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Monday, February 28, 2011


                                               tim white                                         

"fat albert" blackburn

                                  "fat albert" blackburn, dave vaught

Much of the day I listened to the music from the VW Boys videos made Friday. Last night I watched the dvd made of all the still pictures and all the videos, plus some Skeeter & the Skidmarks filling in the last half hour of a 2 hour disk. On disk, I don't have to keep it in the computer for archive. Sat with Caterpillar on my lap watching the concert again. It's a concert video. It had a good musical spirit about it. I noticed after awhile that the visual seems to have a feel for the music, flows with the music. I like to keep the camera in more or less motion moving from musician to musician, paying most attention to hands and fingers, seeing what they're doing. Looking through these VW Boys videos that were all dynamite music, I was seeing how especially in the 2nd half of the show, the camera was like it was taking its own motion flowing with the music. I doubt it could be seen by anyone but me, seeing visually what I was feeling inside, free flow with the music, taken up by it and going with it.

My videos don't have really good sound, though it is plenty adequate considering it's a hand-held point-and-shoot $150 camera, fujifilm finepix S1500. 10.0 megapixels. I love about this camera that it is easy to operate, easy to learn. I'm not asking any more of it than it can deliver, because it delivers so much I don't need anything it can't do. When it focuses automatically during the videos, a sound of turning gears inside the camera is picked up by the internal mic. A little distracting sometimes. The camera's ears amount to two tiny holes the diameter of a paper clip wire. They pick up the sound very well. It has a shrill quality when played a little bit loud, but that matters so little considering what I'm doing--recording a concert with one little box easily held in one hand. Digital, so I don't have to have prints made unless I want prints of particular images. I waited all my life for digital cameras and didn't know it.

It's been a good day with VW Boys music in my head all day, hearing songs several times apiece, admiring every one. I put on a Bob Dylan album I'd never heard before, Oh Mercy. Have had it for several years, never even took the cellophane off the case. It was the album he wrote about making in his autobiographical book, Chronicles. This cd I've held with the notion that when I was ready, I'd go pick it up. That's what I did. The VW Boys playing Wagon Wheel, listening to it 3 times today urged me to play it. Wow. I think I waited for the right moment. Before, I'd have put it on with expectations. This evening I just put it on to hear what Dylan had to say in that recording studio in New Orleans. It is great Dylan, like everything he's recorded. He's like Ralph Stanley in that way, never recorded a song short of definitive. It's quite a beautiful album, Oh Mercy. The music has a Lucinda Williams quality in it. It makes me want to play Dylan the next several days, hear his most recent ones again, the ones I think I like best of all the Dylan I've heard from the beginning. He has matured along the way as an artist who started out better than anybody else and went from there over the next half century to the place where American poets embrace him as a poet, of their own will. I've an idea he's the most powerful influence on all the poets his age and younger.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


     the peak, whitehead

Watched the race in Phoenix today with my friend Justin on a big wide-screen tv with big sound. I like a good race and today's was a good one. By good one, I mean it was a race. Jeff Gordon took command and never let go. Kyle Busch passed him close to the end and Gordon put the pedal to the metal and Kyle didn't keep his lead but a few laps. Gordon muscled his way by him and left him behind. The race had several caution flags from the changing nature of the track. I heard it explained the track is in the desert and the desert changes temperatures through the day, so the track changes temperatures too. Some temperatures are better at holding smooth tires at 150 mph than others. Each change in temperature required its own particular approach by the driver. Used to taking a curve one way for a hundred laps and then by surprise it's like black ice. A lot of banged fenders, minor crashes and spinouts on the lawn. No major wrecks. It seemed like only half the cars that started the race finished. At the end, Jeff Gordon was smoking his tires for the fans, spinning on the track, lost control and the car lurched off the track onto the grass and caught on fire. He missed Victory Lane. A fizzled testosterone rush. Like the joke, What were the redneck's last words? Watch this.

It feels like I have one ongoing theme these days, how to live in this world standing upright on my own feet. The time we're in doesn't appeal to me the least bit. Perpetual war to keep the war machine greased that keeps the economy flowing. The rich are bleeding the poor, vampirizing the working class and the management class. In America, the poor go to prison for being homeless, having no place to use a toilet, they go outside, get arrested for indecent exposure, put in prison without trial and left there to take the abuse of the inmate population. Don't let them out, because they have no place to go. The best part is nobody cares. This is America. Poverty is the same as illegal. Anybody who is poor deserves it. They're worthless people to start with or they wouldn't be poor. This an alarmingly common attitude. There is a lot about these times I don't like. Yet, on the home front, coming down out of the mind to the heart in the world of my friends and the people I know, I can't say it's ever been better. I have enough good friends to buoy me up on any kind of sea. I listen to excellent music quite a lot, watch some really beautiful films, read some very well written books, and enjoy my life at home with my friend Caterpillar.

It seems like all that I dislike about this world is happening someplace else. Of course, I came to the mountains 35 years ago initially to get away from the track I saw everyone around me taking. Basically, I don't like living in a world where money is the only value and the rich robbing the poor is ethical. But here at home, it's not like that. There are small pockets of people who would do anybody in for a dollar, but in a small community we know who these people are and stay away from them. I never see them, so they don't exist for me. When I bring my mind down out of the airwaves about dictators, criminals called politicians, the nightmare of soccer moms--sex offenders, baptists focusing their attention on who's going to bed with whom, I like my life so much better among friends talking about whatever comes up. Every time a politician is caught in a lie, the false indignation that rises from the smug media acting like this is brand new, from out of the blue that a responsible public servant would serve self first, I never know what to think or say. What is it that is such a mystery about the obvious?

All that mess is in the mind. In my everyday life at home and among friends, I have nothing but good times. When I pay attention to the people around me, I find subjects far more interesting than any on the news. A friend who is pregnant tells me she's nauseated much of the time and tired all the time, and other symptoms she's going through. I'd rather hear that than listen to a president talk in gobbledygook signifying nothing. What do I want for myself? I want people around who are not on the take. Dividing people up as givers or takers, I like best the company of givers. Givers give in the smallest of ways all the time and takers take in the smallest of ways, too, all the time. Givers are happier people. Takers feel like other people owe them what they want. I'd rather spend my time among people who are generous with each other, ready to help when needed, supportive. That word supportive is very important to me. I believe in supporting my friends, lifting them up when they're feeling down. The feelings among friends is much better to live with than the mental state of worry over the day's price of a barrel of oil. I think it's called thinking small.


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Magnificent mountain. It is the mountain you see at the far end of town driving through Sparta on 21 going from Twin Oaks toward Cherry Lane. It is the landmark of SE Alleghany County. Many years ago with Don Smith I walked deer trails along Bullhead's ridge from the Parkway on out to the second peak. It was a great deal longer walk than we'd anticipated. First and only real problem was we didn't think to take water. On our other walks we always came up on springs and creeks. No springs along the ridge of the mountain. There was a period of time when it got to us pretty bad, but we chose to walk on. It's a long ways there and it's a long ways back. Either way, we're thirsty all the way. We chose to get used to it and we did. Remembering the walk, the thirst isn't even involved in the memory except remembering it for itself. Walking Bullhead's deer trails was a kind of happiness in itself. The trees on top of the peak that rises above Hwy 21 are broken and twisted by the wind current through there. Big tree trunks with shattered edges. Not a lot, just a few. All the trees lean with the wind, so it looks like the wind is blowing up there when it's not, like the flag on the moon.
Several generations back a man named Woodruff owned Bullhead Mountain. The story I got from his granddaughter was that he found the skulls of 2 bulls with long horns locked together where they'd died. They had long horns in that time. Everything was very different from how it is now. Better or worse is not the issue, too relative. Also, a Lakota Indian working with the US Army named Bullhead was sent with another Indian Red Tomahawk to arrest Sitting Bull from the cabin his family was staying in outside the fort. They meant to take him in and kill him like they did Crazy Horse, a bayonet in the back, but one of the Indians in the settlement shot Bullhead, who pulled the trigger in reaction on his gun pointed at Sitting Bull's heart. Red Tomahawk shot Sitting Bull in the back of the head simultaneously. A few days before, a meadowlark had told him some of his own people would kill him. He must have fallen like holding a towel up by one corner and letting go.
It's all bad enough as it is, but immediately after killing the man of the house, a man with a box camera comes along and lines up Sitting Bull's wife and daughters along the side of the cabin, after soldiers killed Sitting Bull's boy who was 14, immediately after they'd killed Sitting Bull. Mayhem, gunshots, Sitting Bull dead, the boy killed and the women lined up to be photographed. Their picture haunts my mind, the blank far-away look the Indians gave the white man, refusal to make eye contact. The absence of emotion in their faces and eyes looks like they could have been photographed by somebody getting pictures of Indian families. Learning from biography and history the story behind the moment the picture was taken, I get a creepy feeling when I see it. I know the grief, the fear, the immensity of their sorrow, alone, helpless in the hands of the white Army that killed their way of life and nearly everyone they knew. They'd been on the run for years in Montana and Canada, getting through cold winters with little provisions and heat. They surely imagined next thing after the picture taking would be a firing squad.
Sitting Bull's name in his language was Tatanka Iyotake. His great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, is the grandson of Sitting Bull's daughter, Standing Holy, by his wife, Seen By Her Nation, the two women on the right side of the picture. The other two are Sitting Bull's second wife, sister to his other wife, Four Robes, and their daughter Lodge In Sight. They are the picture of hopeless desperation, lined up to get their pictures taken by people who thought nothing and cared nothing for their humanity. Ernie LaPointe wrote his stories he'd been told down through the generations in the family of Sitting Bull's life. It's called SITTING BULL: His Life And Legacy. I had the good fortune to hear him talk on a Sunday afternoon NPR radio program On Being. This show has a website and the piece about Ernie LaPointe is in the easy access archives, if it's of any interest to you.

Friday, February 25, 2011


tim white, "fat albert" blackburn, dave vaught

The crowd at the Front Porch tonight got their ears full of the VW Boys from Bristol TN/VA. They played some straight ahead bluegrass that they're quite able to do, told some crazy jokes and performed a few magic tricks, slights of hand that were so awesome you couldn't even start to think about how it was done, just accept it and go on. For one thing, guitar player Dave Vaught took a $20 out of a man's billfold from the audience. This was definitely not set up. He asked a woman in the audience to verify that it's indeed a $20. He showed both sides to the audience. With his sleeves pushed up and his hands just a few feet from the eyes of a woman in the audience who had verified it, he folded the 20 until it wouldn't fold any more, unfolded it and it was a $1. Showed both sides, let her examine it. He took the $1 and folded it until it wouldn't fold any more, unfolded it and there was the 20. He only does really good tricks like that, the kind that bumfuzzle you're head.

The band's bass player Larry McPeak evidently is no more with the band, meaning his illness has advanced. I didn't ask about him, because I was afraid of what I'd hear. Larry is a good man and an equally good musician. Fat Albert has taken over the bass, using his upright doghouse bass. Albert plays with his other band Fescue out of Marion, Virginia. They're a well respected bluegrass band that plays mountain bluegrass the way it's meant to be played. Albert is a good singer and a good comedian. All three of them are comedians. They fill in the gap of bluegrass bands without a comedian with everybody in the VW Boys a comedian. Each has his own style of humor, so they keep us entertained in the original bluegrass way with most often the bass player the clown. VW Boys have humor covered in abundance. It's the same with the music. These fellers play music. It's not just something that's trying to sound like music, it's the music itself they take hold of from the start. It's the only way they play.

I could take up this entire space with a list of their accomplishments musically, the albums they've recorded on and so forth, but it's just too much. Perhaps most notable, Tim White the banjo picker made the song 5 Pounds of Possum in my headlights tonight. It was one of those comic country hit songs like The Day The Squirrel Went Berzerk. I don't know anybody that didn't love that crazy 5 Pounds of Possum. This old boy Foyst Blackburn and his wife did a crazy act to it at the Hillbilly Show year after year. She would be dressed in pink long-johns with her hair up in big curlers, wacky bedroom slippers on her feet, pedaling a stationary exercise bicycle with a flashlight taped to the handlebars and a Harpo Marx type horn on one handlebar. Foyst floated around in his bib overhauls and straw hat flat-footin the old-time way, feet barely leaving the floor, while he held a stuffed toy possum on a leash. It was Dada theater in Sparta. 500 miles Off-Off Broadway.

One of the hottest songs they played was the old country song about the Hot Rod Lincoln. They do the music right and Fat Albert sings it right. He complained afterward of forgetting some of the words, but that didn't matter at all. It was the spirit of the song, the music, the story, the way he sang it. From the early 50s before rock&roll they played RAGGMOPP. That was a big hit in its pop moment. The time of Grandma's Lye Soap and Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Somebody would be put in prison for singing that song now. They did Raggmopp right, too. They caught the spirit of the song. That's what it is about the VW Boys, they actually do catch the spirit of a song. The Everly Brothers song Dreamin, I'm dreamin my life away, from the mid Fifties. It wasn't like they were covering an oldie. It was like it was their song and I remembered the words from the Everly Brothers singing it. To my ear, the VW Boys left the Everly Brothers version in the dirt, and that's not throwing off on the Everly Brothers, whose singing of it is indelibly imprinted in my gray matter for life, like a lot of songs in that time. Mr Sandman that Katy Taylor made her own with Alternate Roots comes to mind as a brilliant singing of another song from that time.

These three musicians, Tim White, Fat Albert Blackburn, Dave Vaught, keep the crowd entertained with good singing, good story telling, good humor, magic tricks that are beyond clever, and the foundation for all this is some pickin by fellers that make music first, and in the making of the music is some musicianship that catches your attention because it becomes somewhat amazing every once in awhile, and all the time the closer attention you pay. Dave Vaught can light up an acoustic guitar. His fingers dance all over the fretboard, and he's one to get some sound out of an acoustic. Fat Albert's fingers can work the bass strings too. His size gives him a commanding presence, and doubly with the size of the bass. He has a stage persona that is charismatic in his talking as well as his singing. He's a singer who uses his own voice instead of a made up voice, a mountain singer in that way, and he doesn't mind belting it out there when he needs to. All three are good singers. Tim White too. Tim is quite a capable bluegrass banjo picker, who can tear the roof off the place when he lets go, though he's not a picker to hold himself out in front of the others, restrained in that way.

In the time of the radio show, I played the VW Boys from time to time. When the their chicken pickin album was fairly new, I intoduced the show saying it would be all chicken songs. That, I'm sure, threw everyone who knows old-time music, considering there are 3 old-time fiddle tunes about chickens and then there's the comedy Rooster song, another rooster song by Whitetop Mountain Band, and that's about it. I played the fiddle tunes, then from the VW Boys album their version of a Chic Filet advertising jingle. Several times in following days someone who heard the show told me how that cracked them up, a chic filet jingle among old-time fiddle tunes and then all the crazy VW Boy chicken songs throughout the album. It made a fun hour. I was well enough acquainted with their music by tonight to know in advance this would be a night of real deal bluegrass pickin. That's what it turned out to be.

VW Boys website:


Thursday, February 24, 2011


the flow

Foggy, wet day. Steady drizzle all day. Caterpillar asks me to open the door, then stands in the open doorway looking out at the rain. After a few minutes, she turns around, seen enough, restless, wishing she could go out and look around, stand in the breeze, listen to the sounds of other critters, but it's wet and rain melts cats. In today's mail a box from addressed to me with a cd by Ola Bell Reed in it, a new one from Smithsonian, Rising Sun Melodies. I had not ordered it. The invoice said it had been paid for by Amex, which I don't use. All I can think is that Old Time Herald had it sent to me to review it. I hope so. I'll enjoy writing about Ola Belle Reed. Always had enthusiastic response playing her on the radio show. A couple times I played an hour of Ola Belle Reed. Her banjo pickin and her singing sound so plain and simple, it's like anybody could do it. But she's the only one that's found the way.

It was wide-open conversation full-tilt at Selma's later. Todd the holistic chiropractor was there when I went in the door. Conversation started with him and Selma, and Beth O walked in later and took the conversation to a new place, explaining Sun bursts and what happens when they hit earth regarding electrical things like satellites, computers, and so on. Primarily our conversation circled around the year 2012 of the Mayan calendar, what the end of a cycle means and what the beginning of a new cycle means. My contribution was the day after Dec 31 is Jan 1. Often the two days are just alike. Several times seeing Jr on New Years day he would remark that Jan 1 was just like the day before. Beth was a fascinating documentary story teller. We all listened to her with alert ears, hearing every word she spoke. I can't repeat any of them, because my memory doesn't retain much, but I recall following her with complete interest, telling how the planets are lining up in a straight line with the black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, the big cycle and all the smaller cycles that operate within the big cycle. She was explaining the earth's magnetic grid in ways that made it comprehensible.

She brought up something that was going through my head a few days ago when I wrote about the near future on earth may see us humans moving underground, beginning with the rich, like the Waltons of Wal*Mart in Arkansas living underground a la Ayn Rand, the philosoph of the republican right. Beth was saying the rich are now buying old missile silos from the 50s and making them into undergound homes. We all had a good laugh remembering the movie 2012 we'd all seen, laughing at the intent to keep the world's wealthiest alive to seed whatever is next. What a great laugh. Once the ships dock on the side of some mountain that has been underwater long enough to kill everything on it that was living, plenty of people will have lighters, but few will know what to do with them. I'd guess all of them would be dead within a year of the ships landing. I give them that much time considering the few that could last awhile. There would be a lot of cannibalism in the beginning. They could only get by eating fish for a long, long time. Two generations and they're wearing hides, chucking spears and divided up by languages.

Not long after I was out of high school, Ayn Rand's tomes, Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, were getting attention as intellectual one thing or another. This was in the time when I was a beginning reader, weak in the comprehension department. I read both of them, plowed my way through page after incomprehensible page doing what I had to do to be an intellectual, read Ayn Rand, like I did with Solzhenitsyn's Gulag not many years later. Didn't get a great deal out of it. A bunch of extremely rich people with magnificent dwellings underground, vaults where they live among their expensive things with snipers in guard towers to keep the world away. The American Dream: buried with ALL your things. How Egyptian (pre-Christian, pagan) is that? Little did I know when reading Ayn Rand that her writing would turn out to be the Popul Vuh of the cabal Reaganista. I didn't even comprehend it very well, but it seemed ridiculous and I quit reading her after seeing the big deal is to be rich, move underground with your things and never see the peasant class again, but for servants.

The continuous proximity of family strikes me as the stuff of Greek tragedy. Priveleged, spoiled, self-centered people just a little bit too tired of each other. Perhaps that's the next greed of the people who have all the money, immortality by tragic death. Wouldn't even have to bury them. Seal up the garage door. That is if things continue to go in the direction we've seen them going over the last half century, at least. The fun part is that things will not continue along a certain track for very long. Things have a way of changing real fast.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



Libyians. Another case of the news as geography lesson. First the mystery of a popular uprising in Egypt, a peaceful protest that worked. Next, by the same degree of surprise, Libyans are wanting to do the same thing. It seems predictable that Khadafy would use guns. I say seems, because I mean it's perfectly predictable that he would, but must leave room for the unforeseeable. Like this uprising in Libya came out of the unforeseeable. Or appears to. They're talking today like he needs assassinating. I look at pictures of burned out buildings in Tripoli, empty streets, the colors, North African tropical, and find it curious I'd never thought of Tripoli as anything but a dot on a map. Never wondered what kind of people lived there. Being a port on the Mediterranean, I'd guess it's a fairly international city, good vacation place for Europeans. From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli...the United States Marines.

I've an idea if Khadafy wanted to start up a civil war, he could do it. It's a bit difficult seeing in my mind an African dictator fold just because western press thinks it's mean of him to have 300+ dead. "Outrageous," spake Obama. American military doesn't invest in Africa. They tried it in Somalia and ran like rabbits. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Chad, Lybia? USA policy has so far been to stay out of Africa. Now that the Somali pirates are publicly killing white missionaries, they're getting American military attention, but with caution. Africa for outsiders is quicksand. The continent is going through great internal upheavals that came from the period of European exploitation of the continent's mineral wealth, laying national boundaries without regard for traditional boundaries, setting, in effect, everybody on the continent against everybody else. It's an evolution that cannot be stopped until it runs its course. Though, from the nature of the Egyptian, Tunisian and now Lybian popular rebellions, the extreme violence of African revolts appears to have calmed down. We're also in the Arab northern edge of Africa at the Mediterranean, tourism too important to the national economy to disrupt. That's different from the mountains of equatorial Congo. Africa will be a long time in its transition.

Hearing the news quite a lot lately. Not paying a great deal of attention, but noting that when the talk concerns Egypt or Lybia, I pay attention. The rest of the time it's white noise going by. Seems there is always a topic on the news that holds my interest. They tend to be new situations that appear to have potential to evolve into something bigger or turn into something bigger like Steven Seagal says, Things have a way of changing real fast. When Basil Landreth the barber in Sparta was living, he kept a map of the world on the wall in his barbershop. Stick-pins of white he'd put in every place he'd been. Red pins were hot spots, mostly the middle east around Israel, from several years of listening to the news. If Egypt, Tunis, Bahrain, maybe Yemen, maybe Libya, maybe Morocco, turn over their inept self-gratifying governments to government more responsible to the people, it could be very strange. Democracy by popular demand. It took sinking the economy of the western world to enforce democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now these other places have people rising up in large numbers. Go figure.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011


the clouds

waterfall road

tom pruitt's house upper right

the locust

the loading pen


Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.


---Lao Tzu


Monday, February 21, 2011


you shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
--jerry lee

Presidents Day, this month's Monday of no mail, no banks, no library, no state jobs. But almost everything else is open. People I've talked with who work at the PO say they would rather not have those "free" Mondays, because Tuesday morning they have twice as much mail to process. One day's mail takes a great deal of time. Two days' mail takes twice as much time. It's a bother for all the rest of us too. Need to take something to the post office. Not today. Waiting for a check that's supposed to arrive Monday. Not today. No netflix movie. Invariably, it's the day I need to go to the bank. This morning I went to the phone office, neither state nor federal. Closed today. Closed tomorrow. Right away this morning I had to shift my attitude from expecting to get a thing or two done to getting nothing done. I went to Selma's and ordered some Kenyan coffee. No more thinking about getting anything done today.

Dudley was there. Joe was there. A young woman I don't recall seeing more than once in passing, with a 2 yr old little girl. All were engaged in conversation. Evidently they'd been discussing an issue and I was in time to provide the punch line. I was asked by Selma to settle the question. They'd go by whatever was my answer. The question was, Why do old men like young girls? I began to question the benefit of the doubt I'd given them regarding their IQs. I looked around at all of them, and they all appeared to be seriously entertaining this question. They were waiting for me to give them the answer. I had a hard time believing it. Even began to wonder if it was some kind of pre-arranged trick they wanted to pull on me when I walked in. They wanted an answer, so I said, "Pussy." They exploded in disbelief that I'd said that word. It was like on the PeeWee Herman show saying the magic word. Dudley said, "In front of the little girl!" I'm thinking, What's going on here? Mother of little girl gives me a disapproving look like I'd just said nigger. Lord have mercy.

Then they start in on TJ doesn't mince words, etc. It was all in good humor. After all, they all looked like adults to me, and if mother is freaked over little girl hearing it, that means little girl doesn't know it, so it's the same as saying 18-wheeler. No meaning. And so what if it does have meaning for her. She's going to find out some day. She may not know the word, but I know she knows the body part. Big damn deal. I refused to feel guilty for answering a question that could be answered no other way. And I refuse just as much to feel guilty for saying such a word in front of a two year old. I am not television. When you're around me, you're on your own. If PC is your track, you'll be pist off by me sooner or later, so it may as well be sooner. I learned later that little girl is granddaughter and her mother is daughter of my friend Katherine. And I didn't even know it. As soon as I finish writing this, I'm calling Katherine to tell her the great first impression I made on her daughter. She will laugh and I will laugh and we'll have a good time.

I've become such a curmudgeon old turd that I don't care the least little bit if somebody doesn't like words that I speak. Hail far, I'm not going around cussing like I could if I wanted to and saying shit every sentence. It's nothing but television correctness. I will not edit my speech down to pablum for the people who watch tv. I've already edited it down to decency. I'm not going any further. PC is conformity. No one knows or cares why certain words are forbidden; it's just that you don't say them if you want anybody to like you. Like smoking. If my lungs could take it, I'd smoke all the time to show the smug non-smokers I am not one of them. You might say I got nothing done today, but I definitely did have a good time. All the above was in good humor at Selma's coffee bar. Like I said, they were nearly all adults. They knew they set me up. Don't ask me a question with only one answer if you don't want to hear it. Like I had to tell my mother in my 50s, Don't ask me questions you don't want to hear answered. It's time for a taste of some Wild Turkey, and I don't mean a drumstick.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


blurry half moon

I've been enjoying the unpredictable turn the news took when the people of Cairo gathered to boot out the American puppet Mubarak. Then there was Bahrain, which I had to look up in the Atlas. I've heard the name in relation to Arab news for several years, but never had seen it on a map. I set out on a search and found it's an island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, connected to land by a bridge, in the Persian Gulf. It looks like it's about the size of the island at the southern tip of Malaysia that is the city Singapore. Bahrain sitting in the Persian Gulf rings the alarm, OIL, and the other American alarm, MONEY. If there's trouble for us to get into in Bahrain, we'll find it. The king had a few people killed for being brazen enough to speak out about replacing him, another American puppet.

The best is Khadafy of Libya. Bringing down the American puppet by mass protest in Egypt caught on in Libya next door. Remember 30 years ago when Reagan sent some jets across the ocean in the secret of night to invade Libyan air space and bomb Khadafy's house with intent to assassinate him? They missed and bombed the French Embassy instead, killing a Chinese diplomat and one of Khadafy's children. Major diplomatic blunder, but no problem. It was the Gypper behind it, and the Gypper was on our side, unless you're in the middle class or the working class. Anyway, it helped Khadafy to see his vulnerability with a rogue government ruling the world that paid no mind to Geneva conventions, international law or anything unAmerican like the ACLU. Khadafy calmed down, took his bonus under the table and turned into a real nice guy where American power was concerned. Now he's on the line with the Libyan people for being an American puppet. I think I heard something like 50 or more dead in the Libyan protests. He's a true African dictator. He'll kill everybody in the country before he'll relent.

What surprises these are, people of the Arab world suddenly standing up to their dictators to get shot, beat up and thrown in prison that's bad anyway, but as political prisoners, much worse. Hilary Clinton cheering them on with platitudes about democracy, Obama mouthing empty words about democracy. I heard a pundit on the radio talking about dictators having demonstrators killed always works against them, the dictators. This was in reference to the King of Bahrain who evidently let 4 people get killed. Now Khadafy has stepped in it big time, more than 50. We'll see. It sounded a bit academic to me, somewhat hollow. I doubt Khadafy's troops are done yet with the killing. African dictators don't operate by American pundit forecasts. Khadafy is as ruthless as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He'll do what he has to do. He likes suitcases full of freshly minted greenbacks under the table. Smells so good. He'll be an American puppet if he wants to be.

I doubt any American pressure will be applied anywhere but Egypt, and that primarily for the Suez Canal. They could nuke Cairo and think nothing of it, but leave the canal of oil tanker commerce alone. The canal is bigger than Egypt. Egypt is just the gatekeeper and will wear a bow tie if told to. Odd little run of news in the last week or so. A little gust from out of the blue, democracy movements in the Arab world wanting to oust American puppet governments. And they were successful. Something about that says a great deal about Egypt. They have international tourism for the pyramids and international excavations going on. Alexandria is an an international city. Egypt is more in sync with the rest of the world than seemingly any place in Africa, bonded by the canal and the pyramids to the rest of the world. Egypt can't cut loose on its population like other African countries can, for these two umbilical reasons that keep it vitally connected to the rest of the world.

Surprise urban uprisings have made refreshing asides from all the present terrorist themes we're given to be alarmed over daily, entertained the way we wanna be. The thrill of being aghast at something I just heard. Like Jr would say, It ain't the world that's crazy, it's the people in it. Bernie Madoff in prison for life, his son a suicide, his wife changed her name. That's what you call outside of society. First day of one news story, they were out forever. The place they held in NY society closed up behind them like water closes after you step out of the pool. I can't stop listening to the news, even when I don't like hearing it, even when I don't believe it. There's something about it that feels necessary to hear. It's our collective agreed upon reality. It has the same urgency as Saturday morning cartoons for a kid. It's the constant surprise popping through the mundane same-o that tells me an awful lot. Like these democracy movements in Arab dictatorships, American puppets, wanting rid of the American dependence, wanting democracy and money too. After what democracy did to Iraq and Afghanistan, none of it makes sense. Thus it stays interesting. Makes it like it's alive.


Saturday, February 19, 2011


The temperature has touched and almost touched 60 all week. Refreshing to go to the mailbox without having to put on shoes with grips on the bottoms and a coat and hat. How long has it been since I went out the door to go to the mailbox without acting like WC Fields at the North Pole? Open the door. Somebody throws a bucket of Ivory Snow soap flakes in my face and I say, "Ain't fit fer man ner beast." From that time, the 1920s, the red hot mama herself, the female Al Jolson came to mind today in Selma's from seeing her on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1950s when she was a grandmotherly old woman, Sophie Tucker. What a stitch.

At the bar in Selma's, talking with Tim, another one of the regulars in there almost daily, Sophie Tucker came to mind talking about WC Fields just after some kids had left, telling him about a little girl telling Fields in a movie she had 20 dollars in her bank and he tried to take it away from her. Sophie came to mind and I even remembered her name. It was there on the shelf with a picture of her standing in the curve of the grand piano on the Ed Sullivan show, an old woman in glitzy evening gown singing some saucy song only a younger woman should be singing, doing it just right. I said in awe, "I haven't thought of Sophie Tucker in fifty years." He said, "TJ, my parents aren't fifty years old."

These are the kinds f laughs we have at Selma's, whoever it is, whatever we're talking about. Lots of generation gaps between a 1960 hs grad and a 2011 hs grad. When you get down to you either make the grade or you don't, it's the same. But looking at the pop music from Brenda Lee to Lady Gaga and everything between, I have no idea where the young kids in pop culture are coming from. It's too big a world to try to learn at this time of my life when it's an exercise of mind to try to remember anything. Learning is about remembering, so it's useless to even make the attempt. Sometimes I'll look at a high school guy with earrings, dead eyes, hair dyed black sticking out in several directions, tattoos, pierced lower lip, the hip look for how many years (?), lots of black, posing as Mr Latest Thang, and I'm seeing his fashion all the way back to mid 1970s, wondering why he's still doing the Johnny Thunders look. Punk style has been going on 35+ years.

When I see kids like that looking at me funny, I know that their garb is consciously meant to be in-your-face to white-haired people. They get their kicks seeing old people look disgusted when they see them. As far as I know, I don't look at them any different from someone looking like an LL Bean model with the sleeves of his sweater draped over his shoulders and hanging down in front, ordering a triple espresso. It's the same thing to me. Style. We have a lot of style subcultures in America and I get a kick out of seeing them. There is one girl who looks at me like she's waiting to hear what kind of remark I might say about her appearance, like I care. She wears cool tshirts, but has bad hair. Even bad punk. She needs to cut it short with nose-hair scissors and dye it coca-cola truck red, but her mother would kill her. I asked her what her tshirt said one day, knowing it was the name of a band I'd never heard of, but I couldn't read it without gaping like I was drooling over her boobs. She said, "It's a band." I'm thinking: like, duh. I asked, "What's the name of the band?" She told me and that was that. Of course, you've never heard of them, they're new. Where have you been?

The cult of the new. The entire 20th century of art and style has all been about the new, the latest, the now. It's hilarious to me that I've lived these 68 years in the cult of the new, driven by it, just like everyone around me, and get taken by a 17 yr old for not knowing about the new, because the new is so dazzlingly new to her. It's not for me to pop her bubble and tell her that her style is a bit retro, quite a bit retro. It's as old as her parents. It's not for me to even have an opinion about it. It's her style statement, like my long sleeved shirt that doubles as a light jacket is my style statement. I'm the one with the LL Bean look, though not the polished catalog model look. I'm the faded, wrinkled, frayed look. The "How could that old turd know anything about fashion?" look. He doesn't. Never has.

It's fun going about in the world as an old fart. Nobody thinks they need to impress me, like I wouldn't get it if they attempted. I'm outside the hierarchy of success, not on the ladder, so no one supposes I can be used for influence. I don't command respect. I don't command anything. The only reason anyone would notice me would be if they already knew me. I don't look like anyone you'd want to know. Perhaps that is my style, to look like someone you wouldn't be drawn to know on sight. Just another Joe taking up space. He's never had a face lift and it's starting to sag like wet clay, and he likes that.

I look in the mirror and see a retired country singer burned out. It's the kind of face that's really ugly on tv. Looks like a late-nite used car salesman advertising his own car lot every five minutes during movies like Alien Outlaw, in a polyester plaid suit with bellbottoms. The guy that drives the ratty looking car, whose gut hangs over his belt, always unshaven, and always ready to laugh. Doesn't enjoy knowing a lot of people superficially; prefers to know a few well. Remembers the first time the Rolling Stones were on tv when he was playing bridge in one room with his X-in-laws and the tv was playing in the other room. Could hear it, but couldn't see it. I wasn't "dummy" so I couldn't leave the table. Saw it half a century later on YouTube.


Friday, February 18, 2011


accidental photograph

Have been talking, thinking, looking at in depth and detail ethical behavior with my friend from Hong Kong, Mary Lee. She found a dictionary definition saying ethics is human duty. Ethics is one of those words that doesn't have a handle. It takes two hands to carry it and if it's hot, you'll need pads. That word duty struck me right away what it is. Ethical (conscious) behavior doesn't seem to come to us genetically. It's learned behavior to help us get along in the herd without a great deal of negative feedback. At the same time, the notion of duty doesn't carry it for me. When a motivation has at it's root self-interest, then is it duty? Duty comes from outside ourselves. Seems to me ethics come from inside ourselves. Yes, we learn them from outside, but we fine tune them within ourselves, or so I'm seeing it now.

I say the motivation for ethical behavior, behavior that is respectful, is driven by self-interest, because ethical behavior keeps our emotional waters calm. No guilt or fears as a result. According to the universal law, you get what you give, when we give respectful behavior, we receive respectful behavior and it keeps the emotional waters mirror smooth so you see the clouds mirrored on the silver water traversed by occasional flying fish. It is self-interest to follow the words of Jesus, love your neighbor as yourself. It makes your life a whole lot more peaceful than perpetual war with that asshole next door who persists in cutting the grass one foot over the property line. Hail far, let him do it. That's a foot of grass I don't have to mow. Thank you, man. Let me put some gas in your mower.

Appears to me that right there is the foundation of ethics, self-interest, wanting the emotional waters peaceful all around me. I live in a world of people, whether in the city or the country. The people around me are more my world than the topography. Ethical behavior creates healthy relationships with the people in one's world, making for oneself a good life. If you prefer the biggest house on the highest hill with a high maintenance wife, and get there walking over people, living in it with a conscience that looks out over the town where you know at least a thousand people out there hate you and for good reason, doesn't strike me as inner peace. What kind of life is that? Then there's the American Dream, living underground a la Ayn Rand, out of sight and out of reach of the people you've jilted. Ethics makes it possible to live among whatever people you're around at the moment. In this way, ethics is even a martial art. The real martial arts master never uses it outside the dojo (the boxing ring). Ethical behavior means the martial artist never has to fight. But sometimes something unpredictable comes along and the martial artist knows how to duck.

In that the martial artist never "uses" his deadly knowledge, it's his ethical behavior that keeps him from needing to use it. Somebody wants to fight, he talks them out of it with good sense, knowing he has the upper hand. Rational talk disarms the aggressor and the problem is over. It is ethics that makes it unnecessary to use his training even to defend himself physically. In this way the martial arts make a good spiritual path. It's about conscious behavior. Another way of saying ethics might be self-awareness. Instead of blindly operating by body chemistry, perhaps ethics amounts to paying attention, giving attention where it's called for. I don't know that I would want to attempt to read a book on ethics unless it might be written by a Lokota medicine man. I don't think it means being the darling of little old ladies to be a man of ethics. Jerry Edwards of Whitehead is a man of ethics who goes about freely in his world with nobody looking at him through rifle sites. Welter Hamm too. Anyone who has ever dealt with either of these men has been dealt with honestly and with respect.

I prefer to think of ethics in everyday life action, talk and thought. Trying to define it so a lawyer couldn't find a loophole through it is beside the point. It's a very practical point of view that informs decision making, helps us to make better decisions for ourselves. When it gets down to the true and false questions, the multiple choice questions, essay questions for tests grading comprehension, that's when it gets complex. Like trying to explain every impulse and action involved in lifting the tip of my forefinger from the j on the keyboard to my nose could take volumes of explanations about unconscious thought to nerves that carry the message, on and on, when it's a very simple gesture. I don't want to detail it to death. I want to find the way of seeing what we call ethics in ways that can answer questions for given surprise situations that may be difficult to distinguish, even to the point of is there really any such a thing as ethics? Well, no, but we've made it so by defining it, so now we have it to deal with.

I feel like my own investigation and what I've come to regarding ethics satisfies my need for a conscious way of dealing with surprise issues. Compassion has to be in there someplace. Though I call it self-serving, which it ultimately is, on the way back to self, it goes out in the world through others and then back. Put out something like a smart remark, it isn't long before a smart remark comes back, either from same person or someone else later. Putting out respectful, honest behavior returns the same. Searching for a way to see ethics as an active part of everyday life, I've come to see ethics as first exhibiting through one's compassion for another. It must be altruistic in nature for it to come back altruistic in nature. When there is compassion, the ethical part is easy. It's when compassion is absent that we need a dictionary of ethics by particular circumstances, when it needs to become a course of study to get a doctorate in and write books about.


Thursday, February 17, 2011


Over the last couple weeks I've been idly looking at war films made in the field during WW2 and Vietnam. The WW2 footage is the tv shows in the 50s, Victory At Sea (Navy) and The Big Picture (Army) and You Are There, narrated by Walter Cronkite. Victory At Sea was my favorite. Saturday tv viewing in the time of b&w tv. Every time I see an episode or 2 now, seldom watch more than 2 in a row, I remember the time in childhood, 11 and 12, how seeing the war my daddy went through made me afraid there would be a war for me. Looking at American history, going to war has been a rite of passage. Discipline. The Army was the key to a young guy learning discipline. Discipline at home had nothing rational to it, becoming thus an anti-discipline. Mine was not the only home like that. Boys in America tend to be raised without guidance for being a responsible grown up man. Perhaps it is the ongoing war pattern that left discipline to the military the way parents leave teaching to the schools and reverence for God to church.

All through my teens I was afraid of having to be in a war, though by good fortune slipped in and out between Korea and Vietnam. There was no way I could know that in advance. By then I knew USA was about a war for every generation and I was next. Looking back from my late 60s, seeing these anti-war films at ages 11 and 12 made me all the more afraid of going to war. I knew by then I have no such thing as "good luck." I never won anything. If there were a hundred chances on something and I had 99, the o1 would get it. It taught me at an early age never to gamble. War was a gamble for your life. Everyone goes into it knowing the chance of survival or not being made a cripple for life is uncertain. It was the kind of odds I did not see worth betting on. But the draft gave me no choice. Like Bruce Springsteen, I was born in the USA. By no will of my own, I was an American boy and war is what you go through when you're American.

Now that generals are no longer presidential material, the presidents turn out to be men who didn't have to go to war. They are more ready to set a war in motion than the generals. Got an economy problem? Start a war. John Wayne, the great WW2 hero of the movies, was a draft dodger. I didn't have a choice. The draft was on. Daddy saw to it I was enlisted in Navy Reserve before high school graduation. By then, the military was about the same as absolute evil where I was concerned. Because I was born American I had to join the war machine and be an active cog. I was not a good sailor. Graded for my performance in those 2 years active duty, I'd give myself a D-. An F would be dishonorable discharge. I fell just short of that and going to the brig for incompetence and absence of interest. I was that guy in the 50s pop song, Please Mr Custer, I don't wanna go. There's a redskin waitin out there fixin to take my hair.

I didn't want any of it. Never wanted to wear a uniform. Never wanted to march. Never wanted to salute somebody just because he went to college and I didn't. Never wanted to kill anybody. Never wanted to live in hierarchy. Did not want my life to be about death. Did not want to die young. My desperation to live in that time is extraordinary to look back on from here. I wanted to live. Wanted a chance to see who I would become. Wanted to have a life. As far as I could tell, I hadn't had a life yet. In fact, I felt like the day I was released from military obligation for being born in the wrong country was the beginning of my life. Up to then, I had lived by other people's directions, had no idea of my own, except to be outside the constrictions of reliance on war and money, and the false religion that goes with it. It was like all that was sacred was my enemy. All 3 systems, plus, wanted me dead.

I'm not proposing this as rational thinking. It was the thinking of a teenager who felt no support from any quarter, but a grandmother, the grandmother who came from these hills. She taught me things I needed to know, like don't be looking around in church, how to transplant something so it would live. Parents never taught me anything but to stay away from them and church. By age 23 I was finally able to live by my own decisions, however poor and uninformed they might be. I wasn't going back. That's when I was released from involuntary servitude and decided that to live on I needed education, needed to learn something worth knowing besides how to hold a rifle or kill the enemy. The enemy was all around me, the whole system of servitude for bullshit reasons I'd grown up in. Everything around me was unreal. I wanted to be real, whatever that meant. Authentic, maybe. Sincere, maybe. I don't believe those questions ever got settled. Even today when I call something real or unreal, I don't know exactly what I mean. Maybe it's what we call gut response. I know it down deep, but not on the surface in the world of words.

One of my apprehensions, now, about growing old is they say memory of the distant past is present. I've consciously kept my mind out of that era before age 23 as much as I'm able. What memories from then jump to the surface leave me in a bad mood. I've spent my adult life reparenting myself, exploring in the mind, learning as much as possible without it being a fixation, unplugging mental / emotional logjams, staying outside society. Patti Smith's song, Rock & Roll Nigger is playing in my head, Outside of society--that's where I wanna be! Baby, Baby, Baby, I'm a rock & roll nigger. Patti didn't make no bones about it. Recalling at a Papa Roach concert ten or less years ago, when they did the song with the lines, I know my mother loves me, but does my father really care?, it became a male chorus. The crowd was louder than the band, and it was all guys singing. That moment, I realized this is not just my issue. It's a national epidemic. Born in the USA.

The overwhelming popularity of the song Man Of Constant Sorrow from the movie O Brother spread the song to the city audience of men that the men of the country listening to bluegrass have known very well since Ralph Stanley recorded it not long after WW2. We are a nation of men of constant sorrow. Of course, there are exceptions. Recalling the time I mentioned to Jr I'd found Man of Constant Sorrow copyrighted by Carter Stanley. He said, "It's older than that. That song goes a long ways back." Carter must have copyrighted his arrangement. The song goes way back, but the song before it was written probably goes all the way back. 6,000 years of patriarchy, this is what men have come to, constant sorrow, which we pass to the feminine via dependence and to the next generation via dependence. Authority is how men rule, and I never wanted to have authority, nor did I want to be subject to authority. I can only tolerate someone I respect having authority over me. That's why I've worked mostly for women. Didn't make much money, but respected intelligent authority.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Barbara Ehrenreich has been a columnist for several years, used to have the back page of Newsweek magazine, may still have it for all I know. I haven't touched a Newsweek in so many years I don't remember last time. This is her 12th book. She writes so well with such clarity I read her with admiration. I started to say we think alike, but she has 3 degrees, and I have one. So we don't think alike. But when I'm reading her, she's telling my thoughts of many years. This little book is plain radical, radical meaning truth-seeking and truth-revealing. The dictionary has several meanings for it, but this definition fits. Extreme is the dictionary's meaning closest to addressing the truth of a matter. In the land of denial, facing an issue straight-on is indeed radical, or extreme.

The truth she uncovers is one the working class knows very well, but the working class has no voice, no influence, no power. I've known this almost since the day I was born, growing up the child of a factory laborer among working class relatives and neighbors. I see it from the time my Uncle Chuck worked the boiler room at a Palmolive factory in Kansas City. He was able to have half an acre of land, a good house, 2 good cars, a wife who didn't work, a kid, a woodworking shop separate from the house, a lawnmower, a dog. That was in the 1950s. Sounds Utopian now. But it's the past. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich, New York intellectual, very well off, took a year off from her life and went looking for an unskilled labor job. She started in Florida, went from there to Portland, Maine, then to Minneapolis. She worked as a waitress, a nursing home aide, a cleaning woman, a Wal-Mart "associate," and lived in cheap motel rooms, the next thing to homelessness on the way down, and the first step on the way to semi-permanent shelter.

She learned in a very short time how you make a living in Alleghany County, NC. Do whatever you can find at whatever pay you can get, $6 or $7 an hour. To make $10 an hour is like you're in high cotton. She learned what we of Alleghany know, you can't live on $6 or $7 an hour, the only wages I've ever worked for, except for one $12 an hour job that lasted a summer. In the city of Minneapolis, Ehrenreich couldn't even find an apartment she could afford on Wal-Mart pay. She learned the people she worked with had two jobs or they lived with relatives or friends. We've been thinking this was an Alleghany issue, but it is the entire country.

From the last page of the book, Ehrenreich's paragraph of what she has found in her one year among the working poor, "When someone works for less pay than she can live on--when, for example, she goes hungry so you can eat more cheaply and conveniently--then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworkers put it, 'you give and you give.'"

Barb, as she was known at Wal-Mart, put herself in among the people that are all around us in the mountains, rural America, though the city versions appear to be even more difficult than in the country. They're still the same. The America Barbara wrote about is the dirt that's swept under the rug. Even though the term "working poor" is approved now, it still has an edge of political incorrectness, a little too close to the truth of the matter. Working people are extraneous in America, to be ignored like stray dogs. The American contempt for the poor is so anti-Christian as to be evidence this is not a Christian nation, something I've seen all my life, but had to keep to myself, because it pokes a hole in denial, and that will never do in the U S of A, esp in my parents' home where everything was subject to denial--except anything I did wrong. I've never wanted to aspire to a class with privilege as long as so many millions of the people around me are working all the time and still poor. I've wanted to live so I won't be able to look down on these people, or so they would not think they had to look up to me.

In Sparta, I found years ago that when I go into town dressed middle class, the people in Cadillacs see me and speak, and the working people in pickups and small cars don't see me. I go into town dressed working class and the people in Cadillacs don't see me, but the people in pickups do. Hey. How you doin? As a consequence I never dress "up" to go to town. I know this is not going to change any time soon in America, Europe, Asia or Africa, what have you. It's one of those human things we need to get used to in our youth if we want to live in the herd with any ease.


Monday, February 14, 2011



This winter I've tested what might be called home remedies found on these lists of wonderful tips that come Fw: in emails from friends. One told about putting vinegar on the car windshield to keep ice from sticking to the glass. The ice froze to the glass like never before, like it had bonded with the glass. Also wiped vinegar in the inside of the windshield, which created the first time I've ever had to scrape ice off the inside of the windshield. Scrapers are made for the convex curve of the windshield, not the inside concave curve.

Another I've tested this year, keeping an onion in every room to keep colds and flu away. This morning I woke with a running nose telling me a cold is beginning. First thought upon realizing I was getting a cold: the onions didn't work. If this were a corporate remedy, I'd be told I didn't do it right. Whatever the case, neither of these remedies worked, which was my initial suspicion when I saw the emails, but wrote the suspicion off as my jaundiced view of the world. Give it a chance, I thought. Didn't hurt anything, except I had about the worst ice ever to scrape off the glass, and now I have a cold. Still have some tylenol cold pills from last cold several years ago.

I have tested these hypotheses (presented as facts) empirically by scientific method to see if I could reproduce the results projected. Did not. Advice to perform these remedies gave no results of controlled studies, nothing to go by to attempt reproduction of similar outcomes. In the past, I've tried the spraycan remedy at the auto parts store of windshield de-icer. It made more ice. After quite a lot of winters, my empirical finding is that a plastic scraper works like nothing else. It's a handy little item that can be found for next to nothing at parts stores. I keep my scraper in what I think of as the tool box space for such things in the car's front door with 2 kinds of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench and needle nose pliers. I've also found the windshield cleaning fluid that comes in a gallon jug advertised to work below freezing, doesn't. It makes more ice. Maybe above 25 degrees it works, but down around 10 and 5 it doesn't work so well, makes 2 Japanese fans of ice on the glass. The scraper works every time.

After 30 years of driving 3 Toyotas where the windshield de-frost only cleared the bottom quarter of the glass, I could see the hood clearly. The Buick's windshield de-icer works right now. Turn it on and the fog on the glass is gone. The heater works so well it can run me out in a hurry. The AC is not so cool. It cools the air to a degree, but never gets cold. Probably needs new freon, and I see no need for it yet. Sometimes in the mountains AC is a good thing on a summer day. In my 35 years in the mountains, the hottest day of the summer has advanced from 90 degrees to 100 degrees. Makes me wonder about the sanity of republicans, but we already know what that amounts to. It strikes me totally ridiculous that an American political party has for dogma required belief that scientific evidence is invalid, has no value, has no meaning. Makes me barf to think of such people making the laws of my homeland.

We are over the top on the Wheel of Fortune and running fast as we can go down the hill. India and China were the examples of the poorest of the poor the first half of last century. When we were at the top, they were at the bottom. They are now rising to the top and we're on our way down there where they used to be, crime and corruption the only work that pays, half our population believing evolution a hoax as a matter of political dogma and global warming the same kind of hoax for reasons of dogma. We'll be seeing what willful ignorance reaps. We already have, but the only people that see it are the ones with no power. We'll also see what a focus on nothing but money reaps. We already have, and again, like before, only the ones without power see it.

We are subject to the storms of war and economic calamity created by the ones with power, the same as we're subject to hurricanes and sunny skies. As far as we the people are concerned, it just is as it is. When it rains, use an umbrella. When it's hot, wear shorts. In winter, keep anti-freeze in the car. We will be learning over the next several decades what the Chinese have known for centuries and millennia, to lean with the way the wind blows. The ones with the power that make our decisions, we already know operate from self-interest only, even (especially) the ones that say they don't. When half the American electorate denies the findings of science in order to conform to a political dogma having to do with money, I think we have become the PeeWee Herman Show. Miss Yvonne, Mailman Mike, Chairy. Tell em Large Marge sent ya. I know you are, but what am I? Take a picture, it'll last longer.


Saturday, February 12, 2011


the mountain with a punk haircut

The weather forecast for this coming week is in the 50s every day. It already feels good to think of temperatures in the near future that rise above freezing. Three months below freezing by day and even more freezing by night. One thing to be said for this relentless winter is it put some water back into the water table that needs it so desperately.

Yesterday I stopped to see my friend Mildred Torney, who is 92 and doesn't get out of the house much. She was the librarian when I arrived in the county in 1976. My first trip to Sparta was to the gas station, then the library. Mildred Torney was there and we had quite a long conversation. She knew Tom Pruitt I was working with and the land I was working on. She told me some of her family history and growing up in Piney Creek where she went all the way through high school. Since that day she's been one of my favorite people. Her husband eventually turned ill and she had to leave the library to take care of him. She has worked at Hardees, in the chamber of commerce office, and other low paying jobs to keep herself going and with something to do. She didn't see taking a job at Hardees scraping bottom. She saw it a chance to see people she knows and people she doesn't know all day long. Now she takes on projects like several big plastic bags of single socks for the thrift store. She goes through them finding their mates. She loves it. It's something to do. Mildred can't sit around idle with nothing to do.

For the last year and few months I've been wanting to volunteer with Hospice to visit with people a few hours a week to give their caregivers a chance to go to grocery store or anything. I believed that a worthwhile way to give back to Hospice for all the help they gave me while taking care of Jr, who lived less than a half mile from Mildred in Whitehead. I got my first assignment and when the time came to do something, I couldn't take the first step. It troubled me for a week until I got with the grief counselor and she told me this happens to almost everyone. I told her I'd like to hold off awhile. I wasn't ready. The biggest realization that I was not ready told me that sitting with people waiting to die is not a particularly healthy practice for me, since I have a bad case of waiting to die, which I'd not addressed within. I told myself I need to spend time among the living, the ones worried about tomorrow, instead of dwelling so much on my heavenly home and curiosity about what it's like over yonder.

I told myself I have among the people I know quite a few who need visiting that I don't do. Every time I drive by Mildred's house, I think about wanting to stop and see her, but I'm on a schedule of my own making. Next time. Yesterday, passing her house on the way to town, I said, This time, and scheduled it in my head to stop on the way back. This was the first step. Next step, see Mildred next week. Mildred is so full of life, she's a good spirit for an old curmudgeon turd like me to spend some time with, to adjust my attitude toward life to something a little more realistic, or illusionistic, however you want to see it. It lifts my spirit to be around Mildred. I've asked myself so many times in the last week that I'm about to get it, why do I want to see people I don't know in the name of an organization, when I can visit people I know as myself? The latter feels the more authentic of the two, and the more sincere. I see both authentic and sincere, but one a bit more to my liking in that direction.

It's not about points toward a Mary K pink Cadillac in heaven or a little bit bigger mansion. Not at all. It's only about acting on something I've come to see among the more beneficial acts I can perform. Don't have to qualify or pass piss tests or have anything to do with medicare paperwork. That's the world I want to bypass. It's because we don't look after one another that we have for profit or nonprofit organizations. All my life I've looked to bypass organizational thinking. This is not a complaint. It was the opportunity to volunteer with Hospice that brought me to my own belief system and what I already know. I have appreciation for the old-time ways that sees much of them as wise. Many were not, of course, but many were immensely wise, sitting cross-legged in a mountain cave wise. All the old people I've known who lived in the time before electricity say, "In them days people thought somethin of one another." It's this spirit of the old-time ways I want to incorporate into myself as understandings worth living.

This county is known throughout the state as the place where people want to take care of their own before they'll turn them over to a nursing home. A lot of it is inability to afford it, but that's the case in every rural county. An anthropologist from California, here studying Alleghany County for a book about it, which he never finished, crossed Main St at the light with me on his last day in the county. I already knew you couldn't talk more than 2 or 3 brief sentences with him. He kept a tight schedule. I asked in a sentence or less what he's found here. He said, "Generosity." That blew my mind. I already knew it among the people I knew, but didn't know it was so widespread. I'm wanting to put into motion some of what I've learned living in this county in the Blue Ridge where we take care of our own.

With Hospice was a good plan along that line. Just exactly it. But as myself with the ones already dear to me is even more satisfying. Though not excluding Hospice as an option, because I may see a time I want to do that too. Not looking to rule out, but to find what answers best my questions for what I want to do. I see the one great thing that needs help in wanting to leave the world a better place is to address all the misery. I can't do anything about political prisoners in Myanmar, but I have friends nearby in my world sitting at home in loneliness unable to get out. I like the focus closer to home. The less organized the better. Person to person. The old-time way.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


forest of the night

I hear on the news these days Egypt, Cairo, demands, internet revolution, Mubarak, demands. They've had more than enough of the American puppet, 30+ years. Obama says some meaningless sentences with the word democracy sprinkled in to sound like it has something to do with something. Couldn't be much. Democracy put their autocratic top dog in place to be sure to keep the Suez Canal open for oil tankers on their way through the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. It saves the expense of the trip around the Cape at the southern tip of Africa. Again, oil is more the interest than democracy. Won't it be awful when Mubarak steps down and "the people" have their way, somebody who represents them. That won't last long. He'll have to be assassinated by a fringe terrorist group nobody has heard of and replaced by an American implant. I don't mean this is from foreknowledge, it's just one of many possible fantasies.
In movies made the last ten or so years I see a theme that comes forward in widely disparate genres of film, that nothing is as it appears to be. Heard in today's movie, Shooter, with Mark Walberg, "When you've got it figured out, you're wrong." This was advice he went to a man he called wise to hear him say. Good film, made by the same director who made Replacement Killers, Antoine Fuqua, American. Throughout the film, we learn that more and more is not as it seems, until nothing is as it seems. Surprises come from every direction. It gives the impression that everything is falling apart, because nothing is as it appears. I'm inclined to see it one more step in collective consciousness toward understanding the nature of illusion we call real. Movies I see as the dreams of collective society. It tells me we're embracing the notion that nothing is as it seems, or maybe another way of looking at it, all is illusion. We're seeing illusion now in our collective dream.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Not long ago I found a 2dvd set for $5 of the early 1950s tv show Victory At Sea, one of my favorite things on tv when I was 10, 11 and 12. Victory At Sea was video footage of the Navy on the stormy sea of war. I liked both of them, You Are There of the Army, but preferred Victory At Sea, because I loved looking at the ocean. I watch an episode or two at a time, times when there was no movie in the mail that day, or time I just want to sit and watch something that's not very long. Every one of them takes me back to childhood in that time. This is where I developed my anti-war attitude toward life. I think they were on every day during the summer, or maybe every Saturday, and I saw probably all of them several times. Watching submarines blow up ships, the glorification goes to the submarine and the enemy is a cloud of smoke. They leave out the several hundred young guys that were just like the guys shooting the torpedo, just the other side of the us and them divide, though not always.

I see dead guys on the beach, dead guys floating in the surf, guys getting shot, especially the ones doing the shooting. These were made in 1952, so the sanitizing of war footage for public viewing had not yet begun. Seeing them now, a bit more consciously than seeing them at age 11, I see what I saw then and have forgotten completely, except for the vastness of what I see over and over, European and Asian cities looking like Richmond after the Civil War. Dead people everywhere, desolate people everywhere, the horrors of war captured live on film, edited into half hour documentaries with music composed by Richard Rodgers. They were serious productions. They were the writing of history by the victors and taken very seriously as not only the big war we won, but the ugliness of war in your face to make an impression, to say enough of this. Seeing them now, I see anti-war films in the earliest years of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex, just before the message became perpetual war to keep the economy going. Therefore, only the glory of war to be shown. No more pictures of our boys dead.

I watch these films now amazed at what I saw at age 11. All I remembered are billows of smoke, broken, burned out cities, planes bombing railroad lines, fighters shooting at each other, ships shooting cannons, and kamikazes, of course. There are no moments I remember, but the general impression of the whole is what I've carried unconsciously through time. I know now exactly where I got my anti-war attitudes. These films made war the worst thing I could imagine. Did I want to jump into that and get burned alive on a sinking ship? Did I want to get shot on a beach? Just because I was a boy? I didn't want to kill anybody, especially not some bozo like me on the other side who just wanted to live his life. I see the ships blow up into a cloud of smoke and while everybody on board the sub is shouting hooray, I'm thinking about the guys on the sinking ship, what they're feeling and thinking while the ground goes out from under them. Just because they're Japs wasn't a problem for me. They couldn't help where they were born any more than I could. They got caught up in a shit-happens moment just like me.

I believe these films were put together for the early years of television, 1952, seven years after the end of the war, with the intent to show us what "our boys" had been through, the horror of it, so we could appreciate the war effort, because the German element needed stopping, as did the Japanese. Both powers got out of control. This is the message. Get out of control and the whole world comes down on you. I watch these films seeing what I learned watching them, finding this is the source of some of my major attitudes toward life. The glory part passed me by. I never got that one. They show parades and people waving flags on liberation day, which is a great thing, but what a shame it was to need liberation. They show quite a lot of German and Japanese war footage too, perhaps captured film. Born too late for the propaganda before the war, I saw it all post-war when the Germans and Japs were not our enemies. I had 1/4 German blood, which I was ashamed of for a long time, until I got to Germany in my 40s and saw it was people just like us, a different culture, different language, but ultimately just folks getting by the best they know how.

What got me completely over blaming the German people for the Nazis was seeing the Bush-Cheney-Rummy takeover and how the American public fell for obvious propaganda, how well propaganda works. I watched my own country take the same path. I saw how popular fascism is everywhere, and now I am able to see fascism is not Germany specific. I watch these films made in an America that was very different from the America I live in now. Like I noticed when Obama won the election, after the week of being briefed on all the secrets the President needs to know, he has looked like a deer in the headlights ever since. Then, 1952, a working man could support a wife and kids, house payments, car payments, utilities, insurance, working in a factory, and even put away savings. Now a working man and his wife both have to work full time to keep a trailer rented. Forget savings. 30 years of inflation in what everything costs us, and wages have remained the same for the working people, while CEOs rake in many multiple millions, now billions. Our standard of living is gradually being brought down to that of Malaysia, Honduras, Nigeria, India, and will keep on going downward until we're willing to accept the wages of Indonesian sweatshops. The big wheel keeps on rolling.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


baja rock

Yesterday I brought Jr's birdfeeder home. I asked Harry, who is living in Jr's house, if he's using the birdfeeder that stood on a post outside the big window by the dining table. He said he'd taken it up and it was lying on the ground next to the house so he wouldn't have to mow around it. He said, Sure, go get it. He also had a bag of bird seed he'd never opened, which he sent along with the birdfeeder. To my eye, it looks like something ancient Japanese, simple lines, wooden little house so old it has lichen growing on the roof. The seed goes in a space between two clear plexiglas panels that show how much seed is in the reservoir. It has a squirrel guard under it too. I tried to put it far enough from trees and rhododendron to inhibit a squirrel, though I doubt it will. It doesn't matter. It keeps the ground around it covered with seed and birds pecking around in last year's fallen leaves. I put it about 4 feet from Tapo's headstone so she can dream birds. Caterpillar doesn't go outside much and doesn't hunt birds at all anymore. With only one indoor cat, it's ok to lure birds back.

In the mail today was a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America. I'd read about it when it was new and made a mental note I wanted to read it some day. Found it at amazon for very little and started it today. Can't stop. I've been looking for a book I can't stop reading. I need that kind of book to jump start my reading. I've been putting my focus on computer and movies and the stack of books I want to read grows taller. But not one of them pulls me into it, which I need now to get back on reading track. I find that computer thinking / watching movies thinking makes reading such a slow thing to do that when I pick up a book, it feels like walking through mud, it's so slow. Slow is where I want my mind to be. Sitting still reading feels like doing nothing, while the computer and movies, tv and radio too, give a feeling of involvement. Though when I get caught up in the fast machines is when I want to slow down in the head and read.

Barbara Ehrenreich's book involves her stepping outside her role as herself, New York writer, columnist, and pretending she's recently divorced, on her own, needs a job and a place to live, as someone without skills. In the beginning she's found restaurant jobs and motel bed changing jobs. What she's finding from the very start is the people who work for 6 and 7 dollars an hour, minimum wage, can't live on what they make and their work takes into no account their humanity. She cleaned rooms in motels. She worked with the other women and men doing whatever work she was involved in. She found the application for a Wal-mart job the most demeaning of all. They're the masters. Their employees make so little they qualify for medicare and the US government ("taxpayer") pays for the healthcare of underpaid Wal-mart employees, while the Waltons wallow in billions apiece in an underground bunker guarded above by snipers in towers. Arkansas. This is Ayn Rand's fantasy come true. The American Dream. Ehrenreich didn't tell the Wal-mart part---she'd take it for granted the reader already knows about that. It was yesterday's news yesterday.

I've wondered if we humans will take to moving underground as aboveground becomes more inhospitable stripped of its minerals, trees and water, the ground infertile after decades of oil-based fertilizer, global warming, and other horrors that accompany these. Trends often started with the rich and "trickled down" over time. In the time of Astors in New York the rich tended to be fat. Showed wealth. They could afford to eat. Now the rich are trim and the working people are fat. The rich play tennis, golf and perform other fitness conscious exercises, have personal trainers, while the working people watch tv. Trim with 6-pac abs is status. Shows you don't work for a living. As Ayn Rand imagined, the rich are moving underground with razor wire enclosures around the access hole and an army of guards with high tech like on tv. If the rich are trickling underground in the present time, a trend may follow. You're nothing if you live above ground. You're just a peasant working in fields and factories. I was picturing the move underground a mass move done in a hurry of necessity. It's looking like it will take several decades, maybe centuries. Instead of outer space conquests, I'm seeing back to donkeys, cotton gowns and sandals as the most practical way to be. Maybe not.