Thursday, July 19, 2007

How to Get Around Being on Time

We've all been late to work, and we've all employed the same old tired excuses, usually involving traffic. The problem is that people eventually stop believing us. They start asking increasingly difficult questions such as, “Traffic?”

Sounds like an easy question, but it's a trap -- because just underneath this remark rage on the edge of breakout:

You had traffic, I had traffic, we all had traffic, that's the nature of traffic, it's a group thing; traffic doesn't happen to one person, it takes piles of people, mounds of people of all kinds going everywhere at once and all of them going to work, drinking coffee, talking on the phone, reading the paper, putting on their makeup, clipping their toenails – and all of this while traveling between 3 and 11 miles per hour – effectively crawling like larvae to a hated place where our sense of self worth is daily diminished thanks to Total Quality Management which made consensus a euphemism for mass catatonia – but you, you’re different. You had traffic.

All of the above can be conveyed without words, and usually is. Therefore it's wise to respond preemptively next time. Master the following:
  1. Keep your mouth shut. Sometimes they won't even notice you're late.
  2. Don't explain. They don't to hear about it.
  3. Never apologize. Force them to assume the best. Or nothing.
  4. As you pass your boss: smile, nod, and wink. Some add a little kissing sound.
  5. Use visual aids. If you rub your hands on your tires, a simple wave tells the whole story.
Some bosses may stop you, some may suggest you leave a little earlier. Well, excuse us, but we don't need this first thing in the morning. Reply this way: “Leave a little earlier? Hey, thanks! That'll get me home in time for Scrubs." Step away winking.

The wink is a good all-purpose gesture to learn. Discovered online by clever chatters, the wink first emerged as a semi-colon and a right-parentheses -- ; ). Done right, a wink can instantly undo hours of misbehavior.

Or end your career.

Hey lookit. We all know what's going to happen if we don't change our ways. People won't believe anything we say anymore. That's when lying becomes impossible, and so does telling the truth, because, either way, nobody believes you -- and pretty soon life itself becomes impossible. It's sad, but truth telling is a learned skill which the chronically late missed, due to traffic.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Suicide Prediction

Look for anger, not sadness.

We had another train suicide recently in DeKalb, Illinois. A 21 year old man stepped in front of a Union Pacific just before sunrise on Good Friday.

I'd heard quite a bit about this fellow in the days before it happened. My son worked with him, and I know most of his co-workers, so I heard quite a bit. How hostile the guy was. How he went to party, got drunk, and told everybody he wanted to walk into work with a shotgun and kill all the employees and customers and himself. How he told the boss that if he didn't get more hours he'd have to quit, and she took that as his resignation, and he left work and killed himself later that night.

Train suicides are common in this town, though it's been almost two years since our last, and I wrote about it then too. Back then we were the train suicide capital of the world, it seemed. Our tracks were strewn with the body parts of jilted brides and failed students and drunks who couldn't sober up. Then it stopped. Now it's started again, and all night long the trains crawl through town blasting their horns like Gabriel calling souls. And so the whole town thinks of this young man often.

But we don't talk about it and we don't remember the guy's name. When he was alive, we didn't like him. He was a cocky little prick, worked in a convenience store, surly, abusive, mean. Just another pissed off asshole. So we don't miss him much, we don't need his kind. Life's hard enough without complainers. Maybe that's what trains are for. And convenience stores, maybe they're like a lint filter that catches these pricks and holds them until their train comes.

Harsh? Maybe. But these are the judgments of the infallible. His customers didn't like him and they're never wrong. Nobody liked him, and they piled on. It's fun. As long as you're playing with the lives of people who don't matter, you can get away with anything. I know this because I had this guy's job once, tapped the same register and saw the same faces, and they didn't like me either.

My cop friends tell me that when a train hits a person at 80 mph you can hear the pop over the engine. The head goes straight up, the limbs go left and right, the torso is dragged. Trains hit with such tremendous force that even your name is shattered, your entire life story is compacted into a single sentence. It begins at the end forever.

Spotting Train Takers. No one commits suicide without the encouragement of depression. It's always there before the terminal event. Depression is actually more powerful than a train. It clings to the corpse, gets all over the emergency crew, the cops, the engineer especially, and when the horns moan at night it gets all over us too. Depression is a serious, common, highly infectious terminal illness. Suicide is a violent crime, an act of passion, anger, madness maybe, but maybe not, because despair is something different from mere crazy, and far more real.

We think know how to spot a taker, but we don't. The drug companies have trained us poorly, but very thoroughly, so that we now think of depression as a sad but cuddly malingering bad mood for which there's no excuse any longer thanks to pharmadope. That's not depression; it's something else entirely. It's a distraction while the real killer gets away.

Forget sadness. It's too hard to see, too easy to hide. The killer is angry, and anger's hard to hide. Anger wants out.

Think about it. Killers don't mope. They explode into action. They don't 'contemplate.' That's for Attempters, a separate category. Trainsteppers don't leave notes let alone doubts.

So what am I saying? Am I saying we could have saved this kid if we'd been a little nicer?

Of course.

Yes I am. That's my message. We could have saved this kid if we'd been nicer. If we'd seen through him. But we couldn't. Because nobody helps the pissed. We're not supposed to. We are pissed by the pissed, and we piss on them at every chance, and when they're dead, we piss on their graves. Pissed off people just piss us off. And that's why they almost never get help. Even their doctors hate them.

Should we sneak up behind these people with nets? Shoot them with tranquilizer guns? Lock them up?

It would mean civil war.

The problem isn't just here in my hometown. It's all around the world. What society anywhere in the world today can't be described as "angry?" Maybe it's a pandemic. All we know is the pills aren't working. And probably never did. The moment we started slinging pills we stopped talking. What's been lost is talk. You can't take a pill as a replacement for love, compassion and human contact. But we think we can. And our thinking is what give our pills their power.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kicking the depression habit

Awaken and recoil. You're back for more we see. Today your challenge is to crawl the same obstacle course, only today we're going to strap onto your back all your many defeats of yesterday--and this time you're going to get it right. Sure, it gets harder the weaker you get, but that's your problem. Try prayer.

Depression is a bastard that knows as well as you do you're no goddam good, and the longer it talks, the higher the evidence mounts. Adam knew he was made out of mud, and as a result his descendants have all feared the dust. We've all heard the voice of depression. Some hear it louder.

Until recently, the most effective cure was talk. Then it was pills and talk. Now it's pills and walk--look, ma, no hands! In some respects we're better off. Listening to a medical expert discuss depression is like watching a mime wash a window. Whatever point they're making is clearly invisible. So to whom can the newly cured depressed person turn when expectations don't match events and all hope is lost again? Turn to me, brothers and sisters, and I will give you advice.

  1. Hum. It drowns out the voice of depression, makes you think you're happier than you are, and immediately calms you down. Humming forces you to breathe rightly-- inhaling fully, exhaling slowly and completely--foolingyou into good breath control, which slows your heart, returns your color, lowers your shoulders, unclenches your fingers. Humming is the quickest way to reduce anxiety without instruction, practice or fees. Hum along to whatever's on--without judgement--but hum to yourself, stay in your range, and avoid too many notes.
  2. Smile. Paste a fake one. This isn't easy. It won't feel natural. It isn't. It's fake. Bright sunlight helps because it forces you to squint, which draws the mouth upward. Practice in the mirror but don't be disappointed by the grimace. It's not for the public yet. It's not meant for that. Do it because it works somehow. Try taking a walk around the block, smiling the whole way. It's a cheap buzz. Smiling releases happy juice in the brain.
  3. Say "I'm good!" Whenever somebody asks you how you are, lie through your teeth. Don't worry about inflection at first: it'll come. You're good. Got it? You're good, you're great, you're wonderful. You are not "fine," you are not "here," you are good and getting better all the time, and that's how it is. If they want to know why, don't tell them. Give them a fake one and keep your mouth shut.
  4. Take pills. The pills work. Humming, smiling, saying you're good, taking pills--all of it works, and you are indeed getting better every day! Yes, you believe it. You've swallowed it whole. Though you have no health insurance and can't afford antidepressants at $60 a day, you chose a safer, more effective option: once a month your spouse or trusted loved one refills your prescription bottle with red Skittles. You take them by mouth at the prescribed dose, and, over time, maybe days or weeks, you will begin to feel better and better, or your money back.
Good luck. You're on your own!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Pauper's Christmas

I've been rich and I've been poor, and I prefer poverty because it's cheaper and the effect is about the same.

A new car and an old car both get you there. The warmth of a coat is not affected by newness. Love, in poverty, is easier to detect: lacking tokens, it's either there or it's not; while love, in wealth, is easily buried in baubles, bribes, toys, taxes, hugs, kisses and the promise of more if you're good.

Christmas can be a difficult time for both the rich and the poor, but there's no doubt the rich bear the worst of it, and it all has to do with list length. The very rich have exceedingly long lists on pocket gizmos, while the poor have a short list they can keep in their noodle. The rich have to gift everybody, keep inventory, follow through; the poor just kind of fall together, fill their faces, fall asleep in the second half.

The rich have to attend fabulous parties and drink too much and pay the price, while the poor, the barmaids and bartenders, drivers and doormen, the babysitters, will be fondled, overtipped, thrown up on or made to hear slurpy confessions. The poor get entertainment, the rich, regret.

I recommend wealth to anyone who hasn't tried it, and poverty for the same reason. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Slaughter for the Gods

We live in an unjust world of unequal enemies, where friends, family and co-workers easily betray one other to spare themselves the fate of the one they hand over. We betray each other because we're afraid. We're afraid because we know damn well that the gods are real, and they must be appeased.

The gods are all around us. Bosses, spouses, parents, children. The gods are cops, judges, government employees, elected officials, lap dancers, bouncers: all gods. The driver of the other car is a god. The lady that slapped you in the face with broccoli because she said you cut in line -- she's a god. The gods are everywhere. You got to look out. Because the gods have power. And naturally they enjoy using it.

We worship those above us because we are not stupid. It is from them that we receive our crumbs. If we complain about the weight of the god that straddles our shoulders, or if we suggest better crumbs, the god may simply choose a less noisy sofa, putting us in the position of having to find a new god to obey and adore and flatter and pet, someone whose pan we're allowed to lick.

It would all be pathetic if the gods didn't have gods. But they do. All the gods have gods of their own. And every mortal has lots of shots at godhood, even if only to torture a younger brother, or, lacking that, ants. This is our true spiritual condition as manifested in our daily lives.

Obedience to the gods is the rope of all human societies. "God," the mascot of churches, has little or nothing to do with it, living as he does in the furthest outreaches of the human heart where "love" is said to live. In God's house we pay lip service and make a small donation and leave understanding we're better than you for reasons you'd understand if you loved God like we do, which puffs us up for the week ahead, blowing the gods for money and mercy.

Mortality always makes mortals feel puny. But no mortal putrifies so poorly as the one that once was a god, for the once gods go slowly, and knowing the game, they may scream out the rules, but they're drowned out by laughter, piss streams and shovels of dirt. Gods go more quietly, with hymns, with tears, then shovels of dirt. God takes them all back; lonely, makes more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Depression is like...

Last week a lady acrobat fell 65 feet to her death during a live performance. She fell on her head. She was supposed to be clenching her teeth on a long scarf, but the scarf ripped. Everybody saw it. Spotlight followed her down. I assume that. The clowns were out before the paramedics, clowning around to calm down the crowd. Mighty surreal. Suddenly it's the rodeo. Hundreds of children going home with the idea that a violent public death is funny.

That's what it's like to be depressed. You're the clown. Your friend Betty is just a mound in the sawdust. You're freaked, but your face is painted on. You fall down, they laugh. Fall down too hard, they sweep you up. We die. The tragedy is in not living first.

Uplifting? Not very. Falling down is easier. Gravity is a great assist. What uplifts us is seeing impossible things done anyway.

Today let us vow to do something impossible. Let's try to get through one day without a single negative thought. Not sure you can do it? Well, that's a negative thought right there. You lose.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Bebop of the Unsick Spirit

The spirits of the sick are often sick as well.

When the spirit is well, the body has a leader. But when the spirit follows the body, worlds fall apart. Under all circumstances, the spirit must lead, or death becomes daily.

The body is not the spirit but a machine, while the spirit is the invisible nothing inside the machine that thinks and therefore is but still can't understand why everybody's laughing at its carburator.

When the body is under seige, so too is the spirit. But unlike the body, made of cells that grow by division, the spirit grows only through synthesized wisdom, and shrinks by applied fear. Fear eats wisdom. Wisdom eats fear. It follows we should feed the wisdom, and starve the fear.

The human spirit exists in a state of continuous training and development, not so much nurtured as bombarded by thoughts and ideas good and bad, yet even the least of these are more powerful than all our measly muscles put together.

Sick people are told to never give up hope, and in the same breath advised not to expect too much. The idea seems to be that it's better to live in a florescent waiting room reading out of date Peoples and keeping bad thoughts at bay and obeying all orders as barked... than it is to keep bowling, laughing, crying, working, going school and acting normal. That it's better to do hard time in a hospital, a place made of doubt and negativity, jailed because your presence is required, than it is to, say, read the paper quietly on the porch.

Hospitals. Doctors. Certified nurse's assistants. Here is formed the perfect storm for worry.

There's no fault for worry; it's human; we're wired for worry; it's a defense to a point, an offense beyond. Worry makes us sick and sicker. Worry puts ideas in our heads, and ideas can kill us or cure us. So we need to look carefully at how we worry.

Visualization--the meditative technique where you imagine yourself going into your body and healing yourself--works. No medical doctor will deny the healing powers of the human brain; they understand that the placebo effect is a measurement of this power. Most doctors have more important things to do than hand out placebos and platitudes--that's an apologist's work.

The very fact that placebos have an effect is a clue that needs follow up.

If you're sick and in the hospital, you're under seige by negativity, because that's the nature of the five-step process of modern medicine: Interrogate. Invade. Chop. Poison. Condemn.

Medical doctors are trained to give outcomes. They will list all the things you'll never do again, they will tell you when you're going to die. They have bad news, Bob, Betty. They're going to interrogate, invade, chop, poison and condemn you. Make an appointment with the nurse.

The process of diagnosis itself is brutal on the human mind. Diagnosis is detective work. They're looking for the crook that broke into your house, that son of a bitch. They turn you inside out. They think out loud and scare you to death. They're used to it. They're trained this way. And now, you too.

You have to fight this thinking. It's wrong thinking. Every tear that falls from your chin must later be matched by an equal amount of spittle from a spit take.

Fight the thinking. Run the opposite direction. You don't have to contradict the doctors. Just stop listening to them so hard. They're blind but not stupid. They're mechanics. They know the car but not much else. They have ideas about themselves, as we all do, and their ideas are just as incorrect as other's, but the consequences are larger.

Yet if we don't have faith in the doctors, no treatment will work. And if we have total faith, they'll kill us with abandon. If we have no faith in them, we'll either join the pit crew ourselves, or give up from the inside out and die from lack of interest.

Today I'm tired of dying in advance. I've made peace with my mortality and see it as another closing of eyes that gives way to sleep, something I experience once a day. What comes after death is not my concern. I'm not afraid of it because I've already been there, as have you, before sperm met egg. I trust that my death, violent or peaceful, sudden or prolonged, will result in the same slippage to sleep I experience nightly. Why would I fear this?

What I fear today is the loss of today. If my day is arrested and held captive by thoughts and appointments, then it's gone, irretrieveably, unless I've got the bebop to balance it out. Bebop, Bob, Betty, it's bebop's the thing. The spirit likes drums, wants a beat, needs it, wants to dance and if it can't, dances anyway, because the spirit can do any damn thing it pleases.

The spirit is not a piece of jerky. It can't be drug along behind you. It is you. That invisible thing that rises out of you when you die. It's a real thing, as we all know, and as we all have no choice but to admit. But this thing is fed with different food. And though the spirit can't itself be seen, the spirit feeds on what it sees. Like a camera, we aim it, but we get lots of help, too much, from others we've let live inside us. What the spirit sees, it feeds, and feeds on. And this is how the body gets gobbled up.

Take control of your camera. Look at your pain. Travel toward it, introduce yourself, get to know it. Let it tell you what it wants. Stop trying to kill it. You'll never understand something you intend to kill.

In your journey to the center of your pain, step with respect, because it hurts, but drop all fear that your trip will lead to more pain. It won't. Walk inside yourself. Sit at the center of your pain. Sit there. Feel it. Listen to it. Don't argue. Accept what it says. And stay there, smiling. You are the smile, shining; your luminosity warms and calms your angry tissues. This is a place you can go to at will, a place you are known, not feared by the pain but welcomed as the master bringing balm. Let your spirit make a clubhouse there. Your pain will be suspicious at first, and irritated, annoyed, but that's what a pain is. You have to say shhhh.

Which is what those of you in pain are probably saying to me right now.

By the way, for the curious, I'm not sick. These words began as a letter to a sick friend, and I thought I'd share them with you because they took three hours to write and broke into my blog time. If that's sick, I admit it.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

What comes of seed

He comes in sometimes deep after midnight, still wearing the same half smile, looking to bum a smoke and maybe unload something off his mind. He calls me "Sir," I call him "Pike," but these are not our names. His smile doubles when he sees me. Nothing is said over the noise of the coffee grinder, but much is said, and when the grinder halts, we pick up where we left off a month before.

If there were a composite picture of the American soldier in 2005, Pike would be it. He grew up in this small town in Illinois where barbed wire was invented and shipped west, where biogenetics first created perfect corn from a messed-with seed, smack dab over the richest soil in the world, where Monsanto quietly tinkered with this gene and that gene, a college town with a state university with teams and boosters and some of the worst architecture in the world, whose student body drinks itself comatose and commutes, leaving behind broken glass and tipless tables, a vanishing town abandoned by industry, foreclosed to the future, and it's here that Pike returned after a 16 month tour of Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was among the first to arrive after 9-11.

With Pike, everything in the world is the way it is, Sir, because that's the way it is. He's only too glad to just sit here with a free cup of coffee with a half an inch of real half and half and another inch of sugar and just smoke this free cigarette from the wisest man he's ever met, and he means that, Sir. You know how the rappers say it's all good? They're right. He's going to buy himself a log cabin, comes on a truck, and marry himself a woman he has in mind. He has a tattoo on his back: his nickname in Old English, coast to coast, too filthy to reprint. When he first got back home he spent a solid year drinking, but it didn't work out. Now it's almost been a year since he was drunk. He can have a beer or not.

Pike leans against his pickup, lays another quarter on a stack and borrows another smoke. I listen as I can between customers, but Pike never wonts for ears in this gabby little town. Poking in and out of these different conversations shows a different Pike each time. With me he speaks of honor, with others he talks motorcycles, vodkas, guns, killings, types and circumstances, pick offs and snipes, worst combat, best kills. Specifics. Horrors, dragged out, bragged about, usually ending in whispers and a wandering away back into the black, sound waves picked up while taking out the garbage, meant for a better ear.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nobody's Worthless

When a person says to me--and I've heard this so many times--Jack, they say, I feel worthless. I say why. They say they've got no purpose. I say yes you do.

That's what I'm giving people. A purpose. A chance to make something out of themselves, make sense out of the mess they made down here, leave behind a legacy that includes a vast array of managed holdings--not just cars, cash and college--but a genuine inheritance that carries your name down through the generations.

And they call me a killer!

Look. There are no dead celebrities. You can't be dead and remain a celebrity. Because celebrity requires appearances.

Fame, on the other hand, prefers you dead and will look back on you fondly if you leave behind something great--fat chance ha ha said the typical Americon back in the early seventies when I first started thinking this stuff up. What I saw back then was a society of fully compatible, continually updated people, good people, once dedicated employees and built that way by a proud Americo, people who were now deliberately choosing the wrong way, the path of crime, the wide road that leads straight to the vats of Chihuahua.

People, ordinary people, some as young as 120, going on violent sprees to no good purpose but to blow off steam. It wasn't war but sport. I saw what they wanted, and I said so, and they said I was crazy. But I say it still.

People want to die. They do. There's a time for it. But the ceo's enthusiasm for reuseability took that freedom away. I still think that's what these young people were looking for. A way out. Flies on a window.

But I proved it was more than that. People desperately wanted the hope--not the guarantee, but just the hope of a chance to slice their wedge of fame and lift themselves, if only an inch, from the rest of the crowd. Crime was the only route, as long as it was truly spectacular. But sadly, crime doesn't lead to fame either, but to infamy--and it was still more appealing than vanishing from this Ur and leaving behind nothing but dust.

Maybe all you did in life was get a Participation Award. Is that enough? Some would say yes. I don't. I say that's crap. You're worth more than that. When you die, what do you want people saying about you? He was never late for work? She took good care of her car? He did his best? She didn't complain as much as her mother? You see? What good is a life of such petty insignificance? Not much!

Not much. Face it. It's true. Life is cheap, my friend, life is very, very cheap. Don't believe it? Look at how we kill each other. We say we value life, ours. Yours we snuff. Look at how we breed. Casual sex, casual parenthood, generations raised by puter, orphans by choice. What have we got?

Before there was Jack Jaw, what did any of these people have besides nothing. What the hell is left to be taken away from most people? Their dignity? Come on. That goes early. Our money? The times we live in, if you have money, you better know it's temporary. Look at me, living proof. What was I, $28 billion urd? Yeah, that's a lot of money. Was I happy? What do you think? Would you be?

I make 14 cents an hour and I'm happy. I created more moguls than Ray Kroc and Dick Cheney combined.

I found a need and tapped a nerve. I gave people a way out. With dignity, I believe, though many have argued with me on this, but there is dignity to entertainment, and there is entertainment in true life drama such as we presented.

I had a man tell me he was worthless, I looked that man right in the eye and I said, yes, you are, I admit it, and I applaud your candor, but if you sign this document, I personally guarantee that your family will receive one million dollars. The man didn't believe it, but he was no fool. He signed. And thank Gad he did. Because he was my father. And the document he signed was a check. Later there would be more checks and more until finally out of money he died the very day I made the call to Hack Bitburg my associate producer who agreed my idea was perfect as long as it was clear my father made the choice on his own.

That's why I loved Hack. He always brought it down to where it was. Dad had to want to kill himself so I could shoot the pilot. I couldn't go to the Network with a script. Or a proposal, a pitch--no, no, nobody'd ever believe anybody'd kill themself for a donation. We had to show it. I knew Dad would understand. He was my greatest supporter all my life. Oh, he complained sometimes, but he had a lot of money, and I was always much larger than him. I'll tell you more later--lice check.

Read more of Jack Jaw's blog.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Murders of Edgar Allan Poe

Poor, poor, pitiful Poe. Oh, you know the story. Found drunk, delirious and trembling in the gutter in a town that was not his own, a pauper in a suit of rags, not a penny in his pocket that hadn't already been drunken and pissed back into the very same pocket. Poe, pitiful Poe, poet, author, detective story father, deranged madman, drunk.

This is what I was taught: that he died in the gutter. I wondered how he got up there. Then I learned a gutter was a curb. Made more sense. Wasn't as good. Euphemisms are built too tall on purpose because little pictures have big ears, but we all know what "in the gutter" means.

Recently I started asking people if they knew how Poe died. The same answer kept flying back: in the gutter. Everybody knows that. It's like 1492. Or lather, rinse, repeat. Poe was a drunk, a marinated saturated overstewed wet brain, an ammonia trailing delusional lunatic. An ethylated epileptic. A sot.

They made him into a monster--and who doesn't love a monster? Edgar Allan Poe was the biggest draw at the 4th grade Book Fair. Blood and guts and the threat of blood and guts were splashed across every delicious page. Such a beating I took from The Tell-Tale Heart. I never told anyone this, but the sound of that beating heart was mine.

One night at the dinner table, Hillbilly Casserole night, I mentioned Poe's name as a sort of test. My father raised his brow, narrowed his eyes, and spoke: the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
My father believed great poetry was best admired when memorized and recited as events might require, generally right in the middle of a conversation. Those who have this ability shimmer with untouchable superiority, while those who don't shrink into awestruck dullards.

The tragedy of Poe's life is that it is framed through his death, and his death almost certainly did not occur as it's been described by physicians and witnesses who weren't there but were eager to sell their side of the facts. This is how a few lies became a mountain of lies that must have been true because, look, it's a mountain.

Edgar Allan Poe, the man and his works, became an object lesson for what happens to people who drink too much and then try to write. Every great writer since has pursued the bottom of a bottle with Promethean ambition: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Hunter S., et al. Throw a dart, Ed Al was their father.

It does no good to imagine what the world would be like without the Poe myth. But the closer truth provides a more shocking object lesson about the nature of evil, how efficiently it can kill a man and keep killing him by mangling his reputation.

Reassembling Poe's Greatest Mystery
The story goes that Edgar Allan Poe was discovered lying in the street outside a Baltimore tavern the morning after a citywide election. A bar patron recognized his famous face. As people gathered, they could also see it was Poe, especially once they took off his Panama Leaf straw cowboy hat. If they squinted, and discounted his babbling and urine-stained rags, it was clearly the famous writer Edgar Allan Poe.

He was taken to Washington Hospital and personally attended by a physician whose bizarre conclusions were as speculative as anybody else's. That Poe was drunk when he came in was unquestionable. Clearly it killed him. There were only a few unasked questions.

Why was he wearing pauper's clothes? Why was he broke? Why was he buried so quickly, without an autopsy or even a death certificate, and in a city not his own? And why was there no subsequent inquiry?

Poe was sober the last decade of his life. After the death of his second wife (who was also his cousin), he embarked on a dangerous binge that brought him headlong to a sanitarium where he remained until he could come out and stay sober.

He achieved a lasting sobriety. The last ten years were the most productive of his life. He met a girl, fell in love, became engaged to be married; he was famous, and he'd earned it: he traveled widely, lectured, promoted, raised money for ambitious projects like his literary magazine The Stylus. This last project brought him to Baltimore, the city of his death.

He arrived by boat, impeccably dressed as always, sober of course, pockets full of large bills, the result of subscriptions he was collecting to start up The Stylus. Baltimore was the last stop of another long tour. He'd be home in three days, and was excited about it.

Home was Richmond, Virginia. It wasn't far by train, but it was a world apart from Baltimore, especially Baltimore on election day, when you're lost and alone and loaded with cash and worried, very worried, because it's election day. From the train platform where he was last seen asking directions, Poe would have seen the throngs of voters pushing into the taverns, qualified voters, there to do their civic duty, to vote right and drink freely, courtesy of the pols who had the vision to put the voting booths right in the taverns.

Polling officials, called "thugs" every other day of the year, knew how to get the most out of voters, especially the paupers and drunks -- or anybody else that nobody'd miss if they got a little lost on election day, voting, voting, voting, voting, over and over and over again.

It was a process known as "cooping," and it took no brains to pull off. Coopers used booze and drugs to persuade alcoholics and drug addicts to hop on a wagon and ride around to different taverns and polling places to vote. Once they made a full round trip, they were cooped. Dozens would be jammed into a small room and forced to exchange clothes. Then they'd make another round trip; a routine that went on until the polls closed. Beatings became more frequent and severe as the day wore on, partly to keep the voters awake and motivated, and partly to ensure loss of memory.

If Edgar Allan Poe had been a victim of election day cooping, it would explain why he was dressed in rags and why he had no money. It would explain the cheap straw cowboy hat, which was not part of his image. It would explain his disguise. And why he smelled like booze.

Poe was known to have mild epilepsy. No proof exists he was intoxicated when he was admitted to Washington Hospital. If Poe had been cooped, he could have taken blows to the head, which could have prompted prolonged seizures that landed him in the gutter. But details such as this are lacking. There was no death certificate, although none was required. But given the unusual circumstances under which this celebrity died, it would seem a minimal duty.

If Poe had been a victim of cooping, it would have been a major embarrassment to the City of Baltimore. A cover-up would have occurred and it would come down from the top. A strong city government would have focused it efforts on deflecting attention away from cooping and onto the tragic life choices made by the drunken failure, Poe.

They call him the father of the modern detective story, and he left behind a good one. Baltimore buried him in Baltimore, exhumed him later to a more prominent area of the same cemetery. So there is precedent for digging him up. A third time would yield the tell-tale DNA that would have much to say about alcohol.

Yes, Poe was strange and his work was even stranger, but a certain strangeness has always been a requirement of celebrity, and anyway so what? What matters is what is alive, and what is alive is his work, which remains as throat-gripping as it was when I first read it with a flashlight.

It would be a wonderful thing to conclude this mystery. It would be macabre to bring the dead city fathers to trial, but it would be responsible.

It would be Poetic justice.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

You made it!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Witchcraft as psychotherapy

She talks to her doctor, as they say on TV, because she feels like that sad little cartoon ball all the time. What's happening to her, she wonders, and her doctor says depression--a treatable medical illness--then prescribes a mysterious and tricky combination of pills from his colorful palette.

Antidepressants, a.k.a. deez, dem and doze, are administered carefully so as to create in the patient a feeling of one false move, explode-a-voo. Which is justified, since they might. The wrong dose of deez in a teenager, for example, actually causes suicide--one more time: causes suicide--when its purpose is to prevent suicide. (Curious. Let's not look at it. )

Back to the woman with her doctor, right before the part where she's riding her bike with J. Crew on a bumpy road without a bra. This is where the doctor says, "Oh, and Shelley. One more thing." He explains that depression can't be cured with just a pill, it takes soul searching, and for that you need a guide. He writes her another script for counseling at a hospital-affiliated psychiatric and social services center. Not only is this good doctoring, it's smart risk management. Because when something goes wrong, and it will, he wants to know that someone will be there to blame.

The purpose of the licensed clinical social worker is to, first and foremost, listen, and second of all to remember what they said in those classes they had to take at that crappy community college, and third of all on and on and so forth--it doesn't matter once the door's closed. Sit down, sit down, let's get to know you. Life as an LCSW must be fascinating.

Yesterday the national press reported on a local story involving my old hometown hospital where a depressed patient filed a lawsuit claiming her therapist deepened her depression. The patient received treatment from the same therapist, who happens to be a witch, over the course of four years without complaint (although the patient did attempt suicide three times).

Witchcraft, of course, wasn't part of the hospital's treatment plan for depression. It was just something the LCSW happened to practice, and something her depressed client also happened to become. Nothing wrong with that, except that the patient began to feel haunted by some of the rituals and spells, the self-mutilations, the sex with strangers chosen by the therapist, who watched.

Some people believe a suicide attempt is a cry for help. Others see it for what it is: something to be swept under the rug and never mentioned again. All you need is a nice heavy rug and a good solid door, and you've got a room that nothing happens inside of.

It doesn't pay much but the job has appeal to certain people, especially those who find power even remotely intoxicating. While I cannot support the following statement with hard data, I can advise you with the fervor of a dying Gunga Din that all counselors are lunatics.

The idea, therefore, of a therapist/witch doesn't shock me in the slightest; it merely frightens me in the extreme.

The patient seeks one millions dollars. Now that's shocking!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Love, Courtney

Enshrined here as the Saint of Pure Potential is Courtney Love, statuesque monster of music, motherhood and mayhem through the magic of medications prescribed by No Ordinary Doctors. This enormously talented woman, who could one day be as good as she is now bad, needs to wake up before she smacks the pavement again so she can be an example for her child and her public, as well as the undoing of her husband's legacy, which was to blow his head off with a shotgun. Depression, drug addiction, alcoholism are permanent only with permission.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Sweet Baby

Perhaps no man ever sang so sweet as Sweet Baby James Taylor, whose deep depressions threw him into an abyss of hospitalizations, electroshock therapies, brave new pharmacologies, straitjackets, canceled tours, a ruined marriage, wrecked career. Married to singer/songwriter Carly Simon, a big-jawed babe whose father was Simon of Simon & Schuster, she easily had as many hits as Taylor. Only she was better looking and people liked her, whereas he was slumpy and anti-social, shuffling in a bathroom, days in bed, so forth. But it was Bet You Think This Song Is About You that did them in, when James realized the song wasn't about him. Ma. King. Brrr. Bird. Mocking them is easy now, because they've both grown as people and artists, most notably James, whose voice is actually better (hear him on Randy Newman's Faust). His depression's better too.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Suicide Trains

Lady Cop walks in smiling as usual only tonight there's a great sadness in her eyes. Had another one, she says.

Immediately we know it's another train suicide. That's four in less than a month.

We live in the train suicide capitol of the world we think, though statistics are sketchy on the difference between a train suicide and a trespass fatality.

Numbers can play dumb but experience knows. A trespass fatality is an accident, as when a college kid tries to see how close he can get to a moving train and gets sucked in by the vacuum. Or when a kid throws a rock at an oncoming train and the rock bounces back at him faster than a speeding bullet.

Trespass fatalities are horrible, but they're accidents. Suicides are also horrible, but they're done on purpose, and the violence gets on everybody, especially the poor engineer who sees the whole thing coming and is powerless to stop it. Chances are the engineer has been through it before, or knows somebody else who went through it while going through this very town.

Imagine the terror of being the bullet. It explains why the trains blow their horns all the way into town and all the way out, both directions, all times of the night and day. Behemoths trumpeting to scare away death.

Lady Cop says there are two types of suicides. The ones that walk toward the train, and the ones that walk away from it. Ones that put their arms out, ones that kneel and pray. Ones at night and the ones in broad daylight. The ones with their ID and suicide notes and the ones without. The college students, and the folks nobody knew. She remembers the one in her wedding dress, how she stood there calmly after crossing herself. And the guy who laid his head on the track; he only lost a three-inch slice off the top of his head, but it was enough.

She feels for the engineers, who have it the worst, followed by the railroad guys who do the gruesome job of clean up.

Who are these people, we wonder, and why they do this thing, and in this way, and why here? What's so special about DeKalb, Illinois?

The kneejerk answer: it's a college town, grades go down, it's the end of the world, suicide. Except that very few of these suicides seem to be by college students. Then again, it's hard to say. None of them are talked about, whether they leave a note or not.

Local newspapers often keep the victims anonymous, ostensibly to preserve the family's privacy, but the real reason is more mundane, and therefore sadder. In this town a train suicide just isn't news anymore. It's like seeing the fiftieth robin. What's to say?

Maybe we don't talk about them because we don't want to honor them. Maybe we want to dishonor them. Shunned in death, the so-called suicide "victims" can learn where the glory train brings them: Nowheresville, Anonymityland, the Great State of Oblivion.

How do you punish the dead? Don't talk about them. Say nothing. Forget they existed. Short of that, whisper.

There's an argument for the silent treatment of train suicides, for putting the focus on the "real" victims: the families, the rail workers, the community. Train suicides are public messes, and attitudes toward them might be shaped by the emergence of suicide bombers. Maybe we think these life and death decisions are made casually, or with revenge in mind.

We don't know why people are standing in front of fast trains because we don't ask.

Suicide is self murder, yet suicide is rarely investigated with the vigor of homicide. Instead, the determination of suicide is the answer rather than the first of many questions asked of everyone who last saw the victim alive. The act of piecing together the facts might lay to rest speculation that would otherwise rattle like a runaway train down through the generations. It's rarely done.

Yet without investigation how are we supposed to know how to spot a person who's about to stop a train? Have they been drinking? Are they in formal attire? Are they zombylike? Are they walking on the tracks?

Some say suicide is a momentary mistake, and that's comforting to families, but the truth is that suicide is a momentary mistake that's a lifetime in the making. There will usually be a long trail of clues leading back to the crib, and, perhaps even beyond.

The culprit is depression, undiagnosed or untreated major depression. Depression is the only cause of suicide. It precedes the gun, the poison, the train; unemployment, divorce, alcoholism.

Depression isn't always dramatic; it often hides in humor or manifests elsewhere in the body, but it always has to come up for air eventually. Major depression is easy to see by those who know it, and easy to deny by those who don't. But it's the number one killer in America, so it's wise to pay respect.

Fortunately it's treatable for the first time in recorded history. Good thing too, since we're approaching an epidemic.

The fact that depression is treatable makes ignorance and denial inexcusable.

How do you recognize it? It's a bad mood, just a long lasting bad mood. Depression is an illness, dryness in the brain that produces unthinkable thoughts.

They say don't speak ill of the dead; if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, and sadly that's often how it goes for the misunderstood victims of their own chemically deluded brains.

It might look like your brother killed himself, but it isn't true. Your brother's broken brain came to that conclusion, and took your brother down with it.

And so to turn away from any suicide victim is to kill him twice. In judging the sum of a life by the end of a life, the tragedy doubles.

I don't know, says Lady Cop; she buys what she came for and goes home to bed. She might think he talks too much. Two men in grimy jumpsuits get their coffee and come to the counter grimly. Their hats say Union-Pacific. There's no charge.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Gotten Goat


Rudy's a small, square Irishman with a kindly, handsome face; an elfin version of Ernest Hemingway who pads around in moccasins and is never seen without his straw cap. At least once a night he comes into the store to bum a smoke and charm the customers with tales of stickball in Cicero, the bar he owned in Berwyn, the woman he loved who was killed in a plane crash, his wife who's dead now, how he knows Joe Montagna, the actor, knew him before he ever set foot on a stage or gave acting a passing thought.

Rudy's drunk as always, but he is never without his manners or his deadpan homilies: Take care of the man above you. Don't bring the street into the home of your mother and sister. You can't sober up anybody by yelling at em. He's impossible not to like, at least to some extent that varies from person to person. Lately Rudy's drinking has been worse and he's been talking about it in the small hours between 1 and 3.

"Can't sleep. Damn foot. So swollen up can barely get on my moccasins." It's true. His moccasins are like pancakes, one-sixth on, five-sixths off. Over the last week his feet have gradually doubled in size. He lifts his pant leg, his shins are like thighs. "It's goat. I'm too old for gout."

It's hard to laugh the fortieth time you've heard it, but you do anyway, because it saves time. He'll eventually deliver his cleanup line, but it never quite works; either it's too late or it's just plain unintelligible, but it goes something like: "Za trouble w'all you people no sense of humor!" Finally, if you still don't laugh, he laughs, which cues you he's kidding, and then you really do laugh. So the effect is the same as if he were funny.

Rudy made the decision to go to the VA Hospital to get checked out. A friend said he'd drive him up this morning. Last time he went into the VA he didn't come out for nine months. He's nervous, doesn't want to go, he's figuring a way out of it, but what? He's stuck. He won't sit down, not that there's anywhere to sit anyway, and he won't sleep because he can't -- the apnea. But the longer he stays awake, the more purple he gets and the less sense he makes.

Rudy goes home three times and comes back three times. He's troubled, but more sharply focused. He's had a nip. He has a fin. He intends to buy a sandwich of the chef's choice. He can't finish it. He stands outside in the cold sipping coffee. It's 40 degrees in northern Illinois on a mid-August black dawn, when it dawns on a deli clerk he's been locked out of the public housing high-rise for seniors just across the street. Rudy had been warned. There's no drinking at Silver Acres. He's got no place to go until his ride comes at 9:30. If there even is a ride.

On Rudy's third return the store's in full swing morning rush: coffee, donuts, cigarettes, newspapers fly past the counter as fast as change can be made. He takes his place at the front, a little off to the side, leans on the counter and smiles with the satisfaction of a man who's finally found what he's been looking for.

An audience. He's tossing out one-liners that are more like suggestions of syllables, to people who are going to work, the same people who come at the same time every day, in a hurry but reasonably on schedule, landscapers and laborers, limo drivers, union guys and fly-by-nights, the firemen and the chief, all the factory workers and all the bigwigs, the forklift demons, all the good smelling pretty ladies, every last one of these people has a kind word and a smile for him. When he says, "Za trouble! Nosense," they know exactly what he's talking about. It's uncanny.

Equally weird is the fact that this bloating man could yet still stand on two stubs filled up like bladders full of uric acid, and thinking back, his hands had thickened and his cheekbones too, but back to the stubs -- he stood on them all night! Refused to sit. I'm fine he kept saying. I'm fine.

I'm fine, it's just I can't bend my knees anymore to sit, and I'm frankly a little freaked out about it since I'm also locked out of my building, and I'm too proud to admit any of it: will you save me?

Eventually Rudy disappears into the pink. Doris the muffin maker wants to know who that old man was that was hanging around. She gets the only known answer. Guy in trouble.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Clouds presented a dilemma to the Cubists.

Daily walks

This was the sixth picture on the first roll of film I put into my first camera.
I walked two miles to school every morning, a habit I developed shortly after taking up smoking, which could not be done leisurely on a bus. I took the tracks and never worried about getting hit by a train. Back then you could feel them coming a mile away. Nowadays out here people think they're all glory trains.

Jeff began walking with me later, which I enjoyed at first, but less as time went on. He was too punctual. He watched me drink instant breakfast. I finally told him to bug off and didn't see him again until 15 years later. It was in a crowded yippie bar. I was strutting around in a trenchcoat, he was on a barstool and wouldn't shake my hand. The conversation quickly turned to me, what I did, where I lived, who I married, what I drove. And him?

"I'm an alcoholic. I've got testicular cancer. They took one of my balls a month ago. I'm killing myself with this." He held up a glass of Scotch, his father's drink. He threw it back and chased it with beer, also his father's drink. He died later that year.

He said something to me. It was after I dressed him down for hurting himself and after my heartfelt advice that he find a good woman and marry her. He said, "Women don't stay with me. Friends don't stay with me. God didn't either."

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Dave's not here

This is Dave, in the tractor, and those are my children in the bucket. Dave and Judy had a farm in Yuba, Wisconsin. He was probably my best friend and worst enemy in some ways, collaborator and competitor in shifting seasons. He was a cinematographer back when there were such things, and I wrote many of the movies he shot, "our shitty movies," as I called them, much to his consternation. Yet, in the end, when the business spat him out, he had to admit it: they were pretty damned shitty. My children loved him greatly, as you can see. Danny, on the far right, broke his arm that day. It got caught between the bucket and a pile of gravel. "It's all right, Dave! It's not that bad!" Dave felt terrible. A few months later, during the July 4th weekend, Dave was putting the tractor into the barn. He rolled down an embankment and was crushed. I miss him, and the part of me he took with him. But I will say this. He's no longer older than me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sunday, June 27, 2004


CW Fisher

Some say war solves nothing, but the closer truth is that it solves essentially everything, eventually, the way autumn solves summer.

War is an intense effort on the part of humanity to destroy what God created, even though humanity knows God will win. If the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima could rise again, then God proves again his superiority. Humanity breathes a long sigh of relief and resumes the business of life.

A single generation is all it takes to forget everything we learned. We awaken one day to bloodlust, and, not knowing what it is, seek out something to destroy, and in so doing, meet again the irresistable temptation to mass murder.

To blow something up is to know the power of God. Those behind the bomb become the bomb, and the bomb is death, last domain of a decreasing God and proof of our nearing equality.

To create smithereens from civilizations is to kick aside angels and saunter up to the Creator to take a seat on his little toe, strike a match on his bunion and shake out the last of our two remaining Pall Malls. It's a magnificent feeling to sit and have a smoke with God, so long as He doesn't get an itch.

War is probably something we cannot not do, like sex. It could be a drive we haven't discovered or admitted yet, because humanity goes to war with the cyclical regularity of the weather, if not quite the punctuality of the cosmos. It is something we do. And we're ashamed of it.

Enter ideas to cover that shame. Ideas are clothing for drives we can't change. And clothes are a fashion statement, always and everywhere. So they vary. But their functions do not.

We dress our bloodlust in ideas because we know it's wrong to kill our own kind. Therefore the first and most important idea of war is that the enemy is not our kind. Look at their clothes!

In times of war, ideas, like bullets, are in constant demand. More ideas! they cry, and writers 'round the world put their backs to it. Heave!

The people swallow the ideas whole, xertz it all down like food, don it like armor, ride it to death, scream it as they die. Any lie is worth dying for, any lie'll do if it's true that war is a drive we can't change.

When it ends it ends the same way: with a few remainders on a battlefield; one of them wobbles, another one weaves, but one of them keels over dead, and whoever he is, he's the last man to die for another goddam bad idea.

War kills everybody, some completely, others by half, but it kills a great deal of all of us. The few unwounded are the most wounded of all.

Everybody wants to see God. And then we'd like some ice cream and a good night's rest before the work week. If we could visit, we'd all go. We'd have pictures, and stuff to talk about, brag about, work each other up into a froth about and turn each other into gut smears over. But no, God won't let us back. God says too weird, man. Believe me, you don't want that.

Most of us have our own private ideas about God, many of which we share through religious affiliations and club memberships, marketing surveys and ISP taps. But no matter how fervent our beliefs we are nagged by the notion of God as a killer. If you're face to face with God, then you're probably dead. And if you're dead, you're not reading this. Nobody alive has ever been dead. Not deeply dead. Humanity lives in an eternal state of unknowing, and this is the deepest source of all human anxiety and fear.

The God cops in their various forms always tell us it's better on the other side. Their job is to usher humanity from this world to the next, in a calm, orderly fashion, in lines like the ones at Disneyworld that snake back and forth on each other to make you think you're getting someplace. One day you can't remember what you're in line for, so you start asking around, and nobody else knows either, but everybody stays because, hey, the line is moving. Eventually you get to the front, step into a boat, and that's the end of the line. But there is not a soul behind you who has a clue about where you just went. That part is hidden. It's none of our business. It's not our domain.

But we're impatient. And periodically we storm the gates, Lord knows why. But we do.

Friday, June 25, 2004

I'm baaaaack!

Hi kids. I'm back. Gee, it's good to be missed. Sometimes I get the feeling that I could disappear and no one would notice until my bills came up 120 days overdue.

But yall missed me! sigh.

It's good to be alive.

Yeah, I know my fellow depressives don't wanna hear it, but it's true, especially when you've been on vacation -- which is why I've been missing for four days.

Much to tell, but little time right now. I must unpack, wash clothes, do a bunch of those domesticated bipedal things we think are sooooo important.

I'll be back, and if we're really lucky, I'll tell some tall tales about my trip and get out the old slide projector and see if we can't cure your chronic insomnia.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Anybody seen Shark?

He was here a minute ago.
We were like... like partners.
I thought.
But maybe that's... maybe just...
something I...
His poems were the best
they left me depressed!
Now suddenly I'm feeling
completely undressed.
I don't to cotton to writers,
not usually, that is.
They irritate me generally.
They're all filled up on fizz.
I'm not much of a poet.
That much I know.
My meter don't flow it's a problem I know
Oh, why'd my poor Sharky have ta go?

Women are all the same and always were

Enchanted Castle

Once upon a time a young family moved from the city to the country. But soon the country became the city. And so they moved again. Then one day the family noticed they couldn't get over the bridge due to traffic. River cottages were torn down and replaced with neomansions. Suddenly the high school was too small. A referendum passed. Taxes soared. Then they said the old mall was too small. They wanted to tear it down and build another one on prime farmland. I had an idea. Convert the old mall to a school. Make K-Mart the gym. Make the movie theatre the auditorium. The shops become classrooms. Put lockers in the hallways. Done. They tore it down. Pictured above is the new mall before it opened, just after they painted the stripes. Then the family moved another 50 miles west, to the country, way out in the corn, where the whole thing is beginning to happen all over again. And they all lived snugly ever after.

Up to St. Anthony's

Monday, June 21, 2004

From a tintype. Punchline more recent.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Flight dreams

 Posted by Hello

Happy food


Cherries make me happy. Lamb with mint sauce makes me sad. Malt-o-Meal with brown sugar and butter makes me happy. Lipton tea with ReaLemon makes me sad.

If you really want to make me sad, you'll make me some Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. But if you want to depress me, you'll dump that can of soup into a casserole.

Raman noodles, especially when you drop in an egg, makes me feel much better, especially if I add the egg after the noodles are done and give it a good stir. And also if I dump a spoon of cayenne pepper in there. Then I really feel great because the heat and the pepper drain my head. Much better! (Careful not to drain into your bowl).

Happy food is not a happy meal. I'm too mature for prizes. I don't need incentives to eat. But some foods, dagnab it, just make me want to die. Chicken and rice, for example, an old staple at the Fisher house until we all admitted one day how much we all hated it. The whole idea of instant rice topped with frozen chicken breasts slathered with another can of Cream of Some-Goddam-Thing makes me lust for a happy meal.

Sad food, such as cold pasta with no meat or sauce, is to be strictly avoided, as are all organ meats with enticing names such as "sweet breads" and "Rocky Mountain Oysters."

All meats become sad foods the moment you think about what you're eating, otherwise they generally fall under the happy category. The exception to this is venison and turtle. These meats cannot be made happy and must be given to your neighbors with pride and sacrifice.

Whatever is barbecued becomes happy food the instant it gains a thick coat of carbon. A glaze of sweet sauce makes it even happier. But as you rip the ribs from the bone, ask yourself this: Are you comfortable ingesting petroleum byproducts? Because that what those "charcoal" briquettes are. There's no wood in them. Just byproducts marinated in lighter fluid. Mmmmm. What we do instead is gather dead wood, start a fire in the Weber, and turn it to coal. Try it sometime. You'll never use briquettes again.

All fruits but the mango and coconut are happy foods. Mangos are just sweet potatoes in disguise and coconuts require a toolbox and access to electricity.

Milk was once the Queen of happy foods but is now a dangerous drug. One cup of the stuff contains enough antibiotics to wipe malaria from the face of the earth.

With nutrition such a complicated science these days, how is one to know the difference between happy and sad foods?

Use this simple rule of thumb: If it contains high quantities of sugar, it's a happy food. If not, add sugar. The problem, most people will tell you, is that sugar is bad for you, which is true. It is very bad for you. But it is essential for me.

This is a good thing to remind people of, especially as you're chewing a Mars bar. They must know what liars they are, and if they don't, they need to be told. All human beings on the face of the planet are strung out on sugar.

Some say sugar makes little kids manic. So? I have the same opinion about aerobics. The only difference between kids and adults is size. Kids may run around like banshees wrecking everything, but adults merely walk around at a nice steady pace wrecking everything over time.

Remember: pursue happiness, eschew sadness, chew carefully.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Yes, permanent weight loss!

A single grain of salt magnified a million times is like a single grain of salt multiplied a million times. Eventually, you will lose weight!  Posted by Hello

Duality of Personality and The "Music" of This World

--by SHARK--

I'm reading a book about the American artist James LaFarge (1835-1910), and I came across a passage that struck me as some implicit explanation of a side of me that resembles an ape moreso than an angel. I've been accused of cruelty in my persona as a "Shark", but that actor hides a more tender, compassionate being who is constantly trying to sew wings on a bony back -- or pin a gilded halo on top of two horns; the soundtrack of my soul fluctuates between sacred hymns and angry hip-hop.

I'm not sure what it all means, but I thought I'd share it with you:

"...Confucious was making a little music as he always did [on a koto] before he began work. A disciple said to him, "That was not like you; it sounded so cruel."

The master replied that he had seen a rat in the grass which a cat had caught and killed, and he said, "The cruelty got into my music."

"There," LaFarge said, "you have your modern music. What you see and feel, what goes on about you, goes into your work."

...What we see and feel, what goes on about us...

The sounds of traffic drowns out the singing of birds.

So listen, look around -- but don't look too close or linger long.

Poem slightly related to Depression

- Dangers of Insomnia -

Apex night in the cool mausoleum
friends have turned to stone
families sleep in drowned aisles
small children chased by wild animals
in a dead yet haunted zone;
cities are almost silent
filled and stilled
with renegades in metal wombs
hats back in a restful descent.

Nothing but static
beating the concrete veins.

I lie awake
just this side of the interstate
counting and naming the loop of sheep
imagining tears for a meal of pets
knowing that being alive at this hour
leaves me standing by that shut door
with open eyes
ear pressed to The Obstacle
which holds
for Us, a sleeping world of Them.

Thus We are set apart by our optical curiosity
and the relentless retinal intake.

They are not my tribe.

Lids sewn open forever,
doubting the imminent arrival of sleep,
settle into my restless arms
which at this hour
resemble gods
and monsters.

* * *

(by Shark)

Monday, June 14, 2004

PLACES: Happiest and Saddest


Happiest: A well-tended, well-attended cemetery, preferably with a notorious or glorious clientele. Three times I've been to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, and I'll go back again. The place gives me peace, and somehow, hope. It crawls with life: not just plant life, although that too: the Spanish moss hanging from the Live Oak has its effect, and the dark lagoon doesn't hurt either, but the life that crawls over Bonaventure emanates from its statuary, inarguably some of the oldest, most graceful and original in the Americas -- in some ways, alone in its own category -- and all of it stepping right out of its stone.

But it crawls with even more: the low Tibetan drone of a million frogs, pierced only by the locust. It is loud here. The sun is hard, the shade, soggy. Packed head to foot, side to side with the graves of the rich and poor, the famous and forgotten. Here's Johnny Mercer; there's a baby born dead with a wornaway name. Three times I've been there, and I want to go back to spend the night and be part of it.

Saddest: The zoo

Even More Good Company

The lists just keep getting longer here at The Post. But isn't that just what you'd expect from an Almanac? That and the weather? Which is overcast and neither/nor as it was the day before, only worse.

General Maniacs
Buzz Aldrin, Ned Beatty, Rosemary Clooney, Francis Ford Coppola, Patricia Cornwell, Ray Davies, Robert Downey, Jr., Kitty Dukakis, Patty Duke, Thomas Eagleton, Margot Early, Robert Evans, Carrie Fisher, Larry Flynt, Connie Francis, Kaye Gibbons, Kit Gingrich, Shecky Greene, Linda Hamilton, Margot Kidder, Kevin McDonald, Kristy McNichol, Dimitri Mihalas (scientist), Kate Millett, Spike Milligan, Jimmie Piersall, Charley Pride, Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), Axl Rose, Francesco Scavullo, Gordon Sumner (Sting), Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Winters

Hans Christian Andersen, Honore de Balzac, James Barrie, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Henrik Ibsen, Henry James, William James, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Eugene O'Neill, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf

Hector Berlioz, Anton Bruckner, George Frederic Handel, Gustav Holst, Charles Ives, Gustav Mahler, Sergey Rachmaninoff, Giocchino Rossini, Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky

Nonclassical Musicians
Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, Stephen Foster, Charles Mingus, Charles Parker, Cole Porter

William Blake, Robert Burns, George Gordon, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Oliver Goldsmith, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Victor Hugo, Samuel Johnson, John Keats, Vachel Lindsay, James Russell Lowell, Robert Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman

Richard Dadd, Thomas Eakins, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Edward Lear, Michelangelo, Edvard Meunch, Georgia O'Keeffe, George Romney, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

You're In Good Company!

Thought you might be interested in a list of

Agatha Christie (Sept. 15, 1890 - Jan. 12, 1976)
Art Buchwald (Oct. 25, 1925 - present)
Brian Wilson (June 20, 1942 - present)
Charles Dickens (Feb. 7 - June 9, 1870)
Charles Ives (Oct. 20, 1874 - May 19, 1954)
Edgar Allan Poe (Jan. 19, 1809 - Oct. 7, 1849)
Emily Dickenson (Dec. 10, 1830 - May 15, 1886)
Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899 - July 2, 1961)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (Sept. 24, 1896 - Dec. 21, 1940)
Francis Ford Coppola (April 7, 1939 - present)
Georgia O’Keefe (Nov. 15, 1887 -March 6, 1986)
Graham Greene (Oct. 2, 1904 - April 3, 1991)
Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805 - Aug. 4, 1875)
Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877 - Aug. 9, 1962)
Irving Berlin (May 11, 1888 - Sept. 22, 1989)
Jackson Pollock (Jan. 28, 1912 - Aug. 11, 1956)
John Keats (Oct. 31, 1795 - Feb. 23, 1821)
Kurt Cobain (Feb. 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994)
Ludwig Van Beethoven (Dec. 17, 1770 - March 26, 1827)
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 - Aug. 5, 1962)
Mark Twain (Nov. 30, 1835 - April 21, 1910)
Mary Shelley (Aug. 30, 1797 - Feb. 1, 1851)
Michelangelo (March 6, 1475 - Feb. 18, 1564)
Mozart (Jan. 27, 1756 - Dec. 5, 1791)
Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848, Paris - May 8, 1903)
Peter Tchaikovsky (April 25, 1840 - Oct. 25, 1893)
Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 - July 29, 1856)
Sergey Rachmaninoff (April 1, 1873 - March 28, 1943)
T.S. Eliot (Sept. 26, 1888 - Jan. 4, 1965)
Tennessee Williams (March 26, 1911 - Feb. 24, 1983)
Tim Burton (Aug. 25, 1958 - present)
Tom Waits (Dec. 7, 1949 - present)
Victor Hugo (Feb. 26, 1802 - May 22, 1885)
Vincent Van Gogh (March 30, 1853 - July 29, 1890)
Virginia Woolf (Jan. 25, 1882 - March 28, 1941)
Vivien Leigh (Nov. 5, 1913 - July 7, 1967)
Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892)
William Blake (Nov. 28, 1757 - Aug. 12, 1827)
William Faulkner (Sept. 25, 1897 - July 6, 1962)
Winston Churchill (Nov. 30, 1874 - Jan. 24, 1965)

You'll note that they're all artists, writers, and musicians. There's something about art, genius, and depression that are complimentary. In life, one can apparently feel too much, which doesn't bode well for the pursuit of Happiness, but hey, consider the *alternative.

Anyway, you should be feeling better already!

*becoming a Republican!
still living

The 1st Depression Joke on the Blog

Q: What's the difference between a "Worry Wart" and a "Manic Depressive"?

A: About thirty years.

Art Work: "Life as an Invisible Anachronism With Shoes"

(based on a request from The Management)

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I'm depressed, but thankful.

Yah, I'm depressed, but like most Americans, I'm also glad that I have the luxury to BE depressed. We Americans get things like "free-floating anxiety" -- which means we're bummed out but we don't know why. We feel crappy and helpless but can't exactly isolate it with a nice one or two word summary. Naming the monster, whether it's "Rumpelstiltskin" or "my bills" is the first step in slaying the beast, but unfortunately, the side effect of depression is lethargy. Laziness. An inability to act. "I'm just too tired and don't really give a shit" -- so the beast has a name and the patient has the first inkling of a sword, but not enough strength, stamina, or energy to pick it up and give it a fight.

At that stage, our sad knight goes to bed, turns pale, stares at a blank wall, and refuses to move -- even when the spouse threatens divorce, an uneven redistribution of assets, a nasty custody battle for the kids -- and starts taking Polaroids of the evidence: (a tearful lump in dirty sheets surrounded by discarded fast-food trash, used kleenexes, and a dust-covered video remote control) to be provided as proof positive of one's depression and inability to function in the eyes of a judge with his own problems at home. "Say cheese" --

"Fuck you."

Simply having the luxury to be depressed is something that should cheer us up, but try telling that to someone who has no meaning in their life and is standing on the edge of a tall building. We should buck up and be thankful for that luxury, but just hearing the words "buck up" is inherently depressing.

People eating insects in Somalia aren't depressed; first, they can't afford it; and secondly, they're just trying to survive. We've got the 'survival' thing down (at least on the physical level), so we move on to more interesting, convoluted concerns cruising the spiraled streets of hell that reside somewhere in our grey matter. We get to thinking about what WAS and what SHOULD have been. Nostalgia is the first symptom of the illness.

Depression is a uniquely American invention. It comes from an interesting mathematical equation: being idle + having a shitty life = Depression. And "shitty" -- once again -- is a relative term. Shitty for us means trouble at home with spouse, money, job, kids, neighbors, cars -- things like that. Depression is Worry taken a few steps up the metaphysical ladder. It's a low high, if that makes sense...

Someone who Worries still carries the illusion that Things Matter. They're worried about the outcome, the action they'll take, the decisions to be made. That's good. They still have something riding on the bet that is Living.

The depressed, on the other hand, don't have a stake in ANY outcomes. That's bad. They've lost the illusion that Things Matter. They don't see the winnings, the prize, the handful of nickels -- and they don't see the potential loss, the gamble, the fear or the excitement of rolling the dice. They don't even want to be at the table. Hell, they don't even wanna be in town, although the idea of an entire city with no clocks is sort of appealing. (Vegas is the only place on earth where they tell you explicity what your odds are. That alone makes it the most fair, compassionate place on Earth.)

To someone in the throes of Life, Time is an ally. It delineates the moments, defines the difference between Experience and Memories. To a depressed person, Time is merely a prison. A reminder of mortality, of appointments never made, an empty continuum, a flow chart that flows nowhere, an x-y graph with no points plotted. Tick. Tock.

I would take drugs for my depression, but I once heard a doctor say that 95% of his depressed, drug-taking patients didn't really need drugs; they needed to make better decisions about their lives.

Blame the victim. Yah. That's pretty American too. It's part of that "personal responsibiltiy" thing we love so much. We're all Horatio Algers. We're all a dog just waiting for its day. And if you're a lucky dog, you'll have two in a row!

That's meant to cheer you up, my fellow depressed Americans. Especially if you haven't had your day yet. It's just a numbers game, and your number is bound to come up. You have to be patient.

But then I think about a poster that once hung in one of my bosses offices, the guy who liked to read "The Business Strategies of Genghis Khan" and thought firing an employee meant putting them on a stack of burning wood; it was a picture of two buzzards sitting on a dead tree limb. One says to the other,

"Patience, hell. I wanna kill something."

That's how I feel sometimes. Then I know I'm getting better.

And best of all, I like to think that when that starving Somalian finally catches a rat after a month of eating locusts, he thinks to himself, "Ahh. Life is Good"

--- and then wonders if we have it so swell in America.

Cross over

The railroad bell has been clanging for the last hour, a sound that can mean only one thing in this town. Another soul has said goodbye. It's not in the papers yet, and I've heard no tell, only the tintinabulation of the bell bell bell. (Who's it toll for? Thee? Or me?) In this town the bells are a common thing, for reasons, perhaps, of availability and convenience. There's magnetism in the train tracks, panic in the eyes of engineers, and there is not a one in either direction that doesn't blow his horn all the way through town.

What isn't instructs