Dec 31, 2005
"And I'd disliked her sighs. She sighed too much, I announced to myself one day, and worse, her sighs were weary, were groaning and exhausted, the sigh of an old person who'd sen everything and couldn't believe she was now being held, at the end of a journey she could never describe. The sighs were withering, were mood-killing, and finally I complained about Charlotte's sighs, to no avail. She'd responded with another sigh and that, I now know, was the end of the end.
"I was a fool."
- Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velcity!
Dec 29, 2005
There was this cat.
He looked like an LSD burnout. Like an old man never recovered from what he'd seen. One eye was scarred half closed and the other open too wide and wandering. He was wearing this dirty white fur and a weird looking head, alien shaped. When I stepped on the porch he looked at me, wild eyed and scared and ready to freak and when I took another step he ran. He ran through the rail in a leap, crashed through the boxwood bush in a leaf-trembling tumble and scratched himself up into a run out over the winter-dead lawn into the street.
In the street the cat ran against traffic running like he was chased by the devil. Or by devils. By terror, by horror, by unnamable panic.
He hit the car on the side of a tire, taking the tire's turn to be thrown down to the pavement and then lifted off into the exhausted air. A tuft of fur was torn off and puffed into the aerodynamic wind, flowing up into traffic like a bit of litter. The cat didn't land on his feet, like cats are supposed to land on their feet, but took a three somersault tumble coming up confused and crazed. The cat screamed, like cat's aren't supposed to scream. He screamed a scream taking everything into account, counting all of the luck up until now as a trick that was no longer working. This time he couldn't escape and this time everything was wrong, off balance. All of his lives and his feet were lost.
Taking all this as evidence of terror he ran again. He ran again and he ran into the second tire of the second. Not to the side of it but head on in nto a horrible crunch leaving him laying there, in the traffic. Broken. Dead. The cat was silent. The car skided, squealed, and kept going.
Best 20 movies.
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Best newspaper writing.
Best media errors and corrections.
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Top CIA "ghost prisoners."
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Dec 26, 2005
Dec 25, 2005
Dec 24, 2005
Wandering broke around downtown Detroit
The ice was working to slush in the afternoon rise to 33 degrees, slush slopping up around the sidewalk's lights like collars. Coming down the iced-up stretch coming off the two stadiums, Ford and Comerica, I passed a dozen bars, all of them expensive looking to a guy with just quarters in his pocket, and a liquor store and some restaurants advertising “cuisine” instead of food. Not a single coffee shop, though, not even a Starbucks where business people might pick up a soy cappuccino and listen to Sly and the Family Stone or something. Apparently Detroit doesn't drink coffee.
Sorry man, I said to a panhandler in the same brotherly jive he was using, I'm broke as hell.
Yeah okay, he said.
But hey man, you know where I can find a coffee shop?
Isn't that one across the street? he said.
That's a bar, I said.
Ain't they got coffee?
They got beer. I just wanna cup of coffee.
There's a hotdog truck front of the court house.
The hotdog stand was closed and anyway what I needed in addition to a cheap cup of coffee was a place to sit for a couple of hours while I waited for a friend to finish his interview and accounting house tour. so I kept walking. Set off in a zig-zaggy pattern crossing the street when there wasn't any traffic and accidentally following the trolley car calling itself the Detroit People Mover.
I ended up on the steps of a public library, Skillman branch, looking at the decorative stone work of stylized swastikas. I'd seen the design before, in a rod iron stair railing in a house in Grand Rapids built by a German woman in the '30s. They were a little embarrassed, when I asked. Said they'd been intending to replace it and said, a little accusing like maybe I was a Nazi for noticing, that most people didn't notice, because it was so stylized. Not that you can really stylize something that's as abstract as a swastika, but they were stylized in the sense of being muted. Racism without the garishness of being spray painted on the side of a synagogue
This the old library? a man on the street said.
Yeah, I said.
They got a baffroom?
Prob'ly, I said.
Lady at the front desk said I didn't need to check my bag but could she look and I showed her and she said nice bag like she wasn't looking for drugs or guns or bombs, but fashion. The children's section was empty when I went in, so I found a table with a green covered reading lamp by the books about turtles and penguins but was kicked out after a few minutes for not being a kid after 1 p.m.
I'd finished reading LeRoi Jones' play The Toilet when I fell asleep on the hardwood table, head down on my arm. Woke up with the cell phone buzzing around in a vibrating techno-death rattle on the tabletop, buzzing to say they were down at the accounting house and now I could go home. Over the aisle two men were asleep, one of them snoring and one of them smelling like he'd pissed himself. The man across the table from me didn't move, his white-bearded chin down asleep on his hands holding open the middle of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.
Dec 19, 2005
Dec 13, 2005
Well that was more writing that I realized, but I'm particularly happy with 3 & 5. I think. Some sleep might change my mind. It feels good to have all that written, anyway.
Dec 10, 2005
Dec 9, 2005
It's not an ominous place. It's not the sort of place that just somehow sets you off on a line of thought of wonding about the end of the world, or how to spell 'armageddon.' It's a suburbia full of mostly nice old people and temperate weather, with mountain views and sea air and it's pretty much like a travel brochure, tinged with that sappy quaintness. All the old people are always moving there because of how nice it is and the only undercurrent of uncomfortableness they say they feel is a niggling concern for the almost final obliteration of the rural Northwest community it once was. There are only two dairies left. I guess they'll be there until their owners die. There's one for-show horse farm, an organic farm, some tourist-friendly lavender fields, and a rusted grain silo.
The silo is square, an ugly tin tower in the middle of town rising from the tile roof of a Mexican restaurant. The restaurant's painted up tastefully colorful but then the silo comes out of the roof like a hideous interruption, looking really weird with walls of dull tin ungracefully rising to the top with corrugated gables. It stands there towering with all the horror-flick animosity and ominousness of a monster rising from the sea.
Mr. Bodds owns the copy shop under the silo. Every day he drives to work in an RV. Every day he drives the RV fully loaded with canned foods and valuables and everything he'd need to survive and he backs it into the lot behind the silo so he'll be ready, ready to run. So he'll be ready to run from the tsunami wave. He's been predicting a tsunami for at least ten years now, writing weekly warning letters to the weekly paper citing a mixture of opaque apocalyptic legends from local tribes and scientific papers from out-of-work scientists who have short wave radio shows. Sometimes Bodds says it'll be an earthquake that sets off the tsunami, breaking that whole peninsula loose from the land and sinking into the sea, setting it loose to go crashing into Canada. Sometimes he says it'll be a planetary alignment disaligning the gravitational pull and pushing the water up into a wave wiping up the mountains. Always, though, every time, he says it will be total disaster.
He's got a big map on the wall, color coded for disaster. It shows the whole stretch of land from the Puget Sound to the Pacific, everything above the Cascades and below the Strait of Juan de Fuca is there and all of it's inked over in pink and green and orange and blue and each color is linked to water, how much water will wash everything away.
He sells survival kits but his plan isn't to hide out and survive. If you ask him what he's going to do, he's going to escape. He's going to run out to the supply-stocked RV and drive the two-hour road along the coast outrunning the tsunami's wall of a wave to the turn where the road sneaks down the side of the mountains going south.
People ignore him. They ignore his letters and survival kits and ominous predictions. They think he's a kind old man but little kooky crazy and they try to get his wife to make their copies so they won't have to talk to him. So he wanders around making copies and fantasizing and muttering everything will be destroyed, and it's kind of quaint.
Another retiree moved in last month. Gray-haired and from California, another one in a town full of people seeking this temperate zone, a pleasant place to pass away. He has gray hair and a beard he's let grow and he's like everybody else. Except for the sign. He walks up and down the street with a handmade sign lettered in black electrical tape. COMING, it says, in capital letters, The tsunami is COMING to the Northwest. They had a picture in the paper and my mother clipped it and sent it to me and he doesn’t look crazy. He's smiling and he looks like someone who likes to laugh when his grandchildren open Christmas presents.
So the other day someone was asking what I was going to do, when this was all over. I said grad school if I can get in and he said what if you don’t and I said journalism. But that's a finicky field too and hard, you know, can be hard to get into so he said so what if you don't do journalism and I thought about last options and about the ominous shadow of that ridiculous silo.
Street prophet, I said, taking a drink of water. Apocalyptic street prophet.
Dec 6, 2005
An interesting piece of cyberpunk video concerning current dystopian fears about the information age, about the internet, the media, corporations, capitalism, and ourselves.
Aside: There is, I think, a very common very bad reading of futuristic literature, both utopian or dystopia. Rather than reading it as predictive of the future, as a genre akin to prophecy, it's better read as a projection of now. This allows us to move past the too simple debates about why such a future will or will not happen, and gives us interesting insights into what an era thinks of itself. It's more akin, really, to horror flicks, in that you temporarily buy into the over-the-top story, let yourself go with the exageratedness of the genre, and later look at the substrata of fear.
(via Will Farnham from Japan.)
Dec 4, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Dec 1, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Nov 28, 2005
To do by next Wednesday (posted here, in order of worry, so you'll know and I'll stop listing everything to myself in my head):
Write 30 - 50 pg thesis on the possibility of a linguistic solution to the mind body problem.
The good news is it's raining.
Nov 27, 2005
The snow was swallowing our car, the lights playing out a lulling snowflake vortex and I was trying not to fall asleep. The girls in the back were talking Sunday school curriculum, comparing and getting excited about the holiday weekend and going back to their church at home and seeing people, the old Sunday school teachers. They were comparing Sunday school teachers and songs and just because I'd had it with everything I decided to teach them the original version of Jesus Loves the Little Children, the version before it was nice and before it was multi-racial and before they sang it in church. The version with scaffolds and dead people and a revolutionary sentiment.
Whether on the scaffolds high or the battle fields we die... I put a brogue into it, staring into the snow trying to find the lane's lines and trying to not look in the back seat at their clean faces in scandalized silence.
It'd looked like I wasn't going to get out of town at all, that Thanksgiving, like I was gonna have to cook a turkey in the dorm microwave and eat it in my beige brick room. I'd called a guy who'd given me a ride before, out to my Uncle's. He said he was taking all of his laundry home and just didn't have any room in his soft topped jeep, but I suspected it was the trip-long unfriendly silence we fallen into 20 miles into the trip after I'd said I was reading Ginsberg for break and he'd said, but wasn't he gay?
So I called these girls I didn't know and asked them for a ride. The carpool of fundamentalist sophomores going to Jersey and Pennsylvania, going to a house in Harrisburg as a hub and the girl who had the car, who was driving, said yeah come along. Then she called back an hour latter saying, you can still come if you want to but you need to know that some of the girls don't want you to come. They're uncomfortable. I'm not going to say yes and then no, but just so you know.
All of their bags were in the trunk, when I got there, so I stood my bag on end between my legs in the front seat, my knees against the glove box, and we set off on the turnpike in the fall, me staying silent so's not to be left behind at some truck stop. It started to snow. With the snow came the cars spun out silly down the embankments and the driver saying she was getting tired and the back seat singing hymns I'd never heard and refusing to take a turn driving.
When we got there I stood aside for the hustle of coming home, holding my bag. Everybody's parents and siblings were there in a driveway of lined up vans and the dog was barking and jumping and running around in circles. When I finally asked if I could get a ride they said it was out of the way even though they knew I knew it was about 12 miles that they wouldn't take me.
You can have the couch, the Harrisburg girl said, if you don't mind the dog. If you can't figure out the ride to your Uncle's, we're having a bunch of people over. So I slept on the couch. I had $3, a stack of books, a change of clothes and a short couch in a town where I didn't want to be. I was too broke to buy a train ticket and anyway they were making you buy them a week in advance, because of Al Qaeda.
When I woke up the sun had lit up the snow in a cold glare and the house was empty. The girl and the mother and the dog and the little brother who looked at me suspiciously, all of them were gone and there was just a note, answer the phone if it rings. It might be my dad who's a truck driver.
When the phone rang I tried to remember their last name but couldn't. I found it on an envelope in the trash but I couldn't figure out how it was pronounced so I just said hello? A big voice loud over truck noises said, so you must be the guy my daughter brought home from college.
It's not really like that, I said.
I'm sure, he said.
an ongoing series in a weird legend
1. Gertie, in the bathroom of a resteraunt in Pollard Flat surprising patrons.
2. Jane, in the window of the Washington coffee shop where her swimsuit caused some Christian conservatives to avoid the place.
3. Rita, in the back room of Hillsdale's coffee shop and art venue, missing a torso.
Nov 26, 2005
Nov 24, 2005
... the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
- Abraham Lincoln, proclaiming Thanksgiving a national annual holiday.
Nov 18, 2005
Nov 15, 2005
Somebody’s getting more chairs from the porch and I’m unloading the seven piles of books and the stack of legal pads and the lamp and the notes and they’re all on the floor by the bed, by the wall. We move the table out from under the window and we draw. Low tile. And we draw, seven black-printed square wood tiles on the little stand and we look at the blank board. Saying nothing. Focusing. Concentrating.
I can’t hear anything but the clatter of tiles and the senseless mental recycling of sounds.
Two weeks ago, or so, I started playing scrabble. So far as I can remember I had never played before – for no reason but chance, I suppose, it wasn’t a game we played in my house. Then I saw it sitting on the self of the coffee house and art venue where some of us go to hide and drink coffee and listen to music and do homework. Just saw it there and said what about scrabble? and we played a couple of games.
We’ve got like one month left and we’re saying the house is under crazy watch, watching for the signs, watching for the bugged eyes, the glazed eyes, for erratic behavior and the rage that wells up at the impossibility of it all. We’re watching for the laughing fits and the sentences losing syntax, for the manic rants and soul sinking depressions and the unexplainable fixations.
Anagram scrabble fixation and you get a rabbinic fest lox, or a ban blots if xeric. Anagram Hillsdale and you get all shield.
It’s sort of futile watch but we watch anyway. You can’t do much, but we watch, we watch and we say it’s gonna be okay and go to sleep and mostly we just try to be there. To cover for a friend. To be there when he busts loose and when you need to, to talk him down. To tranq him.
The other q without u words are the Arabic ones: qat, qaid, suq, qanat, qintar, qivuit, and faqir.
I left a party Friday night, bored, distracted, depressed by nothing and going slipping crazy. Went back to my room and played some music and stared and red and white stripes of the flag on my wall and then decided. Then I let go, let myself go over the line and found scrabble online. When I woke up the next morning my first thought was scrabble. All of my friends ended up at the all-night place eating pancakes and normally I would’ve been with them bumming money for a bottomless cup of coffee but I was sitting in a quiet room losing a game by 200 points. Losing by 200 points and wrapped in the consuming concentration, watching the tiles come apart and rearrange, watching them connect and disconnect and reconnect and feeling the cleansing wash of concentration where everything else is gone but the sounds without senses cycling though my head.
Update: A picture of Naomi, Tony, Jack and I playing last night in the middle of the night during a black out.
This afternoon I played someone who said he was from MA and used to be an accountant but is now on permanent disability for brain cancer. He beat me by a dozen points. It's so addicting, he told me.
Nov 10, 2005
Nov 7, 2005
They got together once a week to talk about the cat. Or really just to talk but it seemed like it was always about the cat. They’d get together for breakfast on Thursdays, some regular place where the food was cheap and the waitress could remember which of them wanted the orange-banded pot of decaf and which the regular stuff. They'd get together like old men and start talking about old men things and somebody’d say something about another ailment or about feeling old and that’d start it.
I hope I die soon, he’d say, I hope I die soon so I can stand before God and ask him about my cat.
The cat had had a name once but, being embarrassed by his own sentimentalism, he had only ever called it my cat, and since it was the only cat they ever talked about they had called it his cat and then, when it'd come to take up every conversation, they'd called it just the cat.
The cat was dead. She was dead and had died a horrible death, hit by a car, losing fur, squealing under the tires, crawling back with her back legs broken 40 yards to die on his steps. Rigamortis had set in when he saw her in the morning. Her tail was frozen out stiff like a frying pan handle.
That was the image he’d always go back to. Every time, he’d repeat it. Her tail was like a frying pan handle, he’d say. He imagined himself standing before God, standing before the judgment throne of the almighty omni-omni God and he’d say, hold on a second, and then he’d whip out the dead stiff cat and hold her there by her tail and wait for an answer. The image was ridiculous, but that was the point. Death was ridiculous and evil was ridiculous and it made God look ridiculous.
The friends would argue with him, trying to make it so the cat wasn't God's fault. They'd said that it was free will's fault, and that he couldn't question God, and that this was the best any God could do, and that the cat deserved it, and that it was for some greater good, and that evil after all didn’t exist and, really, they'd run pretty quickly through every traditional answer to the problem of evil. They'd even made up some new ones.
He'd hear their explanation and start telling over the story of how he’d had this cat since it was a kitten and she’d been a good cat who liked milk and purring and naps in the sun in the afternoons and then she had died a horrible death.
They were starting to get pretty frustrated with him. One of them would get mad at him and say nothing would satisfy you. What sort of answer do you want?
What sort of answer could there be? he’d say. Her tail was like a frying pan handle.
Original scene from Emmanuel Carrere’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick
Nov 5, 2005
Comment Magazine has begun a series on Urbanism and Agrarianism, with the publication of The Case for Paleo-Urbanism by Eric Jacobsen, author of Sidewalks of the Kingdom.
I'm fairly disillusioned with New Urbanism, since I first looked at it a few years ago. First, because the results (e.g. Celebration, FL and Santana Row in San Jose, CA) appear to me to be superficial and artifical, nothing but the bourgeois bohemian's eclectic nostalgia and actually containing some of the worst elements of suburbanism. Second, because New Urbanism doesn't seem to arise from an ethical ideal, or even to contain an ethical impulse, or to be any sort of commitment to community. Conversely, I'm more taken than ever with Wendell Berry-styled Agrarianism, which I don't take to be about where one lives, but how.
Nov 3, 2005
Nov 2, 2005
The Washington Post has write up on revivalist Mike Ferree and classic Holiness Pentecostalism.
Nov 1, 2005
All Saints Day with Elvis
Somewhere along on Montana’s east-west highway, between the historical sign for Custer and the one for Clark, along in there there’s a reader board that reads Elvis eats ribs here.
I’ve never known someone who believes in Elvis, who believes the tabloids and the stories about faked death and UFO interventions. I suspect that if there really are people who believe The King Lives, then they only say so in secret or under the cover of irony, only on silly annual celebrations.
I don’t know if Elvis was ever in Montana, but here he is, a ghost eating dinner in a diner on the highway. Elvis is dead, buried in a castle called Graceland, but people see him everywhere. People see him praying for peace in mosques in India, buying cigarettes at an EZ mart in Arizona, riding a moose and making movie cameos. It’s a long running joke, Elvis sightings, a joke about rhinestoned jumpsuits and white trash and wedding chapels.
It’s not just them, though, that are haunted. It's not just the crazies and the trailer trash and the impersonators practicing sideburns. That's the thing. Everybody's haunted by somebody.
The History Channel plays all the reels of Hitler in an endless loop: Hitler shouting, walking, staring, sighing, plotting, dieing. People are haunted by Jesus and JFK and Che, by Marx and Freud and their fathers. Lenin lay in state for years, preserved for the long lines that always came to see. And the long lines were haunted, you know, half by Lenin alive and half by Lenin dead, they were creeped by the immortality of a corpse, leaning in to look closely for a tint of blue.
Einstein's disected brain is in a bottle of formaldehyde on a shelf in some garage, the edges going fuzzy and floating off in little pieces. People are haunted by the gaunt face of Lincoln listening to Mary Todd go insane and feeling all the pain and the death of his war. If only, we think, if only Willie Mays could come back, if Elijah came back, if Martin Luther King hadn’t gone away.
So we're haunted by Elvis, his face, his voice, his fame and sorrow. We’re haunted by the whole hanging cloud of history. Images that won’t go away. Voice that we hear can’t stop hearing. Stories that continue to play. Ask us what we see and we say all the abstract things, evil and genius and salvation and horror and fame and failure. And the whole thing's restless, all of us restless and waiting for resolution.
A construction in which a word, usually the main verb, governs two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both in different ways; in which there is a disparity in the way that the parallel members relate to the governing word.
Example: The two senses of the word "common" in Oscar Wilde's sentence, Oh, flowers are as common here as people are in London, or of the word "grew" in I grew alfalfa and bored.
Oct 31, 2005
5 current songs, for Sarah
The Soul of a Man, by Blind Willie Johnson.
Freedom Hangs like Heaven, by Iron and Wine.
Rocks and Gravel, by Dave van Ronk.
Dead And Lovely, by Tom Waits.
Ballad of Hollis Brown, by Bob Dylan.
Oct 28, 2005
We woke up on the bus to the sound of the engine on idle. The driver was gone and snow was coming down. It was, I was thinking, late in the year for snow and I even checked the month on the paper in the box. Middle of May, middle of Montana and I don’t know if it's normal, but it was snowing. I hadn’t brought my coat, so I put my hands in my pockets and hunched my shoulders and stamped my feet awake.
An older man and I looked at the advertisements pinned to the board by the door and talked about auction season, auctions and auctioneers. He said the driver was sitting in the kitchen and saying we weren’t gonna move until he got the all-clear call. Driver was sitting on a stool slumping against the wall waiting for the phone. They said how he was falling asleep, all last night, falling out our lane and then waking up and jerking back over. All you can do, the older man said, trying to temper the kids who sat in the back and made jokes about toking up, who were saying how they should just leave this driver and drive this damn bus away, all you can do, you can’t do anything, but be patient.
What’s the time, I said to the waitress inside, and she said going on 4:30.
I was thinking how once a man like that older man told me that people talk all wrong about travel. When they come back they say I saw this and went there and then and they don’t normally say about the waiting. In the movies, and the stories, and the family videos, the plane just takes off and then it lands, the train turns around two scenic corners and comes into the station. The car goes under a bridge at sunset. And if they say anything about waiting, they’re complaining, because everybody believes in teleportation and trains that run on time.
There ain’t no reason, the sleep-headed girl said, that we can’t be driving. He just doesn’t want to. Lazy ass son of a. You can see cars out there driving on the highway. I can’t miss this connection. But of course, you always can. What are you gonna do? There are lines, delays, and detours. Hang ups, break downs, lay overs and late storms, and all you can do is either get mad thinking about how this isn’t what traveling was supposed to be and how now everything’s ruined, or you can pass the time. Sometimes it’s just that way, where traveling’s not about going anywhere.
This is one of those stops the bus always makes, both ways. Some diner outside some town and I remember it from last time. Place has a bowling alley in the back, pretty unforgettable. So I ordered breakfast. And whatcha wanna drink, honey the waitress said and I said coffee. One of the locals was telling a story about a pickup truck. She bummed a cigarette off a him and went back to sweeping the floor. I drank coffee and built a pyramid out of little cups of jam.
Oct 25, 2005
Oct 24, 2005
He lost his wallet in the woods, in the undergrowth of fallen leaves, fallen limbs, native weeds, and coming up suckers. We tramped around in circles, in back and forth rows looking for it for 45 minutes. He kept swearing to himself and saying it had to be there. We went back to work, after awhile, just giving up and going back to work saying we’d keep an eye out, maybe we’d see it but knowing, you know, knowing that was pretty hopeless.
When the boss came and we told him to keep an eye out for a wallet, he went over to the woods, standing outside the first trees, took off his ball cap and said, Lord Jesus, help me find this wallet. Lead me right to it. And that’s what happened. Right away, without circling or trampling or kicking at fallen down limbs and decades of dead leaves, he found it. He walked into the undergrowth in a straight line and just said, here it is.
The next day, retelling the story and laughing nervous at how strange, how weird, we said to him so, do you believe now?
He paused. We waited.
Well, he said, it’d be really useful when I lose my keys.
I, II, III, IV.
I'm building the wooden tracks for a wooden train, laying track end to end around a curve and up, stacked up high. Around me four people talk about trains and toy trains and about this track I'm building. They're sitting on the floor and I'm laying on my belly looking down the left groove and we're all there in familiarity, easy peacefulness, meandering talking and laughter. A child drools on a piece of track.
Oct 21, 2005
Oct 20, 2005
Oct 19, 2005
My almost-6-years-old brother Luke has become fascinated with Bigfoot and is finding foot prints. Bigfoot has, he says, been sneaking around, leaving marks on the living room floor and, he thinks, a big toe print in the concrete of the patio.
I don't know how he heard about Bigfoot, since it's not the type of thing my family'd normally talk about, but he did and he is, he is. It's the Northwest, too, last time I was in Seattle the city's telephone poles all had Bigfoot pictures advertising a music festival out at George. And we occasionally gets Sasquatch in the news, with one of the S'Klallam's reporting strange sounds or tracks or some tourist talking crazy and looking for fur up in the mountains on the rainy West end. Run that together with a storybook picture of Wild Things, a probably only half remembered retelling of Grendel, and the way children feel monsters in dark corners, and you have a 6 year old's obsession.
Oct 17, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Oct 15, 2005
The pancake syrup was running down into the eggs and sausage. My dad and his brother were talking while I was looking at the orange pulp clinging to the wet glass of the Denny’s cup and wondering why the orange juice tasted so bad after the syrup. Like after toothpaste. My dad buttered every pancake, lifting the top one to get the one underneath with a pass of the knife.
Outside, through the scratched up plastic face of the gratified newspaper box, the Chronicle cover was showing a concrete wall covered in spray paint colors, the rebar bent where it was coming through the ragged edge of a pick hammer hole.
Three men on bar stools at the counter drank coffee and read the paper, holding it out in front of them as tents. It would be funny, I thought, if they were all reading the same page. The men reached for their coffee without looking, feeling around blind, upsetting a fork, and then turning the mug until they found the handle. The steam rose slightly grey.
So, my uncle said, does Danny know the historic events that’re taking place in the world right now?
My dad shook his head. He had a mustache then and was I think, still wearing the yellow sweat shirt from the night shift in the freezer. No, he said. My eggs ran, and the line of yellow yolk twisted a little into the syrup.
It’s an important time, my uncle said and then they said nothing.
So? I said, impatient I think. What’s happening? Later my dad would look for a new world map and say he wondered how I was going to learn geography when the names and lines were always changing.
Oct 11, 2005
Pentecost at the Columbia
I stood in a phone booth on the bank of the river, trying to make a phone call with my voice out hoarse from sickness and lack of sleep but the wind wanted to blow away the business card with his number written on the back. I tried to huddle down, hunch over clutching the phone between my shoulder and my ear, tried to read the numbers now rubbed out smooth and shiney.
You sound, my friend said, like a 50 cent whore and through the phone feedback I can hear the roar of the wind, coming down the Columbia to this bridge. The bridge is the longest I've ever seen, right in the middle of the state, coming out of the high rumpled hills in a curve on the East to an arch off-center and then low sloping straight to this gas station. Vantage, WA. He can't hear me above the noise so I only say my name and tonight, really loud, and hang up.
I have never seen a wind like this, where it seems like everything will fly away, blowing down so violent that even the compact cars struggle to stay straight in their lanes. This is the wind children draw as an old-man cloud with puffed out cheeks puffing gray lines. I walked across the parking lot like a drunk man, 9 in the morning and I'm staggering against the force of it. It's like I need, I think, a new way to walk.
(See also Ash Wednesday)
Oct 10, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Oct 9, 2005
She always tells the one detail. She thinks it’s funny and it’s funny how it frustrates him, the way he keeps protesting no no that’s not true, you weren’t there, that’s wrong.
Mom doesn’t normally tell stories about before Dad, unless you ask her. She tells stories about kids being born and she tells her side of the stories she shares with dad and she mentions the coat that didn’t exist. He had a purple coat, she says, with fringes.
She holds up her arm and makes the fringe motion, wiggling fingers for fringes 12 inches down, smiles and we said really?
That’s how people knew he was a drug dealer, she says. Dad says though they knew because they knew who he was or somebody told them or, before that, before jail making him serious and organized crime’s making him the LSD dealer, because he’d stand on a corner with all the Berkeley students and the hippies and everyone 10 thousand a day walking by and he’d say in a low voice a list of drugs he could sell. He had a leather jacket, western style like all the hippies then playing out some tweaked over reversion of Cowboys and Indians and my dad was doing deals in the parks where they usta play with cap guns. And he had a purple shirt, velour, something that pulled over. And blue pants, cotton striped with different patterns. And a VW bus painted like an American flag and after the People’s Park riots they were in the unorganized parade celebration right up front honking the horn.
Mom doesn’t tell Dad’s stories, not like we kids do going back to the beginning and saying well you gotta understand in the beginning my dad was a drug dealer on LSD for two years and LSD’s only dealer and then he was converted by a street preacher and a cop back with the first wave of Jesus People. She treats it like a fact, if she mentions it, and she says Dad doesn’t have a short version of the story only the long and the longer. And she says he wore a purple leather jacket with fringes.
It’s not like a purple jacket woulda been out of character for my father. He coulda worn a purple leather jacket with fringes, like it’s the one crazy thing that didn’t happen but of all the insane details she doesn’t remember how he got sick eating abalone out of season or how one of his bodyguards ended up beheaded or how the city’s sergeant promised promotions to anyone who busted him but they never did.
It’s this other detail, the wrong one, that fascinates her and seems to symbolize my father, picturing him appearing so mad with charisma you’d either have to hate him and want to break him or you’d have to follow him, even if he was just standing on a street corner. To her, that’s my dad.
Oct 5, 2005
Oct 3, 2005
Up the long low steps, Rocky’s steps where the tourists still run and hum his theme in their heads, up the marble block stairs that will later serve as seats for cummerbund jazz, rising over Rivera’s flat faced peasants armed with sombreros and horses, around and past the tapestries through the arch on the left, I come. Here again. I come to the museum's icons: Christ carved crucified and suspended from the ceiling, Satan with stonewhiskers cast beneath St. Michael’s feet, a rock cloister rebuilt here around the shush of the penny-filled fountain of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.
Some art teacher stands before Mary and murmurs, reciting a history of symbolisms. The rooms are temperature controlled and dehumidified and the guards sit sleepy, checking their watches and watching the city out the windows. The place is quiet, a sanctuary, but always a museum and never a church. Maybe it’s the light softening the shadows around the framed saints, or the fact they’re arranged in clustered symmetries. Increasingly, that bothers me. These icons don’t point out anywhere. They stand all in a circle, these saints, idle.
Here Benedict and Scholastica face each other, across an aisle, hollow reliquary busts with heavy lidded eyes. The paint is worn a little thin, with a thick grain raised and showing through. They’re about waist high, the founder of Western Monasticism and his sister the nun, wooden heads with little windows. Stooping down you can look through the windows, the glass now clouded and dusty, to where the relics once were. Pray and work, Benedict said, that in all God may be glorified. But here they face each other, here Benedict’s sign refers to Scholastica, Scholastica’s to Benedict, and as I read in this circle I begin to mutter, around and around, muttering into empty windows.
Oct 2, 2005
My reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands. This is the confession of an unconfident reader.
Asleep, listening to the television, I imagine plots.
Sep 28, 2005
A worm, the author says in a short sentence in a short story, was cut in half. That's all she says. Her character’s hearing things and crazy digging holes in the backyard and on the way digging down she cuts this worm in half, and that's all she says.
What? Wait, I say, she didn't notice? And she didn't, neither the author nor the character. She didn't notice the way both sides of a cut worm wiggle, the way the inside is gooey but doesn't bleed, the way you can't tell worm-up from worm-down but both sides nose back into the earth. She didn't notice the way worms look like little strung out accordions, bright pink with a few grains of dirt caught gritty on the shiny slime. The ways worms feel rubbery and not slimy, when you pick them up, and they don’t seem to have eyes or noses or mouths or ears.
Some people call them night crawlers, but only when they’re selling them for fish bait, and earthworms, when they’re for dissecting. But when they dig one up people just say worm - wurm, wurrm. - and never really "a" worm but always "the" worm. Like they were looking for it.
One day, when we were kids and it was raining, we became obsessed with worms. But we couldn't find any. We dug a hole in the backyard, a big wide hole with the rain wiggling down, making mud and a pool, although there were no worms. So we dug another until we had a series of muddy empty holes filling up with water. I wore the yellow raincoat and the mud boots that made me look like a hatless Mussolini. My brother wore the green coat with blue crocodiles. I dug and he dug and my sister dug and we never saw any worms, except the dead ones washing down the gutter.
We said if we found one, we should cut it in half so there’d be two.
Sep 26, 2005
TONIGHT & TOMORROW @ 9 p.m.
Stayed up until 5 a.m. trying to write this rough draft work and only managed to get out an ugly looking outline and write seven abortable half paragraphs. Selpt a little and then looked at it again this morning, glassy-eyed and feeling that weight settled down sad and frustrating. Went to breakfast. Sat alone.
But then this afternoon it began to rain. I unraveled an extension cord to take a laptop out to the porch and put on Coltrane and coffee. Started to put words on paper.
"There's a Hasidic parable told about Adam and Eve. On the day they were cast from the garden the sun set for the first time and as the world passed into dusk and then into darkness they were terrified, believing that their sin had set the world sinking into nothingness. They spend the night trembling in fear, eyes dilated to the darkness, looking each other in the face. For them there was now nothing, God had left them and the world had gone dark and there was nothing left but the face of the other."
Sep 25, 2005
unfinished notes on everyday incarnations
2. Incense and hymns.
3. Wendell Berry.
4. Rain in the dirt.
5. Voices that sound like they’ve been dragged behind a truck.
6. People I don't know.
7. People I do know and like anyway.
9. Doubting priests.
Sep 21, 2005
My grandfather had been a house painter. As a younger man, he had taken the leftover cans of paint home and used them to paint pictures. He stacked the portraits in the garage, because the combination of colors gave them a slightly nauseating effect. Skin held a discomforting undertone of the Pepto-Bismo pink that was a popular house color in 1950's Florida. The blue contained a hint of neon. His art was painted with the colors of signs and shops, not people. When he died, nobody could bring themselves to keep the pictures.
I had not yet thought to qualify a person with a number, nor had I decided what year I might like to be.
It is not the worst thing in the world to be deceived. Sometimes, when you throw my ball, you pretend to throw it one place, and then, after I have charged off, you throw it into a different place — did you think I do not know? If I wanted, I could wait you out; I could disbelieve your throws, I could fail to be surprised. But it gives me joy, and my life is short, and I am willing to be made a fool by it. Is your life so long, will you gain so much by not being deceived?
My maternal grandfather came to visit for the first time in 15 years. I drove home from work, knowing he’d have arrived and found that there was nothing, nothing that I could say. I felt that nothing that could be healed, nothing that could say, or understand in one day, after 15 years. I set up a seal against him 15 years ago, an attempt to protect my mother by not caring that my grandfather had rejected us. As if not needing him, and not missing him would help her
Sep 20, 2005
It's disturbing. The image of amber-colored sticky swirls dangling from the ceiling looking like fruit roll-ups of death. You can hear the flies on them, buzzing, dieing, screaming the screams of flies struggling to escape death.
It's like having electric chairs hanging from the ceiling.
I've never touched a fly trap. I have the idea that if I did my hand would stick, that I too would be stuck, would never break free. I'd struggle and yell, first in surprise and in horror and then in frustration. Finally I'd yank the trap down and walk around with the sticky strap of dead flies with broken wings and pain-contorted faces hanging down from my hand.
Once when I was like 5 I was eating cold spaghetti for lunch when a fly came and landed on my parmesan cheese. Leaving little tracks. I was a kid and I'd heard that every time a fly lands it poops and throws up at the same time, which was gross but the way I figured it was the fly just wanted to eat. So I poured a little pile of parmesan cheese on the table for the fly. It didn't didn't seem to notice so I made it a little bigger and then a little bigger again until my mom came in and wanted to know why I was dumping cheese on the table. She hit the fly with a swatter that made a whistling whoosh before the slap.
We've been leaving the doors open here, or I have, and the flies have been flying in circles and landing tickling on our arms and faces. It's annoying, I think, but my house mates seem to think it's more than that and they've been cursing flies for a few weeks now. So Amber's here and she went and bought a half-dozen traps and hung them around. She's keeping a personal tally of dead flies, and since the packages advertise the 'odorless attracting power' she yells to the flies be attracted, be attracted, be enticed.
I shudder and she laughs at me, saying I'm squeamish.
Sep 16, 2005
Update: Totally didn't reach my 72-hour reading (fantasy) goal, but I did get into Dennett's The Intentional Stance and plow through the applicable sections of Sutter's Interpreting Wittgenstein and Sokolowski's The God of Faith and Reason. Also took an Ann Arbor run with Luke and Ryan to see Metzger, won two out of three chess games against Annex Dan and two against a rather arrogant vet, listened to some music, ate some good food, and watched a few movies.
Sep 14, 2005
May he rest in peace.
So I have, apparently, made a contribution to the study of Latin. What I did, see, was tell a joke.
I said that what Wheelock's needed was a villian. You've got Cicero-Ciceronis and he and his ilk are always going off on how one should avoid avarice and defend the repulic and it's all just boring. What we need is a good mustace-twisting villian. He could start with fairly tame villianious statements and get more and more wild and vicious. Every chapter you'd think, oh my, what will this left-handed enemy of wisdom and the republic say in the next chapter?
It was funny at the time and so I told a few more people a few more times and then the other day I told it to one of the Latin profs. He laughed and said was a good idea. Since Cicero is always talking about Catilina, saying he was "openly desirous to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter" and stuff, he said, you could have the other side of the story, from the Catlinian point of view. And now he's apparently e-mailed some people and they think it's a good idea and are in talks about putting out a work book on the "dark side of Latin." I might even get a citation in the acknowledgements - and thanks to Daniel Silliman for telling a joke.
Sep 13, 2005
I watched the sun burn red into her face around the sunglasses. Her dog looked at me. A bee crept down the white inside of a red plastic cup until it fell fluttering into old flat beer, making little rippling noises as it died.
Where do you want to go? she said. Not now, she said. Eventually. When you end up somewhere, where do you want it to be?
I had a friend once who dreamed about Pittsburg. He’d only been there once, stranded with a car swerved off the edge of some embankment and he staying a night with a friend of a friend and waiting for help. He woke up early in the morning and brushed his teeth and stole a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator. He took a sip, and remembered, wondering how he’d forgotten, that orange juice always tastes funny after you brush your teeth. So he went out, walking through the deserted factory district for a few hours before buying a cup of gas station coffee and going back. After that, on certain days, he’d talk about Pittsburg and how he’d like to go there, sometime.
She says she wants to go to Europe, spending a year here and a year there and then she’ll end in Tuscany. She says she guesses she’ll just have to marry rich and I laugh because she’s already married and living in a low rent apartment above a crazy lady neighbor who badgers other peoples children into chores, makes up gossip and sings old love songs to birds. The dog likes my laugh and comes to put his head over where I can scratch it.
My housemate downloaded this program, a digital map of the globe. He pulls back on the control, lifting lifting out from the ground and into thin space until he can see the earth as a blue circle on his screen, continents etched in green. He types in an address, and hitting enter we plunge down in, rushing in at a speed giving me vertigo. I see the mountain range spilling south towards the gulf and then the growing articulation of trees and rivers and buildings and we keep falling forward fast until I ask him if we will crash into the dirt and send up a digital puff of exploding dirt. He laughs, and the screen slows to a hover over a street corner covered in trees and he points to the intersection and says see, that’s where we live there. Later he’ll go to see the Himalayas and the contours of capitals and sites of world wonders but between each he will pull back up to see the circle and come in again to see our street corner from the sky.
The bee stopped and was still, floating upside down.
I saw the American desert a few times, just driving through. The first time we crossed at night to avoid the late summer heat and I heard the nightly rise of the wind that erases again the tracks of other days. I told myself, that night watching for the lights of little shacks with their short waves and their water piped in, the story of John the Baptist eating locust and standing in some desert river preaching a kingdom to come. The first summer of college we drove down there and I saw the sand and the sun rise over nine shadowed valleys and I thought that every morning looked like a resurrection.
Her dog yawned, head on my knee. I looked at the side of her face under the sunglasses’ shadow where the skin was white, around her eyes.
I think about the desert a lot, I said, even though that wasn’t really an answer to her question.
Sep 9, 2005
I had a pair of black boots, back then, cowboy boots, but they blistered my heels and I never got another pair.
Cowboys, my dad said, didn’t mow lawns.
When they wore out, the seam splitting and pulling away from the sole leaving my white sock showing to turn green to the grass, I tried to fix it with a needle and black thread. I didn’t say anything so I wouldn’t have to throw them away and forced the needle back and forth through the leather and the sole, pulling the thread up tight and tying off a square knot. It broke when I tried to walk.
Gonna have to throw those away, dad said. Get you some real shoes.
It was Jesus Christ and John Wayne, or Eastwood and Cooper anyway. That’s what it was back then, to be a man.
Man riding through the West on some old horse with a gun and a bedroll and trying to mind his own business but being pulled in, for justice sake and getting in a scrape, pinned down behind a rock and surrounded.
I’ve kept those books around, a few of them stashed on the shelf, cheap books in cheap-back covers with torn corners and dull brown and yellow colors. They’re crowded up to the edge of the shelf, for a decade now pinched against the wood wall by better books. The spines are sun-faded now.
My roommate sees me, under the little lamp by the side of the bed, reading a paperback western with yellowed pulpy pages and wants to know why. Man wets his bandana, wipes his face and takes another pull for the bottle of whiskey, knowing it's over now, reloading his revolver and waiting for them to rush in.
Read these as a kid, I say, sometimes I pick one up. Whenever I’m sick I read one.
Are you sick? he says.
No, I’m reading.
So it's a sort of childhood thing, he says.
Bootstraps, I say. Honor and a gun. Respect and justice. Wandering the American West. Sin and redemption and getting by and being buried with your boots on.
It's pulp, he says.
Sep 7, 2005
and other notes
The man on NBC is sitting on his porch, the levee broken and his city underwater and everything down closed up for weeks now so he doesn't know how much was looted or who's been shot or how many are dead or what the governer or the president's said and the interviewer asks him how he's made it through. "Well," he says, "I've got Jesus in my heart and Indian in my blood."
My sister is in Austria now. The first of my family to leave North America.
I love the porch at the Beat. We sit there in the morning and in the evenings and all day, on the weekends. We wood-glued the rocking chair back together and moved most of the house's chairs out there, around the bench and the old couch.
Dream phrase: "I was walking down the road, as it were, if you will."
One American in five believes the sun revolves around the earth.
Harshest insult at the house: "Yeah, well, you look like Paul Giamatti."
I need to buy a Latin bible.
I reccomend Dick Hebdige's Subculture, the meaning of style to anyone interested in the sociology of subcultures and their dramatizations of the deconstruction of the tensions within culture.
Kelly's labor day photos.
If kitsch, as Kundera says, is a view of the world that cannot admit the existence of shit. And if kitsch is, aesthetically, shit. Then an aesthetic view of the world that will not allow the existence of kitsch is kitschy. Maybe. I'm still working with the troulbe with kitsch.
Sep 1, 2005
He talks to himself like he's crazy, picking up the beer cans that have fallen off our porch and pissing up against our dumpster. But what's disturbing is not the thought that he's crazy, but the thought that he's not. The disturbing thought, the thought that surprises us and sends us queasily into silently saying nothing, is that maybe somebody's there. Maybe casting Hitchcock-styled shadows on the wall behind us, just out of vision, around the corner, off screen.
Aug 26, 2005
My brother and I would truss up the first four birds, in the morning, slipknot-noosed legs hanging from a fence frame in a line of upside down and slightly swinging grass-fat, grub-fat chickens. We’d lay the knives out side-by-side along a table and look at them, debating their merits and classifications according to weight and shape and sharpness.
And then we’d choose. One each.
I’d stop, for a minute, and stand there knife in my hand by my side. I’d check to see we were ready. I’d look at the chickens hung up and the chickens in the pen. I’d smell the dew drying off the eucalyptus leaves lying in the dirt. Alright, I'd say.
My brother would left-handed grab the bird by the head, stretching its neck down and bringing the knife up sharp to its throat through the feathers sliding, slicing flesh through bone joints and off. Blood gushing warm, always a surprise how warm the blood was hot over his hand as he severed the head and held it, palmed it, then dropped it into the garbage can.
The chicken thrashed out against the rope until dead, swung out, back and forth swinging, neck feathers turning red around where the head was missing.
Dad took the bird down from the noose and dunked it in boiling water, pulling handfuls of wet white feathers from the loosened skin.
When I got the bird it was naked. When I got the bird it was as naked as birth, in death. When I got it the bird was dead, the first dead of 80 free-range birds to be beheaded, plucked, cleaned and frozen by mid-afternoon.
I bent back the crackly yellow legs, knife catching the joint and cutting through. I held them in my hand, a pair of chicken legs disattached, now strange and looking strangely like they had a purpose once. I threw the feet in with the heads.
On butchering day the yard smelled like dead chickens, smelled of blood and plucked wet feathers and dead flesh and our sweat. We sold them frozen, in zip locks, dead and plucked and gutted and clean and looking somehow not dead, but like meat.
For lunch I’d fry up the giblets that no one wanted. The pale heart and purple-red liver and the tail we called a nose.
The next year all the birds died from some exotic disease brought in by the song birds and the year after that they were all eaten by a bear that left us only a few feathery legs scattered by the shattered side of the coop and two tail feathers caught in the long grass. We never butchered birds again.
Aug 24, 2005
I'm registered. Still waiting for loans to go through and all, but I'm registered. Taking 3rd semester latin, intro to psych, golf, anchient philosophy, seminar on Wittgenstein, my philosophy thesis on a possible linguistic solution to the mind/body problem, and an independant study on death of God theology. Mostly Tuesday - Thursday classes. I'm also applying to grad schools - I'm thinking Memphis State is my first choice - which means the GRE and comps and the application process and that this will probably be my most intense semester.
Every electric appliance in this house picks up the radio station across the street. I just heard the ball game on the microwave.
Aug 23, 2005
The too gaudy color of the jewelry in the Southwest where the Indians would sell it on the side of the road, between the town of Two Guns and the town Two Arrows. In their fake costumes and fake teepees, where the women were all "Squaws" and all the men were "Tontos," the pieces spread around as a tourist attraction, bracelets and earrings and necklaces, in a brilliant mottled turquoise.
Like the turquoise of the towers, the steepled domes of copper colored that variegated green, topped by crosses and shimmering in the morning while I sat there alone. Perhaps for the first time totally alone and sitting on the grass of the closed-up bus station in a closed down town scared and shaky and waiting, watching those domes.
Those domes like the domes of the Spanish church we saw from a few blocks out and I said I had to see. The church was old adobe, painted white, and I stood at the door and looked in to the priest proclaiming the mystery of faith. A dozen men squatted on the steps waiting for it to be over, sitting outside as Catholics who went to church every week but never went in. Across the street an ice cream truck was playing music.
She would say those domes had always reminded her of pond scum, algae growing slowly ugly and stagnant in the sun. For me, they’d always remind me of a turquoise sea, of St. Mary of the Sea, and of the American desert.
In this troubled world, we are never quite satisfied.
- Abraham Lincoln, April 16, 1848
Aug 18, 2005
May he rest in peace.
Aug 15, 2005
Aug 6, 2005
I’m on tour again, for a week or so. Seattle, where the sailor wearing whites look to me like they need to be beat up, Newark, Philly, or really Ambler, Phoenixville and Paoli and probably an assortment of diners, then Hillsdale. I’m going to the wedding and then I’m sitting on the porch to read for a week.
I got two going away presents, a jean jacket from my parents and a kukui, a Samoan party nut necklace, from my boss.
If feels good to be packed again.
The thing is, we never considered not dropping the bomb. As if they searched the whole country and couldn’t find even one luddite.
Hiroshima, I’m sorry. Nagasaki, there’s nothing I could even say.
Aug 3, 2005
Aug 2, 2005
He looks like the man from Grant Wood’s American Gothic recast with a floppy hat and a cigarette letting off a feather of smoke. His eyes are pinched, his nose subtly crooked and his face, above all things, is plain. Plain and even austere, looking sorrowed around the eyes and along the cheek bones and determined in the jaw, in the clench of the cigarette.
The say he stood there, after it went off, like the sheriff out of High Noon. He had done it, this feat of physics, this physics of fighting fascism.
They say they were terrified, standing out around the desert of the Journey of the Dead Man, thinking something had gone wrong and the world was on fire. They say they were nervous before and terrified after, as the wave of the blast blew dirt clods past them and the thunder from their explosion went up and down the hills, the purple cloud billowing into a mushroom.
Someone laughed, a few people cried, and most of them were silent. He stood there, looking down at his explosion, and he had changed the face of the world. He’d struggled with nature and the weather, with the government and the spies. He was J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was the father of the Atom Bomb. And maybe he strutted, for a moment, in his triumph.
Then he paused. We’re all sons of bitches now, he said.
Aug 1, 2005
Then I thought about the buzzards, for no real reason, about how awkward they looked settling down on the eucalyptus branches. There was no buzzard smell, only the trees smelled and so I would always think that death smelled like eucalyptus. The trees were planted out as a wind break, shallow-rooted, weak-wooded and fire prone, planted along the California coast and foothills and along our fence line leaving a perpetual litter of decomposing leaves and shattered limbs.
We didn’t call them buzzards, though. They were Turkey Vultures. I don’t know why I remember them as buzzards.
The first buzzard I ever saw was circling over us after we crossed the barbwire fence under the No Trespassing sign into the field and over the edge of the ravine. They think, one of the older boys said, that we’re dead, so we ran around and waved our arms and yelled like little boys very much alive, but the buzzard still circled. He was undisturbed, idle in a way that scared us, that seemed to say he knew something sinister, or that he saw the future and there we were dead in the long grass where we weren’t supposed to be and he was circling down, to clean us away.
In the comic books, the vultures appear in the desert where mirages lead men to wander after their own footprints. The men move in circles and the vultures move in circles and by the vultures the men know they are lost. I’ve never seen vultures in the desert though. I’ve always seen them by eucalyptus trees. Maybe it was the trees made me think of them.
They were big black birds, blacker in the dusk, with naked turkey heads. They came in a flock, 50 or so in a gliding community or carrion-eaters, each picking out a branch along the east fence line and dropping down heavily, trying to fold in their wings and legs and heads to nest for the night. They were ugly, they smelled like crushed eucalyptus leaves and they looked, mostly, awkward. That’s what I remember.
May he rest in peace.
Jul 28, 2005
Jul 23, 2005
Jul 20, 2005
On a fine summer day at Lake Sutherland - the little lake on the peninsula surrounded by little private docks and split level miniature mansions sold for scenic windows - the canary yellow float plane took a circle before running down the length of the water for lift off. The sun came down through filtering fir trees to tan the bikinied girls laying out in pairs where the boys on jet skis rode around a little closer, sending three or four wakes rolling against the pillars of the docks.
On a fine summer day at Lake Sutherland, a family of four raced a speed boat towing an inner tube of kids and a boomer couple kayaking by the bank paused their paddling to stare at me. I was coming down the bluff of trees hand over hand along a rigging rope in a half-repel. I came down the steep slope, then I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my sap-splattered blue jeans and waded out into the water carrying a six-foot pole saw and a pair of red pruning shears. I waded in above my knees, bare-headed and long-haired, and took to cutting out and tearing up the suckers growing out of lake’s edge.
How’s it going? my foreman yelled down over the sound of a jumping jet ski and some screaming kids. Fine, I said, but I’d rather be at the lake.
Jul 18, 2005
We were just sitting there, waiting. Four of us boys sitting out in a couple of aisles waiting for the people and the preaching, for the singing and the praying and the coming down movement of the spirit.
The hall was rented for the revival, empty, with the chairs set in lines and one aisle leading forward. The room was waiting, waiting for a revival, for revivals can start anywhere, in the place you’d least expect, the spirit blowing where it will in tongues like fire. Like the revival in Wales, where the whole town stopped working and sleeping and everything to let holiness come in crashing in the sounds you’d least expect. Like Azusu Street. Like the Great Awakening. Like where Jonathan Edwards would only preach in a monotone so nobody’d be swayed by mere human theatrics, by just words, where he preached about that spider dangling spindly from the web of his own making over a lake of fire.
The microphones were wired up, waiting the words of God. We were just sitting there, antsy. We looked at each other and at the beige chairs in empty rows back to the double doors, and then again at each other. The shushed flapping of the ceiling fans set a slight stir in the air.
They’d been talking about tonight for a month. Now was the time. God was ready to move, to blow breath down, just waiting for us and for this room. They’d talked about battling flesh and battling spirits, about the wars of the realms and the feeling of God’s anticipation. The time was ready, waiting for tonight.
Someone’d gone to the airport to pick up the revivalist. We’d been talking about him a lot and what God had been speaking back in Arkansas about how he said to be open, waiting upon the spirit’s movings and sayings and the sounds that you couldn’t expect.
One mic up front, for the revivalist who was coming in. One in the aisle, for testimonies. Two on the side, for the music. The room vibrated with the silence of expectation.
Then the one boy stood up, letting his hand come up to rub his chin and he stood there sort of staring at the stage. We looked at him. He stepped out into the aisle and he went up to the revivalist’s mic and leaned in, stooping, cupping his hand around his mouth and the mic.
eeeeeeEEERRRG CHboukh BOUKH, he said and the mic played loud in the empty room and it sounded exactly like a bomb shell whining in over rows of trenches to explode in dirt and blood and noise. We jumped, each getting a microphone and leaning in, stooping down to cup our hands and send out arching whines and exploding noises. It was an all out sound effects war. The little kid did a machine gun ut ut ut ut ut ut ut ut ut and the shelling noises all came back verberating off the white walls, in chaos down around our heads.
That’s when the revivalist walked in, when the parents walked in and started shouting to stop, shouted our first and middle names. We stopped, and stood there. A stern silence settled down.
They stared at us, faces stuck in states of shock. We stared at the carpet with that sinking feeling of having fouled the whole thing.
(See part 1 and part 2.)
Jul 16, 2005
The BBC has up a list of the 10 most influential philosophers – one of those exercises that is half fantasy baseball for nerds and half intellectual mapping – and some of the neocalvinists have followed suit.
I don’t think Popper ought to be on the list. I’m thinking “influential” means “changed the face of philosophy, or even the way we think,” and I don’t think Popper will survive the next 200 years except, perhaps, as a contemporary and rival of Wittgenstein’s. I think the BBC ranks Marx too highly, for Marx’s influence was mostly on world politics and not, actually to the way we think. To the extent he shaped our thinking he was, I think, reading Hegel. I could be wrong about that.
Gideon Strauss's list I think cants too much towards the political, which is a general disagreement I have with Gideon's philosophy. His understand of Modernism, e.g., is primarily political while I think the politics follows from the epistemology, like Locke’s political philosophy follows from his idea of the tabula rasa. So I would not include Machiavelli or Hobbes, and I don’t think Locke was the most influential philosopher of his school or generation.
1. Socrates/Plato – Necessarily combined, these two inaugurate philosophy with the ideal of abstraction and the metaphysicalist project. They radically moved past the religio-ethical thinking you'd find with the Stoics or the Hebrews, created "philosophy" and changedwhat it means to think.
2. Descartes – On my map, Descartes stands at the absolute center, where everything can be measured by its distance from him. He is, I think, the most brilliant thinker among a slew of brilliant thinkers. He suffers for this. In thinking the most clearly about the epistemological turn, he fails to really obscure the foundational problems with foundationalism.
3. Heidegger – If philosophy is metaphysics, Heidegger is the end of philosophy. His work on Being is the most sophisticated and thorough, his “turn” to language is shattering, and his later philosophy has yet to even be really explored. He’s the point where phenomenology and existentialism come together and remakes both of those schools. While not the most influential, he is arguably the greatest philosopher.
4. Wittgenstein – Brilliant and concise, LW is claimed and debated everywhere and he most effectively and influentially shows the linguistic turn of both analytic and continental philosophy. He’s also captured the imagination of more thinkers than any other philosopher.
5. Hegel – His dialect cracked philosophy’s addiction to dualisms, opening new possibilities and saved philosophy from strangling itself into Logical Positivism.
6. Aquinas – The greatest Christian philosopher, though in close competition with Augustine, whose “Aristotle and Jesus” project formed the face of Christianity and the west and to this day is the default Christian system of thinking.
7. Nietzsche – I know more people who have had their lives dramatically affected by reading Nietzsche than by reading anything or anyone else. I am leery of his work, and haven’t undertaken it like I will have to, but I do not believe one can understand and experience the condition of our world without feeling his sense of tragedy.
8. Saussure – He was in linguistics, not philosophy, yet his argument that meaning happens not by the reference of sign to object but by the relationships between signs was dramatically influential.
9. Augustine – He would top my list of theologians, his words having given shape to all the traditions of Western Christianity. As a philosopher, his critique of skepticism is the best, his Aquinas-like project of unifying neoplatonism and Christianity and his eventual lack of confidence in their compatibility, his doctrine of a Just War, and his doctrine of man are vital to the course of thinking in the west.
10. Hume – He’s normally known for skepticism, but I find him of more influence in his idea of the possibility of the end of philosophy, of a final resolving.
Considered but not included: Kant, because I’m uncomfortable with him and his project and can’t trace his line of influence; Derrida, because even though I think he’s incredible and give him a lot of my time, I don’t know completely unique influence he will have specifically on philosophy; Anselm, because he’s know too narrowly for his ontological argument to be top-10 significant.
I’d be interested in reading a list by Garver, who I know has a better and broader understanding of the history of philosophy than I do, Sam would be able to tell me about Frege, Quine, and the analytics, GC, who I’ve just started reading, Berek, and Talcott.
Jul 15, 2005
Coined by visual poet Geof Huth in Sept. 2004. See Huth's work here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Jul 11, 2005
1. Protestantism started with Martin Luther preaching about a worm. Evangelicalism started, you could say if you wanted, with Jon Edwards preaching about a spider. If you were going to add a third animal to this history of Protestantism, what would you add?
2. There’s a story going around our house about a cat. Actually it was something factual about some old friends who’re now in Michigan breeding pure Persians, but then I stole the male cat minor character. He’s got one eye. I named him Jack. We’re still deciding what Jack’s story is about.
I can’t find the picture we took, before we left. Marvin and me and David standing outside in the Texas spring, Marvin with his hand behind his back, maybe to hide the cigarette or maybe to hide his hand.
I’ll see you, he'd say, unless I’m dead.
He’d lost his thumb and two fingers in a tractor accident. He’d tell you that matter of fact, letting all the horror of it stand there bare. His wife had left him because she couldn’t see herself married to a cripple, and something happened where the Southern Baptist church said it’d be too awkward and would he mind leaving.
Marvin was matter of fact about dark things: dieing, betrayal, and human rottenness. For Marvin, the horrific was normal and he treated it as normal and a little sad, but not surprising. He showed up on the doorstep of our black January, when we were friendless and in shock and teetering on despair. He showed up with a catch of fresh fish, empathetic and offering to help and understanding the horror of it all without needing to know anything more. He didn’t want the fish, he said, he didn’t eat fish, didn’t eat nothing that swims or flies.
Marvin was one of the old guys I knew through woodcarving. He didn’t do much woodcarving, actually, sort of starting projects and leaving them around waiting for an inspiration of attention. He liked knives though, and taught my brother and me about blades, the temper of metals and the angles of edges. When we scrounged pawn shops for pocket knives we looked for what he was talking about, and then brought them to his sprawling ranch house cluttered with antiques and half-finished projects, bringing them to Marvin for official approval. He’d thumb the edge, contemplating, and take the edge to the stone bringing the angle out to a feather and then turning to the leather, the strop.
If you see straight razors, he'd say, buy them. Best metal you can get.
He died maybe a year after we left. When I think about it, his being dead doesn’t make any sense.
Jul 9, 2005
Jul 6, 2005
Jul 5, 2005
Jul 4, 2005
How many books do I own?
I counted once, but that was number of years ago and I don't recall what the number was anyway. I started buying books when I was 14, in the couple of used book stores in Porterville California, my highschool education consisting mostly of hauting those bookstores, the chain book store and the library and reading everything. I have a lot of the old books, esp. the history and political ones I'm not really reading right now but will get back to, stashed here in Washington. And then in Hillsdale I have probably a few dozen books from last semester stacked in the house, waiting for me to move in. In Philly, where I have to go get them and move them to Hillsdale, I have three book shelves of literature, philosophy, theology, and poetry.
Books were really my first vice.
What’s the last book I bought?
I went to Powells yesterday, for the 4th, and bought I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere, Fear and Trembling, by Soren Kierkegaard, A Quest for the Post-Historical Jesus, by William Hamilton, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy, by K.T. Fann, Towards a New Christianity, by Thomas Altizer, Unframed Originals, by W.S. Merwin, The Rediscovery of Mind by John Searle and The Magic Journey, by John Nichols. Which is a fairly accuarte list, I think, of the projects I'm working on.
What’s the last book I read?
I'm in the middle of four books right now. I like to keep it to two, one light and one heavy, but I haven't lately. I'm reading Martin Buber's Eclipse of God, Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music, the Dick book, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 years of Solitude. The last book I finished - #20 for this year which puts me 4 books behind my one-a-week last year - was Girl Meets God, on the recommendation of Jeremy Huggins.
What are the five books that mean the most to me?
If my library were destroyed, the first five replacements I would buy are Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, Graham Greene's The Burnt Out Case, Heidegger's Being and Time, Derrida's Circumfesions, and Beowulf.
I was tagged by Gideon Strauss for this. In turn, I tag Peter Krupa, and Luke Heyman.