Happy Birthday, Franklin Delano Roosevelt!

Our country sucks right now, but with any luck, someday we'll have another strong, intelligent, proudly LIBERAL and talented president like yourself to save the country all over again.

Thanks for Social Security. And for getting us out of that whole Depression thing, and for putting together the Federal Reserve Bank system, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Works Progress Administration, and winning WWII, and all your work for the whole UN thing, and the nine Supreme Court Justices you nominated, and subsidizing people like Zora Neale Hurston and Alan Lomax and the unemployed and so on.

You rock, Franklin Delano Roosevelt!



This explains so much.

"One of the major controlling elements in Filipino society--undetected by most visitors--is hiya, a difficult word to define, though essentially it means a sense of shame. Hiya is a factor in almost all social situations. It is a sense of hiya that prevents someone asking a question, for fear he may look foolish. It is hiya that sees many Filipinos refuse to disagree openly, for fear they may cause offence. To not have hiya is a grave social sin. To be accused of being walang-hiya (to be shameless) is the ultimate insult. Hiya goes hand in hand with the preservation of amor-propio (the term literally means "love of self"), ie to avoid losing face. Filipinos feel uneasy if they are instrumental in making waves and exposing another person's fragile amor-propio to injury. If you ever wonder why a Filipino fails to broach awkward subjects with you, or to point out that your flies are undone, it is because hiya and amor-propio are at work."
--From "The Rough Guide to The Philippines", First Edition, Rough Guides September 2004, p. 57

I can't begin to tell you how often I've found myself in situations where I'm inexplicably, extremely uncomfortable in large groups of people, especially those which loudly or needlessly call attention to themselves. I have this archaic, strange, notional sense of due respect, like I'm constantly negotiating procedural and substantive due process, if you will--things have to be done just so, cutting corners is inherently sloppy, rigorous standards are the only guarantees of quality work, etc. etc.--and here I thought I was just weird.

Certainly, I'm weird. It just never ocurred to me that I might have been raised that way.

Why do I have to learn the crucial details of my indigenous culture through the Rough Guide to the Philippines? Understand that for me--someone who works in the Library, who prides himself on his talents of inventive, eclectic, tenacious autodidacticism--learning something so essential from a travel guide is roughly analagous to actually discovering the meaning of life through a fortune cookie.

"It is a sense of hiya that prevents someone asking a question, for fear he may look foolish."--I DO THAT!!! That's what I do! That's why I know the random crazy shit I know, because I never like asking questions and I've always made a point of eventually acquiring an authoritative grasp over that which may have at one point humiliated me. And trust me when I say I've experienced quite a good deal of humiliations. (I would say that in my case not having the answers felt like signs of weakness, not necessarily foolishness, but that's me parsing quibblings.)

T-19 Days to Philippines Expedition.




Man of Dust

Sometimes it would do well for me to remember that I am a man of dust. Like when I get all stressed out about rent and moving and going to the Phillipines and wondering how the hell I'm going to keep everything else straight and organized. By the way, how the hell am I going to keep everything straight and organized?

I gave plasma today, which is a two-hour deal that can be uncomfortable, but is supposedly far more useful and necessary than whole blood donations that take a quarter of the time. Because it takes so long, they let you watch a movie from an extensive collection on hand donated for the purpose. Today I saw American Splendor, which was pretty good. One day I will relate in greater detail, how I saw Spinal Tap for the first time with two IV needles up both arms, and some seriously annoyed nurses kept having to re-poke me, I was laughing so hard.

But tonight I am an exhausted man of dust, who wants nothing more than for the world to suspend for a few hours. Just go somewhere else, and don't pay attention to me for a bit, that's all.



A Vexed Question

JP Morgan admits, and attempts to make restitution for past links to slavery. Specifically, certain Southern banks used slaves as collateral back before the Civil War, and it seems that the current assets or possessions of JP Morgan are derived from those now defunct banks.

I'm working on a project involving prison farm songs and african-american spirituals, and a general investigation of the exploitation of racist artifacts in modern culture.

Does your culture exploit privileges or memories of other cultures, and is that necessarily a bad thing? Or avoidable? How conscious do you feel you are, or should be? What does restitution mean to you?




Momma On My Mind

I went out on a date with my Mom last night.

Every few weeks, I try to do some sort of major operation with Mom, like take her to Canada to visit relatives or to the coast for a day at the beach and clam chowder. This time, we went out to her favorite restaurant ("Elmers--it's, it's uh, it's better than, uh, International House of Pancakes"), we went shopping for music and we saw a movie.

Some quick background: my Mom is a retired nurse, who suffered a stroke ten years ago and has a splendid raft of medical problems, attended by an equally splendid cocktail of daily medications. So she stutters and has trouble finding words, she doesn't move very quickly and she's not so good at complex decisions, but she's a very strong-willed and tenacious person (with heightened emotional complexes, to be sure), and the State of Oregon says she can drive a car, which I can't begin to understand, but the sin is on their heads, not mine. She can cook and take care of herself, and given how many roles have been reversed on her over the years, I err on the side of giving her a wide latitude these days.

Mom likes spectacles, she likes to make a fuss over things and she never ceases to play her sympathy cards around company, something that drives me nuts. But what can you do.

She orders the French Toast, which isn't good for her diabetes but I figure her blood sugar this evening was pretty low for her and besides, what's one night of French Toast going to do to a woman who's survived immigration, stalkers in Detroit, Canadian winters, birthing me, a stroke, a divorce, two heart attacks and a quadruple bypass operation? In that order. And that's just on this side of the Pacific. Ten years ago, the doctors shrugged and said it was a matter of months. Ten. Years. Ago. 8 slices of toast slathered with sugar and cholesterol would probably just shrivel away in the sizzling nuclear maw of my Mom's toked-up metabolism.

Halfway through the dinner, Mom realizes what she really wanted was French Bread, not French Toast. She gets embarrassed about it, so I switch plates with her, and her eyes light up on the roast turkey and vegetables I'd ordered. And it's so worth it to see Mom happy like that. And who am I to say no to French Toast?

After dinner, we have some time to kill, so we stroll over to Music Millennium, because I just got a paycheck that day and sometimes you just deserve some fine music in your life. Mom immediately picks the latest re-release of Elvis Greatest Hits ("I was--oh, I was--uh, I LIKE IT!!!") I take my time, sniffing out the filaments and strains of cool seeping through the listening-station headphones and the glossy cd liners. And I snag a couple of interesting works that I still have yet to pronounce judgement on. (Usually I can get whatever I want from the Library and burn myself a copy, but as I said, sometimes you just deserve something out of the ordinary).

And then we went to see "Ray" at a local independent second-run theatre. And It Was Great. It took a while for Mom to realize that it was a biopic about Ray Charles, but when she did, she lit up immediately and started humming along, very loudly, to every song in the movie. So much so that other patrons moved away, but it can't be helped. You try shushing a round little woman who bounces like a drunk little Eskimo whenever she hears sweet soul R&B.

The movie was about three hours long, and at first I was worried Mom would fall asleep, like she usually does. But she was awake and happy the whole time--and if that's not a tribute to fine bit of filmmaking and amazing music, I don't know what is.

Anyway. Virgil said something about how honorable it is to make your parents happy and woop-woop, I don't know what. I say all it takes is French Toast, Elvis and Georgia On My Mind, and you got yourself and your Momma a great night.




On Why I'm Jealous

She's on the East Coast right now, visiting friends. And she gets to visit the new MOMA. The renovated, $20.00 per ticket, "I've-Got-More-Art-Than-The-Pope" MOMA. The "I would sacrifice one of my eyes like Odin to spend twelve hours there" MOMA.

Yeah, maybe I miss her a little bit. And I would certainly like to have been able to meet her good friends back east. But the crux of the matter is that she gets to visit the MOMA and I still haven't yet and this situation is frankly untenable. Bah. [kicks dirt and pouts, waves dismissive hand gestures]

Happy MLK Jr.'s Birthday, everybody. Remember to speak in rich, stentorian, emotionally eloquent tones whenever the powers be oppressing you.




Dispatch from Ice Station Panda

It's cold and icy in Portland now. I'm holed up in my bunker-apartment, feasting on frozen pizza and tea and ice cream. And I can't describe to you how happy this makes me.

Oh, sure, it was going to be a busy day today. I was scheduled to be shelving books out at the Gresham Regional Library, and then a quick commute across town to the theatre, where I'm running lights for "The Wild Child". I was going to be writing letters and cleaning, too. Supposedly. But I'm always supposed to be doing those things.

So in anticipation of such matters, I left my radio on all night, tuned to the BBC World Radio Network. I usually leave on the radio at night if I have to rise early, on the theory that it will somehow be easier to wake up if I haven't really been fully sleeping at night. This never works; whenever I sleep, it's an oblivious, total, impenetrable slumber, like my consciousness slips into a nuclear winter, and when I wake up, I can hardly remember where I am or what I'm supposed to be doing that day, and all the days before assume this muted pallor in my memory, like distant relatives vaguely connected to this new, glaring day yawning horribly before me. Because of my considerable distaste for this, I've been known to sleep through earthquakes and cross-country rides down rotten state highways.

Last night I dreamt of much doings, I can't rightly remember what they were, but I know I woke up exhausted and buzzing, and no, no alcohol was involved. And I woke up to my Book of Days propped open on my pillow, obviously set the night before to remind me as soon as I woke up that I would have to be fixing tea for my thermos and running through the shower to make it on time for work way out in Gresham. And I dutifully begin, in my slow, mulish, somnolent way, to crash through the routines of fixing tea and finding my thermos and so forth.

And then I looked out the window.

At first glance, it's not so bad. Nothing really out of the ordinary. The streets are dark and wet. Rain is lightly drizzling down, like the whole city is enveloped in a cloud bank. The sky, as an ex-girlfriend would say, looks broken, as if the people in charge of programming the sky on normal sky-looking channels have gone on strike or something, and in place of the usual fluffy matter, all you see is this vast monochrome tint, completely indistinguishable of shade or distance.

And then you notice how quiet the streets are, which is unusual for my situation, here on one of Portland's main arterial thoroughfares. Maybe one or two beleaguered pedestrians then come slipping through, like forlorn straggler's of Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, bundled up and grim.

Then you see layers of gravel and sand frozen under successive layers of ice, and you realize just how wickedly awesome this is.

I call up work and tell them there's no way in hell I'm going out to Gresham today (I don't say that exactly but I should've). Now, make no mistake, dear Reader, I'm a pretty capable guy. I've done hard things before. I can hang lights while balancing on thirty-foot ladders. I've wrestled clients in and out of the local drunk tank. I met Justice Sandra Day O'Connor of the US Supreme Court (it was like meeting Emporer Palpatine on the Death Star). (Okay, maybe I didn't really mean that, she was very sweet and she offered us cookies, please don't kill me, Justice Department).

But my point is, in these conditions, I'm more afraid of the people who don't know how to drive on ice than I am of driving on ice myself. Case in point; not two hours ago, an SUV lost control and came across traffic to crash into a parked VW bus just outside my window. The bus was crashed into a Honda Civic praked behind it. The SUV then tried to drive off, but one of her wheels was coming off, and she had to pull over a block away.

I love you, Portland, even the dumb SUV-driving chickenshits. Because only in Portland would a gaggle of bystanders come out of their warm, safe apartments to stand in the FREEZING cold in case the cops needed witnesses, but really just to moralize on the gas-guzzling SUVs, and then start talking about cleats and hiking and snowpack and salmon-run issues. This made me so happy, I brewed more tea for everyone.



red ink

drifts of paper and envelopes, the apartment is a mess, old grudges rise like bile.
Sunlight on pavement, plastic bags rustling, newspapers curling with age.

The car weaves through midnight traffic,
shoals of heavy-lidded drivers and their big gulp mugs,
morbid yellow streetlights glancing off the windshield,
stoplights punctuating the deep dark.

take away this place.

slip off your shoes.

sink your feet into the carpet.

i'm lost in the shine of bicycle spokes, the crease of manila envelopes,
the tint of red ink.
flowers tied with string, chipped cinderblocks, goosebumps in the cold.

get while the getting's good.

nothing to it just to do it.

get some rest. come back soon.


honey on the spoon

glowing and growing
like a drop of honey,
slipping down the spoon.

coiled and tensed,
waiting in the dark,
a small animal's sleek fur shining in your hungry eyes.

green varicose lines webbing your arms,
scars of your secret, illegible histories,
vein-ridges of blood,
stopped, choked with lost lovers' memories
cruel, hard nights of cold, sour sweat
staining your skin,
the crush of the outside
lining the inner walls of your broken body,
pink foam of seawater and cardiopulmonary fluid,
remnants of joyful copulation, scraps
of tender meetings and bitter vigils,
unanswerable questions hanging from your bones.

glowing and growing
like a drop of honey,
slipping down the spoon,

the fulness of your belly cupped in the palm of my hand,
replete and replenished with the nourishment
of these endless days and nights,
like two fingers discovering the
soft web of skin at their meeting,
breathing the sweetness of mingling,
whispered voices dwindling in distracted ears,
eyes pleased to learn the lines of another body
delivering a new image of loveliness to one another,
answering the unsuspected riddles of loneliness,
the eyelashes of epiphany brushing my forehead,
the light of day warming my cold, pale skin.



Ill-kept secrets
struggling free of your tongue's
loosening grip,
because nothing unwraps itself,
seals can't break on their own
knots don't unravel
without your sharp, delicate fingers
to work and work at their fraying ends

Ill-kept secrets whispering like dry tossed leaves
in the barren wastes of your conscience' parched expanse

Ill-kept secrets leaving slick wet footprints
all over your face,
the sweet pithy taste of them still on your lips,
bright red stains of them blooming on your ears,
your cheeks,
like apples,
bright shining red apples cracking in your mouth,



I Love You, Wikipedia

Recent news reports out of South Asia tell of tribespeople on the Andaman Islands shooting arrows at Indian Army helicopters delivering aid. Authorities take this, ultimately, as a good sign. It means that the tribes have survived to the extent that they continue to offer their customary hostility to all outsiders (and given the track record of Western Civilization vis-a-vis indigenous peoples, I can't imagine why).

There is something striking about this. The image of bark-wearing "savages" "stuck in the Stone Age", who have undoubtedly witnessed something of the same calamity which the rest of the region has suffered, still offering the same ferocious and unmitigated response to anything from outside their islands, in spite of all. It speaks to me of a tenacious courage that won't take no shit from no caravels, tsunamis or helicopters, no matter if they're coming to kidnap your kith and kin or wipe out your village or drop boxes of ramen noodles and bottled water.

King Canutus had his henchmen flog the North Sea when it wouldn't obey his royal edicts. And it may be true that on one level, Andamanese archers letting fly on ultimately benevelont Indian helicopters strikes the same note of sad folly. Neither Canute nor the Andamanese tribespeople really understood what or to whom they display such warlike glowering. But it is also true that we humans are a courageous and indefatigable bunch, and not even the raging sea that stole our best beloved can hold us down.

Today (3rd of January) is the birthday of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman orator, jurist, consul and philosopher. In his honor I went out and purchased a copy of his "Dream of Scipio", a classic and beautiful text which all of us labouring under these sad, calamitous times can draw solace from. I am by no means an unqualified admirer of Roman Stoicism, but it does speak much to me, and by mentioning this here, I hope these works may offer some comfort to you, as well.

Peace and Health,