Contact: vanderleun@gmail.com

"Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another. " - H.L.Mencken

TerrorWar

The Kids Are Not All Right

A CARTOON is published in Denmark and embassies are stormed and torched throughout the world to the shrieking cacophonies of Muslim mobs. Just another dutiful day in the sunny realms of Islam. These predictable tantrums grow by turns more disturbing and irritating. It is as if civilization has, in its efforts to be ever more civilized, nurtured a slight skin rash into a full blown case of adolescent acne and decided to treat it with a variety of homeopathic and ineffective nostrums that only seem to encourage its spread, even when more effective palliatives are at hand.

Seriously, for serious we shall some day become about this matter, what are we to do about these children of a younger god? For, looked at from any adult perspective, children is what these acolytes of Islam are, and children is what they will remain -- growing ever stronger and more dangerous in the absence of any effective discipline -- until such time as they are instructed, in no uncertain terms, to sit down, shut up, go to their rooms and sleep off the spiritual intoxication which has become a danger to others and, most of all, themselves.

And yet, no such intervention seems readily at hand from the "leaders" of Western Civilization. With numbing regularity, we are reminded daily that Islam is the youngest of the world's monotheisms and hence, I suppose, we all need to cut it a bit of slack. We are reminded of this much as clever lawyers for adolescent school serial killers remind the juries of their clients' tender years in hopes they will ignore the bodies, the collections of weapons, and the hand-crafted web sites promising death daily to all those who will not respect their deadly dementias.

Our elected "leaders" -- interested as always in preserving the status quo ante that elected them and a smooth ride through the always approaching next elections -- are tireless in their tepid promotion of Islam as merely a moderate grouping of one billion misunderstood kids. In this our leaders' dinner party guests, vacation partners, celebrity intellectuals, pundits and entertainers join them in the maudlin plaint "What's wrong with peace, love and understanding?" It is the kind of bromide that those Krazy Kolumbine Kidz would have dismissed as "lame" and go on shooting. But consequences matter little to the private jet elite. Once you've an assured seat on a G5 you cease to inhabit a country and exist only in your own private fantasy island. The consequences of your political philosophies seldom visit this island. You can just emit gaseous slogans and fly, fly away.

Wouldn't it be refreshing for those of us left at the commercial aviation security gates to hear, just once, a bit of straight talk about Islam, the MTV religion that is devoted to getting its latest Gangsta video played in heavy rotation on the news around the world?

Just once wouldn't it be immensely gratifying to get hit with just a jot of a smidgen of the truth about this lethal spiritual confection? Just one time wouldn't you listen with rapt attention to one political pundit stepping up to the microphone and keeping it real about Islam; bringing it out from behind the smoke machine of it's current greatest hit, "A Peaceful, Loving Religion," by Cool Allah and the Gang? "Peaceful" and "Loving" might be the refrain but what we see in the videos is quite a different story. An honest politician might narrate it thus:

"Hey, kick back, relax and chill. These Muslims are just the teenagers of faith. It's a phase. We all went through it. What's a few bombings, stonings, riots, wars, clitorectomies, mass murders, honor killings, kidnappings, subway slaughters, car burnings, skyscraper demolitions, the odd beheading here and there and the fooling about with nerve gas and weapons grade plutonium? They're kids. They'll grow out of it. Love is all they need."

Of course, this is like advising the proud parents of a teenager who is spraying a mall with automatic weapons fire to send him to the parking lot for a time out. He might listen to them and sullenly agree, but only to reload between keying all the cars and cell-phoning his friends to come on down and join the party.

As it is, sadly, with some teenagers so it is with some adolescent religious behavior. Not all experimental behaviors of youth allow the practitioners to survive until adulthood kicks in. Some experiments are so extreme -- running automobiles over mountain roads at 110 mph, consuming a quart of grain alcohol, taunting wild animals while inside their cages, leaving explosive devices along random stretches of public highways, strapping on a vest of dynamite and going out to the disco -- that the level of lethality exceeds 99.5%. As a civilization we seem to agree that these sorts of adolescent behavior are to be discouraged. Why we seek to explain them away when practiced by an adolescent religion is a question that has no good answers.

Perhaps, in the more mature religion of Christianity, the answer would be to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Or perhaps even the simpler Christian answer of "Love" would apply. But if that is the case, when it comes to a petulant, narcissistic, and increasingly violent teenager named Islam, that "love" needs to be applied tougher and faster lest the only mode of discipline left to an adult civilization is to send Islam to a very dark room for a very long time-out.

Vanderleun : February 6, 06  |  Comments (0)  | Link: Permalink

American Studies

The Man Who Carried the Dark Lantern

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead. -- Proverbs 21:16

WATCHING AN ANCIENT DEMON RETURN to take control of someone you love, and begin to kill them slowly with euphoria is a hard witness to bear alone. Watchng someone you love return to the addiction they left a decade before with all its insane compulsions and obsessions and destructiveness is confusing and disorienting. They'll all tell you you have no power to stop it, but that cannot be true.

Surely somewhere in the mountainous library of studies written about the Demon there's a magic spell, an incantation, a potion, a pill, a recipe for rescue. You find yourself, as you always have, turning to books where, most certainly you've told yourself, all answers lie. But this particular library is, you will find when you go there, vast, unmapped and illuminated in the manner of Milton's Hell,
     A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
     As one great furnace, flamed; yet from those flames
     No light, but rather darkness visible
,
and the card catalogue has long since been ripped from the drawers and scattered madly about the floor by others seeking the same secret. Still, I stumbled about blind in this dark place which held no braille, nor could I have read it if it had.

Like untold millions of others before me, I became disoriented deep in the towering labyrinth of stacks obsessively organized in perfect manic randomness. At some point I reached out and plucked a book at random from this chaos, but since I held no light it could not be read, and I probably would not have understood its language could I have seen the text.

Useless, I dropped it as so many others before me had dropped their randomly grabbed books. It didn't matter, in the end, how many books were dropped or thrown onto the heaps, there were always more being written and tossed in from all sides. Each, in the dark, as useless as the centuries of books that had come before.

In a short time, I became utterly lost. Then I could neither find what I had gone into the library for, nor could I find my way out. In my frantic quest to save what could not be saved, I had gone deep into the far corridors far beyond any faint glimmer and lost the way back.

I felt the fear that cavers feel when, in a tight space far below the surface, their helmet lights fade and die and the weight of absolute darkness presses hard all around their bodies. What I needed then was not The Book with The Secret -- somewhere in those endless shelves it may well exist -- but a guide to get me out. And for a reason I do not yet comprehend, but hope to, a guide was sent.

He was one of the rough, hard working men of America and he held a dark lantern -- an ancient device in which the light within is either concealed or revealed by means of a sliding panel. He did not know me at all, but he did know himself as he walked out of the night in a small town up by the Canadian border. He didn't know my story but he did know his story and that, at rock bottom, it was not that different at all from mine.

His dark lantern didn't light up the place where I was lost in some shattering burst of illumination, but instead -- by sliding the panel back and directing what little light he held towards the exit, we were in time to find ourselves outside the black library and sitting in that most common of American spaces, a small town coffee shop where I could, at last, see what he looked like.

The waitresses all knew him. It seems he's been guiding people out of the dark for some time in this town, and the ladies understand what he's doing when he shows up with yet another shattered pilgrim like myself. They put us in a booth at the back, refilled our mugs for free, then went away and let us talk far past closing time.

He was a carpenter by training and by trade. About my age but without any of the soft edges that I've either always had or more recently acquired. His hands were scarred and had the flattened nails and tips the fingers get from too many encounters with boards, hammers and the other daily hazards of the job.

Continued...
Vanderleun : February 5, 06  |  Comments (0)  | Link: Permalink

American Studies

He Wasn't in His Right Mind

"All of the victims were shot in their heads
and all but McGowan were shot in their beds,"
Doyle said.

"The beds were undisturbed.
The house itself was undisturbed,"
Doyle said.

"There were no signs
of a break-in,"
Doyle said.

-- No Motive Found in California Murders


ABOVE, THE UNINTENTIONAL "FOUND POETRY" of a local murder in Garner Valley, California. Exceptional enough to be bought to the ever shortening attention span of the nation because the toll was unusually high:
David, Father, age 42 -- believed dead by his own hand.
Chase, son, age 14
Paige, daughter, age 10
Raine, daughter, age 8
Karen, wife and mother, age 42
Karen's mother, no name or age given in the report.

We learn that a "911 dispatcher didn't hear any voices on the line, but was able to identify the sounds of the telephone hitting the wall and a gunshot." We learn that the father's body was found next to a handgun and a phone. We learn that "this community is in no danger. We are not at this time looking for a suspect." We learn that the town is really quiet and that, "A lot could happen right next door and you wouldn't even know it."

We don't learn if the standard spontaneous shrine of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and children's art and crayoned notes has been erected at the edge of the police tape in front of the home, but we know it will be and will remain until the rains wash it all away.

We won't learn, unless we live in that small town, the why of it all.

We probably could know, in time, the why of it all if we became interested in this common killing exceptional only for its body count. We could learn if we followed the ever-shrinking national news reports down to the local level. We could, we think, learn why if we followed the reports on through the inquest and into the six graves that wait after all the bodies are autopsied by the men who spend their lives
"Working on mysteries
Without any clues.
Working on their night moves."

We could know but we won't bother to find out. No need really. We already think two things that keep us from needing to know. First, we think that we do know what happened in the house. Second, we know -- because it happened in that house -- it will never happen in our house.

We know it will never happen in our house because, as humans, we have an almost limitless ability to forget any hint of 'could' when it comes to horror. In those few moments when our forgetfulness fails us, we remain secure in our belief that we would never do such things to those we love. We know to an absolute certainty that anyone who could must not have been "in his right mind."

That's a common but still strange phrase -- "in his right mind." Everyone uses it as shorthand for things people do that are, large or small, somehow far outside what we normally expect them to do. Nobody that I know of takes it to the other side of that common phrase and looks at what a person does when he's "in his wrong mind."

Our right mind doesn't like to think it's got a wrong mind. It doesn't like to think it because it does indeed have one, and it is hardwired. Each of our right minds has a wrong mind and we are, with good reason, very, very frightened of it. So frightened that we don't think of it because to even think of our wrong mind gives it power, and it has far too much of that already. It has so much power that, once the wrong mind starts to control us, it takes, as they say, "a power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity."

I grow increasingly uncertain about a growing number of things in this life, but of that one thing I once became, and today remain, certain of without a scintilla of a doubt. Like most men, I tend to forget about that power when mucking about in the detritus of daily life. That really doesn't matter. Sooner or later I am always given a miraculous moment on the small scale of ordinary life that lets me know in no uncertain terms that, for human beings, only "a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity." I know that this invisible thing exists because I have seen it.

You might think that this encounter with a "greater power" is a "drinking thing," but for me it was a "feeling thing." Except for a few years when I was young and it was the style, plus a brief passage later, I've never been much of a drinking man. My default state, when it comes to drinking is that I find I can drink as much as I want, but that I don't want to drink all that much.

My problem and one of my many flaws is this "feeling thing." I can very easily feel too much and have a problem stopping the feeling of feeling too much. It's not easy being an empath. You learn early to just shut down emotions; to keep them caged with silence. You learn later, much later, that keeping feelings caged with silence is like putting your wrong mind on steroids. It only makes it stronger. Much stronger. At some point you lose the power to keep your right mind in control of your wrong mind. And that's when very bad things can start to happen.

One day in June many years ago in a universe far, far away, in a small town on the other side of this continent, bad things started to happen for me.

It was at the end of the usual long banal litany of love gone off the tracks -- secrets, lies, scorn, and selfishness. There were years of too little money followed by far too much money coming too quickly, until people could finally afford the favorite American fantasy of dumping the old and tried to get to the new and better for the sake of "personal growth."

Her need for personal growth and "more space" had been building for over a year, as had my own silent rage of feelings. She'd gone into the city for a late meeting and "dinner with a client." It would "probably run late" so she'd just be "sensible" and "take a hotel room and come back in the morning." How perfectly sensible that was. What could I do but agree?

"A lot could happen right next door and you wouldn't even know it."

She got dressed for the city and packed an overnight case and got in her new Saab and drove off down the hill towards the city. I watched her car disappear around the bend in the road by the school. I waited by the window for five minutes and then went and searched her bathroom. I didn't find what I was looking for.

I checked my six in my soul and found, naturally, no real emotions roaming about. They were safely caged and there was no key. So, without really thinking about it all that much, I did what any normal American would do under such circumstances. I went shopping.

I backed my gold '72 Cadillac out of my garage and drove down the hill to Highway One and turned right in the direction of the city she'd gone to. I drove less than half a mile to the store that stood alone in the trees and turned left into the parking lot and went inside.

An hour or so later I drove back to my house and pulled into the garage feeling, as the song says, "comfortably numb." I set the brake and went to move my right hand off the steering wheel to turn off the ignition key. But I couldn't move my hand off the steering wheel and onto the key.

You never really think about how you move your hand until you can't move it. The hand is the mind and soul's interface with the world. It's working that way right now as I press the keys that make these words and this period.

When you find, suddenly, that the hand won't obey your brain, that you've lost the power to make it do your bidding, it brings everything else in you to a full stop. It certainly did with me that evening in my garage. Even though the house was in a very quiet area on a side road above the town, everything seemed to get much quieter still in those moments when I couldn't move my hand. So quiet in fact that white noise that had whined in my mind all afternoon faded out until I heard something say quite calmly and distinctly, "You've really got to return that stuff in the trunk right now."

The stuff in the trunk was a brand-new shotgun and a carton of shells "for home defense."

Whatever it was that was telling me to return this stuff wasn't making a suggestion, but it was giving me an order that, because God was not yet done with me, I couldn't refuse. I knew it, my right mind knew it, and my wrong mind knew it and was taken, in that instant, by that power, and put back in its place deep beneath the light.

And then I could move my hand, not to turn off the ignition -- that was still not allowed -- but to put the car into reverse, back out of the garage, drive back to the Gun Shop, and return the stuff in the trunk.

When I walked in with the stuff and laid it on the counter to get my money back I said, "I decided I don't really need this after all."

The man who sold the stuff to me gave me a straight look and said, "I guess you don't."

He was right. What I did need, I decided, was a drink. And since that need's solution is always ready to hand in America, I drove across Highway One and directly to the local dive bar back from the road next to the on-ramp to I-95.

I'd seen far too much of this scuzzy joint in the last few months and I was going to see too much more of it in the months to come. It had been through a lot of owners, each of whom was determined to get more money out of it by putting less into it. It wasn't quite to the stage where you could get a shot and a beer while standing in rubble up to your knees, but it was getting there. It had the requisite thick smoke from stubbed out, lipstick stained L&Ms; for standard atmosphere, but it had something extra as well. It always seemed to me that, in some strange way, the management had managed to inject into the haze of blue-gray smoke a fine particulate of black specks. It seemed to give it ... character.

It was one of those bars whose main attraction was that, no matter how down you were and no matter how ugly you were and no matter how crazy you were, there was always someone there late at night that was more depressed, ugly and crazy than you could ever be. That made you feel good in a very bad sort of way. To amp up this quality feeling, the jukebox -- on those evenings it worked -- was dedicated to country and western songs. Did I mention that it was called the "Tip-Top?" It was and it was just the bar for me; my own very down market version of the cocktail lounge in "The Shining." The only real difference was that at the Tip-Top I had to pay.

Like I said, I've never been a drinking man, but in those days I did drink more than I have before or since. Sometimes much more. The extra advantage of going to the Tip-Top was that I could drive back to my house about a mile away along back roads where, late at night, the police only came when they were called. A perfect situation. What a brilliant bar it was.

After leaving the Gun Shop and walking into the Tip-Top with cash in hand, my first move was a shot of Irish whiskey with a beer back so I could toast whatever power it had been that had forced me to take the stuff in the trunk back to the dealer. I had no idea what the power was, but I knew I felt stronger for it. I was again in perfect control of my feelings. I was so much in control of my feelings that I felt the need to celebrate that achievement with an aperitif, which in this case was another shot of Irish whiskey. Tillamore Dew -- top shelf stuff, no well bottles for me.

By the time that was down I was feeling hungry, so I took a look at the fly specked bar menu at the Tip-Top and ordered their daily special, a pint of Guiness at half-price. Very nutritious.

Not quite full, I decided on dessert which, being a double Kahlua on the rocks, was far too sweet for my tastes and needed a night-cap of Cognac, served neat in a snifter, the better to get a quality case of the vapors.

Having taken all necessary measures to feel no feelings at all, I left and got in my car and drove carefully on the back roads with all the windows open -- for the refreshing breeze -- until I pulled into my garage. This time I had no trouble at all with my hand and shut off the ignition.

I got out of the car, leaving the driver's door open, and walked back and pulled the garage door down. The garage was under the house and, because the house was built to keep everyone warm through the New England winters, the garage door had flanges that sealed it tightly against the cold winds and snow. I'd installed a new bottom seal the autumn before so I knew it was in good shape, even Tip-Top.

I turned from the door and walked back along the car intending to go up the stairs and into the house and to bed. Instead, I found myself getting back into the driver's seat. I sat there for a moment and stared at the back wall of the garage with its collection of rakes, shovels, and other tools. There was a dingy storage compartment off to the right and I remember thinking that I really had to give it a new coat of paint.

Then it came to me that it would be a really good idea, a perfect idea, a shiningly stunning idea, if I would simply reach out my hand and turn the engine on. A glance at the gauge on the way home had informed me I had over half a tank. That would certainly be enough to get me where I had to go. It was a warm summer night and I could even leave the windows down. Better still, I didn't need to worry about being a little drunk and getting pulled over and having to breathe in a tube since I wouldn't be driving on any roads at all. I looked at this plan from a lot of angles and I could find no flaw in it.

Okay, I thought, lets get on with it. So I told my hand to reach out and turn the key.

And for the second time that day, I couldn't move my hand. I mean, I really could not move my hand. I told it to move with my mind in no uncertain terms over and over to no effect. It just stayed in my lap in that limp and unresponsive state your limbs get to if you sleep on them and cut off the circulation. When I thought about reaching across with my left hand to do the duty of my right hand, that entire arm stopped working. That made me angry enough to talk to my hand out loud, "Just get with it. Quit screwing around and turn the damn key!"

Which is when I wept, very loudly and for a very long time, but not for the last time. It was okay to weep though because, as I thought at the time, I was the only one there.

When that was over, I got out of the car and up the stairs to the kitchen and then up to bed where I indulged myself in the luxury of passing out with my clothes on.

I woke up in a patch of sunlight the next morning, stripped, took a shower, six aspirin, a lot of orange juice, and three cups of coffee sitting outside at the picnic table I'd built next to the rope swing I'd hung from the oak, close by the small platform tree house I'd put up in the willow. All that was over now, and there'd be years of bad days ahead, but they'd all -- no matter how bad -- be better than the day I'd just passed through.

Somehow I'd gotten into my "wrong mind." Somehow, I thought then, I'd gotten back into my "right mind." The thing with the hand not working bothered me quite a bit, but I didn't have any ready explanation for it and, being a man who just loves rational explanations, I put it aside until I could 'study the phenomenon' from some book that certainly had the answer.

I didn't know then that the only sensible and rational answer was that "a power greater than ourselves had restored us to sanity." I think I know that now, even if I forget from time to time.

But I remember it anew when, like this morning, I read the common, garden variety headline, No Motive Found in California Murders. That could have been my headline many years ago, and we all know the motive behind "No Motive Found."

Over the years, I've told a couple of therapists and a few friends about sitting in my car in my garage with the door closed on that June night. I've never told anyone about the stuff that was in the trunk earlier that day. Until the end of my days, I'll always be grateful and humbled by the power that stayed my hand and made me return that stuff.

A man named Poretto told me recently that Grace is something that is always waiting and knocking quietly at the door of your life. In California, yesterday, somebody forgot to answer the door. In Connecticut years ago, I couldn't answer so something just kicked mine down, walked right in, and took over.

"A lot could happen right next door and you wouldn't even know it."

Vanderleun : February 4, 06  |  Comments (5)  | Link: Permalink

Myths & Texts

The Man Who Loved Not Wisely But At Least Twice

CALL HIM CARL.

Many, many years ago I founded and ran my second magazine in San Francisco. In time, I sold my share out to my partner and, flush with cash for the first time in my life, decided to move to New England with my then live-in love whom I shall always think of as "The Socialite." The Socialite's family was one of the 500 and, although fallen on hard times, they retained their position within high Eastern society because of their illustrious name. Their family seat was in Newport, Rhode Island, and The Socialite would, years later, live there with her husband and their daughters. I think about her from time to time and saw her once five years ago. She'd turned into her mother -- slim, patrician, and slightly nuts.

But this is not about her, or those white nights, or even the oh-so-social summers at Bailey's Beach. This is about Carl, the most unwise lover I ever met. I'm telling you about him because by doing so it makes me feel less stupid about love and that's a feeling that's far too rare for me these days.

When the Socialite and I moved back to New England, we rented the oldest farmhouse and grounds in Litchfield, Connecticut. Litchfield is a Norman Rockwell village that is more of a Norman Rockwell village than Norman Rockwell's village.

Our house had no street number. Our house, about a mile out of Litchfield Center, was simply called "Wolfpit Farm." It was an immense house of some six bedrooms upstairs and two down with a parlor and dining room and large open kitchen. Attached to this large house was the original structure; a squat 17th century post-and-beam antique with two stories crammed into about 15 feet. This made each floors ceiling come in at about 6 feet four inches. People were smaller then so I assume this didn't crowd them.

Carl, the unwise lover, was already living in this colorful but squat structure. His ceilings were 6 feet 4 inches and Carl stood 6 feet 6 inches, an updated and somewhat dazed Ichabod Crane. Every time Carl stood up in his house he had to squat down and shamble from room to room. He had to be especially careful when going through the doors of his place since they were shorter still.

His living area, much smaller than ours, shared one wall with us in the kitchen. As a result, every so often when Carl became a bit too rushed, we'd hear a thump and a muffled curse as Carl missed his stoop level going from room to room and his forehead collided with the top of the door.

This usually happened after happy hour in the Village on Fridays.

"Thump!" "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Arrrr!"

In those days I don't recall ever seeing Carl without a Band-Aid or a scab right in the middle of his forehead. He was permanently in recovery from beam collision.

He was also in recovery from his desire, like George Costanza, to be an architect as well as a divorce. The two were not at all unrelated, as I shall now relate.

Continued...
Vanderleun : February 3, 06  |  Comments (3)  | Link: Permalink

5-Minute Arguments

Pre-Owned Jeans

ONE OF THE SMALL ECONOMIES about living in New York City for years and relocating to Southern California is to be had in clothing costs. If one of your jobs in New York was being a men's fashion editor for a magazine, you find that you don't buy clothes so much as have them.

In any case, I dumped clothes by the cartload before I moved, and I still had far too many when I arrived. Since I don't ski, the usefulness of items that would put Nanook of the North into a sweat during January in Greenland are pretty dubious when every day can be a day at the beach. As a result, I've been pretty much out of the clothing shopping cycle for years and I find it, to say the least, refreshing.

In Laguna Beach if you hold two pairs of shorts, a couple of swim suits, a few Hawaiian Shirts and two pairs of jeans for "formal occasions," you're pretty much done. But "wear happens" and I've noted that my Levis have been getting -- even for Levis -- fairly grotty in the last couple of months. Yesterday, I decided they about to be redefined as "rags," and I so set off to purchase my first new pair of jeans in at least six years.

Since I'm a hit-and-run shopper I did what any American male in search of jeans-to-go would do, I turned left into the parking lot of the first Gap I saw and sauntered inside confident of my mission. Unlike my wife who tends to shop like a wild gazelle grazes -- a nip here and graze there and, presto, six different designer shopping bags -- I knew what I wanted. I also knew how much I was going to spend. Unlike my wife who never really spends any money on clothes, but only "saves" money on clothes. [ Me: "You look great in that new outfit with the shoes and the hat. How much did they cost?" Her: "Would you believe I saved over $800 on this? How great is that?" Me: "That's really great."]

I firmly believe that if you have to spend more than 15 minutes in a clothing store, you don't need what you think you need. My list was short. I wanted one pair of five pocket denim jeans, blue, crisp, and coming in at no more than $50. The Gap was the place for me.

Fool. Yes, fool. For if you want to find a pair of crisp, new blue jeans in trendy deco SoCal, you'd better pack a lunch, because you are about to find yourself trapped inside an episode of "Shop Trek."

It's not that you can't buy some new jeans at the Gap, it is just that you can't buy any new new jeans.

Yes, it would seem that sometime in the last six years, the American people have become so fat and so happy and so inordinately lazy that they no longer want to put their own wear, sweat and stress into their Levis. Nope, it seems that the entire country will only buy jeans that have already been worn into a shambles, reduced, as new, to the rags I already had at home.

You've got new jeans at the Gap that look like they've had non-union and unlucky sweatshop employees of Sri Lanka of all shapes and sizes stuffed into them and then dragged for miles along country roads. They've got jeans with the off -the-rack look as if they've been sandblasted at a construction site in Tiajuana -- after Happy Hour. You've got jeans that look as if the person inside them was persuaded to talk with a belt-sander. You've got jeans that seem to have been stolen out of a refugee center in Kosovo after a NATO bombing raid went terribly wrong. And you've got jeans that I swear have the finish and light golden color stained deep into the blue that you could only get if you buried them in a Chicago feedlot and let several herds of cattle rain down on them for a month.

Pre-shredded, pre-torn, pre-raveled at the seams, pre-faded, pre-pissed upon and a dozen other industrial or inhuman processes all combined to give me a section of men's jeans at the Gap that looked like the changing room right next to a mass grave. All displayed proudly and marked and priced as "New."

I'd long been aware of a certain market on eBay, Eastern Europe, and Japan among the tragically hip for vintage worn Levis. I'd accepted that as one accepts the fact that there will always be a market real and facsimile shrunken heads. I'd been vaguely conscious of the "stone-washed" process in denim, but thought that was only popular among Suburban housewives of the expanding midriff. But I'd just not caught up with the fact that it was no longer necessary, or fashionable, to break-in your own Levis when you could have a process or a prisoner or a refugee do it for you.

It was once the case that when you bought a pair of Levis they were not only board stiff, they were two sizes large so you could "shrink to fit." The other miracle about them was that they could turn any laundry within two blocks of your house blue for the first five washings. Wear? Wear happened -- slowly, over years, like the mellowing of a fine Bordeaux. Long gone. Where are the Levis of yesteryear? In the Ginzo district in Tokyo selling for $1,110 a pair.

Where are the Levis and Gap jeans of next year? Probably on the ass of some hapless bastards in lock-down at a prison in either Arizona or Bangladesh. After all, if my web host can outsource his service calls to India, surely it is only a matter of time before our Levi pre-wearing is outsourced as well.

Did I buy any new jeans? Of course not. I came home and looked at the two half-rotten pair I own, frayed at the cuff, a hole in one knee, and stained from five years hard-riding. I slipped a pair on, chose an Hawaiian shirt that would be ashamed if it was a tie, and took a turn in front of the mirror.

Ah, that Tropical-Balkan-Refugee look. The very glass of fashion.

Vanderleun : February 2, 06  |  Comments (15)  | Link: Permalink

Analog World

The Wedding Vows

           ....Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

             --- Shakespeare -- Sonnet 116.

THE FIRST TIME I WAS MARRIED I was married to over 200 naked people. We weren't quite buck naked. The men had crudely made laurel wreathes on their heads, sometimes just a wad of weeds, while the women had wreathes of flowers around their brows and, for those old enough to have any, small bouquets of blossoms lodged in their pubic hair. All the men had large clubs and all the women large breasts. It was the butt end of the 60s and people in my set tended to have that kind of equipment. What children there were tended to be either infants or toddlers, all still nursing at will.

The men and the women had separated an hour or so before the wedding and, at dusk, the two groups came together from opposite directions.

First the men came, chanting and grunting and pounding and waving their clubs. At our center was the groom, long black hair streaming down over his back, nude and tanned, under a kind of pagan huppah of a custom tie-dye made for the occassion and four sticks sporting Gods Eyes, also hand crafted for the ritual.

Chanting and grunting, (Yes, the LSD had kicked in an hour or so before and was still not peaking.) we made our way to a bluff of hard black stone overlooking the Great Central Valley in California from the first rise of foothills that step up into the High Sierra. All about our feet were deep, smooth indentations in the black rock where the Indians had, for centuries, ground acorns into mash with stones.

Looking down from the stone bluff we could see all across the Great Imperial Valley to where the sun was descending behind the Coast Range. It was a green day shading into an orange dusk. There were guitars strumming somewhere. In those days somebody was always noodling a long nothing on a guitar. We turned and, as men in groups at wedding have always done, we waited for the bride and her estrogen entourage. The waiting for the women was perhaps the only traditional moment of matrimony to be had on that day.

The women emerged from the shadows of the pine forest that rolled up behind them to the starker slopes of the Sierras where the timber line looked cold and gray under the lingering slabs of snow that still, even in high summer, caught the light and shined from inside the shadows. They numbered around a hundred. Never before or since have I seen such a large grouping of naked women. All shapes and sizes, all ages. I'd like to say all races but this was early in our forced march into the leaden halls of mandatory diversity and they were mostly white.

And all, at least in my memory, lovely -- each in their way.

They'd spent their two hours (as the mystery molecule that was our sacrament in those years kicked in), gathering vast quantities of wildflowers from the valley and the forest. They carried large bouquets and had used the surplus for adornment. This adornment consisted of wildflower tiaras ringing the long hair or all colors that fell from their heads, and as smaller bouquets formed by placing individual stems in large quantities into their pubic hair -- and in those days of dedication to the natural body, pubic hair was much more formidable than the current rage for plucking, shaping, and waxing could possibly indicate.

Standing with 100 naked men on a stone bluff as 100 naked women walked towards you singing some ancient melody is something that a man does not easily forget. I have, in my memory, a large set of mental Polaroids from those minutes and they have not faded. Primal, true, baked at high temperatures and very elemental moments have a habit of lodging themselves deep your the cerebral cortex never to be evicted.

In time the groups merged and stood close together in the warm dusk as the bride joined the groom under the tie-dyed huppa through which the sun's light glowed.

The man chosen to lead the ceremony stood at the apex of the arc we'd formed behind the bride and groom, his back to the valley and mountains to the west. He was a man of strange interests and a fascinating philosophy. At least, that's how I remember him since, at this remove, I don't remember any of the odd things he believed, except their were a lot of them. He'd suffered some sort of catastrophic accident involving fire and the left side of his face was a mass of shining scar tissue which was usually pink but became inflamed and glowed red when emotions surged through him. Since this was a moment when both emotions and LSD were surging through him, it was like looking at some strange naked harlequin mask perched atop a short and stock naked body with a large mat of red chest hair.

Somehow this pastor or shaman pulled himself together enough to begin the ceremony. Since those present at the ceremony, taken en masse, represented a lot of the original tribe that had, in San Francisco in those years, invented the Hippies, we were -- so we saw ourselves -- the Acquarian Center of the World and the Crown of Creation. As such, we were inventing the world anew. And one of the things that simply had to be invented anew from scratch were the Wedding Vows.

Not for us were the tired promises made by our parents and all those who came before our parents going back into the centuries long before.

Not for us to be gathered in the sight of God ( although He saw us all more clearly that day than we could hope to know), but rather in the sight of our self-selected naked tribe that would later imagine something named Gaia as a shallow but faintly adequate god that mapped to our own egos and self-willed agnosticism.

Not for us to respond to the warning "as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, that ye confess it." Confession was not in us, not necessary. We believed in being 'up front,' except in those cases where fronting something would bust us in the other's eyes. In which case, we stuffed it and lied. We did not fear the day of judgment. We lived in the realm of "Hey, no judgments. Cool?"

Exempt from both history and the uncool straight world that was cool with a "criminal war" against the Vietnamese peoples' right to place themselves under a Communist dictatorship for decades, we didn't have to take the part about "Wilt thou love her,
comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? " except at it pleased us to do so.

Love was cool. After all, was it not written in the Sacred Book of Beatles that "Love was all you need?" -- here and there and everywhere. Comfort was something you could get off on so that could hang around somewhere in the vows. Honor? Very 19th century warmonger kind of deal, man. What did it mean anyway? Sickness and health? Say, if we kept eating our macrobiotic, utterly natural salad bar we'd never grow old, sick or even -- yes -- die. Health from the magic of the old ones would always be ours. Forsaking all others was, well, right out as the groom and the bride both were to demonstrate later that night repeatedly. Theirs was going to be an open marriage going in and an explosively open one coming out. None of that fidelity for life -- or even for an afternoon -- operated in that post-pill, pre-HIV era.

With all those half-baked newly minted and untested values in play, the deeper part of the traditional vows -- ...to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler,in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth. -- didn't have a chance of even making it into the first draft of this couple's Acquarian imaginings of what to say when, ostensibly, getting married. If they'd wanted to translate it to their new age palaver it might have read:
... to have and to hold until the next lover walks through our front door, for better until something better comes along, for richer and only for richer, for fairer or knock-down gorgeous, in health but not in an extended illness or if you should lapse into a persistent vegetative state in which case you, my love, are out of here, to love and to use in groups, till being uncool on any level makes me dump you, in accordance with nothing holy in particular, and unto you I plight thee my maybe...

Continued...
Vanderleun : February 1, 06  |  Comments (3)  | Link: Permalink

Myths & Texts

Where the Buffalo Roam


Proof -- Dateline: Moab, Utah Taken at Site

He'd hunted big game for years all over the United States. Hunting was a way of life to him. But, in all those years, he'd never shot a buffalo. He'd put his name in for the lottery that gave out yearly licenses to shoot buffalo, but year after year the winning number had eluded him. As he failed, again and again, his need to add a buffalo, an American bison, to his life bag grew to obsessive proportions. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He determined that he would buy a couple of young buffalo, raise them, and then shoot them. It seemed like a plan.

When the buffalo purchase was completed the question arose about where these buffalo were to be raised. He wasn't a rich man and the cost to two baby buffalo maxed out his credit cards. The only viable option was to raise them on his front lawn in Moab, Utah. Accordingly, the buffalo were delivered and put out to pasture, or "out to lawn" as the case may be.

Besides grass the lawn also contained, courtesy of his kids, a couple of soccer balls. Shortly after the buffalo became his lawn ornaments, he was out walking among them when one of them discovered a soccer ball and butted it over to him with its nose. Without thinking he kicked it back towards the other buffalo, who passed it to the first buffalo who butted it back to him. An hour or so of passing and kicking the soccer ball between man and buffalo ensued.

When he went out on his lawn the next morning, they were waiting for him. One seemed to be playing midlawn while the other hung back by the water trough which had become some sort of goal. The forward buffalo butted the ball towards him. Without thinking he returned the kick over the head of the forward. No good. With a speed belying its bulk, the defensive buffalo moved quickly and butted it through his legs to the porch. When it bounced off the barbecue, they seemed to do a brief victory prance. The game was afoot.

Day after day, week after week, the strange lawn ritual with the soccer ball went on and on. In truth, he had long since pulled far ahead of the buffalo in goals, but what do buffalo know about keeping score?

In time, however, the hunting season came around. He looked out of his house on the first morning and saw the buffalo waiting for him, the soccer ball in front of the forward, the defensive buffalo pacing slowly back and forth by the water trough. It came to him then that he could never shoot them. It would spoil the season -- and the soccer season, in the deserts of Utah, is never really over.

On a hot afternoon soon after, he looked out his window and discovered, much to his delight and his neighbors' shock, that the two buffalo on his lawn were indeed male and female.

Now it is two years later and he has four buffalo on his lawn. He doesn't hunt anything anymore. Says he's lost the taste for it. His old hunting buddies come by every so often and razz him about the buffalo.

"You started with two and couldn't shoot them," one said. "Now you got four, and next year you're gonna have five. What are you going to do then?"

He went to his garage and came back with a basketball.

==

[First published 2004]

Vanderleun : January 31, 06  |  Comments (4)  | Link: Permalink

Myths & Texts

Citizens from the Mud: The Subconscious Yearning for American Defeat

ROGER SIMON is on the money (again) with his summation of the American death wish that seems to operate on some subconscious level in much of the American media:

These days the media is referring to our adversaries in Iraq by the seemingly objective term "insurgents," a word Merriam-Webster OnLine defines as

1 : a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent
2 : one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party

Definition 2 does not seem to be relevant, but what about 1? Are the guerrillas in Iraq merely people revolting against civil authority or are they something more specific? According to virtually every report, they are Baathists and their sympathizers, Islamic fundamentalists and their sympathizers or paid thugs working for either or both of the foregoing two groups. So what are they all together? Quite simply they are fascists or at best fascist fellow travelers.

But the media never say the "F" word. They never write the "fascists" did this or that (as they certainly did in other wars). They persist in using the benign "insurgents." Why? I don't want to think that Noah Oppenheim is correct in writing that many in the media quite seriously don't want us to win, but tonight of all nights it seems more likely that could be so. As I type these words at ten p. m. PDT... maybe I missed something... maybe I didn't click far enough... but I see no reports of the large pro-democracy/anti-terror march of Iraqis in Baghdad today in tomorrow's New York Times or Washington Post or in the Los Angeles Times(at least on their websites). Or on the CNN site. Or on MSNBC.... Do you think for one moment that if thousands had been marching for Saddam... for the fascists... excuse me "insurgents"... it wouldn't have been front page news? I don't. What's going on?

One is tempted to say that "God only knows," but that's false. What's going on is a massive, subconscious desire on the part of thousands of our fellow Americans to ensure that America loses -- not only in Iraq, but in the wider First Terrorist War. But why?

The French have an idiomatic phrase nostalgie pour la boue which means, roughly, yearning for the mud. It's a compulsion

Continued...
Vanderleun : January 30, 06  |  Comments (8)  | Link: Permalink

American Studies

Love Gone Missing

Previously Published Sunday Reading from the Archives

ABSENT BEING IN A COMA IN A CAVE somewhere on a high mountain in the middle of a cypress swamp, you cannot escape "The Runaway Bride." She is the plat du jour of our blighted age and the story of the decade so far this week. Now that she's back she'll be parsed and probed, drawn, quartered and eviscerated by the rapacious media until she's little more than a damp spot on some surgical sponge.

I hated The Runaway Bride from the first moment it was revealed she was safe and had simply freaked out and taken the geographic cure by getting gone to Vegas. Sane people have to hate Las Vegas too -- a place that advertises that when you do freak out, it is the psycho's vacation destination of choice. A pathetic reason for a town to exist, but cheap and low places need to work with what they have. After all, nobody would mistake Vegas for Vatican City until, of course, they build a 1/3rd scale model of Saint Peters and slam six thousand slots into the basilica -- something I am sure is in the planning stage.

Still Vegas is the perfect place for The Runaway Bride to select as the terminus of her bus ticket. Once you go psycho in America it seems you have to pass through at least a Vegas of the mind and soul even if your final destination is someplace much more mundane like.... Albuquerque.

Let her go.Let her go. God bless her,
Wherever she may be.
She can search, search this whole world wide over....

-- St. James Infirmary

Let's look instead at what lies far below the personalities of this pathetic drama to the deeper principles which illumine why this little tale has had such a large impact.

Father forgive the media, they know not what they do. But sometimes they do things right in spite of themselves. This is one of those stories. And no matter how many in the media beat up their peers for paying so much attention to this tawdry tale, it goes in the end to a deeper truth about ourselves and our lives.

What we are really seeing here is something that has a deep and abiding interest to humans because it is something that happens -- in their secret hearts and deeper souls -- to millions of human beings every single day. This latest passage is merely some modern passion play in which people act out on the stage of the nation our daily common tragedy entitled: Love Gone Missing.

It seems to me that if we knew the secrets of all our hearts, we'd know that love goes missing in our country thousands of times an hour. It doesn't usually go for a run, take a taxi, and grab a bus for destinations thousands of miles away, but that can often be the end of it.

Love goes missing in a moment of fear, of spite, of words spoken or left unspoken, in blink of an eye or a sentence only half-heard or remember wrongly. Love untempered by fire or by ice is a skittish thing in our lives. We think we know what it is, but we really only know what we've been told it is -- at least at the beginning.

Continued...
Vanderleun : January 29, 06  |  Comments (3)  | Link: Permalink

American Studies

Coin of the PC Realm

CHAD EVERETT @ Don't Back Down: Rustle or Jingle is asking about the fact that the dollar coin has not replaced the dollar bill.

The long term cost [of the Sacagawea Dollar coin] is lower, the hassle factor is lower, the speed is faster. Yet dollar bills are still far more prevalent in the US than dollar coins. Why is that, exactly?
He's gathered a few interesting responses in his comments and yet they don't quite get to the real reason: People just don't like them.

Case in point: While waiting in line at the Laguna Beach Post Office to speak to a clerk, a woman came in and rustled to the front to ask a question. She was clutching this bronze object that at first glance seemed to be a quarter, but was of course the dreaded dollar coin. She'd been purchasing stamps from the PO's vending machine with paper money and had been given several dollar coins in change from the machine.

She then decided that she needed a few more stamps and had tried to use the dollar coins. But of course the machine that gave them to her wasn't configured to accept them. This, needless to say, peeved her. But since today the US Post Office exists only to drive customers away and put itself out of business by 2010, the clerks only shrugged and went back to their SOP of imitating every slo-mo work film you've ever seen. The hapless woman interrupted them again and asked if she could please have some dollar bills for the coins so she could use the stamp machine. The clerk said, "We're not supposed to give bills for the coins, but we can give coins for the bills." There were about 12 people waiting in the snake line for the clerk and I think I saw each and every one slump down and despair at this perfect government employee epiphany. The woman just shook her head and made for the exit.

She was stuck with the dollar coins and, regardless of the coin's politically correct choice of an heroic pre-Native-American-Woman on the face, she went away mumbling and grumbling, not feeling chipper about the post office or Sacagawea. Alas, she'd not seen the last of the deadening effects of this stamp machine/post office bait and switch. She'd see more when she tried to spend the coins.

I've seen it and, if you have ever had the misfortune to get a few of these useless exercises in "efficient money," you've seen it too. You try to buy something with them and there's always this bit of hesitation from a clerk as you slip them three dollar coins for a $2.75 purchase.

They gaze in rapt wonder and then look up with a sidelong glance as if you are trying to pull a fast one. You offer that the coins are dollars and instruct them to read the coin carefully. (This is especially difficult if your choice with the clerk is to continue in English or in Spanish.) In time, there's a moment when the light dawns on them , but the suspicion is not really removed. Then, grudgingly, sure they'll have to make up the shortfall when they cash out, they accept them and give you a quarter in change.

The quarter is pretty much like the dollar except that it has a different color. The other difference is that everybody pretty much likes, or accepts without question, the quarter, but nobody is easy with the dollar. And nobody likes to get the dollar back from the clerk as change. I don't know about you but whenever it happens to me, I slide them back and ask for bills. They took them and now they are the store's problem.

Nevertheless, as Everett points out, the dollar is set to last for 30 years and the government has made a mountain of them. So look for the deadly ground loop of dumb government ideas to continue for at least that long. You'll get these dollars in change from Post Office stamp machines and you'll try to get rid of them as quickly as possible at the 7/11. The 7/11 will try to fob them off on other customers and be refused. In the end, I suppose almost all of them will be shipped back to the Federal Reserve. Once there, they'll be shipped out to .... what else? ... Post Office stamp machines.

It's a nice gesture to put Sacagawea on the dollar coin. There was a lot of crowing about it when it happened. Before that, the dollar coin had Susan B. Anthony on it. It also went down to sleep with the Post Office. Perhaps they'd have better luck next time if they put Ben Franklin's choice for the national bird on it -- the Turkey. A much more popular choice with a lot of room for jokes. Besides, collectors would gobble them up.

Vanderleun : January 28, 06  |  Comments (18)  | Link: Permalink

InVerse

Acquainted with the Blight

ON THIS, the pretty much 38th day in a row of rain in Seattle, I (with all apologies to Robert Frost ), scribble off this short adieu.

I have been one acquainted with the blight.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain,
(And out in rain -- and back in rain,
And out in rain -- and back in rain,
And out in rain -- and .... you get the picture.)
I have been skinsoaked under every city light.

I have looked down every moss-choked city lane.
I have passed drowned dolphins on my lawn
And splashed them with galoshes unwilling to explain.

I have stood up to my kiester in the ceaseless plop of drops
When over head an scheduled cloud's deluge
Sloshed the houses with a mound of mist,

But not to call me back but slather me with slops;
And further still at an unearthly height
One more damned raincloud against the sky

Proclaimed Seattle was neither dry nor Right.
I have been one acquainted with the blight.

And so, like all other foul weather cowards in Rain City, I'm off to sunnier more semi-tropical climes for a week or so. Blogging will continue but, unlike this blasted rain, will be slightly intermittent.

Vanderleun : January 27, 06  |  Comments (1)  | Link: Permalink

Noted

Cobb Gets It, but Cobb Always Gets It


STRAIGHT TALK FROM OUTSIDE THE STRAIT JACKET:
Cobb: Piling On Joel Whatshisname

Look at that Malcolm X video again. What you will hear is straight talk. We owe it to ourselves and our nation to bring about the change that will bring straight talk back to the center of our communications with each other. Until then, this is not America and we are not men and women.

Vanderleun : January 27, 06  |  Comments (0)  | Link: Permalink

Click-Pix: Blogs on a Roll

Robert Fulghum Joins the 'Sphere

0-homephoto.jpg

ROBERT FULGHUM, AUTHOR OF THE CLASSIC BESTSELLER "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" is the latest major American writer to join the blogosphere. His page is new today at Robert Fulghum.

Lots of short and long and thoughtful items from this author. Check it out.

Vanderleun : January 27, 06  |  Comments (0)  | Link: Permalink

Critical Mass

Rush Limbaugh Reading from American Digest

YOU WILL ALL, I HOPE, pardon me if I take a moment out to preen. I promise it won't become a habit. For those that missed this small page's moment in the sun when Rush Limbaugh read and extended excerpt from my essay, "The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land," I have made and placed on the site that particular excerpt from this morning's radio show. To listen to the "Voce del Oro" read just click the link below:

Play Rush

Vanderleun : January 27, 06  |  Comments (15)  | Link: Permalink

5-Minute Arguments

New to the Site? The American Digest Reader: A Short Selection

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in reading some essays posted here over the years, I've got a little list here just for you. Just click ....

Continued...
Vanderleun : January 27, 06  |  Comments (0)  | Link: Permalink
G2E Media GmbH



Search American Digest

      Recent Items @ American Digest
200wde_2004weblogawards_finalist_02.jpg
Syndication

Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe in NewsGator Online

MEMBER:
THE BEAR FLAG LEAGUE



SOURCES & RESOURCES