The Disappearances (It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times)


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Did you see the way that A.J. Allmendinger came out of nowhere on Lap 180 of the Southern 500 at Darlington last Saturday night, brakes gone, failed or simply exhausted trying to gain purchase on that tough, rough track, spinning on the apron and then arrowing backwards straight up track at Turn Three directly into the path of the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson, causing a race-ending collision for the  No. 48 — Johnson’s third of the year — and perhaps sending the No. 48 team into the downwinding spiral out of Cup contention, allowing someone else — at last, at last — a chance to stand there in the media sea and falling confetti and chaste smiles of a Sprint Cup girl — one, maybe two, maybe all three of them – the championship limelight shifted, for sure, perhaps, under the skirts of the Lady in Black?

When a four-time champion falls, is the stock-car racing world rearranged, with new potencies and alliances and dramas to follow? Or does the silver-blue No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy cast an icy shadow, like so much pack ice falling into the sea that we all eventually drown? Is he simply leading the way for the rest of NASCAR’s lemmings?

I know, I know: Way too early to be reading last rites on Team 48, pal. Or on NASCAR. But fadings and disappearances have their own lucency and draw, as if a recently-emptied door has more presence than the lush figure who moments ago was filling it before deciding (or being asked) to go. It’s a backwards way of reading the times-somewhat guilty, somewhat erotic, bittersweet and bluesy for sure–but reading it the other way may not even be possible any more. Things are changing way too fast for foresight to pay off in any way, though it must, it must.

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Have you ever watched a miles-long ice shelf, almost blue it’s so white, fall slowly and serenely into the regal sea, so much ice and snow that you could fit the state of Delaware (and Sunday’s coming race in Dover) into the tumbling pack, a polar firmament letting go of her lover’s hand, sinking away into oblivion? There is nothing so beautiful or fatal than that descent; or is it that the tragic fall is always the so tender and gorgeous and heartbreaking? One by one the ice shelves fall, like white-laced suicides, day and night, week after week, year after year, world without end, world towards its end, at least the world which sustained the human species for three going on four million years.

In the sum of these disappearances there’s a toll — a deadly one, for those persist in living on the world’s coastlines — but that’s for tomorrow, or the next: for now, it’s just so damn beautiful, so akin to something hard to name, like watching the better half of your heart break away and drift off on its tiny floe, waving goodbye in the last of your own life’s light, going, going, gone.

Weather is what happens tomorrow; climate is what occurs over the next century. As a fretful occupant of the moment, with limited peripheral vision for the big picture, a cold winter in Florida or a pack of blizzards in the Northeast seems to refute the notion of global warming; what is now is forever, right? How sadly true of human perception, so lost in its moment (and that can include a moment packed with reveries for the past) …

Maybe if I were up in the Arctic Circle for a summer watching the entire ice pack melt away, destroying the habitat of polar bears (watch them drift off on the floes,  furry white flakes of extreme existence no longer able to sustain in a world which has warmed just far enough to drop them in the drink): such disappearances are out of view of Central Florida, which is cool this morning — 68 degrees in May is so unusual — and is so comforting in my central vision that I forget the rest, the world just up or down the street, over to the coasts where worried residents now watch the sea on pristine-ish beaches, waiting for the black cloud to arrive out of the blue.

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Can you see beyond the horizon of your own dailiness to perceive what’s happening beyond, in the sky, at the poles, in deepest water? For me, the proper calibration of what is called climate I have to forget the sweet southern-belle drawl of jasmine in full bloom on the massive vine which crawls up the fireplace just beyond the opened window behind me as I write this morning.

Rilke wrote in his Sonnets to Orpheus,

–Learn

To forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.
(transl. Stephen Mitchell)

Have you heard that deeper, wilder, sadder, most gorgeous singing? It’s sad and sweet — like the Lady in Black in some beat-up trailer in the rural backwaters outside Darlington, sewing back up her torn skirts after her lovers have fled, humming along to a Hank Williams song on the radio — yet deep and resonant, like the throat of the sea in a large crashing wave, or the voice of Hamlet’s Father walking on the ghostly frozen ramparts of Dunsinane in the darkest rooks of the night.

Have you seen with eyes calibrated for time’s disappearances? It requires a lens with the focal distance of our grandparents eyes – all of mine have been dead for 20 years – rocking on porches in summer light watching fireflies more numerous than stars flash their semaphores into the crepuscular saturate of dusk (so red and gold and dark, like the sunburst finish of a drowned Gibson J-45 guitar), remembering the world of their parents, wholly lost to oblivion to my mind but living on somehow in my genes, my thought, this post.

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To my present eyes I can’t piece together exactly how the world has changed – nor how much – in this past century: but send me my great-grandparents’ eyes from their collective oblivion and I may truly see the true depth of our latter history’s field. And be truly terrified.

It’s taken just a hundred years –about 3 one-hundred-thousandths of the tall of our whole history as a species — to go from a world where horses pulled buggies to one where Sprint Cup buggies hurled round tracks with a thousand horses under their hoods; to go from where news showed up in the papers weeks after events occurred to the howl of the 24-hour news cycle; from the first labored flights of rudely-cobbled planes to crawlers on Mars and telescopes in the orbit of earth taking pictures of deepest space; from births which were damn difficult to births now infected with more than 300 chemical contaminants, giving a cancerous taint to the placental wash and splash of mother’s milk; from the the first oil expeditions into the Gulf of Mexico to look for oil, to the oil-infected sink that sea is fast becoming.

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The Wright Brothers take humanity into the air on Dec. 17, 1903, for 12 seconds and 120 feet, allowing a view of horizons not yet seen; the Hubble Telescope orbiting the earth, peering ever deeper into the horizonless margins of knowable space.

If I had the eyes of a century, so much would be apparent — probably too terrifying, but amazing too in its sweep, one which becomes a swoon and then a blur as the rate of technological change became an exponential, the relatively slow rising line of human history become a Dow spike of a summit of a housing bubble of a jet of fire out of a burning oil rig, rising so fast there is no longer any way to measure it. Rising out of sight.

But as the descendent of an ape I can only see the predatory snakes in the grass at my feet, in this day, a horde of quibbles and fears and anxieties and lusts which overwhelm my vision with dailiness. It’s why evolutionary scientists say that homo sapiens was a lousy pick for dominion – possessing foreskins, yes, which are removable, but no foresight greater than the next day or week or maybe a year. No foresight to plan for what obviously coming; it makes lousy parents and grandparents and great-grandparents of us, blaming the kids for what we allowed to happen.

Oh well. I just soothe myself on the milk of this early morning in May 2010 which feels as pristine and whole as childhood, aloof to every way in which my body, my world, the heavens are disappearing. The jasmine’s in bloom; what else could matter at this moment?

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Did you see the footage of the burning of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig? A gusher of flame, a spout of lava from a burning whale, a Roman candle vomiting weird phosphor into the night sky. The fireboats surrounding it sprayed tiny fountains of water which seemed as ineffective as wishing the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland would stop its spew of ash into the skies which drift to Europe.

So futile: and so balletic, as all destructions are, ferried to us in the Cinemascope of our imaginations (where the curtains of distraction are ever falling, their scarlet brocade woven of ten million channels on TV and endless tablets of Oxycontin, of MySpace and porn and Grand Theft Auto and text messages, threads beyond count of inchoate jisms of ones and zeros).

With the theater disappearing so fast that we have no proper digestion for single events –was it yesterday that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico? Iceland’s volcano spumed? that earthquakes shook Mexicali? and Chile? and Haiti?, that blizzards buried the Northeast and oranges  froze on every citrus tree in Florida?

Soon the disappearances lose their distinction in the torrent, and we are no more able to slow or stop the exodus as those tiny tugs could put out the Deepwater Horizon fire jetting high into the contemporary night.

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Deepwater Horizon was, until it exploded, on the verge of being announced as a great victory for the oil industry, tapping some 50 to 100 million barrels of crude in the Macando Field, a lode of oil and gas under 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 feet of rock. Thus the handle of the rig, working at a horizon so deep — a mile beneath the perky, sun-reflecting surface where pleasure boats filled with millionaires and iced vodka and perky-nippled naiads sunbathe in the nude on the upper deck. So deep that we have as much experience working in its abyssal troughs as we do in outer space.

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The Deepwater Horizon on happier days; what was down there before spuming oil started killing everything off.

At such depths as the Deepwater Horizon was working, the pressures are intense: we’re fisting into a core of the earth which grazes the great molten sea at this world’s heart, life hundreds of millions of years old fallen and decayed and hammered and brewed over the eons. Oil is the tarry, molasses-thick blood of ancient death. It’s one thing to drill down a few hundred, even a thousand feet of earth to hit a pocket of such goop; another to risk penetrating the core of Mother Earth scrabbling for a tankful of that food upon which combustion engines feed.

Usually all goes well enough, but when an environmental accident occurs–like at Chernobyl or Bhopal or Love Canal–a single instance, like a 1,000-year flood or a big meteor stirke-a single thing gone wrong counterbalances the entire big-money effort weighing down the other pan.

As it proves in the bitter clarity of hindsight, it seems that those depths and pressures were too intense for the precautionary measures in our technology, or at least the ones we require the industry to take (or asked industry to police themselves with rather than be regulated.) At such depths, our measures are sorely tested; and were on the night of April 20, when something – a big bubble of methane gas, apparently – escaped up through the stopgaps and rose up to the surface and blew everything hell, the inferno a multiplication table of depth times pressure times hubris.

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Two days later, on April 22, the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day — founded in response to the Santa Barbara oil spill of the previous year — the 396-foot-long, 256-foot-wide rig collapsed and sank to the bottom of the gulf, some 5,000 feet down.

Hard ironies choir as, ever since, we’ve watched containment measures fail and fail and fail, as a quarter of a million gallons of oil spew out of the shattered pipe into the Gulf. Do you remember the chant “Drill, baby drill!” at Tea Party gatherings? Indeed. Can you remember events of a decade past? There’s Vice President Dick Cheney behind closed doors with oil industry executives at the start of the Bush administration, telling them to “have at it, boys,” as NASCAR officials have green-lighted track mayhem. (One of the items that was apparently discussed in the meeting was allowing Gulf rigs to forego the costly blowout preventers.)

The slick hangs off shore, like a dead body in the water, killing what isn’t seen – all the sea life which now chokes in its habitat – and darkening the dreams of Katrina-harrowed coastal residents with the invasion of this next body-snatcher, up from an alien abyss where all the rules are different and zeal – this time, for energy independence – hastened us into catastrophe.

I heard one official say the other day to an agonized fisherman – Gulf fishing is being annihilated – “You want that oil out there, or on shore?” Of course we save our own parishes, but what about the parishes of the deep? Who cares about what we can’t see, is not blooming with the jasmines right now? The surface of the sea looks perky enough in sunlight, what do we care about the emptying space below?

And like Katrina, thought the initial pyrotechnics were the most photogenic, the lingering aftermath is what truly kills the spirit of a land. And sea.

Happy Earth Day, indeed.

psace

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British Petroleum execs are quick to point out that they had 1,500 successful rig projects in the Gulf before Deepwater Horizon. Do any of them count against the coming hurricane of earth shit, interred like a ghoul from a grave so deep its occupant thought it would be forever safe from our prying hands, swirls out there in the Gulf, hovering offshore, its direction unsure just like a stalled cyclone?

Maybe Louisiana’s wetlands or the Florida Panhandle. Maybe it will drift a bit to the south and get picked up the Gulf Stream and round Florida to descend upon beaches in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Melbourne and Cocoa and Daytona. We can’t know, yet, and BP execs aren’t about to say out loud what they fear the most. Corporate and old policy and Tea Party lips are tight and silent, praying to dodge the bullet they fired into the earth, hunting for ghostly remains of dead dinosaurs.

How do you like the waiting? Does it hover over your day the way it does mine, like a great manta in the sky, wings so slowly, slowly flapping, a destiny which has yet to claim its mark while the corporate bigwigs for BP and Haliburton and Transocean point their bony fingers at each other before honest and productive souls in Congress, whispering, like three bad boys caught throwing eggs at traffic from an overpass, its not my fault, it’s his fault, or his …

For the rest of us, we wait and watch, suspecting that another disappearance is staging its long, slow, dramatic fall, a shelf of beaches and sea life which was already fragile and endangered and sold to someone with more money than God slipping forever from view, replaced by shores of crude.

A deepshit horizon, wouldn’t you say?

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Are you old enough to remember the pre-digital world? Back before text-a-whirling smart phones, before iPods and social networking, before the Internet and personal computers, before hand-held calculators and Casio digital watches-I mean, back when I was in grade school in the 1960s, we used slide rules to do our math equations, when we were permitted to use any calculating device at all.

I remember my slide rule, white with an intricate matrix of numbers sprawled across its girth, with that sliding middle piece that went out like an erection and a crosshair encased in clear plastic which gave the irrefutable evidence that ax2 + bx + c = a Big Fat Zero, buddy, which was me at aged 10, the fat nerd a year ahead of the rest of his class (I’d gone to a school in a predominately Jewish suburb and then the family relocated to Evanston, where Dewey Elementary was seventy percent black), who got beat up routinely by everyone from my older brother (who had been put back a grade for learning difficulties, so though we were two years apart we were in the same grade) and anyone else who needed to enjoy a sure-fire asskicking to relieve the daily tank of rage. (Chicago in the 60s was a magmatic corrosive on the hearts and minds of its large African-American population.)

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Up in my room (where I spent most of my childhood), I read Tom Swift books and pretended I was James Bond. I dissected crickets in formaldehyde and looked at their mangled parts in my microscope, pretending I had a clue of what I was looking at. I had a chemistry set in the basement (where my parents thought an explosion would do the least damage), but I feared to go down there because we kids all believed there was a skeleton in the coal bin. I’d cooerce the Eskimo girl who had been adopted by someone down the street to come lay on my bed and watch my goldfish together while I put my hand down her pants. On the radio WLS played “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and “I Got You Babe” by sonny and Cher and “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes.”

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One of the fad toys of the time were hexa-flexagons, origami-like computational contraptions of paper which spilled out numbers which someone deemed oracular, deep-water integers which interpreted, for better or ill, the fate of our little personal worlds. Does she love me, does she not? Open-close, open-close, open-close, work the folds: 36. Will my parents divorce? Repeat procedure: 3. Will I become James Bond when I grow up? The flaps open and close like a squid’s sharp beak, about to devour us entire: 12.

(How vast and wild my imagination when I listened to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea soundtrack on a record put out by Disney! To think of dying in deep water, drifting down down down, the immensity of emptiness and cold and pressure without a breath of air to take like long squid arms hauling me down to a place which gave me nightmares … And why night, the dark mare or horse is also the black mere or sea, and nixies are water-horses, or nightmarish men who ride horses over waves – there’s one of them on my father’s family crest, the old Gaelic name of the family taken by my younger brother before he died, drowning in his shattered heart …)

The numbers were there plain as day though what they meant was wholly arbitrary, a complex mud for simple interpretations. Like believing the stars foretell our fates, or that the topography of a lover’s face bore a spiritual physiognomy, ley-lines of sex and lies and disappearances out that final door of every sad affair.

The digital age was slowly gestating in 1965. The first glass fiber cables were being used in IBM punch card readers. Digital Equipment Corporation introduced the PDP-8, the first microcomputer, used primarily to interface to telephone lines for time-sharing systems. Ted Nelson coined the word “hypertext” in a paper presented to the ACM 20th National conference-“nonsequential writing” “that branches and allows choice to the reader.” Blogs are supposed to be the  quintessential hypertexting environment–others certainly are–but to me there’s enough intertextuality within a post to keep a reader busy.

A prototype of the mouse was developed (made of wood and metal wheels), so was the first cache memory chip used in mainframes and minicomputers; and IBM started shipping its 360 computer family, a series of computers which had the unique ability of talking to each other.

So the digital age was happening in 1965. Just one in my field of vision could imagine it, except Tom Swift, who was living in the future way back in 1935. Hell, “Star Trek” hadn’t even come out, yet.

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But it was coming, the digital age I mean, with its billion-fold strands of 1 and zero code, alliterative scrawls the size of ocean waves smashing through a culture, the times.

I first came, I think, watching the fish with that Eskimo girl, rubbing myself against her as we watched those fish swim and swim, our breaths heavy and hurried and strange.

My hexaflexagon couldn’t have predicted that moment. Neither could it predict the moment we are living in today, though all of the numbers were surely there.

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And I still use my hexaflexagon to crunch the numbers, in my head at least; but now they don’t add up and I can’t import a meaning onto them. The numbers are the meaning, as menacing as they are moronic.

But then, it’s always been the dipshit horizon for me ….

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Two words are inextricably mixed into my memory of using that hexa-flaxagon, I remember a teacher in my 7th grade math class talk about the discovery of the largest numbers ever. There is googol – ten to the hundredth power, or the number one followed by 100 zeroes — a number which gives a sense of scale to the number of subatomic particles in the visible universe (back in 1938, when Edward Kasner was writing Mathematics and the Imagination. His nephew Milton Sirotta came up with the name; other, more proper names for this big-ass number include ten duotrigintillion and ten thousand sexdecillion.

As Emerson suggested in “Circles,” if you think you’ve found a limit, you just located a periphery to launch from in search of the next. So there’s googolplex – ten to the power of googol, or the number one followed by googol zeroes. How big is googolplex? According to Carl Sagan, there isn’t enough space in the known universe to write such a number out in longhand. Lucky for us, I guess, that known space is so small compared to dark space and parallel or string space, the unknowable and the indefinable providing a limit where you might be able to cram, hell, a googolplex-googolplex, a Mardi Gras of numerals with more bared breasts than there may be stars.

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The naiads of the deep space horizon, thanks to the Hubble Telescope.

When I think of that old hexa-flexagon I used to crunch out what I prayed would be a destiny better than my lousy childhood’s day, the flexing motion I somehow think of as googol, googol-plex. Who knew I was querying a search engine which wouldn’t be available in the known (and online) world til 1998, and whose corporate headquarters in in Mountain View, California. Google is the search engine of choice for most computer users (about 146 million users every month), indexing billions of Web pages and using complex algorhythms to read my querying mind and come up with the best hits, usually the pages everyone else links to (what the hive determines is God is God.)

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Google and Googol-plex, the search engine company’s iniquitous – or  ubiquitous? – den in Mountain View, Calif.

What else to manage the unknowable universe of cyberspace? But back then, googol and googol-plex were incantory phrases for desire and its ends: whether Lauren Knipmeyer would say yes to a date to go bowling some Saturday afternoon; whether my parents would stay together, whether I would become a doctor or a scientist or spy like James Bond. No, no, no, no, no, no: Hindsight always knows the answers to such questions, but my hexa-flexagon was nippled with possibility and inked with outcomes more dramatic than the mundane life I ended up living.

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Googol, googol-plex: Such numbers are large enough to absorb the monstrous sums now devouring our world.

Let’s say you get cancer – 1.4 million Americans do, every year. The average expenditure for cancer treatment is about $300 thousand, and about half that number will die — 118 out of a thousand Americans, or one on ten).

Did you know that you were hatched with almost all the lethal carcinogens already present in that tiny pumping heart of yours? A recent President’s Cancer Panel researchers have found some 300 contaminants — industrial chemicals, consumer product ingredients, pesticides and pollutants from burning fossil fuels — in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.

In a report released May 5th, the panel (appointed originally by President Bush) declared:  “The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.” Blaming the situation on weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary, the panelists advised President Obama “to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

Damned from the git-go.

Googol, googol-plex: No one can hex or flex us outta this one.

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Do these numbers scare you, too?

  • The national debt, including state and local governments, is somewhere around $12 trillion dollars.
  • The average American carries about $100 thousand in mortgage, credit card debt and loans–$300 trillion dollars.
  • One in the Americans are at least 40 percent fatter than their normative weight (that means they’re obese).
  • Medicare expenses this year are expected to total $450 million. Over the next ten years, Medicare is expected to cost about $6.4 trillion dollars.

Big numbers. Not quite googol-maybe not ever-but try Googling them  in just a few years.

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Do you wonder if there’s a global equivalent to obesity? I’m thinking of debt-ridden economies like our own, like in Great Britain and Ireland and Iceland and Greece. Have you watched the rioting in Greece this week over austerity measures lowered, like a doom, onto the populace by the government? Or see the 1,000-point downward spike in the Dow Jones for a single hour on May 6 as fears of a Greek default gripped Europe?

Is such debt related to other bloated attitudes, like Dick Cheney’s casual, even arrogant attitude toward raping the ecology which resulted in so much deregulation and hand-tying of agencies whose job it is to make sure companies don’t do exactly that?

Maybe man’s mastery over matter is the very cause of obesity; all of those labor-saving devices just make it easier to sit and do very little (see me, frozen in place here as my fingers tap tap tap tap tap tap away). Such benefit for mankind is Old-Testamental,the old phallocentric deal where God gives man dominion over the earth. The Tea Party to me is bunch of angry white dudes who are the aging equivalent of skinheads, become a monkey wrench of rage against progressives, against whole-earthers, against the Robin Hood-headed politicos who try to point government policy toward levellng the financial field so more can benefit (rather than clear-cutting the earth to haul out the coal). NASCAR is of that indulgence, a fool’s dance begun with the attempt to survive a southern white man’s old, stolen privilege, to drink and drive fast and lynch niggers and screw whoever they want to. That’s the octane to it, the inspirational booze. And the conflict is that such privilege is gone, tossed on the landfill of history, festering along with too much technology and dispossessed Islamics and a global ecology and economy that’s rotting.

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Moses “The Dominionator” parts the Red Sea; Dick “Dr. Evil” Cheney blackens the Gulf.

As the fatty oil spill crisis in the Gulf spreads, it deepens and worsens, hanging out there just getting bigger, growing a threat no one’s willing to fully name yet. British Petroleum on May 8 announced that their first attempt at containing the source of the spill had failed. A concrete funnel the size of a 4-story house had been lowered 5,000 feet to reach the spill and icelike hydrates, a slushy mixture of gas and water, had clogged the opening at the top. They’ll try again, perhaps using heated water or methanol inside the dome, but no one is sure if it will ever work. Containment boxes like this have been used before on leaking pipes, but never at this depth.

Soon they’ll lower a smaller, similiar containment device called a tophat, hoping that those sludgy icy hydrates won’t form. They may not, and they may. No one can claim much expertise working in the abyss.

(image: BP’s tophat, which looks a lot better on Britney Spears, whose fortunes are being greatly impinged on by the oily dreck of Lady Gaga. But more on that later.)

Meanwhile, about 210,000 gallons of oil spumes out of the broken pipe every day. Though the massive slick has yet to reach any shore along the Gulf, tar balls from the spill have washed ashore in Dauphin Island, Alaska.

Rigs in the Gulf aren’t required to be outfitted with remote-control switches used in North Sea oil rig operations which could have been used as a last-resort solution in such spills. The decision not to burden the industry with the cost of these switches (around $500,000) was made in the secretive energy task force headed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Leather-suited Sarah Palin-looking more and more like a cheesecake Fox announcer (oh yeah, she is) made no mention of Cheney in her latest Facebook post on the matter, blaming “foreign” companies as the culprits. Palin said she repeats the slogan “‘drill here, drill now’ not out of naivete or disregard for the tragic consequences of oil spills… (but) because increased domestic oil production will make us a more secure, prosperous, and peaceful nation.”

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Still, I’d like to have that hexa-flexagon to ask these questions, even though I already suspect I know the answers:

  • Will the oil spill hit Florida? (Yes.)
  • Will Jimmie Johnson win a fifth consecutive championship this year? (Not if Denny Hamlin can help it, and he can.)
  • Will one of my family, or my wife’s family, die this year? (Beats me.)
  • Will the disappearances include these very words?  (Yep.)
  • Will anyone care? (Yo, exactly what URL are you screaming from?)

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According to Google’s  index of hot search trends as of May 11, 2010 – that would be the midnight-to-5 a.m. shift, since this installment of the greater post is being drafted on this day — this is what’s on a lot of people’s querying minds:

1.caddyshack soundtrack

2.daffys

3.emma the amish model

4.genesis 2 24

5.vernon jordan

Most of this comes from the pop-cultural mind: “Caddyshack Soundtrack” must refer to American Idol contestant Christine Bowersox’s rendition on May 10 of “I’m All Right,” and Emmy the Amish Model was a gal who appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show the same night. Christian anxiety picks up with the Genesis bible verse – “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (King James version) and refers, apparently, to the reason why the Supreme Court cannot allow gay marriage, and why any Supreme Court nominee from Barack Obama must be fought with every tool in the shed, including shotguns and scythes, if necessary.

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“American Idol”-to-be Christine Bowersox.

The list from the full day previous – May 10 – shows the following top five searches:

1. century 21 department store

2. christine staub

3.frank frazetta

4.erica blasberg

5.melissa huckaby

Now we get to workday manias, like shopping (Century 21 is line of department stores which sell high-end stuff at TJ Maxx scale); Christine Staub is the daughter of Danielle Staub, who is one of the Real Houswives of New Jersey – a gal of 16 who has eclipsed her mother’s notoriety by becoming cover model (here we get a bit of mother-daughter enmity, soap-operatic mojo to opiate the drone of household chores); fantasy artist Frank Frazetta died yesterday, and Erica Blasberg was a 25-year-old LPGA golfer of small fame who was found dead on May 9, with all the mystery surrounding her death (sucide? murder?) getting the Net’s wires trembling; and Melissa Huckaby is the California teacher who, on May 9, entered a guilty plea in the abduction, alleged rape and murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, thereby avoiding the death penalty.

Go figure.

Enquiring minds gotta know, especially the dirt.

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A Frank Frazetta fantasy print – more pop than we could have imagined. Frazetta died May 10 at age 82 following a stroke – not his, but the Reaper he so well imagined.

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I’d like to query that hexa-flexagon with these questions, even though, as before, I already know the answers. They aren’t Google-answers, but their wisdom speaks googol, affording me the comfort of infinity:

  • Will I ever get properly — read indecently — laid again? (Googol, googol-plex.)
  • Will I make a contribution worth the living anyway? (You already have. You’ve lived.)
  • Will it all end in 2012, or with the Christian Rapture? (No, but don’t count out mass extinction due either to a stray meteorite or digital implosion)
  • Is there no limit to the number of zeroes in nothing? (No)
  • Is there no limit to what we still must endure? (Oh, shut up.)
  • Will I ever learn to write a short post? (Does papal bull take a shit in the woods?)

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Do you think that pop music is a dying ember? The recording industry has become perhaps the worst victim of the digital age. Since 2000, music sales have fallen from $26.5 billion to $17 billion in 2009. People can download music for free from all over the Net–not legally (but who cares about that in cyberspace?) but enough. Pay-per-song industries like iTunes have had some success, but not enough to counter the catastrophic fall in CD sales.

Artists aren’t making money on sales of their music; rather they get it from touring. U2 earned $123 million for their 2009 U.S. tour, selling some 1.3 million tickets. Bruce Springteen ($94 million), Elton John and Billy Joel ($88 million) and Britney Spears ($82 million) all did well, too.

But do the math: If you wanted to see U2 last year, tickets cost on average $71 dollars. That’s a pretty expensive date to indulge in songs you once believed in and could even, when drunk enough, dance to.

These days, chart success is fleeting and fast. Nothing stays on the charts for too long any more. Wonder where all but one or two “American Idol” winners ended up? In the same oblivion shared by anyone else trying to make a buck singing their songs.

But there are exceptions. One is Lady Gaga, pop’s latest sensation. Her past two albums have sold 12 million copies.

In his article, “The Last Pop Star” in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly, James Parker describes first Pop and then the Pop sensation which is Gaga, both in terms which scream the proud irrelevance of fashion and a demeanor which must, perforce, eat its young:

At the heart of Pop, real Pop, is a white-hot blank. It sizzles into materiality in the form of this body or that body, this voice or that voice; it drapes itself in allusions, symbols, trinkets, scraps of dazzlement. I t can enter the world in triumph, with a bang, in a flash of beauty; or sordidly and crappily, filtering from the ceiling of a Taco Bell or glimpsed on a screen through somebody’s lonely apartment window, a dismal flickering. It seeps into conversations, your everyday chitchat – “Did you hear …?” “Have you seen…? – and you talk about it as if under a compulsion, like a sleepwalker, the syllables strange on your tongue. Plenty to say about Pop (although it repels intelligent commentary) – about its shapes and styles and so on. But always, always, at the core, an ecstatic and superheated Nothing.

Then we get Lady Gaga, “the multiplatinum alpha and omega of Pop, and she’s burning out its circuits.” …

Her assault on the culture has been meticulous. Pre-Gaga, she wrote songs for Britney Spears and New Kids on the Block, a line of work she pursued while immersing herself in burlesque, performance art, and all-round club madness. AS Lady Gaga … her music is top-quality revenge-of-the-machines dance-stomp with beefy, unforgettable choruses … It’s Pop music, but Gaga-dom is the thing: a persona, something like the incarnation of Pop stardom itself, that she has foisted upon the world. In wigs and avant-garde getups she appears, strange-eyed, her large, high-bridged nose giving a hieroglyphic otherness to her face. On red carpets the presence manifests, where Gaga, like a dome of many-colored glass, refracts the white radiance of Pop.

“… And who wil be post-Gaga?” Parker concludes. “Nobody. She’s finishing it off, each of her productions gleefully laying waste to another area of possibility. So, let’s just say it: she’s the last Pop star. Apres Gaga, the void.”

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Ah, the white noise of the voice, sensory overkill, the same image repeated endlessly through the googol and googol-plex devices out there for carrying a message – iPods, televisions, digital cameras, mySpace pages, even video games: eventually the bit torrent becomes a whiteout, then a burnout, then a fadeout.

A dying fall.

Perhaps Lady Gaga the goddess of the industry’s death, a Kali in feathers who exists only to burn gorgeously as it all falls into the sea. I sympathise with James Parker, but I guess he’s too young to remember the rioting that broke out when Parisians head the first recital of Stravinky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913, or how girls in bobby socks acted around Frank Sinatra, or what pandemonium ensued when Elvis Presley curled a lip and shook those crazy hips of his, or how the music press saw the end of History in the Sex Pistols of 1977. Every age of pop has its death knell, it’s white hot-dying core; I don’t expect Lady Gaga to be the end of it, just an Emersonian circle whose next limit is beyond my capacity to dream – or nightmare.

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To every age, its end:  Les fin-de-siecle Stravinsky (1913), Sinatra (early ’40s) and Johnny Rotten (’77).

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The Cumberland River overflowed its banks near downtown Nashville on Tuesday, May 4. Nashville’s music industry took a devastating hit.

Have you tried to play a 1962 Gibson J-45 sunburst acoustic guitar that is filled with a gallon of Cumberland flood? Muddy waters, indeed. After the Cumberland River flooded downtown Nashville a few weeks ago, the inventory of damage in this music capital has been slow to assess. 20 people lost their lives. The Grand Ole Opry House was inundated. The Nashville Symphony lost two Steinways when its basement flooded. But the most savage toll of all on the heart of the country music industry was at a facility beside the Cumberland River called Soundcheck, where hundreds of the city’s musicians stored their instruments.

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Brent Ware inspects a 1952 Gibson Les Paul. The instrument had been kept at a Nashville-based storage facility called Soundcheck, which was flooded by the massive rainstorms last week.

Fateful decisions-wrong ones, or forced ones-affected outcomes which were either miraculous or tragic. The Soundcheck facility =- actually a complex of storage lockers, repair shops and rehearsal spaces for major country artists gearing up for recording and performance gigs-took on the inventory of historic instruments from the Musicians’ Hall of Fame after the city acquired its property to make way for a new convention center. And then, storage bins higher than 3-1/2 feet — the floodline — were spared.

Lost in down under: a Jimi Hendrix-owned Stratocaster guitar, and the bass used in Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart.” In all, the Soundcheck flood affected an estimated 600 musicians, from stars like Vince Gill to workaday professionals.

Raul Malo, founder of the country band The Mavericks, was the owner of that Gibson J-45. Weirdly, the J-45 retained its sound, but the rest of Malo’s collection at Soundcheck died in the flood, their backs swelling till they cracked, necks twisting, like underwater roots, beyond all repair.

“Last night, I was sitting there with my wife, listening to my new album, and I said, ‘Those guitar sounds on this record, I will never be able to duplicate again because all of those guitars are gone,'” Malo says.

Do you know the sound of a future erased? Listen to “The Mavericks,” the first album by the band in five years.

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Raul Malo of The Mavericks and a 1965 Gibson J-45.

I had a Gibson J-45 once. My father gave it to me back in 1975 when I spent a summer working in New York City between semesters of college in Spokane, Washington. A honey of a guitar, smooth as silk and rich-timbred. That sunburnt finish looked like a Singapore sling, a motley of reds and honeys with a tequila glow to it. A real seducer. I played in some folkie groups with that guitar, coffeehouses mostly, as I was losing my faith in folk music and education and becoming enamored with electric guitars and pussy. I quit school and started playing in rock bands, carrying along that J-45 like an old fuck, someone you still call on now and then late at night when the hot chicks have gone home with someone else. I sold that guitar for a hundred bucks, I think, in 1980 when I was readying to move to Florida. A great guitar, like a woman whose qualities I only came to appreciate long after she and I as one entity washed down the river of time, gone almost even from memory.

But you never do forget what the frets feel like. Not after hundreds of hours making that musical foreplay, noodling and jamming and chording and picking and soloing my way to a certain Paradise, if only for the breadth of a song.

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Just as the damage to the inventory of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville is know becoming known, NASCAR opened, amid great corporate and political hooplya, its own Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Oddly, it bears a certain resemblance to the shrine in Nashville. Same race, perhaps, diff’rent track. The NASCAR Hall is oval-shaped, in emulation of an oval short track, including a banked ramp to the second floor, with full-sized cars placed in emulation of racin’. Cars, guitars, what’s the difference anyway? And country music’s going in the same direction as NASCAR, or vice versa, into the white pop noise of the moment, monied and about nothing, really.

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opened to the public on May 11.

It does make me wonder if shrines to history get built when something is thoroughly dead. Too much of life floods into the past; for NASCAR, it only took decades to accomplish, paired to a big commercial industry whose lifeblood is refined oil, the available stores of which have dwindled to the point that companies are daring to drill into the deepest water. The oil slick spreading from the uncapped pipes of the fallen Deepwater Horizon rig may not reach as far as Charlotte – if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream which rounds from the Gulf of Mexico around Florida and hugs that coast a while, fast streams outward across toward Europe – do not doubt that the sense of NASCAR’s obsolescence will fall off a continental shelf and tumble down into the abysm along with The Supremes and polar bears and that nerply naiad who once lived in a goldfish bowl next to my bed.(It doesn’t help that, according to estimates from official box scores, attendance decreased in nine of the first 10 races of 2010 with double-digit drops at Bristol Motor Speedway (14%), Phoenix International Raceway (13%) and Talladega Superspeedway (13%). International Speedway Corp., which owns Phoenix, Talladega and 10 more tracks that host Sprint Cup races, reported that operating income for the first quarter of 2010 was down 28 percent from last year.

I heard on the radio today that the original BP estimates of how much oil and gas have flooded on to the Gulf are shy – by the power of ten. Experts analyzed video released by BP on May 12, and their findings suggest that as much as 700 thousands barrels of spume has been getting loose. Which means that the Deepwater Horizon spill has, by now, surpassed by far the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 250,000 barrels of oil. (Source: NPR.org)

British Petroleum, of course, disputes these figures, and says that the company is more focused on taking whatever corrective actions actions it may.

Top Hat heads into the drink today, but this new, much larger number for spillage suggests that capturing — and cleaning up — this oil may be a much bigger challenge than anyone has let on.

Do you wonder what sort of disappearances, what set of disappearances, broods out there beneath the sun-dapples surface of the Gulf of Mexico?

Tom Swift may have been able to find and fix all of those things in his Jetmarine; me, I work the folds of the disappearances, tallying a random sum which has no other meaning than it bears a certain pleasure, albeit a dying one, as Rilke wrote in at the end of the tenth and final Duino Elegy:

And we, who have always thought
of happiness as rising, would feel
the emotion that almost overwhelms us
whenever a happing thing falls.

Googol,

Googolplex:

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2 responses to “The Disappearances (It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times)

  1. You have a remarkable, imaginative knack for finding common ground in extraordinarily divergent terrain. Somehow you make it work.

  2. Thanks for reading — and for being the one reader who’s around by post’s end to comment.

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