+ What do you make of the style of this story? Who is the narrator?
The style kept me interested. It was just offbeat enough to make me wonder what sort of twist lay in store at the end. Turns out, the ending was surprisingly anti-climactic, but as such still made for an interesting twist – the narrator turned out to be a far more decent individual than I’d expected.
I believed, for a while, that the narrator WAS God. By the end of the tale, I believed it was more a representation of all the greedy developers who tend to sweep in and take over – but this story was written over 30 years ago, and my opinion may be influenced by more recent trends. Perhaps it was merely an illustration of all of the easy corruptibility often found around big fish in small ponds.
+ The word "imaginative" is used a lot. Discuss.
It’s interesting that this word was not considered a positive description. People in power often have a very limited imagination. Perhaps those with broader imaginations are too easily distracted to focus their energies into achieving power. I loved the puzzle-piece idea, and I liked how the narrator went to the people affected by the changes to get their input on finding a solution. Perhaps the poor and downtrodden are more imaginative because there is so very much outside of their reality. When you’re rich and powerful, there’s very little left to imagine that you cannot make real.
+ What does the story say about God?
I thought the story made a good, if vague, point about the inability for mere humans to understand God. God allows terrible things to happen, but also provides in imaginative ways. It’s not easy to play God. It’s not possible to have all the answers – more questions will continue to arise from every answer you think you have. We humans do not have the imaginative capabilities to be gods.
+ What do you make of the last line? Comparisons to "Whores"?
I think this reference to no children is actually much more selfless than the one in “Whores.” In the previous story, I felt the narrator didn’t want kids because he didn’t want to really commit to anything – he didn’t want to get too involved. As a mother, I can attest to the level of involvement parenting requires – it is absolutely mandatory! In this story, however, I felt that the narrator had learned something from his
1. What is the significance of the colors of the vans and the mountains through the years?
The protagonist starts out feeling very much a part of his surroundings. He is a part of the town, a part of the region, a part of the Mexican purple of the nearby mountains. He never notices the green… why should he? He is an American citizen and they are no threat to him. But they don’t immediately recognize his belonging and begin to challenge it. With each new challenge, he begins to see himself as NOT belonging as much as he’d originally believed. He begins to challenge them back, as any red-blooded American would. However, the act of each challenge makes him take his freedoms less and less for granted, while simultaneously separating him from the purple of the mountains. By the end of the story, he can no longer be a part of both worlds. In order to protect his freedom, he must be on his guard and separate himself from the men and women who run rather than challenge, who say nothing more than “yes, sir,” and bow their heads and allow themselves to be hand-cuffed, rather than reminding the officers of their rights and defending their personal boundaries. In the beginning, he was attentive to his roots and proud of them – in the end, he is more focused on survival and, therefore, more aware of the adversary and their movements.
2. Why do you think that there is mention of the fence?
I think the fence symbolizes the extremely fine line between the free man he is and the fugitive the officers suspect him to be. He knows it wouldn’t take much, in fact, would take much LESS, to allow himself to be labeled an illegal, arrested, tried and deported to Mexico. Just today, I read about a famous British spy and novelist who recently admitted that he was once tempted to defect to the
3. Game references are made in the beginning of the story, but not in the end. It seems as though there is protocol wherever you go. Could our whole lives just be analyzed as a game?
I’m sure some people see life as a game. I don’t think that is a healthy attitude, especially for Americans who have a reputation for putting winning far above sportsmanship. I think of it as more of a laboratory – part classroom, part Petri dish. Here is where we learn and grow and fizzle and explode. Usually, the outcome of our experiments cannot be adequately predicted. Games have rules, but life generally re-writes the rules as we go – especially in the areas of love and war.
4. Did you notice the "cold blue stare" reference when the border patrol officer stops him. I think that it is reference to the race of this particular officer. What do you think?
It could also be a reference to the arrogant authority associated with men in uniform (do Immigration Officers wear blue?) or it could be alluding to a certain perceived bloodlessness in the officer’s face. “Cold” and “blue” just naturally go together, but I wouldn’t automatically discount the possibility that the officer’s eyes were blue.
5. In your opinion, do you think that
I don’t think this story really gave us enough information to deduce the answer to that and, since I’ve never lived near or even visited
I believe this is the main character’s way of escaping his current reality. I think he’s going through some changes, maturing, but not entirely willingly. These changes are coming at a difficult time for him and it’s just too much for him to process, so he escapes into television. It could also be symbolic of how things are going in his life – nothing’s really appealing to him on the job market, but he’s making an effort anyhow.
There’s a past vs. present/future conflict, as well as the young punk vs. responsible man. It’s a hard truth to accept that you are content, maybe even happy, being someone that you once found boring and swore you’d never become. In both stories, the main characters are having to let go of a beloved friend, as well as an old lifestyle and/or dream. They have to let go of the person they thought they’d always be.
I think it, too, adds a certain level of symbolism. Gabe showing up so late (or early) and the main character tolerating it, but not going along, is a representation of the end of one lifestyle and the beginning of another. It’s practically the nail in the coffin of the main character’s old life. He is watching himself and judging himself and noticing the changes. He sees what his old life looks like, but realizes that it is dead to him now. In the end, the reminder of things that USED to be important to him makes him smile. Even dead, an old identity can be a fun thing to take out and look at. The fact that the mask is from a famous revolutionary, and that his role as an inspiration to other revolutionaries is mentioned, could also allude to the revolution that has taken place in the main character’s life.
I’m sure he hasn’t allowed himself to relax in quite a while. He’s stressed. He’s processing the changes in his life, and in himself, and without work, there probably isn’t a lot of surplus funds for leisure. Then again, since he’s become a responsible man, he hasn’t had the opportunity to kick back and be crazy, or even just foolish, like he was in his youth.
He doesn’t have a job to go to, so what does it matter how late his friends call? Gabe is his best bud, so he’s always welcome at any time – or maybe it’s just that Gabe doesn’t know the difference, so why should anyone try to nail him down to a schedule? Lastly, does it really matter where the hands of a clock point when fate is revealing a remarkable evolution?
Having lived in Dallas for about 5 years, I can tell you that it wasn’t what I expected. In fact, it was less Texan than anywhere else in this state that I have lived. No ten-gallon-hats or big hair. Most of the people I met (and now maybe this was due to my own narrow interests) were Geeks, Goths and artistic Freaks. Few even spoke with any kind of accent. Everyone there DID love Chuck Norris, though.
One thing I noticed was the palpable difference between Dallas County and Tarrant County. Dallas, both the county and the city, really kind of wanted to be New York. Downtown was ALL business and the sidewalks practically rolled up at 5pm – any nightlife was bound to cost you an arm and a leg just to PARK! Tarrant County was more laid-back. Sure, the people there knew they were part of the biggest Metroplex in Texas, and they did enjoy that fact, but they were more interested in enjoyment than business. The suburbs of Ft. Worth were very homey and clean with good schools, unlike some of the gang-filled areas around Dallas. Downtown Ft. Worth came alive on nights and weekends – the parking was free after 6pm and all weekend long just to entice locals and tourists into spending time and money there. Even the shopping districts were more geared to the working class. I enjoyed living in Tarrant County, but Dallas left me cold.
+ What does the story say about artists living in the "real" world?
Artistry is not a big commodity these days. Neither, really, is intelligence or hard work, but smart, hard-working folk can usually play the game well enough to make a living despite their assets and ethics. Artists tend to think they’re above all that, and so they starve.
The brother is not only comic-relief, he’s the catalyst for change in the story – both by bringing the kid early and by inciting Leo to leave.
I think it means that Trisha is the only really responsible one in the whole bunch. She takes care of everyone. She stays calm because no one else will.
I think perhaps that Trisha envies Leo. She’s as much his opposite as she is his peer. Both are artists who want more than they have, but she’s the one who’s really putting an effort into their basic survival. She has more needs to fill in order to survive than Leo does both because she is a woman and because she is a mother. His needs are few, and while it’s true that she is giving more to him than he gives to her, he can still survive without her better than she can without him.
+ What is the main character afraid of?
I think Walter is afraid of really living… and failing at it. He’d rather let alcohol take control of, and all the blame for, his mediocre life than actually take a crack at it, himself.
+ Who are the real "whores" of the story?
It would seem that all the local townspeople, including and especially Walter, were whores for choosing money and a comfortable, uneventful life over following their hearts and dreams that might lead them down rocky roads and to heartbreak as easily, or more so, than to glory and true love.
+ There are some very beautiful lines in this story. Tell us your favorite.
I loved the line where Walter first introduces the idea of “Mexico!” I could see and feel the word picture there more brilliantly than in any other part of the story. It reminded me of my own feelings and reactions when someone says, “Montrose.” That word, the name of an Inner Loop community in Houston, Texas, is a reminder of my youth, my first exposure to the sins and kinks of the big city – as an observer only, of course (unless you count my first viewing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as participation), but that was enough to awaken this small town, good-little-Baptist-girl to a whole new world of lifestyles and choices. I’ve been a City Girl ever since. And while I can no longer live in Montrose, and even just driving through breaks my heart to see how the wild and eclectic has been replaced with the trendy and expensive, Montrose will always live on in my heart as it was then and those memories will forever make me grin like the not-yet-naughty 16-year-old, bolstered by the presence of my older, wiser cousin, sneaking into places that Mama wouldn’t want me in.
Of course, I also liked the line, “I think I’ll go to Mexico and get fucked.” For once, some blunt, naked honesty!
+ What role does Lacy play in the story?
I think Lacy represents everything Walter fears. He’s the man who aimed higher and fell short – even with the beautiful wife he professes to love. With Elena, Lacy again aims for more, but cannot hit the target. Walter refuses to give in to the temptation of wanting more because he doesn’t want to be like Lacy.
+ What are we to get from the way the department chairman dies?
It was very like the lives of everyone else around him, and so, I would assume, very much like his own life… uneventful. He could have called out for help. He could have crawled back onto the porch and knocked at the door. He could have just lain where he fell and hoped someone would notice before it was too late. Instead, he didn’t want to make a fuss. I wonder if he gave any thought to how he would be discovered or the trauma it would cause Marsha to find him, alone and unsuspecting and completely helpless to do anything but cry and lose her mind? I suppose mediocre people don’t think about much outside their own comfort – if they did, they might realize that the world could be a better place if they just put a little effort into it.
+ Give your thoughts on the last paragraph of the story.
Walter will continue to avoid anything resembling REAL living. Without Lacy, he needs a companion in his misery, so he’ll marry someone he doesn’t love and who won’t try to change him and he’ll never, ever give himself any reason to truly care about anything for the rest of his mediocre life.
My comments in response to the following links:
Sworn to virginity and living as men in Albania
I'd never before heard of Albania until my husband forced me to watch "Tune In Tomorrow..." in which Peter Falk's character comically insults and incites Albanians over a radio broadcast. My next exposure was during an episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" when an Albanian mobster kidnaps a family and rapes the 13-year-old girl -- I stopped watching "Law & Order" after that and the very mention of Albanians has made me shiver ever since. Research into the accuracy of their portrayal only made my reaction worse.
Reading these two articles cemented my opinion that Albania is not a place I'd ever want to visit -- but it also shed some light on why Albanians have such a gothic reputation. I was fascinated, and saddened, by the concept of women becoming sworn virgins. On one hand, the ill treatment and lack of respect for women is grievous, indeed. On the other hand, the fact that there WAS a solution, granted, one that required a huge sacrifice, is oddly uplifting. The source of this solution, and of the rules regulating blood feuds, is enlightening. A medieval code that has yet to be laid to rest explains a great deal about the Albanian culture. A part of me is curious to learn more about this code -- but I fear my curiosity is similar to that which won't let you look away from a bloody car wreck.
I realize America isn't perfect, but reading stories like these makes me wonder if the world wouldn't be a better place if we'd just borrow a page from "Mother England," invade these backwards countries and take over for 99 years, then leave them be once a couple of generations are accustomed to doing things our way. Extreme, true... but would it save lives? Would it eventually breed Peace?
I almost missed this assignment! Gotta pay more attention to ALL the fine print! My comments were based on the following links:
US disappointed Olympics didn't open China more
Chinese Pole Dancing:
I shouldn't be surprised to hear such primitive views about women expressed by the Chinese, but it did startle me some. I forget how little the Chinese culture respects women. I'm glad to see changes taking place among the young Chinese women. Meanwhile... where can I join one of those classes?
I love the idea of early morning exercises! I think that would be a good habit for Americans to take up, especially if they were the kind of exercises featured here -- low impact and fun. The Chinese yo-yo was especially fascinating, as were the dances with the fans and... were those brooms?
Chinese Athletes Struggle:
I hate to sound so incredibly judgmental, but China is just SO backwards in so many ways! I was reading earlier about the plight of the children left orphaned by the earthquake in China earlier this year. They've made it almost impossible for these kids to find homes. Now, I hear how they treat their athletes and I wonder why their economy and government hasn't crumbled to the ground by now.
Reading this makes me grateful for the necessary evil that is American lawyers.
Overall, it will be interesting (and, yes, I do mean that as in the old Chinese curse) to see how China evolves from the Olympic experience. Will the Chinese demand better treatment from the government? We'll see!
( Questions & Answers - LONGCollapse )
Smoke, alcohol (both spilled and on the breath), an odor I can only name as “Sick” because it clings to chronically ill people and hospitals, baby diapers. The story doesn’t mention any cooking smells, but I couldn’t help remembering how an old friend of mine always smelled like buttered toast every morning when we picked her up from school – she lived in a ghetto.
City noise, gunshots, raised voices, television, children laughing despite everything.
Autumn chill, that early-morning semi-dampness that can hardly be called “dew” when there’s nothing green for it to cling to, phantom (or maybe even real) insects crawling on your arms and feet.
Optimistic, disheartened, afraid of giving up, afraid of dying, afraid of living another day, hopeful that you’ll be different, grief over the missed opportunities of others who WERE different and gave up, respect for the strong role models in your life, a mixture of love and pity for those who have failed you.
I would imagine it would make a child feel like an unwanted pet – something you cannot destroy, but that you’d rather not think much about, either. I would make anyone feel less than human.
I grew up in a town that had been abandoned by practically anyone who had ever held any pride in living there. It was quite a while before those who were left had the resources to turn the community back into a place they could be proud of. At which point, it was no longer a town my family really felt at home in. I spent a lot of my childhood and youth wishing and waiting to escape, hoping I’d survive long enough to do so. Eventually, I did.
There were a few extremely lean years there in my mid-late teens. Beans and tortillas were served up three times a day. It was years before I could so much as LOOK at another Burrito again – thank God for Freebirds! I’m sure LeAlan and Lloyd had it much worse – they had fewer memories of good times and less to look forward to. The fact that they each had a strong role-model set them apart from their peers – they were the lucky ones.
Building houses and providing basic welfare isn’t enough. Maintenance must be provided to the structures and the lives within. This is why I believe that private organizations and churches do a better job of ministering to the poor and needy than the government can. The Projects need to be about the PEOPLE, not the NUMBERS. Get the number-crunchers out of it and let the people who feel led to help, whether by a Higher Power or by their own experiences, come in and take over.
These kids need to be exposed to more success stories of people just like them. I think schools should focus less on grades and more on futures. Too many of today’s youth believe that fame and fortune are all that matter, and if you cannot attain them, then your life is meaningless. The media both lifts, and dashes, the hopes of these kids. They need to see that life CAN be good somewhere between the ghettos and the mansions. They need to learn that happiness and fulfillment can be attained through good, hard work regardless of what color your skin, or your color, might be. Of course, it would be nice if this were still true, but then maybe the key to MAKING it true again is TEACHING it as truth.
I really believe that the greatest asset each of them had was a good role-model. LeAlan’s was his grandmother and Lloyd’s was his sister. They also seemed to have vivid imaginations and a longing for a better life, coupled with the as-yet-undamaged belief that such a life COULD be realized if they never lost hope. Even as they threw rocks onto cars and professed a lack of concern for insurance policy holders, you could tell that they each dreamed of driving a white blazer into the suburbs, themselves, someday.
I never heard their grades mentioned, but I assume it would depend on what sort of grades they made. Again, imagination is a key component to success. Of course, having someone from the outside reach in and say, “your voice matters” would be a terrific incentive to stay optimistic and continue to better yourself. I really think more of that outreach is needed in the projects.
The question is, without the NPR pieces, could these boys have made better lives for themselves WITHOUT a college education? Could they have found any other way out?
Beans and tortillas. I survived on them before, I can do it again. Ditto for Ramen Noodles. I’d take a sleeping bag and a blow-up pillow. I’d take a gun – something small that could be easily hidden. I’d take a harmonica – no, I don’t really play, but it might give me a chance to learn and an excuse to talk to people, join in on a street-corner jam session. Maybe I’d be better off with a plastic pickle tub and a pair of chopsticks. I’d take a small Bible. Most importantly, I’d take a ready smile and an honest expression so I could look everyone I meet in the eye and greet them as a friend. That has served me well walking to bus stops in cities like Houston and Dallas.
The only shock I can imagine experiencing would be the difference between a Northern city and a Texas city. Here, people respond favorably to a friendly smile from a stranger. Would they do so there? I’ve lived in neighborhoods my own family feared to enter. I’ve walked through ghettos at night in the rain when I was forced to work past the hour the busses ran. I’ve befriended people I later learned could have just as easily slit my throat. I’m sad to say that I am more shocked, these days, by the kindness of others than I am by the horrors of this world.
It shouldn’t, but it tends to immediately place people into categories of “us” and “them.” It would be better if people focused more on CULTURE than race and studied the differences, and similarities, between cultures so as to better understand each other.
My family never really identified ourselves as “White” or even “Caucasian.” My mother’s family is, for the most part, English and we patterned our lifestyles around the British culture. My mother likes to tap into her “German” culture when she needs strength – she hates it when I remind her that we have no German ancestry at all… it’s Danish. “Close enough!” she says. Frankly, I think my strength comes from that itty-bitty strain of Choctaw Indian in my maternal line – the one that was kept hidden from nearly four generations and was only discovered when I was 16. On the other side of my family, there’s a heavy Scots-Irish influence, as well as some Viking that, legend has it, began when one of the Norse gods “tupped” with a human woman. I figure that’s where my weirder characteristics came from – there’s some part of me that’s not quite human. Again, this is more about Ethnicity than race.
I think race is more of an issue with African-Americans than it is with Caucasians or Asians – perhaps because there is more diversity among those two races than there is in the Negroid race (at least, outside of Africa). In that case, I suppose race shapes identity when that is all one knows of oneself and where they came from.
I was taught that there are three races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. The first two listed (in order by alphabet, nothing else) each include a variety of cultures and ethnicities. Some make joke that all Asians look alike, but they don’t – not if you know what to look for. There is a distinct difference in the shape of the heads, faces, and facial features – particularly the cheekbones. Not all Mongoloids have “almond-shaped eyes,” either – if I recall correctly, Native Americans are considered part of the Mongoloid race and their features tend to appear more Caucasoid. Caucasians not only come in various shapes and sizes, they include a far more diverse range of coloring, too – to the naked eye, anyway. I am unaware of the differences in the ethnicities within the Negroid race. If they are as varied, I would be fascinated to learn more about them.
Race is merely DNA… nothing more. Culture is what defines us. There are a multitude of differing practices, beliefs, recipes, songs, costumes, dances, stories, etc., that make up a culture. Ethnicity is the bringing together of nature and nurture.
There should be NO relationship there. Race only has power when you GIVE it power. Ironically, it is up to the downtrodden to give power to those who would abuse it. That’s what’s so special about this country – it was designed to give power to EVERYONE! Unfortunately, sometimes those who have lived without freedom don’t know what to do with it when they get it and they too quickly toss away their own personal power in return for letting someone else take care of them. Power is what YOU make of it, regardless of the color of your skin or the shape of your eyes.
America is a country without a race. We are all mutts, here. In the Broadway musical, “1776,” Ben Franklin is quoted as saying, “We've spawned a new race here... Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We're a new nationality.” And that was before the three races began openly interbreeding! Why, the Hispanic population is a combination of the Mongoloid and Caucasoid races that has mingled so completely that it can no longer be deemed either and it covers such a large area that several new Ethnicities have grown out of it. Here in America, most Hispanics identify themselves as either Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican – three very distinct cultures right there! Americans may speak English, but we are not Canadians or Australians or even British, anymore. To some degree, each State has formed its very own culture – especially here in Texas. To be an American is to be free to define your own identity, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or birthplace. To be an American is to be Human… as wonderful as we are flawed.
That’s hard for me to say, really. America is such a diverse nation and Texas is one of, if not the very, most diverse States. I’ve rarely seen race have any positive, progressive effect on a community. Usually, racial issues merely tear things down, not build them up. Focus on Culture can be a positive thing, but outside the laboratory, any focus on race, is not.
Again, I don’t really know. I am a Texas of primarily Northern European descent. I have never identified myself as “White.” When asked to give my race, if “Caucasian” is not an option, I generally check “Other.” Having grown up in a heavily Hispanic part of Texas, I love Tejano music, Mexican dresses and my non-Hispanic, partially-racist family has ALWAYS eaten Tamales and Chili and Queso on Christmas Eve. The only time race has ever affected my membership in anything, it was to exclude me. Or maybe I just never had an interest in any club that would only have people like me as members.
A community is a group of people who have something in common – usually, something they value. They may be families living on a military base who each come from different backgrounds and states, who worship differently and have different hobbies, whose children, if any, are different ages, but still they get together every week for a barbeque to celebrate the sameness of their commitment to protecting our freedom. A community could be people from all over the world who don’t even speak the same language, but who share a love for children who are not quite normal and a desire to seek treatment for these children so they may live full and happy lives. They may be a group of young people who have nothing more in common than being misunderstood by “polite” society. They may be lonely hearts who have never met face-to-face, yet find solace in chatrooms conversing with souls who may, or may not, actually be who they pretend to be. A community is a group of individuals who each give a little of themselves to the whole.
I’m not sure I even know how to answer this question. It just seems like a non-issue to me. Most of the communities I have encountered are based on similarities BEYOND race. Culture, maybe, but not race, and then it is more a cause for celebration, rather than dissention. I think more Americans build communities based on commonalities these days. Race just doesn’t enter into the equation.
This story brought back more memories of teen and pre-teen angst than I care to count. There was the first crush-from-afar, the first crush-from-not-so-far, the first almost-boyfriend, the first if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now-he-would-h