Be advised that February 1 through February 4 finds Dr. Desiree purifying himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. Until his return from this hiatus, please occupy yourself as you best see fit. Thank you, Management.
30 January 2008
Indigenous Polynesian Huna theology holds sacred the mythology of the "aka cord." Basically, an aka cord is a psycho-spiritual-emotional cord that binds a person to any person, place, or thing s/he contacts. Intense, powerful, or even traumatic relationships with particular people, places, or things make the aka cords very strong and difficult to break. It is said that sometimes we need to break aka cords in order to grow as people. This can present a conundrum. When an aka cord is difficult to sever, drastic measures are necessary.
Since I felt it was becoming illusory anyway, in 1997, I walked away from my comfortable, impoverished filmmaker's life in Athens, Georgia. In one uncalculated spasm I bought my uncle Joaquin's '82 Toyota Corona, broke the lease on my ramshackle, roach-infested duplex, ripped the remaining tomatoes off the vine in my garden, and headed North on interstate 85, en route to New York City. I had this idea in my head that I'd go and become a famous artist there or something grandiose like that. Maybe end up on t.v. Maybe become a monk. Extremity was my worldview, I guess. It was all-or-nothing time for me. I was twenty-three years old. My buddy Ryan, seeing me off, gave me a 3" x 3" textile mosaic and said, "My aunt made this. Take it." On it was a pictured image of a sailboat on a crude, cobalt blue ocean. I placed it on my console, next to the speedometer. My Corona hummed and purred. "Go give 'em hell," he spoke into the morning light. "See you next time," I said back. And I was off. Athens, then Atlanta, then Georgia altogether receded in my rear view mirror like Saturday morning cartoons that slowly give way to a weird Saturday afternoon lineup of foreign programming and title cards.
I don't know where I slept that night. When I look at a present day map, I figure it must have been Virginia. Possibly North Carolina, but most likely Virginia. Wherever it was, the May skies were turning to dusk and I was exhausted from saying goodbye to all things Georgian - all my haunts and memories and attachments and loves. It was like a piece of my heart had been ripped out. I felt like a wild, wounded animal. I saw a sign that said "campground," so I got off the bristling interstate and began following signs to the campground. I drove for several miles, deeper into a rural enclave of some kind, where the signs became progressively cruder. I drove along hairpin turns, up a tiny mountain of brambles and cliffs. The sky was oozing orange and spreading itself into a pale blue.
Finally I arrived at an empty campground of sorts. There was no one there to say hello to, or to take my money. So I chose a spot - the highest point on a hill, unfurled my sleeping bag, and built a small fire with some twigs. Clumps of smoke climbed skyward and I settled into my Tao Te Ching. A half hour or so had passed when I looked up to find a young girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, standing at the foot of my sleeping bag.
"Yeah, I'm camping."
She looked like she world's loneliest, most peaceful kid. And when I told her I was camping, she turned and ran away, down the inky hill, vanishing like an apparition. A few minutes later, she returned. This time she was with her dad, who was driving a pickup truck. She waved at me from the passenger side. Her dad - I guess that's who he was - got out and asked me where I was from.
"Georgia. Movin' to New York, though."
He cast his gaze downward and asked me if my parents knew where I was. (I looked young for my age, and I think he mistook me for a runaway at first.) I told him "Yeah, I'm 23 you know." He then asked how many nights I planned to stay. I told him "one" and he said that he lived at the bottom of the hill, and if I needed anything just to come and ask. "Okay, thank you." He charged me $5 for that night there on the hill, and paused, as if he were on the precipice of asking me to come down and join his family for a hot meal. Instead he just got into his truck and drove away. The world's loneliest girl waved back at me as they descended the snaky gravel road that went downhill.
I watched the stars climb out from behind the night, and before too long my fire died down. And soon I was shivering in my Kmart sleeping bag. I felt like a ghost haunting the hillside there, or like a clown at a carnival, who didn't know who he really was underneath all that facepaint anymore, but he knew that the carnival was coming to an end and he'd better hurry up and decide. Wiry trees reached out over me and I fell into a troubled sleep.
The next afternoon, I was driving across every pothole available in Queens, New York City. I had made it at last. My buddy Jayson let me stay at his apartment. I stayed with Jayson for a few days. One day, while we were walking out of Jayson's apartment, an an old man was drunk and on his back in the hallway. "Aw shit, it's Pendergrass," Jayson said and we picked him up, just before he unzipped his trousers and started to piss on the wood paneling. He then started to scream, and we pushed him into his apartment and shut the door behind him.
I went to every museum, every library, and every park I could find, and one day I even halfheartedly tried to sell my drawings on the subway. "They're nice," a lady said, "but I'm not gonna buy one of those." I gave up almost instantly. Later that week, I filed for work at a temp agency. They had work for me, they said, "down at the pier." In a few short days, I left Jayson a brief note saying goodbye. I got into my uncle's Toyota Corona and headed out for the West Coast. On the New Jersey turnpike, I rolled down the window and hollered, free at last. The world had rolling hillsides for me, and air that smelled sweeter than the sweetest sweetness.
Somewhere in Jersey, though, the engine caught fire. I pulled over, got out, and watched the engine smoldering on the turnpike. Within about ten minutes, the car itself was burning to a crisp. It turns out that the radiator had cracked, causing the engine to overheat. The sweet smell in the air? That was radiator fluid. The warning lights on my dash were obscured by the sailboat mural Ryan had given me. I didn't know it at the time, but as I was hollering and feeling free at last, I was actually driving my car straight into the mouth of Hell. It would take me many months to recoup my losses. I flew back down to Georgia, defeated.
It is true. I love the South. This isn't a quaint regionalism. It's star-crossed love, baby. I love the Spanish moss, the macaroni and cheese, the Piggly Wigglies, and the Jiffy cornbread. The steaming asphalt parking lots, the chain gangs, and the county courthouses. The grapevines, the poets, the novelists, and the corrupt politicians. The iron in the clay, which makes it bleed red, and the granite in the ground millions of years old. I love the hemlocks, the sourwoods, and the beeches. I love the escaped slaves, the freed slaves, and Jimmy Carter's wide, empty grin. I love the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, and Robert Johnson. Even when it sucks, it's all very good, and a perfectly balanced counterpoint to all the love I have for the West, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast. What bugs me is when places all start to look alike. That's how I know it's the End Times. When everything starts turning into overcooked oatmeal, or when life becomes an infocommercial for an ideal that no longer even exists...it's the End Times all right. 2012 is when the Mayans said it would all end. That's only four years away. What do you love?
29 January 2008
When I was born in Columbus, Georgia, a few blocks away from Ma Rainey's old place, I entered the Kali Yuga via forceps, and immediately caught a broken collarbone. I was groggy and pretty out of it, but I saw it all happen. The people behind masks put silver nitrate drops in my eyes and it stung like a motherf*cker. The year was 1974. Bob Dylan's "Planet Waves" had just come out. Bob Dylan was drunk on wine.
Silver nitrate is a chemical compound that is supposed to help prevent blindness in case of sexually transmitted diseases that can pass from mother to child. Because one of my first few terrestrial experiences was an alchemical one, and because Dylan was touring with The Band, it made sense that Dylan l.p.'s got played a lot on lazy Sundays at our home, as I was growing up. Dylan and his alter-ego, Rod McKuen. Rod McKuen had a poem about an old man taking a piss. It always made me laugh. "His balls hung low..."
Because alchemy happened in my eyeballs so young, I saw it happening wherever I went. When I was fourteen, I found a book of Dylan lyrics & drawings at the public library. When I was seventeen, I recited "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" for c.p. English. A year later, I was on my own in Athens, Georgia.
Because alchemy and pain seemed tied together, when I discovered the work of Garcia Lorca, his theory on the "duende" made sense to me. Basically, he wrote that all good art came not from the Muse, but from something called the "duende," which is a Spanish word. Nevermind the literal translation of "duende." Lorca called it "the dark root of the human scream." That shit moved me.
Oh okay, I'll tell you. Literally, "duende" means "imp" or "troll." When I met Janelle, my bride, in Colorado, I was still way into Lorca. (His alchemical way with words had gotten me through some dark nights and fluorescent days .) One of the first inexplicable things she ever did was to give me a miniature statue of an imp. Who can explain such things? Maybe Bob Dylan could, in his hazy, prophetic way.
I made eye contact with Bob Dylan in 1997. He was onstage. I was in the crowd, but right up front. He seemed to smile. He held the gaze and I imagined I was the protagonist in a movie and felt the transmission, the way of saying "It's all right, man. The world's on fire, but you'll be fine. Just stay true to the way you see things." That's how I read the gaze. We were at the municipal auditorium in Columbus, Georgia. Just a few blocks away from Ma Rainey's old place. I had failed at my attempted life as an artist in New York and was now earning money by washing dishes at a family-style buffet-type restaurant. My parents were there at the same Dylan show, up in the stands. Afterwards, we went to the Shoney's over by the Wal-Mart and ate chocolate cake.
28 January 2008
Okay. I just have to share this with the world. I just spent the past hour and a half completing the University of Georgia Human Resources Department's online "general job application." Why am I doing this? Only because I have to leave an official paper trail proving that I am in fact looking for work, so as to continue receiving unemployment benefits. Anyway, after that arduous application process, I tried applying to various jobs on campus so as to give the fine folks at the Department of Labor a good feeling about all the checks they've been cutting me.
Thing is, every position I applied for required (1) a resume and (2) a cover letter in addition to the application! Bear in mind that I'm not applying for teaching jobs or anything, just shite jobs like "groundskeeper" and "parking lot monitor." What the hell happened to the world while I was in grad school? Since when did a job weed-eating and leaf-blowing require a cover letter and curriculum vitae?! I went ahead and banged a couple out, and made them as grandiose as possible. (Remember: I don't actually want to work any of these jobs.) Below you'll find the first paragraph of my cover letter for "Parking Deck Attendant." Submitted for your approval:
It is my belief that an individual’s parking pursuits are inextricably bound to the pursuits of his or her community and nation. An effective parking monitor, then, is one that is socially-engaged and cognizant of the contexts in which modern people live their lives. Such parking monitors serve not only individual parking lots and decks, but entire communities and even a grander, collective well-being. As safe, affordable parking opportunities are made more increasingly available, our community is improved. Having explored and reviewed the many services offered by UGA Parking Services, it seems that we have good reason to meet. It is my hope that, upon review of my resume and credentials, you will agree that we have reason to meet and discuss my candidacy for employment at your esteemed organization...
Since Winter is the historical time of "looking within" for the Indo-Aryan folk, I've decided today to try my hand at a very brief autobiography. I will do this four more times in the coming days, and hopefully arrive at some new perspectives on "things." This is by definition an indulgent project, so, ahem, pardon me while I try to uncarefully define myself in automatic terms:
When I left my hometown in rural-industrial middle Georgia and went off to college, I was fairly blown away by being on my own. It was weird. I felt like an eyeball removed from its socket, wandering the streets of a strange new world. One of the things I stumbled upon and came to love was the student-run movie theater on campus. They showed lots of art and cult films and, quite often, between classes, I'd go watch French New Wave or noir films in the middle of the day. It was a lovely time in a lovely little theater.
One of those days, I decided: This is it. This is what I want to do with my life. I want to make films. I then proceeded to put all things unrelated to film and art out of my mind. I made Super 8mm films and screened them at the monthly local filmmaker's screenings. I kept a film journal wherein I recorded my impressions and ideas. And I got a job at a library where basically I got paid to watch movies and archived t.v. shows, listen to records, and read art books. It was a time of excitement. I declared my major: Television and Film Production. I became a sponge for new visual experiences...sort of like the robot in Short Circuit. I think his name was "Johnny Five."
As time went on, the more I learned about myself. And the more I learned, the more I realized that I was a "fringe" or experimental artist. What I mean is that I found that I prized less and less the more "obvious" approaches to film, music, and other forms of art. I hated the fact that PR firms, the moneychangers, personality games, and a general urge to conform made it hard for people to do real art in America. All my favorite, esteemed artists flew well below the popular radar. Many had already died in obscurity. It was then that it dawned on me that I had, in essence, taken a lifelong vow of poverty. I was around twenty-one when this occured. It was sort of a revelation. Or maybe it was an anti-revelation.
It became clear to me that I needed to find something bigger to explore than my career or existence as an artist. When I graduated from college, I went on the road. I picked up a dog named Stella along the way. I traveled off and on for roughly three years, then I settled back in Athens and worked odd jobs. I ended up doing "light carpentry," horticulture and landscaping. I kept journals, took photographs, and made films that whole time. (I have stacks of artwork from that personal epoch that have never seen light of day.)
Life dealt some hard blows. After a while (and some stupidly repetitive behaviors) I felt that my life was becoming too predictable again, so I went to study psychology at a Buddhist university in Colorado. Here I met my future wife, Janelle. The parallels between cinema, art, and psychology were many. I enjoyed this fact and had many pints with a guy named Paul, and we talked about this kind of thing a lot.
Janelle & I moved back to Athens, land of the lovely theater, and once we even sat in that same theater and watched Yoda go insane on a Sith Lord. We laughed. It was good. I got a job working on a psychiatric unit. Later on, we had our daughter, Eleanor. My man Paul became her godfather. When I eventually got downsized out of a job, I was glad. I was burning out - not on people, but on institutions. Anyway, it meant more time I got to spend with my favorite people. If I had any spare time outside of parenting, I used it to make films, murals, short stories, poems, and beer (pictured above). Janelle and I made a mobile for our daughter. One day, I woke up and it was today. I sat down to my laptop while Eleanor napped and...well...here we are.
27 January 2008
26 January 2008
Today is Saturday and I have a "gig." Let me say, then, that I am "gigging." Under-the-table style. (Catch me if you can, Johnny Law!)
Basically, I'm getting paid to videotape a five year old's birthday party. Later, I get to edit it all together - the crowning moments, if you will, of Pin The Tail On The Donkey, the birthday song, and the piece de resistance...(drumroll)...Real, Live Pony Rides!
Already I'm thinking of cool music for the soundtrack. NWA's "F*ck The Police" comes to mind as a children's classic, as does Slayer's "Angel of Death." I dunno. We'll see. We'll see what the moment brings forth. Stan Brakhage would have wanted it that way.
This is a patch from my medicine jacket, which helps me to align/summon my animal energies. I have a feeling I'll need those energies today...The patch is actually a rarity from the world of serialized television. Remember Twin Peaks? In Season One, Special Agent Dale Cooper is inducted into the Twin Peaks secret society called "The Bookhouse Boys." Sheriff Truman then breaks my boy off with an official patch. This is an unofficial facsimile of that same patch (muchas gracias, eBay). I think the image is supposed to have something to do with protecting the world from the Forces of Evil (i.e. the Black Lodge). Up close, this patch looks pretty corny, I think. It looks better from far off. You'll hafta trust me on that, I suppose.
Anyway, that's my Saturday. That, parenting, and bottling up some nice honey ale that my man Micah helped me brew a couple of weeks ago. Micah, if you're reading this, we'll be ready to drink it in approx. 2 weeks. Dig that.
25 January 2008
This morning we got up early and went to the county Vital Records office, so as to register Eleanor as a real, live girl. A man named Clarence Lumpkin sat behind a desk, with a pane of glass separating him from me. "Good morning, can I help you?" he said. He was wearing corduroys and, with his modest afro and hornrims, looked like the the most inoffensive man Planet Earth has to offer.
This is the mailbox that, within the next 4 to 5 weeks, will begin filling up with responses from the writing programs to which I applied. Right now, however, it is a mute box, empty of anything cool or exciting. Unless student loan bills are your idea of exciting. No? Didn't think so.
So I wait. And we wait. And it's cold as hell here. "Yeah, Clarence, we need to talk to Miss Wright about filing a birth certificate for our daughter." He directed us down the hall, on the left. It was fine. It took thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to fill out forms and now a few days to hear back from the offices in Atlanta. Some things are complicated. Other things are not.
24 January 2008
The Kali Yuga is the age of the proverbial "End Times," except in Hindi. I think it's Hindi. It may be Pali. Anyway, these are the end times and what am I doing? I'm walking. Like Thoreau. Like a man with no wheels and nowhere to be. Like somebody lost in time and unemployed. With Eleanor strapped to my back - that's my style. Gangsta.
What I see on our father-daughter walks are things like electrical wires, telephone wires, babies' blocks, and ancient Mountain Dew cans dumped in the ditch. I say "hello" to these things. "Hello. These are the End Times. Are you enjoying yourself appropriately? I hope so. Have a good day." They do not respond. Eleanor falls asleep.
If I have a camera with me, I can take snapshots of the things I see on my walks. If not, the things I see will remain unphotographed by me. Somewhere there is a long list of all the things I never photographed.
23 January 2008
When I was in college, me and a buddy came up with a plan to shoot a film. The film was going to be a short, 30 min. narrative about the life and times of a shady character whose name was to be "Chuck Swayze." Chuck Swayze was a character we came up with who was part basketball prodigy, part drug dealer, part cultural appropriator. He was white, 21, wormy looking, and had a gold tooth. He dressed in old school hip hop gear. Shelltoes and the like. His girlfriend was a smokingly hot Nubian goddess named Shawanda. I guess it's also worth mentioning that Chuck Swayze spoke with a lisp, probably due to the rushed dental work on his gold tooth. I guess you could say the whole idea was derivative through and through. Nonetheless, we thought it would make a hilarious-yet-poignant movie.
Quite often, my buddy and me would go out drinking. We'd take tablets and pens with us, though, and make notes about our movie. Generally, the entire evening would de-evolve into drunken Chuck Swayze imitations. Somewhere along the line, as the months progressed, we each bought gold fronts and a blond wig...so that our impressions could be that much more precise. We wrote a scene wherein Chuck Swayze, a liberal user of the "N word," eventually met Malcolm X's ghost. Problematic hilarity ensued.
Me and my buddy eventually had a falling out. It was all about a girl, of course. Because life is all in the details, I'll tell you that her name was Marlo. Ahhh...young Marlo. Anyway, he went his way and I went mine. Marlo disappeared into the undertow of life. I kept my Chuck Swayze wig, and it has come in handy over the years for one reason or another, inasmuch as a wig can actually come in handy. In this photo, my daughter is rocking the Chuck Swayze look. She's such a cool handed individual.
Me and this buddy of mine ended our friendship overnight. Maybe it was because of a girl. Maybe it was because of too much water under certain bridges. I don't know. I didn't really get it then, and I still don't now. It's been eleven years since our falling out. I've run into him a couple of times. Apparently he's doing well. I'm doing pretty well too. I am glad. No hard feelings, you know? I will say for the record, though, that it is sad when friendships end like that.
22 January 2008
Even cowgirls get the blues. This one is teething, which, as I have said before, is a cruel joke played on mankind. Almost makes me dislike teeth. But, then, without teeth, how could I enjoy my BLT? I couldn't. That's how they get you. That's why we keep coming back for more.
20 January 2008
Eleanor had the "24 hour" (72) stomach flu, it turns out. When asked what was the source of her greatest strength during the illness, she replied, "Islam" and, to the surprise of all present, donned a traditional Sunni head covering and prayed the salaat. "I am no longer Eleanor. That was merely the slave name pinned to me the day I was born. I am now Fatima Suprema. REPRESENT."
When your seven month old baby converts to a major world faith, you know it's time to reassess.
17 January 2008
Last night it snowed in Athens, Georgia for approximately fifteen minutes. I know because I went outside and stood under the flurry. The freezing temperatures rose slightly, bringing a rain that washed away the light blanket of snow that had dusted the forest white.
Eleanor is sick. She has been nauseated and vomiting all morning. We called the doctor, but the doctor’s office is too busy and understaffed to give us advice. I went online and looked for guidance. Pop-up ads advertising low fares to Puerto Rico infested my laptop and my mind.
Stella is outside on a sleeping bag. The day is overcast and grey. Rufus Wainright is on the hi-fi. Mulling spices. Ella is asleep too, on Janelle’s lap. The landlord keeps calling, leaving cryptic messages. “Please return this call when you can.” He wants us to leave. (Is he selling this house at last?)
Not knowing where we are headed, now in a fatherly way, and not being placated by imagined, projected specialness of being a broke artist, I tend to see more clearly than ever before the delicate threads that hold things in place. Even a filthy gas station has a role in God’s creation. I don’t want to hurt or worry.
15 January 2008
This is a still from a new film I'm working on. Its themes include (but are not limited to) babies, trees, electricity, and shapes.
Now, when a baby is born, it comes complete with a long, ropey umbilicus attached to a placenta. That placenta is a piece of work too, boy. Part sieve, part industrial power complex, it's where the fetus gets all its mojo for those nine glorious months. Despite what your doctor might tell you, when the baby is born, it is a good thing to let that placenta stay attached for a while. It has important last-minute work to do. When it's done uploading that final megablast of nutrition and life force, it's fine to cut that bad boy loose and tie a knot in the cord.
I didn't know this stuff before I had a kid. I did, however, know that it was customary for certain hippie individuals to fry and eat the placenta afterwards. "We ate the placenta with garlic and onions," one such mom casually told me. For the record, the missus and I did not eat our daughter's placenta. No way, no day.
We did, however, freeze it. "We can deal with this thing later on," I remember saying, wedging the plastic bag containing the placenta into our Frigidaire. Seven months later - this Sunday - I rediscovered that little bundle of love when I was - you guessed it - trying to make room for beer. In bold, black letters, the word PLACENTA was written right on it in permanent ink. "Check it out. It's Eleanor's placenta," I said, holding the bag up for Janelle. "We really need to deal with that," she replied, scrunching up her nose. But I was already distracted and moving on to the next domestic task.
The next morning, while making coffee, Janelle re-re-discovered the placenta on top of the fridge - where I had stashed it in my attempts to make room for beer. "Did this stay out all night?" She placed her hand on the bag, which felt warm to the touch.
Our dog, Stella, was now sharking around the kitchen like a great white in shallow water. (She had actually tried to eat the placenta the night Eleanor was born and, apparently, hadn't lost any interest in it.) "What should we do with it now?" I asked the missus, since, after all, it came out of her body and not mine. "I vote we either bury it or burn it in a reverent yet non-ritualistic manner."
I built a big fire and kept adding cedar and oak logs until I worked up a nice thick bed of hot coals. Just before adding the placenta, I gave Eleanor a chance to say goodbye to her old running buddy. "Peace out," she seemed to want to say to it, "Catch you on the flipside." I tipped my bottle of beer. Janelle said "adios." And smoke filled the air.
14 January 2008
More than art, a collage is a way of ordering information, and of arranging imagery. I like to organize my thoughts in collage form. This one, for example, represents the tour de force of organization necessary for applying to a handful of creative writing programs while nursing my daughter with a bottle. This collage made it so that I didn't really have to remember or think much about it. It was all right there. On the wall.
When I was in elementary school, they painted the walls white and, one special day, let us third graders paint our names on the wall with brushes and buckets of deep vermillion. The teachers had really built the event up in our heads for a couple of weeks. We were all so excited. I couldn't wait. When I stepped up, brush in hand, though, the top part of the "J" in my first name started to drip. (The paint was runny.) The drip ran down the wall and even bumrushed the other kids' names. It looked like chaos. Third grader chaos. I tried to wipe it clean, but ended up making more of a mess. "You're making more of a mess!" a teacher said. Finally, I just hurried through the other 13 letters in my name, put down the brush, and escaped to the library.
My name dried that way for posterity. And whenever I'd walk down the hall after that, I'd see that renegade "J" and, in my obsessive way, want to fix it, to make it perfect. But I couldn't. It was permanent. (Say what you will about life's changes. The permanence of any situation can be a real bitch too.) Anyway, a year and a half later I graduated to middle school and was glad to escape that imperfect "J." Middle school brought its own travails, though. And soon I was yearning to be back in such a safe and supportive environment where a crazy little "J" was my biggest problem.
It's too bad kids are made to take things so seriously so early in their lives. How can we prevent this? How can I protect my daughter from my own anxiety? And why do I intuit that some way, somehow, collage making might be part of the answer?
13 January 2008
Ever have a Sunday wherein the weight of the whole insane world comes crashing into yr left temple, spilling and fomenting and frothing the chaos of life in modern society right into your cranium when all you really wanted to do was hang out with yr family by the fire pit, watching cicada husks glow? Yeah? Me too.
Luckily, my best friend Paul taught me how to listen to George Harrison. "My Sweet Lord" takes me back to that day and reminds me of where my head is supposed to be. "He was actually the most spiritually committed of the four" Paulie said to me, slipping "All Things Must Pass" into the tape deck one golden sunlit afternoon in Boulder, Colorado.
I've sat at the feet of a lot of golden, sparkley individuals who know big shite and/or are supposed to know big shite about human consciousness. Art is what brings it all back home for me, though. I'll take an album over a mantra any day of the week. I'll take a cicada husk over the chaos. And I'll take frail effacement over allegiances. Friendship over acquaintanceship. Thorns over roses. George over John.
12 January 2008
I burned my toast yesterday. Don't ask how. Don't ask why. I just burned it. That is all.
The smoke filled up the kitchen, then the living room. That's when I remembered my toast. "Oh shit. My toast!" I exclaimed. Remembrance sometimes comes with a shock. Like when you burn the toast, or forget an important anniversary, or mail the rent check late.
Sometimes remembrance packs a smoky punch.
11 January 2008
Yesterday I made malted milk shakes for The Missus and me. Immediately afterwards, we went to the YMCA and signed up for a family membership. At the YMCA, a man named Charles gave us a tour. “Hey, Charles. I’m Jonathan,” I said. “Hello,” he replied. I gave him the glad hand at the end of the tour. That seemed the appropriate thing to do.
Charles was tall, young, Black, well-groomed, and he wore designer tinted prescription shades. You couldn’t see his eyes, but he smiled frequently. He showed me the VIP men’s locker room and I said, “Charles, man, what do they use these tables for?” He said, “Guys just hang out on them, after a shower or whatever, watch t.v., and a lot of times they’ll sleep on them.” He gestured to the t.v. mounted to the wall. A commercial for a car dealership flickered across the screen, complete with “1-800” number.
“Yeah, you know, after a soak of whatever.”
I tried to imagine myself coming to the YMCA in the mornings, dropping Eleanor off in the Y’s daycare facility, pumping some serious fuggin’ iron, hitting the showers, and then taking a nice, long, unlikely nap on a padded table in the VIP men’s locker room. The whole story was pretty far-fetched.
Two older black men were sitting next to two older white men by the sauna. They nodded to Charles. All four looked like they had were either retired cops or Korean War vets and now lived in the basement of the Y. The older black men were shirtless and looked healthy, comfortable, and at total ease. They were speaking to one another in a quiet, familiar tone. The older white dudes, also shirtless, looked like cookie dough. Their words were unintelligible. I think I might have heard the phrase “vinyl siding” come from one of them. No one regarded my presence. It was as if I was invisible next to Charles.
“Can I check out the hot tub?”
Charles showed me the hot tub, which looked like what you would expect. “VIP membership also includes a towel service, toiletries, and hot packs.” He used a pair of tongs to lift a steaming gel pack out of a hydrocolator, located on a wheeled cart by the doorway.
Charles concluded our tour and left The Missus, Eleanor, and me to our own devices, inviting us to explore the facilities on our own. We did. After about ten minutes of aimless wandering, we exited out a back door that looked like no one had ever used it in the entire history of the Y.
"You think we can go out here? It says 'Leave Door Closed'," Janelle pointed to a handwritten sign on the door.
"I think it means that we can use it, we just need to close it behind us. Besides, it's closest," I argued for that door like it had a pile of gold behind it.
Once outside, we immediately discovered that we were trapped inside a small yard, surrounded by a barbed wire fence. We went back to the exit door, but it had locked behind us. “Goddamn you,” I whispered to the door. We were totally trapped. Meanwhile, somewhere inside the Y, a man slept on a table, oblivious to all the trappings of the awake wide world.
10 January 2008
I was getting strung out on the expensive shit. And since I am out of work and all, it seemed right to get back to my broke-ass roots. So I stopped going to the fancy health food syndicate for my Fair Trade, free range, organic, pesticide-free Espresso beans. Instead, I'm kickin' it over on aisle 11 at the FOOD LION (Roooawr!), where Bustelo and Eight O'Clock live next door to Chock Full O' Nuts and Maxwell House.
It took me about a week and a half for my taste buds to acclimate to the wonderful savings (about one quarter the cost, in case you're counting). And I still gotta use massive amounts of milk, sugar, and cardamom. But, I tell you, in all honesty...it's not a bad brew.
It's good to roll like this, to burn off the excess and get humble again. Not because humbleness is righteous, but because, like all good heroin addicts know, you gotta get clean from time to time if you still want that high. The next time I get to drink the expensive shit, it's gonna be a tidal wave of orgasmic flavor. Until that glorious day, though, I will drink inorganic, chock full o' pesticides, un-Fair Trade Eight O'Clock coffee. And I will try to like it, dammit.
09 January 2008
Wesley Willis (peace be upon him) was a fountain of strange quotations and lyrics. He battled schizophrenia and a few other harsh hands Lady Luck dealt. Here's some of the finest W.W. quotes you're likely to find assembled on the World Wide Web:
I've been playing music for a long time. I play my music to keep busy. I play my music to keep out of trouble. I play my music to be a good person. My music keeps me from doing bad things. It keeps me from hurting other people and going to prison. I play my music to keep my mind off my demons.
I'm doing what I want to do, and I don't care what you think you need!
Put me on torture hell rides.
Schizophrenia demons live in my head.
Take me off on harmony joy rides.
After the vampire bird sucked blood out of me…He started stabbing me in my ass…Then three more vampire birds stabbed me in my ass too.
Al Capone gunned down my brother…He killed him with an Uzi submachine gun…He plugged twenty bullets in him…He stole his hotrod.
Play the rock guitar like a rock star...Rock the casbah like a hurricane...Rock and roll is my music for a joyride...Whip that werewolf with a belt.
As I got off the bus, I told the male bus driver to shove a broomstick up his ass…He got so tired of my disharmonious bullshit…He threatened to clock a transfer puncher upside my head.
At 7:30 PM, the Greyhound bus arrived at the Chicago bus station…I then got off the intercity bus and yelled like a stupid fool.
Back in 1991, I used to hit old people with folding chairs.
Batman beat the hell out of me and knocked me to the floor…I got back up and knocked him to the floor…He was being such a jackoff.
Batman got on my nerves…He was running me amok…He ridiculed me calling me a bum.
Beat the hell out of me as I mess up.
Call me a fucking jerk like I'm a rapist.
Call me a fucking asshole like I'm an arsonist.
Christmas is a fun time…It is a fun time every December…It is also a joy month…I like this holiday a lot.
Christmas is Jesus Christ's birthday…that is what it is all about in the mix.
Don't bust people in the head.
Don't ever take things that don't belong to you.
Don't kill people you don't know.
Don't stick up people for money.
Do something about your mullet…get out the hair clippers, jerk.
Do something about your long filthy hair…It looks like a rat's nest.
Drink a bottle of Cutty Sark…Get drunk and fuck with somebody…Whip a policeman's ass with a belt.
Drive the city bus down the street…Drive the school bus…Drive your hot rod…Drive your Lincoln Town Car down the parkway..Firewall the throttle.
Find my Smith and Wesson or else… If you don't search for it, I'm going to crack your head with my karate stick.
Fuck with your friends while you're drunk…Go off on somebody so that hell can break loose on your ass.
God gave me this rock music career to keep me busy.
He gave me a yell-down war hell ride…He told me that he was going to kill me if I don't get off his real estate.
He got so tired of my horse crap.
Here's what you do for me: Stick your ghetto dope up your ass!
I also told Reverend Henry E. Miller to suck a male camel's dick…He got so tired of my bullshit.
I am a rock soloist..I am a rock singer on the Wesley Willis Fiasco…I am a cityscape
skyscraper artist…I am a working class dog.
I called him a fucking dipstick…It was my fault for not being cool in Lawrence, Kansas, that morning.
I called the evangelist a stupid crucifuck.
I came to your house with my Smith & Wesson…I was a stupid-ass drunk when I was
trigger-happy…I murdered your family.
I draw so good…I draw so well…I draw so great…Right on.
I do make me a lot of money…I draw all the time…I can really work my ass off.
I heard no joybus music…All I heard was abusive profanity used on me by a mean
I jack my mother for dope money…I do it by threatening her life with a semi-automatic.
I like you a lot as the world turns.
I like you a lot like Cool Whip.
I like you a lot like flash in the pan.
I love singing in my one-man band…I love playing the joyride music that you came for.
I love the rocket travel.
I love the way you cuss…I love the way you clown around.
I love you like a chuck wagon.
I love you like a gravy train.
I'm running my inkpen…I'm running my mouth.
I'm sorry that I got fat, I will slim down.
I smoke my crack pipe every day…I have a good time at it.
I told Dale Meiners to get off my case…Suddenly I threw him against the van…I wanted to duke his scrawny ass up and smash his face at about 2:10 AM that morning.
I was driving down the lane…I was firewalling the throttle!
It whupped a brown bear's ass.
Just remember this meaning: I will always love you like a milkshake.
Keep on whupping a horse's ass with your rock music.
Keep your ass out of the metal clink.
Kiss my black ass.
Kris Kringle sped down West Fulerton Avenue looking for hookers.
Long road trips can really be a hell ride.
Make me spook passengers on buses…Get me in a mess of trouble.
McDonald's is a place to rock…It is a restaurant where they buy food to eat.
My daddy enjoys smoking crack…He had a good time at it.
My daddy got me high.
My mind plays tricks on me every time I say something…It brings voices out of my head and talks to me vulgar.
My mother smoked that crack like a cigar…She had a good time at it…She jacks my brother for dope money…She does it by threatening him with a Smith & Wesson.
My mother smokes crack rocks.
My Smith & Wesson better come up…If it doesn't come up, I'm going to crack your skull and put you in the hospital.
Never kill a probation officer.
Once upon a time a man was attacked by a vampire bird…He was sucked to death…The vampire bird killed him at last.
Once upon a time, a team of hungry birds came down on a dead body…It was a dead deer…They sucked it deep into the dead deer.
Play the rock guitar like a rock star…Rock the casbah like a hurricane…Rock and roll is my music for a joyride…Whip that werewolf with a belt.
Ram a broomstick up your ass…Jump your ass in the lake…Get the hell away from around here.
Reach in your pocket for a handgun… Level it at my booty hole.
Reverend Henry E. Miller preached about my vulgar language…He told the congregation in the sanctuary that I got a nasty filthy mouth.
Rock, rap and roll will entertain your artistic talent.
Rock it to the Maxwell House…Rock it on the mic, homey!…Rock Saddam Hussein's ass to Russia.
Rough me up so I can holler…Make me demolish my portable CD player.
Rough me up so I can holler like a damn fool.
Scream, Dracula, Scream!
Stop beating up FBI agents.
Suddenly, John Dillard mistook my curses as an insult…He whipped out a box cutter on me and followed me to the exit door…He chased after me as I got off the bus, slashing me in the face and back.
Superman thought he was bad…He was messing with my girlfriend…I caught him in my
room kissing her…I took a rubber hose and flogged his rump.
Take me on a rock harmony joyride.
Take your ass to the barbershop…tell the barber that you're sick of looking like an asshole.
Tell me off with lies that are not true.
The electric eel shocked the hell out of me…He also blew me out of the water…He did,
thanks to his ass.
The old school punk jam session whupped a wildcat's ass.
Turn my Sunday sight-seeing bus tour into a nerve-shattering hell ride.
Twist the knob on the radio…Turn up the volume…Keep me on the super rock and roll
highway…Take me to the harmony joy limit.
Utter hellride profanity at me…Strike my joybus ride music down.
Write potty profanity on me.
You are a good-for-nothing scatterbrain.
You are my sweetheart in God's country.
You are so nice to me…You are on my side…You are the man with the midas touch…You are on my side with the midas touch.
You bring me damaging disharmony in my life by cussing at me for no reason at all.
You need to leave me alone with your war hell ride, punk!
Your daddy was a stupid jackass…He had no business monkeying in my glove comparment of my automobile.
Your gangsta rap music is the willpower to my artwork…The music will harmonize me.
Play the rock solo as hard as you can in Woodstock, New York...Make the crowd of 300,000 people roar like a sea monster...Take everyone on a harmony joyride...Whip the hell out of that werewolf's ass
08 January 2008
A heavy fog bank rolled in last night and enveloped us in our home. What is fog, really? Just low lying clouds. Low down dirty dog clouds that have sunk to new levels, on the run from Johnny Law, dropping into the cut and out of circulation until the hounds are called off. Stomping across my backyard and stealing clothes off the line. "Hey, now, old timer, nevermind who I am. I'm gonna need to borrow a hammer and a chisel to get this here chain off from around my legs. Oh, and you got any food in there?"
There are only two things that will get rid of a fog bank - sunlight and wind. Fog, then, is in the same family as darkness and stagnation. That blurry quiet that overtakes a landscape just before all Hell breaks loose.
All the old stories from the Old Country tell us to beware of the fogbank. It brings strange and dreaded things with it: Warlocks, witches, devils, demons, gryphons, ghouls, pirates, gypsies, skinwalkers, vampires, hell hounds, blood monkeys, mutant dwarves, killer clowns, imps, chimps, spaceships, death dealers, grifters, shysters, insurance salesmen, pharmaceutical representatives, ad agency executives, and so on. It brings the undead.
Fog obeys its own laws and no one else's. Renegade cuts of cloud. Anti-clouds. Outlaws. Folk heroes? Nah. Just bad muthaf*ckas.
07 January 2008
On this day, back in 1999, the impeachment trials of President William "Bill" Clinton were just beginning. The nation's millennial fears were gathering. And Prince was relevant, once again.
What will the next day or decade bring? No one knows. Maybe the cyclops knows. Maybe his eye can penetrate the ethers of time, telescoping and microscoping at his faintest whims. In one direction he sees the origin of vertebrate life, slither-crawling in the earliest shallow brines. In the next, hovercrafts simmering across the cosmos with blazing fanfare. Buffet meals in capsule form.
One thing I know for sure: I'm glad I ain't a cyclops.
06 January 2008
Clouds are the most temporary thing there is. And, folks, this is nothin' but a whole world of temporary things. Grandmothers, kittens, causes, tricycles...all gonna die. All gonna melt away like chocolate chips between Yahweh's lips. In the meantime, though, what is there? Experience. That's it, that's all. And what do you really truly know at the end of each day? Only what you've experienced. Everything else is a goddamn rumor. Please, raise your fist and/or champagne with me tonight & toast that noble little underdog who is in fact running the whole show: Mr. Experience. He's a good guy. He's gonna shake up your whole world. He's gonna eff up your homeostasis like the vandal that stole the all handles. He's your avatar. He's your Christ. He might be a she. And she speaks in clouds, not parables. Cuts of cloud.
05 January 2008
I just got back from the post office. And so it's official: All my admissions "packulets" are en route to their respective institutions of higher learning. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Shiva. Thank you, Heaven's Gate. Now I can get back to my wife, daughter, partially-shaved dawg, and slab of government cheese. From here until mid-February - mid-March, it's a waiting game. And that's a game I can't help but win.
04 January 2008
Okay, this is hilarious to me. D-Con’s been killing rats and mice in America for fifty years. I don’t know about you, but I can come up with a lot better ways to spend half a century.
This is from a box of rat bait. Yes, rat bait. I know, it sounds like some kind of like middle school slang that all the kids use, but only 2 out of 700 really even know what it means. Anyway, you're a middle school kid, so you try to act like you know. It's like:
Kid #1: Man, I hate Mary.
Kid #2: Me too.
Kid #1: Why?
Kid #2: Huh?
Kid #1: Why do you hate Mary?
Kid #2: Because, man. She's...uh....rat bait.
Kid #1: Wha?! NO WAY!
Kid #2: Um, yeah, man. Totally.
Kid #1: Total rat bait?
Kid #2: You got it.
As you might've guessed, my rabbit box did not work. I therefore have had to rain chemical death down on our freeloading rodent...which sucks, on account of the reverence for life thing, which is a real thing. So it goes. We all have a part to play. Anyway, that bastard ate two of my shoes and destroyed a philodendron. So peace out, Ratso. I'll mourn ya till I join ya.
03 January 2008
Eleanor Beatrice, you are my hoodoo guru. You know this. You're my Rinzai monk, my Yoda. Having been around the "my perfect teacher" block enough times to know who's a phony and who's pure gold, I am here to tell you that you are the real deal, m'lady, and I am your devoted devotee.
To wit: This morning. Nobody but tiny you could get me up at 3 a.m. and make me rock and sing like a damn fool and have a great time and even pity the poor bastards that don't get to cold kick it with you in the holy hours of morning. I realize this is all florid and somewhat insane. So it goes. I'm at your feet. Tell me what to do.
02 January 2008
I know this is gross. But I needed photographic evidence that somebody put a root on my dog. Yes, that's Stella. Stella of the ear infection, the temporary deafness, the allergic reaction, the tumor/biopsy, and now, finally, at last, the hot spot. She is now Stella the bald. Doesn't she look like her hindquarters joined a Trappist monastery?
Stella & I have seen the inside of the vet's office so many times in the past forty days I feel like I should chip in for their utilities. No, wait. I've already spent millions on all the lab work and excising and prodding and inoculating and, yes, the shaving. Of course Stella's worth it. But good God almighty. She looks like fuggin' Frankenstein.
The blackeyed peas are for good luck. The collards are for cash money, honey. The cornbread is for gustatory balance. The cup of black coffee is for the abyss. The syrup is for cosmic entanglements. The butter is for the power of the Sun. The buttermilk is for the shyness of the moon. The salt is from the sea. Your forks and spoons were made long ago. When you eat, you eat with the windows open. You let the breezes malinger. You invite the New Year in for a bite.
01 January 2008
This is a pear tree. The bottles are a Southern myth. By way of Africa, I've been told. I don't know for sure. Bottle trees were all over when I was growing up. The idea is that greedy ghosts and malevolent spirits are attracted to shiny things. Seeing the bottles on the bottle tree, they will investigate. They will go inside the bottles for an even closer look. Once inside, they can't get out! The spirits stay there. They do not die. They are not annihilated. But they are contained. This is the magic of the bottle tree. It's good to have one in your front yard, if protection from malevolent forces is a concern.
Being from the South has been a strange and mystic modern journey. I know, I know: Compared to what? Having never been from anywhere else, I can't speak of a control group, can I? But I know that the South is disappearing slowly. And one day it simply won't exist. I'm toying around, though, with the idea that that's okay. Maybe it's God's plan. Who am I?
I'm an insider and an outsider. I'm an insider because I was born in rural-industrial middle Georgia and lived the first 18 years of my life under that bottle tree blanket. I'm an outsider because I got exposed to mass media at an early age and loved it. Also, I'm an outsider because I went off to college and said a fond farewell to the life my hometown had in store for me. So when I talk about the South, it's not entirely from the perspective of a cloistered, cut-off insider. It's also not entirely from the perspective of someone who doesn't have cicadas, cutworms, and wisteria juice in their blood. It's important for an insider-outsider to know their audience, and to never assume. My feelings about the South - now those are always insider feelings.
I didn't choose to be from the South. Obviously. It chose me. Or rather no choice was involved. Because is there ever? But it has been important for me to retain and nurture my Southern identity. Did you know that there is a war going on against real identities? There is. And - barring metaphysics from the discussion - what could be more authentic than the identity you were born into? And I don't know - maybe people from the Midwest and Northeast feel the same way. I hope so.
Because in my scattered mind, it's important to be from somewhere. Life, after call can get pretty mean. And like I said, there's a war on. Sometimes even truth and beauty can turn hollow and empty. You gotta have an antidote. And even friends and family can't be your antidote. You gotta touch the touchstone. To rub the true rosary. To remember who you are, and what's in your blood. Being from somewhere can give you a place to stand in, so you can look around and know that it is Good.