Nov 25, 2006

Jesus Blancornelas, who reported on Mexican drug cartels and the government's corruption and complicity, whose partner was assassinated, whose newspaper was seized, who was shot and threatened but still published stories, died on Thursday at the age of 70 from a chronic illness.

May he rest in peace.

Nov 24, 2006

God

It is the most heavy-laden of all human words. None has become so soiled, so mutilated. Just for this reason I may not abandon it. Generations of men have laid the burden of thier anxious lives upon this word and weighed it to the ground; it lies in the dust and bears their whole burden. The races of man with their religious factions have torn the word to pieces; they have killed for it and died for it, and it bears their finger-marks and their blood. Where might I find a word like it to describe the highest! If I took the purest, most sparkling concept from the inner treasurechamber of the philosophers, I could only capture thereby an unbinding product of thought. I could not capture the presence of Him whom the generations of men have honoured and degraded with their awesome living and dying.

            - Martin Buber

Nov 19, 2006

To have and to miss the thing
Incomplete thoughts on philosophy on the weekend

* Rabbi, the disciples said, what shall we say when we see the Messaiah inside the city gate? When you see the Messiah inside the city gate, said the Rabbi, ask him, When are you coming?

* The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings. - Martin Buber

The problem with the Tom Waits interviews is that they all again write the same arc - from drunken Billy Joel to German-Opera inspired experimentalist to crazy country man who was saved from himself by his wife. Meanwhile, Waits spends the whole interview trying not to replay that loop again and he spins out miles of American hysterical realism and American magic realism which the interviewers cut and splice into one example or another of the story that was already being told.

I don't know. I want to hear more about the moles.

I don't know, I want to hear less about an artist as an example of some repeated demigod of a trope and more about those tactile particulars.

There are only a few ways interviewees can avoid being turned into an arc, it seems. They can pull the joker, ala Bob Dylan (Dylan: Hey look, I consider Hank Williams, Captain Marvel, Marlon Brando, The Tennessee Stud, Clark Kent, Walter Cronkite and J. Carrol Neish all influences. Now what is it - please - what is it exactly you people want to know?) and the Beatles, they can go along with it, or they can hide, like Pynchon ("Here is the man walking down a street.") and Cormac McCarthy ("He lives on a hill overlooking the city.").

The problem, of course, is that all three options fit into a pre-arranged story line. The three ways of avoiding making the interviewers' point all make that point.

Maybe what's so fascinating about the story lines we recreate and replay is that we're telling ourselves the story of us while, conviently, never talking about us, all the while talking about the artist at hand while, weirdly, not talking about the artist.

When William Randolph Hearst builds a castle we make a movie about him burning his childhood sled and then we take the castle and keep it open for public tours which work excellently to make the place more mysterious and more inaccessable by making it bustlingly public. When McCarthy moves out into the middle of nowhere Texas we make a movie about looking for him even though we know that talking to a crazy guy in the park in El Paso is not a great way to find someone.

The psychic asks the kids who are looking for McCarthy, Why are you looking for this man? They don't really know. And they don't know what they're going to do if they find him. "If we find him we should offer to leave him alone if he'll just wave," they say to each other. They might tell them they were looking for him, like the Gethsemane scene when the soldiers seeking Jesus ask him where Jesus has gone. "So he asked them again, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' And Jesus said, 'I already told you that I am Jesus.'"

Looking for him makes him more lost. Which reminds of what we're looking for, which reminds us that there is something out there - and here we're looking for the thing - that could be found.

All the Waits interviews make the point "This is Tom Waits," and at that precise point they miss it. The person who seems to get this is the crazy guy in the park when he says people know him all over the world.

"Animals too could read my mind and see my face and read my mind and play back what I know.... If I ever see (McCarthy) I'll ask him for his autograph. Hey people ask me for my autograph and stuff. I'm not a rock star or a movie star."
"But people know who you are."
"Yeah exactly. That's right yeah, yeah... most of the world has known me at one time or another."

And the kids too, know him at one time when they stand there with the video camera. They've known him and lost him all at once. He says "you've got a famous person on your camera," and they say, "yeah we're looking for him."

Nov 18, 2006

A november murder trial

By the end of the second day of the trial of a Jonesboro man accused of an “execution style” double homicide, the prosecution had put 58 exhibits into evidence, including broken glass, kitchen matches, a flare and paint thinner.

The evidence, neatly labeled in brown bags, was piled on a cart in front of the judge's desk.



Murder trial begins

Prosecutor piles up evidence

Defendant testifies and closing arguments

Jury comes back with verdict

Nov 10, 2006

Goldfish at the Buddha

We walked through the rain dressed for the wedding. Suits: blue and brown, something from Something Brothers and something from Salvation Army, dry cleaned and half wrinkled. Him and me walked down the sidewalk and behind us his car did a double beep and his keys jangled down into his pockets.

The rain came off the roofs where there were no gutters, gutting out a line in the sidewalk where tomorrow the pavement would be smooth.

There was a taxi idling. There was a police car with its running lights on. There was a storm gutter gulping down a styrofoam cup that was smashed and a slick ad printed in twelve colors advertising discount fashion in terms of tennis shoes and colored socks.

There were two types of fish in the tank between the tables and the cashier's desk: big ones and little ones. The little ones were blue or clear and were hiding around the edges they could find. They hid around the edges of leaves and they moved to hid around the edges of the glass and around to hid near the edge of the water where it met the air in bubbles. They were hiding in the outer circle of the tank. The big fish were orange and yellow in the middle. They weren't swimming. They were hanging there, suspended in the fluorescent illumination, putting one orange eye each way.

What do they call the fish that look like goldfish but are bigger? I said.
Those are goldfish, he said. He didn't look.

I expected there to be a Buddha - the place was called The Something Buddha - but instead there was a wooden dragon. The wooden dragon took up most of the wall and the colored wheel of fish masked the doorway from the tables so that when we walked in the door all the eating people looked watery.

Everything on the bottom of the place was decorated in red. Table cloths, place mats, carpets, the waiter's pants. Like a peyote dream. Like a wheel barrow with a chicken. When he put my glass of water on the table the water turned a water red and left a ring around the year of the rooster. The ring rung the words, Selfish and Lonely. Avoid the Ox.

I had a friend, I said just to say something, who's name was John. He drove a goddamn big car.
What is actually in Kung Po? he said. Can you order the one without the other?

There was a man there wearing a hat. A hat like porkpie. He was wearing his hat and spooning rice and sipping his tea and twice he looked at me but he said to his friend, this is all going to end, my friend, this is all going to end. I wondered what was under his hat.

One of the goldfish blinked. But I don't think fish blink so maybe it was me.

Nov 7, 2006

Hearing the end from the end

I don't know how long that driveway was. There were longer. I'd been on longer and it didn't take that long to drive down the gravel, spitting up little triangle pieces and crunching other ones further down into the ruts.

The was a line of trees on either side. Trees that were red all year. They went a little brown on the edges in the fog of fall and the ground around them turned muddy in the rains, but they were always red. Red that looked like it was going sour.

The trees obscured the view. I couldn't see the end from the end.The slight turn in the driveway set the tree line in a slight turn that shortened the sight. I couldn't see. You couldn't see unless you were taller than the trees or shorter than them. I could lay on my belly under the trees and watch down most of the length and see feet or tires, if the grass happened to be short when I looked or if it all happened to be beaten down into chaff and mud. Other than that, I couldn't see and it made the long way seem longer.

I could hear, though.

The gravel, the gray peat gravel, was trucked in dark with sandy dirt that washed away, sifting down between the bits of rock, leaving nothing but the sharp edges. The gravel started in a middle color and then got darker with the rain. With the rain the rocks picked separate colors and every rock was shiny in subtle mystery colors.

I wondered once if they could be kept like that, if I could water them, if I could run the irrigation down the line tipping the water away from the trees to water the rocks so they'd shine. It wouldn't work though. The rocks started drying right away. The purples and the greens and the oranges and the yellows started fading immediately off into gray and the gray was all the same.

Once the rain had washed everything out and once the rain had dried away, the whole stretching driveway was gray in a single color. But even without the color there was the sound.

Before I could see anything, when what was coming was still too far away, I would look up. At first it was indistinguishable, that sound. I could hear the sound but I wouldn't be able to say there or there. It wasn't a sound even but I looked up. And then there it was.

Crunching - little bits of rock breaking against rocks, hundreds of small rocks smashing into each other and smashing down in the sound of grinding. Sliding, as the packed down earth, even hard after traffic and rain, still slipped, setting the pieces sifting. And others were caught up and spat behind the wheels. Each rock would flip off alone and then land in a spatter of little rearrangements. I would hear that, at first nothing and then the crunching and smashing and grinding, with the spitting and spattering of uncountable breaking gravel.

There was always a flashing choice, at the sound. I could run to see, letting them know I knew and wanted to know more. I could wait to see, letting them come to me, whoever they happened to be, knowing they were on their way but not who they were. Or, always the first thought, the thought that lasted longest because I was never sure why it was there at all, the thought, there is time to run away.

I would listen to the sound and look at the trees I couldn't see past and the sound would grow louder and the color of what was coming would show through the red leaves and I would be there, in the end of the long driveway.

Nov 5, 2006

Chicken house uncle

His crazy uncle wasn't his uncle. It's not clear how they were related, actually. Myabe it was his father's uncle but there was something in there too about a second cousin. The whole family called him that though regardless of relation: The crazy uncle, or Crazy Uncle Russell, or, sometimes, Uncle Russell, Crazy Gandma Robertson's son.

Regardless of the relation, though, he was called the uncle and he was called crazy. The whole family knew him that way.

When we asked him crazy how?, when we asked him driving back to his girlfriend's place in the car with the radio working through a sporadic playlist working through the back seat speakers behind his head, he didn't really know but worked through a list of ways the family said that Crazy Uncle Russell was crazy.

Literally.
Bat shit.
Really.
Crazy.

There weren't a lot of specifics. Russell Robertson's mother went crazy. She was really crazy and talked to herself and then she died. He mentions that she died maybe because it happened because she was crazy, or maybe he mentions it because it was the thing that maybe pushed Russell Robertson into becoming Crazy Uncle Russell. Either way, his mom went crazy and he went crazy somewhere in there, right before or right after.

When we asked him but like what did he do that was crazy, when we asked him with dark streets turning corners and really it was just me that asked and his girlfriend said shut up, your stories are so stupid, when I asked him for concretes, for examples, there were really only two things.

The one thing was the crazy uncle refused to buy a house. He rented for like 20 years, 24 years. He could have bought a house but he said it was wrong and he didn't. It could have been a lot of things, I think, but they knew him and said, no, he was crazy. That's all.

The second thing was the crazy thing. The second thing that made the crazy uncle crazy was that he would drive down to the old place, the place where his mother was when she went crazy and where the family was when it was a family that could remember how everyone was related. He would drive down there and sit in the chicken house. There weren't any chickens any more and the big house wasn't there or was someone else's now but he'd park his car by the gate and climb the gate and go into the chicken house and just sit there.

For like 16 hours, and I mean he had a house and everything, he said. He was literally crazy.

They would find him there, sitting there in the empty chicken house staring past cobwebs and through floor boards mucked mostly clean. He had a house, but he wouldn't buy it because it seemed wrong. He had a family but they thought he was crazy and he had a mother who was crazy and dead. He sat in the chicken house and looked at the sky through the cracks in the ceiling. He sat there and looked at the peeling walls and he didn't think about how long it was that he was there until he heard their cars rolling up to get him, to take him away.

Nov 2, 2006

Me and Mr. Parnell

The thing I liked about old men then (and now) is that they’ve already decided how they’re going to respond to the world. They’ve figured out what can be figured out and they’re doing what they want to do. You can look at that and learn from that. I did.

What ever had happened had already happened. It was over and that was that and now he was here in the garage. And that was alright. Besides that there was nothing to say.

He had a band saw and a table saw and a scroll saw and some others. He had racks full of tools and more racks full of more tools on the walls and in from the walls there were benches. There was sawdust on the benches and under the benches and on the floor.

There was just a little walkway through the middle of the place and in the middle of the walkway was his chair and he sat there. Sometimes his wife came to the door and said Parnell? You want some tea?

Yes,
he would say. And that would be maybe all he would say all day.

And that was alright.

The kid came up and came in. He was wearing a red and black flannel shirt tucked into blue jeans and he stood next to Parnell. The kid was taller, broader than the man. Parnell sat there and the kid stood there. The kid was dressed like an old man. The old man smelled like Pall Malls and spam.

What you working on? the kid said. That was what he said every time. That was the way it worked between them.

A box, Parnell said.

He had six sides of mahogany, two small ends and two long sides and a top and a bottom. The wood was red and purple and when he ran the sander on the red and purple wood for too long in one place it burned black in lines. The wood sanded off in flying streams of dust. The smell of it, the burn-edged wood, mixed up in the air in the garage with the smell of Pall Mall and canned spam and flannel shirts.

They listened to the sander. They heard it whir. They heard the mahogany wood smoothing away. They heard the particles of sand slipping over the face of the wood and it was all alright.

You got it? Parnell said.

Yeah, said the kid.

The old man took the board in his vein-ridden hands and put it into the hands of the kid. The kid took it. The belt spun around its wheels. The kid took the board in both his hands and pushed the edge into the bite. He let the sander wear things away.

Parnell stood back. He picked up the glass of tea. The ice had melted into the sun browned tea and he pulled his head back and took a drink until there was nothing but a nub of ice laying at the bottom.

The two of them stayed like that, in the afternoon in the walkway between the machines in the garage, without saying anything for a long time.