Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Shiny Side Stayed Up

From high in the passenger seat of a Peterbilt truck, the featureless expanse of the Great Plains stretched to the horizons. Beside me The Cisco Kid, a Canadian trucker, my ride, a lonely soul who spotted me hitchhiking in Sacramento, thumped the steering wheel, keeping time.

 It was March, and Cisco — I never learned his real name — kept the cab cold and the music loud, just above the CB chatter.

 “Ooh, I'm driving my life away, looking for a better way, for me”, Cisco sang in his scratchy voice.

It was the hundredth time I’d heard Eddie Rabbitt’s song since my road adventure started. Behind us an 18-wheeler carried a load of concentrated juice. Cisco drove and drank sweet creamy coffee, while I smoked and told stories to keep him awake. Eddie Rabbitt was fading away, but never very far. Cisco reached for the CB and increased the squelch.

 “Breaker 1-9, Westbounders on the I-80, how’s it look over your shoulder?”

 “Lake Rat here. Y’all look good back that way,” a disembodied voice said. “Copy?”

 “Cisco Kid copies.” He took a gulp of sugary caffeine juice. “Clean and green your way, but smile and comb your hair east of Des Moines. 4-10?”

 “10-4. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.” The Cisco Kid winked, as he hung up the mic. “Pizza and Murder by noon.”


 “That’s right, boy. Chicago. The Windy City. Find me some country music.”

 I gave a silent groan and fiddled with the dial. Seconds later Eddie Rabbitt’s voice returned. “Well the midnight headlight finds you on a rainy night…”

 “Great job!” Cisco said. “Yeah.”

 “Gotta keep rollin”, Eddie sang. “Ooh, I’m driving my life away…”

 Two thousand miles we’d come together, and I was far, but still nowhere further. I rummaged for my notebook and wrote a couplet.

 “Looking for a better way —”, sang Eddie, and the Cisco Kid grinned. I smiled back, inhaled toxic smoke, and watched the snow-covered cornfields shoot past.

 “Looking for a sunny day”, I whispered along. He’d heard me anyhow.

 “That’s right!” he said. “Gotta keep rollin’.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Check Out This University of Saskatchewan Gender Role Reversal Project

This culture jam is a school project that was created for a Women and Gender Studies class at the University of Saskatchewan by Sarah Zelinski, Kayla Hatzel and Dylan Lambi-Raine.

It begs the question about the sense of our gender representations in advertising. If they are strange for men, they must be for women too, but we are conditioned to ignore them (well, men are anyhow)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Garbled Dispatches

It’s a sunny afternoon in April 2004. Although I’ve consumed three doppios since rising at noon, I’m half-asleep when I grope for the telephone from behind three code-filled monitors — one buzzing with dangerous static. The phone’s chirped five times before I answer.

“You sent a letter to my son.”

It’s Jim, my oldest brother. We haven’t spoken in months. He doesn't sound drunk, just furious. The webs inside my brain lurch.

“Um, yeah. I'm sending him a board game and some recordings. I'm a taper, you know.”

“He forwarded me the letter. Young man, what the hell were you thinking, saying you don’t agree with the war. He puts his life on line every day to save your cowardly ass! You liberals are all the same: griping about President Bush who has the backbone to defend our country, spouting views that we’re better off without Saddam Hussein, but moaning about the only person who has guts to fight back.”

I ignored his hostility. He'd had a stroke.

“I thought some entertainment... He’s away from his wife and kids.”

“He’s busy killing terrorists before they come over here and kill cowards like you who wave the flag, but fail whenever they’re asked to defend it. Board games!”

“Puzzles, maybe?” I said to provoke him. His aggression had ruined my day, but I didn’t want to grant him the satisfaction of ruffling me. “Goddammit!” he said. The line went dead.

I waited a minute before calling. “They didn’t find —” He hung up again.

Seconds later, my phone rang. We spoke five minutes. I asked about his grandchildren and my sister-in-law. He gave polite answers and reciprocated similar questions, all chilly though. Later, I reviewed my well-intentioned letter wondering how it triggered such a response.

Those events taught me to avoid contacting them. When I carried him to his grave, our relationship was cool, but not Arctic.

Wiser now, I understand his outrage: My reasoning travestied his son’s daily danger, and his self-righteousness fertilized his hopes for a safe return. Skepticism poisoned them. He had no choice.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What’s Gone Is Gone. Next Please

Security: When I was eight, Susan, a classmate, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered, and her severed fingers mailed home. I remember Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King getting shot. The Zodiac Killer haunted our region. The Vietnam War was raging. Horror was my childhood’s backdrop.
My first friends: after moving to Sacramento in 1972, becoming an outsider and never fully recovering. Governmental faith: watching Watergate hearings — Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” seems quaint nowadays, doesn’t it?
Invulnerability: spending six months home with osteomyelitis: a swollen arm, pulsing pain, fever, interminable blood tests, x-rays, nuclear scans, and, finally, a successful operation. I listen to doctors.
All my possessions twice: one backpack stolen, another accidentally traded with a lady in the desert while hitchhiking. Almost none of her clothes fit me. Equilibrium: Ugh. My friend Stuart and I complained to the bartender about the quantity of tequila in our margaritas. I staggered home, fell into a bush, puked in a park, and hated myself. The next morning I wore a crown of real bloody thorns.
My humility: playing guitar on Telegraph Avenue for spare change. Someone who looked like Jerry Garcia gave me a 20-dollar bill. Secular worldliness: after witnessing the dome of the Oakland Coliseum get unscrewed and the eyes of something ineffable peering inside. You become naked.
My heart stolen by a carioca dancing in a tennis court outside the Greek Theater: 1981. She heard psychedelic music and wandered uphill. I still wonder how I was so lucky. Disbelief in miracles: first, my newborn son, Charles, recognizing me seconds from the womb (so it’s you again?) and second, when my 3-year-old, Kyle, imitating his first sounds in speech therapy.
My dad: ravaged from within, but bravely smiling, I understand him better now.
Belief in organized religion: hearing the congregation’s warmongering after 9/11 reminded me of the crowd shouting “We are all individuals” in Life of Brian. Never went back. Masses of unquestioning humanity are fearsome beasts.
Certainty: I’ve learned many times that we control our destinies, but only if we invest time and energy. Our words and actions define us.


After experiencing loss, its sheer weight is so devastating that I’ve been blinded to the eventual ramifications, even those that mitigate the damage, so my first reaction is how my losses often led to greater gains. For example, I am positive my time absent from school instigated a love of knowledge, transforming my life. Also, would I love the horror genre so much if my childhood were spent in idyllic surroundings? I doubt it. Is my oblique perception and constant obsession with consciousness linked to psychedelic mind melting? I suspect it is, but, honestly, I cannot be sure. It’s an impossible experiment; I cannot be my own control group. My second reaction is that I’m somewhat disturbed by what’s unlisted. For example, my tequila incident is here, but one brother, a nephew, a niece, two great friends, and two business partners (those both suicides) never will be and didn’t survive the edit either. Have I become calloused to death, or am I shuttering my senses to stay sane, because everyone I’ve ever loved will die? No! That’s not right. Death is part of our journey. So, what is this list telling me then? It looks chaotic. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty that I crave! Imagine life as a river. I’ve navigated past pilings, shoals, and calamitous waterfalls, but whenever disaster occurred, I’ve pushed the boat back into stream and headed for deep water. I long to discover what’s beyond the next bend. Thus, I remain a work-in-progress, still defining myself, but patient, so any reflection on past events must be made with always one eye on the future. In the meantime, I’ll keep improvising, rowing against the current, and enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My Worst Job

How I Lost Some of My Life

Once upon a time, I became a systems analyst for the now-defunct Banco Nacional. Dias, the R&D department manager, hired me, assigning me, the "resource", to a gringo-hating division manager. They asked me to validate a network system to be installed in over 400 branches, a deal worth millions, the saving grace for a company in São Paulo. Nobody explained I was supposed to rubber stamp it, or that the president's brother-in-law owned the company.

The system was a mess of obsolete microcomputers with shoddy networking capabilities. I broke the code in several hours, but writing the report was difficult. My savvy partner-in-crime, Ronaldo Pinto, helped with translation so the board could understand my hacking. To prove the system’s weakness, I transferred representative funds from and back into my personal account without creating transactions, but with documentation showing different balances. This is a bank’s nightmare scenario.

Ronaldo called me before work. “Don’t go to the office. Termination notices are on our desks.”

“What do we do?”

“Many people will be canned. We’ll survive if we don’t show up at our office.”

It was a big company. We toured other offices for weeks doing feasibility studies on nonsensical projects: a $300,000 laser printer for a department that prints a dozen annual reports, a backup system of 8-inch floppy discs, and a dual purpose video poker/automated teller machine (for employees). Idle time was spent in Gávea watching Flamengo games, Ipanema or Leblon soaking up voluptuous temptation, or the Tijuca rainforest getting stoned. We knew that it was borrowed time. Finally, bored, I returned to my desk to be fired.

They escorted me to Personnel. I argued, but I was just a case number. I was furious. I seethed. My laughter frightened them.

They paid three month’s salary plus a pension. It was the law, but it felt like hush money. I already had another job and should have forgiven them. I didn’t. Instead, every misfortune they later suffered brought me joy.

It's ridiculous, but writing about it, even now, I'm frustrated. Ego I am.

Saturday, October 1, 2016