Destiny is hard to call your own


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At Homestead, the race that counted most, in the end it wasn’t who got unlucky that mattered so much as whose good luck was in being passed over by the bad.

A twist, perhaps, on the usual intrusion of Fate in racin’, but then a five-consecutive-championship finish called for special intervention.

In the plunder of ill fortune, Wynona turned the wheels just so and so and Hamlin spun, not bad enough to wreck but souring the No. 11 for the rest of the race.

Harvick was a hot contender – always up toward the front – but he entered pit row once a cunthair — guess whose? — over the speed limit, and that set him back far enough, for long enough.

All those slow pits might have ruined my run, but me those mistakes proved human – far, far smaller than Wynona’s jiggles on the dance floor of Destiny.

Enough distraction on her part to allow me to race calm and determined as sunrise toward the front, finishing second with Harvick gnashing his teeth on my rear bumper.

Second in the race, first in the Chase: How Johnsonian, as they will say in the years to come.

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But then, they don’t know jack about Wynona.

But Jimmie does.

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Five championships in a row—unprecedented.  The media wires are abuzz. No one can attribute it to anything special, least of all  to me. Not with how freakin’ fast those RCR Chevvies were all season—flat-out better than every one of our Hendrick cars.

Not with Hamlin so dominant in every race in the No. 11 Toyota Camry, always dueling up from the back of the pack to the front. And staying there.

And yet it’s me they see holding up Cup Number Five, so bland and complacent, not a glint of cocky glee in my eyes, spreading a  goofy grin as if I’d been caught with my hand in the Cookie Lady’s undies again.

Hell, I almost dropped the damn thing trying to lift it. Wouldn’t that have been a photo op.

I even had the gall to say that the Cup was gravy — gravy! —  in a year which delivered a far groovier  event, the birth of my daughter. As if local, familial, family things counted more than momentousness.

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I wonder how many racing fans swore off the sport forever to see me hold high that mockup of a check for more than five million bucks as the confetti flags flew. Five championships in a row –- five nails successively final nails, it’s muttered in every low corner next to the online water cooler,  in NASCAR’s coffin. NASCAR’s bad enough, I heard them whisper filing out the speedway stands, “But him – and five times now, fer Crissakes?”

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Odd, don’t you think? That in the end, Victory seemed so routine, a deflated balloon, a spent condom, flat Coke, no fireworks fucking the girl you always dreamt of having on a night like this.

Another championship: impossible. And yet so bland …

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But you knew all this. Saw it all play out in endless replays on the media for one 24-hour block until that was that and the season was over.

The only difference between you and me today is that I don’t—know anything, I mean. I  truly, turdly don’t know shit. I didn’t when Rick Hendrick brought me into his stable,  didn’t when I won my first championship, and I know even less today as I face the tedium of fame, chained as I now am to every pundit’s  hyperbole and hard candy sound bites.

I wanted this thing —  who fucking wouldn’t -– but I knew that winning wasn’t — hell, couldn’t —  be the goal.

All I did was hold steady while She greased the track around me.

That’s what Victory the Wynona Way means.,  a night in her undersea Airstream trailer, a run of a night which lasts for one race or a season or for five. For a lifetime, maybe more.

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I don’t think about it much (that’s the rule, you know), but I think She and I go way way way way back. Sometimes I dream about chariots and sun-horses and her voice in the marrow of the high cold wind, bidding me to drive the sun across the sky and back beneath the sea where she’ll be waiting wet and wanton for me. (When I wake, Chandra sleeps like a blonde angel, smoother than polished stone. Another quintessence I did not deserve but won anyway, as if wooing and racing were pistolas in a holster Wynona threw into my crib.)

These days, to be charmed means riding low enough to miss the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune. To get in Victory’s shorts is to ride the middle lane while everyone else gets wrecked or loses an engine trying to poke Her.

No one can properly aim for this thing called stock car racin’ fame. It is Her’s to decide.

If there’s anything I take pride in, it’s in not having a clue why any of this is happening. I just smile, smile, smile for the cameras and go home to Chandra shaking my head.  Again.

I don’ take pride in it really, but I am confident I know the way to Wynona’s trailer at the bottom of everything, where all of racing’s fame is decided.

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Yeah, I know, there’s skill, and supreme mechanics: But truly, my one distinguishing talent is that  I know where to find Her. She’s always  on a lonely stretch of coastal highway in the middle of a cold, rainy night, somewhere between San Diego and the seven undersea volcanoes off the coast of Santa Barbara. The precise location can’t be found on any map and there isn’t any road that will take you there. You just drive to the edge of exhaustion, peering through a wet windshield while the wipers keep time with old songs on the radio until She’s suddenly there.

And that’s how it all begins.

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I’d tell you more about the things She whispered to me last week after Phoenix when all of Homestead’s drama was set.

As usual, I found Her following a long night’s drive and let Her whisper the directions in my ear, turning this way then that then then that, driving off the coastal highway and plunging glub glub glub down the deep Pacific. Coming at last to her Airsream trailer,  somewhere between I and Thou, east of the sun and west of the moon, between the devil in a blue dress and the deep blue sea.

I would, but I’ll be damned if I can remember a word of it.

Maybe it was the exhaustion of driving all those laps unstrung from any race track and laid out in a meandering long coastal highway.

Maybe it was all the booze we drank sitting on deck chairs, staring up at the thin wafer of the moon flickering a thousand leagues up.

Maybe the sexual swoon which followed, her kiss and thrash taking me too deep for any human to dive and survive..

Or maybe I was simply dreaming.

Or remembering things from a distant life.

Whatever.

All I know is that she told me a lot that night, but I don’t remember anything between “Going my way?” and “Time to shove off, pardner.”

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I do remember the following morning. Weak, watery light of dawn blueing up the window. She was sitting up in bed, smoking a cigarette, brushing out long red hair which fell sassy over her naked breasts. A blue brassiere hung from one bedpost, my firesuit on another.

A tinny bedside radio was still on from the night before, playing scratchy and staticky  the distant croons of a singer I heard once long ago in a smoky nightclub off the coastal highway:

See her how she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon’s a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Yes. Earlier she had hovered over me naked in moonlight, her entire shape and savaging of me like a long deep draught of victory champagne from a double magnum. She was awesome, her red hair waterfalling all over me, her thighs gripping my hips as she worked up and down on my resolve to win at Homesead, pistoning the works of Fate into the gears in my mind which command my hands and feet to turn the steering wheel and shift and brake and hit the gas, her breasts rubbing my chest like everything always coming into view around the next turn,  her rosy nipples leaking a blue-white milk of  track mojo on my face and hands and chest, leaving snail-trails which had dried and crusted come morning.  (I didn’t wash them off.)

But it was her eyes which stared down at me in that darkness which nails me still – burning green and gold with flecks of a blue so dark they were almost ultraviolet, a gaze which did no so much as take me in as shower me with the brilliant cold magnitude of a full moon sailing overhead.

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That’s Destiny – a one-night stand with Eternity. Sometimes your fame lasts for 15 minutes, sometimes for 5 seasons, maybe more. But never forever. That belongs to Wynona as she sings along with the radio whose tower is God.

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When I came to,  She hardly noticed me stir, intent instead on brushing out those long red tresses, smoking a cigarette and humming along to the song:

Once the sun did shine
Lord, it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pines
And then the darkness fell
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
It’s so hard to love her well

I knew I had to get on outta there -– find my way back to the coastal highway and on to San Diego where a charter jet was waiting to take me to Homestead –- but who wants to leave Eden?

And although I was hooked, I was at the same time banned, for She is a Queen of moonlight and moonshine. Waking to see her in the light of day was like taking a bite of the apple; it all became quite apparent, in the spreading magnitude of morning light, exactly who She was.

I saw how old She  really was—not in any feature of her flawless body, her breasts so full and smooth, her back and ass and legs so white as she reached over to the nightstand to retrieve a comb to put in her long red hair, or her oval pure face as she turned back to look at me.

It was the look in Her eyes, seeing me awake and staring back.

Like starlight on the coldest night of the year, so achingly lonely and bittersweet yet knowing, like the wildest depths of the heart spread out across the infinity of the sky.

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Like the last light at the speedway after every other one’s been turned off for the night.

Like the eyes of the world’s first goddess staring through a mortal mask of a thirtysomehing, 21st century woman’s mature perfection.

We held that gaze for a long time, all the way through the last lines of the song on the radio:

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
Yes, I did, and I — I tripped and I missed my star
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
And the sky is made of stone

The moon’s a harsh mistress
She’s hard to call your own.

The song ended and a commercial for Hancock’s Flapjack Mix came on, followed by a PSA for war bonds.

She finally broke off our gaze and looked away, off toward the light which was turning from blue to soft gold.  All I could see of her was a waterfall of red hair splashing down to a heart-shaped ass.

Her voice was soft and maternal and icy-sad.

“Time to shove off, pardner.”

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Time to race at Homestead.

The trick is somehow staying clueless as championship after championship gets larded on your heard.

In not getting seduced by the shine of the bling into thinking you know shit after all.

No: The only thing you can know is when to open your door to drenched strangers on past-midnight washed-out coastal roads.

And where to go when She says Now.

When is Opportunity.

Where is Victory.

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At least, I used to know those things.

Now the game is all about losing the mantle -– when, and where.

Which means She and I now enter a new house of mirrors.

While the unreal city we play this game in —- some say Rome, others Atlanta, still others Charlotte –- burns.

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Links to two other posts about Jimmie Johnson’s underwater quest:

Here Comes the Flood (Blues for Jimmie) – June 2, 2010

Jimmie at the Blue Door, Again – Oct. 20, 2010

Three fates, two minds, one track


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It was not the race result everyone was expecting. Denny Hamlin was tearing up the Phoenix track, well ahead of Jimmie Johnson. The No. 48 Chevy just didn’t seem to be able to muster enough champion horsepower in the late afternoon sun. His fade into history’s footnote (as in, set the record for consecutive championships at 4) looked like a sure thing.

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Chad Knaus extorted his driver over the radio. “Come on, buddy. You can find us something.” You could hear desperation in his voice. But there wasn’t anything to find. Johnson slipped one position in the running order, then another, while Hamlin picked up bonus points for leading the most laps in the race. “Believe me, I’m trying,” Johnson radioed back. “Don’t try, do,” Knaus radioed back and then there was silence. The inevitable continued rolling out.

Kevin Harvick had already slipped, a tire changer missing a lug nut on the last pit, forcing him to come back in, get the damn nut, more gas and two tires and miring him back in the field. His only chance was a long, long green flag run (with the leaders eventually needing to pit for fuel).

Entering the last 20 laps it appeared that that might happen. He charged slowly through the field, though it didn’t look like there would be enough race ahead of him to make it to the front without a caution or a competition pit by the leaders.

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And then the unexpected happened, and the race was turned on its ass. The No. 11 ran out of fuel way early. Crew chief Mike Ford told Hamlin that he was about eleven laps short of fuel. He had to come in.

He did, and that was that. The dominant driver in the Kobalt Tools 500 ended up finishing 12th, behind Jimmy Johnson in fifth and Harvick in sixth.

Fuel became the big issue on the final laps. Harvick was the only one who was sure to make it on fuel. Edwards kept the lead but was vulnerable. Juan Pablo Montoya, who was running second, ran out of fuel on the final lap.

And no one, on one at all expected the No. 48 to make it, their past attempts at fuel strategy never panning out.

Edwards did it, winning his first Sprint Cup in 70 tries (he hadn’t won since the last race of the 2008 season) and then, miraculously—-strangely, in that race of strange outcomes—-the No. 48 held out, finishing fifth just ahead of charging Harvick.

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At the next-to-the-last race of the 2010 season, Carl Edwards celebrated his first Sprint Cup win since the last race of the 2008 season.

Everything that looked like destiny for Denny Hamlin, who lead for 190of the first 300 laps, spiraled out of control on the last 12.

And thus Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Cup lock turned like that into a points dead heat, with Hamlin leading Johnson by only 15 points and Harvick by 46.

A points lead which will be challenged ultimately in one winner-take-all race at Homestead this weekend.

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Hamlin had the stunned look of a beaten man in the post-race press conference. “I couldn’t control it,” he said, meaning the strange twist of events at race’s end. “I did everything I was supposed to do. Things didn’t work out for me.” He couldn’t believe that the No. 11 had a fuel issue where the other cars didn’t, suggesting that Ford had been too conservative in his fuel mileage estimate.

And here’s my point: How is it that such certainty can suddenly turn on three dimes into something altogether different? Three dimes – Hamlin’s fuel pit, Harvick’s missing lug nut and Johnson’s miraculous fuel survival – which fell neatly an opposite way to set up the fiercest final Chase race in history.

Well, (I assert), that’s racin’: a tightly controlled mayhem where mastery and dumb luck have stunningly equal clout.

And that’s what makes it so damn fun.

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Johnson, whose No. 48 was clearly fading and looking lost to the Chase, emerged looking like the clear winner, having bested not Denny Hamlin but Fate, or rather been championed by Her this next time, at least enough to keep him within a shorthair of the Championship for another week.

Smiling and joking on pit road after the race, Johnson acted like he was way out in the lead rather than in a dead-heat with Hamlin. He sure was talking trash. “The biggest thing we have working for us right now is to put pressure on [Hamlin], and the fact that we reduced that points lead,” Johnson said. “I hope he has a hell of a time sleeping all week. I hope he hears every rattle in that car, and everything you could imagine at Homestead.”

Johnson’s uncharacteristically bad-assed statement was comparable to calling time-out to ice the opposing team’s field goal kicker on the last play of the game.

Let Denny think about how he did everything right to win and still lost as he heads to Homestead. Let him think, let him think. Johnson knows that the best way to lose a race is to let it get to your head; it is perhaps why he affects such a Alfred E. Newmanequse “what, me worry?” attitude off the track.

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Translating a “What, me worry?” attitude into 53 Sprint Cup wins and four consecutive championships over a nine-year career.

Right up until the very end, Phoenix was a talent show; in the final laps it showed its true colors as a mind-fuck. The unexpected had shown its clout once again, and revealed the high-wires these cars actually race upon, suspended hundreds of feet in the circular air.

Phoenix was racin’ at its best, delivering a satisfying knockout punch from out of that nowhere which is perhaps the only good thing the sport has going for it.

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The current NASCAR motto, “Everything else is just a game” shrewdly plays upon the mystical allure of the oval grotto. Into every race goes the finest auto technology available, with the best and smartest money creating clear leaders – but it seems that when these smart forces are comically ratcheted by monkey wrenches, upending outcomes with banana peels.

Clearly, Fate had spoken –- or the gods –- had turned Denny Hamlin’s dominance into hubris and Kevin Harvick’s missing lug nut into a golden horseshoe. And Jimmie Johnson, who had long been the dominant driver at Phoenix, leading more laps there over the past five years than all the other drivers combined, and yet didn’t lead a single lap at Sunday’s race at Phoenix — still beat his Sprint Cup challengers.

I suggest that the strange mix of domination and chance is what makes these final Chase races so damn satisfying to fans.  Not in a long while has the desperation of the few provided satisfaction to so many.

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Not that Jimmie Johnson is a fan favorite, by any means, but his weird survivals and un-champion-like, laid-back demeanor makes him the lowly country rube who manages to pull the Sword from the Stone where all the high knights of the court have failed.

He sure fooled me on Sunday. Or rather, his fate sure fooled me.

Go figure.

(OK, I’ll try …)

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This notion of unnatural selection (of chimp as champ) isn’t rational, but like the irresistible appeal of wrong lovin’, the appearance of divine intervention (for better or ill) in races is, in my opinion, what keeps the sport running at full song.

Sorry, Monte. I know you’d like a drier, more journalistic truth about racing. You’ve asserted recently the best cars win races. And you know what an uphill battle it is to convince anyone of that, because “what’s between the ears trumps what’s under the hood” – meaning, people are going to believe their own race narratives no matter what actually happens.

Now, I’m all for Truth. My brain tells me that Hamlin has the best car and the best crew chief this year. The evidence of that was clear at Phoenix. I despise the hijacking of truth by corporate media interests. FOX News is the worst, so confusing GOP PR with truth that facts are pulled out of any ass to make a point that takes a news cycle to get shot down, but by then the damage has been done. (MS-NBC is FOX News in drag – same methods, diff’rent party.) Flipping channels the other night, I heard Bill O’Reilly lead a debate on whether National Public Radio offered fair and balanced journalism – as if they cared in anything other than unleashing a wrecking ball on the competition.

However, as we also saw at Phoenix, the truth only gets you so far in racin’—maybe up to the point where some celebrity or lucky fan gets to shout, “Gentlemen, START YOUR ENGINES!” That’s when all the dirt devils and she-demons pour in through back door of the speedway and the shenanagins begin. Driving counterclockwise in the manner of medieval witches (who were also called “weird sisters”) circling backassward around a cauldron, their muttering and motion invoking arch weirdness. Engines mysteriously fail to fire or blow halfway into a race, bits of metal or plastic appear on the track causing leads to get lopped off, cars smoke and spin and wreck this other driver or not, rains begin to fall, fuel gauges play tricks. The margin  of error is too small and there are just so many things which can go wrong.

And when a wreck turns fantastical, going airborne, turning pirourettes in the air, landing with a glance which becomes smash which becomes a series of barrel-rolls showering the catchfence with parts ending in a fuming flaming shatter, the precipice of death is never more visible to the hundred thousand attendees and millions watching the race from every angle on TV. When the driver shakenly emerges and waves his hand, there is a collective sigh which is part relief that a man has beaten Death this once, part disappointment that such sacrifices have disappeared from the land. Then someone crosses the finish line -– often a master, many other times a lucky dog who survived others’ disaster –- and then Fate’s fickle money shots in Victory Lane.

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Sound reasonable? Of course it isn’t. Racin’ is an enduring article of faith in a world where the rational has killed off the Deity and His traces in just about every other place where the light shines. Racin’ with Wynona is old-school, like still-whiskey and Westboro Baptist Church and good ole boys who smoke Marlboros and drink Budweiser by the barrel, who wear t-shirts that read, “Tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes” and still salute the Confederate flag. The South rises again at every race, ghostlike, still dripping blood from the horrendous losses of Shiloh and The Wilderness, unrepentant, unbowed, and reverently holding beer cans high to the winner, that hell of a good-time man who beat the devil at his own game.

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Actually, racin’ is much older than faith in stock cars.  They’re just the latest vehicle used in the ritual trial to prove the favor of Fate’s goddess. Racin’ survives from the second millennium BC, hearkening back to an age when the gods spoke to everyone, making every decision for us which consciousness eventually took over. (You try hauling ass and turning left faster than an angel can fly; you don’t think, you drive, obeying the voices which come into you over the radio in your headset).

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Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes (d. 1991), whose theories of bicameralism and the cultural evolution of consciousness were largely ignored until the development of brain scanning technology which lent great credence.

That’s the theory, at least, of Julian Jaynes, a former Princeton University professor of psychology who shook the science of mind back in the mid-1970s with his theory that human consciousness is actually a late, cultural invention. Formerly, humans had what were called bicameral brains, with the actions of left hemisphere relegated to “man” and the right hemisphere to “the gods.” The gods spoke through auditory hallucinations in the right hemisphere, speaking in one’s ear, so to speak, whenever any decision or action requiring thought was needed.

Fine and dandy, but shit always happens. Bicameral mind began to break down in the late 2d millennium BC when the auditory hallucinations of the right brain began to grow silent, losing their easy groove, requiring greater stress to speak at all, and eventually, on the personal level, went silent.

That’s because language-—particularly written language– began to overwrite the dominion of gods, replacing heavenly speech with articulated thought, creating a metaphorical interior world which had a force equal to survive and then master the outside world.

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Philistine Linear script, 1200 BCE: The self as text.

And so the gods began to disappear, growing remote, no longer in terran temples but somewhere up in the sky or down there in the sea, mediated by angels and deities, intermediaries which furthered the distance between god and man.

Religions formed as means of re-accessing these gods, and personal practices – like omens and superstitions, rituals and magic – were means of re-accessing the fading hallows of the god. But make way for rationality, the product of conscious thought, and by 600 BC – especially in Greece – we see civilization beginning to take off.

Now that technology is speeding faster than a quark on the lam, white noise is all we get of all those former certainties. Modernity, the inevitable product of civilization at warp speed, sucks.

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Bosch on WAY South Beach: Detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (ca 1510 AD), mapped the way from pre-conscious Eden into the darkness of the human mind.

That’s why the culture of the irrational is so resilient. According to Jaynes, irrationality is the very underpinning of rational civilization. You can’t get one without the other lurking in the shadows.

The Christian God lost much of His power as the Dark Ages morphed into Renaissance – some like Harold Bloom assert that the human was actually invented by Shakespeare’s self-reflexive characters as they tackled existence without a God’s direction.

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Illustration from King James’ “The Daemonologie” (1597); cover art of “Abraxas,” Santana’s second album (1970).

But King James – authoritor of the King James Bible, still the Bible of choice for many today — was obsessed with demonology, and Shakespeare was said to have written “Macbeth” for his benefit. Macbeth is an old-school warrior, haunted by witches and obsessed with destiny (much like every Sprint Cup Driver); Hamlet is driven by the Ghost of his father, but he questions every Christian dogma on his way down the primrose path to his destruction, showing a depth in the human intelligence which few have been able to peer down into.

God kept dying through the ages—drying up, fading into masses recited in dead Latin, exciting various proponents of one or other version of Christian truth into massive bloodbaths, fading to the point where Nietzsche would declare in the late 19th century that God was dead.

And yet He has kept surviving, perhaps because of our mortal fear of death, perhaps because, as Keith Richards once said, nothing interesting happens where the light is too bright.

Does it srike it odd to anyone else that in this age where knowledge is doubling every 15 years or so killer apps have about an 18-month lifecycle, that anti-intellectualism has never been more pervasive in the culture? The Texas Board of Education is bent on getting evolution out of science books, and Sarah Palin aw-shucks her down-home Alaska roots while she grinds her elk-blood-soaked boots onto the necks of Washington elites and readers of The New York Times. The culture seems to get dumb and dumber just as civilization gets smart and smarter; in this age of polarization, the extremes are mind-blowing, like pairing the big-bang spirallinggs of the Hadron particle accelerator with the backwarding declamations of “Jersey Shore” guidos and guidetttes.

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Dumb, Dumber, Dumberer and Dumberest.

Fear of modernity has almost surpassed fear of death, especially as dying gets marginalized, censured from the evening telecast about the war in Afghanistan and hidden away in anonymous nursing homes. The former fear is old enough, dating back to the very birth of modernity when human consciousness pried its way free of the bicameral brain.

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An apple a day keeps old gods away.

The Garden of Eden story is a tale about fears of modernity, with Satan’s offering just what modernity brings – knowledge of good and evil. When god spoke loudly in our ears, there was no need for good or evil – Just Do It was the overwhelming command; but when an inner world grew up around the tree of knowledge, morality – subjective conscience – became a stand-in for the evaporated Voice.

Evangelical movements have swept the United States every 20 years or so, and contemporary fundamentalism is strikingly similar to Muslim fundamentalism. The members of Westboro Church have as much love for the U.S. military – and contemporary society’s acceptance of homosexuals — as the Taliban.

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Birds of a fundamentalist feather.

We may never be rid of the shadow of bicameral mind, but like a schizophrenic recovering from the shower of voices in his or her head, we may learn eventually to temper it, to give it a certain due while suppressing the darkness further from our lit capitals. When is it ever truly dark in a city? How far must you drive out of town to see the stars?

Actually, mind may be slowly growing towards a more mediated consciousness. Banning irrationality has worked as well as, say, Prohibition: nothing like putting tape over a stripper’s nipples to make her boobage more compelling. Rather, it may be that people become self-authorized, i.e., able to have their personal relations with God of their own choosing – be that deity Old Granddad himself or the ocean or a rich metaphorical monestary in the mind – with the permission of society. It seems that the evolutionary direction is toward mediation of the brain’s hemispheres, so that one talks out of both sides of the brain, so to speak, at once verbal and spatial, deep and far, technical and mythical. Just think if we worked at things with our whole brains at play. Then the Kingdom of Heaven would no longer be lost at Eden or drifting beyond reach in the sky. Then it would be somewhere between heart and mind, soul and brain. East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

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East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

Or so Julian Jaynes saw it, until he died in 1997. His theories didn’t have much truck in varied scientific circles until brain imaging technology began to show neural activity which was amazingly constant with his idea of consciousness rooted in language (in the left hemisphere of the brain) with all sort of archaic, mystical, wondrous and strange stuff originating from a goddess’s castle at the bottom of the sea of the right hemisphere.

As it turns out, we really are bi-. –Cameral, that is.

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Back to Homestead, or on to it, for the final, winner-take-all race of the 2010 season. Miami will be a comfort to many, for winter is a-cumin-in for much of the rest of the country. The dark season formally began when we set our clocks back last weekend. Earlier this week Minnesota was dumped with a foot of snow. Trees have lost their leaves and lawns are turning brown. A cold wind blows down from the north. Ratso Rizzo, the sick and dying New Yorker in “Midnight Cowboy,” is aboard one of those haulers now driving way, way south, ferrying a hard-frozen soul into the balmy regions of paradise regained.

The forecast for Sunday’s race in Homestead is 80 degrees and partly sunny: summery weather indeed for just about anybody who doesn’t live in Florida, where this weather has been the norm in a temperate autumn. Warm without the hot humid gator fangs of what’s truly summer in Florida. Warm as a baby’s bottom, as a topless sunbather’s breasts, as the soft waves breaking so milky-blue at South Beach.

It will be warmer than the Daytona 500, a few hundred miles to the north and at the far end of the season. Central Florida was cold back then, in its coldest winter in 20 years. Someone even built a snowman near Pit Row one afternoon as Speed Weeks approached, following a slushy rainstorm.

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Snowstorm in Minneapolis, the usual at South Beach, Miami, Nov. 2010.

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Miami is no country for snowmen, except those boreal dudes in desperate need of shedding their pelts of ice in return for a decent soak wan sunshine, tall glass of rum-and-pineapple juice in hand, a combo playing bossa nova while half the reclining chairs around a beachside hotel are filled with oiled hotties.

Sweet home Miami, Homestead here we come.

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But Florida – especially South Florida – is no Eden, not any more. Massively over-developed, Miami is an day-glo carbuncle on the southernmost tip of Florida’s garish peninsular penis, sold out to big money and dope-runners and the spray-tan of every other form of self-aggrandizement.

Donald Sher Roth of the Miami Herald recently blogged about the hostility of South Florida’s residents, citing a 2010 Travel and Leisure article placing Miami almost dead-last on its list 35 Favorite Cities in America, even though a 2009 survey placed Miami first in attractive people. Roth attributed Miami’s bad rep to an almost complete disregard for social conscience – its citizens the most aggressive, arrogant and annoying of any place on earth, as likely to hit-and-run as leave it to you to step in their dog’s shit.

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It’s important to use proper turn signals when driving in Miami.

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Homestead is still recovering from the annihilations of Hurricane Andrew, a Cat-5 buzzsaw which ripped through the town just south of Miami in 1991 like the Rabid Wild Sow of Hell, a pissed-off cyclone blowing houses down with enormous farts from the sky. And even though the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is the season’s last, race attendance has typically been anemic, as is attendance a just about any Miami-area sporting event. Maybe everyone would rather be at the beach. Or maybe no one wants to face what awaits them on the roads, trying to get home.

The Homestead race this year should see top attendance, what with it all truly coming down to that singular venue. We’ll see. I have my doubts. Miami is a long way for a NASCAR faithful to trek, especially these days. And with faith in NASCAR at an all-time low.

NASCAR wants to move the season’s final race to Las Vegas, placing it nearer to the location of the season’s end-of-year banquets and celebrations. They better make up their minds, because the gods are surely angry at those surly, uppity Miamiams.

Researchers in Greenland and Antarctica are becoming alarmed at the rate those massive ice sheets are now melting, far faster than the speedy 20th century, which saw a 7-inch rise in sea-level. By 2100, the seas could rise another three feet, putting a good chunk of South Florida, including Miami and Miami-Homestead Speedway, under water.

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Ice is melting faster than a Holopaw debutante’s resolve to stay virginal after a couple of belts of Rebel Yell in the back seat of an old Caddy convertible.

Now, global warming is more the result of a billion new cars in China than a ten thousand hothead drivers in Miami, but that point will be lost on members of Westboro Baptist Church. They will feel vindicated in their belief in the wrath of a dead god. Most of us Floridians won’t grieve the drowning of the Miami Miasma, either — Governor-elect Rick Scott and Tea Party Senator-elect Marco Rubio are both from those parts, and all of Florida will now pay for their presence in the offices of power — but then we’re not looking forward either to the migration of millions of ill-tempered assholes into our neighborhoods, up here on (somewhat) elevated and drier land.

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Florida ca 2100. Note the greatly receded coastline, with Miami under a good 200 feet of water, and the new beach starts west of Daytona.

Maybe we can bus ‘em to Kansas where they can be reeducated in the ways of the Lord by the wonder-wonks of Westboro.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner.

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To work through to the end of the point in this post, I’m going to have to go back – back before the beginning of the season and back before the beginning of NASCAR. Way way back there I think are a few things which best explains the next and last race I’ll probably ever write about.

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In 1902 a curious find was unearthed from the Trundholm moor on the northwest coast of Zealand, an island off the southeast coast of Denmark (a location comparable to Iona off the coast of Scotland): a bronze statue of a sun chariot, featuring a large bronze disk that’s sitting on a device supported by spoked wheels. A mare stands in front, also on a similar apparatus supported by wheels.

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The Trundholm Chariot.

Curiously, the piece is gilded on one side only and supports the notion that the Trundholm Chariot was a votive of the sun goddess Sunna. In Norse legend, Sunna drives her sun chariot across the sky, chased by wolves. Her brother is Manni, the moon. The lack of gilding on the obverse side of the votive suggests a return passage in darkness, in the transit from sunset to sunrise. The piece is dated to the 18th to 16th century BC.

The burial of such an exquisite and costly piece was obviously intended as a offering to a deity, surely the Sun goddess Sunna: such rituals were one of many ways that people stayed connected to an increasingly remote heaven. No longer whispering in their ears, the gods were symbolically planted back under ground, that their voices may one day rise again.

Many silent centuries ensued as memory of Sunna faded away. But racin’ kept her gilded mojo, assuring to every victor her blessing.

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The Tarot is a manner of card-divination which emerged in the mid-15th century (though some say it roots back to ancient Egyptian practice) which was somewhat similar to a deck of playing cards. The Querent asks a question, and then the cards are laid out in some sequence. What’s called the “minor arcane” of the Tarot are four suits (cups, wands, pentacles and swords) working from one to ten and topped off by four royal cards (page, knight, queen, king). Each card has a significance and potency, especially when aligned near others. Then there are the “major arcana” cards, featuring allegorical illustrations and personages – the Fool, the Hierophant, the Wizard, the Tower, the Sun, the Moon, the Lovers, the Devil, the World, etc. By laying out the cards in a proscribed manner, one’s fortune – and destiny – supposedly could be divined.

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Now, one of the Major Arcana cards is the Chariot, and there’s an interesting story associated with this card which we need to remember at Homestead:

The Fool is close to completing what he set out to create long ago, back when the Magician revealed those tools to him. But enemies are now standing in his way, devious human enemies, bad circumstances, even confusion in his own mind. There’s no more forward momentum; he feels he is fighting just to stay where he is. Walking along the shore, watching the waves come in, he puzzles over how to defeat these enemies and get things moving forward once again.

It is here that he comes across a charioteer, standing in his gold and silver chariot, his black and white steeds at rest. “You seem a victorious warrior,” the Fool remarks. “Tell me, what is the best way to defeat an enemy?” The Charioteer nods out at the ocean. “Have you ever been swimming in the water and been trapped in that tide which pulls you out to sea? If you try to swim forward, head-on, you go nowhere. You swim forward, the tide pulls you back and, if you tire yourself out, you drown. The only way to win without sapping all your energy is to swim parallel to shore, and come in slowly, diagonally. So, too, when fighting in a chariot. You win by coming up alongside that which you wish to defeat.” The warrior nods to his beasts. “Your steeds keep the wheels turning, but it is your control and direction that brings victory. Dark and light, they must be made to draw in harmony, under your guidance.”

The Fool is impressed and inspired. He thinks he now knows how to win his own war. He thanks the warrior, but before he leaves, the warrior stays the Fool, “One thing more,” he says, “no victory can be won unless you have unwavering confidence in your cause. And remember this above all, victory is not the end, it is the beginning.”

The Charioteer, as some have divined in meditation, is a tricky sort of character, double-natured–perhaps of two minds: A warrior who fights on land and water and who succeeds not frontally but from the side. A  tricky dicky. Jaynes asserts that one of the first symptoms of consciousness was guile: a defeated people had to ignore the demands of their god for retaliation (which would have often meant slaughter) and, instead, acted compliant while planning their revenge. Think of Odysseus managing to massacre all of those suitors trying to get into his wife Penelope’s panties; he had to approach his own home pretending he was a beggar, so he could slip through the defenses. Badasses weren’t muscle-bound berserkers, they were mind-fuckers, riding their chariots on the ledge between head (reason) and gut.

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Odysseus, having pretended to be a lowly beggar outside his court, gets allowed in — and then takes his revenge on the Suitors.

And finally, the Charioteer knows the end of battle is not Victory but what comes after. This was lost on Don Rumsfeld when he went to war with Iraq in 2003, but Jimmie Johnson learned that Top Five keeps you alive where Victory will bite you in the ass. He didn’t lead a single lap last week in Phoenix and yet he still managed to finish ahead of the one who led the most laps.

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Jaynes suggests that musicians and poets manage to work from both sides of their brains: sound patterns register more fluently from the right hemisphere, with their meanings affixed to language originating from the right. Most of the old religious liturgies were sung because they sounded like the old voices of the gods. Music was a gift of Apollo, divine, harmonized to the heavenly spheres.

Now, most musicians know that keeping things mediated between the two lobes isn’t an easy thing to do. Words get lost in the melody, and if you have too much purpose, if you think too hard, you lose the thread of the song.

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Two representations of Arion, the mythical Greek singer who knew how to ride a song. (The left one’s tattooed on my left arm, since I’m left-handed, and compose my verses in long-hand.)

Arion is the legendary player of the lyre in Greek history (or pre-history) and a good singer, too, attributed with inventing the dithyramb, a literary composition for chorus. He was such a good singer that it literally (OK, mythically) saved his ass.

Arion had attended a musical competition in Sicily and was returning home when he was kidnapped by pirates who wanted his prize money. He was given three fates: commit suicide with a proper burial once back on land or get thrown into the sea. Arion buys time by asking for permission to sing a last song, a paean to Apollo. The song is so beautiful that entranced dolphins circle the ship. At the end of the song, Arion throws himself overboard rather than die and one of the dolphins carried him to the sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Tainaron.

I have a tattoo at the top of my left arm of Arion riding a dolphin, playing a flute; it was actually a logo for a series of poetry books. It reminds me of that precarious balance between words and music, how help comes from below rather from the skies, and how every next sentence is a dive into the drink, not knowing with any certainty what is to come next.

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The Uffington Horse.

The other figure I have tattooed on my (other) arm is a representation of the Uffington Horse, a 374-foot figure carved in white chalk on the slopes of White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire, England. Without constant periodic cleaning, the figure quickly vanishes from sight; up until the 19th century, a ritual scouring of the chalk trenches was done every seven years, accompanied by a festival. Couples sleeping within the small circle of the head (and directly upon the eye) were guaranteed fertility.

Most agree that the figure is a horse, though some of the locals assert it’s a representation of the dragon that St. George killed. Scientific dating places the hillside carving toward the end of the Bronze Age, somewhere between 1400 and 600 BC, attributing the carving to migrating Germano-Celtic tribe from the steppes of Eurasia whose totem was the horse. (The Celtic sea-god Manannan rides a white chariot called Ocean Sweeper over the swells, drawn by a golden horse called Splendid Mane)

A big-ass votive for a lost god: There is a church and that is its steeple, but what happened to god and all of His people? No one rides the Horse.

Still, the energy of the figure remains and sustains. I often think of that horse as I haul ass at the gym on a cycle, summoning energies older and bigger than my own through the image of a huge, hills-racing horse.

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Finally, atop my father’s Irish crest there is a naked man riding a fish. Three drinking cups adorn the face of the crest, and the motto reads Non Providentia Sed Victoria -– “Not by Providence, but Victory!” You’d think we were a pirate clan, but actually, our heritage was bardic –- the three drinking cups symbolizing the old Irish triad which said songs fit in three categories –- Laughter, Weeping and Sleep.

Odd that song and war would be paired in the image, but something tells me that the rider of the Tarot Chariot knows something similar to Arion whose song guaranteed passage back to land aboard a dolphin, as does the Uffington Horse who rides the swells of the hills, as does my own totem of the naked man atop a fish: a deep image of racin’ perhaps, intimate of land and sea, united (at least, well-mediated) of right and left brain.

All of these suggest that the leys of song and victory are meandering, indirect, and dark, bereft of the blessing of the old sun-goddess, or blessed from the mysterious place where She swam over the horizon for the last time, returning in moonshine and wild sex and lucky breaks on the track, urging her Horse on to victory there between the dry and wet minds, overriding the squawk of spotters and crew chief like the voice of Obi Wan Kenobe in Luke Skywalker’s ear as he makes a final run on the Death Star.

“Luke … Trust the Force,” the dead Jedi knight whispers into the young racer’s ear.

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“Giddyap!” whispers the lost Goddess through the ghostly wires of her appointed Victor’s headset, as soothing as the sound of lost love in the whine of the wires attended by the Witchita Lineman.

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With less that 50 points separating the top three suitors for possession of Wynona’s blue bonnet, bustier and thong, expect the heat to be fiercer at Homestead-Miami Speedway than a dope-runner’s girlfriend sunning herself on the deck of his gently-drifting Cigarette speedboat at noon. It all comes down to this.

One race, winner take all.

Know that crew chiefs Mike Ford, Chad Knaus and Gil Martin are not getting much sleep this week as they tool and prepare the Nos. 11, 48 and 29 cars for Sunday’s Ford 400. The technology available to these three men is as cutting-edge as it gets, the best that three racing organizations – Gibbs, Hendrick and Childress – can buy. Crew chiefs fulfill the ancient role of the smith, armorer to the hero, the ones with the devilish knowledge of the forge, hammering out on a huge anvil something hauled up out of raw nature’s womb.

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Crew chiefs Mike Ford, Chad Knaus and Gil Martin: Their  job is to tool the best car for Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick.

Their faith in technology – I doubt they’d call it faith as much as certainty, but only belief is absolutely sure of itself – the faith of these three crew chiefs in their quest for stock car racin’ perfection is as deep and abiding as the faith in a vengeant God by the yammering Yahovahs of Westboro.

(Quick caveat: I mean no offense against the Christian faith — in any faith, for that matter. Culturally, God may be slowly disappearing, but belief is enduring. The futurist Alvin Toffler once proscribed a manner for surviving the onslaught of futurity: the willingness to change on one side mediated by deep roots into tradition on the other. A marriage of the minds, so to speak.)

Jaynes was quick to point out that bicameralism survives even into the brightest arenas of science, with each school defending their Truth with the zeal and bloodlust of an Inquisitor defending the Church. Philosophers and psychologists alike howled derision at Jaynes’ notion that awareness doesn’t equal consciousness, that until language constructs an inner metaphorical world, subjective thought can’t take place. Scientific paradigms are now adjusting to irrefutable evidence produced by brain scans, the way Mike Ford is seriously re-evaluating the issue of fuel consumption of the No. 11 Toyota Camry.

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For Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick, their preparations for the final and deciding and definitive race of the 2010 Sprint Cup season must follow a bit more fluid course. They must take in all of that data, calibrating their attention to the specifics of their car as it applies to Homestead’s intermediate track, with its banking and turns and straightaways. They also take in data about the weather, tire wear, pit road speed, fuel consumption, etc.

Yet -– and this is crucial to Sunday’s outcome — at the same time they are sending out their feelings into the undersides and peripheries and insides of Homestead, which is not just a track but an entire season, and not just a season but a career, and not just a career but a Destiny as it works out at speeds of up to 175 mph.

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Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick must wind through all of this brain- and soul-data the way the Tarot Charioteer wends a course between land and water, successfully negotiating both with an eye toward Victory the way a driver must see through a wreck: The end is not the checkers but finishing in front of two other men sufficiently so, men they have been pitted against since Speed Weeks last February, and for several seasons previous.

It is a perilous race. Of the three, only Hamlin has won at Homestead, in last year’s finale. Harvick has finished second twice; Johnson has finished second once, and finished 40th once after a crash. None are masters of this track; the track has no master, the way Miami is surly and unruly unlike Alabama fans at Talladega – under the rule of harsher mistress, perhaps.

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If Jaynes is right, the divine voice who once instructed every one of us how to proceed through prehistory has faded a long way from our ears, growing distant the way that the universe is expanding to a point where one night in the future we won’t be able to see many stars in the sky. By then, the moon will also appear small in the heavens, having drifted far from Earth’s orbit; by then it may be gone altogether, leaving the Earth like the jilted lover in “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”

And as that divinity fades, so does Wynona, NASCAR’s goddess of fate. Once mighty at the track, we’ve done our best to banish her presence  from there, especially since the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow, a car so safe as to eliminate Her greatest clout — the fear of death.

The Winston girls in their short shorts and cancer-causing sponsor have been replaced by Sprint Cup girls so zipped up that the only trace of vestal femininity are in their wide beauty-pageant-smiles which race victors so happily provide champagne facials and other choad-load effervescents.

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A Winston Cup girl doing her post-race duty, and Sprint Cup girl Monica Palumbo, who’s job is brand placement and that’s all.

Incredible the distance now from track to TV, where most folks watch races; even further online racing apps, where the collective experience of racin’ is reduced to one devotee with his hands on his joystick.

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Why put up with the hassle of being there when racin’ – and lovin’ – are now so virtually real? (The NASCAR 09 video game costs $29.99; the RealDoll, $5,999. Dating, at least, is still cheaper.)

If NASCAR seems on its death-bed, Wynona’s exclusion surely plays a part. She may have cursed the sport, the way Psyche was cursed by Aphrodite for failing to tend her altar. But that doesn’t mean She doesn’t still have plenty of clout, especially in the middle of all that high-tech driving apparatus Sprint Cup drivers must worm their way into. Each – and especially, right now, Denny Hamlin, Jimmy Johnson and Kevin Harvick – knows that without Her blessing, they’re fucked. If there’s one song a Sprint Cup driver knows by heart, it’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” by Jimmy Webb:

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
Yes, I did, and I — I tripped and I missed my star
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
And the sky is made of stone

The moon’s a harsh mistress
She’s hard to call your own.

The deal each driver must make with Her comes from an age that’s as buried as the Trundholm Chariot was. Yet that heart and womb is still fertile, and the big winner at Homestead this weekend must strike a profane deal with Her whether he cares to or not. Crew chiefs try to master every chance element to get thrown their way during a race; a driver’s mastery comes in knowing just when to roll the dice. Even in these smaller, lonelier times.

Providence was not what we thought it was, and Victory isn’t as it is supposed: In fact, the way we think racin’ is is not the way She runs it at all.

Knowing that, a driver can only surrender to whatever Fate awaits him down the track – and then go drive the ever-lovin’ wheels off his car.

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More about Julian Jaynes here.

More about Homestead and South Florida  here.

By the time we got to Phoenix


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Yes, that’s all I had of this post as I thought ahead after the AAA Texas 500 to What’s Next, the title of an old country-pop song from my late childhood, twisted by time and the moon’s taxes to fit the moment in the 2010 Sprint Cup season when it could all be over for Jimmie Johnson’s crack at fifth consecutive title.

Johnson’s now slipped into second place, some 30 points behind surging Denny Hamlin yet still ahead of also-surging Kevin Harvick: Still well in contention but fading, his car, his team, perhaps himself not as up to the task as his competitors.

Looks that way at least from this next vantage from which I write, dark and cold outside, summer over, winter coming, elections done, a harder, colder crew moving into the positions of power, in an age with is harder and colder, haunted by old songs on the radio.

By the time we get to Phoenix, it will all be almost over …

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Phoenix is the next-to-last stop on the long season’s ride to Homestead. It’s the last chance for Jimmie to break away and a slim chance at best, his love affair with Wynona, NASCAR’s Trailer-Park Goddess of Destiny, playing out, as it has all season, bittersweetly, a love affair that has lost its wings, grown, stale, lifeless, Her attention seeming to turn to the figures racing always now just ahead of him. I choose to imagine Jimmie Johnson as the lover who knows he’s been jilted but races on the durable wires of hopes which he knows no longer exist but cannot let go of.

By the time we get through Phoenix, it may be clearly over: But for now, we can enter the mood of a Glen Campbell hit and its time, in the knowledge that our own face, this moment, will show in the silver mirror of song, sailing in the cold night sky of what surely to come.

And I choose to include in that reverie American troops having a last night with a beloved before deploying, and in the cold mountain ranges of Afghanistan taking sniper fire, and dreaming in the dark wards of Walter Reed Hospital, limbless, sorely wounded in mind and heart of their long, lonely, and too-forgotten enterprise of killing and being killed in the name of a country they hardly recognize any more.

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Two

Frank Sinatra once called “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” “the greatest torch song of all time.” It is one of the most covered songs in history, with thousands of recorded versions by the likes of Ray Price, Dean Martin, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and an 18-minute version by Isaac Hayes which includes an elaborate backstory on the events of the song. A country song with a black soul could elaborate on: that’s clout.

Glen Campbell was playing guitar as a session musician in a recording of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by Pat Boone when he became so enamored with it that he decided to record it himself, which he did following a tour with the Beach Boys. It turned out to be pure payola of Campbell, with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” earning him two Grammies in 1967 and launching a solo career which would earn him his own hit TV show and role in the 1969 movie “True Grit.”

Webb was 21 when he wrote the song and living in Los Angeles, though he’d been raised in Elk City, Oklahoma. It’s one of three songs he wrote about a broken-hearted love affair he’d had with a woman named Sue (“MacArthur Park” and “The Worst That Could Happen” were the other two).

In this attempt to frame that painful love affair, a man describes his decision to leave his woman. He drives east, presumably from Los Angeles, imagining what she is experiencing and thinking as he arrives different cities in his long and lonely drive:

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hangin’ on her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before

By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working
She’ll prob’ly stop at lunch and give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringin’
Off the wall that’s all

By the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be sleepin’
She’ll turn softly and call my name out loud
And she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her
Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

A fan once told Webb that the geography of “By the Time I get to Phoenix” was impossible – the time it would take to get to Oklahoma from Albuquerque is too short to go from the woman at lunch to being asleep at night. Webb replied, “It’s a kind of fantasy about something I wish I would have done, and it sort of takes place in a twilight zone of reality.”

Something about the liminal space of that song –- an imagined journey with imagined affect on a woman who keeps doing one wrong – is like dope to the ears and heart of a torch song. Who doesn’t dream of punishing a harsh mistress with the ultimate payback of finally shoving off and letting go, much to her surprise and, hopefully, filling her with hopeless regrets she will never resolve.

A broken heart for a broken heart: paybacks are hell, but in reality they never work when it comes to love, because an unfaithful beloved won’t wait by the phone for the departed jilted one to call – she just doesn’t care.

“By The Time I Get To Phoenix” is pure opium for the wounded heart, traveling long lonely miles through the southwestern desert, it emptiness filled with thoughts of the Beloved who hasn’t yet awakened to the truth that she’s done a man wrong for the last time. Too late for a final reconciliation: he’s gone, disappearing over the eastern horizon.

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The Glen Campbell version of “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” hit the pop charts in 1967 when peace and love was in the air, still deep in the romance of Flower Power, the Summer of Love. (Among its companions on the chart was “To Sir With Love” by Lulu, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Windy” by The Association, “Ode To Billie Joe” by Bobby Gentry, “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, “Light My Fire” by The Doors, “Groovin’” by the Young Rascals, “I Was Made to Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli and “Never My Love” by the Association.) The time is enthralled – perhaps bewitched – by the belief in the power of love, like a teen in love for the first time.

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Yet those weren’t truths in Vietnam in 1967, as the sorties of B-52 headed out to drop their tonnage of napalm and explosives over North Vietnam and as 16,000 troops set out in Operation Cedar Falls set out to clear Vietcong operations around Saigon, discovering a massive network of Vietcong tunnels they would call The Iron Triangle. American casualties doubled in from 1966 to 1967 (to around 11,000 killed).

Surely a song like “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” making it to camps in the middle of that jungle had the sort of ennui of “White Christmas,” a fantasy not of sweet returns that every soldier dreamt of but rather the homecoming every one feared, to a woman who had moved on his absence. That would be the ultimate irony, to survive the helicopter battles over Tay Ningh or strafing mortar fire on the ground near the Cambodia border, only to come home and find one’s bed occupied by an other, probably some hip anti-war protester with leather fringe and hairy balls. “By the Time I Got To Phoenix” delivered on that fear, and must have made those lonely boys think of what roads lead away from every bad homecoming.

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Three

Jimmie Johnson finished third behind Jeff Gordon and winner Ryan Newman at the spring race in Phoenix, and though he was not leading in the points, many were flush with his possibilities. Monte Dutton had written this just before the Bristol race (which Johnson won) with something close to effusive ebullience:

… He doesn’t win every race, just three out of five so far. At this rate, he will capture a mere 22 of this season’s 36 races. Richard Petty’s all-time record of 27 in a season (1967) will stand, even though in that magical year, Petty won only 56.3 percent of the races and this year Johnson’s hoisting trophies at a rate of 60 percent.

But, seriously, folks, Johnson can’t keep up this pace. One of these days, someone’s going to step out in the street at high noon with an itchy trigger finger. It’s the Curse of the Gunslinger, and so many want to dare the Fastest Gun in the West (as in Western Hemisphere) to draw.

So far, this year and for the four preceding it, the challengers haven’t even gotten to the quick-draw portion of the competition. Before they can even saunter out into Main Street, Johnson’s twirling his pearl-handled revolvers, shooting the gun right out of the challenger’s hands with the right hand and firing at the feet with the other.

The love affair with Johnson’s fifth consecutive championship season was on. If anyone characterized the jilted lover of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” it was at that time probably Jeff Gordon, a 4-time champion who was keeping pace towards the front of the points race but hadn’t won a race since Texas in 2008. He was souring on teammate Jimmie Johnson, the kid he’d taken under his wing at Hendrick Motorsports and then watched zoom off with Wynona into a limelight that must have been galling to a man who surely thought he’d never lose the buzz of that brilliant moonshine. By the time we got to Phoenix in April, Jimmie was on a roll and Jeff was in his shadow.

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But the road from Phoenix in April to Phoenix in November has turned difficult for Johnson as well – true, he won three of the next 26 races, but Denny Hamlin won eight and Kevin Harvick another three. The fabled gunslinger has definitely slowed on the draw, and his Chase mastery is showing tarnish (he’s only won 1 of the 8 Chase races so far, compared to 3 in the same period of 2009, 2 in 2008 and 3 in 2007).

Clearly, Johnson is struggling to hold on to Destiny’s garters. They may have already passed from his grasp. The sense of an age passing is ripe in the air as the haulers make their way now to Phoenix.

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Four

As a follow-up to Campbell’s success with “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” Webb wrote “Wichita Lineman” for the  country crooner from Billstown, Arkansas (Campbell was one of 12 children born to sharecropper parents). The idea for song came to Webb as he was driving along the Kansas-Oklahoma City border and saw a solitary lineman working on up on telephone pole in the middle of nowhere. It struck him as exceedingly sad, making him imagine the lineman as a long-wandered-on lover trying to hear the voice of his lover in the song of the wind working those cables of communication:

I am a lineman for the county
and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation
but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south
won’t ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you
and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Webb recorded his demo of the song accompanying himself on and Hammond organ, and when Campbell went into the studio in 1968 to record the song, the takes seemed lacking to Campbell, missing the feel of Webb’s demo which had so excited him initially. He got that feel down when he added a Hammond organ to the instrumentation. And the chiming at the song’s fade at the end, meant to represent telephone signals the lineman hears in his head—calls he meant to make but didn’t too long ago—were produced by a massive church organ.

The song was another hit for Campbell, taking his album of the same name to #3 on the pop chart, and the song was two weeks in the #1 spot on the country singles chart and six weeks atop the adult contemporary chart. Glen Campbell’s career was assured. He would go on to release some 70 albums, with 27 of them reaching the Top 10 (12 went 4 went platinum and 2 double platinum), selling some 45 million units in all.

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“Wichita Lineman” has been described as the “the first existential cowboy song,” and there’s something undeniably gooey-eerie about it, haunting in a way that made the song seem timeless from the first spin, a song as old as the ache in the heart in every person to have loved and lost.

You can say that “Wichita Lineman” furthers the narrative of “By the Time I Get To Phoenix.” Here the lover who left love behind has settled into a long, lonely existence in Oklahoma, working as a county lineman. Working up there in the wind and cold in the middle of nowhere, he strains to hear the voice of his love up in those wires.

The chorus makes the entire song, layering three lines which pack an infinity of power:

And I need you more than want you, Campbell begins, soft and pained in the plaint of every sorely-wounded lover who can’t stand the exquisite torture of love any more but is powerless to change;

And I want you for all time – Bang, gotcha: no matter how far you flee, the dream of love is just ahead, waiting for you in the next town to remind you how much there is to lost. The wallop of this line comes from its pairing with the first, a doubling which takes you in two directions at once, transversing the entire wilderness of the heart in 14 words;

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line – This completes the trio of lines with an eerie, lonely, permanent image, the fact of the first two lines characterized by a lineman lost up there in the wind and the cold with the wires of memory pulsing with lost messages from the Beloved who has been forever lost.

The Wichita Lineman is a mythic figure like the Wandering Cowboy or the Ancient Mariner, forever out there in the space between memory and heartbreak, unable to form the words overflowing in his heart, searching for  the lines of communication he will never be able to open himself.

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“Wichita Lineman” is also one of those quintessential fin-de-siecle moments which somehow captured the death of the 60’s, a passing of the Flower Age of just two years previous into the nightmarish realities of death in Vietnam (a Vietcong assault on US bases around Vietnam in February 1969 killed 1,400 American soldiers), the shootings at Kent State, murder during a Rolling Stones performance at Altamonte, mass clubbings by Chicago police outside the Democratic Convention the year before, folk song growing hoarse and loud in the electrified howl of acid rock, the looming nightmare of Charles Manson singing “Helter Skelter” as he carved up the body of pregnant Sharon Tate, the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, the breakup of The Beatles.

The Summer of Love was over.

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There is a palpable ennui in the culture of 1969, a feeling that the passing of the 1960s was like summer into winter, an intensely bittersweet mood of slow but sure dying. “Wichita Lineman” had many companions in this tenor,  especially in a slough of wry, wistful and bloodily grown-up cowboy movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sunset Kid, The Wild Bunch, Midnight Cowboy,  and True Grit, all of which ended with death -– Glen  Campbell himself taking the fatal bullet in that last movie. A grand, sad, dayglo-to-sepia fadeout to a wild age.

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Paul Newman and Robert Redford go out with guns blazing south of the Sixties in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)

The same fadeout permeated all of Hollywood. The Sand Dollars was the first American movie where the hero – Steve McQueen – died.  Love Story – heroine dies. The animated short Bambi Meets Godzilla – innocence dies. Easy Rider – the quest of the youth culture dies.

A dying which is like the last whisper of a Beloved who turns around once to smile sadly before walking forever out that door in our hearts …

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“Wichita Lineman” has a vibe which persists to this day, soaked in a sweet oblivion that borders on something on the verge of winter, entering longer darker days as the last warm ray fades from earth.

But I’m also sure that “Wichita Lineman” and all those other songs of the late ‘60s are especially poignant to me because it was the eve of my own coming of age–a very bittersweet time, with my parents separating, my father moving downtown Chicago while the rest of the family relocated to a much smaller, rented house in Wilmette before taking a dive to Florida.

Factor in as well that it was also the season of my first hopeless love. Lauren was an 8th grader like me who was (unlike me) impossibly beautiful. For a short while she deigned to smile at me, probably only because she had wounds greater than mine. (She’d smile at any guy to forget that jagged wreck of a man she called Father with cold hostility).

Lauren smiled at me briefly and then turned away, leaving me to curse my ugly fat face in the mirror, beg my God to deliver her to me (He was silent). I’d lay on my lonely bed listening to “Wichita Lineman” on WLS, wondering if those wires carried news of Lauren, too. But it was only the winter wind beating against my frozen window.

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The frozen Chicago River laps against the Marina Towers; my father moved into a 48th-floor apartment on one of the towers after he moved out of our house in Evanston.

The cowboy reaches were not found in cold Chicago, but other cowboy experiences – loneliness, hard realities, wandering, alcoholism, death—were becoming familiar, were painting the age sepia, like the color fade at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

My personal favorite movie that year–give me a break, I was 12 — was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. (James Bond is a cowboy of sorts I supposed, with a tuxedo for chaps and machine-gun Astin-Martin convertible for a horse.) It was a movie fraught with losses: Uber-Bond Sean Connery gone; Bond’s polymorphose perverse mojo is lost when he marries Tracy (queen “Avenger” Diana Rigg); and then she gets killed in the end.

The song “We Have All the Time in the World” was composed for the movie by John Barry (the theme song to OHMSS is eerily similar to that of Midnight Cowboy, which Barry also composed. Weird twins, eh?) with lyrics by Hal David (who wrote many songs with Burt Bacharach, including the theme song to Butch Cassidy, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

Armstrong’s voice seems sure in his own way – a majestic, old- jazz quaver – as he sings the tune:

We have all, the time, in the world
Time enough or life
To unfold
All the precious things
Love has in store

We have all, the love, in the world
If that’s all we have
You will find
We need nothing more …

But Armstrong was actually sick during the recording, too ill to play the trumpet part (which sounded more like Herb Albert), and would die himself of heart failure a couple of years later.

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Tracy (Diana Rigg) was married — o so briefly — to the Georges Lazenby Bond, who himself wasn’t around long.

The fin-de-siecle irony of the song is drawn out as wide and tall as the Swiss Alps where the movie was filmed when, in the final scene, Bond holds Tracy in his car at the side of a mountain road, his bride dead from a bullet in the forehead shot by his arch-rival Blofeld, a few miles down the road from the church where they had just wed.

“We have all the time in the world,” Bond whispers to the only woman he would marry in the series, looking out at those impassible Alps, nuzzling her cheek with his as John Barry’s elegiac orchestral reprise swells to infinity.

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At the time he spoke those words, Georges Lazenby didn’t know they also applied to his tenure as Bond, as he was replaced by Connery in the next installment, Diamonds are Forever.

I have the soundtrack album and still listen to it from time to time, remembering so sharply that profound, bittersweet time. It’s said that you never forget the music of your puberty, and mine is split between those AM/FM heart-wrenchers of the late 1960s and early 70’s (moving from Glen Campbell to James Taylor and Carole King – all of whom still performing the songs of that age), James Bond movie soundtracks (I collected all of them), and the later erotic-demonic eruption of hard rock bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Santana, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

One age answers the previous, and my birth, psychologically and emotionally, into adolescence was right at that hinge between the death of the Summer of Love and the Season of the Witch, from hopeless ennui to opiate thrall, still trying to find out whether there’s anyone at the far end of those Witchita lines.

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Five

By the time we come to the next-to-the-last Sprint Cup race of the 2010 season in Phoenix, the air of immanent finality which surrounds this year’s NASACR storylines lends to this race something of the country torch song written 40 years ago.

The jilted lover of “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” comes to that town first in his imagined narrative; for us, it’s nearly the last stop on the road, but we’re still trying to imagine what Wynona’s up to. I suspect Jimmie Johnson already knows what we aren’t sure off yet — that he’s being left in the dust to other championship ambitions. A 9th-place finish at Texas last Sunday put him between Hamlin and Harvick, cut loose and beginning to drift away from destiny.

Oh, it’s not over yet –- Phoenix is one of Jimmie’s tracks –- but something tells us that the fatal shot was fired a race ago into Johnson who, if you may, mythically reenacted Campbell’s “True Grit” character who gets shot before the movie’s end, leaving it up to the unlikely pair of Harvick/Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) and Hamlin/Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) to finish off the quest.

A fade at Phoenix this time — failing to rise to the now-desperate, last-chance occasion – would place Johnson back among the ranks of 2010’s also-rans, Chase faders like Jeff Gordon (who was wrecked, and then fought, Jeff Burton lsat week), Kyle Busch (given the boot from Destiny last week after giving NASCAR the finger) and the other boys, Kenseth and Kurt Bush and Biffle and Edwards and Stewart and Bowyer. Hamstrung by a slow pit crew, the blue No. 48 (blue as those hard-blowing Texas skies) can only think about what might have been as he watches the No. 11 and 29 battle it out for what was once the Queen of Trailer Heaven’s Portion but is now big, big, money.

I imagine Jeff Gordon as the mythic Wichita Lineman, soon dismounting from his crow’s nest up in the power lines along the border of racing oblivion, relinquishing the Lineman’s gear to Jimmie Johnson, the next passed-over champion . . .

Still too early to tell, but the wind seems to be blowing that way …

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Something in the bigger news of the day is closely akin to the late 1960s, the sense that an age is coming to an end. Perhaps that is why the Coen Brothers are releasing a remake of “True Grit” for release on Christmas Day, featuring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and newcomer Hailee Seinfeld playing Mattie, the girl who hires Cogburn to find the murderer of her father. Matt Damon is in Cambbell’s former role as La Boeuf, a Texas Ranger who has ulterior motives in hunting down the killer of Mattie’s father.  Josh Brolin will play the killer Tom Chaney, who was played originally by Jeff Corey (who would later play one of the backwoods killers in Deliverance.)

Oh, the threads of irony and fate which give current events an eerily familiar feel are many. The True Grit remake is reported to be a shoe-in for Oscar competition, repeating the original’s success in the Academy Awards. Jeff Bridges, playing the drunken lawman Rooster Cogburn, picks up a piece of the alcoholic country singer he played in Crazy Heart. True Grit is the first film he’s made with Coen Brothers since playing the Dude in The Big Lebowski, a character I brought forth early this season as a metaphor for NASCAR’s 2010 season. The narrator of that film, played by Sam Elliott, is a cowboy known only as “The Stranger,” is a Wichita Lineman-type who comes to check on things back at home in Los Angeles. (Love is not present, but there’s lots of bowling.) One of the Coen Brothers early successes was the comedy Raising Arizona (1987), with Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, a movie rich with the Arizona scenery which will surround this weekend’s race in Phoenix. Love was very much present in that film—it is perhaps Cage’s sweetest performance, ripe with an innocence he stripped himself of when he later became a Major Action Star.

And then the Coen Brothers lost their love, opting  instead to follow the Lineman around the United States to scene after scene of desolate Americana with O Brother, Where Art Thou (Depression-era bluegrass Odyssey), Fargo (wasting the locals in frozen Minnesota) and No Country for Old Men (hardcore Texas border noir). That movie was based on the 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy, a writer who is about the most forsaken in all of contemporary literature, whose language is as primal as the desert and blood-soaked as an Arizona sunset, and whose heart is about as forsaken as Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who sponsored the nation’s toughest immigration law, albeit in divergent ways. Pearce becomes the next president of the Arizona senate and means to use his iron-clad Republican majority to side-step the state’s crucial financial problems to get a new law on the books challenging automatic U.S. citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

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Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage in the Coen Brothers’ “Raising Arizona” (1987): A dream before the nightmares.

All this tucks into the closing refrain of “Wichita Lineman” as the composer / artist / wandering wounded lover fades out by repeating those indelible words,

And I want you more than need you
And I need you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman
Is still on the line …

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Seven

Arizona is no country for old men, even though hard-frozen retirees from the Rust Belt savor its dry, hot weather. Except for the weather, Arizona offers is no escape for dotage; their golden days are just as intruded upon there by what’s upsetting the rest of the country these days – high unemployment, housing market in lead-bottomed doldrums, the economy in arrears, foreign wars dragging on, etc.

What makes Arizona a specially barbed taunt against age -– both old and young — is the unique and special hardness of Arizona’s heart against illegal immigrants.

I can’t be too critical. I don’t live close to a border so soaked in blood on the far side. The mayhem of Mexican drug cartels is approaching the tenor of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridean, perhaps the bloodiest novel about the West ever written.

More than 450,000 illegal immigrants are in the state of Arizona, a fivefold increase since 1990. That’s a very fast change in demographics. And where things change fast, fear holds fast.

One bellweather event was the killing of 58-year old Robert Krentz and his dog in March 2010 on his ranch, some 13 miles from the border. Police failed to name a suspect, but they traced footprints headed south toward the border, leading to speculation that an illegal had committed the murder.

Fear surely played a part in the evolution of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 – The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act – which was introduced by Republican State Senator Russell Pearce and signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer on April 23 of this year, just two weeks after the spring race in Phoenix.

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Arizona State Senator Russell, sponsor of the state’s tough new immigration law, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who signed the act into law last April.

The Arizona law adds to federal law which requires illegal aliens to carry registration documents by making it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents. It also bars state or local officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws, and cracks down on those sheltering, hiring and transporting illegal aliens.

Since its passage, Arizona has suffered a firestorm of controversy both internally, from the U.S. government (Obama is fighting the law) and from further out (a number of nations have joined the U.S. in a suit to reverse the Arizona law, claiming it is excessively punitive.)

You can read fear in the Arizona’s immigration law, but as it usually turns out, greed may have played the quieter, larger role in its passage. NPR reported in late October that the bill was largely written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a membership organization of state legislatures as well as corporations and associations which include Reynolds American Inc. (the tobacco company), ExxonMobil, the American Rifle Association – and the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country. Pearce, who is a member of that organization, attended a gathering of ALEC last December in Washington where the immigration bill was proposed. NPR examined Corrections Corporation of America reports and found that their executives believed that immigration detention was their next big market.

In the story, Pearce, of course, said the bill was his idea. He says it’s not about prisons, but what’s best for the country.

“Enough is enough,” Pearce said in his office, sitting under a banner reading “Let Freedom Reign.” “People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation.”

Fear and greed are the perfect elixir of Republican majorities, and so it’s not surprising that the midterm elections increased the Republican majority in Arizona. Pearce is now State Senate President and aims to enact a further measure of the bill, denying U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal aliens in the state.

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Many now fear that the Arizona economy -– especially the housing market -– will take a hard hit from the Hispanic relocation out of the state in reaction to the law. And although the state legislature faces a pile of work dealing with the ailing state economy, Pearce’s agenda is wholly set on cementing a wall of prohibitive anti-immigration legislation. You know, for the good of all American-Arizonans.

But what to do with all those bodies piling up in the Arizona desert? Over the past year, 252 corpses have been found there, the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the U.S. illegally. Authorities speculate that increased scrutiny at the customary crossing-points are forcing smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.

“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.

This was especially true last summer when a heat wave seared the Arizona desert to a crackly crunch. In July alone, 60 withered bodies were found.

Some of these dead have been in the desert a long while – as long as several years. This makes the task of identifying the remains a tougher job. Some 700 bodies going back to 2000 remain unidentified. The Pima County Medical Examiner’s office is ground zero for these dead; when the building’s 200 spaces for corpses became fully occupied, a refrigerated truck had to be rented to store another two dozen of the dead.

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Bodies retrieved from the Arizona desert stack up in the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office.

A lonely place to rot, wouldn’t you say? Especially when you consider that a lt of those dead were people fleeing the violence of their home country, hoping for some form of economic asylum in ours.

Fat chance. Though many border businesses love cheap labor, the will of zealots empowered by greed and fear is strong at this juncture in history, this passing of one age into another.

Arizonans themselves are wildly divided on the issue of immigration. Check out the comments section at the end of a recent Arizona Republic article about Sen. Russell Pearce denial of influence by the private prison lobby, calling the NPR article “a lie.” The arguments for and against the immigration bill are as divided as day and night in the Arizona desert – hot as hell, colder as shit — and are about as dry of solutions as that killing field at any time.

For example, in one exchange “Snaptie” commented,

Funny when you have a Racist organization like NPR with George Soros funded open borders socialistic beliefs society. They have absolutely no minorities as on air personalities. It’s proven the have not one conservative on the air either. Yep i believe them [Sarcasm]

To which “Noonetou” replied,

No, this is called reporting. I know that you are not used to that since you watch Faux News which does no reporting at all. It is not so much that the main stream media is liberal, it is more along the lines that the Right has fallen so far off the cliff that anything that the main stream media reports will seem liberal to you. Want proof? Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater would called liberals in today political climate and would not be welcome in the GOP. By the way Barry and Reagan were, at the time, considered very conservative when they were in office. So what does that say about how far the right the Right has gone? In all honesty I wish the REAL Republican party would come back to life, not this shame that we now call T-baggers and Conservatives!

And on it goes, for hundreds of comments. People in Arizona are obviously raw about the issue, perhaps more so because there’s no middle ground stand on any more.

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Daniel Moynihan once said that while everyone is entitled to their own set of opinions, no one is entitled to their own set of facts. As the journalistic center dissolves and the Internet gets loaded with sites playing fast and loose with the truth, the rancor of the divide grow increasingly fetid because no one knows how to properly call things much less what to know.

A caterwauling mess. I’m sure we aren’t standing in the middle of that squawk in Florida. Oh, wait a minute – Governor-Elect Rick Scott is a big supporter of the Arizona immigration law. Guess there’s no escaping a firestorm, not in Phoenix or Albuquerque or Oklahoma or Florida: Because what you run from inevitably becomes what you run smack into.

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Eight

If I were the Wichita Lineman –- and these days, who doesn’t feel somehow a bit like him? -– I would climb up there and put an ear to the whine of cables in full song.  Swinging in the high cold wilderness of winter, I would ask:

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– I want to know how things are going for the family and friends of Lance Corporal Randy R. Braggs of Sierra Vista, Arizona, who was killed last Saturday during combat operations in Helmand Province in Afghanistan –- about the same time Brad Keselowski was celebrating his Nationwide Series championship after the Texas race). Braggs, 21, is the thirteenth member of his battalion to be killed since October 8. Deployed in late September, Braggs had hardly gotten Over There when he began his travels back toward Phoenix in a flag-draped coffin. Braggs joins fellow Arizonans Army Sergeant Aaron B. Cruttendon of Mesa (age 25) and Marine Lance Corporal Matthew J. Broehm of Flagstaff (age 22) among the month’s dead in Afghanistan:

How does it feel to come home too soon yet forever late, son of Arizona? And will you call the ground you’re to be buried in a place you’d call home?

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Lance Corporal Randy Bragg (right), age 21, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Nov. 6, 2010.

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– I would ask for the sound of Lauren’s voice, that girl in eighth grade who was the first person I fell for so hard and woundedly and impossibly. She arrived and left almost in the same gesture, standing at a door which she said but a few words from – a hi, a bye – with a smile whose welcome faded faster than the 1960s when they were done. I would ask to  see her face once again, peeled free of composite imagge of all the other women who lingered too short a while in my embrace and moved on, or were left behind as I kept searching for the one face which cannot exist without killing the quest, the desire, the never-fulfilled, at-long-last kiss:

Say hello once again, Love, just once, that once become  forever …

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– I’d would ask to hear  my kid brother’s voice once again,  Timm who died of a heart attack two and a half years ago after an early-evening jog in Salem, Oregon. It was spring and beautiful that night, according to his girlfriend, surprisingly warm and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. But my brother had been a wanderer for years, leaving behind his family to soothe old wounds with new ones. He was getting better -– some fundamental forgiveness had happened in his heart -– but he still kept like the wind at his back, a smart, lonely guy who took gorgeous pictures of Oregon and cruised dating sites while planning an eventual wedding with his girlfriend and wrote endless resumes stored on this laptop which I inherited from him after his death. He was just like me in physique and in so many interests, even though he was eight years younger and three thousand miles away. I was just beginning to get to know my kid brother when I lost him, and I listen for his voice at night:

Do still you roam the Oregon coast, looking for the last westwarding boat? Or are you near here, standing out in the garden in this depth of night where final pieces of the previous day fall, like silt, from the black sky? Speak … and know you are loved ….

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– I would ask where my stepdaughter is, separated from her now for 15 years after my divorce to my first wife. She was 18 by then and ready enough for the world, but things, I hear, did not go so well for her as she turned to coke and Ecstasy and alternated between good and bad men, having two children which my ex, I hear, is desperately trying to get custody of while her daughter dances in topless bars and hangs with men with lots of drugs. I had never thought to repeat the terrible wounding of my parents’ separation but I did, and in spades, doubling it by losing all contact with my step-daughter, a girl I had cared for as a father since she was nine:

Do you still hear the voice of the sea we once body-surfed in together at Melbourne Beach as I still do, deep in the reaches of your pillow as you sleep, or has the blasting rap and techno as you slither up and down fate’s cold stripper pole all but eliminated that soft uteral sound of love?

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– I would try to dial up on long-distance PFC Glenn Dick Kerns, killed in the battle of Dak To in Vietnam 43 years ago today, November 11, 2010. Kerns was 19 years old and had shipped over the previous August; like Lance Corporal Randy Braggs who died in combat a few days ago, he wasn’t long in the theatre before going home the hard way. His son Staff Sergeant Derick Ray Hunt—who never had a chance to meet his father–survived his tour of Iraq and learned some of his father from Andy Eiland, who served with Kerns and survived the battle of Dak To. Kerns was posthumuously awarded a Purple Heart Medal for his combat related wounds and buried in the cemetery of Deep Branch Baptist Church in his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina. Not much trace of Glenn Kerns today – you can find his plot in the cemetery at Deep Branch, and his name is engraved on the smooth black marble walls of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, where many have gathered today to stroll and remember:

Letters carved in brass and marble – a name – one grainy picture – so many years silent now: Yet is that you with your ear bent to the radio in the ghostly ruins of Dak To, humming along to “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” imagining an eastward heave far different from the one you made after the gunfire and grenades?

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– I would try to hear that low sexual sigh of the woman I left my wife for a decade ago when I was drinking so bad, during that bad winter of ’00 after George Bush became President and my life became a mad horse in a hurricane. I think of those cold nights we knocked back all those beers together, talking all kinds of shit, making every sort of promise I had no intention of fulfilling, abandoning myself to the booze, the desire, he fury of going at it every which way no matter the cost. Then I think of waking in the hungover gloom of that low-rent apartment and laying there wondering what my wife was doing at that moment in our much-emptier house in the small town we once called home far to the north. Not long after I left that woman, quit the booze and slowly found my way home, made my amends to my wife who made room for me once again in our bed. I never spoke again to that frail, so fuckable, so wrong, damaged woman, herself a mother at age 14 and then losing that son when he was murdered in prison at age 18:

How does the music go late at night in whatever trailer and man you’re now with? Do you remember, or is that too much of a poison to withstand, like the death of your son, like all the jobs you botched and lost, like all the other men’s money you’ve spent satisfying their desire? Do you sigh?

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– I would listen for strangely homeless sound inside this very house I now write in, mostly sweet yet never free of bitter … How is that people who know each other most find what’s truly alien about the Other lies in the mere inches which separates every body,  an unbreachable chasm in the tenderest goodnight kiss just before the lights go out, as if there was no true coming home beyond a certain homecoming of accepting one’s impermeable condition.  All else is imagined and impossible gravy, isn’t it my love, our years together molding our lives’ trunks together like two trees wrapped around each other, become one living entity with two sets of sap rising and falling across a distance measured in inches and yet is infinitely far, as far as the sea, as high as the moon?

Can you hear me singing as you sleep, love? Does my voice reach you like the gentlest touch at first light, or is it only more cold starlight, present yet alien, akin or identical to this lonely walk we call a life?

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– And finally I think of Jimmie Johnson on his way now to Phoenix, with all those championships racked up in a place inside that is somehow paling fast, their grains slipping through the hourglass like so much wind in the wires, this next race demanding everything and more from him, his team and crew chief, just when none of whom quite seem up to the task as much as the No. 11 and 29 teams.  So much else presses in now than when he began to tear up the tracks – marriage, fatherhood, charities, the indulged life of the multi-millionaire, fame’s steady spotlight which nearly shadows the rest of the field. All of that makes Her seem distant, and he knows that the moon is a harsh mistress, and will not tolerate such falterings of devotion, will not tolerate much of anything except Victory and Championship, things which have faded from his eyes:

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Are you still gunning, Jimmie, still in the quest? Are you game enough to go hellbent for a change? Are you willing to give everything of your much larger, richer, wider, happier life to Her in that clinch? Or have you heard the cold wind this dark night, and seen the moon through the window of passage- trailer or car or jet -– the moon with its ghostly semaphor and metaphor of separation, itself wrenched from the sea billions of years ago, the first lonely Wichita Lineman, sailing high over the earth, hauling tides and hearts in its silver wake? Do you see the moon, Jimmie, and know?

Are you singing along right now, not to “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” or “The Wichita Lineman” but that third, perhaps most indelible Jimmie Webb song of all, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” –- the hardest song of all to sing for anyone who has heard Her voice on the wires for so long ….

See her how she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon’s a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold

Once the sun did shine
Lord, it felt so fine
The moon a phantom rose
Through the mountains and the pines
And then the darkness fell
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
It’s so hard to love her well

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
Yes, I did, and I — I tripped and I missed my star
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
And the sky is made of stone

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What’s it gonna be, Jimmie? Pedal to the metal this one defining time? Or will you at juncture simply drive on, out of the raceway and onto the long road to obscurity, Phoenix to Albuquerque to Oklahoma, driving all night till you come to that stretch of power lines on the freezing, wind-heaved border to winter.

How much colder it is outside your Chevy, Jimmie, standing there in the place where the winds of winter blow forever? Will you call up to the dark figure working above, the one with a big yellow “24” painted on the back of his orange parka: and call him down —  shift change – and when Gordon climbs down, will you know the look in his face because you wear it now, too, knowing at this end of your career that

The moon’s a harsh mistress
She’s hard to call your own.

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Lone Star Rising


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Wednesday, Nov. 3

Imagine, if you will, that the 2010 midterm elections—-whose dust still settles with a few yet-decided races—-were like the predicament of the Scandinavian god Thor, master of thunder, whose hammer was known to hurl around the moon, returning to split the earth like vengeance from god, which it was.

For purposes of metaphor, let’s say that Thor represents the American people—restless, moody, quick to anger, slow between the ears when it comes to long-range vision and patient constructions. Thor was unhappy with the state of things in Valhalla – tribute from humanity in decline, votive idols left unattended in moor and on height, harder times in the gold halls of lazy, self-centered pursuits.

Thor was bored, too, was same old same old Valkyrie nonsense, you know, those birds in the stable overspending on makeup and pushup-bras, campaigning for better healthcare benefits for all the bastard children Thor had sired in his aeon-long chicken-coop romps, overtaxing his testosterone with Heaven-sponsored Valkyrie orgies, three-somes and thirty-three somes which sapped too much precious Rumplemintz from the bull-marbles of the god.

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Time for a change, Thor reflected from the cloudy ramparts of Valhalla as the svelte Nordic rabble chicken-crooned on from within. So he took a big breath and leapt out of the sky, hurling earthward using his tunic for a chute.

When he landed, it was Saturday night and he was outside Hogeye, Texas, a bleak staunch Republican town where the Tea Party maintained a roadhouse named Palin’s Cowboy Palace of Sin on the state highway between Hogeye and those ‘burgs further south down the ancient evolutionary trail like Neanderthaltown and Homo Erectionville.

Let’s say that Palin’s Cowboy Palace of Sin represents a lil’ GOP strange for dudes in desperate need so somewhere to go to vent their collective, bemoaning-the-range, Saturday-night angst.

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Inside Palin’s Palace Thor could hear a honky tonk band wheeling out a blistering, whiskied-up two-step he couldn’t resist. Arranging his tunic to look more like Levi’s and a checkered shirt with string bow tie, Thor paid the cover at the door with a gold torc and strode into the smoky den of right-winged iniquities.

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O it was a charnel house indeed, burning with resentments, fights breaking out up and down the bar in lieu of having any actual trembling Obama supporter or tree hugger to inspire a proper stomping by racists and/or fascists.

The band went by the name of U.S. Chamber and its songs sounded like negative attack ads in Western Swing rhythm at punk-rock volumes, lyrics sung by a front man who looked like Sean Hannity in cowboy drag, dripping with innuendo and vilification of Democrats. The guitar player whipped out bluesy riffs in and around and through the twang and looked like bastard offspring of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Ann Coulter, vaguely Nordic (which he liked) yet bad, bad, bad to the bone, dealing out riffs like they were pure spleen, burning tumbleweeds whirling across the frozen hard-scrabble midnight between nowhere and Hell.

The crowd of dancers loved it, mashing the idea of all-out patriotic revolt of into the grimy, vomit- and blood-stained floor with something between rage and glee. There were pictures of these same opponents grossly misrepresented in obscene cartoons printed on the cocktail napkins and on every sheet of toilet paper in the rank bathrooms marked “Fillies” and “Stallions.”

The American flag, in all its glory, hung behind the bar alongside Confederate and Nazi flags.

A breath of fresh air, Thor sighed, ambling up to the bar where he ordered up a draft of cold Bud and three shots of Rebel Yell.

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The ensemble of booze lifted to his lips and disappeared faster than a bolt of lightning across a summer night’s sky.

He ordered up again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And leaned back against the bar to enjoy the band, turning around after every song to order up again.

Around midnight, right- (or empty-) minded once again, Thor sighed and looked down the bar to check out the action. Let’s see: A redhead in a beehive where a few cigarettes had been parked, one of them still smouldering; a washed-out blonde eating pickled eggs with a trucker who had tattoos of evilly-tortured MS-NBC pundits up and down his bulging arms; and finally, there at the end of the bar, wearing an improbably sultry red dress, with a figure like an hourglass about to burst sand from both bells, with long black hair almost blue, the bloodiest red-lipsticked mouth sucking languidly on a rind of lemon, blue eyes staring directly at him was her, just the one he’d been looking for.

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Thor ambled down to the end next to her, clearing the way by tossing through the big picture window overlooking the highway a drunken accountant mumbling something about “it’s my money, dammit” who found it hard to explain his newfound Republican radicalism while in mid-air. Everyone edged three feet away from Thor after that except for the woman, who eyed him with keener interest.

“Whass your name?” Thor asked thickly, his voice as deeply resonant as a strolling thunderboom. You could see her barstool tremble a bit, whether from the bass in his voice or the response it elicited from her netherer regions.

Still, she stayed cool, blowing a smoke ring in his face. Then she smiled dimly.

“Darlene,” she shouted above din of the band.

“Buy ya drink?” Thor wasn’t used to having to ask for anything, but this was a night for Change. Thank Odin that most dayside conventions (like civil speech) were chucked nightly at Palin’s.

“Tea Martini,” she shouted back. Paused, looking at him. Blew another smoke ring in his face. “Make it a double. Two bags,” looking down at his crotch, “and two shots.”

Thor ordered up for her and himself and the party for two thus began and ran til closing time, Thor and Darlene knocking back round after round of their poisons, becoming more and more enamored of each other the hazier and darker things get. Thor grew godlike in Darlene’s eyes, like some hero from an ancient old age; Darlene grew curvier and more pliant, aggressively passive where every gal in the Valkyrie stable was aggressively aggressive.

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A gal you could do all kinds of things to, he thought, swimming in that smile which grew into an ocean as they staggered out of Palin’s and climbed into Darlene’s ancient, midnight-blue Buick, flying every whichway down a dark dirt country road that led to a ghastly-looking Airstream trailer so far out there you could hear wolves mixing it up with sabre-tooth tigers for rights to the chops of a fallen mastodon.

Whatever transpired in Darlene’s trailer that late, late night was lost to Thor, who had learned over the millennia to handle his mead but was proved no match that night for Rebel Yell.

When Thor came to early the next morning, his voluptuous conquest was snoring naked and greased from all of the fluids that had lubed and spurted from their bodies through the all-out drunken, hard-fucking night.

Shaking his head to clear the hangover, happy to have found true love at last, he took good second look at Miz Darlene, who turned out to have sleep apnea and was snoring like a rodeo bull with a bad attitude. Thor was amazed at what he found after all the heady, sensual smoke of Election Night clears.

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First of all, Darlene wasn’t so young. Now without makeup, there’s a web of wrinkles round her eyes and mouth and she has a faint moustache. And that voluptuousness he had been so enamored with sags with human gravity, those marvelous breasts he had supped from hanging like loose water balloons down to her waistline.

And the Miss was a Mrs., if the telltale gold ring on her left ring finger was any indication. Married to some interest or other, free to all comers.

Thor considered settling in with this peculiar bedmate, governing the affairs of a god from her Airstream in nowhere. Passing laws and meting out justice with this hag for a handmaiden.

What have I gotten myself into, Thor asked himself in horror: And decided to get the hell outta Dodge lickey-split. Light as a feather, fainter than a baby’s fart on a breezy summer day, the god deftly extricated himself from Darlene’s embrace and sneaky-peted it out the door of her Airstream. Outside, he took a deep breath and exhaled, as if to cleanse his lungs of the night: then lifted suddenly and streaked his way back up to heaven.

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A few mornings later, Thor was walking the ramparts of Valhalla again, having supped the night before on five Valkyries named Anna, Llyana, Vivanna, Olyanna and Svue. His god-balls sang softly, still trembling from the forceful emptying of their contents into an empyrean fivefold pink Swedish Bikini Team mouths in as many minutes.

Thor should have been content, but he couldn’t get that damn Darlene out of his mind. Now, he couldn’t figure it out – she had turned out to be so desperately mortal, banal and dull and old where he had expected new fireworks, a soaring sort of love which could redeem everything. You know, like a triumphant Tea Party march on Washington.

But what did he expect? Politics is politics, no matter how you mix it up, whether on heaven or on earth.

He sighed. And then it occurred to him: He never did tell Darlene who he was. The point was important, at least to Thor: That guy who’d gotten into her spandex pantsuit the previous Saturday night was none other than a god. More god than Fabio or Waylon Jennings or newly-re-elected Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry. What a disservice he would be doing to not let her know who was she had lucked out with for that one night in history. Never again would she have so starry a one-night stand in heaven. Or so he thought. Gods—like electorates– are mighty, but not mighty smart. Just because the engine’s running, it don’t mean that anyone’s driving.

So Thor took another deep breath and leapt over Heaven’s ramparts, falling miles and miles down to the earth, with his tunic plopping out like a parachute at the last minute to assure a soft landing, right outside Palin’s Palace of Sin, shuttered up at this hour of 8 a.m. like a campaign finance PAC deserting the airwaves and returning to its regular business of making millions of dollars of the power elites they had gotten elected.

Thor followed the road down the long miles into prehistory, coming at last to Darlene’s dirty Airstream trailer which, in daylight, he discovered to be sitting on the exact spot where archeologists found the oldest fossil remains of human beings, dated at some 3 million years. Figures.

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He hesitated as he stood at the door to the trailer: then knocked.

Nothing.

Knocked again, his brute knuckles sounding like mortar shells exploding against the aluminum shell.

Still nothing.

Knocked a third time, rocking the trailer so badly that finally an irrated female voice sounded from within.

“Who the fuck is it?”

Thor knew how the ritual must work. “You have to come to the door to find out.”

Silence, then murmuring, the rustling of sheets and/or clothing.

First to the door is the accountant that Thor had unceremoniously thrown through the plate glass window of Palin’s Palace of Sin. He’s wearing this not-gonna-take-any-shit-any-more, definitely-gonna-kick-some-ass look on his face. But when he saw who was standing outside at the threshold–a dude morphed out of the pages of Marvel Comics, his long locks falling in a blonde waterfall over his shoulders, handlebar moustache thicker than rope, built like a pro wrestler and hung like John Holmes (the god’s hammer-haft is only a few inches longer, bumping menacingly at the deity’s leather-embuckled knee)–the accountant, whose name was Lester, thought better, went back inside, and then crashed through the living room window all by himself, saving Thor, he figured, the trouble, and ran off down the road butt-naked except for black cowboy boots and more than happy to survive into the next election cycle.

Darlene appeared, next wondering what the fuck is going on, smoking a cigarette, eyes veiled with the next night’s hangover and revealing just a glint of the smitten-forlorn.

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Thor cleared his throat, no pal of human niceties.

“I’m Thor.”

“You’re still thor?” Darlene spat. “I thought I had it bad. I was so thor I could hardly powdy-puff my face.”

Realizing that Darlene would never get it, Thor kissed her on her rouged and wrinkly cheek and walked off back down the road to eternity.

And that was that between Thor and Darlene, or, if you will, between the American public and the grievous GOP marketing machine.

Til next Saturday night, at least.

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Thursday, November 4

In the pendulous swing of American history’s freedom-filled mammaries, it must be a milky comfort to ex-President George Bush that the Republican hegemony in Washington he was once the symbol of has been won so convincingly in the House of Representatives and busted the filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate.

Perhaps it does feel to him the South is rising again – or rather, Texas, that mighty state of gumption and all things big and Republican red, from business to religion, politics, sports, boobs and big-talkin’ boobery.

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George Bush is not tall, but he still wears big Texan boots. For a no-brainer kind of guy (he hearkens back to the action figures of the 2d millennium BC, before the emergence of human consciousness), he does remember his former glories with Texan relish.

Back in 2000, Carl Rove had promised a Republican supremacy with George Bush leading the way to Washington. Rove, whom many account as Bush’s brain (Bush’s own epithet for Rove was Boy Genius or, alternately, Turd Blossom), used Bush to cement a Republican power base which could last for decades with the proper amount of dicking, such as placing incompetent cronies in agencies they meant to dismantle,  opening every back door to corporate influence, and using signing statements by the President to give the finger to legislation he would do his best to deball.

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(Another voice in George Bush’s head was Dick Cheney’s, who whispered hawkish stratagems and cowboyish proclamations into his ear through tiny speakers sewn into his bedside pillows.)

(The third, of course, was God Hisself.)

Oh, the future looked bright for Republicans back in ‘00, once the Florida Supreme court stopped a vote count which was headed Al Gore’s way. The party was on, with corporate jets lined up to ferry fellow Texan and speaker of the house Tom Delay (“The Hammer”) to his next assignation.

Then came 9/11 and the party became a patriotic firestorm, a proper Texan stomp on the jar-head terrorist-with-weapons-of-mass-destruction-Hydra by big American boots – remember Shock and Awe?

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If only those damned Eye-Rackies had not become a human boil of resentment unleashed upon American troops and each other and the short victorious military campaign become an long and violent occupation battling an ungrateful counter-insurgency.

If only the financial industry had waited just a mere six more months to collapse as everyone knew it would, bloated on de-regulated and largely unknown financial instruments designed to make the Wall Street fat cats even fatter.

If only the spoil of greed was not ruination. First came the lobbying scandal of Jack Abramov (where the lid of payola by corporations to DeLay and his cronies was lifted), then the collapse of Bear Stearns, which famously ridiculed Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “let the boys race” attitude toward keeping the financial industry unregulated, rather rosily asserting that the industry knew how to police itself.

If only an unmanageable war and a prematurely devastated economy hadn’t been burning at the gates of Washington during the Presidential election season of 2008, Republicans would have continued their dynasty.

But another alternate party running on the same platform of Change which had worked for Republicans and Democrats alike since Jimmy Carter toot-and-hooted their way into the White House and both houses of Congress, sweeping aside the Republican empire like an El Paso hooker flea-flicking a drunken cowboy with offering nothing more than a limp pecker in his hand.

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And so it was over, and George Bush, the ur-symbol of that former now vilified hegemony, retired from all view to his ranch at Crawford. (Republican presidents, who apparently never saw their official duties as public service as much as corporate enterprise, have all retired the way CEOs do.)

George was free in his new anonymity to clear brush and drive his pickup into town and sit on his porch and watch the Texas sunset, free just to languish, perhaps remember the good old days in the kingdom. Perhaps, on that last one: memory is a conscious activity, and consciousness is not quality normally ascribed to a man who admitted to never cracking a book and never expressed any interest in the complex undercurrent of events. Exiled King George seemed happy with his retirement, finished with taking all of those surreptitious left hooks of derision as he stood in the limelight butchering the conventions of English with statements such as “”Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” and “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”

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(Sarah Palin, as an inheritor of the trend begun by Bush of selecting boobs for leaders—an American reflection, perhaps, of the marginalization of independent thought–would find new ways of torturing a sentence to get through her talking points. Such as when, at a 2008 fundraiser in Greenville, North Carolina, she said; “We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. … We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” Zombies are more coherent than Sarah Palin, but then perhaps that’s the point.)

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Two years later, George Bush must feel aflush with something akin to vindication. But only akin. I mean, no one was waving pictures of lGeorge W. Bush during the heated political season. And a different type of Republican is leading the vanguard of rage back into Washington.

Their anger makes his skin creep, for he knows that what these motivated Americans are most pissed off about are Republican policies of his Administration which the GOP PR wonks have effectively hung on Democrats, using Socialism as a the mean old wolf’s  pelt the old Republican power-junkies could hide their stanky shenanagans inside.

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Bush knows better than to correct them. Don’t expect his memoir Decision Points, due to be released in a few days, to be of any more insightful caliber than Reagan’s diaries, clearing the brush of the Bush legacy with talking points instead of insight. Remember, Bush is old-style–I mean, 2d millennium BC-style, the king whose authority came from voices inside his head – Rove, Cheney, Gawd.

(One of the great get-out-the-vote characterizations of Bush was that of a saved Christian who got personal guidance on matters of authority from the Big Big Guy in Heaven. That image, no matter how cobbled together from that of a party animal who had the handle Gin and Tonic when he was a Yale frat boy, was enough to stream the bluehaired masses of church ladies into polling booths to vote for GW (much to the glee of Bush’s corporate handlers).

Even with the publication of a 500-page-plus memoir, Bush will keep his mouth shut for the Party’s party’s sake. That isn’t easy for a constitutionally and geographically cocksure Texan to do. But George knows which side his bread is buttered on. Expect lots of Decisions but no troubling details.

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A cut and dry time was his in Washington, effortless as a moron’s afternoon, full of the assured ease of spitting tobacco juice on a scorpion, or bull-whipping an unruly Negro: you did things because you were so damn right, no matter what the truth actually was. He was The Decider (thus, fer sure, the tie-in to Decision Points) -– never so much a function of the man except as servant of the Christian god who spoke to him and him alone on matters great and small.

George’s sense of almost-vindication is really the Party’s, for Republicans know they are getting back a greater share of a mess they created and maybe be too big now for any party to fix. Republicans re-assured election in 2010 by stonewalling the first two years of President Obama’a administration, voting as a wall –- albeit not a big enough one to matter –- against every initiative. Let the Dems take the credit for trying to fix that bloated, sunken, unfixable mess -– then you can blame them for all of it.

It worked, but now with reins at least partially back in their hands, the problem is much different. Broken Washington is strangely like a horse which refuses to be broken, a nasty bronc which will surely toss any Party who tries to out on their ass.

Well, with the boisterous House as their squawk-box, Republicans can spend another two years blaming Obama and Co., sending every sort of cantankerous law on to the Senate where it will get voted down there or vetoed by Obama, building their case for an even more contentious and contemptuous run in the Presidential election of 2012.

But this new wave of Republicans flowing into Washington are a bilious brew, not a solid wall of goose-steppers as before but carrying in its ranks (and perhaps given primary authority by) a raucous rabble of independent Tea-Partiers. These are uncomfy bedmates to be sure, folks who would rather burn Congress down to its foundations as legislate any effective change. (It is rumored that the conservative elites are now puzzling how to derail Sarah Palin from a 2012 Presidential run, thinking that Obama would have the surest chance of re-election running against the likes of Palin. But as P.T. Barnum once famously said, one should never underestimate the stupidity of the American people.)

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A pyrrhic victory, then, for Bush’s class of ’00 and ‘04, like proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” when one colossal victory on the battlefield has actually only spread the black wings of an unwinnable war, a mission without real purpose or end, become 40 years in the wilderness, the voice of God silent except where the PR guys have dummied one up.

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George’s pain might be eased in knowing that all is well, Republican-wise, in Texas, a greater state in every way than that United one. Republicans won everything in the Nov. 2 elections – governor’s mansion and both houses of the state congress. The Texan economy is the most robust of any state in the union, adding most of the jobs in the nation’s recovery.

But these things, too, amount to what is only a pyrrhic victory to ex-King George, because Texas sports is belly-flopping in a shit-hole wearing its mama’s underpants. To wit:

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– The Cowboys suck, suck, suck, losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday 35-17 in brand new Cowboys Cathedral Stadium. They’re now 1-6 on the year, tied with Carolina for the worst record in the NFC.

– Those sorry-ass Houston Texans, who have the 32d-worst defense in the NFL, got picked apart by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, 30-17. They’re now 4-3.

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– The Jesus H. Christ University of Texas Longhorns are 4-4 after losing to the Baylor I mean Baylor fucking Bears fer Chrissakes, once yesterday’s buttwipe for every other Big 12 team.

The only football team in Texas to warm a range-frozen heart are those Horny Toads of TCU, unbeaten so far this year, big fish in an unfortunately small pond and unlikely to stand up against the likes of Oregon or Auburn or Alabama.

– The Houston Rockets are 0-3 so far on the season, and everyone’s starting to wonder about them. Aging, heavy-footed, with that lumbering skyscraper Yao Ming looking like a confused Chinese manufacturer at an inflatable fillie sex doll convention, they don’t look to stand a chance against the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers.

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World Series MVP Edgar Renteria gives the Giants the lead for good with a two-out, three-run home run off Rangers ace Cliff Lee in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the Worlds Series.

– And don’t even get poor George going on those Texas Rangers, shee-it, eliminated from the World Series on Monday night after losing to the San Francisco Giants 3-1. Only one victory in five games. You’d think a former property of GW Bush would have the decency to perform like proper Texans, stomping those tree-hugging Giants the way the finished off those liber’l New York Yankees to gain entrance to the series.

But the only game they managed to win in losing the World Series was Game 3 — the only one George W. didn’t attend. How can a Texan stand to look hisself in the mirror knowing that his baseball team has been taken down like a Brokeback Mountain dude by a feeble beehived man in waitress-drag who hails from that ulta-socialist, blue-to-the-balls, anti-Christian pothead Mekkuh of San Francisco?

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Well, you can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.

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Well, fuck ‘em all. Texans still have things to hold their heads high over. No respecter of intellectual prowess – leave that to uppity Ivy League East-Coasters, they can take a certain pride that Houston was recently named the fourth-dumbest city in the country (based on factors like the percentage of its population holding BA’s and the number of  libraries within city limits) with Dallas and San Antonio on either side of them in the cellar. They weren’t the plumb dumbest (reserve that honor for Las Vegas, dumber than dumb in its support of mindless—extra Texan—pleasures and voting back in Harry Reid), but dumb enough to keep Republicans in office, look the other way on corporate cronyism and be sure to teach creationism in schools. Texans love truth—you know, beliefs that so surely ought to be true that laws are passed to ensure they will be.

Yes, there’s nothing like a Cowboy Conservative to bring the rich man’s bacon home.

Like there’s nothing like fully stacked cowgirl to keep the home-away-from-home fires glowing.

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And there’s nothing like a Texan’s balls to bully back from Nowhere, that vast flat scrub of hardtack real estate Texans so endearingly call the Lone Star State.

So crack a smile for us, George, alone on the porch their in  the satiate glow of the Texan twilight, skies all Republican red and Darlene pink, someone off in the cookingg shed playing a lonely plains air on a harmonica, dinner soon served up inside by Laura, your food, your  retirement and your legacy all blessed by the God of the Texas Board of Education who now say school textbooks must say that the world was created by God and ruled best of all by George.

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Ex-President George Bush’s ranch complex in Crawford.

Don’t be troubled by the Texas Cowboys or Rangers: A better team can always be bought.

Just like in politics.

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Rick Perry celebrates winning the governorship for a third term on Tuesday night.

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Friday, Nov. 4

It is highly ironic that the fiercest Chase in recent memory – Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are tighter than bark on a tree, separated by a mere 38 points – comes at the very time when NASCAR has never seemed so irrelevant to the American public, perhaps not since it began making regular appearances on TV.

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You can’t fault the contenders, really. The Johnson-Hamlin-Harvick matchup is perfect, with the laid-back, technically-masterful Johnson going at it against a silent yet determined Hamlin and balls-to-the-walls Harvick. A three-way race to the finish from here on, but something tells me that in the end, it will come down to just two. When I watched Harvick and Johnson battle for the finish in the one of the Gatorade Duels at the start of the finish (Johnson beat him by a hair), I thought to myself, that’s how the season’s gonna finish.

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This is how things looked at the end of the second Gatorade Duel during Speed Weeks at Daytona last February. It may look the same at Homestead in a couple of weeks.

We’ll see. Hamlin may end up beating both of them like a rented mule. He’s made a run despite the handicaps of a torn knee ligament (from a pickup basktetball game) and that horrid statement he made at Richmond when he captured the checkered flag. “All we do is win,” he exulted. The next week at Sonoma he finished 34th, and it was 11 races later until he won again. Foolishness and hubris have kept Hamlin a short-hair behind Johnson, but you have to give the boy some respect, ‘cause he races more like Johnson than anyone else – no fireworks, always up in front.

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But all the excitement of this year’s Chase may not mean enough to a sport which is deflating faster than a Democrat’s ambitions anywhere in Texas. The official estimate of last Sunday’s race at Talladega—an exciting enough race, by NASCAR standards, fast and dangerous with more lead changes than a Dallas socialite swaps out hairdoes–was 110,000 (Monte Dutton, who reported on the race and was there, set it closer to 98,000). That’s down from 123,000 in the spring race, down from 142,000 in the spring 2009 race, down from 170,000 in 2003. In Texan terms, that’s all hat and no cattle.

Monte Dutton reflected on the conundrum in his piece, “Who Knows Why the Bubble Burst.” There are obvious problems in the economy, and the falling and rising stars of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson may be sufficiently pissing off fans. But he then reflected that what’s happened to NASCAR is what happened to the stock market in the late ‘90s and more currently in real estate market: a fast-rising bubble of popularity – and wealth – outgrew itself and then collapsed, like a Ponzi scheme, for lack of enough fast new growth. “It’s still big, but not as big,” he writes.

I think Dutton’s being rather charitable. No one likes how fast real estate prices are falling, and everyone asserts that the turnaround is not that far off, but the reality could be much, much worse than anyone wants, with real estate depressing far below the values properties were at before the boom began.  That’s the problem with bubbles: the faster your rise, the harder you fall.

NASCAR is and is not to blame for this bubble. They obviously got greedy and tried to grow the sport beyond its britches, reaching out to fickle younger audiences (while disaffecting the loyal base) who stuck around for a while and then drifted back off, content with iRacing and the distraction of more violent and/or sexy activities. (That’s the conclusion I made at the end of my previous post, What Really Scares Me about Talladega.”)

It is surely galling to Johnson and Hamlin and Harvick, who have been putting on the best show every week racing for the Sprint Cup, that their thrilling performances fall on ever-more-dulled eyes.

Sadly then, whoever takes the championship in Homestead, it will surely be a pyrrhic victory, something akin to the Republicans’ 50-seat gain in the House of Representatives in a Washington which will remain Democratic in the main for at least another two years. It’s just the next Chase in the same old NASCAR, the next Change to assault the indomitable Beltway. All the rule changes in NASCAR or spirited speeches to come in the House don’t change the fact that NASCAR is still France Corporation, a privately held firm whose main responsibility is its billionaire owners. The same way that Congress is still trapped in Washington, a place that’s crooked as a barrel of snakes and leaves a politician who dares to enter its fray looking like someone who’s been rode hard and put up wet. And nothing gets done.

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I’ll bet that King George of Crawford is looking forward to the Triple-A 500 at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. It  promises to spit-shine racin’ with Texas glory. I mean, it’s gonna be a real race this time, with Johnson and Hamlin and Harvick running so close. A dynasty could fall in Texas with a new one crowned there: But know one knows who. Sunday’s outcome at Texas Motor Speedway is darker than midnight under a skillet.

There’s hope, yessiree. Republicans back in the saddle and the next NASCAR champion riding off into the Texan sunset.

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If only those three drivers weren’t coasters –- Johnson and Harvick from California, Hamlin from Virginny. Heck, the only Texans in Sprint Cup competition this year are Bobby Labonte (ranked 31st) and Robert Richardson (54th). )The two of ‘em finished dead last among the unwrecked or otherwise undamaged at Tallaega last weekend.

Not much to hang your Stetson on, George.

Well, you can tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him much. Texans live in one of the dreariest landscapes in the country, but their tall cowyboy hats are brimming with dreams of glory. For their next Saturday night at Palin’s Cowyboy Palace of Sin. Or up in a Democrat-free heaven, all the donkeys shoved off the trail down into Hell’s abyss where they belong. Or attending cotillions in the governor’s mansion, served up drinks by blacks in white uniforms, strolling through moonlit gardens carefully attended by invisible Hispanics.

Or putting your boots up on the desk of the Oval Office, doing Lady Liberty the Texan way.

A Texan dreams big, you know.

Big, as in a Dallas stripper’s bustline.

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Big, as the cathedral reaches of the brand new Cowboys stadium.

Big as in rich, with more than 350,000 millionaires in the state.

Big as in big poverty — more than 4.262 million Texans (17 percent) live beneath the poverty level, making the second-largest state in the Union the 8th poorest.

Big, as in the number of executions, killing inmates 4 times more frequently than any other state.

Big as in the number of combat fatalities in the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts, second only to California in young men and women dying for their state, I mean, country.

And big as George W. Bush’s old vision of himself as the Reagan of the 00’s. That grand dream was greatly tarnished, however, by all of them pyrrhic victories effected by the Liberal Plot otherwise known as History.

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But George wouldn’t use a phrase like “pyrrhic victory,” which sounds like something a New Yorker would say over fish eggs and a Shirley Temple. Instead, he’d call his twist of fate catty whuompus, destiny that somehow got out of line.

Catty whompus is George W. Bush sitting on his porch at Crawford thinking that November 4, 2010 was Retribution Day for Republicans and God, and then looking at the view of wasteland from his porch. It’s turning his thoughts then to the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Longhorns and the Texas Rangers. It’s thinking about the Saturday’s Triple-A 500 and forseeing no decent Texan in Victory Row.

A real frog-strangler on the reign of George, know what I mean?

But then, no one remembers next week how the game was won. A V is a V.

Especially if you’re a W, where if in your mind you’re a Texan, and that’s all that counts.

p.s. Texas is bigger than California, ha ha.

And France.

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What REALLY scares me about Talladega


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St. Oran’s Day, 2010

“Talladega is scary enough for me without Halloween.” – Elliott Sadler

“The primary and most beautiful of Nature’s qualities is motion, which agitates her at all times, but this motion is simply a perpetual consequence of crimes, she conserves it by means of crimes only.”  – Marquis de Sade

“… Let me just quote the late great Colonel Sanders, he said, ‘I’m too drunk to taste this chicken’ —  Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Dover may have the Monster Mile – and a Hulk-like statue representing its resident bugaboo, towering over all who enter the track and, in itsy-bitsy-scale, given to the race’s winner with a scale model of the winner’s caw in its paw – but Talladega is the Beast Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, especially at night — a Hell-house where speed, hubris, mayhem and bloodthirsty fans combine to make it the scariest track in all of NASCAR.

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And, of course, the fall race is usually scheduled around Halloween (this year it falls right on the spookiest holiday of the year), so weirdness is given a full-mooned magnitude.

That this race — the wildest, most dangerous and unpredictable race on the circuit — also happens to be the most crucial of the Chase races, falling at the time when the few true competitors separate from the rest of the Chase pack–it’s enough to make the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick shake in their boots, who are separated by a mere 67 Chase points.

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There is no way to out-drive Talladega; you just go fast and draft, stay out of the way somehow of the Big One always about to happen and then scoot ahead at the last minute, coming out of Turn 4 of the very last lap.

The three leading Chase drivers all have middling records there, but that’s as good as anyone gets in the whirling blades of Talladega-style fate. Kevin Harvick’s average finish at Talladega is 15.5 (he’s won there once in 19 starts, in this year’s spring race); Denny Hamlin’s is 16 (no wins in 9 starts, 2 DNFs); and Jimmie Johnson has a 17.8 average finish in 17 starts, with one win and 7 DNF’s including four crashes.

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Brian Vickers won the 2006 fall race at Talladega by spinning Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson on the final lap.

Perhaps the most masterfully controlled driver of them all, it’s not surprising that Jimmie Johnson hates Talladega. Talent aside, his mojo is small, too, at this track; Wynona is elsewhere, probably hungover in the skankiest camper of the down-and-dirtiest infield partier in the universe.

Talladega is a track with a curse, whispered with variations, the way all ghost stories grow like black vines in the minds of a culture, One story has it that after local Talladega Creeks were slaughtered by warriors of the larger Creek nation in retaliation for their collaborating with the forces of Andrew Jackson, a Talladega shaman cast a curse on Dry Valley as the survivors left.

But legends of curse would not arise had not the track’s history been an oval petri dish for spooky culture, weirded as it has been by corporate skullduggery, freak accidents, Bigger Ones than anywhere else on the circuit and a trick-or-treater’s lusty thirst for all-out, hell-raisin’ partying.

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For the full-mooned lowdown, see my post from earlier this year, Big Bill France and NASCAR’s Temple of Doom. Suffice to say here that Hallow-Dega promises to be true to form – predictable only in mayhem, naughtiness and redline blood alcohol content.

But there is more to Talledega’s story than its story, if you get my drift-—and have the patience to follow my riffs …

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An old Irish saying goes, “Say this three times, with your eyes shut / And you will see / What you will see.”

It helps to see some things with eyes shut. The universe, as the space scientist now come to know, is mostly dark matter and dark energy, stuff which can’t be seen or known but by how it affects the visible universe. They now postulate that an entire universe may be operating inside our own; inside our own bodies the dark elements pass, tiding with news we can’t know, but is. If you have read this far in the post, about a billion of these loosly-arranged particles have streamed through, a billion ghosts emerging from their dark forest to come and go through you, talking of dark Michaelangelo …

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So assume, if you will, that there is an underside to Talladega which has shaped its history, the way dark matter gave our galaxies their spiral whorls. We get to that Other World darkly, through dark portals in the mind, the heart …

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“Hallow-Dega,” as it has come to be known, refers more to nightside spookiness than racin’ – it’s booze-fuelled, costmed revelry casting a strange hangover on the race proceedings of the next day. A pall of excess which casts long blue shadows from the cars, even at high noon.

It’s all in good fun, right? A chance to get loose and wild, forget about the big bad world, the economy, the frantic, manic, ugly polticiking that has consumed the country, and indulge in hard liquor, loud racin’ and bad women. Sweet home Alabama, indeed.

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Yet Hallow-Dega’s vibe cannot help but take on a darker tenor from just how much bad world there is out there. Like the nipple of a greater exposed hooter, the haunting of Talladega is fed by the collective scream-fest of its participants. And there’s a lot to get spooked about. The following itinerary is just a few things which have somehow been thrown into that oval witch’s cauldron –- the bat’s ear and eye of newt foraged from the dark forest of events which convinces me that the Hallowe’en tradition of the dead loosed on earth for a night has, like so many other things, gone 24-7-365.

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There is an old Irish fairy tale about a king’s storyteller who woke one day without a new story to tell the king. It had never happened before, and he was appalled. What was he going to sing to the king that night?

Puzzling over his predicament, the storyteller walks over hill and through dale until he comes across a beggarman lying on the ground who challenges him to three rounds of dice, the first two which he wins (the beggarman has a secret bag of gold tied to his belt, and gives it up freely after losing), but on the third toss the storyteller loses, and the beggar demands his wife.

To game back his wife, the storyteller plays with his own life at stake – and loses again. His soul belongs to the beggarman now, and he is transformed by that Otherworldly figure him into a hare, tormenting him with various butt-biting pursuits dogs and the like.

He then makes the storyteller invisible and goes calling on King Red O’Donnell, dressed in his beggar rags and conniving all of O’Donnell’s silver from him through a variety of tricks.

At night’s end (which is really the end of day in our world), the beggarman returns the storyteller to his old stature (along with his wife and all of his belongings) and says simply, “Now you have a story to tell the king.” And walks off into mist, whistling merrily.

So, having already supped full well with Talladega’s known horrors, I offer a parallel universe of dark tales from our world which fans and drivers and owners and officials all bring, in varied mixtures of dread and denial, with them to that mad track, begging this question: who—or what’s– truly cooking at Hallow-Dega?

Bone appetit

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The Beast of the Gulf

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, things on the surface are calm, glittery with full moonlight, rocking gently and uteral while shrimp trawlers file out of their late-late-late-night ports, back in business again. Whatever desperately expensive measures taken by British Petroleum to contain and quell the spill of 4 million barrels of oil from the ass end of its exploded Deepwater Horizon well, none of them equaled the quiet (OK, biological) heroics of a heretofore-unknown microbe, devouring most of the oil floating on the surface.

The broken well eventually was capped and coastal damage was relatively slight – spookily so. Still, everyone knows that most of that spilled oil is just floating around in the middle leagues of the Gulf, between surface and abyss. And no one knows what that immense drifting black plume will do in the coming decades.

And whatever that damage to the environment might finally tally up to, the fear — the emotional and psychological damage — may even be greater. A recent poll conducted by Auburn University shows that some 71 percent of Alabamans believe that permanent damage has been done to their Gulf, with 61 percent saying that their own household had been negatively afflicted by the consequences of the spill. Thirty-two percent said they would pack up and leave the area if they could.

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If they could. But movement isn’t an option for so many recession-racked Americans, their mortgages underwater, unemployment forcing them into smaller and meaner circumstances. British Petroleum did a bang-up PR job of getting the heat off of them, but millions along the Gulf Coast know the beast is still out there, a giant black manta fanning its miles-wide wings of oil, waiting, waiting, for its shadow to do the damage, upon sea-life, shores and psyches alike—not tomorrow, or the next, but over the cumulative toll of years.

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A ghost compound in the mountains of Afghanistan

Last week, NPR reported on a foray of troops of Alpha Company of the 3-327 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, onto the Ghaki mountain pass in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, in search of Taliban insurgents. Alpha Company had recently been part of the massive search for Linda Norgrove, the Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped by Taliban insurgents and killed by an American grenade during the rescue operation.

As soon as their Chinook helicopter landed and the hatch opened, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired directly in, killing an Afghan interpreter and wounding four others. The Chinook was disabled. With just one wheel on the ground and half of the wounded helicopter hanging over a 7,000-foot cliff, troops jumped to the ground. Some of them set up guard while waiting for relief to come in, while other fanned out in search of hostiles, warned that “friendlies” were in the area as well. What does it do to the mind of a soldier when any man could be both?

Along their patrol, Alpha Company came across an abandoned base, a bunkered outpost where they found spent carbine shells—signs of a recent battle – as well as fleece jackets and sleeping bags, stuff normally not left behind. They also found vehicles clustered together and burnt and a bunker that had been bombed. Funny thing is, it wasn’t bombed from without; the mystery occupants had destroyed it themselves. Fleeing Taliban? Nope. The soldiers credited it to “OGA’s” – members of the Other Government Agency, meaning the CIA. CIA ops apparently had been defending the pass (the CIA had declined comment on the story), waiting for Afghan milita to replace them; but the Afghans had never arrived and they got the hell out of there before any official American presence was called in.

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A mystery base in a mystery war, with mysterious opponents with murky allegiances, in a war with no apparent end or design, against an opponent more steely in its resolve than found anywhere in the world. A haunted place that drains American will like blood.

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A case of the pot calling the kettle, er, biased: Bill O’Reilly of FOX News and Juan Williams, former NPR journalist now Fair And Balanced, FOX-style.

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Deals with the Devil

NPR, as you know, has been in the crosshairs of the aggrieved and mobilized right over the firing of long-time correspondent Juan Williams, also now an employ of FOX News, for some offhand comments he made about Muslims on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The comments seem innocuous enough — O’Reilly had been looking for support for his own remarks made on a recent episode of ABC’s The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. (Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.) Williams then responded: “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams – a journalist I’ve admired over the years, whose news analysis seemed sound until he started working for FOX – was fired for what NPR CEO Vivian Schiller says were remarks ”inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.” She added that Williams had been warned in the past to keep his opinions out of his journalism, something which he was given free reign to do at “fair and balanced FOX,” which has set the low bar for selling opinion as news.

Williams was aggrieved, saying in a piece on FOX News,

They have used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

Williams is calling for the cutoff of taxpayer funding for NPR, considered one of them most sound journalistic enterprises in all media, and he’s joined by a chorus of aggrieved Republicans and FOX wonks (Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are both) accusing NPR of bigotry and liberal bias.

Williams has signed on a $2 million contract with FOX—jackpot for a journalist, most of whom work for low pay under the constant shadow of having their jobs eliminated to bolster corporate profits.  And he’s free now to say whatever he wants to, because FOX doesn’t have journalistic standards, and has a culture where outrageousness is encouraged.  (As when commentator Liz Trotta remarked in May 2008 that somewhat  ought to “knock off” Osama Bin Laden – and Barack Obama.)

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Williams is free to slug away, Liz Trotta-style, with a network who’s much like NASCAR in its “have at it, boys” opinion-as-news style.

Williams carries with him to FOX journalist cred—-albeit a quickly-fraying one—-which the network will use, in blackface, to pander its hardcore parody of news in the service of GOP PR.

(News Corp., which owns FOX News, donated $1.25 million last year to the Republican Governors Association, a PAC created to defeat Democratic candidates, as well as $1 million to the U.S. Chamber, a $75 million fund which is paying for a sizable chunk of attack ads against Democrats in races across the country. News Corp. didn’t admit to the donations until after it was reported elsewhere in the press. CEO Rupert Murdoch has said that the donations were made because it is “in the interest of the country and of all the shareholders … that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.” Emphasis on those big-business stockholders …)

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Rupert Murdoch is all for pro-business politics in Washington.

Enjoy your new freedom of expression, Williams. And thanks for your new career handicapping the Fourth Estate’s function of keeping government honest and open. And for assuring our next generation that anything you say can be taken for truth in a media where anything goes. Now go and enjoy that big fat paycheck while your peers wonder what the fuck they’re going to do when their 99 weeks of government federal unemployment assistance is exhausted.

You know what a FOX teabagger is? One of the talking heads on that channel who licks the marbles of Rupert Murdoch as he sodomizes America for his shareholders.

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A Truth, Drowned in Dope

I turn to NPR—one of the last bastions of decent journalism–for the next story.

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Tiffany and David Hartley.

The lure was a partially drowned church. Tiffany and David Hartley were on vacation, jet-skiing together on Falcon Lake in Zapata, Texas. The church was on Mexican side of the lake; American tourists had often headed over there to take pictures and fish for bass.

It somewhere near that water-mortared church that David Hartley was shot in the head. His wife Tiffany called 911 and said she couldn’t get the body on to her jet-ski and then, with more shots being fired at her, she fled for her life.

Investigators believe that Hartley was killed by halcones – lookouts for drug runners. In a further gruesome twist, the Mexican investigator in the case was killed and decapitated, his head sent to authorities inside a suitcase.

The search for Hartley’s body was soon after called off by Mexican authorities. Tiffany Hartley wants her husband’s body back before returning to their native Colorado, but there’s not much American authorities can do.

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Members of the Los Zetas gang, purported to have a growing presence along the Texas-Mexico border.

“This is a weird case,” a U.S. homeland security official said. The cartels know that killing Americans is bad for business.” Best guess so far is that the halcones were young, trigger-happy recruits who might have wanted the jet skis.

On Oct. 6, Tiffany Hartley and family members were escorted by Texas Parks and Wildlife to the spot on Falcon Lake where David Hartley disappeared, there to lay a wreath on the water.

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David Hartley’s body is probably floating down there in the nave of that drowned church, a fresh soul recruited in the brutal supply of dope (pot, coke and meth) to American addicts. (Ironically, David Hartley was an oil field worker – a tradesman in the traffic of cheap energy, that other American addiction.)

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For Alabamans, the bulk of their illegal drugs comes from Colombian, Mexican, and Caribbean Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs, and those organizations maintain extensive distribution networks within the state. (Motorcycle gangs deal in meth as well, but on a much more limited basis.)

Methamphetamine has become the drug of choice in many impoverished rural areas – in Alabama, the unemployment rate is around 20 percent in those places—and its credited with the rise in thefts, violent assaults, and burglaries in those areas. But heck – street dope dealers can make about $5,000 a week, as long as they can last before getting killed or busted. It’s not so much a choice between safe or dicey as between nothing or everything.

On Oct. 19, a routine traffic stop on Interstate 20 near Leeds–a town about 20 miles away from Talladega–led to the confiscation of some 90 kilograms of cocaine worth about 5.4 million. The driver of the truck, 35-year-old Juan Rios of McAllen, TX, is being held without bond in the Jefferson County jail. (McAllen is about 80 miles east of Falcon Lake along US-83.)

Seargant Dewayne McCarver, commander of the Huntsville-Madison County (AL) Strategic Counterdrug Team, is working hard against the rising tide of drugs in his area. “I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of all crime revolves around the drug culture,” he said. “It’s amazing what a crackhead will do for one rock. If we get the drugs off the street at any level, it saves lives to some extent.” The Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force carried out warrants at 243 meth labs in the first three quarters of this year alone.

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Meth will fuck you up fast. These crime mugs of the same meth addict were taken a year and a half apart.

The biggest challenge to the illegal drug trade, however, isn’t law enforcement. It’s the growing popularity of contraband pharmaceuticals, especially painkillers like oxycontin and dilaulid. And a lot of those pharms aren’t stolen from drugstores or bought on the street, but rather lifted from Mom’s medicine cabinet. Last year, fatal overdoses from painkillers overtook those from heroin abuse.

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The Daily Home, based in St. Clair and Talladega Counties, reports that prescription drugs have reached epidemic proportions in their school system. “Ninety percent of our problem with drugs is from prescription drugs,” says school superintendent Dr. Bobby Hathcock. There have been fatalities from teenagers taking several medications at once. St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor says they have prosecuted adults who keep their medicine cabinets unlocked under the charge of “chemical endangerment of a child.”

Pharmaceutical cartels aren’t much different from their dirtier brothers across the border who traffic in illicit drugs. They both are invested to the teeth in making sure that the means of fleeing reality are readily at hand.

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Reality – our truth – is the cathedral that’s been swamped by all the means of evading it. As long as fear truth, opiates will abound. And Lord how they abound, like sweet black floodwaters covering the heads of millions for whom letting go to abandonment is far easier than holding on to next to nothing.

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Razor Blades in the Eye Candy

The weekend’s box office king was Paranormal Activity 2, a $3 million, R-rated creep-fest, taking in some $41.5 million in theaters. The entire action is supposedly recorded on home video and surveillance-video footage of Otherworld menace in a hapless middle-class couple’s home.

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s $50 million Oscar-seeking movie Hereafter –– a more highbrow take on the presence of death in life –- was a comparative yawner, ranking fourth in box-office take and raking in just $4 million in its opening weekend.

Well, as Sam Zell, the rogue owner of Tribune Corporation famously said, “Pulitzers don’t sell papers,” and studio execs know that lowbrow gets the biggest bang for the fewest bucks. That’s why few and fewer of Eastwood’s type of film is getting made in Hollywood, in favor of cheapo grossout flicks which have a short shelf-life in theaters but do big business in DVD sales (which are often unrated and, hence, even grosser) domestically and overseas.

To wit, Saw 3D, the seventh installment of the torture-til-ya-puke gorefest, releases soon on a franchise that has grossed $340 million dollars worldwide.

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Plural victims of a franchise’s singular device.

3D has given the movie theaters a needed shot in the arm, and while there have been some magnificent creations in the medium—-like James Cameron’s Avatar—-you’re more likely to see something like Saw put stuff that’s nobody’s business right in your face. (The premiere of Jackass 3D, by the way, was the box-office winner the previous week, offering more the next 90 minutes of maxiumum grossout in sleazy stunts.)

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The testicularly-abused crew of “Jackass 3D.”

The taste for “ultraviolence” —- as it was called by droogie Alex in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange –- is, it seems insatiable, a pit with no apparent bottom to it. Movies are just part of well-liquors offering shots of ultraviolence -– there are video games, the Internet, and home-grown splatter using digital cams of every description.

Oh, and did I mention porn? … There’s probably only one thing guys like to see than people getting mangled and killed, it’s women getting fucked. Probably horns of the same beast.

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Digital video technology is making horror and porn a socially networked enterprise, available to all.

And for top-lifting nubiles in the Talladega infield, we have only to consider sex tapes released by the likes of divas Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to get a sense of where their permission-—and searingly low-bottom fame—-comes from.

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Paris and Kim show their celebrity-eyed fans what to do – and how.

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True Blood

There’s plenty of blood sport on TV these days. I wonder if the NFL has ratcheted up the on-the-field violence in response to the challenge from televised ultimate fighting bouts. In an especially vicious weekend a few weeks ago, players taking hits to the head by defenders’ helmets were knocked flat, suffering concussions. This came a day after a Rutgers college player was paralyzed by a helmet-first collision, and discussion has been rife all season about the long-term consequences of hits to the head. Now the NFL is stepping in, levying fines of up to $50,000 for what they are deeming illegal hits.

The increasing viciousness of defenders is as much a product of the culture as the sport, as they go at receivers trained fighting dogs. But the NFL has to tread carefully, because they could err the way of NASCAR by draining too much of the danger from the sport. It’s what the bread-and-butter fans pay for, that blood.

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But you can recognize the rock-and-a-hard-place juncture that the NFL stands at. Facing increasing criticism from the medical profession for the consequences of what they do best, they have to set limits. Yet those very limits will just drive fans on to bloodier venues.

In Alabama, heavy-hitting football is a manly tradition – the SEC is one of the most brutal in the country – and Alabamans have much to root for with the Auburn Tigers and the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama, currently ranked first and seventh in the BCS rankings.

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The Iron Bowl.

The big big game for Alabamans is the Iron Bowl, the showdown between Auburn and Alabama on the day after Thanksgiving. Alabama has won the past two contests, with Auburn winning the previous six.

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Crimson Tide alumnus Mark Forester of Haleyville was planning to return for the game after finishing a stint in Afghanistan as a senior airman out of Pope Air Force Base. But on a mission in Uruzgan Province on Sept. 29 he was killed trying to rescue a stricken comrade (who also died) when his Special Forces unit came under fire.

More than 80 members of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron from Pope AFB attended Forester’s funeral in his hometown, and the streets of Haleyville were lined with locals who had turned out to honor their own. A friend said that Forster “firmly believed that his purpose and duty in life was to the United States. He felt like that was what God put him on the planet to do -— literally.  He was just a patriot to the core.”

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Forester had been deployed in Afghanistan two months ago. He was the fourth member of his unit to be killed in action over a two-week period.

405 Americans have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in Afghanistan since the start of the year. The reality of that conflict has been kept carefully out of our sight until Wikileaks came along. Now in its ninth year, this war grinds on, slowly eating into the American psyche through a slowly spreading network of grief and fear.

For many young Americans, the military is the only work available to them. Whether they go out of patriotism or necessity, there is an increasing awareness among deploying soldiers that they may not be coming back – or coming back missing limbs or some part of their minds. Something tells me that dread of that reality represses itself by means of blood sport – a catharsis, but a problematic one, because you can’t purge the darkness just by pumping up its volume.

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Tea Party jackboot fascist has meaningful discussion with MoveOn.org protester.

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Politics as Satanic Mass

Whatever ultraviolence—-fancied and/or real–is being suckled from bad mama’s teat by young fans I can reluctantly pardon, given the behavior of their political elders. These guys are hammering and screwing everyone in sight in this most-vicious midterm election season ever.

OK, everyone’s pissed at Washington and the stagnating economy. It’s just that no one knows who to properly blame. But if you have failed to cover your ears and eyes whenever the networks cut to a commericial, you have been toxically  exposed to the sewering howl of attack ads.

You will emerge from their bloodbath dripping with the conviction that all polticians are scuzzbags, clowns, cronies, anti-Americans, Bible-stompers, mother-haters, gun-banners, baby-killers, animal-euthinizers, Constitutional hijackers and/or gavel-weilding socialists who would as soon let docs to kill your granddaddy as use the part of the Constitution about the separation of church and state for buttwipe.

Did I miss anything? Of course I did; the assault is endless and reaches its most fevered, bottomless pitch this final weekend before Election Day. The true house of horrors this season springs out every time they cut to a commercial.

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Surely separated at birth: Rick Scott and Freddy Kueger.

I don’t know which race ranks sets the standard of sliminess for our younger generation—-there are so damn many. Here in Florida, I’d have to go with the campaign of Republican Rick Scott for Governor of Florida. Scott was infamously forced out as CEO of Columbia Healthcare back in the late ‘90’s after it got hit with a $1.7 billion dollar fine for Medicare fraud; he later took the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a single deposition attempting to determine his role in the fraud. Flush with cash from his executive buyout package, Scott began numerous investment funds which grew his nest egg to $218 million – a fund which became an inexhaustible political war chest.

Scott spent $45 million of his own money to defeat Republican primary challenger Bill McCollum. Asked in August if there is any limit to the funds he would invest in the general election, Scott said “no”.

He’s effectively outspent Democratic rival Alex Sink with another $25 million in attack ads. He’s fought the obvious criticism from his opponent about his billion-dollar felon status with suggestions that Sink had a hand in a $6.7 million fine paid by the parent company of a bank she was CEO of for allowing an affiliated company to steer bank customers into high-risk securities — a practice Sink says she had no authority over.

In recent days, Scott has pulled ahead in the polls, and if the Republican turnout on Nov. 4 will be as sizeable as predicted, he will prove that any crook with enough dough can build image that doesn’t exist merely by destroying his opponent. It’s an old right-wing talk radio tactic: demonize your opponent’s virtues and then you don’t have but the vaguest stand of your own). Add $60 million from your fraud nest egg and bingo: Big money always wins.

Way to go, Rick Scott.

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To this observer, Alabama politics is about as hard-hitting as its football, with the corruptive lubrication of big money always in the works.

Indeed, Alabama’s mid-term election comes on the heels of a cash-for-votes bribery scandal involving 11 state legislators, lobbyists and businessmen attempting to legalize bingo gambling in the state. (One of the state legislators involved was Jim Preuitt of Talladga.)

Not to be outdone in dastardliness, the mid-term races in Alabama are showing what contemporary politics can lower itself to:

– In the Alabama Fifth Congressional race between Democrat Steve Raby and Republican Mo Brooks, the two seem like bizarre inversions of the other. Raby, the Democrat, is a lifetime member of the NRA, a deacon in his Baptist church, is pro-life and has farmed since high school. Brooks, his Republican opponent, is an attorney, well-educated, is a member of the Sierra Club and prefers tennis to hunting. And yet the two accuse the other of the stock-in-trade epithets of the season, the more conservative Raby glued to Nancy Pelosi’s agenda by Brooks, Brooks hung with the Tea Party mantle of “silliness” by Raby. None of it makes sense to me, but the epithets somehow stick.

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Bizarro World, Alabama Style: Democratic candidate Steve Raby is the gun-toting, right-to-life conservative farmer, and Republican Mo Brooks is a tennis-playing, Sierra-Club supporting attorney.

– Black voters in Alabama are receiving recorded phone calls saying that blacks risk “going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days” unless Democrats Ron Sparks and Jim Folsom are elected. The robocalls were placed by state Sen. Hank Sanders, a Selma Democrat who made the calls for the Alabama New South Coalition. Democrats likely need a strong turnout among black voters in Alabama to elect Sparks to the governor’s office and Folsom as lieutenant governor.

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right: Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright of Alabama is facing withering attacks from both Democrats and Republicans in his re-election bid.

– Some candidates are taking flak from both sides. The left-leaning Blue America PAC is spending some $50,000 to run attack ads against Rep. Bobby Bright, a Democrat congressman running for re-election in a very conservative district. Bright had distinguished himself as a right-leaning Democrat, distancing himself from the party’s agenda and saying he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the house. He’s also under attack by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the conservative American Future Fund for being, well, a Democrat.

– Republican Robert Bentley holds a 20-point lead over his Democratic rival Ron Sparks in his bid for the governor’s mansion. That despite the gaming scandal under the former Republican governor’s watch; he’s even suggested that voters be allowed to have a say in the bingo issue. Sparks has said it’s not so simple, since gaming requires state regulation; and even though both Republican and Democratic legislators were caught up in the scandal, the ire of voters seems to be pointed against Democrats, and Sparks looks to be one of those victims.

Why? Because Alabama politics is rife with corruption, and that seems fine with Alabamans as long as there’s money in it for them. Indeed, in addition to the bribery scandal under the former Republican governor’s watch, many jobs were created. Five Alabama metro areas were among the top 10 American cities posting the most significant declines over the past year.

That has translated to a 9.1 percent unemployment rate for the state – good news, especially for Republican gubernatorial hopefuls – though rural areas lag far behind at around 20 percent. (Ironically, demand for cotton by Chinese mills is at an all-time high, raising cotton prices to levels not seen since 1870; however, draught in Alabaman has local farmers looking to just break even on this year’s crop.)

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Alabama cotton farmers can’t get a break for nuthin’.

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The Curse

Talladega Speedway, as most of you know, is said to be cursed, built on an Indian burial ground, or cursed by a departing Talladega shaman after the tribe was crushed by Creek enemies for collaboration with Andrew Jackson’s white soldiers.

Curses cuts several ways.Dale Earnhardt Jr. has done well racin’ at Talladega – he’s won it six times – but that seems to have cursed his latter career, as he has not won now since 2008. Jimmie Johnson has won only once at Talladega and crashed frequently, but he’s won four consecutive Sprint Cup championships. Fate is topsy-turvy at Talladega, an equivocation which is fair and foul at once.

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A Cleveland DJ by the name of Rover hired a witch doctor recently to put a curse on LeBron James, Miami Heat player recently deserted of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Something tells me that James will continue to play at a stellar level, while Cleveland will remain cursed by lousy sports teams.

Women who hate their monthly menstruation rituals – known, in most circles, as “the curse” – can opt now for medications which shorten or even eliminate menstruation. The meds are really for birth control, preventing ovulation. It’s another fix for a sexually obsessed culture, joining the ranks of breast augmentation and mood pills to keep our gals shining and young and ready to hook up at a whim’s notice. And yes, I’d want the same thing too if I had to endure the discomfort and embarassment of bloody thongs every month; the male correlative is certainly Viagra, a physic for droopy-dick-in-the-clinch syndrome. Perhaps our curse is not found in our on-again, off-again bodies but rather in our minds, which are cursed with the mania of perfection, hairless bodies with six-pack abs and enormous boobs, primed penises and clot-free vaginal gullies pistoning in endless abandon, babies and age be damned.

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Curse is the conviction that one is being preyed upon the by ill will of another – God or Devil, bad Mommy or really bad Daddy, bullies at school, a vengeful ex, even stepping on an invisible tripwire on a spree anonymous bum events, psychologically or spiritually accident-prone, invoking a comedy of tortured errors.

Our response to curse is to find cures; they are perhaps two faces of the same thing. Lord knows the physics and compulsive rituals meant to rid oneself of the freezing jail of the cursed life – psychotropics, pain meds, booze, sex addiction, gambling, extreme sports, binge-and-purging, shopping, blogging. Of course, cures eventually become the curse, snarling the cursed in a web of accursed cures, the obsessive repetition of the nightly blackout drunk, the manic rituals of endless hand-washing and gripping fear of stepping outside into the big bad world, the eternal pursuit of oblivion inside (or penetrated by) the next dick or pussy in the nightly parade.

For most who have fought their way through their cures – through therapy or recovery or whatever manner of travailing through the dark forest to morning – there is often a sense that the curse was a blessing in disguise, forcing movement through all the false remedies, come to a grown-up recognition that the world never centered enough around you to bother with curse, that your affliction was in a sickened mind to begin with, that cure meant in some way coming to love the curse. Ranier Maria Rilke, the great German poet of the early 20th century, famously refused analysis by Sigmund Freud, stating, “If you rid me of my devils, you will surely banish my angels as well.”

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The Marquis de Sade.

Perhaps Marquis de Sade, that badboy rogue of the 18th century, was right when he wrote, “In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice … It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.” Problem is, it’s just so damn easy to get lost in the forest of cure and stay there. For all the avenues of recovery that have become available to alcoholics, still about 95 percent of them die drunk. The cure is too damn sweet to let go of, or rather the fantasy of curse is too strong.

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The Talladega curse afflicts fans as well and drivers alike, if you buy the premise of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, where Bobby (loosely an incarnation of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) loses his track mojo in a wreck at Talladega and goes mad, unable to drive without becoming  convinced that his head is on fire. He spirals down from the heights of NASCAR fame, divorced by his wife (who only wanted to be married to a NASCAR champion), moving in with his mother and delivering pizzas on a bicycle. And then his absent father Reese (loosely Dale Earnhardt Sr.) re-enters his life, teaching him to translate his fear of driving into reckless abandon once again. That, and love of a woman – a waitress who surely plays the role of Wynona, NASCAR’s goddess of fate – gets Ricky Bobby behind the wheel again, racing at the Talladega 400. He wrecks on the final lap racing his arch-nemesis, running to the finish line (the way Carl Edwards did when his car wrecked on the last lap of the 2009 spring race at ‘Dega). He doesn’t win the race, but the champion chump is back in full glory and ignorance, having overcome the curse of his own fear.

Could this weekend’s Amp Energy 500 be such a test for Jimmie Johnson, flagging in the points, about to be passed by Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick, a restrictor-plate-race master who won the spring race at Talladega this year?

Many fans believe that Jimmie is too beloved by his NASCAR elders, a favored son given favored treatment. Last week at Martinsville, a drive-shaft cover for the No. 48 Chevrolet was confiscated during inspection, although officials merely asked the team to replace the part. Coming off the draconian points-dock and suspension and fines of Clint Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevy a few weeks ago for a seeming infinitesimal excess of chassis height discovered in a post-race inspection following his win at New Hampshire on Sept. 19, the free pass of the No. 48 made many fans believe his legend is engineered not so much by Hendrick Motorsports or Wynona but rather NASCAR Corp. To me it seems silly – NASCAR knows that Johnson’s seemingly permanent lock on the championship isn’t popular with fans, why wouldn’t they try to level the field away from him?

Maybe they simply trust Talladega to do that work.

This weekend’s Amp Energy 500 will feature the premiere of The Legend of Hallowdega, an Amp Energy-sponsored short film directed by Terry Gilliam (a founding member of Monty Python and the creator of films like The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys). David Arquette and Justin Kirk star in the 15-minute film which purports to delve into the spookier lore of Talladega, like the story that Talladega was built on an Indian burial ground and Bobby Isaac had actually pulled out of one race because he’d heard a voice tell him to boogity off the track.

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The movie will be played in mobile theaters around Talladega this weekend, and a 2-minute version of it will be televised during ESPN’s race telecast. (The full version will be available for viewing after the Oct. 31 race at http://www.legendofhallowdega.com)

Apparently the folks at Talladega Speedway are looking for some image cure. “The great folks at AMP Energy Juice have developed a new and innovative idea to research and debunk some of the myths surrounding HALLOW-DEGA,” said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch. “We anxiously await the release of the film to see what Terry Gilliam and AMP Energy Juice have come up with.” The staged exorcism of Talladega’s curse by an Indian shaman back in 2009 must not have been successful, but then it may have been falling track attendance rather than trackside mayhem the track’s ruling elders were truly concerned about.

The folks at Amp Energy seem to have more personal, poisonal ambitions than that, given this final paragraph in an announcement of the movie in The Sporting News:

Amp Energy expanded its marketing budget for the Talladega race in order to develop the film. To measure the return on its investment, the brand will monitor paid media and earned media impressions.

Oh, right–it’s a commercial. Something tells me that humoring the fans with a commercial isn’t going to rectify ‘Dega’s resource issues.

Well, it’s a paycheck for Gilliam. He could sure use it: the once-successful director’s recent work has been cursed by all manner of project-ruining disasters. In 1999, while attempting to film The Man Who Killed Don Quioxte, the leading actor suffered a herniated disc on the first day of shooting, and then the set was severely damaged by a flood, causing the film to be cancelled at a $32 million loss. A decade later, he was filming The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in New York City when lead actor Heath Ledger died. He himself was struck by a bus while filming and broke his back.

Fateful choice wouldn’t you say, to be the man chosen to direct a comic movie about the curse of Talladega?

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Well, a guy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. And a brand’s gotta keep the franchise hoppin’.

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It’s All About Speed

I doubt Amp Energy expects to get much actual mileage out of Dale Earnhardt, whose No. 88 Chevrolet they sponsor has been a middle-of-the-packer all season long. The Earnhardt Jr. franchise has lost a lot of its lustre, but Dale Jr. fans are die-hard believers, standing by their man through thick and thin. (Last week, Earnhardt led in Martinsville for an entire lap, and the stadium came alive with hooting, roaring applause.)

Speed and energy drinks seem to have a comfortable, if disastrous relationship. Kasey Kahne finishes driving the season with Team Red Bull after jumping ship at Richard Petty Motorsports. Energy drinks are liquid speed, anyway, legal speed which emulates amphetamines the way crushed Oxycontin rivals herion. Down enough Amp Energy drinks and you can drink all weekend, watch the races and survive the drive home. (Try your luck, boys. Last spring Alabama State Troopers arrested 127 for driving under the influence over the race weekend.)

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The new fun badboy drink on the market is Four Loko, a fruit-flavored malt beverage with an alcohol content of 12 percent (beer runs at about 6 percent) and laced with enough caffeine as a cup of coffee (156 milligrams), collapsing the beer-can / energy drink conundrum in one convenient container.

It’s potent stuff, and with its colorful packaging and flavors like watermelon, blue raspberry and lemon-lime, it’s especially popular with underaged drinkers. And it has very potent effects: last month, six students from Ramapo College in Mahway, NJ were taken to the hospital after drinking it. One of those admitted said he’d had three cans of Four Loko and several shots of tequila in just under an hour; he had a blood alcohol level of .40, which is almost fatal.

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Elroy McConnell (2d from left) with his three sons.

Last August, 51-year-old Elroy McConnnell of Orlando and his three grown sons were on vacation at Redington Beach in St. Petersburg, celebrating the birthday of the youngest son along with their wives and children. One night father and sons were returning from a movie when their Ford Fusion was broadsided by the Chevrolet Impala of twenty-year-old Demetrius Jordan, who had run a red light going more than 80 miles per hour. McConnell and his sons were killed on impact, but Jordan and his passenger survived. Jordan told police he had been mixing Four Loko with liquor and smoking pot. A can of Four Loko sat behind Jordan’s seat after the crash.

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Elroy McConnell’s Ford Fusion after Demetrius Jordan plowed into it running s red light at over 80 mph, high on dope and Four Loko.

The following Monday, four McConnell wives drove back to Orlando as widows.

Eighteen attorneys general are urging the Food and Drug Administration, which has never approved adding caffeine to alcohol, to determine whether the drinks are safe.

Of course, it’s not the fault of Phusion Projects, who manufactures Four Loko. Co-founder Chris Hunter says the company is being unfairly singled out and that they take steps to prevent its products from getting into minors’ hands.

“Alcohol misuse and abuse and under-age drinking are issues the industry faces and all of us would like to address,” he said. “The singling out or banning of one product or category is not going to solve that. Consumer education is what’s going to do it.”

Rigghhhhhtt. The same way that consumer education is effectively teaching college students about the bum effects of “smart” or “attention” prescription drugs like Adderoll or Ritalin. These drugs are like essays you can buy on the Web – shortcuts to peak performance, steroids for the brain.

They work, but they don’t, because they work too well. My younger brother died at age 44 a couple of years ago, his heart blown out by taking too much Ritalin. He had a legitimate reason – he’d suffered attention-deficit problems for years as the result of a near-fatal car accident when he was 18. Ritalin helped him focus at work, but it also helped with other things. He cut about 25 pounds of overweight in a year; it helped him go at life at twice the normal speed. He took way more of it than prescribed (in fact, no doctor was overseeing him), and it killed him pretty quick.

For those who are cursed with a jones for speed, the Talladega cure is like putting out fire with gasoline. Pour  in the nitro of booze and energy drinks and Four Loko and energy pills and well, it’s have at it and how, boys. That’s NASCAR’s mantra as it tries to survive on the cultural radar, one which began with Big Bill France dream of speed which caused Talladega to be built in the first place, steam-rolling over every bit of truth that stood in the way of sculpting a Galatea whose wings would become real enough, though in every cursed way you can imagine.

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All Hard Roads Lead to ‘Dega

So it is with all of these back- and under-stories at play that the crowds begin to make their way to the camping areas of Talladega, ready for another howlin’, hootin’, hooterin’ bash of fast cars, beer bongs, drugs by the fistful, costumes and wimmen.

Talladega will be one the nation’s party centrals this weekend, having been passed over by a vicious weather system which closed schools in town on Tuesdsay afternoon and delayed their opening on Wednesday morning. It will be cooler this weekend, more Halloweeeny; bared nipples will be perkier.

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Atten-shun!

Elsewhere the system served up hurricane-force winds, heavy rains, tornadoes and snow. Record low pressure was to blame, with millibars sunk to a level comparable to a Category 3 hurricane. Wind gusts of up to 81 miles per hour affected residents from Illinois to Tennessee. More than a dozen tornadoes were reported in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. At one point, at least 31 states were under a thunderstorm watch or warning.

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But I guess we can count ourselves lucky. In Indonesia, a 7.7 magnitude quake on Monday struck near the Mentawai Islands, causing a tsunami whose 10-foot surge moved 2,000 feet inland. Some 272 locals were killed and another 412 are missing as of this writing. And then yesterday, 600 miles up the coast of Indonesia on the island of Java, at least 30 people were feared dead after the eruption of Mt. Merapi, one of the area’s most volatile volcanoes.

Talk about living between a rock and a hard place.

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Volcanic ash covers everything in the village of Kinaherjo in Indonesia.

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Here in Central Florida, a high of 92 degrees is forecast, breaking all previous records. Hot, still, stricken, the remnants of the front aren’t expected our way for a couple more days. I guess we should count ourselves lucky, too.

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All week my wife and I have been watching 80’s and ‘90s-vintage horror flicks on AMC like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series. The stuff looks tame compared to the gore-fests now pandered on DVDs. Back in our innocence, perhaps, but I remember how spooked I was watching Nightmare on Elm Street and Aliens and Silence of the Lambs.

(Perhaps the scariest movie I can recall is seeing Phantasm in 1979, on a film projector in someone’s home – this was before video – while on LSD. The drugs probably made me more susceptible, but I remember being scared in four dimensions — all those doors to Hell opening up down endless halls.)

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The Tall Man — Hell’s El Dudo — plays ball with prospective lost souls in “Phantasm.”

Now, it all looks so pedestrian. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I think I have supped full with enough horrors to leave me somewhat numb to scary movies – or maybe I just avoid them, needed no more such stimulus. Indeed, horror movies may be the wholesale property of the young, who haven’t suffered enough consequences to stay clear of imagined ones.

Now, I’m no advocate of those “realistic” haunted houses put on by fundamentalists to convince kids that they’re going to hell if they don’t convert IMMEDIATELY – c’mon, let the young have their fun. But I am haunted by the news, as you have seen in this post.

The thing that haunts me the most -– short of the growing fear that the economy’s going to fall apart to the point where my wife and I will find ourselves living out of a car -– is how the hidden war now in Afghanistan with its hidden house of horrors is seeping up, like swamp gass, from floorboards of our American psyche.

I’m really disturbed about the news (some of it from Wikileaks, but also by admission by military leaders) about how rampant drug abuse, crime and suicide is among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, more than 100,000 soldiers are on prescribed anti-anxiety medication, and 40,000 are thought by the Army to be using illegal drugs. Since 2002, some 1,100 Armed Forces members have committed suicide, an average of one every 36 hours.

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Why is it that when these guys aren’t getting slaughtered by hostiles, they’re doing it to themselves? And what do these vets bring back stateside with them, along with their medals and prosthetic legs?

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Oh, there are so many hard roads to Talladega, each infected with enough mental pollutant to make any fan indecently crazy: slow death in the Gulf, a bad economy, violence everywhere you look, bum politics, a digital omniverse replacing real people, obsessional cures for a fearful world flooding in through every door and window, bad weather … all of those are bad roads, but I’m going to bet that the nightmare of what’s going on in Iraq and  Afghanistan hovers over young male fans en route to Talladega more than all of the others. Because it’s nearly invisible and yet everywhere at once. The Otherworld will be present at Hallow-Dega not in the revelry of its costumed participants so much as the dark universe of our common soul, belabored by hell of our common existence.

All of those roads of excess and hubris lead to Talladega, making that track and its events a bellweather of a breaking state of mind. It’s going to take a lot of partying and faux HallowDega boo-ing to dispel the gooseflesh of those nightmares.

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But I don’t know. Talladega fans—especially party-hearty young men—have grown up in such an extreme culture, nothing may penetrate their steel-girdered, eternally adolescent abandonments.

And Talladega may not be the place any more for so harrowed a folk. Restrictor plate-racin’ in the no-kill Car of Tomorrow may not provide enough of an extreme buzz to engage such scattered, thrill-seeking attentions, even at NASCAR’s wildest track. Maybe that’s why attendance at the spring Talladega race was down 15 percent from the previous year and 22 percent from the same race in 2008.

Could it be that NASCAR’s Temple of Doom has gone the way of “Friday The 13” and “Hallowe’en,” become a tame and lame and dated blood sport where there is so much more thrilling eye candy available almost everywhere you look?

I mean, when all else fails, there’s always the next tour of duty overseas, carousing with death and its dark horsemen of terror, fear, brutality and IEDs on some lonely Afghan mountaintop …

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Postscript: Hallowing the Harrowing, or, How I Came to Love the Curse

Today is St. Oran’s Day, a Catholic feast day still celebrated in the Hebrides. The story of Saint Oran is a real Hallowe’en story – or a myth which has endured as one of the best tales of the event. It also encloses an important message which, I think, gives me license to keep opening new doors and seeing things in new ways. For any writer, St. Oran would serve as patron saint of the next clean white page to fill.

The story of St. Oran goes like this:

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Oran may may have already been on the Isle of the Druids (Iona, off the coast of Scotland) when Columba and his 12 companions arrived in 563 A.D. to found a monestary. (Columba had been exiled from Ireland for copying a psalter in secret and then refusing to give up the copy when it was discovered. He’d gone to battle over that book, killing many of the king’s men with his loyal troops; as punishment he was excommunicated for a short time and then received the heavier penance of exile, told that he could not establish himself until the coast of Ireland had disappeared over the horizon. Iona was that place.)

At first, the abbey’s construction fares badly. Each day’s work is leveled overnight by some disturbed spirit. Columba sets up a watch to observe what happens at night, but each person set to the task is found dead the next day amid the fallen timbers.

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Columba decides to do the vigil himself and sits alone at the site in the howling cold dark. In the middle of the night, a being in the shape of a half-woman, half-fish comes to Columba from the booming waves. Columba asks the apparition what is repelling his efforts to build at Iona. The fish-woman tells him that his cutting of the sward has disturbed a great water being (the deity Manannan), and that the nightly destructions of his work would continue until one of his men offered themselves to be buried alive in a grave seven times as deep as a man’s length.

Lots are cast and Oran is chosen (other accounts say he volunteered) and he stepped down into the footers on October 28 and was covered with dirt. No wind rises up that night to spoil the work and the construction proceeds without incident.

After three days and nights Columba became curious to know how his friend had fared in the Otherworld, and to look upon his face one last time. So on All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31), the abbot orders his monks to clear away the dirt until Oran’s head has been exhumed. The monks do so. Columba leans down to look into Oran’s face when suddenly the eyes pop open, burning blue with sights of wonders no sane or dry or Church-bounded man has seen.

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Staring right at Columba, Oran declares, “There is no wonder in death, and hell is not as it is reported. In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all!”

Horrified, the saint had Oran buried again at all haste, crying “Uir! Uir! air beul Odhrain” or “Earth, earth on Oran’s mouth!” (The saying “chaidh uir air suil Odhrain” or “Earth went over Oran’s eyes” is still widely heard in the Highlands and Hebrides as a reminder to unruly children to keep their mouths shut.

Despite the frightful encounter, Columba dedicated the monestary’s graveyard to Oran (Reilig Odhrain) and honored Oran’s sacrifice by saying, “No man may access the angels of Iona but through Oran.” The bones of many Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings were sent to Oran’s graveyard; Duncan and Macbeth are interred in the St. Oran chapel at the center of the graveyard.

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The Saint Oran Chapel at Iona with the abbey’s graveyard just beyond.

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In Celtic, pre-Christian tradition, All-Hallows – Hallowe’en – is the Eve of their New Year, Nov. 1 being the New Year festival of Samhain. As a door between times, All Hallows is the night where the veil between this and the other world is thin, and all the dead are freed from their graves to walk the lanes of the living for a night. It is a night for treats or tricks, as encounters with residents of the Otherworld sometimes went well, others badly, depending less on the gumption of the spirit than the goodness of the mortal.

Most of this post has framed a tale of hauntings by real events, a sum of bummers and dirty deeds caused, mostly, by self-centered greed and lust and gluttony and fear. Contemporary culture is tormented by ghosts because we have built this modernity recklessly, our knowledge of the past covered over, the ancient foundations bulldozed to make room for high-rise condos and franchised shopping centers.

As Talladega is rumored to have been built on an Indian graveyard – incurring a curse which has always been evident in its trackside mayhem and infield bedevilment – so too have we built our contemporary life heedless of our past, a deed which invokes disturbed and angry deities (and fishy women).

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Wynona’s sea-sister.

Sacrifice is called for, but of what? My guess is a change of attitude, casting aside one way of fixed thinking for the vast and  ever-changing truths of a sea wilderness. Remember what St. Oran said, up from three days’ journey into the dark universe around and inside us all: The way you think it is is not the way at all.

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For all of us. Which means I have to take this post and bury it in the footers of a work, so that something living and fresh and renewed can begin again come first light. If the angels of Iona could not be accessed through except by the sacrifice of Iona, then it we’ve all got to get down and dirty with the past, maintain a living connection with tradition by letting mud cover our minds and allowing the dark truths to be free to flow from our mouths. Or nothing that lasts will be abandoned at last to the crashing wave and howling winds.

We’ve got to bury our cure if we would be free of our curse. No longer bound to it, we might come to love the dark truths hidden within.

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Note: for a related post about the military’s relationship with NASCAR, see “Over There.”

Jimmie at the Blue Door, Again


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The last seaside bar on earth lies just beyond the city limits of a small beach town off the Pacific Coastal Highway. The town isn’t on any map; like a bottle with a scrolled Grail inside tossed to the wave in some faraway beach, you can’t find it nor the bar except by accident, turning left where you meant to turn right three miles back as you drove back from a race one late, weary night.

The bar is old and looking pretty beat-up from storms and the a constant stiff breeze which always works the coast—a ramshackle building, timbers worn thin and grey as bone, just a couple of pickup trucks and a battered woody station wagon from the 40’s parked outside, a single blue neon sign which flickers intermittently, advertising a beer you’ve never heard of.

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Getting out of your car—-a royal blue Chevrolet with a big yellow 48 painted on the roof–the first thing to hit you is the breeze, steady and hard, carrying in its fists the sound of big waves crashing in the distance. As you cross the lot toward the bar’s entrance, each wave’s collapse trembles the ground beneath your feet.

It’s dark outside, O so dark, the gas station and diner across the street empty and mute — perhaps for decades, forever — the sky impenetrable with its dim silvery blue glow of unreachable galaxies, the sea beyond a frontier of absolute black, the bourne no racer returns from.

You can make out faint music leaking from the bar’s interior, almost indecipherable amid the hard coastal mash of wind and wave but alluring, like a stranger’s perfume which has lingered on your pillow from the night before. A jazzy, slow, after-midnight sort of music, the purest accompaniment to hard drinking and desperate liaisons.

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You hate that you find yourself exactly here, between the last wild track and the great blue sea so late at night, so late in the season, with so many angry hot cars right on your tail, with all the added responsibilities of age screaming at you to turn around and go home.

But you know no champion can fail this trial. Racing’s Grail Castle is exactly this anonymous bar smelling of fried oysters and brine – never the same one, but always some dive that seems about to be carried off on the next tide.

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This bar is arrived at only after so long a quest -– 30 races so far, this year – and inside there waits the Cup, hovering in the air behind Wynona, racing’s castle Queen. You know — the pale one with the red hair and violet eyes and blue satin dress. The one whose proper wooing means everything, with the foretold words spoken wholly of the moment, not written in a psalter rescued from the bottom of the sea, or whispered in your ear by a dying priest at Machu Picchu, or radioed in by a crew chief who’s tired, tired of all this shit, who only knows how many tires to change out, how many turns of the trackbar will give your Chevy more grunt and growl than the rest of the field for enough laps to get that Top 5 finish, those precious, lead-adding point.

No, no one has told you the words, and you know you aren’t smart enough to compose them yourself: All you have is your driver’s instinct for the moment, a gift for seeing openings and trouble on the track infinitesimal instants before or ahead of anyone else.

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That instinct will give you the words at just the right moment. It must, or her eyes will glaze into a gaze which lets you know she’s already focused on someone behind you and made up her mind to tryst with him, bestowing her silvery blue satin scarf around the next champ’s neck, hoisting him high on that invisible hanging tree that lurks just behind Victory Row, taking her prize just as the man beams and holds the Cup high, as if that were the prize, the end …

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But first, you have to get through that door.

Four times now you’ve walked up to the threshold and grabbed hold of the door’s handle, your heart pounding, the night grown suddenly huge: Four times it has creaked open, allowing you access to a spot at the bar with her as the jazz band plays improvisations of old standards with a remove reserved for the dead. Cool blue jazz indeed, a flicker of a heartbeat above rigormortis.

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Four times you’ve clinked glassware with Wynona til time made no sense, and when she leaned close to kiss you, that immense feminine power of the track goddess enveloped you in a roar of horsepower not found in any car, ever. You then found yourself crossing dreaming winter heavens in your Chevy’s boat-cum-crystal bed with her, romancing the infinite leagues of her abyss, celebrating the New Year in her blue jazz honkeytonk beneath the wave amid the ghosts of so many champions – Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherley, Tim Flock and Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Dale Earnhardt, all of them now dead, all raising their gold cups to you with hard eyes and icy smiles fraught with the knowledge of Destiny’s infinitely wild and deep and ultimately drowning sea.

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Is it just a night you spend there, always on the eve of your next championship? Seems like 300 years passes before you come to on pit row at Daytona walking up to your Chevy, now cleaned of all the kelp and barnacles and shipwreck tackle that got mired in its works by passage, primed and ready the next great run. Someone else stood in for you during Champion’s Week at Vegas; a smiling moneyed and relaxed Jimmie-doppelganger vacationed with Chandra at Cazumel and Capri and Thailand; that picture of you with President Obama with your No. 48 Chevy parked in front of the White House – staged by Wynona’s Powers, her vast blue satin veil of fame settling over our eyes so that all we see is fame and its receipts, hiding the true boon of Victory – Her feast, from November through January, on the mortal bone of her Champion.

No wonder you race as in a daze, preternaturally composed, unsure even which track you are to head for next. That’s because you are less and less on every track you race now, slowly waking to the possibility of that dark blue dream of yet another tryst with Her. The greater the destiny—now a record five consecutive championships in the offing—the cooler you seem, more laid-back than a 14-year-old surfer dreaming on the warm sands of Pismo Beach. You’re almost invisible now at the wheel.

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And here you are again, on the verge of entering for the fifth row in a year — something no one else has done?

Not that the door will open. Nothing was decided enough at Charlotte; you finished third behind non-Chase contender Jamie McMurray and out-of-Chase Kyle Busch; Denny Hamlin was right behind you; Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon lost enough ground to render making it up very difficult. Martinsville this weekend will be the showdown between the leaders; you and Hamlin have won the past eight races there; the fateful checkers may fall there.

But then, Talladega waits …

No one has found this bar so many years in a row.

Few have gained entrance as many times.

Will it open yet again?

And do you have you the strength, the cajones, the unrivaled gall to go in if it does, knowing what you do?

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Two

She explained things to you on the eve of the second Phoenix race in 2007, where you won your fourth straight race in a row and clinched your second straight championship.

That night the bar was closer to ‘Frisco – a fog-bound 2 a.m., freighters mooing to each other in the soup, the night cold, thickly insinuating itself like a ghost from an all-too recent past, a freshly cracked grave with dirty tracks disappearing into the woods.

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The door opened.

Inside, the gloom was cheery in that icy alcoholic dope-fiend way, everything in dreamy slo-mo free-fall, booze providing oblivion’s descending shroud, heroin shutting down the system to barely heart-and-lungs.

Up on the bandstand, the band was playing a version of “Freddie the Freeloader” with country flavors added in – three extra players riffing modally on banjo and jug and mouth-harp. The effect was disastrously perfect, a head-on collision between hostile genres, like a T-bird convertible of hep-cats mashed into the squonking Model T of the Beverley Hillbillies, bodies strewn everywhere. Yet the night was purple, stout and aching with the odd glee of Destiny, always the inverse of what we think. Only a goddess woulda thunk such cool country would herald her next appointment.

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You and her were drinking whiskey chasers with steins of Anchor Steam cold in hand. Her thick red hair almost black in the blue neon beer-lights hanging over the bar, her green dress like sharkskin, working the light so strangly, a huge blue sapphire hanging between her breasts. And you in your firesuit, still reeking of Charlotte.

Somehow your shapes almost merged in the cracked smoky mirror.

Because they were …

She was talking in your ear, loud enough to get around the band’s corn-pone version of “Flamenco Sketches.” “You fly the Oval heavens in your teammate, mentor and former friend Jeff Gordon’s double – a blue Chevy with a bright yellow 48 on the roof. The colors are not accidental to your tale. They are a perfect match for heaven – blue skies forever, the sun promising glory, gain, triumph, pleasure, truth, success. A championship blend, but it’s more than that. Blue is the color of the inner folds of my robe, the scent of my satin lingerie. Your dark blue is the color of that stratosphere you can only access with a thousand horses under the hood and straightaways at 200 mph.”

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She spoke staring at you in the mirror as you listened, staring directly at her. That’s how it works. You know. Fame is all about eyes – of beholder and beholden, the candescent celebrity and those who would see themselves in that light, the way Psyche loved Eros because she could see herself in the magnitude in his eyes. It’s like the Tarot card of the Lovers: the man looks on the naked breasts of his Beloved as the pure sum of his infinite; the woman looks up at Heaven to receive the full bestowal of her desire.

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Wynona took a drag on her Winston and exhaled slowly and thickly, like smoke from a burnout. Her violet eyes were almost black in the mirror’s dark reflection, aged at this game yet still aglint with the silver of wooing. “Blue is the color of your true love’s eyes, the one you will marry and who will bear your children. Blue is the inside of what is now called the Sprint Cup—a forbidding, welcoming blue, like the deep blue sea which folds and crashes on the shores of your beachside mansion, paid for by my secret, unholy embrace.”

Her voice was becoming thick and eel-like to your booze-befuddled ears, as if coming to you from surf instead of barstool.

“Blue is what I have again decided that I love about you. So buckle up and unzip, lover. We’re going to race together every sea and sky.”

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With that, she stubbed out her cigarette and headed out the door. You watched her leave in the mirror, her hips moving with such rounded perfection under that dark blue dress, her red hair caught for a moment in the Exit light beneath the door, suddenly aflame – then gone.

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Blue is color of the odd bittersweetness of achieving an unparalled human height and knowing you shall die unable to return to those portraits of infinity, holding high the next Cup as a million cameras flash like stars.

It is the color of knowing how all of this is out of your hands, though you do what you must. It’s just the color of the car you signed on to drive, though all that winning has made it the color every other driver has nightmares of, off and on the track.

Blue is the color of the door you must go through.

It lurks in all the shadows gathered here.

It endlessly folds and crashes and recedes, just beyond the last bar open at this hour on Earth.

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Following the rules of enactment, you stay on through the band’s final set. The country players file out quickly, jug of sour mash swinging from the banjo player’s hand. The jazzmen recessed to a back room where they shoot up. Boozers and dopers are a different breed, especially when it’s 4 a.m. going on forever.

That year it was Bill Evans who emerged that room and sat with you a while, his eyes looking freshly done up, icing his extraordinary, killing jones for Beauty. (His long-time girlfriend Peri Cousins once said he suffered so every time he took the stage, crucifying himself on an immortal cross of lyric perfection; the dope saved him from Rapture, bleeding him back to earth.)

Evans’ voice was calm and lucid as he continued that year’s lecture. There was much to learn, as the dimension of repeat championship changed everything, making winning big a mythic reenactment.

A Kool hung from Evans’ lips as he spoke, the way one did when he was at the piano onstage with the band. It made him talk in a sideways, almost sinister way. “The yellow of the 48 represents the sun, clear, wide-awake, beaming with precision and beauty. One end of yellow’s spectra is hot as burning sulphur, mad for victory, coming round the turns in a molten blur; on the other end it’s pure gold, like the satch of sunset on your wife’s face as she walks with you by the sea. That gold aura will hover over your future daughter as she sleeps.

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Framed by blue skies, yellow is waking in a bed after a night of passionate surrenders that’s far at sea, floating on uteral blue, the skies so lamped a perfect assent and surrender.”

Evans mashes out the butt of his Kool in a brimming plastic ashtray and taps another one out of the pack, lighting it from a matchbook bearing the insignia of the Village Vanguard in New York. He inhales deeply the mentholated smoke and then lets it ripple back out slowly, like a descending riff on the keyboard. The black hornrimmed glasses would look geeky on Evans were it not for the eyes inside – dark coals of insatiable desire, not for pussy so much as its cathedral mood, the romance of engangement, the enthralling feel of Beauty as the image of it floods the  heart.

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He stays silent, having played the chords of the setup. It’s your turn to solo, showing off the chops you’ve learned which gave you entrance through that door that night.

You begin slowly, turning a shotglass of Jose Cuervo Gold slowly one way then the other in your fingers, like a steering wheel during a caution. “Yellow is the flag which empowers the madness of the double-file green-white-checker restart. It is the streak of Hendrick enginepower which maneuvers around Hamlin and Harvick on the last lap, streaking like a torch under the checkers.

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“Yellow is the high five of blue, the only color apparent during burnouts,” you say. “It is what leaps from the firesuits of the Sprint Cup girls as they stand and smile while I spray their beaming faces with foaming jets of champagne.

“Yellow is the gold beam of the Sprint Cup as I hold it high, offering the Grail back to God. Yellow is the burn in my weary, track-harrowed, season-hallowed nerves, still bright despite the black exhaustion settling down, its triumph lifting me to NASCAR Valhalla once again, that RV in the sky where Wynona lounges with Dale and Lee and Fireball.” That’s all you know so you shut up.

Evans is silent for a while, bent over imaginary keys on the bar, pondering how to climb a pair of notes up and over that in a manner which replicates exactly the pouty red nipples which Wynona reveals when she drops her blue satin dress.

“We will meet again,” Evans pronounces, a statement which is bittersweet, so fraught with yes and no, blue and yellow, Jimmie Johnson and Sprint Cup Championships for more years than anyone can believe. (“We Will Meet Again” is also the song he composed after his brother’s suicide, and the title of the album which was posthumously released.)

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Lighting another Kool from the last, Evans heads off to join the band for another squeeze of the needle’s white oblivion.

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It’s long past closing time, but no one seems in any hurry to leave. The bartender (a beefy guy who’s surely cold-cocked more than a few drunken belligerents in his decades or centuries of service at this bar) whips you up a concoction that is somehow about eighty proof stronger than a combined Long Island Iced Tea, Bastard on the Beach and Zombie–six shots of various rotgut liquors laced with lemonade, seltzer water, fish sauce, what smells like Clorox and a fistful of cherries. A tiny pink umbrella sizzles and melts into the viscous mess. The cherries are so laced with preservatives that they hang out in the bottom of the drink like the balls of varied sharkbit skinnydippers.

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You drink it down in one long guzzle, like a magnum of Sunoco gasoline dumped into the tank of your pitting 48.

“The deep blue and brilliant yellow of the ‘48’ make it difficult to see or even imagine a driver,” the bartender says, completing the night’s, that season’s, lesson. “It is a chariot only a god can command, like Phoebus who rode the sun-car across the heavens every day. The man you mortally are is wholly hidden by the brilliant colors of the car.

“No one will figure out how you will manage to win so many consecutive championships. I mean, look at it – you ain’t no hillbilly Earnhardt, no firebrand Smoke or Harvick, no hotshot pisser Kyle Busch. You’re Jimmie fer Chrissakes, mild-mannered, diffident, Jiminy Cricket. Fame exudes from your countenance like cologne whose scent is too subtle for humans to smell, though she-wolves and sea-witches and certain track-bitches are said to go mad getting just a whiff.

He dumps glassware into a tub of the dirtiest-looking dishwater you have ever seen, swishes them once, dumps them into even dirtier-looking rinsewater in a second tub, then lines them up in a row. An tall, apelike, rough-looking guy, biceps like eggplants bulging from a t-shirt that has Spartacus in his chariot silk-screened on the front. (The back side, which you can see in the mirror, shows a diving sperm whale.) He could easily take on Popeye and Bruno at the same time. His forearms are heavily tattooed with a variety of broken hearts and anchors and dancing girls with devil’s tails.

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“But the ladies know. They have their favorites for different reasons. Those who love you would love to mother champions. Your sperm burns blue and gold, like gold at the bottom of the sea.

It doesn’t seem possible, but this brute begins waxing poetical-mythological. He’s obviously worked a long, long, shift.

“Yer fame, ya see, is growin’ like the visage of Zeus, the  Greek god Numero Uno who was too brilliant for any mortal or subdeity to behold. So when he spent one night with Semele the moon goddess in her silver trailer, he was taken aback when she asked to see her lover man’s face in the raw, in full radiance.

Zeus warned her of the peril, but the bitch was adamant, wanting a piece of god none of the other fillies at the track could claim to have gotten hold of. So the everlovin’ gawdamighty King of Heaven reluctantly pulled off the shroud which allowed him to go callin’ in the trailer chicken house. Semele was immolated by a thousand lightning bolts, crisped to charred black bacon by the full voltage of Zeus.”

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The bartender refreshes your drink by topping it off with a squirt of eel juice that makes your glass glow green.

“To save his child,” the bartender continues, badass Zeus reached into the blackened depths of Semele’s womb and pulled out quivering red mass. He tore his thigh, creating a space for the embryo, and then sewed the child back up until he’d grown to term.

“The child was named Dionysos and became blue-haired god of revelry and abandon, sun’s full gold invested in the blue-black wilderness of lunar landscapes. Whiskey’s fire is in his belly and every blue brassiere flung out a car window belongs to him. Wynona is his favorite booty-call and her come to her silver trailer at the bottom of the sea on nights when the sag of the sun far under the earth draws him to depths you and I will never be able to name.”

By this time, the bar is all but emptied out, the doper jazzmen not so much departed as wholly diffused, like spent smoke, the few lonely truckers speeding home in blackout zigzags on the coastal highway.

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The bartender finishes his assay as he stacks barstools, one by one, like the failed hopes of your Chase contenders.

“The deep blue and sulphur yellow of the No. 48 are the pistoning of Dionysos in Wynona, their cries lost in the thunder of the great Oval, or rather composing the deepest registers of it on race nights when your No. 48 can’t be beat. You’re just driving as you always do, radioing back to Chad the performance news, data to use on the next pit as your team tweaks, in Apollonian fashion, the sun car to its fiercest edge.

He pauses to wipe his forehead with an old yellow rag, perhaps as old as the Golden Fleece which Jason stole from a sleeping dragon.

“And yet it is Apollo’s dark brother who’s working the lanes ahead, pleasuring Wynona like no other, revealing creamy folds of vibrating pink for you to steer directly through, not so much driving and holding on for dear life as your little boat careens the oval vortex which devours all other comers.“

“Where do you get all this shit from?” you ask thickly, your tongue going flat like a tire in your mouth as the dark potion in your glass goes to work.

He stills, looking into a history made opaque by the gloom of the bar, so very, very late at night.

“She and I go way back. Way way back. I rode a championship team in the chariot races in the Arena for almost ten years straight. Then that bastard Spartacus showed up, and there was nothing I could do to keep her from chasing after him. For old time’s sake she hired me to work this joint on the dear edge of Hell.

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He pauses.

“Tonight you got lucky. You got in. You’re her man tonight. Which means you have work to do.

“Closing time, pal.”

Which is fine with you. The booze of that awful concoction (Destiny’s Booty Call, it’s called, served up only in that changeling bar you not so much discover as become lost at on the border between land and sea while getting hot at the end of the NASCAR season) has wormed its way through every conscious node and synapse, causing the silvery blue of your reverie to descend league by league toward the abyss of black. You barely recall leaving the joint –- the smack of freezing foggy late night air jolted you back for a moment -– or that, when you stumbled into your Chevy, she was sitting in a passenger seat which doesn’t exist on race day.

The last thing you remembered that night—before Homestead, actually, was her whispering in his ear:

“Drive, lover. Drive like the wind. Drive like the sun-car racing to dawn. Drive with only clean air ahead. Drive with your pedal to the metal, your balls to my walls. Git ‘er done, love. Drive!”

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Miles Davis and his sextet recorded Kind of Blue over two sessions in March and April of 1959. Davis assembled musicians considered at their pinnacle of cool inventiveness—pianist Bill Evans (for most of the album, though pianist Wynton Kelly was brought in for the two bluesiest numbers), Cannoball Adderley and John Coltrane on sax, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb. Bringing in just a few scribbled notes, Davis sketched out the tunes to the band and they just took off with them, recording the numbers with no rehearsal and in just two takes each.

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As hard bebop was beginning to wear out its welcome with ever-more-complex chord changes, Davis was experimenting with a new style called modal jazz, where improvising was freed from the minor and major key relationships of classical music. George Russell had begun the sea change with modal experiments in his band, and Bill Evans had been a member of that ensemble. Coltrane became an acknowledged master of the form. Instead of bebop’s complex, dragonish boil, modal jazz brought a form of cool detachment which served the time well, just as the young middle class was discovering recreational drugs and sought to silver the heating pace of history with something cold and blue and slower in temperament.

Kind of Blue was released in August 1959 and quickly became a gold standard for jazz. It is considered Davis’ best album, is the best-selling album ever released, and is consistently ranked among the best albums of all time.

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The cut “Blue in Green” is perhaps the most wistful, bittersweet piece on the album. Miles Davis always claimed authorship, but most believe that Bill Evans at least had a part in the composition. The chord progressions are quintessential Evans, gorgeous lattices upon which Davis and Coltrane and Adderley wove their earnest solos.

Imagine a rickety ladder which fails to clear the night to reach heaven although it tries, it tries, succeeding better than just about any other song, making its ultimate failure the quintessence of addict longing – there’s never enough, ever. The final wash of descending chords at the end of “Blue in Green” is like fate’s ebbing wave, exhausted, spent, its waxing beauty now just a fading resonance, soon enough gone forever.

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Play “Blue in Green” at the funerals of every player in the 1959 Kind of Blue sessions save one. Cool blues as they mastered it had cold rungs of alcohol and drug addiction on its modal ladder; you can hear it’s hole-in-the-soul sucking sound between every everlasting note. Coltrane, a fierce heroin addict, was dead of liver cancer in 1967 at 40. Pianist Wynton Kelly was the next to go in 1971, dead at age 39 from an epileptic seizure; Cannonball Adderley suffered diabetes and in 1975 died of stroke at 48. Bill Evans was a longtime heroin and then cocaine addict and died in 1980 at age 51 of bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis of the liver and bronchial pneumonia. (A friend characterized his death as “the longest suicide in history”). Miles Davis kicked his heroin habit and lived to age 65, succumbing in 1991 to stroke and respiratory failure. Only drummer Jimmy Cobb is still alive and kickin’ the kit, now 81.

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“Blue in Green” was recorded during the first Kind of Blue session, in March 1959. About the same time, Johnny Beauchamp won the Grand National race at Lakewood Speedway in ’59 T-Bird. It was his first career win, having been squeaked out in the photo finish earlier in the year at Daytona (he was 24 inches behind winner Lee Petty). Beauchamp would win one other race, the next year in Nashville.

Beauchamp lead all 100 laps of the Lakewood race against the brightest lights of NASCAR’s legendary days–Buck Baker and Tom Pistone and Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund and Cotton Owens, and Lee Petty, the guy who won the inaugural race at Daytona Speedway earlier that year and who would go on to win his third Grand National championship with 12 wins.

Beauchamp won just once more, in Nashville the next year.

Like Fireball Roberts (who died in a flaming wreck in 1963), Lee Petty might surely have driven to NASCAR’s greatest fame. He won 5 races in 1960 finishing sixth overall. 1961 promised to be a great year, but during Speed Weeks at Daytona he and Johnny Beauchamp locked up during a qualifying run, causing both cars to bust through a guardrail and into a parking lot.

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Lee was seriously injured in the wreck –- he spent four months in the hospital –- and he was forced to retire the steering wheel of his team to his son Richard. It was Richard who became King, the winningest racer in all of NASCAR, with 200 victories and 7 championships. (Richard Petty also holds both the old and modern season record for wins at 27 and 13 respectively.)

Johnny Beauchamp suffered minor head injuries in the same wreck with Lee Petty, yet it was also his last NASCAR race.

Lee Petty was recently named to the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Johnny Beauchamp all but disappeared.

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Though Beauchamp’s career was short, fatefully ended tangled in the wreckage of the Petty who Would Be King, Wynona has a thing for the one who almost beat Lee at the ’59 Daytona 500. Actually, Beauchamp was first declared the winner, and would have stayed that way had not newsreel footage made available to Big Bill France caused NASCAR’s governor and CEO to reverse the decision in Petty’s favor.

After his wreck with Lee Petty in 1961 at Daytona, Beauchamp returned to Iowa and local dirt track racing; but his fame – all of it latent – Wynona kept for herself. That part of the man came to work as a barback at Wynona’s seaside bar(s), cleaning vomit from the bathroom stalls, blood from the walls and everything else after the bar’s closed down for the night.

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Actually, everyone who’s found in Wynona’s clamshell dig is really just the projection of their NASCAR fame, for better or worse, wound around the thorny calyx of her strange love for cool jazz. The silver parts of their shadows, the way that the band is the jonesing part of Kind of Blue, a personification of the riffs.

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It is the place where Fame comes to drink, with a thrist so great that it could empty the great blue sea in one long draught.

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It is now late in the night of October 20, 2010, and things in the Frolic Room are settling into the stilling freeze of the pickling process. Joe Weatherley and Fireball Roberts are knocking back empty shot glasses and miming rollicking laughter to a dirty joke. Up onstage, blue shadows of Miles and the crew are playing “Blue in Green,” Evans bent over his piano with a Kool hanging loosely from his lips, Miles silhouetted by the single spotlight trained on the stage, rasping out the notes Wynona loves so well.

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She’s at the bar alone, lost in reverie to the song, her pale white hands cupping a martini glass that’s filled with vodka colder than the ocean at 20 thousand leagues – cold comfort, wild solace, bitches’ brew.

She’s thinking, too, her mind turning on a spit beneath which booze and desire and “Blue and Green” are burning up her loins. Trying to make up her mind. Is love still blue and yellow? Or is it darker this year, blue gone down to a purple so deep its almost black, yellow gone red with frenzy?

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Yes, it could be Hamlin; he’s young and fierce and hungry, o so o so hungry. If only he hadn’t radioed in “All we do is win” ahead of her welcoming kiss. Since then it’s been dicey for the brash Virginian, harsher, harder, more fraught with trackside perils. He still in second behind Johnson, but her four-time champion is slowly, o so slowly beginning to pull away.

She lights a Winston and exhales slowly, the smoke making denser and more spectral Davis’ silhouette. Is it time for a change? Can she get the proper soul mileage out of Denny? Can he surrender the way Jimmie always has, with something between rage and infinite desire, both extremes trapped in the serenest of composures?

Not an easy thing to do, she reflects, turning the bell-shaped cocktail glass, her cold selkie hands warmed by the freezing vodka inside. Davis’ solo makes her shiver with a penetrating eel of pleasure – his horn gruffly barks and coos at the same time, breathing hot in her ear as the man hangs his body on the bloody crucifix of song.

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She delayed making her decision at the Bank of America 600 – still too soon – keeping Hamlin close behind Johnson. She reserves possibility too for Kevin Harvick, only 77 points further behind; his brash style promises a good fuck, but there’s way to much choler in that mustard-slathered No. 29 RCR Chevrolet. He sure knows how to swagger like a champ, she thinks. That would be a change.

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And then there’s her old flames Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart at 85 and 107 points behind respectively, four- and two-time champs who might be good for another roll in the destiny’s hay, if their need for her can burn through the haze of age …

Evans solos, wringing soul out of his piano like none other with Chambers on bass around and behind him, pitching rollers of deep sound like the crashing sea. Then Coltrane works in his saxophone, o so jonesing for big night music with notes more diffident than a suicide’s last look in the mirror. Then Evans again, this time playing with the bass, the two of them like a pair of pelicans scrolling over the sea in search of fish; then Coltrane again, taking the song further offshore, almost out of view of land—

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— And then Evans takes things home, collapsing the song wavelike to its end, playing those fatal falling chords like a Sprint Cup car that’s driven off the coastal highway and dropped into the sea, falling and falling down the shelves of abyss toward her final fatal bed (that’s what Championship looks like from her Otherworldly perspective -– the sweetest song to fall all the way to fame’s perdition).

Wynona lifts the glass to her lips and takes a long, deep pull on her martini, finishing it off in one draught. Her sigh is timed perfectly with the last note of the song.

She sets the drained glass back down and looks at herself in the smoky cracked mirror behind the bar. She’s not young any more -– no ripe maiden, at least –- indeterminately in her middle years (like a Penthouse Pet from the ‘80s), the way aging mortals have a fixed image in their minds of themselves, somewhere in their 30s as the years flood down and out the hourglass. Her red hair down in curly waves, her violet eyes burning cold, lips heavily lipsticked a rosy scarlet, like blood, her pale cleavage plunging heavily into a simple blue satin dress.

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She smiles at the mirror; terrified, a fresh crack forms in  its surface.

She’s made up her mind.

She’s ready to offer her boon.

She stares toward the door. Question is, is he ready for her? For what awaits at Martinsville?

At the horror of Talladega?

How close shall she keep it? Will it be decided at Texas or Phoenix? Or shall her handkerchief fall coming through turn 4 on the final lap of Homestead? How to make this interesting, dangerous, wild, sexy?

Small decisions nonetheless, the details of which she works out in her mind while dragging Beauchamp out behind the bar where the sea wind and surf-sounds are loudest. She kneels, unzipping his pants, taking him in her mouth. It’s the sound of his pleasure – ahs and omigods and gggnmmmms – that weave the final tapestry into place.

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Him spent in her mouth, she pats his rear lovingly like an old friend. She wipes her mouth, stands back up rearranging her bra and smoothing down her dress. Beauchamp’s eyes are closed, lost in the soaring orchestrals of the sated night.

She walks back n without looking back, humming Adderley’s solo to “All Blues.”

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Finale

Your sigh is lost in the ocean’s own, composed of waves which crash in milky smithereens of wet thunder and then expire in a sad Ah, the sound your wife always makes when you withdraw after coming in her. That welcome which grieves your every departure, every media appearance, every race.

You match that sound with a sigh of your own, one which no one can hear this night, a surrendering, grieving sound which has deep in its lungs a requietal no one but a repeating champion could know, to be so close and know how infinitely far away the finish line remains.

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You’re at the door now of the bar, gripping the handle of what turns out to be a heavy oak portal, requiring some muscle to pull open, some heft of heart-spirit and ball-spunk which tonight, at this moment, in your season-long fatigue, you don’t know you can muster. But you must; there is no other reason to be exactly here except to try opening that door.

You hear a singular laughter inside, light as tinsel and blue-throated as the sax solo to “Blue in Green” which you can also hear inside.

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You know who’s waiting in there for you. You know you couldn’t have found this bar unless she wanted you to at least try finding a way in.

It’s time now – should the door open — to have a drink with Wynona, fame’s eternal flame as she is called in NASCAR circles, though she has so many handles: Fortune. Destiny. Queen of Heaven. Aphrodite. Venus. Victory.

It’s time now to get down.

Time to dance.

Time to race.

But will the door open? Other cars are beginning to pull into the lot with the numbers 11, 27, 29 and 14 painted on them. They, too, are still in the mix. Are suitors. In hot pursuit. Most have been here before, but as the reigning knight in this quest, you have first crack at trying your hand. Opening this door is like trying to extract Excalibur from the stone: Only the future champion can.

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The handle is iron and exquisitely carved with dolphins and cupidon, horseshoes and dice, rounded at the top by a pair of naked breasts.

You pause and sigh once again, unsure of yourself. So much have hung in the balance this year, more than before. You have a kid now. There is a cost to this. Are you still willing to pay the price?

Gripping the handle, it’s cold, colder than the depths of the sea crashing wildly twenty yards away. Are you sure, are you sure?

You begin to pull.

The next offshore wave rises to an impossible height – 20, 40, 100 feet? You can’t see it, but you feel its tense breathless stretch as the wave reaches full height, as if the graze the the dreamy porches of the moon:

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And begins to fall as you pull with all your strength.

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Note: An  earlier post, “Here Comes the Flood,” used this same fantasia from the midpoint of the season, which wasn’t going as well for Johnson.

Silly Season 24-7-365


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One

The term “silly season” has become a rather sticky synonym for NASCAR’s race year, no longer limited its the off-season but framing all of it. I can’t see anything romantic or even complementary about the phrase, but everyone in NASAR seems comfortable with it. (So much so that if NASCAR could trademark “silly season” they would — and then threaten to litigate the hell out of anyone using it without paying them royalties.)

But alas, “silly season” is too much a part of history for anyone purchasing the rights. The word “silly” comes from Old English gesælig, meaning “happy” (related to sæl “happiness”),with a Latin root in solari “to comfort” and salvus, “whole, safe”.

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However, there was a shift in the latter Middle Ages when associations with “silly” morphed from “blessed,” “pious,” and “innocent” to “harmless,” “pitiable” and “weak” to “feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish” (1570s). The simple-minded son became a dunce, the Fool in the Tarot deck who walks smiling at the sun off a cliff. Caught up in the radiance of summer, this moron is not much earthly good—a dreamer, indolent, with a mind for mindless pleasures and bucolic fantasies. A rube, a dolt, a simpleton, a peasant hee-hawing at the sight of the Duke and Duchess frigging up a storm on a blanket next to their carriage parked on some far country lane.

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The specific reference of “silly season” is to summer and its uneventful doldrums; cucumber harvesting and “silly season” are merged in many languages. Well, duh: Think of all those long lumpy cukes at full-grown tumescence, grown ready for harvest, a haphazard plenitude of cunny-tickling boners sticking out impertinently every whichway in the garden, wardened by the phallic god Priapus, enraptor of the wood in every hard-on, buggaring the bum of any thief dumb enough to try stealing from the Master’s bounty at night. A boner-yard in absolute rebellion against the eventual boneyard’s garden of death.

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In the 1800’s the slow season for tailors  was called “cucumber season.” My guess it was during the summer season as well,  slack Sire Cunnypoke a-snooze between the balls.

In the Southern Hemisphere, “silly season” is associated with their Christmas revelries, a carnivalesque time of buffoonery and inversion which marked the passing of the toddering Old Year into the infant of the New. (For more on these rites, see my recent post “The Twelve.”)

Eventually journalists in Europe appropriated the term “silly season” and applied it to the news doldrums, that time of summer when their respective Parliaments were on vacation and the challenge was to come up with something interesting to read -– “silly” stuff instead of real news. Ace reporters were dispatched to rake the city’s muck for news, digging up stories of child abductions and mayhem and high-society scandal. The Fourth Estate slumming on Fleet Street.

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Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a convenient 19th-century invention of the Silly Season in British journalism, most of which back then was located on Fleet Street.

The essence of what we call tabloid news was conceived and hatched during the silly season, wild with speculation and innuendo in lieu of anything real happening, sniffing around the backrooms of taverns and bordellos for the taint of baronial profligacy.

Ironically, newspapers came to lose their massive market share to competition much more apt at reporting from this low road, sticking to the silly season all year round because, as it turns out, enquiring minds don’t want gravitas and civitas, they want instead to peek into keyholes and get the lowdown on the high and mighty, catching bewigged judges shagging pretties without petticoats in their chambers, et cetera.

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Hard-nosed investigative journalists have all but disappeared from the corporate news scape because they cost money and don’t draw readership as well as breaking news about a city councilman getting busted for drunk driving. As Sam Zell, profiteer-CEO of the nearly-bankrupt Tribune media conglomerate once famously said, Pulitzers don’t sell newspapers. (Wicked profile of Zell’s legacy this week in the New York Times.)

And so a media outlet which hopes to survive today’s market has to add chunks of ripe-cheese entertainments into its sterile simmer of hard news, interviewing pop stars on 60 Minutes and dipping into the Missing White Girl Well to keep eyeballs glued on the pages (print or Web) and screens. And so Kaylee Anthony succeeds Jonbenet Ramsey as the poster child of Scurrilous Deeds Against Innocence –- silly season sensationalism become a perpetual salt for sensory-overloaded consumers.

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Lost little white girls attract eyeballs ad infinitum ad nauseum.

Entire industries have rapidly set up around this bottom-feeding form of journalism and compete robustly against “mainstream” media — tabloids like the National Enquirer, where the other day it was  “reported” that Julia Roberts is seeking to adopt a child from an impoverished culture, a la Brangelina, and that the marriage of Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton is now in jeopardy due to the financial hanky-panky of Middleton’s brother James (as well as the revelation that her uncle James is a coke-sniffing playboy with a penchant for dealing drugs and hookers).

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Oksana Grigorieva and bellicose ex-boytoy Mel Gibson.

Over at the new-media tabloid TMZ, you can read all about the latest spat between Mel Gibson and his ex-girlfriend / mother of his child Oksana Grigorieva, or about Brittney Spears’ dabble with recording while she otherwise does the cha-cha with paparazzi, shopping and partying and ducking into your average white gas station loo to relieve her solid-gold bladder.

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At TMZ.com, it’s all Britney, all the time.

War in Afghanistan? Iran with nukes? This country headed for foreclosure? Who cares, when you can see pix of Katy Perry’s Vegas Bodacious Bachelorette Bikini party?

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Left: Lance Corporate Matthew Albert Snyder, killed in action on March 3, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq. He is news now because the Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about the First Amendment rights of fundamentalists who protested at his funeral, some bearing signs that said that American soldiers were dying because God hates gays, or something like that. See below. Right: Katy Perry’s bachelorette party.

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Thus silly season reportage has become the only news that so many care to hear about, and gobble it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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Two

Political campaigns begin to heat up in the summer, and so  “silly season” gets additional cache from the ridiculous ends politicians will go to get elected -– kissing babies, making speeches from the back of trains, cutting taxes, being an advocate for every down-and-outer, promising snout to curly-tail of pork.

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The spending on campaigns these days is truly astonishing, with the attack TV ad become the main course, an opponent’s misdeeds (especially for those whose greatest error is that as the incumbent they have plenty of record to distort) framed in tabloid outrage and then resolved, in the final seconds, with a few images and slogans of the God-fearin’, family-oriented, flag-waving, glowingly-soft-focused candidate who “approves this message” from on high, apart from the goon PR machinery which doles out these steaming turds of vitriol with the same zeal that paparazzi stalk Paris and Britney, hoping to catch a stray bit of boobage or a DUI arrest because dirt is what America loves more than anything else.

At the gym yesterday I did my hard hour of cycling with a dozen or so huge TV monitors beaming the 5 p.m. World into my face =– local news, syndicated sitcom comedies, good ole Glenn Beck (hope you’ve seen “Right Wing Radio Duck,” featuring Donald Duck and the ideological vocal stylings of Glenn Beck), old motorcycles on the History Channel, endless Sports Chat on ESPN, Dr. Phil, etc.) When commercials ran, all of the monitors were linked by the same set of political ads for and against Florida gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Alex Sink, congressional candidates Alan Grayson and Daniel Webster, and Senate candidates Kendrick Meek, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio.

A blizzard of harsh attacks and soft-glo endorsements, sometimes the same ad running simultaneously on three or four monitors. Television execs surely love the political silly season, with all of that obscene campaign war chest pouring directly into their coffers.

In direct proportion to the bankruptcy of duopoly politics, the squalor of the cross-party squawking descends every year to a deeper league of whale shit. Long ago the party wonks figured out that an ad which appeals to fear and fury translates into far more boots in polling booths than roseate trumpetings of fresh change in Washington. Still, some of the latter has to be thrown into the mix in order to give at least an appearance of a candidate standing for something other than an all-out attack on one’s opponent.

This sort of hardball Republicans excel best at, having long ago shown their willingness to heap up whatever dirt, however untrue or out of context, to destroy the image of an opponent in order to win elections and serve their vested interests.

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So now we’re thick into the greasy cheeks of the political silly season. There is no way to tune out the howl of manipulative rhetoric guaranteed to deliver results for all the wrong reasons–voting for what you fear more than what you advocate.

At least there’s some comedy in the works, too, if you think that appalling dunces like Christine O’Donnell have no chance of gaining office.

O’Donnell’s backlist of missteps and strange and/or idiotic pronouncements ought to give her Democratic opponent more traction than a monster truck — she defaulted on a house mortgage; owes $11,000 in back taxes; pays her rent with campaign contributions and faked her college degree. She’s taken extremist stands on abortion (she believes it should be banned under every circumstance, including pregnancies caused by rape or incest), vows never to increase taxes, supports environmental plunder in the name of “energy independence,” advocates the teaching of creationism in schools, opposes masturbation and says that gays have an “identity disorder.”

Whew. Many say she’s unelectable–a wholesale bonus for Democrats–but as Frank Rich recently pointed out, O’Donnell has just the sort of populist resume which appeals to so many of the angry dispossessed of The Great Recession. The GOP’s rosy embrace of O’Donnell conveniently masks their far greater corporate affiliations behind so much boob nonsense—just the sort of maneuvering in the past which got little folks of the Republican majority to vote in the GOP’s big-business agenda because the party was also against gay marriage and abortion.

Problem is, fools do have an excellent chance of getting elected. And when they are, the results have been disastrous. Think of that California actor who flawlessly delivered the lines of a right-wing assault on the government’s social contract, or of the right-wing radicalism of George W Bush.  Both were bonehead figureheads who played their role of President to a “T”: acting presidential while their cronies did the dirty work, cutting all of the regulatory restraints against Big Business and loosening the floodgates of wealth for the wealthy while the rest of the  country got poorer and poorer.

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The actor and the oilman, rustlin’ up some policy for their Benefactors.

Fools were given license to mock the king, and even got to wear the crown for a brief time during the Twelfth Night revels after Christmas—-but even a lame king like Jimmy Carter is was always a lesser evil to handing fool like George W.  Busch or perhaps Sarah Palin the scepter; the joker’s talents as an outsider who is privileged to mock and satirize and say things no one else is permitted to becomes a monstrosity when s/he presumes to rule.

The Tea Party Express would be far more effective as a comedy troupe than as a movement all too convinced of what only tallies as rebelliously unschooled and out-of-date beliefs. But try to convince America of such a thing. Just watch that grifter / opportunist / helicopter-hunting soccer mom of an IQ-challenged opportunist Sarah Palin win the White House in 2012, and see how much worse a court of fools is compared to a congress of wonks.

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Ah, well. When Silly Season becomes the Times, the joke is on us.

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There’s something voracious and pestilential about “silly season” when it exceeds its boundaries as it has in our times. Political campaigns now start the day after elections; there are celebrity channels like E!  which stay on the job 24-7; there are news channels like FOX Cable News which are dressed-up versions of good old right-wing talk radio, a glamorous eternal soapbox for venting every bit of unsubstantiated “news” about The Enemy (Democrats, liberals, progressives, tax-and-spenders, tree-huggers, celebrity activists, the current President and Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader and anybody and anything else which represents the death of 1950’s America, dead now for 50 years.)

And when you consider the sort of money spent on campaign spending — $1 billion on the 2008 presidential election, a total $1.2 billion on congressional races for the 2010 midterms – there is no sensible link between cost and good results.  It’s like healthcare or CEO payrolls, a hyperinflation  in direct proportion to a nadiring of performance.

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When Silly Season goes 24-7-365, time is disordered, bent out of shape. It’s like a cucumber grown so large no maiden could ever offer berth to it. Festive seasons are by nature and necessity short, a brief remission of time, slowing a society to bleed off its repressions and privations. But indulgence is the handmaiden of greed, and as any addict knows, there is never enough booze or dope or pussy in the world to satisfy the boundless intemperance of the permanently unzipped.

Silly Season 24-7-365 is like the court of Scotland in Shakespeare’s Macbeth after the usurper murders king Duncan and fits the crown on his head. Knight of Swords becomes the Baboon King, the land bewitched by an unleashed bedevilment of lower Nature.

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Macbeth, false king of Scotland, and the Louie, Ape King of Our Jungle.

On the night that Duncan is murdered, the Old Man remarks to his son Ross,

Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.

ROSS

Ah, good father,
Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,
Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame,
That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
When living light should kiss it?

Old Man

‘Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that’s done. On Tuesday last,
A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d.

ROSS

And Duncan’s horses–a thing most strange and certain–
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn’d wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ‘gainst obedience, as they would make
War with mankind.

Old Man

‘Tis said they eat each other.

ROSS

They did so, to the amazement of mine eyes
That look’d upon’t.

If our age is truly the crowned Silly Season, primal time resumes in our works;  Chaos rules. So much in our world is breaking down –-  the economy, the health system, the housing market, Congress, NASCAR –- surely it seems that the Vandals have cleared the Roman gates.

“Taking back America” is a motto of the Tea Party movement –- returning Time to its rightful order (I assume that means white and pre-digital). Sounds great; it’s real close to  Reagan’s “Morning in America”  However, both  amounts to telling people what they want to hear, rather than challenging people to grow up.

Fixing a broken system with scythe and hammer – the implements of every radical agenda, right or left – is the purest invocation of Stalin as Lord of Misrule, the Ape King with his phallus for a scepter and writing his writs by flinging shit in every direction.

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Well, ya get what you pay for.

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Three

“Silly season” in sport originally referred to the off-season, when off-field or –track speculation of team or star changes took the place of “real” sport news. It gives fans something to chew on as their sport goes into hibernation, keeping the imaginary fires burning, so to speak.

In NASCAR, whose off-season lasts from November to January, the phrase “silly season” has morphed, in a weird legitimizing way, to refer to the entire year of the sport, on- and off-season combined. Perhaps the premier website for news and information about NASCAR is Jayski.com’s Silly Season site.

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Silly Sesaon has thus become All NASCAR, All the Time: How could that happen in so absolute a fashion? How could hiatus become permanence? How could NASCAR’s essential identity be so tethered to whatever for any other reason that something so marginally a sport could only offer marginality as proof of existence?

As evidence of this, I relate an experience riding the freebie bus back to Lot Seven after the Bud Shootout at Daytona in Feb. 2009. I laid out the scene back then in post titled “Let the Racin’ Begin”:

The evening’s best moment comes as we settle in plush rows of seats at very the back of the bus which lumbers slowly toward Lot 7. It’s completely dark on board and the windows are half-fogged as the bus makes it way into rural night. Maybe these lots are all owned by Daytona, but there’s a fast transition away from civilization into prehistory; brilliant track inverts into a vast envelope of undeveloped darkness.

Safe inside where it’s warm with human presence, our section at the back breaks into easy conversation. Four or so couples who surely don’t know each other but who share the same great Oval faith begin to recap the race.

“Good thing Dale Jr. wrecked early, or we woulda had a lot longer to wait for this damn bus,” says an old guy with a toothy smile. A convivial scowl emits from the woman sitting next to him, obviously a Dale Jr. fan. No concord in that home.

“Yeah but Edwards shoulda won,” a fat middle-aged woman sitting across from them asserts, her faith in her driver greater than anything the actual race could have suggested.

“Not a good night for my Biff,” a young guy says next to her. All heads nod in sage unison.

“I thought this one was gonna be Jeff Gordon’s for sure,” another old-timer says. “He sure hung in there the whole way.” Many heads nod to that too, whether in agreement with the observation or in concord with the hope.

“Aw, McMurray woulda won had not there been all those cautions,” another race fan interjects, causing more heads to nod though there are more grunts of protest. I’m going to bet that if McMurray keeps up his current pace, he may win the same grudging admiration that Kyle Busch earned last season. Winners are winners, no matter who they are.

“But my Carl shoulda won,” the fat middle-aged woman says again, asserting her faith, standing by her man.

Everyone laughs, and all feel cheered by this spontaneous gathering of belief which may be the only bond we share. Banter continues along these lines, everyone with a favorite driver and an expert on racing, retirees and young ‘uns, firemen and drywall installers, waitresses and meter maids and us, the virgin attendee-pro blogger and his programmer (who is responsible for many other websites), one weary busload of racing’s blood, circulating our way home. The bus rolls slowly on, into darker and darker regions, crossing roads where state cops hold back the traffic, the night giving right of way to we who have paid good money to watch the racin’ go round again.

In NASCAR’s heartland, the court of opinion rules, a court whose walls extend thousands of miles away from the tracks where races are decided. What fans believe is what matters, since it is they who are forking up all that dough to attend races, wearing the ballcaps and t-shirts and jackets and even jockey shorts bearing the insignia of their favorite racer. And if someone wants to stand up and give Jimmy Johnson the finger every time he goes round the track, then that fan is a fully blessed hierophant of NASCAR faith, an Elijah calling the faithful back to the blessed days of Dale Sr. (Who, truth be known, was awfully unpopular with fans until he died.)

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Indeed, considering how much the elders of NASCAR have bullied drivers and bellowed at the press, brownnosed sponsors and bastardized the sport with callous rule changes and rulings, the only legitimacy NASCAR can claim to have is the belief of its fans in racing, something which goes far beyond NASCAR but keeps the organization on its throne. No wonder the Silly Season defines NASCAR, for it is propped up by the endless machinations of collective opinion and conjecture.

Not very substantial stuff, which is why NASCAR could so easily disappear. If fan attendance and TV ratings are any indicator, the sucking sound in the NASCAR blogosphere is the noise of a sport headed down the drain.

(Perhaps there’s nothing unique about this. Silly Season 24-7-365 may come with the Internet turf and is afflicting every sport, every news event. But I blog NASCAR–sort of–so I’ll keep my fragmented lens pointed in that direction.)

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If NASCAR is the sum of what we believe about it – a gospel known as Silly Season — then what we truly know about NASCAR unimportant. This puts NASCAR up (or down) there with TMZ and the Tea Party Express, where truth is ipso facto what is interesting or desired if not exactly factual. Putare ergo NASCAR sum: What I believe is what NASCAR is.

Such a position allows everybody to be an expert, armed with knowledge that doesn’t have to be true to be real. You want NASCAR’s demise to be due to poor performances by Dale Earnhardt Jr., or dominating ones, at season’s end, by Jimmie Johnson? Then so be it.

The most obtuse – and thus apt — definition of “silly season” as it refers to NASCAR I think was gargled out of the mouth from Babelfish from and pasted on a bogus site titled About Pro Home Insurance:

The tenure stupid deteriorate is an during length used tenure in a universe of NASCAR. It refers to a duration during a deteriorate when drivers, sponsors, as well as alternative assorted group members make known their skeleton for a following season, customarily definition which they have been relocating to a opposite team. The NASCAR stupid deteriorate customarily began around mid-summer as well as lasted until early autumn, in copiousness of time to hope for a next season. Throughout a stupid season, most rumors per drivers as well as teams as well as their destiny locale whirl by a garage as well as in to a World Wide Web. However, most has altered in a universe of NASCAR, as well as stupid deteriorate is not defense to changes. For an collection of reasons, stupid deteriorate starts most progressing in a season, as well as does not appear to end, as well as if it does, it is weeks prior to a Daytona 500. Each year, it has turn increasingly lengthy.

“The NASCAR stupid deteriorate” — mangled translation fer sure but sheer poetry  as well.

Actually, I understood that better than a PR release from NASCAR dated August 30, 2010, that announced (no less) a re-organization of their marketing communications department:

… Following a comprehensive review of its communications function and public relations activity across the industry, NASCAR announced today that it will move immediately to create an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) department that will better position the sanctioning body to lead best practices and provide overall thought leadership in the communications space for the entire industry.

“Our sport has unique challenges and very diverse constituencies and it has become clear that NASCAR must be a catalyst in this space to help all stakeholders find greater value,” said Brian France, NASCAR’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “This is a major investment for the company at a critical time and represents an elevation of this highly-important function for NASCAR and the industry. We are confident this evolved approach will yield immediate and long-term value for NASCAR, its media and business partners and the industry as a whole.”

The new communications structure will allow NASCAR to be even more effective on the competition aspects of the sport, an area where NASCAR was regularly cited in the review as being among the best when compared to other major league sports by media in all genres. It also positions the sanctioning body to take a much more strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport in a constantly-evolving traditional, digital and social media landscape. Three areas that will see greater communications resourcing and organizational focus moving forward include: brand and consumer marketing; digital and social media strategy and activation; and strategic collaboration with industry stakeholders …

Boy: “thought leadership in the communications space” … “a strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport” (my italics). Who are these guys trying to communicate with, anyway? Maybe it was code meant for their corporate bedmates, but the tone of it made me think that NASCAR is trying to charm back market share in its usual ham-handed, bullying manner.

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NASCAR’s current spin docs Jim Hunter and Ramsey Poston are getting a new boss–and a tweaked mission. I feel for these guys.

And there’s nothing like starting such a mission by shooting your current messengers (demoting Ramsey Poston and Jim Hunter) and initiating a “worldwide” search for a Chief Communications Officer.

Surely there’s a CCO in Pakistan who speaks English better than any of us.

And will do it on the cheap.

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Now back to the surgence of “silly season” belief, a schizophrenic hijacking of all sense of knowing what is important and what isn’t. In the court of fools, farts are  gold; in a land where silly season rules, shit on a joker’s stick trumps the collective wisdom of the Nine Muses every time.

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The Fool and the Nine Muses: Who’s leading who by the nose?

To wit: Just about every economist now believes that the TARP bailouts of 2008 saved the economy from tumbling into the abyss of depression and trimmed the unemployment rate by some five percent. But such facts have nothing do with the more potent, albeit false, belief that TARP was a socialist bailout of Jewish bankers which put a huge burden on our grandchildren.

To pine for NASCAR’s Golden Age (when the danger of racing truly infected the psyches of drivers) is like calling for America’s reclamation from evildoers and Black Housers and Commie-Progressive-Democrats, delivering us safely back into white-dominated, xenophobic, sabre-rattling past. It’s far easier to sell something that sounds too good to be true than something that merely is.

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Ah, for the golden age of Fireball Roberts to come agin, with his lucky Wynona in tow.

These silly season beliefs require no precision; if you believe that your daddy’s NASCAR makes the present moment seem like Babylon – or worse, Washington or Beverley Hills – fine. But to say this constitutes a consensus just because a lot of people are saying makes me wonder how much your daddy got around. “My Daddy’s NASCAR” is like saying “Our America,” as opposed to the one we have now. I daresay that beach racin’ is no way like the Brickyard, though they share the same era. Millions of like-believing fans repeat the same phrases without any real clue why their fellows are agreeing with them. It only suffices that they believe.

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Yer Daddy’s racin, Indy vs, Datyona style, ca. 1950.

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“Silly” speculation and rumor about NASCAR dwarfs hard race reporting, which only the knowledgeable (and thus suspect) have any right (and agility) to report. What’s up with Junior? Where is Mark Martin going, and when is Kasey Kahne beginning? Why is Tony so surly with the press? What is bad bad NASCAR up to, making examples of drivers and teams which don’t make them as much money and fining drivers for saying things detrimental to the sport? Which drivers are dating and/or marrying which model, whose wife or girlfriend is having a baby? When will NASCAR change the goddam Chase format? Does anyone care that Jimmie Johnson stands to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship? Doesn’t everyone hate that?

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Such fluff is the stuff NASCAR dreams are made off. We fill our pipes with this dope and puff away, ruminating and speculating and masturbating over possibilities, gnawing away on the bones tossed to us by the officious and secretive, delivering the news by callous track and sport and media entities like NASCAR.com, the FOX News of racin’, as far and balanced as any corporate bedmate can be.

I so feel sorry for NASCAR journalists. (If you haven’t soaked a real one, do try Monte Dutton of the Gaston Gazette. I edit a blog called NASCAR This Week which features his coverage of the NASCAR season). They are bound by the conventions of their trade to be fair-minded, have no favorites and call things like they see it–with eyes trained on the entire sport– but are assigned to a beat where thehenanagans of the bloated, greedy and autocratic ruling body is a rung above roller derby.

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Monte Dutton (r)  on duty at the track.

The print press corps–the most informed and thus most difficult to control –have been relegated to increasingly minor spaces in track media centers, swept aside in NASCAR’s zeal to get airtime from radio and TV.  To make matters worse, these print journalists aren’t especially liked either by fans unless their sentiments fuse with their own. But that I guess is the nature of media consumption everywyere these days. People tune in to hear what they already believe, rather than to become convinced of this or that truth.)

And third, the print journo crew aren’t beloved by their newspapers, either. The American motorsports reporting cadre is about half the size it was five years ago as newspapers relentlessly sphincters its newshole becausee silly season competitors have sliced off their market share of advertisers and readers.

A lonely biz, and probably a dying one, not only for the shrinkage in the sport as well as the industry which covers it: but also because the Internet allows anyone to squawk away about anything, regardless of skill or qualifications. The blogosphere made silly sport of journalism, allowing license to fill a beat with the semblance of news; NASCAR bloggers are, on the whole, opinionated, biased, celebrity-crazed and prone to rant as they would, unbound from the old-school journalistic standards.  They have poured the highest, most combustible octane into the mix – no, nitro – adding a blinding whiteout of posts to the conversation, tooting and blatting every which way like matchsticked farts.

When NASCAR created its Citizen Journalist Corps, identifying 28 NASCAR blogs notable for their “professionalism, reporting and commentary,” they allowed these new media sites to get media creds for race events just like “traditional” media, as well as receive full access to their media outlets. Not that these guys and gals didn’t already have access; it was just an appropriation into the brand, which, by so doing, I suspect NASCAR hoped to get more pink in the effusions of the blogospohere.

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NASCAR Citizen Corpspersons Tallglassofmilk (Answer This, with Carl Edwards) and Valli Hillaire (The Fast and The Fabulous)

If you’ve read this blog, then you know I am no exception to effusion. I epitomize the worst of Silly Season silliness, with only as much real knowledge of the sport as I have gleaned over the past couple of years of reading Monte Dutton’s columns, attending just three races (two Bud Shootouts and half a Coke Zero 400) and digressing to the ends of the daily mind to get from the green flag to checkers of the next race of 2010, and probably never again after that. With plenty of eye-candy thrown in for blog-scanners who picked up their online reading habits from surfing porn sites.

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Gratuitous eye candy.

In NASCAR, the Silly Season never comes to an end; on- and off-season merge into one round of loquacious speculation, with the next season launching the day after the Vegas banquet celebrating the accomplishments of the last.

In many ways, time is an illusion in NASCAR, the season the sum of so many laps and races and points on the map; it’s all just one damn oval, turning left for nine months and then dreaming for three months of those left turns, rehashing great and stupid moves, the endless attention of fans decked in their gear, holding up cellphones to capture their celebrity for eternity, fending a juggernaut of crew members and crew chiefs, owners and sponsors, NASCAR officials and nail-biting wives, family members and media and buddies oh my …

Technology reduces the field of endeavor to Just Me with my laptop and blog, chattering on about My NASCAR as if I were Brian France – or should be – offering my fool’s advice to a billion-dollar corporation who fawns on me for my money while harassing me if I attempt to infringe on Their  franchise by attempting to monetize my blog.

It’s essentially My Silly Season, with my voice and vote the only one that matters to me, even though no one else gives a shit what I think or that I even try to say it. Technology gives me NASCAR 24-7-365 access if I care to have it, and boundless room for intemperate speculation, like the silly spiculation of rain all night on a leaky roof.

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Five

Silly Season 24-7-365 delves into a thicket of science which has to do with the end of time, or theories which are re-addressing our conventions of time. In the disordered court of Macbeth, time is “out of joint,” topsy-turvy, unnatural. Our time, especially in the new media’s million-fold lens, like a fly’s-eye — is dizzy, happening all at once, all perspectives thrown in, so complex there’s no way to fully perceive or conceive it. The Editor has been beheaded and Chaos is the cup reporter, the sorceror’s apprentice now tasked to report the news.

It’s madness, really, a specie of schizophrenia, where the conscious membrane or filter has been irrupted by the unconscious substream, a babbling brook of voices suppressed and inappropriate and just damn bad now in charge, like a fool’s court. (The Fool engages in craziness as his trade; the madman doesn’t know he’s crazy; and the blogger hollers away in the voids of Cyberspace, foolishly convinced that his or her voice is the choicer madness, surely on the verge of someone’s recognition and bigtime pay and fame. Who’s the greatest fool?)

Another NASCAR blog just adds to the carnage of knowledge with another surfeit of belief, but it’s understandable – every person has a right to put up what walls and boundaries they can around infinity, carving out a semi-conscious homestead somewhere in the cyberverse.

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A blog is like Yorick’s singing skull, providing another View on The News, babbling away to fend off the towering tide of social media it is part of. Cogito ergo putare — I think, therefore I believe; I dream, perchance to invade NASCAR’s inside realm, join that party, schmooze with my driver, tweet with his wife about their baby and dog, drive the damn car myself to victory.

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This media —- the space I litter with my own dusting of posts — offers the perception of inclusion exactly the way the Silly Season creates a virtual sense of NASCAR’s reality, even though it’s all smoke and mirrors, the way celebrity outshines the person who ferries it, the way that the coded jargon of political campaigns are rallying cries of nonsense. Give me back my daddy’s NASCAR? Sure. Party with butt-nekkid Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian in the glow of their sex tape? Unzip and have at it. Take back this country to prelapsarian Kansas, 1950, to the one nation under God proposed by Glenn Beck’s over-written Founding Fathers, deists become fundamentalists in Beck’s rodeo-clown view of history? It’s a free country, right?

Silly season madness gives all the permission in the world because anything goes in its fool’s court, or rather,  nothing truly happens in the minds of believers. It is a rebellion against time, or a subversion of it, freeing oneself of the briars of the present for the womblike glade of the pre-historial past with its million-year-dreamtime. Who wouldn’t want to revert, if they could? Why do you think substance abuse is so prevalent in this country as millions take exception to their reality and clock out for their zombie zone of their choice.

But maybe science has to take some of the blame for this. Traditional conceptions of existence which have been a part of our brainpans for hundreds of thousands of years are getting drowned by a quick update as new discoveries of the universe pour in.

Time itself is changing as the universe’s mysteries become better known. And what the space docs diagnose is not that the universe will come to an end – sorry, end-of-worlders – but rather that time itself will cease, rendered meaningless in the evolved order of things.

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An article by George Musser in the Sept. 2010 issue of Scientific American titled “Could Time End?” identifies four cosmic stages which will result in the end of time as we know it:

1. Loss of directionality — Time’s arrow breaks: “Time will stop marching forward when the universe exhausts its useful energy and reaches a condition of general stasis.” This follows the model of the eternally expanding universe but works in other models as well. “From then on, the only activity will be the random fluctuations of density and energy, causing clocks, if there are any left, merely to jiggle back and forth.”

2. Loss of duration — Time can now longer be measured: “The concept of duration will become meaningless when all systems that mark out regular time intervals fall apart or get swallowed by black holes. Energy may leak back out of the black holes, but it does so as radiation – that is, as photons and other massless particles. Because such particles have no fixed scale and do not change with time, they cannot be used as the basis for new clocks.”

3. Loss of causality – Time morphs into space: “Time may be reduced to just another dimension of space, breaking the link between cause and effect. One way that can happen is if our universe is a “brane” floating through a higher-dimensional spacetime, and this brane begins to whip around so fast that the time dimension bends over and becomes a spatial one, producing what we would experience as a ‘big freeze’”

4. Loss of structure – Time’s geometry dissolves: “Time disappears altogether as the universe descends into anarchy. This anarchy breaks out at the deepest level of reality, even deeper than that of the known particles and forces. Processes become so complex that they cannot be said to occur at specific places and times.” In this concept, the universe may actually be two-dimensioned, taking on what is only a three-dimensional appearance because of “regularities” – stars which don’t change for a long time. But where stars collapse, universal forces become chaotic; when all stars have burnt out into black holes, the illusion of 3-d space disappears, leaving the Projectionist to deal with a complex, timeless soup of chaos.

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Scary stuff, I guess, though neither you or I will be around for it; we’re talking tens of billions of years in the future when these events might happen. And of course, read the column titled “50, 100 & 150 years ago” in the September 2060 issue of Scientific American and the leading-edge concepts laid out above will seem so silly and stupid, refined as our sensibility will have become due to half a century of advanced knowledge. That is, if the Christian Rapture doesn’t come first, re-establishing God’s time on Earth.

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But we don’t actually have to wait to see what happens –- all of the scenarios for time’s end are in play right now  in the concept of Silly Season 24-7-365, as empowered in the speeding universe of cyberspace. Omnimedia is not omniscient – reserve that for The Deity of the bicameral mind, which we began to lose some 10,000 years ago – but it is everywhere and everything at once, which sort of makes any timeful passage through it rather Goth. It’s hyper-immediate yet hypo-sensical; hippocampical and hypno-cucumberal; where is this shit coming from but rents in the fabric of sense, shredded by this whirling dervish of preter-knowledge and uber-beliefs.

And so we hurry on to Fontana with all of the current NASCR storylines intact, like tethers to a gigantic floating racecar a la the animated flick “Cars” – Johnson surging, Harvick on his rear bumper, Hamlin floundering, Kyle Busch flubbing, Smoke surging then gurgling, Bowyer waving sheepishly far in the rear, every appeal to reverse NASCAR’s penalty against his time for chassis intolerance rejected—as if that ever happens).

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Oh and don’t forget the sideline hoopla which a race gal drinks like Southern Comfort, all of those cute babies held by drivers in firesuits, hot girlfriends become moms, the dream of multimillion dollar romance engaged as the heads of those NASCAR soccer moms are replaced with every Sally and Sarah and Betty Jo to fuck around with Photoshop as they dream the dream from dingy trailers and foreclosing bungalos around the heartland.

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Living the dream.

Silly season 24-7-365 makes it all too possible to emigrate to the lah-lah Land of Oz and call it home, rid of dustbowl Kansas 2010 (where the summer was especially feral, coming off an exceptionally ferocious winter) for good. What You Will is the alternate title for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a bit of foolery to entertain the troops between the holy rigors of Christmas and Epiphany; only now its “What You Will, All The Time” in silly season parlay. Disney World become My World, not because it’s possible but  because I believe it’s so.

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Six

So what news did you catch on Wednesday, the final day of drafting this post? The 24-hour news cycle was busy.

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Randy Moss was suddenly traded to the Vikings from the Patriots.

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The sports channels of ESPN and NFL-TV were throbbing on the testosterone of receiver Randy Moss’s sudden departure from the New England Patriots for the Minnesota Vikings, with speculation ripe on the wires about why the Patriots would do such a thing (Moss did not have a catch in the Patriots’ 41-14 trouncing of Miami last Monday night) and what it will mean for the 1-2 Vikes’ struggling offense.

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Roy Halliday pitched a no-hitter against the Cincy Reds in the first game of their division playoff.

All that talk was suddenly eclipsed by the news, in the early evening of the no-hitter thrown by Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies against the Reds (who led the league in hitting during the regular season) in Game One of their division playoffs. It was the first no-hitter to be thrown in post-season play since Don Larson pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, and only the second time such a feat had been accomplished in the majors. Adding to that, Halliday pitched a perfect game earlier this year against the Rays. Talk about all of that! Which the sports wires did, shoving Moss aside as news that was so earlier Wednesday.

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Missing Pretty White Young Woman Paige Johnson.

On CNN’s tediously outraged “Nancy Grace,” we got the next installment in the Abused Pretty White Girl cycle, with news of the disappearance of Paige Johnson, a beautiful teen mom, and another story about a young black mother who left her 3-year-old girl alone to go out dancing; the child was found by cops at 3:30 a.m., wandering the neighborhood near her home. Guess where America’s sympathies flow.

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Singer Toni Braxton and Octomom Nadya Suleman.

Over at TMZ.com, we hear that singer Toni Braxton (who has sold more than 40 million albums over her career) is facing bankruptcy with possible liabilities of more than $50 million dollars to creditors ranging from Neiman Marcus, the William Morris Agency, the Four Seasons Hotel, the IRS, Orkin Pest Control and the City of Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau. And it looks like Octomom Nadya Suleman will avoid foreclosure due to an offer of $20,000 by the fetish porn site Clips4Sale.com; all she has to do is have her hair washed and endure some tickling.

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Bumper-butters David Reutimann and Kyle Busch.

Over at Jayski.com’s Silly Season site, we find out that NASCAR officials plan to meet with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann, tweaking their 2010 “have at it, boys” policy with a soft, penalty-less reminder that their actions affect all the racers on the track. Also, Kenneth Luna, a crew member in the Nationwide Series, was suspended by NASCAR for violating sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy). And another crew chief – this time Steve Kuykendall, crew chief of the #13 team that competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was suspended for garage shenanigans involving carburetor tweaks. Another example made of someone who apparently doesn’t have a positive financial impact on the corporateion — the #13 team isn’t even listed on Jayski’s site.

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Garrett Gordon is a chip off of dad Jeff’s shoulder. No “crybaby” jokes, guys.

Over at Answer This, the NASCAR Citizen Journalist WAG blog, things are quiet -– Tallglassofmilk, the site’s operator, must have fallen in love elsewhere –- still, on the home page there’s a pic of Garrett Gordon, Jeff Gordon’s No. 2 child, playing (OK, placed) in the chassis of a race car. A son to race to glory! There’s hope yet for Gordon’s failed dynasty.

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You had to care about “hard” news –- so few do, these days –- to tune into reports about arguments made before the Supreme Court on Wednesday about a case involving fundamentalist protesters who picketed a private military funeral in 2008. Jihadists of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas (Kansas!) used the funeral to spread their message that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing its soldiers.

The father of the soldier (who was not gay) who was being buried was not amused and sued the church, claiming that the protests had violated the family’s privacy at an specially painful moment.

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“We’re talking about a funeral,” Sean E. Summers, a lawyer for the father, Albert Snyder, told the justices. “Mr. Snyder simply wanted to bury his son in a private, dignified manner.”

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Albert Snyder, father of Lance Corporate Matthew Albert Snyder, killed in action on March 3, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq,

Snyder had won an $11 million jury verdict against the chucrh’s pastor, but an appellate court overturned the ruling on First Amendment grounds. So the Supreme Court case was all about how far the right to speak your mind — no matter how hurtful your thoughts are — should go.

The lawyer on the other side, Margie J. Phelps, said the First Amendment protected the protest, where seven pickets at some distance from the funeral carried signs with messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates you.”

Ms. Phelps is a daughter of the pastor of the church, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Her argument alternated between smooth exposition of First Amendment doctrine and support for the church’s message.

“Nation, hear this little church,” she said. “If you want them to stop dying, stop sinning.”

Looks like Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church will have sway with the conservative Roberts court. And strange bedmates sided too with the antagonists of Westboro. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations, including The New York Times Company, filed a brief supporting the Kansas church. It said the First Amendment protects even hateful speech on matters of public concern.

Before the argument in the case, Snyder v. Phelps, No., 09-751, members of the church protested outside the Supreme Court. Abigail Phelps, another of Mr. Phelps’s daughters, carried a sign that said “America is doomed.”

Shades of Terry Jones and Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, where an “International Burn the Koran Day” was pre-empted by pleas from David Petreus and the White House, on the grounds that such “free speech” would result in more dead GI’s in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the goddamdist thing about it is that these idiots hijack so much bandwidth flouting beliefs like bared penises at a wedding—flagrantly, inappropriately, stupidly and with total abandon, because Silly Season rules are in effect, a fascism of fancy over truth, tempering superego murdered like King Duncan, the fool’s court of public masturbation in session, linking in its 24-7-365 circle-jerk politicians, NASCAR, the religious right and every 300-lb Paris wannabe with a laptop and a sugary belief that destiny awaits.

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Teaching the meaning of the First Amendment to our young.

Maybe the Mad Fools of Middleboro are right. Maybe we are doomed–not by lack of belief in their God, but rather to the surfeit of their own belief.

Clocks are racing backwards and forwards in this silly season, destroying time – history and future at once – in the manner that stock cars race counterclockwise (backasswards, turning left instead of right every time) in their furious attempt to cross the finish line ahead of everyone  else.

It’s the same way that the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth danced widdershins (counterclockwise) thrice around their black simmering pot, winding up the charm to triple back-assed potency, brewing a topsy-turvy destiny for the foolish pretender who would be king and instead returned the land to chaos.

It’s the Silly Season way – 24-7-365 — and the rule of its fools is absolute.

So have at it, boys of summer, now in Chase of the home stretch, spiraling backwards to glory.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, like an ape turd on a fool’s giggle-stick.

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