Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gotta Love Those Fundamentalists.

I find it a bit of a shame how fundamentalists and other scallywags have perverted the meaning of the New Testament. I’m not saying that I particularly buy into the worldview of this famous tome, but I’m not willing to discount whatever lessons can be gleaned from it just because some freakishly empty robots want to fight over it.

It’s especially ironic that folks who would spend time memorizing quotes from the gospels are so resistant to doing even a modicum of research that would help provide context and deeper understanding. How many people have ever heard of the Council of Nicea? Constantinople convened it in 325C.E. I can’t claim to be anything near an expert on this topic, but I am aware of certain details that compel my attention.

The official record seems to suggest that the sun-worshipping Emperor was making a sincere attempt at achieving a consensus of opinion of all Christendom. It might not surprise you that I find this interpretation impossible. Constantinople was most concerned with consolidating the empire. A means of social control was necessary for the continuing influence of the Roman leaders.

Christianity ceased to be something that could possibly attain consensus when Jesus Christ died. As soon as he wasn’t there to speak for himself and answer questions, varying interpretations of his meaning arose out of the individual personalities that had encountered him. Eventually all types of people that had never even seen him alive began to hold forth on the subject. Did you ever play the “telephone game” in elementary school? There you go.

So a bunch of influential priests and power brokers sat around a table three hundred years after Christ, and decided to arbitrarily designate some “truths”. They summarized their conclusions in the Nicene Creed. One of the differences of opinion represented at the Council included whether or not Jesus was the literal “son of God” rather than a figurative one. That alone should give the fundamentalists pause.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Do Not Squander Your Magick.

We are constrained
By the idea of the finite

A parlor trick of matter
That tries to suggest

Perhaps you believe
In the

I don’t

Pick your spots
With intention

And I will too.

Try to be aware
That there are games
Being played
With the truths
Of others.

And that they all


Friday, March 27, 2009

Rivers and Streams.

Perhaps we don't all appreciate the rivers as much as we should. When I was coming up I didn't have a lot of connections to them. Sure, I was near enough to the Delaware to realize its importance, but in an immediate sense the only river I was aware of was the one that flowed down the street at the bottom of my hill. It happened so rarely that I was always mesmerized when a flood cascaded waters down the surrounding hills and on to Sumner Avenue. I felt sometimes that I might be compelled to grab an inner-tube and float right down to the Little Lehigh. There was something about the idea of being borne along in the stream that fascinated me. I wasn't scared, but I did have a healthy respect.

When I got a bit older my Dad planned a white water trip for the family. I don't remember where we went, but I think it was in the Poconos and I believe the river-guide company was called Scotty's Tours. Somehow industry had discovered a way to harness that river and create some fairly exciting rapids. We opted for tubes instead of rafts, and that seemed like the proper decision in retrospect. I remember that at one point there was a white wolf traversing the riverbank and keeping an eye on me. He seemed to follow me for miles, but being just a kid I'm sure I lacked the kind of accurate perspective that could delimit the actual physical space covered. Then upon exiting the water, I got assaulted by a stinging insect. It didn't ruin my day or the memory of it.

It was a long time before I had a similarly intense experience on a river, and when it happened it was on the Lower Yough. I was about to get married and my friends wanted to do something unconventional for me. At first there was some animated discussion about whether we should take a structured trip or simply go down by ourselves. Fortunately we rallied to the former. Our six-man boat went down immediately before Dimple Rock, and we were swept underneath. My helmet scraped along its bottom, leaving scuff marks on the yellow plastic. I was the first to emerge, and thus was unable to grab the tow line that was thrown parallel to the spot I surfaced. I took a deep breath and went down the next 100 yards on my back.

Eventually I reached the gateway to the next set of rapids, where a little man in a kayak told me to swim to the bank ("as if" I "had a pair"). It was a bit jarring to be shocked out of my reverie with those words. But I responded well enough that he asked me to grab our raft as it made its way to me. I muscled it to the side and lit a necessary cigarette. My mates were shuckin' and jivin' on dry land as I smoked. When they reached my spot I thought we'd be able to decompress a bit, but an unexpected occurrence arose. It turns out that the raft behind us had also capsized, and one of its inhabitants was unconscious in the water. Kayak-guy was in a panic and needed our help. We jumped in and piloted our hapless vessel directly to the middle of the deluge and plucked our target right out of the water.

We went from zero to hero in the space of about ten minutes. Safely back among the weeds, we were thanked profusely for our timely efficiency and performance. Likely we saved that particular flotilla a bucketload of liability dollars. They invited us to their clubhouse- a micro brewpub ostensibly owned by the operators of our earlier tour. I would make return visits to that drinking hole over the years, but I stayed out of the Lower Yough for awhile. We got banged up on the rock chutes instead. While I'm not anxious to have a repeat performance of that last adventure, I'm certain to seek out rivers throughout my life. There are many more tales I could tell, but they are downstream and for now I'll leave you here in the tall weeds.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pittsburgh Art Events: 3/27-28/09.

Years ago, when Pavement was still together playing vital music, frontman Stephen Malkmus used to wear a shirt that said, "Fuck Art. Let's Dance!". While I certainly understand the sentiment (and there are plenty of options to dance now that Spring is upon us), I'd rather not see y'all get zombified by the pollen clouds. Remember that there's nothing better to get you moving later in the night than looking at original art live in person. And there are some opportunities this weekend. Take advantage of them.


You could go downtown. Really, you could if you were of such a mind. No, it's not a crawl per se, but there are a couple of openings that seem like they might be worth checking out. With Potato/Tomato: The Cover Project, Future Tenant has organized a show around a potentially interesting concept- they've asked artists to riff on other creators' work. Those folks are always so adorably post-modern, and this presentation might just cause me to venture downtown early Friday evening (6-9PM). Or then again, it might not. If you do think you might be interested, check out their page here...

But perhaps you don't want to do too much driving. Maybe the idea of fighting the Friday Rush Hour snarl is too daunting to penetrate the Golden Triangle. If so, then I got sumptin' for ya. Go to the Zombo Gallery. It's your last chance to see Breitkreutz and Copeland in March- two up-and-comers worth keeping an eye on. Did you go to the opening? Was there too much going on that night (at 6-freakin' PM?!)? Don't just do a drive-by this time. Put your poison on hold and have a look at some paintings. There will be lots of time to go out later.


This might just be some sort of freakin' typo... but is LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Exotic Cocktails) really hosting their Annual Women's History Month Closing Party at 7-ever lovin'-AM on Saturday morning? That's hardcore. I wonder what kind of strange rituals they will be perpetrating Friday night. Regardless of when it really happens, it's reported that they will be talking about cosmetics. That's even more appropriate at such an ungodly hour.

If you do get drunk that early in the morning, you might as well schlep your wares over to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' Simmons Hall for the New Member Screening of the Pittsburgh Society of Artists. Bring three gallery-ready pieces and $35. Meet some ah-tists. Buck the trends.

As far as the night is concerned, I didn't find any gallery openings on Saturday. Of course there's the possibility that some swell space somewhere is having their special people over for drinks and show-and-tell, but I'm not privy to such rarefied society. So I'm considering taking my sass over to Pittsburgh Filmmakers for the Black Maria Film Festival (7:30PM- $7). For years I've made it a habit not to see films in theaters, and I've rarely challenged that resolve. But with this event there should be lots of breaks, which are essential to my viewing pleasure. I don't know what you'll see if you go, but the press release explains:

"Since 1981, the annual Black Maria Film & Video Festival, an international juried competition & award tour, has been fulfilling its mission to advocate, exhibit and reward cutting edge works from independent film and videomakers. The festival is known for its national public exhibition program, which features a variety of bold contemporary works drawn from the annual collection of 50 award winning films & videos."

Then again, maybe your tastes run more toward the lowbrow. In that case, I don't think you can afford to miss Tromatic Movie Night at the Obey House (1337 Steuben St.). That's in Crafton Heights. Where the f'n hell is Crafton Heights? It just might be real cannibals and toxic freaks that you encounter out that way. Sound like an adventure? It's $5, it starts at 6PM, and it features "Magic Hat Beer Specials And Troma Vendor". Alrite then...

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I'm still working my way through Kevin Baker's Dreamland. My life has been marked by intense distraction lately, and I have another book in the queue that I'm anxious to start reading. At the same time Spring has sprung early this year, and it's hard to keep my concentration on reading. There are numerous projects that I want to pursue, and there is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done. I know there are things around the house that need to be attended to as well. Yet periodically I am able to sustain some attention, and I make it through a few pages of Baker's historical fiction. I end up captivated- not because his story is written particularly well but because the past realities he describes beggar the imagination.

If you've been reading this blog for any significant length of time (or if you know me personally) you might be aware that I actually visited what's left of Coney Island a few years ago. My Dad booked a room in Sheepshead Bay and we went over to take photos. Obviously it was in a state of disrepair. I blogged about my reactions (just type "Coney Island" into the search box at the top left hand corner of the page and scroll down the results*) after the visit. A particular highlight was seeing the last extant non-traveling sideshow. Of course it was sans performers-by-birthright, but that's simply the nature of the the beast, given the nature of our society. It eats its freaks whole.

I appreciated the Coney Island Circus Sideshow even though I missed the authentic 10-in-1 format because we were there on a weekday. Those folks certainly have a genuine love and appreciation for the history of the medium. Still I knew that I was seeing a remnant of a shadow of the past. By the time the blow-off came around I was ready to step out on walkabout. The local public school district must rent space adjoining the boardwalk to park their vehicles, because there were hundreds of buses, but hardly any kids around. It seems difficult to believe that this is the best use of property bordering this historic destination- but there it is. I have pictures to prove it.

Try to imagine the wonders and glories that people once experienced at places like Luna Park and Dreamland. Baker would have it that this was the place that immigrants learned to be truly American. But if that's the case, then that nation is dead. Once people rode the Steeplechase, which was a mechanized amusement featuring carousel horses that raced each other along a track... and included dips. When you (and hopefully your honey) got off (ok... I know) you walked along a platform with a maniacal dwarf who would chase you around in front of a gallery of past riders, and try to spank you or poke you in the butt with a cattle prod. There were also air jets that would blow ladies' dresses up around their wastes. Can't do that sort of thing (in public) nowadays without risking a trip to the pokey.

And there were a host of other amazing attractions as well, the likes of which haven't existed in some time. Check out this article from the New York Times, May 15th, 1904. It aims to describe a list of delights that you might have had should you have been lucky enough to access that time and place. It's difficult to believe even though it's from a paper that was once quite reputable. There's so much in there that it's virtually overwhelming. But the thing that strikes me right in my third eye is the verification that there did indeed once exist an entire town built to house "little people". They lived and worked there in Brooklyn in their planned community, in front of the prying eyes of the "normals". This was truly a "Dreamland".

*Make a short digression to the post titled "The Strange Crime of Hazel McNally." I did, and was a bit taken aback, as I completely forgot ever having written about the case.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Time With the Feds.

Approximately nine years ago I found myself unhappy with my current career path, and without a definite plan for the future. I intended to go back to school for a professional certificate in the fall, but didn't really know what to do to keep myself busy until then. Throughout the preceding years I had worked in a number of marginally interesting jobs for small compensation, and I wanted to shake things up a bit. I went down to the employment center in Larryville (near the doughboy statue) and met with one of its staff. I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the hot dog shop across the way before I went in. Unfortunately I caught a touch of food poisoning which began to hit me as I was talking with the job counselor.

Still I was able to keep it together enough to entertain several possibilities. It just so happened that the 2000 US Census was in its enumeration phase. There was a representative of the Pittsburgh office administering entry tests to see who might be qualified to work for "Old Glory". I've always been a proficient test-taker, and I did well despite the violent pangs in my stomach. I was offered a low-level temporary position downtown. Every day I walked from home at 47th and Hatfield to the high rise that is now the Westin Convention Center. I did a variety of office-type jobs, and always volunteered to get out in the field for some variety. Tracking down addresses that had forwarded no response to the mailed surveys could sometimes be challenging.

One day several Garfield teens tried to jack my car while I was idling in front of their rowhomes, trying to find a specific house. I was taken aback as they tried to enter through both doors of my beat-up GEO metro. The situation was so absurd that all I could think to do was to flash the closest one my federal employment badge (featuring a big ol' American flag) and smirk at them. That calmed them down, and they hastily retreated to a porch. I asked after them as I finally delivered a follow-up survey several houses down. They had become remarkably docile and polite. And it made for a pretty fun story back at the office. My supervisors especially paid close attention and decided that I should sit for a management test.

My training in psychology prepared me well for the exam. I was told that I got the highest score in the entire region. All it amounted to for me was that I knew what they were looking for. I answered the questions to fit their profile. But the project was so far underway that they couldn't offer me a high position. Still, what they gave me was a vast improvement over enumeration and data entry. I was made the crew leader for all of Lawrenceville. That meant that it would be left solely up to me to take the population count of the area. I had 23 employees working for me, and I was responsible for training and managing them. I reached my personal quota of 100% of the inhabitants accounted for. It turns out that the area was growing!

The best thing about that job was that I could set my own hours and work wherever I wanted to. For awhile I just had people drop off their completed surveys at my house. Then I decided I needed to have a more professional presence, and so I talked one of the local businesses into letting me set up on their second floor. I ran the count from Nooner's bar, which was located on Penn Avenue near Main Street. It was technically in Bloomfield. It's ironic that years later I would be spending a lot of time in my former "office"*. New owners purchased the place and transformed it into a hip destination called the Brillobox. Eventually the Census was concluded and I moved on. But I'm glad to have had the chance to help build the numbers for my favorite city neighborhood. It's been good to me ever since.

* Which I've recently learned was actually the "woman's floor" of the bar.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Madeleine Peyroux, "Instead"

This song got my attention this morning, and I thought I'd share it with you:

Madeleine Peyroux

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When I Was No More Than a Child.

Perhaps I'm a wee bit obsessive-compulsive. Or maybe it's more proper to say that at least one of my multiple personalities is. I think that is one of the great joys of keeping the parts of myself ambivalently integrated. I can indulge the little idiosyncrasies that are aching to find their expression. If I repress them, they are going to show their faces anyway. So I might as well allow them conscious revelation, so to speak. That way I don't get anxious about their appearance. They don't blindside me. But I'm getting off on a tangent, and I know that I have something specific to talk about today. For those of you looking for a point, I want to assure you that there is one. Just be patient, and happy that I enjoy a bit of symmetry in my structure.

Not too long ago, my good friend R. and I were hanging out and talking in a nonlinear fashion and he made an interesting offhand(?) comment pertaining to whatever the momentary subject was and it resonated in waves like the proverbial butterfly wings. He said that there really wasn't much difference between a training in art and one in psychology. I found that particularly insightful and specifically relevant to my life. When I was an undergraduate in college, I ended up being a psychology major around the time I was starting junior year. I had one of those epiphanies that seen to quite commonly occur in youth. I realized that I didn't know what the fuck I was going to do upon graduation.

You see, when I left my hometown and my family I came as far away as I dared... all the way across this great commonwealth. My parents had told me that I could attend any in-state school with public funding, and when I looked at the map... the University of Pittsburgh really stood out. So we planned a visit- my first to this fine city. It was one of those gray days that seems to shadow the region's reputation... especially among those that have never been here. I can't say I was particularly trained in the art of observance at the time, and this deficit marked my experience. I decided that I would never come to a place like that for college. It was industrial and Gothic, and I had no idea what that meant.

Months later I failed to get into the main campus of Penn State University. At the time I didn't realize it, but this was incredibly fortuitous. Because Pitt was the rival of that Sunday Blue Law school. I was westbound and running with the sun. In retrospect I mark that as one of the very first substantial crossroads of my life I ever arrived at. And I've been thankful for the path I chose. For a few years I couldn't shake the stink of the East, but one summer I discovered the magic of the 'Burgh, and merged into its rivers. Getting back to the main thread, I'm grateful that I didn't have a fuckin' clue that fateful junior year at Pitt. Because I added up all my credits to see what I would major in (I had been promised a four-year sponsorship), and Psychology won out.

I suppose that I could look back at that time and believe that my spirit and/or intuition was guiding me. When I was completing my fourth year (yes, I finished my B.S. right on time), I knew I had nowhere clear to go. And I stayed and entered graduate school for psychology in education (that was the only seemingly functional masters degree offered for my chosen content). It was there that I really began thinking about individual personalities. For quite some time I matched them with the characters I knew... always externalizing those templates. It's only now (over a decade later) that I'm beginning to truly understand that they were always part of my self. It's a refreshing awakening.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Color is Your Parachute?

Unlike many late thirty-somethings that might be ashamed to admit it, I'll proudly admit that I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. I liked it. It was fun. Sometimes I get tempted to ask my friend who still plays if they are short a player. The only reason I don't is because I have a lot on my plate. Otherwise I would. I mean it. I would like to say that I was a nerd when I started playing, but the sad truth is that I was too self-conscious to qualify for that category. However, my brother made the grade. He was older by sixteen months, and had a group of like-minded friends who he played with often. When I got old enough (around 10 or 11) they let me join in. I was a temperamental little-shit, and I'm surprised in retrospect that I was tolerated by them.

Well, those type of parties ended when I revealed my true alignment. One day we were playing at my brother's friend-DY's house. I was having a good time from what I remember, and I really enjoyed looking at DY's exotic fish tanks (I guess technically they were probably his father's tanks). They really had an incredible collection. Sure, they had quite a few fresh water aquariums. That's easy enough. Not much work required with them. But there were some bad-assed salt water tanks too, and those require dutiful maintenance. And I think that anyone who puts that kind of effort into their passion appreciate when someone else expresses a likewise interest. DY knew I was impressed.

I don't know exactly how it came up through the course of the day, but I think DY wanted to leave an additional impression on me. So he suggested that we take a break and go out and play in the backyard. He had this idea that he'd like us to kick a flaming tennis ball through the grass. He went out to the garage and showed us how we could douse the thing with gasoline and then he lit it on up. For awhile it was just a bit of mischievous (but harmless) fun. But I guess I needed more edge, because the final time it was directed at me I intentionally booted the thing into the 11-foot-hedge that bordered the back of the yard. You'd be surprised how fast that flame grew. As we watched, the tip of the flames started to lick the telephone wires.

Naturally DY was in a state of panic. He was actually fairly "with it" for a 13 or 14-year-old kid. As much as he hated to do it, he knew what had to be done. Perhaps there was a hose somewhere that could have been hooked up to an outside faucet, but there was also a corresponding sense of imminence as those bushes burned. DY showed what can only be described as an awful logic, and he ran into the house and came out with an aquarium. I never found out whether it was fresh water or not. He dumped it, fish and all, at the base of the flame. Unfortunately he knew that wouldn't be sufficient and he ended up making several return trips. I knew it must have been painful because he was crying in motion.

What did I do during this time? I only found out later from DY, during one of the very last times he ever spoke to me. Apparently I stood and stared in mesmerized stillness, watching the fire lick up the flora (and the fauna as well, after a bit). This in itself could have probably been easily explained. However, what I did next (I guess) was over the top. I started laughing... rather maniacally. What was funny about that scene? In retrospect I have no idea. Later, when DY let me know what he thought of me, I guess I must have been pretty sad. I was effectively excommunicated from hanging out with my brother's friends from then on. At that point I guess they realize that art and life are inseparable. Just like the characters I played, I was (and perhaps still am) 'chaotic neutral'.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pog Mi Hone, Shilaeli Huggers.

Woo-hoo... it's St. Patrick's Day, and I don't give a good goddamn. It's not like I have anything specifically against the Irish, whether or not they are flame-topped or raven-haired. I've known some fun ones, and had an evening or two tippling with the leprechauns. So sure... why not? Erin-freakin'-go-braugh. If you need an easy excuse to get pissed, then have at it. Just don't forget to eat your taters before you do. I don't want to be plagued by the smell of vomit wherever you choose to do your reveling. And keep your little fists by your side, because when I go out I like to kick back and relax. I'm not looking to get inadvertently spat upon, or wet down by the whiskey-soaked sweat flying off of your reddened face.

But while we are on the subject of this all-important day, why don't you help me figure out why I should care about your tribal ceremonies? Why don't you explain why people here in the 'Burgh act as if it is some type of national holiday? You're the only white clan that tries to make a big deal of your special day. Inevitably some mick is going to ask me why I'm not wearing green, as if I've committed some type of Lenten slur. When I respond that I'm not Irish, I almost unfailingly hear the retort- "No, you know that everyone is Irish today". What gives? Is it like being birthed from a Hebrew pussy? Do I not have a choice in my affiliations? Do I have to do a riverdance once a year during March?

Here in Pittsburgh we don't get a hard-on for Black History Month, or Columbus, or even Fasnacht Day (look it the hell up, ignoramus). Yet we have to close downtown on a perfectly nice Saturday just to let drunks parade through the streets. And as if that wasn't enough, our favorite bars are jam-packed with idiots and airheads with ridiculous hats for at least twenty minutes during the evening, as they make their way through their insane bar-crawls. Can't we simply merge this nonsense with some Steeler Sunday? That way we don't have to waste a prime time night on a bunch of irritatingly exuberant weekend warriors. Actually, there are plenty of pubs where they like this sort of thing- drink your crappy green beer and cheap blended bracken water elsewhere.

Alas, maybe I am being a bit unfair. After all they aren't a universally bad-looking bunch. One-in-ten might actually serve as a crude sort of eye candy. And they've certainly had a big impact on the region. David Lawrence, Frank J. Gallagher, Tom Murphy, Bob O'Connor, Dan Rooney (Obama's Ambassador to Ireland, fer Christ's-sake!), Luke Ravenstahl- the list of prominent Irish local politicos is seemingly never ending. Hell, the Scots-Irish made Appalachia what it is today, in all it's four-leafed clover glory. Of course that becomes a dubious honor when one has a close look at the back roads of West Virginia and Kentucky... but what the hell. Let your freak flag fly high today.

Never mind that they've already despoiled downtown (in what has been reported as the nation's second-largest annual celebration of the homeland). Most of the drunk drivers have already been released from county by now. But I imagine they still have something left in their tank. They've gotten their fortification through their fried fish sandwiches, deviled crabs, and hardboiled eggs. Tonight you are sure to hear, "let's do a freakin' Car Bomb!!!" That's a cry that is rather appropriately uttered by this class of folk, especially those from the Northern part of the island across the sea. The rock-bottom truth is that I like all of you fine. And at least the stench of garlic is absent until St. Joseph's Day.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Who Doesn't Love Shopping?!

I went to the mall yesterday- "The Mills" to be exact. M. wanted to pick up a few things that she couldn't get around town, and I figured I'd give her a ride out that way. She still doesn't relish driving on route 28, and I can understand why. We found the "right" entrance after driving more than 1/2 way around the megacomplex. This one-stop consumer architecture is arguably the least lovely design template that I've ever experienced. It's phenomenally bleak, and whenever I find myself going (and it's NEVER on my initiative), I always feel like I'm visiting an alien planet. I had an hour and forty minutes to spend once we got there, and for the first ten it was interesting from a sociological standpoint. Then I started sweating as if I was in a Baptist church.

There is so much wrong about the entire phenomenon that it's difficult to find the proper place to start a list. The name of this particular mall is insultingly ironic. Nothing you can buy at any of the stores was made in the region. As far as I know there were never any mills where this monstrosity is located. There's no industry involved. It's Henry Miller's Air Conditioned Nightmare run amok sixty years after the publication of that literary travelogue. No matter how the planners try to structure the experience, it can never have anything to do with community. At "The Mills" they break down the retail into "neighborhoods", as if the polished floors were modeled after the city itself. But they even fuck that up- the numbers didn't seem to me to go in order... or perhaps I had already started hallucinated by the time I began to pay attention.

All I really wanted was a belt. My pants have all developed an inconvenient propensity to fall off my hips when I walk, which is problematic in most of my routine circumstances. After 45 minutes I found somewhere to make the purchase. Then I just walked around the uni-level square that I guess is meant to evoke an attitude of stupor-induced impulsive desire. I made a point to find the stores that best represent the state of our society. My pick is Flag World, where you can buy several different versions of "Old Glory". It's a bit shocking that it's still in business seven-and-a-half years after 9-11. I don't know if they are intentionally manufactured to attain material obsolescence every year or two, but it would seem that anyone in the market for a flag has already made the plunge.

I decided I wanted to indulge in nostalgia, and searched for an Orange Julius. Instead I settled for a "fruit smoothie" that had very little in it other than sugar and dairy substitute. I suppose that's not much different from my original target, but it wasn't very Juli-icious. I should have just bought Starbucks. As if to underscore my essential feeling of dislocation, I couldn't even find a drug store to buy cigarettes. I'm usually prepared, but I didn't anticipate going to the mall this afternoon. I thought I might stop at the fancy smoke shop to buy some Gauloises, but the lady at the counter (who spoke with a European accent, for fuck's sake) didn't even know what I was talking about. And I wasn't going to pay $6.50 for Camels.

The toy store was kind of cool. I'll admit that. I found a box of oil crayons for about $5. There was also a men's clothing store that had a tempting purple velvet smoking jacket at a huge markdown, but I resisted my urge to buy indiscriminately. I can only hope I don't have dreams about it that force me to come back later on this week. Still the vast majority of product at The Mills is stuff that I can't ever imagine wanting. Maybe I'll start making bank and shop at the Amish furniture store (inconveniently closed on Sundays). Or perhaps I'll get brain damage in an accident and lose my aesthetic sense, and start coveting some Thomas Kinkade paintings. Who knows? I could even develop a taste for plastic fruit smoothies. I might even feel more American.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Junot Diaz, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (2007).

Once or twice a year a new author bounds upon the popular literature scene, and compels the attention of the rapidly shrinking American readership. Often the author gets a boost from Oprah Winfrey, and maximizes the profitability of the release. Sometimes a book gets its acclaim by winning a prestigious award, although this isn't as sure a means into the nation's consciousness as the aforementioned coronation via day-time talk show queen. I would hazard a guess that the proportion of society that can actually name the year's Pulitzer Prize* and National Book Award winners is less than one half a percent. I make a point of reading a lot of fiction, and (to be honest with you), I can't do it.

Generally books come into my hands through one of two means- either someone I know personally makes a recommendation and/or loan, or I read about it on Amazon. Rarely do I scour the shelves and discover stuff I have not heard about previously. There's only so much time in my day to devote to reading nowadays, and I want as close to a sure thing as possible. My habits are increasingly self-directed, and that's why it's a real pleasure when I end up liking a friend's suggested title. That's the case with Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Even though I had seen that several of my newer favorite authors liked Diaz's writing, it might have been a long time before I actually sat down to read it.

Ultimately I'm glad I did. Normally I tend to resist writers who are transplanted Americans. I don't know why this should be so, and I'm certainly not proud of it. It's a very provincial attitude. I guess I'd just typically assume that I wouldn't get into a story unless I have a degree of cultural identification with the author. In the case of the Dominican-born Diaz, this would have been a real loss. Not only does the main character (Oscar De Leon) hail from Paterson, NJ (a mere hour-and-a-half from my own hometown) , but he's also heavily informed by the type of comic books and culture that I digested growing up. The kid may be black, nerdy, fat, and an ugly virgin... yet somehow he strikes certain chords of recognition.

Oscar is more than just a late-bloomer. He's truly at risk of never blooming at all. Aside from his mother, sister, and grandmother, he doesn't have a lot of admirers. He spends his time writing science fiction and fiddling around with role playing games. That doesn't mean he doesn't have the conventional needs of a red-blooded American (let alone Dominican) male. He just doesn't have any sort of success with the ladies. In this respect, his misfortune mirrors that of his broader family. While his clan doesn't share his clumsiness with the opposite sex (in fact they are all players), they do seem cursed to eat shit. Somehow they manage to run afoul of a motley assortment of genuinely bad actors.

Diaz is not merely concerned with telling Oscar's tale, but rather with sharing an informal history of his native country, and the brutal regime of the dictator Rafael Trujillo. I've heard about the type of atrocities dictators of banana republics can visit upon their people, but this guy was extreme. I'm assuming that the historical context that Diaz provides throughout his novel is accurate, and that the events occurred as he portrays them. If nothing else, reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao should make the reader grateful for his/her life. The entire DeLeon family endures such misery from an apparent fukú (curse) that appears to be supernaturally merciless. Still it makes for some rip-roaring reading.

* Diaz won the coveted prize in 2008.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pittsburgh Art Events: 3/13-14/09.

Tomorrow is Friday the 13th... again. 2009 is an extraordinarily rare year in that there are actually two of these "unlucky" days in subsequent months. For some that is reason enough to revisit the rather tepid series of horror movies that takes for its title the delineating characteristics that mark it on the calendar. Others will cast a glance or two over their shoulders, on the look-out for the bad luck that is supposed to accompany the date. There are even some (I am quite sure) that will go through their day as if it were any other. After all, there are folks who make every effort to approach life in a manner circumscribed by logic and rationality. But what fun is that? What fun is a world without magic?


It's ironic that (on such a foreboding day) that we should be so fortunate as to have the opportunity to check out the new work of Ben Kehoe. If I was forced to identify my favorite couple of painters around town, Ben would certainly headline my list. I'm not just whistlin' Dixie either... if you paid a visit to my house, you'd see my appreciation for Ben on my walls. There are very few artists (other than myself) who are better represented in my art collection. And I'm going to make it a point to get to the Beleza Community Coffeehouse on the North Side (1501 Buena Vista) early to see what Ben makes available from his new series. The actual reception for Watching and Wary runs from 6-8PM.

For years Kehoe has painted witty figurative images featuring medieval knights engaging in all manner of scallywag behavior. Some time ago he decided to shake things up and abandon that theme. Since the shift, I've only seen a few examples of his new direction. I'm anxious to see what he's come up with. If you can't make it, be sure to check out his website.

Meanwhile, Zombo Gallery (4900 Hatfield St, Lawrenceville) is featuring a doubleheader by Christian Breitkreutz and Ron Copeland. I've seen the work of the former at Modern Formations during a previous Unblurred. His stuff was reminiscent of the Kehoe brothers, and priced reasonably to sell. His latest group of paintings (Don't Let Me Die) apparently reflects his "struggles with death and dying", but no doubt there will be a substantial element of countervailing humor to offset the darkness. As far as I know, Copeland is relatively new to the local scene. Zombo's description of Another Broken Thumb makes the artist sound like he's obsessed with detritus. That sounds right up Michael's alley.


It seems like forever since Moxie Dada (1416 Arch Street) hosted an opening reception. Well friends, the time has come once again. It's a bit of a shame that it's not scheduled for Friday, because otherwise only one trip to the North Side would be necessary this weekend. Anyway, Unveiled features virtually the full roster of the gallery's artists (including Mark Traughber, Randie Snow, Robert Huckestein, Jason Shorr, etc.) . Christine promises a mix of new and previously shown work. Make sure to stop by between 6 and 8PM.

Note: Sunday's Obscure Movie Night selection at the Double Wide Grill (2339 E Carson St.) is "Bad Boys", starring the foremost actor of his generation- Sean Penn! Come see how he distinguished himself as a young lion... it starts at 9:30PM.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Politics as Usual in an Exceptional Time.

I've been taking a bit of a break from politics these last couple of months. I realize that it isn't entirely appropriate to pull away during the beginning of a new president's tenure... especially considering how ardent a supporter I was of the pre-executive Barack Obama. It's not fair for me to shine the light of analysis on the preceding administration, and then give this one a free pass. Yet at the same time, I spent so much energy following the 2008 presidential election that I felt entitled to have a rest. Truth be told, my level of involvement in the political scene was unsustainable. There was just no way for me to devote the hours it took for me to inform myself, while at the same time pursue my other interests and obligations.

Still it's not as if I have been living in a bubble. I realize that there has been a rash of government activity aimed at confronting our tenuous economic position. I took a look at the stimulus package, and considered the amount of extraneous spending included in the final bill. I try to keep up with the planning for the disbursement of the second half of the TARP funds. I even tune in for the latest reporting on the stock market. There is little to recommend a belief that we are "righting the ship". Obviously extreme measures have not yet been sufficient, and I think that Congress and the Obama Administration will continue to search for bold steps to jar the American economy out of its current malaise.

It's been slightly entertaining to see just how quickly Obama's hope of a post-partisan era of politics has been revealed as just so much wishful thinking. Michael Steele, the prospective new head of the opposition party, has blatantly labeled bipartisanship "a fiction". Granted the new GOP Chairman has been under great fire lately. I suppose this was inevitable given the state of the Republican leadership in the wake of their great losses. Steele is tasked with rebuilding a party that lays in ruins at the feet of eight years of failure. And he's being asked to deal with a constituency that is notoriously recalcitrant and resistant to change. That's quite a bit to overcome for someone who has never won a major election during his career.

Chairman Steel also has to contend with one of the loudest windbags since Joseph McCarthy. Hack radio host Rush Limbaugh continues to consolidate his power over the "conservative movement", in the midst of total breakdown. Limbaugh strikes me as nothing more than a very fat vulture, greedily licking his lips at the vulnerability of the dying Republicans scattered around Washington. He's obviously aware that this his last best opportunity to be the voice of the GOP. The rank-and-file has been left with nothing but platitudes and defeat. It's been 15 years since the last recapitulation of moral majority values, and the playbook that was drawn under the watchful eye of Newt Gingrich has proved ineffective and empty.

Still it's difficult to understand what productive outcome Limbaugh hopes to achieve with his incendiary stream-of consciousness, especially since it can be reduced to a mercenary desire to see Obama and Co. fail in their attempts to help the nation regain its bearings. As a national figure, he is continuing to erode his own popularity. No doubt his invective is carefully calculated. He realizes that he is increasingly irrelevant, and that his last best chance to be a player is to distinguish himself as the enemy of the White House. I think he truly believes that he can elevate himself by attacking the Commander-in-Chief. The trouble is that he is setting a dangerous precedent that his less deliberate followers are likely to emulate. And that can't be good for the US.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

William Gay, "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" (2002).

I wonder. How many times will I have to write a review of a William Gay book before everyone that reads this blog will run out and get one for themselves? This is an essential question because there is a particular imminence to my recommendation. Gay is still alive. How many times have you thought to yourself that you'd like to find a classic American author while he/she is still alive? You have that chance right now. Get in your car (or on your bike) and go to whatever local book store has the largest selection of lamentably obscure fiction. Now buy anything they have by William Gay. He is a living master. And he's about 66 years old. Go give him some of your hard-earned cash while he is still alive, because he won't last forever.

As for me, I'll patiently await the release of his next novel- The Lost Country. I have no other choice, since I've read virtually everything else that Gay has published in book form. Likely there is a treasure trove of unedited work lying somewhere that has never seen the light of day. That stuff can trickle out posthumously. For now I just want Gay to be as prolific as possible. I tried to save something for a rainy day, but I just couldn't. I had to read it sooner rather than later. Today I've finished I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, an amazingly well-crafted collection of stories that I'm certain will linger in my subconsciousness for a long time. It is constructed with a detailed hand that manages to wend its way into the substrata of my imagination.

In fact Gay writes with such a deft touch that I'm just a little bit scared when I read his stuff. I'm afraid that the events and themes that he writes about will slip off the page and began to manifest themselves in my life. That's the type of power and force that I attribute to the experience of reading his words. He manages to meticulously capture a sense of foreboding inevitability that is at once shocking and believable. There have been numerous times when I was reading his tales when I stopped short in the middle of a paragraph, at once divining what was to happen to one of Gay's characters. It's a heartrending experience, but there is nothing to be done but continue with the thread.

This specific collection underscores one of Gay's repeating obsessions- the idea that there are certain doors that, once opened and traveled through, cease to function as portals forever after. There are actions that entail such severe consequences that they permanently alter a life's trajectory. These form a "before" and "after" that define personal eras. As we watch a protagonist drift toward a certain decision, we become aware of the vicissitudes of fate. These people may know less than the reader, but at a cellular level they seem to realize exactly what they are heading for. In the case of Gay's tales, these destinations are always transformational, and seldom for the better.

Whether it's a successfully married man of thirty years gunning down his wife's annoying lapdog or a straying spouse finally succumbing to the worst sort of temptation, we know that Gay's characters will pay a steep price for their lapses andindiscretions. I can only speculate as to the real-life lessons that William Gay has accumulated. His hardened features seem to betray a series of disappointments and tragedies that have become his inescapable companions. Maybe we are better off with his fictions. They serve, as often as not, as cautionary tales. Perhaps we will subsequently go off and make the same mistakes we've seen documented in his books, but at least we will have a better facility for imagining the worst case scenarios.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Revisiting Bukowski (again).

Several years ago I wrote a post reviewing a documentary called Born Into This, which portrayed the life and times of Charles Bukowski. It was a movie that stuck with me, as I have a lot of interest in the author's work. I've said it before, but it bears repeating- Bukowski inspired me to try writing. He also made me appreciate poetry for the first time in my life. When I first got turned on to his books, I devoured any of his titles that I could find. And it was difficult to find them. There was something about the early '90s that made his words live especially vividly. Perhaps it was the growing rejection of the materialistic 80's. There was so much fakery and emptiness in that decade that made any form of authenticity seem fresh.

It takes a special form of genius to make an existence of degradation sparkle. Many of us in the "X-Generation" were taken with the seedy undercurrents of the street that Bukowski represented. In retrospect I feel that I received a precious gift by having come of age during the popular resurgence of "Hank Chinaski". I was able to enter almost complete dissolution without sacrificing the social ties that such a lifestyle usually precludes. It is true that I engaged in it all in a self-conscious way. I managed to avoid the kind of mistakes that allow no full recovery. Unlike many of the people I knew during that time, I emerged relatively unscathed. Yet I realize that "fate's caprice" had much to do with it. I can't accept all of the credit.

Last night I watched Born Into This once again. I've been showing selections from my DVD collection at a local bar every Sunday night. I was pleased to get the chance to share the story of a Twentieth Century icon with anyone who wanted to see it. Oddly, a couple of the folks who watched it with me are still unfamiliar with Bukowski's work. This fact seems a bit surreal to me given the role the great scribe has played in my life. How is it possible that I have old friends who I haven't shared this work with? These are people who are firmly placed in my demographic. How have they not found Bukowski on their own? I know we are in the midst of an illiterate era, but it seems odd that such an accessible writer would be ignored.

It could be that Charles Bukowski is becoming increasingly irrelevant with time, but I suspect that this is only a passing phase from which society will eventually awake. The hardscrabble times in front of us could spark the rediscovery of his genius. He knew the most visceral and simplest of pleasures. He celebrated them above all else. He was constantly on the lookout for phonies and poseurs. He could sniff them out as soon as they approached him, and he wasn't too shy to let them know their true quality. I could only hope to emulate his example. Certainly I would employ a greater degree of diplomacy. After all, I never took the kind of beatings that he did growing up. But I took my share of blows from the bitches of "fate".

I'm sure that Charles Bukowski would be turned off by some of the artifice I employ. He was, after all, an iconoclast. He seemed to have an unwavering conviction that he was right, and most others were wrong. I'm much more of a relativist than he was. My rejection of metaphor is not complete like his was. And in some strange way, I feel that Bukowski was a bit of a romantic at heart. He held tightly to his ideals, and was often uncompromising in a way that I can scarcely imagine being. Yet he could turn a phrase unlike anyone I have ever read. He could cut to the marrow of a special kind of squalid existence, and make even the idea of loneliness a bit appealing. In that respect he was a magician.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Thinking with my stomach.

This has been an almost excruciatingly long week, despite the fact that I did an awful lot of sleeping. My consciousness was especially tuned in to bodily function, in a way that it seldom is in this modern age. I guess to some degree I am more prepared at my age to pay attention to my physicality. Our bodies are, in a way, akin to the proverbial "canary in a coal mine". They often signal (or reflect) problems in our lives that we may not be actively addressing. Objectively I knew that I would become more aware of my physical health as I aged. This is certainly no shocking revelation. Anyone who has ever had living grandparents has probably been exposed to this reality. Things fall apart over time.

Still it is a bit astonishing just how quickly we gain information about our bodies as we age. I've done a lot of thinking recently about the idea of the "Achilles' Heel", or tragic flaw theory of mortality. Somewhere I heard that the seeds of our own destruction are already within us, even when we are feeling perfectly fine. That concept has poetic resonance. Perhaps we are all born with a number of potentially devastating genetic defects, and the environment selects the one that will kill us. Or maybe we do the choosing ourselves. I don't really care whether or not the trigger is external or not. There's just something useful about contemplating what our own burden might be.

I would expect that if you give it some honest and sincere thought, you could probably identify the part of your body where your life's stresses manifest themselves most acutely. Some people get migraine headaches, and no matter what they do they can't seem to alleviate them. They just have to suffer through. Others find their hearts racing, and quickly learn that they need to control their emotions, lest their pacemakers explode. There are folks that seem to get all twisted up when things go poorly. Their muscles get kinked and knotted. For each of the body's biosystems, there is no doubt a corresponding affliction which can let the careful observer know what emotional state the individual is experiencing.

It was obvious to me quite early in life that my own stress seems to accumulate in my stomach and digestive tract. If I am feeling a lot of pressures, or even "existential angst", I soon experience difficulties in digesting my food properly. The specific symptoms that pop up are a bit too viscerally disgusting to describe in detail, so I'll let your imagination be your guide. Perhaps if you are like me, and you often have similar problems, then you know the scope of the possibilities. If not, then you probably get a "stomachache" now and again, and leave it at that. The details aren't for you. Like Eskimos and their snow, some of us need an expanded language to express the nuances of these phenomena.

To have my digestive capabilities completely go haywire this past week was alarming. In a way that wouldn't be necessary if I got stress headaches, I began to think about how my lifestyle specifically affects my processing of food. I also thought a lot about the things I pick to put into my mouth without much thought. All of this may sound sort of pseudo-mystical to those of a purely scientific bent. But if you are able to, allow yourself some time to contemplate what your area of most profound vulnerability might be. Remember that there is always something that ultimately kills you. Whether or not you want to monitor that ongoing process is up to you. As for me, I can feel it in my gut.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pittsburgh Art Happenings: 3/6-7/09.

Last week I wrote a post detailing a couple of events that were happening last weekend. I highlighted the anniversary party of Encyclopedia Destructica that was held at the Brillo Box. I did end up attending, but it was so crowded that my friend and I decided not to stay for the reading. Both of us simply bought a book instead. I would assume that there are still some copies of the second issue of the Coatlicue series available for purchase, and I recommend that you locate and pick one up. I started reading mine yesterday and have already found enough inside to justify the $10 expense. Unfortunately I never posted the draft promoting that show, so it remained unread and unseen by anybody but me. Ultimately I simply deleted it altogether.

This week I don't intend to make the same mistake. So without further ado, here are some things worth checking out this weekend.


For the second month in a row, I'm going to be hitting First Friday in Shadyside. Jenn Wertz and Mark Gualtieri are showing at the Mendelson Gallery (5874 Ellsworth Avenue ) under the title "Rubbing Sticks Together". It's a provocative title for a show, and it should be interesting to see what sparks they generate. Wertz is better known for her participation in the band Rusted Root, and Gualtieri has worked on movie sets and run a couple of galleries. While I have never seen any of the latter's work, I did get a sneak preview of Wertz's mixed media creations, and they are worth making the trip (6-9PM).

After I make my exit from Swellsville, I'll head over to the Penn Avenue Corridor for Unblurred. There's a group show of print artists (
INKY PAPER: PRINTS FROM THE SNOWBELT) at Most Wanted Fine Art ( 5015 PENN AVE). Garfield Artworks (4931 PENN AVE) is rolling out their own collection of creators, ranging from painting to photography. And at Imagebox (4933 PENN AVE) there appears to be an exhibition of local historical images from Jacob Koestler.

But the highlight on Penn Avenue Friday night looks like it will be
LOOKING FOR SEEDS: TINYART PART 2 at Modern Formations (4919 PENN AVE). If nothing else, the group exhibit there features the most names that I recognize- Katherine Young, Carolyn Kelly, David Bernabo, Jessica Fenlon and Beano among them. I'll likely stay awhile.

Also of Interest:

"Size Does Matter": Pittsburgh Society of Artists small works show @ The Framery (4735 Butler St., Lawrenceville), 6PM.

"Black/White": Multimedia exhibit featuring 21 artists @ Gallerie Chiz (5831 Ellsworth Ave, Shadyside), 6-9PM.

"Code Words": AAP artist and board member Lori Hepner @ Melwood Filmmakers (477 Melwood Ave, Oakland), 6-9PM.


If you manage to avoid an art hangover on Saturday afternoon, take the time (11am - 5pm) to stop by the Luke & Eloy Gallery (5169 Butler Street) in Lawrenceville. My friend Susan Constance is participating in a group show called Double Vision, which purports to celebrate "13 Artists who express themselves in differing art and craft forms". I had a chance to stop by about a month ago and meet Gallery Director Brigitte Martin. We had an amiable conversation, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how her own instincts inform the 'Burgh arts scene.

I keep meaning to check out the Morning Glory Coffeehouse over in Morningside (1806 Chislett Street). This Saturday may be a good time to do it. They are having an opening reception (7PM) for the work of Maria Mangano. I couldn't find any of her images online during a three-minute Google search, but I have learned that she is a CMU grad, and is exhibiting "Intaglio Prints". Plus DJ Thermos is providing music for the event...


"Retrospect: A Celebration of Color and Light": Mary Ann Gorka @ Panza Gallery (115 Sedgwick Street, Millvale), 2-5PM.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Affairs of the stomach.

Today I took the opportunity to research the word "norovirus". I had plenty of time to learn about this viral affliction because I'm suffering from the very symptoms the classification describes. In fact I've had multiple bouts of suffering in the last six months that fall neatly under this category. This is, I believe, a function of Baby E. being in daycare. I recently described his "home-away-from-home" as a Petri Dish, and I feel it was an apt way to explain its effects- both on my son and my entire family. I can only hope that my body's immune system will develop some lasting resistances to the contagions that cause the norovirus. I've certainly had plenty of exposure to them.

Anyway, I also had a chance to read the paper for the first time in months. I generally don't make any effort to look at the local dailies, but cabin fever will do wonders for one's curiosity about the external world. So I quickly scanned the front page "news" items about the horrid state of the economy, and the nation's current prognosis. None of that was especially novel or insightful, and I found myself digging deeper and engaging page two. Here I discovered a particularly compelling story that seemed somehow appropriate to my current condition. I can't say I've ever experienced anything exactly like I read there, but still I can't help feeling like its somehow reflective of what's been happening in my stomach.

Apparently the actual event that precipitated the news coverage happened last August. It only reached our local outlets once again because of a "not guilty" plea registered in court by the perpetrator of a singularly heinous act. Vincent Li has apparently retracted his previous admission, which involved taking responsibility for the beheading and cannibalization of a 22-year old carnival worker on a Greyhound bus heading to Winnipeg, Manitoba. According to Li's account, God commanded him to kill Tim McClean because the victim was a "force of evil", who would have come back to life had he not been dissected. The defense psychiatrist in the case is arguing that Li is a schizophrenic who was not "criminally responsible" for his actions.

The tale is a particularly grisly one. According to the accounts of fellow passengers, Li began stabbing McClean in what appeared to be a random fashion, as the victim was snoozing and listening to headphones. The bus pulled over and all the non-combatants began hastily exiting the bus. At that point McClean tried to escape through a window and Li attempted to escape through the front, only to be stopped when the closing door caught his arm. Reportedly enraged by being trapped, Li extricated himself and proceeded to decapitate McClean, before finally depositing the head in plain view on the driver's seat for the edification of the witnesses outside the bus.

When police finally arrived at the scene and arrested Li, they discovered a plastic bag containing body parts in his pocket. Upon examination of the grisly scene, investigators were unable to locate McClean's eyes and approximately one-third of his heart, and thus came to the conclusion that Li had employed cannibalism as a means of disposal. This little touch introduces a particularly disquieting element into the event. I'm not suggesting that there aren't a lot of other disturbing things about this tragedy, but the fact that this guy was able to engage in his abhorrent feast while a little crowd of onlookers gazed on haplessly... that frankly astounds me. I can't presume to speculate on the quality of that experience, but I can say that reading about it is a bit sickening.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

A Visit to the Hospital.

As much of southwestern Pennsylvania is breathing a sigh of relief after being bypassed by the worst winter storm of the year, I am hoping that a different force of nature will soon depart from my family's life. Yet again Baby E. is sick, and this time he has landed in Children's Hospital for an extended (if indeterminate) stay. Yesterday morning I tried to decipher the meaning of a familiar but misplaced buzzing sound coming from the stand alongside my bed. It took me a bit to figure out that it was my cell phone on "manner mode". I quickly discovered the reason for its intrusion- M. was trying to get a hold of me, and calling repeatedly. When I finally answered I learned that she was at the hospital ER with E.

I don't know about you, but I'm not entirely rational first thing in the morning. It's always taken me awhile to reconcile to the fact that it's time to re-enter my waking life. M. was irritated that I hadn't picked up her call the first few times she had called, and I interpreted her tone as panicked. I don't quite remember what she had to say, but I knew that my son was in trouble and that I was needed somehow to assist. And I honed in on the phrase "104 degree temperature" that apparently described E.'s current condition. He had been ill for a few days previously, but had demonstrated a marked improvement through Saturday, so this was entirely unexpected. I wasn't remotely prepared for it.

When I was a freshman in college, I once ran a temperature that exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It was shortly after my first kiss, and seemed a poetic introduction to the worldly ways of adult passions. I was laid up pretty helplessly, and unable (or unwilling) to seek proper medical attention. When it finally felt like my fever broke, I made my way to the university hospital for a check-up. I had been unable to eat for six days, and couldn't even keep water down for half of that period. I was surprised to learn that I was at 104 degrees. My parents were called, and they were told to leave their house immediately in the middle of the night. They drove 300 miles to Pittsburgh. Apparently it was touch-and-go for some time.

In retrospect I suppose I suffered some sort of damage due to that fever. Strange shifts in my brain became evident. My ability to understand complex mathematical concepts seemed to degrade rather abruptly, but my verbal skills improved markedly in a manner that might be described as "odd". The aftermath of the affliction had major effects on my life. I didn't return to school until the next year. For about a month after my sickness I looked like a concentration camp victim. I had lost 25 pounds in a week. I had to piss more frequently. It was a strange time, and I'm sure it left an impression on my parents as well. I can only imagine the concern they had for my well-being. I stayed with my grandparents for a week after they picked me up.

Now I have had a glimpse of what it's like to worry about the health of my child. When I got to the hospital (after gathering the things that M. needed for an overnight stay), I lost my composure for the second time in the space of a couple of hours. When I finally located E.'s room, and walked through the door, I saw my son- he appeared clammy and had tubes running to multiple parts of his body. He was sitting in M.'s lap, and he looked up at me with a weak smile and extended a hand wrapped in gauze to hold an IV in place. As I crouched down to greet him my eyes teared up and I was struck speechless. There aren't sufficient words to describe how I felt at that moment.

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