Jun 27, 2006

Media on media

If you couldn't see 'em, if you couldn't see the uniforms in blotches of green and brown and where they were stamped with U.S. ARMY, if you were just listening to them without seeing, you wouldn't know they were going to war. They didn't call it war. Didn't say the name of the place they were going. One soldier would turn to another and say "This your first time to the theater?" and he'd say "Yes sir." That was the imagery they used. And the place they were sitting and waiting? They called it the stage. Some people'd say they were doing a great thing, others'd say it was all wrong. The country was divided like that but the soldiers themselves talked about it like it wasn't real, like the whole thing was a show, a musical production, a summer blockbuster, another re-run of an old show.

Photo essay on redeployment to Iraq.
20 digressions towards the Californiafication of history.
The diagramed state of American entertainment in 2006.
Movie makers on movies they see obsesively.
Digital archive of theatrical trailers.
The messy desk desktop.
Continued newspaper shrinkage.
The ironic apocalypse of Snakes on a Plane.
The rise of parody religions.
Religious groups using technology to hasten end of the world.
Rain dance

I'll get wet, he said.

Yep, I said, because the rain was coming down and rolling off the roof in a line driving holes in the dirt, washing down the parking lot gutter in an anrgy little stream of sticks and worms and cigarette butts and litter left lying on the pavement, sweeping slanting out of the sky so hard you could hear each drop pop as it hit the earth.

Oh man, he said.

You'll get wet, I said, and then what'll happen?

I don't like to get wet.

Not like you'll melt.

Well, he said, and he ran. He bent over, stooped with his back to the sky and held his newspaper up over his head and he ran. Grey spots hit his paper and then it went limp, dripping down bits of pulp and ink on his hair. The water ran through his shirt, leaking blue down his back and sticking to his skin so you could see the mole on his shoulder.

He ran, fingering for his keys in his pocket while he ran and trying to shuffle them into the slot in the door without stopping. He had to stop though, putting down the paper and bending over, bending at the knees to look at the keyhole and then it caught and he turned the key but I couldn't hear the click over the rain.

I stood under the stoop feeling the rain as it came up off the ground in shattered drops. I was drinking coffee in the afternoon and watching the storm roll down past Ohio and Kentucky, through Tennessee and down to me and Atlanta. First it pushed up a wind that looked brown and blew bits of things across the highways and covered over the skyline of skyscrapers. Then it came over like a wall falling down.. It leaked through roofs and found all the cracks in the concrete and rattled on the leaves so the whole city had the sound of shaking.

Some people pray for rain and some people pray against it. There are old rituals for rain and, I imagine, rituals against it. Sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn't and sometimes it comes too late. Nobody knows why. Even if I didn't believe in redemption, I'd believe in rain.

The water dripped down his face. He shook his head and pushed back his hair. Probably his air was running in a rush of a hushing noise to drown out the sound of the storm and blowing heavy like a dryer on his face. He looked in his mirror and checked his teeth and I smiled and looked at the falling sky.

Jun 22, 2006

Calm jam

The black smoke billows up into the purpling sky and the cars collect along the lines of the lanes. I’m pushed up next to the rail, the concrete wall running a division between the twelve lanes, and when I turn off my radio I can hear the mumbles of stereo systems reverbing off the pavement in rap and talk and rock. All the cars sit there, idling and playing music and putting out exhaust in shimmering waves and all the noises come together like the tuneless hum of a distracted kid. The grasps of heat are letting go on the highway and the last of it rose off and somehow all the calmness came together enjambed.

A little boy looks at me and grins, hiding his face behind the car door so only his eyes showed, and grins again.

There are, I think, 17 ways of cutting and eating and orange. I have no way of knowing this and have only ever used two, but it seems true. I prefer a knife. I like to cut off the ends and score the sides in triangles, peeling them away so they make the sound of released roots and all the white hairs reach out breathing into the air where you can smell nothing but the smell of citrus and when I'm done there are seven equal and symmetrical sections. Then I'd push my thumb through the center so it will split into an offering of pulp-skinned slices. I don't have a knife though, on the highway, and so I do it by hand.

I gouge a pit in the center of one side with a finger nail and work out from there, tearing off uneven pieces of peel that are shaped like countries bordered by rivers and forgotten out in some back country. The peels stack up in my empty passenger seat and then tip over, spill over the baking brown vinyl.

The black smoke grays and then goes white, like a cloud the color of paper, and then weakens into wisps of steam as we edge forward over to see the empty van with its door open to take the water from a hose. A fireman walks away, taking off his jacket.
Afternoon drug raid

Looking closely at black and white photo copied maps and dark photos of frowning suspects, 30 Clayton County Police officers crowded around white plastic tables in a back room of Lake City’s Municipal Hall to talk over strategies.

"Where're we going to stage at?" an officer said.

"Y'all better go back over y'all's."

"Everybody know where they’re going?"

With team A and team B deep in strategy sessions behind him, Assistant Chief Jeff Turner sat down and rolled up his sleeves.

"It's the waiting that makes you tired," he said.

Read the rest of the narrative journalism at the News Daily.

Jun 19, 2006


Jun 16, 2006

Quarter phone

The way I heard it, the way it was told to me, was that it happened early in the morning on a Sunday. After the birds had broken the dawn, after the sun had set long tree shadows running down the street, while pastors and priests were polishing sermons and the neighbors were still sleeping in, the light at the bottom of the hill turned red.

A circuit switched with the cycle and deep inside the yellow box above the street corner there was a click. Up the hill a foot pressed the brake pedal but the air breathed out of the lines. The pedal collapsed to the floor and then the foot was frantic, pumping and stomping and pleading stop, stop, stop. The car came down the hill without stopping, without slowing.

Someone blew a horn out into the morning and it sounded sad. The horn blew and the car came through the intersection and then it swerved away from the road and an oncoming collision. The car veered left in a hard lean and came over the curb in a jump and a crunch. It crashed through a line of box-cut bushes and tossed leaves up in the air in its wake in a shuffle. It came over the curb and the hedge and onto the edge of the gas station parking lot.

Standing there was the telephone, the pay phone posted on a piece of lumber with a pipe feeding up the wires to the blue box with the word BELL written on the side. It was standing in the way, facing the other way, silent and waiting to ring when the car came crashing brakeless down the hill and smashed into the phone.

The way I saw it was as a stub of a post splintered off at about the knee and turning gray with the winter. The wires were tied off in a knot and pushed back down into the ground. People would come by and ask for our phone and I've have to say we didn't have one, it was gone, broken off.

The head was in the garage leaning dead against the wall, blue box banged up on the sides and the silver buttons with all their numbers worn away. The joints of the phone cord were dotted with red rust and you could still see some numbers scratched in ball point pen on the inside wall.

The owner was keeping it there in case the company ever came for it. But it'd been years now and it didn't seem likely that they’d ever care to come, seemed they'd decided to let it die and that with all the cell phones it didn't even need replacing. It wasn't a collectable, the kind of phone people think of as nostalgic. It wasn't a red box British phone or nice glass booth set on a historic highway. It was just a phone.

It was just a phone I wanted to take home, to see if I could coax the wires out from where they'd recoiled and extend them from where they'd snapped off short and rework them into the line in the jack in my house. I wanted to attach the yellow post to the wall, leaving the shattered bottom a foot off the floor and the box handing there with the black phone buzzing once again with a dial tone. I wanted to hear it gulping as it caught quarters and to see it there, hanging bruised in my kitchen. I could have gone to another phone on another corner and lifted the receiver to hear the tone, but I wanted this one, monstered as it was.

Jun 15, 2006

Mike Quarry, the light-heavyweight boxer who won 63, lost 13, and drew 6 matches between '69 and '82, who "never thought about being anything else but a fighter," who never won a championship or outshone his more famous brother Jerry, who lost his will to fight after being badly beaten in the late 70s and sobbed "I'm finished for life," died of boxing induced dementia Sunday at the age of 55.

May he rest in peace.
Impulse to lists

We Americans seem to love binary systems of ones and zeros, winners and losers, white and black, red and blue, redeemed and damned, good and bad. A two-party system gives us lists so we'll know what's approved and don't have to decide for ourselves or, in "Beloved's" case, read for ourselves.

Of course there is a real difference between banning a book and naming it the best of some category, but beneath that obvious difference is a shared idea and impulse.

Read the rest of the poststructualist critique of lists in my new weekly column at the Clayton News Daily. Newspaper writings will be linked in reverse order on the sidebar.

Regular blogging to resume as soon as I get through these first few (fantastic but exhausting) 10-hour days.

Jun 13, 2006

The Chicken's Plague

The chickens were all dead, by the time of the two floods and the time I was born. There were still a few scattered hens, I guess, laying eggs under bushes, and still a few roosters scratching after worms. But the chicken farms were all gone. Gone out of business with the plague.

My dad said it was…I don't remember what he said was the technical name, but it was whatever they call the chicken version of elephantitis, the human disease named after elephants. Round worms cut off the lymphoid networks and catch up the fluids in the tissues, causing swelling, causing swollen grotesqueries. I don't know how the chickens got it, but there must have been a first chicken. The first chicken swelled up and died, died and lay bloated in death in the scratched-over wood shavings, and the other chickens looked surprised.

Read the rest here @ VerbSap.

Jun 11, 2006

Counting to 24

I am a Christian, an Anglo-Catholic; a poststructuralist, pacifist, and neo-luddite; a writer, reader, talker, newspaper reporter, college graduate, and blogger; a friend to two or three scores of people who'd go way out of their way to help me; an American; a blond haired, blue eyed, 6 foot 3 inch, overweight, near-sighted, straight, single white male; a pro-life Democrat, a member of the unnamed generation that came of age in the parentheses between the Cold War and the War on Terror, the eldest of eight children, the son of back-to-the-land, live-in-community Jesus People; a lover of grotesques, Tom Waits, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Bob Dylan, Graham Green, DeLillo, hysterical realism, magic realism, Folk music, Indie music, American Gothic, Blues, This American Life, and boxing; a reader of Derrida, Wendell Berry, Philip K. Dick, Zizek, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty; tattooed with a Kurt Vonnegut sentence; a traveler, coffee drinker, smoker, wood carver, scrabble player, chess player, West Coaster living in Georgia .... &, today, I am 24.

Jun 10, 2006

Word made wood
After a 6 - 7? - year break from woodcarving, I've now begun again with what I think will be a series of folk icons. Just finished this relief in Black Walnut.

My (past and present) work can be seen here on Flickr.

Jun 7, 2006

The unidentified object

What people tell are the facts of the story, sticking to the facts lest they seem crazy, lest they seem to want something, want the facts to be something or mean something.

At 10:37 on a Tuesday night in March in 1966 the phone rang in the basement of the funeral home. A 22-year-old man picked up the receiver and said hello. Hello Funeral Home, he said, and the woman on the other end hesitated. There was static in the phone.

He was waiting for Civil Defense calls, calls about Russian spies or nuclear attacks or invasions or student uprisings. Though mostly he just got calls for the normal everynight deaths that seemed to stack up around holidays and weather changes. He played cards with friends or solitaire, waiting with the keys to the ambulance and looking out the little block or windows letting out into the parking lot.

What is it? he said.
It looks like a UFO, she said.
Unidentified Flying Object,
she said, even though she knew that wasn’t the question. She was very calm about it. She didn’t want to seem crazy.

They could see it from the girl’s dorm, from the window on the second floor, hovering and ringed in lights. The thing had red lights and white lights that turned to blue lights and it hovered past the yard and the trees and over the hollow of the arbor. The girls stood there in white nightgowns and colored pajamas and stared at it, up in the sky.

What is it? someone said and someone said, A UFO.

The house mother found them there, 17 girls standing in waves of talk and silence. Someone came and got her, said she should come. What is it? she said, getting up, but the girl just shook her head and raised her eye brows. You should come, she said.

Not that there was anything she could do or should do, not that there was anything to be done, but they felt the need to inform an authority even if just to join them looking out at the sky. She stood there with the girls, watching and wondering and then she thought she should tell somebody. It seemed like there ought to be an authority. She called the police, who told her to call the fire department. She called the fire department, who told her to call the Civil Defense people.

He drove over in the ambulance and a girl met him at the front door, leading him around to the back where the girls parted to let him up to the middle of the window. They weren’t hysterical. He'd thought they'd be hysterical but they were just standing there. He saw it rise up from the ground and stay there and lower back down. White lights on the right and red on the left.

Do you really think it’s a UFO? someone said.
What else could it be?
What does it mean? someone asked and someone said Unidentified Flying Object, but that wasn't really the question.

He called the Army and they told him to call the Air Force. He called the Air Force and they put him on hold. He waited, sitting on the bottom bunk in the dark room with 17 girls looking out into the dark. He cupped the phone between his ear and his shoulder and waited and felt, he thought, very calm. It wasn’t like there was anything he could do or, really, anything to be done. One of the girls said There it goes, and the lights rose up again and moved off, getting smaller and closer together and disappearing over the line of trees.

The Air Force sent a man. He took interviews and soil samples and samples of leaves. He showed his credentials saying he was an expert and held a conference where he concluded it was nothing. Natural gasses or swamp lights. No one believed him but then no one had any better idea or other expert. The Air Force man stuck with facts and said it was nothing and after all if he'd said it was something, that something was out there or meant something, they'd have said he was crazy. So it was, it seemed in the end, nothing.

The girls posed the picture later, with their hair curled and lights on and a smiling blond pointed out at what we can’t see, out of focus out the window at an empty spot in the sky.

Jun 4, 2006

Punk: n. material for starting a fire; a member of a subculture expressing anger and social alienation; a rebellious, aggressive or violent young man; something of very poor quality; a young man who is the sexual partner of an older man.

He called me Punk. So far as I know I was the only one on the paper that had a nickname.

"Hey Punk," he would say, "what'cha working on?" "Good morning Punk" or "Hey Punk I got a story for you." I don't know if it was an insult or a compliment. I took as a compliment, as a badge, but I'm not sure that's what he meant.

I always wanted to respond by calling him Chief. But I was only 18 and I didn't.

Jun 1, 2006

The alignment of things, or, where we'll go
I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That's where we'll go, I used to say, that's where we'll go for our honeymoon. We'll swim. We'll be happy.
          - Estragon, Waiting for Godot

I was just hired as the crime reporter for Clayton's News Daily.

A nonfiction story of mine has been accepted by the lit. mag. VerbSap.