Thursday, September 29, 2011

Edge Of No Escape

A well-read citizen is an informed citizen. I used to believe that. Being self-educated, I read everything I could. This really began in the Army. My base library was amazingly well-stocked. Diverse. I first read Paul Krassner there.

I even read The Militant, the SWP's main organ. Their headlines -- US HANDS OFF NICARAGUA! -- seemed ballsy to someone raised in a conservative environment. I balanced this by reading the Indianapolis Star, at that time one of the most reactionary papers in the country. I created a character, David Standifer, who wrote letters attacking the Star from the extreme right. Not only were these published, they often were the featured letter.

When I worked for FAIR, my reading accelerated. Four major papers daily. All the news magazines weekly. Liberal opinion mags. Most of the right wing, including Human Events and Policy Review.

Plus, I practically camped out at the New York Pubic Library's periodical wing on 40th Street. Read The New Freeman from the 30's. Partisan Review from the 40's. National Review from the 50's. The Nation from the 60's. Commentary from the 70's. Ramparts. New Republic. Mencken's American Mercury. I soaked it all in.

Now I wonder why. Most political commentary is insulting. The level of writing an embarrassment. The Web is responsible for much of this. Instant access to any audience has made people lazy, careless, sloppy. Semi-formed thoughts clog the tubes. Ignorance is a sign of authenticity. And this from those who make or try to make a living as pundits/experts. Comment threads are a sorrier story.

I've ranted about this before. Yet I still read them. I know that a vast number of Americans are uninformed, but their comments continually surprise me. I suppose we all need an area where surprise still occurs. Especially as we age. For me, at least for now, online comment threads serve that purpose.

Examples abound. Anything to do with war, race, or sex guarantees mad opinions. Immigration issues bring out the fascists. Politics are largely partisan. Boring tit-for-tats. People argue as if there are two distinct political realities. And only two. Larger pictures tend to confuse or anger them. But you'd think that unemployment and poverty would generate a sense of common concern.


The news story is sad enough. But look at the comments. The lunacy is generally reactionary-based. Defenses of Obama and Bill Clinton appear. Mostly wishful thinking and nostalgic gloss. But it's the self-professed patriots who bellow loudest.

This should please our owners. They wage class war on us, and people attack each other. Blame the powerless for their problems. Depoliticizing the populace has paid off -- for the One Percent. All those years busting unions, shifting labor to overseas sweat shops, and underfunding pubic education worked. Corporate ownership of the media makes it all seem perfectly natural. Only a nut would attack our envied way of life.

This is why Occupy Wall Street is important. People are pushing back. Madison wasn't an anomaly: it was the opening bell. How far this goes is unknown. Our rulers are banking on continued ignorance and disinterest to stem this active tide. That may well happen. But it won't work for long. More and more people are going under. Survival is a basic instinct. The question is, how much fight do we have in us?

ALSO: Friends Liza Featherstone and Doug Henwood ponder Occupation as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time Never Tells

Wall Street remains occupied. By capital. The dissident children were easily, roughly swept aside. Their hearts are in a good place. Their bodies a minor nuisance. They'll stream back to prove their resolve. And they'll get pepper sprayed and beaten down again. And again. However many times it takes. Capital is patient. But it does have limits.

I admire these kids. They're off their asses. Agitating. Arguing. Providing a living example. There's passion and feeling in their dissent. They're willing to be punished. It's easy to mock them, but how many of you would take their place? Primarily when the cops attack?

Corporate media dismisses them. The New York Times is especially snide and condescending. The Times and others of their class despise democracy. Demonstrations count only in official enemy states. At home, it's unnecessary. Petulant. Naive.

How serious can these kids really be? They use laptops and iPhones to communicate and spread their message. If they were truly radical, they'd use cardboard megaphones. Hand signs. Smoke signals. Using The Man's technology is hypocritical.

Our owners fear any rustling from below. They'll throw whatever they have at those unsatisfied with our paradise. There are signs that the Wall Street protests will expand nationally. If so, get ready for serious shit slinging.

Yet I have doubts. The class war from above demoralizes as much as it incites. Countless people have surrendered. Faded from view. To demonstrate or occupy corporate turf doesn't seem like a wise option. You'll get beaten and arrested. For what? Making mortgage payments is tough enough.

This part of Michigan was once militant. From organized labor to student agitation. Now there's nothing. Shop after shop goes under. Strip malls abandoned. Legalized loan shark parlors spread. Dollar stores hang on. Parking lots riots of weeds. Roads in serious disrepair. Those with jobs feel lucky to be employed. Everyone else is on their own. A general resignation prevails. Life limps by.

After 12 years in Michigan, I'm finally moving on. Back to the east coast. To DC. One kid's an adult and living on her own. My son is well into high school. I'm no longer married. The only work I can get here is janitorial. Part time. And I'm done with that world. It bettered me. Humbled me. Made me understand. But it's over. The Belly of the Beast awaits.

I'll fill in the blanks soon. Until then, much love. And if you can help, you know the drill. Peach out.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Soul Bellow

God that's awful. Apologies. Anyway, here's me reading at Ron Lynch's Tomorrow show in LA. March 12, 2011. David Higgins co-hosted. Both had impeccable manners. Bless 'em.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tweedle Dope

Hi all. Working on the usual things. I plan to post more about various topics. Depends on objective reality and my level of pain and/or interest. But you need not wait for a post to see what's on my mind. If you don't already, please follow my Twitter feed for daily affirmations. It's kinda 140 via 4/20. Or 80 proof.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Daily Prayer

Best way to cultivate
satirists --
shower them in awards
pamper them with praise
celebrate their insights.

When a system based
on sensation and lies,
justifying theft
celebrating death
elevating fools
tells you that you've
stripped it bare
made it bleed,
say goodnight.

You're tucked in
safe warm snug
until the next clown

Make as much
money as you
can before you
receive your
Mark Twain award.

And always
keep 'em laughing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deadly As Life

Her screams finally stopped. Nothing dire from the sound of it. Maybe sex. Stubbed toe. Anger. Not that I would or could protest. In this joint, minding your business is the safest option.

The guy she's with hacks a lot. Deep bass coughs. They make a grumbling racket. Booms on the floor. Hitting walls. Slamming doors.

If they were permanent, we'd have a problem. But like me they're passing through. Transitory. You can trash these rooms and never leave a mark. New day, new ghosts.

Mornings before dawn, cop or ambulance lights flash in the lot. Some people are always in trouble. Many end up here.

I wonder when my turn will come. When my liver bursts. My heart explodes. My isolation drives me to destructive stupidity. Stay here long enough and your number gets called. A deli of pain. Rotting meat under dim yellow light.

I should be grateful. I have time to finish this manuscript. Too much fucking time. Every hour of work, the fear roars back. My life's been defined by fear. The emotion I know best.

Tracing its origins is difficult. Impossible to find a starting point. My teen parents were afraid before I was sentient. As their first born, I inherited their fear. Made it mine. We've run around and away from each other ever since.

I better understand my parents through this project, yet feel further away. Anger is now empathy. Hatred mere sadness. No blame. No grudge. Little remorse. Forgiveness helps. Letting go even more.

Late night hotel silence. Scent of desperate people. Scrawl, drink, smoke. Dig so far into your mind that another reality emerges. Being broke strips away useless noise. But failure frees you only so much.

All that is left is me. Aging, emotional, frantic. Tender, too. But not crazy. I've seen crazy point blank. Been attacked by it. In the madhouse. As a teen. I've used the word carelessly, but know its true range. Crazy is for those who don't know what crazy is.

Fear remains the vital nerve. I've wrestled with it. Broken parts of it down. Turned some of it to my brief advantage. Fear haunts and fuels this project. Until I finish this, everything else is pantomime.

Back to the notebooks. Maybe someday you'll read them.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Walked down my suburban street, looking for suspicious activity. The government warned about possible terror threats, and I believed them. The government wouldn't lie about something so dangerous. Especially on 9/11: Year 10. That would be callous. Manipulative. Our crusade can't afford such distractions. So I kept my eyes peeled.

Most homes complied with the patriotic code. Flags at half-staff. Star spangled ribbon magnets on SUVs and minivans. One home's front door was open. I saw two young kids watching the Twin Towers burn and collapse over and over again.

Good. They probably weren't born when Freedom fell under attack, so drilling those images into their tender minds is important. When they turn 18 and join the military, they'll know what they're avenging.

Then I came to the Trouble House. I never liked this place. I don't like the way they mow their lawn. I don't like their curtains. I don't like that boat in their driveway. They never use it. It just sits there.

Maybe they're waiting for a flood. Smart move, but they'll probably let the rest of us drown. Laugh between swigs of imported beer as we claw at the boat's basin. That's the kind of people they are. I haven't met or talked to them, so I could be wrong. But I rarely am, especially when it comes to national security.

Today they tipped their hand. Drunk on imported beer, contemptuous of Year 10, they flew their flag at full-staff. Old Glory riding high for all to see. The flag flapped confidently in the breeze, top of the pole as if it was top of the world. I was tempted to blame the flag, but reason intervened.

It wasn't the flag's fault. In its heart it knows it should be at half-staff, yet it couldn't help itself. Once a flag runs up a pole, instinct takes over. It must reach the top and flap away. Like a salmon trying to spawn while being eaten by a bear groggy from a conservationist's drug dart. That's nature.

No, the owners were to blame. I marched to their front door, knees high, arms waving. Rang the doorbell. The guy opened and stared at me.


He wiped dark grease from his hands. What was he working on? It wasn't the boat. Never the boat. It was something else. Something with grease.

"Happy 9/11. May I have a word?"

He shrugged his shoulders. I guess in his world that meant yes. Or maybe it meant Get off my porch before I wipe grease on you. I gambled and bet it meant yes.

"Sir, do you know what today is?"

He smiled. "Sure. Sunday."

Oh, we were going to play that game. Okay, boat boy. Bring it.

"No sir. It's 9/11: Year 10."

"Of course. Yes. What a tragedy."

Clever. Very clever. But too clever. It's like he wanted to get caught.

"I noticed that your flag is at full-staff."

"Uh huh."

"Well, on 9/11, all flags must be at half-staff."

He seemed irked. His grease wiping intensified.

"I love my country. I love that flag. It flies at full-staff no matter what."

I braced for an attack. One thing I learned since 9/11 was to always be ready for an attack.

A moment or two passed. He was bluffing. Lucky for him. I got off my knees, pulled my shirt down from over my head and stopped sobbing.

"Look," he said, "I appreciate your concern. But this is my house. You fly your flag your way. I'll fly mine my way."

He closed the door.

I considered reporting him to Homeland Security, but they have enough potential terrorism to stop. This was strictly my move.

I pondered my alternatives. But pondering can lead to paralysis. That's another thing I learned from 9/11 -- don't think too much. At some point, action is required.

I found a chunk of broken concrete. Throw this through his front window and he'd learn that Freedom isn't free. Replacing that window would cost at least a few hundred bucks. But that lesson would be temporary. I needed to make a lasting statement.

I squeezed out most of the dump before he spotted me. Taking a shit on his boat showed that no one is safe. As he chased me down the street, I felt a surge of pride. Then I cut across the playground and jumped a fence, holding up my falling pants.

He never caught me. Destiny had something to do with it, but hiding in a drainage ditch until dark helped too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Excuse Please

For those who have chipped in, no need to read further. You've helped me stay afloat. Thank you. Now return to your crazy lives before I get mushy and start kissing on you.

For everyone else predisposed, any contribution to the effort is appreciated. I'm in rootless cosmopolitan mode. Living hotel room to hotel room. Cheap joints right out of Twin Peaks, but not Wild At Heart. I have a limit to certain David Lynch interiors. And if I see anyone who resembles Willem Dafoe, I'm sleeping in my car.

Anyway, thanks in advance. I have a few copies of my books I can sign and mail in return. Or I can give you a walk-on role in my newest effort. It's a period piece. When pants, lapels, and neckties widened. When Johnny Carson and Buddy Hackett grew their hair. Let PayPal be your time machine. I'll try to keep you away from family gatherings.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Killing Fields Forever

"I love this country. I hate it. I get angry at it. I feel close to it. I'm charmed by it. I'm repelled by it."
Norman Mailer

"The one generalization which is true about America is that everything is true about it. It's impossible to say anything that isn't true, good or bad. Our enemies are right. Our friends are right."
Orson Welles

"I love America with a passion. But this is a dark, screwed-up place, and anyone who doesn't think so is criminally insane or retarded . . . America was never innocent."
James Ellroy

ESPN lit the first fire. Makes sense. Corporate sports are spectacle. Part of the spectacle is to sell obedience. To our betters. To the state. To the flag. The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks encompasses this and more. Not that a heavy pitch is needed. Show the Towers crumbling and Americans are sold. Again and again.

ESPN has been running stories about sports as a healing balm. Discussions about its importance. Corporate diversion as medicine show. There's an element of truth to it. The best propaganda uses obvious truths. People crave inclusion. Desire love. Want to be on winning teams. The shock of 9/11 fed this need. Deepened it. Bent it in ways that remain evident.

Celebrations over Bin Laden's murder showed how bent many Americans remain since 9/11. If anything, we're uglier. Pettier. More desperate to prove our righteousness.

Killing Bin Laden had little to do with justice or revenge. It was about American primacy. The idea that a Muslim in a cave fucked with us rankled millions. What God-driven kick-ass nation tolerates this? That Bin Laden was wasting away meant nothing. We had to smear his blood on our foreheads to feel whole again.

But that was a false feeling. A nationalist crank high. Bin Laden's death didn't improve American reality. It was a media event. A state sacrifice. Watching people dance in the streets must have warmed our owners' hearts. Any release of popular hatred not aimed at them is a plus.

As horrific as 9/11 was, the class war that followed is much worse. Our owners don't need to fly planes into buildings to destroy lives. Just drain local economies and let them die. Physical, emotional, and psychic wreckage surround us. It's piling up. There are protests here and there, but nothing serious. Nothing that cuts into the fabric.

Poor people in a depressed area applauded a president who days before further strengthened corporate rule. Obama's re-election stunt in Detroit shows he'll face little populist resistance. Only those devoted to increased corporate power wish to see him go.

To say we are twisted is polite. We are fucked in the head. It's remarkable that our skulls aren't exploding.

Years ago I was asked what I thought of 9/11. Instant mass murder. Terror. Insanity. Sacrifice. Sadness. The obvious impressions. Then I said I was surprised it didn't happen earlier. We were long overdue for violent retaliation.

My questioner balked at this. America "deserved" to be attacked? No -- it was a simple matter of physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. All the violence we've unleashed on the world was bound to come back to us. It was only a matter of time.

The crucial difference is that our better victims wouldn't think of such a thing. The Vietnamese and the Nicaraguans had plenty of justifications for attacking American turf. But they didn't. No car bombs. No hijacked planes. No burning, collapsing skyscrapers. It took clerical fascists to do that. Cousins of our "freedom fighting" friends from once upon a time. It's said that water seeks its own level. Blood is certainly no different.

Maybe Mohamed Atta and company didn't care about the attacks beyond their perceived martyrdom. But they pushed an American button that led to a decade of violence, torture, lies, corruption, theft, and numerous war crimes.

Our reaction proved them largely right about our hypocrisy. Our concern only for American lives. Like them, we seek religious meaning in massive suffering. The Twin Towers have become the national crucifix. A symbol of pretend innocence. A marker for future crusades.

The 9/11 terrorists fueled the needs of American sensation. A lasting contribution to our vocabulary. An indelible piece of our collective identity. Without them, there is no current us. That's the true legacy of that awful day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Leisurely Check Out Time

Looking at the bank I once cleaned. Three stories. Five nights a week for six months. A solo gig.

Banks are among the worst places to clean. Bathrooms especially. It's amazing how awful they can be. Piss on the floor. Shit smeared on the seat. Used toilet paper crammed in trash bins. Bloody tampons spilling out of dispensers. Soiled diapers. People on bank business really let it go. Maybe it's payback. Maybe they don't care.

This bank's bathrooms were pretty bad. The employee break room as well. Garbage shoved into overflowing cans. Soda and coffee splashed on the wall. Half-eaten fast food on the floor and counters. I usually started here. Get the worst out of the way. Cleaning this night after night coarsened me. I hated people I never met. I had yet to develop empathy for those just as trapped as me.

The tellers' area was a sea of crumpled paper. Their trash cans also spilled over. I had to segregate official garbage from crusty wrappers. Customer account numbers and balance statements went in a locked dumpster. A co-worker at another bank was fired for not doing this. Part of me pined for dismissal. But I had to help feed my kids. So I dutifully segregated.

It's night. The bank's lights are on. A lone pick up truck near the side entrance. Some poor soul is in there cleaning. An asshole perhaps. A drunk. Pill head. I've worked with them all. Some probably saw me as an asshole. Fair enough. But I never worked fucked up. I wanted to finish the job as quickly as possible. Once done, I'd take a few swigs from a pint. Sit on my car hood. Stare at the building like I'm staring at it now.

I'm tempted to walk over and peek inside. Just thinking about that place saddens me. My fingers stiff from years of mop handles and hauling trash. My arms bigger but sore every morning. Knees worn. My body reminds me what cleaning did to it. It has no interest in looking back. I lower the hotel room's shade. Pour myself a drink. Sit in the dark. Ponder what's next.

I haven't performed since March. Spent the summer writing. Digging, clawing, scratching it out. I'm not as far as I'd hoped. Some really good stuff. Fresh patterns of remembrance. But short of my stated goal. So the work continues. Wherever I happen to crash. Whenever I have the fuel to face myself.

I'd like to get back on stage soon. Just to riff. No bits or routines. A general premise then zoom. Off to the races.

A year of stage diving freed me. The tightness felt when I first returned gone. I'm even nostalgic for the Village Lantern. But only with Ray Combs as emcee. Ray's room crackled with various energies. It was never boring. Offensive, tasteless, amateurish, yes. But always interesting. Those were wild nights.

Louis C.K. recently featured the Lantern on his excellent FX show. Louie set the Lantern in deepest Brooklyn. His caustic friend, played by Doug Stanhope, drags Louie to where the "real" comics play.

That the Lantern is around the corner from the Comedy Cellar, Louie's home base, didn't diminish the segment. He accurately captured the Lantern's mood. Stray laughs. Loose deliveries. Scattered people murmuring throughout. It took me back to this Lantern set.

As I've said, this was a breakthrough for me. Save for the opening lines, everything was improvised. It was a rainy night. Small crowd. Every comic struggled. Even Ray.

I felt comfortable. In the flow. The ending joke surprised me. I have no idea where it came from. That's the beauty of improvisation -- a measure of your frantic mind. Well, mine anyway.