Tuesday, September 17, 2002

letter to a friend, accompanying music

Okay, brother, we're takin' it back to the old school. No more cds, dammit, cos I can't burn 'em anymore anyway. I needed a return to the cassette, the mix tape, the dub and its pure and perfect theatrical form, two acts with intermission. Got a call from you tonight; you sounded down in the dumps. This makes me want to bring you flowers and kiss your forehead and stuff. So here's some stuff.

There's something I forgot to tell you on the phone, getting all caught up in the cockroach pornography on display before my cringing eyes out back, and in my horror, it just came spilling out of me like some kind of sick sports commentary. I'm awfully sorry. This tale would have made for much better conversation.

There was an electrical fire a week ago yesterday in the walls of my parents' house. Although my mother was in the house at the time, she wasn't hurt, and in fact only a small part of the house was damaged. However, a significant enough portion of the floor above this origin-point basement wall was charcoaled so to necessitate ripping out and replacing it entirely. Dad lost about ten thousand dollars worth of drums, most of which he says he won't replace. Every fabric item or article of clothing, every piece of upholstered furniture, most everything in the house was saturated by the smoke that choked its rooms; this required my parents to get rid of many things with which they would never have otherwise parted. The cost of cleaning would have been too exorbitant to save it all. In addition to this emotional stress, they're also homeless until about Christmas. Lousy luck, man. I'm only thankful it didn't happen in the middle of the night.

In order to put the fire out, the firefighters had to rip the wall down with axes and then, of course, make with the hoses and the spraying and so forth. I think you remember their house, the basement in particular, and you may even remember the wall that burned, because it's the one directly adjacent to the wall against which we unloaded box after box after big-ass box of your entire comics collection. Thousands of them, and certainly thousands of dollars' worth, all stacked and dry and exposed and deliciously combustible. Which somehow managed, in the midst of this infernal fracas of demolition, to avoid attracting so much as an errant drop of water.

Monday, September 16, 2002

the devil's lantern

Remember when violence on television was a big deal? How, in the Eighties, parents all over the country began to panic about all the harmful outside influences to which their children were being exposed, over which they felt they had no control? How new moralist organizations sprang up like mushrooms, petitions were passed from door to suburban door, how chests were puffed, stands were taken, lines were drawn? Boy, was that ever a waste of effort.

Thinking about TV, of what was and what has become. (4:30 am, wide awake; what else is there to do?) When I was growing up, my parents were fairly strict about what we (my, brother, my sister, and I) watched on television. In our earlier years, I remember only a few nighttime shows – Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons – which I always thought were chosen on the basis of their "higher ideals" and lack of violent content. But in retrospect, someone was always getting trapped in a burning barn or kicked in the head by a mule or befallen of some such terrible misfortune in both of these examples, so then I guessed it must've been more about their religious overtones than anything else.

Later the list of approved material grew considerably, including the likes of Happy Days, The Muppet Show, Laverne & Shirley, and M*A*S*H*, but I know from watching reruns as a young adult that we kids can't have been old enough to comprehend much of the humor in these offerings. This is why I now believe my parents so loosened their restrictions on our viewing. How could we be influenced by subject matter we didn't understand?

Violence stayed an issue, however, most notably with regard to The A-Team. I remember the three of us unabashedly begging Mom and Dad to let us watch it, a request which was always met with round rejection. We've joked about it many times since, particularly my father and I; syndication made the show one of his guilty pleasures, and we talk about how no one ever dies on The A-Team, how a car never crashes without a lingering shot of its occupants crawling unharmed from the wreckage, how thousands of bullets are sprayed about yet never seem to strike anything but oil drums, gas cans, and dirt. This kind of sterile violence really does seem comical in light of the tremendously graphic programming that the networks currently broadcast. I wonder, though, if even the tame gunplay wasn't a gateway drug of sorts, paving the way for our latter-day excesses, all the way back to Dragnet.

I finally all but gave up on television about three years ago, refusing to pay for cable every month just to watch The Simpsons and nature shows. My last bastion was The X-Files (my own guilty pleasure), and once that too started to suck so definitively, I lost hope. Aside from a brief dalliance in California with The West Wing (which is admittedly superb), I've been tube-free ever since. But a couple of years before I surrendered the remote, I decided to introduce my parents to The X-Files, unable to contain my enthusiasm for it despite what I expected to be swift disapproval. They surprised me by not only liking but loving the show and, in the end, becoming bigger fans than I, watching faithfully even after it fell to shite in the later seasons. My mother's favorite episode is the one with the deformed inbred family living in rural Pennsylvania, the armless legless mother on a rolling dolly under the bed, the sons chewing up her food for her like birds, murder with axes and clubs -- yes, my own sweet mother, who was once made uncomfortable by the benign tough-guy banter of Mr. T.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

my hiding place

For someone with so much going on, it's remarkable how little I have to say. Two weeks until the wedding, making last-minute arrangements regarding the service, boring unromantic details. Looking for work (still), looking into school (again), more boring details. The baby does whirly cartwheels when I spoon up behind Mommy and put my hands around her tummy, which is already beginning to harden. I am thrilled about finally calling her my wife, after so long thinking of her that way. This happy is conveniently planet-sized, significant enough to somewhat gravitationally offset my perpetual unemployment woes, the worry that burns fresh ulcers behind my shirt even as I type this.

I think I need to take up daily meditation again. Restock the burners with incense and try to hum away some of the stress. Find my hiding place. I know I'm in here somewhere, and I could really go for a pizza.

Monday, September 9, 2002

the jar as economic indicator

Several years prior to his death, Frank Sinatra began marketing his own line of Italian food products. He offered traditional red sauces, Marsala and Scampi cooking sauces, pesto and Alfredo, all-natural and all sold beneath the red-blazoned 'Frank Sinatra' signature. I know this not because I held a conspicuous finger to the pulsepoint of celebrities' consumer marketing schemes during the late '90s, and neither due to any particular dedication I felt to the velvet-throated crooner, but rather that, one dull afternoon, I went to the grocery store, found them on the shelves, and bought a jar, thinking it was funny.

I don't remember if the sauce was any good. You know, I don't even remember eating it. I kept the jar, however. Having long since been rinsed free of any pesky pesto particles, the receptacle now serves as a reservoir for my loose pocket change. This practice of keeping a change jar is a symptom I attribute to my (slowly) growing maturity in combination with persistent lean times, my past inactivity well caught up with me. When I decided at nineteen to drop out of college and go to work, I hadn't properly considered the notion that perhaps I'd like to be able to support a family one day. (Nowadays these kinds of oversights are biting me in the ass like flying mousetraps, and with daunting frequency. Nowadays 'one day' seems much closer than some ambiguous conception of the distant future. In fact, I've been looking into this, and I am becoming increasingly convinced 'one day' has come and gone, and that this is already post-apocalypse without my even having known it happened, months ago, in a borrowed tent on top of a mountain in the middle of a howling windstorm, while I slept.) The jar as economic indicator is a result of being essentially broke ever since. It exists so that, in a pinch, there's a bit extra on hand for takeout food or gas in the car. The thicker the times, the more change collects unraided in the jar.

All this to say that, when last plundered, the jar held almost $35. And, at the moment, it's still empty.

Friday, August 30, 2002

sort of a poll

I had a doctor's appointment today. The only downside I've experienced to dating a health care professional is that they seem to think every physiological anomaly warrants a visit to the doctor. I myself try never to pass across the threshold of a doctor's office unless I feel my life is in jeopardy. There's no phobia; I just think people go to the doctor when it isn't really necessary, and that overmedication sabotages many of the body's natural methods of building resistance, strengthening your system against its enemies. But whatever.

My point is I have this mole on the back of my head. Baby found it and has since been hounding me to 'have it seen,' and so today the mole was looked upon. Dr. Lackson, tall and pretty, parted my hair in the back and then imparted her professional wisdom, which was that I should see someone else. She meant be seen by someone else. The Referral: that'll be X dollars to tell you nothing but go to Dr. Specialist, who you may then pay Y dollars for the trouble of looking. What a drag.

Anyway, when I was first sent into the examination room, I waited there for ten or fifteen minutes before the doctor arrived. The room was very sterile and specified. There were no magazines to read, nothing save the voluminous Physicians' Desk Reference, atop which sat this past month's PDR update, a little Reader's Digest-sized magazine supplement the publisher mails out to registered PDR owners that gives new drugs' listings as well as relative concerns: forthcoming developments, test results, and the like. For lack of anything else, I began to read this supplement while I waited. Thus I learned of a stunning breakthrough in the field of contraception about which I think you all should know.

But first, a few words on contraception. It's easy to forget what we're talking about is an attempt to prevent nature from taking its course. As is always the case where Mother Nature is involved, despite any lab-generated odds, she does what she wants. I am living proof, soon-to-be father of an adept contraception assassin. Baby never even missed a placebo, and yet here still is a tiny flickering heartbeat on the monitor, half the size of the fingernail on my pinkie. Because you can't front on Mother Nature. She don't play.

Then I read this. A pharmaceutical company called Barr Laboratories has developed an oral contraceptive for women which is intended to reduce the number of yearly menstrual periods from 13 to 4. That's right-- four periods a year, ladies. I can hear some of you cheering from here. Named 'Seasonale,' the pills would be on a 91-day cycle, with 84 hormone tablets and 7 blanks, same old system on extended reach.

Granted, being male, I have no business bearing an opinion one way or the other, but the idea admittedly makes me uncomfortable. I mean, I know it sucks, but having a period seems a fairly important part of being a woman to me, too important a part to tamper with so radically. What might be the psychological implications? They've guessed, but they're only guesses.

I know that the Norplant in effect already does this-- in fact, Baby has a friend who went for four years without a period on the stuff-- but because it is subcutaneous, many patients cannot use it, and I'd wager many more are put off by the mere idea of scalpeling their skins for birth control when so many other simpler options are available. If approved (and it will be), the Seasonale system would be much more popularized, I think, and likewise much more widely used. Which is what concerns me. But I don't know, maybe I'm way off base altogether.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

scheduling is everything

While sitting at a friend's house watching the news a couple nights ago, I learn that there is more flooding in China, this time up over the banks of Dong Ting Lake. I think of the recent flooding in Central Europe, the forest fires raging in Oregon and Washington, the drought which forces water conservancy restrictions where I am here in Georgia as well as so much of the rest of the southern United States, and am forced to wonder why there can't be some way to coordinate our respective disasters so as to cancel one another out. Think how such efforts of international cooperation would unite us.

We need you, scientists! Rise up, band together, and create that brilliant new transportational technology, already. Elevate your ambitions; stop looking at it like Star Trek where we're beaming our groceries home from the store and crap, and start thinking about your planet. We could be putting out Oregon with Dong Ting Lake.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

fun with a dollar

My roommate bought a package of plastic flourescent-colored alphabet magnets at the Dollar Store when we first moved in. Over the past months, I've self-imposed the challenge of using this single set of twenty-six letters, one each, to arrange as many anagram-style combinations as possible. The first of these (GNATZ BRICKQ FOXY JV MUD WHELPS) is the only one that truly utilized each letter; in later attempts, I found it provided a more entertaining versatility if I manipulated certain letters to be used as others. For example, the letter Q turned upside down made a passable second O; the V upside-down offered another A; the J a lower-case R; etc. It was (is) technically cheating, I suppose, much like the sometimes-creative spelling (think vanity plates), but the game has proven more fun for me that way.

Here is a sampling of these decoratives, offered as a lighter alternative to the heavy introspective crap that already seems to be dominating this new web foray of mine. You may note that some examples have only twenty-five letters, a result of the niece we regularly babysit who likes to put letters in her pockets and then hide them around the house like Easter eggs. Currently I am using the Z turned on its side in place of the letter N, which, after much dragging of the yardstick beneath the larger kitchen appliances, seems to be gone for good.























Friday, August 23, 2002

never mind about that whole job thing

I hate being fired. Not so much because now I have to find a new job, although I do. Not that it's a blow to the ego, which it is, or that my first long diary entry was mooning all about this now-evaporated embarrassment. Not that my Baby isn't pregnant and our roommate moving out (thereby increasing our rent by one-third) and the panic rising like hot bile in the back of my throat, though they are all perfectly legitimate springboards to rancor, and all perfectly true. But none of them is the reason.

The reason I hate being fired is because you suddenly aren't you any more. So much a part of your identity gets wrapped up in what you do; it's unavoidable. Particularly with an intensely physical 50- to 60-hour workweek, as was my case. The mind and body must resynch with new schedules, heightened requirements, and the effects of these changes spread out into many seemingly unrelated aspects of our personalities. Perhaps a different kind of person than I am, someone more economically viable or less generally insecure, could withdraw from these incidental stimuli and remain untouched; sadly, I pay far too much attention to the world around me to avoid its influence.

And I hate to bring up the money, which I suppose is another admission of weakness, but once it starts coming in steady, it's hard not to begin to count on that extra flow and the luxuries it provides. Now I'm worried about whether or not my family and I can make rent, much less pay for this speedy Internet connection. Having convenience store visions already wherein I'm pulling the graveyard shift as a second job so the baby has formula once the WIC runs out and then some crackhead comes in and tries to rob the place with a double-bladed kayak paddle, and oh I can scarcely abide the notion of another work environment which requires I spend twenty minutes at the end of every day engaged in a futile attempt to wash the smell of money from my hands.

Maybe I'm looking at the whole situation, at work in general, the wrong way. Maybe these repeated, faultless failures are the universe trying to teach me a lesson. Alan Watts says, "When we say that our occupation should also be our vocation, we are speaking of a conception of life within which work and play should be identical." Why can't it be so simple? Why must my Western side bend my Eastern side so readily to his frivolous will, the hopelessly American part of me keep feeding the Zen Master beer and honey-roasted peanuts and taking him bowling? Then again, Dr. Watts also says, "Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth."

If there is a fulcrum to be found, a point of balance between non-action and inactivity, I'm sure I'll manage to find it somehow. If nothing else, it's so dark in here that I'm bound to trip over it eventually.

Monday, August 19, 2002

it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it

I love this time of year. When it's still summer outside, but a softened version of itself, with some of the edge taken off by falling temperatures and the regular breeze. I work outdoors, so I see it all firsthand. Already the leaves are changing, the sassafras and tulip poplar going yellow in dalmatian spots, the dogwood and blackgum reddening, and already the smell of the fallen on the ground, indescribably rich and wonderful. The change in my personality from the constant exposure is noticeable, like a man returned from a stay in a monastery. I believe my sweetheart's wee boarder may also be contributing to this effect; the contemplation of fatherhood is humbling, quieting. Seven more months 'til contact. Only seven months.

Man, things happen so fast. It was just the first of May, the beginning of this summer, that my sweetheart and I packed our belongings into boxes and drove them from Charleston, South Carolina to new digs here in Athens, Georgia. Athens is the aforementioned Lady Fair's birthplace, and myself having no one place I have ever truly considered home, I couldn't begin to question its draw on her. And seeing her here, I can understand why. She knows her way around, her family is nearby, she has patented suggestions for where to eat or what to do, all these kinds of familiarities that create a demeanor somewhat akin to Enlightenment, I think-- a similar ease, a deepened thoughtlessness of being. Perhaps I'm overstating the situation, but I know my subject matter. I thrive on her happiness like a true symbiote, and I've never seen her happier than she's been here. This, as they say, is all I need to know.

Another aspect of our reasoning with regard to migration was Charleston's unsuitable job market. I really had no evidence things were any better in Athens, but... follow this skewed logic for a moment: Athens is a college town, home to the formidable University of Georgia (please do not interpret any sports-related sentiment from my use of the word 'formidable'). Likewise, any city with such a large migrant population must have an effectual reflux of employment opportunity at the onset of seasonal displacement, yes? Meaning when the kids go home for the summer, they leave holes behind. Gaps in schedules to be filled. By dedicated joes like me. What I unfortunately failed to take into account was that when the kids go home, they take the business with them; what they leave behind is a vacuum.

However, I got lucky. Through my Baby's mama, I contacted a soil scientist about what I initially thought would be lab work, testing samples or watching clay swell or something in whitewashed, flourescent-lit cinderblock lab coat rooms with no windows and chintzy music piped in through speakers on the walls. Instead, what I did was dig holes. Hike around, through the woods, digging holes. We used a slender metal hand auger, like a big drill bit with a ratchet handle at the top of the stem. Teams usually consist of two, with one soil scientist (being a chap what got dirt-degreed) to classify the soil as it comes up and then map the varying landscapes of horizon and surface topography, and then there's the other guy. The hole-digger. The scientists dig, too. And much better than you, of course. You're kind of like a pack mule, along for company and a bit of extra muscle. I don't mean to say that you're treated that way; in fact, I quite enjoyed its simplicity, its physicality, its vividity. It is certainly unlike any other position I've held previously. Sure, I stay covered in insect bites and all manner of parasites. Down here in the South we have these microscopic mites called chiggers (their proper name, not a nickname, honestly) that attach themselves like ticks to the ankles and shins and feet and then eat their fill of your tender manflesh, as well as infect and inflame the surrounding area with enzymes from their evil arachnid saliva. One of several new banes of my existence.

The real challenge, however, has not been parrying nervous breakdown as I teem with vermin. A month or so ago, I stopped digging holes and started flagging. Now I go out to new tracts and, using what I've learned about the information the mappers need to gather, pertinently mark an area up for evaluation. I wear a yellow backpack with a satellite antenna sticking out of it, up about a foot over my head (an equally yellow rod with a fat white bulb at the top that greatly enjoys snagging in vines and branches and generally being a monkey back there) and is connected to a handheld computer unit hanging in a pouch from the side of the pack. I look like a commando all suited up (provided you can imagine a yellow commando), its straps festooned with pouches, cell phones, a walkie-talkie, my canteen, bandoliers of pens... Navigating with a map and compass, I hike through a wide variety of environs and tie flags of pink ribbon wherever I determine a hole should be dug.

For someone who knows how to read a topographic map, use a compass, gauge slope and distance, visually identify and interpret geographic features on a landscape, and is in generally good physical condition, this job is easy. For someone who has barely even considered such concepts before, much less attempted not only to learn and then successfully perform all these tasks, but also in unison as a working whole, it is a somewhat more stressful enterprise. That first week out on my own was a long and frustrating sentence on a chainless chain gang of one. It's nice to be out in the middle of nowhere so you can scream and curse at the top of your lungs and have it echo back at you as if the world understands.

Now I've mostly perfected my style (so I think), although there are still times when the satellite reception is lousy (reception is a neccesary aspect of inputting each and every point, and sadly dependent upon many constantly fluctuating factors, including the satellite's position in space, the cloud cover, the heat, the haze, the index of the leaf canopy, and my position topographically, among others) and I'm standing in a spiderweb the size of a trampoline for forty-five minutes, coursing with sweat, waiting for the sky to smile, and I wonder if the wage is worth the wringer. But of course it is. Plus I'm painting a pessimistic picture, anyway. It's wonderful to spend so much time outdoors, a pleasure that will double with the onset of Autumn. I'm in the best physical shape of my life. I've learned useful new skills. I think I may even be developing a tolerance to venom. Oh, and my farmer's tan looks like mahogany.

The punchline is that all this time and effort and money is only functioning to determine whether land is suitable to hold a conventional septic tank. An entire graduate field of study is dedicated to soil classification and wetland delineation, decades of ecological research and development, just so we've got a reliable place to dump our excrement.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

sweet inactivity

And here we are again. I'm an ex-blogger returned to the fold after many months stranded in a rocky place with no phone jacks, and I would riddle these pages with words were it not 1 AM and my eyelids wearing garters. Out of town for work tonight, but back on Thursday to regal you all with tawdry tales of my strange, sweaty job, my foxy pregnant girlfriend, my ingenious "bacon cheeseburger" stock portfolio, and my seedy underbelly (these in particular are sesame seeds, but it varies depending on where I've been.)