The Road to Richmond


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Jesus said, “The Kingdom of the (Father) is like a woman who was carrying a (jar) full of meal. While she was walking along (a) distant road, the handle of the jar brok and the meal spilled behind her (along) the road. She did not know it; she noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered it was empty.” –Gospel of Thomas (see Note at end of post)

This post-—my Richmond “Last Chance to Make the Chase” post-—begins far ahead of where I began it several days ago. The present moment–Tuesday morning, September 7, demands that I set tone and groove and oval motion with the facts of the Atlanta race on Sept. 5 in place, Tony Stewart in Victory Lane, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson close behind, the Brothers Busch finishing in fine Atlantan style. Clint Bowyer held onto his No. 12 berth in the Chase with a top-10 finish, making things exceedingly difficult for Chase hopefuls Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman as the haulers hit the road for Richmond. But more on that later.

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What I’m sawing into here this humid, warm, and finally-rain plenished morning in Central Florida is the thought that without outcomes past (the season, as well as NASCAR’s recent and past history) and future (what hangs over every race when the appointed grand martial shouts “Gentlemen, start … your engines!”) is that there is no proper enough stadium to hold a race.

Oh, there are real enough confines for such events, ovals with grandstands of girders and planks, vendors hawking Dale ballcaps and pit crews rolling out the cars, sportswriters up in the media room wisecracking to each other and cheesecake firesuited ESPN reporters doing interviews with drivers who are studiously avoiding looking at their boobs, fans flocking through the gates or atop their RVs yelling hoarsely for their man, almost too drunk before the race begins: all that counts for everything, and the racin’, too:

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Jamie Little of ESPN interviews Kevin Harvick at a Michgan race in 2008. Now I know why the drivers all wear shades—the camera can’t tell where you’re staring.

But there’s more to the Stadium than that in this Oval in my mind – it’s bigger, more mythic than that. It’s as if the next race in the next town in the next stadium was a  proscenium into regions of my cranium I didn’t know existed and can’t explore without the present metaphor, one which has two sides, two faces, two motions, the lucence of the full moon and the hidden, far stronger side behind, the face for public consumption and the older, mythic one inside, the in and out and round and down and whambam and thankyoumam which works the bellows of our lungs and keeps our heart in steady pulsing sursurration, sending out enriched blood on waxing waves, receiving exhausted blood back in on the ebb, giving the blue tide a fresh jolt of oxygen and making things cherry red for the next flood-tide of blood or semen or breath or thought, amen and hymen.

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It was William Blake who said, “without contraries there is no progression.” It’s a thought which testosterone- and adrenaline-enriched men in their racecars (on and off any legitimate track) have a hard time understanding. Balls-to-the-walls, pedal-to-the-metal aspirations know only forward movement—and fast—yet none of that transpires without so much to hold it back: gravity and wind resistance, the inevitable turns which require downshifting, caution flags and pit stops, the limits of time which demand that a checkered flag eventually fall. Without such contraries to speed, there is no race; but the obvious is the way our brains are tuned, calibrated and trimmed for speed, with all that darkness just outside the bright lights of the stadium shouting No.

Without contraries there is nothing for this rhetoric to grip as it wheels round its course; the Oval needs both God and Devil to make it to the end, a big-hootered homespun barely legal blonde angel at my left ear hymning “Go Daddy, Go!” while at my right ear, in a hoarse whisper poured from a forgotten still up in the mountains which ridge NASCAR’s One Track, an aged bleached-blonde-but-showing-deep-dark-roots Wal-Mart hussie whose blue push-up bra which peeks through a torn blue blouse can do little to brace the massive sag of time, I hear, “One lap more or I’ll will eat your balls and brains for breakfast.” Yikes. Perilous is the way with both of those babes cooing and screeching in my ear–and yet, without my blue and red contraries there is far too little gumption to make the runnin’ fun.

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And the road which leads to the next race – to Richmond, in this post’s case – stands for all that is prior to a race which gives the race heft and panache, a narrative, if you will, the storyline which finds in the title of “Last Race Before the Chase” a sense of momentum in forward and reverse, in high-odds betting over long-shot hopefuls, in watching to see if Denny Hamlin–the local son born 22 miles away from Richmond International Speedway—will win his second Virginia race and sixth of the season with a momentum-turning peformance on Saturday night. The road to Richmond is the framing device of this post, getting to the Air Guard 400 by way of many routes of soul rolled into that one path.

And so, to properly proceed …

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Saturday, Sept. 4

Jesus said, “If you bring out what is inside you, what you bring out will save you. If you fail to bring out what is inside you, what you fail to bring out will destroy you.” – Gospel of Thomas (see Note)

I don’t know if it’s the Nadolol, the new meds I’m taking to try to prevent migraine headaches, but I’ve been dreaming intensely of late, usually leaving a singular, harsh image on my mind as I wake –-  a spinning black vortex fingering around our bed, trying to grab me and haul me off a cyclone’s sky-wide abyss; pissing like a racehorse who has piss like Manannan’s mythic steed, all over the furniture in all the rooms of our house; trying to make some huge corporate announcement on the stage of the auditorium of my Spokane, Washington college, heavily burdened with books and coats and files and shoes, staggering about trying to hold all of that up while trying to mouth the words that will affect many lives, like a huge layoff. Or is the Word coming through about a much more personal termination, from my job — or my life?

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Who knows. Next-to-the-latest thought on dreams in the psychological literature suggests that dreaming is the mind’s way of condensing emotions into a single vibrating visual poem, working through a problem by means of bottomless metaphors. However, a paper published last November by Dr. J. Allen Thompson in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience suggest that dreams are physiological rather than psychological: the brain (not that hazy multiplex theatre of the noosphere called mind) is doing pushups and breathing exercises, warming itself up for the anticipated challenges of the day.

David Carey writes about the research in “A Dream Interpretation: Tuneups for the Mind,”

In studies, scientists have found evidence that REM activity helps the brain build neural connections, particularly in its visual areas. The developing fetus may be “seeing” something, in terms of brain activity, long before the eyes ever open —- the developing brain drawing on innate, biological models of space and time, like an internal virtual-reality machine. Full-on dreams, in the usual sense of the word, come much later. Their content, in this view, is a kind of crude test run for what the coming day may hold.

Either way – as my mind’s way of summing up my life, or my brain’s attempt to ready me for this particular day – my dreams tell me I’m screwed, that big shit (OK, piss) is going down and I’m rather helpless in the middle of it all.

Maybe it is just the Nadolol. The beta blocker does have a side effect of hallucinations. This would be OK if it was working better, or kept working. The first week I was on Nadolol, I didn’t have a single headache, in the week since, I’ve had them every day with a ferocity that leaves me feeling stunned and stupid and unable to shoulder my world, returning me to the bum cycle of daily migraines I’ve been suffering all summer, despite two courses of treatment of anti-inflammatories and now the Nadolol. Finally I called my neurologist and he’s scheduled me this week for infusions, a one-hour-twice-a-day-for-three-days umbilical of dramatic meds siphoned through a vein in my arm all through my body and up into my head, drenching the brainstem with DHA and other radicals, killing the unrestful bastard at last. We hope.

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Maybe these dreams are telling me Don’t Wake Up, Pal, Migraine in the Room, and I’m seeing the shadow of a migraine malaise which I’ve been suffering now for the past decade or so and may have to endure for the rest of my days.

Or maybe the dreams are cueing me to a malaise which may be the cause or the result of the next early morning of reading-and-writing followed by all-day hammering away on keyboard at work, something I’ve done for years now.

Or maybe my dreams are telling me that my migraine malaise is coming as much from without as within, from the world’s turning under a bad sign, a turn which is culminating and is soon to cover us all with a mile of water. Maybe a big meteor is coming, or a fusillade of nukes, or a pink slip at work or an infarction of a major artery, tearing me loose from this life with an O Shit and an Ahhhh.

Or maybe it is simply the normal birth-pangs of the next post, this next Oval Scream, a vowel movement squeezing through some oubliette of thought, out from a womb or into a crapper (probably both) in the general direction of Richmond, Virginia, host of the final race of the regular Sprint Cup season. My migraine story, my dream journal, these Ovalscream posts all aboard an enflamed hippocampus at the seat of my brain, shouting Go Man Go to the fracas of 1000-horsepower Sprint Cup cars careening round a 1/2-mile track under the lights of Richmond International Speedway.

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The article was also interesting (see, I’m not dead yet) in that it also said that it is widely accepted by psychologists that the brain is dreaming all the time; it’s just that when we become conscious (we wake up) that activity is drowned out or dimmed to the rear. Schizophrenics have little conscious cohesion so their dreams are constantly irrupting, spewing forth into a place of consciousness which confuses the phantastical with the real. For the rest of us, dreams live on by day in a restless boneyard, one which sings for a moment when we daydream, when I start falling asleep as I drive home and my mental reverie seems to step off a contintental shelf into the abyss, or when, as I write, a Voice seems to take over, and I’m not so much writing as taking dictation.

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Here at this hour—now 7 a.m. on Saturday of Labor Day Weekend 2010 – none of that whirling darkness is apparent. It’s receded to the background, farther back than I wish this migraine would have receded after taking two Frova. It looks so fair and green outside, windows open to a warm waking day (up to the middle 90s today, but the humidity’s low), scarcely a breeze winnowing the Mexican petunias in the garden: the portrait of Eden, Hurricane Earl far, far away, God in His Heaven on Earth.

I just wish the major residue of migraine and the minor residue of dream were still smaller. Low cellos are sawing low in this halcyon moment of morning, playing so softly the “Jaw” theme, informing me that under the surface, Something swims, circling, slowly surfacing, jaws opening wide revealing rows of white teeth big as hatchet-heads, gobbets of flesh still streaming from their nooks …

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A lucid dream? Or the hallucination of nightmare? Or both?

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I can’t say: I simply type what the Voice bid me to write down … And heed its sultry hoarse whisper, “Go baby, go” as I jam my food down on the gas pedal.

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Sunday, Sept. 5

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him, “Then shall we enter the Kingdom as babies?” Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom.”  — Gospel of Thomas

Watched the last 20 laps or so of the Great Clips 300 Nationwide Series race at Atlanta last night, enough to watch Jamie McMurray hold off Kyle Busch just enough to take the checkers. It was sort of a reversal of the Sprint Cup race at Bristol under the lights in August – in that race, it was Kyle in first place and McMurray in second – and perhaps a more distinctive win for Jamie since Kyle has been so hard to beat in Nationwide competition this year (ten wins). OK, Daytona and the Brickyard are both places to win in Sprint Cup competition, and McMurray has done both; but I’m sure Jamie is hoping this will be a warmup for tonight’s Sprint Cup race, where it will take a major mistake by Clint Bowyer and a top-5 finish to edge him closer to taking the 12th tier in the points standings. Mark Martin (currently 14th) and Ryan Newman (15th) are also within spitting distance of the Chase, but time is running out.

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Time is running out. At least, one time is running out. A new one begins after the Richmond race on Sept. 11 and the Chase for the Cup formally begins, with all eyes then on Dover, then Kansas, then Fontana, then Charlotte, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and finally Homstead, the final race of the Chase. By then history may have already been decided; the math of the Chase in ineluctable; Hamlin or Johson or Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick may have established an impregnable lead based on their performance in the clinch.

“Clinch” – there’s a word. It has two meanings which seem to oppose each other. One is “to make final or irrefutable” and the other “to hold an opponent at close quarters with one or both arms.” The one meaning is certain of victory, the other leaves things in the balance, prior to outcome.

“Clinch” is what is called a “contranym” in grammarspeak –words whose meanings oppose each other. Another contranym  is “sanction”: “to allow,” as the Air Guard 400 in Richmond is a NASCAR-sanctioned race; yet it also means “to prohibit,” as NASCAR sanctions prohibits drivers who have violated its drug policy from racing. Contranyms are a sweet-faced, torrentially-voluptuous track girl whose berry-mouth opens so lusciously to say “No” when you ask her back to your RV for a beer. How could affirmation and negation exist at once, inside one body. Yet they do in contranyms, sashaying off with a swish of the hips and nary a look back over their shoulder.

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This is different from words or phrases which are often confused with each other. Like “flush out” – to bring something out of a hiding place (as in hunting), or discover hidden meanings – and “flesh out,” giving something substance by adding description or characterization, in order to make it more complete. The former makes a hidden thing visible, the other makes a visible thing more real.

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Another confusion is “complement,” something which makes a thing complete, with “compliment,” to express admiration for something. A red brassiere is the perfect complement for a red thong, but you are lush and plush in your compliments at what’s under the underwear when both come off.

Or this pair: “torturous” – something which is especially painful to endure (like torture) and “tortuous,” a route or procedure which is tricky with twists and turns. Some readers – the ones who gave up long ago – would consider posts like these torturous, preferring their ovals short and sweet, like a fast hard quickie on the hood of a Mustang), while others might enjoy the challenge of its tortuous rhetoric, like a road race or a night with a Tantric black-belt like Chloe Vevrier.

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The lovely Chloe Vervier, whose hourglass abundance both shapes and times this post.

Some words -– and worlds –- are inherently confusing, both things at once, sanctioned by our language to invite us in for a tickle pickle while at the same time giving us the finger and the boot when we get to close. Don’t blame NASCAR for not knowing what it sanctions and what it does not–or vice versa.

English is a muddy language — obviously — but we’re also greatly at fault for making it dirtier as we float, slowly and surely, generation after generation, away from the written culture of the book and the newspaper.

Reading is supposed to be one of the best ways of retaining knowledge – far better than listening or watching the same knowledge presented – But it’s a harder and more  concentrated act amid the profusion of convenient devices which exist mainly to entertain rather than inform.

But we can’t blame youth culture for this; technology has been making things more convenient for us since the development of writing, which allowed knowledge to fly from our heads onto the page. Need to know something? Go to the library and look it up. Plato loathed writing for how it cheapened thought. Irish poets before Christianity were expected to remember the entire body of oral literature before creating a poem  of their own; when the monks came around  and wrote down the oral culture in books, the bards died out. Now the word is dying out, replaced by eye candy.

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And we think we have it bad with porn: Plato thought books turned the mind to mush.

I mean, would you read this post if I didn’t wedge some tits into somewhere?

Call me a pragmatist.

Or a dreamer. I mean as one who loyal to the dark, twisty, convoluted, inverted and strange equiovcations of the dream, which always grab my plodding scholar’s feet to haul me down to the Land Down Under, seeing things with the Underworld perspective, the world of love and death and racin’ which defies sense and morality and yet is just right, as long as I don’t call any of it real and try to make a religion out of mystery. Literalism is for fundamentalists of every creed; this is literary foolery, the ape scribe mouthing the words of God which bark and blubber and ooze and sneeze from our mortal orifices. So  if I place big-hootered goddess of fate along the dark road to Richmond, then something keeps me keepin’ on, aroused, enthused, even enrapt, enough so that the rough slog of writing a post through hell and back is yet an adventure, like chasing Persephone thorugh all the honkeytonks still open at this wicked hour of late, late, early, early morning.

Call me a dancin’ fool, but She wants to go round and round the Oval ballroom til this world is done, and I’m game …

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The Roman God Janus had two faces, each looking in the opposite direction. His feast day was on New Year’s Day, January 1 in the Julian calendar — at the end of one year (looking one way) and the beginning of the next. Janus is the door which opens one way, thus closing in the other; he is akin to Wynona’s Wheel of Fortune, dishing out good and bad luck in the same spin of her wheel.

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Janus makes keen the edge of racin,’ the way a blade is tempered by swiping it two ways against a sharpening stone. The equivocation, the ambiguity of sense (am I in or out? Should I stay of should I go?) makes the moment keen.

Consider the Richmond race, where some drivers have already clinched their Chase berth (like Harvick and Jeff Gordon), while others will be in a heated clinch as they battle for the remaining 12th spot. If Jimmie Johnson wrecks or finishes poorly, he is awful – capable of creating awe yet finishing dismally. If Hamlin or Harvick wins, he’ll be bad to the bone – terribly great. Girl fans think Tony Stewart is so cool, but they really mean he’s hot, especially after his win at Atlanta last Saturday night. If Bowyer wrecks, the season goes downhill for him; and if Bowyer wrecks, a win by McMurray would be a downhill glide into the final Chase berth. And if Denny Hamlin finds his groove, he’ll drive straight through the pass between Wynona’s mounds to victory.

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Such thoughts keep Wynona’s big wheel(s) turning,

Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.

(Savage 8 by the band, taking us to the next stanza …)

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Would you like to hear my song? I’m afraid it’s rather long
Of the famous “On to Richmond” double trouble,
Of the half-a-dozen trips and half-a-dozen slips
And the very latest bursting of the bubble.
‘Tis pretty hard to sing and like a round, round ring
‘Tis a dreadful knotty puzzle to unravel;
Though all the papers swore, when we touched Virginia’s shore
That Richmond was a hard road to travel.

Then pull off your coat and roll up your sleeve,
Richmond is a hard road to travel,
Then pull off your coat and roll up your sleeve,
Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe.

— “Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel,” American folk song

While the political big mouths are firing off against each other over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero—-a battle between Red and Blue visions of the future, with some of the figures talking out of both sides of their mouth at the same time (like the enraged Fox talking heads who say what desecration of American sacrifice the mosque would become, funded by terrorist money to boot, while saying nothing about the big money invested in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp by the same Saudi figure)–a quieter battle is being waged between history and posterity on two separate yet similar battlefields.

In the first instance, The National Coalition for History and The American Legion have teamed to oppose plans to create the Mason Dixon casino complex next to Gettysburg National History Park. The property in question is within a mile of South Cavalry Field, where some 8,000 Confederate and Union soldiers are said to be buried in unmarked graves.

“There is no way that The American Legion or the American people, especially her veterans, will stand by and let the memory and meaning of Gettysburg National Military Park be besmirched by this misbegotten plan to erect a casino in proximity to this hallowed ground,” said Clarence Hill, American Legion National Commander.

Yet the 100-acre lot is zoned for commercial, mixed-use businesses, and the 300-room hotel which the casino owners want to convert has been standing there for 40 years. The local American Legion post in Gettysburg hasn’t joined with the national organization in the protest – unemployment is around 8 percent in Adams County, and vets need jobs, too.

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A similar fight is going on in Orange County, Virginia, where Wal-Mart wants to build a Supercenter at the intersection of Routes 20 and 3 in New Market Heights. The property in question is part of the grounds where the fierce Battle of the Wilderness was fought in May 1864. That conflict saw 100,000 Union soldiers and 61,000 Confederates bloodily engaged, resulting in 28,000 casualties. The victory went to Union forces, and from there there marched on to Richmond and finally to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

Part of the Wilderness grounds (about 27,000 acres) are protected by the Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. But the rest has been largely developed with housing and those franchises which have virally covered the United States, so that every town looks like every other — Office Depots and TGI Fridays and Targets and Cracker Barrels. The proposed Wal Mart Supercenter is about a mile from the entrance to the military park.

On the preservation side is the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the actor Robert Duvall, who is a descendent of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In a letter sent to Wal-Mart president and CEO H. Lee Scott signed by 253 scholars including Pulitzer prize winner David McCullough and filmmaker Ken Burns, Wal-Mart was urged to build somewhere further away from the battlefield. “The Wilderness is an indelible part of our history,” the letters says, “its very ground hallowed by the American blood spilled there, and it cannot be moved.”

On Wal-Mart’s side are the locals. “Go find a shirt in Orange,” someone wrote the local paper. “You can’t.” The county stands to earn $500,000 in tax revenue. “In these economic times, the fact that Wal-Mart wants to come into the county is an economic plus,” said R. Mark Johnson, a tire shop owner and chairman of the county’s board of supervisors. “This is hardly pristine wilderness we’re talking about.”

OK, pristine wilderness may be as hard to find these days anywhere in hyper-suburban America as the likelihood that your date has never done it before, but overwriting heritage with a Wal-Mart is like going straight from the dreamy, wet-eyed innocence of virgin puppy love to the thornier charms of girls named Cherry or Porsche wearing  g-strings and slapping immobile silicones in your face down at Thee Down House. I mean, there’s got to be a middle ground between Eden and the Fall, right, where origin and present have a shared interest and a little mutual respect for the other?

Rigggghhhht. Only in my dreams.

A civil suit goes to court on the issue in January.

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In both cases, it’s preservation for national history’s sake – something which has no real dollar value – versus development for the local economy’s sake. Tough decision, eh. And not an uncommon one. The Wilderness is one of 25 battlefields listed by the Civil War Preservation Trust as “endangered” by commercial development and suburban sprawl. In this country, history is an endangered species, much as the ivory-billed woodpecker and the grey wolf—too small to defend itself against our God-given right to dig and clear-cut and put up another Wendy’s sign.

This poem was by Linda Lee posted in the comments section of an article on the fracas in the U.S. News & World Report’s website on May 13:

The Sins of This Generation

Bullets flew into the storm of cannon, shot and shell,
dry grass popped and cracked that night, a field of death and hell.
Warmth had left and what remained, grew cold and stiff and still.
It did not hurt that death had won, it’s darkness left no chill.
I heard the cries of wounded men and smelled the flesh that burned.
I heard the shovels digging dirt, but no one has returned.
One day I heard the squeal of pigs, felt them push against my bones;
sweaty mules strained in harness, moving rocks and splitting stones.
Often they would snort while plowing, walking over where I lay;
mule and man never knowing, plowing ground that covers gray.
My blood has seeped out long ago and bones are scattered all around,
I yearn to have my loved ones close, to lie beside them in the ground.
But now I hear a strange, new noise, smell another kind of smoke.
I feel the dirt around me move, pull bits of cloth from tattered cloak.
I strain to hear what’s being said, above the noise of their machines;
I fear no one will come for me and wonder what a Walmart means.

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That Battle of the Wilderness.

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Monday, Sept. 6 – Labor Day

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘it is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you Rather, the Kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are poverty.” – Gospel of Thomas

Ah, Wal-Mart, we know ye well. America’s most successful retailer, it’s largest employer, and the world’s largest single producer of revenue. Founded in 1962 by Sam Walton, Wal-Mart is a ubiquitous global product, virally spread through all 50 states of this country and thriving in Mexico, the United Kingdom, China and South Korea. In 2009, the store generated $258 billion in revenue in the U.S. alone, half of that from grocery sales.

The retail giant is a marvel of technology, with its own satellite network linking all operating unites of the company with its Bentonville, Ark. office via two-way voice and data transmission. The network is a functioning commercial brain, capable of just-in-time delivery which keeps inventory costs at a minimum while maximizing the availability of its products, most of which are purchased overseas in sweetheart deals with Chinese manufacturers.

If there is an example of how franchising is perhaps the most successful example of our human capacity to replicate viruses, it is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is the model of moving into a community offering such low prices on everything that local businesses cannot compete. Kenneth Stone, a Professor of Economics at Iowa State University, found that some small towns can lose almost half of their retail trade within ten years of a Wal-Mart store opening.

In the raw calculus of human behavior, Wal-Mart is most appealing in that least-common-denominator manner: low prices trumps quality-of product or business model—every time. Each week, about 100 million Americans—a third of our population—will shop at a Wal-Mart. It is especially appealing to the poor (no duh); about a fifth of its shoppers have no bank account. Wal-Mart shoppers are also the most politically conservative; a poll indicated that after 2004 US Presidential Election 76% of voters who shopped at Wal-Mart once a week voted for George W. Bush, while only 23% supported senator John Kerry.

Wal-Mart attracts a special sort of shopper which you can’t find elsewhere whose clothing and grooming can only be described as Pig Hallow Baroque: beyond unkempt, it taks a certain pride in seeing how low the jeans will go and just how bitty the spandex can be spread over wallows of fat. Who hasn’t seen the circulating e-mails on Wal-Mart fashion?

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But Wal-Mart finds a lower rung as a place to work than to show off trailer park chic. About 70 percent of its workforce leaves within the first year. A 2006 report by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy estimates that Wal-Mart workers earn, on average, about 20 percent less than the average retail worker. Although Wal-Mart pays benefit to workers who put in at least 34 hours a week, the majority of its workforce is considered part-time (only 44 percent receive health care benefits). A class-action suit in Missouri on behalf of some 200,000 people in 2005 accused Wal-Mart for forcing people to work off-the-clock, denying overtime pay, and not allowing workers to take breaks. Wal-Mart has been sued for locking night workers into their stores and violating child-labor laws. And then there is the current class-action suit on behalf of some 1.5 million current and former female workers accusing the retail behemoth of sex discrimination, paying female employees less than their male counterparts, giving fewer female promotions, and forcing females to wait longer for their promotions. That suit just cleared the final hurdle before heading to the Supreme Court, and with its current pro-business bent under Chief Justice John Roberts, justice looks like it will be served the Wal-Mart way.

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Wal-Mart gets most of its cheap goods through deals with foreign manufacturers, some of which have been accused of using sweatshop and prison labor. There’s one report that one Wal-Mart supplier used teenagers in Bangladesh, working them for 80 hours a week at fourteen cents an hour.

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An American TV manufacturer went to court over unfair trade practices by Chinese competitors, and Wal-Mart sided with the Chinese.

Their website once carried the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a known forgery, claiming the book to be real. It also suggested that a documentary on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was similar to the Planet of the Apes boxed DVD set.

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Until the mid-1990s, Wal-Mart took out corporate-owned life insurance policies on its employees including “low level” employees such as janitors, cashiers, and stockers. Usually taken out to cover a company against financial loss when a high-ranking employees dies, “key man insurance” was derided in Wal-Mart practice as “Dead Peasants Insurance” – profiting off the deaths of its employees, and taking advantage of the tax law which allowed it to deduct the premiums. The practice was stopped after a crackdown by the federal government.

Oh Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart. For all you have done to the American development, business and labor landscape, a middle finger in kind for you this Labor Day, your Satanic Xmas, your saggy, haggy, tramp-stamped double-D-Day, your antithetical Appomatox, surrendering all human pride for your owners’ piggy banks: Christy Walton, widow of John Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton ($21 billion net worth); Jim Walton, brother of John $19.5 billion); their sister Alice ($19.3 billion) and brother Samuel Robson Walton ($19 billion). That was their net worth at the end of 2009;  it’s projected that the family fortune will pass into the $100 billion dollar range by the end of this  year. Not much in common with the base, wouldn’t you say?

Enjoy the obscene privilege on your Labor Day picnic.

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The Fall of Richmond, April 2, 1865

The proposed Wal-Mart, whose foundation (if it is allowed by commerce to be dug, will surely inter the bones of Civil War dead), is 58 miles to the north of Richmond International Speedway as the crow flies along merry, meandering, bucolic, pristine I-95. Following their victory at the Wilderness, the Union Army marched south along a route which may have trampled the grounds which became that neck of interstate highway, capturing Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy) on April 2, 1865. Eight days later Robert E. Lee’s retreating Army of North Virginia surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on the steps of the Appomattox Court House, symbolically ending the Civil War.

Saturday’s race—the Air Guard 400–at Richmond International Speedway is the final race of the Sprint Cup season, and it traditionally called “One Last Race to Make the Chase.”

One last chance, perhaps, but as with most roads to glory, the result is often a foregone conclusion. Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin nor Ryan Newman were able to close their gap in points on Clint Boyer in Atlanta. McMurray, who was closest to Boyer, now 128 points behind. For him to beat out Boyer, McMurray would have to lead all of the laps at Richmond and Bowyer would have to finish 39th. Only catastrophic luck on Boywer’s part and statrospheric luck by McMurray will do the job.

The Sprint Cup’s “Road to Richmond” arrives by way of Atlanta from the south, but the Civil War got to Richmond by way of Fredricksburg from the North.  As I’ve frequently said here, the center of the world – OK, America – is found at a Sprint Cup race. So there’s a lesson in the older route to Richmond from the site of the proposed Wal-Mart, some feet above the cataclysm of the Civil War—almost in oblivion. And in the same way that the Wilderness is being written over by commercial development, so NASCAR’s roots have largely been obscured by the advent of big money.

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The final race of the regular season also falls in Richmond on September 11—the ninth anniversary of the terrorist bombing, the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and taking out the fifth wall of the Pentagon’s. In all some 3,000 were killed, including 19 Al-Quaida terrorists who took their holy book way too literally, deciding they were mandated by God to be His scimitar mowing down the Great Satan (us).  On that day in 2001, the uber-symbol of American economic clout was felled not the missiles our Space Wars defense system was so vigilant upon but by commercial airline hijackers armed with boxcutters. Thus began the longest military conflict in U.S. history, and the road’s final destination is unclear.

Hindsight is manageable – what happened did – but foresight is a dicey thing.  Some say those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it; others—-like Glenn Beck (a literalist of Biblical proportions who has decided to return this country back to God from the infidel (us)-—believe the future is won by those who own the ruling version of it, and is now back there at the Congressional Congress having a much more mean-spirtited and fundamentalist Constitution written. (His owners are quietly going the other way and purchasing the rights to history, the way that estate of Michael Jackson, the best-selling pop artist, owns own the rights to the catalog of The Beatles, the greatest rock-n-roll band.)

Thus the preservationists and the developers are forever going at it over history and its future.

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Tuesday, September  7

This is September – traditionally  the big hurricane month for these parts – yet so far, the conga line of storms coming across the Atlantic has followed pretty much the same pattern, turning north before striking the U.S. Weathercasters explain it as a weak high pressure over Bermuda and a persistent dip in the jet stream, but image which sticks in my imaginative mind is the polarity of two high pressure systems, one over the U.S., the other somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. The storms are not so much steered up off the coast of the U.S. as lured between those big spinnin’ mounds.

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Weathercasters don’t know why these formations occur, nor is there any certainty how long they will last. The same pattern may provide safe passage through the rest of the hurricane season, and it may dissipate next week, giving way to other formations. Like in 2004, when the high pressure system off the coast of the United States steered all the storms right into Florida and the Gulf, resulting in four major hits that year.

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Dealing with hurricanes is like having sex with an 800-lb gorilla: the sex is over when the gorilla is finished. Hurricanes will do whatever they want to do, and science hasn’t a clue how to stop or steer them. They’re just too big.

Tooth pain is like having sex with an 800-lb gorilla. I’ve put off attending to these choppers for years and now several of them are playing the gorilla, beating its chest and bellowing whenever anything touches the bicuspid on the upper right side of my mouth or the molar on the lower right side at the back. Thank God that Nature gave us two of just about everything, including sides of a mouth. (Thank God almighty, though, men only were endowed with one of those pesky perky predatory peckers.) I eat southpaw style and drink cold water like a lefty. But the gorilla won’t be ignored any longer. Well, that’s for next week, in first of several ordeal in the chair where the there are needle-pricks of Novacain and high-whining drills and the smell of burning tooth and jolts of white pain which sear down to my toes. Ignore the teeth and the gorilla comes to visit.

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Migraines are also like having sex with an 800-lb gorilla. My migraine gorilla has been jumping up and down in my skull for a decade now, once to three times a week or so;  but this summer he hasn’t let up except for the first week I went onto the Nadolol. Tomorrow my neurologist is going to begin a fail-safe regimen of infusing twice a day a cocktail of meds which promises to drench my sickened brainstem with the big guns of pharma. Let’s see how the gorilla squatting on my head right now likes that.

The infusions worked back in ’05, the last time the gorilla got a hold and let go – but I’m not holding out any high hopes for anything more than a return to frequent visits by migraine, if not a permanent residence. This migraine will leave for good when it’s done with me, or I’m done.

Back in ’05 I wrote a series of poems called The Shamanic Letters, based on belief that the shaman’s initiatory experience (brutal, transformative) had parallels with migraines. (One of the Letters from that series concludes this post.) As much as the pain of migraine sucks, there are benefits. My brain is stimulated during the onset of a migraine; it’s both more creative and hornier. When it finally lifts there is sometimes the feeling of elation—whether it’s a spiritual afterglow or simply the relief of finally feeling well again, who knows.

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Neither the infusions – nor the poems – were potent enough to shamanize away whatever dark spirit who loves to dig its hooves into the grooves of my brainstem. I’m not sure what the message of this migraine is—-I’ve given up on the metaphysics. I’m taking a more physiological rather than psychological approach. Like a hurricane season, this summer’s Migraine from Hell has been in the hot weather, the bum economy, our failing finances, Jimmie Johnson’s fall from grace and the vagaries of this mid-term election season. At least, all of that goes round and round the pain-sump of my bleedin’ mind.

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But maybe the experience is still shamanic: my malaise has flashes of silver in its blue-black slime, allowing me to see what I couldn’t in the bright blue skies of a day without migraine. Not all of it is damage and dearth.

As the thinking goes, wounds damage, but they can also be wombs for growth. Everyone’s heard of post—traumatic stress disorder, the harrowing grip that damaging memories have upon a person’s mind. But there is also a phenomenon called post-traumatic “growth” or “adversarial” syndrome. Some soldiers have been documented emerging from combat—sometimes with massive wounds—feeling enhanced, rather than diminished, by the experience. There are feelings of spiritual development, improved relationships, a sense of personal strength and a greater appreciation for the moment.

A 1980 study cited in a Washington Post article found that 61 percent of American POWS in North Vietnam believed their experience was ultimately beneficial. The article relates this experience:

Tom McNish, a former Air Force pilot who was a prisoner in North Vietnam for six years, said: “There is no question in my mind that the experience I had in Vietnam has had an overall very positive effect on my life. But I don’t recommend it for anybody else. And I don’t want to have to do it again.”

Basically, one’s worst experience becomes a door to a new life with benefits which make the ordeal, in hindsight, a fertile, positive, transforming event.

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Meaning: the road to Richmond passes by Civil War battlefields and Wal-Mart, but it also has gone through Oz and Xanadu, Kansas and your home town; past cemeteries and VA hospitals, factories and farmland; past cities in ruin and churches whose steeples are just being set, and schools brimming with our future, and assisted-living facilities where the dying let go, sometimes screaming, sometimes with a smile; past honkeytonks where all hope is squandered except for a few who don’t die one night as they should and wake up instead, gather up their clothes and head for the heartland, walking on the side of the road beside us, smiling and waving as we pass. The road to Richmond includes all of these heavily-migrained mornings as I peer through the pain to see what I’m typing on the page, somehow believing that if I just make to Richmond – to the end of the post anyway – by then I’ll feel better, cleansed by the saying and Toradol and DHA. But then, by Richmond the gorilla will have grunted and zipped up and wandered off back into the Wilderness, free to return whenever HE chooses. Can’t do anything about that; but I can complete my travels here, for this post …

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Wednesday, September 8

“The kingdom will not come by expectation. The Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not find it.” – Gospel of  Thomas

So in my dream I’m sitting in an operating chair at the doctor’s – whether my dentist or neurologist, I can’t tell. Maybe both, the two compressed into one figment in the way of dreams. And neither: I can’t figure out who this guy is, don’t recall visiting this particular dentist (though I’ve seen three in the ordeal leading up to the eventual work which begins next week). Perhaps he is one of a series of Dentists who have Operated on Me (my teeth, my soul). Or one of the many Doctors who have Examined My Head (psychiatrist, psychologist, or neurologist). But I have work to do with the other doctors; how do I explain to him that he’s not the one? He orders x-rays, unsure I’m in any actual dental pain, attributing the soreness to migraines. Or is it the other way around? Skull or teeth, head or gut? I have a beer, and the doctor thinks that’s a good idea and has one, too. For this “consultation,” I’m to explain not only where the pain is coming from, but also why. I wake up when my wife goes to the loo to pee, and discover I have a bad migraine and my two bum teeth are throbbingly sore.

I get up-—at 2:30 a.m.—to get to work here. Might as well get something done here, even if what I accomplish is just digging me deeper into my own self-styled grave. Well, pass by my headstone there in the quaint country graveyard on the Road to Richmond, the one inscribed – I Did It My Way – Ouch! And I’ll never know which side of war being waged in my brain, my heart and my soul eventually won – the Preservationist who likes his beaches pristine – hearkening back to Eden, or maybe just my mother’s womb (where eternal seas softly and almost-silently plash)– or the Developer whose eyeing the shoreline seeing high rises and big box retailers with big-busted cashiers who are always available for More – more sugar, more spice, more gorillas, more words here.

The Doctor shrugged and said: I’ll have one too.

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Nowhere else in this country – except maybe in Nevada – is the viral scour of development so evident as in Florida. Florida was nothing for centuries – poor hunting grounds for the locals, of no value to the Union (Florida was the only state in the South which saw no battles during the Civil War), a sub-tropic wilderness until steamships started exploring the state’s meandering waterways late in 19th century. That’s when winter playgrounds for the rich were built – huge mansions and resorts and casinos on the borders of water (lakes, rivers and the sea). Then came the railroads penetrating further into around the state, then the roads. Slowly the state’s potential (besides growing oranges) as a tourist mecca emerged. Thus wilderness was cleared and the building began. The railroad which once crossed through our town (only the tracks remain) brought all manner of snowbirds who stayed for one season. Our  house was built in 1921 by a retired woman who paid her bills by renting out the lower half of the house in the winter. Only those in the support industry (the-barely- middle-class locals) and the blacks and the crackers weathered Florida’s withering summers without a/c.

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The big boom came after the war with the advent of air conditioning. Tourist parks like Weekie Watchee and Silver Springs and Marineland sprouted up, along with clusters of motels for the faithful. Suburbs began to grow in Tampa and Jacksonville, Miami and Daytona Beach. Orlando got its windfall when I-4 was built connecting the east and west coasts of Central Florida, and Disney World was built in the south of the town. And the land craze was on, with huge parcels  being bought up by developers with rich connections in the pro-business Florida legislature. Plenty of room to build on, huge swaths of forest and swamps and beachfront acreage. Once the emptiest state on the nation’s  east coast, Florida is now its second most populous at 18 million, just behind New York.

Nothing stands in the way of developers; and what is already developed is easily torn down and built over anew. There is little heritage in this state, because something gleamingly new is sitting on it. Humans have trekked through Florida for 10,000 years (always, it seems, on the road to somewhere else); there are few remains of their earlier residence, written over by successive moments of the present.

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The Miami Circle (see below), an ancient American Indian site found in the foundations of an apartment complex being torn down in for condo highrises. It took the state almost a decade to free the land from those greedy developers.

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Rarely does an attempt to preserve Florida’s past survive the stony pro-business will which fills the greedy hearts of city commissioners and state legislators – unless a better buck can be made. In 1995 the city of Miami approved a plan by a developer to raze the Brickell Point Apartments (on the south shore of the city looking out on the Straits of Florida) and build high-rise condos there, even though the site was within an archaeological conservation area. In 1998 while demolition was underway, black earth midden deposits were discovered – and then the Miami Circle, a perfect circle of 24 holes or basins cut into the limestone bedrock, surrounded by a large number of other ‘minor’ holes. It is the only known evidence of a prehistoric permanent structure cut into the bedrock in the United States, and considerably predates other known permanent settlements on the East Coast. It is believed to have been the location of a structure, built by the Tequesta Indians, in what was possibly their capital, some 1700 to 2000 years old.

The city considered having the Circle moved in order to have the condo construction proceed, but media attention became heated and a public outcry resulted in the city sued to gain the right acquiring the 2-acre property. The developer fought back, asserting that the Circle was probably the imprint of a septic system left by the former apartment buildings. A long legal battle with the developer ensued, and support from the Florida legislature failed to materialize until Florida Senator Bob Graham managed to get a bill to pass the state legislature in 2002 and the site got registered on the National Register of Historic Places.

Who knows what other antiquities are sitting under some Holiday Inn or Target, under the footers of millionaire McHouses or mobile home parks which equally fester the landscape. Ka-Ching! is the developer’s mantra, all of those gold coins spilling into their laps as whatever Florida once was is going, going gone. And what we get is a drab suburban uniformity where one place pretty well looks exactly like another, where you know you’ve entered the next town when the next set of Wendys and Wal-Marts come into view.

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And nowhere is the Great Bust in view as here in Florida, one of the countries hottest development prospects until just a few years ago. Driving about you can find abandoned housing developments which stopped in their tracks when the real-estate market collapsed, tracts of roads with square plots geometrically fitted into their sides where PVC pipes sprout from the ground but not much else except a rising tide of weeds -– thousands of these abandoned sites around the state whose lonely emptiness is echoed by completed developments now only a tenth occupied as most of the houses fell into sub-prime mortgage foreclosure. As I’ve written before, only one out of four mortgages in the Orlando area currently has at least a dollar of equity in it; the vast majority are underwater, covered in financial miasma the way the state has been covered by the sea many times in its history.

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I think of our neighborhood, mostly underwater the way our mortgage is, with people we know somewhat falling down the same hole we have fallen into; when I sit outside in the early morning feeding our black stray I see lights on in windows at 4 a.m., knowing the worry sets heavily on us all, resulting in insomnia and cheap amusements and abandonments. I drank a beer nonchalantly in my dream, even though I’ve foresworn alchohol for the past nine years (when I drink, I have a tendency for tossing my wedding ring or breaking out in handcuffs). I’ll have a beer too, the Doctor said in my dream.

What else areyagonnado, except keep on bailing, piling up the sandbags of contingency and credit, a structure which usually collapses eventually of its own unsteady making, allowing in the dark cold pour of realities imagined and all too real for too many. Here in Florida, people aren’t marrying, they aren’t having kids (or so many kids), they aren’t divorcing. But they are dying, or leaving, driving back north on the southbound road of dreams, headed back to some dust-bowl Kansas or rust-belt Ohio which has no greater opportunity but at least is home. Leaving the rest of us to eke out what remains, listening to tide waters rise outside the door.

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US-441 – the Orange Blossom Trail — is the road south from here which takes me to my job every day. As I’ve written earlier in the year, it is also the highway of nasty, the road of highway hookers and strip-club nubilettes named Chloe and Bristol who will shake their nipple-taped ta-ta’s in your face for a twenty, and with a smile for two. It is the road of perdition, fer sure, whether because it takes me to the salt mines or flesh dives of the soul.

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Going north on US-441 from here, that road is for many us in Central Florida the road of salvation, the yellowed brick road to The Swamp, home of the University of Florida Gators in Gainesville. That college football team wis as close to religion as many local good ole boys will get on any day other than Sunday. It is a road, in that direction, not unlike the pilgrimage to Mecca, where those (alas) almost-undefeated champs beat all comers while the loyal blue-and-orange fans chomp the air with their outstretched arms. Even though the Gators defeated Miami (OH) last weekend 34-12, their play was so sloppy that they slipped to No. 8 in the national rankings. The real Miami team – the one down there in Circle Town, FLA – plays, oddly, Ohio State this weekend.)

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For 17 of the past 20 matchups, the Florida Gators have chomped the Bulldogs of Georgia. Gator fans have been effusive in their liquid enthusiasm for the home team.

The Florida-Georgia football classic was dubbed “The World’s largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” by Florida Time-Union sports columnists Bill Kastelz in the 1950s, when he saw a drunken tailgater offer a drink to a cop. The practice remains in massive force though both schools have officially disavowed themselves of the handle. Recruiting based on stratospheric blood alcohol content versus academic excellence is not good official PR, but the U. of F. attracts a lot of students. (Surprisingly, the University of Central Florida has the largest student population – in fact, it’s the third largest in the country).

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Heading just north out of Gainesville, the road to salvation takes a hard right at the Dove World Outreach Center, where a trueblood Bible Belt evangelist named Terry Jones plans to hold a Quran-burning event (that’s Ko-ran, for you loyal Bushies) on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. For Jones, it’s simple: the Koran is filled with lies. Signs outside the church proclaim: “Islam is of the devil.” (Well, they did; some dissenter keeps stealing the “Islam” sign.) Asked in his dark office (where there are posters of George Bush and Mel Gibson as Braveheart) what he knew of the Quran, he replied: “I have no experience with it whatsoever. I only know that the Bible says.”

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Announced back in July, the news of “International Burn a Koran Day” has slowly snowballed into a major media event (I’m not surprising anyone with this news), and the backlash against Jones and his mission has ranged from the local (some two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organizations in Gainesville – it is a college town – are planning protest events featuring readings from the Quran on the night) to the national (Gen. David Petraeus has asked Jones to desist, saying that such an event would only endanger American troops in Irag and Afghanistan) to the globe (evidence the burnings of American-flag-draped effigies of Jones on the Middle Eastern Street). Jones says he’s received a hundred or so death threats and packs a .40 caliber pistol, which the minister says he is licensed to carry. (Jones was a hotel manager before taking up his crusade.)

Jones is representative of the recent spread of anti-Muslim sentiment around the country, heated still further by Republican and especially Tea Party candidates for the mid-term elections. Ron McNeil, a Republican candidate for Congress in the Florida Panhandle, told a group of high school and middle school students last week that Islam’s plan “is to destroy our way of life.” He added: “It’s our place as Christians to stand up for the word of God and what the Bible says.” McNeill is running against incumbent Allen Boyd “and the Democrat’s progressive ideology and liberal agenda.” (from McNeill’s website).

And then there’s plain old American racial hatred. President Obama is twice-damned – for being black and foreign Muslim to boot, no matter how much the President professes to be both American and Christian and has all the documents to prove it. Good ole boys have been heard to crack that the Quran should be barbecued with pork (which is banned in Islam).

Fortunately for Gator fans, the event will transpire after the game.

Unfortunately for Richmond fans, the Air Guard 400 will take place at the same time. It’s bad enough that there are two contending college football games on the tube – No. 18 Penn State vs. No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Oregon vs. unranked Tennessee – (thank God the Virginia Tech make-up ass-whupping against James Madison will be done by then) — but think of the added live coverage of the Gainesville bonfire on the cable news stations.

If it comes off. By the time this post gets up, the resolve of Revd. Jones may have collapsed. I mean, it’s one tip of a growing iceberg against the world, right?

So much drama on Saturday, with so little to prove at Richmond, the track at end of the road for the Sprint Cup’s regular season.

Stay tuned. To something.

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Thursday, September 9

His disciples said, “When will you appear to us and when shall we see you?” Jesus answered, “When you strip off your clothes without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample them, then (you) will see the son of the living one and not be afraid.” – Gospel of Thomas

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We are very much perplexed to know who is the next
To command the new Richmond expedition,
For the Capital must blaze, and that in ninety days,
And Jeff and his men be sent to perdition.
We’ll take the cursed town, and then we’ll burn it down,
And plunder and hang up each cursed Rebel;
Yet the contraband was right when he told us they would fight
“Oh, yes, massa, they fight like the devil!”

Then pull off your coat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel;
Then pull off your coat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!

Eventually all roads come to an end.  They must, for our minds cannot endure the thought of eternal passage here on earth. That would be another form of damnation: a road too far. I swear this post will come to an end. I swear, I swear, I swear, dagnammit.

When a road never ends, an entire Earth is circled. The landscape gets familiar again: haven’t I been here before? And still the course winds over the horizon. Poor fool us, we don’t know when to stop on roads such as that.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the poet is allowed to walk through the Nine Circles of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil, damned for living before Christ. Dante is able to walk out of Hell and on to Purgatory and Paradise, but the fallen are stuck down there, damned for all eternity to symbolically reenact their sins. Down in at the bottom of the Eight Circle, where things are about as bad as they get, sowers of discord (which include, in Dante’s Book, Muhammad), are hacked to pieces by a sword-wielding demon; these schematics walk around and round their Circle, bodies slowly healing back together, only o be hacked back to pieces again by the demon and sent on their eternal round. (Muslims would surely argue who split who off from the Truth — there is practically no difference between a Christian and Islamic fundamentalist, so sure they both are that each has exclusive rights to God’s mercy.)

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William Blake’s “The Schismatics and Sowers of Discord.” Muhammad is the bearded figure whose chest has been slashed open by the sword-wielding demon.

Problem is, one man’s meat is another’s poison. In Islamic countries, the Muslim Street knows America as the Great Satan, blaspheming their Allah with descecrations great and small. There’s a long road for Pastor Jones to walk in Jahannam, the Muslim Hell (after Greek Gehenna), long after every bad Muslim has been sprung from the joint. (They have a much more merciful God than the one preached by hard-right evangelicals.) Who’s the real sower of discord? Who’s yer daddy? Such questions hang in the air as the road comes to an end in Richmond.

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Sediments from the eroding Appalachinan mountains traveled south, forming the Florida peninsula. The Tequesta Indians traveled south down that peninsula until they came to the sea, and built their cathedral to safe passage there. Many have driven south into Florida with eyes full of Weeki Watchee mermaids serving pina coladas to them in their backyard pool.

But the end of the road is not always so cheerful. In The Planet of the Apes, Charleton Heston rides to the sea only to find that he’s crash-landed his spaceship on no foreign planet but our Earth of the future, finding there at the water’s edge, sticking halfway out of the sand, the Statue of Liberty, causing Heston to curse humanity.

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And in Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Max (played by Mel Gibson), a heartbroken and somewhat deranged state trooper still patrolling the highways after apocalypse, engages at both movies’ end in a chase which runs out of reel before it runs out of road, causing, I guess for expediency’s sake, that the chase make a 180 in media res.

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Sometimes the road goes on a lot further than we know. More people left Florida in 2009 than relocated or were born here for the first time in decades. Lots of people around the country are on the road, many of them driving in the only lodging they have.

And sometimes the road is over before we know it’s over. There was a house in our neighborhood which sported a sign by the front door which said, “Dun Roamin’” until the house was sold, the occupant who thought he was finished moved on to better digs elsewhere – in assisted living or the grave.

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The road to Richmond — for the Sprint Cup, at least — comes on Saturday by way of a race season engineered for maxiumum fan pleasure though grandstands were ever-emptier (Bristol failing to fill twice, after 54 straight Sprint Cup sellouts). There is the haunt of the old losing battle to the moment, troops rallied but future prospects dimmer.

Hopefully the road to Richmond will also bring some pleasure of homecoming to racing’s former glory. Think of the hobbits in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings returning to the Shire after setting out, too long ago, for adventure in the depths of Mordor and the Crack of Doom. Homecoming means the sweetness of childhood memories in the smell of local hearthsmoke and mown grass, scents those little warriors never imagined smelling again.

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Homecoming in Richmond after the Civil War must have been a mixed pleasure for the defeated Confederate Army. A different home in a changed world.

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Bitter–yet sweet, for many of the old icons of pride are there –- the Virginia State Capital and the White House of the Confederacy. On Monument Avenue you’ll find a number of monuments dedicated to leading figures of the Confederacy -– Robert E. Leeand J.E.B. Stuart and “Stonewall” Jackson on their bronze horses, leading their winning battles in a losing fray.

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And there are newer monuments to Southern pride. NASCAR is one of them. So is the durability of country music, now the safe haven of every white rock n roller. And so, too, is the Wal-Mart which Fredicksburg locals want to erect over the humiliation at the Wilderness, against the pressure of tree-hugging, Union-loving, godless, Quaran-wielding and unpatriotic preservationists.

But what about the bittersweetness of these homecomings at the end of the road? Bittersweet: now there’s an equiovcation, a mixed pleasure, like the beauty of the day following a funeral or a love song on the radio for the one who got away so long, long ago.

For Virginian Denny Hamlin, his Sprint Cup homecoming to Richmond is one of the few vital dramas of the event, for a win would start him at the front of the Chase with a lead in bonus points for what would be his sixth victory of the year. That would be sweet indeed. But if things go as they have in the last month of his racing, things could go sour again, and he’ll have to face the Chase inside the fabled chill of a stalled, failing and falling momentum. Bad breaks last year kept him from stopping Jimmie Johnson’s fourth championship run; he was probably the best other driver out there.

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Of course, it won’t be the road to Richmond but the one which finishes at Homestead in Miami which will perhaps engender the bittersweetest of feelings for all but the one who may have by then mathematically sewed up the championship. To have pitted oneself for 35 races against his peers and come up so close to the title but failed to reach the season’s Victory Lane – again, again, again for so many – must be awful bitter; so, too, for champions like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon who haven’t held the gold cup for quite a while. Ten of the final 12 will be honored, regardless, in Las Vegas; but only one takes the checker ed flag which sums the one which fell at all 36 races of the season. (And that driver may not have won a single one of those races this year.)

But more of that later this year. The moment is the road to Richmond, and I make my way to an end – to this end, for this post – here. I imagine Denny Hamlin looking out the window of his car (Camaro? Viper? Mustang? Taxi?) as he approaches Richmond International Speedway for this race weekend, his face revealing the contrary emotions of elation and worry, resolve and resignation. The bittersweetness of homecoming.

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Not unlike the feelings I have when I drive the last blocks home on my daily commute to my not-enough-job, eyes weary, head usually throbbing with migraine, the news on National Public Radio usually troubling. I take notice of this house or that, especially ones where For Sale signs have hung for too long, each month on the market dragging down house values of the entire neighborhood. An old guy walks alone; his dog Lucky must have died a while back. Oh sad, falling world.

Then I soften, admiring the landscaping in front of that house, the father walking alongside a his adopted Oriental girl as she gamely rides a bicycle fitted with training wheels. Sweet dreams are made of this, everything sad inside the old womb’s future bliss. One more stop sign, one more turn and I’m on my block, passing houses I can see with my eyes closed, even in sleep, just outside the window of the Doctor’s office I dream, each with dramas I know well enough.

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And then I’m turning into my driveway, admiring our garden now plush and lush in late summer, Mexican petunias long and waving in a breeze which tokens no tropical disturbance (Igor brews in the Antilles and looks to grow into one feral huge fucker, but I have trust that Chloe (Vevrier, that’s the model I’ve kidnapped for use in these pics), our busty Lady of Diversion, is out in the Atlantic holding vigil, guiding every bum storm system up the space between her marvelous, high-pressure mounds. I can see the TV in the living room, tuned, probably to “King of Queens,” comedy always for the end of hard day. Black Mamacita’s on the front porch waiting for her dinner, the stray we’ve cared for after all of her kittens died or grew up to die. , my wife’s car parked in back – she’s home from her work, the fourth and last probably carried off by a coyote three years ago.

Coming inside I’m greeted by Belle, our calico cat, ever the watchful, wakeful, attentive one. She’s probably looking for more food, but her expression for it is love, mewing at me and rubbing up against my leg. Hi Dad. And as I write these last lines, looking forward to shutting down this laptop, showering and shaving and getting back in bed with my wife to wake her up, gently rubbing her feet – I see myself come home to find my weary wife just back from her job, checking messages on the phone, looking beautiful to me, an aging woman whose heart I live and breathe and have my being in – a fragile, great risk, to love a mortal so – so ultimately bittersweet. I see myself hugging by way of homecoming. Into her ear I whisper “I love you”; and, as useless physic for all that we struggle against (today she takes her mother to her cardiologist appointment; she’s suffering from a fast and hard onset coronary heart disease) I add, “everything’s going to be OK,” which is my faith that God is here on this earth, in this life, this day, present in every moment of the journey and waiting for us at the end of the road. And not “everything is going to be OK” but “everything IS ok,” in God’s world, in the mystery and the depths and the profound discoveries and simple delights to be found when you peer into the moment and see the infinite looking back.

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On to Richmond we go …

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Postscript – Friday, September 10

In my dream last night – affected or afflicted, or both, by Nadolol and the cocktail of steroids, DHA and anti-nausea drugs flowing through my veins twice a day for three days at the research lab that’s next to my neurologist’s offce –all intended to break the hold of the 800-lb gorilla of a migraine who’s been happily humping away all summer on my cortical pain conduits – sitting, now doubt, on that pesky hippocampus where the mongol hordes from my brainstem into my head – In my dream I am attending a race, or a pre-race event. I look for a parking spot in a foggy dark lot – it’s very very late at night, not long before I get up every day – and cars are parked so helter-skelter I have to jam in sideways between two muscle cars.

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In a large hall Sprint Cup cars are being rolled into place along one wall, and there are folding chairs set up in the remainder of the hall for fans and the media. I get a seat up front (actually the cars are lined up along the west wall, as if rolled in from the garage next to Pit Row); Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford is the next rolled into place, so I move towards the north entrance, hoping to get a seat next to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy. A woman sits next to me, indeterminate age, not young or old, pretty in an indeterminate way, perhaps coming from within. She says she writes poems about racing mostly but is blogging this event in prose. I say hmmm, I wrote poems for ten years every day and then all that just shut up in me, and these racin’ blogs eventually started pouring forth. Poetry is much more spiritual, I say, and she agrees. But racin’ demands a bigger mouth. She starts to say something to me but is drowned out by an announcer on the PA who says its time for me to wake up. The event is finishing this post. I think of her as I write these lines, no threat to the real woman who’s sleeping a few more minutes after my ritual of softly rubbing her soles in slow downward motions – she was up in the night, worried no doubt about her mother, our money, this life. But the presence of that woman in my dream made me confident there was a way to the end of this post, making sure every last grain was spilled from the cup of Richmond before tapping the last period.

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Note

The Gospel According to Thomas or Gospel of Thomas, is a non-canonical gospel which was discovered in the cache of early Christian texts in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945. Written in the Coptic language, it originated in a school of early Christians and is attributed to Didymos Judas Thomas, a figure whose authenticity is debated and therefore of unknown authorship. It was included in the first New Testament canon, but in the fourth century only four canonical gospels – those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – were formally include in the Council of Nicea. An excellent account of how so many gospels of Jesus that were popular in the days of early Christendom came to be rejected as the Church institutionalized itself can found in Eileen Pagels’ Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Random House, 2003).

As the sayings from that rejected gospel indicate in this post, in the Book of Thomas Jesus is presented as a deeply mystical figure who tried to convice his disciples that Heaven was in the here and now. “I am the light that is over all things,” he says in another part of the gospel. “I am all. From me all came forth, and to me all extends. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” The rhetorical style is closest to that of St. John’s, connotatively elusive and deep, inviting an engaging meditation which allows the reader to walk a broad and inclusive highway of faith. The Church grew in the other way, denotatively actual and concrete, it’s authority based on what it deemed the Truth – facts. It hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages, and battles a world which hasn’t stopped changing since.

Joseph Campbell once said, “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religions traditions … are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

The middle road to faith—-between the warring realms of literalist religion and fact-based science—is, I believe, myth. Joseph Campbell again: “A mythology may be understood as an organization of metaphorical figures connotative of states of mind that are not finally of this or that nation or historical period, even though the figures themselves seem on their surface to suggest a concrete localization. The metaphorical languages of both mythology and metaphysics are not denotative of actual worlds or gods, but rather connote levels and entities within the person touched by them. Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Thou Art That, 7)

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The Fourth Shamanic Letter:

DOCTOR

Nov. 13, 2005

Among the Alarsk Buryat studied by Sandschejew, shamanism is transmitted in the paternal or maternal line. But it is also spontaneous. In either case vocation is manifested by dreams and convulsions, both provided by ancestral spirits (utcha).

A shamanic vocation is obligatory; one cannot refuse it. If there are no suitable candidates, the ancestral spirits torture children, who cry in their sleep, becomenervous and dreamy, and at 13 are designated for the profession. The preparatory period involves a long series of ecstatic experiences which are at the same time initiatory; the ancestral spirits appear in dreams and sometimes carry the candidate down to the underworld.

Meanwhile the youth continues to study under the shamans and the elders; he learns the clan genealogy and traditions, the shamanic mythology and vocabulary. The teacher is called the Father Shaman. During his ecstasy the candidate sings shamanic hymns. This is the sign that contact with the Beyond has finally been established.

—Mercea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

A Frova, Prednasone, two Tegretols,
a cup of Cuban coffee, some AA
literature, a bit of the wanker souse
purveying glossy boobs in Swank,
doses of Faust Part II and Eliade
and Jessie Weston & I’m off again,
saddled up for this next letter to You,
here at 5:15 on a Sunday morning,
exhausted from all the work we put
into a our so-so yard sale (enough to help
pay the next round of bills) but feeling
well enough to sing here again, the way
I do when I’m not feeling well at all,
only less pained to do be so verbally
pained. Does that matter at all to You?

Will my tongue actually become too
clotted with its joy to swirl the milky
depths of Soma’s awful truths buried
deeper in these words for a rougher
wilder world than I alone could not
have lived, much less sung to all the
gods? An owl hoots from a dark
tree in our dark neighborhood and
yet again, scaring off Hamlet’s Ghost
in his fatherly equipage.

A third time yet, holding my mind
to that edge between this waking world
and Your wet thundering surge
of all abyssal blissful ends. I’ve come
to trust this hour’s mood of matin chant,
the charm of sound between the lobes
of aging brain and bone, staircasing down
the foam of waters which drowned
You a thousand singers’ songs ago.

Is there a physic of the word which
knits wounds with verbal herbs
plucked from the blackest hedge beyond
the last lights of nighttown? When I
left for college 30 years ago I planned
to become a doctor of some sort, of
medicine or divinity for sure (as all
fools and adolescents swear), healing
the world of my own vast wounds, of
my parents’ and their parents’ more
vast and vaster woundings too.

But one course in human biology revealed
a nature in those wounds which refused
taxonomy; in all the catalogue of doors
that might have opened them at last
—muscular-skeletal doors, digestive ones,
circulatory labyrinths opening and closing
not that heart, endrocrinal egresses,
the royal road of neurons rising a spine
which was no arch I knew inside, beyond
those sterile names.

None of that seemed wild or wet enough
to shore that seeming sea that sucked
my toes at night and drowned me in dreams.
My father saw me as a Princeton man,
packing me onto my westbound flight
decked in a blue blazer he thought
a future man of God would be desired
by everymonied pulpit in the realm.
Yet I stepped off that plane far west of home
and was aghast to see my peers in
ratty jeans and hippie shirts, the girls
all Californian, so Mephistophelean-bright
I swore their smiles had roots in
tie-died thunderwear. Divinity adieu!

I swore, hanging up that blue blazer
for good. New older gods were singing
to me from a blue, blacker wood,
half-pecker, half trunk wild-hurling
ache, a forest of guitar necks stained
in hooch. Topside by day I was just
a dorky college freshman with a
nowhere kind of face, blundering

from dorm to class amid such freshening
tits and ass weaving, like fog, through
all those cathedralling pines. Further
down, far from topside view, the freshly
unGodded man sought infernal solace
in the words.

I loved history and Western Civ and
writing poetry the way I loved and hated
solitude, tearing into texts like meat and
bleeding inharmoniously as I tried
to write poems, line after sing-song line,
page after silly page. (I know—what truly
changes in the single wheeling of our life?)

In Your tutorage I was wholly blind
to the nurture of its nocturned source;
dark breasts swole unseen to books
lending to my greedy lips all that coffee
and those cigarettes in long hours
of riven study where I proved nothing
to the world but a raging, distant solitude.

Each line I read and wrote was like
a suture on my lips, sealing me tight
into a darkened room far so fucking
far below. Savage boobs by day
denied by every passing blouse sure
put the hurt in thirst as I guzzled
later beers by night, cans secreted
in my basement window and packed
in snow as the fall fell all the way.

I drank a sixpack every night while
my monkish ink dried on the page,
spinning Jethro Tull and Led Zep III
on my tinny stereo, my hands
twitching as Jimmy Page psalmed the way
on “Since I Been Lovin You,” roaring down
perdition’s 12-bar road of blues,
astride that red dragon Gibson ES-335.

I wanted none of it and all it,
the word and world I mean: I would
have given my entire soul for one night
free of books and poems as their
awful consequence in me, the IsoSoul,
the gray-faced scholist with with the
tiny pen that spewed such feral ire.

And that’s just what You offered me a
ways on further down that winter’s
hoary night: A woman walked out of
that pinewood mist to grip my penis
tight inside her half-looped mouth.
I couldn’t come for the life of me,
not even for my soul, though I traded
it any way—too shocked to be so
naked of all words, I guess—

But from that night my studies found
a tooth to them, turning every ivory
tower into an alabaster cock of thought,
desperate and ready to shove down
all walls to enter the well of Her—
I mean Your—conspiratorial blue dolor.

Thus my truer education thrust me down
the ramps of fire, soon plugged into
an amplifier & wielding an electric
blue guitar, burning every word I know
between Persephone’s own thighs,
good-time queen in that honky tonk
at the bottom of every night’s too
deep well of desire.

Doctor indeed I now am, of petrel cry
beyond all waking surf, my bag
stuffed with starfish and sand
dubbloons and the trailing skirts
of manowars. My physic works best
dripping from this pen’s nib,
playing salt guitar with Adam’s rib.

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