For months after the attacks, Bush administration officials maintained there was no indication terrorists were considering suicide hijackings. But the report said the FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security officially considered such a possibility as early as March 1998.
At your instrument, you try to find the right notes to support what you want to say. The notes form the chords, and the way the chords are arranged provides the delivery system for the lyrics. You want the lyrics to be heard, or you want them to be buried in the music.
Play a piano, like the man in the apartment above the unquiet street. Tap on the black keys, watch the diminished chords rise before your ears.
This is what you have to do to keep you focused.
The advertising machine is relentless in its pursuit of you, and some days it feels like it’s all closing in – and you know suicide is not painless. The math and celebrities from the advertising can overwhelm a mortal.
Deficits and balloon payments, options and non-matching 401(k) plans are out there. Interest rates and body bags, stagflation and Argentine solutions to first-world problems. If you don’t know who benefits from tax cuts, then it isn’t you.
Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Stay inside, the advertising machine says. The rapists and killers are out there, and if they don’t get you the cops will. The cops are losing their minds, they say, because they’ve been told about all this extra work they have to do, but they’re getting six messages from seven different agencies.
The young guys today, they say, they treat it as a job and not a profession.
This rankles the older guys.
And still the voracious march of godliness continues.
You think about the world trying maybe 20 minutes without religion, all of us starting over and shooting for teams. You ask how far religion has gotten us, and the believers tell you that The Word is needed now more than ever.
That’s what Nixon said, too, and you think it might be throwing good spiritual capital after bad.
Come back inside to the bar, where it’s safe. You can worry about that stuff later, she says. There’s gonna be a football game on TV, millionaires running around crashing into each other. Watch this, and then we’ll see what happened to that thing with Mars.
You watch the whiskey splash over the ice cubes, and you think of how economics supposedly trickles down. Coke is from Atlanta, and the whiskey is from Tennessee or Kentucky or somewhere equally inland.
Maybe the South did win the war.
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day ...
The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad.
-- Mark Twain
Did you really smoke cigarettes that came in a black package and were simply called Death? You can’t imagine that you spent money for something that was called Death, but you know that you did.
The amount of money spent smoking, the epidemic health-related expenses. All of them told us it was for us to do. Our heroes, our Deans and Davises and Keiths. All of the jazzmen smoked, and they did heroin to insulate themselves and their craft from the crushing, relentless racism.
Drugs were outlaw, and they were cool. They fostered the escape.
You drink, you smoke, you vanish.
The rebel marketing of the cigarettes, you think. They made us want to smoke. They somehow convinced us that killing yourself was cool and rebellious.
You broke up with him when you found out he had a personalized license plate, and it made you mad that he didn’t understand your reasoning, that you could not ally yourself with someone like that. After all these years, you are convinced the decision was the right one, the only difference is that now you can pick out those people from a mile off.
Like with the bumper stickers and cute cell phone rings.
To each their own, you think, but not to yours. You want to be, but they keep coming. Not to be your friend or form a community, but to pull you into man’s Habitrail. Do it over and over, and when you finally stop and look up you’ll be dead like all the smokers.
You used to tell people that Jackie Gleason smoked six packs of cigarettes a day, and he lived to be 70-something. That was your antidote for their concern.
The human Habitrail like the Skyway in Minneapolis, snow-white city of the Norse. This climate is so inhospitable to humans that we’ve built a series of tunnels for you to walk through, like you’re in outer space.
The hamsters have the Habitrail space station, and the humans send cars to Mars. The advertising machine tells you this is historic, and if you aren’t interested, you’re not fully American. This is our destiny, the advertising says, to explore out universe.
The advertising reports that there are no terrorists or wars to be fought on the red rock in space. Not until we get there, the late-night comedian says. We can mess up a Mars picnic.
And while you’re distracted, a man in the South of the United States is trying to make a change, highlighting more relevant math. He talks of the two Americas, one for the privileged and one for everyone else. It’s all so confusing, the math of sickness and education. Poverty in a land of wealth.
Open the borders when you want cheap labor to come empower business, but heaven forbid if these seeking folks will enter the Habitrail toward citizenship. No rights in the workplace. Know your rights.
The men with the sinewy forearms will then take their cigarettes and domestic beers, and think about how it was all supposed to be. The wife, the house, the kids. Take the cigarette in, wash it down with the beer.
Think, where is the tipping point in youth where it all becomes sadness?
The math never ends.
232: Number of American combat deaths in Iraq between May 2003 and January 2004
501: Number of American servicemen to die in Iraq from the beginning of the war - so far
0: Number of American combat deaths in Germany after the Nazi surrender to the Allies in May 1945
0: Number of coffins of dead soldiers returning home from Iraq that the Bush administration has allowed to be photographed
0: Number of funerals or memorials that President Bush has attended for soldiers killed in Iraq
100: Number of fund-raisers attended by Bush or Vice-President Dick Cheney in 2003
13: Number of meetings between Bush and Tony Blair since he became President
10 million: Estimated number of people worldwide who took to the streets in opposition to the invasion of Iraq, setting an all-time record for simultaneous protest
2: Number of nations that Bush has attacked and taken over since coming into the White House
9.2: Average number of American soldiers wounded in Iraq each day since the invasion in March last year
1.6: Average number of American soldiers killed in Iraq per day since hostilities began
16,000: Approximate number of Iraqis killed since the start of war
10,000: Approximate number of Iraqi civilians killed since the beginning of the conflict
$100 billion: Estimated cost of the war in Iraq to American citizens by the end of 2003
$13 billion: Amount other countries have committed towards rebuilding Iraq (much of it in loans) as of 24 October
36%: Increase in the number of desertions from the US army since 1999
92%: Percentage of Iraq's urban areas that had access to drinkable water a year ago
60%: Percentage of Iraq's urban areas that have access to drinkable water today
32%: Percentage of the bombs dropped on Iraq this year that were not precision-guided
1983: The year in which Donald Rumsfeld gave Saddam Hussein a pair of golden spurs
45%: Percentage of Americans who believed in early March 2003 that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 11 September attacks on the US
$127 billion: Amount of US budget surplus in the year that Bush became President in 2001
$374 billion: Amount of US budget deficit in the fiscal year for 2003
1st: This year's deficit is on course to be the biggest in United States history
$1.58 billion: Average amount by which the US national debt increases each day
$23,920: Amount of each US citizen's share of the national debt as of 19 January 2004
1st: The record for the most bankruptcies filed in a single year (1.57 million) was set in 2002
10: Number of solo press conferences that Bush has held since beginning his term. His father had managed 61 at this point in his administration, and Bill Clinton 33
1st: Rank of the US worldwide in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita
$113 million: Total sum raised by the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, setting a record in American electoral history
$130 million: Amount raised for Bush's re-election campaign so far
$200m: Amount that the Bush-Cheney campaign is expected to raise in 2004
$40m: Amount that Howard Dean, the top fund-raiser among the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, amassed in 2003
28: Number of days holiday that Bush took last August, the second longest holiday of any president in US history (Recordholder: Richard Nixon)
13: Number of vacation days the average American worker receives each year
3: Number of children convicted of capital offences executed in the US in 2002. America is only country openly to acknowledge executing children
1st: As Governor of Texas, George Bush executed more prisoners (152) than any governor in modern US history
2.4 million: Number of Americans who have lost their jobs during the three years of the Bush administration
221,000: Number of jobs per month created since Bush's tax cuts took effect. He promised the measure would add 306,000
1,000: Number of new jobs created in the entire country in December. Analysts had expected a gain of 130,000
1st: This administration is on its way to becoming the first since 1929 (Herbert Hoover) to preside over an overall loss of jobs during its complete term in office
9 million: Number of US workers unemployed in September 2003
80%: Percentage of the Iraqi workforce now unemployed
55%: Percentage of the Iraqi workforce unemployed before the war
43.6 million: Number of Americans without health insurance in 2002
130: Number of countries (out of total of 191 recognised by the United Nations) with an American military presence
40%: Percentage of the world's military spending for which the US is responsible
$10.9 million: Average wealth of the members of Bush's original 16-person cabinet
88%: Percentage of American citizens who will save less than $100 on their 2006 federal taxes as a result of 2003 cut in capital gains and dividends taxes
$42,000: Average savings members of Bush's cabinet are expected to enjoy this year as a result in the cuts in capital gains and dividends taxes
$42,228: Median household income in the US in 2001
$116,000: Amount Vice-President Cheney is expected to save each year in taxes
44%: Percentage of Americans who believe the President's economic growth plan will mostly benefit the wealthy
700: Number of people from around the world the US has incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
1st: George W Bush became the first American president to ignore the Geneva Conventions by refusing to allow inspectors access to US-held prisoners of war
+6%: Percentage change since 2001 in the number of US families in poverty
1951: Last year in which a quarterly rise in US military spending was greater than the one the previous spring
54%: Percentage of US citizens who believe Bush was legitimately elected to his post
1st: First president to execute a federal prisoner in the past 40 years. Executions are typically ordered by separate states and not at federal level
9: Number of members of Bush's defence policy board who also sit on the corporate board of, or advise, at least one defence contractor
35: Number of countries to which US has suspended military assistance after they failed to sign agreements giving Americans immunity from prosecution before the International Criminal Court
$300 million: Amount cut from the federal programme that provides subsidies to poor families so they can heat their homes
$1 billion: Amount of new US military aid promised Israel in April 2003 to offset the "burdens" of the US war on Iraq
58 million: Number of acres of public lands Bush has opened to road building, logging and drilling
200: Number of public-health and environmental laws Bush has attempted to downgrade or weaken
29,000: Number of American troops - which is close to the total of a whole army division - to have either been killed, wounded, injured or become so ill as to require evacuation from Iraq, according to the Pentagon
90%: Percentage of American citizens who said they approved of the way George Bush was handling his job as president when asked on 26 September, 2001
53%: Percentage of American citizens who approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president when asked on 16 January, 2004
This here is Bobby Timmons.
Time for decision to be made.
Though a stereotype, it’s not untrue: The man talking on the phone in the silver BMW tailgates the station wagon on the empty freeway. He wants to teach these beaners a lesson, he thinks. Cars with FRONT BC plates do not belong in the fast lane, let alone hauling six people north at 70 mph.
This is what I’m talking about, he thinks, says to his associate on the cellular phone. I’m being productive, and they are sleeping in the goddamned car in the middle of the day.
You think that the man would do well to drive around the station wagon and be on his way.
He might not know it, but he doesn’t want the station wagon to pull over. You fight a Latino guy, you better kill him. The fall always goes before the pride.
Those kids at the suburban high school shot at the migrant workers with BB guns. Men doing the work no one else'll do to put bread in the mouths of their babies.
And the teens fired weapons at them.
If only the 18th Street guys got a hold of them. They’d make them understand how kids these days just don’t get it.
You pass the BMW and the FRONT BC wagon, and you think of the frontera
in Baja, California, of the cold beers and hot sun on the littered beaches. It makes you feel old.
Like going to a funeral does.
But that’s where you head, back to your old friends and their weeping mothers. You didn’t plan it that way, but “Bastards of Young” plays in the car. You’ll think about it all during the day, while the toughest guys you’ve ever known cry and hug each other.
It beats pickin’ cotton or waitin’ to be forgotten.
You think of the important things, the matters worth caring about. At the end of the service you go to a phone and call her, just to tell her.
She’s sorry she can’t be there with you.
You tell her it’s okay, that she is.
This man here with Quincy Jones never rests, and you probably wouldn’t either, if you were head of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies at the crimson school on the other side of the Charles. That's right, this is what a Harvard man looks like.
He wrote a book about colored people called “Colored People” that appeals to people of any color. He also helped make a film about The Struggle that will be shown next month on state-supported television.
Well, PBS is state- and
About this time our thoughts are with the legacy of MLK, I put my humble hands together for Skippy.
The man called Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Look him up sometime. He’s on your side.
You watch your weight, run on the treadmill. You learn about the different kinds of fats: saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated. You know of HDL?s and LDL?s. Lipids, the whole thing.
You prepare for the eternal battle. Go to the dentist, floss until there?s blood on the dance floor. Put your toothbrush in a safe place. Flush the toilet with the lid closed. Watch the bacteria, you can see it spread invisibly.
A child in a United States ghetto is christened Monsanto by his parents. They have seen the name of the chemical giant and find it appropriate for their child. You think of all that Monsanto has done over the years, of its friends at DuPont.
DuPont calls it ?the miracles of science.? You think about the word miraculous.
Union-Carbide was Union-Carbide before it folded into Dow.
You remember Bhopal, a town brought to international life and killed by the poisonous chemicals. The man who ran the company still wanted in India but safe on the golf courses of suburban New York.
They say there is $200 million missing from the survivors of Bhopal fund. Money that could go toward greens fees and the 19th hole.
The chemical deaths of Monsanto and Dow and Hiroshima. Remember the math of death, it?s simple numbers. No matrices nor Cramer?s Rule, just simple, honest numbers.
Brush your teeth harder, eat less dairy, it?ll do you no good against the chemicals. Even the youth born to the name Monsanto, in the projects of Robert Taylor in Chicago, will face a chemical battle.
You can?t think about them. You have to ignore them, put more of them into your body to forget about them. You sail your ship into the night, and you have faith the light house will reveal itself.
You trust nature.
Iconic jazzman John Coltrane recorded the masterpiece “Stellar Regions” five months before his death, but the album was not released until 28 years later.
The incongruity of things is what gets to you.
A girl from a Southern California school goes all the way to Connecticut as she escapes to college. She will stand out there, in the pastoral snow of Storrs, but it will be safer there than at home.
You read about Christ in the movies and political endorsements. The Drudge site tells you that the great underappreciated Jimmy Carter endorses one candidate, just as the frail and tilted pope in Vatican City endorses a movie starring that great figure of myth, Jesus Christ. The headlines of the Drudge site move always to the bigger sites, and people who work at places with names like Annenberg and Medill fret that one man – with clear allegiances – so capriciously drives the nation’s news cycles.
The endorsements, the site later reports, did not happen.
You don’t know what to think or believe, and you think of the incongruity of power vested in a few people dependent of the ignorance of millions. Millions of you, who don’t know.
You go back to work, kiss you loved ones and hope the planes don’t crash.
The governor of California still is a muscleman film star, though movie-star governors are not unprecedented in the great Golden State. The last movie-star governor went on to become The Real Great Communicator. The gipper Reagan of the trickle-down runoff economic policies. No question, the advertising machine says, that a majority of Americans were better off when Ronnie left D.C.
In California they say that the powers are going to repeal the provision that says you have to be born in the U.S. to become president of the nation, and that the movie-star muscleman governor will become president one day. Even though the real Texas power doesn’t really like him, as he married into the most storied Democratic family of all.
Camelot in smithereens, indeed.
These are not ad hominem
attacks, you say. He is a muscleman movie star, and he is the governor. If disparate connotations attend these labels, it is not your doing.
The incongruity of people who drive the big SUVs that rule the world doing so despite knowing the vehicles are less safe than those that populate Accordia. Passive safety is what the engineers call this SUV safety – if a cement wall roars down the turnpike and collides with all the vehicles, the SUV will be better off than the regular car. But this doesn’t happen very often, and they say the SUV maneuvers like a pig.
It is a death trap, they say, but people seem to prefer the appearance of safety as opposed to real safety.
It’s like the union guys voting Republican. It doesn’t make any sense.
It’s incongruous, cognitive dissonance, like the belief that the Middle East dictator was responsible for Tuesday, Sept. 11.
We believe what we like to believe, and that’s more important than believing the truth.
It allows us to sleep better.
Sweet cousin cocaine, lay your cool, cool hand on me.
You were too young – or not born – to see the Stones in 1971, but that’s about the time you would’ve liked them the best, you think. The inflatable penises and the end-of-the-world guitar riffs bloodletting the world. The workers on the side of the treacherous I-5 still listen to the radio station that plays “Brown Sugar” nearly every hour.
Down in the boutique gym in the city, the men stand around and watch Michael Jackson on television. This is one of those gyms where, let’s face it, there is more deal-making and conferring done than fitness work. But that’s how it goes for those with the power. They get things done, come hell or high water.
One of the guys says Michael Jackson has had a tough life, and you let that hang in the air. You can hear everything because you forgot your Walkman, and the kid at the desk was nice enough to put on some music on the digital cable radio system. It dawns on you that your children and grandchildren will probably not know what a Walkman is.
A tough life, they say Michael Jackson had. The penalty paid by a black man who wanted to be white. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, my ass. You see the hate in the stories that always mention that he is the “self-proclaimed” King of Pop.
The Stones were the self-proclaimed Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World.
They co-opted the black man’s music, turned into their own. They tried to cross races. They played fast and loose with racial politics, “ten little niggers.” They screwed underage kids, just like Michael Jackson.
They continued to make good songs, too.
It’s not true that the same can be said for Michael Jackson.
He is mad past recovery, yet he has lucid intervals
, Cervantes wrote.
He is man, you think, and we are all past recovery.
They tell you that the matters are unrelated, and they may be. But you unfortunately have a tendency to view things in a vacuum.
The United States president wants to spend a billion dollars for Texas-based companies to go to Mars. The president also wants to spend another billion taxpayer dollars on promoting marriage.
In ultra-wealthy San Diego, where the median home price has surged past $400,000, the San Diego City Schools board cuts $21 million from its budget.
Twenty-one million goes into one billion more than forty-seven times. That means that about two percent of what will be spent “promoting marriage” could cover the cuts in San Diego schools.
Math is your new thing, you tell a friend. For instance, did you know that nearly 200,000 more people died at Hiroshima than were murdered out at the World Trade Center? That’s Sept. 11 happening 66 times to equal one Aug. 6.
When you check your portfolio, the BA symbol, you forget that the Hiroshima bomb fell from a Boeing plane. Talk about an ex-dividend date.
You say, my marriage is fine. Or, I like being single just fine. I enjoy being a successful, tax-paying homosexual, and I want to get married, too. But your “healthy” marriage doesn’t apply to me. You don’t like who I love.
You imagine a gay revolution, the Geffens and Dillers shuttering their businesses and leading the army to put such a conversation to rest. You absorb us from the advertising machine, laugh how we know more about clothes than you, but you in the heartland won’t allow us our unions?
How dare you.
Unscrew the cap on that bottle, Albert’s school just lost four teachers and their Internet connection today. They don’t have any means to support an athletic environment that provides the coveted after-school alternative.
Fuck you, drinking doesn’t solve the problem. It certainly doesn’t make it any worse. This isn’t our world. Look at our skin, our tax brackets.
We are the disenfranchised. I’ll take their damn liquor and put myself to sleep with it. We can’t rise up anymore because it’s too expensive and uncomfortable for those who could lead us.
This bottle’ll take me to Mars. The hell with getting married, I’m getting fucked up.
The students pour across the university campus like paint spilled on a street, and the boys are excited because the girls wear spring clothes. Some of the girls know about the extra attention that attends spring classes, and some of those girls relish it.
Some of the girls dislike still being referred to as girls. One of the boys who has read Dworkin and MacKinnon says that no subjugating offense is intended, it’s just that boys always think of themselves “guys” – no matter how old they are – and the appropriate matching term for women is “girls.” Some of the girls buy that explanation, but others think it’s more of the same.
In the nation’s capital, a firestorm has erupted over one of the president’s men describing the commander in chief as a blind man in a room full of deaf people. The conservative sources, the Drudges and Washington Times
of the world, run stories about how the president’s man was never listened to anyway. They sell the impossible idea that the president’s man was respected and sought after enough to be named a Secretary of the Treasury who was ignored.
The college students, their minds hot with skepticism, don’t buy it.
One of the girls on the campus says she doesn’t care, and when someone asks her how she could possibly not have an interest in the events that shape her life, she says that those events do not shape her life.
She says the greatest power she has is to not care.
If I don’t care, she says, I can’t become one of them. If I care, I get drawn into and forced to a side. I won’t have it.
A boy watches this girl say these words and tells himself there’s no way she could go guy for a guy like him. Quietly, he turns his baseball hat around toward the front. He immediately decides he will never again wear a t-shirt with a logo.
He feels he has to raise his game for a girl like this.
He will, and he will make her see that is he not like the other college boys. He is proud of himself for deciding on action, no longer content with the view from the sidelines. As his friend says, You gotta be in it to win it.
You grow old, and you can’t help but remember the Chomsky you read in college. War, distraction, propaganda, economy, space travel.
They say you’re crazy, even though you don’t identify yourself as such. You keep your mouth shut, because in the after there is no debate. No dialogue.
Watch the Malaysian woman say you are either with the United States or to hell with you. A politician, she has a hard time squaring that with her Muslim constituents. They pull her too much, she might have to push you.
When there are slums like in Kuala Lumpur, you build the Petronas Towers. When the U.S. economy offers false-positive signs of growth and recovery, you send a man to Mars and make the space program of Texas front-page news. Don’t look now, but another space shuttle just blew up.
Your friends tell you it’s man’s destiny to explore his environment. These friends may also adhere to Manifest Destiny.
The dogs know none of this business. They don’t know what your father told you about redheads as the girl at the liquor store comes over to pet them. The dogs know not of redistricting or incumbency – nor of tax shelters or trickle-down economics.
They know love.
Like the rioters in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, long shadowed by the gilded and phallic towers. And didn’t that Welsh piece of ass crawl across them in a bikini, the guy in the seat next to you asks. With the milkman from Edinboro?
The dogs want to eat, sleep and show love.
Then why do we beat up hippies, smack them with batons?
Because the stink and wear bad clothes.
My way or the fuckyouway.
In the back streets of a small town outside Los Angeles tonight, someone is going to learn what they are made of. He doesn’t know it yet, might not even realize until years from now, but tonight will be a pivotal moment in the life of young Bruce Cozzell.
His girlfriend Ginny has already learned something about herself this week – she found out she was capable of doing something antithetical to her beliefs. She has vowed to never do it again, what she termed selling herself out.
It’s a hard world in the United States streets, for sure, but the belief in the eternal power of love keeps the kids moving. Later, if they make it, they will learn about Sternberg’s triangular theory of love and realize maybe they only had a couple of the necessary components. But that’s okay. What they have now is good enough for them.
Money has to be made, and they’re meeting Dario at 10, right about the time the first newscast goes on the air. Dad worked in the same shop for 35 years, built a nice home and kept it warm, but Bruce has wanderlust with a touch of bloodlust.
Ginny smells like she just came out of the oven, or the association of her scent makes Bruce's stomach groan with hunger. Her hair is back in ponytail, several pieces sprung loose like wings on the side. Her fingernails are chipped but not bitten. There’s a lick of sweat on her neck, and Bruce knows that now is not the time.
The planes soar above in the black sky as the young lovers huddle with the embers of their cigarettes, cherry beacons in the new year night. The cars go past occasionally, grown-ups off to behave like children. They say that since tomorrow is Saturday, it’s not a school night – they haven’t been to class in more than 20 years.
Ginny doesn’t skateboard, and neither does Bruce. He drives a hand-me-down Buick with a killer heater. If everything goes to plan to night he’ll have enough to get it out of the shop.
Dario has other plans that do not involve transferring any capital to the young couple. Instead, he intends to incarcerate them in a fortress of alcohol and marijuana and alight with Ginny. Ever since he saw her wearing shorts at the gas station the plan has been in motion.
You cross your fingers for Ginny and Bruce, hope that Dario comes to his senses. You don’t want him to confirm his registration on the other side, and you hope that Ginny and Bruce can stay on this side.
High above the twirling planet earth, you don’t begrudge the film stars their vanity music projects, and it crosses your mind that the ventures may be pure of heart. After all, the man in the seat next to you says, they probably don’t need to do it for the pussy.
You hear him say this, talk this way, and it’s like a tape of you or someone you knew recorded a decade ago. The expression, coarse as it strikes you on the Jet Blue flight outside Columbus, is true.
But it doesn’t mean the music isn’t terrible.
And the film stars have relatives worse off than you and I, but you don’t see them at the film screenings and press junkets.
The other day, I saw this fuckin’ broad on TV, the man in the Jet Blue seat says, and she was interviewing one of these celebrities. The next night, she
was being interviewed. He said, the chicks who interview the celebrities become celebrities. How fucked is that?
You think about it, and he makes sense again. Your mind drifts for a moment as you think about the observations that come wrapped in such salty phrases.
It’s true. We pay to watch millionaire teenagers run around in their shorts.
It’s weird – and distracting.
Like Mars and rockets and vanishing children and bickering politicians.
No one talks about the astronomical costs of health care, it dawns on you. Land of the free, my ass, the guy on the plane says. Free time maybe. Tell those terrorists they have it wrong. The United States advertises itself as the wealthiest nation in the world, but all that means is our rich people are richer than yours.
It doesn’t trickle down to East St. Louis or the CPT.
Watch the red planet, see the rockets. Go to sleep.
It’s professional hockey, but the teams aren’t in the fabled National Hockey League. They have names like Icedogs, Wildcatters and Checkers, and they play in small arenas in second- and third-tier towns.
Watch the young goons square off early in the first period and the concomitant rise of the crowd. The men and their sons, the wives and the daughters. Beer and cotton candy, and not a bad seat in the house.
The ears of ancient Rome burning.
Outside, three sailors recently back from the deserts of Iraq walk into a strip club that almost runs a joint-promotion with the minor-league hockey team. You see their childlike faces, and you can’t imagine anyone sending them to fight a war. You don’t have an opinion on war, really, it’s just that these men look like babies.
Not babies as in crying babies, but babies as in months-old.
The strippers call themselves dancers, and why not? They dance. You call yourself what you want. Work at a gas station, and you say you work at a gas station. You don’t call yourself a pumper.
The girls are the same ages as the men back from war, but already they are older. You can see it in their faces, the empty expressions that bespeak cold capitalism. Don’t try to pull a fast one on these girls, nary a one of them over 28. If they haven’t seen, heard or done it, they’ve been told about it ad nauseum by the older girls. Still little girls at heart, they know a woman’s place in the world all too well.
The guys at the bar pretending they are in the club to drink, not watch the strippers straddle the pole – how many straddles on only one pole? The guys at the bar want the best of both worlds: quick access to the booze within eyesight of the strippers. At the bar, they only have to tip the bartender, not the strippers.
The girls who work stripping and the ones who pour the drinks know this routine, and they let the men think they’re fooling someone. They’re not, but they stay in the club spending money, and that’s all you can ask for.
Soon the minor-league hockey players will arrive to drink at the strip club. They have fought their fights in the empty arenas, and some of the strippers will not put up a fight. Most of the players are from Canada, and a lot of the strippers are from Arizona.
In Arizona, an FBI agent suspicious of Middle Eastern men trying to learn how to fly planes wrote the most famous memo that no one read. Also in Arizona, a man was alleged to have help the former U.S. soldier who attacked his own country by detonating a truck full of fertilizer in Oklahoma City. Arizona is home to the John Birch Society, too, guns and God, and I’ll be goddamned if you’re gonna discuss the Second Amendment with them.
You’ve never been to Arizona, at least not anywhere outside of Tucson or Phoenix. Quiet little state down there. Witness protection and all that. Anonymity in the red desert clay. It’s like a Mars next to California, filled with a lot of nice folks who look you in the eye.
The Southern Californians call ‘em Zonies and wear bumper stickers that say GO BACK TO ARIZONA. A father tells his son that he does not meant to generalize, but he swears every time a vehicle makes a silly maneuver on the road that vehicle bears an Arizona license plate.
All California license plates are made in the state’s penitentiaries, and the governor who was governor before the action-film star became governor was a strong supporter (and beneficiary of) the prison-guard unions. The members of which would hold gladiator fights at hellholes like Corcoran, and then fatally shoot the inmates when the battles got out of hand. They say the concessions that governor made to those guards – and the piracy of the state’s electricity by the Texans – is why schools programs are cut and enrollment at community colleges has been capped.
They say it’s like the ‘80s all over again.
Gladiator battles in the prisons, where nearly every person locked up has a drug-related conviction. And gladiator battles on the hard ice in empty arenas in the Southwest. The president in the ‘80s was once a governor from California.
His vice president was a former CIA director from Texas, a man whose son became U.S. president. Then amended the rule that says you have to be a U.S. native to be a president.
Which allowed the action-film star governor of California to become president of his adopted country.
She will not again be traveling to the great cities of the world: San Francisco, Florence, Tokyo. At least, she will not visit those places with him.
She has fired him, she tells her friends, because she is no longer impressed by him. It may seem a small, needy demand of someone – to be impressed – but it really isn’t, she says.
I will depart if you do not impress me.
She says this does not mean what have you done for me lately. No, not at all, because forms of impression may last for years, some may indelibly pressed into the mind and heart. The shelf life of these impressions, rather than their frequency, is what is important.
At this stage of her life, she is not impressed by him. Maybe he wore off.
She admired his discipline and fitness regimen, but she was put off when he told her – without pause – he had been dutifully (no pun intended on either of their part) keeping a log of bowel movements. Stool schedules, he said, were important. Three, well-formed, daily expulsions.
And coming during a midnight drink in Chinatown, his revelation came just three hours after dinner. In her mind, he practically told him while they were eating. And inside she didn’t really dispute the necessity of a man paying mind to such things, but she felt it was a private matter. Like how they say women should wipe from front to back, it doesn’t take a whole lot of explaining.
She is fit, too, but she is not nearly as forthcoming. And though she feels the attention from the men in the gym, she is not firing him for them. It’s for her, the only person that it should be done for. Maybe a little for him, too, since deep down he probably knows that someone else out there would not only accept his way of thinking, they would actually think along his lines.
Like the incessant harping about how no one wants to talk about the Saudi connection. A long time ago she liked how at dinner parties he would describe the kingdom as an 800-pound hippo, unknowingly screwing up the expression.
But not anymore. She's heard it all too often, way more than he would like the Saudi-Texas connection to be mentioned. It’s run it’s course, and the material has become stale.
So she is firing him.
Life moves on, and you gotta keep moving, they say.
Has the idea of Las Vegas passed you by? Does it sound wasteful and exhausting? Can you summon the interest and passion?
The great American bacchanal, along with the Crescent City on the big brown river.
Not such a Big Easy, it turns out.
The British song legend who reared a couple generations of teens with his guitar gets shot in New Orleans, U.S.A., while trying to stop a purse snatcher. It makes the heart ache.
He will survive the gunshot, that man of the absolutely perfect songs, and impressions of the United States will be forged and reinforced around the globe.
You now know why he longs for the Village Green Preservation Society.
All the way to New Orleans he came, but not to hear “St. James Infirmary.” They will play that for him on another day.
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and avowed man of Christ says that anyone who “disagrees with the president should leave the country.” He does not offer to provide transportation and overseas room and board for those he deems worthy of exportation. He is a black man supporting a Republican president.
Another black man says, These ain’t no Lincoln Republicans, these are the Republicans of Nixon and Reagan.
A black man voting Republican is like the chicken voting for Col. Sanders, another black man says.
Sinking New Orleans was built on the backs of black people, yet like a flower in a concrete hell, the great American institution of jazz sprouted and blossomed. Dismissed as licentious witchcraft for oversexed colored folks, the music carried the hopes and spirits of the forgotten.
You know John Coltrane did not vote Republican. Neither did Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Research has proved that the black people working in the fields and on the plantations were not hypersexed maniacs. They actually were relatively chaste and communal, sticking together in the face of unbearable cruelty.
It was the white landowners who sewed their semen all over the black fields. Just ask the dead Republican senator.
From down by New Orleans – or close enough.
We reap what we sow, you think. Sew what?
“So What,” a jazz classic by a black man raised by his doctor father.
“Only white faggots play tennis.”
It comes from somewhere behind you, up above your deuce court, from a parking lot separated by two fences from the public courts.
You continue a rally, aware that the voice was moving away from you as it spoke.
The ball goes into the net, and you and your wife – on the other side of the court – regroup and begin again. She is learning the game, and you show her what you little you learned of it in your youth.
“Hey, faggot, you’ll hit it better if you take the dick out of your ass.”
The voice has stopped moving and remains directly behind the fence. It is an adolescent voice. A voice belonging to someone who does not know the pleasures of men and their prostates.
You consider your several options as you continue hitting the ball with your wife. Your first consideration is that the voice is doing his people a disservice with such language. You think there is no male role model to have taught him of taking such chances with such rudeness.
Your wife on the other side of the net says nothing unrelated to the rally at hand. The sun is down, and the balls are hard to see in the gloaming. The planes continue their approach to the nearby airport.
“Hey, faggot,” the voice calls again, about the same time your wife hits one wide. You don’t hear the rest of the voice because your wife is telling you that she has another ball, that you don’t need to get the one that bounced into the fence. You tell her it’s okay, and she understands your body language to mean you will retrieve the ball on your side of the court.
You turn to see get the ball, and after you pick it up you look up at the voice.
It comes from a white person, an adolescent about driving age. His friend is black, and in the gloaming you can see his teeth. He does not say anything. You think to yourself that he knows better, that someone told him it is rude and unwise to bait strangers. You never know what you’re gonna catch.
You catch the voice in the eye and stare up at it for a good couple of seconds. For a moment it is silent. You don’t say a word, and your face is not demonstrative. You just look into the voice’s eyes until it registers what you communicate.
The voice then says, “Uh, sir, do you know what time it is?”
You don’t say anything as you walk back toward the service line. You, he, and his friend know what has transpired. You do not say a word.
You go back to hitting the balls with your wife, and the voice shuffles off into the increasing darkness, the hollering and baiting resumed but quieting. It is gone.
You hit the balls some more with your wife.
As you walk from the court with her, she says she was going to tell the voice the time. She did not hear the other things it said. When told of the baiting, she says she’s glad she didn’t give the time.
No time was given, and that’s why the voice was at the tennis courts yelling “faggot” and trying to solicit some attention. Some time from someone, even if it was negative.
No time was given, indeed, and your wife said it’s too bad the voice is going to have to learn so many lessons the hard way.
You hope that maybe it just did.
Objectively, you conclude that in the restaurant world where each group of employees thinks theirs is the most-valuable and hardest-worked position, it is the waiters who have the toughest job due to their intermediary roles. They have to deal with imperious chefs, know-it-all bartenders and wraithlike buspersons – to say nothing of condescending patrons.
Like it or not, the wait staff is the glue. How they go, goes the ship.
A stressed waiter named Eric hates that a coworker named Jason always drinks coffee and eats dessert during the busiest stretches of the weekend nights. Eric sweats and burns himself carrying too many plates, and he seethes that Jason talks about the great X he has waiting for him when he gets off. As she listens to Jason’s story at her customers’ discomfort, one of the few females that works there does not know the other wait staff refer to her as a fag hag.
She hasn’t worked there long enough to know or be told.
Eric is very busy, what restaurant folks call “slammed” or “in the weeds.”
Jason theatrically eats bread pudding and tells Eric that they are not workers in a hospital. Theirs is not a life-saving employ, he reasons.
Outside, a cluster of homeless people have gathered to argue. One of them slurs at some patrons leaving the restaurant, and the hostess quickly guides them down the street.
The homeless people continue down the block, near the convention center where the Republicans will hold their nominating convention. They stop near the detached patch of weeds that will be referred to during the convention as the FREE SPEECH ZONE. The nominee inside the convention will not see those gathered in the shadow of the convention center, but he will be told the turnout was small and unorganized.
There is a secrecy in politics, and in the after it has become more secretive than ever, you conclude. You wouldn’t believe how much relates to matters of national security. They don’t answer anything, and those who question are dismissed as quacks and commies.
They might not have known explicitly what was going to happen, and that is important. It allows them to stand and swear that they did not know Muslim men allied with an exiled Saudi once funded by the United States were going to hijack four airplanes and turn them into weapons of mass destruction on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
And that’s probably true.
They didn’t know that exactly was going to happen – and that’s their get-out-of-culpability card.
But they knew something was going to happen, and that’s another matter altogether.
You think to yourself that you pay your taxes, and yet an Australian media mogul who shelters his income around the world is considered more of an American than you. Still other folks in Guatemala and Belize will argue that they, too, are Americans.
And they are.
Everyone is, like it or not.
Rest assured the men who clean the Banana Republic windows in the driving San Francisco rain do not shop at the Union Square store. As a matter of fact, one of the men tells you they wouldn’t be caught dead in the glowing shop.
They don’t highlight their hair.
But it’s just a like a punker kid streaking his hair blue or like a skunk, someone else says. These men who look like their chocolate got stuck in someone’s peanut butter only paint the ends of their hair to feel better about themselves. Maybe it’s their rebellion.
You disagree maybe, don’t like the men speckling their hair. You think these are the kind of guys who will someday drive Corvettes, color their beards like Kenny Rogers.
What does it really matter, though? To each their own.
Tell that to the man with his shoes off on the airplane, toes splayed into the aisle where you quietly wish the unsmiling flight attendant would roar by with that sturdy cart of hers. Men do that job, too, the flight attending, but when you conjure up the battleship-gray cart crushing into the man’s toes, it is a woman you envision at the cart wheel.
His feet and toes and socks and all that are more than you feel you should have to experience. You make notes to yourself, and you remind yourself that you will not let this stuff occupy your mind. People can’t be controlled, and the spiral of human consideration for one another is a downward one.
The man is wearing a soaking gray sweatshirt on the Grant Avenue corner, much heavier because of the rain saturation in the hood. But his neck is strong, and his hands are steady. This is not a trifling man, in the original sense.
He does not care about travel warnings or bare feet exposed on airplanes, lost baggage and twitchy glances toward the cockpit.
You cannot stand and wait for the lavatory at the front of the plane because of the Middle Eastern men, but don’t use that as a racist excuse.
The city weather does really change every block, but odds are the rain will keep coming for some time. Our friend cleaning the windows in the downpour seems oblivious to the relentless storm clouds blowing across the bay.