Friday, September 30, 2005

Time Out

30 days hath September, my friends.

Which means that the magical month of October commences tomorrow.

I describe it that way because I consider October to be my birthday month. I don’t mean this in the sense of trying to scam presents for 30 days, but rather that October seems to devote itself to my birthday. For some reason, the days surrounding my birthday start to come alive with things to entertain me, new books, music, events, etc. Some years it’s downright spooky how the planets seem to align themselves for this purpose.

This year’s October is shaping up nicely, by the way, with a Clive Barker book signing set up smack dab on my 50th birthday, a very welcome present from the fates.

Add to this mix the turn in the weather, with the miserable summer finally gone and the brisk air of autumn here at last, and I’m more than happy.

It could be a sense-memory thing, I suppose, of all those other autumns and all those other birthdays. The proximity of my birthday to Halloween always meant that my birthday parties were costumed affairs and I have the pictures to prove it. So taken all together, October was sort of my Mardi Gras.

Of course time moved differently then, it was slower, roomier. I bought a film the other day that I hadn’t seen in some 30-odd years and, as you would expect, an element of nostalgia crept into my mood. But it wasn’t overwhelming, as these moods can sometimes be, just a skimming across the surface. So I relaxed and tried to push myself to enter into it, try and recreate the feelings I had when I’d first seen it, not only about the film, but about the times and circumstances of that time of my life.

It wouldn’t budge much, as much as I attempted to wallow in it. At this age I think it’s tough, too much time has gone by. I vaguely felt the presence of other autumns, the longer spaces between the weekends, the more innocent joy of anticipating something exciting, the sense of areas yet to be explored and thoughts yet to deliver their fresh results.

And then – for about 5 or 10 seconds – as I looked at my hand, it all melted away.

As I looked at my hand, I felt as if I were in the eye of the hurricane, watching the years spin crazily around me while I was safe and still. I was there, feeling it all, remembering. I could remember all the bus and train rides and the useless and heated wandering of the city and the long spaces of life begging to be filled.

Like I say, it was brief, but it was potent. And I was glad to come back, though desirous of that feeling of having the world laid out before me with all its possibilities.

There’s an idea in one of Barker’s books about the art of seeing the past, the present, and the future as one eternal day.

I sometimes think the best way to live is as if we’re all already gone. It lends you some perspective on what’s really important. Sometimes I think all we’re trying to do is figure out how to put the best message in a bottle that we can and launch it into the future.

And October is here again.

And present has more than one meaning.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Seen And Obscene

"Now only $14.95!"
- Sticker seen on CD audio version of Ann Coulter's How To Talk To A Liberal, originally $29.95.

"One Size Fits All."
- Helpful info found on package for "Jesus" Halloween costume at Spencer Gifts.

When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution…If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession.
- West Point graduate Capt. Ian Fishback, currently enjoying the extremely exclusive hospitality of Fort Bragg for questioning “a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment.” No Medal of Freedom for him! (Thanks, Andrew Sullivan.)

The Case For Intelligent Resign

Let’s be honest.

If you’re like me, you lead an active and busy lifestyle. Between the spur-of-the-moment meetings, abbreviated lunches and dates at the gym, it’s hard to keep up with the headlines.

Particularly now, when the number of indictments and investigations connected to members of the Bush administration and their cronies seem to be tumbling off a conveyor belt like Lucy and Ethel’s chocolates. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to remember who paid off who, who’s stepping down, who’s stepping aside, etc.

Remember how confusing Watergate was? Well, better get out your scorecards, brother, cause this is gonna be worse.

It got me thinking, though.

It seems to me that we can’t just attribute this sudden grinding of the wheels of justice to the checks and balances of the government or the “survival-of-the-fittest” political Darwinism that weeds out the bad apples.

No, if any of those actually worked, we would have seen evidence of it sometime during the past 6 years.

Any schoolchild knows that Democracy and Freedom have been reduced to meaningless buzzwords. And if they didn’t, six years of watching lies, stupidity and incompetence being rewarded on a regular basis should have convinced them that man-made laws are not going to rescue us from our current pickle. No, we have been tried and found lacking. After six years of witnessing despicable behavior run rampant without even a hint of retribution, there’s no reason on earth to have expected this recent turn of events.

Which is why I have no choice but to look beyond Earth.

That’s right, friends. There isn’t any way that true justice could come about with the current system we’ve built, being vulnerable as it is to the same weaknesses of the people who created it. It simply doesn’t explain how a cadre of liars and thieves would ultimately be made to pay for their crimes.

Which I why I have no choice but to propose that this recent spate of indictments has to be the work of some larger, transcendent intelligence, a higher being that is guiding the hearts and minds of the prosecutors.

Think about it.

Americans would never insist on calling these people on the carpet. They liked them so much, they asked them back for an encore. They couldn’t get enough.

No, there’s something far more advanced at work here.

The universe has reached its tipping point; it will only allow evil to run around unchecked for so long until it triggers off some sort of cosmic fire alarm, like the monolith in 2001.

It’s the only explanation that makes sense. Our system has become so irredeemably corrupt and rotten that when it works, one is forced to consider the possibility of a supernaturally intelligent, sentient guy with a big beard.

Maybe he got tired of the Dobsons and Robertsons making him look ridiculous. Maybe he’s sick of an administration that piously pays him lip service while privately countenancing torture and murder.

Who knows?

The important thing is that he’s back on the case, he’s pissed, and he’s a Democrat.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Twilight Of The Clods

Anything or anyone who falls through the (membrane around a black hole) will soon reach the region of infinite density and the end of time.
- Stephen Hawking

Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.
- Albert Einstein

Eventually, Conniption and Blind Spot moved to New York and a New York weekly, where both were received with praise. I was glad to have them gone, in the same way that I was glad when the AM radio in my car died, thus preventing me from listening to any of the right-wing talk shows.

And deep in my gut, I knew that Conniption was selling snake oil, a cheap routine that would always prevent him from going any farther than he already inexplicably had. I considered myself a fairly shrewd judge of talent and I would have wagered all of my worldly goods on this hunch.

Well, as I mentioned before, I’m not much of a fortune teller.

One day I'm browsing the new releases in a local bookstore when one cover hits me between the eyes like a dagger:

Blind Spot. By Jim Conniption.

Momentarily staggered, I grasped a copy and stared at it in shock. What in the world could he have possibly written a book about?

Flipping through it, I got the gist of what he'd done. Reworking old columns and focusing heavily on his encroaching blindness, Conniption had stitched together a memoir that was ready made for critics to call "a darkly comic look at one man's triumph over adversity." And they did, in fact, in droves.

I was both nauseated and in awe. It was the same old crap, only he'd found an angle for it. Never having anything to say in the first place, he funneled it all into a narrative about being handicapped. He was actually trading on his blindness, becoming the sideshow geek he'd always wanted to be.

To say I grumbled about this turn of events is putting it mildly. The book kept getting incredible reviews. I began to question in earnest the entire way I viewed the world and its values. How could I be so wrong? How can the majority's judgment be so different from my own? Can no one else see through this? Was there any point in even trying to accomplish anything in the creative arena? Is that what was rewarded? Am I not appreciating something?

Every once in a while the wife would ask, "You realize you're complaining that a blind man with brain lesions is getting too many lucky breaks, right?" Well, yes, but that wasn't the point.

The news only got worse, of course. From there he went on to a second memoir about his suicidal/mental hospital period entitled Sleeping With Ernie Kovacs. On the back of this one were the usual logrolling blurbs, but there at the top was an approving quote from the reclusive genius of American Letters, J.P. Luncheon.

J.P. Luncheon. The man was the American Joyce, Proust, and Borges rolled up into a Hot Pocket.

He praised Conniption to the skies as a hero, a role model, an accomplished artist, and an example of exceptional talent and bravery.

My self-doubt increased a hundred fold. The pillars of my artistic belief system, already shaky, were threatening to collapse into a heap of splinters.

That's it, I thought. I'm living in an alternate universe, or may as well be. This is a black hole I'm in now, on the verge of sucking civilization into negative space. A Conniptionverse where, as I had predicted, everything is the opposite of what it is.

In some ways, he was ahead of his time as far as developing an American formula for success was concerned: do whatever it takes to get attention, apologize for what you did to get it, sell yourself like a hooker, and leave your self-respect at the door.

My only comfort was in knowing that he was running out of mental and physical illnesses to peddle. He had to run out of them eventually, didn't he?

As if the question had also occurred to him, his next effort was a stab at fiction which was somewhat weakly received. So not long afterwards it was back to the formula that worked. The description on the inside cover of Playing Well With Others so closely mirrored my own thoughts that I wondered if their PR department realized quite how it sounded:

After tackling the diseases of his body and the erosion of his mind, Jim Conniption, in his finest work yet, looks at the deterioration of his soul.

I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me.

After all, after the soul there's really not anything left to sell.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Conniption Fit

On occasion I've found that I have a talent for wielding a poison pen.

Having once discovered the joys of writing a letter to the editor, the missives poured out, complaining about record reviews, Republican administrations, and bad grammar. Once in a while one would get printed, which would always make my day. There was even the one time that I was apparently so brutal that the critic in question actually mailed a reply back to my home address. That put me off them for a time. He made me feel as if I'd strangled his kitten. But I was never out of action for long and my penchant for sarcasm has gotten me into trouble more than once.

After that initial piece appeared in the Philadelphia Doorbell, I'd call David Derricks up from time to time with a proposal for an article. He didn't always say yes, but he was enthusiastic often enough that my by-line began to look familiar. There was a piece about the films of the 1970's, one about my experiences in college radio, and another that tried to connect the dots between Pac-Man, Bart Simpson and Johnny Rotten that even I couldn't follow. Still, everyone seemed happy enough with them.

All the while, though, Jim Conniption's Blind Spot continued to appear on a weekly basis, exposing the base motives of Humanity for what they truly were. We were all in the mud together, while Hope and Love and Altruism were the sad illusions that kept us from committing the suicides that were deservedly ours and which we would one day reap. For all of its tough-guy veneer, though, there was a strange vein of self-pity that ran through these columns, as if Conniption desperately wanted you to feel sorry for him. A narrative about another tough, lonely, alcoholic weekend would peter out into a pathetic cry for help, as if he wanted it both ways. Yes, he was just an old softie, he seemed to say, but Life had forced this hardboiled armor upon him that he could not breach. See? he seemed to say. You can't blame me for this stuff. I'm just another one of the walking wounded.

Love me.

He was also fond of answering angry letters by implying that the reader hadn't "gotten the joke." It was a neat trick: it meant never having to take responsibility for any of his most vicious invective. If it upset you, you simply weren't hip or "outside" enough to read his column.

Now a couple of things started to happen around this time. I started to wonder whether or not my distaste for Conniption's prose had anything to do with jealousy. After all, his was the face of the paper; I was the freelancer whose pieces never seemed to garner a single reply on the letters page. And didn't we both have a fondness for Bukowski and the underside of the American Dream? Was it possible that we were closer than I knew and my real problem with him was that he had wrapped himself in that persona before I'd had a chance to? I literally used to dress in a Stetson hat and trench coat (cigar optional), as if I were Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, only with coke bottle lenses.

God. Had I merely been jealous all this time? Did I want to be Conniption?

At the same time, strange rumors began to surface about him, rumors about him suffering from a disease that had him slowly going blind and stories about brain lesions that would cause him to break out into erratic behavior. It all seemed like so much urban legend stuff, things you could attribute to the name of the column and his fearsome reputation.

But then the rumors were made credible by the column, which began to make clear that the stories were, indeed, true. Conniption was suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, an irreversible and degenerative eye disease that would probably lead to blindness, as well as lesions of the brain.

The mawkishness that always lay just beneath the surface of the column now leapt to the fore, as Conniption painted himself as the ultimate outsider, ravaged by the insanity of the world and, now, by these double scourges of disease. Now he was immune to criticism, a victim of the modern age whose bloody-minded opinions might actually be the result of brain lesions. It was the perfect alibi.

After one particularly irritating column that celebrated the willingness of neo-Nazis to voice an unpopular opinion in such a straightlaced, lemming-like culture as ours, I'd had enough. Regardless of what it meant to my relationship to the paper, I wrote a letter to the editor.

"I never realized that everything was the opposite of what it was until I read Conniption," I began. "It's about time someone told us the truth about the cuddly Nazis, instead of those nasty ones that get all the publicity."

I can't remember what else it said, but I might have said something about Conniption putting the "pig" in "pigmentosa."

They printed it, so I was a little leery of making my next phone call to David Derricks as I knew him to be tight with Conniption. When we next spoke David seemed fine about it, but in the middle of the conversation, I could hear someone grab the phone away from him. There was a pause during which I could hear Derricks asking someone to give the phone back, after which someone whose voice I'd never heard before began to unleash a torrent of obscenities at me. It sounded garbled and robotic, this string of gibberish invective and threats.

Eventually Derricks got control of the phone back. "That's just Jim," he said. "He gets like that sometimes."

Had I just been on the receiving end of a brain lesion attack? Or was this just Conniption's usual reaction to criticism?

I did, however, begin to rule out jealousy as a motivation for my behavior.

Conclusion: Twilight Of The Clods

Monday, September 26, 2005

This Bile's For You

Both read the Bible day and night
But thou read'st black where I read white.

- William Blake

Around the time that I was writing for Paul Blick’s music paper on a regular basis, I started trying to place articles in other publications, among them the weekly free papers in Philadelphia.

I had developed a little confidence from my column, The Wacky Victrola, appearing on a regular basis, but I was still very nervous about approaching strange editors out of the blue. Especially since the one paper in particular, the Philadelphia Doorbell, featured a column that invariably raised my blood pressure.

Jim Conniption’s column Blind Spot was probably the most controversial one to appear in the Doorbell, at least if you went by the amount of hate mail it generated. Jim’s hardboiled persona was supposed to be that of the cranky, alcoholic observer, Bukowski by way of Hunter S. Thompson. He championed just the sort of “outsiders” you would have expected, Joe Coleman, The Residents, sideshow freaks, serial killers, Aryan Youth groups, etc.

He wanted you to know he was “edgy.”

His column portrait was a cartoon of a fellow wearing a Stetson hat and trench coat, so you knew he was very “noir.” His weekly musings mostly consisted of the steady accumulation of misfortunes that fate saw fit to visit upon him, which he would brush off with a tough-guy witticism. There would be references to his brief stay in a mental institution and other calamities that you were made to understand created his unique and different worldview.

A typical outing would be entitled Why I Pray For Your Death or Why Hitler Was Cool or something similar. Then Conniption would be what I assumed he considered contrary for 8 or 9 paragraphs, doing his best to demonstrate that he had seen through the veil of normality and come out the other side. Every time I read his column, a column that intentionally tried to provoke the reader by defending all manner of stupidity, I thought to myself:

This is someone who is my exact opposite. His matter is my anti-matter. He is everything I would not want to be, not in a million lifetimes.

The simple-minded cynicism, the transparent borrowings, the desperate need to be considered strange and out of the mainstream all grated on me like nails on a chalkboard. I’d rather look at pictures of puppy dogs or babies in flower suits.

Anyway, it came to pass that I began to wonder whether or not I could write something that would be accepted at the paper. My first thought was that if Conniption’s column was the standard there, I didn’t stand a chance. But I sat down regardless and penned something that I sent off to the same editor, David Derricks, that championed Blind Spot.

I had written a stalwart defense of a recent horror film, declaring it to be a wise and subtle deconstruction of the slasher genre. It was so effective, I argued, that it would make it impossible for anyone to resurrect such films again. I was spared the embarrassment, at least for a few months, of the writer/director of the film stating in an interview that he had merely been trying to start up another franchise. In fact, as I write this, slasher films are healthier than ever.

All right. I never claimed to be Nostradamus.

To my astonishment, it was accepted. It was the lead in their Entertainment section and accompanied by a lively illustration. I was shocked.

So now what was I to think? If this Derricks guy approves of me, but also thinks Conniption’s good, doesn’t that mean I suck?

I had the sense that something terrible had been set in motion. Worlds were colliding, matter and anti-matter. At the end of the day, what would be left?

Next: A Conniption Fit

Friday, September 23, 2005

Me And My Shadow

I like to think that there’s some truth to the idea that any disagreement between people can be worked out with enough patience and understanding.

The pace of our lives never makes it easy to find the time to take a slow, methodical approach to problem solving, though. And so we seem to live in a world which becomes more fragmented and brittle all the time.

Or are there simply differences that no amount of friendly discussion can lead to common ground? I know I meet people from time to time that I feel immediately estranged from for some reason. Something in their demeanor, their speech, their attitude.

For god’s sake, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with anyone who voted for You-Know-Who last time around. Lord knows there’s no common ground available there. Or is that attitude my problem? Maybe I need Tom Cruise to come over and help erase some of these engrams.

All of which is to say that you feel a certain amount of harmony with some folks, and not so much with others. We all muddle through by nodding our heads and delivering whatever parts of ourselves we think will get us through this bit of social interaction, and no one’s the worse for wear.

But –

What if you made the acquaintance of someone who was so much your diametric opposite, so completely the negative to your positive, that you felt as if you’d met your shadow-self? A doppelganger whose existence cancels yours out, an evil twin who represents everything you most despise? Someone whom you sense on every level operates from a completely different set of motivations?

What would you do?

What would you do if their way seemed to be working better than your way?

What if their way was more popular, more successful than your way?

Would you start to doubt yourself, question your most cherished beliefs? Faced with the incontestable evidence of how well your life wasn’t working, how tempted would you be to throw in the towel? Would the world continue to make any kind of sense? Would you try to take a tip from your enemy and revise your behavior? Would you question the way the cosmos works? Forced to live in a world you never made...

What would you do?

It happened to me.

It happened to me and I nearly disappeared into a phantom zone of negativity, to wander forever through a wasteland of my own design.

It’s all in the story we’ll relate next week…

Next: This Bile's For You

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Screwloose Saved From Drowning

Reading reviews of Criterion’s recent reissue of Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning, in which a free spirited hobo is rescued by a well-meaning bookseller who allows him to become part of his bourgeois household, has reminded me of the times that I have similarly been rescued from obscurity and been allowed to sit at the grown-ups table.

One individual stands out, in fact, as someone who consistently allowed me to express my opinion and was willing to let the chips fall where they may, even when those chips tended to land in his lap a great deal of the time.

Paul Blick was the product of an illicit affair between pop music and the radio. The old Groucho joke about Margaret Dumont being “vaccinated with a phonograph needle” would apply here. Paul quite simply lived, breathed, and slept music. Without it, one suspected that there was no Paul: it provided his brain, his blood, his will-to-live. One rarely meets people who are so devoted and in love with their chosen medium that it consumes their lives. Paul’s medium was broadcasting but, unfortunately, he was far too smart and in love with what three minutes of music can do to ever be comfortable attempting to adapt his passion to the demands of commercial radio. Which is how I found him at the controls of a local community-based station that dutifully ground out the hits on the hour. Paul, however, had other ideas.

Frustrated by the demands of the medium and a board of directors that seemed to be happy enough with the status quo, Paul was chafing at the bit to make use of the station’s potential and frequently tried to introduce material that would improve and innovate the broadcast day. For some reason that I don’t fully comprehend to this day, from the day I walked into that station, located in the basement of the local police department HQ, Paul was enthusiastic about anything I proposed and seemed willing to give me the airtime necessary to try out whatever schemes I came up with and the continuing support to work out the kinks in programming that needed to be test driven a while. In plain words, he had faith in me, my judgment, and my ability to eventually develop something that could be idiosyncratic and new while managing to retain an audience.

It was the kind of faith in my abilities that I had rarely experienced before, or have since.

So if I wanted to spend three hours mixing retro new wave with avant-garde jazz, or play half-hour remixes of one song, or do strange on-air sketches that only made sense to the people performing them (and that may be a stretch), I had carte blanche to do so. Paul was happy to let me use the airwaves as my playground, even when the other jocks would make their displeasure known in no uncertain terms.

He worked overtime to try and make this dinky station sound as good and as relevant as any other commercial station, providing concert updates, hustling for sponsors, and spreading the word about it in every way he could think of. But no good deed goes unpunished and Paul received scant appreciation for his efforts, the results of which could be plainly heard on a daily basis. I suspect, however, that anything having to do with music was hardly work where Paul was concerned: it was a joy that he channeled into project after project.

As for me, I was having the time of my life, breaking the good china and wiping my hands on the good towels of the conservative airwaves I would take over weekly. I imagine it must have sounded like someone had suddenly changed the channel when I came on. I knew for a fact that bringing me on board had not endeared Paul to the board of directors, but he didn’t seem very worried about it.

I have sometimes worried that it was my presence there that brought about the revenge exacted by the right-wing faction of the station, who went about dismantling everything about it that was interesting, distinctive, or professional. Waiting until after a particularly successful fund-raiser, during which even my show delivered a decent amount of support, they voted in a thick new catalog of rules that didn’t seem to have any practical application to any other show but mine. Much of it, one of us discovered, seemed to be cribbed from Moral Majority literature. I was eventually fired after writing a letter of complaint to a local paper about their shenanigans and that was that. My days of leaving my fingerprints on the freshly painted walls and tracking mud through their MOR hallways were at an end.

Paul went on to write and edit a local music paper and, having not learned his lesson, invited me to write a column for it. It took me about three months, I think, to lose the paper its major advertiser. Paul defended my column to the paper’s publisher and I stayed on for a number of years.

It makes you wonder which one of us really had the screw loose.

You don’t find these people very often, the ones who’ll fish you out of the river and give you something warm to drink and a place to stay, regardless of the consequences to themselves. Treasure them when you do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Tired, Or: My Power Years

With less than a month to go before we hit that half-a-century mark, I figure it’s time to step back and take stock of our current situation.


The sleep apnea’s really making a comeback and I find myself falling asleep often and for lengthy periods of time. If anyone would like to let me know what the hell happened during the last 15 minutes of last night’s episode of The Crabby Doctor Show, I’d appreciate it.

During my waking hours I feel like a radio signal going in and out. The temptation to sink into sleep as if it were a warm bath is omnipresent.

Reading, watching movies, even talking, seems to dissolve into unconsciousness.

As for everything else, it’s either getting fatter or hurts more, or both.

I could take a cue from the wife and peel off some of this poundage. Or eat better.

As for work, it is, if I may paraphrase Joyce, a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.

But if this is what 50 is like, I can’t say I’m looking forward to becoming the cantankerous old coot I’ve always expected to be. At this rate, I’ll just sleep through my golden years.

Now I see there’s this book out called The Power Years that’s encouraging people to think of their retirement years differently. Rather than spend that time relaxing and enjoying the fruits of your labors, the author suggests that it may well be the time to take on those challenges that years of career-building never allowed you the time to tackle. You know, go back to school, take up painting, bake cookies shaped like the Presidents, etc.

The author also mentions that there is a sizable contingent of us who will probably not retire simply because we need the cash.

This sounds more like me.

I have the distinct feeling that having to choose between one cruise or another, one vacation chalet or another, the summer house or the winter house, is not going to be a problem.

Which is good, in a way. I hate having to make decisions.

So, at the moment, it looks like my power years will consist primarily of setting the alarm clock until I drop dead. Perhaps someone should write a book for us, with suggestions on how to creatively invigorate our later years. For instance:

Always Wondered about that “Vanilla Flavored” Cream in the Cafeteria? Go For It!

Bored with those Black Pens you’ve been Using for the Past 20 Years? Try a Blue One!

Running Out the Clock in the Men’s Room: You Don’t Need A Stall!

How to Disguise your Handwriting when Leaving Threatening Notes on your Co-workers’ Desks.

You CAN Watch Your Portable DVD Player at Your Desk!

That “Other” Shirt You Own: What Are You Waiting For?

Using Your Imagination to Create New “Religious” Holidays!

Don’t Be Afraid to Autodial!

And more.

So, you see, I will also be enjoying my “power years” as decrepitude slowly makes its way across my carcass. It’s important that Life always remain a source of challenge, even if that challenge is between you and a vending machine. Don’t let them retire your talents prematurely. You still have a great deal to offer to medical students and the lower end of the food chain. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Now let me get back to sleep.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Down And Down And Down And Out

A friend of mine sent me a copy of the latest screen adaptation of a Charles Bukowski book. Factotum, based on Bukowski’s second novel, features Matt Dillon in the pivotal Henry Chinaski role this time and, surprise, he isn’t half bad. But he, like much about the film, is spotty: there are moments when he nails the thing dead-on and you imagine that this must be exactly what it would have been like to know the young Bukowski. He lets a slyness into his voice that isn’t as over the top as Mickey Rourke’s in Barfly and, for a minute, you believe it.

But these moments are sporadic. Mostly, it’s the usual drinking and pensive scribbling in a notebook which, along with an omnipresent voiceover, doesn’t do the film any favors.

If it’s flat, it’s because it doesn’t seem to have much of a point to it. We don’t really care enough about this Chinaski to want to see what happens to him, and there’s a lack of humor that’s deadly when you’re dealing with this kind of subject matter. Bukowski’s saving grace has always been a sense of humor and an empathy for his fellow man disguised as misanthropy. Which is why you still have to give the crown to Rourke, who brought a sly sense of humor to his Chinaski and created a character you had an emotional interest in.

Of course, Barfly had the advantage of an original screenplay by Bukowski and a director, Barbet Schroeder, who understood his work. Interestingly, Factotum crosses over with Barfly in some scenes, only this time with Marisa Tomei playing the character originally portrayed by Faye Dunaway.

Not sure when this one’s expected in theaters, but it looks more like a rental to me.

Barry Miles, who’s made a career out of writing bios of the Beats, finally ran out of beatniks after having essayed the lives of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. So he now presents us with his version of Bukowski’s life, simply titled Charles Bukowski (Virgin Books).

My first question upon seeing it was, do we really need this after the excellent Howard Sounes bio of Buk (Locked In The Arms Of A Crazy Life)? Isn’t this pretty much a naked cash grab? But as much as I was predisposed not to like it, I have to admit that Miles does a nice job here and profitably spends a little more time than most talking about the writing, which I appreciated. And there are some original observations scattered throughout.

The irony is that, as Miles acknowledges, Bukowski had little use for the Beats and resented being lumped in with them. He found the whole scene a little too clubby for his taste and, although he had to admit to Ginsberg’s talent and influence, he believed that Kerouac was a terrible writer, almost as bad as the American writer he condemned most fiercely, Thomas Wolfe (seems to me it would be difficult to like one of them and hate the other).

Just released on DVD, Mike Leigh’s Naked is a film for people who find Bukowski to be too cheery and optimistic.

Leigh’s 1993 film stars David Thewlis as Johnny, a down-and-out autodidact drifter whose eclectic knowledge and speedy monologues are only good for insulting and hurting people. Suffering from a long-buried incident in his past, Johnny’s obvious intelligence has curdled into crackpot theories and left him a shell of a person who no longer feels anything for anyone except himself. If you’ve never seen it, be prepared to be completely overwhelmed by Thewlis’s performance, in more ways than one. Not only is it a remarkable performance, but it fills the film to bursting – there’s barely room in it for anyone else to breathe. He fills any possible silences and gaps with a nonstop torrent of misguided speech.

As we watch Johnny use and abuse friends and strangers alike during the course of an evening, we realize that the only purpose he has left is to ruin the world. Any help or kindness is met with abuse. Vulnerability is immediately pounced upon. In the course of a few hours, Johnny argues a security guard out of his faith and replaces it with millennial madness. Any chance of bringing happiness or love into his life is disposed of, ferociously. The film’s final shot is incredibly unsettling, a Night Of The Living Dead shot for the 21st Century, when only dead men walk the earth. Watch it and be warned.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Golden Path

Wouldn’t it be nice to know which choices, which steps, would lead to the optimum amount of enlightenment and growth? To be able to navigate your way through your life without having to waste time on so many of the dog-and-pony-shows and cheap bazaars the world puts in our way to distract us and waste our time and energy?

A golden path.

A simple, instructive way of living that neither hurts nor hinders anyone else and that, each day, improves and renews us.

Are you ever tempted to leave it all behind and join some ascetic order? Reduce all the background noise and see what happens?

Every once in a while, maybe you’re driving a car or taking a walk or reading a book or listening to music, doesn’t a small door open in your head that brings in this slight gust of ecstasy? And doesn’t it make you wonder if there isn’t more where that came from?

What would you have to do? What would you have to give up?

Wouldn’t any trade off be worth it if it meant experiencing true joy, true life, true love?

Maybe you do something small every once in a while, like using more care before you speak or act. Or taking a moment to demonstrate kindness instead of turning your back.

But it never seems to last. We seem to drag ourselves back to Earth every time, the balloons of our hearts pulled down by our greed, our anger and our pettiness.

What if you worked at it, though? Really worked at it? Where would you end up? How would you feel?

A golden path.

As some of you know, Screwloose Manor is situated on a corner plot. Behind us lies the Margaritaville-cum-Gitmo wonderland of Mr. and Mrs. Drunkass, to the left we find the Eternal Flame That Guards Against WMD’s, to the right is a gay couple which consists of two men who are both named Mark, and directly in front of us is the stately home of the elderly gentleman we call The Mayor, a long-time retiree who has taken it upon himself to be the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, as well as the fellow who drags your emptied trash cans back in when needed or gives your lawn a trim when you can’t seem to get around to it.

Now if you walk one block up from The Mayor’s, you will find (right across from the hardware store) a Buddhist college.

No fooling. There on the town’s main drag, a quick walk from the pizza place and the bar that has Rockabilly nights every Sunday, is a Buddhist college.

It’s not very big. The typical student body usually consists of about 12 students.

You can visit them and attend one of their weekend meditation retreats or work towards an acupuncture degree.

All this across the street from the place where we usually go to buy new washers for the faucet.

About a year ago or so, the township got it into its head that it would be nice to turn the short strip of road marked off by the back of The Mayor’s place up to the Buddhist college into a sort of well-lit area where citizens could sit on a bench or stroll with their kids. You know, a couple of fancy lamp posts, a brick road and some planters.

The whole thing takes up about half a block. But there was a great deal of fuss made about it, as only a small town can, with artist’s conceptions placed in the windows of the more popular stores during construction.

When they were finished, it looked a little like a Weeble Village. A brick road, flanked on both sides by ten black metal lamps that burn all night. No one seems to use it any more than usual, though, and the predicted parade of families out for a constitutional has yet to materialize. Maybe it needs a merry-go-round or something.

Anyway, I’m looking out the window at it the other night and it occurs to me that what we’ve got out there is a golden path to the Buddhist college, something which I think the Buddha might have appreciated.

As the house at the far end of this golden ladder, however, I can only assume we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

If you need us, we’ll be at the hardware store.

One Of These Quotes Is Not Like The Other

You know where else they did it, in a way, was during the Terri Schiavo thing. That's when I thought we had finally lost our minds. All through the Terri Schiavo thing I thought, Well, this is it, this is ... we've really finally snapped. And then they started doing polls, and you found out that 80 percent of the country, including the Bible Belt, thought the government should stay out of our hospital rooms. And then I went, "Oh, we're still here. Our country's still alive."
- George Clooney

You know, that's what this gay marriage thing is all about. But now, you know, the poly-amorphous marriage, whatever they call it, you can marry 18 people, you can marry a duck…
- Bill O’Reilly joins Rick Santorum in valiantly attempting to save America from that slippery slope that will eventually lead to Americans turning zoos into singles bars.

The media is attempting and all the president's critics are attempting to redefine his life according to the way they want it to go for him, and he simply says, "Nope, screw you. I am who I am. I like who I am. I'm comfortable in my skin. I know what I'm doing is right. And I'm going to keep doing it." I think there's a huge lesson for every human being that's paid attention to learn from this.
- Some lesson learnin’ from Rush Limbaugh, boiling compassionate conservatism down into its two component parts, “screw” and “you.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our Growling Future

The woods are full of wardens. - Jack Kerouac

I do worry from time to time about the future.

Not mine, particularly, as there aren’t going to be too many more entertainment format changes showing up between now and my inevitable coronary. I can deal.

I mean us, here, in general.

The world we’ve created for ourselves worries me, especially the aural environment we’ve been forced to accept. I worked in retail for a little while, but at least I didn’t have to work under the conditions I see today, where floorpeople and cashiers are stuck in a box with this canned soundtrack looping over and over all day. I think I’d go mad in short order, screaming lyrics at the customers and spray-painting the walls with obscenities.

When was it decided that we couldn’t survive for a minute without some kind of noise pummeling us into submission? Everywhere you go, there’s no escaping this constant, insistent soundtrack, whether it’s from the guy in the car behind you with the bass up so loud it makes you nauseous or a wedding with a DJ who seems to think he’s spinning records for the deaf.

Office workers have daily skirmishes with their colleagues about the volume of their radios and CD players. There’s something very intrusive about being forced to listen to somebody else’s music all day. My solution is to keep headphones on all day, but even this becomes too much after a while. Sometimes you’d just like to be able to take them off and work in peace and quiet, but you’ve got no other defense.

There’s nowhere to go, no place to escape. Everything is growing smaller, empty spaces are filled up with more coffee and donut shops. And then there’s the invisible fences, the cameras on street corners, the Internet databases, the new ID’s, the retinal scans. The new K-9 dogs of the 21st Century. We're all tagged like animals on a preserve.

The freedom to disappear is disappearing.

We’re losing the right to disguise ourselves, drop out, become someone else, something else. We’ve been tattooed by our credit cards and mortgages and insurance companies and bumper stickers. I’m old enough to remember when the world seemed wider, larger, with more possibilities available. We didn’t have as much, so we felt like we had more room. Now we have too much and we feel crowded out, by cellphones and soundtracks and mini-malls and parking meters. It feels like a slow motion beating and we’re not able to get a punch in.

I can only imagine where we’ll be in 50 years. It’s hard enough for your average middle-class family to find their quiet corner of the earth as it is; soon it will be a luxury available only to those who can afford it. Because the dogs have got your scent and they’re closing in. No way they’re not dragging you back to your cell if they can help it.

I was driving through a nearby town the other day and they were proudly displaying flags celebrating the anniversary of their founding. At first glance I thought they read Our Growling Future but Growling turned out to Growing. Then I thought, no, I think I was right the first time. I can already hear that guttural growling in the distance, daring me to run towards freedom, knowing I can't win.

Can’t you?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Of Cannibals And Kings

Some things last too long, others don’t last long enough.

I’ve been an admirer of Thomas Harris’s since I read Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs. In fact, I remember being surprised when I heard they were making a film out of Lambs. I enjoyed the results but didn’t think it was as good as the book. But when have you seen a movie you thought was as good as the book? To fit a novel into the shoebox of a film, you have to shave off too many shadings, cut off too many limbs.

Unfortunately, Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter caught the public’s imagination and an encore became inevitable, not to mention the fact that it virtually guaranteed truckloads of cash for everyone involved. Years later, Harris finally produced Hannibal, a book that stunned some readers with an unsettling denouement that featured Dr. Lecter and Clarice Starling going off into the sunset together. If you wanted to, and I did, the book could almost be read as Harris’s attempt to reclaim Lecter from the screen. He’d provided the sequel everyone was desperate for, but in the process created something that would be too difficult for Hollywood, if not Dr. Lecter, to digest.

But Tinseltown is more resilient than that. Even with the admitted difficulty of not being able to convince Jodie Foster to reprise her role (she felt Hannibal was untrue to the character of Clarice), Julianne Moore took on the role and the ending was changed. Whole hunks of the book were ignored or altered with the result being a film that was remarkably unrepresentative of its source material.

Now, even though I knew Harris had a hand in the alterations on Hannibal the movie, I felt very sure that this would be the end of the Lecter series. There’d been 3 books, 2 films (3 if you counted the Red Dragon adaptation Manhunter) and there was nowhere for it to go. Hannibal had provided a satisfying conclusion to the story and I thought that Harris would surely want to move on to something else and not become the George Lucas of the serial killer set. Another Red Dragon film appeared, with Hopkins once again playing Lecter, to make movie fans happy and keep the wheelbarrows of cash rolling in.

So I’m genuinely surprised that Harris has not only returned to the well with Behind The Mask (due out in late October), but written the screenplay for it as well. Even more surprising is the fact that the plot was suggested to him by the film’s producers, who I imagine are loathe to give up this man-eating cash cow.

Those of you familiar with Hannibal know that there’s a flashback sequence regarding Lecter’s sister (which pays big dividends in the book’s conclusion, if not the film’s) that suggests a motivation for his behavior. In fact, I remember reading online reviews from readers who preferred having Lecter remain a mystery and complaining that this explanation reduced his effectiveness as a character. Be that as it may, it is this early portion of the Doctor’s life that is the jumping off point for Behind The Mask.

It’s hard not to think that all of this activity has less to do with artistic necessity than it does with financial gain.

Is there that much left to say about everybody’s favorite cannibal? Have we left some weekend jaunt or trip to the drugstore unexplored? Somehow I thought Harris had more integrity than this.

On the other end of the scale, we have the news that TV’s King Of The Hill has been cancelled.

The network claims that “no final decision has been made”, etc., but the smart money says it’s history and that its 10th season (which starts this Sunday) will be its last and that, in fact, it may be a very short season at that.

KOTH was one of those rare things, a quiet, unassuming show that consistently delivered week after week and only improved as it went along. Over the years I’ve spoken to friends who I figured would be predisposed to like it and instead heard them say that they “didn’t get it,” it was too slow, not funny, or not enough like The Simpsons.

I could never understand this. To me this series about Texas propane salesman Hank Hill and his family and friends was always an unappreciated gem. Even during those weeks when The Simpsons would be going through one of their bad patches (you know what I’m talking about), KOTH would always deliver huge belly laughs without fail, jokes that would sneak up on you and, before you knew it, you were in hysterics.

There was one speech, in fact, delivered by conspiracy theorist/exterminator Dale Gribble in last season’s finale that rates as one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. Hank prevents him from speaking his mind throughout the entire episode until the end and when Dale is finally unleashed, the result is glorious and worth every bit of the wait.

Not to mention the fact that in Bobby Hill, it had one of the greatest comic characters of any TV show. Bobby’s lines would seem to come completely out of the blue with a cockeyed logic that was guaranteed to drive his father nuts, his love of fruit pies equaled only by his devotion to prop comedy. And the list of great characters is almost endless: neighbors like sad-sack Bill Dauterive and the incoherent Boomhauer, the overachieving Souphanousinphones next door, Hank’s sleazy boss Buck Strickland, his niece Luanne, creator of the “Manger Babies”, and everyone’s favorite, his dad Cotton Hill who got his “shins shot off in WWII!” And it just goes on.

It was never a flashy show but it hit you hard when you weren’t looking. Frankly, I’m not prepared to say goodbye to them. And what are we going to get in exchange, another bunch of Family Guys and American Dads ?

They’re not funny, I tell ya whut. They’re the polar opposite of KOTH’s gentle, character-based humor. And maybe that’s the problem. It simply wasn’t like anything else on television, which had to confuse television executives, who aspire to a higher degree of cannibalism than Dr. Lecter could ever hope to achieve.

Hey, FOX!

Don’t make me come down there and kick your ass!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Twirling Towards Freedom!

Resident Bush met with the press yesterday and the transcript, which should frighten anyone who still believes in either honesty or the English language, is available to read here.

He's literally beginning to sound like the alien Clinton or Dole from that Simpsons Halloween show:

“…it's really important that as we take a step back and learn lessons…and my attitude is, is that we need to learn everything we possibly can…we've got to keep moving forward…What I'm interested in is solving problems…There's a lot of information floating around… And it's important for the people of this country to understand that all of us want to learn lessons.”

Got that? Whole lotta lesson learnin' goin' on!

Or on Iraq: Those terrorists still hate our freedom!

"After all, the enemy wants to stop democracy. See, that's what they want to do. They want to kill enough people so that -- in the hopes that democracy won't go forward. They tried that prior to -- more than eight million Iraqis voting. They were unable to stop Iraqis from voting, because people want to be free. Deep in everybody's soul, regardless of your religion or where you live, is a desire to be free. And they can't stop it. And what we're going to do is help -- and they can't stop democracy from moving."

Or try this excerpt, as a reporter tries to play the "blame game," i.e., "ask a question":

Q: Mr. President, there is a belief that we've been hearing for two weeks now on the ground that FEMA let the people here on the ground down. And perhaps, in turn, if you look at the evidence of what it's done to your popularity, FEMA let you down. Do you think that your management style of sort of relying on the advice that you got in this particular scenario let you down? And do you think that plays at all --

THE PRESIDENT: Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game. That's what you're trying to do.

Q: No, I'm trying to --

THE PRESIDENT: You're trying to say somebody is at fault. Look -- and I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on.

So there you have it. The "blame game" consists of trying to get someone to take responsibility for something, but Homie don't play that because we're too busy moving forward and learning lessons about freedom, which is always moving forward, not backward. And he wants to know more than anyone who was responsible, and as soon as he does find out, they'll be fired...I mean, it it can be proven they committed a crime, they'll be fired. Unless they're not.

Jebus H. Christmas.


The man simply wants to exchange some long protein strands. If you can think of a better way, I'd like to hear it!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Where Neurons Fear To Tread!

Finally, if the Bush team initially missed the significance of a city with a majority of black citizens in peril, it may be because he has organized his presidency around a different segment of the population.
- Time Magazine

(Michael) Marcavage ( also noted that "Louisiana had a total of 10 abortion clinics, with half of them operating in New Orleans" - his implication being similar to one made by the group Columbia Christians for Life, which sent out mass e-mail messages comparing the tadpole swirl of clouds in satellite images of Katrina to the chin-tucked profile of a 6-week-old fetus.
- NY Times

Look, I don't know what the details are about this.
- Ann “Koo Koo” Coulter, after being challenged on her defense of Resident Bush’s claim that no one could have “anticipated the breach of the levees.”

In this situation, the pictures, because of the population of New Orleans, the pictures could show only one thing. That is, who lives there, and whoever lived there is who got hurt, whoever lived there, and whether they got out or not. Now, the people that got out, you don't see them on TV because they got out, but the people that didn't get out, you see them on television.
- El Rushbo, giving Gertrude Stein a run for her money

How I Brought New York Together

In November of 2001, my wife and I made our first post-9/11 trip to New York. I wrote a short piece about it that I’d hoped to place for publication, but it never made it out of the drawer. Here it is:


I had meant to dress nicer.

It was to be our first visit to New York since the events of September 11th and my wife and I wondered how the trip would affect us, especially when we caught our first glimpse of the new skyline. I think like many a Philadelphian, we both felt a little proprietary about New York. Living so close to it had allowed us to enjoy so much of what it had to offer and given us so many fond memories, of music, Broadway shows, and a hundred small moments that made us feel like honorary members of a secret club. We may have been lifelong Philadelphians, but it was time to acknowledge the Manhattanite within us and join together with our cosmopolitan kin. Surely they would recognize us and we would share our secret grief, a grief known most profoundly to we East Coasters, Sons and Daughters of the Northeast Corridor, Holy Knights of the Bully Ballclubs.

I have this problem at shows.

Several things have happened since my wife and I went clubbing in our heyday. For one, the artists we enjoyed then have either a) fallen off the face of the earth or b) challenged themselves and their audiences musically to the point where what they do is of interest to only their hardcore fans and (and this is a crucial and) those too young to understand that even though the artist they paid to see played a loud guitar with a knock-kneed sneer 20 years ago, this is no guarantee that they're going to attend what is conventionally known as a "rock show."

I should explain.

There's an entire generation of Elvis Costello fans that somehow believes that, even though he's done everything in his power over the past 10 years to convince them of the contrary, if they pay money to see him, he will revive the long-dead icon from the cover of My Aim Is True and play Pump It Up ten times in a row, and one more time as an encore. His dalliances with a string quartet, Burt Bacharach, or Tom Waits's back-up band will not disabuse of them of this notion. They believe it as solidly as you and I believe in gravity. There is no disuading them and the result is, when faced with Elvis fronting the latest version of the Charles Mingus Orchestra, their brains squeal and they stare in helpless confusion at their palm pilots.

And so.

The crowd that night at the Beacon seemed well-behaved enough, though there was an augury of the unpleasantness to come when the fellow a few seats down began to drunkenly mumble "Bulllllshiiit!" in the midst of a Mingus ballad. But this honest approach was preferable to the crew that planted themselves behind us and decided the Mingus compositions were some kind of background music, a kind of aural wallpaper they'd paid $100 to shout over. In my mind, I asked them to be quiet several times. Then my mouth exploded.


Or something like that. It doesn't matter. One guy grabs my arm from behind and tells me to shut up. From out of nowhere, I find myself telling him (this, in the shadow of one the greatest tragedies in our collective history, mind you), "It is the world's great misfortune that Charles Mingus is dead and that you, sir, are still alive." He glares at me as my wife and a spectator pull us apart. The only other thing I remember is my calling him a punk, as if I were about to jump on my Harley and burn rubber. But it seemed very articulate at the time.

The rest of the evening consisted of muttered insults that drifted up from behind us and blended into a sort of vicious white noise. Sides were taken, allies enlisted from nearby seatmates. The show ended as Costello explained how he had devised a set of lyrics to Mingus's Hora Decubitus as he was hearing about the attack on the World Trade Center. He roared through its performance, exclaiming over and over again at its conclusion, "Life is a beautiful thing! Life is a beautiful thing! Life is a beautiful thing!"

We all filed out quickly, avoiding eye contact, wondering what new and tentative armies might lie on the horizon.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Death And Cleavage

Funerals are, by their nature, glum affairs.

You’ve got some people trying to hold themselves together, some trying to look sad, others afraid they may accidently disturb the solemnity of the affair. Everyone is dressed in muted colors, as if to keep the brightness of Life outside the door. After all, now that the pleasures of this existence have been denied to the dearly departed, it seems in bad taste to demonstrate any enjoyment of what makes living the special experience that it is.

Unless you’re at a wake, of course. Then the logic goes the other way round.

But I’m talking about your common, everyday service, the kind that takes place in a special building built for that purpose. It’s got a handful of rooms, some rather gloomy looking fellows wearing bad ties posted around, and some boxes of tissues. As for the décor, it suggests a church that’s been decorated to look like a birthday cake, or like they phoned up your grandmother for advice on ambience.

Now, among my wife's many admirable qualities is the fact that she was intelligently designed with a rather impressive décolletage. From time to time, in fact, we've had disagreements about the plunginess of a particular neckline. These are arguments that I usually lose, especially if we're going to a rock 'n' roll show, in which case all bets are off and she throws on a little something that makes Elvira look like a boy.

She doesn’t put them on the glass, mind you. But this particular aspect of her endowment is sometimes difficult to disguise.

We were attending a funeral in one of these places not so long ago and we found ourselves standing together outside the room where the service was about to take place when an older woman approached us. She seemed to be in the care of a young black woman who carefully followed her everywhere, very closely.

"Do you really think that’s appropriate?" she asked my wife, looking down her nose at her cleavage.

I should point out that there was nothing terribly outrageous about my wife’s dress on this day. It was a black dress and what was on display was really not that inappropriate. It’s not like she showed up in pasties and a g-string.

We were both momentarily shocked and embarrassed. We looked at each other, wondering if we could have possibly heard her correctly.

"What?" my wife asked.

"That dress," the woman replied, her companion looking extremely nervous. "Do you really think you should be wearing such a thing to a…function like this?"

We were literally speechless. We couldn’t believe that someone was engaging in such rudeness with total strangers. She did seem a little distracted, which would have explained the nursemaid who now looked as if she wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole.

I don’t even remember what we said to her. This breach of public etiquette had staggered us and we just walked away, wondering what had just happened. Soon we filed into the service and I sat in such a way so that I could stare at the woman. I gave her the fisheye throughout the whole thing, daring her to engage my stare. She seemed nervous and embarrassed and her companion’s gaze kept focusing on things around the room.

What had triggered this? Was she just ditzy? Was it jealousy of my wife's balcony? Had she not noticed that at some point during what appeared to be a long lifespan, women in the United States had done away with burkhas and one-piece bathing suits?

Or was it simply resentment that, somehow, Life had managed to creep into the proceedings, like a weed through a crack in the cement, and she resented the reminder that as each of us is ushered offstage, a new group of cast members takes our place?

Is it simply disrespectful to live in the presence of the dead? I remember a quote of Raymond Chandler's pertaining to the resentment some people had for new writers who had no respect for the old rules. "They have knocked over tombs and sneered at the dead," he wrote, "which is as it should be."

So let me tell you, madam, what I should have said at the time:

My wife's dress was perfectly appropriate.

But even if she had attended dressed as a stripper, I would have preferred it to the living death you seemed to represent.

Let there be cleavage at funerals, and a stiletto heel in the heart of Death. Let push-up bras lift up the soul along with their fleshier freight. Let our bodies be as unbound as that of the dearly departed's. Let the cemeteries be seeded with copulating couples who seek to challenge Death on his own ground. May the buxom, bikinied future shrug you off like a bad terrycloth robe and inspire spiritual erections for Eternity.

Good day to you.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Football Season Is Over

"NEW YORK (AP) - Rolling Stone, the magazine that was home for years to Hunter S. Thompson, will publish a note written by the gonzo journalist days before he committed suicide in February.

Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian who is also Thompson's official biographer, writes that a Feb. 16 note may be Thompson's final written words. It reads:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun _ for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax _ This won't hurt.

Hunter left the note for his wife, Anita. He shot himself four days later at his home in Aspen, Colo., after weeks of pain from a host of physical problems that included a broken leg and a hip replacement.

Written in black marker, the note was titled, "Football Season Is Over."

Brinkley writes in the magazine, on newsstands Friday, "February was always the cruelest month for Hunter S. Thompson. An avid NFL fan, Hunter traditionally embraced the Super Bowl in January as the high- water mark of his year. February, by contrast, was doldrums time."

Most of Thompson's early writings appeared in Rolling Stone. In pieces of great length, he often portrayed himself as a wildly intoxicated observer and participant.

The writer's ashes were blown into the sky in Woody Creek, Colo., amid fireworks on Aug. 20."

Conservative Voices: The Real Drownings In New Orleans!

"I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."
- Rick "King Solomon" Santorum wisely considers what the proper punishment should be for hurricane victims.

(Nancy Pelosi) related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.
"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.
"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"
- Associated Press

I cannot watch this drivel and bilge on television day in and day out, hour after hour, where I see this administration once again savaged and attacked, this administration blamed with all kinds of outrageous attacks. I just can't sit here and let it go by and laugh it off. If we're going to start talking blame, if the elite media is going to start pointing fingers, well, then, by God, folks, we're going to point them in the right direction -- and pointing them in the right direction points right to the state of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans, no matter what how you slice this. And if that's uncomfortable for you to hear, so be it. Life is not easy.
- Rush "I hope there's room on Trent's porch for me!" Limbaugh

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Let Them Eat Me

I long ago became accustomed to the idea that the majority of my fellow citizens don’t feel the same antipathy I do towards George W. Bush and his gang of criminal hoodlums. Hey, each to his own, right? If people enjoy the sensation of having their intelligence insulted on a regular basis, that’s their business. If voters no longer care what elected officials do in their name, more power to them.

But now I’m confused again.

I now find it difficult to understand how anyone can see or hear him without experiencing a sense of profound moral nausea.

His response to the path of destruction that Hurricane Katrina cut through New Iraq goes far beyond “Let Them Eat Cake.”

It’s more like “Let Them Eat Themselves.”

People seem to like this new America.

They like this new world where the buck stops anywhere but at the President’s desk; where crooks promise to investigate themselves; where the only credentials you need to run a federal agency are being the former roommate of a campaign manager; where the President can hop on a plane for the political points he’ll score by supporting the continued suffering of the brain dead, but can’t find his way to a flood; where he strums his new cowboy guitar while Americans drown and die; where 50 firefighters are flown away from locations where they could assist the victims so they could walk beside the President as he toured the damage for the cameras.

How did you do it, George?

How did you do what so many, including Osama bin Laden, failed to do?

How did you put the final nail in the coffin of America?

How did you get us to dig our own graves?

How did you get us to love your grinning, imbecile smile and march into your meat grinders?

How did you get us to keep quiet while you lied, and lied again, and then lied to cover up all the other lies? How did you get us to check our national pride at the door?

How did you manage to make us love your hatchetmen, those cruel distributors of random violence and stupidity? How did you make us ask for more?

In 100 years, if there’s still a republic, how will you be remembered, I wonder?

Here’s my guess:

The American Caligula who drank the blood of his country’s citizens from a chalice of fear.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Dispatches From Hell

"It's devastating. It's got to be doubly devastating on the ground."
- George W. Bush, taking in the damage from aboard Air Force One two days after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S.

"After the authorities in Baton Rouge had prepared a field hospital for victims of the storm, FEMA sent its first batch of supplies, all of which were designed for use against chemical attack, including drugs such as Cipro, which is designed for use against anthrax. "We called them up and asked them: 'Why did you send that, and they said that's what it says in the book'," said a Baton Rouge official."
- Guardian

"I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, ‘Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday.’ And she drowned Friday night.... Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sakes, shut up and send us somebody."
- Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, breaking down in tears on NBC's Meet The Press as he recounted how a colleague's mother drowned awaiting rescue from a nursing home.

"This was not just a hurricane; it was a hurricane that was followed by a flood…That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight," (Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael) Chertoff said. He called the disaster "breathtaking in its surprise."

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
- George W. Bush

"Reuters reported that in 2004, more than 40 state, local and volunteer organizations practiced a scenario in which a massive hurricane struck and levees were breached, allowing water to flood New Orleans. Under the simulation, called 'Hurricane Pam,' the officials 'had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed more than half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents,' the Reuters report said."

"In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, (FEMA Director Michael Brown) said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, 'We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.'

Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, 'You're doing a heck of a job.'

That's unbelievable."
- Editorial, Times-Picayune of New Orleans

"…a replay of the sinking of the Titanic. New Orleans' first-class passengers made it safely into lifeboats; for those in steerage, it was a horrifying spectacle of every man, woman and child for himself. The captain in this case, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, was so oblivious to those on the lower decks that on Thursday he applauded the federal response to the still-rampaging nightmare as ‘really exceptional.’ He told National Public Radio that he had ‘not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water’ - even though every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those stranded refugees for at least a day…Surely it's only a matter of time before Chertoff and the equally-at-sea director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown (who also was among the last to hear about the convention center), are each awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom…"
- Frank Rich, NY Times, Falluja Floods The Superdome

"Tired, hungry and traumatized by days spent under the damaged roof of a once-gleaming football stadium, the refugees of New Orleans have spoken of a nightmarish week living among the crazed and the desperate.

Stories of rape, murder and suicide have emerged.

Medical teams delivered babies in filthy conditions, with human feces never far away and fresh water in short supply. At least three were reported to have died.

Amid the filth and the crime, some snapped.

‘One guy jumped off a balcony,’ said Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer who was beaten and injured during his time at the Superdome.

‘I saw him do it. He was talking to a lady about it. He said it reminded him of the war and he couldn't leave.’

Fear ratcheted up the tension, with disturbing reports of mistaken identity emerging from the chaos. Police and national guardsmen were accused of killing innocent people.

‘They killed a man here last night,’ Steve Banka, 28, told the Reuters news agency before he left on Sunday. ‘A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them.’

‘He jumped up on the truck's windscreen and they shot him dead,’ Mr. Banka said.

Another man died in mysterious circumstances on Friday as a police car passed the New Orleans Convention Center, where equally squalid conditions forced many to sleep outside among streets full of rubbish.

More than 24 hours later, his body, like so many others, had not been moved.

‘Right where he fell,’ Larry Martin told the Los Angeles Times. ‘Like roadkill.’

On Saturday morning Africa Brumfield, 32, sat with relatives near the corpse of a young man in streets around the convention centre.

He had died on Friday night as he walked in the street.

‘There is rapes going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats,’ she told Reuters.

Inside the Superdome, a National Guard soldier charged with keeping order confirmed the brutal reality of life after Katrina.

‘We found a young girl raped and killed in the bathroom. Then the crowd got the man and they beat him to death.’

As Saturday ebbed past, an endless fleet of yellow school buses offered the dispossessed a passage out of their nightmares.

‘It's been a long time coming,’ Derek Dabon, 29, said as he queued for a security check.

Hillary Snowton, 40, sat with a white sheet wrapped around his face to shield himself from the smell of a dead body that lay, untouched, just metres away.

He had watched the body lie there for the past four days, decomposing in the sultry Louisiana climate.

He didn't see the point in moving away from the corpse, he told the Associated Press.

‘It stinks everywhere.’"
- BBC News

“Two police officers have committed suicide.”
- Associated Press

Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?
- NY Times Editorial

"In an era of tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush consistently slashed the Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain. This year, he asked for $3.9 million, $23 million less than the Corps requested. In the end, Bush reluctantly agreed to $5.7 million, delaying seven contracts, including one to enlarge the New Orleans levees. Former Republican congressman Michael Parker was forced out as the head of the Corps by Bush in 2002 when he dared to protest the lack of proper funding."
- New Yorker, "Under Water"

"Since 9/11, FEMA has been basically dissected and taken apart."
- James Lee Witt, former FEMA Director

"I have to say that one of the worst potential repercussions of this calamity and the Bush administration's response is to show how utterly unprepared this country still is for some kind of terror attack, how little coordination there is between local and federal authorities, how evacuation plans are chaotic, how we have a president divorced from reality, and a Congress more interested in doling out pork than protecting the country. The message is this: come and get us. If al Qaeda had blown up the levees, can you imagine the chaos?"
- Andrew Sullivan

"Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

What's more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled.

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it's true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That's my question. "
- Anne Rice, New Orleans native and author

The brunt of the catastrophe was directed at society's cast-offs; the poor and black who couldn't simply load up the $40,000 SUV and take off. They were left to face the rising waters and the government neglect without any prospect of real assistance. When you can't buy your way out, you're left to rot; that's how the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market operates. The message is clear; if you have nothing, you are nothing.
- Mike Whitney, Rodney King In New Orleans

"Out of the rubbles (sic) of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
- George W. Bush, Friday, September 2nd.

"Just think of that quote for a minute; and the laughter that followed. The poor and the black are dying, dead, drowned and desperate in New Orleans and elsewhere. But the president manages to talk about the future 'fantastic' porch of a rich, powerful white man who only recently resigned his position because he regretted the failure of Strom Thurmond to hold back the tide of racial desegregation."
- Andrew Sullivan

"Our infrastructure is devastated, lives have been shattered. Would the president please stop taking photo-ops?"
- Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu

"It is incredible, the government had no evacuation plan ... the first power in the world and it left its own population adrift."
- Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela

"Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt tells CNN it's evident the number of dead is in the thousands."
- Associated Press

"A Halliburton Co. subsidiary that has come under fire for its reconstruction work in Iraq has begun tapping a $500 million Navy contract to do emergency repairs at naval facilities on the Gulf Coast that were battered by Hurricane Katrina."
- LA Times

"And I'm not looking forward to this trip. I got a feel for it when I flew over before. It -- for those who have not -- trying to conceive what we're talking about, it's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by a -- the worst kind of weapon you can imagine. And now we're going to go try to comfort people in that part of the world.

Thank you."
- George W. Bush, Friday, September 2nd.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Natural World

The day the hurricane hit New Orleans
all that morning I noticed
these creatures from
the natural world
throwing themselves across my
path, as if in panic and

at the train station, the
praying mantis
that climbed up my wife’s leg
and into her

he fell on the ground and
we rescued him with
a timetable and
set him in the

at work, strung between the
bars of a stair’s railing,
the gigantic spider
web, the sun
hitting the dew at an angle that
revealed the intricacy of
its design

I stood for a moment, admiring
it and the way it seemed
so strong and
yet, I knew I could easily
thrust my hand in and collapse
its symmetry

in the hallway, the tiny strange
centipedes that moved
across the carpet
“what is that?” someone
asked. no one had ever
seen them before

I think of them all now
especially that delicate
web with its
deception of permanence
so easily

the natural world
and its casual

our stick arms
in prayer

let us not be crushed
let us not be broken
let us not be killed

voice of
desperation, may you
be apprehended

may you break the silence

bridge the gap

between yourselves and
new gods

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Elite Media Takes Cues From Kook Left!

Thank goodness for Rush Limbaugh.

Without him, headlines like the one above might well go begging.

As long as they pay him the big bucks, though, we'll always have banners like "You're Damn Right We're Questioning Your Patriotism, Liberal Left!" to look forward to. His website regularly features such astute pronouncements, mixed in with his subtle brand of "humor," such as his recent hawking of "Camp Gitmo" shirts. Listening to his show is sort of like hearing the news delivered by a paranoid schizophrenic, someone who's convinced the entire world has dedicated itself to attacking him for his essential rightness. And since he can never be wrong, half the fun of the show is listening to the truth being put through the contradictory contortions neccessary to make 2 + 2 = 5.

Well, that and the callers who worship him like a god.

"Say, Rush? When you said Ted Kennedy was a drunk? We just thought that was sooooo funny! We peed our pants, Rush, no lie!"

"Well, thank you, my friend. You know it's really the Liberals that have no sense of humor. They're so busy predicting doom and gloom for the country that they've forgotten how to laugh. They're really only happy when America is failing, don't ask me why. The truth be told, ladies and gentlemen, they hate this country for some reason that you and I can only guess at. But make no mistake: you may hear their opinions more because of the monopoly of the media elite, but they're not representative of the real Americans who sweat and toil and go to church once a week and believe in an essential decency that the Liberals' brand of moral relativism can never come close to replacing."

"Well, ok, Rush. We just...thought you was awful funny about the drunk thing...Ted Kennedy...drinkin' an' all."

"Alright, then, my friend. Thank you for calling."

But Rush doesn't shy away from the hard questions. He just ignores them. When Pat Robertson dropped his bombshell last week about Jesus Christ being a hitman, Rush refused to comment, proclaiming that efforts to elicit an opinion from him were merely a "trap" laid out by the liberal media in hopes of getting him to discredit the conservative movement. Or take his convoluted defense of such terms as "feminazi." Turns out that it's not merely a case of "feminist = nazi." When called upon to explain this coinage, Limbaugh painstakingly argues that it's not offensive because the word's subtle gradations of meaning are such that he's the only one who really understands the definition. And, as he's the only one who is truly able to comprehend it, no one can be offended.

So I figure it's a good bet that Rush won't have much to say about the latest press release from Repent America, a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to attending as many gay and gay-friendly events as possible and "witnessing" the truth of the Lord Jebus to people who will become angry and upset (see their press release, "Christians Threatened With Violence By Homosexual Mob").

Can't be helped, though. Jebus is calling the shots.

Now time was when Pat Robertson would make the pronouncements about natural disasters being divine retribution. But Pat's still recovering from his "Who Would Jesus Kill?" campaign, so it's fallen upon others to pick up the slack. Enter Michael Marcavage of Repent America:


Just days before "Southern Decadence", an annual homosexual celebration attracting tens of thousands of people to the French Quarters section of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroys the city. "Southern Decadence" has a history of filling the French Quarters section of the city with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars…However, Hurricane Katrina has put an end to the annual celebration of sin.

"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge," he continued...

"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Marcavage said. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.

"[God] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)

That God! What a kook!