Sep. 17th, 2008

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+ What role does the television play in the story?
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.
+ What is the main character's conflict? Is it similar in some ways to Ritchie's in "Nancy Flores"?
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.
+ Why the death mask of Pancho Villa in the story? What does it add?
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.
+ The main character says he hasn't had a good time in a long while. What does he mean?
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.
+ The last line is "What's the difference?" Discuss...
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?
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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 Soviet Union just to experience the FULL reality of what life was like on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  He’d been so very, extremely close to it all as a spy, and the curiosity to know more was almost overwhelming enough to lure him into changing sides without any genuine exchange of allegiance.  I believe our protagonist feels that same draw, that same curiosity to know more about a world that is so alien, yet such a part of him by way of lineage, alone.

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 El Paso is as much a melting pot as any other major city in Texas? Why?
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 El Paso, it’s hard for me to say either way.  I felt like this story was more about the dehumanization of security – security in our rights as American citizens as well as the service of the security industry.  Officers carry no responsibility for decisions or mistakes so long as they’re “just doing a job.”  New rules are put in place to thwart clever law-breakers, but they only serve to make life more miserable for the law-abiders and challenge law-breakers to get even SMARTER!  And people who don’t carry specific identity on them at all times are more often treated as criminals, whether they are at fault or not.  The burden of proof is placed upon us.  No longer are we innocent until proven guilty.  Why, not long ago, during a very difficult financial period, a bank refused to cash a paycheck for me because my State ID had expired and I had misplaced my passport.  They’d been cashing my checks for weeks without any issue and I had used both my passport and my ID interchangeably, but either a new rule was initiated or someone began enforcing old rules more stringently.  For whatever reason, the very same girl who’d seen me every Friday for over a month suddenly refused to cash my check.  She and her supervisor just spouted rules and regulations to me, blaming the computer system, not caring that I couldn’t get my ID renewed WITHOUT getting that check cashed or that my family was on the verge of homelessness.  I completely lost it when the girl told me, “Ma’am, I simply cannot tell WHO you are without valid ID!”  As if my citizenship, my very name, ceased to exist from one day to the next!  As if my soul, my humanity were encased within an amalgamation of toner, paper and laminate!  That’s what I was thinking of when I read this story.  I don’t believe the moral pertained as much to racial discrimination as it did to an inequity of power– especially since one of the harassing officers was also Hispanic.

noblwish: (Default)

+ 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 Galveston experience and refused the school board position because of his lack of experience (and involvement) with children.  Whoever “they” were, they may have been impressed with his money, power, charisma, what-have-you, but they never stopped to think if he was qualified to hold any position of authority over children.  Or, perhaps, they IMAGINED he’d be good at anything, but his own imagination or lack thereof, convinced him otherwise.

noblwish: (Default)

I do apologize about the length here.  I tried to do a cut, but LJ is just all screwed up right now and I can't even begin to figure out how to fix it.


My thoughts were all over while reading this story, so I answered each question as it came to me – not necessarily in order.  Reading back over them, I can see my thoughts evolving (or devolving as the case may be) the further I delved into the story:

+ Comparisons to "The Death Mask of Pancho Villa"?
In the previous story, the narrator and his friend had grown apart and were unlikely to share as many crazy adventures as they once had.  In this story, the insanity has yet to meet its end.  Also, this story was narrated by the one friend who was least likely to grow out of such behavior, whereas “Death Mask” was narrated by the other side.

+ What's the role of setting here?
It started out fairly benign… almost magical.  As the story, and the drinking, progressed, however, it became more and more malevolent.  Perhaps it was meant to lull us into a false sense of security – just two old friends fishing, what harm could there be in that?  Then the ploys begin to be revealed… disable the car, move the bonfire by hand (no mention of getting burned?), steal horses and take them out into the surf to drown?!?  The idyllic setting became more and more terrifying with each paragraph.

+ What does the story say about marriage?
Maybe I’m reading my own life into this, but I believed it was saying that life is best spent sharing everything with one very special person who really cares about you and not just themselves.  The narrator was manipulating Kirby.  Kirby should have been more understanding about the dogs and cared for them both as he cared for Tricia.  Tricia had every right to be angry and Kirby shouldn’t have thrown his little passive-aggressive tantrums by ignoring her dog and then running off on some foolish, and possibly deadly, adventure with his crazy friend.

+ What do you make of the last line?
I think the narrator was putting the responsibility of fear and caution onto the poor horses!  Or maybe he thought it was a perfect scheme to get his friend out deeper into the ocean so they could drown together.  I find it interesting that this story is written from a perspective of looking back, and yet it ends rather abruptly with no indication that they ever got home.

+What stereotype comes up for you when you think of two men fishing?
I remember a Sunday Morning comic my Dad once cut out and kept.  I believe it was “Rick O’Shay.”  One of the characters was “fishing” – he had his pole propped up and a line in the water, but instead of watching for a bite, he was lying back on the grass with his cowboy hat over his eyes.  Another character walks up and asks if the fish are biting… he says they are not.  The second character asks what bait he’s using… he says he’s not using ANY bait, because “I don’t want any fish botherin’ me while I’m fishin’.”  I think most men fish as an excuse to sit around, drink beer, shoot the sh*t, escape the chaos of everyday life and just enjoy nature for a while… not that any of those reasons are necessarily bad ones.

+Did the men in this story ever feel afraid?
I did not sense any true fear while reading this story.  Truth be told, I didn’t even sense any real CAUTION… I think the characters were both too drunk to be cautious.

+What do you think of the voices and actions of the men? Who do they remind you of? What literary techniques does the author use to provide the above effect?

All I could think of was that they were drunk and stupid.  This seems to be a recurring theme in the stories we’ve read, so far – is this one of the stereotypes of Texas?  I sure hope not!

Perhaps the narrator was enacting some jealous ploy to have his friend all to himself… perhaps for eternity?  Maybe I’m reading too many dark themes into this story, but that’s all that makes sense to me.

+What role does the ocean play?
All I could think was that it was the tiger waiting at the door.  Either the depths or the currents or the temperature exacerbated by the wind and water or the sand trapping their car or some airborne infection permeating the wounds on their hands… one way or another, their lives were in danger from the ocean.

+Discuss your thoughts on how the opinion of the narrator toward Tricia fluctuates through the story.
I have to wonder if the characters, particularly the narrator, were slowly dying of hypothermia and alcohol abuse.  Their ideas just got wilder and stupider.  Perhaps the narrator’s jealousy was diluted by the alcohol.  Perhaps his memories of her became more pleasant as the temperature dropped.  Considering when this was written, at least a decade before cell phone usage became common, and taking into account that their car was horrendously stuck, perhaps the narrator was calling Tricia to tell her goodbye from his friend – perhaps he knew they would meet an untimely end.

+One paragraph in the story appears to stand out, with a different voice, page 500, "It was like a murder or sin..." What do you make of this paragraph, and the symbolism within?
I found it interesting that they would go to such trouble to catch one fish, mutilate it, toss all but the juiciest bit and use that only to catch another fish – especially when trout are just as likely as redfish to bite a live shrimp.  Perhaps this was a hint to the narrator’s dark intentions.


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The comments below were based on the following links (the last three are videos):


Would that more places in America would learn to compromise the past with the future!  We’re pretty good at combining various cultures and adding their distinction to our own, but we often forget to incorporate the charm and assets of the past with advances into the future.

I found it ironic that English is to India what Spanish is to America – without it, finding a job is getting harder and harder.  As things currently stand, Spanish is still not quite an absolute necessity here, yet, but it is definitely past the point of being merely “nice to have.”

I was struck by the comment regarding the poor becoming immune to disease due to their constant exposure.  This fact may very well assure their place in the future evolution of humanity.  I wonder if the rich and powerful ever think about that?  Maybe it’s better for everyone if they don’t!

I was fascinated and encouraged by the story about the children’s bank.  I have often thought that America does its youth a disservice by denying them accountability until the age of 18.  If more of our pre-teens and “tweens” were responsible for making and managing their own money, perhaps they would avoid deadly temptations such as drugs, violence, crime, gang-membership and casual promiscuity.  I know my family’s financial problems helped keep me away from such things.

Finally, I was not as shocked and dismayed by the babies-off-the-roof story as other may be.  So long as there have been no injuries from the practice, why ban it?  If it ain’t broke…  A little risk is good for everyone – perhaps this ritual lays a foundation for future risk-taking that may lead to a better life.  Maybe the fear and excitement is good for the heart.  Certainly, studies have shown that gravitational forces are good for the development of infantile brains – that’s why babies LOVE being thrown in the air and toddlers twirl around and around until they get sick.  Most primitive habits have beneficial motives and science has surprisingly backed these up.  Still, if it were MY baby they were throwing off the roof… I think I’d need a doctor!

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