Follow me down the rabbithole

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The OTHER side of paradise...the wrong side

Let's go back to Bethel, shall we?  Nothing new on the medical front, except that the Medical Industry has figured out a way to distort time - give you a whole week to ponder cancer test results, and that week lasts at least 4 years and 3 months.  Lots of time to think...and remember...

{EDIT:  Now and forever, all names of people not currently here with me are made up out of my ass.  The incidents are all real, although some may be combined for artistic purposes.  In other words, everything really happened, but not to whom I am saying it did, or even that it all happened to the same person at the same time.  I claim storyteller's right to entertain by choosing the narrative.  Unlike some..many...most chroniclers, however, I do assert that all of this really did happen.  To someone.}

I mentioned earlier how disconcerting the Yup'ik language can be to a non-Native.  Here is a short video that samples this odd language - and I mean odd only to my ears.  To a Native - this is right, and what comes out of my mouth is odd.  I tell you three times - this language is really different, just another mind fuck for me.  But, at a distance, I can see other things about Alaska, and I spent some therapeutic time on this blog, and watching these videos.  This is the first time I have sought this kind of thing, and there is loveliness there.  Take a little while, visit some of those videos and look for the Yup'ik STORYTELLER video on that page - awesome way to spend an hour! (And a nice balance for the negativity that I am spewing forth...again, therapeutically.  I am using this time to write down my Alaska stories - some have heard some of these...and getting this stuff out on paper has always been therapeutic for me - no matter what flavor the particular stuff happens to be at the moment.  I still have high school journals - in dwarf runes - tucked away, survivors of a cross continent move - and then a big return to Oregon...only my precious survived that kind of culling)

Weird.  I just scrolled through those videos, and recognize a lot of things, but that was a part of Alaska that was closed off to me.  I was the wrong race, possibly the wrong gender, although things never got to that point very often, and I was a local celebrity for all the wrong reasons.

Isolation is the keyword for Bethel.  Nothing gets in or out easily.  Not people, goods, supplies, cars, firetrucks or entertainment.  There are satellite dishes that bring in whatever stray frequencies are bouncing around the Sub-arctic tundra, but by and large, the entire community of Bethel spent a good deal of the time with a police scanner squawking in a corner somewhere.

We were more than ready for prime time.

Cop shows are silly for many reasons, but communications between dispatchers and cops/firefighters, etc, are a never ending source of WTF on the rare occasions that I get in front of a TV program.  Granted, the usual ebb and flow of code-numbers, international alphabet, inside references would be confusing to most audiences...but not the loyal listeners in Bethel!

A standard radio request was for a "10-27,10-29".  This meant that the officer wanted me to access the subject's DMV file, check his current driver's license status, and also see if he had any "wants or warrants" - wants being a note that someone wanted to make contact with a subject (someone being an official, state trooper type person, or such-like personage.)

The standard response would go = 10-27 returns current, valid, class D, 10-29 returns clear - the subject has no wants or warrants.  This was pretty much an automatic exchange whenever officers contacted anyone for more than a brief stop - whether the subject was being taken into custody, had a traffic stop, or was just drunk in public.

Typical night - Bravo 4 contacted a frequent flier - a villager who was well known for coming into Bethel and spending each night in Protective Custody (PC) - being held in a jail cell for 12 hours to sober up.  Sure enough...he was in need of PC.

"Bravo 4, PD"
"Go ahead, Bravo 4"
"10-29 Last of  Charles, first of Joe"

Before I could acknowledge, a remote voice came from the speakers.

"10-29 returns clear, last of charles, first of joe, last known 20 Kwethluk"

From the back seat, this intoxicated individual had just provided a perfect response to the officer's inquiry.  How many bad guys in Medford would be able to do that - especially since he recorded a BAL (Blood Alcohol Level) of .312 that night?  Most people are barely conscious with numbers that high - not this gentleman.  More on BAL in a moment.

Had this gentleman been present at so many of these exchanges from the back seat that the protocol was drilled into him?  Possibly...but there was something else at work here.  Bethel rules - nothing works as you are used to it working.  Bethel makes its own rules.

Whenever I ventured out of work or the house, I was headed somewhere else, somewhere public.  A store.  The post office.  The courthouse.  And no matter WHERE in town I was, as soon as I said my first two words in public (whatever those two words might happen to be), someone within earshot would whip around, point that freaky Pod People finger at me and exclaim loudly,

 "You work for the Police Department!"  Was it tattooed on my fucking forehead in ink only visible to everyone else in the whole town?  What the fuck!  I knew not one thing about ANY of these people and they all knew me.  And I was automatically down one strike for being non-Native.  Now the knock-out punch - I was part of the non-Native population that was trying to impose itself on the Native culture, with more negative than positive results, AND I was somehow responsible for all the misery caused when police are needed.  3 strikes and the last two were simultaneous.  I am out and never even saw the punch coming.  Excuse the mixed sports metaphors.  Yes, I know better.  Yes, I am deliberately using them to convey the confusion that minds can feel in Bethel.  It's a literary device.

("Said gently and warmly, "Thanks for letting me be a teacher again.")

So now that we are back to Bethel...how DID everyone in the place know me for what - if not exactly who - I was?

My South Jersey Accent and the prolific use of police scanners.  I was the night radio personality - the kind that I used to listen to in my insomnia days - nights in Jersey.  Except they played great music - underground rock in the 70's, etc.  I played life and death dramas.  Earlier radio.  I was The Shadow, Orson Wells, and Doctor Demento each and every night.  But my fans were not seeking my autograph, but a piece of my hide...about the same size as the one taken out of their brother's leg when he charged an officer while under the influence...

And I was the voice that let them know what was burning, and if they knew the family that stayed there.  (No one lives anywhere in rural Alaska - they stay places, unto the unth generation.  He stays on Mission Road.  He has stayed there his whole life, like his father before him.)  I was the voice that let them know who was coming toward them, and why.  Sirens carry a long way on the Tundra, and people are curious...desperately so in such a bleak and remote place.  I was reassurance and fear, hope and despair, tragedy and comedy.  But the dramas were real, the injuries were bleeding loved one's blood, and intoxicated tempers could flare at any moment, given any spark.  Low and slow were my moves, using the survival skills that brought me through night time Philly alone back in the beforetime.  Wrong.  I went out less and less.  I finally gave up on trying to suss out the proper signals -the nonverbal ones.  What movement, eyecontact, noneyecontact, nonmovement, mouth shape, shoulder position, stance, bearing, etc etc would solve this anthropological problem for me in the next 30 seconds or so?  Nothing worked.  I was still menaced with what to ME were threatening glares, crowding of my personal space, raised voices meaning anger - all of MY cultural signals were sending fear waves on overdrive, and that might not have been what they were conveying at all.  Roger speaks highly and very sentimentally about the Native people, and he was there for 30 years.  He saw other sides of them that I, in my profession, would not.  I saw the criminals, the alcoholics, the ones who would or could not conform to law...which wasn't necessarily theirs, but imposed on them.  Sometimes the imposition was made in order to correct an evil that was imposed by contact with other cultures - the whole alcohol law mess up there.  And alone, in those public places, opening my mouth made all of that happen, right there and then, in real time.  The only places I felt safe were at work, in Roger's cab, or in the house.  Not much chance to interact with people on any basis other than taking their calls for help when you live like that.

(N.B.  That is one reason that I am so fervently against cannabis prohibition.  I saw the futility of trying to legislate that kind of behavior with a substance that KILLS people, their culture, their families...and cannabis would be such a kinder, gentler choice for those for whom alcohol is now the only way out on a winter's night.  The prohibition caught SOME of the booze destined for the villages...but I took the calls when that failed and someone was 10-56 (highly intoxicated) and presenting a danger to himself and others.  If prohibition really worked, I would never get those calls.  I got them on regular alcohol, on pruno, and the most memorable, the Village Peace Officer who called to find out if DUI counted on a snow machine if the subject had been drinking shoe polish.

"Shoe polish?" I repeated, making sure I had heard correctly.

"Shoe polish."  He affirmed.

"Is that alcohol?" I asked, googling as I spoke.  The VPO was faster than our satellite connection.

"It is when you take a can of shoe polish and turn it upside down on a loaf of white bread.  You drink what comes out the bottom.  They say black is the strongest."

"If its alcohol, it's DUI.  Are you bringing him in?  Do you need a trooper?"

"Nah - the VPSO drank the evidence, so I will just cuff him overnight and call the troopers in the morning.  Good night, miss."

It was the matter-of-fact detail about the black that was the worst mind fuck.  He reported it to me totally pro forma - he had called the state troopers, was speaking to a non-Native, henceforth someone to whom one is professional, and reported this just as he had been trained.  To him, this was routine.  To me...Bethel makes its own rules.  Stroke 97 or so.

Rambling on about alcohol, some more to share.

High BAL numbers  (or as we called it) their ETOH, were nothing unusual.  Low numbers were.  More than once, an officer muttered and swore at the machine when someone blew anything under a 2.0.  That number was not possible in Bethel, so the machine must be broken.  But high numbers?

The highest I saw - and I actually handled the tape - was a .666.  I saw the subject walk into PD, not well, but moving his own feet and more or less upright...saw him stagger down the hallway and collapse into the breathalyzer seat, and attempt to converse with the officer.  This was hampered by 2 concerns.  His intoxication, and the penny he had secreted under his tongue to fool the breathalyzer.  But he made a valiant effort!  The officer was fairly fresh from the academy - and to Bethel - and he came scampering up the hallway to dispatch, tape fluttering in his wake.

"Can this be right?"  he enthused as he thrust the tape at me.  (The machine we used spit out the results just like a cash register receipt tape).  I looked at it, and took it to find a better light source.  (Dispatch was always dark, except for the 4 monitors that surrounded the dispatch station)

There it was.  .666.  Fucking amazing.  The subject, meantime, was idly testing his cuffed wrist, and managed to slide halfway to the floor.  I silently pointed up at the drunk cam monitor, and the officer gulped and rushed back.  That subject, once freed, actually got to his feet and walked OUT of PD, got into the squad car and was transported to the hospital for a medical OK before being taken on to the jail to check in for the night.

A most reliable source told me that there is a 700 club on the Delta - a collection of individuals who have managed to blow an ETOH OVER .7 - and lived.  Someone with a more scientific bent can correct or confirm this, but I understand this means that 70 percent of the stuff circulating through those people was alcohol.  That's insane, even when you consider the antifreeze properties.  Especially when you consider those.

Alcohol is deceptive.  Drunks are not able to make good choices.  Mix the two, and you have one reason for the death rate in the bush.  Drunks get lost.  Blizzards can get people lost 5 feet from their own door when they are stone cold (pun fully intended) sober.  Mix the two, and you have another reason for the death rate.  Drunks get nasty.  Weather forced people to remain indoors, in each other's spaces, for extended periods of time.  Nasty drunks that have been cooped up together for a month or so are another reason for the death rate.  Shit sure is interesting in the bush.

"9-1-1, What is your emergency?"
"GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR - HELP -  GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR  My brother is chasing me with a chain saw - GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR....SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS (dead air)"

Difficulty factor:  This call came in on the Trooper line - a dedicated phone line that was transferred from the Trooper post to the Bethel PD when the troopers packed it in for the night.  That phone received calls from all over the Delta - and I had NO idea where this caller was from.  The call would have been nav-sat in origin, as there are no phone lines or cell towers out there.  There were some nav-sat rigs throughout the villages, and there might have been other tech that I did not need to know about, since this was essentially the Trooper's turf, and I was acting as the answering service - more or less.

What to do now?  There is no way to trace those calls, no caller ID, no nada.  No name, no location, and an area the size of the state of Oregon to search - in the winter.  Yeah.  Right.

The phone rang.
"GRRRRR  Are the troopers coming?  I can't keep running all night!"
"Where are you?"
"Kwethluk"
"Who are you?"
"Albert Tom"
"Keep moving, I will find some help."

Now with a village name, and a subject name, I could act.  Flip through the oversized rolodex that was the village contact listings, find the VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer), and...

Shit.  The VPSO is Albert Tom.  The only cop in town is being chased by a chain-saw wielding brother.

Flipflipflip - Ah,  Numbers for tribal council members, store managers, elders... I start dialing.  Kwethluk is not all that far from Bethel - not nearly as far as calls can originate (I took some calls that were over 300 miles away - basically someone in Portland calling for help from someone in Medford.  And there is NO I-5 stretching across the tundra!)  If a situation was bad enough to require a trooper there immediately - one would fly out to the village.  There was a bush pilot on call in Bethel 24/7 who would make the most amazing things happen out there.  Frequently, these trips were in darkness from start to finish, and villagers and pilots work together to make it happen.  Every vehicle in the village with a head light is driven to the air strip - which is cleared as best as it can be - and when the pilot approached, all the headlights are turned on to illuminate the strip.  These would be four-wheelers, snow machines, with only the occasional jeep or 4 wheel drive.

But Kwethluk was only 15 miles or so upriver.  A trooper could drive there in half an hour or so.

Drive?  Hasn't this woman been saying that there are no roads out there...it's open tundra...

All true.  But the Kuskokwim river freezes and has its own state highway number.    (Please click that link for the proper visual aids, says the teacher.  The song is the shit as well!)

I called the on-call trooper and relayed the information.  Albert Tom was rescued from the chainsaw massacre, his brother got some punitive action (the usual slap on the wrist, and a "note in your official record") and life, such as it is in Bethel, went on.

It's getting bothersomely hot here in the house, so I will go sit in the quiet corner and let some more minutes tick by.  At least the hemp oil doses are keeping me upbeat and able to remain calm and relaxed.  Without it, I would be drooling in a bucket while my mind raced through every single outcome...and then worried itself to death about the outcomes it could not think of!  Such is life in OCD land.  Once that worm bites, it burrows in until...GAH...the brain implodes, or some shit.  I don'r know, I always manage to detrigger it before it gets to that point.  However, cannabis does the detriggering for me for the most part.  Diverting into better channels is FAR easier when medicated.  Rose colored glasses?  Delusional thinking?

I have been waiting since Tuesday to find out if I have cancer or not.

For the love of all your gods, let me keep those rose colored glasses.  They won't change the outcome of the tests - those results are already in the lab.  I just don't know them yet.  But they are a reality.  Why should I endure the misery of the waiting period by not medicating?  In addition to the physical conditions that the hemp oil is treating, any physician or member of the medical industry will confess that a patient's mental state is a huge part of the outcome.  They will bicker like alewives over the exact percentage of advantage a good mental state is...but the view from inside the patient's head is pretty clear cut.

Positive thinking while facing dire medical news is 100 percent of the battle.  The last time I was looking at a medical situation like this was in Alaska, as noted elsewhere.  I had about the worst mental state that one can have in that environment - harsh weather requiring multiple layers around my feet, which increased all the nasty effects, a sedentary occupation and lifestyle which added lethal pounds to an already obese frame, a lack of sunlight which astonished me...

Not that I didn't know Alaska was dark a lot.  In fact, before going there, that was a positive factor in my decision.  I have always loved the night, taking night shift jobs whenever there was that option (and not just for the late shift bonus - that really was bonus for me!) and being in so much MORE darkness was really appealing.

Holy shit.  THAT much darkness was unceasing, neverending, abysmal, depressing, frightening, miserable, nasty... darkness of epicshitstorm proportions.  It never fucking ended.

I chose the midnight shift whenever possible as a dispatcher.  The best shit happens in the middle of the night - which is a much longer period of time in Alaska than it is down here!  And, nights are my best time.  Or so...

I discovered my first year that the sun only rises for a few dim hours midday in Bethel.  You might get a 20 minute stretch when headlights would be optional, but it's dusky, darkly lit.  As a night shift worker, you are asleep when this occurs.  You get up in the dark, you work in the dark, you go to sleep in the dark.  For 9 months at a time.

I had done a lot of reading on Alaska before I boarded the first jet.  I knew about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I knew a lovely woman who suffered dreadfully from it during winters in New Jersey.  But even at my age, I still retained some of that youthful belief that desire equals invulnerability.  If I want something badly enough, it can't hurt me.

I wanted work at night.  But I NEEDED sunlight.  Natural sunlight.  Working at night automatically means artificial lighting during your entire waking period.  And night shift workers soon learn the folly of reverting to day time activities during short breaks - weekends with the family kind of thing.  Jet lag sets in that first night back and it's a MISERY.  Far better to miss part of the family dinner than suffer through a 12 hour shift from hell.  So getting up to get some sun, if you are even aware that this is an issue, (which I wasn't for a long time), is right out.

Sunlight.  I realized my severe deficiency in this area the summer that I was sick.  I had gone to Anchorage for training, and was not able to get the insurance to incorporate any medical care on that trip.  So I took the one and only non-work leave that I took in 5 years, and Roger and I spent a few days north of Anchorage, in the Mat-Su Valley.  Gawds.  It was wonderful.  Normal houses, TREES, real roads, farm markets, local vegetables...civilization.  And lots to do outside, and lots of outside and sunshine to do it in, and money to get good food, and relax, and even go get my poor wounded feet soaked in the KNIK River.  It was ice cold, fast moving, clean, clear, and full of the most wonderful rounded pebbles.  I was not thinking.  I failed to collect any, and that is a shame.  They were beautiful.
This is a screenshot I snatched from Google Earth Street View.  The black beach to the left was where we went to the water edge and waded.  It was what the doctor and the insurance company SHOULD have ordered.

I think I may have some pictures on an old hard drive somewhere - PROJECT LIST.

(N.B.  A project list is one of my shield plans.  If the diagnosis IS cancer, then having an already established project list will just give me that much more reason to keep moving forward.  OCD and unchecked boxes.  Shudder.)

After the Knik river treatment, my feet were far better.  Whether it was the water, the sun, the exercise, it was all good.  Then we boarded the Bethel jet, and as soon as the cabin pressurized, neuropathy returned with a couple of souvenirs from its trip abroad, renewed vigor and intensity.  Pressurized aircraft are HELL for me.  Everything is magnified.  Especially the pain.  But since I will never fly again, that is a moot point.

After a month back in Bethel, it became September with snow and darkness returning right on bloody schedule - and so did my lethargy, my lack of energy, and I lost the bit of health I had recovered back in the real world.  At that point, I grokked two things.  Sunlight, despite my preference for night, is as necessary for me as air and water, and I should have realized this all along.  Stupid hat to the third power, please.  A want is NOT a need.  It's that simple.  Take some day shifts during the summer, make sure EVERYONE does, and at least break up those winter months as much as possible.  Yes, shift changing is tough - but SAD is the pits.  And far longer effecting than the shiftchange shit.

The other lack that I grokked on that trip was trees.  I know.  Seems a bit foo?  Fey?  But out on the tundra, there is nothing taller than a good sized bush anywhere - and there is a SHITTON of anywhere to look at.  Not a goddamn tree between me and the horizon.  I grew up in woodlands and forests back east.  Dappled sunlight on leafy paths in the late afternoon...dear GAWDS where are all the freakin trees???  I got back to Bethel and looked for anything like a tree.  I found a few, WAY down at the other end of town - might as well have been the moon for all the chance I had to get down there.  In the 6 block radius that my health, size and job limited me to 95 percent of the time, no trees.  No tree shadows, my favored method of timekeeping when life permits the luxury.  And that would not have worked in Alaska anyway - no shadows were right up there - just another patented Alaskan mind fuck.

I filled the need as best as I could - I grabbed every decent tree wallpaper that I could and rotated through them on the worst nights.  I would put some New Age instrumental with wind in the tree sounds, turn out all the lights, and watch trees on the desktop slide show.  Of such things are survival wrought.

Speaking of survival - tis now late afternoon, and really warm.  Love to all that read this far, and to those that did not.  Extra indulgence for today's length.

Make today the best day yet.

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