reality, you can hit them with unassailable logic vetted by Plato himself, you’re not going to convince them of any truth that undercuts the comforting lies that justify their worldview. I was not just a good son, I was the best, most supportive son ever, comforting my Dad, smiling and nodding as he told me just what’s so bad about the French, calmly awaiting the moment when I could join my friends in Seattle, where I was able to calmly drink myself to temporary oblivion. And thank you, friends in Seattle, for that mercy.

Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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