Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Search for Hidden Beauty Along the Railroad Tracks

After looking at Julie's photo of the river somewhere in Arizona I got all inspired to grab the camera, and take a hike up in the hills. We've had decent rainfall; everything is greening up, and the trails are dry enough to walk on.
But, well- er- uhhh. Things came up, that's it! You always have to be careful of things, you know?- because- they- uh- come up. And, uh- oh, hell. I was just too damn lazy.
So I devised a brilliant, and just artistic as all get out plan B. I'd go for a walk down the railroad tracks near the house, and photograph the beauty hidden in plain sight. You know the spiel: if we all would just take the time out of our busy and hectic days, we'd see beauty everywhere, and appreciate how wonderful it all is despite the fact that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. So here it is folks. Complete with inspirational footnotes sprinkled here and there just to show you all that you too can find glory in a dump, if only you'd get your churlish head out of your ass and look for it. The beauty, that is- not your head.

This is it. The railroad easement between Beach Boulevard, and First Avenue. This place is just loaded with hidden potential.

You have to keep in mind that the LA/Orange County megaburb is the ultimate urban driving environment on the planet, and the nearest real dirt road is hundreds of miles away from here. That's why SUV's and four wheel drive trucks are so popular. People want to let you know that they're really just country folk trapped in the city. And whenever there's rain, there's hard-to-get mud to be found near the tracks. What better way to authenticate your country road street cred than by driving around in a mud spattered vehicle? They come from miles around to this little stretch of unpaved path to get their supply.
Sometimes ducks come here. There weren't any ducks today
An archipelago of mini islands like a string of- well, no they're not really much like a string of anything- in tumbleweed pond.

The Loch Ness Rabbit makes a rare appearance

Yaaarrrggghh. Here be monsters. Tread with trepidation all ye who walk these paths.
All right. There was some pretty stuff after all. It's just that I'm a crappy photographer, and most of the shots didn't come out so well. But these berry thingies are pretty cool.
Here's the symbolic picture. The ball represents Gaia, all spattered with pollution, and warming away like a feverish patient who has a bad case of peopleoma virus, and instead of being cared for in a loving way is lying there neglected in the tall grass of humankind's negligence. This is a sad picture, in case you didn't get the symbolism.
But there were lupines, as well.



JWM

Friday, February 27, 2009

Afternoon Theology




Two O'clock, and no call. That means the rest of the day is mine. Good. I got a call for the night shift last night- the toughest of the runs in the small school system I sub for. I hate the assignment, but there hasn't been much work lately, and I'll gladly take whatever they toss my way. Shrinking enrollment, and budget cuts caused them to eliminate most of the night jobs some years back. Now each of the night guys services two schools, and splits the shift between the campuses. Half of each school gets cleaned each night, so the rooms are all serviced every other day. It's a terrible system, but it is what it is, and, like I said, I'm glad to just get the work at all. Nonetheless it's just plain hard. I came crawling home last night too tired to even talk, and I'm still pretty low on energy.




I just got back from the corner. Old John was there, and he was talking religion with a fellow I've seen before, but hadn't spoken with. He's a nice enough guy, very religious, and very born again. Carries a Bible with him all the time, and all. We got to talking. It was kind of interesting. I noticed an undercurrent that ran through the discussion, which was an emphasis on all the various people who claim Christianity, but don't (at least in his estimation) really have it. I described myself as a feral believer, and I don't think he was ready for that kind of approach. The point he returned to again and again was that people insist on believing on their own terms, and not on God's terms, and the unspoken assumption was that such folks are not saved. I've picked up a few things from hanging out with this crowd for the last few years, but I had never, until this afternoon, had occasion to run them past anyone outside our own rather eccentric discussion group. But the point that I tried to emphasise is that I am in no position to determine who really has it right and who doesn't. I'm not presumptuous enough to even dare to make that call. The analogy I used, was that the message is broadcast on a wide enough range of frequencies that anyone who is sincerely trying to get their individual tuner adjusted will eventually pick it up on one bandwidth or another. Look at the vast difference between the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Pentecostal. I'm sure not going say that one group gets the music, and the other is just hearing static and noise. Not my call. I think he found my approach a little disconcerting. I hope so anyway. And don't get the wrong idea- I wasn't up for picking a fight, or trying to rattle his cage. The discussion did not devolve into an argument, and I was glad for that. It was way more fun than trying to go a few rounds with the lefty atheist artist. Best of all, Old John seemed to like what I had to say, and that was more important to me than anything. And maybe, too, it represents a little growth on my part. I really didn't want to try to score 'gotcha' points, and I didn't feel any need to win an argument. And growth is like the work thang. It's hard, but I'll take what little of it I can get.




JWM

Wednesday, February 25, 2009



Well, here's one where I am totally wingin' it. I have no idea where this post is going to go, and no idea how it will get there. I got a call for work this morning, but it's for a Saturday assembly later in March. That's the best kind of call to get, actually. I go through this weird ambivalence over work every morning. If it's going to be a day shift I'll get the call around six AM when I'm sitting in the dark and quiet, ingesting caffeine, and silently reciting the prayer that has become a daily, and necessary ritual if I am to have any sort of bearings for the compass of the day's activities. The ringing phone goes off like a fire alarm that douses me in panic, and dread because I'm going to have to jump up, get dressed, chow down some oatmeal, and charge out the door to get the school open, and ready for the day. It's hard to understand the dread part of it. I mean- I like working the day shift. The first hour and a half is sort of hectic- get the office opened up, and the flags raised. Unlock the multi-use room, get the cart out, fill up a mop bucket, and hit the restrooms so they're disinfected, restocked, and buffed up all cleaned and shiny before the kids arrive. I have a thing about opening a school with the restrooms looking good. I never want some kid to be able to go home and tell his folks that the bathroom was all gross. Odd that I make a point of pride in such simple stuff, but somehow I do. But the rest of the day is actually kind of fun. I can noodle about the small tasks of the day, and if there's a call on the walkie talkie its usually to change a light, bring some paper towels to a room, or fix some minor thing in a classroom, and look like a small time hero saving the day for Mrs. Jones third grade. Sometimes the kids even cheer. It's kinda' cute.


If there's no morning call, that still leaves the possibility of a night shift open, so I take things easy throughout the rest of the morning. But the sense of dread grows steadily until about eleven thirty, or noon, and with each passing hour the ambivalence see-saws between hoping I get a call (which means money), and dreading the call (because it means slogging through the night shift until ten thirty at night). And if I do get a call, I take the assignment, and then have to hold on for the onslaught that my head has waiting for me. I feel sick. I'm too tired to do it. Something is going to come up- I hope. This all goes away as soon as I get signed in, and begin working. But if I don't get a call, I'm disappointed, and sure I've been phased out for someone younger, faster, and better at everything than I ever was. It's just a crappy game my head plays on me. And I fall for it every time.


But maybe I'll go back to the morning couch- talk about opening the day with prayer. It is a habit, now, of many years, although I can not put a starting date on it, and the prayer itself has grown and changed with time. To those from the coonosphere proper it will not seem like anything remarkable that I do this. We all do something in the same vein, and no one would question the benefit, or efficacy of so beginning the day. And I was over at Vanderleun's Site site this morning, and read his superb essay on Grace. It's a moving, and beautiful piece, and worth reading regardless of your take on matters of the spirit.


But like any essay that addresses the topics of Faith, and God it drew a volley of cheap shots, and snark from the usual crowd of yammering atheists, all trying desperately to shoot the piece down, or score what they are sure will be the winning point in their all too clever game of 'gotcha'. There was a time when I probably would have been yapping right along, and slinging poo if I couldn't get a rise any other way, but it's been a long time since I was a post teen know-it-all. I was tempted to jump in for a game of whack-a-troll, and if the topic were politics, I might have done it. But the essay was too good to spoil with an online fight with ignorants.


I don't quite understand the whole trolling thing. I know there are zillions of sites and blogs out there that I could find to disagree with. Somehow, it just never occurs to me to seek out someone else's turf, and barge in there to pick a fight. And it obviously never occurs to the trolls that they never, ever succeed in breaking another person's faith. There is not a one of them that has ever won a convert. And not a one of them that succeeds in doing anything other than looking petty, small minded, and ultimately foolish. Yet they persist. It's obvious that they never convince anyone else. Perhaps what they are really trying to do is convince themselves. And if they really believe that all this faith business is nonsense, why do they need further convincing?

Anyway. That's all the stuff that the top of my head had to offer this afternoon. Tomorrow, no doubt, I'll have that one post that will light up the whole blogosphere, and have the world at my doorstep begging for more. No doubt.


JWM

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Toxic Nostalgia



I had to take my wife's car in for repair today. Not an infrequent occurrence, unfortunately. It's a '94 Acura, and it's just getting old. And women are hard on cars. I had hoped a new battery would take care of the starting problem. It didn't. Cars have made me feel stupid since the early seventies. Actually, the early eighties. I was driving a '68 Ford Falcon in the early eighties. I understood that car, and I could fix it most of the time it broke. Not so with the newer machines. I don't even change the oil anymore. It's too tight of a squeeze to get under the car.

Fortunately we have an excellent car repair, Pole Position, not far from the house. So I left the Acura off, and walked the three miles or so home. I walked past Citrus Drive, where the old house used to be, and that got me musing again about the suicide run down Sierra Vista. I continued down the boulevard, and try as I would I couldn't help but enumerate the changes I've seen here in the last forty five years.

This is never a good thing to do. Never.

Because it is next to impossible to look at things the way they are now without comparing them to how they were then. The Heights, rising above the town of La Habra, was once a dark, shady, sparsely populated, and mostly undeveloped portion of the Puente Hills. Small houses nestled in the middle of five and ten acre parcels, and if there was any landscaping other than the native sage and sumac, it was family owned avocado or citrus groves. The narrow twisty streets were roads to nowhere unless you knew exactly where the houses were.

The Heights incorporated into its own city some years back, and the lot restrictions shrunk from five acres to one, and now I believe it's smaller than that, but I'm not sure, and I don't care to look it up. What you see when you look up to the heights now are big ass mansions: narcotecture in its most ostentatious, and obtrusive manifestation. (The two in the picture are by no means among the more serious offenders) There seems to be a battle going on up there to see who can build the largest possible edifice most violently in conflict with the land that surrounds it. And there are hundreds of heavyweight contenders in the brawl, with dozens more being built every year.
Below the Heights, the small, and not particularly well-to-do town of La Habra had the distinction of being the place where three major Boulevards ended. One was the fabled Whittier Boulevard: immortalized in song, main drag of East Los Angeles, and famous cruising ground in several of the towns along it length. Another was Harbour Boulevard, the street along which Walt Disney decided to build an amusement park. The other was Beach Boulevard which was the road to Knott's Berry Farm, and (take a guess) The Beach. Once you crossed Imperial Highway the first five or six miles of Beach rolled through the Coyote hills and entered the well built up coastal plane in Buena Park, home of the aforementioned Knott's. But the better perspective was gained on the return trip from Huntington Beach. After you finally got out of the stop and go traffic, and drab flatland towns you had that last five or six miles of empty road to stomp on the gas before you got home. The Coyote Hills are now smothered under thousand of houses, and there are two or three stoplights per mile along that formerly empty stretch of Beach Boulevard. All three of these legendary California roads ran their busy courses, then settled down and rested quietly in La Habra. They're now choked with traffic, and travel along any of these thoroughfares is done in increments of two or three hundred yards on a good day. So it is throughout Southern California.

And my point would be?

Like I said, it's never a good idea to start cruising memory lane. Nine times out of ten you're really searching vainly for a glimpse of your own misspent youth. And it's the cheapest of shots to sit around bemoaning the present, while longing for the good old days. I can get all kinds of wistful remembering the lost beauty of La Habra Heights, but the truth of it is that that little chunk of the Southland is now, and was always expensive land accessible only to those who had the ambition and drive to earn the kind of money it took to live there. It was, and is private property. And people can do what they damn well please with what they own. No one hired me to be an aesthetic consultant for the development of that, or any other municipality. I never had what it takes to achieve the Heights. Still don't. Nor was it ever up to me to declare Southern California officially full, and begin turning people back at the state line. After all, we too came here for the same reason that drew everyone before us, and after us. So it's crowded. There's no law against leaving. The past is just that: passed. It isn't the days that were better then; it was the eyes that saw them. It's not the traffic on memory lane that gets you down, but the reflection you see in the storefront windows.
JWM

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Speed Than You Need



I was sitting at the corner the other day, having a cup of coffee, and just taking in the morning. It was clear, and warm. A good day to do something if you had the ambition to do it. I didn't. I was content to just sit. None of the usual gang was around. Nobody to talk to. That was fine.


A couple of pre-teen kids wheeled into the patio on their BMX bikes and with the effortless grace of practiced riders wove circles through the tables, one hand loosely on the bars, the other holding cell phones. The two of them were both talking to parents, and both held the edge of the receiver tucked under the ear flaps of black plastic safety helmets. Safety Helmets. On a twenty inch, one speed bicycle. It looked wussy, nerdy, and incongruous with the casual grace they both displayed on their bikes. Contacting Mom on the phone no doubt came at the insistence of over cautious parents. But it was the State of California that forced them to wear the safety helmets. Risk is against the law. After a few circuits through the patio they pocketed the phones, and took off through the parking lot.


Twenty inch Stingray bikes were the forerunner of the BMX machines, and they were a new thing when I moved out to California in 1963. I never had one. In Michigan you had a twenty four incher until you were old enough for your feet to touch the ground on a full sized twenty six. And then, depending on what you liked, you either got an English Racer,with a three speed rear hub, and hand brakes, or you had a Schwinn, or Evans cantilever (beach cruiser style) with a one speed, and coaster brake. I had an Evans with a horn tank, headlight, and rear rack. It was more space age looking than the racers, but it was corny, and out of style in California. Besides, it had a flat tire. That's why I borrowed my brother's bike, also a twenty six inch cruiser style, (although without the embarrassing tank and rack), for the speed run down Sierra Vista Drive.


That was one thing that La Habra California had that Trenton Michigan lacked- hills. Our shabby old rental house sat at the very foot of the well to do Heights. It was uphill to school, uphill to my friends' houses, and very very uphill to the top of Sierra Vista Drive. The street was steep enough for the first maybe half a mile or so, then it made a sharp right turn, and went ski slope vertical in a long sweeping left until it straightened out again for several hundred yards to the dead end at the top. It was just too cool to be believed. Like having your own private roller coaster within walking distance. With great effort I could pedal the heavy old Evans most of the way up the straight part, but once you hit the turn you had to get off and push. My brothers, and I used to see how far up we'd dare push before hopping on for the thrill ride to the bottom.


One October evening after dinner, I decided I'd try to make it all the way from the top of Sierra Vista with no brakes. That was the year I went as an accident victim for Halloween. I pushed up to the house which marked the highest point from which I'd run the hill, hopped on, whizzed around the turn and out onto the gentler slope of the straight section. Feeling confident, I slammed on the coaster brake, skidded the back tire around in a 'brodie', got off, and started for the top of Sierra Vista. This was going to be great. I could tell everyone I'd made it. Dare other kids to try, and then show them how it was done. I was ready. Sort of. When I actually got all the way up there I had second thoughts. This was considerably farther up the hill than I'd ever tried it before. But it had to be done. And I wasn't going to fudge it by using the brake. No way.


But I wasn't going to push my luck and pedal for extra speed either. I backed the rear wheel up against the cul de sac curb, lifted my feet, and as the bike began to roll I put them on the pedals. No brakes. It had to be no brakes or it was cheating. I was accelerating like a motorcycle when I entered the long sweeping right. I had never gone so fast on anything in my life. This was faster than a car. As fast as a plane. I held to the middle of the left side of the street for fear of an approaching car. I straightened up to make the ninety degree left hander that would shoot me out onto the straight part of the street. But centrifugal force did me in. The curb got close, and then closer, and then grabbed my front wheel. The last thing I saw was someone's black mailbox atop a four by four in the parkway. There was *WHOKKK* a huge flash of light, and the next thing I was aware of was someone running across their front lawn. I saw the mailbox some yards down from me on the sidewalk. I sat up, then pulled myself to my feet. Then both nostrils turned into blood faucets. I remember, with some detachment that I painted an entire square of sidewalk red with the blood that gushed out of my face. I was pretty disoriented too, but I knew what had happened. And I hadn't broken any bones, except for my nose. The mailbox absorbed much of the impact when my face knocked it off the top of the four by four. Who needs a fucking helmet?


No one called an ambulance. The people who owned the mailbox called my folks who came and got me, and drove me over to La Mirada Hospital. The doctors gave me a quick once over, and sent me home. I had two black eyes that earned me some serious status in the seventh grade, and it was a long time before I could breathe through my nose again. The septum is still just a tiny bit crooked but not enough to notice. My face was so black and blue, that, as I said I just added a couple extra bandages, and used it for Halloween that year. My brother's bike was ruined.


JWM

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Waiting for Astro Boy




It was early in the afternoon Saturday the sixth of August in California, but about 5:00 Sunday morning in Hong Kong. This was one of those telling moments. I was aware of the time difference between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Because in Hong Kong was the Hot Toys, Limited Edition, One of Three Hundred issue, 2005 Hong Kong Toy Show Exclusive, All metal, Zing Alloy, Chrome plated, 5 ½" Astro-Boy figure. Three available. And Hong Kong is also the place from which I wasn't getting one. I looked at the e-mail for the tenth or eleventh time:

hi John,
thanks for your purchase.
I have checked with my workers..
very sorry that this special version of the HK comics festival has
already out and the new stock has not arrived yet.
I have immediately phoned HotToys to check on their logistic schedule
but the new stock will only arrive us again fastest by the end of this
month.
I am very very sorry for the problem.
knowing that you have paid for the Express for the figure, I am very
embarassed at the situation.
pls let me know if you wish to wait for the new stock to come or you
wish for a refund.
I am very sorry once again

How did this happen? How was it that I, an otherwise mature adult, was sitting here feeling like a kid who just learned Santa isn't coming? Astro Boy? Isn't that some kid's show from Japan? Flash back to 1964. I was twelve. Astro-Boy was on TV after school, and I never missed the show if I could help it. Truth to tell, I don't remember much about the individual episodes. What I do recall is that the show fascinated me because it was the first cartoon I had ever seen that wasn't supposed to be funny. The episodes were real stories, and sometimes they were actually quite sad. Now I have more toy robots than any one man needs. But no Astro-Boy. You see, despite fond memories of the show, I had never seen an Astro-boy figure that did much for me. They all look like - well, dolls. Until this one.

Sometimes stuff just grabs you. You know- you see something on the street, in a store or in a catalogue; it might be a motorcycle, a stereo, a first issue comic book, or a toy robot. And there is no question in the world; it is axiomatic- you are going to have that thing. Period. So it was, one week earlier, when I saw the auction on e-bay. Limited edition. One of three hundred pieces. Three available. I hit the "Buy it now" button so fast it bruised the computer. I even sprung for express shipping from Hong Kong because I not only wanted that thing, I wanted that thing NOW!

The next day I got the e-mail back from the seller. My order had been received. I was getting one of the three remaining pieces. Hooray!
It was Saturday morning when I placed the order, and Sunday when I heard back from the dealer. I figured with two to four day shipping it should have arrived Friday. Friday came and went.

It didn't get here. But the e-mail did. Remember when you were too young to have any self restraint, and threw a crying fit on the floor of some store or other because Mom or Dad said, "NO. You're not getting that."?

And it wasn't like I was getting ripped off. I'd get my Hot Toys 5 ½" all metal Astro-Boy sooner or later. It's just that I wouldn't be getting the Hot Toys, Limited Edition, One of Three Hundred issue, 2005 Hong Kong Toy Show Exclusive, All metal, Zing Alloy, Chrome plated 5 ½" Astro-Boy. (none available) I'd just have to settle for a plain old all metal painted finish Astro Boy. Just like everyone else. Or so I figured.

Nonetheless, I held my breath for two months until the ninth of October. I heard the dog in the front room yapping at something, and I came out of the den to find my wife signing for a small package wrapped in green paper and covered with Hong Kong Stamps. I opened it. and... (Channeling Sam Kinneson)
WOWWWWWWW WOWWWWW WOWWWW





But I should have bought a painted issue too. You can't get one now for love or money.
JWM

Friday, February 20, 2009

Post Insomnia Posting



I didn't get a post up at all yesterday. I hadn't slept well, even after a hard day Wednesday, and I got called to do a night shift last night. So I spent the middle of yesterday dozing, and trying to catch up on rest. I used to enjoy the night shifts, especially once the faculty had all left and I had the plant to myself. I could drone on in the dark, and quiet, attending to the simple tasks at hand, and have my mind free to wander where it would. But the body at fifty six commands a greater portion of that brain space, and what's left doesn't wander so much as it strays into bad neighborhoods, and picks fights with some of the more unsavory inhabitants.

And I didn't sleep again last night, and I'll probably have another night shift tonight.

I'd still be in bed right now, except that pudgy old Booger the Cat will not tolerate me lying abed while Mary is up and about. She jumps up on the bed, starts at my ankles, marches up to my chest, and sticks her cold, wet nose in my face, all the while making soft, but very concerned mewls, and chirps, and cries. Some cats seem to form a consonant when they mew. With most, it's sort of an "M". Booger the Cat pronounces a distinct "W": 'weeerng, weeerng'. Sometimes I'll get a couple gentle swats in the face. If I open my eyes, and say "g'morning Boogies" she sits in the middle of my chest and just purrs until I get up. All very cute, and endearing and all, but sometimes I'd just rather sleep.


In a way too, I'm taking a step back here, and reconsidering the direction that the wfb seems to have taken. I wanted to keep things light, and amusing, leave metaphysics to those with a better feel for it, and avoid serious topics altogether. That was the plan anyway, insofar as I had a plan at all. But the last two posts just sort of came out of nowhere, and I hit the 'publish post' button despite having some serious reservations about doing so.


Maybe it comes back to the whole synchronicity thing. Years back, one of my mentors, artist Janet Church, used to encourage me to write. It was Janet Church who introduced me to my wife, Mary. I was not interested in writing. I'd had my fill of it in school, and I saw more of it than I cared to see at work. It was more satisfying to draw, or carve. I would drop by her frame shop and gallery, and she'd tell me, "Go away, I'm too busy to talk right now." That would usually be the opening volley in a long discussion about art, beauty, and matters of the spirit. Janet would taunt me occasionally about not believing in God. "I do believe in God, Janet." I'd insist. "Sort of. I just don't like the religion thing." Sometimes I'd toss an observation off the top of my head, and she'd insist on pausing the discussion to write it down. She used to say that someday I would start writing. "You should write," she'd admonish me. And it would seem that that's what I'm doing right now. But Janet's at Rose Hills, in a plot that commands a view all the way to the towers of Los Angeles. I bet she would have had a blast in the coonosphere.

Anyway. I'm pecking away at a review of disc number two from Will's two record set. Sometime in the not too distant future I'll have it on line. And that's about all I got for now.
A later on in the afternoon update:
So this is how it goes. I caught a few Z's, and had Mary wake me up an hour before the night shift starts. I re-heated some coffee, which sort of brought the nervous system back on line, and waited to hear if I'd get a call. Yesterday, the boss said I'd probably be on for tonight, but he wasn't sure. I waited, and then figured I'd better play it safe, so I got my keys, flashlight, and gloves, and walked over to the school where the shift would start if the night guy was going to be out. (It's less than a block from the house.) Usually he's there about fifteen minutes before starting time. I was hanging perfectly on the cusp of ambivalence. I really wanted to just kick back, and fart around here at home, but I got enough rest to get me through the shift, and after all, we do need the money.
I waited at the front gate, and just as I abandoned all hope, and resigned myself to the long cold slog, the night guy showed up.
*sigh of relief*
And of course I wasn't but halfway home before I started going, "Damn. Another night and no work." I swear, if my head was somebody else, I'd clobber their ass.


JWM

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tooluser



I haven't spoken to Chuck but once in the last five years, and that was only because we ran into one another at the corner Starbucks. And after that brief encounter I was glad I hadn't spoken to him in the last five years. But I'll get to that later.

He's fifty six years old, and has never moved out of his parents' house. He has never had a girlfriend. Never had a date. He claimed once to have visited a prostitute in Ensenada, but I did not believe the story. There were no supporting details, like for example- where in Ensenada? Just somewhere.

I've known the guy since we were both in high school. Like everyone in our small circle of friends he graduated in June, and enrolled in junior college in September. And like most of the gang, he never finished the first semester. I just bailed, and got a job. He would have finished but another one of our pals kept showing up at his house with beer and weed, so it wasn't really his fault. I applied for a job with the post office, and he figured that would be a good idea as well. I flunked the entry exam. He actually got hired. But they had it in for him at the post office. They made him lift a bunch of really heavy bags, and the ropes that held the bags closed chaffed on his hands. So that was another career unfairly taken from him. Around that time I got my first motorcycle, a used Honda 305 Superhawk. He convinced his parents to let him have one, so they bought him a new 350 Honda that was, he frequently reminded me, faster than my bike.

Later on I gave up the motorcycles for surfing. Chuck wasn't into much of anything then, and one time I invited him to come down to the beach with me and try out the boogie board. The boogie board has the advantage of being really easy to use. Unlike surfing, it takes no practice, no skill. All you need to do to get it moving is turn your back on an already broken swell, hop on, and let the whitewash carry you to shore. The poor bastard couldn't even manage that. Years later he would remind me of how much fun it was surfing at River Jetties.

By now Chuck, at my prompting, had applied for and secured a job pushing broom for the local school district. Except for his unfairly heavy workload, and the indignity of working for people who were less intelligent, and had advanced to higher positions by kissing ass- he did OK. Around that time another of our friends, one who had not quit school but went on to earn a couple of BS degrees took up computer programming. This was Chuck's true calling he figured. So he got a computer, and then two. I couldn't have given a rat's ass about computers. Wasn't interested in what they could do or how they worked. I didn't know anything about the subject. So at every opportunity, Chuck would deliver droning lectures in jargonspeak about the inner workings of the electronic brain, pausing every so often to remind me that he was probably more knowledgeable than our friend who was making a very good living programming the things.

One summer, after a morning of drinking beer, we decided to go out and look at Harleys. Neither of us had ridden in years. I got a look at the new models, and fell in love. After some deliberation I gave in, and ordered a brand new Softail. While I waited for delivery, Chuck went out and bought a used Japanese lookalike. They were, he reminded me, faster, and more reliable than the real thing.

And I don't mean to give a wrong impression, here. The guy was a good friend. As the cliche goes, if you were stuck at three in the morning with your car broke down, Chuck would be the guy who would come out and give you a lift. He just never grew a life of his own. He imitated the people around him as long as it didn't involve real commitment, sacrifice, or work. He watched others live life and tried to play like he was doing it too. And worse, as other friends moved on I became the one most frequently imitated. Unfortunately, he didn't know what to imitate, and what to just watch.

As I've mentioned, I cracked up and lost my job teaching school. I got tangled up in legal bullshit, dealing with doctors, and lawyers and every element of my personal and public life became enmeshed in the gears of "the system". It was my intention to leave California when the mess was over. I was going to take whatever assets I had, and move to West Virginia. I loved Appalachia. I had friends there. I figured I would find some sort of work that wasn't teaching school. I just wanted to get out. In the mean time my artistic burn had waxed into a white hot obsession. I carved stone like my life depended on it. And my work began to draw some attention. Galleries were actually coming to me, and asking if I'd display there.

That's when Chuck decided to quit his job and become a computer artist. The stress of working as a night custodian was killing him, and besides, he had developed a knee injury. But he refused treatment for the sore knee. Instead he got a lawyer, filed for workers comp, and got on permanent disability at about nine hundred bucks a month. He pushed for vocational rehab training, and used it to take what amounted to hobbyist classes in using computer animation software. He souped up his computers to run the stuff, and made three second cartoons of soda cans filling glasses, and satellites passing planets. Often I'd be at the carving table, and he'd show up at the backyard gate. Cue the droning monotone of jargonese, the descriptions of how the processors worked to convert this algorithm into that base function while simultaneously redefining quadrant parameters at x number of bits per second...I had a computer by this time, and was treated to endless explanations of how it worked, and what I could do to make it faster if I'd only let him fix it up for me.

And then my artistic burn just flamed out. The last creative project I had going was the toy story epic. Ed from Robot Japan had seen a few episodes, and offered to host it on his site if I would learn Dreamweaver. But that meant taking computer classes myself. So I signed up for adult ed. took the classes, and learned the basics. It took over a year, but I got enough knowledge to work Dreamweaver. And I got enough knowledge to learn that Chuck didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. He knew enough of the terminology to bullshit someone who was totally ignorant. I had suspected this before, and knew it for a certainty before I had finished the beginners' class in Microsoft Word. But Chuck was going to become a commercial artist, maybe even go to work for Pixar, or Dreamworks. The problem was- Chuck had never of his own free will so much as picked up a pencil and doodled out a picture on paper. He had no interest in art at all, and was possessed of absolutely no creative instinct. But he knew how to use all the tools in the Photoshop tool kit. He knew how to work the animation programs, and the rendering programs. He really did not understand that there was a difference between knowing the function of tools, and being able to use them for something.

I needed to buy a new computer if I was going to run Dreamweaver and Photoshop. For all the BSing, Chuck at least did know one computer from another, which I didn't. We drove out to some electronics mega mart to look around. He told me what to buy, a re-conditioned top of the line Hewlett Packard that was more than I needed or could afford. I wasn't sure, and wanted to sleep on the decision. Cue the lecture in jargonese. I tuned out and went over to look at movies on DVD. Chuck ramped up the sales pitch for the reconditioned PC.
"Well, are you going to get it? I'll set it up, and I have bootleg copies of photoshop, and some 3D rendering programs that a guy in my class gave me..."
"No", I said. "Not today anyway. I'm going to sleep on the decision."
"Why, not? This machine has...." He threw a major shitty. I never saw the guy get so angry. I dropped him off at his house, and that was the last we spoke until I ran into him at the corner.

I never did go to West Virginia as I had planned. I met the woman who would, some months later become my wife. Her father died shortly after our wedding, and we spent the next year staying with her mom. And then my mother reached the point where she had to quit driving, and couldn't keep up with the house or the bills alone. Life happens. A bout of heart trouble took all the savings I had accumulated. Fortunately I was treated in time, and regained my physical strength. But I needed money, and ironically enough, was hired as a substitute custodian by the same school district that Chuck had quit. It was a new direction for me, and a good one. I enjoyed the work, and I made a few new friends as well. I was sitting at the corner talking with Louie, one of the guys from the maintenance crew. I looked up, and saw Chuck crossing the patio to our table.

"Hey, Chuck", Louie said. "I thought you were moving back east."
"Hey", I said. "Long time no see. How ya doing?"
" Oh"- Chuck answered, "OK, I guess. Nah," he said to Louie, "I'm still here and you know- doing the same old same old. I got a new computer. State of the art. Hey," he turned to me. "I heard from Bob that you had a heart attack."
"Yeah. It sucked. Nothing in it to recommend the experience, though."
"Well, that's too bad, " he replied. "Sorry to hear." The gloating tone was unmistakable. "I'm still healthy as ever. Anyway, I gotta get food for my dad. See ya around". He went into the sandwich shop.

"You know Chuck?" asked Louie.
"Yeah. For a long time actually."
Louie went on. "Boy, there's another disgruntled employee. He quit a few years ago. Told everyone how he was going to get out of California, and move up into the mountains in Arkansas. Said he was really into that whole Appalachia thing. So where do you know him from?"
"Ah, well," I said. "We go back quite some time."
JWM

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon


Actually, it's now a sunny afternoon , but that probably won't last. I'll have some notes on the second disc from Will in a couple of days. I'll say this, though. I listened to it today, and it's good. Very good. Will wants to wait a bit before uploading new songs to amaze.fm, and that's actually good for me too. Because I'm totally like, you know, faking it trying to write a music review when I don't know what I'm talking about about music.

So I'm taking a step back, and letting the exchange from over at One Cosmos sink in a little. I already made the faux pax of posting the same thing at Walt's site that I did on Bob's, and ending up with parallel conversations going on the same topic. No point opening a third front in the battle over here. Instead I'll share some observations on the 'coonosphere' in general, and hope that a topic for this ramble emerges in the process.

What struck me today reading Walt's post, and Bob's post, and then listening to Will's CD is that the focus of spirituality, faith, and the culture at large is very much a post middle age focus. I know that not everyone in the crowd is at, near, or past the half century point, but most of us are. And as I move through the business of my day I begin to notice the signs that my own perspective is one of the generation that is holding the reins of established power and influence, but it is also the generation that is being inexorably moved off to the sideline as younger people begin to steer the leading edge of who we are and where we are going as a nation, and a culture. Not surprisingly, I am not altogether happy with what I see.

I go through the supermarket check stand line, and of course notice the women's magazines on the racks. Whether it's celebrity gossip, fashion, or miscellaneous junk directed at the magazine buying demographic, the focus, and tone are just plain low bred, and crass. Every few years the line drawn for 'what they can get away with' gets pushed lower. If there was ever a fine art of female grooming and dress. It seems to have been reduced to showing a lot of skin, and letting 'him' know that you're just as ready to get it on as he is. Television seems to be in a freefall of "pushing the envelope" of crude. I noticed an ad for some product or other wherein some woman's meddlesome mother was encouraging her youngish middle aged daughter to find a man- or another woman, and settle down. Sure. It's all the same. All equally groovy.
Somewhere along the line someone got the misbegotten notion that tattooing is somehow sexy, and cool. It isn't. It looks like shit on guys, and it's an abomination on women.

I see otherwise good looking young people utterly vandalize their bodies in pursuit of- what? Edginess? Cool? It is beyond me, and I find it disgusting beyond words.

And keep in mind here- I watched the whole hippy thing from the sixties and seventies get overthrown by punk in the eighties. And while I was too old to jump on the punk bandwagon, I actually thought it was pretty cool in its deliberate ugliness. I saw the mohawks, purple hair, and spikes, and leather, and I thought- well, this is one fad that won't get co opted into mainstream pop the way the flowers and beads shtick did. The heavy metal thrash isn't going to make it into supermarket muzak. Go for it! Good on ya! Kids need to get a little crazy. Every generation needs to shock the old farts a little, and the punks did a great job of it.

But the purple hair could be cut off. The ugly ass clothes came off. The mosh pit bruises healed up, and even the safety pin through the cheek didn't leave a noticeable scar.

Not so with earlobes stretched out for a 2" diameter plug. Not so for a full sleeve tattoo. And even less so for the moron with "FUCK" emblazoned across his forehead, or on his neck. (I'm not makin' those up).

You see, this stuff goes beyond wanting to make an old fart like me shake his head. It bespeaks a shortsightedness that is more than a little carpe diem on weed. This shit is permanent. Someday grandchildren or nurses will be changing the diapers on those eighty something year old women, and having to look at those sagging roses and skulls on their withered old breasts and backsides. Those hideously distended earlobes, nostrils, and lips will be lost to circulatory disorders, and convalescent hospitals are going to become some serious chambers of horror. Glad I won't be around to see it.




JWM

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Music of Will


Ok, let's take some good old down home American folk music, and infuse it with a little jazz. Or maybe throw in some bluegrass to getcha' grinnin'. Now add lyrics that blend that Country Western clever turn of phrase with wry Dylanesque insight, and toss in some Leonard Cohen for some brooding depth and mystery. Now go way deep down there, and sly dog in an undercurrent of gospel to shine some noetic light on the process.
...and you've got?
Ha! sorry, but I got it and you don't. I'm gonna rub it in here. I've got a two record set.

Those of you who are regular long time readers of Gagdad Bob's One Cosmos are familiar with the mysterious Will, who shows up *ahem* all too infrequently to lob a metaphysical spirit bomb into the the comments section, and leave the rest of us going, "Damn. How come I didn't see that?" Well. Because. That's how come.
And when he's not busy thinking up some exotic spice for the daily bread of discussion. He's cooking up music in his underground studio, somewhere on the east coast of Upper Tonga.


So along with the cold rain, this Friday the 13th brought, courtesy of the US Postal Service, and a little finnegelling on my part, a two CD set of Will's finest. This is sort of like the White album, only it isn't white, and they don't make albums anymore. But it is 33 hugely cool songs, and I'll give you my take on an even dozen or so. Here are six from disc number one. Click on the links, and you can hear some of them for yourself on Amaze.fm.



A Wayfarer's Promise

...Once I had a vision that drove me to my knees,
I saw all our souls rise up like bright and blowing leaves,
Now you try to grant my wishes with silken sacks of gold,
But a wayfarer’s promise is all I shall hold –


This is my current favorite from the first disc. It has that heart lifting bluegrass on the highway vibe down. And it's a great singin' in the car song. This is the kind of song (if you're like me and can't carry a tune) that's likely to cause you to embarrass yourself at a stop light. Hint: Keep the window rolled up, or wait 'till you get on the interstate.
--------

We take a little darker turn with Let This Stranger Pass.

My heart and lungs are laboring, my body is light and lean,
I pray to my ancient kin to keep my senses keen,
A great wizard once did say that the first shall be the last,
And so the last shall be the first, so let this stranger pass -



Somehow this song reminded me of the early chapters of Stephen King's "The Stand" When Randall Flag as The Walkin' Dude begins his cross country odyssey gathering the forces of evil together for the showdown at the end of the world. Footsteps behind you. Nerves on edge. Get ready to jump in the ditch, and hope the Lord gets you through.
--------

Any Moment Now

Any moment now the grand thing is going to happen,
Any moment now the clock will stop ticking,
Any moment now you’ll turn the corner and meet the love of your life,
Any moment now you’re going to awaken –
Stand up ready and make it to go –



This is one of those driving songs that is usually good for ten or fifteen mph over the speed limit, and a long day lost in traffic school. Watch your rear view.
-----------

Before the Dawn

Some are driving trucks down the river of the grand highway,
Some are standing guard by the engine of the Milky Way,
In voices strong, they sing one song,
And they’ll be gone before the dawn –
Some are tending bar, waiting tables at the one AM,
Then their shift is done and they’re walking back to home again.
In voices strong, they sing one song,
And they’ll be gone before the dawn -

Before the dawn is a number that reflects The Mystery in the commonplace. It's a kaleidoscope of you 'n me and other ordinary folks. Faces we see, and don't quite record. The people who pass through our days almost without notice, and yet leave something of themselves with us as they pass.
--------


My Cat

Get the bass line going. Keep it low and eerie, but remember it's your special friend.

Sometimes his eyes take on a glaze
As if recalling ancient days
When his shadow swooped and slid
Across a gleaming pyramid,
My cat is sometimes like a mist,
A mist that’s exhibitionist,
He sleeps and dreams upon my knee,
Sometimes I think he’s dreaming me –


My cat. Everyone's cat. Oh, do we let ourselves in for it when we let a cat get a grip on our hearts. There are dog people, and cat people, and dog n' cat people as well. All of us understand. (although as a cat-guy, I'm slightly suspicious of dog owners). This one's for Fergus, but it's for Booger, and Crabby Ol' Sam, Big Kitty, Cleo, and Meetoo, who got et by a coyote.
--------


I'll See You Once Again

Our earthly life is brief and fast,
It’s here, then gone, a lightning flash,
Our moment’s here and then it’s past
Like water through our hands –
Your memory now is all I hold,
Yet something more as has been told,
For now you’re young and won’t grow old,
And I’ll see you once again –
My heart is torn in fierce dismay,
For fate has taken you away,
Still I shall follow you someday,
And I’ll see you once again -


A review is supposed to be about the music, but a lot of things I've been reading, and seeing from the greater One Cosmos family have been going through me like some sort of metaphysical X-ray. This song was one of them. My dear wife and I married late in life- well into the third act of our four act play. There is an unspoken, never-mentioned bargain of sorts that we made with the future when we married. One of us drew a ticket for grief that will break whoever holds it. The banjo line running softly beneath the melody in this song expresses the frighteningly tenuous thread of hope that holds you suspended above the darkness.

This winds up the review of disc number one. Anyway, I just ran out of adjectives, and I gotta call my connection to see if I can hook up a fresh stash for disc number two. Click the links, and enjoy. Don't forget to rate. And while you're at it- bug the hell out of Will to upload more songs. More to follow.



JWM

I Have Seen Hell, and Its Number Is 710



I have a real project that I am working on, and if I feel better later on I may get it posted. As it is I woke up with a vicodin grade headache, and applied vicodin. I'm a little numb right now. But it beats pain. Sort of.

My brother's ladyfriend is a wonderfully generous woman. She bought us tickets for a Scottish festival that was held at the Queen Mary ocean liner turned hotel and festival venue in Long Beach, CA.

Now, as far as I can determine, I am of pure Scottish ancestry and, while I'm not fanatical about it, I do have an affinity for all things Celtic. Nonetheless, these festival things are, to put it generously, boring. It is interesting to find myself in a crowd with whom I share some ethnic identity. Or, to put it in simpler terms- with a whole mess of folks who look like me hanging out in one place.

And it's pretty much what you'd expect. Lots of fair skin, and blue eyes. Lots of kilts. Lots of plaid. Maps of Scotland where you can determine where your own bloodthirsty tribe of warriors were busy killing off other equally bloodthirsty Celts. You can buy a sword if you want one. The food is awful. There's a reason you don't see Scottish fast food joints on every corner. And the one world class thing that they do make is off limits. Don't even get any single malt in my bloodstream, or I instantly morph into... well you can figure.

Scottish games are singularly unimaginative. Throw a rock over a rope. Throw a telephone pole. Like the food, there's a reason this stuff never quite captured the national imagination.

But they do have the bagpipes. There's a mess of bagpipes, and I really do like them. And the pipes MUST be heard live. They just don't translate to any medium of reproduction. We got to hear a group that had come from Albany New York to play at this thing. They made the drive down to Long Beach almost worth it.

Almost.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Wrong. The road to hell is hell, and it's called the 710 freeway. This is the road that leads from the port of Long Beach up into the mid city snarl of Los Angeles. It's a maniacal speedway, cracked and shattered by the constant onslaught of tractor trailers hauling all of the Southwest's imports to market. Hate bumper to bumper traffic? Try it at 75 mph, where making a lane change is like crossing the railroad tracks by jumping between two speeding boxcars. We had our obligatory near death encounter as some trucker, doubtless low on methamphetamine, decided to join the parade a little late. I had exactly enough time to look in the sideview, determine that I had about six feet of clearance in front of the car in the lane to my left, and make the life saving swerve. I'm sure that that poor slob continued his trip on a wet, and sticky seat. Those kinds of encounters take some time to sink in. It wasn't until we were off the freeway, and safely parked in the parking structure back at Huntington Beach that this one hit home. I damn near french kissed the concrete.

But it was Valentines day, and that meant going to a nice restaurant with my wife. The pierside places were reserved to the last table, and besides. I can't afford them. But there is a great Mediterranean place on Main Street. Mary, no doubt grateful to be alive, had two big burgundies. I couldn't seem to get enough coffee to calm me down (I wonder why?) Hence the migraine level headache this morning. So, as I said, I'm going to doze for a while, and maybe get the first part of the real project on line later today. Or tomorrow. We'll see.
JWM

Friday, February 13, 2009

Burgers in the Rain




The Mr. Coffee machine works OK. I fed the monkey this morning and it didn't retch or bang my head against the cage for lack of caffeine.
I'm sitting here with a cup right now.


I just got back from getting lunch over at the local burger hop. I am richly blessed in the restaurant department. Actually, all of the LA/ Orange County megaburb is richly blessed with good eats. I can find first rate Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Italian within walking distance of the house. And I don't have to put up with chainburgers unless I get a perverse craving for McDonalds, or Burger King. You take that for granted until you travel to other not so richly blessed parts of the country. Don't get me wrong. I love the mid-west, the northern states, the south, and the east, but in many small towns you have a choice of Colonel Chicken, Hardees, Pizza Hut, or hunger.

Today we braved the rain for Time Out Burger. The place was a mediocre dump until a Korean couple took it over a few years back. Now, Time Out defines hamburger, and you can get a great grilled chicken dinner with a full plate of salad, and a big drink for under six bucks. The woman who runs it is incredible. She knows all of the regular customers by name, and remembers all of their personal preferences. She knows I like my burger with pickles, onions and lettuce only- no sauce, and that my wife wants everything but with extra pickles. And she remembers that my mother (whom she has never seen) likes the burger with onions only.
My only beef about the place is the television. In fact, television sets seem to be a fixture in fast food restaurants anymore. My wife and I went in well after the lunch rush. The place was nearly empty, and the TV was off. Good. But before we had the food on our table some woman walked in, sat down, stood up, and said to everyone and no one, "Mind if I turn on the TV?" and then, without waiting for an answer, turned on the news.
You know what was on the news? Rain. I'm not kidding. In LA, rainfall gets about the same kind of coverage as a car chase. They send mobile units to every corner of the basin, so that some good lookin' chick can stand out in the downpour, and tell you what you already knew. It's raining. At least I wasn't chewing my food to some forty five second mini drama about tampons, or disposable diapers.

But the rain was followed by a "report" about the stimulus. I didn't listen much. I could tell just by the tone of the voices. You can always tell by the tone of the voices if a thing is good or bad. This stimulus is a very very good thing. It is at least as good as the war in Iraq was bad. So the tones said. So am I going to erupt into a screed about television, or politics? No. I'm going to get another cup, and throw disc number two on the stereo. Disc number two? Yeah. I'll fill you in on it later.


JWM

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Going for Coffee. A Suburban Safari.

How hard is it to buy a simple coffee maker? It's not exactly a rare, or exotic appliance, like say, a triple filter Earth Friendly organic sub atomic energy saving Amazonian herb juice extractor with extra freebase module to isolate the proper entheogenic compounds needed for a quasi legal recreational buzz. All I wanted was a goddamn coffee maker. Without built in grinder. Without special .001 micron toxic waste extracting chemical filter. Without an infinitely adjustable brew-strength dial, and built in caffeine meter. I didn't even want an automatic timer that turns itself on for you, beeps when ready, and turns itself off after two hours. My one and only stipulation was that it come with the cone shaped filter, and not the flat bottom basket.
I had such a machine, a Krups that I bought last summer. But it had a funny kind of mildewy smell. I figured that the smell would go away after running some water through it. No. So I removed the filter with the special tool included for removing the filter. Still smelled. So I tried vinegar. Still smelled. So I chose to ignore it. But the smell became a taste, and this morning's coffee tasted like it had been brewed with flood water drained from a post Katrina New Orleans mausoleum. Even my voracious caffeine monkey howled in protest. So I went out to buy a new coffee maker.
Tuesday Morning, a kind of eclectic odds and ends store, had nothing. Besides, the last one I got there was a Frankenstein monster that was half coffee pot, half hot water tank. The basket stayed in place until you turned it on, and left the room. It then popped open and poured hot water and coffee grounds all over the counter, and onto the kitchen floor.
So I dumped it and bought the smelly Krups that I was now on a mission to replace.
Next stop, Wal Mart. You could get a cone filter coffee maker only if you wanted to spend a hundred plus dollars and get one which grinds the beans, starts on its own, and tells you with a computerized voice that the coffee is ready, but reminds you that too much caffeine can lead to irritability, and has been linked to violent behavior in laboratory rats, and farm animals. This is Southern California. The water here is so hard that you can brush your teeth with it sans toothpaste. A hundred dollar coffee maker is useless in six months, just like a twenty dollar coffee maker. Plenty of cheap flat basket ones though. But, I wanted- scratch that- needed the cone.
Bed Bath and Beyond. Same story. Target. Same story. I might as well have been looking for a hood ornament for a fifty two Packard. So I gave up, and settled for a flat basket machine from Hamilton Beach. Besides, it was on sale.
By this time the needle on my frustration tolerance was at "E", and the red light was beginning to flash. So I got in line behind a woman who wanted to pay for her groceries with a check from the bank of Mozambique, and a hand written note from her daughter's second grade teacher for identification. But I got out of there, got home, and set the coffee maker on the counter.
You had to lift a big lid to pour water into a thimble sized opening at the back to fill the tank. This might not have been a problem if the machine sat somewhere with six to eight feet of vertical clearance above the counter, or was placed conveniently in the middle of the floor. I have a weird kitchen with cupboards above the counter. If I positioned the machine so that four or five inches of it extended over the counter's edge I could flip the lid most all the way open.
I'm a competent guy. I can work most household appliances without even reading the instructions. But when I went to fill the tank I ended up with seven of the twelve cups of water in the coffee maker, and the rest of the water on the hot plate, on the kitchen counter, and on the floor.
I rest the blame for this solely- solely on the engineer who designed the piece of shit thing. So I took it back to Target. The gal at the exchange desk finished her telephone conversation well within the thirty minutes that good customer service usually requires, adjusted her lip ring, and asked if she could helf. No questions asked. I got my money back and bought a twenty dollar Mr. Coffee. I got it home, and my wife reminded me that the Mr. Coffee machines never seem to make very good coffee.
I'm going over to Starbucks.

JWM

Anonymous Fame


I got called for work the last couple of days, which is good because we need the money. Day shift at one of the local elementary schools- my favorite assignment. But I slept very little Tuesday night, and by the end of the day yesterday I was on empty. Nothing to say, and no words to say it with. And even now as I sit here I don't know where I'm going to go with this. I feel leaden, soggy- maybe getting a cold, I don't know.


This is an interesting phenomenon, this blogging business. A blog is a new medium, and the blog post post is really a new sort of literary form. I doubt that anyone sits down with their word processing program and carefully crafts, and re-crafts their material before putting it on line. Of course, there are no 'rules', but the protocol seems to require spontaneity: an impromptu pouring out of whatever is on the writer's radar at the moment.

Too, there is the issue of intimacy coupled with its opposite, publicity. On the one hand we realize that, for the best part, we have a very small, and very limited group of readers, but at the same time the blog is a broadcast that reaches every corner of the civilized world. It has your name on it, even though it is well nigh impossible for anyone to find out who you really are. It's like having your phone number "published" in the telephone directory. You don't generally open the book, turn to the page with your number on it, and then sit by the instrument waiting for someone to call and talk to you. You can, of course, promote yourself, mostly by posting comments on other, more widely read venues, and hope that someone will like your comment, and tune in to your own private broadcast . I see people do this a lot, but to me it looks cheap. Blog-pimping is the apt slang for this behavior.

And yet. Everyone who does this harbors some small hope that their home made site on Blogger will become a major draw, get linked at bigger sites, and earn a little fame, if no fortune. Anonymous fame. That is something new in the world. And that's all I seem to have this morning.


JWM

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Getting Out of the Flatlands

I got a call for work this morning, so I've been up and running since a quarter to six. I spent the after work hours with the exchange over on One Cosmos, and that was a brainful and then some. And my head was already filled pretty close to capacity from trying to digest yesterday's comments right here at the wfb. (and Thank You all very much!) It's almost eight thirty, and I'm just now sitting down trying to improvise some content.

Actually there wasn't much left to say on the topic of losing the burn. I started carving rocks, and didn't stop until the fire went out, which it did abruptly, and without even extending me the courtesy of letting me finish the last piece I was working on. But it was great while it lasted. I turned rocks into three dimensional versions of the forms that I had formerly put on paper. I'll get out the camera and take some pictures later this week.

It took a whole new set of brain muscles to start seeing, and working in three dimensions. It was like going from swimming laps in a pool, to surfing. The knotwork drawings are impossible figures. They can exist only in a world restricted to height, and breadth. Stone will not tolerate that kind of fanciful nonsense. It makes you play by real world rules. Along with height, breadth, and depth there is balance, strength of material, hardness, flaws, and all sorts of other considerations to deal with. And oddly enough, courage. Courage? Well, it's like this. It's really tempting to carve thin, to carve delicate, to carve with lots of open work, and things soaring off and hanging in space. It sounds really cool to make something with a lot of mass sitting on a tiny foot, and depending on a precisely placed center of gravity to keep it stable. Until you have a two hundred dollar chunk of alabaster, and ten weeks worth of hard work sitting on the table in front of you.
I'm reminded of people who go around climbing rocks, but that's a whole 'nother kind of idiocy. And I wouldn't be so presumptuous to compare breaking a sculpture with breaking me. I'm sitting here right now looking at one of my early, loopy efforts which was instantly transformed from one piece of stone into three, courtesy of last summer's earthquake. It was disappointing, but it didn't involve the loss of blood. But I'm getting all sidetracked here, and besides, that's about all I have left for now. I get to work again tomorrow, and that's a good thing. Maybe I'll dream up something during the day.

JWM

Monday, February 9, 2009

On Losing the Burn




It's cold, wet and shitty out. Thankfully the schools are closed so I won't get a call for work tonight. It's good to sit here in the den, and listen to the rain with Booger the Cat curled up at my feet. I mentioned this in the comments to yesterday's post, and I've brought it up frequently in exchanges across this knotwork of blogs. These pieces are old work, and I haven't produced anything new in a long time. As I mentioned this morning, I tried to re-draw the cloverleaf knot in the center of yesterday's picture, and I couldn't figure out how I did it. It's a little depressing.



I miss the creative burn. It sustained me, fed me in a way, for a very long time. From '87 on, I always had a project on the board. I'd finish a piece, frame it up, and spend about fifteen minutes enjoying the satisfaction before starting a new piece. I couldn't wait to get home from work so I could tune out the world, and tune in to working on what felt like my real job. There is a saying- be careful what you pray for. I always took that seriously, and never pray for gifts or goodies. Nonetheless I found it creeping into the morning prayer- I would like to be able to do this undisturbed by the necessity of doing the daily grind.



I was teaching high school English in Los Angeles. And I mean L.A., not the surrounding areas that usually get lumped in with the city itself. I chose to go there. I had the grades, and the recommendations to get me into a quiet Orange County district, but I felt like I had a mission. I didn't go into teaching to get summers off. I was full of altruism, and ideals, and dedicated to "making a difference".



The school was not as bad as some, but it was bad enough. Gang turf. Dozens of teen mothers. Usually one or more students per school year shot, and many more arrested. You didn't hang around there after dark. When you're in college, or listening to in-service speakers, or politicians what you hear is something to the effect that the only difference between an inner city school, and its suburban counterpart is the numbers on the parents' W-2, and the funding level from the state. If they only had more money and (of course) better teachers they would perform on a par with the best. That's bullshit. The raw, politically incorrect truth is that inner city schools are full of stupid ass, lazy kids from stupid ass, lazy parents. There are bright ones among them, and they do just fine. They work hard, graduate, and they get the hell out of there as soon as they can. But there is also a huge percentage of the student body on whom education is simply a waste of time and effort.



But I'm getting sidetracked here. The topic is the creative burn, synchronicity, and all that kind of metaphysical stuff. You can't force synchronicity. Neither can you rely on 'The Voice' to tell you what turns your life should take. The high school went year 'round, and I was stuck on a track that would put my breaks in the late spring, and the late fall. No more summers traveling on the Hog. So I jumped ship, and took a transfer out of the main high school into a continuation school nearby.


Wait a minute. This is not the story I set out to tell, and I really hate talking about this stuff. I just got back from taking a break, to run some errands, and I found myself shaking in the goddamn supermarket. I'm not going to cliff hang this into two posts either. It's going to come out now, or I'm just going to nuke it. Anyway-


Odd that I never saw it coming. The signs were all there. Teaching in continuation was less work, but no reward. Nobody did shit there. We ended up with an affirmative action principal who was worse than useless. He opened the door to the most hard core thugs in the area. The ****gang decided who could go to school there, and who couldn't.

When I say I never saw it coming- well, when I was in field service, and later in the office I got to a point where I actively hated the job. That never happened at the school. But I remember during that last school year that I found myself unable to eat. I would get hungry, but I had no appetite, and I had to force down food. I was living on diet coke, cigarettes, and making up calories with crap like Ensure. Couldn't sleep either. I'd lay down and fall about eighty percent asleep, and just hang that way until morning without ever getting any real rest. But I had the burn. I drew the pieces I've been including with these posts.


I threw some of the worst actors out of my class. That prompted a parent conference. Remember, in these neighborhoods the gang affiliation is generations deep. Mom and Dad, and even Grandma and Grandpa had been jumped in as soon as they were old enough to throw down. The parents threatened to shoot my ass right there in the principal's office, then went out and rallied all the students into an impromptu 'demonstration' on the street in front of the school. The principal got them diverted long enough for me to get in the car and jam out of there. That was my last day as a teacher.

I broke. I got home, and found myself curled up in a sobbing ball on my living room floor.

The parents filed a million dollar lawsuit against the district claiming I had assaulted them. (Well, in their defense I did raise my voice, and say "Listen Dammit!") And I couldn't pull out of it. Day after day I'd get up, and tell myself, "OK, that was bad, but I can deal with..." But I couldn't deal with... It just kept getting worse. Before I knew it the District sent the Workers Comp people to my door. I never called them. I became passive as a sheep. They said, "Go here", and I went there. And the hired gun shrinks whose job it is to smack down malingerers, and keep the district from paying out claims suddenly declared me an 'admitted case'. When I asked what that meant, no one would tell me. So I got a lawyer of my own. The next two years were a fog of depositions, mandatory visits to doctors, phony bio-feedback machines...


And the burn. The burn was my lifeline. I finished up the last Celtic piece, and Eadhmonn, the instructor from Elkins, found out about a guy in the San Fernando Valley who sold stone and tools from his house. I set up the stonecarving table in the back yard at my mother's house, and started working like a crazy man.



JWM

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tieing it All Together

also grows

I seem to remember wanting to keep the world famous blog away from heavy topics, and focus on trying to provide something light, and/or amusing. Here I am knocking on the heavy topic door, and hearing a pretty good sized group of folks already crowding the room inside.


But here's the deal.
One coincidence is probably just that- a coincidence. Now I know little of the mathematical laws of probability, but I do know that if one coincidence is unlikely, two in a row are less likely still. And as the number grows, the probability gets smaller with each link in the chain. At some point in the process you begin to suspect that there is a greater hand at work in all this. I noticed when I read the story of Joseph, Gen:37-43 that that whole part of the story can be seen as one improbable coincidence following another. Same with the story of Moses in Ex:2. There is a story told of St. Patrick wherein he is escaping from slavery, on the run, and somehow finds himself leading a group of rough and very dangerous men who expect him to be able to find food. They round a bend in the road, and seemingly out of nowhere encounter a bunch of feral pigs. They are saved from starvation and Patrick gets the credit.


"Oh, yeah, right JWM. So now you're telling us that God himself was helping you finish restoring your old Schwinn, find your Celtic art book, and then giving you a blog so you can tell everyone how they too (with just a little help from the Man Upstairs) can achieve enlightenment, cure the fantods, find a really awesome babe, and maybe even score some good weed in the process.


Maybe. My wife is a Nichiren Buddhist. I tried the practise for a year shortly after we were married, but I couldn't stay with it. But during the time that I was there I heard story after story of people stumbling into the most unlikely series of events leading them to find jobs, mates, friendships, business deals- you name it. And, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack of them, I would wager that with not too much effort you could come up with some pretty astonishing series of coincidences yourself.


Weigh the number of them in you own life, and in the stories you have heard from family and friends. They are common enough if you take the time to look. And that, in itself is astonishing if you think on it: that occurrences with infinitesimal probability are relatively common. That does suggest to me that there is a greater hand in all this.

JWM

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bikes and Connected Parts


So how does any of this connect? I worked off boredom, frustration and pressure from the office job by doodling at my desk. Someone saw the little drawings, and showed me George Bain's book. I got 'The Voice' at a stoplight across the street from a Harley shop, and was inspired to return to school. Years later I started doodling at the desk again when I got into the School of Education, (see a connection?) and again, people would ask me if they could have the pictures. I got the artistic burn, and turned those doodles into serious work. I bought the motorcycle at the same place where 'The Voice' first prompted me to go to college, and get a job that would give me enough money to buy the bike, and enough time to travel on it. And to stretch the web of coincidence even thinner, I would not have made that first long solo journey if the gal I also met at the Harley shop hadn't broken up with me just before the school year ended in '91. 'The Voice' again prompted me to stop in Elkins where I found the Celtic art book again. As I said yesterday, the connections are often tenuous, and separated by great lengths of time.

But time, and timing are also part of it. I didn't get inspired to go to college until I was ready to invest the effort required to finish. I didn't get George Bain's book in hand until I was ready to invest the effort into learning how it was done. It took months of study to get it down. And this blog sat empty for two years until I was ready to 'find it', and begin this project.

But here's a lighter, and more amusing example of synchronistic coincidence. The bicycle is a 1950 Schwinn B-6. When I bought it, it was missing the headlight, pedals, seat post and gooseneck. It had a set of chrome plated fenders that rightly belonged to the Schwinn Phantom, which is the same machine only with a fancier paint scheme, and more chrome. I was still working in field service when I bought it. Sometime before I bought it I had a service call at a run down, and very old house in a crappy part of town. I noticed a large pile of junk bikes in the back yard, and mentioned to the owner that I had been looking for old Schwinn stuff. I left my phone number, and moved on. Many months later, and shortly after I bought the B-6 I got a call from the old guy. He had a thrashed old Phantom sitting in the back of the garage, and wondered if I would be interested. The bike was junk, but the headlight, gooseneck, and seat post were just what I needed. Some years later during the college phase, I was on Main Street in Huntington beach, standing in front of a shop that had some old bikes for sale. In the window sat a dingy Phantom. I noticed a guy standing next to me, also checking out the old Phantom. "Cool bike, huh?" I said.

He said, "Yeah. I have one like it at home, but the problem is that the fenders on it belong on a red B-6.
Oh- a final note. Shortly after I bought it, I designed a custom paint scheme for the Hog, and had it painted in the same pattern and colors as the old Schwinn. I have some snapshots of the motorcycle somewhere, but no decent pictues. bummer.


JWM

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Long and Very Windey Road

this too will grow


I have to take a step back, and pause, here. The topic is synchronicity, not the amazing story of my fabulously amazing life. I have to resist the temptation to get sidetracked into why this happened, and how that happened, and what was going on somewhere else that was weird, sad, funny, or otherwise worthy of re-telling, and so lose the thread in anecdotal trivia. And I also have to make some huge jumps in time to see the connections between events. Some of the connections are rather tenuous. Strands seemingly broken may not be tied together for years. So it was with the drawing.

I left the city. I had enough money to get me by without working for a while. So I camped out on the couch at my mother's house, and spent the summer surfing, and taking day trips on the bicycle. It was good. But I knew it couldn't last, even though I had no clue what the next phase in my life would be. I was on my way back from the beach, waiting at the stoplight at Garden Grove Boulevard and Golden West. I was absentmindedly gazing at the Harley dealership on the corner, and I heard myself addressing a bunch of first year high school students about the importance of getting a good grip on the English language. Where was this voice coming from? Some weeks later I registered for college. I threw myself into school with all the fire I had in me. It wasn't until I had actually graduated, and was enrolled in the School of Education that I began to doodle in class the way I had done in the office. Again, classmates would occasionally ask me if they could have the drawings. That summer, 1987, I bought a rapidograph, a tablet of Bristol board, and a big set of colored pencils, which lit an artistic burn that would sustain me for almost twenty years.

Jump to 1990. I bought a Harley from the dealership at Golden West, and Westminster. 1991, I was riding through a small town in West Virginia, heading back west after jumping into the Atlantic at Virginia Beach, Va. A voice in my head said, "Stay here." I didn't know it, but I had arrived for the first night of Bluegrass week at The August Heritage Arts Festival at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV.. I stopped there again, the next year. In '93 I again planned my itinerary to include a stop in Elkins. It happened to be on a Sunday, registration day for workshop classes. I thought, "Oh, what the hell, see what they have to offer." Music and dance are the main focus of Augusta, but they had classes in Irish folklore, which sounded just OK, and Celtic Stonecarving which sounded cool. But Stonecarving was full. So I signed on for the folklore class. As I left the registration center, one of the clerks came running after me, and caught me at the door. Someone had cancelled; there was an opening in the stonecarving class. The first day of class I sat across from a woman who had brought along the book, Celtic Art, the Methods of Construction, by George Bain.
JWM

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Change in the pattern

grows with click



It was early in 1979 when I left my job as night custodian at my old Junior High. I didn't really want to leave that job, but I kept hearing, from my girlfriend, and others, "You're too smart to be wasting your time doing this kind of work." I didn't think so, but I put in an application with the Gas Company, just to shut them up. I figured that a utility would be such a huge bureaucracy, that they'd forget about the app, I could tell everyone, "Hey. I tried", and the whole business would be forgotten.

The bastards hired me. I got a job in field service, and hated it from day one. I applied for other positions in the company, but never heard a peep. One day in the spring of '81 I was, as always, up to my elbows in rancid grease and cockroaches, and I just said, "Screw it." I drove back to the yard, parked the truck, and headed straight for the office. I had my speech for the boss prepared. I opened my mouth, and before I got the first syllable out, He said, "How would you like a transfer to the Hollywood office?" I took it. Within the week, my brother, who lived about three miles from that office, moved to New York, and I got his apartment on Melrose Avenue.

Out of the grease pit, and into the pressure cooker. I had always sworn, as genuine, bona fide, surf rat hippie individualist rebel type that I would never end up in some office job chained to a desk. I spent my days answering billing complaints, and doodled to pass the time while I sat there, tethered by the earpiece to my cubicle. People would pass by the cubicle, see the psychedelic stuff I was making, and ask if they could have it for their wall. One of the women in the office brought in a copy of Celtic Art, the Methods of Construction by George Bain. I just went nuts.

But I didn't last a year in the office. This time I didn't say screw it. I yelled,"Go straight to fucking hell, and take your goddamn gas bill with you, and you can shove your fucking meter up your ass!" I really needed to go surfing. Suddenly I had plenty of time to do it. But I wouldn't find the Celtic Art book for another ten years.
JWM