When weathermen in Arizona started calling the region’s huge, recent sandstorms haboobs, they got hate mail. People were “insulted,” by the term, demanded that weathermen explain “what gave them the right” to use it, and asked: “how do you think our soldiers feel?”

The fact is, haboob is a perfectly good English word. It’s in your dictionary. It is of Arabic origin however, and therein lies reason for the objections.

Aside from the ridiculous xenophobia this represents, it also indicates complete ignorance about how the English language works.

English is composed largely of words that were borrowed from other languages. Much of our vocabulary is of French or German origin, but English has borrowed words from virtually every language on Earth. A few representative examples:

Finnish (sauna).

Tagalog (boondocks).

Bantu (banjo).

Mandinka (jazz).

Mikmaq (caribou).

Australian Aboriginal (dingo).

Afrikans (trek).

Chinese (tea).

Czech (robot).

Etrucan (arena).

Hawaiian (taboo).

Urdu (bandanna).

Malay (amok).

Tamil (conundrum).

Arawakan (barbecue).

And on and on it goes.

This is part of the genius of English – the reason why it is arguably the most expressive language on Earth. Thanks to many centuries of borrowings, it contains more words than any other language – nearly twice as many as French or German. How many English words are there? Roughly 800,000, counting technical terms; but an exact count is impossible because new words enter the language, both from borrowings and coinings, almost every day.

And. of course, lots and lots of everyday words have been borrowed from Arabic. Off the top of my head, here are a few. Let’s see if the idiots who object to “haboobs” can do without:

Admiral.

Alcohol.

Apricot.

Borax.

Caliber.

Camel.

Candy.

Chemistry.

Cotton.

Elixir.

Garble.

Ghoul.

Guitar.

Jar.

Julep.

Lemon.

Magazine.

Mask.

Massage.

Mattress.

Nadir.

Orange.

Pajama.

Racquet.

Safari.

Scarlet.

Sofa.

Sugar.

Syrup.

Tariff.

Tuna.

And zero.

In fact, the very concept of zero originated with Arabic mathematicians. Perhaps the yahoos would like to ban it from our arithmetic.

 

The lover that left too soon, the other that stayed too long;
the driver that cut you off in traffic;
the weatherperson that never gets the five-day forecast right;
the upper class, middle class & lower class;
the infirm & elderly;
Republicans & Democrats;
Hispanics, Blacks & Whites;
Israel & Palestine;
suburbanites & Skid Row denizens.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

Hitler, Mussolini, Milosevic, 
Pinochet, Pol Pot & Ratko Mladic.
They all needed to make an enemy outta someone—
practically everyone but themselves.

Slavery, segregation;
the Civil War & two World Wars;
Vietnam & 9/11;
the Trail of Tears & Mandela imprisoned;
Hiroshima, Nagasaki; 
the Oklahoma City Bombing;
Kent State & Tiananmen Square;
Columbine, the L.A. Riots & global genocides.

Everyone’s got a finger poised 
ready to hit the Doomsday button
like it’s some super-hot G-spot.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

The Lincoln assassination, 
JFK assassination,
John Lennon,
Malcolm X,
Medgar Evers, 
Harvey Milk,
Che Guevara,
Trotsky & Ghandi assassinations.

It’s insane,
the way we’ve let guns do the speaking 
instead of peace talks.

And somewhere in the midst of all this bloody history
Martin Luther King Jr. once called out: “I have a dream, I have a dream…”
But sometimes it’s hard to keep a dream alive,
especially when you’re caught in the devil’s crosshairs.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

Cover-ups, 
pay-offs & corruption;
secret torture sessions & death.
Invading Libya, Iraq & Afghanistan.
For all the lies our government has told 
its lips may as well be blue:

Truth asphyxiated.

This suicidal tendency,
a blemish of supremacy 
on the face of our nation.
We’re well on our way 
to making enemies out of everyone.
Pretty soon,
we won’t even be able to call 
our own shadow a friend.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.

It’s a fatal attraction,
the way we make ourselves gasoline
when someone’s heart’s on fire.
We just wanna see all the love
go up in smoke.

And in the name of the Bothered, Stunned & Tortured Ghost,
let me say:
Instead of worshipping,
we’ve spent way too long
warshipping all our Gods & Goddesses 
with bombs instead of prayers.

That’s what happens when you spend too much time
in the zero church:
You never get your soul’s worth of healing.

And so we continue
to prey upon others 
with this religion of vengeance.

We all need to make an enemy outta someone.


Author’s Note: If you’d like to see a video of this piece, click here.

Ever feel like the Internet has become void of significant social dialog?

That would be because you are correct. And by “the Internet” I mean “Facebook.”

It’s not so much a social networking site as it is a tool built for pushing (and absorbing) corporate media.

“Thank you for your interest in Zoetrope: All Story,

 

We are a staff of two, assisted by a small team of brilliant and generous volunteers, who are collectively dedicated to reading and responding to the 12,000 submissions All Story receives annually…

…All-Story does not accept submissions via e-mail. Send stories to:…”

The above guidelines come from Zoetrope: All Story, one of the top tier literary magazines of today. My response:

Dear Zoetrope,

Your submission guidelines are fucked up. Snail mail had a purpose…once. There are better options, and the time is now.

The list of deservedly established writers published at your magazine is formidable: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Woody Allen, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Roberto Bolaño, Robert Olen Butler, Don DeLillo, Mary Gaitskill, Kathryn Harrison, Ha Jin, Jonathan Lethem, Yiyun Li, Naguib Mahfouz, Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut, & David Foster Wallace. Many writers would love to join this crew, do not mind submitting, and hope to be “discovered” on the slush pile. Yet how do the majority of your authors submit? I doubt Woody Allen stuffs an envelope and drops it in the mail, fingers crossed, hoping Zoetrope will make his proverbial day. But that’s what you demand of the regular scribe, and while all writers are not stereotypical “starving artists,” they would love to save a dime or two, unlike ol’ Woody, who can afford the postage. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Woody’s earned the privilege, but then why bother taking submissions from the masses? No matter how good an unknown’s story is, Woody and friends aren’t gettin’ bumped. Fetid grapes aside, The New Yorker now accepts E-subs, but even The Diddle Ass Review should. And so should Zoetrope.

Electronic mail or submission managers are no longer science fiction, and function more efficiently than snail. E-subs might create an overflow of stories, but there are solutions: short windows for submissions or charging nominal fees (not writer friendly, either, chief sinner Narrative Magazine, charging nasty clam so they can pay all the writers they solicit, but that’s another rant). Here’s the analysis:

Estimated annual cost of 12,000 nine-page stories plus cover letters:

  • $ 600 12,000 8½ x11 envelopes 120 x $5 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $14,040 $1.17 Postage for 12,000 submissions
  • $ 240 12,000 4×9 envelopes for SASE 120 x $2 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $ 5,280 $0.44 Postage for 12,000 SASE
  • $ 1,200 120,000 pages @240 x $5 per 500-page ream
  • $ 960 Printer ink cartridges @10,000 pages per cartridge = 12 x $80

Total = $22,320 or over $1,800 per month.

  • Not included but should be considered wasteful:
  • Gas to deliver 12,000 submissions plus 11,998 rejections and two rewrite requests
  • At 3 inches a 500-leaf ream, a 60-foot tall tree of paper

Time at printer preparing envelopes, etc. @five minutes/submission = 100 hours (not to mention time spent by “brilliant and generous volunteers” who, with Bartleby-like futility, refine skills in a Sisyphean search for fabulous stories that will never be accepted by Zoetrope)

Fifty Zoetrope clones would push the cost over a million dollars. Smaller mags? Every 100 subs/month = $2,232/year. Yet as the smaller mags regularly publish from slush, the waste not as egregious.


Zoetrope, your guidelines continue: “Before submitting, non-subscribers should read several issues of the magazine.” What a deal! I’m sure you’re not intentionally trying to screw writers, but c’mon, this is way totally like effin’ really just absolutely too fucked up.
Certainly, writers should do their part, not waste editors time with inappropriate submissions, and buy, read, and support literary magazines; that’s yet another topic. Bottom line: writers might buy more magazines if they had more money, and they might read more if they had more time. Right? If one writer has ten stories and submits each story twenty times that’s over $350 a year a writer could spend on food, rent, books, and subscriptions to literary magazines. Sure, Zoetrope, you are not the only guilty party. Those lovable stalwarts over at The Sun, despite their concern about social issues, environment, and poverty, refuse to evolve. Others? The list includes The Atlantic, Crab Creek Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The Texas Review, Zyzzyva, etc., not to mention the publishers and agents that postpone electronic. The cost rises into millions of dollars, a forest of paper trees, and oodles of wasted hours. So Zoetrope and cohorts, big and small, agents and editors and publishers, take heed: Stop the snail. Or be fucked up.

Sincerely,

Caleb “The Mad Writer” Powell

To stave off the inevitable existential collapse that typically accompanies unemployment, not to mention looming middle age, I’ve begun taking my mom’s dog for walks.

It’s sort of Zen like, in that the sole purpose of said walks are finding my dog a nice place to shit. That’s all that matters, finding Lucky a velvet lined tree stump to shit behind. Because he refuses to shit just anywhere, and that’s fine, that’s his prerogative. But after blocks of prime real estate he still refuses. He looks me in the eye and lifts his leg, and I swear he’s fucking smirking, as if to say, ‘not this time, bitch.’

But I’ve become reacquainted with the town I live in on our very long walks, and I’ve made a few observations:

Pittsburgh is the filthiest city on the planet. At my local park there is a varied assortment of litter. This includes paper plates, a curious number of empty mini muffin packages, syringes, empty beer cans (usually Iron City, in keeping with tradition), children’s shoes, fast food bags, make up, used diapers, and so on. The litter makes its way into every patch of grass and wooded area in the city. It’s thrown from car windows and tossed into the street from front doors. There is no need for garbage cans in Pittsburgh, just patches of grass, where every degenerate mother fucker will happily dispose of their trash.

Another way of getting rid of trash here, and we’re talking the larger items, couches set ablaze because a beloved sports team either won or lost an important match, towers of tires reaching skyward, existing to only entice the alarming amount of fire bugs and amateur arsonists in the city, is to just dump said trash down the slope of hill or at the culmination of a dead end street. Almost every dead end street has a collection of trash, sometimes neatly stacked and arranged, and usually said collection is older than me by a few years.

Everyone in Pittsburgh is a hoarder. They don’t hoard cool things, like guitars or books. They hoard things like carpet remnants and bricks and other useless junk that only an idiot could look at as a good investment. Everyone who isn’t a hoarder (or a writer or a musician) is a roofer. Despite this, every single roof in Pittsburgh is on the verge of collapse.

No one here can speak English. That’s not some xenophobic slight. I’m talking about the native English speakers. Pittsburgh has an accent all its own, it incorporates the gruffness of Jersey and New York, with the apparent upbeat naiveté of the Midwest. It’s literally one of the most ridiculous accents in the United States. If you don’t believe me, please see this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEyJjAAPy38

For the record, I don’t sound like that. However, my voice sometimes twangs peculiarly on my Os, which I’ve been trying to combat for years and will probably never undo.

Pittsburgh is teeming with lovable psychos. We recently lost the crown prince of functional insanity, a guy by the name of Steve, who was famous for standing in the same spot on the avenue all summer and hosting his own private dance party. Upon Steve’s untimely death, it was found he put a lot of time into making collages, which I believe is probably a good indicator that said person has a crawl space and isn’t afraid to use it. Another guy rides around Pittsburgh on a bike exclusively. Well, that’s not very weird, is it? No, what’s weird is that this fellow decided to strap a car bumper to the front of the thing. He even took the time to loosely affix blank CDs to either side, in a nod to headlights. Why does he do this? Fuck if I know, I’m not getting within ten feet of that crazy fucker.

In the last ten years the city has been overrun by hipsters. I could go into a prolonged self righteous speech about gentrification and how they’re ruining everything, but they’re really not. These people all have jobs, they put money into the city, they’ve stemmed the hemorrhage of young people that steadily increased year to year in the past. If they want to walk around dressed like assholes and play pan flutes, well I say have at it.

What I can’t tolerate is the recent influx of crust punks, or squatters, or crusties, or whatever you call them in your locality. Think hobos with a better sense of the aesthetic. They sit on street corners with their mangy dogs (because the first thing I would do if homeless is acquire a pet) holding crudely made signs asking for money.  Most of the time these people are from well off families looking for a little adventure in the form of lax hyigene and casual drug use, which is all fine and good. Unfortunately I have hard enough time financing these pursuits for myself, so there is no way I’ve giving Caleb a fiver just so he can purchase yet another six pack of Pabst.

Do I like the place I live in? I don’t know. I regard Pittsburgh as I would an embarrassing friend or loved one. I feel loyal to some degree, but I also can’t spend a lot of time and energy defending it. I think the best thing for us would be a trial separation. Maybe Pittsburgh would look more appealing with a bit of distance between us.

I am not going to write about the way we celebrate our country every year.

And I am certainly not going to suggest that maybe getting slobbering drunk while using products made in China to litter our streets and keep children and pussies early risers like me awake until 3 a.m. might not be the best way to show our appreciation for those honorable men and women who have given everything for our freedom.

Because apparently, according to those with whom I’ve shared these concerns, not wanting to trash our lovely country and wishing that people could be reasonable makes me un-American.

Despite the fact that my great-grandfather, after whom my only son is named, fought in WWII, and despite the fact that my biological father was in Vietnam when I was born, somehow, simply because I care about the environment, I am completely unaware of the sacrifices made by our military members.

(Damned hippie.)

I am definitely not going to talk about how I’ve been told that I don’t appreciate my country properly because I think people should be considerate of others and stop shooting off loud things by midnight on the 4th of July. And on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th of July, if you live in my neighborhood.

(Boy, my neighbors sure do love their country. They don’t give two shits about the people trying to live in it with them, but man, whatta bunch of patriots. Hats off to you, you Budweiser-clutching defenders of democracy. I’m sure all of the soldiers who have actually been in battle and suffer from PTSD really appreciate the way you honor their service by shooting bottle rockets at their cars and houses for a week every summer.)

So that’s not what I’m going to write about today either. Because I don’t think the fireworks have anything to do with it. And because hey, guess what? I’m not made of stone, people. I think fireworks are fucking pretty. I am a sucker for shimmering lights and bright colors, and fireworks give me both of these things. It’s a win-win.

I won’t share my fond, nostalgic memories of watching the adults light fireworks in the driveway the second we achieved dusk. And I won’t remember the excitement of running in terror from the Catherine wheels that spun around furiously, making our little-kid hearts race with the thrill of escaping certain death, or at least a stinging sensation to the ass cheek. I also won’t share that I still have a Pavlovian response of, “Oh shit. RUN!” when I hear that high-pitched spinning, whirring sound they make, even if it’s houses away. I won’t admit that I love the sulphuric smell of smoke bombs, or that the burned coal tar stench of black snakes heaped in ashy piles on the sidewalk will make me swoon with olfactory reminiscence. There will be no shameful confessions that I’m still a little bit afraid to hold a sparkler, or that I manically scream, “FEUERWERK!” and laugh hysterically along with the rest of my wacky German family every year.

(You had to be there.)

I promise not to babble on with fond recollections of sitting on the roof of my house in Phoenix as a youngster to watch the fireworks, when we would climb up next to our swamp cooler to look around and marvel at the incredible displays of color and light exploding in every direction across the dark desert skies. I won’t share that I even wrote and recorded a song in my band The Glitter Kicks about how every year on the 4th of July we all forget about boring grown-up stuff to feel giddy anticipation again like children. I won’t share my namby-pamby, touchy-feely thoughts about how it’s important to stay in touch with the kids we once were because they remain a big part of who we’ve become as adults.

Rest assured that with my appreciation for the neat parts of the holiday firmly established, I am not going to write some sort of anti-Independence Day diatribe. Because I think my issues with humanity go beyond one day a year. And I’ve realized that my problem with the holiday has nothing to do with the holiday at all. It’s a fabulous holiday.

What is truly bothering me is the lack of respect for others. The narcissistic sense of entitlement held by so many thoughtless pricks among us. The lack of awareness that there are other people in this country, nay, on this planet, with whom we are sharing it.

What’s bothering me is that one day a year, people use the 4th of July holiday to act like a bunch of oblivious-to-everyone-else-in-the-world dickweeds.

What’s bothering me even more is that people are starting to act like this on the other 364 days of the year as well.

What’s bothering me the most is that the global stereotype of an American has become that of a rude, fat, loudmouthed, inconsiderate moron, and I am unable to escape or refute that stereotype every time I go out in public these days.

I’m absolutely not going to bore you by expounding on this thought and discussing the different forms of self-centered behavior I see on a daily basis. I won’t give examples, like when someone yapping or texting on a cell phone swerves into my driving lane, or can’t be bothered to undertake the arduous, wrist-straining task of using a turn signal.  When some lazy piece of shit takes up two parking spaces because backing up their car and pulling into the space properly would have been thirty seconds of their life spent thinking about someone besides themselves. Or when my neighbors play their music so loudly coming and going in their cars at 2 a.m. that it rattles my house windows, waking me up. Or when they let their dogs take huge dumps all over my yard and don’t pick it up. Or when they sit in their open garages, talking so loudly on the phone that I can hear the conversation clearly through my closed front office window. Or when they mow their lawns in the dark, at nearly 10 p.m. like this is a normal thing to do. As if everyone around them deserves to be kept awake because they can’t manage their time like responsible humans.

A perfect example of what is actually bothering me would be the fact that I had to stop writing this because my neighbors across the street decided that 6 a.m. would be an acceptable time to scream and curse so loudly in their front yard that it woke up my five-year-old son, effectively ending my early morning writing time.

But I am not going to share that example either, because I don’t want to seem like a spoilsport or curmudgeon. I wouldn’t want to tread on the rights of another American to wake up the entire neighborhood because they need to screech expletives at their teenaged son and then throw things around the garage in a blind rage for a few minutes. Because I’m not some kind of pinko commie, goddammit.

I won’t propose to anyone here today that when some people call America a free country, what they really mean is a country free of self-control and free of self-awareness. That when they call it a free country, they mean a country full of people free to be inconsiderate fuckheads who will disturb the peace and quality of life of the people around them without a moment’s thought or consideration to consider the effect they’re having on the world. I certainly will not suggest that America is becoming the land of the free to have one’s head firmly up one’s ass at all times. And I won’t harp on about the Declaration of Independence and the idea on which our country is supposed to be founded – that all men are created equal – because apparently men making really important cell phone calls who swerve into my lane, nearly hitting my son’s side of the car are more equal than my child and I.

I will not declare that pride in one’s country should start with pride in one’s self. That good people are what make a good country good. And that good people do not shit on each other. Because that would seem too obvious.

I’m not going to mention that the problem actually isn’t the 4th of July holiday, while griping about how some people who don’t care about anyone but themselves use the holiday as a ruse to display their complete lack of respect for plants, animals, and humans – the very things that make up the country they are “celebrating.” I won’t imply that some consider July 4th an excuse to crank their inner asshole knobs up to eleven, and have the nerve to call it a display of patriotic pride. Or worse: have the nerve to call me un-American because I dare suggest it might better honor our country to show some consideration for its inhabitants.

I’m definitely not going to write anything assuming that this Independence Day, Lady Liberty will most likely be beaten down, as usual, by imbeciles who equate being proud Americans with drunkenly shooting imported Roman candles at each other and leaving trash in the streets for the rest of us to either pick up or trip over for months afterward. And even though I still believe that under that pile of firework debris and empty beer cans stands an elegant torch-holding gal in a toga, I am not going to discuss the way I refuse to give up and let the jerks ruin a really cool holiday for the decent people who choose to celebrate it responsibly.

I am especially not going to ramble on about how I think we can be better than this. Or that I believe we can show respect for our fellow humans by ceasing to be loud at a reasonable hour every day of the year, and remembering that we’re all in this together. I wouldn’t dare suggest that we can pick up our litter and show real respect for our beautiful country by keeping it clean and taking care of it.

To make my point, I am not going to show you pictures of my suburban neighborhood street that is already covered with firework and alcohol detritus from two days of “celebrating our freedom” with at least two more days of “appreciating America” to go before it’s over, depending on how many foreign-made fireworks Bubba and Billy Bob down the street buy this year. I won’t complain that we’ve had to call the police already this week to get our neighbors to stop hollering, “WHOOOOO! ‘MERICA!” while making things explode until well past midnight.

I will never, ever write about how our citizens should be collectively intelligent enough to celebrate the birth of a great nation without destruction of property and oblivion to common courtesy.

And I’m definitely not going to write a piece bitching about the thoughtless, ruining-good-things-for-the-rest-of-us, worthless, waste-of-oxygen douchebags who once a year choose to celebrate everything great we’re supposed to be as citizens of an amazing country by instead acting like a bunch of rude, littering, noisy, inbred idiot motherfuckers.

Nope. Not gonna do it.

Because I think that all I really want to write here is happy birthday. Yes. That’s exactly what I want to say.

Happy birthday, America.

Stay classy.





Something is spoiling live performance: The audience. I blame the internet.

I grant that I’ve only been here for eight months, but my experience does not match a single stereotype of LA. Unless we’re talking about gridlock on the Hollywood Freeway (see how assimilated I am becoming?) or sunshine 300 days out of the year, the public perceptions of non-Los Angelenos bear more resemblance to Tea Party talking points than any reality that I’ve experienced.

“Los Angelenos Are Vapid Assholes”

Since moving to Los Angeles, I think that I’ve read more books than any time since college. What’s more, I’m able to discuss books with other people who have read them, or at least people who have read other, similar books. Like many misconceptions of Los Angeles, this is probably true of a very narrow layer of aggressively substance-free folks working in Hollywood. It bears no resemblance to reality when you’re talking to some Mexican skinhead from East Los who has all kinds of opinions on the book he just read about Zen Buddhism or the omnipresent homeless guys outside of the public library.

And the people here are nice. I don’t mean nice in the way that a 65-degree day or a sweater from your favorite aunt at Christmas is nice. I mean welcoming, friendly, helpful, “homely” in the British sense. Whether it’s South Bay gang members packing another bowl and asking me questions about what the hardcore scene was like where I grew up or the server at a local vegan restaurant putting on her best — best — fake smile before bringing me another refill of coffee, Los Angelenos know something very useful: In a metro area of almost 18 million people a little bit of kindness, deference and ability to laugh at oneself is what keeps us from degenerating into Rwanda.

“Everyone is Tanned / Has Fake Tits / Capped Teeth / Botox”

I live in Hollywood and even I don’t get this. While I’m sure that if I went on a plastic surgery disaster hunt I’d come back with some impressive big game, I don’t see how a stereotype of Los Angeles was formed that was so damned white and middle class. For starters, over half the city doesn’t have to tan. The issue, however, goes far beyond the obvious social marker of race. Los Angeles is a bit like a third-world country in the sense that you have grotesque opulence and abject, shit-eating poverty existing within a stone’s throw of one another. The plastic surgery industry no doubt thrives in Los Angeles, but I often wonder at what income percentile the number of people who’ve had a little work done sinks like a stone.

“Nobody Walks in LA”

While granting that 98 percent of the people ambling around Hollywood Boulevard on any given day are a plague sent here from Germany, Kansas and Australia, it’s simply not true that Los Angelenos don’t walk anywhere. For one thing, if you live in a halfway decent neighborhood you can get most of your errands done simply by walking if need be. On a Friday night it’s far easier to shuffle from one bar to another by foot than it is to get in your car and risk a DUI, and as anyone will tell you this is a drinking town with a football problem.

Los Angeles has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the country. This figure must, however, be taken with a small grain of salt. Remember the truly astonishing (and hard to quantify) number of Angelenos who don’t so much have a car as they have a museum piece that they rub down six days a week before driving half a mile to the 7-11 to show off to other guys with similar museum pieces. Put simply, a 51 Buick low rider counts as a car about as much as the 100-year-old straight razor owned by my great-grandfather Claude Pell counts as something I can shave with.

While we’re on the subject — our public transit system is extensive, clean and relatively safe.

“Everyone Is / Wants to Be in Movies”

While I do own up to knowing a former VP of Miramax and a guy with two AVN Awards, this stereotype is largely a product of selective attention. If your friend who moved to Los Angeles moved here to be a screenwriter, chances are they have surrounded themselves with assholes who are “in the industry” and have become the type of asshole that says things like “the industry” with an air of mesmerized awe. Some of the most interesting people in Los Angeles, however, are not those in The Industry ™, but those existing at its margins. For everyone ten people here trying to be the next Brad Pitt or Michael Bay, there is someone trying to be the next Tura Satana or H.G. Lewis. Considering the gobs of buffoons wandering the streets of LA who expect to be discovered, this is a numbers game I’m more than willing to play.

My Los Angeles

I see the world of Los Angeles through a different prism than those living in New York, Detroit and Seattle, and perhaps even many living right here. To me, Los Angeles is a hard-working, mostly blue-collar city filled with people from every nook and cranny of the earth, living every lifestyle, alternative and otherwise, possible. Our people are honest, straightforward and love a good joke as much as they love a day spent grilling in the sun. They love playing pool, shooting guns at the range, watching boxing at the bar and taking a drive up Mulholland at sunset while making jokes about how clichéd that is. They love shopping at the swap meet, chihuahuas and pit bulls, hamburgers and old movies.

For the first time in my life I have a home. Thanks, Los Angeles, for being everything that people say you aren’t.

The economic woes our society has undergone over the last three years were crystallized for me in a single story. On March 17, a man who worked at a city office in Costa Mesa was called into work to receive a layoff notice at the city maintenance offices. Huy Pham, an employee of that department, was at home with a broken ankle and not supposed to work. Suspecting the news, he chose to skip the meeting and instead went to City Hall and jumped off the roof.

In one bold, rash move, he exhibited an impulsive behavior that has more frequently crossed my mind and, I’d bet, many others’ across the country as, if not a rational response to our failed economy, most certainly an act that is not altogether shocking.

In early 2007, I was laid off from a job I’d held for nearly nine years.  It was a job I loved and a job that fit me like a clichéd, crocheted, personalized and otherwise lovely glove.  I was a bookseller at an indie.

In January of 2008 I got a second job after having taken a few language classes, hacking away at writing stories and going through every last bit of money I had saved from selling books (read: not much).  This new job involved writing and editing for an international engineering and project management firm.  It paid as much in six months as I’d ever earned in the best full year of employment since I was in high school.  It was corporate, and apart from being bearable because of a good friend who worked there, was so painfully dull that I once drew blood from my inner thigh while pinching it to keep awake during one of those two-hour, thrice-weekly corporate meetings whose riveting information would, in a small business, be disseminated perfectly in a five-minute conversation so we could get the fuck back to work.

Eight months later, in October of 2008, I was laid off for the second time in eighteen months.  It was also only the second time in my life I’d lost a job not by my own choice.

Beginning in November 2008, I began collecting unemployment and diligently applying for any writing/editing jobs I could find. I scoured industry postings, Craigslist notices, searched on my own for firms or persons which were looking for people with my expertise and figured, naively, that within a reasonable amount of time, I’d be employed doing something with words.

I started applying for jobs that were even tangentially related to writing and editing, jobs which mentioned that a successful applicant must be able to communicate effectively with the written word or simply be able to speak well.

I peppered these applications with occasional ones for delivery drivers – from auto parts to paper products to legal documents. Weeks turned into months, months turned into years, unemployment ran out, and I became one of the 99ers (those people who are not properly reflected in the most disseminated unemployment statistic, the Department of Labor’s U-3 number.  Once you are done with unemployment benefits, you simply vanish and become a ghost to U-3. This U-3 number is just one of the six ‘Alternative measures of labor underutilization’, the most striking, and accurate, of which is the U-6, a number which stands as of April 2011 at a seasonally adjusted 15.9 percent.  Even this U-6 number may not reflect the actual amount of people who are suffering un- or under- employment.  It is, after all, a figure that the government publishes, even though they use the U-3 number – a number which never hit ten percent because it is a psychological barrier that no one in control of analyzing and and publishing these figures could withstand politically if they wanted to be reelected or reappointed.  And because the government does take ownership of these numbers, I am going to go out on a limb and say our truer number reflecting un- or under- employment has remained perilously close to twenty percent).

Over the last two and a half years, I’ve cobbled together shards of extra money by selling books online, purchasing curiosities at thrift stores and hawking them on craigslist or ebay, generously being able to fill my gas tank with my dad’s Sam’s club membership, receiving a hundred or two from him as I spend time at his office and use his computer to search for jobs and run errands for him and act as a boy Friday.  Once, even, I found a ten dollar bill in a pair of pants at the Goodwill.  I felt like a scratch ticket winner.

I don’t live month-to-month, or often even week-to-week. Sometimes I live day-to-day, choosing on certain weeks to live without: phone or power or gas or water for a couple of days so I can scrape together enough cash to restart these services and then be able to: go online to search for jobs, see inside my apartment without a lantern, cook on my stove or take a shower.

Though I have so far managed to keep myself hoveled and Ramened, I have gotten to the point where I expect that sometime soon in my life I will take residence in a homeless shelter or a friend’s couch for an extended period of time.

It is, to be blunt, a mentally taxing endeavor and depression triggerer to wake up each morning with the first thing on one’s mind if the day will win or I will eke out a small victory against the day. On the good days, the day and I run neck and neck, on the bad days the day dunks me repeatedly in the deep end where I have no footing and can barely gulp a wet breath.

I have fallen deeply in love with Saturdays and Sundays not because they afford me time to enjoy myself, but only because I know on those two days that if I have any of my previously mentioned utilities in tact on a Saturday morning, I’ll have it at least until Sunday night because municipalities and cities do not schedule shut offs for weekends. Thank fucking god.

A few weeks ago, I hit a benchmark which, as I’m writing this, surprises me still. I have sent off exactly 400 resumes.  Though a handful have been for regular jobs in a warehouse or for driving gigs, most have been to magazines, newspapers, websites, journals, companies, individuals, institutions and other entities which have advertised a need for writers or editors.

I have applied across the state, across the country, even, on a few occasions, overseas. I have applied for job postings as an assistant writer for people who believe their life stories are ultra-intriguing and as a ghostwriter for people who have ‘a novel in mind’ but just don’t know how to get it down on paper. I even threw my hat into the ring for a job that involved writing ‘juicy stories.’ Had someone advertised a need to write a suicide note for fear of being misinterpreted legally and their estate thrown into interminable probate, I’d have sent off samples of the dandiest last-ever words.

I have reformatted my resume a dozen times to reshape it into what I think a particular firm would find most enticing. I have, since about submission 150, even included in my cover letter a note that I am willing to take the job and work gratis for the first month if only to prove my worth, to offer them up a voluntary probationary period in which they can assess if we’re a good fit or not.

I know just how desperate that must seem to the resume screener but desperation tugs at my thoughts only during the moments of the day I’m awake.

I have received a few dozen automated replies that an entity has received my resume, thanking me and that they will contact me if I fit a need they have. Out of those 400 resumes I have received no job offers and exactly, get this, one response.

It was, needless to say, a note saying I wasn’t quite the candidate they were looking for and was personalized in that way credit card offers are personalized – with the salutation ‘Dear Mr. Mark Sutz.’

Apparently, the other 399 submissions I made have disappeared into the same black hole in which float millions of lonely, uncoupled socks or into the same 900 mile high virtual slushpile in which linger dozens of my stories that literary magazines conspire to not read.

None of these other 399 entities has found it within their abilities to even send out a rejection email or letter.

I know I am not the only person in this boat, but those 399 non-responses have served to both build up a thick, cynical hide and redefined demoralization for me. I feel a camaraderie with people that I never would have four or five years ago.

I took my regular employment for granted and have now been firmly, absolutely, depressingly humbled.

I suspect I share versions of these feelings with many tens of thousands of anonymous worker bees across the country and stare with a similar stunned face into the mirror at night as I brush my teeth and wonder if I am indeed an unwitting character in an unscripted, unaired, unfilmed, unending episode of The Twilight Zone being sent into the future by a maniacal, time-bending puppeteer spirit of Rod Serling whose hand has crossed time and space and multiple dimensions and lodged itself perfectly up my ass and animates me by fingering my bowels.

Remove the hand, Rod.  Please.

I have, as many others also have done, reassessed every single choice I’ve made in my life that is remotely related to education and work. I have come to the conclusion that, somehow, in my acquisition of a BA and a Master’s, I utterly missed the boat. I feel, like Silent Cal said, an ‘educated derelict.’

Given the choice to go back in time just around high school, I’d place in my path a person who was a tradesman of sorts and a very persuasive one: maybe a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician, a taxidermist, a phlebotomist, a cryptologist, even a damn meteorologist, and I’d also give myself openmindedness enough to listen to that person and be taken on as an apprentice with him or her. I think I missed my ist somewhere along the way.

I suspect working with my hands would find me at least one more opportunity than moving bits of the alphabet around blank pages has found me.

I have thought greatly through my 400 blows about what the value of work is in our country, what the value of the worker is, what it means to negotiate a system which we have been told since we could speak is the greatest on the planet.

The only thing our country certainly owns as its unique brand is an ongoing lesson, perhaps even a type of indoctrination from early on, that rampant, unabashed capitalism is the only way out and the thing we all deserve.

There isn’t a kid in the country who doesn’t understand that if you buy a few lemons, some sugar, a stack of cups and a pitcher that you can’t double your money simply by laying out your cost per glass of lemonade on one side of a piece of paper and then doubling it on the other side then hawking it on the sidewalk on a hot summer day.

Making a profit is something that kids from Hawaii to Maine understand and are told is something uniquely, personally, rightfully American.

I do not disagree that it is a keen and necessary lesson, but it is not the only one.

A lesson they’re not told, one I wasn’t told by my father, a disciple of pure, unfettered Capitalism, is that behind this profit motive are dozens of other concerns, chiefly involving those profit-making things, human beings.

I won’t go into those dozens, but I’m pretty certain whoever is reading this might have been softened a bit to recognize a few of them by, if not personally experiencing the ride on our economic slide, at least knowing someone whom has been affected by it.

The sad thing is that even the dumbest, most selfish, fish-breathed, communicatively challenged bosses that exist (for me as recent as my penultimate superiors) understand how to eke out another point at the cost of a person.  To a degree, they’re as knowledgeable about the economy as Warren Buffett. Buy low, sell high.

Some of them should take an etiquette class and learn about responding to earnest inquiries for employment.

Come to think of it, that’s a job I’m well qualified for.  Hire me to write your rejection letters. At least those folks will know someone out there has heard them.

How is today different from yesterday? Well, to begin with, yesterday I had a job, and today I am unemployed.

I only got my job because I have a huge ass. I just realized this recently. Despite the four years I spent in college (where I majored in film; yes, I know, laugh it up), my super impressive bachelor’s degree, and winning personality, these are not what secured my job. It was my huge, fat ass and the fact that the person who interviewed me was a sex addict.

I spent most of the first year cringing in horror when this dude would make a pass at me; laughing loudly and protractedly when he asked me if it was true that young women preferred older men; ignoring comments about going to bars and the state of my underwear and whatever else drifted into his sex-addled mind. Finally asked if he’d appreciate me phoning his wife.

“Stacie,” he drew out, “I wasn’t serious, of course. It was all just a joke.”

“Yeah sure,” I said, jabbing my finger in his direction. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly like that. But it was pretty damn close. It didn’t happen again, but a lot of other stupid shit did. One day I came to work to see the SEC (that’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, for you dreamers out there) raiding my building. I rolled down my window as a stern-faced officer made her way to my car.

“I work here,” I told her apologetically.

“You should probably go home,” she replied, not bothering to explain why. When a federal agent tells you to go home, you go home, no questions asked. The next day I called work to see if I still had a job. Surprisingly, I did. Even more surprising, I fucking went.

Another time I got into a huge fight with the owner, and he fired and rehired me in the span of five minutes. This guy was fond of calling people cock suckers and once stopped me in the hall to point out that Jesus Christ himself had chosen to etch his image into the engineer’s office door. Stacie Adams, smiling politely. I also worked with a guy who assured me that a race war was bound to happen within the next few years. He eventually had to go back ‘underground’ as he put it, which meant that he was finally caught in the one of the myriad of illegal activities in which he was involved, and this entailed him fleeing the state to avoid jail time.

Last week I received a pay check from the owner’s personal bank account. “Oh fuck,” I said to myself. That’s never good. I cashed it first thing, while he still had sufficient funds. Today he sat me down, took on a dour expression and said,

“Look Stacie…” I brought my head to my waiting hands.

“Oh god,” I moaned.

“It’s just for a week,” he insisted. Bankruptcy is never just for a week, I told myself.

“I can’t believe this,” I chanted over and over, until he wrote me another check.

So now I’m on the dole, like the British say. I’m a member of the non-working poor. I can do a lot of shit, just none of it officially. I’m what they used to call a dilettante, or, I guess even more hilariously, an autodidactic. I’m also a polymath, I know because I took a test on the internet.

I haven’t been out of a job since I graduated college. I’m still in shock. Some people tell me I should go back to school, and I refrain from slapping them because I’m a charitable person. I have no interest in adding to the already massive debt I accrued spending four years jawing about mise en scène and whether or not Charles Foster Kane was supposed to be a sympathetic character. That information will totally help me when I’m cold calling for Verizon or fighting with drunks in a bar.

I had a plan yesterday. Well, not a plan as much as a routine. Today is wide open, just waiting for me to take a running leap and fall right on my fucking face. My job sucked, but I had my own desk tucked way in the back where I could listen to Mr. Bungle and Queens of the Stone Age and Khanate, where no one gave me shit. I could wear whatever I wanted. I could flaunt my rat tail and tattoos and nobody thought twice. Those days are gone. Here come the fake smiles and awkward handshakes and bullshit questions about goals and strengths and weaknesses that no normal human being could answer with a straight face.

I was talking to my boyfriend about it. “Imagine what I’m going to look like by the end of next week,” I queried. He had a vision of a bedraggled, old-faced woman in a stained bath robe, with a massive dildo jutting out of the pocket, brandishing a glass of liquor at all times and crying mascara, lamenting the ‘good old days’ when the daily 9 to 5 didn’t entail fudding yourself insane to Maury Povich.

Is this destined to happen? I can’t say. I promise you, if it does, I will provide pictures.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

–The Graduate, 1967

 

Before British Petroleum botched the most spectacular oil disaster in the history of our petro-based culture [addendum: the most spectacularly publicized oil disaster: turns out NIGERIA HAS IT WORSE, but no-one knows about it or gives a fig], I was already thinking about petroleum. Or using less of it. I’m a conscientious person; I don’t want to use more than my fair share of resources, nor do I embrace the notion that if I can buy it, I should. I want to live lightly without becoming a monk; I would like to share the wealth of natural resources without raping the earth for them.

I’m an American Consumer™, but I do my best to keep my insatiable desire for convenience in check. I’ve got the cloth bags for groceries, using them most of the time but forgetting them some of the time. I bought our son little reuseable lunch bags; we have a Mr. Bento food jar for him to take hot lunches to school. We drink from metal water containers. Our family has one car which gets 50 miles to the gallon on the highway by merit of its awesome diesel-ness; we can fill it with Biodiesel when it’s available (although biodiesel has turned food crops into fuel crops in certain parts of the world, making a huge rice shortage in Asia highlighting the fact that the consequence of any “alternative” fuel is that it has unintended ones). We’ve had it almost ten years; we hope that we’ll just drive it to its obsolescence, though once in a while I think how nice it would be to have more space.

But that’s what Zipcar is for.

We’re wimpy bicyclists, I’m ashamed to admit. I need to buy better rain gear, but since I can’t be bothered to buy myself regular clothing it seems that practical rain solutions have just fallen right off the list.

This is not my concern, however. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how to eradicate plastic out of our lives which, with the passage of time seems absolutely paramount in not completely destroying ourselves and everything else.

Plastic: convenient, ubiquitous poison. The road to hell is paved with it.

I don’t quite remember what it was like to look around a house and not being able to identify fifty different things which were composed partially of plastic. Maybe it never happened in my life. My parents had Tupperware after all, and I had that Fisher Price Corn Popper push toy which, looking at a photo of it, is made completely out of plastic. But with all the news about Bisphenol A and floating islands of toxic plastic garbage in the ocean (the size of Texas or larger and growing); water bottles filling landfills after you drink their tap-water contents, it seems like we’ve become too accustomed to welcoming plastic into our lives unquestioned and unchallenged.

Here’s a list of petroleum-based products from my vantage point on the sofa. I’m looking no further than what I can see; I’m not going into the kitchen where god knows what sort of plastic horrors await me.

  • DVD and Wii Game cases, with the discs themselves.
  • Cables and plugs running from our computers to speakers and television
  • speaker housing
  • computer cases
  • remote controls
  • keyboard and mouse
  • television
  • laundry bag made of nylon
  • packing tape on Amazon box
  • dog crate made of nylon or acrylic fabric
  • Ikea storage drawers
  • acrylic wall paint, plus dyes
  • spiral binder
  • Drinky the Crow (admittedly awesome)
  • paperback books with stain-resistant coating on their covers, hundreds of them
  • dog toys
  • polyurethane on the fir floors
  • iPhones (two)
  • shoulder bag
  • acrylic stuffing in leather sofa
  • vinyl Oregon Zoo decals mounted in our window
  • inserts for throw pillows
  • adhesive on non-skid feet for our tables and chairs
  • dog collar and one dog tag
  • step stool
  • cotton-poly blend curtain backing
  • outlet and light plates
  • Toys, in such great numbers that I can’t help but swoon a little, including:
  1. A “Marble Maze” (fifty pieces or more)
  2. Automoblox
  3. Legos (thousands of individual petroleum pellets)
  4. Fisher Price Camera
  5. Crayola markers and pens
  6. Hyper Dash (one plastic controller and four plastic disks)
  7. Playmobil (again, hundreds of little petro-pellets in the form of awesome birds, pirates, bicycles and treasure)
  8. Bag containing binoculars, plus the binoculars themselves
  9. Rody the Ride-On Pony

Shockingly, I’m relieved there isn’t more. We’ve gone out of our way to buy furniture that is either antique, used or made of natural wood, not MDF. Our house is filled with photos and paintings which have wood frames and glass instead of plastic, and most of our tchotchkes are ancient fripperies which, by merit of their ancientness are made of metal or porcelain or wood. Not all, certainly, but most. Many of our son’s toys were bought with avoiding plastic in mind; Automoblox are wood with plastic parts; his building blocks are wood; Tinker Toys, wood with plastic parts.

But I’ve looked through my house on numerous occasions looking for ways to go on a plastic diet. Why are all of our shampoos and liquid soaps, household cleaners in plastic? Glass, of course, is too heavy to ship and adds cost in FUEL. I buy bulk shampoo and bulk conditioner but fill them from plastic jugs. My husband shaved his head twenty years ago and never looked back, eradicating the need for hair products in any form; maybe I should do that, too.

But his razors? Plastic, with metal blades. Is it straight-razor time? A good idea, but I fear he would never sharpen the damned thing and always be nicked. Plus, I don’t know if I would want him to shave the back of his head without a safety razor. Call me crazy.

I’ve tried to prune the plastic storage containers out of our kitchen by replacing them with glass, not just because I want to stop the petroleum glut but because there are so many studies about chemicals leaching into food and beverages. But food comes from stores…in plastic. Yogurt comes in plastic tubs which don’t even have lids anymore which makes it impossible to reuse them. Even hippy-health-nuggets come in plastic containers; buy cookies with organic flour blessed by virgins and they’re still wrapped in cellophane-wrapped extruded plastic sepulchers. If you buy bulk, the bags are plastic. The grease pens used to write on the tag: plastic.

Buying local is of course the best way to cut down on your petro-consumption, not just because the distance the food travels is shorter, thereby lowering your petro footprint, but you inject money into local businesses, farms and growers which need less packaging to transport their goods. By buying at your farmer’s market you’re often just plucking veggies from a box and putting them in your cloth bag. Win-win!

That’s great for me here in Portland, Oregon where we can grow food almost year round. What about you people stuck up on a mountain top? Or in the desert? What are you gonna eat? Stuff that’s been shipped, and wrapped in plastic.

I bought some lotion in a glass bottle, hoping that I would somehow be lightening the load; the pump is plastic. Our toothbrushes: plastic. Dental floss: plastic. I’ve never seen a cardboard container for dental floss; maybe it’s not practical. But how do we decide which is the most necessary plastic to hang onto and which is okay to stop producing? Obviously, we want our hospitals and doctors to have access to hygienic plastic doobobs and sterile plastic this’s-and-that’s so that they can keep us alive when we show up for their services. But what about the crackers I buy? You remember when crackers came in waxed paper bags inside cardboard boxes? But do we even need the boxes, much less the bag inside?

Blister packs, cheese wrappers, cellophane on popsicles, laundry soap packaging, grocery bags, soda bottles, mayonnaise jars, pepper grinders, disposable pens, patio furniture. When did Grey Poupon go to plastic? I bought excess mustard the other day just so I could get the glass jar instead.

You outdoorsy types (I’m embarrassingly indoorsy in the Great Backyard of Oregon) appreciate nature in all it’s splendor and thus it attunes you to the necessity of conservation and environmental protection, but you’re all stomping around the wilderness in your Gore-Tex and Weather-Blok Super Materials made from various chemically bonded magic beans and petroleum. Your tents are made out of them too. As are your boots and your hats and gloves.

Do I have an alternative for you to consider? No.

And this is the problem, I think, with all of us. We don’t know how to unwind the Gordian knot of petroleum which has threaded our entire lives in scads of plastic. I want to be the best, wisest, well-informed consumer I can be, but some things I just can’t figure out how to get away from. Buy bulk, sure. Drive less, yes–oh, yes. But the cheese I buy from the tiny local market down the street–they wrap their cheese in butcher paper…coated with plastic.

And I don’t know what’s right. Research is conflicting about paper vs. plastic. Paper doesn’t biodegrade any better than plastic when it’s anaerobic. That’s why we have 2000 year old Egyptian papyrus scrolls from ancient dump sites. Cut a tree down, you’ve lost a great air filter. Some studies point to plastic bags making far less of a carbon footprint than paper for a whole host of reasons from the production process to the loss of habitat. What to do?

And I don’t mean my grocery bags. What about all the food that is in my grocery bags?

My husband and I were deliberating about this the other day. I remembered a story about an American woman living in a small Italian town where every year during the olive oil pressing, people would grab their jugs and wander down to get their supply for the year. Wine too. Everyone had some barrels or jugs in which to store their staples, not terribly different from the Roman, Greek and Phoenician amphorae of ancient times.

Would I be comfortable buying a barrel of wine to keep in my basement, along with a jug of olive oil? Could I split a barrel with my neighbors? Every year, could we buy a share of wine from a local winery? I know people do it with cows and pigs; there are CSA’s for organic vegetables (good way of avoiding petroleum; no petro-based fertilizers or pesticides). Can we extend the method? How about my crackers? Could I just purchase them not in a box at all, but a bulk bin where I stash them in my handy-dandy metal cracker tin (standardized so that the weight PLU’s would be easy)? How can we peel away the layers and layer of plastic and replace them with honest to god solutions?

I don’t ever want buy a CD or DVD again; if it’s digital data, I want to download it. No more goddamned plastic cases. No more DVD coasters with crappy slideshows on them. No more plastic deck chairs and MDF landfill furniture. And stop with the “goody bags” at kid’s birthday parties, already. I don’t need them and I can’t remember if my son ever played with any of the plastic junk that was in them anyway. Bring back waxed paper for wrapping things, go to Depression-era standards of frugality instead of post-war standards of excess. Keep up with the Joneses by keeping plastic out of landfills.

Maybe I’m being utopian and naive. The back-to-the-land movement was idealistic, but in the end completely impractical. We can’t all be homesteaders. We can have Victory Gardens, but it won’t supply our grain needs. We can buy locally baked bread, but the flour isn’t being ground at the mill next door. It’s being trucked in. We can’t all spin our own yarn from our pet sheep Lulu so as to avoid wool sweaters polluted with spandex and petro costs shipped from Turkmenistan.

But I’m comfortable with the hypothesis that something’s got to give. Building high-speed rail would help, as would more of us riding our bikes. I don’t think it’s enough, though, and I don’t want to contribute any more to the enormous flotilla of garbage in the Pacific. I want less plastic. I want corporations to produce less plastic. I want the chemical devastation of plastic-creation to cease, or at the very least drop dramatically. I’ve wanted less plastic for years, but the BP oil spill and the Pacific Garbage Patch have only emphasized the point in a radical and devastating loss of land, ocean, livelihoods and sea life. As if I needed any convincing.

But maybe I can convince someone who makes my crackers or olive oil. Or someone who wants to loan me their sheep.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

CONTEXT: On February 5, 2011, David Shields and I spoofed jocks in The Nervous Breakdown. Less than two months later I wrote an article at TNB about a dubious competition run by a Seattle sports radio station, KJR. Then I sent a link of the article to KJR, and they responded. This is the next chapter: 

According to Forbes Magazine, Seattle is the most miserable sports town in the United States. As a Northwest native and long suffering fan of the Mariners, Seahawks, and the now departed Sonics, I cannot disagree.  Our bad teams are complemented by Seattle sportscasters with Moobs (Manboobs) and Seattle whiner-fans griping about East Coast Bias. Yet I never have minded being the underdog. Unfortunately, the Seattle sports scene has deeper problems. As a father of three daughters, and a lifelong sports junkie, I’m having a mid-life crisis.

THE JOSH LUEKE “RAPE”: In May of 2008 two baseball players on a Texas Rangers farm team met a woman at a bar and took her home. The woman, unidentified, promptly threw up and passed out in their apartment.  She woke partially clothed and physically violated, and went to the authorities. The results: DNA from her jeans, tank top, hair, and semen on an anal swab matched one of the athletes, Josh Lueke. He was arrested, charged with rape, but eventually pleaded guilty of a lesser felony, the obscure False imprisonment with violence. He emerged relatively unscathed, his career intact.

Last summer the Seattle Mariners traded for Lueke, and he is now on the big league club. His presence makes the transgressions of other Mariners tame (one has battled domestic violence accusations and another shoved last year’s manager). I’ve had it. This year I will not listen or watch Mariners games, and if the team does not get rid of the scum, I will not watch next year or ever. Our family will now enjoy baseball games played by the Everett AquaSox.

THE MORAL PLACEBO: Okay, I’m boycotting the Mariners. So friggin’ what? Sex crimes happen across the spectrum of society. Every city has their scandal. Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisber has similar trouble, but this just gives me one more reason to hate the Steelers. It’s true there are two sides. Gold diggers like Karen Sypher, who was sentenced to 7+ years for extortion after an affair with Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, are an element, but her egregious actions in no ways justify a defense of the creeps.

So what’s a moral placebo? A “moral placebo” is when an individual makes a pledge or action on ethical grounds, yet the main beneficiary is the individual: he or she feels better about him or herself. Examples: Swearing not to drive an SUV; praying really, really hard for the well-being of starving children in underdeveloped countries; or boasting about how your eight million-dollar mansion “saves” energy because it has solar panels, even though you consume twenty times more energy than the average citizen. Yes. Words and action have a relationship (perhaps the person praying will actually send money or volunteer), but without action these stands are useless. Call me cynical, but brandishing a candle against the proverbial darkness often comes off as bullshit.

Nevertheless, I brandish, I spout, and thus I’d like to add a few words about my other “moral placebo,” a boycott of KJR Sports 950 and their sponsors. My previous TNB post took on KJR’s Mitch “Dork in the Morning” Levy and The Bigger Dance. I sent a post of this article to KJR, and soon after a few members of the KJR Society for the Legalization of Date-Rape responded. One KJR DJ took the time to engage me and defend his right to objectify women.

EXCHANGE BETWEEN KJR DJ & MYSELF:

Caleb Powell: KJR supporters have revealed themselves in the “Comments” section.

KJR DJ: Wow. Nice to see such an intellect using the proper narrow brush.

(He pasted from my interview with David Shields)

Powell: Angelina Jolie or Katherine Zeta-Jones?

Shields: Uhhhh…Angelina Jolie or hmmm…I would say Katherine Zeta-Jones.

Powell: Beyoncé or Britney?

Shields: Uh…I must admit…Britney.

I think it’s the consistency in your point of view that I find so refreshing. By the way it’s “Catherine” with a C.

CP: It’s a Spoof on Barkley. Thanks for the ‘C’ tip. Didn’t you notice the intro: “Using questions often directed at jocks, specifically Charles Barkley, we did a quick Q&A…”

KJR DJ: Ohhhhhh. I see. When YOU do it it’s a spoof. Got it.

CP: Didn’t know the Dance was a spoof.

KJR DJ: So you think we take it seriously? Honestly…it seems wildly hypocritical of you to ask David Shields what you asked him and then trash us and our listeners for what is in fact a harmless little contest. Then you play your deal off as a spoof but still want to take ours seriously.

If you don’t like the contest then there’s an easy way to deal with it. Don’t pay attention to it. But don’t demand that every other person has to see things your way…or that one or two people who respond to your post are suddenly representative of the entire listening audience of KJR.

CP: Representative? Even one KJR fan thinking like that should make you worry. “Wildly hypocritical?” That’s hyperbole. My piece with Shields ridiculed the “dumb jock.” “Harmless little contest?” Bullshit. You and KJR take it seriously. The contest is not a spoof, it’s a cash cow for KJR; sure, to you it’s fun and for the most part harmless, but it objectifies women. That’s a problem. Men that objectify women are more likely to be violent. There is a direct correlation, the evidence is there, and yes, I’m giving you a conclusion, but the studies behind it are complex and cogent.

And even though, for the most part it’s harmless and most guys that get off on the Dance are okay, enough of them are “date-rapes waiting to happen.” Those comments here at The Nervous Breakdown are frightening, aren’t they? You want those guys dating someone you care about? Hey, I don’t know if you have a daughter or a sister, but would you want any woman to have to deal with men that think objectifying women is “harmless?” It’s not.

KJR DJ: And it’s pretty damned convienient that YOU do this and claim you were just ridiculing the dumb jock. But we’re doing it and we’re equated to rapers (sic) and murderers. THAT my friend is bullshit. Tell yourself anything you want.

CP: You’re not rapists, but rapists feed off your schtick.

KJR DJ: But no rapist read your interview with David, right?

CP: What? Another non-sequitor?

That’s it. KJR DJ at least thought about the issues, yet his argument was hampered by a rudimentary use of rhetorical modifiers and his inability to understand irony. He chose to remain anonymous. I don’t listen to KJR, and though I’m boycotting their sponsors, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, big deal, I never drank it, anyway.

Yet maybe I’m wrong. Maybe beliefs and stands matter. My wife backs me, our oldest daughter plays T-ball, and I’ve discovered other parents agree. Seattle Mariner attendance is down, and a young struggling team is not the only reason. The lit candle might not be a mere platitude. Our views influence how we raise our children and treat our peers. They’re not just token moral placebos.

Most of the time I hate doing stand up comedy.

I hate coming up with jokes.

I hate rehearsing jokes until I can remember them.

I hate the deathly silence or mild indifference most of the jokes in question receive.

Most of the shows I do are comedy nights I run out of the room above a bar in town. They give me free drinks and the room upstairs once a month. All I have to do is advertise the night, get enough acts to fill a two hour show, and enough customers to buy drinks.

It’s a pretty good deal, with an incredible level of creative freedom. I can do whatever I like with the show. I’m writing and directing a play for a festival and I keep having to re-write that to avoid offending people and getting around staging limitations.

With stand up it’s just a mic, a warning about adult content and I’m free to do anything within the boundaries of British law.

I never said I hate stand up as an art form, I just hate doing it.

I blame myself. You see what happened at first is I’d get all my performers from the university. It was strictly amateur night and the playing field was level… There wasn’t anyone who had much more experience than I did. I’m very, very low level in terms of ability and experience but it didn’t show for the first couple of shows.

Then I started getting e-mails from guys on the professional circuit. I wanted to put on the best shows possible, so I let them all in.

Unsurprisingly they pushed the standards up with their fancy pants notebooks and stage presence, and made me look even worse than I am.

I hate doing stand up.

I’ve quit comedy more times than I’ve performed it.

*  *  *  *  *

One of the greatest moments of my life so far was on St. Patrick’s Day. I’d passed out the previous year after drinking around ten pints of Guinness so I decided it’d be safer to just stick to Jameson. I ditched my friends on the dance floor because I was bored and the band kept playing U2 songs. I ended up drinking with an American exchange student who’s playing God in my play, and a professional magician who performs at my comedy night.

As we were drinking a girl came over to us and asked me if I was the guy from the comedy night. When I told her I was she smiled and told me she ‘really enjoyed going…’

That was nice, but it would have been better if the sentence hadn’t ended ‘… with my boyfriend’ and me getting the barmaid to put another double in my half pint glass that had probably forgotten what being empty felt like.

The point to the story is not that I am an awesome bitchin’ rockstar from Mars. No, the point is that however awesome that felt it’s not the reason I do stand up. It’s a feeling that pales in comparison to spending twenty minutes on stage with forty people watching your every move, listening to your every word, and laughing at every joke.

That’s what gets you addicted. I’m no better than a crack addict really, and I certainly don’t dress any better.

Since I performed that routine my life has been an empty and futile battle to come up with anything anywhere near as good. I’ve told jokes that have got laughs since, but it’s not the same.

At one point during the single greatest twenty minutes of my life a girl right by the front of her stage was literally on the edge of her seat and gasping with each twist of the story I was telling.

Power — total control.

For those twenty minutes the darkened lounge was my kingdom, and I was its God. It’s a strange and heady cocktail of power and constant, instant validation… It only feels like two minutes, and it seems like there is nothing else in the world but you and forty faces.

The whole twenty minutes essentially paves the way for the ten second payoff at the end which is met with laughter and applause whilst I thank everyone for coming.

As the room emptied I collapsed down on the stage floating slowly downwards into a perfect cocktail of solitude, validation, adrenaline and free whiskey… And now I feel like a rockstar…

Most of the time I hate doing stand up comedy, but this is why I don’t stop… Why I can’t stop…

For the same reason sports fans cheer their team season after season however bad they might be performing.

For the same reason some people keep doing drugs, however adverse the physical effects might be.


It’s an addiction… and I don’t want a cure.


Being pregnant is interesting to you.  But you are not the first person to be pregnant or the first pregnant person anyone has known.  You are not the most important pregnant person anyone has known.  You are not even the only pregnant person in the world, country, state, or city at this exact moment.  You are probably the only pregnant person in your house.  But not necessarily.

Being pregnant is not exceptional.


Metaphorically, a chimera is a bogeyman, monster, or other fanciful mental fabrication comprised of grotesquely disparate parts.

In mythology, Chimera was a fire-breathing monster.  She was a child of Typhon and a sister of Cerberus & Hydra.  She had the body of a goat or ram, the hindquarters of a dragon, and the head of a lion (most depictions show her with the heads of the other two animals as well).  In some genealogies, she was the mother of the Sphinx.  Seeing Chimera was a omen of natural disasters like storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

Chimerism is also a genetic anomaly.

Real-life  genetic chimeras have the DNA of more than one distinct individual, usually just in a handful of organs.  True chimerism results from the fusion of fraternal multiples very early in zygotic development.

A chimeric mother may, for example, have ovaries and a uterus from her fused female fraternal twin.  As such, the DNA in them would not match the DNA that made up the rest of her body, so the children she conceived,  carried, and gave birth to would not technically–at least genetically–be her children.  They would be her nieces & nephews.

Ultimately, you could say, such children would be born by surrogate.  But the whole reproductive system, not just the fertilized eggs, would be tenants in a host body.

It boggles the mind(s).


“How are you feeling?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve asked this question of a pregnant woman and not actually cared what the response was.

Most of the time, while pregnant women obligatorily answer my obligatory question about their health, I scan the room to find someone who can drink alcohol–preferably male–and make plans to escape to his company at once.

I have never fit well with women.  I have no particular allegiance to my gender (at least not for sake of my gender alone), and I don’t generally trust its members.  I consider myself a feminist, but only insofar as feminism is, foremost, a sort of individualism & autonomy advocacy.  It just so happens that it’s especially for females.  Women make me uncomfortable, even more so if they’re beset with a fundamentally female affliction.

There is, I’ve found, a tendency for reproduction to have the general social effect of a middle school dance.  Girls on this side, boys on that side.

It’s my worst nightmare to be isolated among women and left to talk about nothing but women things.  So if I am to talk about pregnancy, we won’t have any of that uterine cult, Red Tent nonsense.

And even where pregnant woman are not being sentimental about their gender, being in the company of most pregnant people is not altogether unlike being in a nursing home, hospital, or hospice center. The primary topics of conversation are medical in nature.  Or if the conversation is not directly medical, it will still call to mind hospitals, medical issues, internal anatomy, and bizarre physiological processes, creating a sort of sickly clinical atmosphere wherever one is, whether at a fancy dinner, innocently trying to grocery shop, or at Disney World.


There you are on some sunshiny Orlando day, maybe in line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  Your pregnant friend is chatting away about doula hunting, and suddenly you’re compelled to consider burst blood vessels, blood, mucus, and your best friend shitting the bed in front of God and doctors and family alike.

Later, the gleeful giggle of preschoolers, the whimsical pastels of Main Street, USA, and the spectre of excrement, bodily fluids, and torn sinew hanging over your burger lunch at the Crystal Palace while your friend pokes three fingers into her bulbous stomach, chewing and grimacing as her fetus grinds a heel into her liver.


Everyone’s always trying to cover it up.  Like pregnancy is a spiritual experience rather than a physical one.  It’s the “miracle” of life.  This condition, which human evolution, in 3 million years, has not managed to perfect well enough to keep a woman from vomiting for 3 months straight or wetting herself every time she laughs, is considered a “blessing.”

Pregnancy is supposed to be this sweet, gentle image–soft-focus, vignetted.  But there’s an unspoken, septic quality.  Underneath the euphemisms and precious sentiment, there’s something very Dorian Gray.  The “glow” is a greasy face.   The woman gazes lovingly down upon a creature who is pissing into her belly.  And then inhaling it.


It’s the happiest time of her life.


Except for the excruciatingly painful varicose veins in her rectum that are beginning to bulge out of her butthole.



If everything goes well, she will give birth to both an infant and a slimy two-pound mass of blood, tissue and mucus, which she can then take home and cook up like a haggis, if she is so inclined.


Everything surrounding pregnancy tends to be feminizing, mortalizing, and deceitful.  Each is bad enough on its own; they are especially awful together.

But even worse, in my perception, pregnancy–though I recognize it not to be a disability or weakness, per se–is nevertheless an instance of a person in a compromised state.  I have known only a small handful of pregnant women who did not give off that vibe.

I am acutely aware of not wanting to be perceived of as compromised.

I am even more aware of not wanting to feel compromised.


Intentional though it may have been, my current pregnancy puts me in a weird spot.


I am aware of the implications inherent in what I’m saying, not the least of which is the suggestion that childbearing can compromise a woman’s personality or intellect.  But I am also aware that biology doesn’t give a shit about my feminism or anyone else’s.


Progesterone has natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties.   In excessive doses, it’s a formidable sedative that causes drowsiness and difficulty waking.

I am currently, and all pregnant women are, to some degree, doped.


I’ve found that in the relative absence of anxiety and hyper-vigilance, my intellect has changed.  I am less curious.  I am not compelled to write.  I am less investigative.  I simply don’t care.  Face value will do.  The first answer is the last answer.  Finito.  My madness used to have a method.  Now it’s more of a declaration.

And once the pregnancy is defeated, “mommy brain” is said to persist as long as the children do.


Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide with the lotus-eaters, ever feeding on the lotus and forgetful of his homeward way.



All to the grim, sneering satisfaction of those who have always wished I were a more docile human being.

I’m sure of it.


If the child were the only one who believed he/she was entitled to dictate a parent’s behavior, that would be one thing.

But reproduction and parenthood, especially for women, brings with it an oppressive expectation of conformity, moderation, and general temperance or softening of character and behavior in addition to a thoroughly more severe and self-righteous community of kibitzing, judgmental busybodies who want, more than anything, for the same things that happened to them to happen to other people and for other people to do the things they have done.  If there is only one way, then that’s the right way.  Validation.

I have found, already, that people suddenly assume they understand my life, my thoughts, and my emotions just because I am pregnant and they or people they know have also been pregnant.  They delight not only in speculating on how I feel and what I think but in telling me how I will feel and think come this time or that time in the future.

Presumed homogeneity of experience.  Unconscious communication and enforcement of norms and acceptable shades of deviation.


I have already been referred to as “a mommy.”

“A.”  Meaning any one among many.

“Mommy.”  The diminutive. Indicating small, non-threatening, less.


This was spoken by another adult.  A male adult.

I have put many different sentences here, attempting to describe the violent emotions that one word caused in me.  But like Lycia, I just burn and burn.


Women are often worse.  A female adult has told me that this will mark my transition into “full” womanhood.

Not only do the insipid platitudes of the sisterhood cause bile to rise in my throat and a greasy-black, acrid cloud of loathing to creep across my soul, I am intellectually allergic to the notion that a woman isn’t a really a woman until she has, under considerable duress, squeezed a watermelon-sized object out of her vagina.

Never mind that I never asked to be a member of whatever mythical club this woman is trying to induct me into.  She just assumes I’ve been on some kind of waiting list.  As if we all aspire to be “full” women.  Whatever the hell that means.

In fact, it is beginning to appear as though not even the smallest of my peeves, principles, neuroticisms, hang-ups, and individual sovereign boundaries will go unmolested during this blessed, miraculous time in my feminine journey, including, many warn me, the boundary where I prefer not to be groped by strangers in public.


There are, I accept, many aspects of reproduction and motherhood that will require me to relinquish significant portions of my Royal Self.

There will also be requests and attempted demands for such relinquishment that I will reject.

Potentially aggressively.


I pity the stranger who reaches for my belly.  I pity the person who side-glances at me as I order my morning–or afternoon–coffee.


I can feel them looking at me already.  Plotting my subsumption.  Putting their eyes on me.

It starts this low, inaudible rumbling.


Maybe I’ll end up in jail.



My pregnancy is not exceptional.

But I am.

Exceptionally what, I won’t presume.



Get your fetal chimera specimens here.


Jeff and Lisa, looking out the rear window of Jeff’s apartment, watch Miss Torso – a beautiful leggy blonde, swat away multiple suitors ravenous for her attention at a cocktail party.

JEFF: She’s like a queen bee with her pick of the drones.

LISA: I’d say she’s doing the hardest job a woman has: juggling wolves.

— Rear Window, 1954

*

I am not a whore.

Yeah.

That seems like a good place to start.

*

I’m cute. Almost always. Sometimes I think I even manage pretty. I have a great rack and a small waist. Hourglassy. Much more Marilyn than Moss. My big blue eyes are my very best feature and I’ve been told that my smile can be blinding. I like dresses. Girly ones. And heels. Tall. I paint my nails. Occasionally blue or black or brown, but usually red. Vampy, glittering reds are my favorite.

Make no mistake about it: I’m a girl.

But I also know where to draw the line. My clothes fit, they are both age and event-appropriate and you will never see what I do not want you to see.

After all, I’m also a lady.

Consequently, I’ve never, ever, felt like a whore.

Not until this past weekend, that is.

*

It’s no secret I’m raising money for my next film. One tactic is to find wealthy individuals with disposable income who have a passion for film and somehow convince them to invest in yours. Folks like that tend to be businessmen[1]. Risk-takers. Gamblers.

How do you find those people? Film festivals. Especially ones in wealthy towns.

I was invited to be on a jury at one such festival and seized the opportunity to attend – with the aim of networking within circles I would be otherwise unable to access. I printed my paperwork, practiced my schpiel, packed my bag with the perfect party gear and dove in headfirst.

*

At the opening night party I met “Horace”. Horace was a charming older gentleman. He was well-dressed, well-spoken, witty and thought critically about the evening’s film. I enjoyed talking with him immensely. He had done extremely well for himself working on Manhattan’s trading floor and was a fellow cinephile. He had even had been in a few background scenes in the films Trading Places and Wall Street. He retired comfortably and when the conversation got around to what I did and what I was working on, he immediately started introducing me to the other attendees – especially ones who he felt would take a personal interest to the material. He collected business cards for me and made it a point to tell me that making connections was his forté. We parted with a polite cheek-kiss and you can only imagine how thrilled I was to have started off so well.

The next morning, I awoke to an email with an invitation to join him for a cocktail party on the rooftop terrace of a snazzy new waterfront building. It was THE place to been seen and an opportunity to shake the hands of, not merely rich, but wealthy individuals.

Horace closed the email with “What are your plans tonight? I am looking for some ‘uncomplicated’ fun.”

AYFKMWTS[2]???

I responded with a polite and friendly reply. I thanked him for the invitation, told him how very much I enjoyed his company and would be delighted to join him, but that I was quite devoted to my boyfriend[3] and was there to enjoy the town, the festival and new friends and colleagues. I mentioned my investor search and how I would relish the opportunity to expand my network. I invited him to call if he still wanted me to join him at the cocktail party for networking and the like.

But yeah.

I shot him down.

Hard.

Because no matter how grandfatherly and pleasant he seemed the night before, he propositioned me.

And while there are innumerable things I will do for my film, sucking a 72 year-old dick is not one of them.

*

Two nights later, I paid dearly for a ticket for the festival’s big gala. While I did receive an otherwise pricey VIP badge in exchange for my services as a judge, the pass granted me access to everything but that one party, and when you’re looking for investors, a $200-ticket party is where you’ll find them.

As a brief respite from schmoozing some of the people Horace (whom I never heard from again) had introduced me to, I stopped to chat with some of the festival staff.

A gentleman wandered toward the group and greeted the people he knew. Introductions were made. He was high up in the “Jaymond Rames” family and didn’t necessarily flaunt his wealth, but did frequently and somewhat annoyingly refer to it. Also, he was a handsy fellow. A close-talker. And kind of loud. But it was a party and the DJ was spinning at a pitch just two decibels above ‘pleasant conversation’ and so I forgave him, but neither did I pay him much mind. Braggadocio is a less-than-admirable trait in my book.

When he mentioned that his brother was an opera singer, my ears perked up. “Who?” I asked. Small world of small words – I not only had heard of his brother, I had worked with him some ten years’ previous. I immediately saw the family resemblance. How had I missed it?! So I began to hone in on little clues as to his interest in, perhaps, another art form. Say… independent film?

My chattiness in sussing out whether he was an investor candidate was immediately assumed to be sexual and “Matt” got handsier. Grabby, actually. I got pawed like so much PlayDoh. I kept him at arm’s distance (as much as I could) and refused to “smell his neck” when repeatedly prodded, nor would I let him anywhere near mine.

It was at that point when he said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got the money for your film. Now just relax and let’s have some fun already.”

Upon parting ways, he told me to follow him in his car and he would steer me back to the interstate.

The valet brought my crappy little veedub (vs his slick beemer) first and I knew the way back. After all, I had driven myself there, hadn’t I? He called to tell me that I had turned incorrectly. The message was bitter.

“Kimberly. It’s Matt. You’re going the wrong way.”

I wasn’t.

Nor do I believe I’ll be joining him in the Bahamas next month.

*

Looking back at Rear Window, I don’t remember the specifics of Miss Torso’s party. We know all about the songwriter’s crescendo towards success and Miss Lonelyheart’s deep depression, the newly-wed bride’s insatiable appetite and of course, what happened to Mrs. Thorwald and the little dog too…

But why the party, Hitch?

The scene set up Miss Torso as a whore; a ditzy dancer who rehearsed in her granny panties during those hot summer afternoons and by the very nature of her affability and attractiveness, was asking for it.

Just like that poor little girl in Texas.

*

What the hell? Do I have to start wearing combat boots and black trench coats to be taken seriously by a man? Do I have to bind my breasts and shave my head? Assume a dour and aloof disposition and hope that someone just walks up to me and takes over where Ed McMahon left off??

*

I have another similar festival to attend in two weeks’ time and I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. I mean, seriously. Why would I prance around in my granny panties if I know everyone’s got binoculars?

After a thorough review of the weekend, I still contend that I dressed appropriately and professionally. I am certain that my pitch and business acumen was rock-solid. My friendly approach of “Hello! What did you think about the film?” came straight from the Dale Carnegie handbook, so I know that market’s cornered.

But ever the student, I knew there was something I could learn from this experience. Something I could do differently. Something I could change.

And it hit me.

Like a giant fucking rock.

[4]

– – – – – – – – – –

[1] I don’t know the percentage of male-to-female film investors, but my experience thus far leads me to believe that like the rest of the film industry, it’s pretty heavily male dominated.

[2] Are You Fucking Kidding Me With This Shit?

[3] It wasn’t a total lie. I mean, I would be if I had one.

[4] This is the wedding set I just bought (for a whopping $7.35) and will sport at the next film festival and subsequent parties. Otherwise, I’ll do and wear everything exactly the same as I did this past weekend. Even if I don’t raise a penny for the film, it should be a FASCINATING experiment.