The Whole Song

Hello Everybody,

A few weeks ago, on my way up to North Dakota, I pulled off US Highway 281 at Lawton, Oklahoma and checked into a hotel.

20140823_115255Big beds, white sheets void of personality. White, fluffy, pillows. TV hanging on a wall covered with abstract wallpaper. The same comfortable yet impersonal ambiance of so many other hotels of which I’d sought repose. I always plan to do the same thing each night I spend in a hotel: take a bath, play my guitar, watch TV until I fall asleep. But what usually happens also happened in Lawton that night: after the bath and turning the AC as low as it can go, I crawled under the covers and quickly slipped into deep sleep.

My stay in the hotel in Lawton was no different. I went to sleep at 9, woke up at 6. Then I went down to the lobby and had the same continental breakfast.

I hadn’t had any coffee yet, therefore my diminished mental capacity made working the pancake pour-and-flip-and-wait contraption a difficult task. I managed to extract a serving of pancake batter out of the dispenser and pour it into the contraption, but something very wrong happened when I flipped the griddle…batter dripped out of it, spread all over the table.

“Wha…wha…what’s going on?” I exclaimed.

“Oh, you gotta let it wait for a while,” said the clerk, running to the table.

“Well, it’s…the instructions aren’t very clear.” They were.

“Oh, I know, they can be tricky,” said the clerk, a Latino man, tattoos on his neck and forearms. “Here, lemme get another one set up for you.” He did so. “Yeah, it’ll just beep when it’s ready. All you gotta do is wait, my friend.”

I waited, watched the lobby TV as I kept an ear our for the beep. A local news program was on—a well-coifed anchor was talking to a bald on top yet pony-tailed farmer.

“Tell us why you are here today?” asked the anchor to the farmer.

“I’m here to tell you this new proposal on the Clean Water Act by the EPA is just another way to keep water from us smaller farmers. It is a clear example of the overreach of Federal Government-”

BEEP.

I flipped the griddle, plucked the pancake out of it, sogged it up with syrup. When I turned around the anchor was saying…

“Well, (Mr Farmer), that’s very interesting. Thank you for coming to visit us this morning.” The anchor turned to the camera. “We’ll be right back.”

I sat down just in time to watch a commercial for Choctaw Defense. “One of the largest defensive contractors in the nation,” said a narrator, recorded over footage of Indians welding, working on assembly lines…sparks flying across the screen, “Choctaw Defense is responsible for thousands of jobs throughout Oklahoma. Completely owned by the Choctaw, located on the Choctaw Nation.”

I couldn’t find the commercial online, but I did find this, that basically says the same thing:

Indians building military equipment for the Military Machine that crushed them one hundred years ago. I heard the Great Mother crying as I swallowed the last piece of my cold, soggy pancake. Then I picked up my bag and guitar, walked toward the door.

“Hey,” shouted the clerk, “you play guitar?”

“Yeah,”

“Oh, cool, man. I do too. I play just down the road, at the Spanish speaking church down the way. That’s pretty much only where I play these days. I used to be in a band, played all over you know…back when I was wild, haha…but they really like us there at the church. Ok, man, well safe travels and God bless you.”

20140823_122552I continued north on US 281, which runs completely up and down the nation—Mexico to Canada. It’s also a military highway, meaning if we were ever invaded, or if Martial Law was declared throughout the country, US 281 would be a main transport vein for supplies, personel and weaponry. But it’d be hard to send all that military might up or down US 281 through Oklahoma. There, the highway shrinks to 2 lanes often, is not maintained as well as it is in Texas and of course has a slower speed limit than it does in the Lone Star State. I was losing time, so when I came to Alva near the border with Kansas, I turned east onto US 64, toward Interstate 35.

US 64 was small, bumpy, slow. There was no shoulder most of the way. I had to counter the high prairie winds to stay on the road. Lush crops grew right to the edge of the bar ditch, and nearly every farm had about 5 acre square of land cleared and leveled, where a huge oil derrick pumped away. Oilmen scurried around the rigs, enshrouded by red dirt clouds brought up by the wind. These scenes looked chaotic, busy, but not a sound came into the cab. There was only the gusts of the wind, and a classic rock station on the radio, playing a fine list including ACDC, Alice Cooper, CCR, all the greats. In between every other song would be the same commercial…

“Last year, Oklahoma experienced more earthquakes than in recent history. Did you know regular home insurance does not cover earthquake damage, however we can help…”

About 20 miles out of Cherokee, the station played a lo-fi recording of some local band. 3 chords, distortion just like a million other songs, and of course the tough yet curiously sensitive voice singing the lyrics…

I smoke, I drink

Just tryin not to think

I smoke, get drunk

Just tryin to change my luck

It was impossible to ingnore the glaring contradictions in such a set of lyrics (changing requires at least a little thinking and doing the same thing over and over never leads to change…just insanity) however, I was in Oklahoma, therefore I championed the effort, nonetheless.

The eyes of The Past staring back at you...

The eyes of The Past staring back at you…

The Boss came on as I rolled down the main street of Cherokee – growling through the brilliant and most misunderstood tune of all time, Born in the USA – passing by one closed down storefront after the other. Born in the USA, I was born in the USA…Springsteen’s repetitive howl put me in a transe and suddenly Oklahoma quit being a feeding plain for Big Oil Predator’s and incubator for Societal Burn Out and transformed a wormhole through Spacetime…

I’m 9 years old. Ronald Reagan is on the TV. A lot of people are clapping. Born in the USA…Born in the USA…four more years…four more years…all those people in stiff suits with big shoulder pads and cemented hair…smiling…but why aren’t they singing the rest of the song:

Born down in a dead man’s town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground

End up like a dog that’s been beat too much

Till you spend half your life just covering up

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man

Come back home to the refinery

Hiring man says “son if it was up to me”

Went down to see my V.A. man

He said “son don’t you understand”

Had a brother at Khe Sahn

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there, but he’s all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon

I got a picture of him in her arms

Down in the shadow of a penitentiary

Out by the gas fires of the refinery

Ten years burning down the road

Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go

Born in the USA…born in the USA…Reagan’s still clapping, confetti’s falling…fade out…fade it…I’m sitting in front of the old RCA watching an episode of 20/20…Hugh Downs does a story on the eminent nuclear holacaust, then Barbara Walters runs a story about Satan Worship in California and finally John Stossel does the feature story of the evening, about all the farmers committing suicide in creative ways so their families could collect the life insurance because insurance is there to help…if they did it just right…everything grows dark around the TV…I look behind me…my father’s not there, he’s in prison…my mom’s reading on the couch, but she fades away…static…static…Reagan clapping…confetti…static…I look back again…mom’s gone…it’s only Reagan and he’s still smiling like the smile was painted on…I hear the sounds of factories closing down in Michigan…I hear the bombs whistle down…one hand after another tapes an Out of Business sign on a mainstreet window…oh, yeah, and there’s AIDS, we’re all gonna catch AIDS…scrrrrrrrrrratch, scrrrrrrrrratch…Satan scratches his pitchfork across the front door…ding-dong…there’s the bell…momma? momma?

Swoosh…back in 2014 and on the on ramp to I-35 North. Wow, that was thirty years ago. 9 years old. 1984. Jesus, is that really The Past? Hmm…1984.

20140729_210052A few weeks later I was chatting with my friend, Matt Anderson, with whom I share an office at the North Dakota Museum of Art. I told him about the oil rigs in the farm fields outside all the small closed-down Oklahoma towns. In between our discussion, I’d glance at the world coming through on my computer screen that morning: shot down jet planes, beheaded journalists, deadly viruses, white military police and dead black kids and unmanned drones, ISIS, ISIL and East Asia and Eurasia and JLAW’s boobs and internet crime and thought crime and unpersons and RATS RATS RATS and BIG BROTHER RATS OH GOD RATS PLEASE OH GOD NO BIG BROTHER OK BIG BROTHER OH GOD PLEASE NO NOT GOD I MEAN BIG BROTHER PLEASE TAKE THE GODDAMN RATS AWAY I LOVE BIG BROTHER!!!…i love big brother (breath)…i love big brother (another breath)i love big brotheri love

20140905_173240“You know,” said Matt, “I got home the other day, checked in with Heather and Grace and Abigail. We ate dinner. Then I went outside, walked a ways from the house. The sun was at the horizon, shining across the crops, hitting me head on and made the hair stand up on my arms. It was still warm, but cooling down. It was so quiet out there. I said to myself, This, right now, is real. Heather, Grace and Abigail are real. The only thing that is real is Right Now. Then I went inside and watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Heather and the girls. I can’t look at today’s headlines. I don’t know what to believe. I can’t watch dark TV shows. None of it feels real to me. My farm is real, though. I want to live on my farm with my family. Sell farm shares. Earn just enough money, I don’t want a lot of money. I want…I want more Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang.”

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a musical based on an Ian Flemming’s novel about a goofy inventor with a flying car who travels to Vulgaria and goes up against an evil, wealthy Baron and Baroness who imprison all the children of the realm. It’s a sugar and cheese technocolor feast for the eye and mind…

Don’t waste your pucker on some all day sucker
And don’t try a toffee or cream
If you seek perfection in sugar confection
Well there’s something new on the scene
A mouth full of cheer
A sweet without peer
A musical morsel supreme!

But like all cheesey tales…

A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain
Softly blows o’er lullaby bay.
It fills the sails of boats that are waiting–
Waiting to sail your worries away.
It isn’t far to Hushabye Mountain
And your boat waits down by the key.
The winds of night so softly are sighing–
Soon they will fly your troubles to sea.
So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain.
Wave good-bye to cares of the day.
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from lullaby bay.

…they’re not so cheesey…

What makes the battle worth the fighting?
What makes the mountain worth the climb?
What makes the questions worth the asking?
The reason worth the rhyme?

…if we listen to all the words…

To me the answer’s clear;
it’s having someone near; someone dear
Someone to care for; to be there for.
I have You Two!
Someone to do for; muddle through for.
I have You Two!
Someone to share joy or despair with;
whichever betides you.
Life becomes a chore, unless you’re living for
someone to tend to be a friend to.
I have You Two!
Someone to strive for, do or die for.

 

20140701_200151-1

Maybe the world can use a little more Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang…

Be well…

 

 

O’er The Ramparts We Are…

Hello Everybody…

Faith in Barrio Hollywood

Faith in Barrio Hollywood

It was well into the afternoon on July 4th. Two old Russian men jibbered away in their foreign toungue as they slammed dominos on a table, just outside our window. Spanish could be heard every now and then down the street. Andre – Luis’ roommate – was finishing up his plate of tacos. Luis and I were staring blankly into our empty plates. The impending food coma had set upon us like spider venom. Soon, we would succomb, spun tight in La Siesta’s web. Andre never rushed through his meal like Luis and I. He’s half French.

The tacos were from Luis and Andre’s neighbor, Edith. Earlier in the day, Luis and I built a ramp to the back door of her family’s bungalow, so her husband – Miguel – could get in and out of the house in his wheelchair.

“Broke his back,” Luis told me. “And an arm, a leg. He got messed up bad. And he’s undocumented. His boss’ insurance wouldn’t touch him. It’s bad, man.”

Andre had one, slow taco left. I leaned back in the chair – eyes still on my empty plate – and felt something closer to real content than I’d felt in a long time. I wish I could tell you that I wake up everyday looking for ways to help people, but I don’t. However, the only other option for me on Independence Day was to sit on the couch in my pajamas with my laptop, travel the whole wide virtual world for hours and drink, drink, drink coffee until the isolation hardened and I could no longer fend off the harbingers of self-loathing who would then whisk me away to the Real Dark Space. I’ve been to that space many times. It’s totally empty – always – until a drunk, pill-addled Tennessee Williams magically POOFS!!in front of me and whispers his brilliant words over and over, Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person. I didn’t want to go to hell on The Fourth of July, so when Luis told me about Miguel’s situation, it was easy to say yes, let’s build a ramp. So Luis and I walked to Sunset Boulevard, passed the bums preparing for The Fourth outside Bill’s Liqour, through the packs of trajabaderos shooting dice and waiting for someone to point to them and say ¡andale! outside the Home Depot. Inside the Home Depot, we got some lumber. In no time we cut up the lumber and Whahlah! – ramp. When Andre got there, the three of us set it in place at Edith and Miguel’s door. It was all so very easy, and we got a free meal to boot.

Tennessee Williams, not judging, not judging me at all.

Tennessee Williams, not angry…just disappointed.

The whole day had EASY written all over it. There were some plans – the beach, watch the big fireworks over the water, a bbq – but they just didn’t happen, and we didn’t mind. Moments later, I dozed in La Siesta’s web as the intermittent pops and whizzes of illegal fireworks echoed throughout East Hollywood.

I awoke in the early evening. The sun came into the bungalow sideways and dark yellow. The pops and whizzes had multiplied by a substantial factor. Andre texted that he and his girlfriend, Charity, were going to Barnsdall Park – just down Hollywood Boulevard – for a picnic. When Luis woke up, he and I, along with Luis’ other neighbor – who would rather me not use his real name, so I will refer to him as The Great Warrior – joined them just after sunset. As we got into The Great Warrior’s pick-up, a rocket whizzed down the street.

“It’s gonna get crazy in the neighborhood tonight,” said The Great Warrior, a longtime resident of East Hollywood. “I don’t know where they get the fireworks, but they get a lot of ’em, man.”

We found Andre and Charity at the park. Our friend Karen – plus an old friend of hers – joined us to complete the party. Barnsdall Park lay atop a hill, offered a great view of the city below. Other people were there – picnic-ing, frizzby-ing, dog-ing, or just laying around drinking. It was a cool mellow vibe. After the sun disappeared beyond the Hollywood sign, the sky burst into a brilliant apricot tone. The tips of the city’s palm trees just touched the sky. The Griffith Observatory glowed on top of one of the hills, like the head of a robot who’d been buried up to the neck.

Such a sweetly deceptive beauty...

Such a sweetly deceptive beauty…

“Todd, do you want some pate?” asked Andre, as he handed me a cracker covered in brown stuff. I’d never tried pate, so I took a chance. I wasn’t crazy about it. “It’s basically pork fat, salt, pepper, some other stuff,” said Andre. “I had to smuggle it back from France. It’s illegal here.” Despite my lack of zeal for the stuff, I pondered its aftertaste in hopes to form a question in which to ask Andre, in regards to the specifics of its illegality -it seemed like harmless goo. But when the question reached the tip of my tongue, fireworks began erupting all over town, and asking the question then seemed like a slight act of treason.

First, there were little bursts all over the city – Hollywood, Culver City, mid-city, downtown, way out at Marina Del Rey. The explosions would die down, then come back with more intensity. Concussion blasts echoed as if recorded on a loop, bouncing off the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. Smoke flowed over the city as the sky went from light blue to dark blue to black. Hollywood’s underground street-level fireworks show began to escalate, too. Roman candles zipped down streets, back and forth – rockets blasted off the roofs of apartment complexes. Sirens, flashing emergency lights. And more and more, the city’s legit firework displays grew larger and more elaborate. All atop Barnsdall Park ooh-ed and aah-ed, collectively.

“I feel like we’re the Gentry watching a Civil War battle,” said The Great Warrior.

I didn’t. I felt as if I was tuned into CNN on a giant holographic TV – watching footage of a pre-emptive strike somewhere, far removed from any danger, but able to watch it all unfold during prime time. Bombs and missles rained down – curiously missing their  “targets” yet always finding the peasants who aren’t even represented by their country although they literally break their backs to build it’s infrastructure in which the more fortunate and represented classes are free do their Stuff and Things. Then the whole scene turned further into an Orwellian direction, because it was clear to see – from so far away – the bombed country was, in fact, dropping the bombs. But instead of revolting at such madness, everybody was celebrating, bombers and bombed alike.

Interrupting your Reality to bring you another Reality...

Interrupting your Reality to bring you another Reality…

“GOD BLESS AMERICA,” shouted a drunk man, bringing me back from this Dystopia. He’d stood up on his blanket to make the statement. His gangly swaying silhouette dangled like a marrionette in front of the exploding sky. “GOD BLESS THE USA AND GOD BLESS JESUS CHRIST!” Then the Almighty Puppet Master cut his strings and he fell to his blanket.

Dark clouds rolled in from the ocean. They were illuminated in eerie greens, blues, reds, yellows, pinks, purples as the fireworks exploded, like there was some kind of whacky lightening circus storm rolling in from Japan. But minutes later – around 9:30pm – the main fireworks died down and people began to leave the park. The Celebration was over, but as The Great Warrior walked back to his truck, it was easy to see The Bombing of Hollywood was really just getting started, with no end in sight. Whiz, band, pop! The neighborhood was at war. A short time later, The Great Warrior drove us slowly, carefully down Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood seemed dark and desolate on the surface – the explosions only happening on the periphery – like the eye of a stom. But when The Great Warrior almost hit two ladies crossing Serrano Street and we screeched to a halt, I was relieved, not only because we didn’t run them over but also because they proved Life did, indeed, go on as best it could despite the chaos of war. The women merely looked at us like we were idiots and continued walking.

A huge blast went off just above us as we got out of the truck, shaking the windows of the bungalows.

“It’s great, man,” said The Great Warrior, laughing. “They just don’t give a f$%k around here. And, there’s not enough cops to do a damn thing about it.”

Orwellian Hollywood

This is not a dream.

Moments later, I lay in bed, enshrouded by a Symphony of Anarchy – explosions, echoes of exposions, sirens, car alarms, barking dogs, Spanish and laughter – until I floated away from the war ravaged land and to the Dreamscape.

I washed clothes at the laundromat the next day amidst a score of Mexican-American ladies. Each woman had an impossible mountain of clothes to wash. I dumped my one bag into a washer, turned around and saw Edith. She thanked me again, in the same slightly embarassed yet immensely grateful manner as she did the day before. I felt embarassed too, dumbly thanked her again for the tacos. The heat from the dryers wafted over us, dizzied me to the point that I left my body for a moment, and from that ephemeral position in the ether I was able to regard the scene clearly. There we were, both engaged in this weird dance of awkward bowing and hand motions and shuffling of the feet while she uttered gracias and I stuttered out thanks. I saw two people who’d done something for one another…and both felt grateful. Tacos for a ramp. Seems like a fair trade. But it wasn’t, not at all. All I did was put some wood together. Edith rescued me from Hell.

He wasn't always so serious.

He wasn’t always so serious.

Tennessee POOFED!!! again. Floating in that laundromat like a drunk moss covered Southern Buddha, he took a big drag off his cigarette, smiled, then disappeared.

Be well…