30 April 2008

Star Shape

Today I put Janelle & Ella on an airplane headed North, to Chi-Town, where they'll rendezvous with Janelle's ma, who will then caravan with them to Iowa City, where J. has a job interview. While she's there, she'll be scoping out & photographing our new rented digs up in Iowa. My dynamic duo will be in absentia for ten days, which sucks. While they're gone, though, I'll try and get some extra writing done. I'll probably photograph a few more trains, too. Yup. Exciting stuff.

Before she took off, I made a stencil and spray-painted a yellow star on Janelle's new used hardshell suitcase...you know, for easy identification. I just got off the phone with her and, indeed, she reported that, not only did she and Ella have a good trip, but that locating her suitcase on the carousel was easy as pie. Success!

29 April 2008

Whole Car

This boxcar was parked on the rails across the street from our house for about 12 straight hours today. I finally got a chance to walk down and get some shots of this "whole car" piece, incl. some nice closeups.

Note that only the lower third of the boxcar is painted. That's common, and it's due to the fact that the average graffiti bomber of average height can only reach up to a height of about seven and a half feet. In case you've never been close to one, boxcars are larger than they appear. Hence, the low graphics.

In the third photograph, note how the graffiti lays down right over the terrain of machinery and movable parts. If you study the graf and the top lever, it's possible to detect that, when this piece was painted, the lever was rotated 180 degrees clockwise.

Judging by the different styles represented, yet the thematic unity, it appears that this whole car represents the simultaneous efforts of a crew. The "Get Well" message at the end seems to indicate that the piece was painted for the benefit of a sick or otherwise un-well person. What would you do if you fell ill and yr friends got together to sneak into a train yard under cover of night and spend a few hours painting a mural on a whole boxcar for you? If you ask me, that's some beautiful shit.

Wolves Of Mass Minutae

Janelle, the baby, & I just got back from the Starvation Army, where we laid down a cool $6 and scored a suitcase, two men's shirts, a James Michener novel, and a bunch of baby clothes. Score.

Today is one of my "off" days from Il Ristorante, which I negotiated yesterday with Chad, my manager (a nice guy of twenty-five years). I have Wednesdays off as well, from now on. "I need rest, man," I told him, after pulling him aside by the salad bar. "Yeah, you look tired," he said, deftly removing a packet of fallen Captain's Wafers (c) from the Ranch dressing with a pair of plastic tongs.

So today I'm resting, chilling, and dealing with all the minutiae of my life as a prospective student that I can push to the periphery of my psyche while at work, but that crops up over time and overwhelms me when I get a few spare minutes. I call such phenomena and "things to tend to" the wolves of minutiae. Janelle understands what I mean. "The wolves are circling," I'll say to her, over morning coffee. "The wolves of minutiae, you mean?" she'll reply. And in that holy moment, I'm totally moved outside of my own ego and am thankful and grateful for this woman who digs me without me having to say too much, though I usually will anyway.

28 April 2008

Hey, Bo

Bo Diddley is my man, esp. after a long, hard day in the kitchen. Some day I'm going to figure out what this song is actually about. All I know now is that it's sinister, gothic, and bad-ass

Who Do You Love?

I walk 47 miles of barbed wire,
I use a cobra-snake for a necktie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of a human skull,
Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene,
And tell me, who do you love?

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?

Tombstone hand and a graveyard mine,
Just 22 and I don't mind dying.

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?

I rode around the town, use a rattlesnake whip,
Take it easy Arlene, don't give me no lip,

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?

Night was dark, but the sky was blue,
Down the alley, the ice-wagon flew,
Heard a bump, and somebody screamed,
You should have heard just what I seen.

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?

Arlene took me by my hand,
And she said ooowee Bo, you know I understand.

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love

Hot Grits

From the Wild Style school. Well, I'm exhausted. I've worked pretty much non-stop for the last two weeks and am now ready to collapse into a collapsible state like some kind of fold-up recumbent bike at Sharper Image. But first, a vignette, for Saturday night was Fish n' Grits night at work. This is me talking to the lovely Tracy, who scrubs pots with her massive, chocolate arms, never takes off her hornrimmed glasses, and walks compulsively when she's not on the job:

Me: Tracy, staring at these grits all night long, there's only one person I keep thinkin' of.

Tracy: Who's that?

Me: Sam Cooke.

Tracy: You must be thinkin' of Al Green.

Me: Oh. Was it Al Green?

Tracy: Who that lady throwed hot grits on?

Me: Yeah.

Tracy: Oh yeah. You thinkin' of Al Green.

So, for the record, the story goes that Al Green and Mary Woodson were the best of friends, since way on back. Mary, however, wanted more than a platonic friendship from Green. And so. She, being somewhat mentally precarious and he, having informed her that he wished only to maintain their "friend" status in lieu of kicking things up to the next (i.e. romantic) level, were fated to an impasse. The impasse led to one of the most notorious incidents in rock n' roll history.

On Oct. 18, 1974, Mary Woodson was sleeping over at Al Green's guest house (in the backyard of his "main house") when she was overwhelmed with strong emotion. She stole into Green's house with a big pot of hot grits, hid in his bathroom, and, when the singer entered and disrobed for his nightly shower, threw the hot, sticky, napalm-like grits all over him. While Al Green writhed in agony, Mary Woodson ran off to another room, where she ended her life via self-inflected gunshot wound. Green suffered 3rd degree burns on his back, stomach, & arms. Those close to the artist have said that he was deeply distraught for a long, long time about the whole thing.

Who wouldn't have some regrets about a situation that results in getting hot grits thrown upon one's naked body? Too, he lost one of his best friends. That's a double whammy. I guess I confuse Al Green and Sam Cooke because Sam Cooke was gunned down while he was wearing only a robe and one shoe. No grits involved in that assault, though. An overall gritless incident. But damn all the double whammies in life anyway.

27 April 2008

Ye Hear

My favorite things about this photo: (1) the superfluous quotation marks around the words "look," "antiques," and "collectibles," and (2) the Mickey Mouse-esque character speaking Southern Old English ("Y'all Come Back Now Ye Hear!")

Less Dense Than Water

3 Photographs from last week: (1) MUZE, (2) Janelle, & (3) a place I used to haunt when I was a kid: the "frog pond." The frog pond is less than 1,000 yards from our front door, and results from an underground spring that bubbles up, drains downhill through a polluted wooded area, and collects just below a dirt embankment, at the top of which are the railroad tracks that run right through the heart of Manchester. Basically, the frog pond is an acre or so of the kind of water you don't want to drink from or really even be near. In the summer, mosquitoes the size of Volkswagens swarm around in fevered droves.

One Spring, my father and I patched up an old yellow raft we'd found. Floating out onto the surface of the frog pond, I looked down and saw thousands of tiny spiders, less dense than water, skating across the surface of the pond. I felt like I was in a Paleolithic scene of some kind, and, trying to divine the bottom of the pond with a long stick, fantasized about stirring a plesiosaurus from its million year hibernation. The frogs creaked and croaked as my old dog appeared and stood at water's edge, her head cocked aside, watching my dad and I navigate the murk.

My father is, amongst other things, an excellent mechanic who interacts well with the physicalities of things. He knows a lot. He especially knows a lot about automobiles and tires. The raft we used in the Frog Pond Voyage had had a three foot gash in it, which ran along a seam on the raft's bottom. My dad applied his trade and, in a few minutes, had turned a shredded mass of rubber into a seafaring vessel. "Let's go try it out in the Frog Pond, Dad!" I had said.

When I think back to floating there, in that raft, and in that darkened murk, while the rusting, empty flatcars of the CSX sauntered by overhead, it's easy to see it as some kind of metaphor about the kind of wild spell a father can cast over his boy. The patch that held us up. The boat that took us offshore. What is the density of the action and love that says, "World is good"?

26 April 2008

L.L. Cool J.

"LADIES LOVE COOL JORONE." Indeed. He went for it, this guy Jorone, spraying a full sentence of graffiti, complete with subject, object, and verb, onto a Union Pacific car. If you're stuck at a R/R crossing like I was, then seeing this streak past is like a breath of fresh air. I just wish Jorone and Valerie could somehow meet...

I'm exhausted today, having worked all week, including a shift last night, then piggybacking that with El Gran Yard Sale today, and now heading to work for another night shift in another twenty minutes or thereabouts. And tomorrow I'm on, too, for a full Sunday Dinner After-Church Buffet Orgy. What a drag, this thing called work. So much time away from the things I love...for what? For cash money, hunny...

I always have time to bitch about work. Fact is, though, I'm lucky to have a job. Guess I gotta get better at appreciating the little things, and being generally thankful and all that. Than again, maybe it serves my mental health to identify and name the source of my malaise and thwarted self-realization...namely, the spirit-killing forty hour work week. While I'm at it, though, I should also name the sources that feed my soul and keep me going: Self-expression, Janelle, Eleanor, and the hope for a better tomorrow. Dig it!

25 April 2008

The Yard Sale

Pharoah Sanders has a song/album titled "The Creator Has A Master Plan." That is debatable, of course. But regardless of that, I love that title. And I love it when he sings that refrain over and over, before howling over drums and wind instruments like an African yodeler, in some kind of crazy ass transcendental movement of either pure virtuosity, or self-conscious catharsis a la John Coltrane (who was terribly self-conscious, until he wasn't, which was his point, but since he proved it, no one else in his genre can re-prove it, exactly, which is why I'm saying that basically Jazz went as far as it could go with him, which is also saying a lot, but anyway).

We're having a big yard sale tomorrow. Our hope is that we can generate enough funds to repair the malfunctioning rocket thruster on our ship and finally return to our home planet at the farthest edge of our solar system...Either that or take some of the sting out of the next U-Haul rental awaiting us in July.

Yard sales are a lot of work. A lot of appraising, sorting, moving, arranging, bartering, and dealing with the public, who doesn't care what that little set of plastic bracelets might have meant to you once upon a time. They're totally redemptive too, though. By that I mean that it's nice to see people driving away with your stuff. "Farewell, old friend," you might even want to say to your Speak n' Spell, "May you enrich more lives!" And then there's the groovy fact that you got a buck for it, which is almost a whole 1/3 of a gallon of gas for your car.

So tomorrow before I go in to work, we're getting up at the crack of dawn to arrange things on the lawn, drink coffee, and watch our possessions become grist for the mill. The by-product will be a few bucks here and there. And that's cool. I'll take it...because I got my first Tomato Fryer paycheck today and it's pretty g.d. depressing. Luckily I had a packet waiting on me from the U of Iowa Rhetoric Department when I got home. It helped remind me why I'm working so hard for so little in return at the moment...because there's a Master Plan, that's why.


I'm gonna lay my troubles on a railroad track
I'm gonna ride I ain't lookin' back
Tried to stop but I can't unpack
Gotta get used to the clickety-clack
The big ol' wheels and the smokin' stack
Ah babe I gotta go
Babe I gotta go

There's lots of things I'd like to see
From the mountains to the shining sea
Up in the sky where the wind blows free
To the cities down below
Babe I just don't know
I got trouble, trouble in my soul
I got trouble in my soul

I'm gonna lay my trouble on a railroad track
I'm gonna ride, I ain't lookin back
I tried to stop but I can't unpack
Go to sleep with the clickety-clack
The big ol' wheels and the smokin' stack
Babe I'm bound to go
I got trouble in my soul
I got trouble trouble in my soul

from Railroad Blues, by Townes Van Zandt

24 April 2008

Log Day

My job at the restaurant has taken a new turn. Yup, the “tomato lady” tendered her resignation…which is to say that she walked out. “It’s too (expletive) hot up in HERE!” we re her last words uttered as an employee, and she uttered them while snatching off her apron with a wrist-motion that would easily have snapped a cat’s neck, were she holding such a cat. I know because I saw her do it, which is due to the fact that I was running my head under cold water in a kitchen sink in an attempt to get the sweat out of my eyes and the sink was about six and a half feet from Tomato Lady when the dam burst. Anyway, because of my aforementioned immediate proximity, I believe, I was handed her ex-job on the spot. Mr. Carlson had tossed me an apron before Tomato Lady’s apron hit the floor, saying “Get to it, Jason,” which isn’t even my name. But I knew who he meant all right. So now I’m tomato dude.

My charge as Tomato Dude – and I’ve had this job before…at this same restaurant, in fact, and about ten years ago when I was saving up for a road trip to Oregon which turned into a year and a half road anti-Odyssey, which is a whole ‘nother story – is now stand in front of a large vat of hot oil with a ridiculous-looking steel spatula and to fry tomatoes for five or six hours straight. They call them “fried green tomatoes” and, yes, there was a movie called that. And, yes, people actually eat them in semi-obscene quantities. And, yes, they taste just about like anything else that’s fried: Muy Sabrosita.

That was last Saturday night. And in my brief reign as tomato dude, so far I too have come to many a realization, including the fact that sharing a workspace with a hot vat of grease does, indeed, tend to effectively increase one’s overall body temperature. In other words, it’s hot as (expletive). And the question is: Can I take the heat?

I’d like to open this blog up for responses. So go ahead and tell me what your vote is. Can I, in fact, take the heat? Feel free.

23 April 2008


About a week ago, I disturbed an ant hill by moving an old tire they had built their home against. Blazing sunlight illuminated their enclave. They abandoned and scattered, in search of meaning. Relatively gigantic me? I took out my camera and snapped this photo. It ends up being a cross section of a fire ant hill...

Tonight the Missus and I walked downtown and had a beer while my parents babysat Eleanor. On the way home, we took a shortcut by crossing the train tracks and climbing between boxcars. Janelle found an old rusted iron washer of some kind. "A souvenir," she said, holding it up to the light. The trains creaked.

If a cross section of an ant hill could yield insight into the dilemma of being human and how to stop the pain of existence, yet still exist, I might be able to sell this photograph to an ad agency or synagogue or the senate or whomever. Instead, it's just an ant hill in the sun, and the crazy structure of it all reminds me of wattle and daub, Timbuktu, and Arabesque cookies...When we were both just children, my sister shoved me into an ant hill. The ants stung my legs and swarmed, in search of meaning.

22 April 2008

ARMN 110303

Another throw-up piece. It's like putting a message in a bottle or tying a note to a passenger pigeon or banging out an e-mail to everybody you never knew. It's a canvas on rails, a wall that crawls, vehicular expressionism. It's a mode of transport and an empty vessel.

It's also a crime. A misdemeanor, I imagine. Though I also imagine that, with fuel prices through the roof, not many railroad yards have extra loot to spend on an anti-graffiti task force. Who cares, anyway, if the Heartland sees sprayed-on boxcars and gondolas gliding through the amber waves of grain? Does the Heartland even have that kind of eyes anymore? We must get things from one place to another. If, in the process, the mode is gilded - let it be.

So every tagged and bombed car is a scrambled message that, when decoded, says that peak oil and the crumbling economy is, at least in some form, benefiting the artist. "Let it be," each engine grumbles. These days, you'd just about have to want to get caught by the bulls. ..

Today is Earth Day. And today at work, I met a co-worker who told me that her son had been killed - "run over by a semi" - nine years ago. "They spent five hours picking up the pieces of him and putting him into a plastic bag," she told me. "But I don't think he's dead." There are some people in this world that get chewed up and spit out and are left to walk alone. This woman was one of them. "She crazy. Talk some sense to her, Jonathan. She be thinking she talking to spirits and all."

I figure she's doing pretty good to be getting up every morning and facing the world's ongoing calamity. "I used to be strung out on pcp, lsd, crack cocaine, speed, qualudes..." she pronounces each with a stark, husky Middle Georgia accent about as far as you cd get from Rhett Butler or anybody else who lucked out and got born into ease. Bewildered affect. Present moment. "My birthday's next week," she says, "Ain't it a beautiful day?" She lifts her hands in prayer.

21 April 2008

Sixteen Coaches Long

This train belongs in a David Lynch movie. It's the coach of despair. The b-boy Failed Experiment. The Lone Boxcar of the Apocalypse. It's a loss, a doomed reconnoiter, a forgotten grandparent. It's suburban detritus. It's an oily mess. It's a coupon for ***Half-Off All Styrofoam Flatware*** at a yard sale atop an Indian burial mound. It's a regret all dressed up like yer sister. It's a Midnight Rider. It's sixteen coaches long. It's a ping-pong ball in the Lake of Fire. It's fish filled with mercury. Roll yer bones, baby. It's gonna shine a light on you!

Mystery Train

Train I ride, sixteen coaches long
Train I ride, sixteen coaches long
Well that long black train got my baby and gone

Train train, comin round, round the bend
Train train, comin round the bend
Well it took my baby, but it never will again (no, not again)

Train train, comin down, down the line
Train train, comin down the line
Well its bringin my baby, cause shes mine all, all mine
(shes mine, all, all mine)

-lyrics by Junior Parker & Sam Philips

20 April 2008

Yellow Root

Today's boxcar. I like how, between the two cars, it's possible to make out a kingly old oak dappled in the afternoon sun and, just beyond, somebody's front porch. And what's Union Pacific up to? It's building America.

The graf was obviously a wild style rush job or practice run of some kind, but I like the tag in the lower right corner: "Valerie," which is likely the name of the artist who crafted this piece. Combined with the other add-on elements - "LA" and "818" - we can surmise that Valerie hails from LA's San Fernando Valley (of which "818" is the telephone area code). I have no idea who you are or what you're about, besides tagging trains, Valerie, but this blog's fer you...

Today at work an ancient, gnarled co-worker of mine named Miss Elaine handed me a paper bag full of yellow root: "I walked out into the woods behind my house and picked a bunch myself this winter. You can have this." (The day before, we had had a long talk about yellow root, polk salad, and other folk remedies/recipes of the South.) I told her, "They say yellow root is good for just about everything. When I was a little bit younger, one summer I drank a shot of yellow root tea every morning. It's godawful bitter, but it lets you know that you're alive."

It's true. Yellow root (Xanthorhiza simplicissima ) is regarded as a general cure-all tonic. It has long been used in folk medicine for mouth infections and sore throats, diabetes, during childbirth, and as an antibiotic, immunostimulant, anticonvulsant, sedative, hypotensive, uterotonic, and choleretic. In exchange for the batch of yellow root, I'm to bring Miss Elaine a bottle of homebrew next time I brew some up. And did you know that Los Angeles, California is a little over 2,200 miles from Manchester, Georgia?

19 April 2008

Early 20's Moment

This is Sasquatch. In this famous photo, Sasquatch is running wild, driven into a sleep deprivation-induced temporary psychosis. His baby sasquatch must be teething. Or going through a developmental surge. Or having growing pains. In any case, given his mental state, he needs to not be operating heavy machinery. A psychotic jog through the woods,on a trail he built himself, is fine, though.

Some people say Sasquatch does not exist. Few people, however, think that sleep deprivation does not exist. The vast majority of Americans are, in fact, sleep deprived (and under-hydrated, but that's something else). During the Korean War, the United States government conducted some sexy sleep-deprivation experiments on a few unlucky soldiers. What they discovered was pretty much what you would expect: If you don't get enough sleep, you rapidly start to lose your joie de vivre. Eleanor was up forty-seven times last night. And me, I'm not far from hallucinating at present.

Last night at work my charge was to officiate & oversee the All You Can Eat buffet, where the rutabagas I peeled two days ago were piled sky-high in an aristocratc pan labeled stewed rutabagas. There was also roast beef, white rice, green beans, butter beans, fried chicken, fried catfish, hush puppies, biscuits, rolls, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, and a salad bar from Hell. It may sound easy - officiating and overseeing an All You Can Eat Buffet. I assure you it is not. Oh, I forgot. There was also a "seafood casserole" with frozen shrimp and imitation crab that swam in a sea of alfredo sauce. "We now come full circle, rutabagas," I thought, gooping huge servings into styrofoam "to go" containers, right there alongside the roast beef.

I have been working at this restaurant off and on for eighteen years now. There are few roles - cook, waiter, bus boy, dishwasher, pot scrubber - that I do not know how to play. And the hallways of the restaurant are filled with memories of younger versions of myself and the world. I keep remembering the Fall of 1996, I think it was, when I laid out of school for a quarter to earn some extra dough. I brought On The Road and various books on Buddhism and Taoism to read during my lunch break. I worked every double shift I could get scheduled for, and I made a lot of money. I had the feeling that I was poised on the edge of the Real World, and I desperately wanted to arm myself with some kind of ancient ethos or inspiration for change or, failing that, at least a wad of cash.

"Pretty women make graves," I'd say to myself whenever I saw a comely lass at the salad bar, in an attempt to reign in my favorite distraction and remind myself that all actions have consequences. "Pretty women make graves, as Sal Paradise knows" - it was that pure, earnest early Twenties moment of worldly appraisal, when optimism is easy to fetch and you're high on a certain hope that you've figured out a way to end some serious suffering in the world. There is a tendency to pathologize that moment (which is really just a twisted way of mourning that it has passed and time has pissed on you yet again). Don't. It was beautiful. You were never innocent. And to look back upon that time with some grace is a good thing.

18 April 2008

For Werner

I watch the trains every day. They're never the same. Where are they coming from? Where are they going? The tracks run North to South...

Yesterday at work I peeled two HUGE bags of potatoes with a woman who has known me since I was a baby. I also used a butcher knife and Estwing hammer to hack a hundred rutabagas apart. Later, I washed dishes and pushed a broom. For lunch I ate fried chicken and green beans. A cool breeze blew through the windows in the kitchen. In the distance, the mountains regarded everything equally, soft green and motherly.

After work, I came home and worked on the trail while Janelle did yoga and Eleanor napped. [NEWS FLASH: HOT DAMN! JUST A MOMENT AGO, AT 2:19 P.M., 4-18-08, BABY ELEANOR TOOK FIVE FULL, UNASSISTED STEPS IN A ROW! SHE WALKS!] At sunset, we drove down to the DQ, where a pale dude with a handlebar mustache, a rat tail, and Oakley (c) Razorblades served up two ice creams. On the way home, we stopped by our friend Dean's house. Dean wasn't home, though his back door was wide open and his wiener dog came running out to greet or scare us, in a happy barking frenzy.

Today I had the day off so I cd work the night shift instead. What will this mean? It will mean watching the sun set from inside a wild, crowded kitchen with lots of personality and ordered chaos. It will mean that I periodically step out onto the back porch and, since I don't smoke my delicious cigarettes anymore, watch the moon climb the sky with night air in my lungs.

17 April 2008


This is the lion that guards the entrance to my parents' home. Eleanor is obsessed with this lion, along with: dog food, our dog Stella, anything able to fit in her mouth, my car keys, her toy piano, and...biting! Yup. She's a biter. Proceed with caution.

Last night, my hands were all torn up from tangling and trailblazing through briars and thorns and privet hedge. When I came back down to the house, Janelle had two big salmon steaks marinating in the refrigerator. "Ready to eat?" We put them on the grill and talked into the evening. Stella slept in the grass and Eleanor crawled everywhere while my Ma sat with us on the porch swing. Momentarily, my Ma disappeared and returned with a leather journal & an engraved pen and said, "Here. It's a gift. Use this to journal while you're here this summer." Her eyes were soft.

There are some meals that bring a sense of familiarity and grounding during times of identity-scrambling. Salmon with rice, broccoli, and tahini is one such meal. It's a staple meal for the family atomic. I don't know how many times we've eaten that exact meal. Probably a hundred. Possibly this is because, as new parents,every day is an identity scramble. It takes time to get used to something so huge. What helps is salmon and a homebrew.

Last night's meal took me to the center of my being, a place of undulating peace and power. In Flavor Country I slapped fives with bodhisattvas and griots, then rode a culinary unicorn to the Magick Waterfall, where all things fall but are never broken and they never let the children cry. Afterwards, we watched a movie about midwifery and afterwards a guy from Athens called to ask if I wanted to write an article on midwifery. "I don't know...I'm here now. I'm not there. I gotta be where I'm at," I told Janelle, who said "Yeah, but wouldn't it be cool to have an article on midwifery written by a man?" And I said,"Yeah, but wouldn't it be cooler to have one written by a woman?" And this kind of talk went on for a few more minutes until it was time to go to bed.

16 April 2008

Day Five In Manchester

Tomorrow is Day One at my new job and, basically, my identity is scrambled because I'm no longer an unemployed stay-at-home padre in Athens. I'm employed in Manchester. At a buffet-style family restaurant. I'll work this job throughout the summer, until we move to Iowa. And then suddenly I'm a college-level Rhetoric teacher. And a student. The fact that I already have a master's degree in psychology makes this all the weirder. My life, you could say, has been one long, prolonged identity scramble. But whose isn't? It helps, I suppose, if you have a healthy sense of self. I have no sense of self at all, much less a healthy one. I do know that I am from the South. But that's about it. Despite all my personal inquiry, I'm basically an enigma to myself. Maybe having more time to write will change that.

A few minutes ago, I headed up into the woods behind my parents' house and started to create a hiking trail. Wielding a chainsaw, a leaf blower, and some hedge trimmers, I carved into the bramble a 2' niche that weaves around pines, oaks, abandoned tires, and huge stands of poison oak. Stella kept a safe distance when a stick poked me in the eye. I yalped and then thought, "This project will occupy my spare time for quite a while, for the woods are wild and thick with growth. Until I finish, I must maintain my vision and personal hygiene."

My buddy Todd Davis breathed new life into my Mac. It worked swell for a day and a half, then started acting up again. Stalling at red lights, hiccuping on the internet. Embarrassing everyone, really. "Straighten up, man!" I say but it does not listen. "You're gonna have to replace that hard drive, yo," Todd Davis croons from his hot air balloon. From the depths of Hell all the way to Manchester, Georgia - then to Hell again...it's the G4 Powerbook. Pinwheeling like it's going out of style.

The Identity Scramble is really just another way of saying I don't quite feel comfortable in the role I'm supposed to be playing. I'd prefer more consistency, probably. I'd love to be just an old man collecting Social Security, watching the promiscuous angels walk by in the heat of summer, playing checkers on a milk crate and using Miller High Life bottlecaps for game pieces. I'd love to be a breath away from death, smelling the kudzu expand in its forever gully, washing my hands with moist towelettes while the sun drops behind a cloudbank made of maple leaves and old tires.

15 April 2008

New Shoes

Earlier today, I was checking my e-mail (gmail) and - an anomaly - six different friends of mine, from various walks of life, were available to I.M. It's strange that we live in the modern world of instant communication. Is it a coincidence that, at this same moment, the UPS truck pulled up in the drive, bearing my new leather shoes which traveled all the way from England? "Hey, man," I said to the UPS truck driver, who looked like Migraine Boy, except only slightly more Scottish. "Hey," he growled from behind his Oakley Razorblades (c), thrusting the box my way.

The drawing above is a self-portrait, but I'm saying Victor Hernandez's words. No, not Victor Hernandez Cruz. Just Victor Hernandez, a poet from Mexico City stranded in the U.S. of A. He's saying "I do not understand this. I do not know how I ended up here. I do not even know where my People are. But under all this not-knowing, there is an aspect of myself that watches softly, that does not need to understand, for there is nothing it does not see or know, including all that is inevitable. My human eyes yearn to know what this hidden portion of myself knows. My human eyes hunger, and covet, and search. But the inner eye simply watches. In rare moments, the two eyes meet and a wave of serenity washes over my being. The engulfment that says Everything Is Good. Between those moments, however, my eyes reflect the hunger of my destiny."

14 April 2008


The view from our bedroom of the CSX, also known to locals as the "Chicken Shit Express." In the background, you can see the redbrick structure of the town's old abandoned mill.

Manchester is a railroad town. The city fathers once had big plans for it to be a juggernaut of industry and commerce. Hence, the name. But now - no, not so much. But that old railroad still keeps on a-chuggin' - day in & day out. My parents live across the street from the switching station, which is also where I grew up.

When I was a boy, I went to sleep and woke up to the sounds of the CSX (which is also known as Chessie Systems Express). And during the day, I'd daydream about hopping aboard and riding the rails wherever they'd take me -Atlanta, Sarasota, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anywhere, Everywhere. Didn't matter. I just wanted to see it all.

Graffiti sliding through this sleepy town at slow or breakneck speeds was always a lot like getting a gigantic telegram from a hundred or more strangers.As I grew, I watched it evolve. Wild Style tags sprayed onto boxcars in distant urban switching stations and railroad yards gave way to the fragmented bombing of the Nineties. Sometimes, whole cars rolled by that were covered in paint. And, of course, the hand of the novice showed up from time to time, untrained in the art form, solely conveying who was where, when, or who was of questionable sexual orientation or gave good head to whom and why - always in stark white letters than ran and dripped. Occasionally I'd see pieces that were started but never finished, probably because the cops or railway bulls spotted them and gave chase. Always root for the bad guy when watching trains. God is a hobo, you know.

A train yard makes a lot of noise, especially when a train at rest is put in motion. The engine, as it tugs on the boxcars and flatcars behind it, causes the hitches between each car to clank together. The effect is an earth-shaking chain reaction of clangs and rumblings that reverberates down the spine of the train for several hundred yards. If you are a child whose bedroom window has always been only a hundred feet or more from the railroad, this sound is as soothing as a gentle rain.

13 April 2008

Hustle & Flow

Whew. We made it. Across 135 miles and a week of packing and a day of unpacking and two months of living in the way station of the Death House and almost three years of tirelessly hustling as therapists and new parents - we made it. We are here now, and now, here, we will still hustle and wait and watch and prepare for more unfoldings, more changes. But I cannot ignore this feeling that, at last, some cosmic symmetry is coming into focus. We've turned a new page. We are starting a new tome, a new flow. And even as I type this, my mother appears and tells my father, "Relax, go have a bath," and Janelle nurses Eleanor to sleep in the back room.

Me, I just woke up from a fevered hypnagogic dream involving muslims, rock piles, blue skies, and Vedanta. I looked around and found my dad hovering over me. "You okay?" I'm okay. Just tired. "You should be. Today was a hard day." He meant the whole day of unpacking the U-Haul, Jeep, and trailer (pictured above) and settling in. And he was right. Today was a hard day. Not the hardest in my life, by a long shot. But suffice it to say that we will all sleep well in Manchester tonight.

12 April 2008

Prodigal Me

A Plesiosaurus. She is into her murky brine, sunning her tail and hind flippers. "Just what's she thinking,anyway?" I wonder.

Today, under the big grey cumulus clouds, my brood & I are loading everything we own into a U-Haul truck and moving 135 miles south of here to my place of origin. We are doing this so as to try and save a little money for the Big Move To Iowa in July. Thus, today's trek amounts to Part One of a lengthy saga.

It is 6:25 a.m. I'm brewing coffee, the aromas of which are now filling this sleepy Death House with an optimistic vitality. Yes, we are tucked within the acorn. From this place of possibility, many great things can and will issue forth. But first, there is an arduous task or two. It's moving. It's breaking out. It's renouncing one home for another.

I was obsessed with Plesiosaurs when I was a kid. I had picture books on them that were dog-eared and ragged, and that I dragged wherever I went. (I was also into the Loch Ness monster and the strong possibility that Nessie was,in fact, a living, breathing aquatic anachronism.)

In one of his more startling phases as a parent, my father was convinced that dinosaurs, evolution, and plate tectonics didn't exist. My books on dinosaurs were lies, he told me. The way he saw it, God created the earth in seven days. End of story. I remember staring at one of my favorite Plesiosaurus tableaus after he told me this. In it, Plesiosaurus was surfacing in a vast, seething primordial sea. Volcanoes erupted in the background and bloodthirsty pteradactyls circled high above, in the still-developing atmosphere or early Earth. Next, I opened up my Children's Bible to the Garden of Eden and found an Aryan Adam & Eve meekly nibbling an apple, on some kind of a picnic with a king snake.

Parenting is hard. There are judgment calls to make that you never even considered making before you had kids, mainly because before you had kids, your life was secretly All About You in ways you weren't even aware of. Suddenly it's your job to protect your child in a world throttling towards total destruction and chaos. So you blow it from time to time. Big deal.

It's kind of a Southern tradition to "get religion" in big bursts of psychological turbulence. People are always "getting saved" and "witnessing" and "backsliding" and becoming "born again." There's just not a whole lot of equanimity in the South. That said, I don't hold it against my dad that he made me throw away my dinosaur books. Kids are smart. I knew that he had just hit some kind of religiosity rumble strip and was trying to do the right thing. I knew that, when my dad was a kid in Shiloh, Georgia, no one knew anything about dinosaurs. "What's this world coming to?" he must've thought, staring down at his son, brooding over this dark, violent oceanic scene.

I hated to see my books go, but it was all grist for the mill. My father came through that turbulence pretty good - as did I. Now, almost thirty years later, prodigal me returns.

11 April 2008


Virginia Apgar, famous physician, multiplied by four, surrounded in graphite cells. "Nobody, but nobody, is going to stop breathing on me," she said to the world. Virginia Apgar was the woman behind the Apgar Scale, which all newborns are measured against to ascertain their health and vigor upon entering this material plane of existence.

The honesty of a newborn baby is absolute. That honesty stays with us forever. Sure, we get good at hiding it. But it remains. And endures. Health & vigor, on the other hand - these come and go. These are not our most faithful friends. And even the primordial honesty cannot be said to be our friend, exactly. It is just what we are, electric.

10 April 2008


Seeds in a bowl.

Tonight our friend Hope came over and babysat Eleanor while the Missus and I packed up our flotsam and jetsam. We made dinner together afterwards. Pizzas and a huge salad with all manner of nuts, fruits, and leafy greens. After dinner, I started mindlessly loading dishes into the dishwasher. "Why don't you relax?" I will try.

09 April 2008


Ghost Dog.

The past two days have consisted of listening to the new R.E.M. album and remaining in active denial that, in two more days, the family atomic will be packing up and moving on down the line. Meanwhile, Stella is the star of her own show. The back porch is her stage...naturally.

I'm going to miss Athens. I'm going to miss The South in general, too. But I lean forward to those Iowa days and nights, and whatever they might bring. I lean forward to cornfields and brutal winters. Meandering rivers and twining trails in the woods. Last week I learned that Iowa gets its name from the Ioway Indians that were there before Whitey arrived with his smallpox, his guns, and his plan for world dominion.

The Ioway of yore were semi-nomadic subsistence farmers. They lived in teepees or oven-shaped houses covered with earth. In battle, they scalped their enemies. It is likely that they kept dogs around as semi-domesticated pets. If you don't believe these are the End Times, just ask an Ioway. According to the 2000 census, there were 1,451 pure-blooded Ioway left in the world. That's 1,451 out of 6,600,000,000.

I don't know about you, but the idea of pure blood is foreign to this Southern mutt. The idea of pure blood comes from a more ancient time, well before this modern one. Me imagining pure blood is like a seahorse trying to imagine what it must be like to run a marathon. Unseemly. And as I type this, Eleanor resists sleep. Can't say I blame her. This world is a wild-assed cirkus.

08 April 2008

Monday Evening

The Missus.

Yesterday we trespassed back to our old house in the woods, quietly parked in the shade, and started off on our old trail that winds through two and a half miles of hardwood forest. A "For Sale" sign still hung on the old place, which was covered in yellow pine pollen. Stella ran up to the front porch and wagged her tail expectantly. The grass was electric green and calf-high. High overhead, the silver oaks were pushing new growth out to the tips of their branches. At the edge of the property, the compost bin was swelling with black gold. Fat bees drowsed around in high, wide loops around the dogwoods. Somewhere in the distance, a wild dog was chasing goats. "I miss being out here every day," one of us said. "Me too."

07 April 2008

The Godfather

A godparent, in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who sponsors a child's baptism. Judaism has this equivalent in the circumcision ceremony. Traditionally, the godparents were counted informally responsible for ensuring that the child's religious education was carried out and for caring for the child should he/she be orphaned. Today the word "godparent" may not have explicitly religious overtones. The modern view of a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take a vested interest in the child's upbringing and personal development. In some cultures, the word for "godparent of one's child" is used for any, or certain, very close friends. This is the meaning of the Spanish compadre (literally, "co-father") and comadre ("co-mother").

- Wikipedia.org

04 April 2008

No Words About Beavers On Grey Day

This is not a hillbilly shillelagh. It's a beaver stick. It's what happens when a beaver gets into his work. I'm prepared to say a lot of things about beavers and their ways, but I can't. Not today.

Today is one of those cold Spring grey days. I'm listening to Dylan's "Dark Eyes" and wondering when the mangoes on the window sill will be fit to eat. "Hunger pays a heavy price to the fallen gods of speed and steel,"sings Bob and now the phone rings. It is a telemarketer. Selling cemetery plots, auto insurance, and get-rich-quick warranties for factory rebate offers. The answering machine clicks on. Whir.

I lost a lot of music in the crashing of my G4. Some nice field recordings, too. What can I do but mourn that loss? There will be others. A long list of losses will drag me around town until God's name goes up in lights and the Messiah rises from his celestial tomb, handing out early bird specials to the old matriarchs in recherche swimsuits. Perhaps then I will be able to "accept" loss, whatever that means.

We think that loss is something that haunts us along the path. It's not, though. Loss is the path- so be wary of gains. More to the point, there is no path. Loss is all there is. But the losing of everything is the feeling of being alive, the moment-to-moment. Sometimes we lose because of what is taken. Other times the loss is what we give willingly. From far off, these two different things look just alike.

03 April 2008

The Deal

Last night my lap-top - the helm of this blog - crashed...into the fiery depths of Hell. Know what's interesting about Hell, though? A lot of people don't know this - Hell is an ancient mythical place - the Underworld - whose origins lie in Norse mythology. Yup, Ye Olde Aryans came up with that one. It wasn't until a few thousand years later that, via processes of mythological hodgepodgery, Hell was imbued with the characteristic of a "Place Where Satan (the fallen angel, another mythological staple all over the world) Dwells" and a "Place Of Eternal Torment." To the ancient Icelanders, Hell ("Hel," actually) was simply the underworld. But anyway, that's where my laptop is now. It's in the underworld.

Luckily, The Missus boasts her own laptop, which she's more than willing to lend. And, yea, it was she who took this very snapshot last summer. I was with her when she photographed this mushroom. She went to great lengths, as I recall, gently batting leaves away from the stem, finding the perfect vantage, then nearly lying down on the forest floor to get this shot. What a great mushroom picture it turned out to be. I have no idea what variety it claims, or what family it comes from. Maybe you do. In the old days, people were classified according to their families, same as mushrooms. It's not like that anymore, though. These days, nobody cares about your great uncle who earned a bunch of purple hearts or your great grandmother the midwife. Nothing special about it.

If I had to choose a Hell, I'd choose the Tibetan Buddhist Hell. In Buddhist Hell, you suffer - but not eternally. You suffer (a) because you did a bunch of nasty things and earned "negative karma" for yourself and (b) for a limited time. In Buddhist Hell you only have to stick around until you've paid your debt. Like a prison sentence. And once you get out, you're better off...which is both like and unlike a prison sentence, I guess. In any case, you're your only judge- but once the Deal goes down, that's saying quite a lot.

02 April 2008

Three Images

Jesus of Nazareth, a tiger, and Iva "Tokyo Rose" D'Aquino. Three images that happened in my mind, inspired by something I saw and felt, and then removed from my mind and put back into the world. This is how art works. One of the simplest processes in the human world. Simpler than eating.

From an old journal:


Jesus is in his constellations. In space, the double-helix abounds. A tiger is dreaming of being immortal man. Her head is emptying itself of the tiger-ideas. She once searched for something new. Iva D'Aquino stares the rest of her life in the eyes, for this is what a scapegoat can do best, and a rose grows from her brain. Somewhere nearby, Kali Yuga yoginis are practicing tantra in a graveyard. The sun is shedding its skin.

01 April 2008


This is James Meredith, circa 1966. James now owns a used car lot in Mississippi. Back when this photograph was taken, though, he was on a one-man March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi when a sniper gunned him down. He had been the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. He graduated with a degree in political science and became a stockbroker. He is now seventy-five years old.

I think of the huevos it took to be a one-man March Against Fear through the deep South during the mid-Sixties. I'm in awe of those huevos. Likewise, I think of the gutlessness it takes to shoot an unarmed, outnumbered man who hasn't broken any laws or done anybody wrong. I wish this photograph was from a few hundred thousand years ago, before humans discovered empathy. But it wasn't. It was only forty-two years ago.

Sometimes I think this thought, "Jesus. This world is totally fucked." Usually I'm thinking of poverty, greed, various destructions, and the worst of popular culture. I think of people like Aubrey Norvell, the guy who shot James Meredith, and go, "Yes, it definitely is." But then, afterwards, I get around to thinking of the James Merediths, the real folk heroes who toe the line and aren't afraid or willing to back down in the midst of the worst kind of violence, and I go, "But, then again, maybe it's not." You never know what's going to happen next. The possibilities always outnumber the actualities.