Saturday, November 24, 2012

Warts and Toads and the Uses of Adversity

Necessity dangles from a peg of acceptance. Just look at it: those beautiful folds, those railroad lips. There are struts for the wings, and ribbons for the bagpipe. Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
Said William Shakespeare of London, England. Who can argue? Toads are stupendous. Different than frogs. Not slimy like frogs. Adversity should not be slimy. Adversity should be lumpy and dry with a jewel in its head.
Necessity is a form of adversity in the same way a hat is a form of wig. Both cover the head. Both offer some form of jewelry.

Necessity is what makes you do what you don’t want to do, and adversity is what you encounter while doing what you don’t what to do.
Say you want to get married and have to rob a jewelry store in order to get an engagement ring. You have to buy a mask, a gun, make plans, and bend some important rules of etiquette. In the end, it’s easier to go buy an engagement ring. Which requires money. Do you have money? Good! Go buy that engagement ring.
Marry adversity. Marry a toad. Marry a corner in a library. Marry an anonymous donor. Marry a hat. Marry a pleasure to a pain. Marry a pain to a pleasure. Marry a pair of elbows. Take the elbows dancing. Dance the elbows round and round the room. A room full of other elbows.
I like to reflect on the noises in a café. The modulation of voices, the ring of silverware, the crash of plates, the sizzle of bacon, the squeak of vinyl on an upholstered seat.
This is where adversity simulates the confusion of food. Everyone wants something different. Nobody really gets what they truly want. Which is to be free of adversity.
Adversity snores like a bridge troll in the catalogue of morals. You will have to pay him with the coinage of sweat and toil if you want to cross that bridge.
What bridge? The bridge does not matter. There will always be a bridge somewhere to cross. Golden dimensions incubating in the glamour of epic storms. Toads the size of lawnmowers pushing old women in wheelchairs. Medicine and travel and officious jerks frisking our bodies.
Weddings to attend. Funerals. Retirement parties. Lectures. It is endless. Buy some jewels. Visit a toad. Next time you see a wart, say a prayer, pitch forward, and catch that bracing ocean spray.


Friday, November 23, 2012


It is one of those things that bothers me, that should not. Should not bother me. Because it is something over which I have absolutely no control.
I am, of course, talking about gravity.
It’s all those Star Trek and Star Wars movies. It’s the crew of the Nostromo and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. It’s the crew of the space station in Solaris, and it’s the crew of the Death Star in Star Wars. Why are they walking around as if they were on a cruise ship in the Pacific? Shouldn’t they be floating, slowly tumbling, hair shooting out form their heads, like the crew of the International Space Station? And really, isn’t floating a way lot more fun than walking around like everyone else saddled with a stupid job in the military or corporation? If I had a job that meant floating all day and night, sleeping weightless in a cocoon and waking up and unzipping myself from my cocoon and easing into the waking world without my feet touching the floor, I’d be utterly devoted. I’d be Employee of the Month every month.
Kubrick got it partly right with the shuttlecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dr. Heywood Floyd, played by William Sylvester, carefully reads the instructions for the zero gravity toilet. But then we have Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) running laps aboard the Discovery. Where did the gravity come from?
According to Wikipedia:
A rotating spacecraft will produce the feeling of gravity on its inside hull. The rotation drives any object inside the spacecraft toward the hull, thereby giving the appearance of a gravitational pull directed outward. Often referred to as a centrifugal force, the "pull" is actually a manifestation of the objects inside the spacecraft attempting to travel in a straight line due to inertia. The spacecraft's hull provides the centripetal force required for the objects to travel in a circle (if they continued in a straight line, they would leave the spacecraft's confines). Thus, the gravity felt by the objects is simply the reaction force of the object on the hull reacting to the centripetal force of the hull on the object, in accordance with Newton's Third Law.
I get dizzy reading this explanation, but I’ll buy it. All I need is a little suspended disbelief to go along with the action in a space drama anyway.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Phase Shift

I sometimes awaken to my staggering ignorance of anything technological and immediately go to YouTube in a panic to fill my head with tutorials. I wish I could plug a program into the back of my head like the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and learn Kung fu and quantum mechanics within seconds. But what kind of learning is that? Doesn’t learning require effort in order to become true learning?

I learned very early in college that learning is painful. Frustrating, demoralizing, disorienting. And here I am on that path again. The path of unknowing. The path of frequency oscillation and bandwidth and amplitude and sine waves. In other words, I don’t understand radio. I vaguely remember building one as a Cub Scout and I probably knew more about it then at age ten then I do now at age 65.
It all started with Stephanie Miller. I positively cannot stand that show anymore. I remember the early days of Air America, when they featured cutting edge pundits and comics like Mark Marin, Sue Ellicott and Mark Riley, Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo, Cenk Uygur and Richard Belzer. There was humor, satire, honesty, truth. This was, admittedly, during the Bush administration, so everyone was pretty much on the same page. And then Air America went bust, Obama got elected, and the left crumbled into miliquetoast apologies for the atrocities of the Obama administration, which in reality had expanded  -  not diminished  -  the atrocities of the Bush administration.  But since Obama was popularly perceived as a good-natured, Harvard-educated constitutional lawyer whose rhetoric was stuffed with progressive values, what could go wrong? What went wrong was everyone went back to sleep. And talk show hosts like Stephanie Miller became cheerleaders for an administration that has proven to be far more abusive than Bush when it comes to civil rights, environmental abuses, the endless prosecution of war, maintaining a deregulated and predatory banking system and saber-rattling at Iran. Not to mention what will be a continued assault on social programs like Social Security and Medicare while Wall Street gets more bailouts, no imposition of regulations, and no arrests. All to be conducted quietly, and peacefully, under the auspices of Mr. Obama, and his winning ways, and hugs to Michelle, and occasionally shaking the hand of a courtroom janitor.
I decided I would return to KUOW. I gave up on KUOW during the Clinton years for the same reason I am now giving up on Seattle’s KPTK. But at least KUOW runs programs like Bill Moyers and David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio. Their news continues to be a little biased toward corporations, such as a report I heard yesterday about WalMart’s commencement of a shipping program, which framed it in such a warm, positive light it was practically a commercial. But the kicker is waking up to the BBC in the morning. Our alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., so it’s nice getting those beautifully modulated British voices with crisp diction and shiny Sterling syllables, even when the content is horrific.
The whole country has now moved so far to the right that progressives like me are mocked by people like John Fugelsang who calls the more radical progressives who accuse Obama of betraying his base and core principles as whiny idealists and dismisses our grievances as childish, unrealistic wishes for lollipops and ponies. No, John, we’re upset because Obama has accelerated the drone program, has not restored habeas corpus, and has signed the National Authority Defense Act, robbing everyone of legal defense in case we are erroneously arrested as so-called “terrorists” during a protest. Just for starters.
Returning to KUOW is a little like returning home to parents you don’t entirely get along with, but you still love them, and they still help give you a modicum of comfort and stability in a world on its way to mass extinction.
The problem is, we can barely get KUOW on our radio. You’d think it was one of the strongest signals in Seattle. It is one of the strongest signals in Seattle. A powerful 100,000 watt signal originating from a transmitter on nearby Capitol Hill reaches east to the Cascade Mountains, west to the Olympic Mountains, south into Pierce and Thurston counties, and north into Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties. So why don’t we get it nice and clear? We’re lucky if we’re able to hear it all. I’ve tried moving the radio to different locations, none too far from the bed, of course, so I can reach it, without appreciable effect.
And so it is that I have entered into the domain of the radio and attempting to understand just how it catches those waves out of the air and converts them into voices and music. The BBC recommends that the best solution is an outdoor aerial. But we live in a condo. Where would we put an outdoor aerial? And don’t they make radios now with some sort of digital capacity? Whatever that means. I just hear digital and think that that will take care of everything.
Today is Thanksgiving. So the radio adventure will have to go on the back burner for a while. Meanwhile, I shall regale myself with baffling YouTube videos about carrier frequencies, kilohertz, electromagnetic waves and high voltage oscillators with adjustable frequencies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fire and Pearl

You know that moment when your car breaks down and you pop the hood and you don’t have a clue as to what’s wrong and you’re not even sure why you went to the bother of popping the hood because you don’t know diddly about cars to begin with?

It’s like that. Anguish, the mind, the ultimate inefficacy of theory regarding important existential questions. How to peel a potato. How to get a job.
Getting a job is the worst. It is the ultimate conundrum. Because you are looking for something you really don’t want. What you want is money. You don’t want a job. That’s why I get pissed when I hear politicians declaim that they are going to be bringing us jobs. Fuck jobs. I don’t want a job. Do you want a job? I want money.
So rolls the mind and its catfish religions. I live in city full of noise. Pain falls through the body creating sentences of fire and ice. I write them down and discover air and rain. Turmoil is my middle name. My first name is Keith. I play lead guitar for the Rolling Stones.
Which is a lie, of course. My name is Walt Whitman and I am a load of underwear tumbling round and round in the dryer at the local Laundromat.
I like the eccentricity and irritations and grouchiness of old women at bus stops. I like cars, too, even though they stink up the world. The highway is liniment for the wounds of description.
Description kills things.
Or does it?  Perhaps I am wrong about description. Show me a waterfront and I will show you a feeling. What that feeling might be is for you to decide. Or feel.
Here is what I know: blood circulates in the veins. Unless you’re dead. Then it doesn’t. Doesn’t circulate in the veins. Doesn’t circulate at all. I suppose it eventually evaporates and and goes back to being clouds and rivers. Or goes up in smoke after cremation.
The secrets of the blood gossip in the Louvre. The universal wound of existence smolders in a cave. A lobster crawls among luminous rocks. It is a mosaic of seductive rhythms. The sweetest sound in the world is Picasso slicing a pot roast. It is a worm writhing in the shadow of a wall. It is the sound of a word carefully inserted into a sonnet. Bach stirs in me like a destiny. The clackety clackety clack clack of Kerouac’s typewriter in Neil Cassady’s Los Gatos attic comes to mind as a form of inspiration and cosmic comic sewn with a piano and a nocturnal emission. As for me, I don’t like to travel. No “on the road” from me. I’m just happy if I can find a seat to myself on the bus.
I used to enjoy travels to North Dakota to visit my grandparent’s farm and sinking my hand into a giant pile of grain. Right up to my elbow, and beyond. To my shoulder. I loved the smell of that grain. It was woody, and a little acrid.
Then when I got older I used to enjoy lounging in lounges sipping martinis and thinking of Shakespeare. History doesn’t move forward. Quite often it goes backwards. Think of Shakespeare. Think of the Elizabethans. Think of those heady plays full of ideas and questions about existence and power and seeking the love of a father or falling in love with the wrong woman. Now think about people today. They can barely carry a conversation. And when they do, it’s generally about the latest iPad or Smartphone. So no, history absolutely does not always move forward.
The key to success is in finding the right kind of camouflage. And cheap entertainments, like going for rides in elevators. Or luxuriating, à la the Big Labowski, in warm water in a bathtub surrounded by votive candles and incense listening to the songs of whales. The dude abides baby.
Sink your eyes into Corot’s landscapes. Jellyfish floating in the sound shimmering and fat with translucence. Big tired horses. Gallantry and steel.
I feel radical and silver. Send me a dollar and I’ll send you a packet of space for the treatment of asteroids.
Are animals attracted to you? If the answer is yes, your life is an amazing triumph of feeling and compassion. Don’t spoil it by seeking a literary award.
The ocean is a big emotion smelling of fish and crustaceans. I feel the heft of a loud fat cloud. I meet Mick Jagger at the new Ferris Wheel and we go for a ride. The little car sways. Below us the bay glitters and people gather in clusters and lines.
This is another lie. It wasn’t Mick Jagger. It wasn’t anyone. It was the lap of waves on small smooth stones. It was warm cat emerging from sleep. It was a sentence in uneasy equilibrium. It was thousands and thousands of nerves translating the murmuring of the world into fire and pearl.