Category Archives: lost in the desert

Chin up, Buttercup, a New Day Dawns

Rang in 2016 with my mother, my mother-in-law, Maddy, Lily, and two of Maddy’s best friends. It made for a very joyous, very full household. We blew noisemakers, threw confetti, lit amateur hour fireworks, twirled sparklers; all in the street in front of my little ten year old house. Fun, simple, sweet – all words I cannot apply to 2015 itself. A sentiment Mads echoed with her NYE countdown, “Okay, guys! Only three minutes left of this TERRIBLE year!” It didn’t help that the last days of said terrible year were filled with tears, as we watched Scottie pack up a U-Haul and move to DC.

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By now, friends reading this know Scott accepted a job offer in VA. A job he was offered the day before Halloween. A job we had to keep mum about, for two months, in case the whole thing fell through. After a six month long struggle to find local employment befitting his talents (aside from a part-time, on-call, secret squirrel gig that required actual disguises and a Beastie Boys “Sabotage” style ride that ended in him hosing the interior of a rental car with projectile vomit), he cast his net wider and, what do ya know, he landed in his old stomping grounds.

MD/VA/DC is home for him, and the job – helping catch international bad guys, behind the virtual wheel of a motion sickness-free desk – excited him. Win, win – right? We certainly never intended to settle in Arizona. This decade long AZ run due only to an unlikely set of freak circumstances. But, by the time he retired from the Army, we’d got comfortable. Sierra Vista was familiar. Life here was easy. A known (sucky, but known) quantity. Oh, and then there was also the matter of the house. The luckless, piece of shit, housing-market-bubble-bought, albatross of a godforsaken house we purchased in 2006. The house we currently can’t sell back to Satan to save our souls.

Already I feel badly for bad-mouthy-blogging my house. It was perfect once. The perfect starter home for two adults in their early 30s and their four year old daughter. And all the beautiful memories made here; they’ll show up in my dreams for the rest of my life! Nonetheless, we were hopelessly stupid home buyers. Coming from a young adulthood of apartment/city-living, the two of us were all, “Gold fixtures? Well that’s perfectly acceptable. And the world’s tiniest backyard? You mean we have a BACK YARD??? Sold!” Five years, one additional daughter, and a heap of material stuff later, we’d outgrown our starter home. Sadly, like a great deal of the United States, we were also underwater on our mortgage, and in one of the worst housing markets in the country.

So, that’s all that’s keeping us here; holding me and the kids hostage. This house, and the difference between what it sold for in 2006 vs. the 50k less it will sell for now. That’s what’s splitting up our family. Funny how the military only did that once, but a bailed-out bank has the power to do so indefinitely. And imagine my complete shock at learning that, because we’ve never been late on a payment, or any payment of any kind – and because our debt was relatively nil and our credit outstanding –we might not be able to prove a “financial hardship.” Because we are responsible adults? Because being financially raped by a pre-recession banking hustle – that is today, without dispute, recognized as having been both inherently and abhorrently corrupt – is just what we get for being young and dumb. But if we’d blown ten credit-card-lender-grand here, and twenty frivolous thousand there, then we would qualify for relief?
Then we’d be primed for a…oh, what do they call it again…a…BAILOUT?!

(DEEP BREATH)

All to say, I’ve stayed behind to deal with the house.

Today my boss called to offer me a job in Alexandria, VA – a stone’s throw from my Scottie. Someone just resigned in our office there, and, “say…just how soon will you be moving out here, anyway?” Excellent question! Soon? Soon-ish? In a wee bit? In a while? A few months from now? Summertime? Next fall? Winter?  Maybe goddamned never?
I had to decline, and ask to be kept in mind.

But, as always, I’m keeping my chin up…like an exceptionally grumpy buttercup.

"dem skies, tho...."

“dem skies, tho….”

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Ending Agony in Fry Town

When Sierra Vista became an incorporated township in 1956, it excluded a half square mile of land that was originally owned by turn-of-the-twentieth-century settler Oliver Fry. Mr. Fry resisted inclusion with the town growing around him, and as a result his land, which came to be known as Fry Town, remains un-annexed and has steadily fallen into disrepair; its residents poor, its crime rates high.

Residents of Sierra Vista proper do not go untouched by this, either. Crime is not conveniently contained within Fry Town’s historic blocks, nor can Sierra Vistans easily ignore such a relatively small section of disrepute. Not when Fry Town and its many bedraggled residents are so prominently on display at Sierra Vista’s main entryway. It’s the first thing newcomers see. It’s not a problem that can be swept under an indifferent rug. It is front and center, and it demands our attention.

Fry Town’s annexation into Sierra Vista’s city limits seems long overdue, but Fry residents have voted against this appropriation in the past. And, while annexation would certainly offer Fry Town residents many city benefits they’re currently bereft of, it is not going to eradicate the problems derived from a socio-economic petri dish of poverty, drug abuse and crime – one that’s been left to fester over the last half century.

Similarly, recent city and county led efforts to give Fry a cosmetic makeover –demolishing abandoned, dilapidated mobile homes and raising new, more aesthetically pleasing, low-income housing – merely whitewashed the neighborhood for appearance sake. It did little toward the long-term health of the community. And, without investing in the future of the residents themselves, it’s only a matter of time before those new developments look like the graffiti-laden relics they replaced. Real change starts with people, not real estate.

To be certain, residents, city leaders and law enforcement have debated the issue for years, and there have been several efforts on all sides to address it. But, ramping up police presence and tearing down structural eyesores amounts to adhering Band-Aids to gushing wounds. And, while not all of its inhabitants live in abject poverty, many do. Many of Fry Town’s inhabitants are trapped in a hellish cycle of poverty. They grew up with crime as not just a fact of life, but a way of it, learning no honor among countless thieves. Their parents were poor, uneducated, abused substances, and abused them. They grew up to do the same, and their children, and their children’s children, in one, long, ghetto nightmare.

Helping these people break the cycle, that is the solution. Granted, there are programs in place designed to address this issue. Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t all that keen on funneling tax dollars toward welfare subsidies; thus, said programs are not adequately funded. Most agree that welfare isn’t intended as a way of life, but rather serves as a helping hand; a hand that pulls one up from the gutter and helps them stand on their own feet.  That is the definition of a working welfare program, and the impoverished population of Fry Town desperately needs it.

Their plight calls for a program that offers drug rehabilitation, where necessary, and intensive therapy. No one abuses drugs because they have a healthy sense of self-worth. You don’t do that to your body, or to your life, if you’re not already in a profound amount of pain. These people, whether they’re abusing drugs/alcohol or not, need to be armed with healthy, psychological tools in order to combat their own mental anguish. Fry Town needs a crackdown on mental health; a SWAT team of counselors at the ready.

If part one of a successful welfare program teaches life skills, then part two offers job skills and employment training. Of course, that would require there being viable jobs for which to train. Sadly, there’s a vast wage gap in Sierra Vista. The local middle class sustains itself with government jobs, government contracting jobs or healthcare work. And, as the government downsizes, it’s a very small employment pool to draw from. Sierra Vista must work on drawing new industry to the area. After all, food service and retail work does not a middle class make.

Yet, the most important, most sure-fire resolution to the woes of Fry Town is this: educate its children. If children are the future, let us plant the seeds that ensure a bright one – and those seeds are called tax dollars; tax dollars that fund their schools and tax dollars that fund the social programs these children require. Some of these kids play in dirt lots and crumbling streets, some with empty bellies and bruised bodies. I know. I have seen them. They exist. They need their community at large to help. They need citizens who are invested enough in their city’s future to pay it forward in taxes, just as they need a city council and a school board that won’t mismanage those taxes.

You can avoid Fry Town all you like, ignore its struggles if you wish, or be satisfied with quick-fixes to its unsightly surface but, eventually, Fry Town will call on you. Whether its presence drives your property values down, its criminals steal your car, or its drug dealers sell their wares to your kids, its suffering spills over those half square mile borders, and its consequences will affect you. It is not their problem, it is our problem – and luckily, it’s one we can fix.

Autumn is a State of Mind

It’s a beautiful September day in southeastern Arizona. In these parts they refer to fall as a second spring. But honestly, autumn here is like a perfect summer day anywhere else. It’s 80 degrees. The sky is Crayola baby blue, spotted with floating clumps of cotton balls. It often looks like a child’s delightful art project up there.

I seized the weather with a walk. Two miles of pushing a happy toddler in a comfy stroller through paths lined in blooming greens. The monsoon rains give us a three month reprieve from desert-living. We won’t feel a real chill until Christmas. And even then, it’s not exactly the Artic north around here. When the temp drops below 70 we all run, en masse, for our sweaters.

But autumn has always been my favorite season. Once upon a time, in another life, I associated it with Technicolor burgundy and blood orange. Leaves crackling beneath my cute knee-high boots, deep inhalations of crispy-clean earth, hot-n-sweet beverages, hearty broths, resurrected fireplaces, soft, color-splashing scarves, Happy Halloweens, moody grey heavens above and rain – Seattle rain. And when I moved to Arizona, all those many moons ago, how I mourned the loss of it.

Other than the occasional harvest wreath, hanging on someone’s front door, or the jack-o-lanterns that can only sit out the day of October 31st before melting into mush, there’s very little, traditional sign of the season. Trees retain most their leaves until December; then those leaves make some sort of suicide pact and all plummet at once to their leafy death. Green one day, gone the next – and it’s straight from “second spring” to winter we go. This took some getting used to.

But I’ve come to love a new brand of fall. Blue skies and sunshine in fitted tees and capris. Outdoor activities, warm breezes, lizards, toads and their babies. Thanksgiving dinner on the patio and pumpkin spice lattes -ICED! Because it appears autumn, like so much else, is just a state of mind.

HOT COCOA, ANYONE?

Did someone say escape?

Over the phone he said, “So what do you think about moving?”
And my stomach dropped.

I was cooking, looking out the window onto the pink, purple and turquoise of an Arizona monsoon sunset – one that’s become so familiar to me – and was instantly aware that I might not be ready to leave. After all my bitching! All my whining, longing, impatient waiting, kvetching and complaining….longing for Seattle or ANY old place other than here. Wanting desperately to be free of this place and now…..it looks like I want someone to hold the goddamn phone, just a moment, while I think it about further.

He was only being dramatic, as it turns out. It’s only a rumor, his possible transfer to destination unknown. But in the meantime I’m suddenly wondering if uprooting the family from the happy, if boring, little life we have going here would be such a great thing after all. He would go directly from here to war. Only a small pitstop in between.

But if we stay here, he just remains unhappy in his job, I remain unhappy with the shit hole town, but our kids have their father and we have each other.
It’s never ideal, is it?