Friday, July 9, 2010

So These are the Days my Friends and These are the Days my Friends

About three minutes before it happens I am standing there, waiting for the light to change, and this young Mexican dude wanders out into the street and nearly gets hit by a truck. His gray Giants jersey flutters in the passing wind as he wheels around and looks directly into my eyes. A woman's voice is flatly reciting a passage about water and boats over droning pedal tones from a church organ as a choir repeatedly sings out the numbers one, two, three, four... and I think: This is a dangerous place.

Walking through the streets of San Francisco with Phillip Glass blaring through my headphones and a three beer buzz can be a transporting experience. People flow by me with an exaggerated sense of purpose that is brought about by the intense, repetitive nature of the music. Glass is a kind of one trick pony, but it is a hell of a trick and when it works, there is nothing like it. A theme is stated, usually in a single voice, usually a weirdly pretty little melody, that begins to morph through various shifts in meter until it becomes clear that the melody is subservient to the time. The most easily apprehended part of the song fades and is replaced by the asymmetrical glass legos that form its structure. He also uses a lot of spoken word, often more than two distinct passages at a time, that seems to stand beside the music rather than within it. The effect is disjointing in that alien postmodern way that seems to be the native currency of so many recent artists. The speaker breaks off her repeated lines with an audible stutter and joins the chorus, which has been singing nonsense syllables or numeric variations, and is subsumed. It all seems ridiculous and pretentious until it works.

I have some of the loose paranoia that often accompanies a genuine hangover but I have learned over the years how to manage it and the cool climate is helping. Still, the faces of the homeless seem especially angry today and I can feel them coming up behind me even when they are not there. I shove the Bose earbuds deeper into my ears and move across the busy street. I have no place I need to be. My brother has a nice room at the Hilton and I don't want to get too far from it. My calves are burning from all of yesterday's walking. I barely register the movement out of the corner of my eye.

King Of Thai Noodle House & Sports Bar has $2 beers and $5 Thai dishes. I can't imagine how they stay in business. The dishes include a variety of curries, Tom Kha Gai soup, which is the only evidence I have for the existence of God, and some quality hot wings. The food tastes very good. The choice of beers in the two dollar range is great. Sierra Nevada, Stella Artois, Anchor Steam, and, of course, Coors Light, for when your breasts begin to feel tender. My brother and I spend a good two hours talking to a tennis pro from the UK about the subtleties of Premier League Football (soccer) as our beautiful bartendress, Grace, whips up a near endless supply of Lychee Mojitos. Grace may end up being my latest Facebook friend, if I can find her. Various sports are on various HDTV's and it is difficult not to think that this is a good night at a good place.

Everything seems out of context. Two bellboys run past me waving their arms. I can hear a woman screaming over the music in my headphones. I look at her and she turns away. Other people begin to move tentatively around me as I take off my headphones. I look down the alley. It is difficult to process. Some part of my mind tells me that there isn't enough blood. This is before the rest of my mind realizes that there is a dead body in the street. Someone shouts "He jumped," as I move to the body. Too many ideas appear in my mind, fully formed and seemingly out of nowhere. Should I try to help the person? Would that go against their wishes? Am I simply gawking? Why isn't there more blood? Yes. The body is surrounded by fluid, but it isn't blood. I have to get the fuck out of here. I push my earbuds back in and walk away. I get around the corner, turn around, and go back. More concerned faces flash by me. I take another look. It is out of context. It is like a dining room table in the middle of a football field. A siren goes off in the distance. I have to get the fuck out of here.

Nietzsche said that the thought of suicide got him through many a rainy night. I couldn't agree more. It is one area where we can exercise control. It is an option, and I suspect that part of the reason that I have never taken it is similar to what keeps me at the poker table for just one more hand. Past the joy, or usefulness, or potential, or even awareness, I just have to play one more hand. Of all of the methods of suicide, I would have to put jumping from a building near the bottom. It seems too public. Also, there is the possibility that you will live on for a couple of minutes, in delirious agony, as your body comes to terms with your decision. I have read that a disproportionate number of jumpers are failed actors, musicians, etc. attempting to claim some of the recognition they couldn't get any other way. This is too direct. Humans tend to want direct, easy answers to what are invariably complex processes. But these interpretations don't usually hold water, even in less complicated arenas. And sometimes people just jump.

I am on a train. I am fighting the urge to throw up. I am also fighting the urge to get off of the train before my stop. I need a cigarette. The attendant tells me to get my feet off of the seat. I can't find anything about the suicide online. I am honestly unsure if it happened. I wonder if I should have not posted it on Facebook. It seemed like it was too much for me to keep to myself. I get off the train and walk home. Cigarette after cigarette. I rush into my room and look again online. Part of this seems silly. Why am I so upset. It is indulgent. People seem to empathize. I can't find anything online or in the news. I feel bad about how I might be perceived if this turns out not to have happened. I feel bad about feeling bad. There wasn't enough blood. I am weak. I go to sleep and dream of more water than I can manage. I wake up and go to my computer. Still there is nothing. I try different methods. Finally, there it is. Everything is out of context. I feel better. I feel bad about feeling better.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Just Tuesday

 And when you're looking for your freedom
 (Nobody seems to care) 
And you can't find the door
 (Can't find it anywhere) 
When there's nothing to believe in 
Still you're coming back, you're running back 
You're coming back for more

    Your eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness as you walk through the door and ease into the familiar haze of native mildews and humid colognes. As you move to the bar you loudly crash into an unfortunately placed table and reflexively acknowledge that your body is already betraying you. The bartendress half remembers you from your last visit, also on a Tuesday (over six months ago) and also around three in the afternoon, and takes a friendly stab at what you might want.

   "Midori Sour, right?"

   The ride to the bar was punctuated by self-assured interior conversations featuring you as the hip voice of relaxed ingenuity, but with one unintentionally ferocious question you have been reduced to dust. Nervously wondering what could possibly have given her that impression you stare, with exaggerated incredulity, at the genetically homophobic bar back as he thrusts his wash towel into the ice and violently crosses his arms.

Where you goin' what you lookin' for
You know those boys 
Don't want to play no more with you 
It's true

    In your deepest possible voice you tell her a Maker's Mark would be fine and lower yourself onto the bar stool in, what you are hoping is, a fashion that does not in any way betray the epileptic wolverine that is suddenly attempting to escape through your chest. "And how about a Sierra Nevada?" you say, trying to make it sound like an afterthought rather than a necessary component for choking down the bourbon.

    A thin layer of sweat shimmers conspicuously on your forehead as you make small talk about oil filters and mixed martial arts and self consciously stare at the ceiling full of hectically decorated dollar bills; thumbtacked constellations of impossibly good times that radiate an astrology of other people's happiness down upon you. You wonder if you drank too quickly as you order another Sierra.

I don't care what you say
I never did believe you much anyway.

   The bourbon starts its predictable trek through your system, reenforcing temporarily unstable psychic structures and loosening stratified language potentials as the bar back leans forward to hungrily give you his facebook info. But it is too soon. You brush him off with another order, this time a shot and a beer, and without shame, a tumbler of J├Ągermeister. The sun will soon be down and families will be microwaving macaroni and you will not be among them.

    And then she walks in.

    You realize your editing device has been disabled four seconds after you blurt out: "So, what brings a fine young thing like you into a bar like this on a fine day like today?" You're fairly certain that she can read the words "Oh fuck" in bright, rashy letters on your cheeks as she moves into the seat next to you and plops her purse onto the bar. Her skin reminds you, on a deeply emotional level, of some kind of cinnamon frosting. Light gathers around her and-"Oh, uh yes, please. Thank you. And another shot of bourbon, too. Thanks,"- seems to coalesce into wings behind her in an entirely natural fashion. You are absolutely certain that her vagina smells like health.

Sometimes I get overcharged
That's when you see sparks
You ask me where the hell
I'm going At a thousand feet per second

   So much disinformation is coursing through your brain that you start to mumble with a Filipino accent as you simultaneously try to move toward and away from her, clutching at her shoulder and your wallet, as you pretend to intentionally stumble toward the jukebox. Play it off. There is something clearly wrong with the floor design. The air is too heavy. The machine makes indecipherable digital demands that you can't hope to satisfy. Time bends in upon itself. How about Cake?

 We are widening the corridors
And adding more lanes

    "Sarah, really? That is a biblical name." You are not sure that it is. If you were at home you could look it up on line and maintain the illusion. She seems unfazed. She also seems to be sending you messages. Body language messages that you can only interpret as meaningful and positive. What if she is in to you? Or the bible? Think of a joke.

   "My friend has a good pirate joke."


   "Yeah, he's a good dude."

    You are not sure that she got it. Then you are not sure that you even said it. Then, there it is, she is blurry and you blew the joke.

    The bartendress has changed into a bartender and is bringing you drinks that you may not have ordered. You tell yourself to play it off for the fortieth time that night. It tastes like a Creme de Menthe with an oyster in it. Play it off.

Left my nigga's house paid (what) 
Picked up a girl been tryin to fuck since the 12th grade 
It's ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic 
The Lakers beat the Supersonics

    You are still thinking about sex, just less so. It now seems improbable and there is that thing going on behind your eyes. Then, she flashes into your field of vision and says: "What if it all actually is information, ya know? The universe as a digital computer with reality as a holographic image that embraces reality in a two dimensional sphere that is the best our brains can apprehend?"

     "Yeah, that."

     She seems upset and shrieks, "Listen! The Anthropic Principle, Unconscious Mind, Phenomonology, Historical Contingency,..."

If only I wasn't travellin down this road by my lonely
No one who knew me like you will ever know me
I don't think you understand how much you meant to me 

     "... Information Theory, Yeah, and Goldilocks, Yeah, and..."

     "Sarah, you don't know..."

     "My name is Sandra!"

     "Oh. Solid."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yet Another Day

Anthony is a typical nine year old. He has a deep fascination with Star Wars, bodily functions, and Bakugan. He talks to himself out loud as he plays with his Legos; he blushes and stammers when you mention his crush on Valeria; he can make a sword out of anything; and he is late for the bus.

Anthony likes the bus, even when he doesn't get to sit next to Noah, and it's even better when he gets a window seat. The fifteen minute ride is a giddy mix of laughter, name calling, Pokemon card exchange, profanity (both real and imagined), Velcro rips, and coughing; but, as the bus pulls into the parking lot, the mood changes dramatically.

Principal X is already outside, with his bullhorn, shouting suggestions to the children on how they might more efficiently move from the bus to their classrooms. Anthony ignores these useful suggestions (walk, don't talk, let's go, right to class) and heads straight for the bathroom. He doesn't have to go, but the boys can usually squeeze in a pretty good water fight before class. The door is locked. It turns out that the custodian is absent again and the bathroom doors will remain closed for a while. Now Anthony has to go.

First thing you notice about room 16 is that every square inch of wall is covered. There are number lines, class rules, punctuation cartoons, poems about responsibility and squirrels, target words, the Denelian alphabet, and countless references to state standards; large, incomprehensible, and showing a lack of imagination that would make Soviet Russia blush.

Anthony is barely in his seat when Principal X's voice comes over the loud speaker. He is reminding teachers that it is no longer enough that the child is in the classroom when the bell rings but that they must be seated. Any child not seated should be marked tardy and sent to the office. This is a relatively new rule and, when combined with the wrought iron gate that surrounds the perimeter of the school, gives the place a warm, prisony feel.

Anthony's school takes the 'Vitamin C' approach to teaching. You see, at some point in our history a group of aging hippies decided that it was a good idea to inundate their bodies with massive doses of vitamin c; the premise being that there couldn't possibly be too much of this particular good thing. Shortly thereafter some actual scientists took a look at this idea and found that the body can, in reality, only absorb so much and then quite reasonably discards what it can't use in the form of waste.

The corollary is that every minute of every school day is accounted for, apportioned, and meticulously filled. The white boards of all the teachers have the day mapped out, in that unnervingly precise script that they all seem to possess, according to the chunks of time that are to be devoted to each activity. This is the type of approach that appeals to frustrated, half-bright adults who have long since forgotten what it was like to be a child. The fact that this accumulation of activities, and whatever knowledge they are designed to impart, far exceeds the saturation point of any child is utterly lost on these bureaucratically conditioned go-getters. They are also oblivious to the form of waste that this tact will ultimately produce, while the children seem to have some fairly clear ideas.

Miss D spends three minutes going over the difference between right and left, and adjusting the children's hands, before launching into the Pledge of Allegiance. Anthony was going to sneak the word 'poop' in, but Cassie was watching and she always tattles. Miss D is in a foul mood because they just added a mandatory meeting after school and this, combined with her two other scheduled meetings, will put her squarely in the jaws of rush hour traffic. She is very worried about having a job next year.

Anthony stares at a large, orange reading book entitled: Delights. He is supposed to read a story about a sad dog that doesn't appreciate a healthy diet. In the end the dog is rehabilitated, with the help of some of some wise gophers, and all is well. Anthony thinks he liked it, but trying to translate it into a "story hill" makes his neck hurt. And why wouldn't it? A story hill is just the latest in a long line of well intentioned gimmicks that seem designed to be as unengaging as humanly possible. They are also noticeably ephemeral. Three years ago classrooms were filled with chatter about "text to self" and "text to text" references and three years from now there will probably be multi-colored orangutans spouting various phonemes to the tune of Who let the Dogs Out? in high-def; and, still, no one will know what the hell is going on.

The principal's voice comes over the loud speakers again. He lets everyone know that, although it has been raining a little, they will still have outdoor recess. The children cheer and don't seem to hear as the principal goes on. "So, be careful out there. It is wet and I don't want to see anybody running or jumping or playing on the grass or any of the play structures or with a ball or rope of any kind. Have fun."

For the last three days Elijah has brought a dirty plastic Safeway bag filled with Cheetos and red licorice that his step-father, who clearly hadn't read the story about the sad dog and wise gophers, had prepared for him. He and Anthony quickly gorge until they become dizzy and short of breath and take on the appearance of prom-bound oompa loompas. Then the bell rings and they line up.

In elementary school, no ritual is as reverently observed as that of the class line. The process of getting children into, and then maintaining, a line has taken on all the earmarks of a cargo cult fetish replete with solemn incantation (Is this a line? This is not a line. Is this a line?) and human sacrifice (OK Brenda, go to the office. You will not destroy my line.) And so the children are marched off to Excel.

Excel is one of the many acronym laden programs that teachers are supposed to use in place of actual teaching. They are ubiquitous. They are adored. They are also big business and have mission statements like:

C1. Students will access, use and communicate information from a variety of technologies.
Division 1 1.1 access and retrieve appropriate information from electronic sources for a specific inquiry
1.2 process information from more than one source to retell what has been discovered
Division 2 2.2 organize information gathered from the Internet, or an electronic source, by selecting and recording the data in logical files or categories; and by communicating effectively, through appropriate forms, such as speeches, reports and multimedia presentations, applying information technologies that serve particular audiences and purposes

Much money changes hands and the perpetually bewildered feel productive, but, functionally, these programs are to teaching what a suit of armor is to bowling; painful and irrelevant.

Mrs. G is the mean teacher and when she hears any noise above a whisper she makes an explosive noise that sounds very much like a chicken swallowing a cat. Anthony is terrified of her and, consequently, of math. She also has a gift for making the merely dull seem overwhelmingly complicated. At the end of Excel, her white board is a confusion of arrows, double arrows, sweeping X and O covered arcs, and incomprehensible symbols that have been semi-erased and smeared across basic addition problems. Anthony breathes easier as he leaves her room.

Lunch. For those of you who are old enough, who may remember drive-in movie theaters and the heat-lamped delicacies that awaited you during intermission; you have some idea. For those of you who have had the good fortune to stay at one of our many correctional facilities; you have an exact idea. To spend any more time making fun of the food would be like beating Rush Limbaugh to death with a chainsaw; temporarily fun, but a little too easy and ultimately unnecessary. Suffice it to say that Anthony picked at his half frozen taco pocket for a couple of minutes and then downed a pint of chocolate milk and bolted out for recess.

One nice touch is that teachers have taken to posting standardized test results on the wall. The students are divided into five categories: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. The student numbers are placed into the column that reflects their testing proficiency. There is one chart for math and one for language arts. Orwell would appreciate the 'language arts' touch; Anthony does not. His number is below basic on math and basic on the other. Even though it is just his number, he knows that every body else knows whose number is whose. If asked, he would tell you he feels defeated.

Miss D is in a much better mood. Her late meeting was rescheduled and the girl's decided it would be a good day for happy hour at Aqui's. She is now in the process of trying to describe the Civil War but becomes flustered when she can't remember whether the North was in favor of or against slavery. Last week she said that the San Francisco Bay was no deeper than five feet at any point. Anthony looks over at Mr. S, the guy who works with the wheel chair kids, and tries to make something of his cringing, angry body language.

The rest of the school day is a blur of not doing art, or music, or having time to digest what one is supposed to have learned. He vaguely remembers attending an assembly, something on the dangers of dodgeball, that was presented by a colorful group of smiling neuters, but can't remember if it happened on that day or another. After school, there is the indignity of homework club and the forced frivolity of KidPlay, and then the late bell rings, adrenaline courses through his veins, and he is back on the bus.

Anthony gets home around 4:00 pm. A thing called a lunchable is on the kitchen counter. It consists of three circular pads of half baked dough that can be covered with ketchup, cheese, and raw pepperoni, to simulate pizza. It also comes with a raisin box sized container of juice, a bag of skittles, and a coupon for Flintstones chewable vitamins.

Anthony puts a disc into his Xbox 360, sits down in front of the TV, and earnestly sets about killing everything that comes across his path.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Three Short Poems About Blenders

The window is shut but you keep talking,
your tongue folded into origami nonsense,
and I will never love you.

could you sense not hearing me walk in,
metal fingers clutching at the insolent ice,
brush your hair back,
rush your black robe,
meant to take care of that insolent glass,
could you not sense hearing him walk out?

The open box leans waiting in the corner,
purged of its moment and contents,
and I will always leave you.

i mean to touch her
to take from her what is mine,
hours of ours in the soft scream,
until she knows i am a serious man
and gray clouds clutter her eyes and release her consent

i mean to place her
in her immaculate shrine,
piece by piece of her cool gleam,
until she glows within that vermilion lamp
and red seas stagger her lies and reveal her intent

She looked away when
I brought it home.
Barely able to balance her checkbook
She had something like a fine heart.

Please do not think this is your fault

She filled the room,
I pulled away then.
Barely able to maintain our balance
She had nothing like a delicate metre.

I cannot see to see

She stopped herself,
abrupt, mid-sentence,
and dissolved our selves like sand.

She leaked out through
My finest mind.
Openly braced against her outlook
She had fallen into herself.

I was never meant to be a part of this

She created things,
I could not see.
Openly unable to sustain her valence
She held nothing more than her and me.

Please do not think this is your fault

stopped herself,
abrupt, mid-sentence,
and dissolved our lives like sand.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Love's Executioner

What do you want?

Whatever it is, it has been collected, collated, and circulated for you through the delicate sensibilities of the nearly ubiquitous Craigslist. A broken microwave oven with a dolphin painted on it? in Atlanta has two. You can get both, plus shipping, for under a hundred dollars. He seems reasonable. Calves hurt? in Cairo has a paste that his grandmother makes out of parsnips, mustard seed, rendered cat, and mercury. He is willing to trade a 6 oz. jar for a Walkman, but I already sold my Walkman last year for eleven dollars. I needed stamps. Besides, my calves are actually more stiff than painful. And, anyway, I am looking for something else. I want love.

Craigslist provides an impressive array of options: women seeking men, men seeking women, each seeking their own, platonic, casual, the mysteriously titled misc romance, and missed connections. Since each journey begins with a single step, regardless of whether or not one is being carried by our Lord and Savior (Jesus Christ), I clicked my first ad.

Women Seeking Men

Ummm - 40 - (hayward / castro valley)

Unicorn you are
In my hotel, four star,
Where sheets of clouds trammel
Your heart, so ample,

So amply I ride
Through your eyes, I sighed,
Where Love cannot see
Past your heart, I say,

I am Me.

You: Sensitive, shy, literate, financially stable, 40 something man with piercing eyes and angular features. People say you look like Charles Brolin. You love the outdoors but can snuggle in front of the TV when necessary. You love the arts but are not pretentious. Macrame? You are open to all that life has to offer from science, like astrology and homeopathic medicine, to spirituality and all that The Great Earth Goddess has placed before us. Do you exist?!

Me: BBW, 40 something photographer who isn't very photogenic; I know, it's ironic :) I have seven wonderful cats and three children. People say I look like Meg Ryan. I have long black hair and large mahogany eyes and lustrous olive skin. I like to read and write poetry (Dickons, Nabakoff) but I can also find time for giggling and jumping. White wine is my passion. I get frisky after my fifth glass... so WATCH OUT!!! I am also a subject of the prophet Esmerelda.

Us: I hope! :)

OK. 0 for 1. Maybe a younger girl is in order.

indie? tattoos? - 20 (aptos)

heyy. i am looking for a guy. she didn't want to post up on here caause it'd be "stupid". we'll see about that when i show up with you by my side! haha. okaaaay.
lol 420 friendly.......
20yrs old, 5'2, average body, snake bites, nose ring
i like latinos and mixed guys.
idk im super open minded super down for any type of fun
im not a slut nor a skank i think sexual talk is a turn off
comin off too strong just makes me sick
welp yeah i wanna be spoilded and i wanna spoil whom ever i end up with
shit atleast my my fone bill thats all lol
i am a Pisces so if that scares you don't reply.
hmmmmm ps i lik pics tooooo.

OK. 0 for 2. Maybe two women are in order.

Women Seeking Women

[Editor's note: I am a much beloved figure in the lesbian community; similar to Larry David. From the butch to the bois to the studs to the softbutch to the bi to the bi-curious, I am here for them. They know that and accept me as one of their own. Consequently, finding a pleasant lesbian couple with which to connect is not as preposterous as it may, at first, appear. Of course I will have to help get them together first, but this is the type of work I was born to do.]

Cute queer for flirty dates... - 28 - (San Francisco)

Curvy activist, new to the area, looking for like-minded serious long term relationship. No bi curious, no men...

femme loves femmes - 40 - (san rafael)

I would love to meet a friendly, intelligent women. Someone I could share my life with; my pleasures, my pain, my activism. Honesty, warmth, compassion, spiritual depth. I know you are out there. No bi curious, no men...

OK. This next one looks promising.

Sexy Sexy Bifemale Seeking Lipstick Lesbian Girlfriend - 22 - (downtown / civic / van ness) pic

Hi This is Butterfly... I'm a pretty bifem activist who is into friends, love, whatever. I have a big heart and am pretty much open to anything. No bi curious, no men...

Yikes! What a politicized community. OK. 0 for 3, 0 for 4, 0 for 5. Maybe a man is in order.

Men Seeking Men

looking for asian with smooth ass and small dick - 33 - (sf)

asian home alone looking for top guy will host - 35 - (south san francisco)

Wanna get naked together? - (petaluma)

Horny Hot Bi Bottom+++ - 28 - (haight ashbury) pic

Short (or skinny) guy, big package? - (Sonoma County)

Suck pig/cock nurse - 40 - (cole valley / ashbury hts)

OK. The above is a more or less random sample of the first part of the first page I came across. There is a definite change in tone here. I am not a Sociologist, but I can observe and report.

First, there appears to be an animal-related lexicography, present in most ads, that would make even George Orwell go running for his Big Book of Gay Idioms. Bears, pigs, snakes, and mythical beasts of every variety lunge out at you from virtually every post.

" ... stocky, bearish, daddy, growling, untamed, chubby, husky, etc... big bellies and fur a +."

"... Soul, pig, animal, romantic, oink, 7.5cut, 5'6. Hosting SF. . Will respond to pics and corn."

" From the caverns of the Isle of Mann I hear the Dragon's song and Excalibur becomes unsheathed. I am The Lizard King!"

Second, although there were elements of role playing in the other sections, they take on a more direct, and specific, manner here.

" I want you to come into my house and pretend that you are a burglar that I walked in on. Then I want you to tie me up, carve a Star of David on my shoulder, and cum in my hair. After that you should take off your mask and reveal that you are my uncle who has just been released from prison. Then you should take my answering machine and leave."

Third, there is a striking difference between the post-coital expectations of the male and the female ads.

" The door will be open. Come in, jack off onto my knee, and then go away. No kissing, no eye contact, no talking."

There really exists no female equivalent. The women seeking men ad that reads: " I want you to come to my house and lick my pussy and then disappear," does not exist; not even on Craigslist Las Vegas.

In all fairness there were plenty of ads that were intelligent, sometimes poignant, efforts at meeting a person for a loving relationship. Good luck to them. Bring a compass.

OK. 0 for 6 through 0 for 12. Maybe a casual meeting is in order.

Casual Encounters

After a seventy minute hot bleach shower and the removal of my eyes I am ready to move on.

OK. 0 for 12 1/2. Maybe a less specific approach is in order.

Misc Romance

OK. Not nearly as mysterious as I was hoping. Reasonably sane people who are smart enough, or experienced enough, to avoid the other sections. Sure, there was the occasional Dominican Hurdler Seeks TBoy For Unauthorized Salmon Fishing ad, but it was the anomaly. Actually, there is a forty year old lady in Foster City who likes prog rock and who is very pretty. I might hit her up once my eyes heal.

OK. 1/2 for 12 1/2. Maybe I already met my soul-mate.

Missed Connections

Chatted in line at Trader Joes - Tuesday 3/30 - 31 - (oakland rockridge / claremont)

You were buying aioli and I was wearing a shirt. You said something to the cashier, but I knew you meant it for me. Call me at sixfive3 ohseven22. I love you.

33 Bus Saturday morning around 10:00 - m4m - 25 - (castro / upper market)

We both got on at the 18th and Castro stop. You got off on Potrero near McDonalds. We smiled at each other throughout the trip. I have nice teeth. I wanted to come over and say hi but felt awkward since we were on the bus. I have dark hair I guess.

OK. 1/2 for 13 1/2 and 1/2 for 14 1/2. If she isn't in the first two, then it isn't meant to be. I may have decreased my odds by making one of them a m4m, but I have never been big on math. And so, another soul-mate free Saturday morning ends in shame. Well, not shame exactly; I just like that line. Actually, I stole it from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and paraphrased it for my own use. Any women out there like MST3K? No?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

You Are McMurphy, Chief.

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Any book or movie starts the same way. You are thrust into some portion of a character's life. There is a conflict that is resolved or not resolved in some fashion. In this case, you are an inmate who wants out of jail and who thinks you may have found it. You get yourself categorized as psychologically unstable and, ultimately, committed. You are flawed but you have some good qualities. Your key attribute is that you think that you are outside of something that you cannot possibly be outside of. You will find out soon enough.

Ken Kesey never saw the film. They didn't maintain a surreal enough sensibility for him. The book, which is seen through the eyes of a mute Indian named Chief Bromden, was practically hallucinatory at times. The movie, which was probably already pushing it by having a primary character who was a gigantic Indian, focuses on McMurphy's perspective. It is your perspective; the conscious perspective.

This perspective involves some of the flattering aspects that we crave. The anti-authoritarian, iconoclastic, sui generis figure who moves through a thoughtless and rigid environment. He can't, in spite of what would be best for him, keep from indulging his frustration. I can't help but root for him. Calling play by play for the World Series at a blank TV screen as his fellow inmates get more and more worked up. Wisecracking with his clueless superiors. Driving a stolen bus to a soon to be stolen boat prior to what will probably be the only meaningful adventure in the other inmate's adult lives. I can't help but root for him.

The book is a murkier situation. It is, almost exclusively, seen from the perspective of a genuinely distorted Bromden. He sees the 'Combine' in every calculated gesture that nurse Ratched insinuates into the ward. He also sees many things that do not exist. Drunken college students and reactionary prudes refer to this technique as 'the unreliable narrator.' Even drunker graduate students and post-reactionaries know this as a tautology. It's what you say when you can't think of anything meaningful to say.They can't entirely be blamed; even Nabokov bristled against the wisdom of Freud. But Nabokov, this time, this one time, was wrong.

The relevance of Freud to our time is largely his insight and, to a very considerable extent, his demonstration that the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be. That is a quote from RD Laing's The Politics of Experience. I read it back when I was pretending to read so that I might impress some girls. They weren't impressed, but the quote stuck with me. Not because of my carefully developed misanthropy, but because it applies in such a precisely accurate fashion to me. And to everybody that I can imagine. But, I digress...

Randle McMurphy, in short, gets himself committed to an asylum so that he can get out of the monotonies of jail. This happens in the book and the film. After some time it is brought to his attention that his release it at the mercy of his wardens. He tries to acquiesce, but they are on to him. He does his best Cool Hand Luke, but, like Luke, he is broken, and when finally given a chance to escape he sinks back into himself and is lost. He looks around the ward through bleary eyes and forgets.

In the book, McMurphy is often referred to as the bull goose loony. He is that part of you that struggles against the trivia that comprises so much of human existence. He is also that part that gropes your best friend's wife at that Christmas party even though she was just being amiable. He lacks foresight, but he is the reason that you know that you are going to die. He will never leave the party.

The Chief is selectively mute, but he hears everything. He is also broken. Like a dream he is elusive and distorted and animates conglomerate mannequins for any and every person; seven at a time. He deforms reflections that slip through your fingers before you can grasp them. And he will kill McMurphy. And here is why...

McMurphy IS you. You come out of nothing into something for reasons that cannot be described much less assimilated. You put yourself into an inescapable situation whether you intend to or not. Nurse Ratched hovers over you and smiles. She may not even know your name but she still locks the door behind her as she leaves. And every window remains locked as you fumble at the keys. You will never rip the water fountain from its mooring, even if not for lack of effort. The house is spinning a roulette wheel with one hundred trillion zeroes and the red and black will eventually be less than a memory. And then a piece of your brain will disappear, and then nothing.

But Chief Bromden does not understand nothing. I cannot place this metaphor, it seems all too human. Still, somehow, the Chief will recognize what is going on. He will lead you by the hand to a remote part of the casino that is less well lit and that barely throbs to the canned music. He will place his hands over your nose and mouth. You will not struggle. He will call a waitress over. She will look you in the eyes and smile as she asks you what you want; and she will wait for you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Language Fails Because Everything Fails


1. Those that belong to the Emperor.

Borges knew. At one time the study of language must have seemed as penetrating as physics. What could possibly bring us a deeper understanding of ourselves than the study of the very thing that most completely differentiates us from the other animals? Borges meticulously read everything he could get his hands on. He became a proponent. Words mattered. He wanted to be precise, but precision failed him. Soon enough he exchanged actual encyclopedias for imaginary encyclopedias. They weren't fantastic except for the fact of their irreality. Borges had come to the end of language.

2. Embalmed ones.

Set this house on fire. There must be a desperate yelp within some people. Such need to find a solid foothold to cling to. Do not end a sentence with a preposition. But even the most elementary questions become vague if you press them. According to some it is OK to end some, sometimes, that way; of course others think otherwise. So look to genius, that foul rag and bone shop of the heart. But it will tell you: You have to find your way; because there is no way. But then, there you are. The earth collapsing beneath your feet as you scramble for contact.

3. Those that are trained.

I am scared. No, uncomfortable. Who am I to blow against the wind? I feel this. I reach out and touch nothing. No, I have some things. They tie me to the mast and beat against the song. The rocky shoals are not a threat because there are greater threats. I didn't make me this, but my fingerprints are all over it. When told by his patient that they were dreams and how could he be responsible for his dreams, Freud replied: Who else could?

4. Suckling pigs.

Success has always been a great liar. How could Van Gogh have felt himself a success? Foul cheeses and unwashed linen. That fucking prostitute. Would it somehow be better if he were in heaven raking in his posthumous accolades as he casually exchanged witty banter with Oscar Wilde and Lenny Bruce? Forever? At what point is the game up? Twenty-seven million years into the glory wouldn't the thought cross his mind that they were masked charlatans simply postponing the inevitable? The deification of success. Infinity dissolves perspective. You may as well be everything.

5. Mermaids.

There are ten times as many bacteria on your body as there are cells in it. Mitochondria, which power our cells and make us us, are, in a very real way, not even us. Our unconscious mind determines over ninety percent of our cognitive processes. Subatomic particles, of which we are made, behave in a fashion that could generously be described as fucking insane. We weren't before we were born and we aren't after we die. Mermaids singing, each to each. We have an improbably brief window of time to react (for/against) to a stimulus in our brain before it becomes reality. That is our free will. I want to talk to you. I want to tell you something. There is so much that we are not; till human voices wake us, and we drown.

6. Fabulous ones.

Some men can only be aroused by a woman in pantyhose. Some, only by a woman in pantyhose who is smoking. Someone has to be slapped. Quinn has to be dipped in Fresca and threatened with excommunication. Denise likes it when she is called ambivalent. Doorknobs? A man who has just varnished an old, but not antique, desk is greeted at the door by a woman who stutters uncontrollably as she fingers herself with a gloved hand. Say the word pussy with a Celtic accent. Scream incisor! Growl and pay my gas bill as you rearrange my porcelain figurines. I want you. I want... something.

7. Stray dogs.

Death is cheap. On the TV show The Wire there are many well developed characters who come to a terrible and irrelevant end. Cole dies on the stairmaster. Omar, who has previously escaped many preternaturally inescapable situations, is shot in the back by a distracted twelve year old. It is what that show nails. There is no noble death. Few people die defending a noblewoman from a brutal and senseless attack. And if they do, it is very likely that the incident will be interpreted, and re-interpreted, out of existence. Right now, as you read, there may be cells in your body that are on the verge of not functioning. There may be a woman who feels under appreciated and who is swerving her way to San Thomas Liquors to re-stock her supply of Cat's Meow Box Wine; because she has a coupon and because it reminds her of high-school. But it doesn't matter. Fiery blaze or family filled hospital room; you are there. And then dust, decay, indifference, and nothing. Luis Bunuel used to put a rabid dog in his films to remind the viewers that they were one random incident away from eternity.

8. Those included in the present classification.

Godel's idea is this. Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. That means that even adding numbers is fraught with ambiguity. Adding numbers! 6+3=? This is real. I am not kidding. And so, of course, something as soft as language must be even worse. Wittgenstein, who did as much as anybody to demolish the idea of a privileged position, showed that language (i.e. the most salient feature that separates us from the rest of the animals) is, at best, a fuzzy game-like structure that we utilize to navigate the uncharted waters of existence, because we can't do any better. No word is the thing it stands for. The word 'horse' is not a horse. The word 'word' is not even a word if you think of it contextually. Pointing doesn't help much; certainly not in complex situations. So, ultimately, every human edifice evaporates. And what are we left with? The desire to make the things we feel we can grasp into something meaningful. It is literally the best we can do and it is also very close to nothing.

9. Those that tremble as if they were mad.

Look in the shadows. What do you see? Same old monkeys.

10. Innumerable ones.

There is a way to show that there are infinities that are larger than other infinities. A guy named Euler did it. No shit. Another guy, not named Euler, wrote an essay on the homoerotic tension between Huck Finn and Nigger Jim. "All right, then, I'll go to hell!" That's a quote! Aldous Huxley died in a self-induced LSD stupor and Hemingway shot himself. Dante said that the suicides resided in the seventh circle of hell. They would only talk if you tore away one of their branches. And in a hundred billion years there won't be enough evidence left for anybody to figure out how the universe began. Joyce was enamored with human waste. Sometimes I say melk instead of milk. There is such a thing as a plastic pony that you are supposed to comb the hair of. 'Jesus wept' is the shortest sentence in the Bible. I am the library at Alexandria.

11. Those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush.

Even with precise language, with the vernacular of law or medicine, there will be gaps, holes, that can only be filled with other words which, themselves, engender the need for further gap filling tactics, some of which provide an opportunity for creative expression, and some of which rely upon more sober demands, but of which all must partake in the single minded effort to help clarify that which we innately feel elicits a strong, microscopically focusing, desire for explication, ever swirling inward, like Mandelbrot's sets, until perspective becomes relative and the desire wanes.

12. Others.

My first memory is of a dream. I was looking down upon a river that felt uncomfortably small. I bent down to see it better but the sensation was unbearable. As I knelt closer the feeling grew until I had to look away, up into the sky, into an overwhelmingly large star.

13. Those that have just broken a flower vase.

keep explain. god. you astrology. i can't. create. talk to you. my mother. would it matter. cold medallion. in through the. touch. i can catch a monkey. would it matter. i feel. tarot me. read. smoke brushes leaves. breathe. the reach for can you. under decipher. they, or they. come rush me. over to the now. locust cry. no, i if. stop. would it matter.

14. Those that from a long way off look like flies.

It is no secret. A group of people come upon a meadow. It is the place where the boy who wrote all those letters finally pulled away from her. It is a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants. It is the first draft that led to the poem about Winter. It is a blur of color, warmth, and security. It is the inability to tell his wife that he lost everything. The crime scene. The parable. The chance to get laid. The place I lost my keys. Why did I tell her that? If you would just lend me eleven thousand dollars. The last chance for the Turkana Woodthrush. More actors to swell a scene or two.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Context, Accountability, and Fear in Elementary School Education

Will someone please think of the children?
-Helen Lovejoy

What I want is to be able to enter a classroom and hear a teacher starting a sentence and then to enter the classroom next door and hear the other teacher finishing it.
-an actual administrator who works for the C.U.S.D.

It is always the same. The parking lot is a miniature Calcutta filled with still-running cars parked at all angles and surrounded by a cacophonous din of anxiety and confusion. Elephantine parents rage through the hallways dragging their listless vacant-eyed children behind them, occasionally pausing to shoot me a look that practically screams: "Why is a grown man working at an elementary school? I know you are a danger to my children and if I only had the time I would do something about it." And then they are off. The first day of school. It is always the same.

The teachers, fresh from a summer of mandatory training programs (Comprehending Disruptive Behavior, Whole Language and the Whole Child, The Autistic Spectrum: A Rainbow of Hope,) move slowly, with heads bowed, and rarely make eye contact. The prospect of countless hours of reading Houghton Mifflin aloud to classrooms full of bewildered children weighs heavily upon them. There are, everywhere, empty coffee cups and power bar wrappers.

In the corner of room 26, eight year old Julie fans herself with a copy of The Teacher From The Black Lagoon in a futile effort to combat the stifling heat. This is the most pleasure she will derive from a book for the next sixteen years. She will work as an administrative assistant for a mid-level auto parts supply depot and will develop a fondness for box wine. One of her daughters will almost be chosen for a reality show about unpleasant chefs.
A smart friend of mine (E.R.) once asked me one of those cocktail party/parlor game questions at a BBQ we happened to be drinking through. It went something like this: What is the biggest lie your parents ever told you? Unthinkingly, I blurted out that the inherent value of education, a ubiquitous bit of propaganda familiar to all, was a myth. It seemed like a provocative enough thing to say and was likely to get us through the remaining bottle of Maker's Mark. It did. Good times.

But as the weeks passed, and as I actually thought about what I had said, I realized that I should have been more narrow in my criticism. Becoming an educated person is undeniably an inherently noble thing. It is the commonly accepted means of becoming educated, the de facto processes that one encounters in almost any school in the country, that are so overwhelmingly delusional.

Ms. Greaves frowns at Martin and asks him why he isn't paying attention. He has no idea, but is a little nervous about going to see his dad at that scary place again and wonders if the Sponge Bob movie is this Thursday or Friday. He will spend a fair amount of time in his own scary places and then something will go wrong with his pancreas or spleen. The final thirty-two hours of his life will be a restful blur.

There has been a move over the last eight years towards greater accountability among teachers. The measure of this accountability is in the form of standardized test scores. Teachers are considered successful if their students achieve high scores. If not, then the state will ultimately take over the school, teachers will be flogged in public, etc. Something had to be done, with the world going to hell and all, and this is what they came up with. It couldn't make more sense.

Especially to the great mass of quasi-literate reactionaries whose heads are over flowing with Fox News Channel's unbiased reporting on America's omnipresent everyday atrocities; whose hearts have grown cold at the thought of the countless schoolyard shootings perpetrated by the godless sodomites who kidnapped prayer from the classrooms; whose eyes mist over at the thought of the roving gangs of pedophilic thugs who have taken over their neighborhoods; whose loins, those vestigial reminders of their animal nature, have evaporated into the ether and are already forgotten. Really, will someone please think of the children?

Leanna doesn't want to read that book. It is a stupid book and she has a better one in her backpack. But her whole class is reading it and so she kills the next twenty minutes by trying to think of words that almost rhyme with orange. She will go to college for eleven years and found her own not-for-profit food bank. She will wonder if she spends too much time being angry.

It is as though education is being managed by people who are entirely unaware of the last fifty years of human psychology. And perhaps it is. Standardized testing of this sort doesn't work because it can't work. Humans develop at different rates and through different means. The effort to make every classroom into the same classroom robs teachers of the opportunity to apprehend their students as individuals and to teach them accordingly. What was once an engaging, creative act is now no more meaningful than a trip to the DMV. We are told we have to do it and so we do, but God knows we die a little every minute we spend there. And so do God's children.

Still, principals actively seek to create faculties comprised of docile bodies; of teachers unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo. And, in all honesty, the profession of teaching doesn't exactly attract the most courageous, outspoken, type of person. They just want to keep their jobs and not get yelled at. And they already have the aggressively uninformed parents to deal with. The end result is classroom after classroom filled with uninspired, nervous teachers teaching material that they have no passion for, or belief in, to children who have no interest in hearing what they have to say.

They have no interest because everything they are taught is decontextualized. A good teacher knows that all you can actually do is instill a love of learning in a child and give him/her strategies for dealing with it. It can't be enough that children are told to learn for their own good. Or that they won't get a slightly less mind numbing job if they don't pay attention in school. And children innately see through any attempts to make what happens at school into a moral proposition. Only their Mongoloidal parents have trouble with that one. And, God bless 'em, those parents just don't have time anymore to think. So they let others do that for them.

Voila! Here we are. No child left behind. Soccer Moms rest easily. Politicians garner votes. Administrators congratulate themselves on the fact that all those meetings weren't for nothing. Teachers are unburdened of the tiresome task of teaching. Money, once frivolously wasted on unnecessary extravagances (art, music, field trips to places that don't suck) can be finally be used for realpolitik perks, e.g. large iron gates, uniform reading documents that have been standardized in an effort to make them unappealing to all, salaries that attract the best and the brightest to positions of high authority within the Ministry of Education. Beaming with pride, they must truly think this will be the best of all possible worlds.

Why can't Johnny read?
Because he doesn't give a fuck.