Monday, December 27, 2010

A Christmas Showdown at the PO

This Christmas, shopping was easier than it has been for some time.  In years past, my wife has been the one in charge of the Christmas shopping.  Since she likes shopping and I could care less, I've always considered this a fair deal.  But, unfortunately for me, this means hours of standing and feet shuffling in one department store after another.  

“What do you think about this?” my wife asks.

“It looks fine.”

Back on the rack it goes.

“How about this one for your mother?” she asks again.

“Looks good.”

Back on the rack.  On to the next store.

When we lived in Massachusetts, the pain of this ritual was made slightly more tolerable by the small bar inside the mall in Springfield.  I would sit, drink, and grade final exams; my wife would return periodically for quick visits, a sip of beer, and to drop off bags. Maryland, it seems, has something against boozing it up in the mall.

This time, however, I was spared the whole tiresome ordeal.  With my wife overseas visiting her parents, I did the Christmas shopping with stunning efficiency.  Before leaving the house I hit and had two presents in the mail before my feet hit the front steps.  BING!!  I drove to the local mall and grabbed a few more.  BANG!!  And I cruised on past the Barnes and Nobles for the last few. BOOM!!!  Done!  Home in time to watch LSU loose to Arkansas.  Almost a perfect day!!

But as work picked up and my free time thinned out, those gifts sat around waiting to be mailed.  Finally, just a few days before Christmas, I managed to walk them down to the post office.  As I passed the first box over the counter, the woman glared at me and told me she couldn’t mail the box. 

“What do you mean?” I queried.

“This box had alcohol in it once.” She retorted.

She wasn't wrong.  The box was one of the many I collected from a local liquor store to use during our last move. 

“OK?” was my confused response.

“Alcohol is flammable!” she muttered in an exasperated tone.

Once again, Madame Curie was correct.  Alcohol is indeed flammable.

Normally, when confronted with problems like this, I sigh, narrow my eyes in the most condescending manner I can muster, and haughtily walk out.  Why bang my head against a brick wall?  The bricks never appreciate that kind of effort.  But this time I felt I had the time and the energy to try reasoning with the wall.

“Right” I said.  “But you can see that no wine was spilled on this box.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she shot back.

“Does it also not matter that the box itself is far, far, far more flammable than a bottle of wine?” I went on.

“No it doesn’t,” she exclaimed.

“In fact, were this box to contain the six bottles of wine it once held, it would be far less flammable because of it. Wine is over 85% water!”

“I cannot accept the box!”

Undeterred I went on. “And I guess it doesn’t matter that the gasoline in the truck that will carry the box away is far more flammable than a bottle of wine. . . .  And I guess it also is no concern of yours that the fuel in the wings of the airplane that will carry the box to Louisiana is far more flammable than that. . . .  My God!  The oxygen we’re breathing right now is more flammable than a bottle of wine!!”

Maybe I had gone a little far with that last one.  At least she thought so.  Her only reply was to gesture menacingly toward the door. 

I brought the box home, wrapped it in brown paper, walked it back to the post office, and handed it over to her silently. 

Brick wall 1, Logan Row 0

Merry Christmas!!  Happy New Year!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court"

I can see the inside of that courtroom just as clearly as if I had been there yesterday.  Packed with confusion, there was little room left to stand.  I arrived late, having spent a few minutes outside smoking cigarettes to cover up the pot smell.  So, when I got inside I casually leaned against the back wall, opened up my well-worn copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt and began reading. 

I wasn’t taking the proceedings very seriously.  Hell, I thought to myself, I wasn’t here for anything serious at all.  About a month before I had had the unfortunate experience of being issued a misdemeanor summons for taking advantage of a candy machine.  The damn machine didn’t work.  Y’see, you could put a dime in the thing and turn the knob to get your candy, or you could just turn the knob.  Either way you would get the candy.  Not having two nickels to rub together, I commonly chose the latter option. 

Well, one evening, just after a small group of friends and I had made a withdrawal, we found ourselves surrounded by a parade of cop cars.  We were all pretty young and fairly irreverent in the presence of authority figures; so I guess we caused a little more trouble than we should have.  Regardless, however, the whole event seemed absurd from the beginning.  The cops made a big scene, we made a bigger scene; but in less than two hours I was at the bar with a few friends laughing it off.

Two months later I was in that little courthouse watching it pump out “justice” like cheeseburgers.  The clerk called the name; the judge asked for the plea; and the sentence was given.  Bun, ketchup, mustard, pickle, beef and cheese!  When my turn came I was confused and high.  “Any questions?” the public defender asked me.  Not really, I responded.  “Is this all necessary?  I mean, it was about eight cents worth of candy,” I commented incredulously.  

I don’t think he was paying much attention.  He told me that I should just make it as painless as possible and plead guilty.  Fine.  Hell, I was guilty! 

“$500.00 fine and 250 hours of community service,” the old judge rattled out.  Wrap it up, add fries and a coke!

The entire experience was dizzying, and not just because I was high.  The prosecutor didn’t have my file, the arresting officer wasn’t there, the public defender seemed incompetent, and the judge clearly didn’t understand that I had been charged for taking candy from a candy machine not breaking into a vending machine.  Either way, I was fucked!  $500.00 was nearly an entire month’s salary for me at that time.  And 250 hours of community service was going to be impossible.  Any competent defense attorney could have had the frivolous charges dropped completely.  Or, at the very least, the case could have been dismissed in the absence of the arresting officer.  None of this happened.  So, I lived on very little food, clocked a lot of hours at the Salvation Army, and spent the next year and a half worrying that any run-in with the law (however small) would result in jail time—all for less than 10 cents worth of Sweet Tarts!!!!

Reading through Amy Bach’s Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court, I was struck by how common this predicament is.  In day-to-day criminal court, abuses happen with such regularity that they go almost unnoticed.  Defendants spend months in jail awaiting trials for offences that, if properly defended, wouldn’t result in community service.  Judges coerce guilty pleas from defendants.  Public defenders fall asleep at trial.  And prosecutors refuse to admit that they’ve convicted the wrong man even when confronted with indisputable proof.    

Anyone who’s watched a few episodes of Law and Order is familiar with the principle of our adversarial justice system.  In theory, a persuasive prosecutor argues the state’s case.  A well-prepared defense attorney challenges the case.  And a disinterested judge is present to ensure no one’s rights are violated.  What we understand to be justice, then, emerges from this process.  We accept errors (innocent men locked away for years, guilty men let loose) only because we believe so strongly in the rigorousness of the process.  All too often, however, the defense attorney is over-burdened, the prosecutor is concerned only with convictions that benefit his political career, and the judge is anything but disinterested.  In this way, the adversarial system of justice degenerates into a close-knit clan of professional colleagues (judge, prosecutor, defense attorney) conspiring to speed defendants through the system without any regard for the rights of the accused or even the presumption of innocence.   

This book made me feel ill, angry and disgusted.  I recommend it to anyone.  I don't, however, recommend fucking with a candy machine.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yes, George; you are GLENN BECK!!!!

Holy Shit!!  I know Glenn Beck; and he lives in Korea!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Their shore is alot of wrighting errors hear

Win eye sit down and reelly think a bout it, win I really tri to reed the word’s Ive wroten, win I lock very, very, closerly, I’m shore I’ll find meany English mistakes in mine own wrighting. Hell, aye jest no that eye must write them awl the thyme. Butt, I’m knot a publisher!! And, wile eye’ve Dunn a lot of proofriding in my time, I don’t due it for a leaving.

The people that wrote this garbage (not mine above, but those below), however, do! They are not only professional publishers that claim to have hired proofreaders; but they publish books used to teach English for god’s sake! I know Korea has a race problem. I know Koreans only reluctantly and grudgingly hire English speakers to come in and teach conversational English. And, maybe Korean publishers are operating under the false assumption that Koreans are somehow better at writing and grammar than native speakers (I’ve actually had an employer in Korea make this foolish argument to me once). But, couldn’t this company hire just one of those blond-haired, blue-eyed, grudgingly-employed guys to actually read through this garbage before they print thousands of copies?

I don't know.  What are some good topics to "break an ice?"  How about cocktails?

Warning about being careful, huh?  Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking.

Well, I "considers" it a fucking shame that you're not only using the passive construction, but that you're also pretty careless about the articles.

When "w're" writing an English textbook, it might be a good idea to write in complete sentences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is this how the other half lives?

I've always been a bit of news junky.  In college I typically read two or three newspapers a day (Sports section, classifieds, and Fashion excepted).  I loved the smell of the paper, the ink on my fingers, and the satisfaction of reading crisp, clean copy that was researched in hours and written in minutes.  It will be ball-chilling cold day in hell when I give up my warm, familiar paper for a cold, computer screen or some goddamn iPad.

But, these days I'm less attracted to the hard news than I am to the opinions.  I head straight to the editorials.  I read the columnists I like first and have a passing glance at those whom I tend to disagree with.  It's my age, I tell myself.  I'm becoming a bitter old man who would rather have his opinions validated than heard.  I even find myself reading the letters to the editor.  I want to dive into the complaints, the adversarial postures, the grating discord.  I want to immerse myself in the hatred they feel for the opposition.  I want a good argument.  I want a winner.  

And, every now and then I run across something in these editorials or letters that sends me flipping back to an earlier page in an earlier edition.  This is what happened today when I ran across a letter that brought me to this:

American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation

This article made me absolutely furious.  Fuck this kid!!!  Fuck him with the rusty end of a broken pitch fork!!!  And fuck this goddamn journalist too!  Who are these people?  How dare they muster the presumption to speak so condescendingly about an entire generation!  Other than the little fuck in this article, who the hell is complaining about “entitlement?”  Really, where the fuck are these people?   

I don’t know about this piss ant kid or this jerk-off journalist, but I've worked my ass off my entire life.  From the time I was fifteen years old I've worked cutting trees, laying concrete, washing dishes, flipping burgers, slinging hash, and turning wrenches.  I walked to work, lived off potato salad made with the free condiments from the Circle K, and paid my rent on time.  

I competed against little shits like this kid as an undergraduate.  When the out-of-town wealth from Tulane went out partying, I was the one pouring their drinks, wiping off their tables, and mopping their vomit off the floor.  While they went off each summer to fill their resumes with unpaid internships and sinecures at daddy’s office, I took on extra work to make it through the next semester. 

And this little fuck has the audacity to think that his $400,000 degree should put him at the front of the line?  What happened to valuing hard work, persistence, and determination?  My god!!  Is this kid serious?  Is he really shocked that he didn't land an $80,000 executive-track position right out of college? Does he really think that merely having a degree from Colgate carries that much weight?  I honestly don't know which is more depressing, the fact that this little twerp is so delusional or the fact that were it not for this recession his expectations would be realistic.  

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thank you for your consideration

Mr. Smith
Human Resource Manager
Cocksuckers Inc.
1234 Chupame la Polla Ave.
WTFville, BS 46807

Dear Mr. Smith,

I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to interview for the Dingleberry Quality Selection Team Member position with Cocksuckers Inc.  Although I am disappointed that I was not chosen, I enjoyed meeting you and your staff and learning more about your company.

I am still interested in opportunities with Cocksuckers Inc. and would appreciate it if you would keep me in mind for future openings with any of the branches here in WTFville.

If, however, you have no intention of contacting me again, please disregard everything above.  And, I hope it's not too insensitive for me to reveal that I pray you slip on your own bathroom floor, bleed to death, and your children are forever traumatized by finding you there naked, surrounded in a pool of your own blood and holding a copy of LadyBoy Weekly.

Thank you again for your consideration.


Logan Row

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

War Prayer Revisited

In 2003 I worked as a staff writer for my undergraduate University newspaper.  My duties were to cover Student Government (mostly because I was a good personal friend of the Student Body President, and thus had unparalleled access to him) and to cover those faculty events that other writers thought were either too boring or too difficult to develop into a story.  While I agreed wholeheartedly with these characterizations, I knew something that most other staff writers didn’t—when the faculty got together to talk they always had the events catered (which at a New Orleans university means crates of wine).  Many would be surprised to hear the honesty that comes out of professors whose lips are loosened with a little Yellow Tail. 

But I digress . . . .

On the day the US launched the war in Iraq my rather eccentric editor printed this lesser known Twain story as a full-page insert.  And, while I’m sure few people actually read it, it was a poignant tribute to the initial (and now long forgotten) popularity of that war in some circles.  Now, as we send in yet another general to quell the violence, clean up the corruption, and, in general, do the fucking impossible, I though it appropriate to remind ourselves of how we got here in the first place.     

The War Prayer
by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer.

He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Terrorism on the screen and in our heads

There was a time when “terrorist” was a neat, nuance-devoid category that needed little supplementary explanation.   As Hollywood-contrived eccentrics, terrorists existed as mere foils—a quintessential badness whose abhorrent existence merely reinforced the most elementary understanding of good, justice, and the American way.  Their motives were rarely explored, their background only partly fleshed out. 

Much of this neatness was a product of general American ignorance on the subject of terrorism.  What was a terrorist?  What did they do?  Well, for American audiences in the 80s and 90s, they hijacked planes, blew up buildings, murdered people, and rooted for Armageddon.  But, they did all of this stuff far, far away.  It was this geographical and intellectual distance between the activities of terrorists and life in the US that fostered an image of terrorism that was as readily identifiable as it was patently false—a silk suit wearing, gulfstream-flying, impenetrably nonsensical lunatic like Castor Troy (Nick Cage) in “Face Off”; the cold, expressionless master criminal in “Passenger 57,” the fanatical IRA splinter groups in “Patriot Games.” 

In the eighties—when everyone was luvin’ Reagan, hatin’ commies, and laying roses at the feet of rugged individualism—the Hollywood image of terrorism served to highlight bureaucratic incompetence.  Maj. Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris) knew exactly how to handle a group of sweaty highjackers in “The Delta Force”—go in and kill the fuck out of ‘em!  Without equivocation, without even a hint of grey, the terrorists were evil: pure, concentrated evil.  There was no debate about their character, their one-dimensionality was entirely transparent.  The only question was whether McCoy would allow a wavering president and a group of Posey-panty Foreign Service officers to keep holding up the show and making deals with terrorists, or whether he would paint their asses red, white and blue.  Indeed, what attracted audiences to McCoy-like characters was their ability to cut through the many concentric rings of authority and inaction with a blast of hyper-realism shot through the barrel of a bazooka.    

While vestiges of this attitude lingered on, the post-cold-war world brought with it a new understanding of terrorism.  The world was different, smaller, more complex.  But one thing hadn’t changed; for the American imagination, the battle against terrorism was still being waged internally.  The argument, however, was no longer about which should be done first, ask questions or shoot; it was now a struggle to reconcile the actions of the old cold-war embroiled superpower with the new single dominant beacon of democracy.  In short, the democracy-praising idealism of President James Marshall (Harrison Ford, “Air Force One”) was created to clean up the mess left by the reckless abandon of Maj. McCoy’s Delta Force.   

Throughout the cold war the United States had been fighting for supremacy.  Now that it was the unquestionable winner, it had to make a decision.  Like Connor McCloud in “Highlander,” we had decapitated our enemies and won the prize.  So, now what?  Well, we actually get an inkling of what Connor does with his prize in the terrible sequel to “Highlander.”  He saves the world from ultra-violet annihilation by constructing a synthetic ozone layer to replace the one destroyed by industry.  And, he earns the hatred of billions who now have to live in eternal darkness.  

The US of the post-cold-war nineties was in a comparable situation.  The Soviet Union had been vanquished for good.  The United States had won the prize.  And with the prize came the unfettered condemnation of much of the world.  Despite its best efforts, the US could neither quell the bitterness nor distance itself from the world it had spent decades creating.  In this new light, the terrorists became human.  The soldiers in “The Rock” wanted justice; the nuclear bomb carrying Yugoslav in “The Peacemaker” wanted to avenge his fallen wife and daughter.  These people had to be stopped, yes.  But they also had to be understood.  We wanted to know what made them tick.  We wanted to ask them, “why all the bitterness?”  “Why don’t you forget about those things and take our hand as we walk into the bright new future?”

Yet, no matter how they might have tried, the US could not keep the ghosts of the Cold War in their graves.  Osama Bin Laden, a creature of the American desire to spend the USSR out of existence, was back on the scene following the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa.  In the wake of that rude awakening, America’s imagined terrorist lost much of his humanity (though not all of it).  Interestingly enough, however, this did not bring about a revival of the Maj. McCoy archetype.  In fact, these events merely escalated the post-cold war struggle for direction in a Uni-polar world.  Now the battle between the ideal US and the ghosts of the past could be fought out in real time and in earnest.  In “The Siege,” FBI Special Agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) struggles to maintain his composure as he battles both the terrorist cells and the extra-constitutionality of American troops on US soil torturing US citizens.  It’s the FBI verses the US military; the symbol of national order verses the symbol of global domination; the clashing interests between the metropole of a reluctant empire and the inevitable byproducts of empire building. 

In this instance at least, the ideal US wins.  Denzel Washington waves The Constitution in front of Bruce Willis, the soldiers put down their guns, and the president comes back to his senses.  Problem averted, order returned, the march toward the future continues.  September 11, 2001, however, directs the American gaze back to the mean, mean, complex world.  In response to the newly realized international turmoil, Hollywood dispatches Ben Affleck and Morgan Freedman to chase international, nuke-holding terrorists around the world.  Samuel L. Jackson decides to think outside the box and hire Vin Diesel to infiltrate a group of well-dressed, curiously wealthy terrorists in Prague.  And Arnold Schwarzenegger took matters into his own hands by traveling to Columbia to squash the terrorists’ heads between his large Austrian paws.

But, as always happens during moments of rabid, self-righteous indignation and flag-waving super patriotism, we carried this crusade a little too far.  Toward the end of the decade we were being dragged back to our senses by Tommy Lee Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal, and George Clooney.  Granted, the “Valley of Elah,” “Rendition,” and “Syriana” all lacked both the hypnotic special effects of a Schwarzenegger film and the cool composure of Morgan Freedman.  But the point was made.  Fighting terrorists had become a nasty business.  It was no longer about just cutting through the red tape to do what had to be done.  Things weren’t that simple anymore.  We were left asking ourselves, “Was Maj. McCoy even relevant anymore?”  Or was he actually the reason we were here in the first place? 

The answers to these questions haven’t been filmed yet.  But, If the low-budget production, “Unthinkable,” is any indication, we’ve now entered a world of nuanced introspection.   In this film about torture and deniability, the terrorist is still human and the threat is still real.  But the enemy is no longer so clear or even so tangible.  Unlike the final scene in “The Siege,” there is no FBI agent risking life and limb to preserve civil authority.  Rather, the tenuous sometimes antagonistic relationship between CIA, FBI and the military has been replaced by an eerie cooperation.  Denzel and Bruce have merged into a single character that is not only convinced of what he must do, but he’s tormented by the idea of it, and unsure of where his actions will take him. 

But there is one major difference between the old world of terrorists in foreign, dusty countries and the new world of terrorism inside our heads; terrorism is no longer a temporary emergency.  Before, fighting terrorism meant stretching the rules and kicking some ass.  But when the fighting was done and the terrorists were hauled off, the sun came out and life went back to normal.  This is no longer the case.  There is no single person that can be killed, tortured or locked up that will restore order (magically or otherwise).  Terrorism is, unfortunately, the new normal.   Like domestic abuse, herpes and crack cocaine, terrorism is a problem without a solution; it’s a blister without an ointment.  For better or worse, the image of terrorism has been grafted onto our collective consciousness as a permanent, immutable force.  We’re stuck with it forever . . . or at least until the next movie.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Mr. Smith,

Dear Mr. Wally Smith (Director of Human Resources, Cocksuckers Inc.),

I hope you don’t think it too presumptuous of me that I write you at this moment.  But I thought we left our last meeting with more to be said.  And, I believe my actions required some explanation.  Lord knows I was in no state to give explanations of any kind at the time.

Let me begin by apologizing to your lovely wife.  I hadn’t intended to damage her home; but I would have never thought that you’d have such an ironclad security system.  And, you really should thank the installation outfit; I nearly left in frustration.  It was only when I noticed that open second story window that I endeavored to persevere.  This is how, I’m afraid to say, your beautiful lattice work was destroyed.  Though, in my defense, you must understand that there was really no other way up or in.  Had I decided to smash a window or kick in the door, the damage done to your home would be no different.

Also, please send my most sincere apologies to your teenage daughter.  It must have been quite a shock when I crawled through that window.  Yes, we can all laugh about it now—how she bounced from the bed to the dresser in frantic panic, how she pleaded with me to spare her life, and how she finally fainted on the floor.  But neither of us thought it was funny at the time.  Hell, she just wanted me to leave; and I just wanted her to shut up.  I hope it brings her some solace to know that I had no intention of harming her.  And, with the therapist's help, I’m sure she’ll get over it in time.    

I should also apologize for all the black marks I left smeared on your walls, banister, and furniture.  Regardless of how easy it may appear in the movies, applying shoe polish to your entire body is no mean feat.  It took hours.  And, it took a lot of shoe polish.  So, during the application process I managed to get quite a bit on my clothes, hands, shoes, and wherever else.  But, if it makes you feel any better, you should know that my bathroom (at my former address that is) was absolutely destroyed in the process.  That security deposit is gone for good.

I mention this not because I enjoy boasting.  No!  I say this only to correct the record.   Those marks were not, as was said in court, my own feces.  I would never do such a thing.  Yes, as the prosecutor stated, I did have a bag of my own excrement in my back pocket.  That much is true.  And, I should confess, I really don’t know what I planned to do with it.  Cheap vodka will make people do funny things.  I really don’t think I can be held entirely responsible for my actions in that condition.  But, and this is my point, I never once opened that bag.  It stayed right there in my back pocket the entire time.  I’m certain the prosecutor was quite conscious that he was embellishing the truth.

I’m not really a bad person.  In fact, I want to let you know that I’m praying for your complete recovery.  I got a little ahead of myself when I kicked you down the stairs.  It was really a product of my frustration at the moment.  There were so many things I wanted to say to you face to face; and nothing was really coming out right.  But, I think you must admit as well, that you weren’t exactly being a model listener at that point.  All that screaming, all that kicking!  I can only be expected to tolerate so much. 

This is not, however, an excuse for my behavior, mind you.  I was in the wrong.  That much is certain.  When I sobered up, I realized that quite quickly.  So what if it seemed like you were advertizing positions that you had no intention of filling?  So what if you didn’t want to look at my resume?  So what if I had spent days crafting the perfect cover letter?  I had no right to make you eat them in front of me.    

Nor did I have any right to say all of those terrible things to you as the police dragged me away.  You are certainly not the most evil, heartless sonofabitch the world has ever known.  During my sentencing, as each of your family members excoriated me in the most brutal of terms, the fact that you are a strong, well-loved family man was plainly obvious.  Heartless, evil sons of bitches don’t get that kind of praise.  And, I should never have called you a pig fucker.  I’m not one to make unsubstantiated statements; and I had no reason to make one then.  The fact is, I have no idea what your attitude is toward pigs; and I certainly have no evidence to support my wild accusations.   

So I hope you’ll accept this humble apology.  Who knows?  In a few years, assuming the parole board looks favorably upon me and my attempts to rehabilitate myself, I might try submitting my resume to your company again.  No hard feelings?   I still think I’m the man for the job.


Logan Row 
Federal Prisoner #32-765-5654 

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Interview I’d Love to Give

Smug Interviewer: How did you hear about the position here at Cocksuckers Inc.?

Even more Smug Me: Well, you see these days I try to apply to just about anything that I’m capable of doing.  Though, I seem to recall stumbling across your ad after I applied for a position changing bedpans at the local insane asylum. 

Interviewer: Why would you like to work here at Cocksuckers Inc.?

Me: That’s a good question.  And, I must confess, I haven’t spent all that long thinking up an appropriate answer.  If pressed, however, I’d say my motivations were mostly gastronomical.

Interviewer:  . . . gastronomical??

Me: Yes, ma’am.  You see, even before the recession, my wife and I had already acquired a nasty habit of eating on a regular basis—three times a day sometimes.  And, I must tell you, it’s been a terribly difficult habit to break.

Interviewer: Are there any other reasons?

Me: Well, now that you mention it, yes.  We’ve also grown accustom to living indoors.  Now, don’t get me wrong; we do like to go camping.  But sometimes we like to be able to sit comfortably inside, wash our clothes in a machine, and use appliances that don’t require Colman fuel.  Another nasty little habit, I’m afraid.

Interviewer:  So what do you think your background and experience will add to this company?

Me: Well, how would you like to learn more about 19th-century Spanish liberalism? 

Interviewer: What I mean is that most of the applicants we’ve spoken with have had a background in Business Administration, Economics, or Marketing.  You have a more colorful background in, let’s see . . . , oh, history.  How do you think that would add to the talent here at Cocksuckers Inc.?

Me: Ah, well, depending on how you look at it, my background may add nothing to the “talent” here.  I’ve never read a profit loss account, and I’ve never cared to see a balance sheet.  That said, after spending two years as a Graduate TA teaching and reading the work of students with backgrounds not dissimilar to those you’ve just described, I can confidently say that many of them have never done their own research, composed a piece of readable prose, or passed a course without hiring someone to write their term papers.  So, considering the field of applicants, I think my background makes me fairly competitive.

Interviewer:  I see that you’ve done a lot of teaching.  Why have you decided to pursue a different career at this point?

Me: You mean apart from the desire my wife and I have of eating regularly and living indoors?

Interviewer: Yes, sir.  Apart from that.

Me: Well, let’s just say I had a more interesting adolescence than most.

Interviewer: I’m not sure I follow you.

Me: Oh, well, you know how in high school all your friends were joining clubs and taking the SAT each year?

Interviewer: Yes.

Me: Well, it was almost exactly the same for me and my friends, except instead of joining clubs and taking the SAT we were smoking an unfathomable amount of pot and eating copious amounts LSD.  You wouldn’t believe the things you’ll do when the entire world looks like the inside of a marshmallow!  And, apparently, when you apply to work at a public school in the US, they actually look into that.  Considering the quality of the teachers I had in school, I tend to think this is a relatively new policy.

Interviewer: I also see that you’ve done a lot of traveling over the past decade.

Me: Yep, four continents and over forty countries—not counting the ones I was just passing through.

Interviewer: Why all that moving around?

Me: Remember how I was telling you about all that pot and LSD?

Interviewer:  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Me: Ha ha, just kidding.  Totally unrelated.  I just like to travel. 

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Me: If I don’t get this job, I imagine I’ll be emerging from bankruptcy right about then.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A New Flavor for an Old Festival

Oh, yes!  We’ve been anticipating this for almost three quarters of a century. 

If you look closely, you can almost see the greasy film.

A little Cayenne, a few handfuls of salt, and one free-standing hydrostatic pressure gauge.

In the soft glow of a full moon, the dying plankton looks so peaceful.

In Louisiana we don’t have enough confetti.  We use shrimp!!

You see, in Louisiana we’re trained to suppress our natural inclination to recognize that “one of these things is not like the other.”

A little 5w-20 Etouffe, anyone?                                         

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Immortality in the Margins

My father, like many old men, has grown fascinated with his own genealogy.  Indeed, the intensity of his fascination seems to rise commensurately with his age.  When searching for his Christmas present last year I considered this and decided trace his family tree.  Hell, it's about time I put those two history degrees I've acquired to work!  I gathered what information he had, spoke to a few of our oldest living relatives, and started digging around. 

Granted, there were a lot of lacunae, and I took a number of educated guesses about who fathered whom.  But in the end, I managed to put together a mostly reliable and relatively interesting family tree that stretched from Louisiana to Lorraine.  In fact, I was so satisfied with both the hunt and the product that I decided to research my mother’s family’s background. 

Unlike on my father’s side of the family, my mother’s side had done quite a bit more record keeping over the years.  Considering the socio-economic differences between these two sides—my father’s tree includes a number of property owners and doctors, while my mother’s side is populated heavily with illiterate French-speaking peasants—this seemed strangely counterintuitive.  To date, I’m still mostly stumped by this apparent paradox.  But, getting back to the story here . . . .  

Paw-paw Logan, as my last surviving grandparent, was the logical person to speak with first.  And, even at 91 years old he’s sharp as a tack.  The man is still racing his Ford around Abbeville, eating Sausage, Gravy and Rice for dinner most nights, and still telling mildly off-color jokes about how dark the natives were in Borneo—something about how coal would leave a white mark on their skin.

Together we dug through several crates and wooden chests to find every old picture he had in his house.  Along the way we turned up many interesting documents, like my grandmother’s baptismal certificate, his marriage license, his Army discharge papers, and a few records from the Billups Station he managed for so many years. 
However, the most interesting document I found during my search was a census record that recorded the name and address of my great grandfather Louis Sarazin Mathiue in 1900.  This was a huge find.  With it, I now knew for sure that he was neither literate nor English-speaking.  Also, since he was living with a Chiasson family at that time, I confidently deduced from this that his own family had likely either died or were so destitute they could no longer support him.  Without this single page, this aspect of Louis’ life would be lost forever.  And all this was possible because over one hundred and ten years ago some poor guy went from door to door in backwater Acadiana (undoubtedly accompanied by an interpreter) asking people a few simple questions.  

Now, I dig this shit.  (Hell, I better dig it, because it’s an interest that promises neither wealth nor even work.)  But, because of this interest, I’m always conscious of the marks I’m leaving on history.  I’m aware of my own immortality, if you will.  How much of a trace will be left of me when I’m gone?  What impression will some future historian or genealogist get of me when he/she discovers this or that bit of my life?  What will one learn of me through my writing, my passports, my many addresses, my criminal record? 

This year Heejung and I filled out our own census form.  And, like usual, my predilection for leaving a historical trace piqued my interest in the situation immediately.  Just like when my great grandfather Louis lived for a short while as a Farm hand in his benefactor’s home, we are also in a transitional place and time.  Years from now (hopefully not 110 years later) one or a few of our distant progeny might stumble across a record of us (a Korean national and a Coonass) living in a house we don’t own in rural Virginia, and he’ll come to a few conclusions.  He might learn finally, (if he was wondering) why his eyes are a little longer.  He might pause for a minute to consider our lives and times.  He might imagine what it was like to be so peripatetic back in the “good ol’ days.”  At least I hope he will.  I’m leaving him the fucking breadcrumbs for god’s sake!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gawd Damn!!! It's WORSE than I thought!

 I usually leave the politics off this blog. But this is just horrible!  This video hit me in so many ways; it was fascinating, disturbing, depressingly funny, awful, scary, puzzling, hurtful, shocking, real, and real fucking stupid!!!

God, help US!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Ain’t Yo’ Father’s Walden Pond! Part IV

Living on this peaceful mountain it’s easy to get lost in it all.  I’m surrounded by the fresh smell of spring each morning.  I wake up to the crisp, chill breeze hitting me in the face as it sweeps across Appalachia and out to the Atlantic.  I amuse myself by watching the squirrels dance from tree to tree, the birds flutter from branch to branch, the bees buzz from flower to flower, the deer stroll up to the road at dusk, the springs trickle gently down the hills, and, when the wind whistles through the mountains, I watch the tops of the trees sway romantically from left to right in dazzling Technicolored, hyper-realism. 

Yet, amongst all this dreamy “Bird on my Shoulder,” Song of the South bullshit, it’s easy to forget that this place was once the base for a large Confederate partisan group.  Col. John S. Mosby, the “Grey Ghost,” controlled this area from 1863 until the end of the Civil War.  He and the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry were camped up in these hills, making raids on Union forces nearby, blending into the local farming population, and, in general, just waiting to march triumphantly into Washington, D.C. 

As everyone knows full well—save for maybe the current Gov. of Virginia—there was no triumphal march; there was no victorious South.  For the most part, things didn’t go at all the way the “Grey Ghost” would have hoped; and he lived long enough to see it.  

I confess, however, that I don’t know exactly how his soldiers met their end.  I imagine that many of them did what they had been doing throughout the war; they blended into the population, worked the land, and let the bitterness of defeat eat at their souls for years.  I’d like to think that not all of them went this way.  I think many of them slept and bleed on this earth.  Some of them, I’m sure, died up in these hills.  And, quite a number of them surely buried their friends, brothers, and fellow soldiers under these rocks and trees.   

So, essentially, I’m living in a confederate graveyard!  As I hike the AT each morning (which by the way skirts the Eastern Front of Mosby’s Confederacy), I’m always on the lookout for some remnant of this place’s violent past—some name or bit of misspelled vulgarity chiseled in a rock, some chunk of lead buried in the trunk of a tree, some old, half-buried skeletal hand still clinging to the slaves it never owned and a vision of the South that’s so romanticized and so idealized that it scarcely ever existed in the first place.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Dharma [bare] Bums

A friend of mine has recently begun a year-long experiment in religious studies.  From the web diary he’s putting together it seems he’s planning to follow the doctrine and traditions of 12 major faiths (each for one month at a time).  So, since the first month is Buddhism, I thought I might do a little research on my own.  It didn’t take long before I found out what Buddhism is really about.  SHOCKING, is the only word I can use to describe it.  

Have a look!!!  

And what happens to the children?  Lord Knows!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

This Ain’t Yo’ Father’s Walden Pond! Part III

Seventeen Steps to Accomplishing Nothing

1. Get up early to brush teeth, stretch, and get some fresh air.

2. March around the brush surrounding the house to find Heejung the perfect walking stick.

3. Shave off all the bark from the stick and neatly carve HJ in the handle.

4. Help Heejung prepare 유부초밥 and 깍두기 to bring with us.

5. Fill water bottle, get Heejung’s shoes out of the car, and gently encourage her to hurry up.

6. Load newly carved walking stick, packed backpack, and ourselves into the car.

7. Drive one mile down the road to the Appalachian Trail public car park.

8. Park, unload, cross Hwy 55 and head south on the AT; Destination, beautiful clearing at the top of the mountain about 45 min away.

9. Hike into woods about three minutes.

10. Two minutes later listen to Heejung’s complement about the trail’s natural beauty.

11. One minute later hear Heejung SCREAM WITH HORROR!!!

12. Turn around to see that I just walked over a small Ribbon Snake sunning itself on the trail.

13. Move snake off the trail and try to convince Heejung to continue on.

14. One minute later, realize this is futile and guide her back to the car.

15. Eat 유부초밥 and 깍두기 on a picnic table at AT car park.

16. Drive home having accomplished nothing.

17. Take a nap.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Ain’t Yo’ Father’s Walden Pond! Part II

Growing up in Baton Rouge, I’m familiar with the many cultural eccentricities and idiosyncrasies that always tend to flower in relatively sparsely populated areas with high numbers of blue-collar, lower-middle-class small home owners.  Yet, of the many fascinating phenomena, the most intriguing to me has always been the tendency for an increase in paranoia over crime amongst groups that live in areas where criminal activity is quite rare.  One would think that anxiety about crimes typically associated with inner-city life (robbery, carjacking, home invasion, gang violence, etc . . .) would be less intense in areas far removed from the city sprawl.  Indeed, that these specific crimes are so common in the city is the reason most commonly given for why people move out to the suburbs and beyond.   But, it’s the people that live on backwoods, gravel roads that are the quickest to grab their gun when there is a late-night knock at the door; it’s the people that live hundreds of miles from any housing project that seem the most concerned with incidents of gang violence; and it’s the people that live on acres of land, far from the next house that will have the most NO TRESPASSING signs at the entrance to their long driveway.  As I hiked out from my cabin in the woods to the main road yesterday I couldn’t help but notice the many “this home is protected by ACME Home Security,” BEWARE OF DOG, and NO TRESPASSING signs.  So where does this come from?

I’m sure that the concentration of irrational paranoia in these areas is in many ways a process of self-selection.  This is to say that the people who have the highest levels of anxiety about inner-city crime are the most likely to move out to these areas.  But I’m not convinced that this process accounts for all of it.  Some of it might be a natural, almost atavistic, reaction to solitude.  Remember when you were young and afraid of the dark?  It wasn't merely the absence of light that frightened you; the darkness only emphasized the real fear, that of being alone.  The dark loneliness could make things and ideas that would ordinarily seem, well, quite ordinary, seem frightening.  Something very similar happens when people live removed from regular human contact.

The first time I remember thinking about this strange phenomenon was when a young Japanese exchange student was shot on the doorstep of a Baton Rouge man’s semi-rural home.  It was in ’92 or ’93, and I was a high school student at the time.  The poor boy was shot dead because he had the terrible misfortune of knocking on the wrong door.  The man who shot him—a law-abiding, blue-collar everyman—didn’t think twice about grabbing his gun at the sound of an unexpected, early evening knock at the door.  Why he decided to shoot after seeing that it was a high school student, is still something of a mystery to me.  But I have to believe that the anxious, evening-news-filled paranoia that likely drove this man out into the sticks in the first place and stoked his fears every night had a lot to do with it. 

While I’m sure he spent some time in prison, I honestly don’t remember exactly what happened to that man.  (Though I do, however, remember then President Bill Clinton apologizing to Japan for the incident.)  But I’m reminded of him, the Japanese boy he killed, and the strange, uniquely American rural paranoia that made that tragedy possible each time I walk down this mountain road.  “No Trespassing,” indeed!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This Ain’t yo’ Father’s Walden Pond! Part I

After over two months in a cramped New York City studio, my wife and I are now living eight miles from Front Royal, eighty miles from DC, high up in the Blue Mountains, off a gravel road, and in a “not so rustic” cabin in the woods.  This detour was less planned than pleasantly fortuitous; less vacation than a practical consequence of moving back to DC on short notice.

The plan is to stay here for two months as we look for an apartment and make the slow transition back to DC.   But the bayou-raised Coonass in me is just diggin’ the scene and goin’ with the flow!  Since we’ve been here I’ve started wandering around the house half naked and scratching myself; I’m constantly looking for a good stick to carve; I’ve been looking for two good trees to roast a pig between; I feel like rolling up my pants just above my ankles, digging my toenails into the dry dirt, sticking a wad of chew in my lip and spitting out the juice as I talk to add emphasis to the strange folksy things I seem to feel like saying now.

Who knows?  We might decide to stay out here for years.  I could get a pickup truck and find some coal mine to work at.  Or I could write a recipe book all about dishes prepared with squirrel.  I’m thinkin’ it over.