Friday, August 28, 2009

Dracula, The Wolfman And Miley Cyrus

One evening at midnight under a full Moon, Dracula, the Wolfman and Miley Cyrus walk into a bar.

The bartender stops what he’s doing and he stares.

The patrons stop talking and stop eating and stop throwing darts and they stare.

The bartender says, “You just turn around now and walk right back out. We don’t serve your kind here.”

The patrons start picking up pitchforks from off the floor, taking down torches from off the walls and loading shiny silver bullets into their revolvers.

Dracula and the Wolfman turn and they start to leave.

The bartender calls out, “Not you two. You two can stay. But we don’t want no Disney Girls in here. This is a respectable bar.”

Miley Cyrus looks at the pitchforks, torches and guns and she hurries out of the bar.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cell Phones, Street Lights, Something Like Honey

Debbie put her cell phone in a clear glass.
She put her hand over the glass and tried
to think of other things. Dinosaurs. Cats.
Skinny-dipping in a Wisconsin lake.

Debbie didn’t see it when it happened.
There was no sound. The glass under her hand
didn’t shake or roll or bounce up and down.
Although she didn’t see it or hear it
or feel it, Debbie knew when it happened.

Inside the clear glass under her fingers
her cell phone had changed into brown liquid.

Debbie knew, too, if she touched her finger
to the liquid and touched it to her tongue
the liquid would taste wonderfully sweet.
Like honey. And if a lab tested it
they would present a computer printout
with chemicals itemized and conclude
the liquid actually was honey.

“Good trick,” Debbie’s friend said after watching.

Debbie held out both hands, palms up, empty.
“The phone’s gone,” Debbie said. “It changed. No trick.”

Debbie can’t twitch her nose and make money.
She can’t whisper at clouds and make a storm.
She can’t bend spoons or accelerate growth
in marigolds or guess which card you pick.
But if you have an unwanted cell phone
Debbie can change it into five or six
tablespoons of something like real honey
that tastes very good on a slice of bread.

“So do you think it’s magic?” her friend asked.

“I don’t know what the fuck it is,” she said.
“I don’t even have a theory. Weird, huh?”

Debbie’s friend once knew somebody who could
make street lights switch off by walking near them.
That person, too, hadn’t known what the fuck
was going on with street lights switching off.
That person, too, didn’t have a theory.

“It’s weird,” Debbie’s friend agreed. He said, “Yes.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Bobber On The Asphalt

Yesterday I got some soup to take home
from a restaurant a few blocks away.
Walking with my soup through their parking lot
I noticed a bobber on the asphalt.
Fishermen use bobbers when bait fishing
to signal when a fish has found their bait.
I wondered if someone had been fishing
for the creatures that move around unseen
somehow, somewhere down below the asphalt
and emerge sometimes very late at night.
In the sunlight with warm soup in my hand
fishing for monsters in the parking lot
almost seemed sporting, almost seemed like fun.
But I’ve seen monsters at night. If I saw
a bobber on the asphalt twitch, jerk down,
I never would try to reel in the thing.
Monsters aren’t fish to be hooked, landed,
taken to a taxidermist and stuffed.
If I saw a bobber on the asphalt
twitch, jerk down, I’d run as fast as I could.
I saw a bobber on the asphalt but
I didn’t see who may have been fishing.
I wondered if they had a chance to run.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Parking Lots

Parking Lots At Night #1: The Morning Fashion Shoot

Parking Lots At Night #2: Dinner With Shelby

Parking Lots At Night #3: The Parking Lot At Night

Parking Lots At Night #4: The Next Day

Defying Nature In The Parking Lot


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One Pair Of Cool Socks

I own a pair of psychedelic socks.

They’re not toe socks. They’re just regular socks.

They’re yellow, red, dark blue, light blue with some

splotches of brilliant green and dark purple.

They cost something like ten dollars a pair.

Ten bucks can buy maybe six chicken breasts

so I only have one pair of cool socks.

I don’t wear my cool psychedelic socks

on the same day every week but today

worked out to be psychedelic socks day.

Today I’m wearing psychedelic socks.

At a grocery store south of Chicago

I’ll be shopping for groceries today, but

I’m gone to San Francisco in my mind.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Makeup, Jazz And Wild Dogs

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers
Of some quiet conversation

Over the weekend I had a quiet conversation with some people about African pottery. Someone mentioned sleeping under the stars in Africa with wild dogs barking in the distance. I’ve never been to Africa so I wasn’t sure if I should be putting my two-cents into the conversation, but I’m a talker and the wild dogs reference immediately reminded me of Toto’s Africa lyrics so I just jumped in and quoted them:
Wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless
Longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises
Like Olympus above the Serengeti

Well, everyone likes that song so everything was cool. And it turned out one woman not only loved that song but later showed me this YouTube clip of a European jazz chorus, the Perpetuum Jazzile, doing an incredible a cappella version of Toto’s Africa.

The volume of this clip is normal, but during the opening seconds the chorus does a thunderstorm—jazz rain and jazz thunder!—so it starts quietly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trees At Night

Everything is happening all the time.
Performers laughing and crying inside.
Performers laughing and crying outside.
And nothing ever stops. Sitting at home
with my lights on at night, street lights outside
light up a tree that’s never in the dark.

Walking outside, taking pictures of trees,
a block away I see sparks bright as Sun.
A power line has snapped, fallen, now sparks.
Light from the window doesn’t reach the tree.
The street light doesn’t reach the dark sidewalk.
The fallen power line sparks, a strobe light
on the emptiness of the dark sidewalk.
Evil clowns, other things, move in my mind.
Sparks illuminate whatever’s moving
in my mind. Flashes create stop-motion
like bad special effects in an old film.
Policemen, firemen, emergency workers
scramble to isolate the sparking wire.
But it’s as if they are there to save me.
Evil clowns, other things, get beaten back
by electricity—science!—flashing,
turning even the dark sidewalk to light.
Policemen, firemen, emergency workers
scramble in and out of the dark and light
as if saving me—civilization!

And this writing, me telling this story,
is a thank you note, more, a billet-doux,
to civilization for saving me.
Everything is happening all the time.
And nothing ever stops. But sometimes now
falls back, slips away and becomes back then.
And all light becomes something like dawn light
and the dark sidewalk under that dawn light
becomes something like just a dark sidewalk.
There is science and civilization.
And whatever this is. Something like art.
I don’t care about performers and shows.
There is science and civilization.
And whatever this is. Something like art.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Dark Sidewalk

Three Clowns On The Dark Sidewalk

That Third Evil Clown

Thursday, August 20, 2009

That Third Evil Clown

My thinking is if you rub off
the makeup from an evil clown
the evil clown’s face will look worse
or at best exactly the same.

I wouldn’t want to test this thought
on the fat, sloppy evil clown
that performed its fat, sloppy show
on a stage I now call back then.

I wouldn’t want to test this thought
on the thin, manic evil clown
that tripped across the stage back then
making a show of falling down.

I would like to gently wash off
the wide-eyed, frightened evil clown
that just stood there on stage back then
staring at me watching the show.

I don’t want to relive that show.
And evil clowns as evil clowns
make me turn away. But do I
feel love for that third evil clown?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Dark Sidewalk

Three Clowns On The Dark Sidewalk

Evil Clowns: Summer 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Three Clowns On The Dark Sidewalk

Three clowns pretending to trip and stumble
emerge performing from the crowded dark
in my mind that’s something like a deep map
of the dark sidewalk I do not walk on.
One clown is crying. Two clowns are laughing.
They pantomime something. It’s a broad farce
pitting two laughing against one crying.
They don’t speak but they squeeze bulbs that honk horns
and their big, white clown hands make slapping sounds
when they clap or slap another clown’s rump.
Their long clown shoes flop as they run around.
Throughout all the clowning around always
one clown is crying, two clowns are laughing.

I don’t know what the hell they are doing.
Do the laughing clowns want me to laugh, too?
Does the crying clown want me to cry, too?
Am I supposed to wonder what to do?
If I could I’d comfort the crying clown.
I don’t want to laugh with the laughing clowns.
I don’t want to watch this clowning around.
I want, I guess, the crying clown to laugh
and I want to laugh with the crying clown.
But clowns have their emotions painted on
and their emotions are part of the show.
I don’t walk on the dark sidewalk because
monsters use the show to pump up their buzz.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Dark Sidewalk

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Clowns, Women, But First A Rainbow

Monday evening, right around sunset, I went out for a walk. I wanted to work on a couple of story ideas for Impossible Kisses so I took my notebook—I mean a paper notebook, not my computer—with me.

I walked a block out of my way to avoid the dark sidewalk and on a corner I looked up and saw the most beautiful rainbow I’ve seen in years.

Immediately my thinking switched from writing to picture taking. I’m still using just my phone for taking pictures and the color-response of a phone camera is pretty awful, but I got a couple of pictures that were at least reasonable.

I’ve fussed with these a little in Windows Picture Manager to bring out the color as best as I could. And I’ve cropped both pictures a little bit to cut out landscape details. (The wires visible in the left picture run east and west. The wires in the right picture are different wires running north and south.)

In real life the full spectrum was visible, from red on the outside down through violet on the inside.

I’ve mentioned rainbows a few times here.

My favorite use of the word rainbow is in my post “Expeditions.” I wrote:

It’s always disconcerting, venturing
after the creature from the Black Lagoon
and encountering Frankenstein’s monster
or going out looking for UFOs
and seeing a rainbow that collapses
down around you like colorful rubble
but rubble that grows hands and reaches up
colorful fingers that somehow you know
would grab you and strangle you if they could.

That’s kind of what happened to me Monday evening. I went out to think about a couple of story ideas involving evil clowns—a hot topic now among Forteana buffs—and the rainbow grabbed me with colorful fingers and made me take pictures of it.

At least it didn’t strangle me.

Now I’m going back to trying to work out one or two evil clown stories.

A long time ago I knew three women. When I first met them I thought of one of them as the most interesting. Over time, I got to know, slightly, the other two and the experience was less than wonderful. I never got to know the third at all, the woman I’d originally thought of as the most interesting of the three. It has always bugged me that I didn’t follow my instincts way back then and chat up the woman I thought would be the most interesting. I’m trying to work that into some kind of story involving evil clowns who somehow manipulate people into doing their bidding.

Clowns, of course, are fair game as metaphors for women:

I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
has given you one face, and you make yourselves
another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and
nick-name God's creatures, and make your wantonness
your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath
made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages:
those that are married already, all but one, shall
live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a
nunnery, go.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Women paint their faces. Clowns paint their faces. Clowns are fair game as metaphors for women.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Many Naked Teenage Girls Does It Take

Question: How many naked teenage girls does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Possibly seven, or possibly the world may never know.

  1. One to call her girlfriend and describe the problem—Yeah, it’s dark in here, the light bulb is burned out—and say she has to change it—Yeah, they expect me to change it, do you believe that?

  2. One to call her boyfriend and talk about sex and then ask him to come over and change the light bulb and get all pissed off at him when he won’t do it—Fuck you then, I don’t need you to do it, I can do it myself!

  3. One to call back her girlfriend and tell her about her boyfriend—Yeah, he won’t do it, the bastard, do you believe how he treats me, he treats me like shit!

  4. One to call the gay guy she knows and ask him what he’d do but he’s on his way out to meet a guy he’d talked to at the grocery store so he can’t help her.

  5. One to call her father and talk about how life is so different now that she’s not living at home and to accidently start crying because the light bulb is burned out but her father is driving up to Wisconsin to go fishing so he can’t change the light bulb.

  6. One to Twitter about making phone calls all day—calling susie to talk about the light bulb its still broke

  7. One to sit staring at the burned out light bulb looking like Jessica Simpson trying to figure out how in the world people can mean fish when they say chicken of the sea.

How many naked teenage girls does it take to change a light bulb?

The world may never know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Piece Of Clothing

A piece of clothing
warm against a body

A piece of clothing
all wet
on fire
cut and sewn into a superhero costume

A piece of clothing
between a camera and a body

A piece of clothing
not even seen

A piece of clothing
talked about
wished for

A piece of clothing
like lyrics against a melody
like clouds against the sky
like a philosophical discussion

A piece of clothing
sometimes with pictures
sometimes with numbers
sometimes with words

A piece of clothing
touched or untouched
obscuring or revealed

A piece of clothing
something like an angel
fallen or guardian
believed in or laughed at
wished for
turned away from

A piece of clothing
laundry detergent
washing machine
folding or hanging and putting away

A piece of clothing
warm against a body

A piece of clothing
wished for

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“A Cloak of Anarchy,” by Larry Niven

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Dark Sidewalk

There’s a sidewalk that’s darker at night
than the sidewalk just across the street
to the south and it’s also darker
than the sidewalks that line up with it
across the streets to the east and west.
The dark sidewalk. There is a street light
but there are tall trees around the light.
High branches obscure the nearby light.
Low branches screen out light from street lights
on the corners and a block away.
At night when street lights illuminate
all the streets and sidewalks around here
the dark sidewalk is a deeper dark.

Walking at night I look at that dark,
the deeper dark of the dark sidewalk,
and I don’t see monsters in the dark,
I don’t see something else in the dark,
I don’t see someplace else in the dark.
But I do see the deeper darkness.
The darkness is there and in my mind.
If I walked there I would be walking
into the darkness in my mind, too.
The darkness in my mind is deeper
than the darkness of the dark sidewalk,
less empty and somehow more complete.
I do not walk there. I cross the street.

Friday, August 07, 2009

What Is The Opposite Of Transcendent?

Wednesday night the Moon was west of Jupiter.

Thursday night the Moon had shifted east of Jupiter.

This is a dynamic in the sky human beings have been observing for thousands of years. Every month, night by night, the Moon shifts gradually eastward against the backdrop of fixed stars toward the rising Sun. Every year against the backdrop of fixed stars, night by night, Jupiter shifts slightly eastward too and, sometimes, stops and moves westward for a time before resuming its eastward motion.

Throughout most of human history nobody on Earth had any idea what was going on in the sky. Nowadays school kids learn many details of astronomy just as part of normal schooling. Even Jupiter’s odd motion westward, retrograde motion caused by the Earth shifting in its orbit, is junior high science class stuff.

I know there are people today who couldn’t find Jupiter in the night sky even if someone told them Jupiter is just east or just west of the Moon. Jupiter, to them, would be only another star, only another point of light in a sky full of points of light. Some people have no interest in that kind of thing.

I know, too, there are people who pretend to be interested in that kind of thing.

The dynamics of people who pretend are as big a mystery to me as the dynamics of the sky used to be to our ancestors who looked at the sky and wondered what was going on up there.

Looking at the sky, studying it, trying to figure out its mysteries, is a way to experience the beauty of nature, to participate in the wonders of nature. In a Thoreau kind of way looking at the sky, studying it, trying to figure out its mysteries, is—at the very least I’d guess—something like transcendental.

Trying to figure out people who pretend is—on the other hand I’d guess—a waste of time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mathilda And Nicole: Perfume, Things Like That

Mathilda studies things like that.

Mathilda noticed when Nicole returned the bottle of perfume to the shelf, Nicole put down the bottle of perfume but then took a half step backward and looked left and right at the other bottles of perfume on the shelf.

Nicole stepped forward and reached out again to the bottle of perfume she just had taken down, tested and put back.

Nicole pushed the bottle of perfume slightly away from the edge of the shelf so the bottle of perfume she just had taken down, tested and put back lined up with the other bottles of perfume on the shelf.

Nicole turned the bottle of perfume slightly to the right.

None of the other bottles of perfume on the shelf faced directly forward.

Nicole walked away.

After Nicole walked away Mathilda looked left and right at all the bottles of perfume on the shelf.

If Mathilda hadn’t memorized which bottle of perfume Nicole just had taken down, tested and put back then there would be no way for Mathilda to determine which bottle of perfume Nicole just had taken down, tested and put back by looking at all the bottles of perfume on the shelf.

But Mathilda had memorized which bottle of perfume Nicole just had taken down, tested and put back among all the other bottles of perfume on the shelf.

Mathilda is careful about things like that.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mathilda And Nicole

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Psychopaths: Some Metaphysics, Some Politics

One of the very first quotes I put up on this blog was back in May, 2006, and it was a quote about odd brainwaves a psychologist had found in people labeled as psychopaths: “…We Hadn’t Gathered Them From Aliens…”

Psychopaths are interesting because for many practical purposes they appear to be something very much like real life monsters. Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley has written that psychopaths wear sanity like a mask.

There is no single test that can sort out psychopaths from normal people. Psychologists seem to agree, however, that if a professional has the opportunity to observe a person’s behavior over time, a psychopath almost always will be unable to disguise the dominance of their psychopathic tendencies.

Nobody knows what percentage of the population is composed of psychopaths. A common estimate today is that one percent of the population is made up of psychopaths. I believe this estimate is derived from studying prison populations and extrapolating to general populations. I’ve always wondered, however, if you could work backward and think conceptually: Psychopaths are, for many practical purposes, psychologically a different species of human being. One could say, perhaps poetically, that psychopaths are something like predators that view normal people as something like prey. In wild ecologies typical predator-to-prey ratios vary from twenty percent through forty percent predators. I strongly suspect that there is a larger percentage of psychopaths in the general population than the accepted number of one in a hundred. I strongly suspect someday research will document a ratio for psychopaths somewhere near the lower end of the wild predator-to-prey ratios. Perhaps something like one in ten.

Today I have two quotes related to psychopaths. There first is about the nuts-and-bolts of a psychopath’s brain. Scientists believe they have identified some physical differences between the brain of a psychopath and the brain of a normal person. The second is an old quote about politics. It was uttered in a purely political context and, in fact, it was spoken with a kind of pride. But hearing it in the context of psychopathology it sounds—to my ears—very much like what might be called a pseudo-ethical construct, or something like a mask that a psychopath might slip into, to disguise his impulsive, indulgent and essentially irrational behavior as something like normal behavior, something like reasonable behavior, something like human behavior.

Here is the metaphysics:

Psychopaths have brain structure abnormality

August 4, 10:52 AM • Meg Marquardt - Science News Examiner

Scientists have long searched for a biological basis for psychopathy, a behavioral disorder attributed to chronic immorality. While previous studies have found no clear evidence, Professor Declan Murphy of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London believes he has found an area of the brain that is decidedly different in a psychopath as compared to a normal person.

It is unsurprising that much of the research to date has focused on the amygdala (the part of the brain involved with emotions and aggression) and the orbitofrontal cortex (which deals in decision making). However, an unstudied area is the uncinate fasciculus (UF), a white matter region that connects the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex. While the UF may not have a direct behavioral role, its dysfunction may lead to abnormalities in the areas which it connects.

Using a precise form of MRI, Murphy studied the brains of those labeled as psychopaths who had been convicted of crimes ranging from manslaughter to repeated rapes. The imaging found “a significant reduction in the integrity of the small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, compared to control groups of people with the same age and IQ. Also, the degree of abnormality was significantly related to the degree of psychopathy.”

When discussions turn to psychopaths and sociopaths, talk of criminal proceedings cannot be far behind. While the study was small and has not been repeated, the mind immediately wanders to a court room where MRI evidence is given to support the conviction of someone on trial for mass murder. The controversy of the topic is likely to be heated. Could a jury be convinced with biological proof that a person’s brain is marked with the brand of a psychopath?

That day, however, is probably far in the future. Dr Michael Craig, co-author of the study, stated, “If replicated by larger studies the significance of these findings cannot be underestimated. The suggestion of a clear structural deficit in the brains of psychopaths has profound implications for clinicians, research scientists and the criminal justice system.”

This research was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Here is the politics. This is two paragraphs excerpted from a very long essay:

Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush

Published: October 17, 2004, The New York Times, Magazine

... In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'' ...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Death And Dancing And Death-Wise

This is Christina Applegate. She’s an actress.

She was born ten years after me so she is not ‘of’ my generation, she’s one generation younger, but I always think of her as the most beautiful actress of my generation.

Oddly, I’ve never had any kind of show business crush on her, never thought of her as iconic in the same sense as Anna Kournikova or Mischa Barton. But I’ve always singled her out in my mind as something special, both for her portrayal of ‘Kelly Bundy’ on “Married With Children” and because she’s just so incredibly beautiful.

She is also associated with the only piece of Hollywood gossip from modern times that strikes me as memorable.

I have no idea if this gossip is true. I’ve looked around the web a little and I don’t see the story repeated, but years ago I read and heard this story more than once.

The story—as I’ve read it and heard it—is that Christina Applegate and someone else were with River Phoenix the night he died. The three of them walked out of the Viper Club and River Phoenix collapsed to the sidewalk and began convulsing. Christina Applegate looked down, watched River Phoenix convulsing and thought he was doing some kind of break-dancing schtick, sidewalk dancing. The story is that as River Phoenix died, convulsing on the sidewalk, Christina Applegate got down on the sidewalk next to him, and flopped around herself doing faux break-dancing schtick.

I don’t really care about the background to the story. Drugs or shallowness or stupidity. I don’t care. I’ve always been struck—almost hypnotized—but the simple reality of the story, if in fact it is really true.

Imagine dying, spazing out into the afterlife, while the most beautiful woman of your era flops around next to you, spazes out herself pretending to dance with you...

That’s a pretty cool way to die.

Maybe I’m nuts. I don’t know. But I think that’s a pretty cool way to die.

This puts a weird kind of pressure on me. When I meet women, when I go out, I’m always judging my date not on whether she is smart or sexy or cool or beautiful—I’m searching through my evaluations of her trying to decide if she is or isn’t that just right combination of weird-in-so-many-ways that in some kind of life and death situation she could be counted on to, well, you know, act weird even in the face of the Grim Reaper.

Because that’s what I’m looking for.

I want to know that when the Grim Reaper is standing there—come for me—all grim with his scythe and vulture and all that silence, the woman with me will be just oblivious to the grim and will react in some kind of spazing-into-the-afterlife pretend dancing kind of way.

I don’t know what the details will be. I’m pretty sure for me it won’t be a bad trip outside some club and convulsing on the sidewalk.

But that’s what I’m looking for.

A woman who will just flip her hair to the Grim Reaper and be so sincerely weird that the whole spazing-into-the-after life pretend dancing thing will come off just right.

Like it did for River Phoenix with Christina Applegate, if that story is true.

Everybody dies. Sometimes it turns into something like art. The sports car and scarf thing for Isadora. The sidewalk dancing thing for River Phoenix and Christina Applegate, if that story is true.

That’s what I’m looking for. Death-wise I mean.