Part Two: Burning From The Inside

(Title stolen from Bauhaus)

Burning Man doesn’t give a flying fuck if you live or die. And that’s one of its best qualities. (That’s not to say the volunteers who’re there trying to help keep you safe don’t.) It’s right there on the ticket – in bold capital letters. “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending this event and release Burning Man from any claim arising from this risk…” Whether it’s from the inhospitable landscape, climbing the sky-scraping art, or playing with fire on an apocalyptic scale, folks die every year. In the decade between my last visit and this one, there only seems a small handful of new regulations about safety. Which is fine by me, for the most part, I hate rules. No, Burning Man doesn’t seem too concerned whether you survive the experience, it does however seem to care a great deal whether or not you are entertained while your there. Remember everyone, safety third.

2005 Ticket

If modern culture with it’s; radios playing in every store, TVs staring at you while you pump your gas, movie screen billboards, the internet always within arms reach, and whatever else is about to explode onto the scene, is designed to keep us from thinking our own thoughts, than Burning Man is the culmination of this. A glorious assault on all the senses. A hedonist with ADHD’s wet dream. Incontrovertible evidence that America is going down in a blaze of glory holes. If you wanted to hide something in Black Rock City your best bet would be to cover it with colorful flashy lights, play strange music at a volume that’d make random inanimate objects bleed, and have it ejaculate burning-fossil-fuel-holes deep into the night. Then it’d be, as the saying goes, different, just like everyone else. At night, while looking in from deep playa at the strange no-holds-barred competition to see who can draw the larger crowd, it’s hard not to hear Tool in your head. “One great big festering neon distraction.

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Watching people in outlandish costumes, soar along the moonscape in their mutant-vehicles, bopping from one over-the-top theme-camp to the next, I couldn’t help but wonder; if Burning Man doesn’t even care if burners, give-up-the-ghost while there, what does it care about? The die-hards you meet there can chant the 10 principles with an almost cult-like precision, many you come across can’t remember them, or are so fucked-up they can’t even count that high using their fingers. But all seem to sort of short-circuit when confronted with uneasy questions about the festival. “For something that’s supposed to be all about decommodification, how many millions do you think it generates every year in new; tents, sleeping bags, toiletries, flashlights, costumes, first aid, toys, food, water, fuel, lube, rent-a-cars, air travel, etc?” Or another tough one, “How seriously are we really supposed to take the whole civic responsibility thing?” Officially the organization says we “must assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state, and federal laws.” Come on! Really? And Does the idea of leave no trace go for Reno too, or just the desert? Because Reno after the burn can be kinda a shitscape of garbage cans choked, and overflowing, with camping equipment, toys, and unopened food and water. Because everyone is too hungover and strungout after partying for a week straight to figure out where to donate to before catching their planes back to their real lives. Not to imply that I haven’t been there.

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I don’t know why I’m sounding like such an old fuddy-duddy (and using terms like fuddy-duddy). I mean, there are still seven other good principals, and even if there weren’t I just love a good party. And Lord knows, I’ve got better things to do than survive. I guess it all just seems so glaring because this year I’m not here to party. As I mentioned, I’m on a mission.  to the Temple. The Temple doesn’t light up, move around, or play music but it’s allways the most powerful thing at the festival. Even more so than the Man itself. Every year some astonishing artist(s) puts their blood, sweat, and tears, (quite literally) into building an intricate and awe-inspiring cenotaph. A monument to all those who, due to a slight case of death, couldn’t make it out to the Playa. All who’ve lost someone since their last Burning Man bring pieces of their loved ones; scraps, pictures, memories, and ashes, and place them here. This is the first year I’ve come with a real purpose.

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Like most, the first time I stumbled across the Temple was mostly out of curiosity, only hearing of it as a beautiful piece of artwork. On the days leading up to the big event you can feel it before you can hear it. The heaviness is palpable. You choke on it even if you’ve never really lost anyone. You notice the silence and the wind. As you get closer you see writing all over the wooden structure. Names, messages, remembrances. Moving further in you hear the sniffling and stifling of tears. The soft prayers and sendoffs. You stagger around surrounded by; photographs, love-letters, toys, and all sorts of personal-history-memorabilia, trying not to look too close and intrude on someone else’s solemnity. Now your close enough to hear the soulful sobbing. You try and force yourself to stand your ground, as not to appear chased off. It seems rude to say, “Oh shit, this ain’t the party I was looking for! Y’all enjoy that mourning shit. I got a pocket full of XtC and I hear the Orgy Dome screaming my name!” So, for what seems like an eternity, you stay and pretend your ribcage isn’t being slowly crushed by the depths. Then less than a minute later your back outside the permitter gasping for air, and won’t find yourself back there until they torch the fucker. The night of the Burn the weight still hangs in the air like rainforest-humidity but now you know to take shallow breaths to keep the desperation from getting too deep inside. Even after it starts to burn it’s still silent except the weeping and the crackling of the blaze. Then, e-fucking-ventually the Temple collapses in on itself, and everything everyone’s put into it is lost in the flames, smoke, and ash – And thousands of shouts roar up into the night, over the wind, over the inferno, over the despair. And the heaviness lifts, the tears turn to laughter, and the tempest passes.

 

 

 

Part One: To The Sky

(Title stolen from Myka 9 & Factor)

08:30. Bright and early I stagger bleary-eyed into the airport. Sober but exhausted, it’s all part of the plan. I’ve intentionally fucked my sleep schedule just enough to make me slow and sluggish, but not so much as to make me cranky and on edge. I’ve got an important package that needs to make it discretely to the left coast ASAP. One of the things that makes me a damn fine transporter is my ability to put things out of my mind and just go about my business. So today I’m dressed like a normal, middle-aged, middle-class passenger on his way to Reno for vacation, and that’s the way I act because why I’m really hear, hardly even crosses my mind.

“Sir, can you step out of line, please.”

Hardly

Another thing that makes me good at this job – sure, some might call it smuggling – is that I’m good under pressure, which has less to do with my “nerves of steel” and more to do with an unhealthy amount of optimism. Sure, some might call it denial, but I’m just not the worrying type. My last words will probably be something like, “Ah, It’ll all work out fine.” So when I was separated from the herd I was still thinking, “I’m sure this is nothing.” Then I heard the contents of my bag get dumped out on the metal counter. And though I have no idea how airport security works, I was still confident it couldn’t have anything to do with the softball sized knot of off-white powder that was sealed in the zip-lock bag and wrapped in festival costumes. That was in the luggage that was to be loaded under the airplane, they couldn’t have found it yet, could they?

Fun fact about air travel #1: Airport search dogs probably aren’t anything like you’re picturing, at least they’re not anything like I’d imagined. They’re not german shepherds, or doberman pinchers, or anything along those lines, they’re beagles. Yup, just like Snoopy. Apparently so many people are bugged-out about flying, the powers-that-be wanted the least threatening dogs they could find. And for the same reason, if the pooches smell anything on someone they don’t go over and start barking and snarling, they just go and sit by their feet.

“Got it.” said the Security man that was rooting through my stuff.

The thing about optimism is that even if the pessimists are right, and it’s all going to end in a terrible, meaningless, shit-storm – at least the optimists can have a good time until it does. Pessimists ruin all the possible fun they could have up until it all goes down in flames. Not to mention, what if it really does all end up being ok?

Fun fact about air travel #2: One thing Airports have been catching a lot of people with lately, are baterangs. That’s right, sharpened shuriken in the shape of a bat symbol. Yeah, it surprised me too. I blame all the violent movies the kids are watching these days. If I’d know this I’d have put my yellow utility-belt, with the metal bat symbol belt buckle, in a checked bag. Fortunately though, I try to avoid wearing sharp blades that close to my divining rod, and my buckle was blunt enough to pass.

11:25 and I’m folded sloppily into a vertical fetal position. The man in the seat in front of me hates me and wishes I’d just die. He has a bad spine, he tells me, and can’t tolerate any touching of the back of his seat. He really should’ve gotten one in the last row so he wouldn’t have to worry about a lanky motherfucker like me sitting behind him. In theory, the window gets to lean up against the wall and sleep, the aisle gets the extra legroom, and the middle gets eminent domain over both armrests, and all seats are awful. The person to my left is sleeping on me, bending me into the aisle. People keep smacking into me on their ways to and from the shitter, knocking me into “my friend” in the seat ahead of me. Finally, an hour and a half late we take off, and the infant and his tiny little ears in a nearby seat gets to experience, and react to, the change in cabin pressure for the very first time. So the usual; but none of that matters. The only important thing now is that we’re through security and in the air, and that little gray-white bundle is safe under the plane. Swaddled in those ridiculous clothes is a pretty little puzzle box, inside that is a ziplock, inside that baggie are the ashes of my once so vibrant friend, and we’re on our way to her virgin burn.

Naturally, there are rules and health codes about the proper way one is supposed to transport their loved ones cremated remains – we even looked them up. As is often the case, the correct way of doing things like this involves a whole lot of explaining, and talking to strangers. And any individual we spoke to along the way could have the potential of being the monkey-wrench in our plan, and we’re on a deadline. So as my old boss once told be, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness then permission – and I like to think he did eventually forgive me, after all, he did convince the higher-ups to let me resign instead of being fired.

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17:15 Mountain Time. Unlike most, I love layovers. They give me a chance to stretch my gangly legs, go window shopping, and people watch. I always make sure I’m tired enough to sleep on the plane, it keeps the strangers from trying to make smalltalk, so layovers are my time to reflect on my journeys – over a drink or three. Anyone who’s ever traveled with me knows that airport bars are one of my favorite things about this life. They open bright and early, and since everyone is on their own bizarre travel schedule, no one thinks twice about you having a drink with your mourning coffee. Sure they’re expensive, but because so many people freak-out about flying the barkeeps are usually heavy handed. Sitting there you get to watch people preparing to launch themselves all over the globe, and listen to languages you not only don’t know, but can’t even identify – all while you’re either on your way to, or coming from, some story.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash
Photo by Luca Bravo on UnSplash

Even if her corpse wasn’t just dust in luggage, jetsetting out to the Big Burn would’ve probably brought my thoughts back to my dear old dead friend. Our paths always seemed to cross during adventures like this; parties, festivals, wandering countries where we only knew a handful of words in their language. I’m sorry always being the first we learned. Fun and fancy free times full of music and dancing, drinking and drugs, and beautifully orchestrated insanity. Happy to be young and alive; carefree, fearless, careless, and reckless. But obviously no one is happy-go-lucky all the time, nor is anyone’s life just a nonstop party. Our depths get muddled, and complicated, and confused – or maybe it’s just us that do. I can only assume she must’ve, since she felt the need to end her own life.

Dipsomaniac: A Drunken Opus

(Title stolen from a free 8Bit Cynics album)

“I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot lately,” my mother finally got up the courage to ask. After an awkward pause she added, “Do you think you can stop?”
“I’m sure I could,” I grinned. “Any time I wanted… I’ve just never tried.” My joke was met with stony silence.
After thinking some clearly serious thoughts for some very long seconds she finally said, “Good.” Though it didn’t sound as if it was. “Because your father couldn’t.”

Photo by energepic.com Veleb
Photo by energepic.com Veleb

I’ve always been willfully ignorant about dear-old-dad. I was never one of those kids from the After-School-Specials who’d make up stories about how their deadbeats were secret agents out saving the world, and that’s why they couldn’t take them to circle-jerk practice. Never on my knees, shaking my fists at my mother, tears streaming down, whining, “I need to know who I look like!” Shit like that gives bastards like me a bad name. As far as I’ve always been concerned, I’m just a genuine, grade-A, all-American freak. And that’s the way I prefer it. But I guess some things could’ve been useful to know.

Photo by Artem Pochepetsky
Photo by Artem Pochepetsky

I didn’t start imbibing until I was almost twenty, a late starter in the circles I travel. Eventually though, I found myself at Mardi Gras and figured, if I had to start somewhere, swillin’ with the stew-bums and tourists was as good a place as any. And it did make the whole carnival a whole lot more fun. So, a decade later, when my mother’s warning finally came, it seemed laughably late.

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The term “alcoholic” had always been thrown around nonchalantly in my group. And why not? Most grew up hearing it shouted from one parent to another. The ‘A-word’ rolls off the tongue easier, and packs a more powerful punch than ‘problem drinker.’ But in our twenties, that’s exactly what we’d meant: binge or heavy drinker. We almost never meant a person with alcoholism. Someone who is physically addicted to, or dependent on, the stuff. That was just what we joked about someday becoming, if we kept it up. Now that we’re closer to our forties than our twenties, and most of us have had alcohol-related arrests, when we use the term, we do it with an accent of weight and fear, and that’s exactly what we mean.

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Sure, I’ve some friends who don’t indulge, but they’re few and far between. It’s usually because they’ve witnessed first hand what loss of control can do to lives, and are afraid if they start, it’ll happen to them. Scared of themselves. Maybe giving alcohol more respect than it deserves. Maybe not. They’ll never find out. And perhaps that’s for the bast.

The more common way my folks seem to deal with parental drunkards is closer to the other end of the spectrum. They go a little overboard. “What can I say, I’m a drunk.” they respond when confronted with stories of their poor behavior. “It runs in my family.”

Many of my friends grew up convinced because their parents were inebriates, if they themselves had a sip they wouldn’t be able to stop. Next thing they’d know, they’d wake up from a three month bender; broke, naked, and alone save the donkey they’d been doing the show with. Naturally, many of my friends became their own self-fulfilling prophets.

Photo by Mona Eendra
Photo by Mona Eendra

Personally I dislike the idea, if your parent’s a drunk, you’re a drunk. It seems an oversimplification. If someone does anything every day they’re going to become habituated to it,genetically predisposed or not. What of my friend whose parent was a bartender, or the one who always ‘had to’ have martinis to close business deals, or the one who worked in a restaurant and was given free spirits every night? Habits formed, maybe even dependencies, but does that mean their children have to be alcoholics? Is the saying, “once a drunk, always a drunk” as true for them as born boozers, or can they learn to drink responsibly?

Well, fucked if I know. I’m not sure anyone truly does, no matter how much they pretend to have All the Answers.

Photo by Alina Sofia
Photo by Alina Sofia

When I was first told dipsomania ran in my family, I was outraged it came so long after I’d started drinking. But now, a decade later, I’m thankful I didn’t grow up in the dark shadow of my father’s firewater problem. A monkey on my back just waiting to become a silverback. That knowledge hasn’t done any of my friends any good. I was lucky enough to learn how to drink (to excess) properly, before finding out maybe I “shouldn’t.”

Our thoughts shape us, and I’m glad I never had to think of myself as an alcoholic-in-waiting. That being said, people aren’t static, and in fact are quite malleable. And now I do know. That’s why every so often I think it’s wise for me to take a month or so off from hitting the bottle. Just to make sure I still can. Every so often like after a long vacation with three of the best boozers I know. Every so often like now.

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Taking a holiday from Knocking ‘em back is really hard at first. Half a week seems like a full. A week feels like two. By the two week mark I think I’ve got to be done by now! But eventually I begin to surprise myself by doing things I thought I only could when I was all hooched up. Starting conversations with strangers, laughing until my belly hurts, being the life of the party, feeling giddy as a child, and making seriously stupid decisions. Not as often, or reliably as when I’m taking my medicine of course (my liquid-courage) but still, it happens. Then, when I finally reach month’s end, part of me wants to continue my teetotalism. After all, crutches are useful until you don’t need them anymore, and liquor is definitely one of mine. A tool. But by then, all who’ve been patiently waiting for me to get done with my little sobriety experiment are chomping at the bit for me to tie one on and tear up the town. And ya know what, they’re abso-fuckin-lutely  right, getting wasted is a goddamned blast! Because the euphoria of drunkenness is the Universe’s apology for the drinking buddies It sends.

Photo by Adam Griffith
Photo by Adam Griffith

Rotgut is how I met most everyone I know, and how we fell in love. The last ones awake, refusing to leave the party as long as there’s booze left. Then a trip to the liquor store once it opened. Repeat.

One thing that keeps us drinking is knowing that it’s how our friends define us. I know I’ve often heard things like; “I like you much better when you’re drunk. You relax. You’re more talkative, not so aloof.” or “I have a philosophical question. I’ll have to bring it up to Drunk-Rev.” And they’re right; boozohol helps bring out sides of my personality that don’t get to see the light of day much on their own. Sides they, and me, have a hard time imagining life without. And how much time would I really want to spend disappointing everyone with my awkwardness, while I struggle to learn to dance without my crutches?

As tempting as a life without hangovers might be, I could never give up the bottle for good. My friends would like me less, and I’d like me less too. But I can give it up for now.

I think.

 

 

LastNight

She stepped out inter her city. Looking for something but couldn’t remember what, though sure it must be there. Somewhere. Above her the night slipped seductively across the sky, like black silk dropping to the floor. It felt like a wave of dark rolling lust engulfing her and everything she’d known, and changing them. “Forever?” The word filled her with terror and elation.

Like a scarlet martyr she walked barefoot through the long dead gutters. Wearing the fading smog-sunset as her halo she was drawn towards the red-light district. She wanted to watch; and maybe even (really) see.

A tale told by an idiot
full of sound and fury
but signifying nothing

was scrawled on a crag wall in left-handed graffiti. It was in the font of holy scripture and painted in menstrual blood. Lights from dozens of red lanterns tried in vain to cut holes of comfortable reason into the strange night. In their immodest brilliance temple-whores and wasted-saints tried to maintain sweaty fistfuls of reality as they basked in the nothing-glory of their compromises. Even submerged so deeply in their chosen excess-of-indecision they could still feel something new under their skin. And like most, they were much more comfortable with the devil they knew, than the one they didn’t. As solemn as if walking under (holy)water she passed slowly and without a sound.

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The deepest shadows began to melt first. Fading from crimson to deep orange as the lines that defined spilled and ran together, and time tangled itself into knots. From nowhere and everywhere she heard a velvet voice, sultry and lush like the insides of a lover. “You are lost Child. Home is coming to find you.” gently penetrated her ears. And with that she knew that the comically clumsy trial-and-error suicide she’d called Life, was over.

Before her eyes the rigid, unyielding city and everything she’d know, trusted, and loved, all melted away into pools of liquid energy. Lovers, friends, family, landscapes, and more all now overflowed through the golden rivulets that were once streets.

All around her appeared the Pure Ones, crystalline-devils and diamond-angels dancing like techno-gypsies to the sounds of conception and annihilation. They weaved in and out of the newborn tawny flames that wound and spiraled their way through that last night.

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Soon everything glowed with its own life-flame, her included. She wanted to panic, but couldn’t, Not even when she felt her soul begin shedding its archaic leathery skin, revealing to her, and to all, what she truly was. As it fell she saw at her feet all the ‘treasures’ she was loosing as they rapidly decomposed into the softening ground. The shields and armor and mechanisms she once thought protected her, she now saw had only suffocated. The bastardized ‘love’ she hid behind, she now let float away on the breeze, ready to accept the true kind she’d hidden from. All the confines of her limited mind were gone. She felt no pride and no shame for who she was, or who she had been.

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It wasn’t until she saw the living-zombies off in the distance that she felt fear, fear for them. Their mechanical faces rusting and decaying, whining like gears as they sank into the oceans that had once been the concrete and asphalt of their wondrous mediocrity, now cadmium yellow. She was sure she recognized some of them just as a steel riptides dragged these gray-ones down into the holes they’d ripped into Forever with their anti-magick. Holes far blacker than even the solid intangible night that lay atop of her. The smell of their melting souls filled the air and overcame her mind with a swirling drab-green lunatic’s cloud of reason.

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Her new lover Night took her deep inside and raised her up on high, until there was nothing to do but surrender completely. She looked above and saw the lights from billions of old dreams turn green, flicker, and go out one by one; no longer needed to remind her to wish.

Below she saw whispers; the prayed, the gossiped, the too weak, the secret, all weaving themselves together into an impenetrable wall of blue/white-noise. A wall that kept out all the visions, sounds, and chaos from places she hope she’d never wish to see.

From everywhere and nowhere again she heard the Universe’s long forgotten truth. “You can never conquer loneliness from the outside in. Only from the inside out.” Its breath was warm against her naked and new skin. The midnight-bluebreeze from it gently caressed her body. It grew warmer, and warmer, and hot, until she felt her moist clay frame begin to dry, crack, and finally splinter. Release.

VishuddhaSoon the midnight-blue wind blew harder, and hotter still, and the new world she had begun to feel, and know, began to grow harder and sharpened its edges. Before long it too dried and crumbled into dust. The air currents snatched up each grain of sand, pulled them apart, and carried them all away. Taking them someplace out of sight, someplace far away, someplace beyond oblivion. Her playa-dust-soul was scattered impossibly small and taken there all the same.

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Blowing through Eternity there is a place. A mingling bone-dust ocean, made of the flotsam dreams of lost souls, the jetsam wet-nightmares of Godlings, and countless other things killed before even being named, all becoming one again and again. And again.

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Smart Phones For Stupid People

(Title stolen from Gregory Pepper & His Problems)

I don’t write reviews. Rambling sermons about whatever research or observations are in the forefront of my brain: That’s more my thing. Lately though, politics have been invading more and more of both my waking, and nightmaring lives. And it’s in the best interest of myself and those I care about that I fight off the urge to go full-on Spider Jerusalem (again) for as long as I can.

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My alarm went off too early. Like it always does. Like everyone’s always does. I want to argue with the screeching little banshee but’ll settle for it to just stop yelling at me. I’m not sure if it’s codependency or Stockholm Syndrome but I’m sure my love/hate relationship with my phone will some day be in the DSM. One of these days I’m going to nail the fucker to my front door as a warning. But not today. After a quick brushing my dentist will lecture me about later, I was putting the setting sun in my rear view. For the next few hours it’d be just me and my phone singing strange esoteric shit to each other. Back on good terms. One of the problems with liking arcane musick is that when you tell folks you’re to see Ceschi and P.O.S, they have no clue how fucking cool that is.

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I’m one of the people who likes to be there as soon as the doors open. I’ve no logical reason for this other than I like to mill about and get a feel of the place before it fills up with meat, sweat, and hair. Figure out where the bars, merchandise, and emergency exits are. In case I get wasted, flip the tables like Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple, and have to make a break for it. I guess? I don’t know.

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The Sinclair is a decent mid-sized venue. It’s clean, but not uncomfortably so, the staff is friendly, and the bar is decently stocked. I usually prefer my clubs smaller and dirtier, but overall this place manages to hold on to an “authentic” feel, even though the stage is five fucking feet high. The last time I was here, to see DoomTree, the huge stage made sense. After all, the group has 81 members and you can’t stack them like cord-wood – they’re far to wriggly and never stay where you put them. That’d been a very frenetic show. With all the members of the crew taking turns crisscrossing the stage, it had about as much energy and movement as an Olympics opening ceremony. Now, standing in that almost empty hall it seemed strange to imagine Ceschi with his guitar filling that space.

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The last time I saw Ceschi was with Factor Chandelier  opening for Astronautalis (Do yourself a favor and buy This is Our Science). That was across town at the Great Scott, a venue so intimate the stage is only a foot high. For all those brave enough to be in the splash-zone of spittle and spilled poison, this puts most performers’ crotches about face-level – which is all fine and good until a quick shove from the mosh-pit and you windup head-butting the person your looking up to in the junk. Oopsie. Sorry.

Anyway, the way I remember that show was Ceschi spending more time out in the crowd than on stage, without a mic, and acoustic, doing a lot of beautifully personal, rage-fueled folk-punk. Which until then, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know was a thing.

Back at the Sinclair, I looked up at that huge stage and tried to imagine him getting off it without hurting himself.

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The place began to fill in with what one might expect to see at a midweek Hip(ster)-Hop show. There were the Harvard crowd and underground music fans – with their dark earth-tones and postures slumped like question marks. Then those one might picture as “typical Bostonians” –  People in sports-ball caps, clothes that actually fit, and who stood tall like exclamation points. Oh the diversity; here were beards of almost every texture.

While I sliced through the gaggle, the only person who complimented me on my BusDriver shirt, was Ceschi. If the man isn’t on stage, he’s either working his own merch table, or in the crowd enjoying the other performers and talking to fans. If you go to one of his shows you will meet him. But I must warn you, there seems to be something resplendently down-to-earth, and intimidatingly kind about the man.

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The first young man to take the stage was called Hard_R and looked like he was trying to win a Raggedy-Ann look-alike contest. I’m not making fun; I too had a Raggedy-Ann phase when I was his age. But as is often the case with first-openers, I’d never heard of him, and the quality of his sound was what one might expect from his place in the line-up. He was young, and glistening with potential that I’m sure he’ll one day grow into. But he wasn’t who I was there to see.

Next came Transit22. Another guy I’d never heard of, but who had a professional sound you could tell came from years of honing his craft. Transit seemed to have deep lyrics filled with soul churning poetry. At one point he joked with the crowd that he’d discovered a surefire cure for writers block; divorce. When he wasn’t making his words hopscotch over a beat that, in turn, skipped across the air like a stone over the water, he told interesting stories and joked with the crowd.

Apparently, Once upon a time, he made a joke-video that went viral about how easy it is to make pop songs.  Then one day an evil king (Gene Simmons of Kiss) , summoned him and asked if he’d trade his soul for being a pop tart for real. Since he was an opener for an underground show, you can guess how that story ended.

Transit was good and made me wanna checkout some of their music. Unfortunately there was a problem getting their merch through customs. So I guess I should go do that now.

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There was no curtain or anything, so one moment the stage was empty, the next they were there. Unannounced, and without any fanfare. An anti-rockstar entrance. Of course. And a split second later, Ceschi and his brother David Ramos, a pleasant surprise, slammed into tribal rhythms on hand drums. Then came the semi-automatic rhythm of Ceschi’s words. The forceful lyrics to Forever 33 wove themselves into the acoustic beats. The percussive reimagining was a refreshing shock, like diving into cool water, a great way to prepare you for a set that’d toss you around like the ocean.ceschi drum

Ceschi must be like a goldfish that grows to fill his tank. His show on the big stage had a completely different feel from the one at Great Scott. He paced and thrashed around the stage like a newly trapped bear in an electrified cage. All over the place, exactly as you’d expect someone with a repertoire that runs from song reminiscent of classic rock to hard-driving hip-hop to old-school metal. One end of the stage to the other. Calmly playing guitar and singing sweetly, then rapping aggressively. From steam rising off him, kneeling in the heavenly blue lights, praying for the human race in his own way, with every word and every song, to deciding that the 5 foot platform wasn’t high enough and standing on his chair. Until finally he broke free and found his way into the audience. Just him and his guitar. No mike, no amplification. And that packed house in Boston shut the fuck up and strained to hear every word of his broken-hearted, rageful 21st century protest songs. He performed wandering around the crowd because, he said he knows what it’s like to be a fan, and wanted everyone to get a chance to hear and see. Now, I’m not one to take pictures at shows, but he had me so giddy I found myself frantically deleting shit off my phone to make room, even though I knew any I’d take would be shit.

He closed with a quiet version of Barely Alive that had everyone singing along and feeling very much alive. And with that he just disappeared into the back of the crowd, and was gone. For me, Ceschi alone was well worth the six hour round-trip drive. But there was still the headliner.ceschi chairI must admit, I didn’t do my homework for the P.O.S show. He released a new album not too long ago, but I’ve an old-fashioned notion about actually handing my cash to the artists. It makes me feel like my money is going to where it really should. So I didn’t buy mine until a few moments before he went on. I also felt the need to buy something from Ceschi. He and I got into a little dispute about how much his merch should be worth. I grabbed a bag with a Fake Four symbol on it. The tag said $7. I handed him a 20, and before I could say, “Keep the change. It’s an investment to my favorite music,” he started to say he felt the bags were really worth more like, $5. The fiercely congenial man wouldn’t just shut up and take my money, and won the argument by grabbing random things off the table and shoving them into the bag.

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With more humility than a roadie, P.O.S unceremonious and nonchalantly slunk onto the stage. Another proud anti-star. Then the music erupted with a full-on Sonic assault that rattled everyone’s gonads, and he was like a werewolf busting out of old skin.

Ceschi and P.O.S are similar, but very different breeds of performer/artist. Both inspiring lyricists that lead you down dark paths of obscure references to profound messages – the type rap genius was made for. P.O.S might be a little more likely to lead you to a six-pack of molotov cocktails though. On stage he has an aura that inhabits the whole hall and reverberates back off the walls without even trying. Which makes sense; he’s Part of DoomTree. Every song they make is an anthem of some kind or another.

I’d never seen P.O.S live. His stomach hated his guts for a long time (he showed us the scar) which kept him from the road. One thing that surprised me about him was how loquacious he was. Between every song he’d be talking shit with his DJ, or with the crowd. Like an old friend who pokes fun at you and you wouldn’t want it any other way. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was his brush with death that brought out this giggling rabid playfulness.

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While it is true, if you turn any P.O.S album up to 11 you’ll likely have the popo pounding on your door threatening to charge you with inviting a riot, he isn’t all shouting tongue lashings and beats that churn up sound waves and make you feel like you’re up to your neck in a stormy sea. He also has songs that are slow, and strong, and wrap themselves around you. A kind you can feel each muscle tighten like a snake, and take your breath away. Apparently his new album, which of course he played a lot of, is more of this kind. More whispered benedictions of Fight Club anarchism and bare-knuckle buddhism.

After those songs, he again had the crowd cracking up with his jovial goofin’ and clownin.’ Then he segued into something like “Who’s mad as hell with what’s going on in the government right now?” A roar went up from the crowd that rattled the dust off the rafters. Then, being him, he asked, “Who’s actually doing something about it?” And awkward moment followed with the majority of the crowd looking uncomfortably at their shoes. It was at that moment that I noticed I was wearing loafers and no socks.P,O,S2

He brought the energy up so high at some points I had to fight off the urge to try and start a mosh pit. Hard edged lyrics that felt like poetry scratched into bricks with a key. Then down again with a quiet desperate passion, like trying to do it all in too short a life. Like trying to fuck in superposition.  Then back again, around and over and through. Then he was out in the crowd and we were all dancing to some good old hip-hop, sweating off our tattoos until the whole thing was brought to a screaming gasping crescendo, and over too soon. And time to go get lost in the cold, trying to find my car from memory, as I used up the last of my phone’s battery taking shitty photos. A sacrifice I’d make again.

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“I’ma be honest with all of these zombies
making a mockery out of humanity..
thinking that a meme is a revolutionary strategy.

Please try to dream
bigger than a five inch screen.”

Part II (The Numbers Game)

Entry title stolen from Bad Religion

Today officially begins Donald JockStrapSuckster Trump’s tenure as the most powerful being in the known universe. I’ve spent the last too many months trying to make sense of how we got here. Even back when I was positive he didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell, I still wanted to know how this smear of cum, blood, and shit from the tip of Satan’s cock could gain so many followers. And I refused to let myself fall into the easy and fun trap of, “everyone but me and those like-minded are dangerously malicious, stupid, or apathetic. That sort of us versus them tribalism is usually our first impulse, and the last thing we need.

I’m going to dive right in to the rant because this is the second half of it. If I sound accusatory, try and remember that I’m basically talking to myself here. Yes, I know that there are some truly vile souls out there, and if they voted, they probably voted for Trump. But I don’t believe that everyone who voted Trump has a vile soul. So if looking at other people’s reasons for seeing things differently is the type of thing you’re into (either to find common ground, or to better use their arguments against them), the first half is here. And if not, there’s no point in wasting your time here. Go do something educational, like watch an SNL skit on the youtube.

Not state, but county map of how people voted
Not state, but county map of how people voted

When I was a kid, the Republican Party was the one for only the rich folks, and the Democrats were for the working-class. But somewhere over the past few decades the Democratic Party changed to the one of “coastal elites.” Folks from an upper-middle class background and who like to call everything else (The part that voted for Trump) the flyover states. The self-important ones who make jokes about seceding because they’re sure they couldn’t possibly need an anything from all those backwards, inbred, mouth-breathing, meth-crazed, hicks that inhabit the majority of the country. No coal miners who’re killing themselves so we can charge our laptops. No truck drivers getting raw materials to the plants, then food and goods to the stores. No factory workers, farmers, or anyone who needs to shower after work instead of before, like a civilized person. No one who disagrees with us because of their quaint, old-fashioned values. The future isn’t going to need those manual labor types anyway… And we’re right, it probably isn’t. That’s precisely why so many were desperate enough to vote for Trump. They want to be able to leave something for their children. It’s true the future might not need them, but the present does, and the Democrats are continually making it clear that they don’t want those low-class folk at its party.

(And to be clear, I’m in no way saying bigotry is a quaint old idea. It’s something that needs to die. But I stand by my statement about not giving up on others. It may be easier to write people off than educate them, but what’s easiest is rarely what makes the world better.)

Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn
Photo by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kühn

“But Rev.” I can almost hear you say, “Don’t they know that rich Republicans are going to fuck them as least as bad as rich Democrats?” And naturally the answer is, yes. Of course they do. That’s why they decided to give Trump a chance. All the Republicans hated him too! Every time a politician, on either side, came out against him, it only made him more popular. And when the media, who only ever portrays rural folk as fools or monsters came out against him, it only made him more of a hero. The enemy of my enemy is my friend may be flawed logic, but it’s one we all fall for from time to time. Many thought, “If you’re struggling to feed a family keep ‘em healthy, with a roof over their heads, and unemployment’s run out, how much worse can it get?” And at least Trump took the time to lie to them.

For decades the only things bipartisan getting done has been shit that fuct the little people; trade deals, deregulation of banks, for-profit prisons, bank bail-outs, and wars. Who hasn’t though both political parties were basically the same? So a bunch of ’em found a guy they both hated. The biggest fucking monkey-wrench they could get, and threw him into “the system.” A lot of them are already starting to feel remorse; most will learn all too quickly. When they come around, try not to point and laugh and say “I told you so.” Not unless you haven’t learned your lesson. I have. And I still am.

I’ve spoken before about how we’re raised in a culture that tells us everything is zero-sum. That there’s only so much success, happiness, money, love, or whatever to go around, and we can’t let anybody get our share. It breeds competition, jealousy, and the very us against them, in-group/out-group shit I am forever rattling on and on about. And unfortunately there are a lot of straight, white, cisgendered, Christian, men out there who are shittin’ their britches because they fear others being lifted up automatically means that they and theirs will have to drop down. They don’t feel like out-dated dinosaurs; they feel like political correctness is driving them to extinction. And though I can’t empathize with that, I can try to see where they’re coming from. Because that ‘s how change starts.

It’s this tribalism/zero-sum thinking that makes them feel “thems” are taking their jobs. And the idea of illegal foreigners doing it is easier to wrap one’s head around than the truth. Some need to believe it because illegal immigration has an easy fix. Throw out the people who broke-in and stole your stuff, and lock the door. The reality is though, every recession people get laid off and bosses decide to automate more. Those jobs are never coming back, but you can’t deport all the robots yet, and it’s only going to get worse. To them kicking out illegals isn’t outrageous; it’s protecting one’s self and family. And when they ask blue politicians what their plan is for only allowing those who do what the law expects of them, they get called racist. And mocked for having jobs uneducated, non-English speaking migrants could take.

Photo by Ben White
Photo by Ben White

One thing us Lefties are good at is mocking people. We’ve turned cutting people down into an art form. Whether it’s sarcastically joking with our friends, or just kidding (not kidding) we can sling barbs and witticisms with the best of them. And still, for some reason, it’s not making us any friends on the other side of the aisle. I don’t get it.  I don’t get it. I mean surely no one could’ve supported Trump they only watched The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, Keith Olberman, Bill MaharRachel Maddow, the Young Turks, and all the other stuff I’ve been addicted to for months. All any Trump voter would have to do was was sit through the first few minutes of them being depicted as the worst ignorant reprobates on the planet, and then be receptive to our argument against their choice. But for some reason, people seem to turn off when they feel condescended to. (That means talked down to).

It’s no wonder it’s getting so hard for us to get along. We no longer see each other as anything more than dangerous caricatures. We spend too much time talking about each other instead  of to each other. If you are really sure that you’re right about something, you can often bring most folks around with logic, and reason, and compassion enough to see where they’re coming from. That’s how one educates most effectively.

Photo by Samuel Zeller
Photo by Samuel Zeller

When one spends as many hours trying to dissect this latest, and seemingly worst, democracy debacle, they come across many hard truths and possibilities. Perhaps the most odious of all is that perhaps Donald JingoisticScumFuck Trump won because he is a kind of genius. A maestro of media. Prodigy of popularity. Pardon me whilst i go vomit up my liver.

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 To put it a better way, his run for office would’ve been one of the most amazing, inspiring stories ever – If you can forget for a moment that its star is a syphilitic baboon in a rotten pumpkin costume. Think about it: A political outsider fighting the establishment. Neither side wants him because they both underestimate him. They do their damnedest to keep him out, but he inspires so many people that the old guard of political heavyweights can’t do anything to stop him. Using his own money alone, he does the impossible and gets the nomination! The opponent spends twice as much on advertising as he does, and every scrap of media does nothing but talk shit about him day and night. Hurling scandal after scandal at him. Everyone says he’ll never do it, but he has a flair for fame, a strength for stardom, and he uses all the negative attention, their own weapon, against them, to do the impossible!

Everyone has been wrong about him every step of the way. So who knows, maybe he’ll actually do great! Or at least not as bad as we fear.

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I’m obviously not saying that Trump deserves anybody’s respect. But being able to admit that he might actually be good at something, as difficult as that may be, is actually the first step in learning how to effectively combat him.

F.D.R was laughed at, but knew how to use the power of the radio to his advantage. Many say the turning point for Kennedy were the TV debates. Those who listened on radio thought Nixon won, but those who watched TV gave it to Kennedy. And Kennedy knew that more potential voters were watching than listening. Obama’s campaign was credited with being the first to really use the internet to get his message out and usher politics into the twenty-first century. And now, like it or not, here we are with Donald JaundiceTheHutt Trump and his social media. We were forever shocked when nothing he said ever disqualified him. As if saying outrageous things on twitter loses followers, or being a total douche-rocket on reality TV ever made someone less popular. He gamed the system and figured out how to turn the news, mainstream media, and life in general, into reality TV. And we all tuned in to watch. And help. He outraged us so much that we had to give him billions of dollars of free advertising.

He gambled and won. And in this results-oriented society, that makes him as good as brilliant. The scariest thing of all though, is now that it’s worked once, we’ll only up the ante. And If we don’t figure out how to keep it from happening, this very well might be the prologue to Idiocracy.

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I was definitely one of those people who proudly and happily underestimated Trump. Whenever things got close I’d go and look at the polls to calm down, never once thinking they might’ve been wrong. As it turns out they don’t poll out where the bulk of Trump voters came from. All the pundits pontificating and prognosticating had Clinton so far ahead on Election Day I almost stayed in bed. After all, it was early. And I’d have to get dressed. Besides, she didn’t need my vote. I suspect a lot of people felt that way. People didn’t take the possibility of a Trump presidency seriously. I bet if instead of an Election one-shot we did a best-of-three I wouldn’t be writing this now. I’d be back to some happy friendly hippie shit. But godfuckindammit here we are.

I did force myself into protective layers and out into the cold that brisk Tuesday morning though. By then I’d already been researching and studying the Trump-Phenomenon for far too fucking long and had phrases like “civic duty” and “making a statement” stuck in my head. Ten that night, with the rest of the country, I watched the results come in. I’m almost embarrassed to admit just how much my reactions were like the SNL skit. After that, I doubled-down on the godawful media and I’ve been spinning my wheels in that same rut since then. Now I can’t seem to stop newsing and I fear this sick addiction is beginning to hurt me, and those I love.  But now that Trump is SCROTUS I must retreat to the mountain top for a while and meditate, take some time, and decide if I want to come down as an immortal soul with a long view, or if I’m going to spend (at least) the next four years in the here-and-now spitting molotov cocktails.

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Mutiny

( Title suggested in a song by William Elliot Whitmore )

Goodness help us, it’s inauguration day for the 45th president of the United States. And while yes, three million more citizens voted for his opponent, and that out of the 58 elections so far, only 12 have snuck into the White House with fewer electoral votes – we can’t deny it any more: America has taken its obsession with scary clowns way too fucking far.

My last post or two were about how in the US we don’t talk about the class divide because it goes against what we like to think about the American Dream. How each class is brought up with values so different that they might as well be from separate countries. And that when we can’t acknowledge that others were raised with such different priorities, we find ourselves flabbergasted, if not outraged, at their rudeness, insanity, or dangerous-stupidity. And of course they feel the same about us. Well, I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but those posts were the beginnings of me trying to figure out the popularity of the Golgothan Shit Demon that’s since become the leader of the free world.

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I’m not here to be just another voice, lost in the cacophony of cries and howls, bellowing, “The emperor’s got no soul.” Not why I’m here just yet anyway. This, I feel, takes precedence.

The slogan “Love Trumps Hate” now seems naive. But there are worse things to be than naive. I for one am not ready to give up on Love. Not just yet anyway. We lost the battle, we have to accept that, but don’t believe for a second we’re losing the war.

Just a reminder, but today we’re the same country that elected Barack Hussein Obama twice. Right now only 37% of Americans polled report being against same-sex marriage. That still may be too much, but if you’re as old as I am, you know the amazing amount of change that’s taken place in the last 30 years. Legal abortion is favored 56% to 41% opposed. The majority of folks do support universal healthcare. Also 64% are worried about Global Warming. And even 59% of US citizens agree immigration helps this nation. So no, I’m not quite ready to believe that half my country are xenophobic, racist, misogynist, homophobes…

You may be able to sway me that about a 1/3 are though.  After all, 250 years ago one third of the people in the colonies were for the Revolution while another third were against it, and the remaining third were too indifferent to act. Also, when Hitler rose to power it was only one third of the German citizens that were with him. One third opposed, and the last third kept their heads down, tried not to make waves, and waited for the whole thing to blow over.  Trump got about a quarter of eligible voters to vote for him, and I don’t believe they were all deplorable.

Obviously I’m not here to say don’t worry, don’t fight, or don’t care. I’m saying don’t give up, not even on the others your stuck on-board with. We’re still on the same ship we were a few months ago, it’s just the captain that’s changed. And there’s already mutiny in the air.

Photo by Milind Kaduskar
Photo by Milind Kaduskar

As I’ve said, I hate the news. It’s not healthy to watch all the evils of the world be paraded in front of you day and night. It sours your outlook on all of humanity, shucks the joy out of life, and twists the soul. Over the last few months of trying to rationalize the rise of Donald JackalSoul Trump, I’ve watched more news than I have in in the last few years. I’m obsessed. Not with how so many souls could back a shallow, greedy, narcissistic, boob; we do that all the time. After all, it takes a certain type of person to claw their way to the bottom of a vicious political netherworld in hopes of becoming the most powerful creature in the known universe. (I know, I know, your candidate is different.)  No, what scared and enraged me was how Trump stoked the flames of fear and hostility into a prairie fire that consumed 63 million.

But as satisfying as that shot of self-righteous hate-adrenaline is, reverting to that good ole’ “my-good-guys are right, and their side is full of monsters” tribalism would just be too easy. So instead I made myself sick on media trying to make sense of it all. And I think it’s helped me be more understanding, even if it did not make me feel better.

Photo by Tina Rataj-Berard
Photo by Tina Rataj-Berard

One thing I did find somewhat comforting though were those who believed that no matter who ran to challenge the incumbent this year, they would’ve won the presidency. Back in the early 1980s Allan Lichtman used pattern recognition methods on U.S. presidential elections going back to 1860 and came up with 13 “keys” that accurately predicted all 37 previous the winners. No polls. No parties. No names. No news. Just 13 yes or no questions about the big picture. He then predicted all 8 popular vote winners from 1984 to 2012. And yes, this year he predicted that the keys to the White House would be taken away from the incumbent party by the challenger.

Humans aren’t the best at looking back, (or forward). Our brains are made to be more concerned with the present moment. But if we look back, a pattern seems to appear. The free and Roaring 20s were followed by the Great Depression. And science tells us that when times get scary, people get conservative. That’s why Right Wing campaigns usually revolve around fear mongering. In response to the up-tight 1950s came the 60s and 70s, the backlash from that (and the recession) was the neocons of the 80s, eight years of Regan and four of King George the First. Then came the economic boom of the 90s and the Clintons. Then King George II, The Boy King. Then Obama. Tea Party. Occupy. Black Lives Matter. Bernie Sanders. And of course, now Trump. Left, then right, then left, then right. Time marches on.

As I said, studies show that the more scared we are, the more conservative we tend to be. And unfortunately, that Great Recession that most of us have all but forgotten about, the one that devastated much of the world, and whose recovery seemed to take forever – well, much of rural America is still waiting for that recovery. And it looks like it might never come. So there are a lot of scared, forgotten, people for whom, anyone running on “four more years” wasn’t going to cut it. And the pendulum will continue to swing.
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So what if times are tough? So what if they’ve been fucked-over when they had shit to take, and ignored when they had nothing. It’s been happening to minorities since before America’s conception. How can they just excuse all the racist, xenophobic, hateful shit Trump spews?” I wondered. Then I tried to imagine being one of those people.

The only job around, be it factory, mine, or plant, closed down years ago. There’s been no work since, and I can’t move to find anything new. I’m trying to feed my family and keep them healthy with a roof over their heads, but unemployment’s run out. In short, I’m just trying to fulfill the very base needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, the ones that need to be taken care of before one can even think of anything higher. So yeah, I might vote for the guy who promises to help keep me and my family alive. Maybe I would ignore all the other stuff that only affected my life when I saw it on TV. Why not? Isn’t that what we all do?

We can excuse the people we feel are on our team of just about anything. If their side runs on, “marriage is between a man and a woman,” they’re homophobes that must be stopped. But when Obama, just 2 terms, 8 years ago ran on it, he got a pass. Their side makes the Patriot Act, a gross injustice. Our team takes over, doesn’t repeal it, but expands it, “Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.” Their side has flying death machines that kill innocents, we have precision drone strikes that occasionally incur some collateral damage.  Only racist xenophobes talk of deporting illegal immigrants, unless it’s the record numbers our guy didTheir spying on American citizens is outrageous; we find out our NSA was reading EVERYONE’S emails, and “I’ve got nothing to hide, I’m no terrorist.” If they’d put boots on the ground in Syria after promising more than a dozen times they wouldn’t, we’d be smitten nickels. But they didn’t. Obama did.  I could go on and on, but I’m not here to slag on Obama. He’s not perfect, but it’s not a perfect world, or an easy job. And besides, he seems like a nice and cool guy.

Photo by Pete Souza
Photo by Pete Souza

I’m sure some can feel themselves bristling at these accusations of the former president and have all been shouted “heretic” at their computers. Others probably didn’t even make it through the list and just defensively shutdown as surely if I was attacking them. And many won’t believe (or remember) any of these things no matter how much evidence they see. Hell, they all gave him a second term after he launched thousands and thousands of airstrikes in his first. And that’s the point. He’s on our side, so we forgive and forget.  I could tell you that over the last 8 years Our Team has; deployed Special Ops more to more than twice as many countries as his predecessor, King George II. Waged war without congressional approval. Sold tens of billions of dollars in weapons to a dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Signed the NDAA into law making it legal to assassinate US citizens without trial or charges, and then  used drones to kill 4 Americans.  And still detains people indefinitely at Gitmo, but that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Obama’s popularity is the highest it’s ever been and people would hack off body parts to be able to vote for him again, some maybe even their own. I might even be one of them. Now think, if we can overlook all those lives destroyed or ended, and still think of the captain of our team as a good-guy, just imagine how easily it is for Trump supporters to excuse his words.

Photo by Harri Kuokkanen
Photo by Harri Kuokkanen

I think I’m going to stop there for now. Not because I ran out of things to say, but just the opposite. I’m only half done and I don’t like to bludgeon you with too many words for too long. So, if after you finish your death threats you want to read on, click here.

Class War Pigs

Back in the springtime of my life, Mama and I would wander wherever the wind blew us. It was hard for her to feel at home anywhere, or with anyone. It wasn’t any old cliché about it being me and her against the world, because there wasn’t anybody else on our planet. Not until I started flunking out of school that is. Then they started coming out of the woodwork. Some blamed my failure on her being a single mom, others scolded her for the “instability of the living arrangements.” In the end though, the Powers-That-Be let her off the hook. I was just “retarded” they told her, and there wasn’t really anything anyone could do about it.

Poor counties may have the cheaper rent and taxes and such, but when it comes to getting anything from the government, like decent schooling, ya get what ya pay for. And, as I’ve mentioned, ma and I were poor. High-class poor, but poor nonetheless. So, for her boy, she tried to both put down roots, and save up to move to a better school district. It took a few calendars and a fistful of zip-codes but eventually we achieved the American Dream. We went from being blue-ribbon blue-collar in a poor town to blacklisted white trash in a wealthy one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of Social Class in America, the concept of there being “high-class poor” must really sound strange to you. And if you’re from the United States, there’s a good chance it’s downright unfathomable. But, believe it or not, the U.S. has its own strange kind of social strata that is the foundation of everyone’s life. And though everyone is sure the tier they’re on is the best, it can still really suck being the lowest on the scrotum-pole.

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It’s not unheard of for blue-collar workers in the top of their fields to make 80, 90, or even 100-thousand dollars a year. The thing is though, no matter how much money they make, they’re probably not going to suddenly start wanting to hang out with the “prissy, boring snobs” who were born with that sort of money. And even if they did, those who achieved that American Dream will likely never be able to scrape off the stigma of being “low class.” It’ll be obvious in their accents, hobbies, and views. And without the acceptance of those blue-bloods, they’ll never have  opportunities to get access to, or make connections with the powerful people who turn the screws that screw the rest of us. Because it’s not about economic class; it’s about social class.

Statistics show that those raised in upper-classes get into better schools, have better health, get higher paying and safer jobs, are less likely to be arrested, have more effective networking opportunities, live longer lives, and get a zillion other non-monetary privileges that are probably worth more than money. No, your social-class isn’t “lower” because people in others are better, it’s because the further down the ladder you go, the more out of reach things get.

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Though most grown-ups disapproved of all the moving around mom and I did in my formative years, I feel it was good for me. It helped cultivate an almost zen-like ability to go with the flow, and taught me to try and make the best of just about any situation I find myself in. Thanks to how I was raised, I’ve been able to slide all over the class spectrum, and pick up a rather sundry gaggle of friends as I do. There are certainly strata I feel more comfortable in, but for the most part I can get along with just about anyone with an open mind, no matter how different our backgrounds. And in some ways, this irritates me.

Like most fools, I occasionally like to believe that I’m a consistent entity. Even though I am quite sure of the opposite.  So when I find myself speaking, acting, or even thinking differently depending on the people I’m surrounded by, it sometimes needles me. And I make an effort to pull back to the version of me that, for whatever reason, I spend the most time trying to be. This changing back and forth of speech patterns and posturing is called code switching, and  most of us do it all the time without even noticing. We talk to bosses differently than we do folks back home. A janitor different than a lawyer. Someone from our class as opposed to someone from another.

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Each class has its own rules about everything; personal space, volume, manners, topics of conversation and taboos, and whatever else you can think of. Consciously or sub- we usually pick up on these, and try to play their game. And though my brain believes that simple, beautiful, little poem that explains why code switching is elegant and articulate, I grew up in a class that, above all else, despised those who tried to be something they weren’t. Proud poor folk who’d rather starve than sell-out. But I’m not that anymore. Not just that anyway.

And so fucking what if we sometimes contradict ourselves, we are ginormous, and we are Legion. That doesn’t make us two-faced, not a coin flip. Not this or that. We’re more like a roll of a die. Different numbers come up depending on the conditions of the roll, and though the 1 and the 6 are different sides, they’re still the same die.

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The crazy motherfuckers who’ve made Physics their lives. The ones who go to the big schools, think up the big ideas, and get paid the big bucks, whether quantumcosmologicalrelativistic, or what have you,  they insist that the math and evidence have hard-ons for theories about parallel universes. My favorite, or at least the one I think is the simplest, is that if the Universe is infinite, and there are only so many ways to arrange matter, than eventually, if you go far enough out, combinations will have to start repeating. And not just repeating in the exact same way they’ve formed here on our Earth, which of course they will, but also in slightly different ways. Go deep enough out in forever and eventually you’ll have to come across every possible combination of atoms, elements, people, and situations. 

This is the type of shit my mind sometimes upon me forces me. It’s really just a game of What-If masquerading as science. Because, somewhere out there, there’s a reality where I never resigned from the professional world and am still climbing to higher and higher levels of middle-management. One where I don’t have an arrest record. Where I’m married with children and living in the suburbs. One where luck wasn’t on my side and I got into a drunk-driving accident and am now unfeeding into a bag. And one where I never let my mother’s argument win out over the working-class values I’d picked up along the way, where she never talked me into becoming a college-boy. There I’m still working construction, maybe making three times as much as I am now, but I’m a lower social-class conservative, and I voted for Donald Jizzmonger Trump.

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White Trash (2nd Generation)

(Title stolen from Bad Religion’s absolutely brutal first album)

What class are you? If you’ve ever heard this question it’s probably only been once or twice, and from a young ’un who didn’t know any better. If you’re from the United States it’s because we don’t believe in such things, and if you’re from anywhere else, it’s because everyone can tell just by looking at you. In the U.S. we can still tell, but we don’t consciously think about those things. In America we basically believe there are three classes; upper, middle, and lower, and everyone thinks of themselves as middle-class. If you ask someone who grew up in a several-hundred-thousand dollar cookie-cutter home, on some cul-de-sac named after the trees that were cut down to make it, they’d say they were middle-class. If you ask someone like me who grew up in apartments that were just stuccoed together code-violations, I’d also say we were middle-class. Even after mom saved up enough money to move us beyond all that poverty – and into our very own mobile-home – in a low-rent trailer-park. I’ve now inherited and moved back into that same ol’ shack-on-wheels, so you know what that makes me? Yup, you guessed it, middle-class.
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I grew up poor and rural. Sometimes in tiny rundown apartments in tiny rundown towns, and sometimes so far out in the styx that ‘town’ wasn’t even in biking distance. They were the hollowed-out places from the most depressing Springsteen songs. Those polluted river towns that died of old age when the factory shut down, or when highways opened and businesses started shipping things by truck instead of boat, or whenever-the-fuck-happened, happened. Sometimes when the leaves start to change and I begin to feel nostalgia creeping in I make the long drive back. One of the places we lived’ll probably be crushed by the next decent snow. The only thing that seems to continue to grow in those little specks on the maps of the great ol’ U. S. of A. are the cemeteries.

If you’re picturing the inhabitants of those towns as beer drinking, football lovin’, gun toting, bible thumping, red blooded, ‘mericans, for the most part, you’d be right. As you can imagine I wasn’t always the best at fitting in, and as a good, christian-fearing god, I blame my mother.

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Mom was raised by a pretty well-off family; some might’ve called them upper-middle-class. When she was sixteen, and for good reasons she left home and never took a cent from them again. A few years later, she became a poor single mom. Now, the way we, in the United States, think about it, this meant that she went from upper-middle-class to lower class. But that’s not really how it works. One of those things we Americans don’t like to think about, is the difference between economic class (what you have) and social class (what you want). Economic class can change with a smeared year and a predilection for pharmaceuticals, but social class tends to take generations.

My crack about it all being ma’s fault was just my way of saying that I was raised with values different from those I grew up around. Because the person who taught me about the world was basically from a different planet from the one we inhabited.

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If you’re from the U.S., there’s a good chance that it sounds crazy that your social class, something that doesn’t exist here, might somehow effect the way we are raised or fit in with others. But think for a moment about your growing up. How much of it was around (the kids of) professors, or mechanics, or drug-dealers. Think of how that informed who you are today. Things like; how you spend or invest your money. Are you more comfortable dressing up or down? Which makes you feel guilty the obscenely expensive dinner out, or the greasy burger? Do you want to work hard or hardly work? Big family or small? When is violence appropriate? Do you value a vocabulary full of big impressive words, or one that’s concise and everyone can understand? Which laws are ok to break? How rowdy should you get in public? What constitutes a compliment or insult? What’s more important, knowledge or faith? What is good art? Now try and imagine how it would’ve been growing up in the home of a doctor, plumber, or chronically unemployed person from a different strata.

From the social class we’re brought up in, we learn what should be important to us; from our hobbies to our life goals. Obviously many of us take great pride in growing past certain archaic shit we were raised with. Whether xenophobia, racism, or homophobia, thanks to exposure to things like television, music, friends, and drugs we can grow out of all that old… fertilizer. Of course, if we’d been a different class we’d have watched different shows, listened to different music, had different friends, and had different ideas about doing (certain) drugs.

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No, you can’t tell what social class a person is by their bank statement. There are plenty of high-paying blue-collar jobs and low paying white-collar ones. You can though, probably tell what class a person is when their out in the pub with their friends. And much like George Bernard Shaw’s quote about patriotism, we’re all convinced that our social class is the best – because we were born into it. Those lower are dirty, roughnecks who like stupid things. Those above are wimpy, lifeless, and boring as fuck. And they’re snooty too, the way they look down on us and the things we like. I mean it’s not like we’re some meth addict piece of trash who spends all their time watchin’ WWF or NASCAR and eatin’ roadkill. Those stuck-up people are classist. We were raised right.

As I often seem to say; we’re damned dirty apes. Poo-flinging, cum-chucking monkeys who, unfortunately, are still very much pack animals. To all of our detriments an Us-against-Them mentality seems to be in our DNA. When we finally start to get it through our heads not to judge people because they were born different from us, we do it because they were brought up with different values.

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I grew up without much money, surrounded by the working poor. But my mother was a hard worker, had a job for the State, and joined a good union. Over the decades the promotion and raises came. And she got to live that (21st century) American Dream of being (almost) out of debt by retirement. In the end, she made it pretty far up the corporate ladder, partially because of how she’d been raised. Though she had no money or connections from her family, she’d inadvertently inherited things like making the right amount of eye-contact, knowing when not to swear, and when to have the correct posture. What not to talk about, and when to hide her emotions and opinions. What hair, makeup, and clothes, made the right costume. And so many other things that, in short, added up to how to pass for a professional. All the things our lower-class friends didn’t know, and didn’t care to.

Mom started as a secretary. An insignificant role. But still, she was the first person people would speak to when trying to meet with her boss. They would judge him, by her. She was, in a way, a spokesperson for the whole enterprise. And if she hadn’t in her formative years learned how to pass as the class of people she was serving, she never would’ve advanced very far. Job interviews aren’t a show-n-tell of your qualifications; they’re tryouts to see if you can pass. New job skills can always be learned, but acting like an entirely different class takes a lot more work. Getting bank loans, college admission interviews, and so many other things are similar auditions. Never talking about this stuff is one of the things that insures that we’ll always have an underclass. And people will always be failing tests they don’t even know are happening.

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