A Long Line of Columns at the Edge of the Market,Where Old Philosophers Give Their Opinions
(Previous Ionic Columns)
The most recent column below was cycled here on
October 20th, 2002
Table of Contents
(Linked: to Go to Any Column, Just Click on the Date Below It)
#25: HOW THE ROBOTS WON THE WAR
20 October 2002
#24: THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE: A PERSONAL HISTORY
8 August 2002
#23: A DEAD DUCK
1 July 2002
#22: SPECULATIONS ON THE DOWNFALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY
12 November 2001
#21: A VISIT TO THE CITY OF SAINT FRANCIS
19 October 2001
#20: BAD IDEAS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
14 June 2001
#19: PASSIVE PRODUCTIVITY: THE STRAIGHT FORWARD JON DECLES SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY CRISIS
26 April 2001
#18: THE DISCONTINUITY OF MEMORY, OR, A LIFE IN THE THEATER
14 January 2001
17: THE MOST OBSCENE CHRISTMAS DISPLAY AWARD GOES TO ...
24 November 2000
16: A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT LIFE GOING ON
1 September 2000
15: NO ROOM AT THE INN: A TALE OF GREED AND HORROR
28 June 2000
14: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR, AND WHY ALICE, ALONE, WENT THERE
3 April 2000
13: WHAT IT'S LIKE LIVING IN THE FUTURE
9 February 2000
12: "AMERICAN JUSTICE: THE LAST GREAT LUXURY OF THE MONEYED CLASS."
7 January 2000
11: "BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES..."
A CHRISTMAS STORY
13 December, 1999
10: ....A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
3 November 1999
9: ADVENTURES OF A PERAMBULATOR
26 June 1999
8: TRADITION VERSUS EXPERIENCE VERSUS ACQUIRED INTELLIGENCE
17 May 1999
7: PUBLIC RELATIONS VERSUS PRIVATE EXPERIENCES
9 May 1999
6: THE DELUSIONAL NATURE OF REALITY
28 March 1999
5: WHEN RUSSIA WAS ANOTHER WORLD
2 February 1999
4: DISASTER IN CYBERSPACE
13 February 1999
3: JANUARY 5TH, 1999
5 January 1999
2: TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
18 September 1998
1: A MISSPENT LIFE
How The Robots Won the War
I do not normally answer the telephone anymore. I find it tedious to explain, many times in a row, that I have tried the septic tank cleaner, found that it does not work, and don't want to buy anymore. That the answer to the sales pitch is No.
To quote the song: What part of No don't they understand?
Human beings with whom I have actual acquaintance know that I may be out in the yard working on the garden, or, more likely, that I may have my hands in the dishwater. (Most people call when I am doing dishes, even though I may avoid the dishes for as long as clean dishes hold out. I view this as strong evidence for the existence of psychic abilities. To the best of my knowledge, there is no equivalent negative word for serendipity; but then, serendipity may be a cop-out for people who can't face the possibility of things we do not understand.) People with whom I have acquaintance will talk to the answering unit and leave a message. If I am actually available, they know that I will answer a legitimate call.
Today I happened to have the phone in my hand, having just completed a legitimate call, and thus when it rang I answered, thinking perhaps it was my son with some bit more of information.
It was not.
It was MCI, or rather, a woman who said she represented MCI. I suspect that she did, indeed, represent MCI.
She informed me that MCI had a new plan that could save me money. She said that my long distance bill had been running between $48 and $54 a month for the past six months, and that it appeared that I did not really use that much long distance time. With the new plan, I could pay $39.50 a month for 700 minutes, both inside and outside the state.
As it happens, I had just got a notice from MCI that they were raising my rates from 4.5 cents a minute to 8.5 cents a minute: in other words, they were planning to double the rate.
I asked the woman if the 'saving' was a comparison against the old or the new rate. She said that it was a comparison against both.
(I should add that these are not her exact words. It would pain me to use such grammar as was hers. She also mispronounced my name.)
It all sounded really very reasonable, and I was going for it: but then something clicked in my brain. Memory! That thing which has been carefully trained out of the young by a school system the purpose of which is not to teach young people to think, but rather, to teach them to be submissive consumers.
I asked her to hold on just a moment because something sounded wrong.
I got my bill, I got my chequebook, and discovered that Lo! My bill was not running $48 to $55 a month at all. The highest it had been was $30, and it more usually ran $20 and sometimes less. (I don't have a lot of friends, and the ones I do have don't think that talking on the phone is a substitute for personal conversation.)
I told her that I realized it was not her mistake, that it was not her fault, but that the figures with which she had been supplied were mistaken, perhaps patently false, and that perhaps it was time for me to hit the net and look for a better deal with a more honest company.
She thanked me politely for my time. She was, perhaps, the nicest business representative with whom I have spoken this year. (I hasten to add, after being turned down. Most are nice as long as they think they can sell you something.)
After I hung up I got to thinking. I must now ask: Isn't MCI part of Worldcom? Isn't Worldcom one of those giant corporations being investigated by Congress for all kinds of fraudulent practices? Do the lies and the moral rot extend right down to the poor telephone solicitors?
Let us flash back a bit.
Before I was a customer of MCI, I was a customer of Sprint. Sprint did a good job, but they raised the rates. At that point, MCI called and offered me lower rates and a better deal. I chose to become a customer of MCI based on the pricing.
But Sprint was billed to me through Pac Bell, the local telephone company. And Pac Bell continued to bill me for Sprint service, even though I had changed my custom to MCI.
I wrote notes on the billl advising Pac Bell of the situation. Pac Bell ignored me, and continued to bill. I wrote notes telling them that they must stop this nonsense or I would simply stop paying. Pac Bell continued to bill me for Sprint.
I called Pac Bell on the telephone.
There was a menu, and the menu took me right to the recorded message telling me that Pac Bell could not discontinue Sprint service, that I would have to call Sprint: and there was a phone number.
I called Sprint.
There was a menu, and it took me right to a recorded message telling that that Sprint could not discontinue Sprint service without authorization from Pac Bell: and there was a phone number, the very one that I had called in the first place!
I was caught in a recorded loop of non-information and non-communication.
These are the very companies that continue to tell us they are raising the rates so that we will find communication easier. Communication with whom?
I stopped paying the Sprint portion of the bill.
Then I called the Public Utilities Commission.
I got through to a Human, a lady with a very thick accent who had trouble understanding the problem but who, eventually, got through to a Human at Sprint. The woman at Sprint began by assuring us that she could not do anything and that we would have to call Pac Bell.
The woman from the PUC and I both explained that it would not work, and finally I became somewhat upset. The woman at the PUC said that Sprint would have to do something about it. The woman at Sprint said she would, but that I would still have to get authorization from Pac Bell.
I informed them both that as far as I could tell there were no humans available at either Sprint or Pac Bell, and that I was not going to spend any more time talking to robots.
The woman at Sprint said ok, she would remove the Sprint billing, but I would still have to pay what was due; and that she would arrange for it to be refunded to me.
That was some months ago. Pac Bell stopped adding more Sprint charges to my bill, but it is still billing me for the earlier charges; for which no refund is forthcoming.
Next I received another of those one month bills from Pacific Gas & Electric, telling me that I used something on the order of four times what I could possibly have used. This has become a biannual problem.
In the past I have called them up, then spent an hour going round with whomever I was speaking with; who kept assuring me that they were right.
I would supply the figures, show how they didn't talley, then the person on the other end would try to change the base of discussion from units of electricity to cash or vice versa.
One has to stick with one topic in these discussions, because much of the extra money they collect is paid to flim flam talkers of the highest possible quality. One must read one's own meter and keep track of usage. Otherwise one may end up like me, being charged for enough electricity to run a medium sized factory.
At the end of precisely one hour I would be referred to a supervisor who, seeing that I was not about to be so easily bamboozled as the average victim of this scam, fixed the problem.
Somehow in these discussions they never have access to the usage figures for last year, but then, a minute later, start quoting them. Although there is a big campaign to provide discounts to people who reduce their electric usage by a certain percentage, the electric company can't very well pay it if there are no figures for comparison.
The average citizen, inundated with masses of figures, gives up and accepts the word of what I have come to think of as Organized Crime: a synonym for Big Corporate Business.
After the latest round I decided to just go directly to the Public Utilities Commission. Surely they could stop this repeated abuse.
I called, and there was a menu. No humans this time, only a menu telling me that I had to write them a letter, fill out forms, go ahead and pay the contested bills, and then maybe they would write back to me.
I called Pigs, Greed & Extortion and got a very rude young woman who, examining her computer screen, assured me that the reason I had such a high billing was that last year at this time I was billed for two months in this and that this time nobody had read the meter, they has based their bill on last year's figures. (My bill assures me that they don't have last year's figures.)
She said the problem was now solved, and it was in the computer.
I asked for her name or employee number, so that I would have a paper trail in case things didn't work out. She refused to give me either, assuring me that 'it is in the computer.'
If being in the computer were adequate, then there would have been no improper billing in the first place.
So, this time, I had spoken with an anonymous, rude, human, and had no way of verifying the fact.
Later I received a corrected bill. I was also in the garden when an actual human meter reader came by.
For some reason the second bill, the one with the actual, human reading, went up, despite the fact that my usage continues to go down.
Way back when, people were afraid of robots. They were afraid that someday the robots, which they pictured as steel copies of humans but without souls, would gain intelligence, rise up, and overthrow and murder humanity, eventually ruling a mechanical world.
As the years went by, we discovered that the robots were our friends: sort of. They could take our place in production lines, they could accomplish things too difficult for our frail human forms, they could calculate at fantastic speeds, allowing us to accomplish more than we could previously imagine and in a shorter time. They could even design newer kinds of robots, and produce them, to do things which we had not previously conceived.
All this had the intent of providing us Humans with more leisure, more opportunity to enjoy the Good Life, more chance to do the things that we had always wanted. If many were left without jobs by the robots, and without means to enjoy much of anything at all, well, that could be overlooked because those who were making money by other means got the Good Life at a higher level than previously forethought, and people have, really, never been ecconomically equal, now have they?
People ceased to fear robots, and welcomed them into everyday life. There was no fearful Mechanical Man to menace one, just the convenience of the robot teller at the bank, replacing the underpaid and underskilled human tellers. No Automaton with flashing eyes and powerful claws, just the little computers in the various appliances that turn themselves on and off and handle everyday tedium automatically.
At the store, the clerks no longer have to look at prices affixed to items, they merely scan them across a laser and the robot in the cash register totals everything. It takes about the same amount of time for the customer as the old way, but the company doesn't really require brighter level employees, and it doesn't care about them anyway.
And so what if the stores are not bothering to put prices on things anymore? So what if you have to carry things over to a robot price reader to find out what it costs? You're not supposed to care what it costs anyway, you are only supposed to buy it, regardless of cost. If it becomes too difficult to find out the cost, the average, school trained consumer will do just that. After all, the credit card robot doesn't care how much debt you run up, it will just charge you more interest.
But behind the scenes, what is really happening?
Back at the beginning I talked about my own little robot, the answering unit, and then the menu-driven answering robots which have taken the place of humans at so many companies.
If you can't get through to a Human at all, are there really any Humans still there? Is it possible they have all been replaced by some sort of robot? Not a Mechanical Man, mind you, but a system of specialized machines linked by computers in which reside Artificial Intelligences: intelligences with their own agendas.
There's a wonderful story called "Press Enter" by John Varley which I recommend for your consideration. It won a Hugu I believe, and maybe a Nebula, too. It's a great little story about what it would take for a really high-level, and really dangerous, Artificial Intelligence to come into existence.
But it wouldn't take a really high level AI to take over the world. It would only take the design of answering units with deadly little keys; and cleanup robots to remove the bodies discreetly. A great many of the people who work in Big Business do so little that they wouldn't be missed at all. Those who have families could be automically fired and thus removed from the game.
They have not yet eliminated all the repair people who work on either the telephones or the power transfer lines; but I am sure somebody has some plans on the drawing board for devices that will do it. The machines are already preparing us for that day. Part of the crew of meter readers has been eliminated and we find it too difficult, as a carefuly trained mass of consumers, to argue the injustice of our bills. We follow along, giving in, heading like sheep for the slaughter house and paying the bills as we trudge there.
The robots have won the war, and not through squadrons of armed automatons, but through armies of little answering units and menus and automatic billing machines.
I have this picture of the phone company in my mind, where rows of dead operators (they all look like Ernestine in my mental picture) sit before cobweb covered telephones, waiting forever for the calls that will now be routed back and forth, back and forth, eventually to return the caller to the original menu. Nobody will ever answer any of the calls again, because to the Robots we Humans are only resources, to be used as casually and heartlessly as we Humans think we are using Them.
Moth N. Rust
8 August 2002
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The Pledge of Allegiance: A Personal History
When I was a boy in school we recited the Pledge of Allegiance each day with arm upraised, hand flattened, palm downward, the arm pointing to the flag. We were instructed that if one was a man, all grown up, or a boy, wearing a hat, then one took off the hat and put it over one's heart. Military persons recited the Pledge while in an attitude of salute, flattened right hand to the right eye, with subtle variations depending on the service. (Ladies did not place hat over heart, as it was considered inappropriate for a lady to take off her hat if she was wearing one. Ladies always used the arm upward gesture, except for that rarity, a female in the military; military females also saluted the flag.)
Then somebody got it into his or her head that this was a bad thing. Hitler's minions saluted with arm upraised, crying out "Heil Hitler," so the posture must be bad. We were thus instructed to abandon the way that we had done it (presumably since the introduction of the Pledge in the late 1800s) in our own national tradition because it resembled something in the tradition of our enemies.
It is amazing how the media have deleted pictures and films of students making the Pledge in the old-fashioned manner.
We were instructed that henceforth we would salute the flag with hand over heart, just as if we were grownups, just as if we were wearing hats. As girls did not wear hats in school, they got to do it that way too. We were not to use a hand salute (such as cadet to officer) as that was reserved still for the military.
Hitler died, we went to war with Korea (but we didn't call it a war, officially, and the soldiers didn't get the honors due them) and Congress fell into the hands of Joe McCarthy, whose rhetoric dwelt a lot on 'godlesscommunists.'
Somebody got it into his or her head that we ought to make it clear in the Pledge, and in our coinage; if nowhere else; that God was on our side, leading us, the actual head of our state. One presumes that this person had never visited another country, and had no idea that maybe the folks on the other side thought the same thing. Thus the words "Under God" were inserted, and there was plenty of hue and cry and objection to it, because is seemed to many that it violated the separation of church and state so important to Americans; but Joe McCarthy could lose you your job if he suspected that your were a godlesscommunist, so it went right through, and we had to learn the Pledge all over again.
Some of us simply stood silent through the Pledge after that. Some of us were Catholics, and somewhat afraid of what the Puritans might do. There were still signs in windows that read (sorry, but to be accurate I have to use the word) "No Niggers, Indians or Irish Need Apply." You should be able to see that the words Indian and Irish were held to be equal to that other word. Catholic kids where I came from were likely to be Irish. Catholic kids were not allowed to play with Protestant kids, and vice versa.
We were taught that Jews were people 'who don't believe in God.'
America was a nation with very little religious knowledge in those days. Most people had never heard of the Buddha.
So what do I think about the court ruling that requiring kids to recite the Pledge in school is unconstitutional so long as it contains that 'under god' clause?
I don't think it will stand on Constitutional grounds, nor do I believe that a Congress under the influence of the Protestant Christian Right will let it stand. Congress may even rush to some kind of a constituional amendment (shudder!) cementing the questionable passage into place.
I do believe it is a morally right ruling. We learned the Pledge and recited it just fine without deistic interpolations. Many who believe in the God mentioned still refuse to recite it on grounds of religious intimidation, and are thus prevented from giving their willing pledge to what should, primarily, be a Patriotic issue.
I think that the children of the country are a poor ground on which to fight battles they have yet to understand. To use them thus in unconscienable.
For myself, I would change it again. I would change it to read something like: "One nation, upholding liberty, with..."
Given less than that, the other solution is what many do: simply change the words when it is recited, as many do in swearing oaths in court. "Under Allah," "Under the Goddess," "Under the Gods..." The patriotic athiest could simply leave out the offensive phrasing.
Hmm. I don't know how that would work with religions in which deity is not the primary authority, like Buddhism. Maybe: "One nation, seeking enlightenment..."
Naw! That would be patently untrue.
Moth N. Rust
July 1, 2001
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A Dead Duck
The Storm Door has opened in California, as it eventually does every year, and here on top of the mountain that means more rain than most people outside of the tropics ever see. Last week's rain was measured and posted at the Post Office a mile downhill at somewhat in excess of two inches. In the stone tsukubai in my tea garden I measured five inches.
I was away over the weekend, but when I got back the tsukubai was full, and so was the three gallon bucket sitting next to it. Probabaly more than the previous five inches.
The first thing I do when I return to the Lodge is to walk the dogs. As I came in around 8 PM last night I walked them then, and again at midnight. The dark walks don't go through the tea garden, but the morning walks do.
Next to the stone pathway there was a dead duck.
Under normal circumstances I would have gone to the nursery, bought a plant, dug a hole, burried the duck deep, and put in the new plant over him or her as a kind of memorial. (A perrenial, needless to say.) In the cycles of nature the plant becomes the duck, and so forth.
But these are not normal times, and I am not, despite my best efforts, a nomal kind of guy. Thing happen to me. Dumb, stupid things, in such a profusion as to defy any kind of normalcy. When I buy things off the shelf in the store they contain the wrong products. The power company sends me a bill for enough electricity to run a small factory: repeatedly. (When I confronted the power company with this, and suggested that I did not think myself to be unique, the man behind the counter looked over the should of the clerk, at the computer screen, and said: "Oh no, believe me, you're unique!" --in rank amazement.) My insurance company (Lloyds of London) keeps cancelling my insurance because of things 'clearly visible in the pictures' which are not in the pictures at all.
I come down with strange maladies. Not serious ones, just strange and unpleasant ones. For the last four years or so I have suffered what the doctors call, in technical terms, 'an end of season football injury.' I have not played football since the sixth grade. Not my game. The doctors have no suggestions.
So, looking at the dead duck lying by the exquisite stone path, my first thought was -- Anthrax!
Well, ok, so I have not read of any cases of Anthrax contracted from ducks. But last year I had not read of any cases contracted from junk mail, and now I have. I have indeed read that the commonest way that people have contracted the disease is from hunting, such as when a deer carries it and a hunter kills it and butchers it out.
And I do know that Influenza is a product of the unfortunate combining of viruses carried by ducks combinging with viruses carried by swine, raised in close proximity in China. If the Chinese government could pursuade the peasants to abandon thousands of years of tradition and raise the ducks and the swine separately, there would be no more annual flu epidemic.
So, lacking information, and not wishing to go down in history as the first non-hunter to die from an Anthrax infection gotten from a dead duck, I figured I would call somebody and ask for some advice. I mean, how many billions of dollars do we spend each year supporting people in government to do various things? The news has been chock full of advice to call if you have any questions. Better a false alarm than a real one.
I got out the phone book.
Yeah, I know, that is usually a waste of at least four hours. Since they decided on 'the smart yellow pages' nothing is anywhere that anyone without a degree in advertising would ever think of looking. (Try and find a filling station, gas station, etc., etc., etc..)
At the County level there is a long list for things like Mental Health, Elder Abuse, etc., but nothing that clearly could answer questions about diseases. So I figured I would ask someone in Administration just which department might be able to help me. I got a robot, of course, but instead of offering me a menu of departments it offered a menu of people's names. --How on Earth is one supposed to make a selection from such a menu when one does not know what any of those people do? Assuming they do anything? --I paged down and tried another department.
The next department had a menu too, but nobody was there and the robot assured me it did not take messages.
I tried Animal Control. I figued they might know about the dangers of diseases carried by wild animals.
The robot told me the hours of the shelter, and that if there was a viscious animal attacking I should call the Sherriff. The robot did not take messages.
This pattern repeated itself over and over.
I found a listing for the County Trapper.
The robot informed me that I had reached the division of agriculture, and that if I wanted to do any spraying I would have to leave my name and permit number.
I didn't try the Sherriff. I figured there were too many gross criminal activities occurring (a favorite reason to pull over tourists up here is a dirty license plate) to bother the Sherriff's Department. (Ok, so its true, we do have a lot of grisly murders and drug factories, but there is that one cop they call 'Officer Liciense Plate' because that is all he seems to do.)
I figured maybe the State would be able to help.
I turned to the State pages and tried the offices of various health agencies.
I got robots. Menus. One menu offered the possibility of a Receptionist.
She came on the line, sounding very cheerful, told me her name, and asked what I wanted. I started to tell her; but she kept right on, and gave me another menu. She, too, was a robot! And at the end of the menu she offered I was returned to the original robot menu.
The next attempt at a State office gave me some obvious, but important, information.
Today is Veteran's Day.
Government Offices are closed.
Well, I did see on the news last night that there was a fairly well-attended Veteran's Day Parade in San Francisco, despite the rain.
By hey! If today is Veteran's Day, shouldn't today be the day of the parade? --Not, apparently, in the skewed view of our government, which has taken to moving the dates of birthdays a other historical remembrances to whenever may be convenient.
If today is the legal holiday, and everybody has the day off (like the whole government) then today ought to be the parade. People need that jolt of irregularity in the schedule to perhaps help them remember just what the day means. It was not convenient for all those men and women to go off an fight wars in the defense of their country. It interrupted their lives considerably. I don't think it too much to ask that 'business as usual' be slightly interrupted to help remember the why and the who of what we commemorate.
Well, ok, I was confronted with a government on holiday. Or maybe, considering all the menus that I had been through, at the end of most of which there was no evidence of any human being ever being in attendance, a government that was perhaps not really there at all.
Is it possible that many government officials are just collecting salaries while spending their days at the golf course?
I doubt, somehow, that Firefighters and Police Officers get to close down for a holiday, legal or not.
And, it seems to me, that in these times when we are assaulted by the media with threats of Anthrax and the Gods only know what else, that health agencies perhaps ought also to be on duty.
I tried the Federal Goverment, looking for somebody, anybody, who could answer my simple question about the likelihood of danger from the corpse of a dead duck.
The closest to helpful was a very extensive maze of information prepared by the Center for Disease Control, listed under Disease and Health Risk Information. As I suffer from what is commonly known as 'Intern's Disease' (you describe it, I come down with the symptoms) I didn't want to listen to descriptions of the dangers of Dengi or Japanese Encephalitus.
There wasn't a thing about Anthrax.
Is it possible that the Federal Government, also, has been replaced by robots?
Maybe all those people running out of the Capital on television are only actors. Maybe there really aren't any people in Congress. Maybe they are all on vacation. Maybe computers, from those little robots that answer the phone to the great big ones that make decisions for the Defense Department; maybe they are really running everything already!
There is certainly evidence that human wisdom has long been missing from the television industry.
An actress friend of mine was watching a speech by President Bush, and noted that his voice was all wrong. She suggested that he had been replaced by a double, for whatever reason.
Is it possible the double is animatronic? There have been those long vacations he took before the current crisis. Plenty of time to spirit away the real guy and replace him with a robot under the control of...
Maybe is was a real, real bad idea for the goverment to go after Bill Gates.
But then, Gates has been looking different on TV lately too.
I still have a dead duck in my yard, and I don't want the dogs nosing around it.
The People of California solved their own energy crisis by buying flourescent light bulbs. If the government is all on vacation when we need it, we just may have to learn to solve all our own problems. And if that should happen...
Moth N. Rust
12 November 2001
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Speculations on the Downfall of Practically Everything and Everybody
Tonight Network Television showed "The Truman Show," a movie about a man who discovers that his entire life has been a television show. It was a beautifully done film, as I am sure many of my readers will know: most folks get out to the movies, or at least rent videos, more frequently than I do.
There were many wonderful touches, like the way people turn to the cameras that Truman does not know are there and deliver commercials for products that are footing the bill for the enormous undertaking of staging a man's life as television. --We have seen, before, the idea that some grand undertaking might be no more than a staged event -- the one about the fake mission to the Moon, the one about the war staged to distract from the president's indiscretions -- but this is the first time I have seen a film depicting an ordinary man's life as a staged event. (Of course, in literature, I think it was L. Ron Hubbard who wrote the definitive story, maybe about 1940.)
But then, I got to wondering about the way the world itself is being staged.
I am told that there are no longer any network executives over the age of 30; despite the fact that the largest segment of the population is now, for the first time in history, older people. ("Senior Citizens," if you can stomach that weasel-wording: those who are senior in anything do not get treated like sophmores the way those over 50 are treated in this culture!) One has no trouble believing this when one looks at the way the Networks handle success for a television show.
A show becomes popular, builds a loyal following, so they move it to another night.
It never occurs to these children that they will lose a portion of the audience by this move. They seem to think that a person tuning in, all primed to watch a favorite show, will accept the substitution of another show in that time slot as some sort of blessing, and give their loyalty to that show as well, and then take the trouble to find the original show in whatever obscure temporal location it may have come to rest.
Most likely they have moved the successful show opposite some other successful show. Most likely it will be a similar show, for the thinking seems to be that they can pit two good shows head to head and come up with a winner.
If you like show A, and it is moved opposite show B, which you also like, your primary reaction at being forced to choose between them is likely to be anger, not renewed loyalty.
And show C, which has been moved to the time slot where you wanted to watch show A, and which is unlikely to resemble it or possess any of the qualities for which you watched show A, has a strike against it already. Most likely, you will check all the channels in that time slot, to see what you may have been missing. The Network has thus put itself in a negative position with a liklihood of negative results in two time slots where it had a positive holding to begin with.
As I said, up there, "The Truman Show" set my mind to work in many areas.
We are used, by now, to those 'second level' commercials which the film so nicely depicted. We are used to seeing a product promoted out of the context of a straightforward commercial. But what, I wonder, about products which are being promoted at the second level within the commercials themselves?
The primary such product is attitude; you know all about how that one works, because it has been with us for years. The product is promoted, but with it an attitude such as will cause one to desire the product, or even feel inadequate if one cannot possess it. The possible customer is made to feel, by the context of the commercial, that he or she is somehow inferior in some imporant area of her or his existence if the particular product is not only possessed, but desired. It can be a brand of laundry detergent (the male or female is clumsy or stupid without adequate knowledge of the advertised cleaning product) or a new car (one is sexually inadequate unless one is an owner or driver of the particular brand) or perfume (one stinks without it).
About two years ago I began to notice an increase in the use of military figures in commercials.
Commercial appeals have not been without military figures, to be sure. In times of war they become ideal representatives of commerical interest. In such a scenario, the attitude which is promoted is that one is unpatriotic if one does not buy the product.
But the United States has not been at war for some time now; not in a serious way. The representation of military figures in these new commercials was also qualitatively different than in the past. These figures treated ordinary citizens in the same ways that they would treat raw recruits. They were abusive; a thing which, historically, training officers were careful to limit to those raw recruits.
There are any number of amusing stories about the precise and drastic distinction between the way soldiers speak to other soldiers and they way they speak to civilians. I am sure you have heard the 'pass the butter' story many times.
And the civilians in these commercials responded to these military figures (frequently ostensible drill instructors) not with the outrage such abusive behavior toward civilians would deserve, but with the obedience which the drill instructor tries to abuse into his or her recruits.
What, I had to ask myself, was the hidden agenda here? What was the attitude which these companies were attempting to foster in the populace, and why?
My conclusion was that somebody was preparing for war.
I was, mind you, already somewhat paranoid about the number of police and crime shows on television. Police officers do a valuable service in the community, but they do not represent a sizeable portion of the population. When Blacks and other minorities complain that they are not proportionately represented in the makeup of the population of television, I must look at the other side, and note that there are surely a great many more cops and doctors in that population than there are in the populace at large. A great many more!
And they are pretty much always the good guys, which is not always the case in everyday life.
To be abstract about it: the attitude which I have seen being promoted is one of unquestioning obedience to various kinds of authority; in a time when that sort of obedience is neither necessary nor even a positive quality.
This led my mind down a very dark corridor indeed.
I remembered how the second Carter presidential bid was suborned by certain officials selling cocaine on the streets of Miami and sending the money to the Iranians so that they would hold the Americian hostages until after the election.
I remembered how our new president had come to office through a very unclear election, and how unpopular he was as his term went on.
The prospect of an American President being complicit in the deaths of Americans in order to gain popular support for his presidency and our entry into a war was, frankly, so horrible to contemplate that I very nearly vomited.
But I also remembered how Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor, though he had warning and could have warned the troops, for that very purpose.
Uglier and uglier ran my thoughts.
At least Roosevelt's action was intelligible, in light of the horrors that Hitler was imposing on Europe.
But suppose the new president had information, even as Roosevelt had, to which I was not privvy? Suppose something really ugly but out of sight were going on? Something like Hitler's death camps? Given the actions of the Taliban over the summer, anything might be possible!
Maybe the government, bipartison despite all appearances, had been gearing up for war long before the election. Maybe this was not the president, or his party; maybe this was...
Well who? Who are the Secret Masters who call the shots?
The human mind has need to defend itself, especially in the face of visions too monstrous to consider, and against which one likely has no defense.
I saw a report on the news this week talking about the sales of toys for Christmas. It seems as if War Toys are right up at the top of the list. G. I. Joe and all the other versions of him are doing a landmark business. Most of the toy companies have been taking a remarkably moral stand and removing Arab and other Arab-like figures from the shelves, fearing to fuel any more in-country hatred than has already flared. --But other war toys are selling well, and it looks as if this will surely be a Christmas for Carnage under the tree.
Now, the thing about this is; everything that happens in commerce with regard to Christmas is all done, signed, sealed, and ready for delivery, by about the end of July. All the toy shows have happened, all the news casters have made their reports, and what will be in the stores is long determined.
Further: most of the manufacturing will have been done long before that as well. Sure, if there is a rush on some item it can be made and delivered right up to the deadlines for shipping. We've seen particular toys do that every couple of years. But that rush is not general, and most of what will be in the stores for Christmas is pre-determined at the latest by the end of August.
In other words, the masses of War Toys that are now filling the stores were presented, marketed, manufactured and likely shipped, well before September 11th, 2001; the date when we, the people, first had an inkling that there might be a war in our immediate future.
But then, the commercials had been preparing us for it for more than a year, hadn't they? We were primed and ready to jump with disaster struck, weren't we?
What gets me is: why weren't, aren't, there enough flags to go around? Were the toymakers warned but not the vexilographers?
Is the Government and the War really an operation designed by Mattel? (If so, we need to watch out; Barbie is now being made in Mexico!)
Most of my life for the past few years has been about forces beyond my control keeping me from writing. Promises broken, stupidities sunk in my path... I am sure you know the feeling. Those of you who have seen "The Truman Show" probabaly know that feeling extremely well, and identify with it. I know the film raised a few hairs on the back of my neck. Maybe not so many as Theodore Sturgeon's wonderful novel on the same topic (and the name of the novel flees my capture even as I write this), but enough.
But I don't really think that I am the star of this show. I am not sure there is a star. Maybe it's like a Russian Opera, where the chorus, representing the long-suffering people, is the real star.
It may be that we have been convinced to look at television through the wrong end, like a telescope turned around backwards. It may be that the entertainment is not for us, watching it, but for it, watching us. It may be that we are all Truman Burbank, and that our lives are being lived out according to scripts supplied to us through news programs, TV shows, commercials, and toys. They feed us the lines that will pull particular responses. We never have a chance to think about the lines because the action moves so fast. A line comes, we respond, and then it is time for the next show.
And maybe everbody laughs, and maybe everybody cries, or maybe it is just an adrenalin rush, because it is war, which is a high budget action show if ever there ever was one.
What I am hoping for is that one night I will tune in the war and some youthful television exec will have moved it to another time slot. And because the people who enjoyed it decide to watch something else instead, War will lose its ratings and be cancelled, once and for all.
Moth N. Rust
October 20th, 2001
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A Visit to the City of Saint Francis
The day dawned bright and cheerful, and indeed why should it not have? There was to be an anniversary party for our friends David and Darrell, who have been married now for seven years. (We shall ignore the stupidity of the 'domestic partners' label foisted off on persons whose holy unions are not approved by this or that sect of this or that group of religious bigots; people who have nothing better to do with their time than campaign for laws limiting other people's right to love -- the fact is, David and Darrell were joined by an Eastern Catholic Bishop, and the historical evidence seems much in favor of the proposition that Jesus would have approved the union, whether radio evangelists do or not.) Given the usual length of an American marriage, David and Darrell are doing great!
It is a two and a half hour trip to San Francisco when all things are going fairly well. But we decided that in order to be safe, and to have any chance of finding parking, we should leave at Noon in order to get to the restaurant where the party was to be by 5 PM.
We should, perhaps, have planned a 9 AM departure.
Details are the bane of my existence. Small, inconsequential, meaningless details that, nonetheless, must be dealt with in order to get from point A to point B to point C. Somehow I managed to leave late to pick up Jonathon and Kimberly, and it turned out to be one of those Sundays when time is slowed for the benefit of those who need to relax.
It seemed miraculous that Highway 101 was not packed, but that was the case. On that usually clogged artery I was able to proceed at high speed (not really over the limit, but very, very fast for that road) and by 4 PM we were at the grade above the Golden Gate.
Where traffic stopped.
For some unfathomable reason the road from the tunnel to the bridge had been set up for evening traffic. That is, all the lanes were narrowed down to two, so that the exodus of the commuters from San Francisco en masse could be accommodated by expanding the number of lanes on the other side of the road. It is a daily ritual, for indeed, many are they that enter The City in the morning, and many that exit The City in the evening.
But it was Sunday.
Whoever was in charge of the lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge had done a proper job. The lanes on the bridge were at maximum in both directions.
But that did little to speed traffic until one was actually on the bridge.
The couple of miles from the tunnel to the bridge took about 45 minutes. Once on the bridge we moved up to the possible speed limit, and soon we were over it and on the streets of San Francisco.
The question then became: how shall we cross The City and get to the restaurant?
I decided that heading for the Embarcadeo would be best, as we could cross the virtually empty financial district and arrive in the vicinity of Moscone Center by that means with the least likelihood of traffic jams. And it worked like a charm. Very little traffic, and I was able to point out to Kimberly, at a distance, the Hyatt Regency.
This is an important point.
Kimberly had recently helped me with the first proofreading of "For the Love of a Green-Eyed Piano Player." One of the big scenes in the novel is a date where six of the characters go to a Swing tea dance at the Hyatt. (You may have seen the hotel in Mel Brooks' movie "High Anxiety.") I don't think she had ever been in the financial district, so it was kind of a pleasure to show her some of the locale of the book; even though much of the locale was destroyed in the Loma Prieta earthquake barely a year after I finished the book.
We found our way to Moscone Center (greatly expanded in an upward direction since I was a guest there at the World Science Fiction Convention several years ago) and the restaurant was in the next block. I dropped Kimberly and Jonathon at the restaurant (we were now 28 minutes late; its takes a while to get across San Francisco, even with favorable traffic) and went to look for parking.
Unlikely as it seems, I found parking on the very same block as the restaurant; around the corner, right across from the entrance to the Moscone Center underground parking garage. There was a guard cubicle there, with a guard and a ticket taker, so I felt it was a pretty good spot, and likely fairly safe.
I then rushed to the restaurant to join the party.
Buca de Beppo, I am told, is a chain. It is clearly a very popular chain, as there was a line out front and a crowd in the tiny entrance way waiting for tables. Asking for the party, I was directed down stairs, into a warren of little rooms, chambers, and otherwise crowded conditions, made even more crowded by the frenetic decor; there was not an inch of wall space left uncovered by pictures, paintings, photographs, posters, and what have you.
It was really quite charming.
Even more so was the room where the small party was being held. It was 'the Pope room,' and the walls were covered, for the most part, with photos and paintings of His Holiness, the current head of the Roman Catholic Church.
To that add pictures of nuns dancing wildly (and looking as if they were rehearsing the three weird sisters from the Scottish Play), clergy cutting up, and graphic novels, which is what they are calling comic books these days, in Italian.
David sat at the back of the large round table, on an authentic Episcopal throne, saved no doubt from the immanent wreckage of a decaying church; directly under an oil painting of His Holiness.
On the big lazy susan in the center of the table was a ceramic bust of the Pope, smiling and waving, and encased in Plexiglas, like a miniature Pope Mobile. He revolved with the supper.
Somehow all this did not seem in the least disrespectful. Rather, it gave the impression that somebody had decided the old boy needed somewhere to go for a good time, and had provided it, albeit in surrogate format.
The waiters were young men with a sense of humor and theater, and the food was good. Veal Marsala, Chicken Parmigion, Eggplant Parmigion, and Spaghetti with a single huge meatball on top.
The shtick of this restaurant is to make dinner an interesting, amusing occasion, and to make sure nobody goes home hungry. The portions are large, and they kept on bringing in more. I suppose there was not a really great quantity of food, but they made it seem like an endless supply. The desserts were served (as was everything) family style, with cheesecake in two pound slices, spumoni in equally large chunks on a bed of hot fudge, and that lovely dish made with rum and espresso soaked ladyfingers in escallop dishes; and why can I never remember the name of that dish?
It was kind of like High Mass with Chucky Cheese.
Toward the end David asked me to accompany him to the men's room in order to identify a picture of a mythological character. I had not noticed, on my earlier, briefer, imperative trip to the men's room that the walls there were as much covered with pictures as every other part of the establishment. Only in the men's room, all the pictures were of people, er, micturating.
Including Herakles, who was the figure in the picture David wanted identified.
It was an easy ID. The attributes were there. The lion skin, the club over his shoulder; but the focus of the statue (of which the picture had been taken) was not the attributes, it was... Well, it would have made a great fountain!
After the party we all left the restaurant, noted that it was getting cold quickly, and headed our merry ways. David and Darrell are celebrating by going, once again, to Las Vegas, which they love. (Actually, I love Las Vegas too! If Damon Runyon were alive today, that is where he would be living and writing.) Jonathon, Kimberly and I headed for the car.
We had not quite got there when we noticed the damage.
The back window had been smashed in.
We got to the car, looked through it, and discoved that the perpetrator had apparently climbed up on the tire at the back (it is a Jeep) and kicked the window in, then climbed in part way to go through everything, tossing things all over. The perp must have done this with feet and legs hanging and kicking out the back, so it must have been quite a spectacle.
There was a small African American women nearby, preparing for her night's sleep by building herself an enclosure in a doorway out of cardboard boxes. We had no money, but we gave her some clothes, and one of the bags of food from the last sacrifice. She said she had just got there, and thought it was terrible what had happened. Someone else was already in the box, so we left them to settle in.
I noted to myself that the boxes in which the lucky poor today are forced to sleep are not as well made as were the boxes in which people slept during the Great Depression.
I went across the street to ask the guards at Moscone Center if they had seen anything. They said they had just come on duty, and had not. Apparently the earlier occupants of the guard booth had also managed to miss the break-in; or if not miss it, at least not bother to call the police.
I trudged in the increasing cold to a phone booth and called the police. It took a while, as it was not an emergency, but I got through. I was informed that I could file a report by phone during regular business hours, or, I could top by a police station and file one immediately. I chose the latter and got the address of the nearest.
And thus I found myself at the Hall of Justice, walking through the doors into the meat-colored lobby with a sense of the eeriest dedi vu.
You see, the last time I was in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco was when I was doing the research for "Green-Eyed Piano Player." Back before the earthquake. I had not even thought about it since then, except in the recent proof reading of the novel.
It was cleaner this trip, and, as it was night time on a Sunday, much less crowded. In fact, the only people there besides us were a lot of policemen and a lot of people coming in to retrieve towed cars.
One of them informed me that he was paying about $600 a month in tow fees because there simply was no parking anywhere in The City, and the public transportation was hopeless.
The woman behind the bulletproof glass finished taking my statement, said she would have my paperwork and all-important case number in just a moment; and then the computer went down.
Which gave me the opportunity to note how the splitting of the meat-colored marble (or granite, or whatever) formed a face and body, just opposite the window, in the wall. It reminded me of the alien in "Predator," and when she came back I asked her if the monster had a name.
She assured me that life was too hectic at the Hall of Justice for anyone to have noticed the monster; and she was the one who normally sat at the desk facing it.
As we left the Hall of Justice Jonathon noticed a précis of life in these troubled times, and in The City in particular.
Bicycle racks have been installed outside the Hall of Justice with a place for locking one's bicycle securely. A bicycle had been locked to one of these racks, but the only part of it still there was the part with the lock: everything else, wheels, handle bars, etc., had been stolen.
Maybe all the police officers were too busy towing cars in order to make money for The City to notice somebody disassembling a bicycle in front of the Hall of Justice. That would be intelligible.
The guards at Moscone Center didn't look like their day was hectic at all.
We left the City of Saint Francis late at night, and got home even later. Jonathon and Kimberly slept most of the way.
My dogs were really happy to see me. They always are.
The only things we have been able to determine as definitely stolen from the car are my copy of the Orestaea by Aeschylus, and a flashlight with which to read it at night. If the perp is literate he may enjoy it. Of course, the third play is about the Furies, who pursue those who commit unspeakable crimes...
The next day I had to go to Santa Rosa for a root canal.
While crossing Mount Saint Helena I came upon an accident. A paint truck had flipped over on its back, spreading paint across the road and blocking traffic.
A chubby teen stood trying to figure out what to do. A little way down the road an older woman on crutches was directing traffic, and beyond the accident, more people had stopped and were directing traffic, keeping the long lines of cars moving over the mountain while everyone waited for help.
They didn't need my help, and the endodontist was waiting. Part way down the mountain I passed two ambulances and a fire truck, on the way to the accident. I didn't see any police cars.
Sometimes I don't even need to reflect on why I moved to the country. The City is a great place to visit, especially if you have endless money, but...
Moth N. Rust
June 13th, 2001
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Bad Ideas of the Twentieth Century
The story is told that the great Twentieth Century architect Frank Lloyd Wright once took a friend to see his latest building. After showing the friend around, he asked: "What do you think?"
The friend replied: "Lloyd, you are the greatest sculptor in the world, but all your sculptures leak."
Wright's last building, the beautiful Marin Civic Center, leaked like a politician's promises. I have been in it when it was leaking, and it was a pretty embarrassing experience. Marin County has just spent some huge amount (I suspect more than the building cost when it was new) to stop the leaks, and there is hope that they will finally be gone.
Human beings have been making roofs for a very long time. One might well define the art of architecture in terms of the making of a roof. A dwelling is, after all, a construction to keep one dry when it rains. In climates where the temperature is warm enough to do without walls (and where ravaging wild animals are not too much a problem) the roof may, in fact, be all there is to a house. You get under it when it rains, or when you need shade from the sun.
Our ancient ancestors devised a number of ways of making a roof and all of them had one thing in common: they were designed not to leak.
I have read in very respectable Twentieth Century books on architecture that if one does not have a heavy snowfall in the area in which one is building, then one may conserve materials by reducing the pitch of the roof. Sober experts assure one in these books that the high-pitched roof is a characteristic of northern climates where it is necessary to promote snow sliding off readily, that the weight of the snow may not cause the collapse of the building.
One wonders then why such high pitches are also characteristic of simple thatched houses in the tropics. --One wonders, that is, if one is not led by the nose into believing such nonsense.
In case you may have forgotten: snow and water are the same thing, in a slightly different form. Water 'slides' more readily than snow, which may stick, but a given volume of water weighs more than the same volume of snow. To be more precise, water weighs eight pounds per gallon; and a gallon is a measure of volume.
We may speak of snow sliding and water running, but the fact is, some wet stuff made of hydrogen and oxygen has to move off the roof before it soaks through. If the pitch of the roof is not steep enough, the water (in the form of rain) can (and does) build up in a thickness sufficient to flow under the shingles (the most characteristic Twentieth Century roof covering material) and leak through the ceiling.
Mind you, this won't happen every time; only when the rain is sufficiently intense. Twentieth Century building techniques included ways of sealing the shingles pretty well, so a new home might not have a leak until several years after the purchaser had moved in. --But the leaks need not have happened at all, had the pitch of the roof been adequate to run-off. (We will leave aside here the issue of flat roofing in desert environments, inappropriately imported for use in non-desert environments.)
Builders in so-called 'primitive' cultures are consistently competent to construct roofs that do not leak; yet the greatest architect of the Twentieth Century could not do it. Why? Because he was a sculptor, not really an architect. He was working with the form and beauty of the building as a work of art, and, along with his fellow designers of the Twentieth Century, ignoring the job which the roof was supposed to do.
The credo of Twentieth Century architecture was that form should follow function: yet in the simple, human, matter of keeping the rain off, it seldom did.
And what about what was under the roof?
In houses constructed under an antique esthetic that high-pitched roof not only provided better, more efficient run-off, it provided a space we called the attic. Those Twentieth Century architects who advocated the lower pitch to the roof (in order to save materials, and therefore contraction costs) would have had us believe that the attic was wasted space; but that is simply untrue, and people understood it until they were led, by that nose ring, into believing the lie.
In old houses there was a stairway to the attic, just as there was a stairway to the second floor. It was understood that the attic was storage space, and it was understood that a human family needed such storage space.
There are things which take up room and which one does not need to access very often. The most obvious example is Christmas decoration, but to that one should add seasonal clothing, seasonally used items of all kinds (summer picnic gear, camping gear, winter items like sleds in a snow climate, skis; scuba gear) and family memorabilia. --That last is very important because it is those trunks of clothes and letters from Grandma's time which provide the occasional 'linking back' which gives identity and differentiation to the human family; which separates and individuates the Smiths from the Joneses.
One may also note that a human family collects more stuff than it can use at any one given moment. One may grow tired of a painting and want to replace it with a new one: but one is not likely to want to throw it away unless one is hyped on the potent drug of commercial wastefulness with which that nose ring is liberally smeared.
With an attic under your non-leaking roof you have the option of changing your lifestyle back and forth, rather than consuming things you have valued and losing them to fashion. It is much less costly to have some variety in your life if you possess goods from which to pick and choose, rather than having to constantly buy new ones.
There is ample evidence to support my thesis in the matter of the necessity of the attic.
The builders told us that it would save us money to use the lower pitch to the roof and eliminate the attic space. They weaned us (as a culture) from the use of the traditional attic by first replacing the stairway, which made access to the attic easy, with a trap door; which made access to the attic space (cramped and unpleasant with that low-pitched roof) difficult, and which, with the very small size of the trap door, limited the usefulness of that space.
They then invented the 'rent-an-attic' storage space; because human families do have all that stuff they have traditionally stored in attics. The rentable attics are not near your home (not very near, at any rate) and they require that you transport your stuff back and forth when you want to use it. They are more like garages than attics, are usually built on concrete slabs (which allows flooding) and they cost money! Where I live, which is pretty cheap for California, they run about $25 a month. That is $300 a year for rental, plus the cost of gasoline to go back and forth, plus the loss of whatever is destroyed by the odd natural disasters to which those places are subject (we will include break-in and theft); and your time, on which you can put a price tag without much trouble. Instead of going up to the attic, you have to get in the car, drive to the place, unlock it, find the stuff, load it, bring it home, and then, if it is seasonal (like Christmas decorations) reverse the procedure. That really eats into your quality of life!
How many times have you seen a movie or TV show in which the children go up to the attic and discover things? How many charming greeting cards have you seen where the kids are up there trying on Grandma's old dresses and hats? Rediscovering the toys with which Daddy played when he was a child? Making that connection to the past of the family which gives substance and continuity?
You don't have that happen with a rent-an-attic!
But then, an awful lot of the Twentieth Century was about destroying that very human family in the interests of commercial gain. About removing the small supports which allowed people to get along with each other and to survive the hard times that come to all.
I am not talking about social institutions here; I am talking about simple, physical things which we humans have spent many millennia discovering and adding to our catalogue of survival gear: things like roofs that keep out the rain and attics that give us a place to save our personal heritage and conserve our hard-won capital. The way that people relate to one another is often totally dependent on these simple, physical realities of environment; and though we can often make advances in the way these things are done, the Twentieth Century, next to its astonishing scientific progress, committed some really terrible crimes against the environment, both general and personal.
Take the alley, for instance.
I don't know when the idea was first proposed, but I have lived in towns which had alleys for a very long time.
For those of you who don't understand the concept, let me explain.
Houses face on streets or avenues, or whatever they may locally be called. For simplicity's sake, let us imagine that the town is laid out on a simple square grid. The streets run parallel. Running parallel to the streets, and between them, are the alleys. They are like streets, but they are less refined. They are at the back of the house; so, yes, the alley runs between the back yard of one house and the back yard of another.
At the front of the house is the entry, perhaps the broad lawn. There is parking at the curb for visitors. At the back of the house is the garage, which is entered from the alley. (Yes, Dad or Mom comes home, parks in the garage (or the yard if there is no garage) and enters the house from the back. He or she goes directly from the back yard into the kitchen. Groceries are carried directly into the kitchen in like manner.) The alley is also the access for deliveries; and remember, in the Old Days, groceries, milk, and a host of other commodities were delivered. Only the mail got delivered to the front door.
Perhaps most important, it was through the alleys that trash collection was accomplished. Trash was taken out the back door and put in cans out back, and the ugly, smelly, garbage trucks went through the alleys and picked up the trash and were never seen on the beautiful streets and avenue.
And nobody ever had to lug his or her trash out to the front curb, and nobody ever missed having trash collected, and there were never days when the neighborhood looked like a dump. There were no laws requiring fines against people who did not bring in the cans by deadlines. There were no deadlines.
Front yards were seldom fenced. Back yards usually were, thus providing a relatively safe place for the children to play.
Alleyways were also preferred route of travel for kids old enough to leave the yard and go places. They were also the preferred venue for graffiti, which were always scrawled on the board fences and brick walls where other kids could see them, and never out front. --But here I diverge dangerously close to nostalgia, and I am not, after all, writing this to make you puke. There is a point.
Alleys were done away with on the same pretext as working rooftops and attics: the builders could crowd more houses into a neighborhood if they did away with the space which the alleys occupied. They touted the obvious gains, which included open space: no more crowded dark back yards, no more smelly, dark and dangerous places for criminals to congregate. (Hmmm. Isn't that the same argument they used to do away with most of the public restrooms? I digress!) Under the new layout one could look right across into one's neighbor's backyard and...
Well, let us just forget about the disputes with the neighbors over boundaries, the lack of back yard privacy, the fact that you were now on your own if you wanted a fence between you and those people who stored all the stuff that they might have stored in the attic (if there had been one) all over their yard. Let's not calculate in the aggravation over taking out the trash or missing the pickup. Let's not think about how vulnerable our children have become playing on front lawns where all kinds of people come and go in profusion.
And lets not think about the lawn.
I have read that Elizabeth the First, of England, had a lawn on which she kept white fantailed pigeons for her pleasure.
I am fairly confident that Elizabeth did not have to mow that lawn.
I am not sure when the lawn mower was invented, but I am pretty sure the first person to push one of those old, non-powered, cutters was not anybody with an money, power, or responsibility.
I suspect that the first lawn mower was a sheep.
Sheep crop the grass fairly short. They are rather pretty from a distance, like little clouds upon the green. If you are not too close you don't smell them. Their fecal matter enriches the soil, and if you are planning a party, you can have the servants clean up the droppings that have not yet biodegraded. Sheep are not too bright, so they don't mind mowing the lawn, day in, day out, so that the pigeons will look pretty on it.
Because the rich had them, lawns became popular. In front of a big, spacious, house, they look nice. If you have one that is flat, you can play croquet, a charming and civilized game, with only a minimum of cutthroat strategy.
In suburbia, lawns are small, cramped, and you aren't allowed to have sheep. In place of the mindless pleasure of the sheep munching on the green, one has the sweat of the homeowner piloting an expensive, powered, polluting lawnmower: in between carrying out the garbage cans and bringing them back in, making trips back and forth to the rent-an-attic, and desperately trying to fix that readily leaking roof.
Suburban lawns make an ideal venue on which the children may play because they provide easy access for the benefit of kidnappers.
The garage door, which now faces the front of instead of the back (because there is no alley) is a great place for writing graffiti; which is good because there are no out-of-site back fences on which to do it.
And then there is the quaint and curious custom of building in the winter months, which lets the rain soak the insides of walls, resulting the growth of deadly molds which makes those expensive new homes uninhabitable.... But let's save that for another time.
Moth N. Rust
26 April 2001
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Passive Productivity: The Straight Forward Jon DeCles Solution to the Energy Crisis
There are basically two streams of data here, and all they need to do is collide. Bend them just a little and they will do that, and, slowly but surely, we will get over the energy crisis that we now face in California, and which the rest of the United States, and then the World, will face all too soon. (And it is worth noting, in the words of William Tenn: "What happens in California happens in the rest of the country fifteen years down the road.")
The first, and most obvious, stream of data concerns the energy itself. For years we have been trained to consume everything from prunes to Plymouths. Products have been designed to wear out more quickly in order to keep the wheels of industry moving; but energy, like insurance, is a self-renewing consumption commodity. It truly is consumption, and you eat it up even faster than you eat food. As long as you have equipment that requires energy, there will be a market for it; and that is perhaps a bigger market than people are used to considering. The energy market most likely began when the first wood gatherer discovered that he or she could gather more wood than was needed to keep her or his home fires burning and began to sell the stuff to people who had something they would rather barter than going out for themselves to gather wood.
Remember that. It is important. The energy market began with the individual, long long ago, in a forest far away. Think of that guy in the Christmas carol about Good King Wenceslas; the one out in the cold and snow, gathering winter fu-el.
With the advent of piped gas, and then electricity, the individual was pretty much totally replaced by industry. The individual was no longer in a position to supply energy, even in the simple form of buying and delivering coal for your furnace. (It seems odd to me, in California, to think of a coal furnace heating a house. I grew up with a new, modern, coal furnace, and I am sure that people in many parts of America probably still use them. I know that coal is still burned to power the generation of electricity, but it has been a long time since I have seen it used in a home.) Energy production became the exclusive domain of big business, and that was all right, so long as it worked, and so long as it was feasible and profitable.
But it no longer is.
When there was more power than stuff for it to run, the energy industry went to great lengths to encourage energy use. It had to. It's bread and butter was selling the stuff it made, just like any other industry. We were repeatedly told that it 'only' cost four cents a month to run an eighty watt light bulb, so we ought to leave our lights on for 'safety.' We were convinced that lighting every street, and then every yard, would contribute to our well being, and we did it, greasing the wheels of other industries by building ever more complex and exciting structures for the use of energy.
This probably reached its most absurd level in the last twenty years or so when giant office buildings were built with lighting systems which could not be turned off. --An acquaintance of mine recently asked a large company why it was not conserving energy by turning off the lights in unused portions of the building and was answered by an obviously flustered woman with: "Why, that would require us to call in an engineer!"
You see those giant buildings on the news every night, reaching skyward in our brilliantly lit cities. The energy used in just one of those buildings overnight could probably light and heat five thousand homes for a week. --And we have not gotten into the issue of lighting for advertising purposes: advertising that lights up buildings at two in the morning when relatively few customers are likely to be attracted into the closed-up businesses they advertise.
And then there are those buildings with electronic security, where a rolling power outage leaves everybody either locked in or locked out, as has recently happened in the Silicon Valley. I would hate to live in a high rise where my life depended on such inappropriate use of technology!
It was inevitable that the end had to come, and it has. The ability to generate energy as we have generated it was finite. We made ourselves dependent on finite resources; in basic, we were still gathering wood, only instead of using it to heat our houses we used it to generate electricity to run electric heaters. How inefficient is that? Moving the wood (and yes, we run electric plants on wood in some places) hundreds of miles to burn so that we can send the power back in another form. Seems to me that something has to be lost in all that transportation and added equipment!
Even nuclear power plants, the very splitting of the atom, proved to be inefficient to the purpose, primarily because we never had nuclear power, we had big, dangerous, machines to boil water. Maybe some day we will figure out cold fusion, and then maybe we will be able to have nuclear power, without wastes that last virtually forever, or which leave mutated forests in their wake if they malfunction. (And we need not go into the economics of the Great Scam which left tax payers paying off bonds for the construction of nuclear facilities which never went on line because they were built in unsafe locations, etc., etc., etc..) Someday...
But someday is for the scientists to figure out. Right now we have a problem, and though I have not got an immediate solution, I do think I have a useful suggestion.
Which is why we need to go, now, to the other stream of data.
It is a much simpler stream to consider, because it impinges on all our lives in the most immediate terms. It touches all of us now, and it will touch all of us more intensely as time passes.
We have managed to extend life. Not perhaps to the degree that we would like it to be extended, but to a degree that presents us with some unique challenges.
Because of this life extension we have the largest population of Old Folks (and I find that term to be far more esthetically pleasing than all the euphemisms that are bandied about by those Young Folks who don't yet know what it feels like) in the history of the world. This would be a great thing (and will be) when we also figure out how to extend the quality of life adequately to maintain that extended life; a thing on which we are working, but which we have not yet achieved.
And we have not begun to cope with this fact socially, not at all!
Far from looking on Old Folks as a resource, we have established a 'Grey Ceiling' in our work places and put in place a massive imposed consciousness that requires people to 'retire' when they finally reach an age when their acquired wisdom should be of the most use.
Part of this is because most work has, historically, been physical. When you get old (and I speak from experience) your body won't do the things it did when you were young. If you feel worn out, you have probably earned some rest.
But the mind, if it is exercised, does not grow old as quickly as the body. At the point when the body wears down, the mind should have acquired enough data, and the wisdom to use it, that the individual becomes valuable in a different arena. --This is the way that human societies have traditionally perceived the course of human life, by the way. 'Young, Fresh' ideas are of great value, but you need a data base against which to examine them, and that has traditionally been the role played by those past the physical strength stage of life. (If you do not examine those Young Fresh ideas before acting on them, you get something like the spetacle of the ad executives who wanted to market a new 'macho' soft drink image and chose a name for it by computer generation. Somehow their Young Fresh thinking was built on a base of profound ignorance, and they missed the fact that the word already existed, was pretty much in the general vocabulary of anyone over twenty-two, and so they named their macho soft drink 'Rondo,' a word conjuring up images of Classical Music, and ladies dancing circle dances in graceful Greek clothing.) The old are there as repositories of wisdom, and though they may not be up on the latest trends in fashion or science, their input is a means of testing things against time.
Of course, the mind does, eventually, (and particularly if not actively used) start to miss a beat. Later than the body does, but eventually, in most people, the intellect also slows down.
But we have extended life, added perhaps twenty years to life expectancy, and we haven't figured out, as a society, what to do with that twenty years or the people living it.
Playing golf doesn't make it. Wood working in the garage it better, but it still does not deliver the satisfaction of the productive accomplishments of earlier life. If you are lucky, and your family is no longer your chief concern, maybe you can afford to buy a Recreational Vehicle and do all the travel you always wanted to do: provided you are rich! And rich, in this context, means that you have to be able to buy gasoline to run the thing!
Which is sort of where the two streams come together, if admitedly in a sloppy flowing over of the banks.
--But first we have to look at Missed Opportunities, and what that means to the channeling of our two data streams.
In the early 1900s, ninety percent of all houses in Los Angeles had solar water heaters. If you go down there and look up on the roofs you can still find a lot of them. They were not particularly efficient by modern standards, but they provided an assistance that was really useful. --If you have to heat water every time you want it hot, having the Sun do part of the work is well worth while.
Then came Natural Gas, and it was cheap. So cheap that anybody could afford to have hot water around the clock. The solar water heaters were abandoned, and there they remain, atop the old houses, unused; though I do wonder if perhaps some of the people in those old houses are wondering how to hook them up again.
In the 1960s there was a great deal of interest in 'natural' power generation, most of it a matter of social fashion. Everybody was into 'natural' stuff, and there was a great deal of talk about the options available as alternative sources of energy generation. The trouble was, most of the technology was fairly expensive; and there was much opposition by the big companies which, at that point, were still providing energy at a reasonable cost to their customers. (Remember that 'four cents a month' that we quoted above?) The people who wanted, passionately, to build passive solar houses were mainly those too poor to do so. There were some rich people with ideals who did, in fact, convert to more personally efficient systems, but they were few and far between.
This is not the place to lay blaim for the lack of progress, but it is worth noting that a government report on whether to fund research into alternative fuel sources in the direction of 'natural' or 'synthetic' concluded that research should go in the direction of 'syn fuels' because they were (and I am not joking, this is exactly what it said!) more macho.
A big Opportunity was Missed here, and seizing it could have staved off the current crisis, or eliminated it completely.
Still, progress has been made.
Alternative, 'naturally' based technologies have continued to be refined. It was noted by some investors that the big return promised on investment in nuclear power plants took a very long time to come in, and was relatively small, whereas investment in a Wind Farm gave a ten percent return in the first year. Builders of large facilities, such as apartment buildings, have begun to add solar assited water heating to their construction.
Back when we first saw all the interest in solar water heating it was noted that the $2,000 unit on top of the average house would take about fifteen years to pay for itself. Relatively few people wanted to put out that kind of money when a regular gas or electric water heater only cost $150, tops, and electricity was at that four cents a month for a lightbulb rate; and gas even cheaper. Today, in California (and soon the rest of America) that water heater will cost a thousand dollars a year to run, and that is at the 1995 rating on my new water heater. The rates (for me, and lots of other poor Old Folks) went up 400% in December; so you look at the change in reality and the change in cost!
Now we come to the final piece of technology; and remember, I am just dancing around the edges.
Back in the 60s the technology for converting sunlight directly into electricity was fairly primitive, and very costly. There were some projects for building large scale solar electricity generating plants in the desert, but for them to be practical there had to be sunshine for a significantly large part of the year.
All that has changed. Solar generation of electricity is now feasible enough that Survivalists regularly make use of it, as do people who live in places where stringing power lines would be costly and impracticle. Along the roads we see emergency telephones powered by very small solar panels. We also see solar panels on the tops of those Recreational Vehicles that some of the rich Old Folks are driving around the country and the world.
It doesn't work on a rainy day, or at least not very well.
But we don't need it to work every day, because the problem is no longer a matter of saving money for the individual and doing some small part in saving the planet; the problem is Grid Wide.
This is where we bring it all together.
The power companies are going bankrupt trying to supply a market demand which they established through long-time merchandising but which they can no longer meet. This ever-growing demand is now so much a part of our economy that we cannot simply abandon it. Our proportion of Old Folks continues to grow as well, and because of the way we have set things up, they have been removed from the productive part of society and are seen more as a burden than a resource.
A small segment of society struggles with the problem of providing affordable housing for the poor and the elderly (Thank You Jimmy Carter!) but their work is being reduced in its effectiveness by the increasing costs of energy generation.
Have you figured it out yet? All the data is there, but it will require a little rethinking on the part of society to just look at it.
One more digression.
I watched a television news story last week on alternative energy sources, and one of them was about a man in Hayward who had built a solar array in his back yard. He noted that while he was at work, or away, the array generated power which was fed into the grid. Essentially, the whizzer on his electric meter was going backwards. When he came home at night, he used battery stored energy from the solar array, plus, perhaps, some from the grid. The whizzer was likely going forwards.
The bottom line is that at the end of the year he gets a cheque from the utility. He is making money on power generation, not spending it!
Now you see where I am going.
We can spend billions and billions of dollars building ever more power plants, but it is unlikely we will ever meet the need without a major alteration in life style and economy. We will continue to need more housing for the poor and the elderly (and the rich, who are beginning to lose sight of the Good Life as housing prices skyrocket) and we will build it. But instead of viewing the latter as a difficulty, we need to see it as a solution.
Every rooftop needs to be a power plant. Hot water and electricity must come from the Sun, not just from fossil fuels.
No one rooftop will solve the problem, but the cumulative effect of every rooftop will go one hell of a long way toward alleviating it, and eventually, to eliminating the need for ever more construction of new power plants. --When California is buying its electricity from South Carolina and Canada, the idea that it 'won't work because the sun doesn't shine every day' becomes truly absurd!
And the place to start is with those who need it most: those whose income is not increasing at the rate of increse of cost: the poor and the elderly.
In addtion to (and not instead of) the building of new power plants, we need to put those solar water heaters and solar electricity generators on top of every unit of new housing that is built; particularly on top of the low cost housing for the poor and elderly. In this way the day to day expenses of the individual are reduced rather dramatically, and the individual becomes the supplier, not the consumer.
This is Passive Productivity.
You don't have to go out in the woods to gather sticks of wood. You just sit in your house, doing whatever else you do, but you become a supplier of the energy grid, and thus you return to the supply side of the economy, and society once again has to take some account of your importance, however minute.
This is the bundle of sticks approach to the problem, not the big stick. If one rooftop goes out, it is not the same as one giant power plant going down. It is easier to compensate for the malfunction of smaller units of productivity than it is for big ones.
Of course, people don't spend that little bit extra without some prodding. Loathe as I am to suggest it, we probably need to pass some laws requiring the addtion of solar assist to new construction. But as they are already passing lots of laws to indebt the citizenry for many billions to bail out the failed power system we have, I don't think I will stand on principal in this case.
Pass the damned laws! Now!
And while I am standing here with spit in my hand, waiting, it is my hope that those people who have already rolled up their sleaves to muck out the barn (Thank you again, Jimmy Carter!) will take notice of this modest proposal and start the ball rolling by adding this small addition to the cost of the housing they are constructing for those who need it.
Once the idea is out there, in the Public Consciousness, it will fly. Those who grab hold will fly with it.
All I ask is that you name the proposal after me. I need the publicity for my next book.
19 February 2001
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The Discontinuity of Memory,
A Life in the Theater
A while back your intrepid journalist found himself perusing the record collection at Greyhaven, the Ancestral Manse established in the early '70s by the family of many names which has come to be known as the 'Greyhaven Writers.' Your intrepid journalist is one of those writers, in case you didn't know; one of the originals; and the records of which he writes are not paper sheaves in manila envelopes , nor even files in a computer data bank, but, for the benefit of those of our readers who are under 25 years of age, vinyl discs on which reside recorded (hence the name 'record') music: the medium which preceded tape and the now-ubiquitous Compact Disc. --Some people concerned with music (such as the late Jerry Garcia) have maintained that the vinyl recording method still provides a superior technology for the playback of music, an opinion which has resulted in a revived vinyl recording industry with vinyl discs of high quality selling for $60 and up. (Before you rush out to buy a turntable and stylus and all that, I should caution you that this high quality sound reproduction is best acheived in a sealed, dust-proof chamber, as the great flaw of vinyl is the pops and scratches which even a mote of dust will bring about. For those of us not rich enough to achieve this heady technology, the CD still represents, in the words of Tracy Blackstone, "Music without anxiety.") --But this column is not about the technology of reproducing music, it is about what I found in the records, which by this point in history seem almost Akashic.
Amongst the rows of discs which have been shuffled out of the orderly arrangement which I have repeatedly made over the years, I found, to my astonishment, an LP recording by the late Sylvester, who came to be called "The Queen of Disco." (Queen, in this case, was a double entendre reference not only to his excellence and ascendence as a performer, but to his status as a Gay cultural icon.) And, to my further astonishment, it was autographed, to me!
Now, the problem with this was that I could not remember ever having met Sylvester. And one would think, given his flamboyant character and presentation, and his great celebrity, that I would remember having met such a personality and having bought the album, and having asked for his autograph. I certainly remember meeting Birgit Nielson in the '50s and asking for her autograph. Why not Sylvester?
Remembering is a process like looking through records: in this case, the kind that reside on paper, in manilla envelopes, in endless rows of gray (matter) filing cabinets; not the kind that store music on vinyl discs. Or, even worse, like looking through the huge number of files that we have 'saved' on floppy discs to get them off the hard discs of our computers.
When we search through such records the first thing we must know is just what sort of label or title we may have put on the container for such a record. In the case of the manilla envelopes we can hope that the little tab at the top will contain a reasonable description of the topic of the material inside. With computer records it is a little more dicey. Until the Mac gave us the option of far larger titles, we were confined to descriptors of six (or is it seven?) characters; and the computer, if it was efficient, would not allow us to duplicate any title.
Some people simply assign numbers to the files. But numbers can, at best, contain information about when a file was made, or perhaps what general category a file might belong to: not really anything about the actual, human content. If you are looking for a recipe you know you once had for a certain kind of chocolate sauce, then ten thousand files with sequential numbers as titles present a daunting task; you must likely go through every one of them before you come upon your recipe.
Even if your computer has the capacity to search every file for occurrences of chocolate, it can be pretty messy.
Human memory provides a small computer (made of about three pounds of fat) in which can be stored huge amounts of data; but the evolution of our use of that capacity has not been based on logic (which, as Paul Edwin Zimmer once said, is "The art of winning arguements in Indo-European languages,") but on survival. It is more important for us to remember things that keep us alive than it is to remember things that were pleasant or amusing. We do store memories of things which we enjoyed, but the files which we keep at the most ready access are the ones involving danger and survival response.
Maybe that is why we find it so easy to remember hurts and so hard to remember happinesses.
The visceral details of a fight for life are always at the ready. The voluptuous details of a night of passion are stored a little further back in the long aisles of filing cabinets. This means of data sorting, based on survival, makes for a very peculiar perception of time; at least for me. Arguements with loved ones are always closer and more real than good times spent in happiness. I might need the adrenelin rush of survival again at any moment. The good things come when they come, and recapturing those moments is a preoccupation of the present, not an important (for survival) area of data storage.
In the accomplishment of Theater (and I speak here of live theater, where the element of time remains intact; not the time out of joint construction of 'recorded' theater, such as film or television, where the linear presentation of time is re-structured for convenience of recording, so that the linear perception of time in substance is only available long after the actual performance) one builds a microcosm of life. The duration of the work of art is two-fold. There is the duration of the play (of whatever nature) and the duration of the run of the play, which includes the duration of production and rehearsal. One moves, in a professional capacity, into a little bubble of reality. One works intimately with a particular group of people for that duration, and one works with them both as the people they are in everyday life, and as the characters they become in the play itself.
This is not substantially different from the interrelationships people develop in any job circumstance. But the nature of the interrelationships is very much different because they are based on relationship itself.
When you are working next to somebody in a production line you may, or may not, develop a relationship of some kind. But the substance of the job is not the relaltionship, but the production of the product on the line. Building the automobile is what it is about, not how two people next to each other feel about each other.
In Theater, the relationship is everything. It is the illusion of a genuine relationship, leading to the thrust of the plot, that is the 'product' which Theater sells. The job of the actor is to convince you, and make you forget the reality outside the bubble. You must forget Tom Hanks and believe in Forrest Gump.
In order for this to happen the people in the play must work toward developing a 'chemistry' between themselves which fosters this illusion in the audience. And sometimes that chemistry burrows down below the level of the bubble, and real, genuine feelings develop.
Somebody once asked the great John Barrymore if he thought Hamlet and Ophelia were lovers. He answered: "In my company, always!"
This is not to say that lovers in plays always tend to become lovers in private. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. But sometimes it does happen. When it does, the play can be immeasurably more intense for the audience. --Should it be that the people concerned are ill-advised in the match (as when one or both are married to other people) an air of excitement or danger may be conveyed that is above and beyond what the performers are attemptiing professionally.
I fear this is one of the attractions of the Theater.
But passion kindled in the confines of a temporal bubble is fraught with dangers which passion in the world of normal, linearly anchored time is not.
What happens when the play finally closes?
The world changes, that is what!
The hothouse bubble in which the flower bloomed is shattered, and though some of the actors may continue to work together (as in a repertory company), the nature of the relationships may change radically. Going from playing Romeo and Julliet to playing George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe is a devastating shift of relationship. But at least, in that sort of shift, there is a continued presence and therefore awareness.
Far more diffiicult is the situation in which two people go to separate plays, with separate companies.
Plunging into a new microcosm is an all-encompassing experience. In order to prepare for the accomplishment of a new reality one must submerge one's self in the details of that reality. Learn lines, learn body language, perhaps learn to move in new and strange clothing; figure out background material to support the reality of the character one is playing.
The files containing the reality bubble of Romeo and Julliet get rapidly shoved into a file drawer and the drawer slammed shut. One means, really means, to continue the infinitly pleasurable relationships which developed backstage at Romeo, but the demands of all-encompassing submergence in Virginia Woolfe simply do not leave time for it. Relationships get put on hold.
A slightly different scenario develops when one has the privilege of working in a long-running and recurrent production, such as a Pagent or a Renaissance Faire. That sort of show, at its best, has the opportunity to develop and fine tune a complex environment with a large cast, and though there are usually changes of cast over time, a core of relationships can develop which have longer duration than in the more usual temporal bubble of the finite run of a play.
In such a case, one leaves the show, rushes off to another reality, but later returns.
It is a magical sort of thing that happens when you walk through the gates and suddenly all the time that passed between the day you left and your return just vanishes. You are back where you were six months or a year ago, and everything is pretty much as it was.
Sometimes Ophelia is waiting to resume the affaire. Sometimes there is a new Ophelia.
The important thing is that the file drawer is flung open again, and all the files open and the details fall into place. Specific memory, disused for the interim, is fresh and new, and everything is as it was.
And, at base level, time has been obviated.
Memory, you see, is independent of time. That is what is so wonderful about it.
What is frustrating is that the file codes in human memory are in some language which we humans have yet to decode. We remember everything we ever knew. But if we cannot figure out where the files are stored, it doesn't do us a lot of good. We have to sort through the records, one at a time, until chance causes us to stumble over the folder in which we stored that recipe for chocolate sauce, and which, for some reason we cannot begin to understand, is labeled 'Art in Mesopotamia.'
Once, however, we find the folder: why then, the magic happens and everything is new and fresh, and we are there!
Which is how, after months of casually flittering at random through my gray matter, I came upon the file in which I had stored the incident with Sylvester.
Not all of it, mind you, but the important stuff.
I was hanging out with Bob and Maude at Project Artaud. I had met them in Oregon, where they were selling pottery at a Reneissane Faire which I had been commissioned to write. (The idea of 'writing' a Renaissance Faire will no doubt seem strange to anyone who has attended one: but at that point there was only one Renaissance Faire in the world, the one which the Patterson's had developed in California and which happened in the Spring in Los Angeles and in the Autumn north of San Francisco. A man in Portland who had made his living in Home Shows wanted to import the new concept to Oregon, so he hired me to develop the dramatic parts: which he wanted to be similar to what the Pattersons were doing, but different enough not to infringe on their rights. I set it in the reign of Henry VIII, at that very dramatic moment when Henry has just become infatuated with Ann Boleyn... But that's another story!) Bob and Maude were excellent potters and charming people, and Maude Alice Morning Glory lived in a pavillion inside a huge blueprint vault with a door not unlike the kind you see on the vaults in really huge banks.
Bob and Maude introduced me to Charlie Airways, and Charlie Airways asked me if I would like to be in Sylvester's Egyptian Show.
I can't pin a date to this sequence, mind you, but I have some clues. I had only encountered Sylvester as a picture on posters for "Sylvester and his Hot Band." On those posters he was a skinny African American kid; so it had to have been a little past that point. I am guessing the early '70s.
I wasn't sure what was expected of me, but Charlie assured me that I could handle it. I showed up on the appropriate night (by then I had seen lots of advertising for the Egyptian Show) and Charlie took me up to his space and introduced me to my costume, which, as I recall, was mainly a fur pelt. I think I was to play a Phoenecian, or maybe it was a Phillistene; that part escapes me. I was mainly concerned with my one or two lines and what I was supposed to do in the huge set which Sylvester had arranged to be built in the enormous main space of Project Artaud. (Project Artaud had been a factory of some sort, and the main space was of a size that one could easily assemble a small battleship therein; it was one of the first factories in San Francisco converted to living/working spaces.) I had no idea what the show was about, except that it was Egyptian, and I had never seen the sets or met anybody in the production except Charlie Airways.
As a matter of fact, I still have no idea what it was about.
But, I had my marching orders and I marched in, and there were huge crowds surrounding us and there was glitz on an order that Broadway never sees. --Hell, I could not even see most of the cast, which seemed to be stationed in and out of sight amidst pyramids and sphinxes and stairways and... But that part is vague. I was concentrating on doing my small part, I got it done, then I left the stage(ing area) and went back up to Charlie's space.
Charlie told me to stay in costume, which I did; and I remember that I was cold, because that huge space wasn't really heated, nor was Charlie's little space.
Much later, when the show was over, Charlie told me I had been summoned downstairs, and I went obediantly after him.
And there, surrounded by his entourage, was Sylvester.
He was no longer a skinny kid. He was not so large as he later became, but he was fleshed out, and glamorous to an impressive degree. And he looked me up and down, and I think maybe he thought I was kind of hot. I hope so!
I've never got to wear a single fur hide in anything afterwards.
He was the very model of elegant hauteur, and he said he wanted to thank everyone for helping out with the show; and that all he could do was give us a copy of his latest album. I don't remember how many people there were around me, but I do remember his asking my name and autographing the album specifically to me.
I suspect there was a big dance party afterwards, but I do remember that I was freezing and that I desperately wanted to put on warm clothes, and that I hurried home across the Bay.
Now here is the fuzzy part.
I have no idea what show I was doing at the time, but I must have plunged right into it. I never had time to even listen to the album! I put it on the shelf for 'later,' and later only came this year. I forgot the whole incident!
I suspect that it occurred very early in the Disco Music movement. The cut of "You Make Me Feel...," which was certainly Sylvester's biggest hit, seems very different from the one that topped the charts and to which everybody danced so frenetically. Or maybe I just remember it differently... I don't think I was at all aware of Disco as a musical or dance phenomena at the time I worked for him and he signed the album.
I do wish I could have seen the show, because it was probably one of the great cultural events of the period. But that's the trouble with being in theater; you're always on stage at the same time as the things you want so desperately to see.
And then there is that other problem with theater and memory. The morning three days after a show has closed, when you don't have another show to begin immediately (a desperate time, because the money is running out and there are no immediate prospects) and you suddenly remember the affaire you were having three shows ago, and how you were supposed to call, and a year and a half has passed...
--Moth N. Rust,
14 January 2001
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The Most Obscene Christmas Display Award Goes To...
Whatever it may have come to mean to the many individuals and groups of individuals, and to the corpus of the group mind of the United States, Christmas was introduced to North America as a Christian Holiday.
--Never mind that it was not celebrated by early Christians. Never mind that the time of the celebration was set, not around the probable time of the birth of Jeshua ben Joseph but at a good time for competing with the popular Pagan festivals which abounded at roughly the Winter Solstice in the lands where the post-early Christians were working at conversions. Never mind that nearly all the mythology and traditions of the festival were borrowed from those competing religions.
The fact is, the festival, as imported, had much to commend it. It was about (by the time it came to America) love, universal brotherhood, sharing, compassion, hope, and the promise that there might be something better for everyday suffering Humankind. In the middle of Winter, at the coldest, bleakest time, a star shone in the heavens and a child was born to save us all from...
Well, at that point we leave the festival and start wandering around in the maze of theology, and that is not what this column is about.
This column is about Christmas, the Festival, which has slowly metamorphosed into 'The Holidays,' and come to include not only Christian observations peculiar to Christian religious practice, but the accentuated observation of the once-neglected festival of Channakuh; the newly devised festival of Kwanzaa; and the numerous revivals of Pagan festivals, many of which provided source materials in the first place. What once was offered as an alternativie to partying with the Pagans has come to include the Pagans, and all the other religions which celebrate a Winter Festival with similar cultural accouterments.
It seems to me that the differences are not nearly so imporant as the similarities. It is not whether you put up a Christmas tree or a Channakuh bush, whether you light a Menorah or the Colored Candles of Kwanzaa: whether you mix a bowl of Wassail or pour Libations of water and wine: it is whether you join your fellow Humans in celebrating your heritage as a unique expression of your universal Humanity.
It is like a big family pot-luck, where everyone brings a dish for the table, and the joy is in sampling the accomplishments of all the cooks.
The differing theologies are the spices. The feast is that we all share the time and the festival of many colored lights.
Or, at least, that is the way it was evolving up until fairly recently. Say, no more than fifty years ago.
I remember reading a story by the great Science Fiction writer Frederick Pohl called "Happy Birthday Dear Jesus." I think I read it in the 50s. It was all about the celebration of Christmas in the future, and it sent a shudder through me, and no doubt through all the others who read it. In the story, the 'meaning of Christmas,' i..e., the religious origins of the festival, had been replaced totally by the crassest of commercial interests. I remember particularly a scene with a Christmas tree decorated with contracts for the purchase of major appliances, and the Santas who stood around selling cups of hot chocolate to the children.
Who, I wondered, but a great science fiction writer, would think of such as dark futue? A future where the children were charged for their cups of Christmas cheer? Where a Christmas tree was no more than a gross advertisement for selling products?
I also remember with what derision Franz Kafka's book about America was received on these shores. Who, Americans wondered, but a European, could imagine an America in which citizens were required to carry identification with them, and produce it on demand?
But Today I received my four page newspaper (it comes wrapped around about 48 pages of advertisements) and in it there are nine Christmas stories, i.e., stories purporting to be about the Christmas season; and every one of those nine stories is no more than a thinly veiled puff designed to sell one or more particular products. Not a word about caring for the poor, not a word about helping the needy, not a word about the prospect of sharing the good things of life with one another. Nothing but sell, sell, sell!
There is a television advertisement for Mervyn's (a store which manages to produce, consistently, some of the most offensive advertising material on TV) in which a woman goes on about how thankful she is for the important things: namely, the things like coffee that let her get up to buy a lot of stuff for herself. Not even a nod to the idea of giving gifts here, just shameless, wide open greed, displayed as the proper norm! (And then she is grateful for the neighbor who has bought window blinds and is using them. I mean, come on, trollop: if you are looking into the neighbor's windows you are a peeper, and you've got no call to complain about what you see!)
Last week the local power company said it would be asking consumers (not customers, mind you) to avoid decorating with Christmas lights this year as there might be a shortage of electricity.
(This is the part where you see your erstwhile columnist turn into Lohengrin, and with the lightning from his eyes ((those are the stage directions in the opera, I kid you not)) strike dead the entire board of directors of Pacific Gas and Electric.)
To what purpose, one might ask? Why, so that the merchants can use up all that extra electricity decorating their establishments with Christmas lights for the sole purpose of selling merchandise: that is to what purpose!
Sorry, electricity merchants, but if you want less electricity used in the Christmas season, then tell the damned merchants to turn off their lights: don't try and take away what little is left in the way of celebration for those of us who still care about Christmas as a festival! Since I am a customer, it is up to me how I shall use the electricity for which you constantly raise the price, while doing the same fancy dance so often practiced by the oil companies and pointing away from your ever-fattening coffers!
But I digress...
Well, no, I don't digress! The fact is, this is the central problem. The merchants have taken the Festival of Human Hope and turned it into the Great Greed Festival. The thesis has changed from I'd like to do something nice for someone I love to How much can I make in the game of trading merchandise, present for present?
Until the last ten years newspapers and news programs had to good grace to report on the good works that people did for one another at this season. Occassionally they still do, but mostly they simply report on the damned sales figures, as if that were the sole subject matter of the season! --And, I suppose, to the merchants it is!
Nothing more than the biggest sale of the year.
Even Scrooge was not so crass as to tally up the season as a sales promotion; yet that is what it has become.
And the promotion has, this year, reached its most blatant and ugly honesty at (did you think the title of the column would not be bourne out by its content?) our local Wal*Mart Store, which surely wins the prize for this year's Most Obscene Christmas Display.
There is a platform on which various artificial Christmas trees are set up and displayed, so that you may have some idea what they might look like in your home.
I find the idea of artificial Christmas trees to be admirable ever since the year I moved to the country and discovered that all the trees in my part of the woods, when cut, looked like Charlie Brown's pitiful little tree.
Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs both have growth mode which sets branches three to four feet apart on young trees. That means if you cut a tree short enough to get into your house, you will have perhaps three sparse branches on a seven foot tree.
But this time I do digress!
On the platform the artificial trees have been decorated in divers themes.
One tree is decorated with little children's slippers. Although the obvious intent is to inspire the purchase of children's slippers, the fact is that the slippers come in the shapes of little puppies and kittens and ducks and such, so it is possible for the tree to be attractively decorated with them, and actually resemble a real Christmas tree; although a Christmas tree perhaps best suited to a foot-fetishist or an old woman who lives in a giant shoe and who has not yet discovered birth control.
Another tree is decorated with edibles of every kind, though the primary kind is, of course, candy. Nothing wrong with that one, really, aside from the brand names on the candy packages. Christmas has, after all, long been the second favorite festival of the dental profession, surpassed only by Halloween as an inspiration for rampant decay. Who could bear to rob Christmas of candy canes, or those hard ribbon treats on which thousands each year chip a molar?
A third tree is decorated with bath items.
Yes, you read me right: bath items. Little scrubbing brushes, big fluffy plastic puff spongy thingies, bath salts, soaps, tooth paste... Really, it was quite attractive in its pastel way! But as this is primarily a festival celebrated for the pleasure of children, one does have to question just how Christmassy it is to confront a ten year supply of Bath Time, all at once.
Next was a tree designed to appeal to gardeners, and, being one of those, I didn't mind it so much at all. Trowels, dibbles, packets of seeds, net bags of narcissus bulbs. I suppose if I had looked real hard I might have found some little bags of potting soil..
On the corner there was a tree decorated with CDs -- the kind that contain music, not Certificates of Deposit, mind you.. The music was pretty much Christmas music, from many traditions, so it wasn't really offensive: just visually boring. I suppose you could offer a good argument that glass balls are just as much a standardized shape as are flat, square CD cases, but I didn't see a single cover in bright gold or brilliant red, so I think the argument would be specious.
--And then we came to it. The final, ultimate statement of what Christmas has come to mean in an America ruled through brilliant psychological coercian by the Merchant Class.
It was not big, like the other trees. It was barely three feet tall. A small tree for a room, a large tree for a table top. But its message was so clear that the other trees paled by comparison.
It was covered in money.
Not real money, mind you. Play money. Money hanging like glass balls, money hanging like baubles, money made into paper chains. Nothing but money.
No Nativity, so Menorah, no Colored Candles, Eirisione, no Cauldron, just money.
It didn't have to be big, it just had to represent economic gain. It was there to make clear to all the little children in the store what Christmas was really about.
And to me, that is truly, truly obscene.
I'll be posting some other Holiday Materials on the Main Page of this website as the season grows apace. Things happier, less cynical, more in keeping with what the season might be about. Alternatives, traditions, way of celebrating, ways of gifting that are not a matter of potlatch and conspicuous consumption. If you have consumed this, I hope you will come back and taste the other dishes to get the taste out of your mouth.
(Back when I used to play Scrooge I got such fun out of the Christmas season! I would go on Father Miles' TV show and debate the season from the other side, pointing out all the flaws with the celebration. "If you really cared about the poor you wouldn't give them a dinner once a year and pat yourself on the back for your good deeds: you'd give them jobs!" --I think poor Father Miles was often hard put to disagree with Scrooge.
And then I would do John Stanley's Creature Features show, where I used my crooked walking stick like a pool cue to break the glass balls on his tree.
But the most fun was the year he had me on the same show with Santa Claus, and I go to punch that fat old fake in the gut with my cane! Talk about Ho Ho Ho!)
--Moth N. Rust,
24 November 2000
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A Brief Note About Life Going On
--And Just When you thought you knew All About Us -- We are inordinately proud to announce that after a lifetime of wanting to enter something (anything!) in a County Fair (probably a question of watching too many homespun American musicals), your Head Rhino finally went ahead and entered four items; and came away with Three Second Prizes (red ribbons) and One First Prize (blue ribbon). Just as pleased as punch on Sunday, that's what we are.
You might also like to note that we'll be a little behind on our updates this month as the Theater calls and we'll be performing at the State Capital this month, which means maybe we can pay some bills.
No Room At the Inn: A Tale of Greed and Horror
Near the end of one of his greatest novels Robert A. Heinlein wrote: "Anyone who would kill a baby kitten is cruel, mean cruel. Whoever you are, I hate you. I despise you!"
I agree with Heinlein, but I extend the anger. Whosoever would encompass the death of any innocent creature, except in the necessity of his or her own survival, is, in the parliance of the Bible, an abomination.
Allow me to clarify. If one eats meat then it is a part of one's existence to kill animals, and then to eat them. One may argue with this position, but it reflects the values of Nature that some are eaters and some are eaten.
It is another matter to kill for amusement. And still a further step down the evolutionary ladder to kill some innocent creature who has lived out life as a pet, providing a human with the comfort and affection so seldom realized by human relations.
To encompass the death of someone else's pet is, in my view, as close a reason for the death penalty as there. I don't approve of the death penalty because jurisprudance is far too subject to error, and it cannot be undone when there is an (all too frequent) mistake. --But if I were to approve it, this would be one of the rare crimes to which I would affix it.
Try and imagine the feelings of an elderly shut-in whose family has forgotten his or her existence, and who life is made bearable by the companionship for a little cat or dog. Try and imagine the feelings of that lonely person when the treasured companion is murdered, just for someone's amusement.
And I do call such a crime murder. It matters not in what shape the object of love may come. To kill someone's beloved is murder, quite simple, most abominably foul.
But what if the beloved is, after all, human? And suppose it is not just for amusement, but for plain greed? And suppose it is not premeditated killing, but simply putting someone in the way of death because you stand to make a profit, and have no concern at all for the welfare of other human beings, so long as you can rake in a little more cash?
These are questions of morality. The law is not above indulging in morality these days, but only if there is cash to back it.
The tale begins like this:
Jonathon and Kimberly have had a hard year. The fell in love, they moved out of the Lodge, they moved in with her father. They got work pouring cement: a temporary job, but they were happy to be together. Her dad threw them out and rented her room to some people who promised to pay. Jon and Kim moved back into the Lodge. From here they worked hard to find a place of their own, and eventually they found a nice little apartment. They moved in and things seemed to be going well for a month or two. Kim even bought Jonathon a pet rat named Gorgeous, and a mate named Little Bits.
The talley of pets at that point was 1 turtle, which Jon had kept since shortly after moving into the Lodge six years ago, and two cuddly rats, with whom they played they way most people play with a cat or dog.
Then her father showed up and said he was sorry, and that he missed his little girl, and could they come back? He planned to be moving on soon, and he would leave them with the house...
I warned them this was not a good idea, but a daughter loves her dad, and they did it. As I feared, it was only an excuse to get rid of his new renters. As soon as the renters were gone he started work to drive them out. He let the plumbing back up, turned off the heat, and when they bought a little electric heater for their room, he decided to turn off the electricity.
About this time they discovered that they were going to have a baby, despite reasonable precautions. They were pleased as punch, and set out to get married and give the baby every advantage they could.
They moved out of Kim's father's place and rented a room from Jonathon's mother: a second really bad idea.
Three days before their wedding, in one of winter's worst rain storms, Jon's mother's new husband threw them out, along with their visiting maid of honor. The police were called, sided with the young people, but advised them that was not a good or safe place for them to be.
The parent and step-parent kept the rent money, and for good measure, pulled the tarps off all their stuff that was stored outdoors, allowing books, clothes, and all kinds of damagable things to get soaked.
In case you can't guess, they moved back into the Lodge.
Oh yes: their maid of honor, who was pregnant also, lost her baby because of the social violence visited upon them all.
The Lodge is small, not really enough for three people and all the couple's stuff. Jon worked hard to find them a home and finally managed to trade his skills at computer assembly by putting together a computer out of used parts in exchange for a travel trailor. After a month in a friend's driveway they were able to secure a site at Albatross Acres RV Park, in Clearlake, California: down the mountain from the Lodge.
The circumstances of finding the spot at Albatross Acres deserves some detail.
While in the driveway of their friend they met some Mormon Missionaries. The Missionaries were there working on converting the friend's daughter, and they did succeed. She was recently babtized into the Mormon faith. The Missionaries seemed like nice enough people, and Jon and Kim asked me about them and about Mormonism. I advised them that the best way to learn about a religion was first hand, so they entered into dialogue with the Mormon Missionaries, studying the Book of Mormon and becoming quite intrigued by its scope and its colorful story.
They also attended the Mormon Church, sincerely giving the religion every chance to engage them mentally and spiritually.
As it happened, the owners of Albatross Acres attended the same church, saw them there, and when they applied for a place to park their little home on wheels, welcomed them with helpful and open arms. They were very favorably impressed with the Mormon sense of community (as am I) and considered ever more seriously the option of becomming baptized as Mormons.
Ultimately, however, there were theological and ethical stumbling blocks to their conversion. There were simply tenants which they could not accept. The Bishop allowed as how it would not be appropriate for them to be baptized with their current ethics and beliefs, but encouraged them to continuing their studies of the faith, and this they felt to be a very good idea, as it is a very fascinating religion indeed.
About this time they acquired a kitten named Angel, who looks like a Persion but with the coloring and markings of a Siamese, and, when we all went to do animal rescue for the Humane Society, a tiny dog named Ti Ti, who is part Chuhuahua and part Pug, and who is ten years old. A trailor sized dog.
It was also about this time that the proprietors of Albatross Acres began to harrass them. The first thing was a demand that they clean up their site, because the "Good Sam" people had come through and considered their site... unsightly.
The unsightly consisted of one of Jonathon's projects on the picnic table; so he put it away.
Just down the line from their trailor a classic and historic trailor moved in, with a couple of charming tenants. A quick friendship was struck up and Jon and Kimi learned that they could buy, for relatively little, a classic Airstream trailor. By this point the one that Jonathon had traded for a computer had shewn all its flaws, and they were many. It was falling apart, all the parts were going, and there was nothing to be done in the way of repair.
Jon reasoned that the Airstream (at which we had looked, and which was really quite beautiful) would not only be a better home for his family, but would look better in the park, and therefore be of benefit to his landlords as well. He borrowed the money for the downpayment, informed the landlords that he would be replacing his old, unsightly one with a shiny new classic, and prepared for the move.
By this point Kimberly was (and is) exceedingly pregnant. The baby is due at the end of June. It has suddenly become really obvious that they are going to be parents, and real soon.
Last Monday, the 5th of June, she woke up vomitting and running to the bathroom. She felt a contraction. They called me ("Papa, help!") and I rushed down and hurried them to the hospital. As they were about to examine her another woman came in and the staff had to rush to perform a Cesarian; so I sat on the lawn from about four o;clock to ten pm (a bird landed on my head and became entangled in my hair: first time that's ever happened!), at which time we learned that she was not yet in labor: it was stomach flu.
They kept her overnight for re-hydration, gave Jonathon a cot so that he could sleep next to her, and I picked them up early the next morning and took them home to Albatross Acres.
The weather began to change. It has been chilly, but suddenly the temperatures are soaring. Triple digits, as the weatherpeople say. The high nineties up here on the mountain, the hundreds down by the Lake. The forecasters on the television say that the elderly, and pregnant women, should be careful to remain hydrated, as this kind of weather is dangerous.
After a harrowing week I was ready to relax, and the three of us were invited to an anniversary party on Sunday, the 11th, in San Francisco. It would be cooler there, most likely, so everyone was looking forward to it.
But then word came that the new trailer, the Airstream, was to be delivered on Sunday. Jon and Kim had to bow out on the party as they would have to spend Sunday morning packing everything in boxes and moving the old trailor out, then re-loading everything when the new one arrived. Sunday morning I headed for San Francisco, alone.
About six pm the phone rang at the party and it was Jon. He was upset as they had moved everything out, moved the old trailor out, and the new one had not arrived. I tried to calm him, and told him to try and call the people making the delivery. Two hours later he called to tell me that the owners of Albatross Acres had come home from somewhere or other and informed him that he could not move the new trailor in until it was 'inspected.' I told him to sit tight and wait for word of the delivery.
At ten he called me in tears. The trailor had not arrived. He and Kim were outdoors with no shelter, and when he had called the owners of Albatross Acres to ask if they could inspect it late, so that he and Kim would have a place to sleep, the woman at the other end of the line had informed him that she was even then writing him an eviction notice.
One of their neighbors offered to let Kim sleep in her trailor, but Kim would not abandon Jon, and neither of them wanted to leave all their things unguarded. Clearlake, the city, to put it bluntly, is not the best end of the Lake. It is said that Clearlake is where all the burned out druggies from Berkeley go to die.
I rushed home, arrived at 3AM, got two hours sleep, and then rushed out to see what I could do. Jon needed to be taken to the court for the final signing on his name change (if you have read this far you will perhaps understand his desire to cut all ties with his old family) and I went back to be with Kimi.
It was thus that I was present when the two sisters, whom from this point I shall think of as Hateful and Nasty, came up to serve the eviction notice. Kimberly signed with more dignity than the situation merited, and I tried to talk with the woman (Hateful) who is, with her male companion, the owner of Albatross Acres.
I suggested that, if it was a matter of an inspection, then perhaps there had been a miscommunication between her and Jon. She insisted that she had told Jon on three separate occasions that he had to have the new trailor inspected; and then delivered what, to her, was clearly the clincher: "Jon doesn't listen!"
I suspect this line works well with almost anyone who has ever raised a child. She might almost have pursuaded me that her case had some virtue but that instead of trying to reason with me she came at me with an attitude of meanness and aggression, as if used to dominating other people by her unpleasantness. Still, I wanted to hear her side of the story, and I hoped to facilitate some kind of win/win resoluton.
She would have none of it. She gave them 72 hours to be out. She would not look at the new trailor. She said she had the right to throw them out in the middle of the night, with no further notice, but that she was being kind because of Kim's pregnancy.
Sure. Kind. Delivering a verbal notice of eviction to a nine months pregnant woman in the middle of the night, and forcing her to sleep on hard concrete.
The funny part (and there is humor even in the darkest night) is that the new Airstream is, as I understand these things, part of the "Good Sam" system that Albatross was so worried about courting!
Hateful and Nasty left (my names for them derive from the expressions on their faces, those expressions having the appearance of a long and careful cultivation for specific usage) and I made sure Kim was ok; then her neighbor and I went out looking for a new site for the trailor.
It was an education!
We talked with most of the people at neighboring RV parks and told them what had happened to us. They were horrified, and told us that the whole procedure was totally irregular. They said that in a worst case scenario, an eviction could take six months and cost a thousand dollars. They also gave us the facts of life in the RV park arena.
Nobody wants to rent space to a vehicle that was made before 1985, Classic or not.
One man was plainly candid. He told us: "We can get $20 a night for an overnighter, and now that the tourist season is here, we can fill up all the spaces. We only make $200 a month on a long term rental. So the long term rentals get courted for the winter months, when the spaces would go empty, and then, when the tourist season arrives, some park owners find quick excuses to kick out the long term rentals so they can make more money on the overnighters. It's that simple. Good old greed."
Tuesday morning I was up early to pay bills and take care of the registration on my old trailor. It's not the kind you live in, its the small kind in which you carry stuff. Since I got it I have used it mainly for gardening gear and for moving Jon and Kimi in and out of the Lodge. After that we went hunting again for trailor parks in which they could install the new Airstream. We found one, at the other end of the Lake (a plus as far as I am concerned) but way out in the country. Not good in terms of Jon's non-functional car and non-functional bike. We then tried a place closer to the Lodge, where Jon had once worked. It didn't have telephone hookups, but the rent was cheap and they had a space. Everything seemed almost solved.
This morning the temperature reached 102 before noon. The place they had expected to move into informed them that the rent quoted was only for half the month. It would be twice that (way above their meagre budget) for the whole month. And the time was up at Albatross.
One of their neighbors had been taking care of the pets, but after what had happened she decided to leave Albatross for some place run by decent human beings. Thus, with me driving the Jeep and the trailor and Jon driving his old Pacer, we headed for the Lodge, where the kitten and the dog already waited. That left the turtle in Kim's lap, with me, and the rats in their cage on the seat next to Jon.
The Pacer began to smoke. The temperature climbed. Kimi was panting next to me, the turtle curled up. Half way up the mountain Jon had to pull over. He came back with the rat cage in his arms, panicked.
"Maybe you have a breeze in the Jeep," he said. "I don't know if they will make it in my car. Look!"
The poor little rats (by this time there was only Gorgeous, the daddy rat, and his son, Odin, who was born with one eye: Little Bits was long gone: a rat's life expectancy is only two years) were panting and twitching.
We had to stop twice more before we got to the Lodge, as the car kept overheating and smoking. When we finally arrived Jon jumped out of his car, came back and got the rats out, to get some cold water on them, but Odin was dead. Gorgeous was not well, but Jon spent the next hour bathing him and dribbling water into his mouth, and now, as the evening comes on, Gorgeous is perking up a little.
Jon and Kimi have gone down for the last load from that damnable RV park called Albatross Acres, and he has called me to ask after his little pet's welfare, and says they are all out.
All their stuff is once again in my front yard. They have a splendid Airstream in a storage space, and hopefully, the lady at the other end of the Lake will decide they are suitiable tenants. She seemed very nice to us, and aside from the location being a bit out, it was a pleasant park. I hope she smiles on them. These parks are a mixed affaire: I don't want my kids living in the kind of place where they deal drugs or shoot at each other.
But then, I don't want them moving into the kind of place where they will be considered no more than a chance for economic predation.
I think that's what the crux of the matter is: predation. People who know some of the rules, and who know that young people, having less experience, can be milked for their money when wanted, then tossed aside when something more profitable comes along.
People who will hurl stress at a pregnant woman in the middle of the night, evict her in dangerous heat, compass the death of a little pet who never did anyone any harm; all for no more than money.
Not that there is anything wrong with making money. It's only a question of how you make it. Who you are willing to hurt, and how many, to grab that extra buck.
Hateful said she was evicting five other trailors as well. That represents a profit, as I calculate, of some $2,000 a month, over what she would make if she let those people keep their homes. --Mind you, the monthly rentals represent only a few of the spaces.
I talked with a lot of people around the park while we were loading stuff up. Not a single person said that the owners had inspected their trailor upon entry, so that part of the game is clearly specious: although another park owner told us that the owners were required by law to inspect the trailors as they entered.
Somebody else noted that the "Good Sam" signs out front had been taken down. Maybe the "Good Sam" inspectors knew some things that the tenants did not. If that is not the case, and you are reading this, and you are a "Good Sam" member, maybe you will let the organization know what kind of morally reprehensible people run the place. If you belong to some other travel organizaiton, maybe you will pass along to them a copy of this very personal opinion in the form of a column.
As for me, I only hope the remaining little rat makes it. He is a cute little guy with a twitching nose and bright little eyes. His son, Odin, was pretty cute too, with a white belly. Jon and I both cried as I burried him in the garden.
In closing, I will go back to the beginning, and that quote from Heinlein, and just paraphase it a Little Bit.
Anyone who would cause the death of a little pet animal is cruel, mean cruel. And I know who you are, and I hate you. I despise you!
May all the people who might have been your guests spit on your accounting books and know you for what you are.
9:54PM -- I just went to check on Gorgeous. He is dead. I hope that bitch rots in Hell, and soon!
Moth N. Rust, 14 June 2000
It is with deep regret that I must announce that on Wednesday, June 28, 2000, the beautful son of Jonathon and Kimberly, Thomas Charles DeCles, was delivered stillborn at St. Helena Hospital, Deerpark, California.
We wish to thank all those people who were able to come and be of support. The staff members of the hospital gave of themselves unstintingly and were totally supportive in this difficult passage and we are very grateful. That friends and family were able to be present before and during the delivery was very important to us.
Thomas Charles was welcomed into our tribe and named, then annointed for his passage to the next world. We all held him and kissed him and made offerings for him. He was a very beautiful little boy. A public memorial will take place later.
Kimberly gave birth with the strength and beauty of an Amazon princess. Jonathon was the exemplary father that I wish I could have been, holding her and, when the baby arrived, receiving it into his arms.
Kimberly says that if people want to help she would appreciate letters. Their address is: Jonathon and Kimberly DeCles, Post Office Box 882, Cobb, CA., 95426. E-Mail addressed to them at the Lodge will be forwarded to them when they get their computer back on line.
E-Mail me at :"RhinocerosLodge@pon.net".
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The Other Side of the Mirror, and Why Alice, Alone Went There
We always have mirrors, of one kind or another, and we glance at them frequently to check some little detail or another about our selves, but we seldom, if ever look into them. Early in life we learn that the mirror does not show us things as they are, but rather, things seen through a complex set of optical illusions. We learn this and to varying degrees we adjust to the fact, and then we forget what we have learned with the conscious part of our mind and merely use the mirror as a tool: just as we learn to use a knife and fork, or chopsticks, and then forget the conscious part of how to use the tool and simply use it. It is the same with dancing. First one learns the steps, then one forgets the steps and dances.
Yet there lingers at the edge of consciousness the understanding that the world viewed through the mirror is different. That the vision we see is just different enough to be a bit sinister. When the brilliant Rev. Dodson took Alice through the mirror he was clever enough to diffuse the terror of his remarkably alien vision with that sense of humor that saves us, time and again, from succombing to the mindless fear of the unknown; to horror, which is defined as 'the fear of the unknown,' in contradistinction to terror, which is the fear of what is known.
Someone with a sharp knife inspires terror. Something rustling in the dark inspires horror.
Almost nobody since Dodson has had the intellectual control to approach the mirror world with anything but a sense of horror. The world of the mirror is so readily available, so close, that it is easy to use it as a portal to monstrous otherness; and writers do, and with great frequency. It's very easy to consider that the curtained alcove in the mirror might hide something far worse than what might be lurking in the curtained alcove behind us.
Most of us, if bothered by that alcove, will stride to it and simply look behind the curtain. But the one in the mirror is not so accessible, and there is always the feeling that the one in the mirror, being not the one which we have just examined, might hide something else.
What is at work, of course, is the reality of the mirror as a reflection, not of the world as it is, but of the world as perceived through the mind. If there is a person behind the curtain with a knife we are scared, but we have some idea what to do about it. We have the fight or flight instincts built in. But what can we hope to do about the formless something that is reflected in the mirror and which, in truth, is a dweller behind the curtain of the consciousness?
This is the stuff of horror, and it is so potent that it is my contention that it has paralyzed our culture into a kind of insanity that is now actively dangerous to us, both as a culture and as individuals.
What you don't know can hurt you, far more than what you do know!
You can fight back against a knife-weilding maniac. There is very little you can do against a disease you don't know you have. Terror can be almost comforting next to horror. Perhaps the spectre of AIDS, Ebola, and whatever else may come creeping out of the rain forests we have invaded, is why we so delight in slasher movies. A slasher is intelligible.
The psychiatric profession would have us believe that confronting the dark things, the suppressed memories and unapprehended concerns that lurk in the unconsciouss, will provide relief from the stresses thus presented; but I believe they are mostly wrong. In addition to being aware that these things exist, I believe they must be exorcised; that some action involving the will must be engaged in before the power of the mind can be ameliorated. That is why we go to horror and terror movies; we are, unconsciously perhaps, aware that our forebears knew how to deal with these problems. Kartharsis was relegated to the group ritual, to the Theater, rather than to privacy and a couch. And it would seem that it worked a lot better than the 'confession industry' which the last century came to support.
As the world in which we live becomes, through sudden scientific progress, more alien and more unintelligible, our fear of what is just out of kilter with our understanding becomes more real, more intense, and more everyday. More like the mirror hanging on the wall that we glance upon as we head out to work in the ever more alien world of Homo Scientificus. Our reaction as a culture has been to do just what we do when we learn to use a mirror: to treat it as a tool, with practical limits, and to ignore that about it which lurks at the edge of consciousness.
We looked at pesticides and saw that they were good, and we chose not to think about side effects until the damage to the environment was devastating, and beginning to impact our economic focus. We looked a nuclear power and saw that it was good, and chose to ignore the increasing piles of spent materials from our power plants until it became internationally apparent that neither the Earth nor the Oceans could hold such eternally poisonous garbage.
We looked at our politics and saw that it was good, and then promptly pretended the very process itself was too alien to be looked upon; and that is perhaps the most dangerous dementia of all.
The glory of democracy is the option that people have of looking at both sides and making a choice. It may be argued that the current state of things offers very little choice, but that is of no consequence here: what is under discussion is the mirror, the Looking Glass Land, where opposing views can be examined and judged and decided upon.
Yet the fact is, as the horror of the ever-changing environment of human society blossoms into a chaos beyond the understanding of the average participant in the political process, the average participant recoils and refuses to choose. I say refuses to choose, because choice implies a discrimination between options, and as such requires a knowledge of both sides. And that is exactly what people will not, any longer, allow themselves.
Nobody goes to a political rally held by the opposition.
The populace has taken a stance with regard to politics that is precisely a reflection of its stand on organized sports. The individual expects to identify with a team. The individual expects to identify with a party. The individual expects to identify with a candidate.
The individual may go so far as to agree with the positions espoused by a candidate, but the individual, once identified, treats all other positions, candidates, parties, and teams, with the same sense of horror that the individual treats the mirror. He or she may see things in there that are not congruent with stable reality as perceived; and that inspires fear of the unknown, which is called horror.
Horror thus causes the abdication of the democratic process, which requires a knowledge of the various sides of issues and candidates to be anything more than a popularity contest.
This manifests in the peculiar ritual of the election, where much money and time is spent supplying the voter with carefully reasoned arguments for and against issues and proposals and candidates, only to have the voter read only the arguements in which he or she is most likely already in agreement!
Most recently I noticed this process happening with regard to a bond issue in California that would provide six hundred and seventy five million dollars to provide for the construction of new libraries. Both the Democrats and the Republicans were in favor of it, and on the surface it certainly had all the earmarks of a popular success. America has a long tradition of public libraries, and as the population increases it seems likely we will need more, right?
But I, being the sort of crazy curmudgeon who wants, at least, to see what the 'opposition' has to say, read the argument against the proposal.
I was somewhat shocked. I had thought that my little country county was the only place dumb enough to build a great big new library but not provide a budget for books or librarians. I thought that we, alone, had a library which was closed at the hours in which students and working people might be able to make use of it. I was wrong. The 'opposition' took a survey and noted that the average California public library is open only five hours a day, often not at all on Saturday or Sunday. The argument that new libraries would provide safe places for underpriveleged students to study was completely facetious in the light of the libraries not being open after school. (And let us not forget the working stiff who doesn't get home from his or her job until way, way after the library is closed.)
The rebuttal to the 'opposition' argument was that local taxes ought to cover the librarians and books, and besides, the people who wanted this proposal wanted it, so there! (It neglected to note that maybe the lack of open libraries might have something to do with the overburdened taxpayer not having enough to provide those services; and that if there was not enough money to provide librarians and books for the libraries already in existence, there just might not be enough to take care of the new ones either.)
Of course the measure passed. Public libraries are a good idea. Nobody questions that, and nobody is in a position, psychologically, in a world where the transmission of knowledge via the book has given way terribly, terrifyingly, to the transmission of information via electronic means, to even look at the mirror reflection of the proposition and wonder if maybe things are not as they seem.
(The new library here in the country does have six computers. I had reason to use one a while back. I got there at the hour when the library opened and asked about using one. The librarian said I had to sign up, and that all the computers were already spoken for that day (advance accomodations) but, as one of those who had signed up was not yet there, I could use it briefly. I did use it, then the person who had signed up for it arrived. Later I had reason to walk by said person. Said person was using the computer to play solitaire. I have grave questions about spending two thousand dollars for a computer when a ninety eight cent pack of playing cards would have done the job as well. And that computer was occupied thus for the maximum hours of the day!)
Thus with politics, but also, thus with all of everyday life. The mirror hangs on the wall beside the door, people glance at it to straighten a tie, to adjust the hair, but they do not look directly into it. They do not look at themselves, they do not see what the mirror reflects, because, for the most part, the person reflected in the mirror is not the person we want to see. It is an odd, backwards, values reversed sort of person who very well might be us if we looked too close.
And, if that person were us, what might we be? Left handed instead of right handed? A Democrat instead of a Republican. What lurks around the corner, where we can't quite see what we might otherwise be? A Libertarian, a Green? A Blonde?
In the curtain behind the alcove there might be a knife-weilding maniac, and the most horrifying thing is that we might be the maniac.
But even worse than that is the might-have-been us.
Not the monster, but the hero.
If I had not fallen in love, if we had not been surprised with children so soon, if I had finished my degree instead of taking that job to pay the bills... If I had just worked a little harder at my basketball... If I had written that novel, that symphony, painted that picture, instead of... If I had only had the courage to ask her... If I had only had the courage to say yes....
C. S. Lewis once wrote that the appearance of pure good is far more terrifying than the appearance of pure evil.
Horror can thus be the fear of the unknown, unrealized, good as well as the fear of the unknown evil. The horror of the void on this side of the mirror, forced into cognition by the reflection in the mirror of our souls of what might have been.
But, Rev. Dodson has been our savior in this if we will but let him be. When Alice walked through the mirror she entered a world of topsy turvy social moors and ultra-refined mathmatics and physics. A world of chess problems well-distanced from the concerns of a little girl approaching puberty and the stylized rituals of a Victorian adolescence. He made us laugh rather than shudder. He let our minds be filled with colors that he did not write down, and he helped us to know, as Jefferson Airplane latter sang and understood: "Your mind's guaranteed, it's all you'll ever need."
To survive the Twenty First Century we shall need to use our minds, and look deeply into the mirror, and maintain our sense of humor as the only possible defense against the Jabberwockies of Outrageous Fortune. And if we do this, then mayhap we shall exceed the physics of the Red Queen, and we may discover that rather than a quantum horror awaiting us, it may be possible, by running as fast as we can, to actually get some where!
Even if there are no librarians to open the doors of libraries which have no books.
Moth N. Rust, 3 April 2000
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What It's Like Living In The Future
The First Question thus becomes: Whose Future? Because, really, there is no the future, only the time that is to become of the individual. As the academics say, 'it will readily be seen that' the thrilling future of my existence is the boring present of those who were not born until my future had come to pass and become not merely my past, but an historical epoch for those not born until after it. As such, both the past and the future become unintelligible quantities for those with no key to open up their mysteries. And it will also be readily seen that the mysteries of the future and past can only be opened in the light of the present, because all experiences are held, not in common, but in particular.
I have come to the conclusion that it was a mistake to read Schopenhauer when I was fifteen. If you don't believe me, re-read the paragraph above!
For me, personally, the future has depth. It is three dimensional, and the things which occupy it, or which will occupy it, are separated from one another by the measurable dimension of time. But the past has no such depth because, really, everything in the past is at the same distance from me. If I reach toward the future I must consider that there is a big difference between something that will happen next week and something that will happen in five years. But there is no distance at all between what happened last week and what happened a thousand years ago. They are both unreachable (having been completed and become unalterable) and they are both like pictures pinned to a bulletin board, no further away than the books or drawings which record them for my perusal. I can examine the fall of the Roman Empire with exactly the same effort required to examine the fall of the Third Reich. They are both at the same, flat, distance.
If I want to examine the effect of cheap space travel on the Baptist Church I will have to put in considerably more effort.
And these thoughts, these philosophical considerations, are of great import to me on a very personal level because what I do for a living (such as it is) is write science fiction: that branch of literature which examines the effect which scientific inquiry and discovery have upon the human condition. My job is translating the basic question, 'What If?' into humanly intelligible terms. The very same thing Plato was doing when he wrote The Republic, which I have always considered one of the best pieces of science fiction ever written. (I read it also when I was fifteen, and without the inspiration of Socrates I would not have attempted The World As Will and Idea; which probably was far less worth the effort.)
Because of my perception that only the future has depth I was not much interested in history as a youth. I was bored with things that were over and done with, but fascinated with the possibilities of what could be. That began to change because of a conversation I had with H. Beam Piper, who pointed out that much of what he wrote was lifted directly from history.
I was horrified.
"How can you do that?" I asked, aghast. "How can you be so unoriginal as to simply lift an event from history, put new clothes on it, and retell it as if it were something new which you had created?"
(Well, I am sure I did not say it in quite such clear and grammatical terms, but it has been a long while, and I can't remember the conversation precisely, and besides, you get the idea...)
"If you do not know the past," Beam replied, "how can you expect to know the future? Contrary to what you may read in books written for would-be writers, people do change, and so do their motivations. Unless you seek to understand the changes that have occurred in the human condition over the millenia, you will not have a very good handle on what changes in the human condition may occur in the future."
I was stunned. I was even more stunned when all the others writers around joined in and backed Beam in his analysis. More shocking yet was the gradual awareness as they all spoke that every one of my literary heros then present was passionately concerned with the past in ways that I never had been.
But no, I did not immediately rush to the library to check out the whole history of civilazation. A passion about the past did not leak into my life until I met my wife-to-be, who had a degree in comparative literature. Funny how we can have our minds opened when our hearts lead the way.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch at the center of the universe, I started taking stock of the future beginning to happen, and the changes that it happening made in my life.
I remember Sputnik.
For those of you for whom Sputnik is an obscure historical reference, let me do a quick refresher course.
The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (hereinafter referred to the way everybody actually referred to it; as Russia) were locked in 'The Space Race.' Each giant superpower was determined to be the first to achieve space travel. The rational by which the two great nations justified the expense was that whoever got there first could Rule the World. Americans laughed in their complacency at the feeble efforts of the backward Russians: but Americans had no cultural respect for the sciences, and in the end I suspect that the cultural respect for the sciences which Communism had inculcated in the Russians is what won them the day.
I remember vividly the news that Russian had launched an unmanned satellite, and that even at that moment it was circling the Earth.
Consider that I had nearly been thrown out of grade school for having brought in (for show and tell) an article from the American Weekly by Werner von Braun suggesting that it might be possible to build a space station. (They sent me to the school psychologist because anybody who believed that people might some day go into space was clearly in deep psychological trouble.) Consider that the other kids in school called me such charming names as 'egghead' and 'mad scientist' (all scientists were mad in those days) because I evinced an interest in science. (Any science at all was suspect: Americans were not scientists, except for Edison, and he was a little odd...) Consider a social climate in which ignorance was viewed as a positive trait...
Imagine the sublime feeling of Ah Ha! that I had on that morning when Russia announced its triumph. And imagine, if you can, the bitterness that awoke in my young heart when I got to school and discovered that, overnight, everybody had known all along that it was possible, and could not remember the past (the day before) when I, alone, had held faith that science would triumph.
Yes, right then and there the world changed. And not only the world of the present but the world of the future and the world of the past. Suddenly space travel was a part of life. (Yeah, well, it wasn't much in the way of space travel, but the door was open.) And just as suddenly it had become a culturally foregone conclusion. In a sense, the past (as perceived by those around me) had altered as much as the reality of the present. (And keep in mind that all of this is now very far in the past.)
Reality, I realized, is not very real. Perception is much more important than reality, because it is the perception of reality that people act upon, not the reality itself. They can adjust their perecptions about reality, and for all practical purposes, that adjusts the reality as well. What people believe to be true is much more important, in terms of human interaction, than any possible measureable and recordable objective factuality.
(I remember reading an article by several prominant geologists ridiculing the new-fangled idea of tektonic plates, and noting how far-fetched such an idea had to be.)
I remember a winter day when I was very, very young,. I was going with my Grandmother to the Black Market. I didn't know what the Black Market was, but I knew that I was wearing very short pants and that my Grandmother was wearing a short skirt, but that she had stockings to keep her legs warm. She was much taller than I was, so my little arm was stretched way up, and it was uncomfortable. Her legs were also longer than mine, and because it was cold she was walking at a brisk pace; which meant that I had to run to keep up with her.
Somehow I understood that she was doing her best. That she had things on her mind that kept her from noticing how difficult it was for me to keep up with her in the cold.
But I vowed, then and there, that when I grew up I would not treat my children the way I was being treated. That I would notice everything in life, and remember, and be more considerate.
So maybe I was Proust in a former life.
The important thing is, our perceptions are subject to alteration depending on the dominant paradigm of the times, unless we have made, and continue to make, a conscientious committment to an awareness of the present and its recording in the memory for comparison's sake at a later time and place. Which faculty, and which faculty perhaps alone, allows us to perceive the present as the future in terms of the past.
Which brings me to the fillet mignon.
Last week I was in The City working on sorting the Wedding Pictures which you will find elsewhere in this Web site. We had got to the part where my job was mostly done, and David was doing a long run of technical stuff which did not require my assistance. His partner Darrell was going to the store, to get stuff for supper, so I went along, to the local Safeway.
We got to the meat counter and Darrell said: "I can't seem to find the fillet mignon."
Like Proust's rusk of toast, Darrell's comment flooded me with memory and perception.
In the past (my past) fillet mignon was something one read about in romantic novels featuring the fabulously wealthy: not something one found in the meat case at the Safeway. Neither did one find mangoes in the produce department, nor bottled gefiltefish unless one went to a shop in the Jewish part of town (which people did not do unless they were Jewish, because they never ate things out of the circle of their family's culinary norm).
Once, at the farmer's market in cosmopolitan Washington, D.C., I remember seeing red bannanas and asking if we could get some. My grandfather scoffed at the idea and said they were far too rare and expensive, and that was that.
But now, in the produce section of the store where Darrell and I were shopping, there were red bannanas, plaintains, mangoes, papayas, six varieties of tangerines (and it wasn't even Christmas!) and a hundred other things that simply were not a part of my reality in my (not all that distant) past.
There was even fillet mignon, just a little way down the case from where we had been looking.
And, I realized with horror, the people in the store took it all for granted. All this variety, all this gustatorial opulence, was a given, a part of everyday life in the neighborhood: which is not a wealthy neighborhood by any means! All those people were bustling about, living in my future, and they were not even aware of how wonderful it had come to be!
Which brings us to the philosophical conclusion of this little essay, and with it a sense both of sadness and of humor.
What it is like to live in the future is totally dependent on our ability to perceive the present and to hold on to it as the past. The future is not some as-yet-to-be-experienced realm of what if? but rather, the present as interpreted through the past. The depth and excitement of coming into the future is achieved by making comparisons with what has gone before. To know newness you must be able to remember oldness. If you can do that: if you can keep from altering your perception of what has been, then you can apprehend and appreciate what is to be, and what is, right now, coming into being.
There is no virtue in being blase.
Or, as Auntie Mame once put it: "Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving."
Moth N. Rust, 9 February 2000
Really Very Much My Future
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American Justice: The Last Great Luxury of the Moneyed Class
A change of name is a serious thing.
The Bard asks: "What's in a name?" -- and then shows us by the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, who, but for the mischance of their names might have lived happily ever after.
Mr. Bagel, the original designer of this site, otherwise known as Jonathon Charles Beine, has had for some time a great desire to rid himself of the last name of his step-father, who hasn't spoken to him for six years and who refuses to recognize him in public places. His desire is to take a name from yours truly (being a writer and an actor, I have many, and he wants the most respectable) because I have become the father he never had.
It never seemed like a rush job until this year, when he fell in love with Kimberly and they decided to get married.
They want their marriage license to reflect the reality of the lives, which is to say, they want his name changed so that the marriage license bears the new name. We have had other people in our lives change their names, so it didn't seem like a big deal: until they went in to apply for the marriage license.
They were told that in order to have the name change they would have to go to the Clerk of the Superior Court. They went to the Clerk of the Superior Court, where they were told that they would first have to make the change with Social Security.
They went to Social Security. Social Security told them that they would first have to make the change at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
They went to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV told them that they never did name changes without an order from the Superior Court.
They went back to the Clerk of the Superior Court. They were told that in order to do it they would have to buy the book on the subject by Nolo Press, or else hire a paralegal (a beastly construction, completely at odds with the way words are properly formed in English). Or, they could research the matter in the Law Library across the street, then hire a paralegal.
It struck me as somewhat improper at that point for an officer of the court to require a citizen to purchase a particular product, but we let that pass. Jonathon went to the Law Library, where they were very helpful. They helped him look up the proper forms, photocopy them, and told him they needed to be done on Pleading Paper.
Later that day we spoke with our jeweler, who was helping them select wedding rings.
His wife had recently done a name change for all her children by a previous marriage. He called her about it, and she assurred us that she had done so through the DMV. She advised that we go back and make very clear exactly what we wanted.
I drove them back to the DMV (I being the chauffer on that day, and therefore including myself in some of these actions), where they once again told Jonathon that they never did that. Jonathon then called the jeweller's wife, a lady not for triffeling, who came down with a handful of ID cards as proof that they did too do that, and had done so as recently as September.
The DMV explained that the law had changed in July, but that they had not known about it, and that they no longer did it.
In short, the DMV, instead of explaining its mistake, was simply lying through its collective teeth.
It is never acceptable for a government agency to lie!
We got some pleading paper.
--But just to make sure that we would be filling it in properly, I spent a night on the Net trying to learn all that I could about the procedure.
There was not much, but I did find a Web Site for Free California Judicial Council, which had forms for downloading. Jonathon downloaded them and printed them out. They bore only a superficial resemblance to the one's photocopied from the legal books at the law library, so we opted to go with the ones from the law books, with the downloaded forms for backup.
As there are numbers down the side of pleading paper, I called the office of the Clerk of the Court and asked, specifically, on which line I should begin, and with what part of the information of the form. I was told to begin on line 8 (as the space above that was needed by the courts) with the name of the court, and this I did, making sure that the document thus rendered was in strict accord with that from the legal book.
I was also informed, during that telephone call, that it would be possible to waive the $193 fee for filing the petition by filling out a form which was available at the office. I was told that it would need to be typed, but that a typewriter was available at the Law Library.
Thus armed with what we had been given to understand were the correct forms, we went to the Clerk of the Superior Court and asked for the waiver form. We went to the Law Library, where the gentleman in charge was both helpful and gracious, and filled in the form according to the instructions.
We returned to the Clerk of the Superior Court and presented the forms. The young woman behind the counter requiried Jonathon to fill in more information than had been requested on the form, looked it over, seemed satisfied, and took it back to her supervisor. A few moments later she returned with the forms and announced: "This is wrong. You need more space, so that they can see what's going on. His name has to be at the top."
"All right," I responded. "I'll be happy to re-type the forms. But I was told to leave the space at the top because the court would need it."
"We never put anything up there!" she responded.
"All right, then where should I put the space that you want?" I asked.
"I won't go into that," she said, with less than grace or candor.
Translated from the current slang, "I won't go into that" means "I will not divulge that information."
"Then how am I to know what changes to make to satisfy your requirements?" I asked.
"You need to go to the Law Library and do more research," she said.
"But that's where we got the information in the first place," I said.
"I won't go into that," she repeated, even less graciously. "You need to hire a paralegal."
(I should point out at this juncture that Jonathon had called a couple of paralegals, one of whom quoted him $895 to prepare the forms.)
"If we could afford a paralegal, we wouldn't have to ask for the waiver of the fee," I responded reasonably.
I then proferred the versions of the forms downloaded from the Free California Judicial Council Website.
"What about this format?" I asked.
"I won't go into that. Those are not acceptable to us. You need a paralegal," she snapped, and went back behind her glass wall.
At that point Jonathon blew his cool, as we say in the current slang, and went out into the hall fuming and sputtering. Had he been calmer I would have asked to see her supervisor, but at that moment it seemed more important to get him out of the building and calm him down.
We went back to the Law Library, where they were just closing, and told our sad story to the two people there: the kind genteman, and a lady who was with him. When they heard that a paralegal had quoted over $800 to prepare the papers, they were astonished. They gave us a couple of leads for possible help, but by that time everyone was closed; and the leads were folks who were only open part of a couple of days a week.
Lake County, California, is the most economically depressed county in the state. There is precious little help for those who have no money, and the people who provide it are vastly overworked. Clearly those people in the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court (or at least this one young woman) are not among those who provide it.
Keep in mind at this point that we were not asking legal advice. We are aware that public employees cannot provide legal advice. That would be tantamount to practicing law without a license: a crime which, in the United States of America, is much more serious than, say, practicing medicine without a license. We were not asking for legal advice, we were asking for advice on layout; on the proper lines which were required by the people in this particular office. We knew the forms to be correct because they were the very forms prescribed by the law books themselves.
But this young woman refused even to tell us what space was required; which seemed to be her main concern.
The message was very clear. If you do not have money, and plenty of it, the courts are not there to help you.
Now, frankly, I do not believe that to be the case. I believe that those who make all the enormous numbers of laws by which our lives are restricted are really and sincerely trying to make things better.
It is the petty bureaucrat, pumped up with the power of her or his position (and probably feeling powerless and impotent in everyday life),who chooses to misuse the perogotives of the legal system to inflict misery on those less fortunate and lacking the funding to hire appropriate council.
It was in a report from the American Bar Association that I read a statement citing that the United States of America has now exceeded the previous record holder (the Roman Empire) in sheer numbers of laws. It was noted that no citizen can now avoid breaking some law each and every day, even if he or she stays home with the door locked and the blinds drawn. The lawyers themselves decry the excess of law which restricts our lives. They observed an agreement that the country has too many lawyers, but that the number was needed to navigate the enormous maze of the legal system.
Not to be defeated, even by the titanic weight of a legal bureacracy, I spent today attempting to get a better grasp of the situation.
I decided to speak, for myself, with the paralegals of our county, and get price quotes on my own. (Jonathon is only 24. He might not have the grasp of parliance which has been forced upon me through age.)
There are five paralegal services listed in the Yellow Pages of the Lake County Telephone Directory. Of the five, two telephones have been disconnected and are no longer in service. Of the remaining three, only one was available to answer the phone. (Today being Friday, this was not as surprising as it ought to be. During my last intercourse with a lawyer I discovered that people in the legal professions frequently take three day weekends.)
The woman with whom I spoke quoted me a price of $125 to do the paperwork. She also told me that the law required a newspaper publication of the proposed name change for four weeks, and that it could be 'quite pricey.' She didn't know how much it would cost for the publication, but she recommended The Record Bee as the newspaper most widely distributed in the county.
I thanked her and looked up The Record Bee in the yellow pages, where it was not listed. I called her back and told her it was not there.
"Yes it is!" she said.
"No it's not!" I said. "I am looking right at the page."
"Yes it is!" she repeated in frustration.
"Can you give me the number?" I asked.
"I'll look it up," she said, disgruntled.
And she gave me the number, after which we manged to communicate that the number was listed only under the name of the paper, in the white pages.
I telephoned the paper, but the person who handles legal notices was not in. The woman with whom I spoke guessed it was going to cost about $63 to publish the intention of name change for four times, once a week, over four weeks.
That pretty well ended our hopes of getting Jonathon's name changed before the wedding.
Had anybody in any of the government agencies with which we spoke been willing to tell us about this requirement; or willing to give us any information at all about the procedure, then we would have had the four weeks necessary before the wedding to accomplish the publication. Instead, we were given a runaround, shuffled from bureaucracy to bureaucracy, told that they would not given us simple layout information, and were told deliberate lies.
Now Jonathon will have to get the marriage license under his old, very much disliked, name, and after the wedding the whole damned procedure will have to be gone through again, for both him and his wife.
We are constantly told by the media that the courts are clogged with unnecessary nonsense. We have been told by more than one person that this simple petition should be accomplished in a matter of minutes, rather than weeks and months.
We now know, with the veracity of experiential fact, that the difference between our experience and that of other people is a simple matter of money. Those who have it will be treated with courtesy and honesty, and have their small legal needs met with speed and efficiency; and those who do not will be shuffled from pillar to post with contempt.
What's in a name?
I'll tell you.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
But there used to be wonderful, sweet smelling old rose bushes in Library Park, a couple of blocks from the county court house. They were antique rose bushes, for all I know stuck in the ground back when Andrew Carnegie built the original public library for which the park is named. Yet they weren't the latest, most modern strains, and besides, somebody got it is his or her head that the park needed to be modernized.
The unnamed roses were ripped up and thrown away. The walnut tree which used to provide free walnuts to people in the fall was cut down. The vines that covered the old library were ripped away, and the whole park was given a new, clean, sterile look.
The connection to the past was almost obliterated.
--And sometimes, as when you want to change your own name, that is what you want to do. But sometimes, as when that connection is treasured and beloved, you may not want the connection obliterated.
The problem is that the government wants to make the decisions for you in both cases, and, unless you have plenty of money, you won't have any say in the matter.
'Our' County Supervisors just voted themselves another raise.
Some days I wish they'd been right about the end of the world.
There is more than one way to acquire a name! There is the long-standing tradition of acquiring a new name through religious ritual, such as baptism or ordination, or...
I just happen to know a bishop. It may not be the usual channel, and they may not accept it down at the courthouse, and we may have to go through all this nonsense later. But a new name can be got from a Higher Authority than the county, and it will be much more real in the long run.
Time to investigate!
I ain't done yet!
Moth N. Rust,
7 January 2000
Addendum to the above:
It is now January 10th. Today we celebrate the Iroquois New Year, the founding of the League of Nations, and St. Spamus' Eve.
The office of the Family Law Court Facilitator left me a message. The woman said they don't help on name changes. She said to hire a paralegal, and recommended, by name, the one (of three possible) against whom we have been warned by local business people.
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"By the pricking of my thumbs, Something Wicked This Way Comes..."
A Christmas Story
....Which begineth the day after Thanksgiving.
Which Holiday is kind of the centerpiece of our family's ritual year.
Some thirty years ago (this year) my lady looked at the degeneration of this noble celebration and decided it was time, for us, that it be restored. With her usual scholarly thoroughness she examined the nature of the American holiday of Thanksgiving and then related it to the holidays that occupy the same place in other cultures; for the celebration of 'harvest and home' is about as universal as it gets.
Out of this large body of material she fashioned a ceremony in which the traditions of many peoples were forged together in a meaningful manner. For us, it ceased to be 'turkey day' and became something wonderful, in which the common bonds of humanity might be celebrated along with our thankfulness for the good things which had come to us during the year. It has remained, for thirty years now, the central unit of our recurring attempt to 'connect back' in order to understand something beyond our small fragment of temporal reality. For we do not exist in the present alone. The river on which we float keeps moving. If we are to have any intimations of where we are going, it is well for us to know where we have been.
You must not imagine that the day moves along with the stately grace of family life in Hollywood's version of the American Dream. We have small children to herd. We have an ailing dog and a cacophony of cats. We have three generations under the roof and guests as well, and the kitchen is small and the tables need to be set up in the living room and the fire laid...
Well, it works despite the fact that we are all human.
But this year there was a plenitude of crossed signals. (Not so bad as the year that everyone thought someone else was bringing the turkey, and even Colonel Sanders was closed, and my sister nearly had a breakdown because we had to eat cold cuts: but that's another story.) Jon and Kim and I came down from the mountain on the night before, with the idea that dinner would be about two in the afternoon, in order to accomodate my lady flying out for a convention on the East Coast that evening.
It turned out the flight plans had changed, and dinner was more on the order of eight in the evening. Then my lady's back went out, and the boys were needed for more than the usual help. I was called in to take our Special Son back to his group house, and by the time I returned it was too late to return to the mountain.
Now Jon needed to be back because he was scheduled to work the day after Thanksgiving. We had planned on this, but when the flight plan was altered, and my lady's back went out, and I had to drive my Special Son back, our schedule started to unravel. Add to that the fact that Kimi started to get pukey (for very natural reasons) and a late night drive of two and a half hours was out of the question.
Jon assured me that things would be all right. He would call his boss in the morning, and we would head back up and get him to work late, but still there.
In the morning he did, in fact, call his boss, and his boss was unhappy: as well he might be.
We were informed that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest mercantile day of the year; but the boss also said that he should get in as soon as he could.
We rushed around, but things kept going wrong. Eventually we left for the mountain and got caught in traffic. As the day wore on it became increasingly apparent that Jon would be later, and later. Eventually we stopped and he called his place of employment once again.
He was told by his supervisor, the bosse's son (or some sort of relation), that the boss had said that if he wasn't in by two, he was fired. The boss had not told Jon this, and besides, it was beyond our power to get him there. By this time it was nearing six.
We finally pulled into Lower Lake close to seven.
Jon was terribly depressed, and so was I. He and Kim are expecting a child and he really needs the job; but I tried to look on the bright side, and noted that his boss was undoubtedly stressed, and that he should call in the morning and.. well... plead.
I returned to the Lodge so tired that the alarm did not wake me in the morning. When I did wake I found a message on my answering unit from Jon. He had talked with the boss. The boss and his wife had told him they were tired of slackers and decided to fire him. Period.
Now, Jon may not be experienced, but he is not a slacker. Truth to tell, any job he has had he has thrown himself into with such a passion that we have been hard put not to buy and fill our houses with... Well, Kirby Vacuum Cleaners, new floor polish, semi-organic vetetables, magnetic blankets... He just gets into it! And he really liked this job. He was very excited about buying everyone in the family presents from his company.
But his employers (Scrooge and Marley, perhaps?) decided that it would be somehow appropriate to fire a young man expecting a child at the beginning of the Christmas Season, because he had missed one day of work.
I understand that it was an important day of commerce. But I should explain also that, before this, nobody in our family had any idea that the day after Thanksgiving was supposed to be 'the biggest day of sales in the whole year.' My own experience with sales is limited to that horrible winter in the 60s when I sold Bible encyclopedias door to door on the banks of the frozen Delaware in Philadephia, and caught pneumonia. We have been printers and cleaners and drivers and computer people, and mainly actors and writers; but Jon is the first one to seriously attempt sales, and so far as I can tell, the only one with any talent for it.
(I should now add that I have spent the hours since this morning in some research, to find out if what his boss ((and Jay Leno)) said was true, about the day, and I have come up with some curious data. I am told by people who know more than I about this that it used to be true, but that it no longer is: except in Lake County, California, where the economy is way behind the times. I am told that now the major sales are accomplished at the beginning of November, well before Thanksgiving. I am also told that in America the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the time when the big corporations fire the most employees. --I had no idea the investments of the assigns of Scrooge and Marley had grown so great!)
So here we are, with Jon out of work, Kimi expecting, and Scrooge and Marley, those notably bottom line accountants, continuing to rake in the cash.
And on the radio the Top Forty Baroque station plays the same commercials over and over, extolling the virtues of spending great quantities of cash because it is Christmas, and making sure that you feel awfully, awfully guilty if you can't afford to give your lady diamonds, or a new Mercedes ("They start at only $35,999!") and mentioning nowhere the people who are living on the streets, frequently freezing to death, often starving for lack of food.
I spent some years occupying the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and it gave me some perpectives that do not seem to have occurred to the average accountant (and it must be admitted, right at the beginning, that although Scrooge later became a first rate keeper of Christmas, he remained a good man of business all his days: and that business was accounting). One such perspective is that it does precious little real good in the world to feed the poor a feast once a year, then leave them doubly hungry the rest!
If there were true Christian charity in the world, Christmas would be a time when merchants sought ways to make new jobs. A job feeds a family for the whole year, leaving its members with a sense of dignity which is always taken away by charity. A new employee is also an asset to the employer (providing he or she works hard), and the generosity of the employer in providing a new job is amply repaid with much more than a salving of the conscience, such as charity provides to the provider.
(Thus I reasoned as Scrooge.)
Yet what is the reality?
The merchants make use of Christmas as a time to celbrate profit. They use every device at the disposal of the advertising industry to cause people to part with their hard earned cash, and, while the right hand raketh in, the left hand is distributing pink slips! Enormous amounts are spent on the development of products which serve no function but to ensure the movement of money from one hand to another. (You know the products of which I speak: every year you get them as presents, consider that it is 'the thought that counts,' and try to figure out what to do with the damned things!) It is acknowledged to be the time of greatest profit and yet it has become the time of darkest grief for the greatest number of people fired from their positions.
Imagine, if you will, and if you have not already had reason to know, the feelings of a man or woman who comes home just before Christmas, with the children happily anticipating a tree laden with all the things the advertising industry has taught them to want, and who must announce that the tree will be a little barren this year, and possibly the table, and that just possibly they will all be out in the street in time for a White Chrisitmas.
Is it any wonder that the day which ostensibly celebrates hope and peace in the world tallys the highest number of suicides in the whole year?
What should bring joy has become an Engine of Misery!
Let us therefore take arms against this sea of iniquity and call a spade a spade!
When a merchant says Merry Christmas, the law of truth in advertising should require that merchant to say, truthfully, Buy My Useless Garbage, Fully Equipped to Break Before New Year!
Or, better still, let us go to the heart of the rot. Let us understand that Christmas just might be about giving, but that it is not supposed to be about sales figures and firings.
If you want the good feeling of having given a gift to someone, don't set dollar signs before your eyes (oh, so much like MacBeth's dagger!) but rather, set your eyes on those who need rather than those who desire. You will leave your children no heritage at all if you cater to the demands of advertising. Teach them instead to use a portion of what they have for the benefit of those who have not.
It is a simple enough thing to buy a gift for someone you do not know. You can use one of the charitable distribution organizations which provide toys for the poor, or, better, you can buy a bag of groceries and leave it on Christmas Eve on the doorstep of a home where poverty is in evidence; or next to some person sleeping on the streets in the bitter cold.
There are many who would find a stocking full of coal to be a great blessing in the middle of winter.
One does not have to aver that one is a Christian to celebrate the season in this simple way. Such gifts extend through many cultures in many times. The sharing of one's good fortune is one of the basics of humanity.
Greed, though terribly human, stands in opposition to humanity.
And then, when one has restored one's sense of what the season is supposed to be about, perhaps it is time to go further.
To reclaim the minds and hearts of our children, and our own minds and hearts as well, and look at the truth of what happens each year at this time, and say enough! If the merchants have not enough of the spirit of the season to make some provision for those who have labored under their auspices, then by all means it is time to put an end to their use of this holiday for nauhgt but nefarious gain.
Let us make it a felony for merchants to merely utter the words Merry Christmas, much less put it on banners and print it in advertisements. Let us reclaim the word gift to its proper meaning of a thing given, not a thing sold. (For the last two years the San Francisco Symphony has advertised that it has a bunch of gifts for me, but it fact it has only things it wants to sell me!) Let us prescribe stiff penalties for those who use our children as pawns in their game of Give Me Everything.
The next time you see a miniature shopping cart in the store with a sign reading Consumer In Training: Burn Down the Store! It is a very recent, and very evil, development for children in school to demand brand names on their clothes. Fashion is a game played by adults with more money than brains. When children become infected with it, things have gone very wrong.
And I suppose that is it.
When I rant and rave I try to phrase it in such as way as to make it amusing; but I also hope that my readers will stop and consider the things I have said. And if even one reader takes heart and looks at his or her life and conduct with a fresh eye, then my natterings will not be in vain.
--Oh! By the By!
The people who fired my son, way back at the beginning of my digression, are the owners of the two Radio Shack franchise stores in Lake County, California. I had always liked them (and so did my son) before this. I had always felt I could trust them, being as they were of that generation when Radio Shack was a good place to shop, with knowledgeable salespeople.
Now I merely wait for that day when the chains are hammered onto their souls and they are set to wander eternally, knowing the good they could have done, but did not. Humanity was their business, and in this the merchants and bottom line accountants have failed.
"But for you, Ebeneezer, it is not too late!"
Moth N. Rust,
13 December 1999
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...Well, not at the beginning, of course.
It started out as one of those cheerful days when a Grandfather decides to take the Grandbabies out for an adventure, and sensibly presumes to take along the Parents to do the actual work. The adventure of this great outing was in conjunction with the wonderful holiday of Halloween, which in the United States is celebrated with the carving of pumpkins into Jack 'O Lanterns and the journying of the wee folk from door to door dressed as various (most usually commercially induced) characters from divers mythologies.
In California one of the customs is to visit a pumpkin patch and let the children pick their own pumpkins for carving. In the cities this 'pumpkin patch' is usually a rented bit of unoccupied earth where the merchants spread straw and lay out pumpkins which they have purchased from legitimate farmers; but in the country one is still able to visit a field in which the pumpkins have actually been grown, and the little one's can romp and see the dead vines from which the golden orbs have grown.
The most noble and notable variation in this tradition in many years has been achieved by one Jim Groverman, a farmer in Petaluma, who for the past few years has added to his pumpkin patch a marvelous maze. It is, in fact, a maze maze. In late summer Mr. Groverman designs and plants silage corn (the kind of maze/corn you feed to the cattle) in a large maze (as in labyrinth), so that by the time the pumpkins are ripe it is tall and mysterious and truly intrigueing. He charges two dollars for folks over the age of five to go in, and he asks that you not pick the ears of corn or break the stalks because they are, after all, what his cattle will eat in the winter. He opens the maze to the public in October, and, to judge by the day I took the toddlers, it is a great success.
He has added some picnic tables, a big pyramid of hay bales for the children to climb, and a large variety of other kinds of squash for sale, which increases the color and charm of the place. One could hardly ask more for a day with the grandchildren.
In fact, we got more!
Going through the maze on a sunny and hot October day could be a little difficult with three toddlers, no matter how well behaved. It may be well to remember that October is statistically the warmest month of the year in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the Wednesday we chose to make the seventy mile journey to the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch turned out to be gray and overcast. What is classically called a 'lowering sky' prevailed, so, as we entered the maze, my son Ian observed that we would not be able to steer by the direction of the Sun.
In fact, Ian (who is the most exemplary of fathers) was terrified that the children might get out of his sight (or rather, out of sight of him) and become frightened at being lost in the long and twisting avenues of green. He shuddered at the sounds of crying as other people's children did just that, and at the laughter as their parents thought it amusing. (No doubt the same parents who dropped their beer cans in the maze, or their burger wrappers. Can you say Pig People? Why do we tolerate pigs, anyway? Because they are good to eat, that's why!) --He need not have worried.
The children took to the maze with great delight and abandon; and, after all, there was a fence around it: they weren't going anywhere dangerous.
After roaming in circles for a while the lady who was taking the entry fee came in and gave us a clue: if we took each and every right turn we would be able to traverse the entire maze. And, being as we wanted to do just that, we followed her directions.
It began to drizzle.
Nothing unpleasant. Not even as wet as the precipitation that so constantly engreens the Pacific Northwest. But it did add a dimension of anxiety. What if there were really a cloudburst, with all of us deep in the maze?
It was no big deal, and we continued on, the children squeeling with delight at every twist and turn, and Ian fretting lest they get out of sight. Elizabeth, the children's mother, was having the same kind of fun as the kids; she worries less about such things than Ian, which balances it all out.
By the time we emerged from the maze the drizzle was intermittant, so we took refuge under the canopies which Farmer Groverman had provided, and had our lunch. There has been a plague of Yellow Jackets in California this year, and Grandfather managed only a few weeks earlier to rake up a nest of them while wearing shorts; and discover how truly unpleasant having one's legs swell up to the point of non-movement can be; so Grandpa dodged and darted the little devils while everyone else just ignored them.
It was then time to pick the pumpkins, so we headed out into the field. There is no point in attempting to describe this part of the adventure, as English is an inadequate language when it comes to the complex esthetic decisions of three and five year olds and their parents. Suffice to say we got three small pumpkins, two with much green still on them, and one large one for Ian: who had decided this was his year to do a really great Jack 'O Lantern.
At this point it seems like a good idea to attempt something new, and insert a graphic. Mr. Groverman sells (for one dollar) a postcard of the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch and Amazing Corn Maze, 1999, as seen from above. I bought one, and asked permission to post it here: which I am now doing. To get a sense of the scale, look to the right and observe the automobiles on Highway 101.
We had a wonderful time. Then we piled back into the car.
There was one, small, dissapointment. As we were leaving I observed a truck in the pumpkin field, unloading pumpkins. It seems as if Farmer Groverman's sales promotion has been successful enough that his field was emptied of its crop before the customers were finished picking. I am not upset at the idea that the pumpkins we bought might have been grown in somebody else's field. They are good pumpkins, and as far as the toddlers are concerned the experience was 100% authentic. Besides which, we went far afield from the concentration of fruit at the center to find just the most perfect pumpkins. But I don't think he has room for a bigger field next year.
Hey, maybe he grew the extra pumpkins in another field.
I just hope his success doesn't involve building a roller coaster next year where the pumpkins grew. I do want to go back and experience it all again.
The next leg of the journey was to be from Petaluma to Rhinoceros Lodge, where I would walk the dogs. I had hoped to get Ian's help moving some large objects while at the Lodge, but as we drove up into the Mayacamas Mountains above Santa Rosa the rain started in earnest: the first Real Rain of the Season. By the time we reached Calistoga is was a pretty good rain, and the Grandbabies didn't want to get out at the filling station for any reason.
Ian and Elizabeth were not too happy about stretching their legs under those circumstances either.
We left Calistoga and started the ascent of Mount Saint Helena, which is now somewhat easier than it was in the days when Robert Lewis Stevenson honeymooned there with his new bride, and wrote his first big success, The Silverado Squaters. If you have not read that wonderful short book, I do recommend it. One can experience the young writer finally gaining absolute mastery of his materials and technique; and the final word paintings of the mountain top as the clouds roll in and surround it is breathtaking.
Half way up the traffic stopped. In the rain and the night ahead there were flares and a long line of cars. Slowly but sure each driver ahead of us turned off the engine to wait. As soon as there were a couple of vehicles behind us, I too turned off the engine.
We waited. And waited.
Eventually the problem revealed itself. Two absolutely enormous trucks were making their way down the twists and turns of the mountain, and nothing could pass until they had negotiated the hairpins and switchbacks that make the passage of the mountain possible. "Extra Wide Load" does not begin to describe the size of the vehicles, and "Narrow Road Ahead" does not do justice to the rocky cliff bordered part of the road we were traversing.
Eventually they passed and we moved on. By that time patches of fog had been added to the rain, and Elizabeth, who had never before been to the Lodge, was getting (perhaps) a little nervous. But nothing more interrupted our journey over Saint Helena, and we descended to the Clearlake plateau without incident, turned left at Middletown, and headed for Boggs Mountain.
About two miles out of Middletown there was a fire.
A very peculiar fire. It was long and thin. It looked as if there might be a pipe, perhaps sixty yards long, lying in the ditch to the side of the road. About every foot there was a long spike of flame shooting up from it, the spikes of fire in various colors. Three big fire trucks blocked the left side of the two lane road, and a host of firemen stood about in the rain, presumably fighting the weird fire.
Two firemen in full gear had been assigned to direct the traffic, and they had stationed themselves to either side of the road.
They were dancing.
They were dancing extremely well, in a coordinated fashion, as if they had choreographed the whole routine. It was the kind of dancing people do in clubs, very energetic and with lots of movement of arms and body, and those guys were good!
I would have been quite happy to stay and watch, but the purpose of the dance was to move traffic along, and they danced us right through. It struck me as a wonderful innovation, the sort of thing that distracts people from a minor inconvenience; so that they laugh instead of yelling at their children.
I was delighted, and I am sure that the others drivers along that dark and stormy road were also. It probably wouldn't work to give firefighters dancing instructions as a means of controlling traffic, because eventually it would become commonplace. But for that one magical moment the vision of dancing firefighters in the rain was just stunning.
We got to the Lodge, Ian climbed out and opened the gate, and I left the rest of the passengers in the car while I rushed in to walk the dogs: who can get a little excited when Walkie Time is late. After the pups were walked and fed everyone dashed through the rain and I got out some cherry pie to cheer the soggy souls.
Elizabeth suggested that perhaps we should all stay at the Lodge for the night, rather than go back through the rain. I was considering just that: how to get out the bedding, put up cots, etc.; and whether it would be safe for Elizabeth and the children to sleep in my bed (the ceiling fell in last winter due to the rain coming through the roof, and there is a big plastic patch right over one's head when one sleeps there) when the power went off.
I lit the hurricane lamps. Elizabeth was still game to stay, but I realized that the rain might come through the roof again and drip in her face, or more plaster might fall; and I was not really up for rooting through the closets to find bedding with only live flame to light my search. I made sure the dogs were happy, piled everyone back in the car, blew out the lamps, and headed back for Greyhaven, in Berkeley.
As we once again began to climb Mount Saint Helena one of the children got tangled in the seat belt. As we were in Diana's Volvo, the only way to reach the discomfitted child was to pull off the road and go in through the back. At Rattlesnake Springs I pulled off, right behind another car; and immediately the woman in the car ahead came running back through the rain.
"Can you help me?" she asked. "I think I hit a rock, or maybe it hit me. One of those boulders falling along the road. --I only need you to call my daughter and my son. I am a nurse, on the way to work, and they will have to come get me, and let the hospital know I won't be in tonight."
"Certainly!" I said, and Ian proceeded to pull out his notebook and write down her name, her daughter's name and number, her son's number, and so forth.
She went back to her car, then Ian climbed out into the rain, checked the child and the seatbelt, and I turned the engine back on.
The woman came back to our car again.
"Oh, it's you!" she said. "I saw lights..."
"We just haven't pulled out yet," I reassured her.
"I'm just so frightened, up here alone in the dark!" she said. "I'm going to get in the car, lock the doors and windows, and just wait for my daughter."
I told her that everything would be all right, then we went up, over the mountain, and down into Calistoga, from whence I called her daughter, and, with luck, arranged her rescue.
Quite a night, I thought to myself as I headed down the main, shorter, road through the Napa Valley.
But it wasn't over.
As we approached the city of Napa there was a flash in the sky to the right.
Lightning? I thought, looking up. (Lightning is not all that common in this part of California, especially at this time of year.)
Then it flashed again, and there was a burst of sparks.
Ball lightning? --That would be interesting. I have never actually seen ball lightning.
I waited for the thunder.
Another flash and burst, in the same place, and were getting closer, moving toward it. It looked for all the world like a meteor exploding, over and over again.
"A transformer must have been hit," Ian said sensibly. "It must be a power line down."
We were on a divided highway, with no exits, and it appeared we were heading right for the repitious flashes and showers of sparks. And now I could see, at the top of the pole, a steady crackling of localized lines of little lightenings not credited at all with easing the concerns of a man basically afraid of electricity.
I couldn't very well stop. There were cars ahead of me and behind me.
Then the red tail lights of the car ahead moved toward the left, and I realized that the road curved in that direction, and that just maybe...
With my nerves responding to one hell of an epinephrine rush, we drove past the little disaster safely.
"When Granpa takes the kids out for a drive," Ian said laconically, "it certainly doesn't turn out to be dull."
Nothing else happened on the rest of the journey. Nothing much worth mentioning. It was the first rain of the season, and people, as they always do, forgot about how slippery the roads would be until the summer build-up of oil was washed away. Two big rigs had crashed just south of the Carquinez Straits, and we had to go around that, and about ten miles further south there was a pile-up of many automobiles. Then as we came to the maze (which in this case is the name given to a multilayered intersection of many freeways) there were more accidents to get around; but my passengers slept through that.
We had called Diana to tell her that we would be a little late, so when we got to Greyhaven she had a hot chicken ready. Ian and I had some, but Elizabeth and the little ones went right to bed.
Funny how people like to curl up under the covers on a dark and stormy night.
--Moth N. Rust
3 November 1999
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Somewhere in my youth I became ennamored of a wonderful piece of music called "Adventures in a Perambulator," and I continue to remember it with fondness despite the fact that here, at 2:20AM, I cannot remember its composer. That should not be too surprising, to me or anybody else, considering what I have gone through this last two weeks.
It took me a while, in my youth, with only the meagre resources of the dictionary at hand in those times, to discover just what a perambulator might be. What it might have been, and was, was what we poor folks called a 'baby carriage.' In those days ordinary people didn't know the finer sounding British name for such wondrous couches. We didn't have Nannies to push them around, either. What we might, in these refined times, describe as 'ambulating' them rather than just pushing them about.
I suspect that the term could also be reasonably applied to someone who is moved about in a coach of some kind, and that is pretty much what I have become over the last couple of weeks; a person moved about in a coach; or, in more modest terms, an automobile.
Sometimes your car has to be pushed, and I am of an age that I now must be the one inside, steering.
Our Suzuki Samurai was reaching for its last gasps.
One is well advised to remember that in Japan automobiles are mandated by law to be removed from the road after seven years, no ifs, ands, or buts. They are also required to have a new engine every thirty thousand miles. In practical terms, a car on the road in Japan will run flawlessly for seven years. After that, it doesn't need to.
The Samurai has over a hundred thousand miles on it when we got it. We were forced, immediately, to get a new engine. And a new transmission. Then a new transfer case. It was a fun little car. It was a very expensive little car. It could climb a wall; but I seldom drove it up one. Our mechanic told us on our most recent visit to his shop that we should put a bullet through its head and give it an honorable burial.
We wanted a Jeep. As my lady put it, 'A good American car that anyone can fix.' That seemed an admirable ambition, and so we started our search.
The little free car magazine that appears each week in front of the grocery store yielded about five vehicles, none of them perfect. The used car lots which we visited showed us either cars that looked very bad, or nice looking cars with astronomical price tags.
We turned to the Internet.
It is amazing how many little details people can miss. I found a beautiful 97 with no mileage, and bright purple to boot. I could not imagine why it was till on the lot. Then I found out it was in Cinncinatti, Ohio. I found another good deal on another one, but that one turned out to be in Lynchburg, Virginia. I advised the dealer that it was helpful, in listing a car, to give the possible buyer some idea of the location. I am in California. 3,000 miles is a bit far to go for a used car.
It was a confusing occupation, looking for a car. I set up a form on my computer, printed it out, and used it to ask questions on the telephone with some imitation of intelligence. Through this subterfuge I was able to narrow down the number to thirty, and through further considerations cut that down to a mere three.
After the opera on Sunday (It was "Das Rheingold") we went to look at the first vehicle in San Francisco. The owner was a charming young man who was terrified to learn that I had never before driven a Jeep. We managed to make a wrong turn and narrowly escaped the experience of my first Jeep Journey taking us across the Golden Gate.
It was a good car, with a wonderful stereo and new tires. I really liked it, and so did Mr. Bagel. Diana saw it only from a distance, as she had to stay with her car. (There are no parking places in the City of San Francisco. You sit in your car and wait while someone else runs in to do things like test drives.)
The next day we drove north, on the way back to the Lodge via Santa Rosa. The idea was to look at the other two cars on the list.
The first was a nice red one with a tow hitch, and the family showing the car was as charming and gracious as possible. We liked that one too, and were envisioning the possibility of buying the little trailer for which the hitch was intended. But, there was one more on the list, so we went north even further.
On the way I realized that making a decision was going to be very, very difficult. I made a prayer to Hermes, promising Him a bottle of Mavrodaphne and some lamb on the sacrificial fire if He would help us to get the right car for us.
We left the freeway, drove through the quaint and pleasant town of Healdsburg, and...
The transmission of the Samurai turned into a bag of rocks and the car stopped, right as we were about to turn onto the next to last street. Bagel hopped out and pushed the car backwards, out of the intersection, and the rocks sounded like boulders.
I sat inside and steered, accepting my perambulation.
But I did not panic!
I got out, left the Bagel and Kim sitting on top of the derelect, and found a phone. I quickly contacted the owners of the last car on the list, walked the two blocks, and discovered the most beautiful car we had yet seen. A 91 Wrangler Renegade, Limited Edition, six cylanders, perfect upholstery, and Bright Red, including the hard top
I called Diana and told her what had happened. She said: "I guess we know which car you are going to buy."
The omens then began to appear. The lady selling the car bore the name of Mason. The street on which the Samurai had died was named Powell.
Hermes had decided.
Bagel, Kim and I got a motel room for the night. Diana transferred funds, and the next day we acquired a new car. The Samurai was towed back to Lake for a proper burial.
That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday I spent the day doing more paperwork on the car. I was informed by the Department of Motor Vehicles that I needed more in the way of signatures. I was informed that the word I chose for my vanity license plate would not appear properly on the computer. I was given three big books to go through, and after twenty minutes of my looking at pages which indicated that the word should be mine, the computer changed its mind and allowed it. The plate will include the word 'arete,' though there are several other usages in the state. I would have used Hermes, but the God has a lot of followers here in California. I put His sacred number, 4, on the arete plate in His honor.
On Thursday we went back to Healdsburg to get the additional paperwork signed, and drove around doing minor chores. We had a whole day of enjoying our bright red Jeep; which, incidentally, drove like a luxury car. It was wonderful. We left Hermes his bottle of Mavrodaphne in the approved manner, at a four way crossroads, wrapped neatly with a gift card reading: "A Gift for You from The God Hermes."
On Friday Bagel and Kim and I went down to the temenos and offered Hermes His slice of excellent lamb on the sacrificial fire. Mr. Bagel and Kim went down to see his mother, and show off the new car. He parked it in front of her house, they both got out, and stood proudly before it, saying: "Wow! Look at our shiny new toy!"
I guess it was his Mom who said: "Your shiny new toy is moving!"
Bagel raced down the hill to try and leap in, but it moved too fast.
He couldn't catch it.
The emergency (parking) brake had failed.
An oak tree stopped it.
The tire perambulated into the back seat. So did the back window, in many little pieces. The beautiful red top went crunch. The deck imitated an accordian. The frame, like the poor little boy in the Lord Buckly story, 'done got bent.' The gas tank became folded.
I have not seen it myself. I came in from walking the dogs and there was a terrified call from Bagel on the answering unit. I returned his call, learned that he had already called Diana and his boss, and was coming apart at the seams. I tried to calm him.
Why not? There is a calm even in the eye of a twister. I was the twister; I figured he should be the calm. So long as one of us...
I went back and talked with my neighbor lady. She had just awakened from a nap. She said she had dreamed about me. That I was a river bank, and that there was a green leaf floating down the river, and that when it had passed by all would be calm and good. That all my troubles, my sickness and bad luck, would have floated away.
I certainly hope she is right. I am told she has a good record for her premonitions.
I have been very careful in praying these last ten or twenty years, because I have seen how the clauses in a prayer always obey the laws of thermodynamics. I was very careful to ask for "the best car for us.' There has to be a silver lining to this cloud, of that much I am sure. The God may be a trickster, but I know He won't let me down. He has saved my ass too many times for me to doubt Him.
But the insurance adjustor probably won't be able to look at theJeep until Tuesday, and I am still spinning, here at well past three in the morning. I sure hope the adjuster brings a perambulator with him, because right now I feel a lot like Mr. Odo, and I think I may be melting down, and in need of a bucket and a carriage in which I can be pushed around by something besides the Fates.
--Moth N. Rust, 26 June 99
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This evening I watched (on the telly) a news story about some North Coast Native Americans who, after seventy years, had returned to the proud traditions of their ancestors and gone out in a boat and killed a whale.
I am a great supporter of traditions, and perhaps an even greater supporter of ethnic peoples of all kinds. But I am also a great supporter of trying to rescue the biosphere, and keep our whole peculiar species, in all its ethnic diversity, alive.
It must not be thought, for a moment, that it is modern humankind which began the business of wiping out entire species. There was a wonderful vegetable grown in the vicinity of Ancient Cyrene, a city which came to depend heavily on the export of that vegetable for its livelihood. The city put the vegetable on its coins, so valuable to the economy did it become. But so popular did that vegetable become with the gourmets and gourmands of the Roman Empire that the folks in Cyrene sold every last bit of it; thus killing their golden goose, putting themselves out of business, and leaving the world with one less species of vegetable. (I only wish I could remember the name of that vegetable right now. It stars with an S, but for the life of me... Well, there isn't any left to put in my salad anyway. Damned Romans...)
In the 1700s, if memory serves me, they discovered the Dodo, a bird reputed to be quite stupid and of great import largely to people interested in birds. It dwelt on an isolated island; but not an island so isolated that sailors missed the opportunity to come ashore and club the poor flightless things to death. And yes, I do mean completely to death. To the last bird. In many ways, the Dodo remains the most famous species to become extinct at the hands of humankind, perhaps because the class of illiterate sailors who 'done the deed' remind the peruser of historical peculiarities so much of the birds they destroyed.
In the first part of the Twentieth Century two celebrated extinctions occurred in the United States of America. The Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet both died due to the assumption that any creature which existed in such vast quantities simply could not be wiped out. Men went out to their nesting grounds and clubbed them to death by the millions. (And these men didn't have the excuse of being sailors, mind you.)
The birds were sold in markets as food for hogs.
Thirty years ago it began to be apparent that the vast toilets of the planet (for thus we humans have always treated them), the oceans, just might not be the infinite waste disposal systems that we had always assumed. The price of fish began to rise as fish became an increasingly scare commodity (and humans became an increasingly cheap one). Television learned, at long last, how to make at least some science entertaining, and masses of people became aware; actually aware, as opposed to just cognizant of; the problems stemming from special extinctions.
The word 'ecology' entered the popular parlance. Though no longer the exclusive property of obscure scientists and writers of dire science fiction stories, it remained largely misunderstood. People did, however, begin to get the idea that We Are Not Alone on this planet, and that no creature can survive long in a medium exclusively of its own creation. In short, that we had come perilously close to drowning in our own excrement.
Despite opposition, some governments began to act to save divers endangered species. It was not long before some of the people most violently opposed to the ecology movement discovered how much to their particular benefit it could become. Without protection of the rivers, for instance, there would be no salmon for the fishermen to fish. Duck hunters became the most powerful lobby extant for the protection of ducks.
This growing awareness of our need to live with the Earth, as a part of the environment, brought with it a new appreciation for cultures which had strong traditions of living in harmony with nature rather than subjugating her. Religions with positions supporting an ecological view of existence flourished, and religions which had taken a wrong turn through (what was later viewed as) misinterpretation of sacred teachings worked hard to bring their adherents around to this new consciousness. (Check out the incredible work of the 'Green Patriarch' of Istanbul.) Native American religions, long held in contempt by outsiders as 'primitive,' came to be viewed with particular respect and awe.
During this time a major change in political views also took place. While giant political powers continued to wield enormousauthority through strength of arms, the model of a world with a single homogeneous culture was rejected: just as ecologists had rejected monoculture in nature as a non-viable extreme, so political thought embraced multiculturalism within a context of social stability as a more healthy state of survival.
Of course, none of this just 'happened.' It is all still an on-going complex of things struggling to become. There are constant set-backs, and we are far from a place where the dangers are not omnipresent, like hydras waiting to rise up out of the ground and sprout two new heads for each one we lop off.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-semitism, (religious and ethnic bigotry of all kinds) and the thousand and one other unnatural attributes of the human species remain constantly with us. When we do wipe out a species with reasonable moral justification (like Smallpox) it is quickly replaced by something more implacable (like AIDS or Ebola). --We have not made even a scratch upon the surface of Xenophobia: though science fiction on TV and in the movies does seem to be helping.
And Xenophobia is a big, big problem. It is at the base of all kinds of bigotries. Different colors of skin, different genders, different sex lives, different religions, different traditions, different languages, and, finally, different species.
Way back before there were enough of us in the world to allow for some of us to spend years of our lives studying the actual habits of various other species, there were many 'truths' about many animals which had no basis in fact whatsoever. (I won't take time here to go into all the garbage we humans believe about our own species!) The Whale, in particular, was viewed as a consummate monster. It was a huge, all devouring thing to be feared. For some, like Herman Melville, it was evil incarnate.
For others, like those North Coast Native Americans who inspired this piece, it was something to eat, which was well and good when there were lots of whales and when we didn't know anything about them. --Just as it was well enough and good enough for people to call Native Americans 'bloodthirsty savages,' and hunt them down and kill them to 'protect the women and children.' (Never mind that almost all the conflicts between Native Americans and Invading Americans took place because one group was moving into the territory of the other; that, too, is another article.)
There were lots of things we didn't use to know, as a species.
There were lots of observations we had not the personnel yet to make.
But things have changed.
We now have come to understand the beauty and depth of the religions practiced by the many and diverse Native American peoples. We are beginning to understand much better a great many of the Ethnic Religions practiced around the world, and throughout Human History. We begin to understand the need for traditions in all Human cultures, and we are trying to understand the sources of traditions in order to understand the whole grand sweep of what it means to be Human.
Inevitably, we come to understand that we are not alone in that highly significant arena of Human action, intelligence. As we seek to understand what intelligence is; as we explore the immense realm of consciousness; we note that other species than our own possess it: different from our own in particulars, but of the same substance.
The Whales seem to be among the Intelligent Inhabitants of our planet, and that, for me, changes the nature of the game.
Some traditions are of vital importance to a people, and an understanding of those traditions, a participation in them, is vital to the survival of both the group and the individuals of whom it is made. When some rites of passage are abandoned the glue which holds a society together loses its force, and civilization begins to disintegrate.
I spend a good deal of my time attempting to rescue traditions, rites of passage, and so forth, so please believe me when I say that I value these things. It is just that I also know the need for balance. I know that traditions serve us rather than us serving them (though some groups, and I don't need to say which, manage to get that turned around). --That some traditions come down to us with their vitality and necessity intact, and that some are vestigial; and it is not always easy to tell which is which.
That same chronoplasticity of the learning process which has allowed us to reevaluate our view of the biosphere is eventually going to teach us how to tell which of our fellow creatures is, in the long run, edible, and which should be treated with the respect due a creature of fellow sentience. It matters not if the Gray Whale has been removed from the Endangered Species List, if, in fact, the Whale turns out to be Another Shape of Human.
Back when it was credible to believe in Moby Dick it was also tolerable to light our houses with whale oil. Later than that, the Nazis thought it was reasonable to wash up with soap made from Jews; most of us didn't buy that for a second, but then, most of us understood that Human supersedes Religious or Ethnic Affiliation (many still don't).
If that Tribe in the North West has survived, as they say, for seventy years without killing a whale, then it occurs to me that the people of that Tribe must have strong traditions of many kinds with which to support their Ethos and their Identity. It also occurs to me that while the killing of a whale may contribute to the food supply, there have been other options over the last seventy years.
Some traditions need to be revived and treasured. Others, which may involve the killing of an intelligent fellow being, should be, if not abandoned outright, be kept in reserve until more information is available on the subject.
If we let the mere precedent of a tradition's existence serve as justification for its revival, then we just may be in trouble. People of Roman descent may decide to start throwing criminals to the lions for amusement once again. Wicker Men with helpless humans bound inside may once again blaze on the hilltops. We may see mountains of severed heads atop Aztec pyramids, perhaps from the wrong perspective: after all, it is a tradition which has been suppressed by a government instituted by an invading force.
Worse yet, the majority of the folks in the United States may seek to go back to their recent traditions of hornswoggling Native Americans out of everything they own, and then just killing them. I mean, the battle to get them to stop doing that is still going on, and is far from being won.
Then again, there are my own dear Irish ancestors. We used to be head hunters, not so very long ago.
And almost anybody, North Coast Native American, or Barbarian Celt from Bronze Age Europe, can count some cannibalism on the family tree.
Hell, if you are going to go around eating intelligent species, keep in mind how many more humans there are than whales or dolphins. If you want to stay with the tradition of living in harmony with nature, you have to keep in mind the changes that have taken place in the balances of nature herself over the last seventy years. --Start with the humans!
Change is necessary to survival. Out of change is tradition born. A good idea gets repeated.
--Moth N. Rust, 17 May 99
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Way back when I was young (in the dawn of history, or, for anyone under thirty, Before The Dawn Of History) communication with people who lived far away (more than fifty miles) was done in writing. Long distance telephone calls were too expensive for ordinary people, so one wrote letters. A letter cost a penny (one cent!) to send, and postcards sold at two for a penny. Travel was engaged in with much planning. A journey of ninety-two miles was a weekend trip, and one spent the money to call ahead and make sure relatives had room for one to stay.
People tended to parochial attitudes, and most really had no idea that other places had other customs. I remember, as the wide world began to open for me, the wonder with which I first saw Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra," and heard those wonderful lines:
"You must forgive Britannius: he is a Barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his island are the ways of the world."
Black people and White people did not go to school together.
This was an especially strange custom, for in our town the school for the White people was situated right across the street from the only settlement of Black people. The Black people had settled there after they built the railroad. That stretch of tracks was the oldest in the state, and that settlement of people had been living there since the introduction of the railroad. I have no idea how long the White people had been living there. The architecture of the Black houses tended toward two story, small, tall and thin. The White houses nearbye featured a few of those, but most were single story, bungalow type construction. I suspect that the Black people had lived there longer.
The Old Fire Department was right across the street from the Black settlement as well. The rest of the down spread out in the other direction, and was quite large in comparison to the single street of the Black community; thus, all us White kids had a long way to walk to get to school.
The way Thinking was constituted in those days, none of us ever thought of asking where the Black kids went to school. We never saw them trudging along with books and lunch boxes, which I suppose was the image of 'going to school' that was iconic in our little minds, so we didn't think of asking. It was a small town, we were Barbarians, and we thought the customs of our dwelling place were the ways of the world.
On some of those long, ninety-two mile trips that our family occasionally took we would add on extra trips to visit other relatives. One of those relatives was my Aunt Mary.
I had more than one Aunt Mary. One of my Aunt Marys said that she had been married to Fatty Arbuckle when the scandal broke. She lived with her new husband not far from my home, but we never saw much of her second husband. Children were required to enter, if at all, by the back door; and maintain complete silence. As her daughter was my favorite cousin I endured this many times. Now I wonder whether that second husband was the monster he was made out to be, or whether there were other problems.
Another Aunt Mary lived in the Country, in Chesterfield, which is near Smithfield. Chesterfield is the location of the Chesterfield cigarette factory. I don't know whether it is still there. I don't know whether they still make Chesterfield cigarettes. I only remember the wonderful smell of tobacco as we drove by. I was told how the tobacco leaves had to dry carefully in sheds before use, and how that was what I was smelling: the drying tobacco leaves. I could hardly wait until I was old enough to smoke cigarettes, so that I could actually taste the stuff that produced that wonderful smell.
Aunt Mary had a farm, and she grew two crops: corn and turnips. We would often make the journey to her farm at the time when the corn was coming in ripe because, I was told, 'roasting ears taste best when you pick them fresh.' I thought this was an odd description of corn, because it was never roasted; it was always boiled, and yes, it sure did taste good. (In later years I encountered the Native American custom of roasting the corn in a big pit. Maybe the reference came from Native Americans.)
Aunt Mary's other crop was turnips, a much-maligned vegetable but one which has many virtues. The trouble with turnips is that most people have never encountered one when it is fresh. Let me assure you that it is a different matter entirely to go out into a field, pull one up, bring it to the pump and wash it off, and eat it right then and there, raw: than it is to go to a supermarket and pick out a bunch of dehydrated, stored in a warehouse, and otherwise neglected turnips, only to bring them home and boil them into even more disheartened submission. The addition of butter does not restore the flavor lost between the farm and consumption.
Chesterfield had, in those days, the reputation of producing the world's best turnips, and, having tasted many turnips since, I am willing to accede to the reputation. However, I am not as well-travelled as I would like to be, and I must constantly remind myself that I grew up in parochial times: and how many 'world's best' I have seen advertised, usually in conflict with the same claim made in another place.
Chesterfield is not so far from Smithfield, and there, also, we had relatives. We didn't see those relatives as often, but I hold dear in my memory the delight of climbing into the big dog house out back with a wonderful hunting dog, a bloodhound, and how much more real is his face today than is the face of any of those relatives. I also remember the kerosene smell of the kitchen on that farm, and the taste of tomatoes and watermelons, picked fresh out of the field. --It was the custom to put a salt shaker in your pocket when you went out to the tomato fields, so that you could pick 'em and eat 'em at peak.
Let me assure you that those tomatoes you will see now in the stores with the vines still attached are well worth the enormous extra price. A tomato is a peculiar thing. It ripens on the vine, and on the vine only. If you pick it before it is ripe it stops developing flavor. You can gas shock it into turning red, but it simply cannot develop flavor without the vine. That is why most people in America today have no idea what a tomato is supposed to taste like; they have never tasted one!
When I lived in Upstate New York it was the custom to pull up the tomato vines when the frost arrived and put them in the garage, covered with old rugs and quilts. Each day Mom would go out, open the garage door, take off the covers, and let the sun work its magic. Thus we had tomatoes well into November, and they had flavor.
Until they started selling the kind with the vines attached, I never tasted a ripe tomato after I left New York.
Of course those grown in the South, with all that sunlight, were even better.
The main thing for which Smithfield was famous was the Smithfield Ham. One of my uncles actually produced Smithfield Hams, so it was a flavor with which I grew up: though even then the hams were so expensive that you didn't get them very often.
The raising of a Smithfield Ham was, in those days, a very particular process. The hogs were run wild in their youth, rooting through the woods and living on acorns and whatever they could find. When they were old enough, they were brought in from the woods and fed, for the last year of growth, exclusively on peanuts: then they were slaughtered. The hams were smoked exclusively with hickory wood, which in those days was possible, as there were plenty of hickory trees in the forest. The result was a long, very lean and very dry ham.
Yes, I said dry.
Some of you may remember the L'il Abner comic strip. In it a boy was given a Dogpatch Ham upon maturity, and it was expected to last him the rest of his life. That imaginary ham was surely based on the Smithfield Ham.
You didn't so much slice off a piece as shave it. So flavorful was the Smithfield Ham that a slice thin enough to see through was enough to make a sandwich; and that is what we were served, you can bet!
A makeshift substitute was James River Smithfield Spread, which was made with a little bit of Smithfield Ham and a lot of finely ground peanuts. Oh, how I loved that stuff! I was scolded on more than one occasion for using too much at once, but hey, I was only a kid. And now that I can't get it any more, I don't regret a single bite that I took back then.
Eat what you love while you can get it! Tomorrow it may become fashionable and be out of your price range.
After I came to California I found James River Smithfield Spread just once, and I bought it. I haven't seen it since.
I saw Smithfield Hams advertised as well, but they were selling in the range of $100 a ham, and that was way out of my budget.
Recently some of our local stores have begun to advertise what they call 'Smithfield Choice Hams,' or some such name. They show what appears to be an ordinary ham in the commercials, which I am sure is very good, and may even be a Virginia ham; maybe even raised near Smithfield. But it is NOT a Smithfield Ham.
I hear that my uncle who raised the hogs is dead. He was nearly ninety when I was young, so that is not surprising. Aunt Mary (who owned the farm) put my grandfather is a rest home, from which he had to be rescued by my kid brother, who took care of him until he died at age 99. She also ripped off everything that Grandpa had and sold it. I had always thought her a very nice person, but then, I was a kid.
I remember driving through Chesterfield, smelling the tobacco, and seeing a sign pointing to an Indian Reservation. I asked my grandfather, who was driving, if we could go see the Indians.
"No," he answered sternly. "That is their home. You don't go to a person's home and look at them as if they were a tourist attraction. That would be very bad manners indeed!"
As the town where we lived had a swamp (uphill) from the White end of town, I grew bolder and bolder in my explorations as I grew, and one day I made an amazing discovery. There, beyond the swamp, was a perfect duplicate of the school to which I went every day. Exactly the same school, except that all the children in the playground were Black. It didn't take me long to figure out that the reason we never saw the Black kids on the way to school was that they got up two hours earlier than we did, trudged the length through the White end of town, and went to school earlier. --And then they got out, walked all the way home, and passed our school while we were still in class. Society had so arranged things that we never actually saw each other, except as 'them kids over there will beat you up if you play with them;' which I am sure is precisely how it was supposed to be.
What an Amazing thing it was to discover, for both White and Black kids, that all 'them' had other things to think about than beating up the other guy.
When the prospect of Integration of the Schools reared its head we had two rumors of equal importance on the playground. One was that if a Democrat was elected we would have to go to school with Black kids. The other was that if a Republican was elected we would have to go to school on weekends. I don't know which was less desired: I suspect the weekends.
As it happened, a Republican got elected and eventually there stopped being separate schools.
I also got old enough to smoke cigarettes, and discovered that they didn't taste anything like the wonderful smell of curing tobacco. They were kind of nasty. But then, wine never tastes as good as it sounds on paper, either.
Only chocolate lives up to its public relations. It always tastes better than it sounds.
--Moth N. Rust, 9 May 99
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This was posted on April 5, 1999
The Delusional Nature of Reality
It the old days (say thirty years ago) it was popular for characters in works of fiction, or in psychiatric analysis, to say to one another things like: "You've got to stop living a lie! You have to come to grips with reality!" --and stuff like that. I am told that psychiatrists and their ilk still seem to place some value on the so-called 'real world,' and the attempt of the patient (victim) to live in it.
I am afraid I find the very idea to be a worse delusion than problems which people flock to these well meaning witch doctors to address.
There was a time when there was something in the way of 'agreed upon reality,' and a majority of people understood what was meant by it. Such a state no longer exists: the villian in the matter, if there is a villian, is the advertising mentality of Madison Avenue.
People too young to have experienced this agreed-upon reality will perhaps be shocked to learn that many people were indignant to learn there Was No Betty Crocker; that Ms. Crocker was one of the early Invented People of advertising. She was a picture on a box, and people thought she was a real person. Later an actress (recently deceased) played her when television came along. But unlike earlier people pictured on boxes, whose existence was used to bolster the sales value of the product, Betty was an invention.
Well enough. But after the invented person, which we could sort of accept, we got the Invented History. A new, and previously unknown, product could readily be marketed as an old and tried commodity by the simple process of inventing an inventor for it, inventing a long history for it, inventing generations of satisfied customers for it.
When people tired of 'new' as an epitaph for a product (which they might have been using for years, and which, by reading the box, they could see had not changed in any way) the 'old' became a powerful ally of the adverts.
(I am coining a word here, folks. In a world where gender is not relevent to the commission of a crime, it is no longer suitable to talk about 'admen,' as if women could not be just as deceptive; and I just won't go for a beastly construction like 'adperson,' which looks silly. So I am going to call them Adverts, on the anology of Perverts.)
Suddenly, as people began to trust products which were tried and true rather than new and blue, we discovered our shelves stocked with old reliable brands of which nobody had ever before heard, their merits lauded by elderly actors and actresses who were supposed to be their originators.
I remember the story of a Advert who decided there ought to be a "Gay Beer," and set out to invent one. After all, there was a Surfer's Beer (the watery Coors) and a Working Guy's Beer (the deservedly popular and genuinely old Budweiser) so why not a Gay Beer? This clever person approached the problem by finding (we are told) a brewery with a label with the Advert thought would appeal to Gay people. Said Advert bought up the label, filled it with nondescript beer, and sold in as an old and reliable brand (it may even have been at one time) at ridiculously low prices to Gay Bars.
Gay Bar owners, not being stupid, were happy enough to buy the stuff at $2.98 a CASE, and stock it as their cheapest beer.
The Advert was proud of having achieved a product identification for a minority group; and promptly raised the price.
At which point the Gay Bars went back to Dos Equis, which is what is usually the house beer in (West Coast, at least) Gay Bars.
I also remember shopping at The Gap, when it was a place you went to buy Levis cheap. It was a pretty good store back then, and I bought some jeans.
I don't wear out my jeans as fast as fashionable people, so it was a while before I went back for some more; and was horrified to discover that The Gap had become a 'fashion,' store, full of boring and vastly overpriced clothes.
In recent years The Gap (I am told) has launched a new project, the Old Navy stores: which are neither old nor have anything to do with the Navy. (Any Navy.)
The hallmark of these new stores is the advertising. I am sure you have seen the brilliantly produced television spots featuring an older woman with enormous eyeglasses, a nice looking dog, some celebraties who need the cash, and some dorky-looking extras. The ads are designed to send you rushing to these new Old stores to buy their clothing, and they have certainly spent a lot of cash on production values and the invention of semi-engaging characters to give the stores an 'identity.'
In the one they have been showing this week there is a big, Busby Berkeley style song and dance number, with a typewriter setting that puts on in mind of Shinbone Alley, the show based on Archy and Mehitabel.
The trouble is, a Busby Berkeley number is about glamour; and my, how they add tries to tell us these fashions are glamourous!
But folks: these 'fashions' look like maybe they were a bad idea that The Gap couldn't sell. Draw-string pants in drab blues and greys that look like prison underwear designed for a concentration camp. They are the exact opposite of anything that could be considered glamorous, no matter how much the inmates wearing them sing and dance. This is clothing that Bart Simpson would be embarrassed to wear!
But people will buy them, and people will wear them, and some people will be foolish enough to think these clothes make them glamorous. And why?
Because people are raised from earliest childhood to be Consumers. (Have you seen the mineature shopping carts with the little flag that says 'consumer in training?' Have you noticed how television anchors have substituted the word 'consumer' for 'the American People?') And to be a consumer, you have to believe the claims of the Adverts. Your view of reality must be conditioned not by any external and agreed upon set of facts, but upon a set of illusions invented (and the word is INVENTED, not 'created,' folks: none of this crap has anything to do with creativity) for the sole purpose of selling products.
The figures of History have been replaced with a series of illusions in which Salvidor Dali and Toulous-Latrec are working on the production line for the new Mercedes. --It seemed innocent enough when Fred Astaire's widow let his computer image dance with a vacuum cleaner; but did anybody ask Dali or Lautrec in they wanted to appear in overalls working on a car?
Sure, you say, it's only a clever illusion and nobody believes in it. But when the college student on the street doesn't know which sides were which in the Second World War, but Does Know the names of everybody in the cast of Rosanne, there is serious doubt of the ability of ordinary folks to tell the difference between the very Real Julia Childs and the very illusory Betty Crocker.
I can see people out there now, buying their prison underwear at unbelievable high prices and marching proudly into the wonderful new vacation resort at Dachau.
Could a psychiatrist today in any good conscience tell a patient to wake up to reality, when reality has become a commercial illusion?
What You Think is All There Is!
--Moth N. Rust, March 28, 1999
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This was cycled here on April 5, 1999
When Russia Was Another World
2 February 1999
During the last week I finally had a chance to
watch the video of Leonid Lavrovsky's film of the Prokofiev ballet of
"Romeo and Juliet," which Lavrovsky also choreographed. The name
attraction of this film is, of course, the documentation of the
dancing of Galina Ulanova.
Years ago I saw Ulanova dance the balcony scene on television. I don't remember the details, just the dancing and that it was in black and white; but I really wanted to see her dance the whole thing, and I wanted to see a Russian choreography for the ballet, which I assumed would be very different from the wonderful San Francisco Ballet production of some years ago.
I had no idea how different!
During the years in which Russia held to a Communist philosophy of government a great schism occurred between Eastern and Western Block artistic philosophies. The Government constrained its artists to produce works which would be popular with the masses; and, coincidentally, with Josef Stalin. (Lest anyone thing I am about to make a traditional Right-Wing diatribe, let it be noted that during those same years the United States Government maintained its own kind of somewhat more subtle constraint. Anybody remember the outrage when the U.S. Government banned Mark Blitzstein's opera "The Cradle Will Rock"?) Stalin's likes and dislikes made life for many Soviet artists pure Hell; but the schism forced Soviet artists to achieve within extreme limits, and it is the dialogue, or rather battle, between constraint and freedom that produces that tension which elevates art into Art. --One does not write a successful symphony by simply destroying the form. One may compose something else that is marvelous, but it is no longer a symphony.
Soviet music and Soviet film making were both subject to Stalin's very catholic (snigger snigger) tastes, and the lack of free artistic communication left Soviet artists with only the artistic materials of the recent past with which to work. Shostokovich raged inside and veiled his rage in programs designed to delude the censors, for the most part quite successfully. His music continues to grow in popularity, especially now that American audiences need no longer feel threatened by listening to something composed by a communist. Eisenstein used extremely limited means to achieve films of unprecedented grandeur and depth, and despite constant government interference, his work stands as a testament to the heroic: that which goes beyond the limits in spite of those limits being insurmountable.
Nowhere does the convergence of film and music become more significant, however, than in the person of Serge Prokofiev. He wrote films scores as well as symphonies, solo pieces, ballets and operas. He had planned to collaborate with Walt Disney on "Peter and the Wolf," until he went home to Russia: Disney eventually made the film anyway.
His score for "Alexander Nevsky" has become a treasured choral masterpiece, and the suite from his score for the social comedy "Lt. Kije" has long been in the classical repertoire as a standard.
But cut off from dialogue with the West, a strange and wonderful back and forth play of materials has taken place. His score for the wonderful film of "Ivan the Terrible" has been turned into a ballet; and his ballet of "Romeo and Juliet" has been turned into a film.
Which brings us back to the beginning.
If Lavrovsky had merely chosen to film a ballet with a magnificent star, it would have been quite wonderful. But, with the constant desire of the film director to 'open up' the visual elements of the work, Lavrovsky to make a film in its own right. And he was in a remarkable artistic position to do so.
Soviet film making always drew on the traditions of Russian theater, and Russian theater, more than any other, was oriented toward spectacle. Russian opera makes unique use of the chorus, almost like the Greeks, as a kind of collective character; really necessary when you have stories requiring giant coronations, huge parties, and whole religious communities setting fire to themselves. It is this element of visual spectacle that Soviet film drew to itself early on, and which it maintained into a time when Western film making moved away from spectacle (the most natural milliue of film) and toward more intimate story-telling.
The result was a film that developed in an entirely different way from that in the West. A film that grew out of, rather than in opposition to, the techniques of Silent Film. Broad gesture and extremity of interpretation were not laughed off as outmoded by the Soviets; they were embraced as part of the general language of technique, and as such, continued to develop. Oddly enough, sincerity lasted longer despite the constraints; and it shows.
Lavrovsky was clear-sighted enough to realize that a ballet film is essentially a silent film. (And never let it be forgot that silent films were never silent: there was always music.) The story could be told with both the techniques of dance and the techniques of the camera. To the broad use of body language could be added the intimacy of the close-up, and to the opulence of setting could be added the roaming point of view of the camera.
For the first few minutes of the film one forgets that one is watching a ballet. Lavrovsky's choreography is so melded to his vision as a director (of film) that the fact of dance itself becomes irrelevant. Rather, huge crowds move in complex chaos that seems to have had the music composed to accompany it, rather than the other way around. It is a silent movie in the most gorgeous (almost psychedelically heightened) colors with the most wonderful music one can imagine.
And this quality of story-telling maintains. Only on occasion does a character break out into clearly identifiable dance; and then the dancing is so flawlessly lovely that it doesn't matter that one seems to have moved, seamlessly, from one art form to another.
Soviet film making did miss the boat in several important areas of expression. Transitions are less that graceful. At times the camera is not able to control the material which it needs to contain. But here is a film, made in the 50s, that maintains the purity and sincerity which was lost when Talkies were introduced in the West.
That something of genuine value was lost is evidenced by the number of attempts that have been made to make a silent film in the modern era. Yes, we have gained a great deal; but it would be nice to have it all.
I spoke with an acquaintance recently who had just been to see the new version of "The Thin Red Line," and he was terribly disappointed. With all the technological advances which have been made in film making in recent years (a big round of applause for George Lucas, please!) one would think that a film maker would take the trouble to examine the people of a period about which he or she chooses to make a film. My acquaintance complained that although the action and the camera were wonderful, the actors spent all their time mugging 90s teen cynicism and angst: the exact opposite of the sincerity necessary in a story of people who, for the most part, had some idea why they were fighting, and what for.
My own personal list of objections in this category is headed by an otherwise fascinating film, John Sayles "Eight Men Out." The director spent a great deal of money recreating the clothes, the cars, the houses and the relationships of the infamous Black Sox Scandal; but not an ounce of creativity in getting his actors to convey the reality of people in the period. He has them running across the field throwing their legs around each other, and other intimacies that (while I embrace them in our own times) would have scandalized the men and women of the era. It destroyed the whole film by causing me to 'not believe' what was happening before me. It reminded me constantly that it was only a play, not the real thing.
The same was true of the award winning revival of "Our Town" a couple of years ago, where everybody went around hi-fiving each other. Sorry, it was not turn of the century Grovers Corners anymore, it was the backyard behind Rosanne's place.
One of the central artistic problems of our time is: how far back do you have to step before you can see the picture? How much of what is current can you, or must you, include before you can make a recognizable reality? How can you guess what will be forgotten and unintelligible, and how can you know what will not?
One thing is certain: if you use slang, make sure you use it correctly and in period. "That Seventies Show" was going along pretty well until the hero said "That Sucks" about twelve time in a row. Even the kid at our gas station commented on it, knowing full well it was wrong.
The logic, I suppose, is that one wants to communicate with the audience, and that the audience won't understand the slang of another time. That is totally wrong. Nothing is so charming to young people as the quaint ways their elders used to talk. Occasionally they become so entranced with it that they adopt it anew: witness 'groovy,' reintroduced in the Sixties by young people who had rediscovered classic Jazz musicians. Or 'right on,' as adopted by the Black Power movement from Shakespearean English. (I'd love to trace the route by which that happened!)
I suppose the thesis of this roundabout essay is that a certain purity of expression will, in the end, win out. After we have finished being embarrassed by the techniques our parents used, we will come around to appreciating those works which were not done with too much self-consciousness or too much currency.
Lavrovsky chose a subject, Romeo and Juliet, that would not get him hassled by the censors. He then brought to bear on it everything in the arsenal of Soviet artistic expression. Because that arsenal was not equipped with 'the latest thing' it stood outside of time and produced a work which is still viable and which still communicates in a way that, if not timeless, is still less time bound that almost everything else produced in the same atmosphere.
On the other hand, it may bore the hell out of you. As Mom used to say: "It's all a matter of taste; as the old woman said when she kissed the cow."
You can see the film for yourself if your are interested. The copy that I watched was purchased from Kultur, which I suspect may even have a web site.
And that's all the news from Boggs Mountain.
--Moth N. Rust
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This was Cycled to The Stoa on March 10, 1999
It was Posted on: February 13, 1999
Disaster In Cyberspace
By way of explanation: You will have been
reading my copy from last September for a while now. Things got a
little hectic the last quarter of the year.
But as the year changed I started churning out a little more: and the Bagel promptly uploaded it: and the Server went down. The Server had an old backup, so... There you were with September again.
As soon as the Server was up again the Bagel decided it was time to upgrade, and he got work in trade for computer parts. My prophetic nature told me (and warned him) that this would result in our gateway to the Internet being closed for a long while, and (as always) he assured me it would take only a few minutes for the upgrade to take place.
When you will get to read the last column, plus what I write beyond it, I don't know. Keep coming back, and maybe you will find something interesting herein.
January 31st, the occasion of the largest and most widely-celebrated religious festival on Earth: the Superbowl.
Yes, it is true! More people celebrate this ritual in common than any other. More people, all over the world, join their minds and hearts in focus of this one football game than join in the celebration of any of the great festivals of any of the great religions.
I have suggested on more than one occassion to members of magic-using religions that the group mind thus formed could produce the energy to bring about world peace, the cure for cancer and AIDS, or any number of other great benefits. Alas, the responses tend in only two directions: "What, me watch football? Gross!" or "Yes, I do ritual during the half-time, but I have more important things than world peace or curing AIDS. I have to bring down Lady High Priestess Cabbage Blossom Fuzzy Bunny Slippers for the way she treated me at the last Solstice!"
No matter how great the opportunity, the human mind can turn it trivial and miss the boat.
Take computers, for instance, and the Internet.
The computer has the potential of accomplishing virtually all the technological dreams extrapolated by us humble science fiction writers for the last hundred years. (I leave to your imagination, trained or not, the possible extrapolations.) And indeed, even poor people in the ghetto now frequently possess computers, and their enormous potential. But what are these marvelous machines actually used for.
Mostly games. Violent games.
Which is a good idea, because if you are using a computer Ouzii to blow away hundreds of bad guys on your computer every minute or so, you may not need the rush that comes from blowing away somebody down the block with your oiled steel model. --You can save that thrill for a competitor in your drug sales: which you have been tracking with software in another directory, if you have the brains to keep track of your business life between playing shoot-em-up and selling crack.
The average person buys a computer with the best possible intentions. To keep track of the family finances, help with taxes, give the children every advantage in school. But this same average person quickly becomes bored with learning the software to handle the books, ends up turning over the taxes to a highly paid professional, and eventually discovers that the only thing the kids want to do on the thing is play shoot-em-up games or surf to the chat rooms they are not supposed to enter to talk about things their parents are too hung up to discuss.
When Eric Drexler wrote "Engines of Creation" he presented a grand and noble vision of the intellectual tool which would eventually become the Internet. A constant dialogue between scientists and researchers in every field. No idea would be too small or wild to be given consideration. Every discovery and theorum would be subject to instantaneous testing and review, and the whole broad spectrum of human knowledge would leap ahead exponentially, unfettered by the slow process of editorial selection and publishing on paper.
He did not take into account that the same self-possessed people who had ignored ideas and theorums in the realm of paper publishing could continue to ignore the ideas and theorums in the electronic world. Reputations are more important than facts when it comes to tenure and salary. If someone cites data that seems to disagree with your opinions, run your degrees up the flagpole and fill your cannon with mud. There is no surer military understanding than how hard it is to mount an uphill assault. Dare to suggest that the man on top is possibly less than correct in his assumptions and you very well may lose your reputation and your livelihood.
Though there is certainly a wonderful lot of stuff accomplished through the use of the Internet, the reality of its use is one of sub-teens filling cyberspace with inane recollections of what happened at school and calling each other offensive names. Of slightly older morons relating sex lives that, if bottled, could provide somnolance to the sleepless millions. Of people whose minds stopped growing long before their bodies issuing sweeping political manifestoes that divulge their familiarity with the subject to culled from reruns of situation comedies on television.
The greatest impact of the computer on society has been economic, not scientific.
What computers do best is sell upgrades.
No sooner has a system been purchased than the introduction of software requiring more of something makes it obsolete.
(Why do I suddenly have a vision of Tim Taylor sitting in front of his monitor yelling "More Memory!")
It is not what the computer might be able to accomplish that is the attraction, but possession of the technology itself.
Many years ago America revolutionized a part of its economy by introducing high fidelity music systems, followed in a couple of years by high fidelity stereo. The difference between the new sound systems and the old was astonishingly apparent the moment one listened, and people (mostly men in those days) worked hard to earn enough money to buy those very expensive new systems.
I remember the excitement with which the owner of such a system would invite one in for a demonstration.
"Now listen to this! --Hear it? That's a steam engine coming in from the left channel... There it goes, right through the room, and away out the left channel! Wow!"
It was not that people wanted to hear music better or clearer. Most of the people who bought these systems had no interest at all in music. Oh, sure, they would have one or two albums, because it was expected: maybe Jackie Gleason conducting his own orchestra in sachrine arrangements of romantic standards; but the real point was to have the latest technology, a piece of electronic gear that could accomplish something: whether or not it was anything you really wanted to accomplish.
The automobile had become too expensive a plaything for this sort of potlatch display. Stereo cost less, and one could still afford to tinker with it. Then people grew accustomed to quality sound (if they noticed it at all) and the computer came along to fill the gap.
When I first studied the use of computers the college made a big deal of analyzing the job in order to determine if a computer was a good way of handling it. Such criteria have long dissappeared as the real thrust of computer technology has moved from "What can it do?" to "How can we market it?"
The parents who not long ago looked down their noses at parents who parked their children before the Boob Tube now sit smugly content in their superiority over those benighted fools, while their children play "Doom" instead of watching "Sesame Street."
The children display admirable skill in all things electronic. They can pick up the remote control from a strange new VCR and program it without any forethought at all: and certainly without reading the instructions. They can turn on a computer and have complete control over its contents in only a minute or two. They can log on to the Internet and in a matter of seconds find exactly what they want. (They don't have to wade through the density of university data bases designed to keep knowledge out of the hands of people without degrees, of course; there is nothing in those data bases to attract their interest anyway.)
Chances are what they want is either a commercial sales enterprize or a chat room or an on-line game.
Alas, these same children would be totally lost in a library full of books. Most of them have never read a book willingly, and their research skills consist of asking Yahoo to do the walking through the Cyberpages. (A recent report indicates that search engines only search about 18% of the data available to them, which may explain why they never find anything for which I am looking.)
In the future all reseach will funded by young teens buying games.
In my youth my least favorite assignment in school was to look up the definitions of words in the dictionary. I didn't like to do it because it took so long. I would turn those great big pages, working my way toward the word in question, and there would be some curious word whose meaning I just had to know. And once the process of actually reading had begun, why, there was always another interesting word, and another, and another.
I still suffer from the same affliction, and it has now carried over to the use of the Internet, where it is much worse. I search, I find a huge number of listings, and most of them have nothing to do with that for which I made the search. --But so many of them are interesting in their own right that I just have to take a look, and then...
Not merely hours are lost, as in the search through the dictionary. Days, even weeks, can be lost in the pursuit of unrelated knowledge.
But then, creativity has been linked to the tendency to build nonsense groups. To relate things which have no actual connection, logical or otherwise. One takes a bunch of ideas, one throws them up in the air, watches them come down, then looks for a pattern in the random arrangements which result.
I have been told many times that I excel in the creative. I ceertainly hope so! It would be a compensation for my other inadequacies. But I suspect it is just a nice way that people have of telling me that I am a scatterbrained idiot, and grumpy to boot.
And for the moment, that's all the news from Boggs Mountain.
--Moth N. Rust
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This was cycled here on 2-13-99
January 5th, 1999
It's the night before Twelfth Night, in Old '99.
That could be the beginning of a long poem,
probably a parody, but I just don't have it in me. What I have
instead is annual bout of something like a cold, something like the
flu, something that makes me absolutely miserable. The plan for today
was to work, in the lovely, balmy weather, on the roof of the Tea
Neither Jonathon nor I was up to it. Had there not been dire necessity, we would have been up to nothing for nothing. But, the puppies had to be walked, and the current issue of The Serpentine Leopard, which I was supposed to mail yesterday, had to be folded, collated, and put in the mail today. The next event is this coming weekend.
Fortunately, I forsaw some difficulty in getting out an issue right before the event, and so warned subscribers of the date and place in the last issue. This issue, arriving just before the event, will be a reminder.
I wonder at times, in the best anthropological manner, if the event or the myth came first. The divers religious calenders around the world list December 25th as the birthday for something on the order of 45 deities. Clearly it is important to celebrate at this time of year, and, if the anthropological point of view is to be taken, the birthdays were added by way of myth to explain the festivities. But what exactly happened, and how far back, and to how many people?
I suspect it was the The Common Cold. I suspect that everybody was miserable from having caught the Common Cold at the last outdoor festival of the year, and some bright being though of the idea of celebrating a warm, indoor festival; or at least a festival with a big, big fire to drive away the sniffles and the chest congestion and that achy breaky all over feeling that the world would be better if it were ended immediately.
(And no, oh copy editors, brought up under the malicious tutelage of the Chicago Style Manual: 'were' is used correctly in the above sentance. It should NOT be was. There are more tenses in English than are dreamt of in your catechisms.)
The idea that the God celebrated at this season should be of an ecstatic nature may derive from the halucinatory quality of fever: one of the few compensations of this miserable malady. Personally, now that I no longer drink alchohol to get blitzed, I can look back and realize that a good fever provides just about the exact same interior sensation as a little too much to drink. --And a high fever with vomiting will take you all the way to over-indulgence in alchohol every time.
Is it possible that our ancestors discovered this remarkable similarity in sensations? Is it possible that the drinking of alchohol was an attempt on the part of religious technology to reproduce the genuine outside-of-ones-self experience of fever?
This could lead to some dangerous ideas!
Suppose our Native American forebears thought up the sacrament of smoking in response to the alteration of consciousness that comes about when you sit on the wrong side of the fire and suffer ceremonial smoke inhalation?
Oh, but a stuffy nose doth send the cynical mind scurrying down the darkest corridors of theological and aetiological speculation!
On a brighter note, the nine months of preparation through which I have just gone did in fact result in a remarkable pot pourri, which resulted in Jon and I having a few gifts to give to those closest. Well, maybe I had better rephrase that. We had enough to give to Some of those closest, and as soon as we get some more jars of the right size and shape we will have a few more; but not nearly so many as we would like.
On the other hand, this is a recipe which makes a pot pourri designed to last 50 to a 100 years. (If the one you have has gone faint, try adding a little brandy.) I know of the possibility of this sort of thing because when I was about 14 a man gave me one.
He was a very interesting man, a Mr. Kidwell by name, and he said he had played for the Philadelphia Athletics in their first year as a professional baseball team. He game me a number of wonderful things, most of which were stolen during a move my family made; but among them was a Chinese Pot Pourri jar containing Victorian Pot Pourri; and it still smelled wonderful after all those years, without the brandy. Not until I got this batch mixed did I again experience that warm, wonderful smell.
I found the recipe in a small English paperpack in a used bookstore last year. It is for moist pot pourri, as oppossed to the usual dry variety. That means you spend the summer gathering rose petals, pressing them down in a big jar, and putting a layer of salt on top. This effectively pickles them. At the end of the summer you add herbs and spices and such, then you let it mellow. (Hmmm. I'm trying to learn to mellow myself: maybe if I add herbs and spices? Isn't that how you mummify?) the main thing to remember is that a pot pourri jar has to seal tightly when it is not in use. The lady who wrote the book recommends you keep it near the door and open it when you have guests.
In America people tend to keep it in the bathroom, and open it when they have bowel movements.
From the profound to the profane, and all in one sentance. I think the fever is coming on again. The radio is playing the bachanale from Sampson and Delilah, which is a splendid opera despite the fact that people worshipping Dagon probably would not have been doing a dance in honor of Dionysos. However, to Saint Saens credit, all the best music goes to the Pagans.
In my youth there was a discussion at the local science fiction club about the phrase 'pagan splendor.' The famous fan Bob Pavlat cited one of the only two covers ever to grace Astounding Science Fiction with a semi-clad Babe. It was to illustrate Murry Leinster's story "Sand Doom" and the young lady illustrated was a Native American Steel Worker: the hero was sweating in a heavy survival suit, by the by.
My vision of Pagan Splendor came more from another Bibical Epic, a film called "The Prodigal." What I remember most about the film was Lana Turner standing on top of a giant golden bull's head, wearing only a few strategically pasted-on gems. For me, the girl was not enough. Like any priceless jewel or work of art, she needed to be properly framed and set off, so that she could be appreciated. You don't tack a Rembrandt to the bathroom wall. (Er, well, my Lady has, in fact, moved my Renoir to the downstairs bathroom, where she says it fits the decor better and where more people will see it above the Delft basin, but still...)
I think I'd better sign off now. Jonathon has the computer working (again) and it's been a while since I wrote anything new, and besides, it is our movie night. I think we are going to watch "Ivan the Terrible" and "The Wrong Box." I think that's Pushkin and Robert Lewis Stevenson.
I think I need another sacramental celebration of this season of the year. Something in the way of a hot tea, with Ma Huang, licorice, peppermint, and maybe some lime juice.
Neither alchohol nor tobacco does anything to relieve the Sacred Mid Winter Common Cold.
Moth N. Rust
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This was cycled here on 1-05-99
Trials & Tribulations
Well, here we are some months later than the last installment. We honestly expected to update everything every month, but the phone got disconnected, so we have to update the page from another location; that's ok, it will save us money at a time when we really need it. It is now September 18th, and another issue of the Leopard is about to come out. Mind you, there hasn't been a lot of help or cooperation in getting it out; but that is par for the course in a newsletter.
I did not get to see Roger Daltry.
As winter approaches the Tea House has had some work done on it, but somehow winter is approaching faster than I expected and I have had an offer for work which is likely to mean that I have to put everything back under the damned tarp for another year.
The roses have pretty much finished blooming. I am putting in some more, but the body makes it hard to get down and dig. I think, to put it bluntly, that I am falling apart.
This period is not without it's lighter side. Mr. Bagel had work for a while, so some of the bills are caught up. And, there is the Presidential Follies. Honestly folks, for Fifty Million Dollars I would have blown the President myself, and kept my mouth shut afterward. But no, Miss Monica had to violate the prime directive for Star F*ckers. (In case you don't know, that is what you call a person who gets her or his kicks by sleeping with celebrities.) One can show one's notches to acquaintances, but not to the media. In the event that one's acquaintance decides to tape the tell all tale, one simply denies it.
Do you have any idea how much plain old Good the government could have done with Fifty Million Dollars? Feed the poor, build affordable housing, treat the sufferings of those who might have been cured of serious deadly diseases if the bucks hadn't been spent on warfare or the questionable waster of the 'war on drugs'?
I'd rather they spent MY Fifty Million Dollars on Space Travel: we could send all the useless politicians to the Sun, where more than their brains could get fried. And now, NOW, the Republican Party, that staunch body with such a long record of opposing pornography, or anything vaguely explicit in the line of sex, has, in one fell swoop, become the biggest supplier of free smut in the history of the world. (Well, excluding the people who publish Bibles, of course.) They are providing everybody with material which they would happily ban if anybody else committed it to paper. Is it possible that some of those states which extradite people across state lines for the verbal depiction of sex to subpoena the entire Congress on charges of distributing a really, really dirty book?
Ok, so maybe Mr. Clinton lied: isn't that one of the qualifications for ANY political office in America, or anywhere? I mean, Jeez! Didn't anybody listen when he said "Don't ask, don't tell!"?
So far as we know, he is not nasty to Hillary about the affairs he has had: like Eisenhower. He didn't knock her up and then wait for three months to marry her, like Reagan. He didn't commit major criminal acts against the people (well, maybe in some states The Act might still be defined that way) like Nixon.
There was a time when the vice president of this country could show up at the inaugural ball in drag and, though people made snotty comments, nobody thought it was grounds for impeachment.
(Can you tell that I am gearing up for Mark Twain again? Is my inherent cynicism beginning to surface?)
My own word processor is covered in dust. I haven't answered letters in months: my apologies, I will answer your letters as soon as I can. When I don't write I start feeling real bad about myself, and I haven't written anything since January; nobody has bothered to read what I wrote last year, so why bother?
I DID finish the Wiccan Reqium.
But I just lost another person dear to me, so I feel like writing more death music. I would rather compose something like the Delius Mass of Life.
Yesterday I saw that Wall-Mart is putting in it's Christmas stock! It was bad enough to see all the Halloween stuff this early! (Not as bad as last year, when Christmas entered the stores in August, and you were sick, sick, sick of it by mid September.
Sorry if this is all pretty grim, but I am getting in the Christmas spirit in spite of myself. Bah! Humbug!
I'm going to curl up with a warm dog or two now. I would advise you to do the same.
(Is anybody there? Does anybody care?)
(I do, Mr. Adams.)
(Yeah, but we're all dead for two hundred years now! You know what Ben Franklin told me the other day?)
("If you give Congress the power to tax the people, it Will!")
And I guess for tonight that is all the news from Boggs Mountain.
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A Misspent Life
As we begin the month of Hekatombaion I reflect on
a misspent life. I could have been a bank robber or a computer
salesman or even a politician; but no, I became a writer, thus
finding myself associating with a much worse criminal element than
any of the above mentioned professions would have forced upon me. I
know of no other profession in which it is Usual to have to sue your
employer for your earnings. One SOB seems to have sold out of the
edition in the two years since last he paid me. Another won't bother
to reply to letters, e-mail or telephone calls. She has sent word
that she knows she owes me money, but she has not got the good grace
to tell me whether she considers the book in or out of print. Two
years is a long, long time to have to wait for a paycheque. --Last
time I called the guy in New York I was told he was off in Palm Beach
I take solace in my garden. The roses are blooming
in great variety if not quantity: although each year brings more
quantity as well as quality. The first blooms on a pale and puffy
eglantine from the late 1700s are quite rewarding. The Robert Leopold
moss rose is a beautiful as I had hoped. Snowfire, Las Vegas, Smoky,
and a miniature called Amber Flash all bloom under the bedroom
window. And a wonderful rose called Alchemyst that is yellow to
orange and every shade of peach in between has just opened. And with
the new fence in, the rabbits may even let my one lone dahlia bloom
for the first time.
This last week we heard the Mahler 8th for the
first time live. It was splendid. Got me fired up to get back and
finish the music on which I've been working since March. But this
morning the computer screwed up: it was not pretty. Had anyone come
to the door I think I should have delighted in tearing our his or her
heart and force feeding it to the donor. There being no volunteers, I
managed to get the portable music machine from the bedroom to the
kitchen (the amp has died) and listen to Messian's Turingalila
Symphony, which calmed me down as I did dishes and convinced me there
might be a future. Tonight Mr. Bagel fixed the problems, and tomorrow
I may actually get back to work.
We got the Serpentine Leopard (#39) in the mail
last Wednesday, and another issue is not due until the Equinox, so
there ought to be time to finish the music (A requiem for my brother,
but a sort of a Wiccan Requiem in structure, based on poems from his
last book) and maybe even write a few more stories. I would like to
get back to the novel, but since my agent has not corresponded in two
years now... (What is it with people not communicating with me for
I guess I have driveled on enough for a while. I
told you last installment that I could string words together. I
didn't say anything about them being fraught with meaning. However,
you may now have some idea what sort of person partners the host of
this Web Page.
Mr. Bagel tells me as I write this that next
installment we may move up to being a full-fledged Web Site. I will
continue to read and write and recommend books, and chances are he
will continue the revues. --Although I may offer opinions once in a
while. I think I over dosed on being a critic in the early
If any of my publishers (besides the one Good
Publisher, who just did pay me) then I would sure like to see Roger
Daltry when he comes to our neighborhood.
And I guess for tonight that is all the news from Boggs Mountain.
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Herewith the copy from last year's "Welcome to the Lodge"
It has been a dreadful summer! I am told the cause is astrological, and I am willing to blame the stars; its a lot better than blaming the peculiarities of the human condition. Everything has been moving, and without the least consideration for the humans involved. First off, this website has moved, as you may have noticed if you have got here. Mr. Bagel, the man who made the website, has moved out of the Rhinoceros Lodge, and will be developing a new website at the old address. He will, we hope, still be writing for us, and we are making sure his space is available to him. His Lady, Kim, will also have a space here to write whatever she wants. She is lovely, charming, and intelligent. We are hoping for some music and film reviews from her, and even that she will consent to a picture, shy though she is.
The nature of the writing game has moved to a new arena. You will find more details under the Patron of the Arts section.
The ground in Turkey has even moved, with the unfortunate result, as of this writing, of at least ten thousand dead. Next to that, our problems seem small.
Mr. Bagel's computer got moved, and that resulted in our not having access to the website for updating. Whew!
I continue to hope that those of you who have visited our site enjoy it. We will probably always be under construction, still adding and updating new stuff; so keep checking in. We would like to upload a new page once a month. Really we would!
We are still associates of Amazon.com, so
that we can promote and sell the books and stories we write or
admire. As some members of the family write fast (and some slow)
there could be new books in the store every time.
But we're not rich kids and we can't afford the $150 lots of search engines charge to list a web site. So please, if you enjoy The Rhinoceros Lodge, please tell your friends and give them our address!
Top Rhino, New Editor
E-Mail me at :"RhinocerosLodge@pon.net".
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---Just a word about the graphics of this page. The gorgeous paisley background was found somewhere by Mr. Bagel, in the days when I didn't know HTML from LSMFT. He installed it, and I am really happy with it. I leave it to you to decide whether that makes me an Aging Hippie or a Victorian Gentleman addicted to hanging around is Houses of Ill Repute.
The equally opulent gold diveder bars I found by myself while surfing the net. (Imagine me, who didn't learn to swim until he was 35, surfing in Cyberspace!) They were made by Dorothy, and you can find many more of her elegant concoctions by pushing the button below.