Monday, January 31, 2005

The new Fox News marketing slogan is “Fox News: The only place for real journalism.” In the alley, around the corner from the deli, Edward R. Murrow humps the carcass of a dead hooker.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Oh humble bum with leathery hand outstretched, how does your raggety cap shield your oblong dome from the damp winds that whip around these khaki concrete abutments? The coarse chin hairs that draw the oval down from your face tell me that you need a shave; your eyes betray a shameful lack of sleep — the corners crinkle next to the red and brown splotches in your eye whites as you smile hopefully. Your eyebrows hearty thickets of bramble. Your fingers thin at the bone and thick at the joint. You tell me that you need a dollar. Or change. ‘Any change you got, man.’ It’s cold out here, I know.

I will not give you a dollar. I will not give you change. I will walk on by and you’ll barely hear me decline. It’s not because I don’t sympathize, brother. Not because I haven’t got the dough (which really I haven’t). My reasons are my own. Someone else will come along and he’ll have a pocket full of change or a bill. We both know this to be true.

And walk inside, I do.

Oh woman at the counter, how your detachment and breathy sighs make me wonder why I bother to burden you so. I need my identification, sure, so I can function in this world like normal people. You have your own problems at home, your own shit to deal with, and your own need to prioritize what gets done. You've got your own Personal Life, you know, the one that’s making your working life so glum. I know how it is. You don’t think I do but I do. So just maybe do me this one favor. I’m being nice. I’ve got my papers in order. Just let me get through this without you giving me that look that tells me I am the well from which springs every inconvenience you have ever endured. Just stamp that paper and take my payment. Send me on my way and I’ll never be back. Promise. I need to get this done lady, you don’t understand. Lives are at stake.

Government Building, you are squat and ugly. The rain makes your color all wrong. Your top is bigger than your bottom. Your angles are severe. Your insides are bleak and spare. Echo. Echo. I need an information booth to tell me where to find your information booth. I need a bell to get the direction man off the phone and on the case. When I’m leaving I am glad to leave. When I start putting distance between us in earnest, I can feel my anxiety recede. In the motorcar, my breathing relaxes and my legs get warm.

In the rearview, the Government Building gets clipped out gradually by one taller and nicer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

As a young civilian, you’re a saint. And you gradually diminish your shot at sainthood with all sorts of digressions. You backslide into karmic oblivion with a lifelong campaign of petty theft, white lies, tax fraud, mild bestiality, same-sex marriage, talking too loud, walking funny, and grossing people out.

Indeed, by the time we die, any chance we have of becoming a saint is effectively squandered. Our report card bleeds the red ink of sin. Our credit cards are maxed out and the authorities are hot on our trail. We go out for ice cream, but even that doesn’t make us feel any better. Or maybe it does. Ice cream is weird that way.

When I was a kid, we lived next door to Charlie Robinson. Charlie owned an ice cream shop down the block and used to give free ice cream to the neighborhood kids. I remember he used to always give us these huge pineapple pops with actual chunks of pineapple in them. They were quite delicious. When we had block parties, Charlie would trot out his massive grill and magically transform into the King of Ribs. His barbecue stylings were the stuff of neighborhood legend. His sauce a succulent treat without peer. In 1982, our humble stead was served a healthy dose of affirmation when Charlie entered and won first place in the inaugural Mike Royko Ribfest. He bought two luxury cars. The license plate on his flagship ride read RIB 1.

About a year after exhibiting dominance of the Chicago rib scene, Charlie closed down the ice cream shop. He rented our garage and stored massive ice cream freezers and other industrial gadgets in there. He opened a rib restaurant, got rich quick and moved his family to Oak Park’s luxurious north side. All because of ice cream: that strange and mysterious confection.

Go Charlie.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I’ve never been out of the country for more than a few hours. I once spent a delightful lunch hour on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. My soda can had French words on it. Everything was covered in rich sauce and served on croissant.

My status as an International Male, a finely coiffured man on the make, is known throughout my apartment complex and at several neighborhood delis. Word travels fast.

Speaking of words, I have some choice ones. Words like “mimesis” and “salacious.” Words that I am trying desperately to wedge into a sentence. I swear, my mimesis knows no bounds. For I am salacious to the marrow.

The temperature was 70-something degrees on Thursday. Overnight lows reached 23 degrees Saturday. By tomorrow, the mercury will again be tickling 70. People’s heads will explode without warning. Things will get quite messy.

Must purchase medicated hand wipes.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Judy Bachrach.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I haven’t been this tired since the day I fished all those drowning puppies out of the Rio Grande while singlehandedly fighting off three cartel henchmen using only a Bic razor and eighth-edition copy of “What Color is Your Parachute?”. (And the skeptics had told me the doughnut breakfasts and whisky benders would sully my physical fitness and hand-eye coordination. Ha! Skepticism is just jealousy with a funny haircut and overbite.) Good works can be taxing. I know this from experience.

But saving adorable little creatures from certain death at the hands of a grizzly river is a small part of what makes me the great person I am today. I’ve made some mistakes in the past. (My spelling errors, for example, are well-documented.) My detractors will certainly point to a laundry list of offenses. But to them I ask: “What does laundry have to do with being a good person?” Nothing.

I’ve had some tough times in some dangerous places. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. Point being, it’s not like I’ve spent every day of my life wading through the perilous rapids with a basket full of soft, vulnerable puppies. That was the exception to the rule. The rule being: “Do Unto Others, etc.” — A lesson I learned on the rough-and-tumble playgrounds of a nice private school in the suburbs. A lesson that’s made me pretty much better than anyone I’ve ever met. Including Jesus.

Jesus Rivera. The cashier from the convenience store. He had a tattoo of a teardrop on the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger.

The hard times were rough. The rough times were rougher. Sometimes it was hard to tell the two apart without wearing special glasses. But I made due. I scrapped my way to a secondary education. I escaped the ghetto. I learned the language. I built a vast network of plugs and cables. Then I went back to the ghetto because I realized I’d forgotten my wallet there. By the time I got there, it was gone. I purchased a new wallet. With Velcro.

I tried to pass on some of my morals to my children. But my children are terrible human beings and they refuse to listen to a word I say. Especially since that time I left them at the gas station in Alabama. I was only trying to teach them a lesson about loyalty. And to my credit I was doing a scratch game and eating a hot pocket at the same time. Try concentrating on all that while working a foreign shift! They could have knocked on the window, but they didn’t. They just watched as I drove off.

Loyalty is not their strong suit.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I do my best to avoid talking about politics, but it’s not easy. Especially when everyone and their mother is hooting and hollering about how political they are. Well here’s a news flash: I don’t care about your politics. And your mother is fucking crazy. So chill out, people. There’s a drag-racing marathon on ESPN 2.

Think about the things that are great about our nation. Number one, there’s God, who if you haven’t heard is only the Supreme Master of the Universe. As a matter of fact, he’s watching you right now. He probably even knows what you have in your pockets. According to the Bible, you’re in deep trouble if you don’t get your shit together. So quit bitching about politics and start praying, lest God rifle through your pockets and take that important receipt. The one you need for tax purposes.

Number two, there’s a Great President. And if you don’t believe that, you are an idiot who's not even worth talking to. We need to work together. The president is in charge. He’s God’s guy here on earth. Or don’t you read the papers? Disagreeing just wastes time, especially when you’re disagreeing with the Political Hand of God.

Quit causing trouble. Hippie rabble rousers.

Another thing that’s great about our nation is Corporations. Without them, we wouldn’t have access to the goods and services that make our lives wonderful. Where did you buy multi-colored milk crates before Wal-Mart opened? That’s right: you didn’t. You couldn’t get them anywhere. And you certainly couldn’t get them anywhere for such affordable prices. Some people say the president is a friend of large corporations. As if that were a bad thing! If God wants Exxon to get a massive tax break, who are you to argue? Exxon has provided power to millions and has earned the right to reap the benefits of Almighty Currency. What have you done? Tie dyed T-shirts can’t feed the poor. Crude oil can.

*This message paid for by the Bush Administration.

Monday, January 10, 2005

I spend a lot of my free time looking for secret tunnels. I have done this nearly all my life and I'm quite good at it. I can tell you from experience that they are everywhere, these tunnels, and that they elude even the most meticulous spelunkers. They are looking for the wrong thing. They are looking for caves and tunnels, not knowing that tunnels of the secret variety disguise themselves to thwart the halogen-headed bandits.

One summer, when my father and I were vacationing in Door County, Wisconsin, I came upon my first ever secret tunnel whilst traipsing through the autumnal copse. I was 10 years old and my heart still belonged to childhood. My soul and my spirit and every other paranormal fiber of my being hummed. It hummed for cartoons and action figures, young lips that I wouldn't know how to handle but that I wanted, race cars, choosing my own adventure. This purity and innocence (I like to think it today) allowed me to see things in the landscape that escaped others. It allowed me to study insects at close range or to watch water flow between large chunks of rock. I would squat on my hams and trace every vein of every leaf. I would stand on precarious surfaces to get a better view of things.

(My father thought me a retard of some sort. I was in therapy, but I spoke the king's English.)

I had just spent the better part of the early afternoon exploring an abandoned cabin, then the old property-line fence and the rusted hardware near the shed. My father snapped a picture of me while I stood a short distance away. I was in deep conversation with a young deer. It ate out of my naked hand. The picture is now in an album at home.

I walked the property line where it continued after the fence ended. There were weathered two-by-fours on the ground and brown barbed wire barely visible in the hearty copse. Near the end of the row, before I hit the tree line and the forest, I saw my first secret cave. There was a green bottle near it. There was grass, a furry overgrowth around the mouth. I looked around me. The deer was keeping my father busy with an intricate card trick.

I got down on my knees and the amber overgrowth tickled my chin. My hands sunk a quarter inch into the untrodden earth. The sun on my upper back. The breeze blowing fuzzy seedlings and weightless white bugs across and past me. The mouth of the secret tunnel a foot away maybe less. I pushed the mouthy grass aside with my hand and peered in. It was dark too dark to see anything but I know there's something in there come out. I took deep breaths and exhaled without allergy.

Closer and closer still.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I watched Robert MacNeil’s “Do You Speak American?” on PBS last night. The three-hour documentary followed MacNeil on a cross-country road trip, during which he spoke to linguists and language enthusiasts and ordinary civilians about the various dialects and speech patterns that characterize different regions of America. At one point, while speaking to a lunch table crowded with precocious California teens, the starchy MacNeil, while attempting to ape some of their unique colloquialisms, said “I made that test my bitch.”

And there was much rejoicing.

After the rejoicing, I called up a couple of my Chicago contacts just to hear their voices. Fingertip Richards answered the phone with some unintelligible utterance that vaguely resembled “Yarlow.” We spoke at great length about the new-and-improved coffee shops near South Boulevard and Austin. “Where You Bean used to be on the Northwest corner and the Sludge Factory was on the Northeast, you know. But then they swapped spots. Nobody knows why.” At one point, in mid-conversation, Fingertip asked “Who this, again?” And I told him it was me. “Oh yeah, how do I know it’s you?” You don’t. What were we talking about? “You called me.” And the conversation kind of slowed to a stop and I had to get out the door and on the road is what I told him.

Hung up. Called Spoonfed Willy and got the answering machine. Spoonfed always had great messages and his voice had a delightful lilt that he said he picked up in soccer camp in South America when he was a kid just before he moved to our neighborhood in Oak Park. I called back and listened again. “Hey, this Spoon’ and as you can see, I’m not home. God bless you and your loved ones. Leave your number. Love you soon.”

Language brightens up the spaces in between quite nicely, I think. It’s just as at home in a dusty room with threadbare curtains as in a white-washed convention center. Where would we be without it? Would the drive-through ever be the same?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

During the winter months, the kind people who maintain my apartment complex ceremoniously switch our thermostats from A/C-capable to heat-capable. They do this, as far as I can tell, in a well-meaning effort to ruin my life.

Consider that in Dallas, winter temperatures routinely vacillate between 10 and 90 degrees fahrenheit from early December to late March. Meteorologists call this phenomenon "a bunch of bullshit." I tend to agree. Because now, with the outside air a wet rag of 70-something degrees and the vents belching unwelcome currents of dull heat, I'm stuck in an apartment that's at least 10 degrees warmer than outside, with no way to stem the sufffering other than by alternately taking cold showers and dipping my nuts into the blue plastic nest of the nearest vacated ice tray compartment.

The southwestern climate is a rare bird. A rare bird that changes temperature and barometric pressure and wind speed. And I'm sure that the kind people who maintain my otherwise pleasant and clean and affordable apartment complex know that our fickle climes are both rare and birdlike, and that for humans to be able to coexist in this environment, we need constant heating and cooling capabilities, lest we unleash handguns and go apeshit on each other. We need these heating and cooling capabilities in order to prevent Mother Nature from fucking with our body temperatures for her own amusement.

We need it, but not all of us have it. And I'm losing it because of it.

(P.s. I woke up this morning and the outside air has cooled considerably to a downright autumnal 50 degrees. Please disregard this post.)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Lately, every room I enter becomes noticably warmer upon my arrival. This might be due at least in part to the fact that my shirt is on fire. But I’m no chemist.

The celebration of the new year reminds me that our earth is constantly spinning, and that until this spinning stops, dizziness will continue to be a problem worldwide.