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  • Laurie A Pearsall

Jerry-Rigged



I haven't blogged in weeks and I feel sour with myself for missing my personal goal. I work well with structure and deadlines, it keeps the chaos at bay. February was hard, as was much of March. I have had to contend with what the rest of my life is serving up at the moment. There was the marking of my students' essays, the writing of trimester reports, and legal tribulations - all pumping up the pressure of cervical disc degeneration- induced headache and the still unknown source of vertigo, tinnitus, and nausea. Nonetheless, I am a persistent creative and write every day, even if that means little blurbs scrawled in a notepad on the bus. I record myself murmuring into the phone like a private detective, "note to self...". Then there are photos, lots of photos, each image holds a story or visual reminder of an analogy I can make use of later.


These photographs act as placeholders for paragraphs I will flesh out at some later date when I can find the time to write for myself, to tackle my own plot.


Many photographs are of make-shift repairs I find aesthetically charming. Here's one: I am dropping my daughter off at a friend's house and pull up to the outer gate. First I notice the cast-iron bell with a two-dimensional cat in profile sat on top. The thick layer of white paint parts from the surface of the metal and the orange rust underneath seeps through the white, making it look like a ginger tabby. Even better is the jumble of wood pieces and metal rods all strapped together with an asymmetrical criss-cross of plastic zip ties. I appreciate how handy these fasteners can be. I use them myself to cat-proof Christmas decorations. I get out of the car to crop a pleasing frame around this jumble which seems intended to bridge the gap between the actual gate and the stone wall of the garage. The wooden slats are weather-stripped and have curved ends, they appear to have been taken from deck chairs or the slats of a futon bed frame. Is it to keep intruders out - actual cats? I find pleasure in the color scheme of browns, black, and a hint of Prussian blue on the metal rods and the bell. These colors bring the mess together and make the purpose is irrelevant. On a near-daily walk up to the undulating orchards and grazing grounds of Es Verger, I pause at the crest of the hill to take in the distant vista of the Bay of Palma de Mallorca. Just here I stand next to someone's connection to the outer world: it's an extension upon an extension of an antenna that feebly reaches to catch a signal from the fiber optic towers set in a diminishing row further down the valley. This go-between is composed of rusty grooved rods bound together with brittle wire. The top of the structure protrudes out like a rigid flag created by the addition of a large grate from a gas stove. If you tilt your head to one side, you can see the four neat openings in the metalwork that the pilot flames once blazed through.


On the way back down the hillside, I notice that the pointy iron gate of someone's acreage has been bust through. There had been a padlock closing the two sides but the gate that was so weary with oxidation, it appears the perpetrator just bent one side in half to get in. I imagine a groaning metal sound doubling the barrier with one mighty Superman grasp. The next day I see that the pasture below has been tilled and think it wasn't a sheep-thief after all but more likely a farmer who lost their key. The day after that the straight gate on the left has been joined to the bent one with an equally rusty grill of twisted rods, presumably cast off from a construction project. It was the owner, I think, surely no Superman. I decide they drove the tractor right through the thing upon realizing the key fell through the hole in the pocket of the work pants that never get washed.


I've rented a lot of homes in Mallorca, so I recognize these short-cuts to home and property repair. Nearly every place I've lived in has a combo of flathead and Phillips head screws in the plates of the door jamb, and always - one or two missing from the other hinge plates. I notice these things and scorn the callous approach, the doing just enough to shut the tenant or the landlady up.


I prefer order and symmetry. It must work, I think, this jerry-rigging, or be good enough for them, to stand in for a transmitter or portal of some sort.


Jerry-rigged. As soon as the idiom pops up, so do the lyrics of a favorite song of mine, Frankenstein by Aimee Mann. She sings of a 'jerry-built love', a relationship built from the dissected parts of two people. A joining of forces we want to make function out of sheer will but will eventually turn against us in a dumb rage. She says jerry-built, I say jerry-rigged. A sucker for disambiguation, I look up the origin of the phrase to seek out the correct hyphenated combination. Dictionaries tell me I am not the only one who has mixed two terms into one. In the oldest etymological outline, jury-rigged is described. Jury evolved from the Ye Olde English word jory - something make-shift for lack of proper tools. Rigging is the system of chain or rope used for 18th-century ship sails. So, the pairing implies a clever, even life-saving improvisation out at sea to get the winded vessel to port safely. A negative connotation came into play in the following century when the word jerry emerged in proprietors' records. No one seems to know who Jerry was. I don't know who Jerome the handy-man was either, but he must have been on one of the ships that arrived in Massachusetts. There's a quote written in 1902 attributed to archives from Boston using the term - are they sure it isn't just the New England accent saying 'jury' like 'jerry'? As in: "Hey, meet my friend Jerry ovah heah, he'll fix it for ya. Good as new."


Regardless, it turns out I have been saying it wrong. Jerry-rigged is presumed to be the love-child of jury-rigged and jerry-built. Jury-rigged indicates a clever, ingenious solution whereas Jerry-built is considered crappy and half-assed.


I'm not remotely nautical and I have only one association with the word 'rig'. In my early twenties, I went on a dreadful date with a lazy graphic designer guy who peeled up to collect me in a bright yellow VW rabbit. He introduced it to me as his Rig and told how he had customized it himself, pointing to the black rack on the top and how it was jacked-up awkwardly on haunches like a race car so you could see the tie rods and take a peek at the undercarriage. The muffler grunted so loudly I was mortified to sink into the low slung passenger seat. I felt like my mother in the way I clung to my purse and chose not to get out right then and there. Then I was well and truly mortified as he zig-zagged at high speed down Route 128 into Boston and careened us under overpasses and into roundabouts in old town. By the time we reached the date venue I wanted him to disappear. I let this strange guy risk my life for a few more hours and after a few more beers, content just to make it home alive. That's what I think of when I hear the word RIG.


Back around that same time in Massachusetts, when my older siblings were putting their own first homes together, they used MccGyver as a verb. To MacGyver something was jargon inspired from a TV show I never watched. I didn't need to, being from a jerry-rigging do-it-yourself family legacy. I had just returned from a few years of living with my brother in Brooklyn who had thumbtacks, duct tape, and string as the key contents of his tool kit. I remember that, when we would watch a movie together sitting on his bed that was a couch by day, I would shimmy over to sit just out of range of the long plank hovering over our heads. He had hoisted up this shelf with triangles of cotton string held to the wall with push-pins. I hadn't studied physics, but I had made enough sculptures to be dubious the contraption would hold the weight of his stereo speakers, CD collection, and lit candles. "Don't you think you should drill some holes and get some anchors in the wall for that?" I asked. "Nope. Serves its purpose," he said, not taking his eyes off the screen.


Seeing where this word-play is going, I realize maybe I'm just homesick.


Aimee Mann is from Boston, too. Two divorces and a continent later, I come back to her song 'Frankenstein' from the I'm with Stupid album. It rings a bell with me still. It ends like this:


And when later we find that the thing we devised

Has the villagers clamoring for it's demise

We will have to admit the futility of

Trying to make something more of this jerry-built love


And you'll notice it bears a resemblance to

Everything I imagined I wanted from you

But at least it's my own creation

And it's better than real It's a real imitation


Yeah, what she said, I think. Be careful what you wish for, whose passenger seat you get into. I confess that I am zig-zagging through these paragraphs like that dangerous yellow car myself now, sharing my whiplash with you. Still, I am determined to post today, it unsettles me to leave my blog in the lurch. It looks to me like that padlock clicked shut yet leaving the gate dangling open, the links in the chain of posts clipped, leaving the two sides agape. I struggle to get the order of the alliteration right as I write. I'm woozy. A dry cough rises up. Is it Covid? Is it the CO1 poisoning of 2018 that has left lesions in my grey matter? The PTSD? Give me an acronym, or an idiom to work with as I decipher my own word order.


Today I tease by tackling the description of crude and improvised construction, however aesthetically pleasing and quintessentially Mallorquin, only to meander to a real conclusion. These last weeks have been hard. In addition to the usual menu of tasks, I have also been trying to get the wheels of justice moving in a bigger neglected, and broken system. On my daughter's behalf, I have tried to get through the infuriatingly clumsy navigation of government websites. I have sat dizzy and buried under triplicate copies of irrelevant bureaucratic paperwork, trying to figure out which boxes to tick.


The charming way the old world co-mingles with the new here drains out pretty fast when one's sanity and security are at stake.


When I finally got my appointment at the courthouse to solicit legal service, I was directed to a little office in the basement at the end of the hall, just near the back stairwell. Other women sat with one empty seat between them, each clutching folders of papers. Upon arrival, we looked into each other's eyes above our masks, to find mirrored desperation. As I wait, I stare at the piece of paper taped to the door opposite me. Sala de Togas it reads, then authorized personnel only. What?! Like, Greek toga togas? As I wait, I entertain myself with a plan to come back wearing a bed sheet and a crown of laurel leaves and just waltzing right in like I own the place. The lawyer spent barely ten minutes with each person. When it was my turn, before I could slide the thick packet of prepared documents out of my bag, she held her hand up to stop me like a traffic cop. She rolled her eyes and said, "Before I can even look at any of that, what I need is ... "


I stop here because this is always how this story goes with the legal system in Mallorca. I know because I have been in this scenario too many times before, albeit under different circumstances. During a period of five years and not too long ago, I had to traverse the system on my own, to plead for the return of my residence status, the right to get to work and access healthcare, and - simultaneously - to fight for the retention of full custody of my child, which I lost. I still have not overcome the darkness of that time, but I am working on it. I could never have imagined then that I would be in the same halls seeking the protection of my daughter's rights after she had been criminally violated*.


I had no idea that those years of confusion and strife were my dress rehearsal for an even more vital cause.


At the end of February, in the basement office with the surly government employee, I tried not to quiver as I tumbled some words out to express that I already had the information she needed. A rough translation of her response goes like this: "Look, I need a paper from the office upstairs on the third floor that says that the paper you already have is the paper you say it is. Get that and come back. Oh, and you can only make the appointments online."


It's rigged, the system is rigged against us, I thought as I walked down the hall. They make it slow on purpose to detract us from seeking justice. Jury rigging. Here it comes again, the free association my brain defaults to, to set order to impotence in the face of senseless things. My pebbles are no match for the Goliath of injustice, no match for centuries of sexual violence against women and children. My folders, my sharpies, my post-its, my timetabling, my symmetry are no match.


As I exited, it dawned on me that this lawyer's office was once a broom closet. That's when I realized she wasn't only exasperated at me, but maybe with me. I tried to imagine her a decade before, swearing her oath after passing the bar exam, optimistic and eager to help families in need. Instead, she got stuck down in a windowless basement maintenance closet to attend to a never-ending chain of broken people, neither party holding the necessary tools to keep the system running.


*Yes, I have her permission to reference her true story here. My muse, my freedom fighter, my only daughter.

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