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I Heart Fear

I took Rosie to a haunted House in Taylor tonight.  The Scream Machine. We both were really hoping for a good scare.

We started off  walking into a pitch dark room with the door slammed behind us. Rosie squeezing my one hand for dear life I felt along the wall for the way out with the other. I was systematic, rational, not this wall, not this corner, was that a footstep? there’s probably someone in here, they’re going to scare us, okay, not this wall, not this corner, and then my searching hand palmed a cheek. Holy shit!  And the room started pitching and yawing and banging.  A light went on and there was a dead girl standing in the corner. The light went out. The light came on and she was inches from Rosie’s face. The light went out and came back on and she was inches from mine. The light went out and she was in another corner. Creepy good.

It was quality scary but I was still in control. We walked the labyrinth, black lights, a vortex tunnel (like a cement mixer you walk through, lit black, painted walls, and a bridge in the middle for you to walk on — totally disorienting, makes you want to lean off in the direction of the spin), and creepy guys popped out and screamed at us, but you quickly adapt to that. Then 3/4 through, a grisly room with bloody walls and body parts everywhere, and the strobe light started and two scary things started chasing us and the walls started bending (strobe light) and we couldn’t find the way out then, THEN! my brain started coming loose a little.

That there is my second favorite feeling in the world, when my senses start to fail, when I can’t trust what I’m seeing or feeling, when I know I’m safe but I’m not at all sure what is real, when my environment becomes so startlingly disorientingly confusing that it is all I can do to shuffle slowly forward my eyes peeled a mile wide my hands outstretched waiting for whatever it is next to happen to me. That is total receptivity, that is wideopenness, that is god on the edge right there in a converted retail space in a sad forgotten strip mall next to the Gibraltar Trade Center on Eureka rd. in Taylor, MI. for $15 admission per person.

Short lived as a walk through a haunted house may be, it is probably way better for your brain than LSD. And way legaler.

We’re Only In It For the Ladies

It’s pretty clear after the last week that among all of the couples I know,which admittedly is a godawfully small sample,  we’re really all only in it, men and women alike, for the women. Not to say that we men are total crap, but I think the consensus among us guys would be Yeah, we’re okay. But these women, my god!

Ancient wisdom handed down through the generations proclaims that it shall always be that one individual in a couple is favored by all over the other.  I am here to say that sadly this is true. And it ain’t the guy. Women are every time more interesting, more beautiful, more well-adjusted, more articulate, more energetic, more charming…

What has this world done to us men to make us so… awkward? And what would we do without our women to make sure that we maintain social ties? I know what you’re thinking. That the women like the men better and all is right and balanced in the end. But I don’t see it. No, the women are saved by one another. They are living a life of enlightenment and spirit thanks only to themselves, and they are only humoring us so that they can have their babies. It’s a wonder, given all this humor, that serious coitus is ever achieved and we manage to reproduce as a species at all.

So I say unto you, brothers, comrades, fellow ghosts in comparison, the next time you are together with both your woman and your friends look around you. You too will see it. We are outgunned. Outperformed. Outsmarted. Outdone. Outmanned. Know that this is true. Feel your fortune swell by her side. We have married up my friends, and we have done well.  And never forget, you men, that we may not look as good standing next to her, but we live a life we never could have earned on our own. For as a sage and married man once told me, it is always better to be lucky than to be better.

belee dat

I watched the Biggie Smalls biopic “Notorious” last night. The Girl said it was amazing so I had to see it.  Plus that “Note- Note-, Notorious” clip in the trailer gave me goosebumps every time I saw it so of course the movie must be amazing am I right or am I right? Trailer producers are quite possibly the most gifted and fortunate filmmakers past or present. What amazing power to be able to take non-sequitur or even non-existent clips and create for potential viewers a soul-shuddering minute and a half of suspense, an ninety-second emotional rollercoaster… It is godlike this power. I never did see the Note- Note, Notorious scene in the movie.

But I digress. I really mean to talk about the moment in the movie when everything went sour, when Biggie and Tupac’s relationship took a 180-degree turn for the worse.  One minute they were BFF, and then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Tupac gets shot in the lobby of a Times Square recording studio and blames Biggie. Biggie’s voice-over attributes this shift to paranoia (one that the viewer was not previously keyed in to), and that may or may not have been true, but so suddenly? For whatever reason, the director chose to gloss over this pivotal moment, the moment that effectively created the east coast west coast rivalry that shaped the rest of the movie. And because that moment of weakness was located so close to the spine of the plot, everything that followed rang false.

The trickiest trick in fiction is delivering believability. Nine writers out of ten prefer to sacrifice credibility to a streamlined plot or some fantastic dialogue.  And then nine out of ten crazy Hollywood people convince other crazy Hollywood people to spend thirty million dollars without giving serious weight to the question could this happen in real life. Could Tupac go from Biggie’s homie to his arch-enemy in 17 seconds? No. Did the director ask us to believe that he did?  Yes. And there’s the grub, as my friend Cookie says.

Not to say that uber-realism is the way to go. Because even fantasy works this way. If you can’t convince the audience that the aliens stayed in the detainee camp for twenty years then you’ve got a major hemorrhage in the plot and all your fictive energy is leaking out of it.

We all have complaints about this world: trick knees, the necessity of shaving, too-short days, etc, but what you can always appreciate is that it is utterly real. That the dialogue is felt, that the physics work, that the motives line up, that the timing is right.

We say the timing is wrong but we mean wrong for us. We say that so-and-so’s stupidity is inconceivable, but really, of all the features of this life, the one that has become so workaday and expected and able to be imagined is stupidity.  We say, when the dialogue is not felt, that the speaker has been watching too much bad TV. We say the pain is unreal but there is nothing more real than the sensation of pain. We say that someone’s perversity knows no bounds, that it is infinite, but this is hyperbole. These characteristics are as limited as we are and we may be legion but we are finite as hell. There is nothing of this world that is not of this world, except for our lame attempts to represent it.

And then there’s nothing more real and more human than our subsequent testing of this representation. It’s everywhere this test, it can be applied to every little thing: it’s what makes a good actor, if they seem to be speaking their lines from somewhere inside their chests; what makes a good company, that will at least attempt to add value alongside scraping the meat from our bones; good advertising, that entertains as well as demands brand fealty; good folks, that can reign in id for a little bit of superego; good life, with a little slog through the mud before an ascent to the top; good metaphysics, that suggests that there may possibly be some critter at the controls tweaking my storyline but stops short of promising that the lambs will lay down with the lions.

It’s a discipline this believability, and it’s much harder to pull off than it at first seems. But we wouldn’t buy any of it if it didn’t pass the test.

Twenty-Seven Degrees of Separation

My mother and I ground a sober shuffle into the treatment center’s accountant’s office (she shuffled, I more limped) to pay another’s room and board. After some small talk and paper slinging, the bald fact of the sequestration made itself completely hairless: “This is where I ask for the money, she said. I pulled out my wallet, And that is what is called a pregnant silence I said, and handed her twenty-seven hundred dollar bills. I hope you’re okay with cash.


We love cash, this tame little unweathered little mirror of my Mother was looking at me, but, she said half-joking, it still scares me. I had just had this conversation with the abovementioned mother in the lobby (cash, when it floats straight from the aether to someone else’s hand, is untaxed, so I had lubriciously withdrawn and subsequently handed over a wad of bills about half an inch thick). I had thought, walking into this office and somewhat anticipating this reaction, that I would say that I was a drug dealer, but given my surroundings had decided it might possibly be in poor taste.

I’m a big guy, I said instead, no one’s going to mug me. But still, My bank has a limit, she said, and I, to fill the next new pregnant silence said, It’s an online bank, they don’t care, thinking while I said it, albeit all true, that I still looked like a drug dealer, No, they echoed, comic relief smeared across the insides of their eyes, they don’t care do they?

I had said to the teller of my hometown bank, changing the ATM’s one hundred and thirty-five twenties into twenty-seven hundreds, that such a wad of small bills would make me look “too gangster”, and then, sensing that I had spoken too plainly about what exactly she was fearing in some small unspoken reptilian segment of her stem and cortex in that bored empty and remote far-west-side branch had said, Not that I’m notGangster.’ At which she laughed, and I, nuff said to semi-relax, finger-tapped and eye-shifted a half-polite deliberate space-out until she counted finally to one hundred and thirty-five for the policy-requisite third time.

I somehow still, unshaven, semi-slept, illegitimate as I was born and limping even, managed to make them — the mother and the treatment center accountant both — happy enough with what I had produced out of my wallet that they still took him in (forgive me for thinking cold hard cashmoney to be more compelling than a I.O.U. from my bank). She gave my mother a receipt. We stood up to walk out, everyone in the building again looking up and mistaking me for mother’s young lover or my brother’s young father, (where is the father by the way?) this place reeking of everything diagnosable including Oedipus.

‘Gesk-air-ee’, is that how you pronounce it? my mother asked, reading the woman’s name from the card as we left. Yes, the accountant said, it’s Flemish. Oh, my mother said, naming the only other Flemish thing she knew of, have you read The Girl With the Pearl Earring? No, the accountant said, writing the name down on a pad, are you a big reader? Yes, my mother said with too much pride, while I began to cringe, this comfort with naming one’s qualities an embarrassment of riches borne of another generation, so is he, she said, pointing to me. And then the coup de grace, And he’s a writer too. Bye I groaned as I shrank away.

She took the Dale Carnegie course when I was a kid, and has worn a permanent smile ever since, but I don’t think that’s what makes the difference between her incredibly open and my pretty closed. Maybe bootstraps to my gen-x moping, maybe one blinding red society-gluing twentieth century atomic fear to my hundreddozen twenty-ought-plus socio-sexual-political anxieties, maybe just the desperate loneliness of thirty years of marriage to another one desperately sick with loneliness has turned her into a “sharer”, whatever it is, I shudder to hear that loud voice call me without a trace of irony, to a stranger no less, a “writer,” so much so that I am compelled to shout provocatively from halfway down the hallway I’m really just rich as shit!

Partly it is the rule of supply and demand applied to works: publish and call yourself a writer because as you have seen, anyone can do it; it is nothing. Write unpublished and despise the word. Likewise make money and see it’s magic fade in relation to its abundance. But struggle in poverty and think poison darts into the driver of every Mercedes you cannot afford.

But mostly it’s the romance of the artist: to make money just means you were clever. But to write stories that are admired is to be loved for your ability to speak to the hearts of others. There is something in that worth more than many millions, and I don’t dare presume to have that value. At least not until it is proved.

there ought to be a an “Overheard in Las Vegas” site too

Overheard in Las Vegas:

1. man sitting at a slot machine at Caesar’s Palace: “I gotta get my lawn mower back out of hock”

2. man to friend passing by a ferrari and lamborghini outside the Venetian: “there’s valet, and then there’s valet

3. poolside white man to his wife: “god made shadows for crackers like us”


In Sam Sheridan’s A Fighter’s Heart he talks about dogs that will fight for forty-five minutes without letting up versus the dogs that quit earlier.  He quotes a trainer: “All this care, you must love the animal, and if the animal loves you back, you will get a dog that fights past forty-five minutes, an animal with gameness. If there is love, the dog will fight to the death…without it, the dog will not show heart.”

A dog whose trainer beats it to make it mean will rage and tear but run out of steam early. It’s the loved (love here not taking an easy definition) dog, the dog that not only trains with but connects to its trainer, the dog with heart, that will die before it quits.

In eighth grade, we had to wrestle in gym class.  I wrestled Mike Haft, the bully. He was big and solid and he got me on my back and I let him take me without a fight. I’ve relived that moment differently in my mind at least a thousand times. I didn’t prove myself then and I’ve proven myself many times since but still that moment haunts me.

My friend has a two year old, and she and her husband are slowly going mad trying to get him to sleep through the night. They’ve tried letting him cry it out, and they’ve tried letting him sleep in the bed with them.  They’ve tried detachment and they’ve tried attachment, and are confounded by the hard fact that no matter how many childrearing philosophies there are out there telling you the right way to raise your kid, each is his own special little (hard) case. Some will be easy and some will be hard.  Some will sleep and some will slowly drive you insane.

Fourteen years ago I was a hardcore attachment parent.  I knew (knew!) that if I gave my baby everything she wanted she would not know need, and would know the world was a good safe place, and would be contented.  But my cute little Hobbesian bundle of complicatedness flew in the face of everything I thought I knew.  I gave her all I could and she only wanted more. Now, at fourteen, she wants me to tell her how to make jell-o.  Where’s the ice? she asks.

I don’t know how to self-soothe and so am consequently constantly flirting with compulsion (long ago cigarettes, now alcohol, now sex) — never quite permitting it to do harm but never quite able to get enough either.

It occurred to me last night, restless and agitated next to sleeping Courtney, unable to deep-breathe myself down into unconsciousness, thinking only of the one thing that would soothe me but unwilling to wake her (even if I had…), that I have heard of few if any successful rescue stories. You can love it and you can give it some peace, but can you ever get its tail out from between its legs? I am trying to learn that in our cores we are all good, and satisfied, and safe, but I see so much hurt and hardness and danger. If I were more religious it might feel easier to have this sin washed out of me suddenly in a moment but I just keep getting hung up on how many thousands of neural paths have to be rerouted. Old dogs, new tricks… Or, once a cur always a cur, isn’t that how it goes?

Brag Blog

To confirm my suspicions that the only reason I have a blog in my name is to enhance my status in others’ eyes, I will now proceed to boast nonstop for 500+ words (with pictures!).

When we moved into el rancho robino the back yard sloped from the sides of the house gently to the basement floor level in the middle, like a lot of houses with walkout basements. Like yay:

But it turned out that those slopes made it tough on croquet games, and hard to pitch a tent. Plus, it turned out, the slopes just offended me: where was the mark of man’s awesome manipulative hand? I am from the midwest. To me there is no more powerful or beautiful line than the horizontal. Not that a mountain doesn’t do it for me, but this? This pissy little hill?  Remove it.

So I set to flattening and opening the space, carving back the hills and retaining the earth with walls. It was a lot of dirt when you add it all up, definitely work more suited for a machine like a Bobcat or a backhoe, and that’s what the neighbors who stopped on the sidewalk to ask me what in hell I was doing kept telling me.  The builder down the street even offered the use of his. But no, I said. What I really want, when I’m done, is to be able to say “I did this all myself, just my shovel, my wheelbarrow, and my back.” Free gym, as the guys at Food Gatherers call it. Plus, machines are for the domesticated. None of that shuffle-shuffle obsequiousness from me in the old diad of house and field. I am now and always will be, an inveterate, incurable field nigger.

Well, I stand up next to a mountain And I chop it down with the edge of my hand

Well, I stand up next to a mountain/ And I chop it down with the edge of my hand

I started digging late Autumn ’07. Work languished during the yearlong-honeymoon Summer of Beer, and especially during renovations. I picked up again Fall ’08 and with the house finished and the area having looked so completely post-apocalyptic for so long that we were just too ashamed to let it go any longer I finished in one month-long burst of activity this May (’09).

I bought twenty tons (Twenty Tons!) of field stones and boulders from the Rock Shoppe for the walls. I don’t know how much a house weighs, but twenty tons must come close, yeah? Couldn’t I have shifted the earth’s rotation on it’s axis with that, pulling twenty tons from one spot and placing them in another? Did you feel the world wobble when it happened?

And b/c many of the rocks ended up being four or five hundred pounds each (what did I say about machines?) I rented a Bobcat for a day, and my brother and I hefted them into place with hydraulics. So fast, so easy!  When I had to finish moving the dirt with just a wheelbarrow and a shovel I cried out for my long lost bobkitty.  How spoiled I became, and how quickly!

And I bought 15 tons of compost to cover the clay that I had scraped down to so that grass would actually grow. And I planted the grass, and lo, it did grow.

See?  Now doesn’t that feel better?

And I did it. Just like I said I would: I moved all that dirt myself, with just a shovel* and a wheelbarrow and my back.

Now all I need is the T-Rex for the woods and I’ll be done I swear.

* Six shovels actually.  They don’t make ’em like they used to.


Frontier Airlines is based in Colorado.  That used to be the frontier.  Then Oregon. Then we hit water.  But the beauty of Now is that we can cross that water and find our new frontiers so far West we’re East again.

This oscar meyer insight may be 18 years late but hey — you can’t blame a guy for tryin’ to resuscitate a brain on insomniacal musings: Iranq, AfPakistan — we’re blazing trails, panning gold, fighting savages, & cetera & cetera.

Hand me a homestead Daddy, I’m gonna farm me some papa-ver.