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At Work Killing Horses and Slashing Eyeballs

15 Jun

Toronto, CA
photo: Jason Chapman

Part of Jason’s photo essay “What Do You Do?” (documenting artists with “day jobs.”)

This is 11 maybe 12 years ago? (confirmation of start date according to post metadata: 22.09.2010; 0855 hrs.) When I had hair. And flair. And something exciting was in the air. These were the days of Input-Output. Books and stories were published with lightning speed—as the business of publishing books and stories goes. Lately, it’s been exclusively Input-Input. Information gathering from all kinds of sources feels much like an impending storm about to unleash gusts and softball-size hail down upon all of us. Insurrection is coming. Strife is coming. Bondage is coming (no double entendre intended, I swear). Shortages are already here. Supply chain disruptions? Check. $8-gallon gas? It’s already in Canada, so why not in America? The animals in charge of our destinies look alarmingly similar: old, white, male. They think alarmingly similar. Nowadays, as the sirens go off, we gather our important documents and flee into the central-most closet, modes of communication lit up in sweaty palms, tracking wind rotation and obsessively noting the crescendo of miles per hour. Input-Input.

I am reading about a famous tennis player who nearly jumped out of her 26th floor apartment in April in order to put an end to the pain and depression. I am reading of war and politics and climate catastrophe that has finally begun to elicit the slightest itch\twitch in certain people’s brains as maybe, perhaps, PerhapsMaybe a reality and a cliff from which there is no salvation for Mankind (capital M). I read the brilliant words in the giant masterpiece published by a young author who long ago (all right, 14 years ago, but that’s kind of long) decided to hang from the garage rafters after decades of medication, therapy, and electricity being zapped through his elegant, encyclopedic brain. I read I read I read. Input-Input.

This piece is a found draft in the offline archives of this site. I have many of them, these drafts. About 150. All waiting to be found or resuscitated. I’ve always been really good at beginnings and endings. That’s what these 150 false starts are. The stuff in the middle often becomes something along the lines of waiting at a railroad crossing while a freight train endlessly and perpetually click-clacks along on the way to somewhere else, in someone else’s backyard, to dump its toxic load. What if we rewrote the rules and skipped the middle, then? Or, what if there is no middle? “They were born and then they lived and then they died.”

Or what if there is only a middle—a perpetually flowing force of everything that constitutes a sort of reality existing in between nothing that can be delineated as a beginning, an end, or even space\negative space? Something bookended by absolutely nothing. I just made myself laugh looking at the previous two ridiculous sentences. Listen, there is an online subculture that is for some reason obsessed with debating Man’s (capital M, again) free will vs. lack thereof. The pro/contra arguments aren’t really that difficult to grasp. (For the record, I believe there is no free will, however, that’s not for this post to explore.) But to hear the lectures themselves (YouTube, podcasts, TED Talks, etc.) from the experts, and then read the comments of those who seem to take this debate as seriously as professional, cutthroat sport, I am driven to think about the brilliant young writer, the garage rafters, and the tragic conclusion of that particular story.

Some writer guy (white, old, male) the other day lamented the fact that white, old, male writers are having difficulty finding work in this world. This guy who lamented the good ol’ days of conquest, laughter in jest, and literal and figurative gluttony (MAGA) is apparently worth $800 million and has “written” (quot. marks because of the open secret of his using several ghost writers for his novels) something like 200 books. He has sold over 450 million novels since 1976. I am having difficulty understanding why anyone worth that much would even want to say anything about anything in general. Like, to anyone. Ever. (Update to story: the writer guy apologized and backtracked on his grievance. But not before the TwittyTheBirdVerse tore him to putrid little pieces. As the infernal swine that populates that particular world always does.)

A piece in the legendary Washington Post informs me that there is a general bad sentiment and overall ill will against QR Code restaurant menus. Scanning through the thousand+ words, I get the meat of the story to be something resembling: “hey kids, don’t we already spend enough time with our collective heads tuning into EM waves emanating from a small screen held in our hands?” (I may be wrong about electromagnetic waves, but I don’t claim to be a scientist. Or a thorough researcher.)

Now listen here, from the same WaPo piece: “. . . a poll conducted late last year by the National Restaurant Association found two-thirds of all adults preferred paper menus over the online version. Baby boomers in particular revile the use of QR code menus, with 4 out of 5 preferring a physical one.” This reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live joke from the 1970s: “4 out of 5 doctors think the fifth is an idiot.” That’s just, like, basic, good philosophy applied to every poll participant’s perception of their antagonist, man. But backtrack to the subject of the piece itself. This is in the Opinion section of this great newspaper that brought us the break-in at the Watergate complex 50 years ago tomorrow. One thousand lousy words’ worth of the usual headline: Old Man Yells at Cloud!

Speaking of one thousand lousy words, I am at #951 as of this one. So I better skedaddle before I reach the 1K limit. I am sure you’ve reached yours.

Monica Lewinsky, Slick Willie, and Sitting Vice President Al Gore as Guest on the Show

3 Sep

This is my next-to-last monthly column at The Prague Revue.

Sadly, after October I’ll be moving on and quite likely away from non-fiction. It’s been a great year writing for TPR. I feel that I need to concentrate more on selling my novel, selling a long short story that’s already being looked at by a dozen paying markets, and maybe starting to think about writing another book.

In October, I’ll finish out my “Tales from the Trough” series. I’ve been thinking about largely expanding the series into a book-sized memoir of sorts and shopping that around as a behind the scenes tell-some type of project. I don’t know yet. I have all these great ideas and limited time in which to either develop them or implement them.

In any case, I hope you like this month’s offering. Veep Gore struck me as a typical, well-oiled, veteran politician…a charlatan through and through. Many people upset with the debacle that was the 2000 presidential election (remember hanging chads?) keep saying to me: “I wonder what it would’ve been like with Al Gore as president instead of George W.?” It would’ve been basically the same, is what I answer always.

And it would have.

Cleveland (non-fiction)

27 Aug

I stepped outside my alloted “time slot” at The Prague Revue this month¬†with a short (700 wds.), non-fiction piece about the strange few weeks my father and I spent in Rome, waiting for paperwork to go through for our official immigration to the United States from Romania in early January, 1980.

The piece was originally called “Cornete,” the Romanian word for the spiral paper projectiles referenced in the piece. But the editors wanted the title changed to “Cleveland.”

It was weird being put up in a rooming house indefinitely and waiting in Rome, at least for me, 10 years old at the time. It felt like an internment camp of sorts. Like a weird gulag where most kinds of freedom existed, yet the place harked back to ye olde Mother Country (intermittent hot water, communal bathroom, decrepit building, etc.).

The first time I saw color television was in a storefront in Rome. My dad and I were going somewhere and we passed by a store selling new television sets. Nearly a dozen TVs were displayed in the window with the same program running. The film was, I remember vividly now though I didn’t know it at the time of course, the 1953 color version of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” I was mesmerized more so by the color than the narrative of the movie itself or aliens or laser beams coming out of a ridiculously looking dinner plate meant to be a flying machine. My dad went on to whatever it was we were supposed to do, and I just stood there in the street for quite possibly two hours, watching.

Despite the info in the piece (it IS after all CREATIVE non-fiction) I actually accompanied my father on his daily 9-hour-long walks to see the city. I remember whining and bitching, but I’m so grateful he dragged me around to see basically everything there is to see in Rome and The Vatican. And we did it all on foot.

Another vivid memory that has stuck for three and a half decades is my first ice cream in Rome. Dad bought a scoop on a cone, and I remember it cost over 1,500 lira. That amount seemed egregious to me at the time and I took care to savor the gift. But, considering a measly bus ticket for two stations was 250 lira, I suppose it wasn’t that expensive after all.

We were living with dozens and dozens of immigrants in that same strange limbo. Some of them had been there for over a year. My father had no idea how long we’d be there; it all depended on bureaucracy. We were ready to stay at least a few months. Our visas, however, came within a couple of weeks.

Until this past March, I never returned to Rome. Although my wife and I only stayed in the Rome airport this spring long enough to catch our connection to Naples (3 hours), I felt oddly melancholic. I had come back after 34 years to the first Western city I’d ever been, to the first color TV I’d ever seen, to the first time I encountered the idea of PAYING for every little thing in order to receive the service desired (like showers, elevators, public restrooms), to amazing history, ruins, palaces, columns, piazzas, catacombs, art.

I should perhaps one day attempt to revive my memoir of this experience that I finished in ’04. It initially gathered a lot of interest from literary agents, only to be rejected. I never followed up on pushing with it because life issues came up that had to be taken care of.

Our story getting out of Romania is quite interesting and sometimes adventurous, from the time I carried paperwork to the American consulate in Bucharest in the lining of my grade school jacket (because of my father being under surveillance by security forces/secret police), to the time the government or secret police either tried to kill us, running us down with a car, or at the very least send a strong message that we weren’t to mess with the system.

In any case, this is a very short impression that begins and ends in the same place, flirts with the idea of “The American Dream” being Cleveland, Ohio, and just sort of touches on the weirdness of the limbo all immigrants from Eastern European countries escaping to the West had to be placed in for bureaucratic reasons back then.


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