Pastoral Genocide


It Don’t Let Up
January 28, 2009, 6:40 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

My son is twenty seven years old and stands three feet, eight inches tall. He is a little person. His name is Dick. My name is Dick, too.

When Dick came along, we were overjoyed. I was twenty nine, she was twenty six and he was our first kid. Turned out, our only kid. We wanted a couple more but it just wasn’t in the cards.

When Dick was four, she died in her sleep. The doc said she had an irregular heartbeat. Her name was Mary and I’d known her since I was fifteen years old. I met her at the county fair. She was showing chickens and I was showing hogs. That was the year I sold a pig to the Centreville IGA for 75 dollars.

Fast forward seventeen years and she’s dead and I’ve got a dwarf for a kid.

Life is harder for short folks. They can’t reach into the cupboard for a juice glass. They can’t re-adjust the showerhead and they can’t sit at a normal sized table in a normal sized chair. Sure, we all got our problems, but little people, they gotta carry theirs around with them wherever they go. It just don’t ever let up.

One good thing about Dickie being so short is that I’ve only ever had to buy him one bed. He still sleeps on the mattress we bought him when he was a baby. I told him once, “Dickie, it don’t make no sense to buy you a new bed. It just don’t.” I’ve always felt a little bad about that. But the fact of the matter is that change comes with consequences and there ain’t a point in dealing with it unless you really have to.

It’s always embarrassed me to have a little person for a son. I mean, fuck. I played football and baseball in high school. I looked good without a shirt on. I remember it being midsummer and evening and I was standing in the dark. We were in the field, me and a couple of other boys. It was humid. We’d been at it all day and we were all tired but we knew we had to finish. My arms were scratched up from the bales and they felt like jelly, but I saw the goal and I was young and strong. Point is, I always imagined I’d have a son who would live a life like the one I lived. Thought maybe my tradition would become his. Didn’t happen that way, though.

Now, Dickie and I live together. He’s a short man and I’m an old man and we get along alright. Maybe we need each other or maybe we’ve just grown accustomed to being around each other.

The other day, we were talking. And Dickie told me that he was a virgin. I said to him, “what?” I guess I suspected it. I been around him his whole life and the only time girls would give him the time of day was when they was making fun of him. And it got me thinking that what the hell, no one wants to die a virgin. So I bought him a hooker out of the phone book. I got myself one, too. The man on the phone said it was cheaper that way. They showed up at our doorstep wearing fake fur coats. One was tall and black and the other was a little shorter, a white girl that looked like she had a methamphetamine problem.

I let Dickie have the shorter one on account of him also being so short. After it was done, I asked the ladies to stay for coffee. But they said they had somewhere else to be and that they had to be on their way.

Later, Dickie and I took a walk. We went down to the creek and looked at the leaves floating in the water. It was late November and cold and starting to rain a little. The raindrops mottled the water quietly and we just stood there and watched our breath form little clouds of fog in the air.

I said to him, “Dickie, things don’t always turn out like you want them to. That’s just how life goes. But you always gotta believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. That’s all we got and, goddamnit, that’s all we deserve.”

After I’d said my piece, we turned around and walked up the hill towards the house. I said that maybe we’d cook up some steaks for dinner and he said that he’d be alright with that.

[Ed. Note: A similar version of this story appeared on the Wolverine Liberation Army]

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The Same Old Lines
January 27, 2009, 7:52 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , ,

black-flag-bars1Nuclear Rhyming Dictionary: Seven years, eight years, ten years. Slice it, count it, cut it. Re-arrange it, solder it, build it into whatever you want it to be, however you want it to be. Fuck the police. Fuck the man. Fuck the suburbs, especially if you’re from the suburbs. Anti-parent, anti-pathy. Cross cut the nation, the world. Angst, depression, paranoia. The absurdity of being. I’m about to break down, we’re all about to break down. Ashes and the hereafter, baby. Work harder, dig deeper, become angrier. Do it all yourself; it’s your burden, after all. Become a caricature, a wax and glass statue of what you aren’t. Viacom calls because Viacom always comes calling. Wear it, tag it, spray paint it on the streets of Los Angeles and Philadelphia and Detroit. The cement jungles of America are dotted with the disenfranchised. Now, though, they look different. They’ve got a different cultural vernacular but it’s derived from the same anger. Evolve, devolve, swim or don’t.

What’s there to say? Black Flag was, and remains, a cathartic body. They’re the reason that so much of this exists. The bullshit, the genius, the unmitigated anger, the senseless violence. The brilliant non-conformity that somehow devolved into a co-host status on cable television programs. But, always: there’s a lot to be angry about, never forget that. The cops, the parents, the society that preaches pragmatic solidarity in the form of faith and family. No child gets left behind. Fighting back is sometimes fighting for something, no matter how nebulous or ill-defined that something may be.

Black Flag is better than Minor Threat. They’re better than the Circle Jerks or the Misfits or the Minutemen or Bad Religion. I’ll always – and forever – believe that. I’m unconcerned with what era was or is the best. Give me Morris, give me Cadena, give me Chavo Pederass, give me Rollins (or Dukowski or Roessler or Valverde or Biscuits or et fucking al). Just keep the god-damned chainsaw in Ginn’s hands, for the love of God.

Ron Reyes is a preacher. Can you believe that? He found Jesus lying facedown in the snow and blew warm air into his lungs. I am the truth I am the light. Praise-the-fucking-lord. If you can’t fight ‘em, preach to ‘em. Sometimes, you’ve got to kill the shepherd to save the flock. Say what you want about Henry, but he fought back. And, mostly, he won.

Somewhere, in all of this, we’ve got to talk about ham radios.  The little story that could. Unbelievable. You think Bomp! wishes they hadn’t dropped the ball? But they did. The same story has been told, time and again, but it never gets old and it never loses its meaning. That’s important: the truth, when excavated, stays fresh for an inconveniently long time.

Personally, I’m a family man, I’m a smoking and a drinking man, I’m a drinking and driving man, I’m so heavy, man. I like the jazz riffs and I like the power chords. I like it all, the brassy solos, the pitter-patterned improvisation, the fifty five seconds of raw vitriol that eviscerates reality like a F4 over an ant farm. I like it all.

Polliwog Park: It’s a nice day in the park before some drunk asshole throws a bottle that hits a kid in the head. Then all hell breaks loose and you’ve got punks and kids fighting and yelling and its a whole mess that no one can really make sense of. The PA gets cut for second and then jerks back to life. These kids, man, these fucking kids. Keith Morris on the vocals. Polliwog Park, Manhattan Beach, CA. July 22, 1979. 160 kbps.

Download Black Flag – July 22, 1979, Polliwog Park, Manhattan Beach,CA

North Park Lion’s Club: We’re talking about nearly thirty years ago. Everything’s changed but nothing’s different. We’re still mad, we’re still hopeless. No one sees the light because the darkness smothers everything. Replace one economic downturn with another. Can’t anyone see the real problem is the establishment?   North Park Lion’s Club, San Diego, CA. October 4, 1980. VBR.

Download Black Flag – October 4, 1980, North Park Lion’s Club, San Diego, CA

The Electric Banana: Dez Cadena’s last show as Black Flag’s third vocalist is an innocuous event. Listening to to it in real time, you wonder about the context. Cadena’s voice, by this time, was worn and ragged. Black Flag’s eras began and ended with an abruptness that can only be described as possessing an enviable temerity: they knew when enough was enough. Or, maybe they didn’t. As with most things, it all comes down to perspective.  The Electric Banana, Pittsburgh, PA. July 4, 1981. 320 kpbs.

Download Black Flag – July 4, 1981, the Electric Banana, Pittsburgh, PA.

The Stone: There’s a video of this somewhere. But video is over-rated and impotent. Incorporeality enhances observation in ways that can hardly be described.  This show was released on SST records via cassette tape. Later, it was digitally encoded by Greg Ginn. The Stone (“Live ’84”), San Francisco, CA. August 26, 1984. 320 kpbs.

Download Black Flag – August 26, 1984 (“Live ’84”), the Stone, San Francisco, CA. Pt.1

Download Black Flag – August 26, 1984 (“Live ’84”), the Stone, San Francisco, CA. Pt.2

Markthalle: The crowd seems restless throughout the set. Maybe it’s because they’re European, maybe it’s because English, to them, is an awkward sound, a foreign sound. Maybe it’s because their hands will always be stained with the blood of genocide, something that no amount of economic growth or vulcanized liberalism can change. At one point, Henry says something to the effect of: the only time I feel like I’m an American is when I’m not in my country.  Markthalle, Germany. March 15, 1983. 320 kpbs.

Download Black Flag – March 15, 1983, Markthalle, Germany. Pt. 1

Download Black Flag – March 15 1983, Markthall, Germany. Pt. 2

Desh Begat Temple: Drinking black coffee, black coffee, drinking black coffee, staring at the wall. Black coffee, black coffee, black coffee, staring at the wall. Black coffee, drinking black coffee, drinking black coffee. Desh Begat Temple, Winnipeg, Canada. August 12, 1985. 160 kpbs.

Download Black Flag – August 12, 1985, Desh Begat Temple, Winnipeg, Canada. Pt. 1

Download Black Flag – August 12, 1985, Desh Begat Temple, Winnipeg, Canada. Pt. 2

The Starry Night: Everything sounds better when it’s professionally done. But sounding good and being good are disparate values. I’m not saying anything; I’m just saying. Notably absent? The dips, the pops, the recording flaws. The small things, the good things, the things that make music believable. Released in 1986 by SST Records. The Starry Night, Portland, OR. August 23, 1985. 320 kpbs (Direct .flac conversion; e-mail me if you want the lossless version).

Download Black Flag – August 23, 1985 (“Whose Got the 10.5?”), the Starry Night, Portland OR. Pt. 1

Download Black Flag – August 23, 1985 (“Whose Got the 10.5?”), the Starry Night, Portland OR. Pt. 2

Detroit: The end. Detroit is a great place for endings. The irony, of course, is that Detroit was built on beginnings: the post-war blacks that trudged north, the eastern European and Mediterranean immigrants that came over on crowded, wooden boats, those who believed in the power of their hands and the fiber of their worth. Set against the crumbling gray of globalization, today’s brick and mortar monuments are stark and ghostlike. Kafka called it.  To borrow a line, all our tomorrows end today. I wish it wasn’t this way. I’m glad it ended like this. Detroit, MI. June 27, 1986. 128 kpbs.

Download Black Flag – June 27, 1986 (“The Last Show”), Detroit, MI



Ten Boy Summer – Demo
January 21, 2009, 1:09 am
Filed under: Music

ten-boy-summer-post

Download Ten Boy Summer – Demo

What I know is greatly outnumbered by what I don’t. But here’s what I know: Ten Boy Summer was an emo band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin that was active between 1993 and 1994. The band recorded a seven song demo in December of 1993. One of those songs, the exhaustively named “The History of Blank Pages and the Conscious Decision to Discontinue the Tradition our Gender is Plagued With,” appeared on Inchworm Records’ “Food Not Bombs” compilation. Ten Boy Summer had two primary lineups with both renderings featuring Davey von Bohlen of Cap’n Jazz/The Promise Ring fame.  The band went on one cross-country tour before chaos turned to static.



Fiestas Aren’t My Strong Suit
January 20, 2009, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags:

hope

The bluff we sit upon is towering with potency: across the water and through the trees, we see glimpses of an only partially realized salvation. I want more because there is more. Somewhere between autobiography and geologic process, Malcom Lowry wrote that “equilibrium is all, precarious – balancing, teetering over the awful unbridgeable void, the all but untraceable path of God’s lightning back to God.” But equilibrium is nothing. Balance is meaningless and Lowry’s God was either drunkard or a fraud or both. There is only tomorrow.

*****

I have had three dreams in my life that I have remembered. In all of them, I have woken up scared, relived by my own deliverance from the salt plain. I have tried, unsuccessfully so, to encrypt the world I traverse when I sleep. I have relinquished that thought, however. Warm showers and the metallic taste of fast food coffee always, always, always remind me that there is the here and the now and that the means to my end is only the end.

*****

The second time, reconstruction of post war Germany mirrored our own, save one thing: where we had hope, they had abandonment. Carpet bags and suitcases are not the same thing. The impossible reality of hoping for a better future means that your immediate being – the individualized being, the pedestrian being, the malformed being – is only slightly attached to the immediacy of the past. Transience almost always reinvigorates. But maybe, we have overlooked geography. America is an enormous place; Germany is not. The north, the west, the great beyond. Hope. The new world, the line of demarcation, the old world. The simple comfort offered by the dusty traditions of an imagined heritage. The way things used to be is the way things should be.

*****

The powers that be have constructed a digital spectrum that is satiated only by the competition for innovation. Self efficacy is a debate, perhaps the only debate that really matters. The world changes, the world re-arranges itself under the shadow of minutia. The world, old man, is a world that you no longer recognize. It is my world and I am I am I am (!) young and I am strong and I will destroy the old way because I can.

*****

Camus’s Plague was painted against the salty blue backdrop of the Mediterranean sea. In it, the morning would give way to the heat of day and everything, literally everything, was blanketed with unimaginable sadness. Father, mother. Child. Colonial architecture befitted by funerals stacked upon funerals until funerals ceased to become reasonable. In the haunting desperation of an unhindered and invisible enemy, though, smugglers found happiness. To wit: human suffering is overstated. We can always separate ourselves from it and hope upon hope upon hope that there is more time. That’s all we need, really. More time. Repentance, in the foggy distance, isn’t a terrible thing.

*****

Magic Johnson wore his brilliant talent like a fur coat. I can remember a story I once read about him: in it, his devotion to the game of basketball was so great that he would practice incessantly. Magic Johnson grew up in Lansing, Michigan; a place that I, too, have had the unfortunate experience of knowing intimately. In Magic Johnson’s story (which, at first, seems to be a small story when it is, in reality, a much bigger story) he is poor and young and has a dream that he can taste. He plays basketball, by himself, on a morning so cold that his basketball shatters against a frozen tundra of asphalt.

*****

San Diego California is a warm place, a dry place. At night, with irregularity, you can smell a distinct sweetness in the air, a smell that rises from the dirt into the darkness. This city has the most charming topography of any place I have ever been. The Pacific Ocean moves me in vivid ways. Its subtle proximity, sometimes, is enough.

*****

My brother had a friend who I didn’t know very well. His name was Mark and, once, I swam in his pool. In high school, somewhere between the beginning and the end, Mark killed himself. For some reason, I always had a mental image that he did so in his pool – that he drowned himself and that the paramedics found him floating facedown and unencumbered by either physics or spirituality. If I had a pool and the inclination to kill myself, that’s how I would do it. But Mark didn’t see things that way. He killed himself with a gun and his mother found him slumped in his room. What a horrible thing.

*****

The poor are the great voyagers. There are always new businesses, new jobs, new places to live, new expectations evolving into old familiar failures.” But, give me your tired, your poor.



What Now, Little Man?
January 19, 2009, 5:59 am
Filed under: Writing

what-now
He’s confused and small and lost in the hazed bustle of the supermarket. I watch him for a moment before walking over. He sees my badge and he puts his hands in his pockets. I say to him, little man, where’s your mom. He shrugs. I ask him when he saw her last. He shrugs again and looks at his feet. And I say, louder, son we need to find your mom. But he’s transfixed on the endless and glossy municipality of the tile floor. I don’t exist. I stare at him and I wonder what he’s thinking.

I’m a father so I know some things about being very small in an impossibly large world. I take him by the arm, gently. The boy looks up. His eyes are dark and brown and his clothes are dappled with stains. I say to him, lets you and I go get some ice cream and see if we can figure out where your mom is.

We walk to the counter. He stands on his tip toes and surveys his choices; we both end up with two scoops of chocolate in a waffle cone. We find a seat near the store entrance and we sit down. It’s a sticky summer day that’s almost done. The electric doors push the humidity in and out of the store with mechanical rigor. The store is breathing.

We finish our ice cream and we sit on the bench, next to each other. The kid doesn’t want to talk and I’m not sure what to do. He seems like he’s lost inside his head, he seems like he’s alone and incontrovertibly sad. I say to him, come on my man, why don’t you and I go for a walk and see if we can spot your mom? He shakes his head yes, and we’re off. We poke around the sporting goods section and I pluck a rubber ball from its bin and toss it to him. He bounces it twice and throws it back. We cruise through cosmetics. We wander into the electronics section and play the video games for a bit. We take a walk through the produce section. I take him down the frozen foods aisle and he shivers and pulls his arms close to his body.

Once we’ve traversed the entire store, I say to him, son, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to find your mom and we’ve got to get you home. I ask him his name. He says it’s Jeff. I tell him that’s a pretty good name and I tell him that mine is Edward but that most people call me Ted. I make a joke about the meat-on-the-bone nature of names like Jeff and Ted, about how the world is full of nancy boys with fancy names and pretty haircuts. I look at him and I say, the world ain’t tough, anymore. Not like it used to be. The kid doesn’t get it and we walk over to the customer service desk in silence.

At the desk, I see a clerk I know. Carlos. He’s a Hispanic guy with a thin mustache. Carlos is a bottom feeder, the kind of guy that talks in circles of ethereal vulgarity. He’s got a family and they live out on the east side somewhere. Once, in the employee smoking lounge, I heard him call his wife a cunt over the phone. After he hung up, he said, hey man, these women they want to kill you, they rip your dick from your loins and wear it around their neck like a fucking coin purse or something. I can’t say I totally disagree with his point.

Carlos looks at me and then he looks at the kid and he says, hey Ted, how you doing my man. And I say, I’m doing alright Carlos. This is Jeff, we’re looking for his mom but we haven’t had any luck so far. We thought that we could say something over the PA; maybe she’s shopping or something. Carlos shakes his head and says, sure buddy, whatever you want. He points to the phone behind the desk. I dial star and then an eight and a nine.

We have a lost child at the customer service desk. Will Jeff’s mom please report to the customer service desk? Jeff’s mom to the customer service desk, please.

My voice rings out tepid and unsure. I’m uncomfortable with myself, sometimes. I don’t like the way I sound or how I look in pictures. In my memories, I am always awkward and out of place.

We wait and then we wait a couple minutes more. I’m anxious, I’m waiting for something to make the wait worthwhile. My stomach ties and unties itself. I know the end to this because I have seen the end to this before. Jeff’s mom never comes. Maybe she doesn’t exist. Maybe she never existed and maybe Jeff doesn’t exist, either. Maybe he’s already turned into a ghost. It’s a sad world we live in.

At the end of my shift, I make a decision that hurts me very much. Forty five minutes later, they arrive in an unmarked sedan. I relinquish the child into the bureaucracy and I think, this is just the beginning little man. At every turn and at every twist, they’re going to ask you the same thing: what now, little man?

They put Jeff in the back seat. I talk to the social services worker quietly. He’s young and he shakes his head. He says, you did the right thing. He repeats it: you did the right thing. I don’t have time for right and wrong. I’ve been here before. Morality is a small and meaningless sliver of abridged sympathy, a glint of sunlight on a rainy day. I don’t have time for that. I shake his hand and he climbs in the driver’s seat. The sedan accelerates out of the parking lot, navigating the perpendicular rows of parked cars and yellow lines. The night wraps itself around the vehicle. After it’s gone, I stand around for a while. There’s a bit of fog in the air and it’s mostly quiet out. I think about Jeff and the lonely miles that stretch out before him.

Good luck, little man.