Monday, April 28, 2008

Mind If I Tag Along?

Chuck was lost in a swirl of his own thoughts just as Alice came up to him at the bus stop.

“What are you thinking” she asked, her voice a brassy rasp. She placed the plastic bag she’d been carrying on the bench where Chuck sat, where it met the warped and over- painted wood with a wet , crackling rush of air.

“Oh, ya startled me” said Chuck. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at Alice, squinting to see her face. If he still had the glasses that got run over by the city bus a month ago, he wouldn’t have to strain his eyes to see the droops and sags in her face, the
lines that looked like ravines seen from planes on implausibly clear days. He could tell she was smiling. When she frowned her face seemed darker, more a smear or stain in a cloth than the cheery cloud she usually seemed in his blurry world.

“Whatcha thinking” she asked again.

“Thinking about going downtown and getting me a few bucks for a pint of blood and then
getting a room at the Sattler to get out of the cold, ya know? They’re gonna tear that thing down and put some condos or offices or some such nonsense, and I thought it’d be nice to spend a night in a room with a roof and windows that close and all, for old times sake.”

He fell quiet, and after some minutes Alice spoke up.

“Mind if I tag along?”

“Nah. Let’s get going then.”

Chuck stood up and pushed the shopping cart he’d filled with everything he had and both of them moved up the main street, mindful of traffic, quiet as shadows as they moved toward the high rises, the tall buildings just over there, the towers of commerce.

Avenue (2)

Night never seemed the time to get sentimental about the way the world never becoming what it was you wanted it to be when you were young, so thought Flanders, but this night, this very night, the lights on the wet streets making slurred rainbows and hissing sounds as the tires rolled over the pot holes in the asphalt, he thought, why not, this night of endless dreaming when there is only he and his cigarettes, the bottle of hooch in his back pocket, the clubs along the avenue up to the old water tower where he’d been in trouble on nights like this years earlier, earlier, faster as the rush of speed hit the brain and the tongue swelled and dried as ideas and impulse came into their own just then, this night of cigarette smoke in is lungs, a dry and parched pinch of burning charcoal filtered blackness that roasted the pink design of nature’s idea of breathing, Flanders took a drink, he wanted to talk he fingered his change and lounged against the wall of the door way he was in, cracking his knuckles, rattling the coins in his pocket, thinking he’d love a blues jam to break out in front of him right now, a long and searing guitar solo ala Alvin Lee or Johnny Winter, none of this po’ sharecroppin’ Negro shit where the notes were all wrong, the coarseness of the singing too beat up, chafed, scuffed up , none of that at all, he wished it would rain, he thinks that would help the way he isn’t feeling about this world and how it never comes around to his way of thinking, anyone’s thinking when there was a time for him to be alert enough to ask someone, why couldn’t he just drink like the other guys, just be like the other guys, just drink and sit in a bar and smoke the cigarettes, endless butts crammed in an ashtray, get drunk, pick up on some swing shift cootie cutie and fuck his brains out, be in some place warm, worn out, fucked up, fucked and asleep, oh yeah, not outside on a rainy night, looking at the traffic, all his teeth grinding something fierce, molars going like trains passing each other in mountain towns where the coal and the axel grease comes from, to the shelves of California, Flanders took a drag off his smoke and felt his back pocket for the bottle, wanting to slow down, the cars came to the intersection and just roared by when the lights changed, when the lights changed, the cars just roared by, big radio speakers cracking the promise of dawn and early returns of bus lines up and at ‘em and really alert to the cause of what the fuck am I doing here, oh pleaseeeeeeeeeeesssee man oh god in heaven this is such a bad bad badddddddddddd buzz, fucking A man, bad bad bad, Flanders was awake enough for an invading battalion, the white crosses had him marching, ready for anything, just alert, nothing moving but notions about what he might have done in former times, the chances he passed up , the chances, man that guitar solo smoked!!! I went down to the cross road, to hack a ride , oh yeah

There was a harmonica in one of his pockets, but this was no time to stop what he was doing in order to find it, he ran his hands over the wall, slimy with night dampness, another rain was coming, dust from the asphalt rose again and choked him, he lit a new cigarette and watched the fresh red cherry at the tip glow , Flanders squinted his eyes to blur the vision, it was the light at the tip of an air plane wing, the light on a buoy in a harbor of choppy water, a small torch to burn away the night, he coughed, spit some phlegm, he took another drink from the bottle, he could hear the motor functions of his own mind grind away, running overtime, everything felt as though it were about to fall apart and collapse, I bet this goddamned building weighs a fuck of a lot, he thought, I mean any reason I need not pay my taxes, I mean, not until the editorial cartoonist for that rag gives us an apology for the dirt he did addicts, man, like just cuz I slam does not mean I am an addict, I just fuck up is all, ways to my thinking, the cooties are fucked up, yeah, electric as robot arms in Disneyland kiddie zones, oh yeah…

“You need a blues jam” Shel said, breaking the barrier between them. She’d been there next to him, flipping through the pages of a paperback novel that she read by the light of the liquor store they were standing in front of. “You’re tense, Flan, you gotta loosen up.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. He pulled away with a startled jerk of his shoulder.
“Play some blues, squeezie”, she cooed, bending down the corner of the page she was on and stuffing the book into her shoulder bag/ “Play something low and deep so that your nerves can find something they can rest on.”
“Can’t” said Flanders” this was a mistake. I can’t even walk anymore, and the only thing I can do is stare at the intersection watching cars get on and off the free way…”
“Those white crosses were supposed to be good….”
“ No goddamned shit, . Flanders wheezed. He was short of breath.
“Easy” said Sheila “It’s okay.”
“Goddamned Ferg” he said.
“It’s okay. Play some blues…”
“Can’t. Ferg just drinks, man, none of this slammin’’' and scammin'. Man oh goddamned man, oh fuck oh yeah…”
“Easy …”

A car slowed down in front of them, the tires hissing like crackling dry leaves in a fire. The driver was a teen age male, wearing a backward baseball cap, looking around the avenue to see who was coming and going along the wet street. The passenger was another boy, a Mexican kid in a spike cut and black smear of a goatee between his lower lip and chin. He pounded on the side of the car in time to the furious beats of their CD deck, annihilation music.
“Hey” he yelled at Flanders, “Which way to the Water tower??”
Flanders stepped forward, into the arc of light cast by a yellow street lamp. He looked sick, eviscerated of all feeling.
“That way” he said, pointing up the street, into perspective obscured by billboards and old trees the city hadn’t yet cut backt.

“ On the right, bro, can’t miss it…”
The passenger gave a nod to the driver in the direction that Flanders pointed . The car lunged forward suddenly, running a red light, leaving a clamoring echo of squealing tires resounding through the block on what had been a quiet night on the street, with only a constant light rain accompanying the motions of minor crimes occurring in the alleys , parking lots and playgrounds.
“Kids, goddamn kids” he said, “I mean, when we went cruising, when we were that age, we made it a point to get the fuck outta dodge, y’know, I mean go someplace we didn’t live and see the sights , the freaks who lived there , man, I mean, gimmee a break, there’s nothing at the Waterpower but old men at picnic tables playing cards and checkers…”
“I couldn’t tell ya” she said, “Let’s go get a movie and chill, Flan, its cold and you have to do something besides stare at traffic. Put all that speed to use studying an unsolvable puzzle…”
“Tell you what, Shel, I gotta work tomorrow, and I ain’t sleeping tonight, not really…”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing” she said, taking his arm to pull him away, inch by rattled inch away from the liquor store entrance and up the street, where she had her apartment above a neighborhood hobby shop. “Time to read a film, not the street..”
“Next chapter…” she said, and pulled him along by his arm.

She led him down up the street, into the dark and shrill coldness of half-rain, a hard mist that felt not unlike stabs to their skin, pricks of cold, deliberate fingers. The walked past several businesses, most of them bars, most of them unlit with the doors open for the old navy guys and their wives who had to stand outside for a cigarette. Shel could feel the double burn of whiskey and Marlboros passing through her throat and passing on its burn and warmth to every far end, fingertip and unhealed region of her body where the cold of an unending, snowless winter crept and hardened her skin into some flat surface, emotionless, recoiling at the touch, she loved the feeling of being thawed, whiskey and cigarette, the room and the streets getting hazy around her as the city seemed to calm down for a moment, fall quiet for some long seconds, it’s hateful speech quieted by a collective sign from bars and vanishing apartment houses after the citizens are off the buses and out of their cars and settling in with the fall of nigh and an eye lid, then another eyelid, television on and drink in hand, a cigarette burning and the skin softening, feeling, the sting of feeling flooding back to what had seemed so hopelessly lost, inured, hard and crass, like the weather that surrounds and buries the neighborhood , unresponsive to the silent yearnings of hearts translating their desires into small talk about work, box scores, bad jokes, yes, she wanted to warm up.

Shel pulled on Flander’s hand, poor Flanders who was now so relentlessly distracted with his speed that all he wanted to do was merge with the things of this extraordinary world, to burst through some membrane of distinction and test the intelligence of the average man- made things he found on the street, that he espied doing nothing, being nothing and not even existing as the sum of theirs constituent parts until his eyes took them in and his mind gave those things names, that is, defined them, but he could feel himself being tugged along the street by Shel, past the businesses, the parked cars, in a direction away from the water tower that was still the landmark all kinds of personal gravity had their polarities defined by, the water tower seen from afar, looming from the small vest-pocket park area from where it rose above the line of tall trees and the buildings of the business district that had an indifferent profile in their hard angles, architectural distinction sacrificed when mortar had to be applied in a hurry less the money run out during a construction boom that began in the fifties and ground to a stand still in the sixties, leaving the business area to slowly fall apart, patch by patch, chicken wire seen under the stucco, the water tower looming over the tree line and the roofs and television aerials as though it were a guardian sleeping on its feet, resting against the cornerstone of a palace gateway while the business of invading hordes and their dirty money swept past it, quietly changing the name of the bricks, the stones that built the homes , dug up the trees whose roots disrupted the sidewalks that led to and from the park and The Water tower, where everyone was going to or coming away from on a rainy night.

Flanders stopped suddenly, causing Shel to stumble in her rapid pace. He pointed down to the curb, where a stream of rain water flowed down the street’s slight incline. This was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, and again he pointed he motioned for Shel to take in a long look at the run off as the water gathered and swelled at the curb and then became a mad river to the bottom of the hill, running into storm drains that emptied on beaches that were closed to swimming and other human use.
“Nice, Flan” said Shel, pulling her coat around her collar. She was getting cold. The wind cut through her wet coat bitterly.
“We gotta go, sweetie” she said, pulling him along, “what we need are a bath and drink. Let’s get going…”

“Listen” he said, cocking his head as though to aim his ear in the direction of sounds only he heard. Shel looked puzzled, her mouth taking on a frown that wormed over her delicate, high-cheeked features.
“What?” A visible tremble ran through her lips. It was cold and her teeth were chattering.
Flanders put a finger over his lips. “Over there” he said, tilting his head to indicate a cross street they’d come to, in front of yet another cluster of shops that were mostly closed for the night, but where the liquor store still kept the light burning until the legal limit. Up the side street, in a doorway that led up to apartments over the storefronts, were two teenagers, arguing. There voices could be heard on the main drag between batches of cars hissing along the asphalt.
Flanders was laughing.
“I wanna hear this…”
“Flan, damn it, it’s cold…”
“Listen. Shhhhhhhhhh…” He placed a twitching, cold tipped finger over her lips to make her be quiet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Avenue (1)


"Ain't no big" Flanders said, "I mean, I get all the noise all the time about saying things when it's not the best time to be saying anything at all, but understand this, it aunt no big thing, no slab of massive import?"

He sipped his coffee and listened to the dishes being bashed out in behind the door to the kitchen area behind the cook station. He hated all night diners, but it was the only place in the area where he could get a coffee, a smoke and chance to run some lines of finessed rhetoric of what he was about.
Ferg sat across from him in the booth, rubbing an imaginary stain on the table top as Flanders stopped long enough to light a cigarette and take a long, caustic pull off it.

"Your goddamn cheeks are all sucked against your jaw line" he said, noting the Flanders had a face that could scare morgue attendants when he'd been up for a week, wrecked on righteous speed, living on nothing but some glasses of water and a cartoon of rank TJ smokes.

Flanders dredged up a laugh, smoke spewing from his mouth like vapors on a cold, lost morning that made him think of searching for car keys under hard wood floors in the Midwest where he'd been raised until his family moved to California on a job offer his Dad accepted.Those mornings when the cold air that crept from under the door caught him in its embrace and made all the objects at that level – cheeks on the boards, looking under chairs for some glint of key chain from under a stray sock or newspaper section –radiate a coldness that killed aromas and preserved every ache and sting of being awake at an age when the body knows only its own sensations to either fall into lust and love and maybe a relationship . The room seemed to literally chatter, to find a vibration of another dimension that was like this one,but blue, faded blue, the color of lips against a frosted window, dead skin, a deep kiss of an unkind heart. He hated looking for keys.

"Like I said, it aunt no thing that I haven't already talked about. I made my choice to have my cheeks go slack when sucked up against my jaw line while I suck down a righteous flaming butt of skunk tobacco."

"Fuck that," said Ferg, "Lemmee see the money." A busboy happened by and took away the plates they were done with, smears of eggs over easy, yellow yoke, impressions of teeth lost in cold, over buttered toast.

The plate fell into the industrial rubber tub with a crashing sound that made both of them cringe; each expected the silver ware in the glasses to shatter and make the thing a nightmare for the dishwasher, who both of them saw earlier getting a coke from a dispenser next to the coffee machine when the both came in. A white kid, maybe seventeen, tall and skinny and with a haircut you had to get murdered to keep longer than a day. As soon as they bus boy was gone, Ferg spoke again.

" I mean, you got the money, don't you?"

"Money?" repeated Flanders, adding the lilting, up ended lilt of a question mark at the end of the uttered word in successful effort to the annoy Ferg even more, "Money? You think I have any money? I misjudged you..."

"Pull my chain. Jerky. I gave you a ten spot to get a bag of frozen French fries and a sixer of Tall Boys, and some Borax if you had enough change. That was yesterday, you said you'd have it today, and now I'm asking for it…'

"Yeah, my friend, but we are all asking for the big slap inna kisser when all is said and done for, and besides, its not as if you're not gonna use the Borax to wash your hands after you untidy them inna the goddamned sink and over the stove and after you use the toiler, I mean, really, and those are my magazines in the can anyway, I know you been reading them while you've been dropping bombs in still water, I mean, come on, it all comes out in the end."

Flanders took another drag off the cigarette, dropped a sagging ash to the floor, and spied Ferg reaching into his coat in order to pull out a bottle of Myers rum, a large one that was crammed in pocket on the inside of his white and black plaid sport coat. The bottle made him look like he were about to topple over as the result of a horrible miss-distribution of weight. Ferg unscrewed the cap of the bottle and poured a stiff addition to his coffee, and then passed the bottle over to Flanders. A waitress taking an order at the next booth moaned when she caught a whiff of the shark-toothed contents of the bottle struck the fine hairs of her nose.

"Fucking a it all comes out in the wash, I mean I want some money, bub. You said you'd have it, and now is the time that the you said you would give it too me, and now is the time for me to get what you said you would give to me, and besides, hey, fucker, easy on that shit…" Flanders put the bottle to his lips and lifted it, chugging away at the vile rum as if it were nothing more abrasive than cold water. His gulps drowned out the orders the customers next to them were trying to place with the waitress who'd moaned when her nose caught a waft of the wretchedly desirable hooch.

"You can't drink in here," she said to Flanders. She tapped her ticket book with the cheap plastic clicking pen, "you can get this place closed down" Ferg thought she looked suddenly very beautiful and had half a mind to offer her half his bed that night when he felt himself being yanked out of his seat by his hair. A bus boy the size of a the dumbest linebacker on the worst football in the ugliest town in the most rudely attired state stood over him, pulling at Ferg's scalp.

"What the fuck" he yelled.

Flanders tried to get out of the crowded booth so he could run quickly away, but his face slammed straight into a fist when he tried to rise out of his seat. Through the spinning stars and dimensions of new defined pain he saw another bus boy hovering over him, not as tall as the one playing yo-yo with Ferg's head, but big all the same, thick muscled, thick headed.

The waitress stepped aside as the diner's night manager walked up, a short guy in white shirt damp with sweat, bald on top with a thin crown of hair circling the oval circumference of his head. He was smoking a cigarette, with the burning tobacco mixing poorly with his body odor. The place smelled as an animal of some kind had found a place where old toupees went to die and had crawled in an attempt to mate . Funky, funky Thought Flanders.

"This patch of linoleum floor space and table tops quite suddenly smells like something smeggy and unflushed, like failed fake love across species distinctions…"

"Told you two fucks to stay the goddamn fuck outta here?" he said.

"What" said Ferg, pulling away from his tormenting busboy."

" Tollyewtwopunxtostaythefugodorhere" the manager repeated, faster this time.

"Have a drink" said Ferg" I mean, they are gonna blow a gasket or two, and the war looks like its gonna be a long, and your hash browns tastes like the stains in your shirt, so I mean, get rid of these goooons and have a blast of this grog…."


The would be diners in the booth next to them had gotten up by this point, a man and woman who thought they would have some late night eggs after the Dagmar film festival at the quizzical art movie house up the street. They were almost out the door, just past the cashier station, when the manager turned around and screamed at them.


The woman turned around just long enough to to flip the manager the bird.


The two bus boys dropped their plates and chased them into the parking lot, but the man and woman were already in their car. Flanders and Ferg heard car wheels squeal, high strung and grinding of gears. The manager went back into his office, mumbling something having to cut back on the amount of over time that he'd been paying out to idiot thug kitchen staffers he'd ordered to put the hurt on some yahoo who looked they were having a half a lick of a good time.

"So gimmee the goddamned ten spot" said Ferg. Flanders pushed the bottle back over to him.

"Start stealing some better grog, baby…"

"Whattaya mean kipe some beet grog, you fuck? You steal some and see what you can get under that coat of yours. Anyway, this is the stuff that'll do the trick, get us outta here and outta of our heads in a hurry, and that is a good thing, and that is a good thing indeed, ya know what I mean, look at this place, look at the death trap this is…" Ferg made a sweeping motion with his arm to convey an idea of the coffeeshop viewed in a nauseating panning camera shot that made the particulars of the place, from the hot lights at the cookstation and the rotating metal mill that contained waitress orders, homeless men going back and forth to the restroom as their funkified smell mixed in with the layers of undisposed cooking grease that added the flavor to many house favorites, to the customers lined up along the counter, hovering over coffee cups, plates that resembled battlefields, sports and business pages that had more news than anyone this time of night could use ,

"I mean this aint all there is too being alive, y'know? I mean, whattaya think?"

Flanders stirred yet another pack of sugar into his coffee, and rotated the spoon relentlessly as he spilled goodly amounts onto the table top. He kept his gaze on Ferg, who was now watching Flanders and his business with the sugar spoon.

"Getting out of your head is one thing, but you don't hafta do it with some third rate boogie swill you can clean auto parts with." He dropped the spoon and took a sip of the hot syrupy coffee. He grimaced, his nose and mouth giving flinching at the unpalatability of the drink, and then he finished it in two throttling gulps.

"Anyway, I think that fat fuck of a manager is gonna be coming back here with his bus boy toadies, and right about now the white crosses I took are starting to kick in…" Flanders dropped the paper napkin he wiped his mouth with , readjusted the spoon, and grabbed his pack of rank smokes. I dropped a five dollar bill on top of the check.
He stood up."Gotta go. I'm likely to either stare at traffic or murder that fat ass for his bad lanuage and love taps, so I'm go and walk around and read headlines in news stands, watch TV through an appliance store window, find me a giant leering woman and get paranoid some place where I can do the least amount of harm. But all that , away from here…"

"Great then" said Ferg, "then I'm going up Avenue to the Watertower.."

"Yeah, I 'll trace you later…"
Flanders adjusted his coat and walked up the aisle past the cashier the stand, past the manager who was suddenly busy with a line of customers wanting to pay their check. He could hear the little fat guy yelling "Hey, hey you,. HeY!" as he went outside through the door . Car horns, crashing dishes and rain pounding the roof drowned out most of what he said once he was on the sidewalk.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Racism and the Radical Feminist

It concerns me if black women and their issues are not integral to the cause I'm working for then I feel like all I'm doing is re-negotiating the terms of white supremacy. It makes me wonder if feminism is a white-identified movement. It still has huge value to me and I still want to participate, but theoretically it is not going to be the movement that starts the biggest change. People are having this conversation all over the place right now...

As Kit says, people are having this conversation all over the place right now. It's a can o' worms most recently busted open by a (white) Feminist of Note publishing some theoretical stuff about immigrant women (which I haven't read), without noting that the foundations of the theoretical work (which I also haven't read) had been laid by women of colour who had been writing on the topic for some time. It's intellectual appropriation intersecting with white privilege, but it's okay, because, hey—who listens to black women, anyway?
So it's got me thinking about that thing in the corner of my eye that I keep trying to blot out of my awareness: my own white privilege, and my own passive racism*. I can rationalize it till the cows come home, but it doesn't negate the effect of my refusal to acknowledge humanity all around me.

Add it to my passive misogyny: shit that I'm working on.

* as I define it, "passive" bigotry means, roughly, that I simply dismiss those who's existence doesn't benefit or threaten me. I don't see them (note that I said "passive" and not "benign").

UPDATE: Oh, irony! I just got back from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay which was funny and zany with lots of toilet humour, pot smoking, and terrific send-ups of racism. And all the women in the movie might well have been cows. There were a couple a winks at sexism, but mostly it was just plain old sexism.

UPDATE.2: Zenobia of The Scary Door has a different take on the white feminism/women of colour debate. She writes about the manner in which we elevate certain women as feminist leaders, without looking closely at the privilege on which they have coasted to prominence. Her post raises questions about why feminists end up perpetuating a hierarchal power structures based on privilege when it's precisely this beast that we're fighting to overcome.

Zenobia agrees with another blogger whom she quotes, saying,

"There are glaring comparisons and parallels to be made as women experience being sidelined, dismissed, silenced and ignored within the patriarchal capitalist society so why white feminists replicate those power relationships by treating Black women in a similar way such as subordinating their experiences and denying them a voice is beyond comprehension."
Beyond comprehension? Really?

This reminds me of a piece I read a while ago, Flea's Feminist Acres:
I'm walking alone in an unfamiliar residential neighborhood. The sterile sidewalk stretches out in front of me in clean, white, unbroken squares of concrete. There is no grass poking up between the deep cracks between the slabs. The road is freshly paved and painted with a bright yellow dashed divider. Traffic is light, and when the late model cars do beetle down the street, the driver sticks his hand out the window in a friendly wave. On both sides of the street there are huge wooden Victorian houses, dappled with the colors of twilight. The owners of the houses are in front of all their homes, leaning on their low fences, chatting with their neighbors, washing their cars, or simply standing still, looking out onto the street. The owners are all white men in their late fifties or early sixties. They look friendly enough.

"These are such beautiful houses," I think. "I would love to buy a house here."

And then my mind mulls over how much houses like these are probably worth, and how much the mortgage and property taxes must be, and I realize buying one of these gorgeous homes isn't an option, so I immediately begin wound-licking, thinking I probably wouldn't like it, anyway.

I'm reaching the end of the street, and when I turn my attention to the upcoming intersection, my heart leaps. The road dead ends at an enormous gold gate, so metallic and clean it is emitting a soft warm yellow glow. It looks like one would imagine the gates of heaven, they are so large and perfect. Engraved across the gates are the words "FEMINIST ACRES."

I can't believe what I’m seeing! Finally! It's what I’ve been looking for all my life! An entire community of feminists, right in front of me! I'm home! I'm home! After looking for so long, I have finally found a place where I can be surrounded by my own people! We will have universal health care and birth control will be free! Our leaders will be wise women, who will never let a child go hungry or a family become homeless! Our literacy rate will be one hundred percent, and a feminist child will defeat the Christian homeschoolers in the national spelling bee every year! Every family will get season passes to the WNBA! I am running to you, O womyn, running as if with the wolves!

The gates are opened just wide enough for me to slip through, and I do. I am inside the gates of Feminist Acres. I look around to see if there's a Chamber of Commerce, or a Realtor. Who will help me get started in my new Utopian life?

Then I calm down a minute and take a look at what I'm seeing. Feminist Acres looks like a trailer park after a tornado whirled through. The roads are not paved, the houses are upended. Nobody has running water. A rusted public toilet, fetid and overflowing, collapses up against a damp, moldy concrete wall.

A white woman, about forty, wearing shorts and a striped tank top that looks exactly like Mo's from Dykes to Watch Out For, walks out of her trailer. I hesitantly approach her, to ask what happened.

"What do you mean, 'What happened?'" she snarls. "Maybe the problem is that you're a fucking tool." She goes back inside, leaving me standing there, alone.

I look back at the gates. They are magnificent. Through the slight opening in them, I can see the big Victorian houses in what remains of the day. In the fading light, they are all a gentle blue.

I sit down on a rotting piece of timber from a destroyed house. I want to stay. I want to go. I want things to be different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel welcome here. I think about going leaving, and wonder what the real price of living in those blue houses would be.

I sit. I stay. It is night.
It's a bleak view of a post-revolution world, but it's one that kinda resonates, too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Like, Go, Man

Shouts and screams from rolled up windows tells me it's the end of august in a parking lot behind a beach bar that's about to get robbed, and then shut down by the cops for serving minors, ahem,
everyone is in a hurry to get ripped and ripped off, jerked off and jacked around. ravaged and raped and taped to the side of a car on the way home along the side streets down alleys in residential neighborhoods that shadow the free way on the thought that police are at the beach listening for shouts and screams from inside rolled up windows, burglars trying doorknobs,

This is what I heard, “give it to me, godddd dammnit all, give me allllllllllllllllllllll your love, babykins, I know you want it”

“you're a slob and a drunk and you're disgusting, get off my foot , get your hand back where I can see it, GET OUT OF MY CAR!!, JESUS, what the fuck are you about??” “ohhhhhhhhhhh, baby, don't be so cold like a cone with no cream to lick from the rim, just love my seething sweet thing and let's be a noise only god hears on a good night..” “Watch the hand, grub boy, GET OUT OF MY CAR!! I'm going to crown your buddy Frank for setting this up, FUCK OFF! GET YOUR DRUNK FACE OUT OF HERE…”

It's a night of extremes because the car bounces in place, next to a dumpster, as the bars empty and bartenders check their keys, dishwashers hose down dishes and waitresses do another line of speed to make the night come home faster as patrons roll over each other, going from hugs to handshakes and all manner of gestures that melt into wars that are declared and over without a shot being fired, the moon sweeps the street that fills with loud jokes that wakes the neighbors with swear words and car alarms that make the punch lines a home invasion,

there's nothing else to do after the little and big hands fall where they do each night about right now,

Cops have their smokes, their batons, riot guns, their back up bottles,

The cars all rock with ignition, roaming hands in the middle of what is now becoming morning, some fingers trace the line of a thigh , other fingers fold together,

it's the end of the summer, and there is no more spending money.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Un-dressing in the City

Style is more than fashion. Fashion is an element of what style uses to achieve its ends, but by itself, fashion is unreliable, like the friend who is always terrific fun to be around, but who often doesn’t show, leaving you waiting at the appointed rendezvous, feeling awkward and self-conscious.

Style is code. It’s a metaphor for the public self. It’s the way we move in space: our persona. We use it to adapt to our environment, to belong, to stand apart. Clothing can enhance or conceal a person. It’s an invitation, or it’s a warning. I look at the pictures in The Sartorialist and imagine those people in my kitchen. Could I talk to them? Could we find our way past the clothes to meet over coffee?

Vancouver is all about the easy, and these days the yoga cult has overcome all other fashion trends. Mats and other yoga gear can be purchased almost anywhere—in houseware boutiques, in bookstores and in grocery stores—but lululemon is the retail shrine where devotees go to worship with their Visa cards. I bought a tank top there last week. It’s brilliantly designed—a perfect intersection of form and function, but the woman who sold it to me wore the beatific expression of an acolyte. In fact, every clerk in the store seemed to have on that same expression: wide eyes and faces soft and slightly upturned, as if to meet the light.

People in this city give each other a lot of personal space. We almost never acknowledge others without some express reason for doing so. This can be excruciatingly lonely for the newly arrived, but for those of us acclimated to this benign indifference, it’s comforting. We pretend not to look at each other, and so we’re free to reveal more that we conceal. We can go about un-dressed without fear of the penetrating gaze of strangers. Vancouver is a liberated city. The public self is insubstantial, because without witnesses, there is nothing to hold it in place. We grow transparent; weightless. Sometimes out of the corner of your eye you’ll see a man or a woman lift right up off the sidewalk and disappear into the clouds.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I hate to get angry because I feel vulnerable, exposed, as if my anger had pulled out my old poems or scattered my e-mails across the server. The horror of anger is the possibility that I will say exactly what I think. My words will be forever attached to me (not to "august" but to the person behind august); all will regard that moment as the true me, and will be right. Anger will reveal my deceit, and so I hate it.

Is that the reason why, in the moments following anger, the pause after storming out of the room, I always wish I were better dressed? I wish that my true self were more sartorial? I wish that my boreal anger arose from somebody well kempt, tucked in, put together.

I used to think fashion was fake, that clothes masked insecurities and promoted eating disorders, that vanity was a gateway to avarice (and perhaps to a gambling addiction). Certainly, a good suit can act as a shield, and I sometimes like it when a coat gives me a place to hide.

More and more, though, I find that I dress well when I am happy, not because I am unhappy. Putting on new shoes is like buying a book: it's an aspiration to improve myself, to show myself to be a person capable of improving. I remember an episode of My So-Called Life in which Claire Danes refuses to take part in a mother-daughter fashion show because she feels too ugly to be seen. I aspire to be less scared. I aspire to walk through the world feeling I deserve to be here, to inhabit many worlds, to exude dignity, to maneuver like an assassin.

When I am angry, you will want to see me. You will not want to see me angry.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ROCK ME BABY, for Dawn Coyote

What Do We Think About When We Think About Fashion?

Is black the new black? Will I ever be a photo in the The Sartorialist? Do I even like the Sartorialist? What makes me want to dress better? How can I move through space with minimum waste, maximum joy?* Is fashion even worth it? Does it improve my self-esteem, and if so, is there something wrong with me?

We could call it a Wikifray Symposium. Sound in with your thoughts.

*It's a Sade tune that sounds the way I'd like to look.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bachelor Party

Waiting in the back room
for the coast to clear is someone
still combing his hair to the extreme
that it's the greatest work of art
anyone might see, if all they’ve seen are
country fairs on TV, fabulations by satellite,
seriously, I'm not kidding this is how they think, in a syntax
of hard rubber tines weaving through follicles, cross-cutting a scalp.
He could kiss himself, and he’s been drinking alone.
The problem is that the place is empty
and the bartender wants to go home
and there are wet spots in his crotch,
but there's always TV and magazines,
life going on somewhere,
There's a bone he wants to pick
with a beer of his own and a remote control.

Live Blogging the Clinton/Obama Debate

(well, technically not "Live" at 8pm Pacific time)

8:05 - Missed most of the opening statements, but let's get right to the substance: does Hillary usually wear that much eyeliner? Doesn't she remember what happened to Harriet Miers?

8:09 - Obama's answering the first question about making Clinton a running mate, and she's got what looks an awful lot like a tight, cynical little smile on her face. From the side, it almost looks like she's smirking. She still looks amused when she answers the question. In fact, so does he. Inside joke?

8:14 - He's sorta cute, isn't he? I can see why people find him persuasive. He still looks too much like my dad, though.

"I am the granddaughter of a factory worker from Scranton." Nice.

They both look entirely too chilled.

8:21 - Obama claims he reaches out to people of faith, and indeed, he really does.

8:29 - George Stephanopoulos asks Obama, "Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?" Srsly, dude - wtf? Clinton makes a feeble attempt to bolster the validity of this question. Fuck right off, HRC.

8:36 - Obama manages to be much more gracious, but really, this is like watching two people competing for the job of Head of Brain Surgery by being required to perform an interpretive dance while the other shoots spitballs at them.

8:42 - Questions I would like to see: "Senator Obama, is it true that you worship the Ghost of a Dead Nazarene on a Stick? Will Jesus' response to the moneylenders guide your response to the banking crisis? Do you believe in magic?"

8:55 - Charlie Gibson: "But Hils, [shocker!] you mean you won't listen to the divine wisdom of General Petraeus about what to do in Iraq?"

9:08 - Does any candidate ever tell the truth about taxes? Why even ask? It's like saying, "Please tell us some lies, now, but do it better than the other candidate."

9:13 - On taxes/economy, Clinton sounds infinitely more knowledgeable than Obama. She knows her stuff. He sounds like he's got the broad strokes, but that's all. No depth of understanding is apparent. Does this mean he wouldn't be a better president? He's a big picture person. Some big picture folks make the very best leaders. George Bush is a big picture person. Hillary Clinton is a detail person. The critical thing about being a big picture person is that you have a competent team. He's already admitted that this is where he's coming from. I suppose that in order to be convinced by that, one really must have the audacity of hope.

9:37 - This is the first debate I've watched, and I started out tonight trying to suspend my bias, thinking that both of them are great, really!, and I'd be happy to see either of them in. But forget it. She's it, and anyone that doesn't see that is a fucking idiot. Obama should just do the right thing and withdraw from the race.

9:50 - Audacity: in the coming weeks they do sufficient harm to each other that the only way either can win the election is by clinging to the other. They go over the rapids, McCain disintegrates in the churning foam, Clinton and Obama swim to safety on the far shore, and there they begin to rebuild civilization together.

Friday, April 11, 2008


is underway. To catch anyone reading this up, Ender here. I'm giving WikiFray a makeover as making Blogger blogs over is one of the things I do these days. I'm not back except in the aforementioned capacity. This would be the place for any likes, dislikes and wishes.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Death is nothing to us

Dead bodies seem like sacks of dust to me. I don't see a person when I look at a dead body. I see an envelope where a person once lived. The force that stirred that dust is gone, and with it, the thing I loved.

Beyond the bright anguish of fresh grief, I have no attachment to bodies, and I don't care what happens to mine after I'm gone, but I've always been fascinated by the memento mori. It seems an odd way to hold onto the memory of love: by making a picture of the moment of your greatest anguish, of the moment when the person has ceased to be. It's like keeping a picture of a package that held the letter that brought some dreadful news. It's not the letter; it's not the news. It's merely what was left when everything was done—some wrapping paper, a bit of string, a few clots of stuffing—as evidence of what was lost.

While I find the memento mori strange, I find the pictures in the Life Before Death series strangely soothing, as if of strangers who have crossed a threshold and left something behind to reassure me of how deep and quiet is that long, long sleep.

[eta: link fixed]

Courtesy of dooce.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Drive Time

I knew that I had to start re-planning my commute when I heard the traffic report on the radio. But I didn't think about it much until, once it was light enough to get good video, the news helicopters started hovering loudly over my apartment. (In this regard, I was glad today was cloudy - had it been sunny, I would have awakened to the choppy drone of rotor blades, instead of my alarm clock.) By the time I left for work, people who'd moved north to Everett, chasing more affordable housing, had a two-hour commute on their hands. I did the simple thing - rather than use the on-ramp nearest my home, I drove down a couple of miles to the one at NE 124th Street - neatly bypassing the accident. It turned out that so many people lived on the wrong side of the backup, and even though there was only a single lane blocked, the bottleneck was so tight, that my commute time was cut literally in half. Traffic was barely any heavier than one would expect on a Saturday. There wasn't even enough volume to trigger the traffic metering lights on the on-ramps. Rather than stop-and-go, it was sixty-plus miles-per-hour all the way to the junction with State Route 520.

I found it difficult, the entire morning, to submerge being pleasantly surprised with my unexpectedly speedy commute beneath the nagging obligation I felt to feel sorry for the man whose death had enabled it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cruel Shoes

I was late getting out so I pulled on what was handy: a pair of black dress pants that are on the long side with my highest heels, sling-backs with a tiny peek-a-boo opening at the toe, an inch-high platform of unpadded wood under the ball of my foot, and about five inches of heel in back. They look like something a Vargas girl might wear, though perhaps not out on the town.

They’re my cruel shoes. I don’t know why I didn’t throw them out the last time I wore them, but what I keep doing instead is I let them sit in my closet until I forget the special agony of walking in them, and then I blithely put them on and go out. Not many mincing little steps later, I remember: they’re torture. Every step makes the flesh on the balls of my feet burn, and the places where the bones press down threaten to blister before I’ve traveled a single city block, but do I go home? No. Of course not. I have things to do.

Taking tiny steps, I try to affect a casual stroll. My feet shriek in protest. I entertain the idea that the shoes fit my current mood of self-loathing: they are the hair shirt, the horse-hair flogger with which I will suffer for my sins, which are legion. Not only do the shoes alter my posture, tilting my pelvis forward and making my ass stick out, I notice that they also have an effect on my expression, but it’s not a grimace of pain that I’m wearing, which would be understandable and appropriate; no, as I mince along in the heels, I tuck my chin under, open my eyes wide, and pucker my lips as if I’m ready to be kissed.

Because I’m innocent and fragile in my very tall shoes, and desperately in need of a man’s protection.

I notice the other women out on the town on this Friday night. Many are also wearing shoes or boots with soaring heels. In my cruel shoes, I can’t imagine their suffering is as acute as mine, but, like me, they tuck their chins under and teeter along the sidewalk, taking little steps. I stop watching myself and watch them.

It’s the first time it’s been plainly visible to me, this performance of femininity, and I stand there in my clingy black pants and my ridiculous shoes, with my padded, push-up bra under my too-tight black top, and I watch the other trussed and hobbled females parade like corseted show dogs in a ring. Skinny jeans tucked into skinny boots with a glittery bag. White semi-sheer tights with black stiletto pumps and a pencil skirt. Beside them, their male companions seem steady and non-descript, like trainers.

I watch them, and I’m struck by the absurdity of human beings squeezing themselves into these uncomfortable costumes and perching atop precariously high heels with expressions of sweet dismay on their faces in order to appear—what? Weak, yet graceful? Docile, yet alluring? Constrained, yet compelling? Easily captured, I think, because the clothing and the shoes are antithetical to movement, least of all a sprint for safety. Hell, dressed like this, we can barely get in and out of a car without assistance.

I’m waiting for my Starbucks’ coffee when a young woman approaches with her beau. Spotting me in her path, she stops and gives me the giant doe-eyes and chin tuck of sexalicious deference until I give her the signal that it’s okay to pass. Oh, please. I think, watching her tiptoe behind the boy to a seat at the back of the cafĂ©. Must we keep up this charade? It’s too much. Do men really want this silly performance? Tonight it seems parodic to me. We are caricatures. We’ve made ourselves into barbie doll urban kittens, and how do we like the results?

I finish off my coffee, pick up a few groceries, and I’m making my slow and painful way back to my car when a pan-handler sitting at the base of a lamp post asks me for some spare change. He leans towards me as I walk by, and I step sideways to avoid him, shaking my head ‘no’. “That’s some boo-tay,” he shouts after me as I walk away.

I get home and kick off the dreadful shoes. I examine my feet. A couple of hot spots threaten to sprout blisters, and I decide that I’ve had enough: if I can’t get an insole that will protect my poor feet, these shoes are going in the garbage.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Book Club

We’ve done a couple of book clubs on wikifray so far, and they’ve been interesting and engaging (for the participants, at least). We’ll need some more people to join in to get another one going.

We haven’t settled on a book yet, for this one, but there’ve been murmurs of approval of the title august suggested, The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt, about the inventor Tesla. The suggestion captured my interest, and I’m going to see a play about him tomorrow night and the Cultch.

Here are some I’ve been thinking about:
The one I’d really like to do, though, is this one: Little, Big, by John Crowley.

Feel free to express interest in taking part, and make suggestions of your own.

Initial book club post.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Canadian Woman Marries 12 Americans

British Columbia resident Dawn Coyote made national headlines last week when, in Canada’s first plural marriage across international borders, she wed twelve US citizens and brought them to live on her organic strawberry patch on the outskirts of Vancouver. The move had folks from all over the political spectrum up in arms, and the Canadian government has ordered a task force investigation of Ms. Coyote’s marriage.

If they are found to be in contravention of Canada’s laws, the federal government will likely begin deporting Ms. Coyote’s seven husbands and five wives. Ms. Coyote has said that if that happens, she will fight it on the grounds that her spouses will face religious persecution if returned to the US, where, she says, they could be detained at a Repentance Camp for an unspecified length of time, and could be charged with heresy under America’s recently adopted theocratic doctrine, Nation Under God (NUG).

The legal issues affecting the group's plural union include the recent defeat of Canada’s anti-polygamy law, the laws regarding same sex marriage, and the support requirement for immigrating spouses. We asked Ms. Coyote if she took all this into account prior to formalizing her relationship with these twelve individuals. “Of course,” Ms. Coyote responded, “My spouses and I are not breaking any laws. We are merely trying to create an extended family in which we might all live and thrive. We possess sufficient resources to sustain ourselves, and we ought be left alone to tend our strawberry patch in peace.”

There has been speculation from some quarters that this union is a scheme cooked up to give people amnesty from America’s new theocratic laws, to provide access to universal health care, and to avoid the costs and complications of immigrating to Canada in the conventional way.

We asked Ms. Coyote about the sleeping arrangements of the group, but she demurred, saying that the media has no business in the bedrooms of ordinary citizens. Ms. Coyote did explain that she considers each individual in the union to be the full spouse of every other individual, and that they may act on this status as desire and mutual respect dictate. The newlyweds, who refer to themselves collectively as the Coyote Clan, declare themselves to be non-practicing atheists, and in keeping with their goals of living sustainably, they have no plans to bring children into the union. They say they will work on the organic strawberry patch, which they now own collectively, and there is talk of converting the unused acres of the property into a writer’s retreat.