@

I really really meant to write something about how sweet it is to be in Spain writing stories and reading all the things I’ve been meaning to, but I went for a coffee, opened the paper and BOOM!

Yesterday’s article in El Pais, Spain’s biggest national paper, had a rundown of the immigration debate in Arizona. Oddly, the article seemed most outraged about Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s strange demand that the prisoners in his system wear pink underwear. That quirky bit of homophobia has never really struck me as central to the debate, though it is troubling, and if not cruel, certainly unusual.

Of course, they also showed photos of the march and rally in support of the law. Signs reading ‘go home illegals’, and ‘for English press 1, for deportation press 2’ and somewhat out of place ‘an armed society is a civilized society’ and even more confusingly ‘Karl Marx was not a founding father.’

These are not things I overheard, but signs waved high for all to see.

The article made the clever choice to introduce Arpaio as ‘of Italian origin’.

The rally was in a football stadium where a majority of the workers were of Latino (which determination, ironically enough is also Italian in a sense) origin. They were the only visible attendants, according to the article, that were not white.

“Can you hear me Mexico? Can you hear me from here? You should be clear that this land is our land, not your land. We paid for it. We worked for it,” said Larry Wachs, a journalist from Atlanta.

Who are we? I don’t mean that in any national existential angst sort of way, but seriously, who is this mythic ‘we’ that ‘paid for’ and ‘worked for’ this land? The bold and industrious English, who sailed over here and set up shop in a way that is not unambiguously heroic? The Germans or Italians or Irish or Norwegians or Danes or Czechs or Poles who came for myriad reasons at different historical moments? The Africans who were dragged here, only to suffer three centuries of slavery before being released into a battle for equality that’s still underway? The Indigenous who wandered here God knows when and have suffered indignity after indignity since the establishment of the colonies? The Chinese who labored in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure and later sat in prisons for the crime of being Japanese? Who are we? And why did only the white ‘we’ show up to this battle (covered/sponsored by Fox News)?

Conservative, I mean here the word itself not the ideology or the people who ascribe to it, refers to the preservation of something, no? It means to limit change. It is tied to an ideal and static moment, an edenic past, an originary place that depends on mythology to make it more pure than the present. To conserve something is to save it as it is, which in a world subject to physical laws and the perpetual movement of time, is impossible. So, I guess my question is, what exactly is it that people are trying to conserve? Was it represented by the homogeneity of that rally’s attendants? At what moment exactly do you locate the United States that is escaping into some threatening new entity, the United States that is and can remain ‘our land’.

That type of thinking, the type that leads people to concrete imaginings of some certain, codified establishment of borders between nations and people, of the investing of nationality with a substantive reality beyond the coincidence of location and time, is to me, well, totally foreign…

And so, I want to establish a nation for people who fear those who believe fervently in nations, and to draw up a long, meandering and in places nonexistent border that can be respected or ignored by the UN and all its constituent nations at their whim. The border will probably loosely trail the equator. Which side of the equator is ‘ours’ will remain undetermined until some future congress, which shall meet at an undetermined time and which shall consist of undetermined members, convenes…

We will have passports drawn in crayon and stamped with lipstick-y kisses. Our origin myth will be that one day from the chaotic ashes of beaurocracy and hate rose a Phoenix who flew drunkenly around the planet with a crayon in its beak dividing the world roughly in two, but not indicating which side was inside of the border and which side was out. We will wander back and forth until we are certain, which may be forever. Also, in honor of the bird (Is a Phoenix a bird? or does it enter into dragon territory?), their shall be regular festivities which will include hefty amounts of drink and failed efforts to draw straight lines. We will seek that bird until we die. One day, we hope, we can all be just as free as that bird. Oh, I’ll leave you to guess as to our national anthem, ahem…

Oh, yeah, and at the suggestion of that duder from the rally’s sign, Karl Marx will be our founding father, or at least one of them, possibly the other Marx Brothers will be asked to sign our Declaration of Complete and Utter Dependence… on What We Are Not Sure.


I was sitting outside of a coffee shop in Phoenix which sold what was advertised as ‘Fair Trade Coffee.’ That seemed like a reasonably decent product to me. Certainly nothing that could inspire ire in anyone. And the price was good. Not skyrocketing like the radio said about the prices of so many other things touched by liberal fingers. These prices were ground low and seemingly wingless.

“God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too?” said a woman in a green felt sun-visor walking hand in hand with a man in a beard.

The bearded man shook his head as if he could hear the breath leaving the last of his father’s generation.

People were gathering for the Reverend Sharpton’s speech opposing SB 1070. I imagined this couple wasn’t present for that.

Before I moved here, my image of Arizona was filled with cute adobe archways, artists colonies producing annoyingly pastel-only creations that spoke to the soft palate of local souls and a unique intermingling of Southwestern cultures that would surely include, if not a generally open-hearted community, at least some interesting foodlets.

I was wrong. Except about the annoyingly pastel-only creations. Those, thanks be God, are everywhere, alongside a general bigotry, a willful closed-mindedness and some of the shittiest food a major metropolitan area has ever boasted. Come on people. You’re bigger than Philly now. It’s time to come up with a sandwich… or might I suggest… a taco?

A quick list of the complete insanity that has recently ravaged my adopted home thanks largely to the known fascism of sheriff Joe Arpaio and that lesser known fascism of the unelected governor Jan Brewer (she took office when Janet Napolitano went to the White House to head up Homeland Security): There is the famous SB 1070 which requires police to demand papers of anyone they deem ‘reasonably suspicious’ of illegal immigrant status, and simultaneously makes it legal for citizens to sue their government if they think local authorities are not upholding immigration laws stringently enough; then we have the lovely right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit; and the new law BANNING ETHNIC STUDIES in public schools

But, lady and her bearded cohort, I concede, the “God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too.”

A quick retort: You are mad at what? At the fact that South American farmers are getting a fair price for delivering you a superior product? Retort abandoned. It seems unnecessary.

I have quite sincerely tried to see both sides of most issues for some time, and despite liberal tendencies, I’ve always been careful to attempt to understand conservative ideologies and respect differences of opinion.

But conservatives, you gotta work with me on this. You are looking way too stupid to try to understand.

Stupid things overheard in Phoenix this week:

“I’m just glad we don’t have no unions turning us into D-troit.”

Phoenix… you wish you were Detroit.

“I don’t know why we gotta spend taxes to build public transit just to move illegals around the city.”

Not worthy of response.

“If people can’t carry guns, you’re just gonna have more violence.”

Seriously?

“What don’t people understand about the word ‘illegal'”

This is exactly the question I would like to ask Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer in regards to what strike this legally uneducated citizen as totally outside the confines of legal.

By the way, thank you Al Sharpton for coming out here and assembling such an awesome resistance to what is undoubtedly one of the least American laws imaginable.

And thank you everyone involved in turning what could have been nothing but a shameful moment for all Americans into one of the best organized campaigns against rampant idiocy we’ve seen since W. left office.

And seriously, Phoenix, if you’re going to keep calling yourself a city, embrace the taco.

Marketocracy

By Ryan Day

Essay

Unfortunately, I am in no position to refuse $75 for an hour of my time no matter what the the contents of that hour. They could have asked me to drink six bottles of catsup (ketchup?). They could have asked me to have tea with Glen Beck and soothe his uniquely bruised ego with prefabricated whispers about the peaceful forces at the center of the conservative universe (you are a child of the marketplace… the invisible hand will always lead you towards the light of the DOW…). I would have mowed lawns, bagged leaves (though I imagine the going rate of yard maintenance is somewhat lower), run backwards into the weird smelling basin at the end of the Salt River. But, alas, all they wanted was that I watch some movie trailers and tell them, no matter what I really thought, that the Rock was just the actor to breathe renewed life into that excalibur of cinematic roles, the Tooth Fairy.

I got to the industrial park fifteen minutes early and drove, as the instructions dictated, to the Southwest corner. There were others milling about the door aimlessly all with the same green sheet of paper that I had been given.

“You here for the market testing?” Asked a man in an LSU football jersey.

“Yeah.” Answered a girl with a nose ring that seemed misplaced by a few centimeters.

“How we get in?”

“Dunno.”

That static sort of quiet that accompanies strangers in a crowd ensued until finally, LSU man broke it with a loud exhale that was clearly meant to be communicative of a desire to communicate. His lips fluttered from the force of the air he’d pushed out.

“Geez, breathe much?” Said a middle aged woman clinging to her purse as if she’d just cleaned out her bank account and accidently stumbled onto the yard of a maximum security prison. She giggled, indicating that what had seemed like a rude comment had really been intended as playful banter.

“Sorry. Deviated septum.” Said the LSU man.

“I dreamed I was eaten by a crocodile last night,” said the purse clinging lady. “But, I guess that’s not the same.”

LSU man smiled, nodded and waited exactly long enough to seem as though he had made the decision to move away from her subsequent and unrelated to the comment.

Just then another man, a teen really, wearing a fedora and All Stars, approached nervous purse clinging lady. “I dreamed the supermarket was out of clam chowder.”

I switched my attention to another conversation which was midstream. “… Mormon.” This would be good.

“So how many heavens are there, like, for you all?” It was nose ring girl talking to a mormon in a Linkin Park shirt.

“A lot. I dunno exactly like, but a lot.”

“Don’t you, like, believe in other planets and stuff?”

Mars, Venus, Saturn all those fictitious orbs.

“No.”

Just a bunch of average Americans going to rate movie trailers.

The door opened and we were ushered in, given name tags and assigned tables in rooms with two way mirrors, white boards and conference tables. There were pictures of a Phoenix past on the wall. City Hall 1888. It was wrapped in a bow leading me to believe this was some sort of inaugural. There were carriages parked out front. The streets were otherwise mostly empty. Just this one municipal building asserting itself in the center of this arid expansion of sand and brittle fauna that we call desert.

It reminded me of the violence that is involved in creating a shaped something from an amoebic nothing. Forgive my blatant Eurocentrism here (I am, emphatically, aware that there was not ‘nothing’ here), but I am speaking of perceptions, and for the European consciousness (which could be thought of as a lack of consciousness) this motion westward was involved in creating and defining an area that had not existed, almost like making a movie, or painting. Of course, they were painting over someone else’s painting, and painting in Neons that clashed with landscape instead of the more appropriate pallet of their predecessors.

There was a sandwich tray. Nose ring girl quickly folded two slices of square ham, two cherry tomatoes and a Kraft single freed from its cellophane wallet into a Miracle Whip slathered slice of Wonder Bread, and then just as quickly folded all of that into her mouth never ceasing her conversation with the Mormon.

“So, how do you get into the best heaven?” She asked him, her voice muffled by the mass of partially chewed sandwich.

He cringed just a little, but seemed to gauge that this mortal soul related info was more important than his own offended sense of etiquette. “Well, I dunno exactly, but I know you have to be Mormon.”

She stopped mid chew to frown, and her shoulders sagged. “Balls.”

Then our leader, Jan as her name tag indicated, arrived. She asked us to name our favorite comedians: Farell, Sandler, Rogan, Carey, Gervais, Carell, Black, Gallafenekis, Rock… The list went on and was no more or less surprising than you might expect.

We were asked why we thought one was funny and another not… A question that I imagine as more the grounds of philosophers than market researchers.

The point here, I guess, is that this exploration into the why is in itself so cynical, so scientific, so disgustingly clinical, that by the end of the session I had a hard time thinking of any of them as funny. Funny is spontaneous. Funny is the incorruptable corrupt at the center of a humans anarchisticly oriented wildly giggling self.

And the saddest thing: this is a moment indicative of our compulsion to capitalize every last tendril of our giggly human innards.

Funny is putting a big stone building in the middle of the desert, tying a bow around it, claiming that you have somehow carved this space from the meaty mass of reality into the tasty steak of a cultured locale, and convincing people to gather around it. Just look at all the sweaty Phoenicians on a 93 degree November afternoon, walking through one of a thousand recently converted ‘lifestyle centers’, long tracks of spritzers running along the facades of stores, keeping people from panting like dogs as they gait along the window lined corridor as if storefronts were fire hydrants.

That gives me an interesting new concept for debit.

So, myself, purse clinging lady, nose ring girl, LSU fan man, Mormon boy and a few unexceptional others sat around a table and ventured to carve out a theory of humor that could help these people better sell Adam Sandler’s newest excretion of reductive homophobia (Chuck and Larry anyone?).

I kept thinking of the weird Mormon heaven hierarchy, which I have not researched and know nothing about. I wondered if it would be better than Phoenix. Salt Lake City is not such a great place and if it is at all indicative of the Mormon architectural imagination, which could really in some pre-symbolic way be based in nothing but their conception of paradise, then it would probably have pretty crappy transit and be generally unfriendly to the pedestrian.

Jan shook me from my contemplation. “Mr. Day, would you find a film about the Tooth Fairy more or less attractive because it starred the Rock?”

“…Ummmm. I think I would probably scrap the film and invest in public transit.”

“Excuse…”

“Less. I would be less interested.”

I took my $75, multiplied it by 12, the number of people in my group, then by 5 the number of groups that day, then by 14, the number of days this research would be conducted to arrive at the conclusion that I haven’t done math since my Freshman year in college. Nonetheless, I was convinced that whatever number I would have calculated would have disgusted me.

Driving home past downtown Phoenix I didn’t see the lonely City Hall building from the photo. I saw the arching metal beams of a modern stadium, the glossy black windows of high rises, the crawling chrome worm that is Phoenix’s first line in a new rapid transit system, people sitting in front of cafes and bars the walls of which were lined with local artwork.

I thought about how we are still in control of these communities, these ’somethings’ that we are carving from ‘nothings’, from deserts, forests, plains, mountains…

If only someone would have offered us $75 to talk about about that.

Bio-Baby Daddy?

By Ryan Day

Humor

I was sitting on a patio watching a lightning storm over the mountains that linger at every edge of the valley when a couple of girls walked up to my table.

“Are you having a good night?” the tall one screamed into my ear, startling me into spilling a little beer on my pants. There was an athletic grey rabbit tattooed on her neck.

“No!” I screamed in return.

“Why not?” she screamed back, disappointed.

“Cause it’s hot as hell and everyone in this town’s brains seem to have melted!”

She tilted her head sideways like a puppy in an earnest attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible. Now she spoke in a normal tone. “Do you ever just wanna dance like a hippie?”

“No!”

The two girls sat down in a chair at my table, a table at which I had been happily sitting alone watching my lightning storm, and started kissing loudly. This was not a fantasy moment. This was the way that genie’s get revenge when people rub their bottles and request fantasy moments. All the elements were there, the promise legalistically fulfilled, but wrapped in something unsavory, like a birthday cake with kelp frosting.

I sipped my beer and tried not to listen to the sound of lips smacking together. Out of the corner of a kiss the tall one squeezed, “What’s your name?”

“Ryan,” I answered honestly for some reason.

“I like your flannel.”

I was wearing a T-shirt.

“Are you having a great night?” She was screaming again. This time at a table full of men next to mine.

The men at the table shifted awkwardly into positions from which they could avoid eye contact. The girl from the upper portion of the lap-sitting arrangement took this as an invitation and moved to their table.

I was left with the shorter, spikier girl, who had as of yet not spoken.

“I love that girl,” she said. “She my baby mama.”

I nodded.

“I just can’t be with one woman though.” She looked to me for validation, which technically I could give because there was one woman I had been trying to be with for months, and I couldn’t because she wouldn’t let me. Not really a monogamy issue, but lexically I slid into the truth zone.

I nodded.

“Lots of me to go round, dig?”

I sized her up because it seemed like she was asking me to, but then I was immediately self-conscious about it and returned to nodding, which seems to be an ever effective conversation with oppressive strangers technique.

“We used to be married, but shit, you know women.” She shook her head.

I shook mine. I was unsure if I did in fact ‘know women’, but it seemed like a moment for commiseration.

I realized I was contributing too little to this conversation and that if I wasn’t going to leave I should think of something, anything, to say.

I should back up here and explain that I was on the lookout, and these two were fitting the bill. Earlier in the day I’d spoken to a good friend who works for a certain Jerry Springer and had mentioned that there was a not unsubstantial finders fee for tip-offs for good segment material. I sensed that I may be staring some ‘A’ material, as they say in the industry, right in the glow-in-the-dark nose ring. I had asked how exactly to approach people when angling to lure them to expose their not insignificant vulnerabilities to a national audience.

“Just offer them smokes. Everyone wants to be exploited and most of these Springer types smoke.” Spoken like a true prison guard.

I questioned his ‘everyone wants to be exploited’ logic, but I nonetheless forged ahead.

I opened the pack on the table and offered it towards the short spiky haired glow in the dark nose ring girl. She accepted. Hooked.

She lit the cigarette. “Plus, she’s back with Tommy. Bitch.”

I could already see them clawing at each other’s metal adorned appendages from either side of the formidable Tommy, upturned chairs surrounding them, whoever replaced Steve Wilkos sauntering slowly to the rescue.

“Tommy’s the bio-baby daddy, but he was just supposed to be the donor. Now they’re all like in love or some shit.” She pronounced that last stretch in a kindergartner’s oooo-that’s-icky voice. She took another smoke from the pack.

I was seeing a limited number of dollar signs flash in slow motion before my increasingly intoxicated eyes.

“So…” I went in gently. “…Have you ever been to New York?”

“Fuck New York.”

“Statue of liberty…” my confidence waned, voice trailed at the sight of her disgusted stare. “…Time Square, Brooklyn Dodgers…” Wait that’s not right. I’m not a baseball fan.

“Ain’t no liberty in this fascist shithole.”

I wasn’t sure if she meant America or Phoenix (the great Maricopa county sheriff Arpaio always makes for good local fascism references). I needed a new approach and I went with direct. “I got a buddy who works for Springer and I think they’d like your story. Free…”

The sound of the slap registered before the sting, which was quickly cooled by a Miller Lite applied as a projectile.

She was gone before I knew what happened.

She took the smokes.

It turns out not everybody wants to be exploited, but yes, most of these Springer types do like cigs.