Culture Shock

December 30th, 2007

~ “Numero trois” and the passage of 40,000 reasons.

Another night, another movie; this time it was “Juno”, a remarkable film in a time of unremarkable movies. It was my last desperate ‘hope’ at allowing a small continuing place in ‘my’ life for movies; it worked, there has been a ‘short stay’ of execution, a chance to watch a few more before ‘the end’ is near or really here (movies, I’m talking about movies?).

The movie (assuming that it is at all real or ‘legitimate’; given the topic perhaps one might wonder) very successfully reminded me of how ‘old’ I have become; ‘my’ 16 (‘sweet’ sixteen years old) is not ‘this gens’ ‘16’. I was in (mild or severe) ‘shock’. I was moved to (viewed and watched) “culture shock”.

There were at least “42,000” names, terms, and references that I had either never heard before or had little or no real idea of what they ‘really’ meant imbedded into the movie script. It was like my grandmother watching a Chubby Checker ‘twist’ movie in 1962 (not that she ever did); the movie depicted “twisting” in the aisles of “picture palaces”; not something ‘she’ did as a teenager, not something that she ever conceived of doing as an ‘adult’. Things ended differently for Chubby Checker, he must have really made (the mob) mad because he (and all twist sounds) were forever banned from the airwaves; he and ‘the twist’ were ‘disappeared’ from history (effectively and permanently). Some ‘sixteen year olds’ experiences were to become ‘forbidden’ topics; culturally unacceptable.

Someone should ask “Hillary®” if she ever ‘did the twist’; might gain her a few votes. It also might ‘bridge the divide’ that is so divisively dividing America, the ‘Culture Gap’ (Kennedy ‘won’ in the 1960 ‘election’; Cook County contest; by claiming that a ‘Missile Gap’ existed between the US and the USSR / CCCP; after the election it was revealed that there was no ‘missile gap’). There (however) really is a Culture Gap; really “Culture Gaps”. America has degenerated into so many ‘cultures’ and ‘sub-cultures’ that ‘cross-cultural’ communication is getting all but impossible (OK, very difficult already). There are simply too many cultures and not enough translators.

In the movie (Juno) this was symbolically presented by the line “numero trois” (Spanish and French for ‘number three’, a deeper meaning probably exists, but I’m ‘culturally removed’ from the movie actors being portrayed). The movie makes no effort at ‘translating’ anything; it just presents ‘the facts’ hard and cold (and warm of course, it is a ‘happy’ movie). The movie is a ‘wake-up’ call; it depicts (to me) a generation that has had to hammer out a real world existence (in mind, vocabulary, and icons) in the rubble of a failed civilization preoccupied with ‘the mafia’, ‘capitalists’, ‘communists’, ‘fascists and is llamas’ (‘animals’ in / from South America), and ‘democracy’ movements (sounds like ‘bowel’ movements the word being so overused and left so devoid of real meaning).

Juno is left without clichés, without pander or panter. She never talks about “doing the right thing”, “safe sex”, or “registering to vote” when she’s ‘old and married’ (or ‘18’ even). Juno does not ‘wail and whine’ about how ‘free’ she is and how ‘unfree’ others are (she is clearly both ‘free’ and ‘unfree’; like all the 7 billion ‘rest of us’ on this struggling planet). She (Juno and the movie) clearly has ‘zero, nothing’ in common with George Bush or Hillary Clinton; Mike Huckabee or Rudy Guilliani; which is why I really think that it is time to give 16 year olds the ‘right to vote’! I do mean this.

I also think that all those over 60 should be ‘banned from voting’. They miss the point, they miss the mark. The purpose of ‘elders’ is to inspire and to ‘impart’; not to cling to power and by ‘clinging’, to corrupt. Star trek was right; the “Cling Ons” are the enemy. If one has no wisdom in the ‘older’ years they have (one has) ‘learned nothing’ and thereby has nothing to offer; they should not ‘lead’ nor vote. On the other hand, if one has ‘wisdom’ leadership (real) is inherent and one has no need to vote (individually); they (one) can vote a thousand times through others, through their ideas and through wise council.

The ‘wars’ between all the ‘theories and systems’ mentioned three paragraphs above ‘are over’ as Yoko Ono might rightly say. What is left is ‘the shouting’ (and enough money and weaponry to keep us all ‘living in the past’). If you ever again ‘vote’ for anyone even sixty (much less older) you hate both ‘term limits’ and ‘cultural diversity’; you favor reliving forever a past that is forever broken (and should be gone; ‘move on’). The future belongs to those younger than I am (I am 59 and ‘closing fast’ on sixty). These ‘new people’ need my (and your, if you’re older) support, and to ‘have translated’ what we learned (Beam Me Down, Scotty). We are the ‘old people’ now (which is not bad, just different); we need to learn to do things ‘differently’, things are not the same anymore. Let us “let go”. If nothing else it saves these younger folk the need of ‘taking’ it all from us when the need arrives. The need will arrive.

In ‘giving’ there is dignity; in ‘taking’ (and buying and selling) most or all is lost.

In 1959 this planet had about 102 ‘nations’, often thought of as ‘national cultures’. There were also a few unresolved colonies, territories, and possessions (unrequited cultural areas). The world was in many ways far more ‘diverse’ then; cultures were still in tact, ‘cultural dress’ was a fact and not a fashion. In Kabul (and in all Afghanistan) all clothes (99%) were hand-made within the country. Virtually no one bought ‘store bought’ clothes; things made by machines and ‘sweat shops’ owned by ‘capitalists and banks and bankers’. There were (virtually) no banks (no banks to burn, like now in Pakistan).

The dress was cotton mostly, supplemented with fur (real fur) in winter and a little hemp for hardwear clothes. The fur was trimmed and lightly combed (not brushed, as are the coats and wraps in America). The fur was still attached to the skin of the ‘fat-tailed’ sheep that grew it, unlined skin, touching the outside air and winter; a leather shield against the waves and elements for women or man as it had been for the sheep that once first wore it. The fur faced inside, practical; not ‘fashion’.

I could go on, about the food, or other things. Everything natural and not just “natural®”; organic and not just “organic®”; nothing in boxes, not lists of ‘ingredients’; just whole foods, nothing like “Whole Foods®”. You could not buy meat in the market that was less than five or seven hours fresh (no refrigerated storage, no preservatives or ‘red‘ dyes). All the bread was baked in ovens fueled by wood, not natural gas, whole grains, not ‘white’ bread with bleach; no “polished” rice.

Everything (almost) in Afghanistan was the ‘reverse’ of what it was in America. When many Americans were sent to Afghanistan (by their government) they experienced “cultural shock” (a State Department term). Often, they could not cope with this new reality, certainly could not ‘do work’ in Afghanistan; things were just ‘too strange’ (the ‘stranger in a strange land’ thing; ‘out of this world’, and all).

So the State Department (and ICA, the International Cooperation Administration) set up long and lengthy ‘orientation’ sessions before one left for Kabul or Kandahar. The idea was ‘cultural acclimation’; an introduction to the culture (reality, and ‘ways’) before one was ‘immersed’ (and drowning) in the land (of Afghanistan) itself. If one could not ’make the cut’ during orientation, one did not ’ship out’ to the nation.

My parents were “orientated”. I was a ‘kid’, a ‘dependant’; I went (was sent) (to Afghanistan) ‘cold turkey’; which is the way America always (almost) treats (or treated) its young people. “Tell them nothing,” “Keep it all secret,” “They will learn from experience (not from us).” My parents fortunately were different, they taught and shared; they did not ‘model’ the governments behavior. My father went first (his job, as in it was his job, meaning ‘employment’). When he knew enough, he told his family everything; so we might be prepared). Still, I saw Afghanistan first through my own eyes, and not the ‘eyes’ of my government. That perhaps, is all the difference, and what ‘makes a difference’.

There was a term about in Afghanistan in about 1958; by ‘59 it was disappearing. It was an ‘old Brit’ term probably, from the days of Victoria or the British invasion and the storming of Ghazni (when they stole the Cities gates, didn’t like the Ghazni poetry or poets I suppose, too peaceful in their message). The term was “an old Afghan hand”; it was about a person, not body parts.

The British involvement in Afghanistan did not end well (something I guess the current Queen never learned, advisor and all). The march (of retreat) from Kabul to Peshawar (now Pakistan) was much like the Bataan Death March of the Americans (WW II); the difference being that technically the Brits were not ‘prisoners’. Nonetheless they died along the march in great and dismal numbers; there was no “Light Brigade” poem of honor or victory; there was no ‘honor’ and certainly no ‘victory’. An ‘old Afghan hand’ might talk of the reality of such things, of mistakes made by ‘the foreign office’, or the ‘military’, or the ‘diplomats’, or Parliament perhaps. ‘The Hand’ might kick around a bit, travel back sometimes, share a word of wisdom (or experience); for ‘no reason’, but with a reason.

It was a term of respect; “Old Afghan hand”. Something I thought I would never be; never dreaming in my youth that I would ever ‘get old’; never dreaming that almost everyone ‘older’ than I would be killed or would die in wars inconceivable in their effectiveness and savagery (in population annihilation) in cultural obliteration (near). For me there was no “culture shock” in living in Kabul. It was just ‘my life’, I acted and reacted to conditions around me; some American, some Afghan, some British, a few Russian and a few more from India and Pakistan. Alexander had an influence, so did the lesser Khan. I ‘borrowed’ what was at my door and at my feet on ‘my way to school’.

My passport (this is the month for ‘passports’) says that “I am an American” (born here, papers to prove it). I am not so sure; sometimes I feel more the ‘immigrant’, more like Kurt Vonnegut in his final days, “A Man Without A Country”. If America (with a little help from Russia) had not destroyed the nation I would probably consider myself more the ’Afghan’; a product of the melting pot and cultural mosaic, a person ’free’ from British rule, a person from a country that honored “freedom of religion” and had a giant Buddha for a national symbol at a place where disciples of Jesus (the original ones) freely walked and taught and exchanged ideas.

The ‘way to win’ is not to destroy all alternatives, all cultures and all counter-cultures. America is wrong in this attempt. The reality of Juno points out that each time one ‘destroys’ a culture one brings birth to a new and different one. An old Afghan hand might have said the same thing. Are you listening? “Sixteen to Sixty”; that is the political message to “bring back America”, to make “every vote count”. Go Juno! (And let’s ‘go’ for a ‘happy’ New Year!)

[2007.12.30 / Sunday – Culture Shock]

The Lone Gunman Theory

December 28th, 2007

~ Sure everybody had a reason, but maybe it’s just ‘guns’ that kill people.

After an assassination there is always a body; it’s by definition, and the definition of the law, axiomatic even.  Yesterday the body was ‘Bhutto’ (Benazir Bhutto).  The early ‘reports’ (sounds of gunfire) say she was ‘shot’; now some say a ‘bomb’ did it (there was a bomb).  Sounds a bit like ‘Kennedy’; as in the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy (JFK), a body, but no ‘evidence’, just theory and accusation and theory.  It is not unlike ‘Lincoln’ too; Ford’s Theater, ‘Doctor Mudd’ (Is your name mud?, or Your name is ‘mud’.)  The only reason why the ‘mystery’ died was that all those that knew it was a mystery died first; there are no ‘civil war’ vets left living.  So it goes.

There are some pretty good books about, “Who killed Lincoln?”  Officially it was a “lone gunman”; which is probably why the FBI headquarters was built next to the assassination site (years later).  Maybe they should move the FBI Headquarters to Dealey Plaza (Dallas, Texas; where Kennedy was ‘shot’).  Or the FBI could move to Rawalpindi and maybe solve the latest “assassination” (a month or two too late, Benazir requested the FBI after the first ‘bomb’ went off).

I don’t think these things matter much, the lesson is always the same; it is always “a lone gunman” (at least) ‘officially’.  About the day that Bhutto was ‘bombed’ the first time Oliver Stone recanted his earlier ‘Kennedy’ thoughts and said, “It was just a lone gunman”.  An interesting coincidence of course; Oliver has always (in reality), “Known Nothing”; the “no-nothing that he is”.  Right.

So why doesn’t history just ‘turn’ on the wanton acts of a few “random crazies”, acting alone, ‘certifiable’ even; free to buy guns (and bombs) and use them freely; no “conspiracy” is necessary, no ‘greater force’, no ‘great plan’; just a ‘nut’ with a ‘gun’ where there is no law to stop that sort of thing (and no ‘enforcement’ either)?  Hooray for the FBI, they will set the President (Bush) and the President (Musharraf) and the would be presidents and other politicians ‘straight’; it was just a ‘lone gunman’ that ‘shot Bhutto down’.   So “chill out” everybody, burn the ‘conspiracy’ books, and ‘get a life’; America does not own all the ‘lone gunman crazies’ (or even hire them?).

Bush and the ‘intelligence community’ claim that “Al-Qaeda did it” (they earlier claimed it was ‘Castro’ with Kennedy).  The FBI knows that lots of people “confess” to crimes they did not do; sometimes it takes ‘torture’ (like water-boarding); sometimes it’s just the ‘false-flag’ thing; it does not matter (does it?).  If it had of been ‘Castro’ we would have nuked much of the island if not the world, so the Warren Commission thought better of the ‘verdict’.  Other suspects would have caused greater change; ‘lone gunman’ was ‘good’, things could just ‘move on’; like in Pakistan I guess (please call a ‘Commission’ to investigate this thing; Oliver Stone is already writing the movie script, “Lone Gunman in Rawalpindi”).

“Rush to Judgment” was the name I think, about the Kennedy assassination.  Never read it, cost to much.  But the book made a point or two; about “rushing”, about “assumptions”, and about “assuming”.  It is interesting how fast ‘everyone’ KNEW who ‘shot’ the body; who killed Bhutto.  Most of those ‘who knew’ were not even there (and yet didn’t ‘know’ enough to stop it).

If you know enough you know there are many suspects (if it were a conspiracy).  And there are (of course) problems with each theory; which is why ‘we’ will watch Pakistan while far more important ‘news’ goes on (and goes off our screens of consciousness).  Watch.

Putin did it (my first choice).  He wants Afghanistan back, he wants America “in a world of hurt and trouble”.  Al-Qeada got Russia out of Afghanistan and ‘broke up’ (read bankrupted) Russia; maybe Al-Qeada can do the same for Russia; ‘break-up America, bankrupt it too’.  All that is needed is another ‘bigger war’ (this time in Pakistan).

The Chinese did it.  They want a weak and worried India.  They know Pakistan will figure out that India (old arch rival) really did it.  They (Pakistan) will threaten ‘nukes’ and ‘holy war’ as vengeance; the parties will all unite (a new and strong Pakistan, a common enemy in ‘India’).  China is the beneficiary as the economy (of India) goes on a ‘war footing’ and stops taking over all of China’s factory output products.  Maybe India will even ‘go bankrupt’ arming itself against the Pakistani threat.

India did it.  See above (with some exceptions).  India wants a ‘weakened Pakistan’, in political turmoil.  Does not want ‘the west’ in there (been there, done that, the Brit thing).  India knows they will never ‘get caught’; Bush will blame ‘the terrorists’ and turn the nation (of Pakistan) into a ‘killing field’ of war; even ‘take away’ (take control) of Pakistan’s nukes (making India safer and saving it billions and billions).

Hillary did it.  The mob is a big organization, outlets as often as McDonald’s, hires thugs (with guns); refer to Dallas and Dealey Plaza theories (who was Jack Ruby?).  The ‘mob’ loves Bill (Bill Clinton), easy mark because Bill loved the girls, all the girls, they took pictures and talked (to the mob); deep things.  Hillary is just along ‘for the ride’, not a ‘feminist’, not a ‘democrat’; just willing to ‘go along’ with all the ‘power boys’ regardless of persuasion; it goes back to ‘Vince Foster’, things get done ‘by death’ and the “martyrdom” of death that makes heroes out of sometimes villains.

Al-Qeada did it.  A (new) “9-1-2”; they are still dangerous; be “afraid”.  Bush was always right.  “Be Afraid”.  Bush will protect you.  “Be Afraid”!  More money for ‘war’.  “Be AFRAID.”  Anyway, it is a ‘good test’ to test how hard it is to cancel an election (or postpone it indefinitely).  What if a ‘US Presidential Candidate Frontrunner’ gets shot; what if someone ‘blames Bush’?  What happens?  Let’s use Pakistan as a ‘testing ground’ for theories; ‘see’ what sells.  This is also the “Bush did it” theory; based on the theory that Bush knew the Bin Laden family and it is somehow sometimes hard to tell the two ‘families’ apart (just something I read, something about ‘flights of fancy’ after 9/11).

Musharraf did it.  I know you aren’t even trying this time.  There is not one “honest politician” that has ever pointed this finger (that finger).  Sure he has killed before (political opponents); what does that prove?  Bush likes him, an ‘alibi’ perhaps.  The CIA, DIA, and everybody else in the ‘intelligence community’ watches this guys every move.  If Musharraf did it, the US knew a month ago; wanted it to happen; to ‘oust’ Musharraf in favor of ‘Bhutto’ (can’t be, she’s dead); so ‘who’ then?  Maybe Musharraf did it so Putin could take power?  Prediction.  Musharraf will retire to Russia with a Dacha, a Troika, and the ‘title’ of “First Minister” (of the Russian Federation) (which will carry no ‘real’ power of course).

So ‘we’ve’ had our ‘romp’ of speculation (and theory).  It was all “in good fun, I hope”.  This time ‘you’ will not decide.  The main-stream press will decide for you; your thoughts do not matter.  The ‘people’ that ‘did it’ will let you know what you ‘need to know’ and nothing more.  You will follow instructions.  You will vote when and how they instruct.  You will stop voting when they decide.  You will learn to ‘appreciate’ the way things are done in Pakistan; after all, Pakistan learned from us; or maybe I have got this whole thing ‘wrong’.  Now that I ‘think’ about it; “It was just a lone gunman.”

Sleep Well.

[2007.12.28 / Friday – The Lone Gunman Theory]

Dining In Nuevo

December 27th, 2007

~ Food stories from a land of hunger.

I have always thought that it is a bit arrogant for Americans to talk (or write) about food when so much of the world goes ‘hungry’.  This is especially true when the ‘talk’ is critical; as in ‘critical’ of the quality of food or of the ‘environment’ in which it is served.  The better ‘critical’ talk would be addressing why America has 70 billion dollars for just two ‘Asian wars’ (not counting all the other ‘defense’ spending), and as the ‘richest’ nation on earth does not have 70 billion dollars to spend on food to feed the hungry.

If the ‘native Americans’ had not ‘shared’ their food wealth at the beginning of things in Massachusetts (and a number of other places) there would not be the ‘America the bountiful’ that now hoards so much of the world’s food for its own selfish consumption; making fuel of it even, while people go hungry.  Aren’t you glad you’re “green”?

However, since I have had a few hungry days myself and spend a few days in hungry lands and in ‘food service’ I guess I have as much right as anybody to venture a few thoughts on food now and then.  I do so with apologies, as noted above.  I was largely raised on Velveeta® Cheese (a Kraft Foods® product), Milk Toast (made with Wonder® Bread and C&H ‘Pure Cane’ Sugar®), and Tongue (the almost edible forward extremity of ‘cow’).

This was not all I ate when I was young, but it is often all I remember; ‘tongue’ was cheap, as was Velveeta and milk toast, wonder bread and ‘sugar beet’ sugar.   The C&H operation was on the north shore of the Carquinez Strait, where the Sacramento River dumps its waters into the far reaches of the San Francisco Bay.  The very high and rather rickety steel girder Carquinez Bridge spanned the Strait above the sugar refinery.  In the old days (circa 1953) there was no asphalt base to the bridge, just perforated metal tread plates; one could see through them and watch refinery operations on the way across the bridge.

The interior operations were ‘secret’; or at least ‘hidden’ behind thick cement walls where workers worked and sugar was stored maybe seven stories into the air.  But one could watch the loading and unloading; ships on the water side, ‘carloads’ (meaning rail car loads) on the land side.  In ‘C&H’ the ‘C’ was for California, the ‘H’ was for Hawaii.  Hawaii offered the ‘pure cane’ part, as in ‘cane sugar’ from the ‘sugar cane’ plant that was imported to be grown in Hawaii.  The California sugar came from sugar beets, big beets by beet standards, hauled in slow moving rail cars from Modesto and points south mostly, in the lands irrigated by waters from the Hetch Hetchy (Dam, ‘High Dam’) built in Yosemite National Park.

The ‘green guys’ don’t like this dam, or most dams for that matter; but they like to eat the food that the dams grow; eating the food in cute little ‘boutique’ restaurants and nice little ‘deli’ sandwich shops and from ‘whole foods’ operations with wide clean aisles and over lit fluorescent lights fed by the (electric) power from these dams.  The “Sierra Club” has always been composed of privileged and fairly rich ‘liberals’ wishing for federal “pleasuring grounds” away from their over-crowded communities along the ‘bay fill’ bays of California.

In their defense, eating and shopping can be ‘pleasurable’ experiences; so the Hetch Hetchy and other Sierra dams can be said to be a ‘consistent use’ within the Congressional mandate; we do enjoy a nation of ‘remote viewing’ and ‘virtual reality’; things like “carbon offsets”.   Eat an orange, it’s a virtual trip to the Sierra wildness; and thank a dam and a Sierra Club liberal living in San Francisco and drinking the dammed up waters of Yosemite.

As rich in food as Spanish California was, New Mexico was poor.  In Spanish the word ‘new’ is ‘Nuevo’; my son calls the state just, “Nuevo”; not as ‘new’ as Oklahoma (never meant to be a ‘State’ by US treaty) and not as new as Russia’s Alaska and the British occupied Possession of Hawaii.  New Mexico was so poor and backward the USA did not want the State to become a State; they kept on stopping it; until Mexico threatened war (over its waters) and leaned toward Germany for support when the world was about to go to war (WW I).  But the poverty and lack of food (in New Mexico) goes further back; poor soil mostly, no rich ‘black lands’ of forest humus turned and aged by wet and bitter winters, no terraces to the sun of laid up rock and level ‘gardens’, few pounded plains made plentiful by torrential rains and bison hooves.  ‘No’, New Mexico is not an ‘eating place’ (historically).

The State does love its ‘history’; has many versions.  The ‘native peoples’ have their own, the ‘Spanish’ have added theirs, the ‘Anglos’ claim their own.  All histories do conflict; but all the people get along (pretty well) when the conversation drifts to ‘safe’ topics like ‘traffic cameras’ or a rather corrupt ‘politics’; and away from ‘history’ and ‘historical perspectives’.  There are good reasons why the New Mexico Department of Tourism has chosen (lizard looking) ‘aliens’ as beacons to beckon tourists to the State.  Lizards (most lizards) do not eat a lot.

Except for a few in Santa Fe (tourist and liberal ‘green’ city that it is) there are few restaurants open on ‘Christmas’ day in New Mexico.  What food there is is shared behind closed doors by families, with families.  There is no room (are no rooms) for public feasting; food is a private and privately hoarded affair; it is ‘tradition’.  If the phone company made money on phones that do not answer (especially ’restaurant’ phones) the 25th of December would be a ‘red letter’ day for profits in the Land of Enchantment.  Many numbers were dialed, it is an annual ‘tradition’; the recordings are nice; “We’re Closed,” they say.

A few dismal hotels are always open (the Hilton® is one, the Sheraton® another).  We ate at the Waffle House®, the national chain, not to be confused with the restaurant across the street from where Lincoln was assassinated (Ford’s Theater) near the FBI headquarters in Washington DC.  The Waffle House was crowded, no table for four, the hunger continues.  Happy people though, happy to be eating and to be sharing the holiday with others, family and not; these are the people that were there.  And we were there, happy people too, happy to be eating when so many others on this planet are not on this day of ‘plenty’ in America.

“Hash browns”, “Scattered”, “Wheat Toast”, “Eggs Scrabbled”, “Green Chile”; these are the sounds of ‘Christmas’ eating in America, in “Nuevo”, in ‘public’ places.  It does not matter if ‘lizards’ are watching (by night); there are many versions of “America”, each one is not alone or ‘special’.  The manager was there, the (franchise) owner (too) perhaps.  It is a Waffle House® tradition, corporate value, at holidays the corporation is a ‘family’, working together.

I wish to be fair about New Mexico.  It is a pleasant place, and growing (though still importing and not growing most of all of its food).  There is a new ‘mall’ in New Mexico; “Uptown” is the name, because it is ‘up town’.  This name is in the spirit of the traditional pattern of Spanish naming, the application of names that restate and capture the obvious.  “Uptown” has shops and a restaurant or two, new ones, locally owned; locally conceived.  The fastest ‘ticket’ to a new restaurant is by being a school teacher, in good graces with good parents; especially if they are ‘good’ at buying into ‘restaurants’.  It is the ‘Holiday Tithing’ thing, gift certificates that require a 10% (or more) premium when used (the ‘tip’ and all; should be 20% now that the IRS is taxing everything, been like that for years, I did tip ‘twenty’).

New restaurants (except the ‘chains’) are mostly silly things in New Mexico.  There is little ‘dining experience’ out; unless it is ‘out of state’ when one is usually ‘out of it’ because of wine and fast travel.  I may be wrong (about the reason), but someone must ‘coin’ a theory.  Maybe it is because of no good newspapers (only one meaning).  There are no good restaurant critics, therefore there can be no good restaurants (again, one meaning only).  You are required to have chili (“red or green”, but always ‘hot’) on almost every ‘dish’.  Some restaurants will not even serve enchiladas without the ‘topping’ (or ‘sauce’ inside).  The least you will get for ‘dry’ is an, “Oh Mi God”, look and stare and gasp for breath.  The, “You Must Leave the State”, before the owner sees your plate look is far more common.  Watch out for the lizards, they are watching you.

I thought a “chop house” was where stolen automobiles were dismantled and sold for ‘the mob’ (profits, not rides or anything personal).  In New Mexico ‘chop house’ means ‘beef pit’; not the “buried pig” which is ‘traditional’.  It is no place to order seafood; New Mexico is ‘land-locked’; one should remember that; there are no planes fast enough to save the State for a more coastal reality (in food, we are talking food).

Food is better at ‘sea level’.  This is a fact, a study in ‘taste’; ‘taste’ is a scientific given, not a ‘preference’; some people have ‘taste’, some do not.  It is a simple thing, reality and science tested.  Newport Beach, Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, even New York are ‘good eating’ towns.  New Mexico is a ‘higher’ place 5,000 to 7,000 feet at times; the palate wavers, the ‘saving savor’ is often less; this matters.  If there were a ‘real’ paper (newspaper) in New Mexico I could just ‘link’ you to a good review.  There isn’t, so these are the many words for this one (bad) restaurant, ‘had’ yesterday.

It is not good to be ‘had’ by a gift; they all come with good intentions (‘gifts’ that is).  Returns are the safety valve of ‘giving’.  It is hard to return ‘bad food’ and ‘bad time’ when it is (was) the ‘money’ (gift certificate) that was ‘no good’.  I now believe in “cash”, not plastic cards (gift or otherwise).  Cash is more honest, offers ‘choice’, even a ‘choice’ dining experience.  I could have eaten at the Waffle House three times for the price of one ‘chop’ house.

Three people opened only two doors when we arrived at 5 (five).  Otherwise the restaurant was “reserved” until after seven (7).  Most tables were still empty at 6:30 when we left; this is why you buy seats when you ‘reserve’ them on airplanes.  Restaurant owners should think when they fly before they ’buy’ restaurants and ‘offer‘ reservations.  There was a long and wooden corridor to the tables, a low wall of sorts, very ‘disneyland’.  There were white table whites.  The dinner knives were within an inch of each far corner (both blade and hip), ready for the ‘brush off’; wine glasses just the same, an inch away from falling to the floor.  A customer notices these things, “We’re supposed to”.

Most New Mexico restaurants are designed for ‘loudness’; not in color, but in ‘noise’.  Concrete floors, masonry walls, metal or hardwood ceilings; this is the ‘order’ of the day, the ‘plate de jour’.  The theory is that noise is good, scream at your date over the ‘roar’; she screams back; it’s all good ‘fun’, makes you forget that you’re at 6,000 feet and ‘going down’ (in flames or in ‘flambé’).  Some restaurants even ad ‘steel tables’ to the mix, everything ‘heavy metal’ (though not quite ‘radio active’).  The ‘sound’ is MP3 or CD’s perhaps, cranked up to high, a tribute to the spirit of the “High Desert” where New Mexico lives and seems always to belong.  The lizards are left ‘speech less’; though they were always speechless.

The hour(s) sped or fled by.  Much conversation (with the waitress), long speeches about ‘specials’ for beefeaters (we don’t eat beef).  Long talks about ‘ala carte’ (meaning burned lemons for the salmon and not so much as a sprig of parsley).  We are informed that (in New Mexico) both “mushrooms” and “corn” are ‘vegetables’ (fungus and starches no longer exist, non-native plants I guess).  Ten minutes is reserved for ‘perfect cooking’ choices for the salmon.  I order ‘medium’, it comes Sushi Bar raw (cold even).  It comes back charred, thick black crust, like the lemon half.  The check finally comes; I would have tipped 30% to get out of there.

Through the wonders of ‘the grid’ (the power grid) electricity from Hetch Hetchy (water at night) power speeds at the speed of light to the restaurants of New Mexico (when conditions are right).  I can not help but be thinking, “We’re destroying the Sierra’s so I can eat food such as this, in places like this; in America.”  “This is your land; this is my land,” as Woody Guthrie would say, did say.

And, “How is your food tasting?”, (which in real English means that the food is eating you, and has ‘good taste’ in doing so).  Bon Appetite.

[2007.12.27 / Thursday – Dining In Nuevo]

Emergency Water Supply

December 24th, 2007

~ ‘Charlie Wilson’ depends on how you see it.

There is a great danger in trying to create a uniformity of perception, a “cultural literacy” (E. D. Hirsch) and an ‘as advertised’ consumer and an ‘as advertised’ America.  At its best it causes the creation of Congressional houses of Un-American Activities; at its worst it creates “Charlie Wilson’s War” (both the reality and the movie).

Can a movie destroy a marriage?  Of course it can; many have.  Can a society that insists on a conformity of thought destroy families, even whole nations; of course they can.  Is it happening?  Of course it is.  Did it happen before; golly oh ‘G’, Yes!

It is said that my ‘posts’ are never about what the “title” suggests.  I disagree.  So ‘you’ must be ‘right’ and I must be ‘wrong’; so ‘shoot’ (bang?), or try to ‘go dead’ (Grateful dead?) (figuratively, of course).  But there was nothing “figurative” about the destruction of Afghanistan, and the “let’s kill Russians” mentality of Charlie Wilson and his USA enablers, including his good buddy and supporter Tom Hanks (according to interviews on NPR).

American is not about ‘freedom’; it is about conformity (one meaning only).  America is about ‘racism’ and ‘ego’; there is ‘hope’ if this changes, and quickly.  There is also hope if this does not change; because then there can be an ‘Afghan end game’ “Brought to America” (I’m only quoting a movie, “go” Hollywood).  What those that create the ‘hollywood trash’ forget is that they create peoples perceptions of ‘things’; that they ‘mold minds’ (and ‘mold’ them too).  These ‘film people’ instruct and create behavior and attitudes.  In the CWW film they are hopelessly racist; it is not a movie about ‘Afghans’, it is about Americans; blond and blue-eyed Paris Hilton types managed by Hugh Heffner type Congressmen (and I mean Congressman).  It is also about women managing and controlling men.

If this is uncomfortable to you, relax; you’ve only ‘bought in’ to being 100% American (HUAAC pure).

What Tom Hanks and Charlie Wilson and the Texas blond bimbo all have forgotten (or probably never knew or never cared about) is that there was an Afghanistan long before the Russians and ‘communism’ ever came along.  They also seem not to know that there is a difference between “Russia” and “communism”.  These people watched too many movies; they learned only the lesson of a ‘conformity of thought’.   Why mess up an opportunity to kill a country and ‘Moslems’ and non-blond people by learning something first?  My response; because it would be the ‘right thing’ to do; and America could do ‘right things’ and “killing Russians” for the mafia is not one of them.

Back to the ‘dirty little facts’ about a ‘dirty little war’.  As revealed (not first and not only) in the book Washington Confidential; since the early 1950’s the major struggle on the planet was between the mafia and the communists for ‘world dominion’.  Nobody else has mattered or counted in the “money and power” game; everybody else were just the ‘conformists’ taking sides and living life by taking sides; working hard to support ‘the players’ with money and tax money.  Say what you will about the ‘commies’; at least they weren’t the always decadent mafia; at least the ‘commies’ believed in ‘families’ and not just in ‘family’ (as in the one mafia family).

Anyway, ‘right-wing neo-cons’ are (and long have been) the ‘shock troops’ for the mafia elite; first to be corrupted, first to be blackmailed, first to ‘knuckle under’ (even CWW the movie makes this pattern clear).  The theme of Charlie Wilson’s War is that the ‘mob’ used the blond stoolie to use the sexist and personally corrupt Texas Congressman to raise a billion (1987) dollars of OPM (other peoples money) to get rid of the Communist competition by turning Afghanistan into a ‘killing field’.  They did, it happened, now you know, aren’t you glad?  I’m not.   Would you be happier to know that ‘the mob’ did all this while wrapping itself in an American flag?  This doesn’t make me happier.  It is another ‘flag desecration’.

There was an Afghanistan before Tom Hanks (was alive or could read) and before Charlie Wilson knew Asia from New Mexico.  This was way back when the Americans were building airports and improving roads in Afghanistan in 1959 (the movie is so wrong about roads) to counter the roads and airports the Russians were building and improving.  The idea was to ‘open’ Afghanistan to invasion; from Russia to the north and from Pakistan to the East.  This was an ongoing effort from the times of the Czar and the Brits; Alexander and Queen Victoria; not ‘communism’ at all; just good old ‘colonialism’ (American or not).

The Russians built military airports, the Americans built civilian airports.  The Russians built good roads; the US Mission didn’t care about ‘bad’ ones (cheap materials, slipshod planning).  My father kept the ‘memos’ to prove this issue (he wanted to build better roads).  The Russians built better, faster, and harder roads; they used them to bring in their tanks.  They used the airports (Bagram and others) to operate their helicopter gunships.  Everyone saw it coming in 1960 when Charlie Wilson was still ‘revenging’ his dogs food (or ‘there abouts’).   If there were not roads ‘good enough’ from Pakistan, thank Texas and LBJ, not the ‘Afghans’.

The US could have ‘won’ in Afghanistan in 1963 or 1964; but the mafia was too busy killing Kennedy and putting in the Texas Congressman LBJ (Lyndon Johnson) as president and getting the drugs and money war in Vietnam going (and going, and going).  The real American “end game” in Afghanistan was being played out in the early sixties.  The ‘end’ of Charlie Wilson’s movie was right; there was glory, there was success, America did fail in the ‘end game’.  What is so wrong about the movie is that nobody ever read a calendar (not in Congress, not in Hollywood).  ‘Charlie Hanks’ was 24 years too late; America slept through ‘dawn’ and woke up with ‘enemy troops’ on the Texas border.

Russia used Afghanistan as a ‘killing field’; the Russian presence had nothing to do with ‘communism’.  The Americans flooded the nation with land mines that are still blowing Afghan children apart and weapons that are still blowing Afghan villages apart.  Read the news.  ‘Charlie and Hanks’ are alive and well; it is Tom Hanks that needs to visit the nation now, not Charlie Wilson and the blond fascist bimbo.

My wife does not like movies.  She has said she never wants to see another one.  I think maybe she is right about this; like Nancy Reagan, wife of the mafia and HUAAC friend Ronald Reagan.  Nancy said, “Just say ‘no’.”  She knew movies; cheap and corny grade ‘B’ movies like her husband always made.  Just say ‘No’.  There are better things to do with a buck.   And you know what?  I’ll be a lot happier without movies in my life!  (Including ‘Sundance’.)

Post Script:
Of course this post has nothing to do with “Emergency Water”.  Of course you think so.  I’m not so sure; but I believe in the “think freely method”; after all I am an American and I have the Passport to prove it.

[2007.12.24 / Monday – Emergency Water Supply]

Core Values

December 21st, 2007

~ The ‘perfect storm’ of conscience.

There is a ‘consciousness revolution’ going on, broke out last week, or maybe last month or a year ago.  The ‘revolution’ is born of ‘conscience’ (Jiminy Cricket thing, from when “Disney®” had a conscience).  A ‘conscience’ is a ‘little voice inside’ (not scientifically identifiable, no ‘real’ crickets) that sorts out what seems true from what one knows to be just plain vulgar greed and self-interest.  Some people ‘listen’, some ‘forget it’.  So it goes, and the course of life with it.

Actually there is something deeper than ‘conscience’, a ‘better voice’ for those who wish to find it.  It seems hard perhaps, amid conflicting ‘voices in ones mind’.  Marci Miller pointed this last point out to me.  She is (was perhaps) a friend; went to Mills, moved on to ‘‘Wall Street’ or some street more north, in Manhattan.  She ‘launched’ “Pop Rocks®” (the urban legend ‘Mickie’, myth, he didn’t die) for GM or GF (General Mills® or General Foods®; ‘general’ something); then went to HBO, a stint in ’sending’, not ’receiving’.  I painted her a wall once, in Manhattan, a very “Dwell®” place; lots of light.  She’s moved on now, to something new, further south, where it might be warm (Say ‘hello’ if you see this Marci, it’s been a ‘bunch of’ years).

Anyway, Marci said that she and most people that she knew had ‘many voices’ calling, communicating, competing for allegiance and the ‘mastery’ of it all (rhymes with ‘mystery’).  She meant the ‘mastery of ones mind’, smart girl; excuse me Marci, the word is ‘woman’ (but I‘m still a ‘boy‘ at heart, at times).

A person’s values are a reflection of the type of ‘mastery’ going on; values are often if not always ‘in growth’ and conflicting, or at least ‘conflicted’; we speak often of a “conflict of values”.  These values cover ‘little’ things like when to ‘kill’ (or not to) and how best to ‘die’ (or maybe not to).  They move on to subjects such as; ‘money’, ‘wealth’, ‘fortune’, ‘fame’.  How best to ‘know’ ones neighbor, or not to know.  ‘What to wear’, “how to ‘dress’ ”, when to shop (or not), when to drop (or not), religious alliances, political war‘chests’; these are all objects of ‘values conflict and clarification’; competing ‘voices’, different ‘villages’ (not just one “Village Voice®”).

The Core Values are changing now, in everyone perhaps; moving up and moving on.  It’s revolutionary; and a bit disconcerting to watch.  The ‘old predictability’ is gone; alliances that took many years to make are ‘dying’ (as in the ‘old order’ of things).  New relations, new relationships are forming; new ‘sides’ are forming too, the world is not just a polyhedron anymore.

My paper “goes” in just six more days; “Sayonara” as they might say (in Japan, or among those once stationed in Japan).  It is interesting reading (finally, but too late) in these ‘last days’ of ‘paper training’.  This week the ‘perfect storm’ brings the perfect opportunity to watch near perfect movies (perfect for clarifying or conflicting things).  The irony is that if everyone is watching movies and in matinees it will be a ‘perfect storm’ of empty malls and empty stores and empty tills til “Paganmas” (not ‘Christ’ at all, they got the birth date once all wrong, Real ID® found the facts).  But if ‘you shop’ ‘you miss’ the seasons’ best movies, best picture shows, best chance to learn a thing or two.  Catch ‘22’ perhaps; perhaps just stay home.  You decide.

I’ve waited 49 years (since I was there) for this, a movie on “Afghanistan”.  And now there are ‘two’, same time, same place (meaning in the same theater even).  Of course I will hate both (they’re both ‘Hollywood’ versions of things, written by people never there or never knowing).  But they are otherwise ‘polar opposites’; the one depicting an Afghanistan lost, the other glorifying the destruction of the nation (Kite Runner vs. Charlie Wilson’s War).  I will have much to say (or little); and you will too (even if you haven’t ‘been there’).  Either way, you will change; you will embrace new and foreign values.  I’ll bet ‘Santa’ on this one.

But it’s not just ‘entertainment’ in the ‘news’ (paper, fading).  It’s real stuff; politics in chaos, old orders dying, people failing to ‘follow orders’.  A ‘death mall’ reopens to more merchandise (and merchandising) with a priest hoping that ‘the store’ will be a “place of giving”; now that is novel (it could happen).  Watch.

And then an astronauts’ (cosmonauts’) mother dies; sad perhaps; but how do you really feel about ‘crashing’ crossing gates, careening around parked busses into the path of trains; flaunting the law and the law of good sense?  How do you feel about ninety (90) year old drivers driving (alone) without a second set of eyes or a second opinion?  And is it good for a “tax supported institute” to dedicate a whole good building just for ‘peace’ and for a ‘peace memorial’ at a “technical institution” (dedicated to ‘technology’, which is what did the ‘killing’, or “is it ‘guns’ or ‘people’ that kill” that is still open to debate?  Maybe nukes in Iran is very much OK, nukes don’t kill, it’s that ‘people’ do?

The ‘problem’ is not that ‘people don’t think’; the ‘problem’ is that people do (think).  Even ‘good’ people can change their values, even ‘bad’ people too; it’s happening, “fast times at ‘Ridgemont’ High”, at ‘America High’.

I had a dog once, an Afghan hound, named her “Mazari” (after the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif).  This was in America (later years, 1973); shared possession, one never ‘owns’ an Afghan hound.  I was living in Oakland at the time; there was a good ‘vet’ in Berkeley, an hours drive away.  The problem was the ‘dog’ (see earlier post) was dying; would not or could not eat, very thin, pale and wan look.  One ‘knows’.

I drove the girl (she was young, almost a puppy) toward the vet; in Berkeley.  Appointment made.  Everything changed that day, in the car (really a blue ‘SUV’ Ford Bronco).  Ears went up, tail wagged, floating and flopping tongue, head out against the wind.  She showed great ‘signs of life’, quickly ‘better’, as if she knew there might be ‘hope’ or that even ‘hope’ was not needed; that she was ‘well’ without it (without the ‘doctor vet’ intervention).  I was happy and I was sad; what to do?  I drove on.

Mazari died that day (actually a day or two later) at the ‘vets’ in her cage, for her ‘failing health’, full of medicine and all, ‘doctor’s recommendation’.  At first I blamed myself for making the wrong decision, “bad choice”, I said.  “She might have lived, ‘the doctors killed her’.”  Or maybe not, maybe she was already ‘doomed’, left neglected far too long, a “sorry state” from even a younger age, a virus slowly working, working out to claim ‘its own’ (or what was already ‘taken’ long, long ago).  It is best when ‘health’ and ‘values’ begin early; it’s not a “Last Chance” thing, unless ones very ‘lucky’.  The ‘Core’ is the ‘core’, it’s like apples, not a ‘base’ but a beginning; like where ‘endings’ come (one big very bad bite, and generally ‘you’re gone’).

“Last Chance Joe®” was a ‘prospector’ of sorts, “Strike It Rich”, his motto.  He was ‘invented’ by Dick Graves who ‘invented’ the Carson City Nugget, the Sparks Nugget, the ‘Circus Circus’ entertainment concept, the double-deck hamburger and a few other good or interesting things of life.  He moved to Carson City about when I did (1953), moved there from Idaho.  He (Dick Graves) was older, had a son who was my brother’s age (Ken’s age), they ‘hung out’ together, rode bicycles, siphoned gas.  I watched.

Last Chance Joe had another motto, the Nugget was a Casino you see, a ‘gambling’ hall.  This second motto reflected what Dick Graves had learned over many years, “You’ve gotta send out ‘winners’ to get ‘players’.”  There was always a lot of debate about all of this (the slogan and all), the Nugget and its founder.  “How many ‘winners’, are there really?”, was the question asked.  Dicks’ reply was always easy, “You are a ‘winner’ by just being allowed ‘to play’.”

And now you know why (or why not) all ‘Nuggets’ are (or are not, as in ‘fools’ gold’) “golden”.  Thought you should know.  You might want to clarify just how you feel.

[2007.12.21 / Friday – Core Values]

Last profit

December 20th, 2007

~ Things are changing so fast it’s hard to ‘keep up’.

There are still a few good writers on the ‘financial’ scene; the ‘business and money’ side of ‘journalism’.  My first and old time (thyme) favorite is “The Corporate Curmudgeon” (Dale Dauten – Syndicated Columnist).  The second is the “Mogambo Guru” (Richard Daughty), most readable at “Asia Times” (.com) which is one of the only half-way reliable sources for news anymore, if one wants ‘truth and depth’; or at least good ‘signposts’ if ones looking for ‘signs’.

Some days one may think I read these guys first, before ‘my’ post; other days I think ‘they’ read my every word for ‘inspiration’.  Neither is probably so, the word is “co-ordinate”; as in ‘minds are coordinate’, thought you should know, helps to know, avoids misunderstandings.

Dauten’s latest ‘post’ is about ‘lions and hyenas’; a metaphor perhaps.  Lions (the very British thing; and a bit ‘SAE’ fraternity) only ‘rule’ for a little while in their ‘pride’ (then switch off).  Tell this to the Queen, she needs reminding.  Hyenas get the better of lions; the “cowardly lion” thing; they are ‘scavengers’, ‘opportunists’ perhaps, the ‘watchers’ even; bristly coats, high haunches, fast ‘jaws’ (an ‘ugly’ animal, says Dauten).  Maybe he’s right; but he points out it is the ‘hyenas’ that often ‘win’, smart guys, waiting and always fearlessly ready for a ‘fight’, for what is ‘right’ (maybe).  It can happen.

The ‘Mogambo’ pointed out the other day that the US (USA) was the most ‘foreign owned’ nation in the world; “we’ve” been selling off everything to be able to keep buying ‘big screen TV’s’, “I-pods”, and ‘cell phones’; cool deal, “I’ll trade you the Chrysler Building for a hundred HDTV ‘big screen’ units; throw in 50 cell phones and I’ll give you ‘the lower east side’ (of New York).”  Such bargaining, so smart, no wonder we have such great schools.

I was appreciating the ‘power of Harvard (business school)’ when I started reading about the ‘Christmas Bonus’ thing.  Who does not get a ‘Christmas’ bonus (pagan time of year thing)?  On “Wall Street®” the bonus runs between 35 and 40 million dollars it seems (for those on top) who know how to lose 3 to 9 billion dollars ‘gracefully’.  ‘Yeah’ Harvard, “Go” Harvard; no wonder everybody is on steroids (or maybe a little ‘lunch’ at the ‘athletic club’ will ‘make it happen’?).

The guys at ‘Morgan & Bear’ declined their ‘bonus’ money (not wanting to join the ‘bonus army’ marching on Washington (in their dreams, or nightmares).  “Lehman Brothers” was different (is different).  Richard Fuld will ‘take’ 35 million dollars for his ‘leadership’ in losing $3.5 billion dollars.  How can you question whether America is a “great” country and whether Harvard is a “great” Business School?   Be ‘happy’ for Fuld, you will get ‘yours’ next year; America shares.

The ‘Lehman difference’ it seems is ‘hedge funds’ (hedging).  A ‘hedge fund’ is the way a smart Harvard guy can “pawn off” ones own $3.5 billion loss onto someone else (Fuld as a really, really ‘good friend’ to have around, help him out, ‘buy’ his debt?)  He created the debt by making “bad choices”; made it better by convincing others to make “worse choices”; the guy’s a real “all-American Hero”, the troops in Iraq must be “proud to be an American” (now that they know what they’re ‘fighting for’).  I guess Fuld is just a “Lion in Winter” (a ‘true Brit’ at heart).  These wall street guys are so wrapped up in their ‘jargon ridden mind-set’ that they have totally lost sight of ‘financial reality’ (the Mogambo would say, “We’re all friggin’ Doomed!”).

All this ‘debt’ is of course being ‘paid back’ by Bernanke (and the Federal Reserve) by ‘printing’ money and giving it to the banks and ‘wall street’.  The problem is there are not enough ‘printing presses’; which means real printing presses.  The answer is ‘virtual’ money; “blips and dashes” of electronic currency; not even ‘magnetic’ but ‘fiber optic’ stuff; money at the ‘speed of light’, weightless, odorless, imaginary when night falls (buy batteries).

The hyenas are more practical; they don’t ‘make a killing’, they eat what others ‘kill’ and then ‘run’ (eat and run).  The lions get the ‘left-overs’ (proud as they are, wrong headed, lazy).  There is only one dollar of real (paper) currency for every thousand dollars of ‘light stream’ money (I’m talking ‘US dollars’ here).  The ratio is probably more like 1:10,000, but you would not believe me if I told you that.  Now do you ‘feel’ rich?  That $23 you have in your pocket (cash money) is really worth between $23,000 and $230,000; yes, US Dollars (when converted)!   There really is ‘hope’, pay off your credit cards and mortgage; “Cash is King” (I’m not lion, er, lyin’)!  Just a little patience; just wait a bit.

I said you could thank Fuld and Bernanke for this; Greenspan gets some ‘credit’.  It says so on the ‘bills’; “legal tender” (read it), nothing else says so, not anywhere.  End all your worries, get cash, it’s the only American thing to do, by act of Congress; before the wall street guys get smart and grab it all.  There is only about $3,000 (cash) per person available (if equally divided).  It is un-American to believe in any ‘equal division’ of things (I learned that on “Moneyline®, Lou Dobbs program”).  Is it unreasonable to suggest that you might ‘want’ an unequal share of the wealth?  You decide.

I had a talk the other day (with a friend); about ‘predicting the future’, about ‘financial futures’, about ‘where to invest’ in these turbulent and crazy times.  I know that you have had a talk or two yourself.  How safe are banks?  Is China really solid?  Is there a future in titanium?  Does one hold either ‘stocks or bonds’ (to be rightfully punished)?  I like ‘silver’ (it‘s a Nevada thing), another friend just brought me a bar (actually a one ounce coin) from Russia (thanks again).  But my ‘money’ is on cash, real greenbacks, federal reserve stamp and statement, a real promissory note (of promise).  Why not ‘trust’ Alan and the boys, ‘smart’ guys, swear on the power (and importance) of the ‘reserve’; to make everybody rich.  (You too, If you believe.)  Watch.

[2007.12.20 / Thursday – Last profit]

Contains Lead

December 19th, 2007

~ ‘Playing’ with matches, stoves, and gasoline.

There are two sides to a “Russian Stove”; centered in the wall as it is. I ‘talked’ about these stoves in an earlier post (the idea is to get you to read ‘everything’). The idea is to be able to ‘adjust (or feed) the fire’ from either side, so one doesn’t have to ‘wake the neighbor’, in the neighboring room, even if the ‘neighbor’ is another (one) of your own family. The ‘assumption’ is that you are both comfortable with about the same amount of ‘heat’; if not ‘move the bed’ (or ‘get out of the kitchen’, as some American once said).

One side of the stove has an opening a bit bigger than the other side; it’s the side used for making the fire and ‘feeding the fire’ if one is charged to that task, during the day, when no one is ‘sleeping’ or in ‘bed clothes’ or some such thing. Traditional Moslem society called for men to sleep fully clothed when sleeping with their wives. They knew the difference between ‘sleeping’ and ‘sex’; Americans could learn something; ‘shape up’ their language maybe, take some of the ‘pressure’ out of uncomfortable situations.

In Afghanistan, in Kabul, we had a ‘houseboy’ who ‘made the fires’, kept the fires burning. It was an imitation of the British System; ‘servants’ for everything, a ‘do-nothing’ race (the ruling Brits); that at least ‘do-nothing’ for themselves unless it involves ‘making’ money, so they can ‘spend it both wantonly and ‘freely’ while others work and labor. The “American Community” should have known better (than to imitate the Brits), but they had a ‘Mission’ (United States Operations Mission, USOM) and an agenda and an ‘urgency’ to ‘get things done’; hired ‘help’ would ‘help’ (they thought, it was thought).

Our houseboy’s name was “Abdul”, a common Afghan name; nice guy, young, a bit less than twenty-one I think; maybe older, served alcohol at times, “good sport”, did not object (refer: another earlier post). When I decided to become an alchemist, a ‘minter of money’, Abdul was by (or on) my side. “We can do this thing,” he said, although more in thought and smiles than in ‘broken English’ words. Actually it’s a bit ‘a long story’ so I should ‘back up’ a bit.

There are (were) a lot of coins in Afghanistan; every invading country and army lost some; left them along the road of ‘invasion’ or ‘retreat’. They left the coins as ‘bags of loot’ or in vaults left behind in the ruins of the ruined walls of ‘fortresses’, in hidden holes, in caverns underground; and often they left coins just ‘scattered on the ground’. Boys and men would find them (girls too), and collect them, pile them up, save them and then ‘sell them’ to the shops and shopkeepers that would tend and take (care of) the bazaars (that sold to the Americans or the Brits, or a rambling Russian or two; they always traveled in ‘twos’, the Russians did, that is).

The Afghans were quite clever about all this; and also were many others, from India and Pakistan; sometimes being ‘counterfeiters’ and all, or ‘entrepreneurs’ as such people are called in America. Every foreign family (in Kabul) had a story it seems, about another family or guest that ‘bought coins in Afghanistan’ (often ‘Greek’) that were obviously ‘Greek to them’, but not so very Greek when shown to knowledgeable coin dealers back in the ‘States’ or in Europe.

Thus, I avoided ‘older’ coins, especially the ones a thousand years or so; Greek, Roman, Persian, you never ‘know’. The Ruble coins from Russia were nice, lots of Czarist notes (too), Alexander and his family, the pretty churches with colored and swirled domes; no pictures of the murders, that came later (as the value of the ‘notes’ collapsed, Afghan merchants left ‘holding the bag’, as in ‘bags full of money’). Money is a ‘funny’ thing I learned, I knew; having given a “Continental ‘damn’ ” about the history of war and US currency, being from Nevada (silver thing, earlier post), and knowing a bit about Germany (between the wars). And here it was again, in Afghanistan, Russian paper; cheap enough to lite (or is it “light my fire”?) fires with.

I conspired to make my own coins; I had a ‘fire and a forge’, the Russian stove, good for melting metal. I learned this once when a coin I picked up got lost in the fire somehow, and melted, ‘liquid silver’ or something else not silver, it was a mess. I tried to persuade Abdul to help me find more of the ‘mystery coins’ (that melted easily) in the bazaar (using his superior language talents). We went to the bazaars where I had found the original coin; he made my case; the shopkeepers immediately and intuitively got ahead of us. They explained that we were really looking for ‘lead’; “Go to the ‘metal markets’ they said.

Lead in Afghanistan came in wide strips about an inch wide that were sold in a ‘cross hatched’ configuration, not unlike a very loosely woven (square) basket bottom. Lead was inexpensive (for a ‘rich’ American (kid even) that didn’t spend his 25 pul pieces (quarter cent pieces) on buying ‘tin’ (really ‘steel’, ‘tin’ coat, before aluminum cans) cans for water drinking cups (like the ‘heavy lifting’ laborers did, who kept and cherished this bountiful and important possession). No, I was going to be a “coin if not currency maker,” a ‘maker of money’, a ‘counterfeiter of work and of coins’. I bought several pounds (two probably) of lead that day (even licked it probably, an old ‘test’ of lead I was told) and took it home to my furnace forge. Abdul made the evening fire (it was winter).

One ‘mess’ was followed by a greater mess. My first mold was clay. I impressed an old coin in the clay, the image being now reversed. I heated the metal (the lead) in a large copper spoon that served as the crucible (old copper spoons were not a novelty in Afghanistan, stainless steel spoons were). I poured the molten lead into my mold; the ‘modeling clay’ quickly melted. The small hearth was a real mess, lead and clay coagulating on the bricks, capturing the imprint of the fired clay (bricks), not of money.

Many problems are solved by ‘reversing the flow’. The Russians do this with Arctic rivers, make them flow south instead of north, takes the water to where it’s needed, improves aquatic transportation, the ‘canal thing’ on a larger scale. My father talked a bit about ‘reverse engineering’ from time to time; I at first thought that this meant he was going to ‘leave engineering’ and get a ‘civilized’ job like being a ‘postman’ (a writer perhaps) instead of being a ‘civil’ engineer. No such luck.

In the spirit of things (reread the above) I decided to first pour the molten lead onto the hearth and to then quickly ‘plop’ the coin onto the lead (I would figure out later how to mold the second side; later, or much later). The first ‘plop’ scattered small balls and bits of lead throughout the room (at least beyond the hearth); it was late by the time I finished retrieving the bits, cleaning up so ‘Mom’ would never know, nor Abdul, the ‘saving face’ thing.

‘Saving face’ is important if one wants to ‘win’ the hearts and minds of a nation or its’ people. Everybody ‘loves’ a ‘winner’ (or is it Coney Island hotdogs that they’re talking about?). The issue is that most civilizations that have been around awhile know that stupid people acting stupidly is dangerous to ‘health and survival’. The people of any real ‘civilization’ stays away from these people, avoids them, ‘takes their money’ and then ‘run’ (things themselves, after they leave). This has to do with ‘matches’ (the little sticks of fire sold in small cardboard boxes).

Abdul would make these fires; lay up the wood, lay paper, light the match, “blow it out” (the match, not the fire). Having watched way too many Hollywood movies I had a ‘better idea’. I would ‘save face’ by ‘eating fire’; like the ‘fire eaters’ (same movies showing ‘sword swallowers’, Coney Island stuff). I showed Abdul one day; stuck the burning match inside my mouth and bit down, like on a hot dog, lips sealed. Of course the match went out, no oxygen; it’s an ‘easy’ trick (But please don’t ever try it!). Abdul was amazed, properly impressed, felt better about making a fire for an American ‘boy’ (so ‘clever’). I tried to show him how it worked; it didn’t. The ‘match’ took his breath away (at the wrong time) burned his mouth a bit, learned a lesson. “Let American’s play with fire, but don’t follow,” is what he probably learned (or thought).

In Carson City the older kids would drink leaded gasoline for fun. I didn’t like the stuff myself; too young for lead maybe. Each gasoline pump had a big sign attached to it on each side, “Contains Lead”, it said. It was an invitation ‘to drink’. The ‘code word’ was “siphon”, as in ‘siphon gas’; a method of getting gas to go uphill without a car (in a tube). It was a way of ‘borrowing’ when there was no money to be made (now you’re catching on). To siphon one must suck on the tube to get the gas going, no matches this time. If one sucked too hard the gas filled the mouth and often went down the throat until one learned how to ‘breath correctly’. A lot of the (mostly male) “Silent Generation” drank a lot of gas and a lot of lead while learning to breath. (“Boomers” not so much, we worked more at ‘making money’, not ‘borrowing’ so much).

If one got a mouth full of gas one was supposed to ‘spit it out’, not swallow it. People joked about lighting the outflow, ‘fire-eater’ stuff, matches at hand. It happened once, the kid was badly burned, everyone was punished (urban legend).

I made a lot of one sided coins in Afghanistan once. I had my own forge. Had a staff to help me. Stored up great quantities of elemental metal to do it. Was working up from lead to gold. I was an alchemist of sorts. I stopped when my ‘two pounds’ were gone; gave most of ‘my money’ away, couldn’t find ‘buyers’; maybe not ‘Brit’ enough. But I did get good at ‘fire-eating’; worked my way up to seven matches, burning simultaneously, in my mouth (the more matches the faster the oxygen was (is) consumed, the less the ‘burning time’); sometimes ‘more is less’. Have a nice day.

[2007.12.19 / Thursday – Contains Lead]

The Goods on Bugsy

December 18th, 2007

~ “In-fighting” and fighting ones way out of the ‘mob’.

Rambling through ‘the library sale’ reminds me of ‘the’ book (naturally ‘a book’, it’s a ‘library’ sale, where books are sold). There is always a question of which book is ‘the book’; which is the reason for ‘book lists’ (like the one my son made and then turned into a ‘quiz’). The book this time is “1984” (George Orwell), the classic book about ‘big brother’, societal oppression, and the future or past of things.

My favorite part is the part about books (of course). In the society of 1984 books are of course banned, they are relegated to obscure dust heaps in lost and lonely basements located in the backyards of poor neighborhoods where the only ‘holdouts of thought’ are ensconced in humble hideaways. There is (of course) truth hidden in these books; truth about the ‘old world’ and the past days and about the way things were ‘before’; hidden messages that reveal what led up to the world of ‘now’, of ‘1984’ maybe (or maybe another date or year comes to mind).

Orwell does not bring ‘us’ to a happy end. He sees the world as a ‘battleground’ between the forces of ‘fasces-communism’ (‘Facistista-Communistica’) arrayed in three equal and equally totalitarian ‘states’; he’s a ‘political’ writer, sees things politically; doesn’t get to the deeper things in life. I guess he didn’t study “Hieronymus Bosch”, ‘garden of earthly delights’; I guess he didn’t really appreciate the potential for ‘debauchery’ to be at the base of totalitarian regimes, to be in fact ‘the base’ of all totalitarianism; being the enslavement of the ‘fearful’ individual in the ‘state’ of his or her own greatly ‘fallen’ self.

The “Italian Religion (of modern Rome)” suggests that ‘the devil’ is behind this all. Or at least in the ‘old days’, “Il Duce” (the ‘deuce’, the ‘second god’, the fallen one, subject of ‘hand-signs’ and all, see Bush Sarkozy Amenijad as coordinated ‘co-conspirators’) was seen as “the devil”, doing ‘devilish’ things that even the real devil (if he’s not dead yet) would blush ‘beet red’ at doing. He had a ‘band of boys’ called the “black shirts”, shot people along dark roads at night, they marched on Rome to bring him (Benito Mussolini) to power; proved a model for Hitler; Hitler (it was said) studied him (‘Benito’, the ‘beautiful’).

There was once a bundle of reeds (saplings) wrapped around a ‘wolf axe’, closely tied and carefully wrapped that the ‘ancient’ Romans carried, a ‘symbol of power’; which makes sense I guess as it was more the “Leyden Jar”, precursor to the modern battery, electric current in hand and all. Clever people these old Romans, carrying around ‘the spark’ of life (and power) like that. Benito chose it as his favored symbol, the ‘fasces’ or ‘fascists’ as the word became known; you’ll see them (the fasces) adorning the US Senate Chamber; along with the ‘swastika’ fabric on the upholstered chairs (unless they’ve changed the fabric recently). Some things ‘die hard’.

I had a friend once, in Reno (again). She lived up ‘Keystone’ avenue, in a small Italian neighborhood. She had a good friend ‘across the way’, a school friend (girl friend); lived by a pond, nice place to throw 45’s around like Frisbees®, into the lake (really more the pond) and all. “Splish, Splash,” that will be that records last ‘bath’, music going under (to the ‘underworld’), no more ‘juke-boxes’ for you ‘babe’. Guess the records are still there, unless somebody has drained the lake for the ‘body’ of music hidden there, in ‘plain view’ perhaps. Vinyl lives forever.

Peggy Sue (not her real name) was as American as any other American, she was also ‘Italian’ of course, De Rosa was the name; her father was Joseph (Joe) DeRosa (at least that’s what people were told, must be true). Joe was a barber, worked in the Harrah’s Shop (Harrah’s Casino), main floor, near the limousine entrance on Center Street. He cut hair, offered a ‘clean cut’ shave if necessary; nice guy. I had dinner at the house once, with Peggy (Sue) and her sisters, family affair, ‘Mom’ cooked, Joe talked, everybody else listened, extended boyfriends (or would be boyfriends) and all. He talked a bit, somewhat cryptically, about the ‘old days’, before he moved to Reno, the ‘Chicago’ days (and other cities) when he was younger.

He was pretty ‘out front and open’ about his past in ‘the mob’, the people he knew, the names he worked for. He admitted that he used to do some things that he wasn’t especially proud of now; young ‘buck’ at the time, trying to ‘get ahead’. He never really said he had been a ‘hit man’, but never really said he ‘hadn’t been’ either. He liked it ‘for your mind to wander’; he invited thought and inquiry, knowing that he wasn’t necessarily ever going to ‘give up’ any real answers. Daughters don’t ‘choose’ their parents, neither do sons, unless ‘by marriage’. Joe liked ‘nice young men’ to know what they might be getting into.

I had never seen the ‘red and pink velvet’ style of living room before, white and gold ceramic statutes, things to take one back to ‘old Italy’ or the offshore islands world of the Mediterranean (Domino® magazine ‘style’). “Only in the movies,” I thought, too strange and real for ‘real life’; front window looking out over an urban pond, watching park workers mow the grass on Thursdays.

Joe liked to explain how “basically” nobody ever leaves the mob, “You Don’t get out,” “It’s a lifetime thing.” “You’re In, You’re In,” ‘kiss’ your past goodbye. Only a very ‘once in awhile’, in ‘very special’ cases, for doing something ‘very special’ perhaps, could someone ‘get out’. He always said how ‘special’ he was; relocated to a ‘neutral’ city (Reno); taught to be a barber, cut hair at Harrah’s, “Where they can ‘keep an eye on me’.” Made sense ‘to me’ (at the time), ‘just a young boy’, learning about life and the life of my country, the USA, America.

One of my father-in-law’s favorite expressions was, “I’ve Got the goods on Bugsy.” He said it in the negative, as in “Don’t go running down dark alleys in the middle of the night in the bad neighborhoods of Portland (Oregon) screaming, ‘I’ve got the goods on Bugsy’.” I never really knew why he said this thing, wasn’t really sure what ‘the goods’ referred to. I didn’t know all that much about Portland’s past, or present even, just knew the river names; Willamette and Columbia, a ‘confluence town’ (like Qala Bist).

Of course ‘Bugsy’ referred to “Bugsy Siegel”, the most famous mobster (not reindeer) of all (except Capone maybe, ‘Al’ Capone, corporate zillionaire, in 1930’s bucks). There was ‘in-fighting’ in ‘the mob’ (there always is) and Bugsy got it one day (shot dead), in Beverly Hills, in Ms. Hills house where he was probably already ‘getting it’. I don’t make this stuff up, just write it as I see it (and read it from others who saw it). I guess after that it was ‘Okey’ to run down Portland alleys, screaming forbidden words; Bugsy ‘getting out’ of the mob like that and all.

I imagine just about everybody has ‘a mob’ story, gangsters in their life or down the street or in their town or neighborhood. It began with juke boxes, a little payola, clubs and prostitutes, a bit of bootleg alcohol (and then a lot of the legal stuff), ‘off track’ betting and ever bigger casinos. It touches on porn and pedophilia, turns to big banks and big oil and an airline or two. It has the ‘face’ of corruption and corrupt politics saved by the ‘saving face’ of big media and way too much of ‘the big screen’. And this is before all the ‘money’ went ‘legit’ to create our modern corporate world, IBM, GM, Boeing; “five percenters” all. It almost seems that ‘everybody’s’ got a ‘piece’ of the action; everybody except the few (or many) remaining ‘good guys (which includes ‘gals’ too)’; are you one?

All of America worked ‘hard’ to assemble this one; didn’t ask enough questions; were too complacent, lived too well too fast; exported it to the world; our ‘gift’ of ‘democracy’ (that wasn’t at all democratic at all). We fed the nickels and the quarters into each ‘machine’, bought the music, voted the vote, supported bigger bombers for ‘our fighting men’, read “Playboy”, bought gas and cars, gambled a bit, bought into ‘debt’ (or worked ‘for’ or ‘at’ all these places). It’s mostly ‘over’ now, except for the finger-pointing and the shouting, screaming if it’s a bad day. “We’ made it, we can ‘unravel’ it; the great “unraveling”, the great ‘disassembling’, the ‘fourth and final turning’. Watch; and “watch out” (if you want to be a bad guy).

There’s an interesting little book that I found last week at the library sale, ‘dust heap’ or ‘trash heap’ stuff, 50 cents the read, you judge the value. The book is “Washington Confidential” (Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, Crown, 1951). The guys are (were) investigative journalists in the days when the title meant something, like “courage” (as in it takes real courage). They were a bit the racists too (too very bad); it makes many old books ‘unreadable’ now, everything is dismissed because of one ‘N’ word or many unwanted stereotypes; the ‘baby’ and the ‘bathwater’ syndrome; throw it all out (maybe).

This time maybe not. The book is pretty ‘in your face’, not for the ‘faint hearted’ or the ‘liberal apologist’ ‘feel gooders’ of our time. It’s raw. It’s deep. It names names and lays out (and reveals) all the various ‘conspiracies’ for you (for one, for me). It’s not political (goodbye old party, and the GOP). It’s not economic (goodbye Naomi Klein). It’s not ‘military and oil’ (was the ‘military-industrial complex’ speech a false flag operation?). It talks about who owns (has always owned a cut of) the ‘oil guys’ in both New York and Texas. One must know a little history to dot all the ‘i’s’ (open the eyes) and cross all the ‘t’s’, but the picture makes a lot of sense; maybe way too much. “Good-bye,” sounds so ‘final’ though, maybe “move-on” is possible (‘Move-on’ DOT com).

But now that ‘we know’ (if you read, if you believe) what and how it all happened, the history of a hundred or a thousand years; we can start the ‘reconstruction’ of our own lives perhaps; stop ‘feeding’ the ‘bad guys’ and their buddies everywhere, end the era of the “five percenters”, though I think it’s more like “fifteen” now. We can “reform and rectify”; ourselves if nothing more. No fear. No Heironymus. No questions (we have all the answers we will ever need). “Goodbye” Bugsy, you’re ‘free’ of the mob now.

2007.12.18 / Tuesday – The Goods on Bugsy]

Still Building

December 17th, 2007

~ “Up and Down” on an elevator to nowhere.

There are a lot of ‘elevator stories’. I have a few; have waited for elevators that ‘never came’ or ‘never opened’ their doors, at least not for me; there was one in Paris once. I was at the Eiffel Tower (January of 1963) waiting for the ride up, to the top of the tower. It was a cold morning, ice and snow, one of the worst Paris had ever seen; everything was closed, no taxis on the Champs Elysees, no taxis in Paris anywhere, too cold. I had about eighteen hours in Paris, between planes, going from Khartoum to California, stops in-between. I wanted to ‘see the tower’ (from the top) and all the ‘guts and innards’ from the elevator, on the ride up.

I had to walk to the tower, walked from my hotel to the “Arc de Triomphe” (Arch de Triumph) looking for a taxi, none at the hotel or that would come to the hotel. I “killed time” walking, waiting for the tower to open, the elevator to run. There just were no taxis, decided I had to walk to the tower, a fairly long walk; cold and alone, nobody on the streets; this was not ‘springtime in Paris’. I finally got there, an hour or so after the elevator was due to open. It wasn’t open. I said, “When?” (in broken French). They looked at me, the janitor sweeping away snow, and the concession person trying to open her shop. “Why?,” they answered, in that wonderful French way of doing things, approaching things, thinking about things.

“I want a lift,” I said (actually ‘signed’, wishing I had paid better attention in French class in Kabul), as if I were interested in buying the thing, I showed money, the proper amount as indicated on the ‘fare’ sign behind the closed glass window. I had enough, to ride; not to ‘buy’. They said ‘no’ (no translation needed); not for an ‘hour’ more, no ‘alle vey’, no lift, no travel to the stars unless I wished to walk up the icy stairs, might take an hour or more with all the ‘snow and ice’, they didn’t ‘recommend’ it.

And I didn’t have time, no time to walk and catch my plane, I hurried back to my hotel, still no wheels, no taxis anywhere. I learned why the lyrics say, “I love Paris in the ‘springtime’.” The ‘wrong season’ can be disappointing. I arrived in San Rafael on time, after Paris (and a few other places in-between). I had picked up ‘an elevator story’ along the way.

As the story illustrates there are several meanings to the term “still building”. I believe the Eiffel Tower is a ‘building’, they ‘built’ it didn’t they? On my (special) morning in Paris the building was ‘still’, very still (though there was no alcohol). Everything was ‘stopped’, no one above the pavement, no elevator, no rides ‘up’, ‘no nothing’. But “still building” has another meaning too, the ‘continuing’ building notion; not unlike ‘continuing education’; on and on, no stopping, build and build and build; “damn the icebergs”, “full speed ahead” (think ‘Titanic’).

They’re ‘still building’ in my town; still building buildings and many houses; townhouses, townhomes, condominiums, lofts, attached and detached houses. I’ve never seen such a ‘boom’, or so many ‘booms’ in this fair town; up and away, cables to the sky, a bit like elevators perhaps. There is no ‘housing crunch’ here apparently, no ‘downturn’, no shortage of ‘optimists’.

I used to write and give speeches before the “Optimist Club”, in Reno, in High School. They had ‘contests’ for the youth, to ‘spread the word’, reinspire their membership into thinking the ‘next gen’ was with them; everything always ‘up and on’, “Getting better all the time”. I liked the contests, got out of school for a few hours to go (to give the speeches), it was the ‘optimistic’ thing to do (and also ‘a sure bet’). After the contests we (we entrants) would talk a bit; about the ‘club credo’ and all. “Was it really valid,” cynical and ungrateful minds perhaps, unappreciative of the (literally) ‘free lunch’ they (the club members) had given us; forgetting that we had given them free (if undeserved and unqualified) “hope”.

They were a nice bunch of guys (didn’t allow ‘women’ of course, sad to say of course). Women I guess did not need ‘optimism’, too grounded in reality, didn’t have to ‘build things’, only ‘made things’, there is a difference, especially on the ‘home front’.

“My town” must be full of ‘optimists’, don’t read the newspapers, just listen to speeches, ‘motivational’ and all. I guess they don’t know about the ‘housing glut’ and ‘mortgage slump’ and financial ‘melt down’ going on. They just listen to MSNBC I guess, and CNN, and the ‘happy talk’ happy talkers that say that the ‘sub-prime’ thing is “Over-rated”. Why look at the local signs (‘for sale’ signs) when one can look to Wall Street, read the Wall Street Journal, believe and hope that (rupert) Murdock is ‘right’, not ‘Wrong’.

Actually there is a different side to things. It’s the side of “fear”, the ‘fear of losing money’. If one has ‘bought the land’, ‘bought the permits’, ‘paid for infrastructure’, ‘bought the building loans’, and maybe ‘bought off’ a few inspectors and politicians there is a lot of money ‘on the table’. All this ‘buying’ started long before the ‘sub-prime’ (crisis) hit. Things acquire a ‘momentum of their own’; things ‘move on’ (dot org, perhaps). If one were ‘to stop’ one might lose money, worse even (so they think) than not ‘making money’. “Build out”, they say, “Sell at a ‘little loss’ even, but don’t ‘go under’, stop the project, learn ‘your’ lessons and leave.” “Things will always get better, some day (if someday ever comes).”

I still have never been up the Eiffel Tower; was back to France once, didn’t go, went to Notre Dame (Cathedral) instead (to see the ‘Hunchback’, wasn’t there, I guess Paris is not my ‘thing’, ‘sorry’ Ms. Hilton). Maybe if Air France sent me a free ticket to Paris I could write a different blog, with a different ‘take’ on things. I don’t think it will ever happen (not now at least, I‘m still an ‘optimist’ at heart), much too much the ‘realist’ or “observationist” as I might prefer to say. I watch. I think. I think I know ‘when to build’, and ‘when not to build’; it’s in the Bible somewhere, the seasonality of things; calendars to say, “It‘s Winter” even if ‘you’ aren’t there to ‘see the snowflakes fly’.

The janitor (and shop girl) were ‘right’ of course. Everything was obvious. It was a ‘still’ building that morning, cold and snowy, no one else around, just some ‘damn fool American’, ‘looking for a ride’; a ‘man’ (Nah, I was a boy still) “out of season”, not “for all seasons”. I’ve ‘grown up’ since, I hope; slowed down a bit, think more about ‘when to jump’ for an elevator maybe; I like escalators much more now, one-way things, ‘up’ or ‘down’ but not ‘both sides now’.

I was on an elevator once. I had a newspaper ‘route’. It was in a ‘title insurance’ building (on Sierra Street I do believe). I pushed the button, the elevator began to move, as always; I rode this thing each and every day, for work I thought. The thing kept on moving, never stopped, the door would not open. I began to ‘panic’ a bit, I had work to do, papers to ‘deliver’. I was alone (as always, though not really). It was like a “Twilight Zone” episode, not real, but really happening. I hit all the buttons, except for the ‘alarm’; the thing would still not stop. I reached for ‘the button red’, it was the last thing for me to do; though I could not imagine what ‘floor’ I might be ‘on’ when (or ‘if’) the doors were to open.

Just then, the thing (the elevator) seemed to finally ‘stop’. I pushed ‘door open’; they opened. It was the same floor from where I had started, ten minutes or more had passed. I got out and walked down the stairs; did so (used the stairs) for many months to come (without ever ‘getting on’ again). It was ‘more work’ (to lose the elevator), but a better use of time, some elevators are ‘inclined’ to go ‘nowhere’ it seems. Or maybe this is, “Just another ‘elevator’ story (to give you a ‘lift’).”

[2007.12.17 / Monday – Still Building]

Dead Malls DOT Com

December 16th, 2007

~ Shopping ones brains loose just before ‘Christmas’.

I had to go shopping yesterday. I just HAD to! It’s “Christmas” after all; and ‘shopping’s fun’ (isn’t it?). I am not so sure, ‘stores and money’ are involved; sounds like “lawyers, guns, and money”, a bit on the subversive side; as in subverting something, making something that was ‘good’, look ‘bad’.

But my need was real, new pants. I needed new pants like Sponge Bob needs water; only more so. I was invited to a ‘Christmas Party’, by my wife, after I told her we had to go. It was the office party thing; her ‘office’ is a school; it was a ‘school party’. The staff, teachers, and the ‘board’ would be there; and ‘admin’, the administration folk who run things, ‘run’ the school (which should mean ‘manage’, but that’s a different post for a different day). Today (really yesterday) was ‘party day’ and since I am not inclined to a ‘party dress’ I felt it wise to at least dress for the party in pants, new pants.

My old pants (for this type of occasion) were old and worn, not badly, but badly enough not to ‘fit’. Being “blind” (the cataract thing) somehow caused weight loss (which was good); I guess I couldn’t ‘see to eat’ or something dramatic sounding. With my ‘new eyes’ I can see and I can see that I would be hungry, (for the party), at the party, to ‘see’ people whom I had not ‘seen’ for a year or two. It’s important to feel the need to justify ‘shopping’ and ‘eating’ too. It’s not something to ‘take’ for granted, these things need to be appreciated, relished when they happen, when such things are possible or plentiful; good memories for the ‘other’ types of times.

You well may know the name of “Dillard’s®”. It is a big chain, a big ‘chain’ of stores with many locations, mostly in Malls, the Malls of America, in ‘suburbs’ mostly. The chain seems ‘out of Texas’, a fashion place, glitzy clothes, high style fit for ‘Seventeen®’ year olds; at least that’s the models view, in the ads, in my local paper (the one I’m ditching in 11 days, I’m counting). Dillard’s is seemingly single handedly keeping the paper alive, ads every day, ‘front’ (pages) and ‘back’ (page), a front for moving merchandize to the back of peoples closets (clever idea, people need bigger closets, need new homes to find them, makes for a ‘great’ mortgage crisis, ‘great’ idea on paper, I read about it daily in my ‘daily’ paper, ads and all).

Dillard’s has two stores in the town, one for ‘men’ and one for ‘women’; it’s the ‘fair and equal’ thing to do, no competition, keep the genders separate while they’re buying separates (or pants). No ogling over counter ‘tops’, no ‘math’ pressure, just the freedom to perform well, while being ‘well dressed’ of course. (I hate this store, for what it represents, but I buy there, in a ‘pinch’; maybe not for long, read on.)

Dillard’s (both stores) is (are) located in a great and once wonderful Mall, opened in the sixties, expanded, roofed over and enclosed, grown some more, you know the drill. There were three “anchor stores” (the mall was “L” shaped; two were the two Dillard’s and the other was a “Monkey Wards (Montgomery Wards®)”. Wards® is gone now, passed to the great ‘beyond’ of mercantile giants, catalog and all; no need for ‘toilet tissue’ in a world of indoor plumbing (Sears take note, it can happen). Note: I ‘kid’ you not, when I was still ‘but five’ I was grateful for the well turned (and torn out) pages of Mr. Ward on the old Kansas Farm of 160 acres where there was still no ‘indoor plumbing’ and holes were dug to keep the prairie moist and the great Victorian farmhouse clear and clean.

Before the great mall died there were 120, maybe 156 ‘modern’ stores; two levels, a great ‘palm court’ down the tiled middle; fancy tile, shiny and waxed clear and clean, little carts and stands standing on the tile, serving ‘happy shoppers’. I guess someone (or some thing) ate them all; you see, now they’re gone (the ‘happy shoppers’ that is). The mall is dead, the shops are closed, at least one ‘anchor’ is at the bottom of the ‘sea’ (of red ink, I suppose).

There is a whole website dedicated to malls such as this, the passing of America, for “histories sake” they say (the web sight they mean); pictures even. I entered Dillard’s alone, I was not alone; great mounds of merchandise met me, piled thick and high, crowded aisles, to keep the lack of crowds concealed. “In all my born days,” I had never seen such excess, so many things, so largely piled up and spread out and ‘hung’ for the willing shopper. I was not willing, I was appalled (rhymes with ‘malled’). I found my chosen pants, ‘skirting’ the displays (the ‘vulgar displays’ perhaps). Talked to the clerk, a “slow week” she said, “optimistic buyers” too she said (referring to the Dillard’s (merchandise) ‘buyers’ and not those that might buy ‘at’ Dillard’s). I was sad for the Chinese merchants and manufacturers (in China) who it seems just might not be paid; ‘happy’ for the hourly clerks, paid by hour and not for sales made (or ‘looks like’ not made). I guess I was the ‘happy’ shopper, ‘new’ style; I’m not alone.

The palm fronds were dying in the mall, doors still open, probably a ‘contract thing’, even when there’s no money even for water, or to water plants, old and high, beautiful and noble once (the plants I mean, the palms). I walked down and around the “L”, to learn, to watch, to witness ‘history’. Dead stores, 75% off at Hallmark®, (empty of course) needed vacuuming. There were ‘old’ memories there, ‘this thing’ bought one day, ‘that thing’ bought on another ‘Christmas’, when ‘things’ were different, before both the economy and the mall began to die, before the ‘money’ was becoming “uplifted” (rhymes with ‘shoplifted’) into the hands of the wealthy few, big salaries while common wages fell. You know the drill.

There are four of 156 stores left; two Dillard’s, one Bed and Bath®, one Sportsplace (no real name, grown too big on steroids maybe). The Bed and Bath® had locked the mall doors, great barriers of bars, razor wire across the escalator entrances leading to ‘Monkey Wards’. I bought my first ten-speed (10-speed bicycle) from the store (in a different location, before they went to ‘malls’). It was to sell newspapers, ‘mobilize’, when papers still were ‘good’ and not just good at selling stuff, ‘good copy’ as I remember, good writers too. Now there’s ‘razor wire’ in the way, across escalators ‘by God’ (‘my God’, “What hath ‘God’ wrought?,” or is it just ‘man’ and ‘men’ and ‘women’ too that bought and ‘wrought’ (rot))?

That is what another said about this mall, “rotting”. I saw no literal ‘rot’; I saw only the ‘rot’ of Empire and of ‘excess’, misspent money, misplaced values, wasted ‘time’. There was a certain sadness. The “house of freezing steel (or steal)” as Cat Stevens perhaps would say (did say). I walked on, to Dillard’s II, the more feminine side of things. Three floors of virtual emptiness (on Saturday afternoon); the ‘shoes’ were a bit busy, people looking if not really ‘walking’; and ‘cosmetics’ too was well rehearsed, free samples for young girls, powders and creams, for hands and nose or nose and hands, a ‘gift box’ or too changing hands (paid for even, probably on credit, borrowed money, against the ‘house’, always a ‘bad bet’).

I left the ‘scene’, a scene undoubtedly repeated on this day ‘all across America’, I’m never really alone. I almost forgot. The bath store had palettes filled high and wrapped already, with shrink wrap, ready to be opened and ‘shelved’, but nobody who wants to work in today’s world for $4.25 an hour or something close; doesn’t even buy gas, much less the car to put it in, make the busses free maybe, that would keep things going for at least an extra week or two. There was nothing ‘sporting’ about the Sports Goods store. Rock bottom prices, puts REI to shame, giving stuff away (or trying to), still no takers, no ‘boots made for walking’, ‘no cotton’ (it’s the “enemy” it seems, natural fibers and all, at least that’s what the sign said) I learned something perhaps, but I like cotton, socks and shirts, no need now to be ‘impressed’.

This time I left through doors (not just the ‘scene’ as I said before). There were doors closing behind me, automatically, bursts of air I do believe, through hoses or metal hoses, not socks at all. I walked on to my car, full of gas and all, I had seen the future, and the present, and yesterday. I felt like “Scrooge” at Christmas, the Dickens tale, a haunting and a light; or maybe it was just, “a blot of mustard”, but the blot was red, not yellow; this obvious fact disturbs me, as well it should.

[2007.12.16 / Sunday – Dead Malls DOT Com]

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