This chapter looks at childhood and the cycle of violence. It explore my family background, my father’s gang membership, my mother’s fondness of gambling, and the question of us being White Trash.
I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 17-years-old. Prior to this first step toward a long journey, I slept on an old couch in a basement room without doors. There was no privacy. If I wanted isolation I owned a car, a Galaxy 500, that I bought from my factory-working grandmother for $500. My automobile was where I trained for adulthood. It had various compartments where I stashed contraband and a backseat to relax with girlfriends. The car was the site for various rites of passage: drinking, smoking, drugs, vandalism, and sex. The rusty vehicle was a giant verb that moved me from point “A” to point “B”. I was no longer a stagnant teenager, but somebody who was going places. The car represented motion, freedom, and change. Both parents wanted me to live at home longer, but I was eager to make a man out of myself. I had a job at the Slaveway® grocery store and could pay my own bills. I was independent and sexually active since age sixteen. I needed my own roof to explore who I was, and how women’s bodies were shaped. A manager sublet an apartment to me in Salt Lake, and I moved myself into it using my own car. Shortly afterward, the car broke down and never operated again. Therefore, my life as a transient rubber tramp was postponed for a few more years.
When I boomeranged back into my parent’s house, twelve years later, I had a BA degree to show them – and a bout with homelessness that could not be shared. It was winter and ice crunched when walking on the ground outside. My parents adjusted to the fact that at least one of their three children would always live at home even in adulthood. We ricocheted home between divorce, personal crisis, or financial hardship. The parental house acted as sort of a safety net.
Both my siblings were married and living elsewhere in Utah. It was my turn to return home. This time I had an enclosed bedroom in the basement. I slept on a mattress for the first time since university graduation, but I was uncomfortable with its softness and could no longer rest. The room had a door, finally. My parents eagerly welcomed me home and enjoyed my company. However, I was still unsettled and struggling to find a purpose. It felt like a failure to retreat to my parent’s fold. I was the elder son who should have been helping them out.
I had some money saved from a job planting sage brush. If I could earn $500 more I could afford rent and security deposit toward my next apartment. I went back to cooking on an assembly line. It wasn’t fast food this time. Instead it was at an upscale diner with menus printed on fancy paper with an artsy font. The restaurant was a hot spot for Salt Lake nightlife (although it went out of business two years later). Utah was slowly improving and attracting more foreign visitors and ethnic businesses. This job required actual cooking instead of mere assembly work. They never precooked. I fit in quite well with all the reprobates in the kitchen.
All of us were shattered by some battle in life. We had our scars, blisters, and rage. Cooking was hard work. We supported each other well. The manager never gave us inspiring pep talks about teamwork. We had it anyway since we had all cooked before, and knew how fast a kitchen could unravel during the dinner rush. We were experienced grill studs. The method that the manager employed to motivate us was free drinks. After a particularly difficult dinner rush we were given pints of beer. Once the front line was closed a pitcher of kamikazes was ordered for us to drink while cleaning. At other times, money was pooled together to buy a case of generic beer to drink after work.
As long as we demonstrated a solid work ethic the manager would turn a blind side to the joints we smoked in the walk-in closet. If in a congenial mood, the manager might even join us cooks. All the cooks were men, so the backroom banter often consisted of jokes about penis size, homosexuality, or the impotence of your colleagues. We never told racial jokes, unless it was the Mexican dishwashers who were making them about themselves. It was a fun way to pass the time.
In the back of my mind was the fact that I lived with my parents at the age of 29. The other workers had apartments and lovers, plus the knowledge that they would most likely remain in the restaurant business most their lives. They knew who they were and dealt with it. I was uncertain of what I wanted to do next with my life. I only wanted to save enough money to get my own apartment and rebuild my life. I hid the fact that I had an university degree from coworkers. It would have been a joke in this kitchen. My acceptance was instead based on my hands. I had the damaged hands of a cook –scarred from cuts at a glass factory and calloused from construction. I was also a reliable worker who could hold my own on the front grill. I was comfortable with the working class level of employment. It is my family’s origins.
My father worked as a mechanic who later sold auto parts and my mother labored for nearly fifty years in the same bowling alley. We derived from a background of sheepherders, laundry attendants, miners, farmers, and factory workers. We landed in Utah mostly from the South (Virginia, Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee). One side of the family migrated with sheep from New Mexico and the other found their way to Utah from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Our ancestors were primarily European – Irish, Scottish, French, Basque, Spanish (possibly Mexican). My colleagues in the kitchen had similar backgrounds, but their families arrived from all sets of directions and nationalities. We softly eddied in the kitchen together going nowhere in particular.
What the kitchen crew didn’t know is that I hid feminist literature in my backpack at the time. I became curious about different forms of oppression after I had experienced homelessness. I read books about gender and race. It was my private ritual. I would take a bus to downtown Salt Lake and read in a coffee shop until it was time to work. In Salt Lake the buses stopped running at 11:00 pm, therefore my father would pick me up at midnight and drive me home. My father had recently retired reluctantly from his job at the Fjord® motor corporation. After working hard all his life he didn’t know what to do with his free time.
His new occupation was informal taxi driver for family members. He shuffled us to work, school, or shopping malls. He belonged to a generation of Americans that remained loyal to one company, because that business would take care of them in return. He was hired by Fjord® after serving in the Korean War and stayed with them for most his life. He worked with the premise that hard work leads to a secure life. However, the work life that he experienced seemed outdated to me, and the one my generation inherited was still unclear. Work is much more unstable for my generation. We can get laid off on a moments notice or downsized at any time. It is hard to trust an employer or have loyalty to any company. My premise was that job security is unpredictable, therefore alternative anchors are needed to prevent life from drifting apart. I had a constant survival instinct to look for a back up job and a compulsive desire to find quick resources to generate cash – legal or not. These secretive thoughts I hid from other people, just like I withheld talk about my homeless situation. And my father didn’t know I was reading feminist literature, either
My father met me each night in the parking lot. He patiently waited for me to finish work. There was often an awkward silence on the ride home. He was sick with some undiagnosed disease and lacked energy for conversation at times. I was usually in some shade of intoxication.. Sometimes we didn’t know what subject to discuss, and the ones we should have conversed about were too painful to mention. We almost always focused on the topic of work instead.
In our late winter car rides home I often caught him staring at me. He would sneak double-takes and hold his attention on my face. I wondered what he was thinking. I imagined that he thought about this strange silent adult in front of him, and how this human being originated from the small adopted child that he remembered. Our bond was not based on blood or biology, but the fact that my birth shaped him. He settled down and found stability by taking responsibility for my upbringing. Maybe he recognized part of himself in me, or perhaps he just wished that I would cut my hair and shave. When I caught him looking at me, he would ask again, almost reluctantly, “So … how was work tonight?”
During these silent midnight drives home he broke the ice sometimes to talk about his past. I craved detail about how he survived to this point. How was he able to shift his life from a broken home to one of stability? I considered asking him an off the topic question. I wanted to know about home mortgages and how one buys a house exactly. This is something he never explained and I was clueless about.
However, when I opened my mouth the wrong question blurted out, “Dad, are we white trash?”. I shook my head afterward wishing that I didn’t have that extra scotch after work. He pondered his response, “Well, you know your mother and I had a tough life when we were children. There were hard times, but we tried to give you the things we never had. We struggled to lift your life to a higher level than we experienced”. He avoided my question, but answered me just the same. I gave my next question some thought and worded it more carefully, “Dad, do you think we are poor?”. His response was instinctive, “We have a house. We aren’t rich, but we have a house”. The ownership of property was the distinction that he made. We might owe bank payments but we didn’t need to migrate anymore.
My father grew up in a broken home. His mother was one generation outside of a polygamist family, and his own father was the son of a Scottish migrant (who fled the oppressive Highland Clearings of the British). But, my father never knew his grandfather who abandoned his family. His own absentee father also left him for California dreams. My father was the first man in his family to break the pattern of paternal abandonment. His stepfather was a miner who developed lung disease. The miner was a cruel man that was prone to violence. My father remembers seeing his mother curled in a ball on the floor while his stepfather kicked her in the stomach. He promised that he would kill his stepfather when he came of age. Before that could happen he was sent to California to live with his biological father. His family could not afford to raise two children in Utah after the Great Depression. They split him and his brother apart.
His new home during the 1930s was in the Watts area of Los Angeles. At the time there was racial division brewing. A burst in industrialization during World War One, and the decade afterward, sent blacks migrating north and west at an unprecedented rate. Power also shifted from rural areas into cities. To a degree, there were clashes of poverty. At the same time that my father arrived in Los Angeles many African-Americans where also moving there. Poor white neighborhoods felt threatened by the Blacks that were encroaching on “their” territory, driving down property values.
Racial divisions ignited. Blacks tried to steal his lunch money and, being an angry teenager who was forced out of a broken home, he seized the opportunity for a fist fight. His relationships with blacks were often comprised of violence. My father soon joined an obscure white gang, called the Vagabonds, that wore zoot suits and “rumbled with the coloreds”. It was a losing battle. Watts became an African-American ghetto. Soon World War Two broke out and my father witnessed the Japanese population being loaded onto trains destined for concentration camps. One Japanese friend gave him a radio so my father wouldn’t be without music. My father later boarded a freight train like a hobo. He went to San Francisco and Seattle to find employment with the merchant marines. Eventually, he did enroll in military service (later to be involved in both World War Two and the Korean War). When he returned to Utah he started a family and built a home. He never killed his stepfather as vowed. The man painfully wasted away on his deathbed by the time my father became an adult. It would have been a wasted bullet.
My father did not like to talk about his past. However, during these inebriated moments in the car I had the courage to pry a bit. It often struck me that poverty is different with each generation. My grandparent’s poverty was rural and included the destitution of the Great Depression. My parent’s poverty reflected industrialization and included the hope of recovery with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The cocktail of my own poverty is brewed with three parts full-grain urbanization, one part personal bitterness, an acid twist of public apathy, with the complimentary garnish of bank credit with interest – shaken together on the rocks until it explodes. No doubt about it, my parents experienced hard times, but their generation didn’t expect more than a common salary and a house of their own. Many of the people raised during and after the Great Depression still hoard food in their basements for when hard times return again. They saved things for reuse and learned to grow food.
Some survivors became frantic gamblers in hopes of becoming rich enough not to worry about poverty again, only to go bankrupt at a slot machine. Others take to fancy unrealistic get rich schemes to bring them from rags to riches in five seconds flat. Poverty leads many people toward unrealistic pipe dreams, irrational investments, illegal endeavors, and prayers for God to intervene. Some seek magical solutions or attempt to clairvoyantly predict hidden fortunes. When all paths have failed, and poverty echoes on the same dead-end street, all kinds of methods are used to divine a trail leading out of poverty – or to simply attempt to steal that golden ring.
Gambling was the unrealistic scheme that my parents succumbed to. I sincerely doubt that they desired riches. The Nevada escape offered them a brief reprieve. They were attracted to the bright lights, seductive noise, and superb hospitality that casinos offer. Casino staff treated them with the respect and kindness that they often lacked in their simple working class lives. And respect – even if it originates from the luck of the cards or a pull at a slot machine – still counts. But, fueling these casinos is the wishful idea of an instant miracle that can solve all problems.
In contrast to “old school” poverty, my generation continues to want things like nice cars, fast computers, fashionable clothing, and a variety of expensive toys to play with. If we can’t afford them we borrow loans or tap into credit cards, and hope that better times will later come. We don’t grow food, store it, or can it. We don’t hunt for food; we shop for it. We eat out at fast food restaurants and throw merchandise away even if it is still working. We seldom fix things or garden like the older generations. My generation has been trained to consume more than to produce. We are bombarded with advertisements to purchase commodities that our parents would have never dreamt of buying, then throw them away to buy more of the same thing. We are raised on television, but our parents had only the radio. We visualize the temporary, while our parents listened before making financial decisions. My parents were poor but they did succeed to raise the quality of life of their children. We were raised in a house, without physical abuse, run by two parents – all items my parents lacked in their own youth. In other words, they successfully created a home.
“Strip him.” he says.
I clutched at my pants. The school bullies taunted me with my artwork by holding it above my head and tearing it apart. The painting was of snakes and dinosaurs fighting in multi-color. It is silly how objects become more important when withheld. My kindergarten picture was awarded a gold star by the teacher and I proudly wished to show it to my parents. It was the first time that I remember gaining a prize for schoolwork – a mere sticker placed in the upper right-hand corner.
“Take off your clothes and walk down the middle of the street,” a bruised and bandaged boy named Darren threatened. When I resisted I was pounded by the gang’s fists and hurled stones. The physical pain was easier to take then the humiliation of being stripped in public. While beating me the gang relaxed their grip on my artwork. I was able to clutch it before running away. As I fled I remember them shouting that I was white trash that should get out of their neighborhood. My painting was ripped to pieces in addition to the shirt on my back. My mother asked why my shirt was ruined. I lied by saying it was torn climbing a tree after school. Nobody wants to admit to the defeat of a beating.
Two weeks later a group of us children played in a neighborhood yard. One of the street bullies, Darren, had a flat tire on his bicycle. One of the children complained that Darren stole his lunch money, a second confessed that he was de-pants by him at school, a third acknowledged being slapped around by Darren the previous night. A spontaneous rage collected among us. We had outnumbered him and he was alone. It was a barbaric outburst really, but somehow we all raced to catch him. There were about eight of us including the girls that he also tormented. We armed ourselves with sharp sticks and the branches of a willow tree. Most of us children had been whipped with willow branches before and were familiar with its sting.
We ganged up and attacked. Darren was pinned down while he was whipped senseless. He was poked and prodded with jabs of sticks. It was a frenzy of revenge. At one point, I don’t remember if it was me that did it, but somebody came up with a tooth between two fingers. A front incisor was ripped from the mouth of our tyrant. The tooth was passed around the triumphant circle like a sacred souvenir. We all cheered in victory.
Darren seized the opportunity to escape home. His unemployed father was drinking whiskey on his front porch, probably drunk again before noon. His son ran toward him bleeding with terror. The children all froze in silence as our brutal world overlapped with the one of adults. We vulnerably awaited the trouble that lurked ahead. To our surprise Darren’s father pulled out his leather belt and folded it in half, while his son pleaded for mercy. We watched as the belt repeatedly slapped against Darren’s body. We heard his father admonish him for losing a fight, for getting beat up by girls, for being defeated in general. The cycle of violence continued. Pent up rage and frustration was passed from one victim to the next, and we knew even as children that this rebellion would in turn strike back at us one day. It was part of the perpetual cycle of aggression and retaliation.
My home state, Utah, is not a stranger to violence. Its founders migrated west in 1847 to flee bloody persecution. Religious pioneers loaded up wagons to start a new life and escape poverty. At least three slaves, or former slaves, participated in the ride. It was a time of violent conflict. Gold was discovered in California. Greed and mass migration followed. The United States advocated the policy of Manifest Destiny which dictated that it was God’s will to expand its borders and spread its ideals to other nations. Texas was annexed in 1845 after military intervention, Oregon county land was acquired in 1846 by treaty with Great Britain, and the Mexican War was won in 1848 leading to the Treaty of Guadalupe which established new territory in the Southwest – including land on which Utah was founded. The federal government recruited Mormon pioneers for its war against Indians. Native Americans were earmarked as the new enemy for removal. They were considered savages that needed taming by killing and Christianity. For a while Utah pioneers contented themselves by persecuting Indians. However, the Mormon pioneers held inside the memory of defeat and being beaten down. These dormant recollections fermented into something the resembles the opposite of pregnancy. The will to strike back and even the score with blood atonement incubates deep inside. There waits the violent birth of revenge.
The Mormons fiercely protected their territory ever since its polygamist pilgrims journeyed west in 1847. The trend-setting Mormons decided to create their own country, one essentially separate from the union. They created their own coinage from San Francisco gold, designed their own alphabet, and claimed enormous tracts of land expanding all the way to the Pacific Coast (gold country). In 1857, the Mormons declared war on the U.S. government. Even before the Civil War began to split the rural south from the industrial north. Utah made overtures that it intended to live separately from the union. President James Buchanan thought these activities a little too radical and sent in the federal army to replace Mormon governor Brigham Young. The communal agriculturalists of Utah were placed under martial law. But, luckily the war was resolved without any bloodshed. In the meantime, the Mormons formed a territorial militia called the Nauvoo League to protect their way of life, as well as a terrorist group called the Avenging Angles that sought blood atonement. In 1857 a group of California bound emigrants, many of them from places where Mormons had been persecuted, attempted to pass through an area of southern Utah called the Mountain Meadow. The Mormons conspired with Native Americans, dressing as Indians themselves, to ambush and massacre the people before they left the site. Out of 120 emigrants only 18 children were spared. These survivors were taken, some say kidnapped, and raised inside of Mormon homes. This atrocity resulted in the execution of a single scapegoat. The Mormons firmly entrenched into the territory and continue to fear outsiders. The cycle of violence repeated. The wheel of rage and revenge continued to spin.
My father was an auto mechanic that tried to fix the wheel. He strategically wove among Mormons and transplanted migrants. He tried to make peace. However, his childhood was not unmarked with violence. He was beat as a child, saw his mother abused, and continued fighting as a delinquent in California. His targets on which to vent his frustrations were African-Americans. In return blacks lashed out at the poor whites in the neighborhood. Like hamsters stuck on a wheel the two races continued to retaliate for the latest street atrocity. In return authorities would put their boots on somebody’s neck when things got out of hand. When he began to listen to authorities they told him to stop this useless fighting so that he could go to war. There was an endless supply of enemies abroad. He served in the Philippines during World War Two and Alaska during the Korean War. It was a means for him to escape and see the world. At some point along the way he started to mix with African-American soldiers and change his views. As a child he told me that he could not stop his prejudice, due to the background that he had, but that he could allow his children to come to their own conclusions. We had to learn about race by ourselves. He went to great length to avoid racist remarks. He was not exactly a liberal, but more like a working class individual attempting to shed himself of ignorance.
The wheel that my father tried to fix most was the one that spun with the fuel of violence. He owned a rifle and a full stock of bullets. However, he would not pass the knowledge of this tool onto his sons. My father had killed a man. He did not take death for granted. Life was more powerful for him. On the midnight car rides home from the Utah restaurant we discussed this topic with much caution. He told me once, “Nobody has the right to glorify death who has never killed a man. Televisions shows are so casual about it. But, script writers would think otherwise if their families stood on the opposite end of a loaded gun. Killing is not entertaining for those that have actually done it and must live with their actions”. My father never once mentioned the life that he had taken away. It was an painful event. His redemption was to teach his children about a different path. We were not allowed to hunt. The only time he ever spanked me as a child was when I hit my sister. He would admonish me to never to lay a hand on a woman. That for him was the ultimate act of a cowardice. My father said that when we were adults we could make our own decisions about guns, but while we lived in his home we would not resort to violence. He never used words such as pacifist or conscious objector. He just wished to fix a broken wheel. It was a way for him to survive his past and to set a new course for his children.
I became a pacifist out of respect for my father. I chose to celebrate life. Being adopted, my biological past is a mystery. When the first six months of your life are totally unknown it makes it more difficult to select an enemy. I am conscious of the fact that nearly anyone could be my biological brother or sister. My biological mother or father could walk right by me without my knowledge, therefore, how could I ever rape of kill? I registered for the draft as a conscious objector and vowed to never enroll into military service. Many friends joined the army to get money for college, but I rejected this path. This decision cut out many options for employment and job training, however I adhered to a larger battle of maintaining peace.
Back in the Utah kitchen, in 1993, I was slowly saving money. I still juggled credit cards, but I was one step ahead of the game. The turnover rate in the upscale diner was high. Workers left for school, waiters got acting jobs, and personality differences lead to conflicts resulting in departure. The kitchen staff remained tight. We helped each other. The after hours alcohol cemented our bond. A few times each month I would call my father and tell him that he could sleep rather than pick me up. Some nights I wanted him to rest when his sickness drained him of energy earlier that day. The employees would have an all night bash that often resulted in my walking home at night. It was an eight mile walk during a cold winter. If I had a friend with me we would stop and drink coffee to sober up at Bill and Nada’s café – a 24 hour establishment (now closed).
It was on such a night that my friend’s path and mine split and we went separate ways. It was about 3:00 am. The freezing night was thick with the polluted air of a Salt Lake inversion (cold smog gets trapped in the valley as it is unable to lift above the mountains). I busted ice puddles that were forming on the pot-holed sidewalk. I was very intoxicated and wired on coffee. I took a side street so that a policeman wouldn’t arrest me. I was budget planning in my mind. Somehow I wasn’t saving enough money. But, the stillness of the street soon overshadowed my number crunching. I had a sinking feeling that something was out of place. The breeze added a distinct chill. The street was a little too quiet.
In the background I saw something moving in the bushes on the periphery. Suddenly, a woman leaped out like a pouncing tiger. She shot right at me. By instinct I reached for my empty wallet. She grabbed me pleading for help. The blouse that she wore was torn open and she wore no winter coat. She begged me to frighten off her assailant. In the bushes nearby a man watched us. His eyes looked yellow due to my blurred vision. The woman explained, as she caught her breath, that the man tried to rape her. She was drinking at a party and the man had followed her when she left. She was in a type of shock. Somehow I staggered by at the right time and she was able to break free. A miracle since few people walk on a Salt Lake side streets in the snow during the small hours of night. I didn’t know how to respond. Do I need to fight? Do I attack him with my fists in return? Somewhere deep in the reptilian part of my brain a light blinked. I asked her to walk with me to a telephone booth down the street. It was two blocks away. I gave her a choice to make along the way. She could call the police, she could call a friend, or she could have me escort her all the way to her home. I would stand by her for as long as she needed.
She chose to call a friend. As she spoke on the phone the rapist continued to observe from a distance. I tried to calm her down until her friend arrived. She described the incident and stated that he had a knife. The woman’s friend arrived in ten minutes. It was as quick as she could make it on such short notice. Her friend darted out of the car demanding to know what I was doing there. She thought I was the rapist. Maybe I looked the part: long greasy hair, dirty clothes, and facial stubble. Like I said earlier, I was working in a kitchen and drinking all evening. I wasn’t about to win a fashion show. I stood back while the trembling woman was loaded into the car and wrapped with a blanket. The entire incident was over within 25 minutes. It was really quick. In departure there was no acknowledgement of me or any word of gratitude. The car raced into the distance. I watched as the rapist casually sleeked away from that bush he hid behind. He had a knife and I was alone. He faded into the fog rather than deal with me. I was cold and isolated once again. There was nothing left to do but walk the remaining three miles home.
The event burned in the morning. I shaved, put on new clothes, and washed my hair twice. Did I give strangers the impression that I was dangerous? I made connections between being homeless and women getting attacked. There was cruelty in both. Women did help me at times, so why couldn’t I help women? If I want people to learn about poverty, then why don’t I study sexism or racism in return? The idea gave me purpose. I read even more books about women than before. I focused on feminist literature because it studied theories about oppression. Wasn’t poverty also a type of oppression? Feminist literature was a way for me to understand myself. Soon I was spending extra time in coffee shops reading these books before work. At one point ideas snapped into place. I decided it was my calling to work on women’s issues. It struck me like a burning bush that this action was my destiny. I had little to lose. Maybe I could even stretch a roof over my head by enrolling in a Master’s program. There could be money in the niche. At least I could defer student loans and pay off my credit cards with university work study employment. The risk could take me away from poverty. It was worth the gamble.
In retrospect, it was an illogical scheme, but the reasoning of working hard and going to school failed as the original plan. The next month was spent applying to Women Studies departments across the United States. There is an art to applying for academic programs while financially busted. I had to find tricks to finance each stage of the process. I sold CDs to pay for my $40 application fee, I donated blood to buy stamps for mailing transcripts, and I snuck into various computer labs to type resumes. It was difficult to find e-mail access. Even public libraries lacked computers then. I communicated with university programs after finding computers scattered around the city. While applying I was able to convince faculty that I was in a stable environment and ready to earn a Masters Degree.
During the application process I continued to cook. My back pack was so loaded with gender studies material that I placed it in a back room locker. After a particularly hectic shift I needed to change into a fresh t-shirt. My other one was coated in French onion soup that I had spilt over myself. To my surprise the back pack was missing. My books, wallet, and tape player were stolen. Feminist literature that I hadn’t read yet was gone. It took weeks to earn enough money to replace the stolen material. I suspected a certain employee of being the thief, but there was no way for me to prove it. The culprit was a new worker. It was a football player that recently joined a fraternity at the University of Utah. It was his first cooking job and his skills were so low that we made him peel carrots and potatoes all day. His sliced off the tip of his finger the first time we gave him a break on the cooking line. It was in the middle of a full house with a long wait list. Luckily, the manager stopped the entire process of serving food. He didn’t want a finger to poke out at a customer on a plate. of food. The entire staff got down on our hands and knees looking for his fingertip. The manager spotted it in a plastic bucket of salad ham. It blended right in. The finger and the ham were both pink. We sent the fraternity brother to the hospital to sew his fingertip back on. I placed it in a plastic container that was used for salad dressing and covered it in ice. He quit his job a few days later and lived off workman’s compensation benefits. I saw him one more time when he picked up his last paycheck. He lingered in the back room long enough for me to suspect him of stealing more stuff. I hurried to catch and confront him. When I arrived he was waiting for me. He stared at me silently for some time. His expression was a combination of bemused astonishment and bewildered curiosity. He shook his severed finger at me, which was still blue. He grasped for an explanation, “John Stoltenberg? What the fuck is up with that?”. Somewhere in a Salt Lake pawn shop he resold this unread male feminist writer’s book. It may still be on the shelf with my name written on the inside cover.
By spring I was accepted into several Women Studies programs. Before, I officially became a graduate student I migrated once again. I did not want to turn 30 while still living with my parents in Utah. It would have been too pathetic. Therefore, I found a seasonal job at a resort in Mt. Rainer National Park. It is better to have a mid-life crisis on top of a mountain I reasoned. When I came down from the mountain, I had a tablet with only one commandments: Whatever I do, whatever the outcome, ride out this wave of a Women Studies program in Oregon and honor the commitment. I dug in deep and this was where my divining rod pointed. I rolled the dice.