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There's no such thing as a lemming.

There are lemmings, as it happens, perfectly genial little rodents of faraway places, but they're not the way we remember them, and they're not the minuscule monomaniacs racing for the sea in a carpet of heathery fur. Those critters were solely the product of a Disney documentary, confessed in a late-life admission from a filmmaker who, looking for a good angle, chased a flotilla of them over a cliff for that perfect shot.

Our memory is selective, the product of skillful editing and well-composed shots, and we remember what we want, or what we think is the most believable unbelievable narrative available to us. The instinctive headlong rush of rats running in a mass for a homeland drowned a million years ago fits the bill, and fits the way we remember our own home places, where we'd run and run and run over broken land into high water for another moment with those we loved, and who loved us best.

There is no such thing as a lemming, and yet I'm out on that old lonesome highway, tracing out the swiftly fading track of the old mainline connecting a border state to the real South. I clear the last of the suburban nightmare that's swiftly swamping the southern reaches of my state and cross the high bridge over the Potomac.

The day is bright and clear and glorious. I've the top down, cooler weather notwithstanding, and the broad expanse of the river is sparkling like something from a movie, the way everything that's true and wonderful and real anymore is always like a movie, as we forget to stray from our familiar haunts.

301 is the old road here, the Blue Star Highway, where I cast off my doubts and run.



I'm never sure I'm really elsewhere until I've stopped for lunch at Horne's, a little roadside diner where the food's nothing special and the atmosphere's a ramshackle attempt at nostalgic theme park craftsmanship, all aww-shucks reflections on the good ol' days we never had, done to the point of cloying, embarrassing saturation, but it's a good solid meal at a perfect stopping point. The shakes are spun up on mint green Hamilton stand mixers where the edges are worn down to dark metal from constant decades of use, and the banter is familial. Everyone's family, all pitching in.

I'm really elsewhere a few miles later, when I breeze into Frog Level, Virginia, a town so beautifully named that it's one of the few places that can compete with my own home town of Scaggsville for memorable monickers. One of these days, I'll look into why Frog Level is Frog Level, but I just entertain my pet theories somewhere in the quieter parts of my head and keep on. There are still miles to burn, and Virginia's not the high point of my trip.

The pine walls of Fort A.P. Hill rise up around me, along with the signs warning that you're not allowed to stop there for any reason that's not a dire, irreparable mechanical disaster, and I make that stretch without another car either ahead of or behind me, like it is almost every time, and like the whole world's finally packed up and headed for Disneyland, leaving the old road to me.

Some people find that sort of solitude terrifying, and do anything they can to drown it out in constant distraction, because the worst thing in the world is to be alone with your thoughts, but it clears my head. As the miles multiply between work and responsibility and one of the last houses where I can't remember that world, I turn up the music and sing along to Betty Hutton, letting my interior monologue conspire over possible escape routes.

The sun flickers through the trees along the road. There are people in the world who get seizures from that pulsing, jarring frequency, but it works my neurons in a simpler and altogether more worthwhile way. The miles roll on, and I start to forget my obligations.



South of the Border, that old stalwart of the late snake oil roadside tourist trap, has surrendered the roadsides of 301. In better days, you'd start to find the first of the signs just shy of Richmond, where they'd tease and taunt and torture any child in the car with day-glo visions of cheesy amazement and satisfying punmanship into a frenzy of parent-baiting desperation.

“SOUTH OF THE BORDER IS ONLY 173 MILES AWAY!” they scream, and eyes roll.

In the height of road trip vacations, South of the Border had stunt signs as far north as New York City, though it was hard to imagine that they'd really draw visitors from there. It was more of an innoculation, a little dart of the virus, of the will and the idea, something to prime the kids to be ready when the signs really rose up. They say the founder of the place lived in a secret apartment buried somewhere in the garish fiberglass menagerie of Mexican stereotypes, like a dime store Howard Hughes, overseeing his life's work like a plastic spider dangling from a vinyl web.

You'd think it's telling, somehow, that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke worked there as a kid, polishing that web, but it's just another job when you're a kid in Dillon, South Carolina, and apropos of nothing.

But 301 is clear now. Even South of the Border has let it go. You can see a few of the northernmost signs, still, painted over, but showing through like the ghosts of a circus train crash. Here and there, a little bit of the surreal mascot, Peedro, peeks out, but the billboards are falling, crumbling like the walls of Jericho with the trumpeting of pervasive mass media.



A sign signals another diversion, and another diving run on the big highway, where the old twining serpentine dance of 301 and I95 finds resolution in the unsatisfying victory of the bigger, straighter, wider, and faster highway. My fantasies of making the trip on a Vespa one day start to fade away as I take a few side trips to explore the old roadbed, where 301 ran parallel to 95, separated only by a low fence of posts and braided steel rope, twenty miles of speed limit, and a world view.

The road's still there, tantalizingly there, but the signs are gone, and, in many places, the road dead-ends where highway administration bulldozers have built firewalls to make sure that you can't take the old path, unless you live here.

The Romans, victorious, salt the fields behind them.

I signal, merge back onto the big road, and am bored senseless for twenty miles. Every passing minivan full of kids has drop-down screens playing direct-to-video movies so banal that even the dullest of the watchers gets bored in time. Now and then, drifting in and out of my own history, a huge silver Suburban passes me by. Inside, my father is at the wheel, his handlebar mustache perfectly waxed into old fashioned loops. My mother looks back, hollering at all of us to stop squabbling, and I look out from my place in the very back, just a moment.

We make eye contact over the dotted line and the decades, him and I, and he holds up a handwritten sign with a malicious, gleeful smile he can't quite supress.

The silver Suburban disappears, lost in a rush of modern SUVs, and I get back to right now, to this moment.



The billboards scream.


There's a lot of that down here, where the subliminal threads that hide out in polite convention up North are bared for all to see, creating the falsehood that this sort of thing only happens in the South, where those people are just so...backwards.

It's in the media, in the popular conception of who we all really are, and whenever someone wants to play a dumbass, they drop right into a southern drawl, stretching out the words and mouthing lurid impersonations of the way Southerners manage to get two and three syllables out of the smallest words. It's just so easy, with how close things are to the surface here, but it's not accurate.

IF YOU DIED TODAY, WOULD YOU GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL?

The thing is, I think I might just end up here, out on the lonesome road, driving forever, never sure if that would be a punishment or a reward. I pass another ISLAM IS RISING billboard and I yell out of the car, as if anyone was listening.

“Yeah, it sure would suck of some weird middle-eastern religion took over this country and imposed their crazy religious laws on us! How weird would it be if that happened!?”

I laugh, partly out of bitter irony and partly because it's absurd to yell at billboards, but you wonder.



I pick up the scent not far from Emporia and the lower reaches of Virginia, the tendrils of the most distinctive perfume of Southern exploration, a smoky reminder that I spend my life somewhere with abundant urban resources, and it's rich as a well-aged wine, with overtones of pine needles crackling into cinders and bass notes of live oak leaves and grass. Everywhere, the little fires burn in neatly raked piles in the drainage ditches, trailing that gorgeous, intoxicating incense of somewhere else, and I plunge through the strata of blue-grey with a narcotic grin on my face.

I am here because of the call, the simmering pull buried somewhere in the genes and in one's history, because there is something golden there, at the end of the long, long road.

The road bears on, and the breeze pulls at my hair like wind crossing wheat fields.

There are hours to go, and small towns to slow me down, and somewhere to stop, once the moon comes up.
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A wayward Carolina dog and her pet beagle in their natural habitat.

more snapshots )
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They used to claim that you could brainwash a guy and turn him into a perfect, cold-blooded assassin, subjecting him to the same stimulus over and over until you burn a new pathway in the wiring of his brain. Then, you release him into the world, let him go on with life as usual, until it's time to call him back.

I'm no assassin, as best as I can tell, but my brain is swimming with little sticky notes from higher powers, tucked into music and art and everyday conversation, and they appear sometimes from completely out of nowhere.

It's a curious sensation—a state of unexpected alertness, or a little itch, or something akin to deja vu, in which you just know that something important needs to happen, and soon.

Standing in a shop where the proprietor kept classical radio running at all times, I recognized a familiar piece of music, though it didn't really register as much more than the pleasant sensation of revisiting an old favorite. I picked through the selection of meaningless objects around me, the orchestra played on, the singers belted it out, and, almost without warning, I had the most intense flash of desire to burst through a doorway.

Shit, that's my cue!

I looked around for a moment, jolted out of a shopping trance by the sudden, overwhelming urge to barge through a flimsy door into a grey, decrepit rooftop artist's garret sometime in the century before the last, where Mimi would be lain out in a cot, succumbing to consumption.

Are you kidding me? I thought. It's been twenty-nine years since I stood at that doorway, listening to the music, waiting with a kid from the chorus, waiting for the cluster of notes that meant it was time for us to burst in, bringing important things to suffering bohemians.

"Push!," the kid from the chorus hissed at me, as I stood there, yanking on the shiny shed door handle on the side of the door the audience would never see. I felt a wave of panic hit me as I yanked on the door, my cue receding into the ornamentation of the sheet music like someone falling off the Chrysler Building.

It won't open it won't open it won't open!

"Push the door!" the kid snapped, and it was like a rubber band shot into the folds of my brain. I changed direction and the two of us lurched through the door, nearly falling straight down the stairs there, then charged down the steps into the glaring light and into the scene.

"I love your urgency," the maestro remarked, singling us out in his notes for the performance. "You really convey the sense that you know how much you are needed by our principals."

Well, I do my best.

Sometimes, you just have to take credit for the things you didn't do on purpose, because it's all about what comes of those things, and how they're seen by all the people perched on all those red velvet seats hanging in the darkness on the other side of the universe.

I stood there in a shop, just looking around with the slight squint you have when you look of from a book that's completely absorbed your attention. I smiled at the cashier and walked out, into the sunshine, and dug out my little mp3 player.

I dialed up La Bohème, scrolled through options and menus until I'd found that perfect scene in the perfect act, that one specific moment when I realized I knew for certain that being a nobody kid playing in a crowd of professionals was something I'd want to do for a while.

The triumphant brass notes sounded, the chorus erupted, and on cue, three window washers rappelling on the gleaming glass gridwork of a hotel all dropped down to the floor below like a team of precision spiders, moving on to the next row of windows. I smiled a broad smile and made a little note, posted somewhere in the thicket of sticky notes on the assassin side of my brain.

I love your urgency. It really made the scene!


Stay tuned for Part 2: Dad, That Guy's Wearing Clogs


© 2010 Joe Wall
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Someone posted an amusing video on metafilter (my favorite communitarian aggregator of nifty things and insightful, engaged commentary) that addresses the particular affection that the dads of the world have for changes in Daylight-Saving Time, among the other familiar neurotic tics of fatherhood.

As it happens, my dad's dead, so I won't get any notice on this, or any new notes pinned to his Chromega dichroic photographic enlarger explaining to use THIS knob to make adjustments and not THAT knob, which WILL BREAK THE MACHINE! I won't find a yellow sticky note inside the battery case of every portable piece of equipment he owned, warning that THESE BATTERIES ARE NOT FOR YOUR WALKMAN, and I won't find additional handwritten annotations in the rumpled pages of the manual for his '72 Triumph Daytona 500 that announce that he MOVED TURN SIGNAL SWITCH TO OPPOSITE HANDLEBAR TO PREVENT SKINNED KNUCKLES, and I won't find any updates to the two page set of instructions at my swiftly tilting cabin in West Virginia that warn THE PLUMBING MUST BE DRAINED EXACTLY PER THESE INSTRUCTIONS OR PIPES WILL FREEZE!

Life moves on, and you get your warnings elsewhere.

In my capacity of the caretaker and manager of the only giant freestanding novelty clock tower advertising a tranquilizer-laden granular stomach remedy in the world, the city of Baltimore will be my dad.

"Hey there, I just drove by the Bromo tower and the clock didn't fall back."

Sigh.

"Press 7 to delete this message or 9 to save."

7

"I just wanted to let you guys know the clock's still on the old time."

7

"Are you going to set the clock to the right time today?

7

"Hi there, sir, I would like to report that the clock is showing the wrong time."

7

It's not that I'm not glad to have the attention. It's just that a bearing went out in the main gen-set that runs the elevator last night around 5:21 or so and I'm going to have to drive 25 miles to the city, find somewhere to park, climb seventeen stories of stairs, shut the clock down, sit for an hour in the clock room, restart the clock, then climb down seventeen stories of stairs. It's been a long, long week, and I may yet try to see how much trouble I'd get into if I just left it until Monday morning.

My surrogate dads will let me know, so I'm on the knife edge of decision. I do have responsibilities now, you see, and I seem to be on a career path of escalating public awareness of my efficacy on the job. As the facility manager at the American Visionary Art Museum, I had constant problems with the large neon sign spelling out M-U-S-E-U-M on the northeastern point of the building, which would sort of randomly rearrange itself with every hard rainstorm.

"Joe, I left a copy of the City Paper in your mailbox," our illustrious founder's message breathlessly explained. I pocketed my cellphone and went for my mail slot, where the paper, marked with a note, clearly had my troublesome sign in the Whose Responible? photo column for the week, though it was an old photo, as I'd fixed the problem some time earlier. I explained this, hoping to soothe the panic, but it takes a while, sometimes. Besides, isn't it just a little screwed up that when I get behind on my work, it ends up IN THE GODDAMN NEWSPAPER?

It's okay. I like what I do. I've just got a lot of dads looking over my shoulder now.

My own father wouldn't have submitted to the indignity of participating in a video making fun of his rhythm. He happened to have good rhythm, and a grasp of a well turned-out song, with one of the few pieces in his regular repertoire as an amateur pianist being the beloved "Memories of You" by Eubie Blake which he'd play as a sort of a nervous tic, or a strain relief, perhaps, upon finding himself in a quiet moment in front of our old Chickering grand. He'd let the notes run, just following through with whims and flourishes and little explorations of the minor moments of the piece, the way you do with music like this.

His indignities were private, really, though we'd often catch him in his oversized AKG headphones in front of the stereo, dancing and conducting in his Sears yoke-style boxer underpants that were so anachronistic they were a special catalog order even in the early eighties. You'd be somewhere else in the house, reading or indulging in the teenage sport of competition boredom, and you'd hear that he'd cranked it up so high that the tinky-tinky beats and high notes would filter through the whole house, and come down to find him dancing in the way you dance when no one's watching.

"RELAX, DON'T DO IT, WHEN YOU WANNA GO TO IT!" blasted the tiny lyrics out of the leatherette cups of the headphones, and he wouldn't even see you there, looking dour in your parachute pants, until the song would hit a point where he do a little spin, and he'd finally realize you were there, arms folded, with an eyebrow raised.

"Frankie Goes To Hollywood? Seriously?"

He peeled off the headphones and stood there, out of breath, the music still blasting out of the headphones, his baggy underpants criss-crossed with seams that were probably put there for some good reason when yoke-style drawers were conceived, back in 1911 or thereabouts, looking a little irritated to have been knocked off his cloud.

"Son, if you'd stop being such a critic, you'd find that Welcome to the Pleasuredome is a canny statement on the tenor of our times."

It didn't help that he'd grown out a full white beard under his neatly groomed handlebar mustache by that point, which meant he looked more or less exactly like Santa Claus, except that Santa Claus was seldom found rocking out to Frankie Goes To Hollywood in our living room in just underpants and a worn-out undershirt.

"Ugh, that stuff's just beats and sweat, Dad. Jesus, why don't you just go to a gay bar and put on a fishnet t-shirt?"

"You're just showing your ignorance."

"Just sex music, that crap."

Me—I was so very above that sort of thing back then. It was the mid-eighties, I was a maladjusted pretentious homo with a clear conviction that I knew what the whole rest of the world needed to know, but people are idiots, right? I could do the deadpan monologue from "Desire" in perfect rhythm and "Would We Be Alive?" by the Residents would so often blare out of my own stereo at grating volumes that it would trigger my mom to attack the door and scream "HONEY, SHOULD I BRING UP YOUR FATHER'S POWER DRILL AND SKIL SAW SO YOU CAN PLAY ALONG WITH THAT?"

Dancing to a song just because it moves you just seemed so...decadent. I was a revolutionary, you see, someone who finally knew how to fix the world, and I just needed everyone to shut up and listen to my brilliance for a moment.

"See, this song is about Reagan's warmongering. It's not just sex music."

"Sex music," I said, and added, "Gay sex music."

"Sometimes you just gotta let your balls tell you what to do."

I turned a shade paler.

"This is why we say you're embarrassing, Dad."

"What, because I said 'balls?'"

"Yes."

"Half the people in the world have 'em."

"Never mind. Go back to your disco, Dad."

The years roll on by. Once in a while, I find a note in a case for a tool I haven't had a reason to use until now, warning THIS MUST BE CLEANED AND RETURNED TO THE CASE IN ITS PLACE, JOE - CJW. My brother found one not long ago in a light meter among the photographic gear he'd inherited, and it was also personal.

WILL DON'T TAKE THESE BATTERIES-THESE BATTERIES ARE NOT FOR YOU - CJW

We write our own notes now, usually just to ourselves. We make our own warnings, dance to our own gay sex music, and go into ourselves for the wisdom that was once found as easily as you'd catch Santa Claus dancing in his underpants in the living room of an undistinguished log farmhouse in Scaggsville, Maryland.

We write our own notes because we have to.

So maybe today, I have "car trouble," see, and maybe I can't get up to the city to deal with the clock in a giant freestanding novelty clock tower advertising a tranquilizer-laden granular stomach remedy, and I'll just tend to it first thing Monday morning, after the dads of Baltimore have a satisfying opportunity to make a well-founded complaint. Maybe it'll be my gift to cranky old guys everywhere, coming from someone who is, by heritage, a bit cranky, himself.

Maybe tomorrow morning, I'll get off the train, head to the Tower, climb seventeen flights of stairs, turn off the clock, climb down fourteen flights to my office, put on "Memories of You," and wait out the hour while playing back my messages, listening for a familiar voice that's just not going to be there, not like I remember hearing it, at least, alone in that little bubble of stalled time before I climb back to the top and set the world in motion again.
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"Cleve, they're doing it again."

"What are they doing?"

"That car—the woman in the passenger seat just took our picture."

"Why would she do that?" my father asked, leaning forward to look more closely at the passengers of the ponderously long older blue station wagon flanking us to the left on Route 301.

"I have no idea, but they've already taken more than one picture, and it looked like they were behind us, writing something down before that."

My father shrugged, leaving my mother to her vigil behind the wheel.

There's a kind of majestic boredom to the road when you're a passenger, all the more so on these fading southern highways that run along their newer replacements. We'd sit and talk, listening to the radio stations phasing in and out as we'd race through their transmitter ranges, or read, working our way through the pages of a paperback, but sometimes you'd just slip into that certain trance state, turning to look out the windows with the farms and forests rising and falling in a blur beside you.

In your youth, you'd profess boredom at every available moment, acting out the deflating shrug of increasing desolation like a Kabuki player, but the trance, and that state of suspension that it brought, wasn't bad at all. You'd sit there, obsessed with your utter disconnection, just watching the world flying along, until something chemical would start to happen in the curliest parts of your brain; a kind of gentle acceleration that would let you activate your mental ejection seat and parachute into the little towns along the way until they'd disappear around the bend, snapping you forward again like a piece of elastic.

Our silver and maroon Suburban was a sort of flying fortress, a perfect vantage on the world below, and you could peer right down into the secret interiors of all the normal cars on the same trip. I'd usually hole up all the way in the back, building a cozy space among our luggage, using pillows and our rolled sleeping bags to line my tiny redoubt.

I'm so rarely a passenger anymore that it's almost lost to me, that moment, but only almost.

On the longest stretches, you'd start building strange relationships with familiar cars, flanking them for dozens of miles, losing them as we'd pull off for gas or smalltown stopovers for grilled cheese sandwiches cooked in waffle irons, only to find them again hours later.

"Mom, is that car like your old Plymouth?" my sister asked, pointing out a well-kept survivor from an earlier era.

"No, that's much more recent. Mine was more round."

"What is that, then?"

"I think it's a DeSoto," my father said, and I straightened up to get a better look. The car sidled by, a long, long flank with a contrasting streak of color trimmed out in chrome, and passed us, tall tailfins like a frozen salute. "Mercy, all that car and it's a two-door."

We didn't see the DeSoto again, but other cars came and went and came back again, swoopy mid-seventies Buicks and Carter-era barge-sized wagons with those seats all the way at the back that left you sitting there on white vinyl, staring at the back window and wondering if that tailgating truck was going to cut your legs off at the knees in a sudden stop.

The blue wagon showed up somewhere in North Carolina, and it became a sort of friend to our Suburban in the way we gave every inanimate object personality and human qualities at that age. It'd catch up with us, flank us for a stretch, and pull off at an exit or drift off, then return, a fellow traveler carrying an analogue of our own family—parents, two boys, and a girl, looking a lot like us. The boy in the far back seat would look up from his own road reveries and we'd have prolonged instants of guileless, curious eye contact before the road would separate us again.

Catching up after lunch, the wagon sidled up, and I looked out, seeing the kid there, and smiled. Friends come easily on the road, where no one knows you and you have no history to speak of, even when you're just strangers in separate cars, looking out over the lines between lanes. The kid ducked down, digging something out from the floor, then came back up with a speckled composition book. He took a second to write something out. He opened the book and pressed it against the window.

WE'RE GOING TO FLORIDA
 
I looked around in a brief panic, trying to find the little coil-bound sketchbook I had so that I could doodle along the way, and I found a pencil and wrote out a response.

WE'RE GOING TO GEORGIA - I THINK
 
I have no idea why I added "I THINK," but that's sort of how I did everything back then. The kid had a quizzical look and shrugged back at me in the gesture of "huh?" I wrote quickly, in a fevered way, flush with the wrong kind of inspiration.

THIS ISN'T MY FAMILY
 
The kid's eyebrows went up, but my mother finally got tired of being stuck behind a huge truck taking pine logs to the local papermills and passed it by, then sped up. I watched the kid, clinging to the glass in the blue wagon, as he dwindled into the distance, and I couldn't help but relish a fact that had just then occurred.

No one knows me out here.

I could be anyone.

The bullies can't find me, and the old stories can't catch me; the waves of rolling eyes and whispered news delivered to the new kids who'd never heard that I was, in fact, a spasmo of the first order were all something we left behind, all the way back there in Scaggsville, along with our TV and our beds and our sofa and everything else. On the road, you can be anyone, which is why so many people escape to the network of rolling asphalt when things get rough, to strike out for new territories and fresh starts. At ten, you don't really have the option, but in the interval between familiar places—

I wasn't sure why I'd never thought of it before. We were always signaling on the road, always smiling at people in other cars and making that one-armed pulling gesture to passing truck drivers that meant you wanted them to please please blow their horn, which would often invoke a caution from my mother.

"You know, Joe, getting them to blow their airhorn might cause an accident," she'd say, with the satisfying gravity of a grain of truth, and so we'd wait till she was driving to pull the routine, because it was even more fun to watch her flinch and turn back to holler at us. It wasn't that we wanted to cause an accident, but the prospect that you could was heady stuff.

It probably gripped me most profoundly, and I'd hide in the back, ducked all the way down, until I could hear the roar of a car coming alongside, and when I timed it exactly right, I'd leap up, face in a wild grimace, waving my arms around just as the driver of the passing car would glance over, and in the rare instance where you caught them just right, and startled them into recoiling visibly, I'd just laugh uncontrollably back there like a perfect little sociopath, reining the giggles in with a snort as the drivers would beep and curse at my parents, roaring off in a huff.

"Did you cut that guy off back there?" my father asked. "He seemed to be pissed off about something."

"I did not cut him off, Cleve."

The blue wagon found us again, several counties down the road, and the kid in the back was ready. He'd prepared a question ahead of time, ready to press it to the glass as soon as I was within range.

WHY ISN'T THAT YOUR FAMILY?

I looked up front, wanting to be completely surreptitious, and wrote out a response.

I'M BEING KIDNAPED

I was a good speller then, but in the heat of conspiracy, some things get overlooked. The reaction was perfect, the silent cries from the back of the wagon were so clear I could read them perfectly, making out the "Mom! Mom! Mom!" that went with the pointing fingers, and my own mother was destined to be exasperated for a solid fifty mile stretch, as the wagon jockeyed for position on the road so the passengers could look in and figure things out. The cat and mouse miles didn't last, and eventually we lost them again. I dug out a book and let the road roll out under me.

Thing is, I am always crossing that border about the world, about whether to reach out and make friends along the way or just play it cagey and disappear back into my book and the contained world of storytelling, where details curl out of the dark like roots, sending threads and tendrils through the labyrinth of brain matter, almost more real than what is real.

I never know.

"I wrote my address down, so you can write me, if you wanna. I live in Hartford, Connecticut."

Another kid, from one of our trips up north, where we'd pull in to Boothbay Harbor, Maine and park in the crackling pine needle bed alongside a little cottage named "Bon Arbi," which we rented every year. Another week of that certain kind of high latitude sunshine, swimming in the cool-cold waters of Linekin Bay, another series of acquaintances made in the log palace of the Sprucewold Lodge that sat at the center of all the cottages around us, and it was always over too soon.

It's occurred to me that I finally can't remember the kid's name, but we'd had a good run of it, running under the pines, diving into the frigid depths of the bay to snatch confused, angry crabs out of the crevices, and sitting in the hot sun on broad planes of rock, watching our crabs walk around tentatively over the dry surfaces, desperate for water. They'd find an edge and you watch them dive in again, shells like hatchet blades fading into the rippling murk that they knew and craved.

We played that game on that trip, too, our cars catching up, drifting off, coming back and going away, smiling and waving and holding up signs with each renewed acquaintance until we reached that point on the highway where the signs mentioned Hartford by name, and I sat up and waved to my friend, watching his car take the exit ramp and then dwindle away to a spot of color that disappeared behind a stand of trees. There was something I felt then, a kind of yawning, frightening emptiness in the face of just how big the world is, and it's become a manageable condition, but it's still there, all the time, reminding me that I am just one of billions of people, and it's actually possible that you'll never see someone again once you part.

Lifelines part like branches on a tree, and that's all there is.

I stepped out of the fluorescent brilliance of a truckstop gift shop, littered with countless items of questionable taste for the people who really spent their whole lives out there, on the unlimited range of the highways, and realized that our Suburban was sitting in the pool of light by gas pumps with the blue station wagon pulled up behind, and my father stood there, talking to the driver of the car, chuckling in that sort of alarming way he'd laugh when he was coming to a conclusion. They'd fueled up, hit the restrooms, and composed themselves in the time it took to fill the dual fuel tanks in our monstrous truck, and I just sort of haunted the place in front of the glass doors, watching everyone come and go with the jingle of bells for each entry, waiting for them to leave.

"C'mon, Joe. Your father wants to make it to Orangeburg before we stop tonight."

"Is that far?"

"Yes."

I followed my mother and sister back to the car, relieved as the blue wagon pulled out around us as we walked over. The kid in the back wasn't even looking over, and the flank of the car was like a shark, slipping off into the dark sea under a blue-black sky. We all climbed in, got situated, and headed out. I wouldn't make eye contact with my dad, except in guilty flashes, wondering exactly what he'd said, but nothing was mentioned.

The miles rolled under us, and I sat in the dark, watching the moon skimming the tops of the trees along the highway like I always do, comforted by the way that it's always there, following us like a friend.

The signs started naming Orangeburg, and I noted the dropping mile counts, thinking of the crisp and alien delights of a motel room and a TV burbling away and the sound of the heater on the wall shussshhing us to sleep, and I could hear that something had my parents amused, all the way in the front of the car, but I couldn't make out the details. They whispered back and forth, a sonorous, sweet concerto of a mumbled phrases and the hisses and pauses you hear when you can't hear the words, and my mom laughed along with my father.

"Are we almost there?" asked my sister, drifting in from almost-sleep in her seat.

"Sign said it's about ten miles to Orangeburg, Jenny."

"Good."

As we unpacked, I felt like I'd gotten away with it, free and clear, and as I handed out suitcases from the back, my father chuckled again, like he'd told himself a favorite joke.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"Son, you're a piece of work," he said.

"Why?"

"You know why," he said, and carried two armloads of luggage into the room, but that chuckle came back as he disappeared into the doorway. I climbed down with my own duffel bag and my knapsack full of books, and headed into the room, taking a deep breath of that amazing, inexplicable motel room smell, as pure and potent as a drug in how it brings back the best of a long ride in a strange place.

I make the same trips, most of the time, from Maryland to Georgia, and from Maryland to West Virginia, and from Maryland to Massachusetts, as I'm a creature of habit and ritual, but the roads get so crowded. The signs rise and fall, and they're all tied into that storytelling place, where I remember all of it, and I catch sight of a sign for Hartford, and smile a bittersweet smile.

I never wrote my friend, and he never wrote me, either, but kids rarely follow up.

"When you say goodbye to people on the road," my father explained at some other stopping place on some other trip, "You should tell them to have a good life, because you won't see them again."

"But that's not true. You might see them again."

"Maybe, but you probably won't."

"That's awful," I said, my voice suddenly small.

"That's life, kid."

Sometimes, I fantasize about being somewhere like that, stopping in Hartford on a lark, maybe, and getting into the phone book to look up that boy, all these years down the line, to call and say "hey, I don't know if you remember me, but we were friends in 1980 and I thought I'd stop in and say 'howdy' and catch up," except it's true that I'll never see him again, just like almost everyone else I meet along the way. I suspect they would agree that I'm a piece of work and it'd be an awkward meeting, but I like to think someone, somewhere, would remember what I remember, so it would be real.

The miles just roll on, anyway.

It's just life, right?
joebelknapwall: (Default)

Two weekends ago, I sold my Citroën. It'd taken me about eight years to come to grips with letting it go, and if that says something about me, so be it. I'd put eighty thousand insane miles on it, up and down the eastern seaboard, from spending four hours stuck in a solid traffic jam on the Cross Bronx Expressway with the ARRET! light falsely warning me that the car was about to overheat to moments on Route 301 in South Carolina where I did the little mental arithmetic to translate kilometers to miles to confirm that I was indeed doing over a hundred on a lazy old trunk road. I'd lived out a French fever dream, but I went broke, the car developed a few faults beyond my means or technical ability to correct, and I fell into a premature middle age fugue state where I thought maybe, just maybe, I needed to grow up and stop living like a cantankerous continental eccentric.

continue reading )
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It's funny, really, how the combination of watching the government and the histrionics of "the people," coupled with the insider experience of working for two large organizations doing work with the public (where a horde of shrieking whiners will attack every action you take, no matter what it is), has made me feel pretty relaxed about the state of the state.

Every year, the government will do stupid things. It will do smart things. Sometimes, twenty years of orbiting through a cloud of stupid will make you want to give up hope, then things will change around. Or not. Or maybe. What year is it again? But, heck, the country never ever got really bad, and unfair, and messed up, and then got better again, right?

Regardless of what the government does, some group will say "Hitler," fascism, communism, evil, handbasket, or something. Another group will defend their hypocritical gasbag leader on every unethical, idiotic, or inexplicable thing they do, while the opposing group will claim every move the gasbag leader makes is aimed at putting us all in death camps.

The other side is always wrecking the whole world, whereas our side is fighting the good fight. Direct democracy is the only answer...until the masses vote against your right to get married, or against your green policy, or for imposing religion on the people. Direct democracy is the only answer...until the masses vote for healthcare, or against your war, or for taxes to pay for services we need or want.

The president can only be a magical wizard or a devil. Never mind that the Executive Branch is only a third of our government, and not even a particularly dynamic or important third. When our party is in power, it's scandalous how the rest of the government runs over our president like a steamroller, stopping them from fighting the good fight. When their party is in power, we are headed for THE END OF EVERYTHING THAT WAS EVER GOOD ABOUT AMERICA!!!

Our party likes posters that show off our president in stylized color, looking boldly into the future. Their party likes pictures that show their president pretending to be a crusading warrior on an aircraft carrier, because they're wicked, jingoistic monsters. We're about HOPE and UNITING and AMERICA and THE PEOPLE. They're about TAKING AWAY OUR RIGHTS!!!

There is no middle ground.

You can only be liberal OR conservative, unless you're a libertarian, in which case you're still a conservative, or green, in which case you're still a liberal. There's no chance that some problems in our country call for liberal solutions, while some call for conservative solutions. That's not how it works, okay? You have to join every piece of wood using a screwdriver, whether you're using screws, nails, mortise & tenon, or glue. You may only have one tool in your political toolbox, and it must work perfectly for all problems. Besides, you're not ideological. You'd vote for someone from that other party. You haven't ever voted for someone from that other party, but you would, you know, and it's just because you haven't ever had the right candidate come along. You are smarter, politically, than almost anyone you know.

It all about identity, isn't it?

You cannot be a gay person and own a gun. You cannot believe that Jesus was the light of the world and your personal savior and still support government-supplied healthcare for all people. You cannot own a successful business and believe that taxes are important to provide for the infrastructure needed to run your business.

Consensus is impossible these days.

It only really happened in the good old days. My good old days were the brief stretch between when they added "God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and when social experimenters ruined the country with integration. Your good old days were the brief stretch between when FDR was elected and when Truman dropped the bomb. I hate to say that the world's getting worse, but just look at kids these days. You hate to say the world's getting worse, but look at parents these days.

You're broken-hearted that your president is failing to live up to the things you thought he or she was saying or promising back when you hated the other guy so much you chose not to pay attention to what he or she was actually saying and doing. You're sad that kids today won't have the kind of life you had, growing up. You're angry that people just won't see see the forest for the trees. When did everyone get so dumb?

It'll all end in tears. You just know it. The world will end with global warming. The world will end with a trumpet and a horseman. The world will end with a tilted Statue of Liberty stuck in the sand, or if Christopher Walken doesn't shoot that crazy warmonger.

Nothing will ever get any better. We should all just give up. It's all our fault. It's THAT guy's fault. It's the banking industry. It's the unions. It's the corporate media. It's lazy welfare mothers. It's oil companies. It's the Kyoto Protocol. It's those undereducated idiots. It's those overeducated flakes. It's because people have forgotten to love each other. It's because people aren't patriotic any more.

It's all hopeless. We're all gonna die.

And yet, the world keeps on spinning, and the government does stupid things. The sun rises every morning, and the government does smart things. The moon hangs heavy over the horizon, and the day gets started, and people remember that they're still angry, and still unsatisfied, and still frustrated, and that's the way it goes.

Meanwhile...

guides

Aug. 1st, 2010 08:12 am
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She wakes me with a wheezy whine and a well-placed paw, an insistent jab jab jab with a single toenail raked down the back of my neck. I roll, yawn, and squint at her.

"Where's your snooze button, dog?"

Her head tilts, a little gesture of "what?" coupled with a barely-audible trill that turns into a yodel.

"C'mon, baby," I say, and set the old bones in motion, rolling out of bed in much the way an old fire tower would collapse, rusty joints shrieking and buckling as the sturdy struts of its aging frame start rolling down a hillside, picking up speed in a silent film breakdown until it crashes into a heap at the bottom of the slope.

My feet crash to the floor, one after another. The dog dances, her too-long claws skittering on the floor and reminding me of another chore that lies ahead in the list of things to do.

"Let's get some breakfast, huh?"



I pull off Route 1 with a trunkload of Swedish housewares, bed linens, and sundries, a run for booty on the last day before I knuckle down for a stretch. The sky is lush and expansive, a perfect canvas for the last of a summer day that has inexplicably failed to be another in a seemingly interminable series of sweltering nightmares here below the Mason-Dixon. I've got the top down and my new glasses on, the reward of clarity neatly counterbalanced by the frustrations of artificial refraction, where the ground is always moving, shifting in subtle ways as I step forward.

In the clear twilight, the clouds are all strings and filaments, threads strung out on the loom where the world faces its weaver. I have a small, delicious milkshake wedged between the seats and a roast beef sandwich in a bag, waiting for a moment when I can find a place to pull over and eat. I am on the right way home, but I pull off the main road and disappear down the rabbit hole that leads down, down into the immense peaceful labyrinth of the agricultural research center.

The roads get smaller and older and the built landscape falls away, all the strip malls and gas stations and business parks and servicenters and everything, just wiped out in one perfect wash of green—first the trees in a band of woods along the creek, then the road dives into the unlimited farmland of the center, concealed so perfectly in all this modern mess.

I pass the last private house holding out in the middle of the center, cruise through the wheat fields where the landscape dips to meet a little creek, and the sky is turning colors, going from blue to blue to violet to gold. I turn on my headlights, which open like demure eyes showing surprise, and as I round a bend into a straight stretch where the old NASA antenna test range used to be, a pair a lights bob at the edge of the road.

The fox is delicate and sleek, his tail slung low and swinging gently in pace with his relaxed canter. He's in the other lane, coming my way, undisturbed by the sudden appearance of a little red roadster, and something in me slows as I watch him. I let off the gas and he does the same, and the two of us slow down, effortlessly shedding momentum, until we settle to a silent stop, right there in the middle of the way.

He looks up. There's something miraculous in these animals, something deep and vivid and present that spoke to us all those millennia ago, and they wrote themselves into all our histories, the trickster gods stealing the stars from the skies.

Hi there, guy.

I stay. He stays, too. The passage of time is overrated.

This is the inherent problem with how we live now, the lack of these meetings, and the way we fade away into the wash of blue-white glare from countless monitors. These moments start to fade, the sight of something so rare and fine without the mediation of cages or videotape, the thought that you could just reach out and stroke the fur along his back, and we become something lesser, poisoned by convenience.

This is your game, little guy.

In time, an ear flicks around with the perfect precision of a rotating radar dish, and something is on, something that requires eventual, if not immediate, attention. The fox strides into a new canter, but stays right in the lane, trotting away westward in the fading sunlight.

I put the car back into gear and go.



"Catch it!"

I throw the toy, which is nothing more than a thick rope, tied into a hard knot at each end. Daisy bounds off the bed and intercepts it neatly in mid-air, then brings it back, turning away with the ridiculously oversized toy in her mouth every time I reach out.

"Drop it!"

She's getting the idea on that one, on the meaning of that turn of phrase, but she's young and filled with contrarian teenage energy, ready for a fight for ownership of the toy, even when I really don't want it. I've got my headphones on, the big ones that look like tuna cans on my ears, and I'm enjoying a nice butt-moving groove to start off a morning of golden sun and cool, fragrant breezes drifting in through every window. I snatch the toy and run for it, with Daisy at my heels.

"Ha!"



There's a single cicada on my window screen.

I take a moment to sit there, right next to the window, just watching.

There's a click, a little squonky buzzzzzt, and he starts to sing there, calling out in the zzz-ZZZ-zzz of zipper love songs, so loud it's just impossible—so much sound coming out of something roughly the size of a peanut.

I think of TV Cowboy calling me in a panic in the middle of the emergence of Brood X back in '04.

"Joe, there's one of those things on my window screen! It's up here on the tenth floor!"

"It can't get in. Just enjoy it."

"You're an ass, man. It's making that noise!"

"Neat."

Perhaps I should have been a little more supportive, but it's a cicada for pete's sake, even if there's a great story behind why TV Cowboy was petrified of the little things.

I sit back and I smile in the way you do when you can either smile or wince—the way you remember funny things that get lost when life turns sad—and listen to the cicada singing, hanging from my window screen and looking for a date, the way his species has done it for more years than I could ever imagine.



The aroma of my sandwich finally gets to me and I pull off in the abandoned parking lot, deep in the Center, where there used to be a path down to a pond, labeled carefully with signs explaining the plants and trees there. The path is overgrown now, and the signs are gone, victims of budget cuts and the paroxysm of governmental paranoia that killed off all the best little-known places to go, but the gravel parking lot is still there. I pull in and turn off my headlights, which flip down obediently into the smooth line of the hood.

I unwrap my sandwich and take a long drag off my milkshake, enjoying the sounds of birds and insects and the nearby highway, which sings its own song of progress, a drone of tires on asphalt that rises and falls like something natural because it is as natural as the rest of the world, despite our unyielding propaganda to the contrary. The roast beef is rich and tasty, with that tang of au jus that's like meat tea, perfectly set off by the right selection of spices, and it's perched in the cradle of a sub roll from H&S—all told, a cheap delight for an era of expensive everything.

While I'm sit there, I hear heavy footsteps behind me, and I freeze, with a mouthful of half-chewed meat. The grass bristles, then the gravel crunches, and the footsteps multiply, coming closer in the near-darkness.

As a lifelong Marylander, the old stupid stories come back to me, the hoary tales of goatman breathlessly told by any teenager who ever lived within the orbit of Prince George's County, and even though I'm a grown man, I have a moment of paralyzing doubt. After all, construction workers and the police reported seeing a sasquatch at the nearby megamall just a few year s back, and…

Shit, it's goatman and I'm in a convertible!

I look into the rear-view mirror, and something large, brown, and furry is moving behind me.

Goatman!

I actually feel hot breath on my neck and that's it. I holler like a little girl the second I hear the loud snort and turn to face a full-grown deer, standing placidly next to the car and regarding the whole scene with a kind of contented interest. Two others flank the car on the right side, I exhale and laugh, which only disturbs the group a little bit, and finish my sandwich while the trio wander around the parking lot, only leaving when my headlights flip back up as I get ready to continue on.

Kids these days.



The coyote runs past as TV Cowboy navigates the DC gridwork. It's not a dog, or a deer, and has that low, lean, wild look that you just don't find in domesticated animals.

"Wow, a coyote just ran past us!" I remarked.

"What?"

"A coyote. You didn't see that?"

"No. What are you talking about, now?"

"It was a coyote. There are coyotes all over Eastern cities these days. I think I read that there's a pack of them living in Rock Creek Park. They catch rats."

TV Cowboy just rolled his eyes. When we got back, I triumphantly thrust my laptop in his direction, with data to show that it was not, as usual, just me.



I turned up my music to that point where you can start to feel it, a little funk for a Sunday morning, and I bopped around the apartment in my headphones, just enjoying the groove. The dog followed me around, giving me that vaguely disapproving look that she always gives me when I've got my dancing shoes on, but I decided to bring her into the fun, so I grabbed her rope toy and took off for the back room with her at my heels.

I'd throw the toy so she could catch it, then approach her in that slow, taunting way that would get her in paws-out mode, squinting at me and then launching away in a giddy run. My place is just two rooms, so it's a limited game of chase, but she doesn't seem to care, and wags her tail hard enough that her whole body's swinging each way, with that absurd giant rope in her mouth.

I snatch it and toss it into the other room, and there's an immediate mechanical roar. Daisy charges back in, running between my legs, and looks up with her brows up.

That thing I don't like is making a noise!

With her hiding behind me, I find the rope toy next to the vacuum, which is running in place after I'd neatly hit the on-switch with my blind throw. With a toe, I click the switch again and the roar stops. Daisy trots over to make sure the big blue carcass isn't moving.

That oughta show you, stupid thing I don't like!

She wears me out, but something's got me laughing this morning, and we just stop for a second to sit, panting, on the sofa. I scratch her behind her ears and she rolls over, presenting her pink belly for a scritch. She's just so new and so energetic and fresh in the world, a little ball of curiosity and trouble, and for just a moment, I think of Rose and that day when she reached the end of the road, and I look back at Daisy, into those bright eyes, and it's just so wrong that one day, she'll be on that stainless steel table, all scruffy and worn out and tired, and it'll be the end of the line.

What are you thinking about?

Daisy tips her head, tucking her ludicrous ears back in a now familiar gesture of thoughtful surrender as I reach out to give her a scratch.

"Nothing, little girl," I say, as if I'm answering that imaginary question.

Her ears snap back to attention, and she hops down from the sofa, retrieves the rope toy, and brings it back to me.

"You're wearing me out, dog," I say, but I throw it anyway, and haul myself back off the couch for another trip around the apartment, and then another, and another, until it's time to settle down and wash the dishes.
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I had the delightful, if somewhat disorienting, experience of having lunch with Joan Armatrading back in either '87 or '88. I was playing the serpent in the first scene of The Magic Flute at Wolf Trap, wearing a costume that was as big as a car, and built like one, with wheels and a fire extinguisher for smoke-snorting nostrils. In point of fact, the only part of me you could see under the costume was my legs, and I wore painfully tight green foam monster gams that were so difficult to get in and out of that I didn't even bother stripping them off on breaks between running the scene. For one thing, the act of peeling them off also peeled off my tights and underpants, without fail, leaving me buck naked in a shared dressing room, so it was just easier to lumber around backstage with giant monster feet and scaly monster legs and a t-shirt until the end of the day.

I was sitting in the crowded canteen there, having my lunch in my giant monster legs, when a lovely British voice asked if I would mind sharing my table. I smiled up and said "by all means," and suddenly I was EATING LUNCH WITH JOAN FREAKING ARMATRADING...in MONSTER LEGS.

What a lovely, charming woman. I'd run into a lot of celebrities, and they were often exactly like you'd expect them to be--sort of preoccupied and disconnected. Ms. Armatrading, on the other hand, was just sweet and friendly and we talked about all sorts of things. I'd only known her music by way of my sister before, but I started listening after that. The lady's a treasure.

As she picked up her tray, she smiled, and said "by the way, I love your pants!"

JOAN ARMATRADING LOVED MY GIANT GREEN MONSTER LEG PANTS!

It was one of those wonderful moments that makes me glad to be me. Now, the monster legs had one more celebrity moment left, towards the end of the run of Magic Flute, too--I did my serpent bit, got slain by powerful operatic types, and lumbered backstage to the empty rehearsal room I'd been using as a staging area to get out of my monster legs. I flopped onto the floor, peeled off twenty pounds of green foam, my tights, and my underpants, and darted to where I had a pair of shorts tucked away, only to realize that the room was occupied and that I'd just displayed my penis to the Kronos Quartet, who were in there, innocently rehearsing, when this weirdo in monster legs rushed in, stripped to his bare butt, and ran across the room.

There really isn't much to say in such situations.

But...well, JOAN ARMATRADING LOVED MY GIANT GREEN MONSTER LEG PANTS!
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Joe as an electronic nun

The thing about my music, if you choose to recognize that it is music (and I know that there are those who don't), is that it's slowly mutated from the more contrived, composed, and structured sound I made when I was starting out, influenced by my heroes, like Eno, Laurie Anderson, Holger Czukay, Steve Reich, and the rest, into something altogether more subconscious and organic, to the point that I really no longer know what I did on stage until I listen to the recording later.

I did a short set last Saturday for the Baltimore Electronic Music Summerfest at the Hexagon in Baltimore, which really brings a lot of disparate people with an interest in musical electronics together, and I'd been having a long, frustrating, and stressful week, which made me wonder if I'd be able to produce anything worth listening to. Loaded my gear in, settled down to watch some of the preceding acts, then got into my nun's habit, set up onstage, and went.

"Umm, hi, I'm Joe Wall. I've dressed as a nun to create a reason for you people to watch what is otherwise a pretty visually uninteresting tableau of me, staring into a small flat box and slowly doing things that you don't always hear right away."

I haven't had the capability of making high quality audio recordings for that long, at least that I'm willing to share without embarrassment, but I've been gradually producing videos (here's one of me recording my podcast, no. 7 of the series), and my ambient podcast, and releasing my past projects. It's useful, because these things don't just fizzle away into the aether like they used to, and I can listen and hear what I was doing, and thinking, and feeling when I made each piece.

One of the things about my process, working live, is that I go in completely unprepared. Nothing's prerecorded, nothing's looped or pre-sampled—it all just gets built up right then and there on the spot, a mode of working that I find far less stressful than having to remember what I planned to do ahead of time. Elements appear, both by intention and by happy (or unfortunate) accident, and they get stretched, looped, shaped, repeated and mutated. Tones turn to drones, chords and discord, fragments hanging suspended in the digital miasma, turning into magnetic atmospheres.

I don't suspect for a moment I'll ever make money doing this. It's too slow, too drowsy for most people in the world, and for the New Age set, who are okay with slow and drowsy, it's too filled with tension and dissonance, which rankles the meditators who insist on denying the full spectrum of human existence. One of these days, I'll just start showing up in galleries with my amp and a little box of gear, asking to set up like a subway busker. It'd be interesting to see if that would work.

So I just keep making it, because not making it is not an option.

Each time, I sit back afterward and listen, and learn something about myself. That may well be worth the expense, the years of study and experimentation, and the frustration of finding venues.

It's hardly worth explaining, really.

Just listen.

That's me, right there.
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For no really obvious reason, I've decided that I want to make a motorcycle trip to Ottawa.

Now I just have to rebuild a motorcycle. 
joebelknapwall: (Default)

Barataria Bay, Louisiana, May 23
 
This...this just makes me want to take a sledgehammer to my car.
 
You know, we tend to want to blame the bad people here, like the people at BP and Transocean and Halliburton and the "drill baby drill" crowd and everyone else, but we did it, too. We drive and we drive and we drive and we get all pissed off about those dang oil companies, but we've met the enemy and he's us. BP's pretty culpable, but all that oil's not going into evil Republican SUV gas tanks. It's going into shipping exotic fruits so you can have a peach off-season and in NYC. It's going into shipping Fiji water, because for some idiotic reason, you believe Fiji water is better than your tap water (it's not). It's going into shipping the fish you need for your sushi from the Atlantic to Japan and back again. It goes into shipping the things you reluctantly buy at Walmart, Target, and almost everywhere else these days. It's going into your gas tank when you drive less than a mile because, well, hey, I just don't have a lot of time and I need to get groceries right now.

The outrage will go away. They'll fix this particular problem, and then we'll all put the whole mess back on the back burner, thinking we'll do something about it, and these pictures will go away, to the same place in the back of our minds where the images from the Exxon Valdez went, and the Amoco Cadiz and the rest of the stinking lot of 'em go.

Meanwhile, bicycles rust away in basements all over America. 100mpg scooters sit unsold on dealer floors because, well, aren't those things dangerous? What if it rains? We'd walk to the store, but it's dangerous out there. It's all just so inconvenient, and we've decided that convenience, and not love, truth, healthcare, marriage for everyone, and all those other pesky intrusions, is the one problem we most need to solve.

I think maybe I need to pin this picture up where I can see it, so I won't forget.
 
 
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Jeanne Dixon came to me in a dream.

I predict tonight, all over America, people will angrily realize that they've flushed more than a hundred and twenty precious hours of their life down the drain in service to a team of writers and producers who, up front, gushingly admitted to aspiring to emulate a best-selling writer who can easily whip out a half a book that sets the most lushly gorgeous eerie creeping dread and then end it all, hundreds and hundreds of pages later, with a denouement in which the evil clown is actually a giant magical spider that can shoot rays out of its belly button. I gave up on the damn program after watching the ten billionth empty commercial-filled "atmosphere-building" flashback and experiencing the growing realization that the producers had absolutely no idea how to actually craft a taut, efficient narrative, and chose instead to indulge in more intellectual side trips than a whole school full of hyper kids in a Ritalin drought. Felt a lot like winging it to me, and not in a fun, on-stage-at-the-Moth way, either. Maybe I'll have been wrong.

I'm not sure. Let's just see, shall we?
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Hived a package of bees last week, let 'em settle for a bit, and went in this evening for my first inspection to see how they're doing.


The hive. It's nice and utilitarian.

click here to see the rest of the photos )

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