Driving Me Backwards


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Saturday, September 25

On the couch at 10 a.m. today because 1) I had a molar yanked yesterday, pesky bastard was split and decayed and sore as hell, and extraction costs a whole lot less than that bridge-maybe-root-canal proposed by Dr. Blue, my regular dentist, and Dr. Wu, the root-canal specialist I had been referred to; and 2) It’s raining out, some tropic low system is snarled over the state bringing in lots of rain; 3) doctor’s orders – rest for at least the first 24 hours. Which is fine with me, because my mouth and really hurting and I’m feeling weary, so weary, ready to lapse off to sleep – this ole body could use the rest anyway, if just for a day.

Dr. Langdon was a wiry, older guy – ripped, in his own way, strong hands, you gotta have ‘em if you’re going to yank teeth. And  he did, though in my novocain-sotted right mouth all I felt was pressure and grinding, smelling burnt tooth as he sawed it in two and then wiggled out the halves. And then it was gone -– twenty minutes to do the deed and I was driving home beneath heavy skies surly with rain, mouth sagging and numb, biting down on a bloody pack of gauze, vacantly listening to one of the talk shows which now occupy all of the local NPR affiliate (much cheaper in these days of austerity), listening to more news of the failing world as fat raindrops fell in ostinato agreement.

Home, my wife was deep into sewing – she has 16 pairs of pillowcases done and wants somehow produce another 34 over the next few weeks so she’ll have something to sell for the craft festival. She was loving and sweet, getting me comfortable on the couch, talking now and then and she came out of the sewing room, old movie on Turner Classics or a Food Network cooking show on the tube, me finishing off Hiaasen’s Star Island and reading into the first issue of my renewed subscription to Scientific American.(My dad gave me my first subscription for a birthday present; I gave myself the gift the second time around, fascinated with the poetry of science, its imaginative possibilities founded on phenomena, repeating Picasso’s statement, ”I do not seek; I find.” Quantum  theories shifting like tides of thought, images emerging from deep space and the infinitely small – dark matters, string theories, neuro-wonders, oh my …)

— And napping in wounded wonder, listening to rain fall in rising and falling resisters with far notes of thunder approaching very slowly, like a Theme coming to visit. Although none of that big storm music got all the way to our house, by dark the lighting was brilliant, followed many seconds later by whale’s-bowel-deep thunder, the ebbing of that sound refilled by the steady fall of rain. In my harrows, that hallowed music, rocking me like the old earth mother into the deep sleep of beddy-bye.

So no wonder the night outside when I got up at 3:30 this morning was as thick as my stunned tongue was before bed, lingering where the novacain moved on (or passing from one element to the  other), leaving me with a dull bone-soreness in my jaw and a headache (which probably – I’m hoping – resulted from mouth pain which will go away in a few days.).  I’m taking – carefully – oxycodin or something like that for the pain (ex-drinkers have to be careful with that stuff), as well as 600mg of Advil four times a day (the doc said that the Advil will actually retard the process of pain-generation, do something to keep pain from forming).

A Scientific American article I read yesterday on the couch described how researchers are discover that acetominiphen (Tylenol) works as well on emotional pain – especially the pain of rejection — as physical pain.  The neurotransmitters for both are apparently housed in the same house of anguish:

One brain area in question resides about an inch behind your forehead. Called the anterior cingulate cortex, it serves as one of the brain’s control centers for that “why me?” feeling when you get picked last for the dodgeball game. It also happens to be the same circuitry that induces the emotional component of pain, that desperate feeling provoked by the throbbing of a toothache. Evolution may have piggybacked brain functions that regulate social interaction on top of a more primal pain system. The way we speak (“I’m crushed”) even hints at just such a connection.

Sure coulda used some of that Tylenol back when I was 8, having just been refused by pretty playground Kim the offer of a dandelion bouquet … If it’s true that untreated migraines cause greater sensitivity to pain, as untreated alcoholism becomes an even greater avoider of pain –- a killing, phobic avoidance – is it also true that my old war wounds fester without a dose of Tylenol, which perhaps may be more effective than Maxalt or clonazapem or Xanax or any of the other complex, pharmacological palliatives for head pain and its discontents? Sure would simplify things.

I’m planning to lay low today – for the most part – holding off on yardwork til tomorrow, when the pain hopefully will have subsided some (althoghthe tooth doc said the pain will cusp at three days) as well as assembling the booth that was loaned to us for a neighbor to see if it will work for the craft festival. In the meantime I can work on my wife’s website and other promotional materials (a new business card, a flyer to hand out at the craft festival.)

And watch some football games.

And nap.

And do this. These hands-—worn out from the rigors of the last post—are already itching to begin the next foray into the Great Oval Dark. The wiring for this runs  deep; when I woke this morning I was dreaming of writing the first graphs of the next post, accompanied by a certain drumming which turned out to be the pain in my mouth.

These paragraphs aren’t those ones, but the one sure prompted this other. Narrating its rounded course by so many ghosts assembled in the stands—of history and mystery and other ineffables who sound off only when I’m clocked out of productive activities.

Is writing a palliative like Tylenol, a form of EMDR by emptying old drains of accumulated fallen leaves?

Or it it an exquisite form of torture, the way some people love nasty sex because they were abused when they were young, or go to races because they can’t get enough of the sort of falling-off-the-edge-sound which lies in wait for them, springing off life’s bum pit road with a growl so loud as to cause maidens to swoon in terror?

Nah. It’s just writin’, the way wild sex is just fuckin’ with history and racin’ is just driving beyond the boundaries of everything that keeps you alive.

And what I descend now toward is just nappin’, pain’s balm in the manner of dyin’, just not so much so.

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Sunday, September 26

According to ESPN.com, Clint Bowyer was beet-red in the face when he met with media in the Dover media center on Friday: Hoppin’ mad. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket and held it up to demonstrate how far off in height his #33 Chevy had been found after his win a New Hampshire the previous week – less than a sixty thousandth of an inch. It was enough for NASCAR to dock he and Richard Childress racing 150 championship driver and owner’s points, fine crew chief Shane Wilson $150,000 and suspend Wilson from the next six races.

Then he produced a sheet of legal paper which had been scrawled with plausible alternative, extra-garage reasons for exceeding the tolerance. The miniscule jack in height could have happened when the #33 was towed off the track after running out of gas doing victory burnouts. The rear bumper could have been jostled just enough by drivers who’d come by to congratulate Bowyer on his win. Et cetera. The reasons were all plausible enough to bat the issue back to NASCAR. A hearing between RCR and NASCAR is scheduled for this Wednesday.

What’s pissing Bowyer off so it that it was such a big hit for so teensy a variance. Docked 150 championship and owner points, Boywer fell from second back to twelfth place, keeping the win but losing all of his Chase advancement. A real momentum killer, you know? Bowyer’s 25th-place finish at the Monster Mile today in Dover would seem to confirm that; nudged in one direction after being discovered in the midst of hanky-panky with an edge, the #33 spun out of the Chase.

Some of Bowyer’s rage is directed against the NASCAR machine, a controlling maniac money-grubbing machine to be sure. Paranoid about “the brand,” NASCAR’s elders secretly levied heavy fines on drivers who spoke in a manner “detrimental to the sport,” whatever that means. NASCAR’s mania for control extends too to all of the substance-abuse suspensions it has levied against minor players, the Jeremy Mayfields, as an example, I guess, to the major players who would be unprofitable, in NASCAR’s eyes, to punish in similar manner for the same offenses. A sixty-thousandth- of-an-inch variance as cause to throw a new (but still minor) Chase contender back to jail without bail is a little like throwing cautions toward the end of a race for debris no one can see, mostly so the fans get a green-white-checker demo derby: the stuff which makes NASCAR more than just or a sport. Or less than sport, period.

Even so, some drivers in the garage on Friday – notably Denny Hamlin — said the #33 team had been warned since the Richmond race to stay within tolerances; he and Jimmie Johnson’s team had also been warned. NASCAR’s concern was not fresh news. And it was strange to see Bowyer qualify so hot (he started second) and them drive the race so beyond his norm. But was the reason great car and driver and team, or one sixty thousdandths of an inch? Can something so eensy make so much of a difference, and take away all human factors in edge, like ability and balls?

But as scientists know, just a little extra does go a long way. Recent experiments show that an atomic clock set just a third of meter higher than another one will run faster. Elevation —- even a litte bit — counts. Likewise will an atomic clock in a moving vehicle -– a stock car, say –- will count time faster than a stationary one. Fast cars not only go fast, they change time as they speed.

Granted, scientists go on to say it would take a million  years for the higher-elevated or in-motion atomic clock to tick off one more second than its counterpart. But the lesson is important in racin’, where the the distance between checker and wrecker is usually measured by shorthairs —  of speed, luck, reflexes, gas consumption, engine gumption, or a million other variables which we don’t have the brains to see (yet).

Think if you will for a moment on the raw chanciness of our existence and madness breathes on your neck. Life was possible and flourished on this planet due to a set of variables which provided an infinitesimally small envelope in the scheme of things in which to grow, like proximity to the ruling star, size of planet allowing for a certain gravity, the right soup of elements in the atmosphere, the right moisture and heat and light and darkness, et cetera.

Current estimates say that there around ten sextillion and 1 septillion (that’s 10 to the 24th power)in the universe, with an approximate ten million billion planets in the universe orbiting around them. Now, the odds of the right conditions for life appearing on one of those planets is around one in a million; thus one estimate says there perhaps a billion planets capable of producing life.

Bacteria, most likely. Spores. But what about intelligent life, which means life plus billions of years of very chancy steps in evolution to get to a folks like us. You wouldn’t know it to watch the population explode in any given trailer in Zellwood, but there’s about a .01 chance that over four billion years that germ life will reproduce and mutate and evolve into the Hickey Clan of Bootie, NC.

So we’re now down to a million planets spread over 100 million to a billion galaxies capable of producing intelligent life.

Not very good odds. But life figured it out here. I mean, I’m the result of a single successful sperm cell out of the 115 million spermatozoa my dad shotgunned my mom’s way some 53 years ago. That’s Powerball odds and here I am, just like everyone else.

And the actual numbers keep improving out there as our equipment for seeing the universe get stronger. We see a lot more out there with Hubble than we could before. As intelligent life grows here, the possibility of it increases out there.

So maybe that teensy sixty-thousandths of an inch of chassis elevation on Boywer’s #33 Chevy did make a difference at the Sylvania 300 in New Hampshire on September 19. Maybe the obvious infinitesimals — a few extra ounces of gasoline, flawless pits, track position which kept him out of the balletic spins of a Kurt Busch who admitted later he was racing faster than he knew how to, and and what-the-hell, balls-to-the-walls attitude by Bowyer who had nothing to lose – were trumped by a quarter’s width of difference, played out over 300 miles to result, at race’s end, in .418 seconds of a lead over second-place finisher Denny Hamlin and a leap from 12th to second place – for a day.

And now a quarter’s width – surely one of the finest shorthairs around – of illegit tinkering has become the springboard of Bowyer’s tumble back to the Chase cellar.

If so, then let’s talk about what a miracle it is that any of us live to squander our days on things like, say, racin’, the diciest enterprise in the universe, beating time in a fast car.

The wildest and most exhilarating ride, too.

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Monday, September 27

— And deadliest, of all the easy, commissionable sins.

— Well, not for Sprint Cup drivers anymore, not since Dale Earnhardt Sr. crashed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Ever since, Sprint Cup cars have become safer and safer, engineered so that the most vicious of wrecks appear to be a cakewalk for their victims, blithely rising from strewn wreckage like Jesus from the dead -– Michael McDowell at Texas, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman at Talladega, Brian Vickers this year at Pocono.

Their seeming invincibility, lent to them by so carefully a safe-crafted car, perhaps put the worry NASCAR’s PR crew, so that “we’re watching you” became, “let the boys have some fun” until it became clear that what NASCAR meant was, “we’re watching you have fun,” a chilling sort of statement from a ruling body. Sort of like knowing that Mommy’s looking on from a people as you’re enjoying a romp under the sheets with Darla. It’s fun but creepy, you know?

And as fantastical as the racing has become as a result, it distances with each miraculous wreck from the old raw truths of stock car racing which every average Joe with a street Mercury or Ford or Chevvy could understand – speed and wildness, hilarity at the edge of doom. NASCAR’s brands – Hamlin, Johnson, Harvick, Smoke, the Brothers Busch – race on inside an eternal envelope of safety, while we are left on the outside where speeds are slower for the most part but chances much dicier.

Chancinesss — with all its inherent thrill and danger and fatal enough consequences – still rules our streets. However, like Steven Colbert’s “truthiness”, it’s manufactured chance, not chancy the way there’s a one in 20 chance of solar superstorm in the next 20 years (wiping out our global communication grid, taking us offline for, say, years), or the one in two chance in the next 30 years of homo sapiens getting decimated by a killer pandemic. Chanciness is playing chicken when you know better, driving without a seatbelt and under the influence: dumb stuff which heightens the risk because, well, its sexy or you’re invulnerable or smart enough to create a clusterfuck of chaos though too stupid to know how to get out when things go south.

The chanciness of speed killed my nephew and my wife’s nephew, too, speed and a young man’s stupid sense of invulnerability, careening on a wet turnpike and a crowded interstate, all throwing variables into the mix which rose up to bite both in the ass when they overcorrected and spun out, one into a utility pole and the other into a tree, killing everyone on impact (my wife’s nephew was driving alone; my nephew had his girlfriend and best friend in car with him).

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Memorial benches for my nephew Nicholas and his girlfriend Jamie, both killed when Nick wrecked Jamie’s black SUV on the Florida Turnpike one rainy night in Feb. 2007.

I think of the near-misses I’ve had over the years, slurred in the bad old days by booze (so that the center line became a dancing chorus-line of yellow-hatted bosomites), in latter, dryer years due inattention or aggressiveness.  In 1981 I was t-boned by another car in an intersection on Sunday morning I had been drinking Bloody Marys with a cocktail waitress I occasionally followed home. The slo-mo reel of the wreck still plays in my head, time’s end lending the moment a frame-by-frame reel of the other car approaching in my peripheral vision, the smack and crunch on the passenger side door, the and whirl with my head flipping one way then the other from the impact, the smoke of rubber on the pavement, the sound  of crunching glass and the slow balletic swirl to a stop in the middle of the intersection, my senses coming to to the sound of my car’s radiator hissing and some Journey tune on the radio playing on, blithe to another destruction.

It wasn’t my fault, not specifically – the other car was running a red light – but I had blithely and somewhat blindly pulled out when my light went green, blind to the threat approaching fast from the right. Probably because I was drunk I was loose and avoided serious whiplash; but then I wouldn’t have been in that intersection with a finger crooked to Fate had I not been drinking that morning because I’d drunk so much the night before.

Death had its chance at me that morning, no doubt; a little more speed, a little less seatbelt and I could have been hair nose and eyeballs in a streak from that intersection to my grave. Score it me 1, fate zero: but the great Wheel kept spinning, every night I hit the road in search of some way of abandoning my skin.

Years later, long forsworn of booze, a guy cut me off once on the way to work, forcing me off the road; I was able to stop without rolling over. But sat there a moment, sick with adrenalin, my evolutionary turn on earth narrowly spared from ending by the rules of gravity which spared me from turning over. A little faster, a harder turn off the road, and it could have been different. By then I had enough to lose to hold off on going after the fucker, using my car as a four-wheeled sodomy-machine, paying back in kind no matter what the cost.

Last week I drifted off the turnkpike trying to retrieve a message on my new Droid. Rousd by the loud sound of my tires scraping on the roughed-up asphalt laid down to alert moronic drivers like me that Doom Is Approaching, I pitched that fucking smartphone at the seat next to me and turned my eyes back to the road where they belong, correcting back onto the road in time to watch a guy fly by me on the right giving me the finger.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that some 20 percent of crashes are caused by drivers distracted by texting, calling on cell phones, applying makeup, getting head, flipping channels on their radio or reading things like the newspaper or a map. Singleness of purpose – drive, fucker – is how you arrive alive these days. A no-brainer, perhaps, but if you’re addicted to your Blackberry, chanciness leads you by your confused nose to the sulphuric pussy-billows of hell.

In the times I experienced a near-miss with Death on the road, there was a clear feeling of its iron scythe-blade sweeping in a cold arc just beyond the hairs of my neck, a sense of casual permission to continue, not because I had any blessed fate to remit (none has revealed itself yet), but simply that I had been casually passed over for that particular rendezvous with death.

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Lord knows things go easily enough the wrong way without personally foolish contributions to Chanciness. — Not on the track, I mean, where mortality is no longer a real issue — but on those daily roads which takes us everywhere and back. Last week a 19-year-old Winter Park woman was sitting in the back seat of 2001 Hyundai with friends as they drove back from the funeral of a friend who had accidentally shot himself in the head. En route back from that farewell, their car was broadsided on the rear passenger door on the driver’s side by a pickup truck driven by a 54-year-old who may have been having a medical condition. The woman in that hot seat, a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast University studying criminal forensics, was killed.

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Also last week, a 2005 Dodge Caravan traveling northbound near Gainesville on I-75 had a surprise guest: the driver of a speeding Suzuki motorcycle, which stuck the back of the van so hard that the motorcycle driver was propelled into the back of the van, bulleting between a young couple who were sitting in bucket seats in back and ending up wedged horizontally in the van with his (badly damaged, chanciness-addicted) head next to the van’s driver.

“We were just cruising in the center lane when we heard a big ol’ bang — and he’s lying between us,” Sammy Cannon – one of the couple sitting in back — said.

The motorcyclist, 22-year-old Robert Kelly from Silver Springs, remains in critical condition at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida.

My bet is that the asshole will survive, in direct compensation, in the world’s topsy-turvy way, for the loss of the 19-year old woman who appeared to be headed for a significant contribution to our betterment.

With real chance – as opposed to chanciness, where you get everything you deserve — there is no justice. Take the guy who was street-racing against a pickup truck on SR-520 on the night of December 2007. He over-corrected during the heat and broadsided a 1994 Accura, killing two women. His vehicular homicide trial ended last week with a not-guilty verdict because prosecutors could not prove that he was actually racing and not simply speeding, even though a state trooper had testified that the damage to the Mustang was so great that it looked like “it was dropped from the sky.”

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A good defense lawyer cast enough doubt and the asshole received his “get out of jail card free” card.

Not surprisingly, the mother of victim Robin Hollar was outraged. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she yelled in the courtroom after hearing the verdict. “ He killed my son. He killed two people. What kind of justice is this?”

Sorry Sally; Chance doesn’t want justice, just consequences, more often for the innocent than the guilty.

And these days, you only have a chance of guilt if you’re caught; hit-and-run accidents are spiraling at a dizzy rate, with a wholesale flight of perps from their scenes of their crimes as they put it in gear and haul ass. Back in 2008, a drunk driver rear-ended our neighbors as they were driving back from Orlando Speedworld, upending their SUV into a ditch; he’d phoned a buddy who arrived just moments after the state troopers showed up. The guy was busted on a DUI and that’s all, though the couple endured some 70 doctor’s visits for whiplash and shoulder and head injuries, culminating in the discovery of esophageal cancer which killed the husband in eight months. No justice in that one, for sure; there wasn’t even a civil trial because the asshole was bankrupt and had no insurance. No pockets, no trial, on you go. State police say that there’s nothing they can do with multiple-DUI convicts except send them to prison, and only a manslaughter charge will accomplish that. Take away their license, but who’s to stop them from driving someone else’s car? A friend of mine buried his brother a couple years ago, dead of hepatitis at 43 and with some 12 DUI’s to his record.

And so the votives of chanciness simply drive away from their destructions. It’s become like the habit of turning without using turn-signals, only deadlier, devastating innocent families more often than returning coffins from Iraq and Afghanistan. Count up the tiny roadside crosses adorned with fake flowers on your daily commute and you’ll see where Chanciness is king, or Queen of the Dead: a fool’s errand become the dominating trope of the era.

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Evolution does not always move forward; crippling recessive genes propagate to stain the pool with everything from myopia to autism, left-handedness to red hair, neuropathy to psychopathy. (And there’s nothing more psychopathic than a left-handed redhead.) It used to be that such club-footed mutations quickly died out, picked off by predators as the weakest and most vulnerable elements of the pack. But now, with most of our natural predators hunted almost to extinction and with medicines which can keep even the most handicapped person alive to mate and thrive, it is possible, even likely, that we’re evolving in reverse. Evidence our current obese, prescription-pill-poppiing population, where young adults who should be clear of the nest are still living at home, dependent on their parents, addicted to the distracting silver sheets of noise produced by iPods and Xboxes and Droids, replacing this life with Second Life and Facebook, Twittering away the iota consciousness in lieu of thought, laying waste to the old realms of memory and imagination.

Dodoes are taking over everywhere, on the streets, on the airwaves, in Congress, making the sort of dodo decision which fate us to even more mindless solutions. Don’t like the speed limit? Speed. Don’t want to lose your license for abusing it so badly that you kill some faceless other on the road? Flee. Humanity’s enduring addiction to its worst has become hitched to the speeding wagon of technology, putting the downward spiral in our evolution. Far more preferable and consumable and fun is a Chancy romp at the mudhole in oversized pickup trucks with some overweight (and probably now pregnant) girl showing off her tramp stamps in a bursting halter-top than figuring out how to slow the warp-speed inflation of healthcare costs, if only so that it will be around tomorrow when that big-ass truck goes tits-up in the mud some next night.

Is your reality too frightening, too banal, too real? Then fugetaboutit and head for the races, where the collective squeal for Dale and Danica becomes a grosser specie of religion, basking in the fantasy of effortless and risk-free flight in lieu of failing to pay on a mortgage which is plodding in the underwater realms of the Great Recession. Oh what the hell -– global warming will probably cause the ocean to reclaim this neighborhood anyway faster than I can think of a way to get out of it besides bankruptcy.

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Tuesday, September 28

Like the eensy tolerance variation in Clint Bowyer’s #33 RCR Chevy, the string of circumstances which unscroll from one unlucky roll of the dice unwind forever. Just as one lucky move lifts the skirts of Wynona’s state fair of one-night-pleasures (for which a checkered flag is just the descending panty of), one false move can result in a series of careening missteps which dumps the lost prevaricator back into the abyss.

In the financial world, the precariousness of these false moves are woefully evident. The stock market’s 2008 meltdown was so fast and astonishing in it’s effect on the economy, especially since no one could properly account for it. Worse, some $60 trillion dollars worth of credit default swaps (equivalent to the world’s current gross domestic product) are woven like kudzu now through the world’s banking system, and no one knows what another shock to the flaccid real-estate market will do to this barnacle economy.

Danger in an integrated economy is like sniper fire; a missed budget prediction by the Spanish government, the failure of Greece to hit a deficit-reduction target, a drop in Ireland’s economic output–any one of these missteps could pitch the global economy back into recession. Systems evolve toward complexity which too frequently now open the door to chaos.

The ease in which such chaos can be unleashed in the complex systems of modernity is astonishing. One false binary move can snowball into a major fuckup, as on Nov. 19, 2009 when a single circuit board inside a computer router in Salt Lake City burned out, causing a glitch which rolled through air traffic control computers nationwide: the entire grid went mute.

With complex systems, when shit just happens, shit storms result. On August 14, 2003, shortly after 2 P.M. EDT, a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees and shut down—a fault, as it’s known in the power industry. The line had softened under the heat of the high current coursing through it. Normally, the problem would have tripped an alarm in the control room of First Energy Corporation, an Ohio-based utility company, but the alarm system failed. Over the next hour and a half, as system operators tried to understand what was happening, three other lines sagged into trees and switched off, forcing other power lines to shoulder an extra burden. Overtaxed, they cut out by 4:05 P.M., tripping a cascade of failures throughout southeastern Canada and eight northeastern states. All told, 50 million people lost power for up to two days in the biggest blackout in North American history. The event contributed to at least 11 deaths and cost an estimated $6 billion. Five years later, system complexity makes us just as vulernable to these sort of blackouts.

Anomalies are cometary events. On May 6, 2010, the Dow Jones industrial average suddenly dropped 1,000 points, only to mysteriously rise back to its former level by the end of the day. Had the system not corrected itself, the entire financial system would have melted down; but the best anyone can do is shrug their shoulders. We don’t know jack about the systems we are now utterly dependent upon.

So what about a false move in human affairs? Easy to see the evidence of it on the road every day, but what about political turns?  Philip Roth played out the scenario of a right-wing takeover of America in his novel The Plot Against America by having Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in 1940 by matinee-hero, Jew-hating Charles Lindbergh. And so instead of the legacy of a New Deal Democrat (which included Social Security, bank insurance and Medicare), Roth imagined the precedent of a government of Nazi-sympathizing fascists which sets America on a far different course for the next 40 years.

Fantastical, perhaps, but when I imagine Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck as our next President such fictions become the stuff of a terrifying reality. Bad shit can happen on the strength of narrow-minded populism. George Walker Bush won the 2000 election on the strength of some 500 votes in Florida’s election, with the corrupt Republican machine in Florida’s legislature giving Busch the state and thus the American Presidency, bringing into power a radical and militaristic right-wing machine which got us quickly into the quagmire of war and deregulated enough industry to set up the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010.

The political moment for change which Barack Obama brought to the White House was lost to a resolute and unbending Republican will to block every Democratic effort to address the country’s woes, demonizing every fix and now campaigning on a message of change which is pure Reaganesque nonsense –- sounds great, will burn every hopeful bridge to the future the present administration has erected.

The sense that we missed our chance grows in the clamor of the midterm elections, as the dirt of baseless accusation begins to fly. Demonize science, demonize truth long enough and bullshit sounds like a pretty good deal. Goebbels would surely be proud. Truthiness and Chanciness walking hand in hand, we goose-step our way backwards toward the abdication of American ideals in some fantasy of the past (and a lot more money for the few).

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Stupid minds think alike.

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And so life rolls on, albeit in the strange backwards motion of the times, autumn marching back to high summer and the viciousness of the the spring. On Monday temperatures in Los Angeles climbed to a record 113 degrees. Tropical Depression 13 has formed off Costa Rica and heads north into Florida, bringing up to five inches of rain over the next day or so. Wilmington, North Carolina had its second wettest day yesterday since 1850 with 10 inches of rain flooding streets. Flooding continued in Wisconsin, with levees along the Wisconsin River failing north Madison.

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Clint Bowyer continues his march to the rear of the Chase, smacking the wall of the Monster Mile on lap 152 of Sunday’s race and then dropping him a couple of laps down after serving penalties for both entering and exiting pit road too quickly after his car was repaired.

“We were fast; we had a good car,” said Mike Dillon. VP of competition for Richard Childress Racing and Bowyer’s spotter on Sunday. “We got in the wall early, and then I called out the wrong pit road speed coming into the pits. Speeding in, I told him 4,600 (rpms), and it was 3,600. We’re normally in the 4,000 range. I just made a boo-boo

A boo-boo; an oopsie; one of those mistakes which resulted in a 25th-place finish for the former Chase ace. Richard Childress Racing will have a chance to formally appeal the chassis tolerance penalty today, but most expect it to be a pro forma bow for Bowyer and Co. out of the Chase.

Other Chase drivers suffered boo-boos at Dover. Tony Stewart, who lost last week’s New Hampshire because he was a few fumes short on gas, opted for 2 tires on lap and the decision had him going backwards. By lap 137 he was two laps down after swerving a speeding penalty, perhaps the result of trying to make up for time lost, and ended up with a 21st-place finish. Kevin Harvick slipped further behind with a loose car for the final 100 laps, finishing 15th. Greg Biffle was caught on pit road when a caution came out and lost a lap as a result, finishing 19th. Matt Kenseth suffered a flat tire and significant left- front damage and finished 18rh. That makes four drivers now 100 points behind leader Denny Hamlin—definitely driving the Chase backwards. Recoverable? Perhaps, but time ain’t on their side.

But as it is possible to win the Sprint Cup without winning a race, so it is possible for the Chase field to quite well without a Cup in hand. The combined winnings of the twelve Sprint Cup drivers who are in the Chase is around $56 million dollars – about $4.7 million dollars a head. So far. Plenty of money in NASCAR for everyone to jiggle brass in pocket. You can lose big-time in a race, finishing at the back of the pack, and still win. You don’t even have to finish a race and still make money, as attested by start-and-parkers Michael McDowell (quit after 71 laps, finished 39th, won $66,800), Mike Bliss (60 laps, 40th place,  $66,625), Joe Nemechek (58 laps, 41st place, $66,420), J.J. Yeley (43 laps, 42d place, $66,290) and Dave Blaney (29 laps, 43d place, $66,630). All of those teams earned more than I’ll make in a year going pedal the metal nowhere fast just by going a while and giving up before suffering any damage or wear and tear on their cars, so they can collect a similar paycheck doing the same thing the next week.

Is there big money in driving backwards? Ask any TV network suit when the campaign attack ads start flowing in like black honey. Oh happy day.

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Wednesday, September 29

The pain in the socket of my recently departed molar should have quelled three days ago, but still I’m sick with it. I’ve been waking up around 1 a.m. for the past two days, molar grave throbbing in red fire, a migraine marauding this way then that in my skull. What the fuck. So I get up, take an Oxycodin and six hundred milligrams of Advil with apple juice and a piece of cheese and lay on the couch waiting for some relief, flipping channels on a muted TV. This morning I watched a replay of the Florida Gators drubbing of Kentucky from Saturday night. It’s great watching sports events backwards like this, already knowing that it was a blowout and then watching it occur. This kind of TV is comfort food for the sleepless, the world outside swooning in black sleep, the predicted tropical depression passing to the east, air a few notes cooler. I don’t fall back asleep but cocoon in empire football and mouth and head pain which is driving slowly away, in reverse, magnitudes descending, dwindling, ebbing to a nuisance throb. At 2:30 a.m. I decide what the fuck and get to work here, finishing this post.

I wonder sometimes if human life is evolving backwards now, ruined by our accomplishments, using opposable thumbs and mutated language gene which got us here to push us off the ledge of the next to fall backward in a slow downward spiral into the darkening abyss. Any time I think of the world’s nuclear arsenals under the control of people as smart as I am, I worry. When I think of how much trust we put in the Internet nowadays, a big stupid brain which is best at efficiently decimating industry after media industry in the name of the free – I worry.

A lot.

When I think a lot on these things too much, the world takes on that backward blur. Like progress has become the chauffeur of stygian-black muscle-car, roaring down the icy Highway to Hell fuelled by Chanciness—or rather, a few missed chances to make good on all of this.

All from the edge of a quarter which Wynona flipped and which landed on its side, offering this precipital, fate-in-the-balance post.

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Hmmm, reminds me a great Stephen Dobyns poem, which I’ll use to close this slopped-together, tooth-socket-pain-addled, digressive discourse on the curse of out own opportunitistic brains. Brains which always seem to think things through backwards and set us squarely in a worse place than where we were when we whistled blithely though Eden admiring Eve’s tits.

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Here’s to the crown of creation, ever slipping on banana peels and using a sixthy-thousands-of-an-inch advantage to get kicked hair nose and eyeballs down to the bottom of the hill.

Oh well.

MISSED CHANCES

Steven Dobyns

In the city of missed chances, the streetlights
always flicker, the second hand clothing shops
stay open all night and used furniture stores
employ famous greeters. This is where you
are sent after that moment of hesitation.
You were too slow to act, too afraid to jump,
too shy or uncertain to speak up. Do you recall
the moment? Your finger was raised, your mouth
open, and then, strangely, silence. Now you walk
past men and women wrapped in the memory
of the speeches they should have uttered—
Over my dead body. Sure, I’d be happy with
ten thousand. If you walk out, don’t come back—
past dogs practicing faster bites, cowboys
with faster draws, where even the cockroach
knows that next time he’ll jump to the left.
You were simply going to say, Don’t go, or words
to that effect—Don’t go, don’t leave, don’t walk
out of my life. Nothing fancy, nothing to stutter
about. Now you’re shouting it every ten seconds.

In the city of missed chances, it is always just past
sunset and the freeways are jammed with people
driving to homes they regret ever choosing,
where wives or helpmates have burned the dinner,
where the TV’s blown a fuse and even the dog,
tied to a post in the backyard, feels confused,
uncertain, and makes tentative barks at the moon.
How easy to say it—Don’t go, don’t leave, don’t
disappear. Now you’ve said it a million times.
You even stroll over to the Never-Too-Late
Tattoo Parlor and have it burned into the back
of your hand, right after the guy who had
Don’t shoot, Madge, printed big on his forehead.
Then you go town to the park, where you discover

a crowd of losers, your partners in hesitation,
standing nose to nose with the bronze statues
repeating the phrases engraved on their hearts—
Let me kiss you. Don’t hit me. I love you—
while the moon pretends to take it all in.
Let’s get this straight once and for all:
is that a face up there or is it a rabbit, and if
it’s a face, then why does it hold itself back,
why doesn’t it take control and say, Who made
this mess, who’s responsible? But this is no time
for rebellion, you must line up with the others,
then really start to holler, Don’t go, don’t go—

like a hammer sinking chains into concrete,
like doors slamming and locking one after another,
like a heart beats when it’s scared half to death.

(from Cemetary Nights, 1987)

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One response to “Driving Me Backwards

  1. You string the damndest things together, and then provoke other thoughts stretching even beyond your seemingly all-inclusive bounds.

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