Bangkok shrunk away from the little square window of the plane, swallowed up by the rice fields, and the sea. In 15-hour increments of time, I would arrive in San Francisco 2 hours after I boarded. The thickness of the air, would hang on my skin, the burn of the chili would linger in my mouth, and the memory of the people would last forever. Thai, who I met at Paradise High School nearly 7 years ago, was an exchange student from Bangkok, on the unkown path we would find each other again. He gave me a ride to the Bangkok airport, he had seen my home in Paradise so many years ago. I stayed with him in his and his family on the outskirts of Bangkok, accompanied him to a ceremony where he became a monk; cut his sins away in shaving his head with his father, mother and sister.
That was over two months ago. The train I ride now is heading north from San Diego to Camarillo Ca. I will go see my brother and his family there. The scene speeds by the train window and my memories keep up with ease. The family I met there, going with them south to see the addition of a family memeber, the birth of a son. I knew the mother from sititng on a train towards Laos, they brought me into there home.
I want to write about cutting Christmas trees with migrant Mexican workers on the California Oregon boarder, a region known by the locals as the state of Jefferson. At one point it nearly had its own independence but war broke out in Europe and we unified. Remote and wild, mountains dominate the landscape.
“Listo?” I call to my new friends in Spanish. I drove the dump truck that they loaded with cut trees.
I pop it into gear and it crawls forwarded jarring around more like a boat than a truck. They call me shaggy,
“tu sabes Scooby Doo?”
“si, yo se Scooby Doo, porque?”
“porque tu es Shaggy.”
They all laugh, and I am now Shaggy. Together we would wake at 5 in the morning eat eggs and tortillas load grocery bags with loaves of bread, handfuls of jalapeno peppers, mayonnaise, apples and meat. 11 of us would pile into two pickup trucks and drive one hour into the mountains 7500 where you find the prized Silver Tip.
I would practice Spanish and learn another language, the language of Christmas tree harvesters. We would corta los pinos, tag them as primos, ones, two’s, they would be table tops to 9-10’s,19-20’s; we would shag them to the road. Donde es la calle?pinchy manzanita disguises the road. 7000 trees would be cut with the motto sierra, shagged on our backs, lifted into the dump truck, graded by Bambi, bailed with twine, and loaded into the truck in the night. They would travel to Washington DC. Los Angles, Texas and Paradise California. The sounding bell was the number of cold days that brought the trees into there dormancy for the winter. The end was being chased out by the snow.
He called it the American privilege; I don’t understand why he would say that, it is not a special right granted to a specific group of people. It’s a life learned, a world inherited. I love to watch my nephew; his protected laughter is carefree as it should be, as we once where. But he is a true minority in this world. Where most of us find worry about going hungry, about our house being bombed, about the world we will pass on. I ate too much and it hurts, I have two slices of pie, pumpkin and pecan topped with whipped cream. The home is cozy and the conversation is light, black Friday is tomorrow, maybe ill buy a laptop, I hear. I’m here by birth right, my friends in Laos, in there hut, with there right, are still drinking boiled water, are still rationing rice, are still facing real hunger.
There is sorrow in the world, and we all feel it at some point at some level, the key is not to drown in it, to know that, there when we need to, we can reach up and find somebody.
I will go back to Mexico, to see Paula, to drink cheap beer and eat good food. And after I will head back to Paradise, my hometown to spend Christmas with my family for the first time in 7 years. Woo hooo