Saturday, August 27, 2011

Even Numbers

Twelfth Night canceled the rest of its run. One of its cast members was killed.

Henry phoned with the news. His cast mate Danny was driving in a storm. Had little road experience. Lost control and crashed. Dead at 17.

Henry was somber but stoic. He's never known someone who's died. And this kid was only two years older. He asked about how I've handled death.

Death's been around since my sister died in 1963. My best friend was killed by a drunk teen driver. Another friend was killed by a kid fucking around with a loaded handgun. My stepbrother's wife was murdered while pumping gas. There are the older relatives, of course. Grandparents. My Uncle Don. O'Donoghue's death stung me. Live and watch them peel away.

He asked about near-death experiences. I've only had one. Maybe one and a half. The semi-truck that nearly ripped me in two counts, I guess.

Henry was referring to the shotgun story. I was 20. At a wild party. A drunk acquaintance pulled me in his bedroom to see his new 12 gauge. He loaded it, laughing. Pointed it at my head. Said he was gonna kill me. Laughed some more. "Watch where you're waving that thing," I said.

I pushed the barrel aside. The gun fired. My left ear fuzzed out. I dropped to the floor. Bedroom window shattered. Neighbors yelled. Guys from the front room rushed in. One with a .38 drawn. I touched my face. Still intact. Intense ringing in my ear. The guy rolled on his bed. Rebel yelled. Smiled.

Henry laughs when I share this. Wonders why I hung out with such people. It was a long time ago, I say. Some of them went to prison. One guy I knew back then died about a year ago. Drug deal argument. Shotgun blast to his chest. I wasn't as friendly with him. He had cold crazy eyes. When told of his death, it made sense. Certain fates are inescapable.

Henry's youth isn't as chaotic as mine. I've helped ensure that. He'll face the harshness of life with better balance. Or so I hope.

Henry attended a memorial service last night with his mother. Nan explains further.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bodies Obtained

Stroll through the cheap wine aisle. Stare at cheaper refrigerated brands. Where's Cold Duck? Boone's Farm? Paul Masson? Orson Welles drunkenly endorsed Paul Masson. Genius reduced to wino shill. Showbiz and the second law of thermodynamics share many features. For Welles, cheap wine lubricated the process.

Feels like a large truck rolling in. A semi in the store. Bottles rattle. Walls shake. The floor rises like a wave. I'm jarred but keep my balance. The aisle lights go out. A few bottles fall and break. Some mild shaking then quiet.

Everyone looks at each other. Two women race down the aisle toward the exit. A security guard runs by. Store managers appear shocked. A few people joke about earthquakes. They don't think this is one. How can Washington DC have an earthquake? Must be something else. Terrorist attack? All are left guessing.

I've never been in an earthquake. But what else could this be? Cashiers offer shaky smiles. No one really knows how to act. It's almost like a Matrix program. I move past people frozen in place. Go outside. The sidewalk's jammed.

I'm near the federal government's epicenter. State buildings everywhere. Evacuation was swift. I cut through the throng. Everybody's trying to get a cell signal. Nothing. Their toys are useless. A lovely sight. They keep trying. Still nothing. Confused expressions. The beauty deepens.

Walk back to the neighborhood where I'm staying. Cars blast news stations. Pedestrians compare notes. An old brownstone lost some bricks. The only damage I see. The neighborhood appears unscathed. But people there are rattled.

One guy rails about the End Times. A father holds tight his baby girl. A young Black man in a white tank top yells, "I'm at peace! But I'm a freak!" Several older women pray. Worried looks all around.

The quake ripple wasn't that bad. Unexpected, but not earth shattering. There's no Potomac tsunami. No rubble. No fire in the streets. It doesn't take much to frighten Americans. Those with no political or economic power seem more vulnerable to fear.

There's a certain DC vibe that I've yet to fully discern. A weird tangible mix. Living in the shadow of the Capitol Building reinforces class divisions. Imperial reality is in your face.

Here come the sirens. Cops. Ambulances. Dark vans with flashing lights. Every form of authority thrust into action. Where they're going I don't know. Whom they're saving is a mystery.

I go upstairs to the apartment. A few knick knacks on the floor. Nothing serious. Gas and electricity fine. Fix a drink, go online. Everyone's talking earthquake. Libya's there too, but a secondary concern. America comes first. We always come first.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beyond This Road

Standing in the bagel shop line. I'm rumpled, groggy. Wearing a borrowed porkpie hat. Shades. Wrinkled t-shirt. Jeans. No briefs.

Feeling anxious. Life again in flux. At my age. Fuck.

The bagel makers look tired. Everybody does. In this part of the country, smiles are rare. The economy reeks. We go through the motions. Making bagels. Hauling trash. Fixing rusting cars. Keep busy. Appear engaged. Hope you don't lose what's left.

Approach the counter. Place my order. 10,000 Maniacs fall from the ceiling speakers. Like The Weather. Haven't heard this song in eras. I'm back at 70th and York. Leeching off an old Indy friend. Making $50 a week from an East Village paper. Mac and cheese and Miller Lite for dinner.

I was lost in a sociopath's fog. My brains and humor kept a roof overhead. Any dumber or slower and I'd have been on a grate.

An anxious time. Natalie Merchant eased some weight. Bobbed hair. Expansive features. Alluring dresses. Hippie abandon. I saw the Maniacs at The Ritz. August 7, 1987. Close enough to see Merchant breathe. She possessed me. I ignored my date. An older woman. She was pissed. I didn't care. Obnoxious but honest.

Fantasies about Merchant. I could make her laugh. I could play to her liberal politics. I would fuck her sweetly for hours. Watching her dance across the stage, it all seemed possible. The fog was that thick. Amazing that I got laid in the real world.

I was living vine-to-vine. Soon I would slip and crash. 10,000 Maniacs were part of my soundtrack. Hearing them again brings back that time.

Rush of blood to my face steams my shades. Tears fall. A crying crumpled mess. No one notices. There are sadder people than me.

Running lines with my son. Nan got him in a local production of Twelfth Night. He has a small part. Four scenes, decent dialogue. He works hard on his lines. A 15-year-old in a cast of adults. His first play is Shakespeare's. I never had those guts.

Nan and I attend dress rehearsal. An outdoor theater in a park. Mosquito heavy. The director sets the play in the late-60's. A Jimi. A Janis. A Wavy Gravy. Godspell goes Bard. If Orson Welles set Julius Caesar in fascist Europe, why not a flower power Twelfth Night? Shakespeare goes with anything.

The staging seems chaotic. Some scene transitions lag. Cues are missed. Several actors mumble lines. People on cells speak louder.

The talent is all over the place. Several have no business being on stage. A few shine. Show passion. They understand their roles. Delightful to watch. But overall, a very mixed bag.

Henry's a touch stiff at first. Then he warms to the moment. Nan and I drilled him on the need to project. Especially on an outdoor stage.

He remembers. Voice bounces off the bandshell out to the benches. His timing is pretty good. There's work to be done, edges sanded. But he's a kid. He has all the time his father once had. Already he's an improvement.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nietzsche's Abyss

Apparently, Rick Perry has been elected president. He's gutting the Constitution. Giving kickbacks to his fat cat backers. Forcing Jewish and Muslim children to pray to Jesus. Planning new wars. Turning us into a miserable global joke. He's worse than Bush. Vice President Bachmann is an added slander upon our good name.

How can Americans be so stupid -- again? Didn't they learn their lesson?

This is based on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Perry's announcement has made liberal friends and acquaintances lose their minds. I haven't seen such frenzy since my Nader days. That the election is a year away means nothing. That anything can happen means even less. No: Perry's gonna get the nomination; and because Americans are backward and racist, he'll probably win and re-establish the Dark Ages.

Why? WHY!

Amid this fury, Barack Obama is still in office, serving our owners, tightening our noose. No liberal tumult for him. And that's how it should be, given this system. Keep the partisans in their separate cages. Let them demonize each other while elites steal from all.

The class war from above is so obscenely blatant that Warren Buffett calls for taxing the rich. He's clearly embarrassed by the spectacle. But Buffett's call will go unheeded. His peers are in no mood to sacrifice. Their political wings keep the money flowing upward. Who surrenders in a war that they're winning?

Liberal groups bemoan the class war, but do little to oppose it. For one thing, they're not opposed to capitalism -- though what we're enduring is beyond supply-and-demand definitions. Modern capital has its own language, its own currency, its own country. Liberal commentary rarely touches on this. They believe that modern capital can be bent in a progressive direction. By who or how is fuzzy. But it can be done. First, we need to elect better Democrats; and then etc. etc.

The main reason why liberals aren't engaging the class war is because they'd have to oppose Obama. Openly. Radically. And we know that's not going to happen. Hysteria over Perry and Bachmann proves that. Liberals have waited for the GOP circus to commence so they can finally erupt. Based on feeds and links I've read, they've been suppressing a lot.

Remember how progressives were going to hold Obama's feet to the fire? How they were going to apply populist pressure? We now see where that energy went -- into a holding account marked Summer 2011. And it wasn't being saved for Obama. The recent effort by liberal scribes to rescue and polish Hubert Humphrey's reputation shows where many progressive heads are at. They want to serve their betters. They want to be led. For all of his "mistakes" (forced upon him by Republicans who hate America), Obama remains their preferred shepherd.

Radicals like Alexander Cockburn think that a GOP victory in '12 might reignite social justice/antiwar activism. To some degree, sure. But Obama's presidency exposed how hollow the "antiwar" movement was during the Bush/Cheney years. Swayed by Obama's focus group-tested sermons, large numbers of protesters fell mute. They believed again in the system. Extension of Bush's policies by Obama failed to erode their HOPE. In many ways, it was strengthened.

Opposition to a Perry or Romney administration would be at best tactical. Liberals would be in a four-year holding pattern until they could support the Next Savior. President Franken? Why not? A comedian president would be a perfect fit. A looted and crumbling infrastructure should have a laughtrack, if only to muffle the cries of the screwed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random Acts Of Meaningless Violence

Like so much else in southeastern Michigan, Borders Books is closing. Bargain placards promise big savings. Half the shelves are empty. What's left has been reshuffled and scattered. People pick at the bones, smiling. The place has a Target/Walmart vibe. All this effort put into words seemingly wasted.

The books appear sad to me. Even writers I don't like get my sympathy. Borders was a chain which in headier times I deplored. But to see it collapse like this is depressing.

Borders began in Ann Arbor, so it's fitting that it end here. Just after we moved here, I gave a reading for American Fan at the downtown store. Fan garnered good reviews, a nice mention from Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times, and a stirring endorsement from a local critic. My mixed feelings about Fan didn't matter. My publisher's indifference to Fan did, but I was able to squeeze out a couple of readings and radio interviews before the Murdoch hammer fell.

The Borders reading was sparsely attended. No one knew who I was nor cared. A few people strolled in as I performed the better passages. One guy identified himself as a Cubs fan. He took issue with something I said about Wrigley Field rituals (yes, I got heckled at a book reading). He was a living example of what I wrote about. I don't think he saw himself that way. He seemed too earnest. That was over a decade ago, and the Cubs still haven't won or gone to a World Series. Hope he's holding up.

Standing in the spot where I read. It's nearly empty. They're selling the bookcases too. Hell, you could rip up pieces of carpet and haggle a decent price for them. I walk back to my apartment. Cross the main campus. More and more kids. The old, ivy-covered buildings are as lost in time as me. Their presence makes you think of leather-bound books. Hushed reading rooms. Dusty sunlight on long oak tables. Some of that remains, but it's increasingly archaic.

Soon everything will be stored on discs, apps, blitts and blurds. Like on Star Trek. Not so bad, I suppose. Once holodeck technology is perfected, books will be finished. Who'll want to read when you can be a book's character?

I'd try Gore Vidal's Lincoln. Surely a man so revered and cited had numerous flaws and blind spots. What better way to learn this than by playing Vidal's revisionist Abe? I might change the program near the end. Have Lincoln fight John Wilkes Booth. He'd still die, but my version at least gives Lincoln a chance. Plus it's more exciting. The quick bullet to the head is so Sopranos.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Status Report

Girls are streaming back to campus. You can't miss that living on sorority row. They're well dressed with the requisite toys. Mostly white and no doubt pampered. Michigan's not a cheap school to attend. A few across the street sun themselves in the afternoon. Tiny bikinis over young tight skin. I watch them now and then. But that's all. I have yet to reach Old Perv status. I'm saving that for my golden years.

This is my last week of sublet living. I've been in this apartment since February. Its tenant returns from Paris to teach these pampered kids. I have yet to find a suitable replacement. It's amazing what people try to rent to you. Many landlords seem whacked out. Property relations aren't terribly cordial. A few nice people, but the rest on edge.

One woman demanded to know all about me. I had to pass some morality test. I said I was a writer. She paused, then promised to phone back. She did but lied, saying that she just remembered renting the place to someone else. While I'd like to think it was my admission that sunk me, I'm sure it was my humor. Certain people you don't joke with. She was one.

Looks like I'll return to hotel living. Probably the same place I stayed when my marriage broke apart. A dive, but habitable and cheap. I don't need much. I've been through so many bouts with poverty that a survival sense kicks in. I can stretch pretty much anything -- clothes, food, booze, assorted sundries. I still have notebooks to fill, and low life gives me time to do that. I occasionally go crazy, stalk my space cackling, crying, shaking. Isolation bends the mind. God knows what I'll see when it breaks.

The English riots are a savage dream, at least from this distance. Blessedly, Americans are too disconnected to riot. An atomized mass tearing up the streets would be a nightmare. With no real populist movement to give resistance shape, we are left with individuals lost in chaos.

I saw a glimpse of this during the 2003 blackout. Drivers arguing in the absence of traffic lights. People fighting over bags of ice at gas stations. Several neighbors walled themselves off, refusing to pool limited resources. My next door neighbor threw a blackout party in his carport. A few of us attended. We drank beer and watched a preseason NFL game on a small TV hooked to his Jeep's battery. A nice reminder that not everyone is frightened.

As always, my PayPal guitar case is open to donations. I'll continue to post whatever crosses my mind, in between writing jags on the book. Confessionals, satire, reviews, prose poems, bizarro configurations -- I give you all I have. You may not want it, but I'm giving it anyway. I'm just that kind of guy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chaotic Masters

Caesar's ape insurrection was stirring to see, but how does he turn a skirmish with the SFPD into world domination? Suggestions of a human pandemic help, yet it will take more than people coughing blood to flip reality in the simians' favor. No matter. Rise of the Planet of the Apes briefly lifted my spirits, then it was back among humans and another level of knuckle dragging.

Some reviewers compare the new Apes film to Spartacus, both of which feature slave revolts. Apes is more radical because it's contemporary. It targets Big Pharma, animal abuse and human arrogance, inviting viewers to cheer on their own destruction. This is particularly refreshing given the endless alien invasion movies where humans always fight for survival. In Apes, we're the violent aliens. Our occupation starts to crumble as greed and cruelty consume us. We have it coming.

At present we're getting mauled by our own kind. Species-wise, that is. Our attackers may as well be aliens, their wealth and power far beyond our timid reach. The rich have not only won, they are rubbing our noses in their shit.

Nowhere else in the developed world does this go unanswered, except in the United States. A few friends believe that the debt deal will stir people to action. Our owners pushed too far. Again, I'm all for it. The Arab uprisings are a guide (Israelis clog the streets, too, moved more by real estate values than the occupation), and they have fewer openings in which to act. We have no excuse.

Tea Partiers are a theatrical distraction, funded to make noise about American folklore. If they were serious about our economic straits, they'd be more critical of corporate capitalism and the bipartisan arrangement that keeps it in place.

Instead, they rave on about Obama the Socialist Muslim. They cite the Founders as timeless seers whose 18th century social notions fit a 21st century global economy. They blast runaway spending but say little about corporate/military influence. That they didn't erupt when Bush expanded the state exposes their hypocrisy. Tea Partiers are no threat to the status quo. They espouse some vile opinions, but then so do many Americans.

Liberals pout and are equally locked down. Far from organizing grassroots resistance, liberals leap into Dem arms, afraid of the scary GOP. As I've said, it's a beautiful system for those who own it.

Proles beg the corporate parties for shelter, protection, recognition, rewards. Any crumb that falls excites and keeps them docile. Each side uses the other to justify their acquiescence. An obvious point, yet how often is it expressed in mainstream discourse? By those who seek a steady pundit gig, I mean. And even if it was, how would this undermine elite control?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be a CGI fantasy, but it does convey one realistic truth: A time comes when cages must be broken. If this isn't the time, I don't know when is.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dirty Feet

The place is on the rural edge of town. Where suburbia stops and farm land begins. The address is hidden by weeds, the driveway worn tire patches in uncut grass. I pull in slowly, under 50 yards of low interlocking tree branches. Roll into an opening greeted by cars. Seven that I can see. All in various states of disrepair.

To the left is a rusting shed, door tied open with a power cord. A shirtless kid, maybe 20-21, has his hands in an old Cadillac's engine. A young woman, probably the same age, watches him, holding a grease-stained towel. The kid hears my car, grabs the towel, wipes his hands. He whispers to the woman who turns and glares. I keep my car running, unsure if this is the right address. The woman smiles and walks toward me.

She's very cute. Tank top, no bra. Short skirt. Blond braided pigtails. Face sweet but intense. She's seen things. Her pretty bare feet, green from the grass, send me back to Lawrence, Indiana. Mid-seventies. When most of my friends lived in trailer parks or rural houses.

In summer girls went barefoot. Wore cut-offs and halter tops. Had long wavy hair. Their sexuality open, unforced. They didn't pose, preen, make crude hand gestures. I eventually lost my virginity to one of these girls, then fucked one of her friends. Barefoot girls in grass still get me going.

I get out of my car. "Is this 2378 Jericho?" The woman nods yes. "I'm here to see the apartment."

Her eyes are blazing blue. Fierce dirty blond eyebrows. Tattoo of a flaming sword on her right bicep. "Sure. Follow me."

We walk past two rotting cars on blocks down a stone-lined path. Everything is overgrown. Vines cover parts of the house. Trees and bushes untrimmed. She leads me to a dirty white door that sticks a bit when opening. "You have the whole basement. Look around. I'll be upstairs."

First thing is the smell. Serious mildew. The air conditioner spits out tepid cool that stinks. Hand prints dot the hallway walls. Grease or dirt, I can't tell.

Enter the main living area. A literal pit. Trash everywhere. Dirty clothes and underwear strewn about. Dozens of empty bottles -- beer, wine, booze. Cobwebs in the high corners. Small mattress pushed against the back wall. NASCAR and Budweiser posters peeling from scotch tape. I don't see rodents, but given the location and the filth, they must be here.

What the fuck? Is she serious? This place needs a biohazard cleaning crew. The kitchen's even worse. Dirty tiles. Stained carpet. Water damage on the ceiling. The stench is overwhelming. Are these people insane? Who the hell would rent such a dump?

I walk back to the entrance. Smell of weed from upstairs. The woman laughs. Bottles are opened. I stop and ponder. Clearly, these people like to party. They're unashamed of their hedonism. I'm not the tidiest guy on earth, but I do have boundaries.

These people are off the charts. Something about that excites me. To let go so fully. To laugh, drink, and smoke in the face of it. Then there's the young woman. Seeing her daily would ease some anxiety. Or probably create more. The hillbilly girls of my youth sing to me. I see them in the yard, running around the dead cars.

No. I'm too old for this. Plus I need to write. I yell up the stairs, "Thanks for your time." The woman appears, beer in hand. I can almost see up her skirt. Her legs are amazing.

"Any questions?"

"Nope. It's just not for me. Thanks again."

She shrugs and disappears. More laughter as I leave.

The kid's still working on the Cadillac. I drive off, glance in the rearview mirror. The hillbilly girls run into the woods, back to their time. I pull onto the main road and look for a liquor store.

(Above image by Jan Goff-LaFontaine)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Assemble The Ways

Writing in withering heat is an endurance test. My sublet has no air conditioning and resembles the box in Cool Hand Luke. Fans spread warm air around. Cold baths and showers briefly help, but soon the sauna returns. I sweat over notebooks, salty drops smudging my longhand. I wanted retro conditions so I really can't complain. Mencken dealt with summer heat by writing in his underwear. Ginsberg wrote nude, but I don't think it took heat to inspire him.

This book, or whatever it is, has become hand-to-hand combat. It's the oddest project I've ever tackled. It's also the deepest. Snapshots of a dead age. Images that spill into my dreams. Emotions not fully understood. Sadness and elation in the same breath.

I slog through it all, piecing together fragments, hoping to realize a whole. I thought writing about another person's life was taxing. Try exploring yours without romance or embellishment. No wonder so many writers simply make-up their "memoirs." It's a hell of a lot easier and more entertaining. Who really cares if you didn't have a threesome with Soviet gymnasts? Think big.

Meanwhile the brutal world passes by. Fascist violence in Norway. State-sponsored violence from Syria to Libya. Rupert Murdoch's criminal phone hacking network. And of course President Hope's inevitable attack on Social Security and Medicare.

It's redundant to note that only a Democrat could get away with this, yet it's all too true. That the liberal savior is overseeing the cuts must really sting his followers. I'm tempted to say they have it coming, but after Obama's debt deal with our owners' reactionary wing, we're all going to get it. Schadenfreude is pointless.

This won't stop liberals from voting again for Obama. Nothing would. Obama knows this and serves his real base. The slaves will come crawling, thinking that their votes will stave off ruin and plunder. All they're doing is ratifying further political attacks on themselves. The brighter slaves understand and rationalize. The dimmer slaves smile and beg for more. Our owners remain untouched, free to milk the system anytime they choose. Their press agents insist that we're the envy of the world. Many of us believe it or want to, crumbling infrastructure to the contrary.

Old family photos portray a shinier past, when American power and wealth was at its zenith. Big cars, new neighborhoods, expanding consumer confidence. I bitch about today's tech toys, but looking back to my childhood, there were countless toys to go around. People bought the bullshit because they were able to buy things. For people my age and older, the steady American decline has been quite amazing to witness. It doesn't seem real, but that's the privilege of living in an imperial country. Fantasy is always an option.

I'm guessing this is why so many kids are jaded and cruel. What do they have to look forward to? What's it like to be a teen or young adult in this era? I haven't the slightest and desire none. I still believe another world is possible, but this may be age talking. Who can focus on alternatives when the life boats are sinking?