She is increasingly irritated and angry, she says, about feeling irritated and angry. She knows it’s a trauma thing. From the fire. But it won’t stop. Everywhere, she is simmering like Vesuvius. And sometimes, she blows. Like, when she is driving the vehicle, and she needs to be getting somewhere, but there are people who won’t get out of the way; then, she says, I can probably hear her cursing, even without the phone, just through the air. Well, maybe. Except it’s hard to hear even a nuclear explosion. Through the jackhammers.
For we are in the season of the jackhammers now. They start in about six in the a.m., and then go on for about twelve hours. Occasionally there are breaks. But not many. And not for long. One of the reasons I do not live in the cities, is because of the jackhammers. But when the town burns down, there will be jackhammers. I understand that. My house is built of concrete, but the jackhammers give no shits: I can hear them in here anyway. Because busting through concrete, that is one of the things jackhammers are about. They are about applying brute force to shit that is really stubborn and fixed, and won't get out of the way, any other way. A couple brave little concrete houses, kinda like this one, right there across Foster, they burned: fire came in through the roof; I watched them, all night, struggle to survive. They didn't make it. But The concrete remained. Now it is going down. Under the jackhammers. As she drives, in mental Vesuvius, down the Skyway. As she drove in the fire.
I don’t much have that one, the anger and irritability, from the fire. I’m actually less likely to go there, I think, than before the fire. Like, the other day I discovered a law worker had neglected to forward me some necessary papers. Which made for me kind of a mess. And I just didn’t care. I mean: so what? Was it flaming embers arcing in from out of the black and catching the grass and burning towards me at top speed? No. So then: who cares? The law worker wanted to be sorry. I said: don’t be. “It’s fine,” I wrote her. “You know what the fire teaches? Everybody makes mistakes.” The fire was the result of a cascade of mistakes, made by innumerable people, stretching back some 170 years. And, very many of them, didn’t much feel like mistakes, at the time. Unless you are a devotee of some footloopian felonious villain reality, like Jerry Brown hiring Bigfoot to laser the town to make the fire so the bullet train can come, there is no one person or entity you can scapegoat as Pure Evil and drive into the wilderness so then everything will be Fine. There just isn’t.
Somewhere back there earlier in the millennium I was on some political board, kinda like this one, and it struck me how every day every person came in there to get angry about something. Every freakin' day, some ululating fray, some new Outrage. And this was even before The Cretin. And all that anger, it didn’t produce anything. Except maybe high blood pressure. An occasional aorta blow. So I decided I wouldn’t be in that any more. Anger. I would strive to drain it all way. So I did that. And then boy, did I hear about it. Schooled in something I think they called “righteous anger.” I said: sounds like bollocks to me. To me, all anger is destructive. And I’m not playing. I’m not for closed fist. I don’t care for what cause, what reason. I’m for open hand. These days I pretty much only get angry when somebody hurts somebody I care about. Generally somebody burned. Then we talk about dangling the miscreant's eyeballs. Or thrusting a pencil through their hand. Then we laugh. And the anger falls away.
So I was kind of insulated, to the fire trying to get me with anger. A place where it did get me, was in things not happening. Shortly after the end of the maroonment, there was a little flurry of social invitations. A party, a play, some other thing, I don’t remember now what it was. And none of them happened. They all fell through. The inviters, they all bailed. They all had good reason. But that didn’t matter. Because I am never going through that again. Ever. And so to all subsequent such invitations, I have said no. And I will keep saying no. From now. To the boneyard. I am not going to anticipate anything, hope for anything, look forward to anything. Ever. Again. All of that, it is over. Forever. I’m not sure where this comes from. I think maybe from when the Honea oracle said he would end the maroonment, and then he took it back. He announced that this section of town would reopen, he even set a date, and psychologically I had my bags all packed, and then there was a flood in the burned or something, and he said, nope, sorry, gonna have to delay that, and then he withdrew back into his silence, naming no new date for when the maroonment would end. It didn’t happen. I’d been told that it would. And then it didn’t. It was like you’re in prison, and the warden names your release date, and then that day you’re standing at the bars, waiting for them to swing open, and then a guard comes by, and he says, hey, sorry, tough luck, not today after all, and then he disappears down the corridor, and you’re standing there, and now you don’t know when you’re gonna get sprung, if ever, and so you just go back and lie on your bunk, and stare at the ceiling, and count the cars on the New Jersey turnpike. After the Honea oracle took it back, the maroonment, it droned on and on and on and on. It would probably still be so droning, except Heather busted open the town. I think I already told that story. Somewhere.
I mentioned this to the Vesuvius woman, and she said she was not having that problem, because she’s never trusted people to do what they say, ever. This a lesson she learned commencing in the cradle. So she never expects anybody to do anything. Because, chances are, they won’t. So she mostly does everything herself. If somebody does do something they said they would, that can be a nice surprise. But she doesn’t trust it. Because, odds are, next time, or the time after that, or somewhere along the road, they’ll fuck up. Because. That’s what people do. My problem is that, up here, during the maroonment, when the workers said they would do something? They did it. Always. I forgot, that back in the world, people aren't like that. That's all.
So I’m sitting there thinking well at least I don’t have the anger and the irritation, and then I realize, yes, actually, I have been becoming increasingly irritated. About the numbers. In the fire. I am sick unto death, of encountering numbers, in connection with the fire. Because none of them are Real. At best, they mask, conceal. At worst, they lie. Like this thing currently going around claiming: “There are over 200 businesses re-opened on the Ridge!” Wow, you think, that’s pretty positive. But then you look closer at the list, and you realize it’s a lie. Because it includes businesses in Magalia in areas untouched by the fire. It includes businesses burned in Paradise that have now opened in Chico. It includes food trucks in parking lots and by the side of the road. It includes businesses “opening soon!” It’s a crock. Why do they do this? I suppose because they figure nobody will actually examine the list. They’ll just see the 200 number, and have their morale boosted or something. I didn’t actually need to scrutinize the list, to know it’s shit from horses, mules, ducks, anteaters, and chickens. Because I live up here. And I know there’s no 200 businesses open here. We’re lucky to have 200 buildings.
Then there’s “Chico is the fastest-growing city in California!” Well yeah. Because in one afternoon an entire town of burned people poured into the place, and many of them are still there, because they have nowhere else to go. And yesterday I see this story that says US “mobility” has fallen to record lows. “Mobility” being people moving, from one place, to another. And I think, yeah, well, when they release the figures next year, they’ll see this jump, in “mobility,” and they’ll excitedly go to the Theories, when really what it will be about is the town burned down, and so now my friends are in Idaho, and Utah, and Oregon, and over on the coast, and all the other bumfucks, to which they’ve diasporaed.
It eats your brain, the numbers. “The third week of December, for example, showed a 106 percent uptick in accidents, with 64 reported in 2018 compared with 31 the previous year.” “[D]aily flows have increased dramatically, from about 5.98 million gallons to 6.94 million gallons per day.” “The average home price in California is $565,000 and the supply is 3.6 months of inventory, while Chico’s average price is $365,000 and inventory supply is less than one month.” “To date: 3,786 lots cleared of debris, 771 lots certified clean and ready to rebuild, 142 state crews working on debris removal." “Of the 1,339 employees affected by the blaze, 232 have not secured long-term housing. Thirty have relocated out of the area, while 45 are at risk of leaving the region.” Stop it! Stop with the numbers! I can’t feel the burned in them! They’re not there! Without the burned in them, they’re not Real, the numbers.
Numbers everywhere and anyway are so over: when will people get that? Numbers tell you nothing. Not about the burned; not about the universe. Recently the Lab Coats admitted that in trying to understand the history of the universe, they have been doing it wrong. The universe is, indisputably, expanding faster than their slide rules say it should, and they don't know why. For a long time, they attempted to blame their instruments: "What is the frequency, Kenneth?!" they would shout at the poor things. But now they know no instruments, are to blame. So, what is the Problem? In attempting to answer this, they are buggered. And they will remain buggered, so long as they rely on the numbers. On the math. It is an article of Lab Coat faith that the math is the one true real immutable Fact, but really, it's just shit made up. The numbers are but a feeble attempt to describe music. And, in this, as in everywhere else, the numbers, they fail, they fail so badly, you wouldn't believe it, they fail as badly as in describing the burned.
Then there are the words they use. The horrible, masking, concealing, lying, dead, soulsucking, nonReal words: “Usually, in a devastating event, there’s a population shift that occurs. These survivors usually relocate to a place that can support and manage the impacts of the population increase while the incident is being mitigated and cleaned up. Typically, this is done within or adjacent to the jurisdiction where the disaster occurred and where adequate funding and support mechanism are available.” Stop it! Stop talking like that! You are betraying the burned! You are reducing them to cold clinical meaningless jargon. And they are not that. They are individual human beings. And other living things. And they burned. And are still burning. “Support mechanisms”? "Manage the impacts"? "The incident?" You are an obscenity! Talk like a human!
Friday I was at the bus stop by the French store in Chico and a guy crossed the street over to where I sat, arriving just after his bus had pulled out. “Oh well,” he said. “There’ll be another in a little while. I’ll just eat this chicken.” And that’s what he did. Pulled with his teeth the meat off the bones of fresh-roasted chicken. The Vesuvius woman was in voice in my messenger, howling down the Skyway. I was cheering her on, like a spectator at an auto race or something. Finally she broke free, and attained warp speed. So then the chicken man and I set to talking. We started with the phones. Which meant I had to explain where I got this one. Which brought in the fire. But I shoved my experience out of the way as soon as I could, so I could get to his. He didn’t burn personally, he lived in Chico, but the place where he worked, it died in the fire, because most of the employees were from Paradise, and they burned, and they scattered, and most of the work, it had been in Paradise, and so that was over. Now he works at the fairgrounds. The FEMA people recently arrived there, and the man said at first the local folk were suspicioned of them, and while he’s heard the paper form of FEMA person can be a pain, the actual workers, they all proved to be top-notch. This man said he’s done roads all his life, and one of the FEMA guys, he’s the best grader this man has ever seen. The man brought his friend out from the racetrack, the friend formerly the best grader the man had ever seen, to watch the FEMA guy work, and the friend agreed: this FEMA guy, he’s the best. He talked about friends of his, a couple in their 70s, who lost everything in the burning, but they’re coming back; rebuilding. We talked about how some people, even though their houses survived, hightailed out of here, thinking they could get away from it. We agreed that there’s no getting away from it. Because it’s everywhere. He’d lived some years in Muskogee, back in Oklahoma, and recently heard from a former neighbor who said the whole town was flooded, their old neighborhood one of the few above water, but they were cut off, and if they wanted to go shopping or something, they had to go uphill. And there just weren’t a lot of shops. Uphill.
There weren’t any numbers in our talk. No dry dead words. We were just a couple of humans. Then my bus came. I had to board it. Though I didn’t want to. Because I wanted to keep talking with this man. I liked him. And he liked me. I may never see him again. But it doesn’t matter. Because he’s my friend.
Then, yesterday, for the eight-month anniversary of the fire, PG&E decided to shut the power off. Because, I mean, why not? When the power went down November 8 it was about 10:15 in the morning. I assumed PG&E had pulled the plug. They'd been warning all week they might do that. High fire danger and all. And now there’s a wildfire, burning from out of the canyon into the other side of town. Taran over there awakened by her neighbor, the ex-cop, banging on her door, saying sorry to wake you, but you have to get out: fire. She scooped up two of the cats, but Blue Boy, the musketeer, the wanderer, he was out there somewhere, on his usual walkabout. Hopefully he’ll be okay. I talked to Taran on the phone. She’s on Clark; traffic heavy; but seems like she’ll be out soon.
I was talking to Heather, when the power went. She sounded pretty cheery: she got her horse out, but was working to get other horses out too. Of course. That’s Heather. Just so long as she also gets her own dern self out. I’m fine, where I am. Because I’m all the way over on the other side of town. And a fire has never burned through a whole town. Just doesn’t happen. When the power went, I was on the Cal Fire website. Said mine wasn’t an evacuation area. True, on the KPAY transistor radio, which is all the communication I got now, with the power gone, they’re now yammering that the whole town needs to evacuate. But what do they know? They have no reporters up here. And every fire I’ve ever been in and around, and there’ve been quite a few, always the media, always with the doomsday. But the doomsday, it never Reals. So I think I’ll just lay down and read for a while. Till they get a handle on the thing. Though there’s not a lot of light. Pretty damn black out there.
Pretty damn black out there again. June 8. They cut the power about 8:45 in the evening. They'd said it would be 9:00, but I guess they got jumpy. Winds, dry, high fire danger: preventative power yank. With no juice in the poles and the lines, fire can’t come out of them. So: it’s back to the flashlight and candles. I’ve been here before. Last time it was cold; this time it’s hot. Kind of a bad flashback. Gotta say. The generators are humming again down at the fire station; I heard that for weeks, in the maroonment, till I didn’t hear it at all, it was just what is, faded beyond even background noise. Now it’s back. And the town completely dark. Again. And the wind. Again. It’s like I’ve fallen back into the maroonment. Again. I’ve fallen. And I can’t get up.
I kinda want to whine, and say I don’t need this shit. That it’s not fair. And proclaim that there’s an opioid crisis. Because I don’t have any. Silvo, the fire cat, he can’t Deal either. He just braved onto the front porch to ask me: what the fuck? He knows what this is like too. And he is not liking it. He could use some Medicine as well. Maybe next time I’m at the vet I’ll ask for some cat valium. For these sorts of occasions. Since I assume they’ll become a regular thing now. All through the summer. Or maybe they won’t let me go to the vet. Maybe now that they’ve shut off the power again, they’ll shut down the town again, too. No, sir, I’m sorry, you can’t leave, get back in your cell.
Probably the real spooked fire cat, the all black one, he’ll show up in the dead of night, when no one is sleeping, and his eyes will say: you lied to me. You said the fire wouldn’t come back. And now, what is this? Yeah, I’ll say, but look, at least the paint store’s not burning, okay? There’s that. And there’s no fire racing up the alley. And Elliott isn’t burning. Or Pearson. Or Foster. Or Skyway. And if any fuckin’ flaming embers come arcing in from over the lube shop, I’m ready for ‘em. Because I tried the hose. And it’s working. That means we have plenty of benzene!
November 8 when the power went, the water later went too. Fire burned through the lines. Until the Sunday after. Then PID ran a boiler line to the fire station, and I benefited, because I’m just down the dern street. So I didn’t have to become Mr. Shit In A Hole In The Yard man. “Though don’t drink it!” the PID guy said. He was standing on a power line at the time. They came rolling up in their truck, parked on the power lines, walked on them, wrenched the hydrant open and sprayed water on them. Because this was already the new normal. Power lines didn’t mean shit. They were dead as the town. Not a flicker of juice in a one of them. Anywhere. And not for weeks.
Then, about three weeks after the fire, there’s a guy across the street, checking the power wires, in this cunning little contraption that allows him to do all the work himself, both in the air, and on the ground. I ask if he misses working with a crew, and he says no, he likes being on his own. He learns I’m living here, though the town’s closed off, and he says, you know, they told me to run power to the police and fire stations, but since you’re here, I’m going to have them light up the whole line. Get you some power. Over the next few days, I watch them working on that. And it was work. The night they were ready to light me up, there were eight guys, and three trucks, working out in the dark, to get it just so. “I’m lighting up a whole line tonight,” the crew chief said. “And I’ve only got one customer.” They worked so hard up here. But almost never was there anybody to see it. But that night, I would. So they were almost as tickled as I was. And when the lights came on in my house, it was like Christmas. For all of us.
But this, the night of June 8, is not like Christmas. It’s like Groundhog Day. Didn’t I already have this? No power? Burned down town? Totally dark? Yes. I did.
This time, I do have this phone. Because, in the first maroonment, Crispin bought it. And Melissa brought it up. And the Vesuvius woman, she is now on this phone, and she is raging. She is down in the valley, not even up here, but they cut her power, too. And she has no water. They burned everything she had and she's out in a trailer in bumfuck and now they've decided how 'bout when you shit in the toilet you can't flush it? For, oh, we don't know how many days yet.
She is talking about going to the chainsaw. She recently purchased a chainsaw, because the lames who said they'd help her clear brush up on her new land up in Magalia, they flaked. Like she knew they would. Because people always do. So she bought herself a chainsaw, and is going to do it herself. Except right now she's talking about taking the chainsaw to the trailer next door. Yeehaws live there, and they've been draining their sewage into an open trench, which has plagued the Vesuvius woman with more flies than beset Pharaoh when he wouldn't leave off the Hebrews. I made the mistake of telling the Vesuvius woman I once saw a movie where a guy got fed up with some miscreants in a trailer and so he carved it up with a chainsaw. She is preparing to re-enact that now. When the power went down, my friend at Behavioral Health worriedly checked in, saying they'd been told there at work that when PG&E unplugged, the burned could cascade into some strange and unusual PTSD behaviors. She suggested I watch for that. I wondered, thus, if going next door, and carving up your neighbor's trailer with a chainsaw, that might perhaps be considered one of thise behaviors. So I suggested to the Vesuvius woman that there were maybe other things we could contemplate doing, at three-freaking-o'clock in the blackout fire-wind happy fire anniversary PTSD morning, than chainsawing the neighbor's trailer. Yeah? she asked. And what would that be? And I really didn't have an answer. For that.
Meanwhile, yes, while, in this new maroonment, I do have this phone, this phone, it is not forever. Because it runs on a battery. And the battery. It is fading.
“My battery is low,” signed off the Mars probe Opportunity, “and it’s getting dark.”
Yep. Here too. Go well. My sister.