cns news & features
WRITING A NEWSPAPER COLUMN can be a gratifying experience; it can even be lots of fun. But it can also be a dangerous business. Especially if you're writing a "peoples" column. Use the wrong word, portray the wrong notion, skew an image or shade something a degree too light or dark, and deep offense can be the result.
Not long ago I wrote a column for a small local newspaper about a popular wine waiter. I described him as handsome ("the gracefull bull" because he is large) and as attractive to women (simple fact, ask a woman). Little did I suspect what havoc language and observation could wreak.
I also pointed out as story background that the wine waiter, let us call him Bob, had had to cut off his trademark handlebar mustaches to get his current job. I used the phrase the "subservient look" as being required by the restaurant, whose main appeal is to snobs and seekers of "heritage" as in inherited privilege. I suppose I should have spotted trouble there.
The result was a double catastrophe. The head wine waiter at the restaurant, a large, balding, arrogant man, was ready to fire "Bob" ("No subservient look is required here, and don't you forget that, Bob!"). And Bob's girl friend was outraged at the idea that Bob was attractive to women, or at least to other women! Apparently it was a little too much like hanging a "For Sale" sign on Bob. She stormed the newspaper office, threatening a lawsuit.
Bob himself did not quite know what to think. He seemed confused, like a person caught in the middle of a dispute that he doesn't fully understand. On the one side he is handed an apparent compliment; on the other he is told that in fact it's an insult.
He began to look dizzy, as though he had had one too many glasses of vintage red.
The name of the column was "The Folks Around Us." In defense of Bob, who is a wonderful wine waiter and a fine person, I offer this column, I hope not too bitter or astringent, to the entire community of "folks around us" to judge.
And Bob, quit looking embarrassed. "Looks" are not a crime; being attractive to women is not a punishable offense. Not yet, anyway.
cns news & features
Note: Usually this space is dedicated to "the folks around us," those fascinating people of Mendocino County who live together, work together, breathe the same air, and mostly get along. But last week such a marvelous event occurred in this county--namely, the surprise appearance of the chief goddess of Xamoro--that this space will be given over to an exclusive interview with the goddess.
The goddess, somewhat pressed for time, agreed to meet at the Witness Tree on the Hall Ranch in Elk. The interviewer was warned to be prompt, which he was.
But before launching into the interview, a little background may be in order. Most folks know about Xamoro by now; some are even considered experts on it, having spent vacations there, shooting pictures, lying on the beach, and ordering the natives all about. But for the sake of those who don't know, or who have forgotten: Xamoro is a little village located on the South American continent about as far south as, say, Mendocino is located north on the North American continent. Xamoro is its proper name, but some call it Mendodo.
The main "industry," if you want to call it that-- though there is certainly nothing very industrious about the way the Mendodos go about it--is fishing. Being right on the sea coast and having a big lagoon at the south of the village, there is little stress involved. The fish swim into the lagoon, and if you want one you grab it.
A second industry, however, could be considered stressful. That is the drug business. It involves planting, harvesting, processing; packaging, labelling, marketing; lobbying, bribery, and even, sometimes, murder. In some ways the Mendodos wish they had never gotten involved.
But Xamoro is more than a couple of "industries," a lot of bright sunshine, and dreamy days that yawn and mock all definitions of eternity. Xamoro also has religion. And as solid evidence of Xamoran faith stands the sturdy Temple of the Rock God. Everyone loves the Rock Temple in Xamoro, just as everyone loves the Art Center in Mendocino; and many volunteer their time to work there, even though its founder, a tall, nomadic, rock-worshipping priest by the name of Zamorka, split when the Evil Sisters appeared. Perhaps you know the ditti so beloved of Xamoran school children:
Zamorka, Zamorka, why did you go away?
Was it the Evil Sisters
Who drove you from our bay?
You packed the Rocks and were gone at dawn;
The Temple now stands empty.
And though the sun still shines each day,
And many the lunar cycles obey,
The Light of Our Light's withdrawn.
But Zamorka, like William Zacha who founded the Mendocino Art Center, is another story. And anyway, you know how fast visionaries flee when the bureaucrats arrive.
The goddess Mendodii had in fact appeared out of a great white cloud earlier in the day, and after a few hours rest in the lower meadow of the Hall Ranch, and the performance of certain ritual Spring dances, appeared in etheral form at the Witness Tree, a two-thousand year old Redwood that some say is more holy than the Temple of the Rock God in Xamoro, or even the Art Center in Mendocino.
At her noble sight I bowed deeply and said, "Greetings Goddess Mendodii. How wonderful it is to have you here with us."
"Greetings, Spring greetings to you all!" she said. "Doesn't the month of May just knock you out with all the mad blossoming and insane buzzing, and the great big throb and thrill of Nature that is happening now? Well, it does me, and I just have to get out and see it all, look down on it from above, tingle with its pleasure in the airy comfort of a pure white cloud, preferably cumulus. Well, I was out on a little cloud-adventure to the Northern Regions where I thought I might just cool my passions a little too--restore an ounce of reason and judgement to Celestial Mind--when I heard your little 'village' was having some problems--as usual over words."
"Yes, goddess," I said, "as usual over words. But sometimes we do fight over other things."
"Oh, my," the goddess went on, "words are such a problem these days; and people, oh, they are touchy, aren't they? In Xamoro we once even coined a word for word- touchiness, with the best of intentions; but it turned out that some people were even touchy about that word, so 'Tuki- tuki-tuki' is now a kind of taboo'd word in our language. It caused too many fights, too many problems."
I said that I found that sad but that I understood. The goddess explained that she had suspended her journey north when she heard of our trouble and that she hoped to be able to shed some light on that matter. "After twenty-three million years of existence," said the goddess, "I have some experience that may help you see things more clearly."
The goddess asked if she might tell a story before attempting to "illuminate any particular event or happenings in your community. "Would that be okay?" she asked.
The goddess was assured that a story would be most welcome; and that afterwards, time permitting, light could he shed on any little "matters."
The goddess, who is youngish-looking and voluptuous as ripe cantaloupe but who, at twenty-three-million years of age, is rich in experience, having "seen it all" many, many times, began her tale:
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