31 May 2011 § 3 Comments
Alaska Senator Mark Begich played the guest guinea pig role for Talk of Alaska’s first live TV studio audience this morning. The weekly show’s eccentric host, Steve Heimel, conducted an experiment: record the show in front of a live TV audience, and take questions from the crowd as well as callers. Quite a feat for an NPR show, I thought.
Six people showed up.
Six people showed up in suits and ties and blouses and pearls. In my battery-acid-holy pants and a poorly sewn-back-together, quickly deteriorating hiking shirt, I was the most underdressed I’d ever been. And today of all days, I was going to be on TV. Great.
When it came my turn, I asked the democratic senator a politically correct, indirect, and frankly dumb question about Pebble Mine and how it might affect the Bristol Bay fisheries, and with the economy the way it is, how the state can pass up all those millions in favor of keeping a significantly less profitable (but sustainable) industry afloat as main source of income and culture for rural communities. Complicated, right?
After the show, Heimel asked me what I was trying to get at. The fact is, he said to me, that if Pebble Mine is dug, the biggest salmon run in the world will be severely compromised. In a few years, Bristol Bay will be just a dirty sea with impoverished villages along the beautiful but barren coastline of Southwest Alaska. We both knew this to be true, and I have a good feeling the senator did, too.
“Why didn’t you just say it like it is?” he asked me, only moments after Begich commented on how good all of the audience members’ questions were. Most of the questions asked by callers and other members of the audience centered on the regular current issues: oil and gas development, Medicare, and a blunt complaint from a gentleman in Homer about being sexually groped by a TSA officer recently.
The former Anchorage mayor answered them astutely and in a manner suited to a trusted politician. He maintained eye contact and spoke with confidence and knowledge. He knew the numbers and delivered the peaceful, neutral replies we might have expected.
Did we learn anything new? Of course not. One can look up on the senator’s website where he stands on many of these issues, and everyone, especially Heimel, who moderates the weekly show and frequently probes deeper into the more superficial questions his guests are asked, knows that Begich is always asked these questions.
Begich relayed a story about a man at the gas station who, when he saw the stocky, recognizable politician walking to his car, set the fuel pump to automatic, approached the politician and bombarded him with inquiries about oil and gas development in Alaska: When are the oil companies going to be allowed into ANWR? Why are the gas prices so high? What are you going to do about it? Meanwhile, gasoline flowed steadily into his truck, and the numbers on the screen flashed interminably.
Heimel, with his distinctive radio voice that oddly matches his eccentric, almost reckless, long frayed grey hair and quixotic goatee, told me with the same passionate tone I tend to rant about American apathy with that it is questions like mine that keep us from addressing the real issues. That, if we are going to solve anything, then we need to be direct, and to call out propaganda for what it is, instead of tip-toeing to politicians to ask questions we already know the answer to.
In the end, Begich gave me the answer that benefited all sides, but answered nothing: Let the science decide. If the EPA decision ends up lining the state’s revenue pockets, and all the villages in Southwest Alaska are abandoned for dilapidated housing projects in Anchorage (the loss of my own job the least of my worries), at least I’ll know this politician was honest with me.
30 May 2011 § Leave a comment
I meant to do this earlier. Why didn’t I?
Because salesmen are foolish and loafy, what with their stories of shitboxes and mouths of bad teeth, and tend to smell up the back seat. They get whiplash easily, so when they tell you on the test drive ‘the ticket’s yours,’ you might listen next time. What can I say, when I was taught in the same trade to tell customers to drive the car like it was theirs. It was supposed to make them more comfortable with driving, to lessen the anxiety of going eighty miles an hour in a machine they’ve spent exactly two minutes sitting in and are probably being asked consistently subtle questions about their work and financial situation.
A sweating customer is an awful thing: if the salesman gets his way, the two will be spending the next couple of hours together, and who wants to hang out in a cubicle with an Iraq vet recovering from foot rot on an otherwise glorious afternoon, signing their name and the date on a hundred and six sheets of responsibility and parchment?
Because I’d rather have been racing that Mini Cooper S with the burnt orange interior and six gears of unshakable freedom down Rabbit Creek Road, toward the sea and straight into the sun’s thousand square miles of aquatorial reflection. It drove like a go-kart on acid, and I felt like a child with the grandfather clockface-size speedometer up front and center on the dash. Even the CD player took refuge under the monstrous face. We determined, as I hit ninety in third (and still only halfway up the meter), that if I were to be pulled over, there would be no excuse for not knowing how fast I was going. I’d have no chance in court. But if the cop didn’t show up, we’d be in business.
A fellow student of mine at the prestigious SAE Miami once mentioned that he’d been issued seventeen tickets in the space of three months, and hadn’t paid one of them: he went to court, and because the wanna-be Vice squad hopefully has better things to do than ensure some gangster pays his parking ticket, he doesn’t show up, and my friend’s problems were tossed out. He had gotten his gold teeth, he said on another occasion, before it was cool for rappers to do it. I wondered if he thought he started the trend.
It happened so suddenly, I didn’t have time to comprehend it until hours later. Two words, casually announced after she had asked me to take her arm. I led her away, into the depths of the same grocery store parking lot I once scoured for stray carts and labored my own over ice potholes only to be required to turn down the tip someone offered me for taking their stupid gallons of milk and hamburger meat and sugary cereals to their cars. I always took the money, after I had put up enough of a modest front – I’d say I wasn’t supposed to take it, and they’d give me their reason for offering it, as if to justify breaking the rules, as if it wasn’t just a part of my job. Their reasons were often compliments to me or gratitude, and accepting the flattery, I’d take the single dollar bill as a gesture of good faith in that they’d offer it also to the next courtesy clerk, as we troopers were called, and later, long after I’d watched Reservoir Dogs and decided that Mr. Pink actually did get away (and therefore was smart enough for me to emulate him) I’d refuse to tip servers on principle. Soon, under pressure from my ex-girlfriend, I started to give in, but exclusively for stellar service. Only after I became a server and got gypped a couple of times from rambunctious, buxom, blonde Sarah Palin supporters and their ilk did I feel any amount of guilt for what I had done (and then I paid back my karma, or so I’d like to think). The world is full of hypocrites. I’m one of them.
Like I was saying, about the tardiness thing. It’s just a thing of mine. If you know me, you know that I’m late – compulsively, consistently, voluntarily. I like those five extra minutes before departing to put myself under the stress of time, to push the limits a little, to play guitar for an extra few minutes even though I didn’t pick it up until a moment before I had to leave. I’m easily distracted by colorful things and pretty-sounding things, and I want to spend my life appreciating the things I have in the present, instead of in the distant abstract. Am I making excuses? Of course. But I’ll try not to make them to your face. I hate excuses, and refuse to offer my professors them in school. Unless they tell me that if it’s good enough, they’ll forgive me the attendance points. Either way, I’ll be late to my own funeral, so don’t rush.
I simply don’t see the world being any less good if we all took an extra few moments to do something random, like pick up you instrument of choice, when usually at this point in your routine you might be making toast or brushing your teeth. Listen to a song or eat a delicious snack on the way out the door.
The point is, if you want me to be somewhere at a given time, tell me to be there half an hour before (if in another country, a week is better), and I’ll be there when you need me to. Don’t take it personally; there are probably a few things about you I tolerate because being acquainted with you is worth more to me than pointing out your character flaws. I understand that some people don’t feel the same way.
His heart was the size of a basketball, they said. There had been a steady flow of adrenalin running through his blood for two or three years (we usually feel it for just minutes or seconds at a time), and the once fist-sized organ of muscle inside his chest looked like a Valentine’s day card on so many steroids, Cupid couldn’t have pierced its iron with all of his flaming arrows.
30 May 2011 § Leave a comment
he walks down the street.
mdnight in Amsterdam.
been raining all day.
so he faded out of a coffeeshop.
something was going wrong.
did you miss something there?
dip into the street:
slippery train tracks,
cobblestones mirror neon lights.
burger grease drenches fashion.
cameras take the canals by storm,
footprints and urban vertigo;
pothead takes on the cyclist beast
at the end of the next level.
one more museum,
one more burning hostel.
with noise and lights as guides tonight,
foot falls in equilibrium,
flights of fancy granted
the answer, neglected.
when, in the doorway.
a woman stirred fitful
before he found her
and wrapped in scars.
lay next to a bundle of rags.
let the city
see subtle windows under them.
29 May 2011 § Leave a comment
I have an old soul. People tell me that sometimes, and I believe it’s true. Some of them with the desire – but perhaps not the ambition – to be intelligent consider this a compliment. I’m not so sure.
Mud caked my mountain boots. Both were jammed into small crevices to hold my weight while I looked for a handhold. I’d abandoned the sun earlier, right before crossing the river. It wasn’t a good idea, crossing that snow bridge above the small but raging water, which splashed at the bottomside of the snow, melting it, taking away noticable chunks of ice even as I watched. I only needed the support for a second.
Ridge lines carry a special attraction for me – they are the skyroutes from which we can see the world from a higher place, a perspective it takes work and a little bit of sacrifice to obtain: wet socks and fingercuts from unsure rocks kicked down by previous climbers. Scramblers, we all. We pick and grasp at stones until they unhinge from the tundra moss that keeps them still. We’re climbing up the shed skin of still-growing mountains, letting the collapsed remains tumble farther down after we’ve used them to pull ourselves up. Sound familiar?
With summer comes focus and determination. I’m more sure now of what I’m supposed to be doing than I have for the past year or so. I’m alive again, and not merely waiting for the next breath. I’ve got a couple of lifetimes worth of plans in my pocket, and I’m counting on their evolution.
25 May 2011 § Leave a comment
Sometimes I think life was set out before us by a five-year-old with a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. She’s so cute, this niece, or perhaps a nephew of your best friend, sitting on the shag carpet in this old apartment of yours that you keep a mess, usually. She takes the new puzzle, which has elements of sky and trees and sea and confusing geometrical shapes that might one day appear like the photograph on the box cover, and dumps it all out on the floor. Jigsaw pieces wind up everywhere – uneven, upside-down, right-side up, backwards, and there’s a few that somehow bounced into the kitchen or into the bathroom.
Our first job, then, is to smile and say she did well. After all, how can we know what life is, if it’s all tucked away in a cardboard box? Then we go about turning over the pieces to see what part of the picture they belong to.
Some people don’t do so much of that, I suppose – they pick up a piece, rip at it if the rug caught a corner, perhaps break the puzzle piece, and put it down in a convenient place. The puzzle is forever a puzzle, a toybox, and doesn’t have to be deciphered.
Others, I imagine, look intently at the picture on the box, lay out a placemat or carefully organize the pieces on the coffee table. They’ll do the borders first and work their way inward. Occasionally, they might get up for a cup of coffee or feed the cat. They’ll finish quickly, retire to bed, and do it again in the morning.
My puzzle got caught up in the tornado that ripped through Oklahoma yesterday. I feel like I’ll be looking for the pieces for the rest of my life. I may complete it one day, but I enjoy the little rush when I get one piece in the right place. I’m not sure if I’d live up to the feeling of completion if I ever nailed that last piece. I guess I’d rather have to go to Timbuktu or Socotra or Pitcairn to find a piece or two, and right now, my chances of getting into Yemen don’t seem very likely. It’s war over there right now, and I’m feeling for those people. Keep fighting.
A few weeks or months ago, it doesn’t matter which, I went into one of those huge bookstores that look a little like Walmart and I always feel bad for buying new books, even though when I write one I’ll want people to buy it new so I wouldn’t have to work at Home Depot. But that is a moral question, and one I leave to you. My short attention span will keep you out of Barnes and Noble for many years, to say the least. But no matter.
I found a small book listed for three or four dollars, and there were a lot of them. It was the sort of shelf they put really cheesy novels on to sell them quickly. I picked up the book and bought it on a whim, along with a fake moleskine that I’m avoiding writing in. I’m still a bit of an elitist – a leftover trait from my metalhead years – and I really enjoy quality in the things I do and love. Writing on good paper is important. Traveling with me, my notebooks get abused, and my favorite books get beat up to when we’re on the road. But generally I take care of my things. Words are meant to be ravished and consumed, however, and that’s my justification for having torn up books sometimes. Again, no matter.
The book I bought, called Life after God and written in perhaps my favorite time to romanticize (the early- to mid-90’s), is an insightful, cathartic, and honest book written in pieces by Douglas Coupland. He’s a Canadian, and I love his writing. I copy it sometimes, and reply to his short passages with my words in his style. hunter used to copy portions of The Great Gatsby, and I tried that for a while. But this is my favorite book to write outside of T.C. Boyle’s anything (boy, that guy can create an atmosphere).
Anyway, I read a passage now and then, and skip around a lot. It’s not a book I wish to read cover to cover. Sometimes, one part, like in the desert, or how he describes the disappearance of his sister, Laurie, I get so caught up in that I wish I was there so I could write about it. Sometimes I do anyway. And perhaps that’s what I do, too – I look for other people’s puzzle pieces and help them place theirs when maybe I should be looking for my own. But that’s a good feeling, too.
24 May 2011 § Leave a comment
a cold name set out on
display to the world:
a to-do list of all the
things we’re made of.
I jumped ship halfway through the battle,
so as to fight for my own side.
I guess no one else was going to.
Jack built his own greenhouse,
after the whole beanstalk thing,
and only giants go to heaven,
did he tell you that?
yeah, he served up tamales
with jalapeno, parsley and cheese,
and grew the finest green
this side of you and your departure.
meet me at the eyelids,
so we can look away
and tell our fibs in private.
they’ll be juicy and fruity
just like the truth is:
I’ve got a saturday lunch at two o’ clock
with the fifth horseman of the apocalypse.
after that, we’re going shopping
for some panic and anxiety.
I tracked down some information
on the goon behind heaven’s creation.
Found him hiding out
in a Minneapolis crackhouse,
passing out pamphlets
advertising the apocalypse
as an internet sensation.
Love in back in business,
said the salesman to the trend.
It’s down the block,
next to the laundromat –
and he pointed to a window
covered in post-it notes and bulletholes,
but had no light inside.
22 May 2011 § Leave a comment
Sometimes it takes a bit of fun to realize that it takes dedicated work to survive in this world and prosper. We make real the events we participate in, simply by existing and choosing to say something, by directing our energy into a community, however small, that we invent out of interactions and mutual understanding, instead of saying nothing, and letting the moment die, as would an untouched child.
And it’s funny that we find strange connections between us and the nouns we hate. As if the universe is saying hey, now that you’re gone, I just wanted to say that this place isn’t so bad. There are good people there with good energy. You just couldn’t find them.
I’m always writing the things in between what I think I should be writing. When am I going to sit down and write something I can legitimately say I’m proud of? Or rather, something that I’ve put some thought into, some wonder, some organization – work, if you will. There’s always an excuse to not. I don’t have enough stories, or enough plot. Enough time. Focus. And what the hell would I write about?
So I’ll stick with my ramblings here, which sometimes take the form of fictional accounts of real life, or dreams, occasionally a true story with poetic exaggerations (which have exclusively noble intentions) and line here and there about what I think of the business that surrounds me. All in good time, you’ll have the real story. I’ll disappear, and someone will be sharp enough to fit the puzzle together, to find whatever’s missing. Man, I would love that. Just like in the movies. Detective noir extraordinaire. Dick Tracy. He was too good for his own good.
We need a little turbulence to shake us up when we’re content, something to make us wonder why we’re still doing this. And you’ll have your answer on the day you stand on top of the desk instead of hide under it. You can’t see anything from under there – get out. You don’t deserve blindness. Some of us don’t deserve sight.
Tell that to the kid whose deficient eyes will keep him from flying jets. That’s going to cause a mess. Get out the gauze and tourniquet. Watch his silence screaming louder than his words do. They’re in the air, across the desert, in the dry, heaving wind which carries plastic bags in such grace that the sound waves do not bother them. Such was his fate.
No, no it wasn’t. Forget that garbage. What does that garble even mean? I’m just here to tell a story. Like the time we met in Iceland. I was reading the Tommyknockers and it was starting to get creepy, and there you were in front of me, and said something about the book, that you’d read it or not finished it, and I told the truth and said that was the first time I’d read it.
And there you were again. And again.
The more time that passes, the less I remember about those conversations. Perhaps because we have communicated so many ideas since then, we have speculated so heavily on the context of happy monkeys in the worlds of philosophy and literature that I take what I learned from you as inherent knowledge, and put it away, to be used when necessary and cited as needed.
I read lava rocks in London and it didn’t hit me until after I left, when I rode that bus through the English countryside feeling like I was going to visit the set of Wuthering Heights, that I’d become the change I wanted to see in the world.
Heavy, right? But that’s all I wanted – just to know someone is capable of understanding. I didn’t need you to understand, per se, but that you might anyway thrilled me.
And here we are, post-rapture, and who is left? All of us. Doesn’t that say something profound? It’s certainly not proof that God doesn’t exist (though it might imply the fanaticism of one 89-year-old California man who tightens the bible belt of America when he gets up in the morning and spouts off the latest evangelical, modern-day hellfire sermons from the 17th century mixed in with a modern twist of being vague and never quite to-the-point), but he could well just be ignoring us. Like, do they really think I want anything to do with them after the Yankees lost the World Series like that? I’ve got other worlds to lord over, and they appreciate me with gifts of chocolate instead of shame.
See, God’s just a regular guy with a regular job: to regulate and direct all of the energy in the known universe into tangible forms of the things we want to be familiar with. Nothing else.
Anyway, on TV, it seems like they go on and on, reading various scriptures and trying to earn another AMEN from the crowd. The picture is always bad, and there’s always a woman in the congregation crying. I mean, bawling. But getting their attention isn’t so hard. All he has to do is say JESUS or LORD or some other word to which they are debilitatingly subservient like SIN or FEAR and he’s sure to get some sort of emotional reaction from his flock of willing sheep standing in the pews of a multi-million dollar church complex they are slowing paying the church back for, like a weekly mortgage with variable interest. Just in case Aunt Suzie’s not feeling well this Sunday. It’s okay, she’ll make good next week. Because if she doesn’t, we’ll break her legs, make her say four thousand Hail Marys, and turn her crucifix upside down. Who’s to stop the church from this asexual nonsense? Isn’t that what they do?
I’m sorry, I’m getting a little off track here. This old Slipknot album still plays – I’m surprised. Heeth took horrid care of his CDs, and for that reason had two copies of most of those he owned. I talked him into this after he asked me to steal a second copy of Mer de Noms for him from Fred Meyer. He knew he’d fuck up the first one, but what had I become? Thief for hire? But I couldn’t charge more than the disc cost, for he might as well buy it. But fourteen dollars was not nearly enough to cover insurance for getting caught by the over-doughnutted police academy failure that flashed his badge out front when you had something in your pocket you didn’t pay for.
Usually we ran. Always into oncoming traffic. He wouldn’t follow a couple of kids running into the nose of a Mack truck because he thought he was smarter than them. But the driver of the truck was my uncle, and we had planned the whole thing. We got away every time. His office smelled like Old Spice, and no one wanted to go in there a second time.
we learned to not get caught.