by Stacey Warde
I walked head first into a tree limb at work this week. It threw me back hard, flat on my ass, and stunned me. Shaken, embarrassed, flattened, rolling on the ground, a huge gas blower strapped to my back, blasting leaves every which way as I tried to shake it off, I thought: “I don’t want to do this any more. I don’t want to be a middle-aged gardener sucking gas, eating dirt and picking up other people’s dog shit.”
I like garden work and much of what I do, at the farm and with the landscape outfit, but some days events like this can put things in a different light. It can set you on a downward spiral if you get too much of it. Or, you find some humor.
Nonetheless, I need to be working smarter, not harder, as my dad used to say, doing more of the things I like to do, like this magazine.
I’d flooded the customer’s back yard. I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the water. I had just patched a water line, which was easy enough. Then, I had to test the patch, run the water, and check for leaks. The line was fine but it took me 20 frustrating minutes to turn the damned sprinklers off. By then, there was a nice pond forming under some trees and in the grass.
After shutting off the sprinklers, I threw the blower on my back, flustered, and began blowing back excess water from the tile patio so no one would slip or fall. I started on the leaves and they scattered everywhere. I couldn’t get the leaves to go where I wanted. They went up, they went back but never where I wanted.
I hate blowers. They’re a nuisance and they stink and they scatter dust. I wear good ear protection, the kind that look like headphones. They can be awkward at times, they feel clunky and heavy, especially when worn over a ball cap but they do a great job of keeping out the noise.
I put my head down and went at it, ears covered, eyes blind to low-lying tree limbs, feeling badly about the high-pitched whine of the blower and flooding of our client’s back yard. Soon, I made a trip around the perimeter of the yard going between rose bushes, shrubs—and trees—blowing leaves until I walked headlong into that one limb. It snapped my neck back and left a big red gouge in my forehead. My neck, shoulders and back still hurt.
“Maybe you need your eyes checked,” said Ray, my workmate. It’s the second time I’ve heard that. Not long ago, when I started washing windows for the Dutch Window Cleaning Artist, he chided me: “You must be going blind! Look at that!” He pointed at a window that I had cleaned that had a large smudge line running down the side.
“In a different light,” I said, tilting my head as if looking at a painting , “you can really see it.”
Indeed, in the past year my eyes have been more faulty than ever. I probably need to wear glasses more often. It might also help to pay better attention to events as they unfold, like aging, retirement and working smarter.
The previous week, while tricking out a client’s garden, I got bit in the ass—twice. First, by the client, then by her skittish dog, a medium-sized mutt that had it in for me. Dogs like me. The only dogs that don’t like me are the ones that shouldn’t be outside. I might have seen it coming, had I been paying better attention. The lady was mad and rightly so, I thought. The boss had been avoiding her calls.
“I’m not mad at you guys, I’m justing venting…” she said tensely, and right about then I saw a flash of black out of the far corner of my troubled, middle-aged eye and before I could react, I felt the sting of a dog’s bite on the back of my thigh.
“Gawd!” I yelped, grabbing my lower right butt cheek, which had been punctured by the sharp point of that mid-sized mutt’s lower canine.
My workmate guffawed and the lady failed to hide her sadistic enjoyment of her dog biting my ass. She didn’t put the dog away and I grabbed fast hold of a rake and shovel. The dog eyed me from its owner’s side. I set the rake like a spear on the ground between me and the dog.
“Don’t think I’m going to let you do it again,” I said to the mutt, “I’ve got my eyes on you now.”
When I got home, I took tweezers and pulled the black fabric of my work pants, dried blood and skin out of the puncture wound. I cleaned it out the best I could and called the doctor the next day. He ordered a five-day regimen of antibiotics.
“This prescription can give you a bad case of diarrhea,” he said, “so be sure to eat lots of yogurt.”
Between running into a tree, stepping in dog shit, and getting bit, I’ve been thinking a lot about what else I might do for a living. I want to publish, run a magazine, write stories, shake things up again, just the way I did when The Rogue Voice was a monthly print journal. I want to grow my own garden, one that doesn’t have to be trimmed, mowed and blown in 30 minutes. I want to open a brewery and grow my own weed.
So I started this online magazine. The Rogue Voice 2.0. The Rogue Voice on steroids. The Rogue Voice online. Finally. Now, if I step into a pile of dog shit while working, I’ve got something to look forward to at the end of the day, something to cheer my spirits.
Not everyone’s happy about it. Readers might not like what they see here, but our content will always be relevant. In less than two weeks, we received nearly 1,000 views, about half of which, including a few complaints, were directed at a poem titled, “Small Town Gossip in Paradise” by Ibrahim Ahmed. The poem puts a different spin on a refrain we hear often in these parts: “We live in paradise, don’t we?” “We sure do!” Which would be mostly true were it not for a few people who live here, and for a recent murder, several suicides and a handful of drug-related deaths.
You could say, there’s trouble in paradise. Troubles that go beyond getting bit by dogs and running into trees. Suicide, murder, and drug overdoses—in a town of less than 5,000 people, living otherwise peaceably and happily between the wide open spaces of green hills and the vast blue Pacific ocean, where there’s presumably hardly ever a care or worry, no traffic, noise or big-city mayhem. Still,”the little town that time forgot,” despite claims to the contrary, appears to suffer from many of the modern-day plagues and problems of LA and San Francisco that people come here to escape.
I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise. I’m not sure what they mean beyond the weather and spectacular scenery, none of which has to do with the people who live here. The food can be heavenly at times and there’s plenty of it, lots of farms, produce, fish. And the people, mostly, are great. They work hard and like to celebrate. Some are givers. Others are snakes. Still, others are deeply disturbed.
“It’s people,” I’ve been reminded more than once, “who make or ruin ‘paradise.’” It’s not the place, friends have said, it’s the people. They’re the ones who create the problems and the misery. Maybe these big-city problems like murder and suicide are not that uncommon for small communities around the country. They sure make for some interesting conversation, some of which is featured in Ibrahim’s poem:
“Did you hear
about the guy who hung himself from the pier?
At the crack of dawn there
he was hanging from a rope
dangling between the
pile ons like a shadow
above the ocean where
the pigeons leave their droppings.
Did you hear the lady
from Fresno who, after
several drinks shouted,
‘You guys are so lucky; you live in paradise!’?”
I’ve never been able to confirm whether anyone actually hung himself from the pier, although several residents have assured me that it’s true. Since then, there have been other suicides, and overdoses.
“Killing yourself is pretty fucking selfish, if you ask me,” said a fellow laborer at Schooner’s Wharf, which overlooks the same pier, a kind of icon for our little paradise, as we drank a beer and discussed the passing of Brad Marz, a local contractor, whom I considered a friend, who would have loved that poem and was a frequent commenter, not always favorable, on the content of The Rogue Voice. By most reliable accounts, he put a nail gun to his head and ended his career. Hardly a week later, a young man named Jesse put handgun to his head. “You gotta suck it up,” my bar mate continued, lifting his glass, “or get some goddamned help.”
I wouldn’t be so quick to pass such judgment and was too ashamed to admit that I’ve been so demoralized at times in my life that thoughts of suicide have erupted in my mind too.
“The only people it hurts,” he added with finality, “are the people left behind.”
He’s right about that. I’m one of those people. Brad’s decision to take his own life floored me, as it did others. It got me thinking about what I’m doing and why. If nothing else, his death is a reminder that for all of the dog bites, piles of shit that I’ve stepped in, and tree limbs I’ve run into, there will always be trouble in paradise, which is more reason to do what I love, be with the people I love, and work smarter. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.