Girl with magnifier

Sunday, August 30, 2009


"Can you tell me something about what the kid was wearing? Give me a color. And a first name. Thanks."
The caller rattled off the requested information and Paul gently laid the phone back in it's cradle.

Sitting back in the ratty Barcalounger and closing his eyes, clearing his mind of all extemperaneous data. He was in the middle of a thick, luxurious black pool of nothingness and he was searching for an orange sweater.

The empath waited for a few minutes but nothing broke the surface of his vision. Sloane cleared with a quick shake of his head. Some days were like that. He would try again.
He stretched his arms far over his head and in a successive motion, reached down to rub the back of his index fingers across his weary eyelids. He opened them to gaze across his obsessively clean, postage stamp sized Clarendon apartment and out through the fifth floor window to the semi toxic Potomac River below.
Paul Sloane was officially listed as an E5 grade empath. There were positives and minuses in being a low level "feeler" as the powers that be, at the governmental department that didn't officially exist, termed the occupation that he and his fellow seers made their meager livings at.
Sloane had met one or two of the high grade empaths during his tenure and wouldn't have changed places with them for the world. Once he had shared an elevator with a beautiful girl with long auburn hair who averted her gaze as long as she could. They stopped on another floor and when the new occupant jostled between them, he managed to catch her eye.
The contents of their lives came spilling through the ether like a bedroom dresser that had been toppled in an earthquake. The pain of every one of their shared tragedies in life was transmitted to each other in a millisecond and left them both gasping for air. With a major effort, the redhead summoned up all her available strength  and clutching her small purse to her chest, ran to her vehicle in the lower level D parking structure.
That was why the government took such pains to keep its telepathic arsenal away from each other. It took close to two months for him to get his mojo back after that one, her higher sensitivity blowing huge room sized holes in his fragile psyche.
Paul shoehorned his feet into his tennis shoes and decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. He was a little hungry and would see if the Phò restaurant was open yet for lunch.
He jostled his way through a stream of joggers, panhandlers and young lovers and made his way to a quiet street which would take him to his culinary destination. It would probably take a few minutes longer but he would be shielded from all of the discordant mental traffic that could send an open receiver like him on such an emotional loop.
He found the tiny vietnamese restaurant open and sat in a way that was customary for him, at a small table for two with his back against the wall.
A pretty girl, long and lean and in her early thirties, nibbled at her lunch a few tables away. Paul looked at her longingly but shied away from making any personal introduction. He had tried to make a go with relationships but they never quite worked out. He made a few swipes at his too hot dumplings and thought about what his life had become.
It was so much easier before he had developed his "gift". While he could operate normally in the world of everyday chatter, sex had now become near impossible. With a mere passing touch of intimacy, he found that he would cascade into a freefall through the partner's future, spiraling all the way past the inevitable wrinkles and the aging process to her ultimate death.

He wondered about theology for a brief second. If the Vedic texts were accurate and there was indeed such a thing as reincarnation, why did he always feel their deaths and never their resultant rebirths?
It was a lonely life and Paul had a mere handful of close friends. A few people had a general idea of what he did for a living but he tried to steer clear of it in conversation. Too many people wanted hints on horses or stock tips. He tended to favor strong self absorbed women with a slight penchant for cruelty. Their lack of feeling and nuance let him shut off the sensitive antennae and burden that life had placed on his shoulders.
Paul walked a few blocks farther, to a small city park. He found a comfortable bench, under a large willow tree and decided to make contact again. Clearing his mind, he visited the black pool and searched for the missing child in the orange sweater. Veronica. This time the contact came almost instantly. Cleveland, yes, she was in Cleveland, he was sure of it. And she was in no danger, he felt strongly about that. She was with her cousin and she had run away because she hated her...
The empath jerked his head up simultaneously or perhaps a split second before the sedan hit the taxi's left bumper. The loud crash and resulting brouhaha between the two drivers had broken the contact he had made with the small child. He sighed and started walking back to his apartment so that he could file his report. He chided himself. He should never attempt to have a reading in a public place. Too many things could go wrong.
Life had started out pretty normally. An average student, he did most of the regular things kids do. Webelos, boy scouts, camp, fishing for rockfish with his father in the Chesapeake Bay. Before the hypoxia and algae had decimated the fishery. It was seventeen when things started happening that exposed his "differences".
The anomalies started out with a series of nightmares that would portend mysterious events occuring to his family and friends. When the dreams started actualizing and coming true in real life, Paul confided in his family.

They sent him to a clinical psychologist who in turn sent him to a small university in upstate New York for testing and evaluation. He wasn't quite sure but supposed that this was the time that his talents came to the attention of the federal government. Who would have guessed that there were whole departments of the governmental machine dedicated to people like him?
The psychologists at the school made him take an oath of secrecy and fealty to the United States of America and taught him how to channel his prescience in a more consistent way through visualization and mind control. They would test him with interminable sets of flash cards with objects and colors printed on their faces.

While his test results were much higher than the national mean and average, what the experts didn't understand is that the gift was at its strongest when it came freely of its own accord. To try to force it would invariably lead to mixed results.
Life went along pretty normally for a few months after his stint at the college. Then one day Paul had a vision of his father getting caught in a nasty squall on his skipjack, their small fishing boat. He immediately blacked out and upon recovering consciousness, discovered that the visions were unfortunately borne out in reality.

After his father's funeral he thought that he had experienced a mini nervous breakdown, as if he blamed himself and his telepathic powers for his father's unfortunate demise. He started boozing it up at that point, and found that alcohol had a decidedly negative effect on his mental ability. It had its purposes, it certainly felt good to turn off the constant signal now and again but he suffered debilitating migraines and hangovers that caused him to ultimately swear the stuff off.
Word of his strange gifts filtered down to other levels of society as well. A two bit bookmaker in New Haven, Paulie "Fat Fingers" Castiglione took a sudden interest in him. If he could just provide his associates with a few tips to adjust the spread or probable outcome of a ballgame or two, Mr. Castiglione and his benefactors would be most appreciative.
Things went along swimmingly at first, Paul nailing 17 straight games right on the money in the NCAA college basketball tournament. More and more money was getting played on every tout, raising the suspicions of the organized crime task force and even the great Roxbury himself and then the whole train came off the tracks when Siena took down Kansas.

Paul had Kansas in a blowout and learned a valuable lesson. If you tried to harness the power for personal gain, somewhere along the line, it would blow up and you would get spanked. Guy could even lose his head.
The mobsters were besides themselves, first at the losses on the Siena game and then when Paul mentioned that after much thought on the matter, he would unfortunately not be able to work with them in the future. It took one very discrete and forceful phone call from an unnamed branch of the federal government for them to agree to never contact Paul Sloane again.
It was around that time that they made their initial sales pitch and soliloquy, hypothetically speaking, would he agree to aid the federal government with his unique talents in exchange for a lifetime job with decent pay and few benefits? But with the understanding that the job that must exist in total secrecy and anonymity.
Sloane hemmed and hawed and asked for a little time before he accepted the government offer. But he knew instantly that he would take it, what other options did he have? The government did their own vetting, calling up all of his known associates and neighbors and making sure that he had no obvious subversive tendencies. They did a rapidsearch™ on his browsing history to make sure that he had no inclinations towards homosexuality or pedophilia. Assured that he was not a troublemaker, an employment and confidentiality agreement was drawn up and signed by both parties.
They moved him to Arlington County, not far from his mother, and created a cover story for him so that he would not have to divulge the details of his work to anyone. He visited the main office no more than two or three times, a faceless, humorless edifice with a grim doorman and a notable lack of windows and natural sunlight. The reality was that the place gave him the creeps and he received permission to work from home. He had a special phone to the office and was firmly instructed that it was only to be used to call said office.
For the first few years, truth be told, work was fairly boring and uneventful. He was asked to scan pictures of foreign dignitaries and ambassadors to see if he could pick up any signs of pyschic abnormalities or unusual behaviors. He unmasked a spy in the Bulgarian diplomatic corps after only a few weeks on the job, an act that was responsible for a nice note of commendation in his file and a promise of a fat christmas bonus that year.
He did similar tasks for various branches of the intelligence services, NIA, DIA, HSA, DARPA, CIA, the FBI and some agencies too secret to even have an acronym. Sometimes he would sit behind a one way glass window in a nondescript gray building and vet the psychic dispositions of applicants and suspected double agents. At other times he might be given an article of clothing or possession of the suspect to get his take on their "vibrations." They must have valued his work since they continued to employ him throughout the rough economic times.

Bundling his jacket, the empath made his way back to his apartment building and decided to take the stairs up the five floors, starting to jump two at a time for a couple of floors before his cardiac health and better judgement forced him to slow down.
Out of breath, he turned his key in the door and scanned the apartment. Everything was exactly how he had left it. He noticed a blinking light on the shop phone. He would have to call in for his messages.
But first a little music. Sloane had a fondness for old vinyl. His trusty well tempered turntable had ably served him for decades and he dreaded the approaching day when they would stop making stylus's. Digital, pu-h-h-h, the audacity of these heathens to think that all of the organic magic and beauty of sound could be captured by a bunch of disparate ones and zeros.
He selected his favorite record by Kurt Weill, the Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, Opus 12 and placed it on the player. Leaning back in his trusted chair, his body instantly relaxed as he listened to the sonorous beauty of the music and he fell into a deep satori like calm. All of the aggravations of the day, all of the collateral absorptions he had received dissipated in the sound like leaves in a gentle wind.

The phone rang and catapulted the feeler out of his temporary musical bliss. As he walked over to the kitchen counter to grab the instrument, he brushed past the morning paper and gave a quick glance at the headline. Move to canonize Michael Jackson met with resistance at the Vatican. My god, the Post had been going down hill for years but this is ridiculous, he thought to himself.
Below the squacky story about the prince of pop was something about the Vice President meeting a delegation from Benin to talk about improving trade relations between the two countries. Odd? Although the picture of the veep looked normal, he felt a distinct coldness when he ran his hand over the photo. H-m-m-m? Catching the phone on the eighth ring, Sloane assembled his most professional voice and grabbed the old school retro handset.
"E5 Sloane - how may I help you today?"

"Certainly, I will be up in an hour. I never checked my messages. No, I can stay as long as you wish. Goodbye."

He was being summoned to the big house. That was unusual. "Wonder what the bastards have in store for me today?", he asked himself as he grabbed a clip on tie out of the top drawer and posed in the mirror for a second to insure the probity of his appearance.
He decided to take a cab to headquarters, he didn't own a car and the long walk would probably leave him too tired for the day's assignment. There were so many factors in play at being a mentalist and if he could control as many external variables as possible, he found that he greatly improved his chances at performing optimally.

Paul averted his eyes from the continually smiling ethiopian cabbie for as long as possible. He was not in the mood for banter. He had been in the job for going on nine years and he was a professional. He had it up to here with the amateurs, the ouiji boards, the crystal gazers, the tarot gypsys, the nutty heiress from Israel who claimed to foretell the future.

Frauds and charlatans. He hadn't asked for his gift but it was his lot in life and he would use it in service of his country. Sloane was not really a political sort, he really didn't care who was in power - was it the liberal conservatives or the christian democrats this week ? - he could barely remember.
He had the same vague patriotic notions as any other red blooded male in his late twenties who had been through the Trade Center thing and the attempted coup. Besides, the job sort of molded your views after so many years of fighting the unseen enemy, the world naturally came in distinct tones of black and white after spending so much time in the bowels of the government security machine.
Paying the fare with a generous tip, he ducked into the lobby of the building. It could have almost been a bank building except for the special vestibule he had to pass through where he was being x-rayed, fingerprinted and retinal scanned and put through a host of other arcane security precautions.
He emptied his pocket for the yawning elderly guard and placed his belt and his key ring in the cracked plastic basket. He wondered if he should tell the guard about the prostate problems that he saw would soon start acting up again and thought better of it. Stay out of other people's business. He had long since given up any childish notion of saving the world.

He was shown to a nondescript room with a sign at the door with a picture of lips being shooshed with classified marked below in large block type. A large brown laminate table that was peeling up at the corners was in the center or the room. Three individuals sat on chairs on the other side of the table. One of them was his handler and he didn't feel like he had ever met the other two.

He exchanged a grunt of introductions that passed without any real care or meaning. He was simply a tool to these types. He had seen their like before. His presence in the meeting was necessary but still unseemly to these hardened veterans of the cold war.
"Sloane, this is Hardy and that's Beringer. We want to show you a few pictures and see if you can get a feel on any of these people. Take your time and do whatever it is that you do," he said, in a somewhat patronizing and disparaging tone.
The empath pulled the photos towards him slowly with the three middle fingers of each hand. There must be an internal circuit that connects these fingers with the telepathic function of the human brain. He would have to research it someday. His eyes fluttered as he passed over the five or six photographs. A cavalcade of mental images entered his brain when he considered the stack and he opened his eyes and started to appraise them individually in order to distill his aggregate reactions.

Sloane instantly recognized two of the subjects. One was a senator and one a congressman in a neighboring district. This would make it more difficult. He preferred to work with a blank canvas, where he had no prior knowledge of the people he was feeling. This kept the conscious mind out of the equation. He had the realization that both of these men were Christian Democrats, the party that was out of the loop this go 'round.

"What exactly - am I looking for," he asked his portly handler. The man shifted uncomfortably in his too small swivel chair and after exchanging a quick look with his two associates, turned to the empath.

"Check them for the usual, infidelity, substance abuse, anarchism, atheism, perversion, harboring sinister thoughts about the state, you know the drill." Sloane took a breath. He wasn't exactly a Rhodes Scholar but he did remember reading about Watergate and it couldn't escape his notice that he was possibly being used for some blatantly political and highly questionable purposes. Oh well. He was a worker bee after all, and he wasn't about to rock the boat. Not at his pay grade.

Paul methodically considered the sheaf of photos one by one. His fingers felt a warm tingle when he passed over the second image of the congressman and he stopped and opened his eyes widely. He raised his fingers to his brow, and then closed his eyes, transporting himself almost instantly back to the lugubrious black pond.
The agents looked at him and then back at each other after a minute of watching the telepath engage in his internal expedition.
" I see him crying, he's driving...it's a hit and run. The girl is trapped, the car's on fire. And there's a pint of vodka under the seat. NEV1674. It's fading. I've - I've lost it..."
The porcine lead agent leaned in close to Sloane. "Is there any way of telling when this incident occurred? If, that is, it did occur," he added, with a slight hint of cynicism.
Paul said, "I can tell you it did happen, with a high degree of certainty - I can't unfortunately tell you when, the vision was murky, but I would say probably in the last five or six years."
Turning to his accomplices, the agent said, "I want you to run the plate number and check for unsolved vehicular homicides in a 120 mile radius from the congressman's home. For the last 10 years," he muttered, with a sheepish look at the empath.
"That will be all Sloane, good work," the ex military officer with the greying high and tight haircut said dismissively.
Sloane allowed himself a smile, after the rare pat on the back from his superior. Rustling up his courage, he offered up a rare question for his handler.
"Sir, is the Vice President feeling all right?"
Agent Pennington swiveled in his steps and his voice dropped down an octave. He visibly blanched as he squared his broad shoulders to mask the feeler from the view of his associates, Hardy and Beringer.
"What do you mean, is the Vice President, alright?" he mockingly replied in a nervousness that was hard to disguise.
"Well, I was looking at his picture and his vibration was, I don't know, sort of cold and synthetic. Just wondered if he was feeling okay."
Pennington's sausage like fingers dug into the smaller man's trapezius muscles. "You are treading on very thin ice, Sloane, you're not, repeat, not, to make any more of your wild enquiries inquiries in this regard, do you understand me?" the superior barked at the witless telepath and he felt his fetid breath on his face.
Sloane nodded, in breathless assent. Finally, the larger man relaxed the vise like grip on his shouders. Asshole, the feeler thought to himself, I'm not going to warn him about that tumor I saw in his left lung. The agent left him with one final dark look of opprobrium and Paul sloughed down the stairs and somehow navigated the series of corridors that led to the street below. He had hit a nerve somehow, and he had a very scary feeling that it might cost him his life.
(to be continued)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Art Garfunkel

It's a weird thing about rock stars and performers. They work in an ensemble and get big and then maybe start to want all the adulation for themselves and jettison the very people who took them to the top. The list is long, Police, Talking Heads, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon and Garfunkel, Supremes, etc. The following incarnations can never match the brilliance of the original. Garfunkel is a case in point - what an angelic voice - maybe he made Paul look too short. The sound on this isn't great but you get the idea.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bad Fiction

I was farting around this evening and penned this little story of the post apocalypse. My wife read it and said that it has to be the worst thing I have ever done and worthy of the Hemingway bad short story competition next year. I don't know if I could go that far...It started dark and than I didn't know what to do so I played the Kate Smith card. I pulled one or two of the most repugnant sentences in deference to my spouse.

Don't want to hear from any Peta people - no actual animals were harmed in the creation of this story, not like that guy from the SPCA today who accidently cooked his pooch in the back seat of his car. So here goes - got this one out of my system - this blog is like watching sausage being made. Good thing I have no shame.

The speed of the breakdown amazed Ted. "Civilization", he muttered to himself, "ain't nothin civilized about it". He spat on the broken concrete slab in front of him and carefully examined the irregular splotch for remnants of blood. That's how the first one's went, he thought to himself, their lungs had failed them.

Ted spied a large length of rebar protruding from the foundation rubble. It was about 28" long and would be the perfect length. He would need a weapon. He started jerking the bar back and forth, hoping it would weaken enough to snap. After a few minutes, he gave up, his soft hands blistered from the heat and the roughness of the metal. The steel was too hard to bend and he didn't have the physical or emotional wherewithal to keep fighting it.

He thought about the host of tools that were perfectly organized in his garage, not twenty feet away, but buried under so much debris that they might has well have been a mile. And without power all of that machinery was pretty much useless.

"Here kitty, kitty, here kitty kitty" he heard the neighbor down the street mournfully intone. It was not so much a plea now as a dull mnemomic chant, since the cat had not been seen for weeks now since the incident. "How long had it been?" he wondered to himself.

The whole thing was truly a perfect storm. According to the bits and pieces of information that he had gleaned from the ham radio operator who lived on the next block, the whole thing had been a big setup. The reds had timed their nuclear missile strike on Japan and massive land invasion of Taiwan knowing that the United States would respond in kind. Unfortunately, they had infiltrated our defense department computers so thoroughly that when the inevitable response came, they were ready.

The conficker virus, which had lain dormant for so many years, suddenly clicked awake with its gigantic botnet of slave computers. It's rise from dormancy had completely decimated the nation's energy grid, causing a gigantic electro magnetic pulse that altered the telemetry of the large Hermes class missiles that had been sent airborne to punish the chinese. In this way, the federal government had unwittingly leveled large sections of Southern California, Texas and Maryland with it's own weaponry. The precision of the planning and the brilliant execution of the mission was spellbinding.

The lucky ones died instantly. A tear came to Ted's eye when he thought of his wife and son, who lay crushed beneath what was left of his home. The not so lucky one's lasted a little longer, it was not so uncommon to see the blind and hairless survivors and radiation victims stumbling around in a trancelike daze in the first few days after the strike.

If the first reports were accurate, at least 30 to 40% of the United States population had been destroyed in the initial missile catastrophe. Radiation sickness would surely claim at least another 20 to 30% in the next several weeks. There was no telling how many of the huns we had managed to vanquish.

Ted thought about his own prospects for survival. As a software engineer, he was really good at slinging together 1's and 0's. But what good was all that frigging code when you couldn't turn on the damn machine?

He thought about the narrow limits to his competence. He couldn't even make a simple battery. He remembered from junior high that it had something to do with a lemon and a penny. But even if he managed to scrounge up a lemon, how could he use the citric voltage in any meaningful way? He could no more explain the workings of an internal combustion engine than he could walk on the moon. There was sick humor in the fact that for all of man's supposed achievements in the 21st century, in reality we were less able to take care of ourselves than ever before. With all of our fancy gadgets.

The super convenience of store bought meat and produce had largely sapped man's ability to do something simple like grow a garden or hunt his own food. Ted knew no more about what wild plants might be safe to ingest in what was left of the backcountry than he did about recognizing flint so that he could start a fire. Thankfully he still had a great store of disposable bic lighters. And he still had his stash of drake's cakes.

Lack of a reliable water supply was his main concern, that and the roving gangs that were looting every home in sight. There was still water coming out of a pipe near the curb in front of what was once his house. But he had no idea if the water was merely the gravity flow still left in the main since the pumping station couldn't operate. It was impossible to know if it was safe to drink. But hey, sometimes a guy had to take a chance so bottom's up.

There were reports of serious cholera epidemics on the west side and the governor in Sacramento had organized an airdrop of arrowhead bottles to the stricken. But the survivors were still under a strict quarantine and would see no medical help for the foreseeable future. He had heard that potassium iodine tablets might stem off the epidemic but he had as much chance of finding any as sprouting wings and flying away.

Soon after the attacks, Tommy had made his way to the hospital. It was a near fatal mistake. Operating in wartime triage, doctors and nurses were pulling the plug on those who hadn't much of a chance at survival. Similar behavior occurred after Katrina and many of the physicians had been tried and prosecuted. Vigilante groups stormed the stark hospital building repeatedly in search of painkillers that they could use both as currency and to dull their consciousness to the bizarre reality of daily existence. Pitched battles took place every day for control of the narcotics. It was ground zero and he couldn't risk it.

He was ashamed the first time he saw the looters, he recognized several of them, one was a broker who used to belong to his club. Now these bulwarks of society had reverted to predators, jackals and hyenas who preyed on the weak. They systematically raided every building still standing for food, alcohol and prescription drugs. Darwinism was alive and well, at least in Placentia. The veneer of normalcy vaporized in a new york minute after such a shock to the system.

"Kitty, kitty" he heard the plaintiff cry once more. Ashamedly, he reached into his pocket and felt the cat's studded collar. He would have to hide that where she would never find it. He was not proud of what he had done but a man needed protein to survive. He had heard rumors of people eating far worse. A bit stringy but it tasted a little like chicken. Now what in the hell didn't taste like chicken?

Ted recognized the far off sound of a truck motor and quickly hid behind what was left of his second story parapet wall. He saw a white Ford pickup with several disheveled men sitting in the bed, all holding rifles and weaponry of some kind slowly ambling down the suburban cul de sac. He knew better than to expose himself and kept his head down until the sound of the truck had disappeared.

Ted felt angry. He had heard reports that the government was safely ensconced in their subterranean brain trust at Rocky Flats, near Denver. They had booze and broads, the whole megilla. You knew they weren't starving. And he was supposed to be comforted that they had assured the population that they had the means to repopulate the country with the select group of breeders they had hand picked and stored away in Colorado, like that was supposed to make him feel better.

Never a particularly religious man, he chuckled when he heard people blame the events of the past few weeks on god's wrath. He wanted nothing to do with a god who was so insensitive to the suffering of man. He remembered a story he had read in sunday school about god instructing the Hebrews to slay the Midianites and rape every virgin in their tribe. He had no use for a god who could behave with such cruelty. At the same time, he felt pangs of guilty remorse for eating the neighbor's pet. But a man had to do what a man had to do.

"Hey mister" Ted heard a familiar voice call him as he sheepishly peered over the wall. It was Tommy, the paper boy, who never failed to land the darn fishwrap next to a running sprinkler.

"Hey Tommy, how are you, and how are your parents? Did they make it?"

"We all did. And guess what Mr. Harper? Dad said that we took out most of China and North Korea too. We killed billions of them, and guess what, they're surrendering right now. Dad says them boys are in deep sukiyaki. We won. Now ain't this the greatest country in the whole world? Didn't we show them?

"We sure did, kid. We sure did."

This Boy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Obama wants to kill your grandma and other stories.

Republicans are very sore losers. After eight years of having the run of the farm, the prospects of not having the juice to get their way has sent many of them tearfully running for their assault weapons.

Read a great quote from a right wing crazy last week about the liberty tree needing to be watered with a little blood now and again for the republic to flourish.

I think that it's time for a little history lesson - election's have consequences, kids. You lost. I for one, would hop on board that reconciliation train and not get off until we run out of track. The republicans had no qualms about using it during their tenure at the helm. (See my April 25 blog here) Orrin Hatch, Judd Gregg and John Kyl think it would be very bad form to do so.

They want to see a bipartisan approach to health reform. Really? Where have you guys been the last eight years and how come we never saw you take a crack at it? The insurance and medical industry have their hands a little too deep in your skivvies playing pocket pool to offer up anything meaningful? The temptation for the GOP to score quick political points with their base is too great now for them to be honest partners in any real solutions to the problems that face our nation.

Now we all should remember the last time Obama fell for the old let's be bipartisan line, not one republican vote did he receive, if my memory serves me correctly. This is rebranding time in the great GOP, and the opposition party is trying to fool you once again into thinking it is the party of fiscal restraint. Time to tap the groundswell of looneys who have been showing up at these manufactured town hall events to drown out the politicians and throw around the dreaded s word, socialism.

When you had the reins of power, it was your way or the highway but now it's time to share, I get it. I saw that John McCain was shouted down the other night when he tried to defend his president to a town hall type assemblage of wackos. The right feeds these people at their own peril. I predict that they come back to haunt them in a very negative way. The lunatic tiger fringe ends up devouring it's own master.

The favorite target of the right, Ted Kennedy, died last night. A guy who gave his all for education and healthcare reform and saw two brothers gunned down trying to lead this nation, always seemed to get an unfair rap to me. He wasn't the first politician that liked to take a nip. He was dogged by the Kopechne incident throughout his life and pretty viciously. But he still tried to do what he thought best for his country and for the common man. I m sure that Rush Limbaugh will be positively giddy tomorrow. I saw that Sarah Palin made a statement on Kennedy's passing and thought her temerity to even voice an opinion on the matter galling, given the weight of her intellectual gifts.

A public health care option is just that an option, no one is forcing you to leave your private coverage. No death camps for the elderly or the infirm. (Remember Wild in the Streets, the sixties movie where everybody over 30 got sent to the camps?) I have to believe that abortion politics are one of the underlying stealth narratives in this debate, that the pro-life movement is aghast that they could be subsidizing abortion or contraception. But isn't it a bit odd that a subject so seemingly innocuous and universally benefitting as health care can become so polarizing and divisive? I think it's a mere prologue to enormous battles ahead on every issue.

America is in two pitched camps and we are in the midst of a civil war. We have stopped speaking to each other and every utterance by the enemy is suspect. Any olive branch passed is now a sign of weakness or an opportunity to capitalize and make political points at the opposition's expense. This is truly an ugly time in our nation's history.

I hate to play the blame card but I hold Bush/Cheney responsible for this division. Both Clinton and the good first President Bush managed to implement bipartisan legislation during their tenure. The faith based, Rovian far right vision of america, the Gingrich/Delay contract on America that jammed it's 51% of the vote down the american's throat, sowed the seeds for partisan rancor and cultural alienation that will be reaped for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Roadcrossed Chapter II

(Note: The characters and events depicted in this story are ... fictional) 
The trip up north started out pretty uneventfully. The old plymouth ate up miles of ground and we all engaged in the idle chatter of the time. We talked about music and our lives, slightly embellished versions to be sure. We drove through Northern California and we watched the oaks turn into pines and then eventually into scrub.

At some point somebody offered up a few hits of acid, I don't know, I guess it could have been me, I really don't remember. But it could have been me. We cut the serrated paper squares and placed the hippie sacrament on our tongues and closed our mouths. This was the early seventies after all, and the sixties revolution was in its late and final bloom. Although we were all young, this was definitely not our first rodeo.

The driver began a rap somewhere along the line about EckanCar or free soul travel. Some spiritualist twaddle that I was not really familiar with. I tried and failed to grok where he was coming from and about that time started to notice that the landscape was beginning to melt outside the station wagon's windows, now resembling an awkward Edvard Munch canvas. I felt the psychedelic buzz initially in my front right tooth, a weird place to be sure but a reliable indicator that I was about to blast off into the stratosphere.

Things started to get a little fluttery and then a little hairy. Quickly. I was definitely out of my body and groping with some, shall we say, larger conceptual issues that I was trying to convey to my car mates in the front seat. I would say something like "there's a change coming up ahead" meaning that we were about to enter some new realm or dimension or perhaps a detour on our "e ticket" roller coaster ride and the fellow hitchhiker from New Jersey, a rather literal fellow, would say, "yes, it's about two miles up on the left, I think." My macro was set at a decided 90 degree angle from his micro and the disjointed experience catapulted me into a spinning free fall down a soundless melting mine shaft. Like Atlas, I had the weight of the fundaments resting squarely on my rather puny shoulders.

Now you may or may not have had any experience with psychedelics. For some people it was just a matter of a little extra fireworks on a saturday night, but for me, if I saw a way to fly to jupiter or part the red sea, by jove I was going to take it. Full speed ahead, with both guns blazing.

The poor speed freak driver, our host, was caught between this cerebral ping pong game of alternate realities, and getting some excruciating form of psychic whiplash not to mention a migraine when he decided that he had definitely had enough.

"Out" he pointed at me, "I can't take it any more!" and jerking the wagon to a stop he tossed me and my new north face backpack out on the broiling pavement somewhere in eastern oregon. I complied, stumbling out of the Fury wordlessly, frankly being incapable of speech or much of anything else at that exact moment in time.

Now at this point I was at that state of consciousness where I was the pavement, a scrambled egg getting fried crisper by the eternal second when something occurred that might have saved my life. Seriously. It was at least 105 degrees out in the god forsaken oregon desert landscape when I was jettisoned. I was incapable of much more than a drool and some minor limbic system functioning when I heard my fellow passenger proclaim "If he goes, I go!" This was chivalry with a capital "C" and a lifesaver. He defiantly joined me in my roadside exile. And literally saved my ass from god knows what dangers that might have befallen me.

The next thing I knew we were in some sort of campground. A couple of fellows came by to talk to me about Jesus. One of them had two twigs tied together in a cross and hung around his neck. Real christians, the kind you have to wait a lifetime to meet. They gave me water and blessed me on my way. I appreciated their kindness and sincerity and for once didn't respond to the standard sales pitch like a dick.

We baked in the sun for a while and eventually put our thumbs out and a clean white van with a railroad logo on the side stopped and picked us up almost instantly. The driver worked as a supervisor for the Northern Pacific if I remember correctly or whatever company was servicing the northwest rail network at the time. He was going to Spokane, our ultimate destination. He was the kind of fellow who had made his peace with solitude but still enjoyed his newfound company.

The windows in the van were open and the warm desert heat blew pleasantly against our faces. We didn't talk much, being absorbed in our private excursions, but both felt intense joy and relief at being extended the lifeline. The peak of the psychedelic experience had passed and the reentry left us feeling unbelievably clean, happy and reborn. I had been dangled over the abyss and had not only averted disaster but been given a cadillac ride to my destination. I do have a memory of passing rows upon rows of buried missile silos in the quiet desert.

I don't remember much about the rest of the trip but do remember stopping at a diner in Pasco where very tall cowboys in stetsons doffed their hats to the ladies entering the restaurant and stared at our beaming smiles like we were aliens from a different time zone. I think I had to pee. I always knew that I was coming down when I had to pee. It meant that I had been granted a return trip ticket to good old reality.

The funny thing is that when we finally rolled into Spokane, to Highbridge Park, we found that we had broken some land speed record in doing so. With all of the stops and tribulations, the mileage and time didn't quite add up. We got there faster than humanly possible, I swear. Couldn't account for all of the down time percolating on the side of the road or the time spent grappling with the hallucinations. Perhaps we found a wormhole in the fabric of reality. Who the hell knows? I will always wonder. But bless that fellow from New Jersey. He might have saved my life. Never saw him again.

(to be continued.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mark Knopfler - Water Of Love


He who shits on the road will find flies upon his return.
South African Proverb

I think that my self imposed exile is going reasonably well. Like literary methadone, I have only tallied 7 posts for the month, down from over 100 at peak. Rather than a total break from writing, I will only post when I feel a major imperative, or to salvage my somewhat fragile and tenuous mental health.

The recent trip was not a disaster but certainly not good and produced a fraction of the returns of prior years. The whole near three weeks in which I did three shows was like pushing a pebble up a mountain with my nose. Never got a tailwind. I gritted and grinded and made the best of it but realized early on that it just wasn't my turn. What's the old song say? Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...

I can't talk much about the peaks but can enumerate a few of the valleys - A southern crone called me a smart mouthed yankee, a first. I complimented an australian lass's eyes and compared them to her turquoise earrings and she brusquely told me to fuck off in her lovely english lilt. (By the way, I have never got on with Aussies. New Zealanders are a much classier people. When I was young and traveling abroad, the Aussies were the guys you avoided in the bars, they were built for two things, drinking and fighting. These progeny of convicts seemed to have permanently stopped on some lower evolutionary limb. I am reading a great book on aboriginal magic - Living Magic - written by a pair of psychologists who field studied the abos in 1956. The aborigines are a different story, but are pretty much unrecognized by the criminal latecomers. Leslie would like to visit the continent but I would sooner go swimming in a pool of urukanji.)

I haven't had a great show, truth be told, in over a year. Missed several important one's due to medical bullshit and never got back up to speed. I started the trip out very enthusiastically in Albuquerque, being so darn affable that I practically stood on my head for people who ended up walking out quickly with my competitor's wares, making sure not to look at me. I ended up selling a couple things below cost, one on time, to try to salvage the weekend. Ate a tough as a shoe, ridiculously expensive porterhouse at place called Gruet that one should avoid at all costs. Horrible pretentious food but good company with my friend Lewis B. from Colorado. To be fair, he liked his. Mine was accompanied by a horribly sweet thick sauce and it felt like a big time anal violation. The great Albuquerque find of last year, Chef du jour, had apparently shuttered its doors.

Did eat at the always good Rudy's Bar B Q on Carlisle. The brisket is just exceptional there. I stayed at the Raddison which used to be the Holiday Inn and still felt like it. The guy who brought my luggage up said that we could get some "fine bitches" in the bar that night and that they would even come back to my room. I saw him chatting up a few very hard prostitutes sitting on a rock outside the hotel later that evening and didn't make eye contact. Lots of construction and dust but it wasn't too bad. Passed on the bitches.

The Albuquerque show, which I did superbly in last year, was two rooms, the first were card table dealers selling pots, baskets, trinkets and spurs. I was in the back room with a few of my peers that a lot of people didn't make it into trying to sell high priced art and might have been a little out of place. But I had too much stuff that I had no room to show in Santa Fe and wanted to expose it to the marketplace. Didn't do a heck of a lot of good.

I was disappointed that Terry S's sidekick Bob from Omaha was nowhere to be found but he had apparently gone missing some months ago. If you see him, please give him my best. I do get an occasional blog hit from Omaha so if it's you Bob, please take care of yourself..

Eliot from Rumbleseat Music gave me one of his new t-shirts which I love and will cherish. A really good guy. I got to see my friend Bob Zinner play several nights, both at Evangelos and El Farol. Bob is a first rate bluesman, who played with the Bees and the Standells amongst other groups in the sixties and whose arm was severed and reattached after an accident. With little mobility and function in his strumming/plucking hand he took a year to relearn guitar playing and is truly an amazing man. A good rock and roll voice, too. Wish I could have heard him when but glad to hear him now.

There's a really bizarre motel a few blocks from Cowboys and Indians, Terry's shop, where somebody has glued paintings to the outside of the buildings and hung weird shit from trees. I meant to stop and get pictures but the camera has mostly stayed in the bag. Except for pics of Victor Ochoa's five border collie puppies, which were really cute.

Made my way up to Santa Fe, which is in the nonsoon season, very dry, missed all the rainfall of prior years. I had a four day spell between the shows and did a little writing and visited some shops and dealers that I knew. Most people, like me, were just getting by and grinding it out. Understand that some galleries have closed or are suffering under the weight of their considerable overhead.

Millard took Steve S. and his wife and I to a fantastic restaurant in El Dorado called Copa de Oro where we had great duck served in a raspberry port reduction. I went back 5 times, also trying their Moroccan lamb with fennel and apricots. Delicious food and the entrees were around $15.00. Saw a few faces on the staff that I recognized from the old Julians, which always slayed me with its duck with pomegranate.

I went to the Phillips Collection of Impressionist Paintings show at the Palace of Fine Arts Museum and a guy from Milwaukee gave me a ticket to the Chamber Music Festival that his wife couldn't use. Saw the Orion Quartet do Hayden and a duo perform a piece for oboe and piano by a modern Polish composer. This took place in the lovely St. Francis Auditorium and was really fantastic, not to mention free.

Read in the newspaper that the guy who sells newspapers on Cerillos Rd. pleaded guilty to selling heroin to some undercover officer from his stand. And I thought people were reading again...

Thursday arrived and during the load in I got an inkling of what the show was to become. I had evidently been given my badge prior to the show and had forgotten about it and was told that I would have to pay five dollars for a replacement for the one that lay somewhere in my car. I crudely responded with a vulgarity and said that I was going home. The promoter angrily confronted me and I said that I felt that I was being treated pettily and punitively but things got eventually worked out. I apologized. Now I don't know if it was prescience or self fulfilling prophecy but at times I felt like there was an invisible bubble around the booth and I just couldn't connect with people. Destined for a fall.

But I ended up doing halfway respectably at the Ethnographic show with some last minute sales to people like my old friend June Smith and her husband Steve. I actually had a good week or two in the shop prior to going to New Mexico so it just means that I will have to keep grinding the rest of the year and won't get to sit back and coast at all like I had hoped. And put thoughts of the hawaii vacation on hold. Which we have not taken since we bought the albatross, I mean building. Leslie's help has moved to Big Bear so she can't leave anyway so it's a moot point. Saw a lot of old friends and had a nice dinner with my new friends Jane and David.

The guy across from me at Ethno ended up getting hospitalized after being bitten by bed bugs at the El Rey Hotel, where many traders have set up in their rooms over the years. Guess he had an allergic reaction and his head and lips got all swollen. Ouch!

The Ethno show quickly became the Indian Show and the returns were very few. We were a last minute entrant and got a discount on the booth so the damage was mostly to my ego. Had strong interest on my Germantown weaving and my Gene Kloss watercolor but couldn't get the trigger pulled. Found myself getting more and more misanthropic and dark and the dealer across from me, Mark S., started pulling out an electronic device and recording my most sanguine pearls. Mark is an ex doctor who is now a preeminent dealer in Maynard Dixon artwork among other things. He has bought a lot from me over the years and I have always liked him. He caught me muttering things like " I would rather sit in a warm pool of my own blood than sell to you, lady" and other pleasantries. I made a sexist faux pas with his wife when she was talking about their old days in the ER and I asked if she had been a nurse and she gracefully let on that she was a doctor as well. Oops.

Certain people only buy from certain dealers, I have found over the years. I could be peddling the Mona Lisa for 10 quid and not sell it because there may be more cachet in buying it from certain people who shall go nameless. You want to show a level of enthusiasm but not piss all over yourself trying to make a deal so after a few futile exercises, I retreated into a sort of laconic cave.

The indian world was atwitter over the federal government's recent crackdown on pot gatherers in Utah. There have been two suicides already after the indictments and they are now taking the position that even pieces that were sold as tourist ware my be repatriated as having religious significance. I don't deal in much of that stuff but it sounds shaky, unfair and arbitrary to me.

After packing out, I showed up at Tiny's, my favorite longtime local hangout, for one of their delicious posole and green chile Santa Fe burgers. My dinner guests chumped out. Had a good meal and was in for a musical treat. One of the great beebop alto sax players in the world, Richie Cole, was sitting in with Chief Sanchez and a smoking band. Cole played with both Buddie Rich and Doc Severinson's band. I talked to him outside and let him know that he was forever memorialized in Roger Zelazny's book Knight of Shadows. Was news to him but I remembered. Roger must have dug good jazz.

Was invited to a nice dealer's pad on Canyon Rd. for a quaff of near undrinkable wine and a lecture on the greatness that was Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. I scanned the perimeter for an available exit, after being quizzed on my owning any foreign cars. I let the guy know I drove a chrysler and skeedaddled. Jewish republicans are about as strange as log cabin republicans but I guess it takes all kinds.

Stopped at Chee's on the 40 for a walk and a fry bread. The navajo woman was listening to the same christian radio station as last time I was there two years ago and I told her about my photo of her shop which I displayed in my gallery show. She said that she would find someone with email so that I could send her the picture. It took several minutes to wipe the grease off my hands after tearing the bread apart.

I arrived back home yesterday afternoon. Out of underwear and socks. Somehow I developed a horrible case of bronchitis about three days ago. I can't stop coughing. It took two days to get home and my immune system has snapped. The news of Tony's death has hit me hard. I have caught myself crying at odd times, once I had to pull off the road in the middle of the mojave. It was incredibly hot in the desert, 119 in Needles on the way out, about 112 yesterday. I stopped at the Ramada Inn in Flagstaff at the halfway point and I recognized the gay Navajo who worked there from prior years. He told me how good I was looking with a wink. Leslie told me on the phone to be sure bolt the door to the room. The room was a disaster. The toilet ran all night and the rubber mat in the bathtub was disintegrating and left little balls of glue on my back and the bedsheets that would tear my hair out when removed.

I stopped at the Verizon store after I checked in to get the new Blackberry Tour which I think I will have to return. The trackball sucks and you can't play Brickbreaker. It won't move horizontally no matter how you adjust it. I think it was a product that was was rushed forward before it was ready. I went back to the store to discuss it with them and they made me wait another hour in line. The store was 80% navajo and the little kids ran around like a pack of well, "wild indians". No matter what the extraction, kids do pretty much what they want these days including tearing cell phones off of stands and throwing the plastic accessories around. Another Californian for birth control and euthanasia. I think I started coughing up blood yesterday afternoon but it might have been the skittles.

I was really tired driving back with whatever I've got. I tried to stop at every rest stop and rest my eyes but the heat was too friggin unbearable to stay more than a minute. Once Danny and Theresa V. from High Noon drove in on either side of the van outside of Needles. Lost them in Barstow when I pulled into Tommy's for a chili burger. My lips are cracked and bleeding and my right ear feels infected and won't equalize. I get a root canal early in the week.

Leslie turns 50 tomorrow and I am too sick to go to her party tonight. Hope that I can make it a special day somehow. Lots of laundry to do. Ciao. And how.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Tony Duchi

My great friend Tony Duchi passed away this morning, a few minutes after 8:00. Tony was family to me and the loss will be very hard to take.

Anthony Leo Duchi Jr. was a longtime Fallbrook resident who had lived with and fought off leukemia for the last 15 or so years. Unfortunately his chronic lymphocytic leukemia morphed into lymphoma a few months ago and things started breaking down fast for him. He had something called a 17p deletion in his chromosomes which is apparently very bad news.

Tony was a stand up guy who treated me like his son. He showed my wife Leslie the same unconditional love. We were on opposite sides of the political spectrum but he always was respectful. We agreed to disagree. He always had time for me. Tony didn't own a television. He had a clear idea of what he liked and didn't like and lived life on his own terms. He loved to travel and to sail the open sea. He really enjoyed hearing jazz and music at my parties. We judged the Fallbrook Car Show together in May. And I will never forget him manning the wheel on our whale watching trip and the security everyone felt being guided by his steady hand.

Tony loved his family and his friends, of which he had many. He was justifiably proud of his kids. He supported me and visited me in the hospital when I was ill. He suffered the greatest loss of his life when his late wife Liz died several years ago. He could never replace her.

He loved boats, cats and clocks and cars, food and antiques. And his friends. He was a person who didn't suffer fools gladly. But when you were in, you were in. He was solid gold. Everyone at the coffee shop would brighten up in his presence when he would pay the regulars an occasional visit in the morning.

Tony leaves four grown children, Tony the third and wife Sharon, Lisa and husband Jeff, Julie and Carlo and John along with all of their respective children. They rallied around him in his last days and did everything they could for him. His friend Dick flew out from Massachusetts and spent time with him when things started to go south. Tony built a very successful manufacturing business with his children and was a brilliant mechanical mind. His passing will leave a huge hole in many of our lives. He was truly one of a kind.

Please raise a glass of something red and preferably italian to my wonderful friend.

There will be a Memorial Service and Celebration of his Life on September 5th at 3:30 p.m. at the Ocean House, 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad, Calif. (760) 729-4131. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Tony's name to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (888) 773-9958.