Friday, October 31, 2003

This morning I joined literally millions of Americans by indulging myself for breakfast. Ordinarily, I limit my morning meal to hastily poured bowls of cereal and hastily guzzled mugs of coffee, with the occasional banana hastily crammed into my mouth as I dash to my car before speeding away to embroil myself in motionless rush hour traffic.

When I say I eat cereal, I mean "adult cereal", by which I mean neither X rated cereal (if any such exists) nor yuppie cereal (i.e. trail mix in milk). I mean I basically eat Cheerios. Sometimes I switch it up with Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes or Chex. I avoid all "cereal" that resembles cookies or candy bars. I avoid frosting on cereal. I avoid cereal with marshmallows. I avoid cereal with limited edition runs or movie promo tie-ins. I also avoid cereal flavored to taste like a bowl of life savers. I also avoid danishes, crulers, eclairs, and very often donuts.

These breakfast staples are basically just powedered cereal (flour), mixed with sugar, colored, and infused with butter or insoluable oil. Donuts are additionally deep fried, and dipped in a sugar glaze or covered with hydroginated oil frosting, then topped with sugar sprinkles, filled with sweet crisco "custard", or fruit flavored corn-syrup "jelly".

Bite one is delicious. Bite two is delicious but you can feel the sugar combine with enzymes in your saliva to form carbonic acid. The sugar also invigorates the fermentation process in your mouth, which you can literally hear as legions of bacteria in the spaces between your teeth suddenly emerge and start singing "hi-ho hi-ho, its off to work we go". By bite three your blood-sugar spikes, bounces around the stratosphere, and then crashes to the ground like an Osprey helicopter on a training flight in Arizona. By bite four you begin to show signs of immenant blood sugar coma. Soon after, death ensues. After that, you just plain feel like crap until lunch. This being said, I do routinely (i.e. once a month or so) make a small exception for muffins. Muffins are, in reality, little better than the aforementioned comestibles, and are chemically exactly identical to unfrosted cake. But muffins are yummy and sometimes contain little bits of dried grape or other healthy fruit.

But this morning was different. I went to the grocery store to stock up on the obligatory $6 halloween mask. The reasons for this divergence from my usual lack of enthusiasm for workplace "parties" (filled to the brim with candy, snack cakes and vegitable oil frosting) is too long and depressing to describe. Suffice it to say that my mask was filled with someone else's black butt hairs, several children's uneaten mucous, and vinyl-rubber fumes that are, as I write, coalescing at the base of my thyroid into papillary carcinoma. I counted my blessings, since this was the last mask in the entire store.

On the way to the halloween aisle I passed a box of those delicious pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. They are bright orange and they positively reek of margarine...

I did a quick mental calculation. Realizing that I intended to hastily choke down a coffee-shop muffin as I sat in traffic, I ran through the list of ingredients of both the cookies and the muffin and found that they were virtually the same:

Blanched wheat flour.
Hydroginated vegitable oil and/or butter.

The only ingredients I could come up with which they didn't have in common were FD&C Red #3 mixed with FD&C Yellow #5 (dyes that produce "orange" in the cookies), and blueberries in the muffin. Otherwise, they were nutritionally identical.

The cookies had the benefit of being more cost-effective. At $3.99 I could get fifteen cookies (or should I say "compressed muffins"?) to the $1.95 for one single muffin at the coffee shop. Also, whatever cookies remained after breakfast could be taken to work and added to the pile of steadily-accumulating oil, sugar and salt based junk food for the party.

Naturally, I chose the cookies.

So for several minutes this morning, I joined legions of other Americans in indulging myself in sweet, oily grain as I sat in traffic on my way to work.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Today is a double-post morning. If you haven't already, be sure and catch-up on my latest commentary regarding the way your politicians are using the California fires to screw you (see below). In the meantime, Sahalie's blog reminds me of something else that has been bugging me:

Anybody hear about these CIA "independent contractors" that got killed in Afghanistan? I've got a better euphamism for them: mercenaries. We are hiring mercenaries to do our dirty work in places like Afghanistan and Columbia. When countries start hiring mercenaries, they are but one step away from having their own asses handed to them on a platter. I recall a little country in the old days that hired independent soldiers to fight their wars and guard their overseas possessions. Soon enough, those independent soldiers turned on their masters and kicked the crap out of them. Sacked and burned ("Vandalized") the capital city. That country? Rome.

The danger to us is a bit less direct, to be sure, but no less destabilizing. Not only do we hire these "independent contractors" to circumvent our own fairly progressive (and hard-won) notions about civilized warfare (oxymoron, yes, but still a noble ideal). We hire these "independent contractors" because if the shit hits the fan not only do we not have to take care of their families in the way we would regular soldiers, but we can also distance ourselves from any atrocities they might commit. Just like Wal-Mart isn't responsible for the hiring practices of its sub-contractors, so the CIA will claim it was someone else's responsibility to screen their independent contractors when whole villages are wiped out by death squads.

No, these types of soldiers aren't exactly new: we used them in the early years of Vietnam before we were officially committed by the President. We used them in Nicaragua to assassinate and terrorize the Sandinistas, we used them to smuggle Noriega's drugs, and to circumvent military funding limits to Columbia put in place to keep us from slowly embroiling ourselvs in another Vietnam-style quagmire, etc. etc.

The difference now is that we're not even remotely sheepish about what we're doing. We've acknowledged our past abuses and, rather than accept and learn from the lessons of history, we have simply chosen to ignore them. We've chucked reason and good sense out the window in favor of privatization and a lack-of-transparency. We will pay in the end, too. If not literally as Rome did, at least as corporate mercenary armies start getting us involved in wars for the sake of profit. We will pay when those armies start drumming up domestic enemies to fight. Then the Vandals will be at the gates.

Yesterday I heard that congress was debating some bill to "thin out" forests so that they present less of a fire danger. You've probably heard of this measure in one form or another. If you live in a state dominated by logging interests, you have probably heard of this strategy of "managing" forests.

I've got several thoughts about this, especially given the fact that Diane Feinstein was defending it on the floor of congress. Except with regard to her position on vouchers, I nearly always agree with Feinstein. Yesterday I did not.

One problem with selectively cutting down trees in forests in order to make them less combustable is that in order to do so, logging roads must be cut through the forests. Not only are logging roads themselves inherently disruptive, increasing erosion, disturbing wildlife and "opening up" entire areas of forests to be logged for profit, but these roads are enormously expensive to create. The expense of cutting these roads to prevent major fires will greatly reduce their benefit as a cost-saving measure on the back-end (i.e. after a fire). The solution to this, as far as the legislators are concerned, is to offer incentives for private interests to build these roads.

What does that mean in plain english? Simply that logging companies are going to cut the roads in exchange for being able to log areas that are currently off-limits -- namely on protected land.

Whats the big deal with a little logging? Well, nothing, if its done in a responsible and ecologically friendly manner. As Captain Natty is fond of pointing out, environmentalists happy enough to consume vast quantities of paper from forests overseas in places like Malaysia and Brazil, but we don't want logging in our backyard. Granting the hypocricy here for a moment, and ignoring the "Think Globally, Act Locally" mantra, I have to say that the logging industry -- wherever it is found -- has *never* acted in a responsible and ecologically friendly manner. Clearcut forests are the hallmark of logging everywhere -- vast swathes of shattered, shredded woodlands ripped apart by industrial machines. No longer does the lone logger with the double bitted ax and the blue ox apply. The only time big timber interests have curtailed their destructive appetite for wood is when they have been browbeaten by government -- at the behest of voters -- to do so.

Now we see the government climbing into bed with the logging interests in the name of preventing forest fires. But there's another catch. Several more, in fact. See, despite Feinstein's heart-wrenching cry for the passage of this bill -- invoking the name of the thousands of families who are now homeless as a result of these fires -- much of the "forest" that is burning right now is not what most people would commonly understand to be forest. Except in the very highest part of the San Bernardinos, the areas burning are populated not by the magestic pinon and fir, but by low-lying chaparral, scrub-oak and assorted other varieties of trees which loggers have absolutely no financial interest in thinning. Add to that the fact that even in the most heavily forested areas of the San Bernardinos the trees are rarely at the density required to turn a profit from logging, much less thinning, which is even less efficient, and the magnitude of this farce becomes clear. Even in the most pristine forests remaining, most of which are but a bare fraction of their former selves, "thinning" is not financially worth the effort for private industry. Much of old L.A. was built on timber from those mountains, but logging hasn't been much of a force in those mountains for nearly a century.

But wait, you say, if the logging companies won't be anywhere near the fire-threatened areas -- what are you bitching about, Clay? Simply this: we are claiming that we will be preventing fires by incentivising tree-thinning operations, but in reality we are perpetrating a giveaway to logging companys who will take the handout and not perform the service in most of the areas threatened by fire.

It is bait-and-switch. We're getting logjammed by big paper. This is an end run around environmental laws that have finally slowed the unsustainable devastation of our natural resources.

Just so I'm not accused of grinding an ax at an inconvenient time, while people's lives go up in smoke, I defend myself by suggesting that I am not as removed from this as I seem. I got this morning from family in SoCal is unspeakably grim: my brother-in-law's family home most likely burned down yesterday and his brother's home is threatened, while my parent's house is not in the clear either. This makes me triply pissed that politicians are trying to screw us with barely-disguised pro-business giveaway schemes at a time when people are vulnerable and in need of real solutions.

I also head this morning that the multi-thousand home development of Stevenson Ranch is now on fire. The 'Ranch is a brand-new development situated, like much of L.A., in a bone-dry valley. Instead of slapping ourselves and saying, "damn, that's a dumb place to put 15,000 homes", we're hoping that someone will come in and thin non-existant trees from non-existant forests. One is temped to suggest that a more sensical solution would be to selectively prune suburban houses from the edge of the forest.

Monday, October 27, 2003

So I'm watching the Jim Lehrer news hour and they're doing a retrospective on this artist Romare Bearden, who is a cubist and part of the Harlem renaissance in the 20s. From the quick blurbs I've seen on TV, he truly seems like a master. His paintings are full of color and life and famous musicians. From what I've heard, he hasn't gotten much in the way of recognition, despite the fact that he hung out with Langston Hughes. (He also did the obligatory stint in France, too, unless I'm greatly mistaken).

He's lately been shown somewhere in D.C. in an effort to expose a new generation to a forgotten master.

I think its great, and the Harlem renaissance represented a true flowering of talent -- probably the first time black people made it into popular culture on their own terms.

Yet there's something odd about Bearden, and I hesitate to mention it because as a white man, I have a responsibility not to take issues of identity and race as lightly as I treat other matters on this blog. The thing that is odd about Bearden is that he looks white. Not white like many people with mixed blood, but white white. He looks like a Pole. I don't reckon he has albinism either because, I swear I'm not making this up, his eyes appeared blue on TV. I've never heard of a black man with blue eyes. Even Maya Angelou, discussing Bearden, would not commit to his blackness. Rather, she merely suggested that she knew he felt he was black.

At first I thought he must be a Gary Oldman from True Romance kind of guy, some sort of white guy who always claimed he was black, but reading his bio, he definitely comes from a black family. Check out these pictures:

Photo of Bearden

Another Photo of Bearden

In the end, it makes no difference. He chronicled black people at a time when few other people would. Thats worth paying attention to anyway, regardless of some arbitrarty, or at least difficult to distinguish, boundary between black and white.

Yesterday I saw Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's band yesterday at a local vinyard. It could have been fun, but the music sorta blew (it was loud, rocky Irish pub music -- in my opinion the worst sub-genre of an extraordinarily rich muciscal tradition). Plus it was gloomy and grey and I had to sit on very hard roots. And the wine sucked. And the people we'd come to hang out with bailed after [we'd been there] about an hour [since we were late]. No big deal. What does one expect for a measly $15? Fortunately the afternoon was salvaged by a real malted milkshake I got at a nearby diner. It was an old funky 50s place (not made to look 50s but actually 50s). They had a vinyl copy of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" for sale in a display. Judging by the rest of the place, my guess is that it had been on display, unsold, since the original album was released. They also had some blurry, framed photos on the wall by the door.

"What are these?" I asked, recognizing the diner in one of them. There was a volkswagon beetle in one and what appeared to be police tape in the other.

"Those'r when they filmed 'Runaway Bride' here," the owner said proudly. "The one on the bottom has Joan Cusack in it and the one on top, that's Julia Richards [sic]".

It was refreshing to find people who didn't know who Julia Roberts was. Granted the guy was reading a paperback copy of "The End of Days and the Coming Apocalypse", and granted I wouldn't want to get caught in his diner after sundown, but still.

-- On Other Fronts --

Lately there's been a lot of hype about Elizabeth Smart and I'm not sure why. There is an Oprah interview and various media outlets feigning concern about the hype. "Has the Media Gone too Far?" they ask, before reviewing the major details of her case.

Lets review it here, briefly, so we can judge for ourselves: blonde, blue-eyed teen gets kidnapped from her suburban bedroom, yearlong manhunt ensues, meanwhile girl is sexually molested and forced to live with a deranged, messianic nutjob in the hills. Said nutjob already has a wife, but that's ok. Fourteen year old girl can be his second wife. Man eventually caught, girl returns home. Girl's family writes books. Girl's family sells the rights to her story for a made for TV movie. Girl's family continues doing interviews with major news outlets. TV networks play continuous footage of embarrassed girl riding horses and reliving nightmarish ordeal. Now and forevermore she is "Elizabeth Smart, girl who was kidnapped and raped by a homeless prophet over a nine month period, trying to be normal again. On TV."

--- On other Fronts --

I heard Matt Lowry's coke dealer outed him in public, yet he was on TV this morning. No mubled mea culpa or 30 day rehab hiatus for him. Wonder if it was just a rumor.

-- On other Fronts --

Heard June Carter (Johnny Cash's daughter) croaked in a bus this weekend. Died of carbon monoxide or something. Poor her.

-- Still More --

Rented "Charlies Angels" part II this weekend. I figured watching it was the best way I'd have of being able to get "The Thing" up to the top of the Netflix list. I used to dig the TV show when I was a kid. Kate Jackson (or whoever played "Kelly") was, in my humble 9-year old opinion, the most beautiful woman to walk the planet. I still think she might be, but whatever.

The point is, the movie was the worst piece of shit ever cranked out of the Hollywood movie factory. After watching the plotless, pointless over-animated (yet wholly undramatic and disbelievable action) sequences, the awkward "plot" "development" and Cameron Diaz' "acting", I felt like the sudio had simply bent over its audience, crapped on them, and said "here you go. This flcik has chicks and action and we know you'll pay money to see it, so we're not going to bother actually making a movie at all."

I felt dirty. I still feel dirty. It even redeemed the rambling pointlessness of "Tombstone". It made "Face Off" and every other John Travolta movie after Pulp Fiction seem deep and well-acted. Hell, when I was done, I wanted to go out and rent Johnny Depp's deplorable "Cry Baby" over and over again (hitherto my least favorite movie). Anything to rid my mind of Cameron Diaz' rictus grin and the endless stream of shameless cameos and "grrl power" exploitation.

-- Finally --

I've had enough. Yesterday at the grocery I almost went ballistic, akin to Steve Martin's hot dog bun tirade in "Father of the Bride". I ask you, all of you (or any of you who will listen), what the fuck is up with this nation's obsession with butter-flavored microwave popcorn? People say tobbaco was the New World's greatest gift to the Old, but I say popcorn is. Popcorn is delicious and relatively healthy and, with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt, it becomes a heavenly snack (and, I admit, occasionally a meal). And yet, whenever I go to the grocery store, I find that of all the seventeen different companies trying to compete for space in the microwave popcorn aisle, every single one is selling butter-flavored popcorn. What ever happened to humble, plain popcorn? Why are the only available choices I have as a consumer simply choices of brand and not actual product? I can buy the Orville Redenbacher butter flavored popcorn, the somebody-elses "EXTRA BUTTERY!" flavor (with buttery written in queasy, greasy letters) , and about fifteen other varieties of butter flavor.

The mere scent of it is enough to make me ill. Its the same disgusting, yellowish fluid the pimply kid at the movie proudly squirts on top of your $15 bag of corn. First of all, its not even butter. Its "butter-flavoring" which means, essentially, it is a facsimilie of butter synthesized from old rubber tires and discarded false teeth along the New Jersey turnpike. It is uber-hydroginated oil, which means it will kill you faster than MSG fried in bacon grease mixed with EZ cheez dipped in canned frosting. It has more sodium than an average salt mine.

Anyway, its dispiriting. Is this the great "choice" we have in the capitalist marketplace? 15 varieties of the same product, all extra-fancy and super saturated?

Time to bring back honest, regular popcorn for us plain folks.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

I just read on Hometown Unicorn that Elliot Smith died yesterday. He poked himself with a knife. For those of you who don't know Smith's music, it was popularized by the movie Good Will Hunting. He had an evocative voice that reminded me, at times, of Simon and Garfunkel. Most of the time he sang about sadness and bittersweetness (minus the sweet). It was clear he was depressed.

Smith had three albums that I know about: Either/Or, XO and Figure 8. I really liked the first two, but Figure 8 didn't do much for me. I heard Either/Or for the first time on a ski trip in Mammoth. It was the last hurrah of a great group of friends I met at the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles: Tyler and Saskia, Jerzy B, I think Bugale was there, a bunch of other fun people. We sat around a huge pine-panelled room, drinking wine and strumming the guitar. Snow was piled above the top of the windows. My wife and I had a rediculously over-decorated victorian bedroom.

Later that year -- high summer, I guess -- I found myself in Latvia, sitting alone in a room full of soft midnight light, strumming the chords to Smith's "Between the Bars". My roomate's face glowed like a giant marachino cherry. He fell asleep while I strummed that song. I stayed awake for five more nights.

When I got back from Europe I discovered Smith's song "Bled White" off of XO. It blew me away. I was lost in my own head those months -- safely back home, absent most of my sanity. I was working at MCA/Universal in a file room.

I always loved his song "Rose Parade" because, well, because I hate parades. Yeah, I'm that guy. I'm the guy who will make you miserable at a parade. Here's why: I hate marching band music. I hate pom-pom girls. I hate rifle squads. I hate the commericalism of corporate "sponsors". I hate how floats take ten minutes to get the fuck down the street and the stupid animatronic mickey-mouse head just nods up and down up and down. I hate bleachers. I hate glittery beauty queens with names like "Miss Xerox 2001". I hate getting up at four a.m. to stand on a sidewalk. (Sorry to be so bitter: a float squashed my puppy when I was four. On purpose. Just kidding. No really, my animus is entirely abstract.) Yeah, so you put all those elements together and you have: the Rose fucking parade. Thank you, Elliot. When it came to parades especially, you and I were on the same page.

In real life Smith was a mess. He was a junky (or an ex-junkie, who can tell?). He was an alcoholic. He got into drunken fights. He lashed out at fans sometimes. He wasn't comfortable with fame. These are just rumors I heard. I don't pay much attention to celebreties.

Like Joanna of Hometown Unicorn, I stopped listening to Smith, too. He was great, but depressing. I only like depressing music when I'm already depressed, and that is increasingly rare these days. Smith was there during a particularly tumultuous point in my life and I'm glad he was. I might miss him someday in the future, but to me he was already gone. Goodbye, anyway, Mr. Smith.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Digging around on the web and I found that Google had "cached" my now defunct blog "The Days of Silent Radio". It was a bloggerel site full of half-truths, complete lies, poems, vignettes, etc. In other words, it was little different from any blog. So I canned it in order to focus on this one. Its still around, though, hidden in Google's memory banks. Go look at it if you want. The most recent post was written a little over a year ago and is a barely fictionalized account of a night I spent in Oakland with a bunch of killers and action heroes.

Click here for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

My Attorney has beautiful hands. Those of you who know the guy might raise your eyebrows at that and think, really, what good are beautiful hands anyway? Sure, he might do a Palmolive comercial when he's 50, or have the things sawed off and stuffed like Jeremy Bentham, to be wheeled out for board meetings at a prestigious English University. But what good are a pair of beautiful hands sitting in a musty museum case in a board room? Not much. I'm almost positive of that. I even hesitate to mention it, so forget I did, eh? Back to my Attorney and his perfectly preserved, living hands.

They are not nice in the way that working[wo]men's hands are, not rock hard and calloused, stained by solvents and mud, with lines that tell stories. They are not the physical representation of the Proletariat, or other romanticized victims. Nor are they the fine-boned porcelain hands that some girls are lucky to possess (but which look awful on fellas). Instead, they possessed a quality of coloration which is, in my humble and entirely subjective option, the ideal color of a human hand.

Now I recognize that by venturing my opinion of the "ideal" coloration of human skin, even if merely localized to "hand-skin" with no other suggestion as to the rest of the body, I am perhaps entering a realm of discussion that carries with it a heavy and unfortunate burden -- that of slavery and racism, and all of the other rediculous externally-based fetishes humans have devised to sort one another into catagories. That being said, I offer the following disclaimer: that I am very willing to entertain the possibility that variations in hand-hue could produce similarly pleasing results, *and* that my own hands, as lovable as they can be (and as fond of them as I am), are often elephant-scaled, orangy-pink, guitar-calloused, albino-haired and swollen from years of nailbiting. So without intending to offend, but rather to celebrate, I resume discussing my Attorney's hands...

His hands are the color of cream and coffee, but not uniformly so. The back sides are darker than the front -- say, one packet of cream as opposed to two. In addition, the coloration of the skin beneath his well-kept nails, mirrors the lightened color of the palms, providing a very pleasing contrast. To top it off, and without going into issues of proportion and shape, which are important but overlengthy to describe, the backs of his hands contain pleasing tufts of wiry black hair, which adds texture but is not as gross as it sounds. [aside: is it even possible to discuss non-head hair without making it sound gross?]

I discovered this astonishing pair of hands once while on a hunting trip in the hills above L.A. We were both being hunted by a blue hornet that was certainly no larger than an eagle. Its stinger dripped toxins and could have drilled through granite. As it crested a small rise, my Attorney winged a rock at it, missing my skull by inches. The rock came nowhere near the hornet, but she sensed our desperation and resumed hunting us with renewed vigor. We took the opportunity to go on a very fast hike up a nearby hill and, once at the top, reclaimed our lost breath. There, beneath a humming electrical pylon, with blankets of brown smoke hanging over the Valley, I noticed them: his pair of most exquisitetly formed hands.

"Dude," I said. "You have nice hands."

"Thank you," he said, clearly aware of that fact.

I showed him my own knobby and inferior paws and he did his best to point out their qualities, but in comparison there were relatively few. I decided then and there that his hands were, at the very least, worth my envy. Whenever sarcastic children or belligerent skinheads come up to me and try to tell me they've got better hands, I tell them to fuck off. My Attorney's got better.

But I'm not really writing to idly announce to the world that there exists a fine pair of palms on one otherwise only ordinarily remarkable fellow, whose beauty is only of passing interest to me even under the best of circumstances. My intention was rather to make the somewhat droll point that sometimes the wierdest circumstances can lead to surprising discoveries about the people with whom we find ourselves. In other words, I was being chased by a giant wasp and I noticed that my Attorney had neat hands. Or maybe my intention was to point out that sometimes you have to appreciate comliness and grace where you find it, even if its on the snatching sticks of your greasy bud. Or maybe I want to make a point about how ugly a fine pair of hands would be if they were preserved in formaldehyde and wheeled out for board meetings at a prestigious English University. (See Bentham link above)

Ah, forget it. No need to get philosophical. I like his hands. That's what this blog is about.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Ah, Monday morning...

I woke up this morning tormented by dreams related to a Gene Wolfe fantasy story. There were projector transparancies of crab-clawed demons, and a piano in the wrong place with an ominous shadow across it. There were various other things too obscure to remember, let alone recall. None of them directly related to the book in real life, of course, but that's how dreams are.

Consciousness began with welcoming lasers lancing into my optical nerves, boiling my rods and cones. Ancient, primordial instincts kicked in and I sought redress to this problem in the most effectual manner possible, given the circumstances:

I clawed at the air ineffectually, and moaned.

"Time to get up, you big baby," my wife said unsympathetically. She made no move to shut the bedroom door and cease the merciless light spikes eminating from a 10 watt night light in the hall.

" eyes..." I continued, suffering from a condition endemic to many people (or at least myself) in the morning: effusive denial. I denied that it was morning, using the continuing darkness outside as proof. I denied I was in bed, which naturally meant I didn't have to get up. I denied that it was 7:00 a.m. -- its 4 p.m. in Calcutta, clocks are arbitrary, isn't it daylight savings this morning?

"I'm making oatmeal," my wife said, folding a towel.

Well, blow me down. Before the snow, before the ice-scraper and the slate waste of forests everywhere, there is oatmeal. Then you know summer is over and winter has arrived.

Somewhere between my denial filled head and edges of my toes, a part of me felt like the world was aright. It wasn't overwealming, of course. Monday mornings aren't known for being overwealmingly anything-good, but still, there was something to it. Something worth paying attention to.

The heater kicked to life overhead.

I mustered ancient cave-instincts, designed to protect and preserve myself in the face of an onslaught of undesirable and potentially dangerous influences...

"Coffeeeee...." I moaned.

Moments later, there was an expressive outpouring of curses and sighs from the hallway, and the door clicked shut, plunging me back into a welcome darkness where only demons reside.

Friday, October 17, 2003

One night a few years back my wife and I were leaving Butchie and the Artist's rowhouse in Baltimore's Upper Fell's Point. It was a frosty night and we had just stepped onto the sidewalk when we heard a screeching of tires and a terrific bang, followed by tinkling glass and wailing children.

Some fifty feet away from us a Chevy sedan had blown a stop sign and broadsided a dark blue minivan with a family in it.

Without pausing, I began running toward the scene of the accident. Before I had gone more than a few dozen feet, the guy in the Chevy threw his car into reverse, backed out of the shattered minivan, and peeled off down the street.

After glancing into the van to see everybody moving and (seemingly) not hurt, and having noted several neighbors emerging from their houses with cell phones, I sprinted toward the Chevy. It was in bad shape. The entire front end was dripping fluid and fuming, both tires were flat, and it was shedding its vitals with every passing yard.

For a few moments it was a footrace. Man against machine. A modern day John Henry story. There was just the sound of me sprinting, sucking cold air into my lungs, and the unbelievably sharp crackle of flat rubber on asphalt. At the bottom of the hill, the guy slowed to take a turn and I caught up to him. I somehow managed to reach through the window (which was either open or broken) and yank the keys out. I tossed them into the back seat and backed away from the car in case the driver wanted to fight.

I stood behind the driver door and said nothing The driver, who was insensible and totally drunk, mumbled something in mushy Salvadoran and leaned his head on the steering wheel. He was a middle-aged guy -- probably one of the many laborers from Central America that have been migrating North and East in the past few years. Part of me recognized that he was probably an illegal, and that he'd likely gone through hell to get to America, and that he probably worked his ass off during the day for shit pay and no respect. He'd probably just gotten out of one of the many working class watering holes in the neighborhood, having just wanted to numb himself for a few hours before going to bed and starting it all over the next day. Here was the American Dream as it looked from the other side.

Still, I felt cold and disgusted. I was angry at the guilt I felt that this guy would soon be on a prison bus back to Nuevo Laredo or whatever shithole they send deportees back to. Who knows who depended on this guy for income? Who knows who he'd have to return to and explain that he'd gotten shitfaced, blown a stop sign and slammed into a car full of kids before running away. Flight of any sort is humiliating and this guy had made a life of it.

Yet I was pissed, too. What kind of asshole flees from a crash? We used to harbor illegals when I was a kid. There's an unsung underground railroad in this country, although it didn't seem like much at the time. One guy in particular -- a family friend named Luis -- lived with us off and on for several years before getting a green card. Luis had been just as desperate as any economic refugee. He was immensly strong, smart and resourceful, yet he had also been tormented by his lack of options. He used to tell stories about crossing the border, being ripped off by corrupt coyotes (people smugglers), freezing in the mountains, etc. He'd spent his whole adult life trying to earn money to support his family in Guatemala. Without him, they'd lose everything. He knew that, and the pressure was incredible. Yet I know if it had been him at that stop sign, he wouldn't have run. At least, I don't suspect he would have. But who really knows? The guy in the car was fucked no matter what. At least if he got away he might have a chance.

I stood there shivering in the freezing air, adrenaline gone, knowing that "doing the right thing" would be as costly to the guy in the car as not doing anything would have been to me. If I'd just stayed up the street at the minivan, maybe consoled some shaken kids, and let the guy in the Chevy get away, I would have looked back on it later and thought "there was more to be done and since you were the only one able to do it."

When a cop showed up I briefly told him where the keys were and then I walked away. I didn't give a statement or try to find out what had happened to the family in the van. I just gathered my wife, got in my car, and went home.

Rebecca of Friday Night Fishfry Forever recounts a story of helping a fat, urine-soaked man out of the way of an oncoming train. She and a stranger picked the guy up and lifted him to saftey, then both of them left.

Later, she wondered why she had just left the guy insensible and soiled by the tracks. Who knows what more could have been done to help him. She even felt guilty because his condition left her feeling dirty.

I know why she left. There are times in life when simple, tangible actions can be undertaken to make things better. In my case it was stopping a hit-and-run driver from escaping, in hers it was keeping a vulnerable man from being struck by a train. More than that, we cannot be responsible for. If the hit-and-run driver's life went to shit and his children starved because I turned him in, maybe that is the actual price of justice. I did not set the rate. If Rebecca's filthy bum remained despised and alone after her intervention, she is not to blame. Nor should she be concerned with her disgust. It was enough to have had pity when pity was called for -- when there was an oncoming train. It is also enough to act decisively when decisions are called for. After that, it makes no difference.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

People, it is time. Yes. Yes it is. It is time for you to cease asking questions of a cold and godless universe and, instead, answer a few of your own.

What am I offering here?

Nothing less than a chance for you to face your own inwardmost self as you discover what it truly means to be YOU.

Will it hurt much? Probably not. Not unless you're a goob.

Will it cost anything? No. The best things in life are free.

What the fuck am I talking about? Find out when you face the biggest challenge to everything you thought you stood for.

Find out when you face...the Commitee.

A while ago someone sent me to the following informational site about Ninjas. I recommend it for anyone who feels ignorant about the *true* nature of these enigmatic and dangerous assassins.

Real Ultimate Power

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Did anybody catch WHYY "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross' interview with Bill O'Reilly's last week? Gross asked fairly mild questions but subtly prodded O'Reilly about his critics. O'Reilly went *ballistic*, ranting, raving, claiming Gross and NPR were perpatuating a "hatchet job", said that if she criticized him he couldn't respect her, and then stomped out of the interview. His line of reasoning went something like this: "I don't care if you don't like me, but if you are going to do a book review, don't attack me. If you do, I will fight back. If you bring up the time I said I was a registered independent but I was actually a Republican, I already said I made a mistake. Therefore you are a liar and a slanderer. If you mention the time I confused a Peabody award with that other shitty award my tabloid show got, I already said I made a mis-statement. Therefore you are a perpetuator of falsehoods and spin. Waaah. Quit being mean."

It was classic. To be sure, Gross got steamrolled by O'Reilly, but it was to be expected. Gross is Snuggles the bear and Bill O'Reilly is an overheated pressure hammer with a nut loose. He blew her down with all the subtlety of an ogre farting on fine bone china.

On other fronts, this quote from Steve Wynn of MGM takes the cake for being almost as rediculous as O'Reilly's tantrum. Note that the newest theory is that the cat was distracted by a lady in the audience with giant brown bangs:

"There was no shaking or violence that indicated that the cat was trying to kill Roy."

-- and then --

"I looked at Roy's neck and there isn't a scratch on it except for the two puncture wounds where he picked him up."

I am enlightened by the contention that when a wild animal grabs a man by the neck, drags him offstage, and leaves him partially paralyzed after four operations and two recessutations, there is no evidence that anything wanted to kill anything. Perhaps the cat knew precisely how much damage his teeth would do when they sank into Horn's neck.

[begin internal monologue]
Cat: That damn lady with that ugly white-trash harido, I'll show her to glorify the '80s. I'll just rip through this yahoo's throat and haul him away to my den but I *won't eat him*. I'll just leave him paralyzed. Then he won't make me come out here and look at women like her again.

I bet Johnny Cochran would have liked to use that kind of defense to get O.J. off for [allegedly] slashing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. "Your honor, the slash wounds around the victim's neck were not evidence of intent to kill...the killer was *confused*..."

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Its Tuesday morning. A grey, ugly sort of day. I spent Columbus Day amid beautiful rust-colored trees in West Virginia, in a cabin on land siezed from the Seneca soon after Columbus arrived at Plymouth Rock.

It was "walking-stick mating season" in the mountains. I put that in quotes because it looks too wierd otherwise. "Walking sticks" are bugs that, well, look like little sticks. It is some form of absurd camoflauge. Why they look like sticks I can't quite fathom. Likely it is to protect them from their number one enemy: birds. But consider the following scenario:

Magpie #1: Hey baby, look down there. I see some lunch down on that rock.

Magpie #2: Sweetie, that's not lunch. That's just a nasty ol' twig.

Magpie #1: Pefect, baby. Lets pick it up and build ourselves a little love nest with it and SHAG.

Magpie #2: Great idea! I'll go down and get it...

[this scenario was dramatized by the Author and does not reflect any actual conversation between Magpies, real or imagined]

To add to the potential that walking sticks might get snatched up and woven into some avian love shack, they are even slower than ordinary sticks. A willow sprig has an above average chance of outrunning even the fastest of these insects.

The real mind-blower for me was that, since it was walking stick mating season, every conceivable flat surface (walls, doorframes, the floor, my arm while I was sleeping) was covered by madly copulating sticks. By "madly copulating" I mean that they were remaining perfectly motionless, adjoined at the thorax, with the male walking stick standing on top of the female. In the ordinary way of Nature, having your mate standing on top of you during love might be a cause of discomfort, but in walkingstick world the males are about 1/3 the size of the females. So basically everywhere one looked there were smallish sticks mounted by even smaller sticks in an effort to produce *even smaller* sticks.

It is a mad universe. Its a good thing God's Divine Plan (TM) is so unfathomable, or I'd think I was crazy.

-- Now This --

Last night my wife brought up an imponderable that is blog-worthy, but since she doesn't (to my knowledge) have a blog, I'll have to pose the question in her stead:

Why do restaurants use glass ketchup bottles when the squeezable kind we use at home are cheaper and more user-friendly?

I suggested it was because restaurants liked to refill the little glass ketchup bottles from great big, gross (plastic) vats of ketchup they keep in the back. She said they could just as easily fill up plastic bottles. I concurred.

I said maybe plastic leaves residual chemicals in the ketchup, like the way Poly Vinyl
Chloride leaks out of your classic Beatles 78 and shrink wraps your liver while you sleep. She said then why do they let you use plastic at home? I was mystified.

I said with a squeeze bottle, all you need are two hands and gravity. With glass you need two hands, gravity, and a knife. Maybe it is a ploy to keep dishwashers busy. Civilizations have fallen when dishwashers have grown bored. (I believe Lenin was a dishwasher in Geneva before he went to the Finland Station). She said it costs the owners money to wash extra knives and pay dishwashers to wash them. I agreed.

We finished our meal in silence, both of us pondering the strange contours of a world whose intractable mysteries come in 57 varieties and are ever a shake away.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

[rant mode ON]

I am dumbfounded and shocked by what happened in California this week. I paraphrase Walter in the Big Lebowski when I say: "Has the whole world gone *CRAZY*?" I mean, what the hell is going on with our political system, anyway?

Am I upset that Schwartzenneger won the election? Sure. Is that what this blog is about? No.

What I'm ranting about is the lengths to which a perfectly honest smear-campaign has to go to get some traction. I mean, here is the litany of bad things ol' Arnie is said to have done:

1. Been born. To a nazi.
2. Said that Adolf Hitler was an inspiring speaker.
3. Groped and hit on multiple women.
4. Snorted blow and slept with multiple women at one time. Bragged about it.
5. Corrupted a Kennedy.

Don't get me wrong, I don't actually think anyone should be blamed for the circumstances of their birth. Especially in California, where most people's families immigrated from various Midwestern, Latin American, and European shitholes. And I think the record is pretty clear that Adolf Hitler *was* an inspiring speaker, and that was why he was so damn dangerous. But otherwise, Arnold should have gotten sacked for the sins of his past like a truckful of leftover onions.

Ok, the whole groping thing...
The part that gets me is the *fifteen* women part. If it had been merely one or two I would have said there's no way anybody would care. We all went through the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas thing. But *fifteen*? Granted, all of the victims waited for, in some cases, decades before speaking out two weeks before the election and granted they opted to remain largely anonymous, but by law sexual harrassers are not innocent until proven guilty. If Californians had not been so ignorent of the law, they would have given these fifteen anonymous accusers the benefit of the doubt and put Arnie in his place.

But the cocaine orgies...Arnold how could you have? Where do Californians get the idea that a man who consents to taking illicit narcotics and porking multiple broads (out of wedlock) is fit to represent them? 'm sure I'm not alone in saying if I had been in Schwartzenegger's shoes I would not have behaved so badly.

Corrupting a Kennedy. The Kennedy's have been taking a PR beating lately, but Arnold doesn't have to make it worse by marrying into the family. Doesn't he know it looks *horrible* to have America's #2 political dynasty invaded by another mindless neo-con with a horrible B-movie accent? I know he says he's just a "fiscal conservative", whatever the fuck that means. (I think it means you only spend poor people's money to buy your aircraft carriers)

You know what it means when a self-made immigrant nobody superstar with a philandering past and no experience whatsover can get into office? It means California will be able handle whatever assjob will come down the pipe next time. Shwartzenegger's insertion into the political elite might have blown open the governor's back door, but Grey Davis' exit papers weren't the only thing he lubricated. Californians everywhere will bend over backwards when they discover that what they *really* want next time there's a governor's race is not a guy famous for playing a robot, but honest, straight-up, no-nonsense sex.

You heard me.

Next time Californians elect a governor, they'll clamor for sex. They'll roar for it. They won't be able to live without sex.

Sex McGinty that is...

"Sex in '6"

[end rant]

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

This is a good one.
As many of you are aware, I spend my days leafing through historical labor-union documents. Yesterday I dug up correspondence from two high ranking leaders in the occupational safety and health debate in the 1970s. One is a doctor from Mt. Sinai hospital in New York by the name of Irving Selikoff and the other is a labor union boss named Sheldon Samuels. Selikoff passed on to Samuels a letter he'd received from some fans of his in California.

[Page 1, Memo]
From: Dr. Irving J. Selikoff
To: Mr. Sheldon Samuels
Date: May 28, 1974

We've arrived at the grass roots!

[Page 2, letter to Dr. Selikoff]
[Letterhead: Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ]

May 11, 1974

Dear Dr. Selikoff,
On behalf of my pastor, Jim Jones, and the thousands of members of the Peoples Temple throughout California, I wish to express our gratitude for the research work you have done in connecting cancer and certain air pollutants...[Pastor Jones] has instilled within us that the greatest pursuit of truth and goodness is service to our fellow human beings...

With sincere regards,
Michael Klingman
People's Temple Secretary

[Page 3, attachment]
[collage of various images and captions featuring Jones in the center and descriptions of the church's facillities and outreach]

...Pastor Jim Jones has taught us that being our brother's keeper is the highest form of faith. Our facilities at the Mother Church in Redwood Valley are a tribute to this principle...

...Pastor Jones' concern for every living thing is manifested by the number of stray and abandoned animals he has taken into the animal shelter. He is seen here with some of his little friends...

...Happy Acres Boy's Ranch is managed by Peoples Temple members who love and care for handicapped children...


As many of you know, Jones and his followers' moved to Guyana in the late 70s and committed ritual mass suicide/murder of over 900 people, including a visiting US congressman.

Monday, October 06, 2003

I'm flabbergasted. This is illogical. I just read that President Bush is going to be a food taster for mice. Those guys are so ass-backwards that they're having him test it *after* the mice have already eaten. Dumbasses.

On other fronts...
I spent a sizeable portion of this weekend watching little boys run around, trashing houses, crying, laughing, drooling, eating, sleeping etc. They ripped through their friend Ian's
house like a whirlwhind, flinging his toys about, squirting water on everything, soiling themselves, whining, demanding food and drink. Its very healthy for them to learn these things at such a tender age. Its good practice for when they are in a rock and roll band.

consumed by a very important question. Namely, what is the meaning of this irritating children's song that seems to play over and over from every conceivable children's toy that my 2-year old [Maryland] nephews own? The song, as I recollect from my own tenure as a toddler, goes something like this:

Around and around the mulberry bush,
the monkey chased the weasel
Pop! Goes the weasel"

Of course, most toys play it in the more irritating muzack version, played on tinny music-box chimes.

But I found myself wondering: what the heck is this song about anyway? I mean, talk about enduring. This song smacks of the fifteenth century. It puts Brittany Spears to shame by being top of the toddler charts for centuries. But more importantly...

Why is the monkey chasing the weasel?

In what fantastical eco-dream do monkeys and weasel's co-exist? Is it some imagined fantasy land like the one in author William Paene DuBois' Twenty-One Balloons
? Is it an allegory of some sort? A symbolic portrayal of Life Itself wherein animals engage in fruitless chases around and around until one of them explodes with a "pop"?

My wife says it ain't so. She says she learned it as

around and around the merry-go-round
(something something something)
around and around the merry-go-round
pop goes the weasel

This brings up a whole host of additional questions. Firstly, the heretofore unconsidered (albeit central) "mulberry bush" becomes a mere playground toy: no longer are we in some vast wilderness of nonsensically juxtaposed animals chasing each other around a shrub. Now we are in a playground, probably in suburbia (where merry-go-rounds abound) and the animals must be escapees from the zoo. No longer are they chasing one another. Now they are simply playing in the very ordinary way that people play on merry-go-rounds: by goind around and around. This begs the question of course, are there *other* animals waiting in line? Perhaps an ocelot or a yak? The lyrical possibilities are rich to be sure, yet I digress.

Why, still, does the weasel "pop"?
Did the weasel "pop" (i.e. "punch") the monkey? If so, what precipitated this violence? Or maybe the pressure of the merry-go-round gave it a sudden brain aneurism, causing its head to "pop".

My wife says it "popped up" from somewhere. But where? Merry-go-rounds do not make good hiding places. They are typically wide open to afford watchful mothers the ability to supervise the fun.

I am tempted to disregard her bizarre variation as nothing more than some wierd hand-me-down translation from her English mother (far from the *correct* version, which coincidentally retains versimillitude[inally] to the version I learned as a child). Yet one thing remains in her favor:

It is probably an old English song passed down for ages like "ring around the rosie". Its orignial wording is probably some vile expostulation of the horrors and sufferings of 15th century life (including dropsy, pox, witch burning, abandonment and/or starvation).

Anyway, I spent my weekend pondering this odd little ditty, attempting to deign its meaning from the fragmentary lyrical inheritance I possessed.

Then I went to a website that contained no less than three versions of the song, and my questions still remain but are reinforced by many, many more. The only thing this EP version clears up is why the English were ultimately unfit to rule the world.

Check it out yourself here

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Well, the wind has been taken out of my sail, so to speak (and no pun intended). I was going to blog about how ESPN was stupid for giving Rush Limbaugh a chance to open his crusty twinky hole on TV, violating the peaceful, nonpartisan sanctum of of [American] football with shrillness and race hatred.

I was going to call him a hypocrite for bitching about the media exaggerating a story for sensationalism (if, in fact, they did).

I was going to tell him (if he's reading this) that he was a fool for injecting racism into a passtime that has a built-in mechanism for judging who is and who isn't a great player (its called...*the game*...).

I was going to tell him that he probably got overhyped in the media for being a fat-assed white blimp with a pink, crabapple head.

I was going to put in a request that next time somebody puts a staple in his belly, they cut the problem off at the source instead by putting an extra one through his rubbery chew-flaps.

I was going to tell him that by calling his comments a "tempest in a tea pot" he's only getting himself into more hot water. What should he have said instead after making such a boneheadded comment? "Damn. I was dumb. All I meant to say was that Donovan McNabb was overhyped. Black has nothing to do with it. I *apologize* for being a shrill, squint-eyed, ignorant, hate-spreading, right wing attack dog for murderous corporations, sniveling politicians, and selfish monied interests who fuck my listeners daily for the sake of advancing their own miniscule-minded schemes to ram Jesus down everybody's throat, pollute the environment, and exploit the underprivilaged."

But then I found out that Rush was a druggie and immediately I found an ounce of sympathy for the man. (Read Sex McGinty's scoop
). Apparently he purchased all sorts of illegal painkillers online.

If I was Rush I'd be in pain, too. I'd take one look at myself every day and say "I'm such a phoney it hurts." Then I'd whip myself over and over with multiple copies of Michael Moore's book "Stupid White Men" (dipped in vinegar) and gouge my eyes out with tiny American flags so I never had to look at another glaze-eyed groupie who thinks right wingers like me actually give a shit about anyone but themselves. Yeah. That's what I'd do. I'd do it a hundred times.

Damn straight.

[Soundtrack to this blog: "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, Goodbye!"]

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

It occurred to me the other day what the secret of writing is. The secret of writing is very simple. Firstly, the aspiring author need ask him/herself the following question:

Am I writing to produce enduring literature or am I merely writing to be read by the most number of people [and potentially incur fame/fortune/self-satisfaction etc.]?

If the answer to that question is "enduring lit" then I got news for you. Firstly, you'll never know if your writing "endures" or not because you won't endure. Your mortal coil will spring away into the wild blue yonder, or rust from all the tears you'll shed wishing it weren't so damn difficult to get away from. Secondly, even if your writing does "endure", it will only do so if you are read by the widest possible audience: people who will put your book by their bedstand, rave about it to their glaze-eyed friends, and emulate it themselves when they seek to become famous writers.

So basically I'm saying that regardless of why you are writing, you'll need to keep your goals tailored to reality -- let the long-term take care of itself.

As such, what is the key to being read by the most number of people? Well, there are many, to be sure, but rather than try to figure all of them out in advance, merely ask yourself the following question:

Do I need to be the best writer ever in order to be read?

Answer: of course not.

All you need to be in order to be read is better than or as good as the few dozen books in any given genre that people remember reading. Think about it. Pick a genre. What are the last twenty books you read in that genre? Unless you've written them down, I doubt you can name more than a few. Even if you can, I doubt most of those books will be on someone else's list 20 years from now.

So as an author you're competing not with all literature of all time, but only a few contemporary authors at any given time. Can you best today's best? Probably not. But you don't have to! Aim for the middle and Shizam. Before you know it you'll be a published author.

Now if you want to write for the ages here's my advice: pick up a dictionary. Heft it. Leaf through it. Smell it even. Its your key. Writing consists mainly of piecing together a puzzle. That puzzle is comprised of little units called words (comprised of letters, syllables, phenomes, consonants, ink, pixels, whatever). Those words, which we all more or less have equal access to, need to be put together in such a way that they are either new and exciting to readers (again, not ALL readers or past readers, but only readers today who can only recall a few dozen books ago at best). Look at that dictionary again. Everything you need is in there -- go put together something that nobody has seen in awhile.

If you still harbor the fantasy that it takes originality to endure, my advice is similar (even though it is impossible to know if anybody has done it before or not because we all only have access to a tiny fraction of all the writing ever produced). Get a dictionary, pull out some words in a fashion that nobody before you would think of, and make a sentence out of it. Repeat 50,000 times. Voila. A book. Hell, it worked for James Joyce. Ever read "Finnegan's Wake"? (You poor bastard. Must not get out much...)

Here is my contribution to original literature:
Apples nubby F distribution sizar glower cormorant the.