Category Archives: oil spill

What REALLY scares me about Talladega


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St. Oran’s Day, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bone appetit

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The Beast of the Gulf

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

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

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

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

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A ghost compound in the mountains of Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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Deals with the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Truth, Drowned in Dope

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

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Tiffany and David Hartley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Razor Blades in the Eye Candy

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

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

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

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

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Plural victims of a franchise’s singular device.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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True Blood

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

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

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

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

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The Iron Bowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics as Satanic Mass

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

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

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

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

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Surely separated at birth: Rick Scott and Freddy Kueger.

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

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

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

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

Way to go, Rick Scott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Curse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Marquis de Sade.

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

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

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

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

Maybe they simply trust Talladega to do that work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s All About Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All Hard Roads Lead to ‘Dega

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

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

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Atten-shun!

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

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

Talk about living between a rock and a hard place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story of St. Oran goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wynona’s sea-sister.

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

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

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

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

Gimme Shelter From This Freezin’ Swelter



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Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.

— T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

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Yes, begin here–at this witching hour of of 4 a.m.,  Florida’s deep dark dangerously hot summer breathing in the garden like the slurred speech of a highway hooker working the truck stop in Zellwood. The heaviness of this relentless summer breathes, even at this hour, with The Breath of Set, that pestilent, pustulent south wind in Egypt during the 72 hottest days of the years, expelled by the ass-eared Egyptian Sun god who is earnest to devour Horus, son of Isis. Everything swoons and swears beneath that hot breath, befuddled, spirit-besmirched, given to extreme measures from our brains and loins and blistered conscience.

It’s especially hot this year in Florida–unbelievably so. In a summer which usual tempers its daily ferocities of heat with storms, for three weeks now we’ve seen record high temps followed by late-afternoon storms which have been selective at best and almost entirely impotent of rainfall. In the past three weeks, we’ve seen probably half an inch of rain delivered by daily massed storms in the garden.

Today a heat advisory is in effect for the area; residents are advised to stay in air conditioning between the heat-advisory hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., drink plenty of fluids, avoid the sun and check up on elderly or sick relatives and neighbors. Air conditioners are giving up the ghost in ghastly slow exhalations as the units burn out; a transformer exploded in Cocoa Village, where the mercury cleared 100 yesterday; a bus carrying school-age children on I-95 from Ft. Lauderdale to a track meet in Virginia burst into flames near Rockledge. Last night over in St. Pete, a 51-year-old Orlando man on a beach vacation with his three grown sons and their families was returning from a movie with his sons when their Ford Fusion was broadsided by the speeding Chevy Impala of 20-year old man who had been drinking and smoking pot—savoring a wild summer’s night. The father and three sons were killed on impact while the young man survived and is in hospital care facing four felony DUI manslaughter charges.

Summer indeed burns the flesh away, revealing a moon-sized emptiness where the soul was once found …

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As of the writing of this paragraph (inserted as I try to finesse this post into its own sort of Watkins Glen, a road course through the times with all the correct (if not quite pleasant turns), BP’s engineers are pumping mud into the busted Macando Well, 100 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and some 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. If all goes well (which would be a change, considering), the mud pack will stopper the entire well, allowing the relief well being dug nearby to fully divert the uprising pressure of oil from the Macando field some 28,000 feet under the surface of the Gulf. BP spokesmen are upbeat and so is the government, which announced today that only 26 percent of the leaked oil is still in the water or onshore, the rest having quickly broken down to the elements (if anyone noticed, it’s hot, too, in the Gulf), been collected, burned, skimmed, evaporated, or broken down chemically by dispersants.

All good news as we approach the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s visit to the same Gulf coast. Five years later there signs of economic recovery–a lot of rebuilding, casino business in Biloxi returned, New Orleans half-rebuilt-—but the economy remained knocked back to 1980 levels until Deepwater Horizon came along to punch things back still further.

So shout the good news, vested interest, while Gulf shores shimmer in unnatural heat (110 degrees in some areas of coastal Mississippi yesterday), the breeze carrying whiffs of Katrina’s dead and that sinus-clearing scent of oil wafting in from everywhere.

All is well? For whom? For which entities? They do not include the view from this chair this morning …

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A strange, strange lock on time, this heat wave, addling and merciless. And it’s everywhere you look. In Kansas City, the home-plate umpire in a Royals-Orioles baseball game had to leave in the sixth inning of a July 30 game suffering from heat exhaustion. A storm brewed up in that heat dumped hailstones the size of grapefruit in South Dakota (one was established as the largest hailstone on record, measuring – hours after it was collected, so it had shrunk some by then – some 8 inches across and weighing over two pounds). In New York City, the New York Times reports, “the summer showdown between individual fortitude and sticky heat saw the merciless elements win out again and again. Flower beds were forsaken, relationships were neglected, home offices were abandoned.” Wildfires rage outside of Los Angeles where high temperatures, dry air and blustery winds have spread the fires over 30 thousand  acres. Kansas burns as usual with massive numbers of cattle dying and the elderly in Kansas City beginning to succumb. The Vans tour in Kansas City had dozens of concert-goers getting treatment for heat fatigue and the Kansas City Chiefs training in near 100-degree heat. (Still, the Weather Channel lists the Chiefs as having only the ninth-hottest training camp, preceded by locations like Nashville- Titans, Tampa–Buccaneers, Metarie LA–Saints) and, topping the swelter list, Houston–Texans.) Fun stuff, eh boys? …

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But heat is not news to any of you; maybe the intensity of it, its duration, the lengths of insanity it may inspire: Yet for all the sizzle and torment of this heat—or, perhaps, because of it–the real story I mean to divine using this overheated dowsing rod of a mind is about something creeping up from the opposite end of the thermometer. I’m talking about a strange shadow which does not trail from the sun but veils it, a shadow so thin and strange it’s hard to accept that it’s there. A shadow is now being cast by something more malevolent than the unzippered sun at full-tilt-rock-n-roll itself:

I’m talking about the ice age we entered into oh, some months ago—or maybe years ago, only now crossing the threshold of daily awareness; an age where glacial facts tower a high as the sun and continue to creep into our own back yards. The big freeze is everywhere though the signs of it are hard to see, masked not only by this malevolent summer heat but more deviously by its own complications which bind and double and doppleganger the eye.

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For example: Recent revelations of the lengths NASCAR will go to protect its “brand” – muzzling drivers whose comments are deemed “detrimental to the sport” – is typical for corporations who’ll do anything to keep their profits plush. (E.g., British Petroleum and state and federal government officials who are desperate to hide all that oil.) NASCAR is sandbagging here, filling the speedways with “people dressed as empty seats,“ as Monte Dutton recently put it.

Try as they might, there’s nothing NASCAR can do about the retraction in the economy and its affect on its vulnerable, blue- and middle-class fan base. When Bristol fails to sell out and the Brickyard sees half-full attendance, there’s no hiding that the NASCAR franchise is contracting. Just like things everywhere else, but NASCAR only sees the world in terms of NASCAR, so it acts like it’s dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

Line forms at the back, pal. It’s a bit amusing to watch Brian France do what all corporate CEOs do when facing a tough market challenge – he takes it out on the employees (include the drivers here), terrified of chasing any more customers (fans) out the door. NASCAR can do the corporate game and cut itself to the bone (anyone else notice how many kids they work for them?), but it will never see again the obscene profits once made by the family-owned business. It’s gone, or going the way of fast-depleted oil fields. Now the question is how to prop up what’s left using tactics natural to a culture of dominance.

And if NASCAR’s season is passing with dream-like slowness, maybe it’s because NASCAR is wrecking in a self-induced catastrophe of proving just how willing it is to sell its soul to keep the big bucks rolling in, absolutely blithe to fans who simply just can’t afford the inflated expense of attending races any more. Believe me, stupid, it’s the economy. Put on the blackface and shuffle all you want, Big Racin’: No one’s even watching the show, not with that looming cold shadow creeping into everyone’s back yard …

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As the horror of the Deepwater Horizon spill began to wash onto Gulf shores, residents dependent on tourism and fishing and working Gulf oil rigs got the creeping sense that a way of life was fast disappearing in the muck of oil. One homeowner in Grand Isle, Louisiana erected a mock graveyard in front of their home, giving a litany of RIPs to the all the things beloved of Gulf Coast life which were being lost.

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Photo by Carbon Free Girl (Leilani Munter), perhaps the only ‘green” racer on the circuit. Thanks for permission to use the shot. To see other photos from Leilani’s recent Gulf trip, click here.

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Such a gaggle of crosses, I think, is being slowly assembled in the shadows of the American landscape, each cross bearing a part of middle-class life being lost to the spreading economic freeze of the Torrid Summer of 2010. (I will nominate my list later in this post.)

To call the times a “freeze” is to invoke the potency of metaphor, because the image I want to explore here is the weird cold presence which is covering the continent of everyday life. It ingresses slowly, so slowly that the progression is visible only in hindsight, when you try to imagine how things were a month or year or decade ago.

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Hints of this freeze—like spreading cracks in pond-ice—reveal themselves in the downward ley-lines of the macroeconomics. Despite proclamations that the U.S. economy is leaving its recession, economic growth slowed to 2.4 percent in the second quarter, indicated that consumer spending continues to ice. People are saving more – 6.2 percent of disposable income – which means they’re much more cautious about spending. Within the Fed, fears of Japanese-style deflation are beginning to spread. Deflation brought on by anemic growth is a sort of net which drags the economy down. With the federal funds rate at between 0 and .25 percent, there isn’t much lower that interest rates can go. In a deflated economy, money is worth more because businesses and people are less likely to spend it. Business aren’t adding to their payrolls, and people aren’t spending money because they don’t have jobs or fear the rising tide of unemployment will catch up with them, too. The result is stagnation – or stagflation –and a leaden, slow, incentive-proof recession.  Japan, which has one of the most robust economies in the world, has been stuck in a deflation-induced recession for two decades now.

On the microeconomic side-—the stuff about you and me, here and now—-the view is simpler and examples of this freeze more tangible. People don’t have much more available credit to buy anything. The home-equity ATM has tanked on crashing home values, and credit cards are maxed with fewer new ones being offered. Like many employers, my company hasn’t given wage increases in three years; at least we haven’t seen furloughs or layoffs yet, but everyone hears the clocks ticking.

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A friend observed that back in the late 90’s all you saw on the roads of Orlando were new cars and SUV’s; now the roads are filled with clunkers. No one’s buying new vehicles, and one of the largest blights to fill the commercial landscape are empty lots once occupied by car dealerships. Who would have imagined such a thing? That’s the question which repeats again and again these days. The question mark of the unaskable is the vapor rising from ground surprisingly iced over, where you thought you stood on pavement so baked it was burning your soles through your shoes:

– Who would have thought that Wall Street greed could nearly bankrupt Main Street?

– Who would have thought ten years ago that so many solid industries would hover on the verge of extinction, while others would be obscenely profitable, mainly because they threw their workforces into unemployment and the government paid off their bills with taxpayer money?

– Who would have thought that so many middle-class neighborhoods would become ghost towns?

– Who would think that so many local and state and even the national government would tide so far into red ink that there may be no recovery, not without wading so far into the red that our collective infrastructure, our roads and schools and Social Security and Medicare, would simply, eventually go tits up, Greece-style, causing a default no one can bail us out from?

– Who would imagine that a new nation of the dispossessed and passed-over are now afoot, silently filling the wastelands of modern life—-trailer parks, overfilled homes of relatives, homeless shelters, freeway overpasses?

– And who would have thought that a single lousy corporate-goon-run oil rig – just one of 4,000 out there in the Gulf of Mexico – could dump 5 million barrels of oil into our subconscious, into a place no dispersant can reach?

Unthinkable, yet true: That’s what it means to look up into today’s sky and see, inside the sun’s own glaring, 100-degree blister of heat, the glacial face of a looming disaster.

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British Petroleum recently announced they would not pay mental health claims by Gulf residents who have seen their livelihood and homes drenched in the stench of oil. Like all perps, BP is “moving on,” not “dwelling on the past” where all of their sins move about in ghostly plumes at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, down there where no one can see the toxic results of their criminal errors. (Remember, this is the company which already carries two felony convictions for putting profit over safety while clawing its way to the oil.)

Now the well is capped (though by no means safely sealed) and the visible traces of oil is disappearing in many places (though not all). It does look like bacteria will gobble up the oil in the Gulf at a fast clip, much faster than anyone expected, but no one knows how that sort of oxygen depletion will affect the deep ecologies, nor how those will billow upward into the rest of the ecostystem. We aren’t a species that’s good about taking the long view–for paying attention that long–but if we don’t keep our eyes trained on the Gulf, we won’t have anyone to blame when the effects of all those toxins play out in cancers and fish kills and other sorts of blight. And it’s not like scientists have a controlled environment to assess the damage, not with new storms brewing in the tropics and BP having such a vested interested in getting the heat off its a back as soon as possible.

The really sad part is that not any of this is new. Aaron Vines, campaign director of the The Gulf Restoration Network, says the Gulf has been “the nation’s sacrifice zone … for 50-plus years.” There are 4,000 offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf and thousands of miles of pipeline–a leaky infrastructure which has dumped more oil, collectively over the years, than Deepwater Horizon’s total spill. Fertilizer runoff and waste dumped into the Mississippi River has contributed to a dead zone the size of Lake Ontario just off the coast of Louisiana. The old, old abuses of American expansion continue to play out into our present and will be around for our children’s future. This thing of darkness is our own, but no one wants to own up to that, so instead the whole thing is shuffled to the background as it always has, continuing the slow kill of a complex ecosystem which also happens to be both breadbasket and livelihood for so many of us.

The media’s forgetfulness—leaving behind news which has a long tail for the instant hits—creates a bizarre sense of dislocation for ones who get left behind, like feeling the bite of glacial suffering in the middle of the hottest summer. A bit from a story posted on NOLA (the online site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune) on July 29:

Charter captain Mike Frenette has been wondering whether the news media are living in a parallel universe. The Internet and mainstream media this week are filled with reports that the BP oil disaster is over, that the Gulf is now devoid of the slicks and sheen, and the marshes are no longer being bathed in crude.

That’s not what he and his crew saw at the mouth of the Mississippi River and along the river’s delta this week.

“There was more oil at South Pass Tuesday than I’ve seen since this whole thing started; it was really discouraging,” Frenette said. “I don’t know where everyone else is looking, but if they think there’s no more oil out there, they should take a ride with me.

“I wish this thing was over so I could get back to fishing. But that’s just not the case. We’re a long way from finished with the oil.”

Scientists and oil spill experts agree with Frenette. They say the Gulf might look cleaner on the surface right now, but there is probably hundreds of millions of gallons of BP’s oil in tiny, hard-to-see droplets below the surface. And slicks like the one Frenette saw this week will still be floating to the surface for weeks and months to come.

For months a fleet of research vessels has been tracking clouds of diffused oil particles floating 3,300 to 4,300 feet below the surface, said Steve Murawski, NOAA’s chief scientist for fisheries. The microscopic droplets were formed when the dispersant Corexit was pumped into the geyser of oil and methane that for 84 days rocketed into the Gulf from the failed wellhead 5,000 feet below the surface.

“These are tiny droplets, between 20 and 60 microns, and with the concentrations we’re seeing (4 to 5 parts per million) when you put this in a beaker it looks like clear sea water,” Murawski said. “You can’t see it, but there’s definitely components (of the oil) in the water.”

It’s there, going about a dirty business just far enough out of sight to be out of our minds. For now. but like the long-term effects of recession, the long-term malaise of poisoned Gulf Waters is occurring almost invisibly, and if we don’t pay attention to them, the glacier will be upon us. The new ice age is the 90’s bubble, burst: Frostbit souls lose their feeling apparatus in chunks, falling off like dead toes.

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A lot of wealthy people live in Florida. The first real settlement of the state by white people was the building of winter homes and resorts along the waterways of the state, accessed by steamboat. Then came the railroads and other areas of the state developed. Our town was founded in the late 19th-century with resorts along Lake Dora.

Folks who worked in the resorts and provided the support infrastructure built their more modest houses around these resorts. Our house was built in 1923 by a widow who lived upstairs and rented out the lower half to snowbirds. By Florida standards, our is an old house and is located in an old neighborhood. A solid, middle-class neighborhood where nothing changed for decades. We bought in 1996, paying a third less for the house than anything comparable in Orlando. That meant a longer commute for me, but it was a small sacrifice (until gas prices soared).

Then came the housing boom, which was mercurial in Central Florida. At one point a few years ago, Zillo, the online home valuation site, had listed our house well around $230 thousand—almost two and half times what we paid for the place in 1996. It wasn’t hard to get a home equity line of credit, allowing us to paint the house, renovate the downstairs bath, purchase some advanced sewing equipment for my wife’s bedding business and re-model our front living room. Typical stuff in middle-class life.

Amid the dense fog of speculative whimsy we saw immense developments go up around Central Florida with houses priced in the $300 to $600 thousand dollar range. My wife and I wondered were all these rich people were, who could afford such colossal mortgages. There just isn’t that big of a professional class in these parts, and the really wealthy are settled into established gated communities.

Then came the bust which ushered in our Great Recession. The impossible happened, at least in the eyes of the bubble-minded who saw only limitless expansion (PT Barnum knew never to underestimate the gullibility of the American populace for snake oil): housing prices began to plummet.

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It turned out that most of these developments were founded on sub-prime mortgage deals that got people into houses they could never otherwise afford, paying only the interest and believing that the climb in housing prices would make it a cinch to turn their houses in a couple of years for huge profits. That enormous industry was stopped in its tracks. Houses went up for sale and into foreclosure. Large tracts that had been cleared and gotten roads and lots marked off sat stagnant through the seasons as the weed cover grew back over. Within a few years, the lost development of Central Florida will become like Mayan cities buried under canopies of forest.

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I have a friend whose parents convinced him to buy the house he was renting in Orlando. He got a subprime deal with Countrywide Finance—remember those rogues? He now has a $240 thousand mortgage on a house which is worth in the $130s now. His mortgage payments now exceed his monthly earnings, and he hasn’t made a payment in eight or so months to Bank of America, (who bought Countrywide’s mortgage franchise after the lender went bankrupt)—partial payments, which is all he can afford to make, aren’t accepted. He has three options: re-negotiate the mortgagee, though even a 30 percent reduction in his payments would keep him over his head in debt for years; 2) get the bank to agree on a short sale and take a big loss on the house; or 3) walk away and let the bank deal with it, declaring bankruptcy and living without credit for five years or so. His best deal is the last one. That’s why so many people are doing the same things these days.

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Zillo now lists our house in the $140s, and our house the second-highest valued house on a block where five houses has seen major renovations. We’re underwater in our mortgage and going nowhere, but treading water is the gold standard of 2010: survival is success. Unthinkable a few years ago, the norm today.

Our block is emptying out. Four houses are rentals. Two have been on the market for over a year. Absentee owners don’t’ come often. We have to call code enforcement several times a summer for houses whose yards go untended.

If I lose my job—which, a few years ago when newspapering was a career—we won’t be able to afford to stay. But we can’t afford to leave either, not with the housing market tanking. Better to figure out a way to hold on here and see if the market will ever turn—get two or three jobs, whatever. Whatever is the new fortune.

Extreme fantasies which would have caused alarm about clinical depression become operating parts of the mind and day. Talking with a friend last week, the both of us in our early 50’s, we bemoaned a dried-up job market with no apparent room for guys our age trying to rebuild on their careers. My friend said he found himself tying up details—getting work done on his condo, putting his affairs in order. It didn’t occur to him that it sounded like someone who was getting ready to put a gun in his mouth until I said so. He smiled and said, well, that beats taking up drinking again. I don’t think he’s suicidal, but there is that quiet sort of desperation everywhere in the air as options run out.

Of course, what will be will be and we will have to go however and wherever necessity dictates. Suicide aside (or other forms of mental breakdown including substance or prescription drug abuse and other nocturnal abandonments), the next step down, in these parts, is out to the mobile home parks. There are some 800,000 mobile homes in 5,600 mobile home parks, lodging and recreational vehicle parks, and recreational camps in Florida, more than any other state in the country. If you need a house on the cheap in Florida, go mobile. Mobile home parks are less visible but they’re everywhere. Drive on the state highways and entire towns, the ones between here and nowhere, are comprised of mobile homes.

There are some nice, well-maintained mobile parks around the state; we’d head there first, if we could. A nice double-wide, hopefully with enough air conditioning to fend off the effects of living in an overheated tin can. But mobile homes are terribly vulnerable to the wilder elements which come this way, hurricanes in the summer and fall and tornadoes in the early spring. When the big tornadoes ripped through this area in ’98, we awoke close to midnight to an amazing swelter of lightning-flashes in our darkened bedroom, a dizzying strafe of strobes which belied the malevolence of the storm. We were passed over – but 20 miles to the east in Sanford, the tornado struck down in a mobile home park, lifting this then that manufactured home like a bored Angel of Death plucking at petals of a flower, intoning “this one kills a family, this one spared, this one spared too; Next block, kill a fireman as he wakens flying through the air, skip that mobile home, pull a baby from a screaming mother in the next one and leave him in a tree while mother spirals up to heaven.”  Regulations have been passed since then to make sure that mobile homes at least have an anchor to their foundations, but on the whole they’re still death-traps to an F3 tornado or Category 4 hurricane. (Hurricane Andrew sawed across South Florida in 1990 at Category 5, its 200+-mph winds ripping apart the housing tracts in this lower-income suburb of Miami and leaving little behind. It’s since been re-developed, partially owing to the scarcity of available land in Miami-Dade County.)

Pride of ownership is part of what makes thinking about a move into a trailer home so difficult: We love our home, our old established neighborhood, our garden, the sanctuary we provide for cats, the elbow room of two bathrooms (such a gift for a relationship), space for all my books and my wife’s sewing gear, a guest room for visitors (though we rarely have them), screened-in porch in back and an upper deck on the second floor off the main bedroom – accessed through a French door): It isn’t luxury—we can barely afford to keep it maintained, to pay the power bill and pay for repairs to the aging A/C unit (and we can’t afford to paint the house though it’s a year overdue, or roof the garage, so leaky that I’ve covered it with blue tarp)—but it’s home, with room enough for one our parents if they become ailing enough, with enough space for two full lives to exist with some room between them, enough to make it feel right-sized. It’s losing all that that I fear with a chill that grows slowly and steadily as I look at my dwindling income potential and lack of anything else sufficient enough in the employment landscape.

So scary that I don’t like to think about it, or won’t until we’re absolutely forced to.

Still, I think of those trailers in this heat, some of them like biscuits in an oven, melting the brains and hearts and loins and resolve of those who live in them. With no resources to spend on going to the mall or just getting away. My peers are there, or are heading that way, as they lose their jobs and then exhaust their savings, their credit, their retirement trying to get by.

And then I drive to work on US-441—the Orange Blossom Trail—passing trailer parks where piles of possessions are dumped by the side of the road, obviously an evicted life, big mattress, chest of drawers, stained couches, boxes of stuff with rifled clothes in disarray, a tie looping out of one box like an expired tongue, a saggy red brassiere hanging from a dilapidated standing lap once used for readiing and writing things like this at hours once like this: And know that the falling is endless once there’s nothing left to hold on to.

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A rigorous new analysis for the Rockefeller Foundation shows that Americans are more economically insecure now than they have been in 25 years, and the trend lines suggest that things will only get worse. The reason: high unemployment and skyrocketing medical costs. The study devised an economic security index which measured the number of Americans experiencing at least a 25 percent decrease in household earnings in one year without the means to make up for that loss with income (major medical expenses were counted as a loss of income). In 1985, when unemployment was around 7 percent, the number of American families who could be classified as economically insecure using this index as around 12 percent. In 2002, while the country was emerging from a mild recession, unemployment was at nearly six percent but the percentage of families classified by the index as economically insecure had jumped to seventeen percent. And though the data for 2009 is not yet complete, the study predicts that more than 20 percent of American families experienced a 25 percent loss in household income.

How hard is such a blow? The study suggest that it takes about eight years for income to return to its previous level.

And the average income loss for those falling into this category was not 25 percent, but 41—a precipitous drop indeed.

Only the extremely well-to-do – our top 5 percent of the population which has more than 40 percent of the country’s wealth – were unaffected by the trend. Everyone else–from the moderately well-to-do to the ranges of middle class (upper, middle, lower) down to the poor—were in the bull’s eye of this economic insecurity index.

The BP in this story are corporations who shed millions of jobs when the recession hit, allowing them to see corporate profits of $572 billion in the first quarter of 2010. And in the same period, wage and salary payments fell $122 billion. The bulk of the savings came from layoffs, but many other workers were told that they could keep their jobs only if they worked reduced hours, took unpaid furloughs or received no wage increases. As Bob Herbert writes,

In short, the corporations are making out like bandits. Now they’re sitting on mountains of cash and they still are not interested in hiring to any significant degree, or strengthening workers’ paychecks.

Corporations are flush with cash – Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently reported that cash at non-financial corporations stood at $1.84 trillion, 27 percent higher than 2007 (before the recession hit). As a percentage of assets, there is more cash in corporate till than has been seen in 50 years.

Yet they refuse to re-hire worker or institute pay increases. How can there be any real economic recovery until those greedy sumbitches act like citizens and share the wealth with their workforce?

And what tells me that when greed like this gets into the corporate vein, it spreads like ice through the entire system?

Oh yeah: Morgan Stanley.

Bank of America.

NASCAR.

British Petroleum.

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Icy similitudes. The long-term affects of the Great Recession we’ve been in since 2008 are creepily akin to the long-term affects of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Some things are obvious: 12 percent unemployment nationwide, 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the gulf. Both facts have been with us long enough so that they’re not enough news for the daily blast on the 24-hour news cycle. They’re there, but who cares? Both events are big news, maybe the biggest stories of the year, but we forget, media attention turned elsewhere to sterner stuff, like, oh, Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, or just who Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky would deign, on the prelapsarian sands of Bora Bora, to love for the rest of her TV life. Fluff trumps truth every time where there’s money to be made from eyeballs glued on TV sets.

And the longer the recession and the Gulf spill are out there, the more things they affect.

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Story in the New York Times the other day about a woman who was joining the ranks of “the 99-ers,” people whose extended unemployment benefits were now running out. Given as much rope as the government can afford, the economy has given them no more, and now they face homelessness. The woman in the story had lost her job a director of client services for New York City hi-tech company in March 2008. She was forced to quit graduate school and relocated to Tennessee where housing was cheaper, living on meager unemployment benefits which paid for rent and power and food and gas. Thousands of resumes and a two fruitless interviews later, the woman’s last unemployment check came and went in March of this year—she was among the first of the now 1.4 million Americans who have also exhausted their 99-week government unemployment insurance benefits), the rent went unpaid for several months and then she packed up what belongings she could in her car and drove out of town. A relative wired her $200 so she could stay in a motel for a few weeks. Her cellphone rings constantly with a collection agency after her for late car payments. She used to make $56,000 a year and vacationed in Mexico and the Gulf Coast.

If things continue to fall apart for her, where will she go, along with the other million-and-a-half Americans who are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits?

Out. Away. Out of sight somewhere, though it sure is getting hard to hide them. Like those giant plumes of oil wandering the bottom of the Gulf, the shadows of American dispossession are afoot, casting a web of ice crystals over a lens which only sees high summer.

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Documents recently released by a congressional subcommittee say that BP, with the approval of the Coast Guard, used an excessive amount of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico to break up oil after the April 20 rig explosion that resulted in a massive outpouring of crude into the waters. Some 1.8 million gallons of Corexit have been dumped into the Gulf so far.

An EPA had restricted the use of chemicals, however, Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee said the Coast Guard granted BP exemptions for their use.

“BP carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,” said Markey. “After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the Gulf in this manner.”

Now—-of course well after the fact–scientists are finding that oil and Corexit are mixing to become a toxic additive to the foodchain.

Signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix are being found under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain.

Marine biologists started finding orange blobs under the translucent shells of crab larvae in May, and have continued to find them “in almost all” of the larvae they collect, all the way from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Fla. — more than 300 miles of coastline — said Harriet Perry, a biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

And now, a team of researchers from Tulane University using infrared spectrometry to determine the chemical makeup of the blobs has detected the signature for Corexit, the dispersant BP used so widely in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Well, duh.

Louisiana wildlife regulators on July 30 reopened state-controlled waters east of the Mississippi to harvesting of shrimp and “fin fish” such as redfish, mullet and trout. Smell tests on dozens of specimens from the area revealed barely traceable amounts of toxins, the federal Food and Drug Administration said.

The government has devised a “smell test” for checking to see if fish caught on the coast of the Gulf are free enough of oil contamination to eat, but there is no such test for the presence of Corexit or the weird compound now forming between the problem and the solution. Corexit kill incubating sea life, experts say, though its long-term effects are unknown. In humans, long-term exposure can cause central nervous system problems or damage blood, kidneys or livers, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

One commercial fisherman who grew up fishing the marshes of St. Bernard put it this way: “If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish. I wouldn’t feed it to you or my family. I’m afraid someone’s going to get sick.”

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It’s not that Florida isn’t getting any rain. Our house hasn’t seen a drop in three weeks, but when I drive into Orlando to work – like today – signs of heavy rainfall are everywhere. I can’t help feeling resentful of such blessings which do not also fall on my house. I can’t help feeling resentful of folks who drive new cars or who live in million-dollar subdivisions. I can’t help but seethe to watch celebs in their bubble of wealth and fame and good looks float about the frozen landscape of my present, smiling with an effervescence that makes my blood boil. I don’t feel much sympathy for down-on-their-luck drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. when I know he still will clear $30 million dollars while I will fret how to pay next month’s mortgage. The sense of bum fortune living next to good times is bitter and grinding, like glacial ice slowly devouring a continent. No rain for us again last night, but in town big puddles; no new opportunities flowing my way but Linday Lohan will live forever with that platinum smile and Hollywood carapace of floating gold.

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It will take the creation of ten million new jobs to get the unemployment rate back to pre-Great Recession levels. In the current environment—with corporations so greedy to maximize their profits on the backs of their workplace—that isn’t likely to happen for a long, long time. Young workers are especially hard hit. If past experience proves true again (one study examined graduates of college between 1979 and 1989, and the ones who emerged in the teeth of the ’81-82 recession made 25 percent less than graduates who stepped into boom times), the generation of students now emerging into the job market may step onto their career ladders so low that they see a lifetime of diminished opportunities.

Such icing of opportunity has another lifetime effect on one’s health. Physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, due to fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. And when poor health is prevalent among the young, it tends to remain for a lifetime–and then cut it short.

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Things I will miss should the waters of this strange flood of ice finally cover our own front door:

– Mornings in this chair, writing while the late night sleeps.

– Our cats looking out onto the garden through an opened window.

– Waking my wife in our bed every morning by gently stroking the soles of her feet.

– Working in the garden.

– Walking back up the driveway after finishing all the yardwork, admiring our house and yard beneath the wide blue summer sky.

– Sitting at the round iron table on the back screened porch eating Sunday brunch of waffles, bacon, scrambled eggs and fruit with my wife, watching birds flit about the spot where two of our cats are buried.

– Drinking cold Gatorade from the bottle out of the fridge.

– Eating watermelon chunks on the couch watching a race.

– All of my books and piles of writings overfilling shelves in the room where my wife has all of her sewing equipment.

– Napping on Saturday afternoon on the bed in the guest room with Belle our calico curled up against me.

– Sitting outside on the front stoop with Mamacita, our stray black cat, watching the early early morning or last of day as she eats her two daily meals.

– Watching “So You Think You Can Dance” on TV with my wife as we relax in the living room with the last of the summer’s day draining from the windows.

– Watching my wife exercise to a DVD in the living room or bent over her sewing.

– Cooking Cuban food in the kitchen with piano jazz on the stereo, rain falling from the eaves.

– Coming in from a long, long day outside on the second day of one of our many yard sales we held to help pay the bills, everything finally stashed back away in the garage, signs pulled down from around the neighborhood, boombox which played jazz from the 30’s and 40’s all weekend shelved, electrical cords stowed away, everything DONE, time to shower, eat a salad with the exhausted wife, then head upstairs to say night night holding my wife’s hand as we ride the bridge of the ship of a house we have voyaged in these past 14 years, for worse and then better, til we can afford to live there no more.

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I’ve not lost these things yet – and hell, lack of mortality can change these things just as quickly as collapsed liquidity – but the freeze is close enough to my heart’s front door (my mind) to have me painting crosses with these epitaphs, these farewells to a middle class life I can’t see us sustaining much more, if things keep going their seemingly inexonorable way.

I’m reminded of a story from last year of flooding of the Red River near Fargo. Each day the river crested higher; each day frantic town-dwellers worked together, filling sandbags and laying them in along the disappearing banks. One exhausted townsperson was interviewed on National Public Radio, and he said something to the effect that all they could do was fill and place enough sandbags – just enough – for that day: and hope that tomorrow they would be able to do the same next just enough.

Implied in his words was the rising shadow of the cold Red River, which may or may not prove surmountable. It was—for that season, and Fargo was saved—but 100-year floods in Cedar Rapids (in which my father lost his Depression-era boyhood home) and Nashville show that isn’t always the case. And don’t forget the floating bodies in drowned New Orleans after Katrina blew through and busted the levees.

I saw a friend yesterday who had moved to Nashville a few years ago to be near his grandkids. He said he’d  lost everything in big flood there. Everything. A proud man, he hated accepting clothing and food. It proved a tide higher than his own, prized sobriety;  he drank after 15 years. He drank because there was no hope, or because too much of his God on the wrong side of the flood-tide of life, taking away more than he could rebuild.

Who could blame him? “There but for the grace of God”  is the prayer of gratitude for those who escape the worst of circumstances which, for those drunks who really shouldn’t drink any more, provides too much reason to drink. Likewise, survivor mode tells me that there is never a good enough reason to fully despair of losing middle-class life. There is perhaps more spiritual growth in losing than can be found in all the oil-barrels of success which enrich so undeserving a player like BP. (Inverse law of life on this earth, the least deserving — pro basketball players, celebrities, toxic CEOs–make all the money.)

Whatever comes, the task is one of acceptance that in all things, good and bad, there is sufficient shelter from the heat and the freezing shadow now being cast by the sun. That there are enough sandbags – label them “grace” and “acceptance,” “humility” and “serenity” – to turn any calamity or boredom or icy similitude into a day’s crest, where on balance what counts holds fast against all the freezing waters on Earth.

But still, I sure would hate to lose all this. To watch all this die. To have to leave with nothing ahead down the road and so much simple paradise disappearing behind.

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Another hot one today. Another day on the job, furiously trying to sandbag against further losses. It’s 5 a.m. and time to get started heading that way: get my morning ablutions done and spend a few minutes back in bed with my wife, stroking her soles and telling her everything’s going to be OK. Glad that the last spluttering candle which burned out last night was not in our house but in one not far from here, over in a middle-class subdivision in Oviedo, where family and friends and neighbors held a vigil in the fading light of yesterday for the father and three grown sons killed by a drunk driver in St. Pete last Saturday night. Members of the family said they were grieving but not vengeful against the 20-year-old boy-man  who thought to drink with impunity and get behind the wheel of a fast car. “It means that understanding that life and God has meaning for everyone, and that you can’t live your life with hate in your heart because that puts you on hold,” one relative said at memorial service. “That allows the event to take over your life from this point forward.” How else can you go on?

Elsewhere around this failing suburb of a town, newly homeless, formerly middle-class folk who ended up on the wrong end of unemployment and foreclosure—their ranks grow every day–are getting up too, in motels and homes of parents or cousins or friends, or stirring in the back seat of their car or coming to realizing they’re in a shelter with the other souls passed over by fortune. They’re gathering their wits and determination to do better today, praying on their knees for some deliverance, a lucky break. Maybe some will coming the way they hope; maybe that deliverance has already arrived in the sum of their losses, freeing them to experience life in a wholly new context. (What an order.) If just depends how much gumption you have to keep filling the sandbags even after the water has covered your house.

There but for the grace of God go I, I whisper, still in this house, with this family intact in the way we intended 14 years ago when my wife and I vowed to love each other forever, through good times and bad. Violet, our Siamese, is curled it a chair across from me, without a clue of how much danger she’s in, even though she’s had nothing but safe harbor all her life. Those pelicans and Ripley’s sea turtles don’t know what they’re gobbling as they wend the poisoned waters of the Gulf, clean on the topside, filled with edible death below.

And NASCAR’s worried that my track-emptying distraction is due to all the whining in the press about bad times.

Nor is NASCAR happy with fans like me, standing on the shores of a frozen Gulf, crying over all that spilled milk.

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I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

— T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (finis)

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The Prince of Ovals and The Deep Blue Sea


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Behind all things is the ocean.

— Seneca (epigram for Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us)

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You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the Truth in.

— Herman Melville

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I almost drowned when I was 2 or 3 years old—at least, that’s how I frame the memory of falling into a swimming pool. I remember nothing of the events proceeding the fall – surely I was running along the edge, maybe laughing, maybe entranced with the water. Or I got jostled. Pushed. Anyway, what I remember is falling slowly down, like a snowflake, into this magical blue-green atmosphere which was airless yet substantial, All sorts of lights flickered and shimmered on the cement walls of the pool, somehow snaky (how could I have known of snakes then?), livid semaphores of the transition I was in toward death. I looked up so see bubbles floating upward in lazy gobbets, and then an insubstantial, wavering brightness just beyond, and the shadowy, indistinct shape of many figures gathered looking down. It was a strangely happy feeling, infinitely content, for I was in my original element: the womb, the sea. Breathing seemed unimportant; there was no struggle, only wide-eyed, falling wonder.

I couldn’t have been down there for more than a few moments, yet the singular vision of sinking slowly down that pool-sized abyss—big enough, for a 3-year-old—is indelibly etched in my memory, a memory which is like a sea chapel I have returned to innumerable times to savor, even worship, the empyrean aquaean of that element.

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Then this: a hook came down which was attached to a long pole, grabbing me round the waist and hauling me back up to the surface. I was rescued. And I think when I broke the surface to see everything with topside eyes again. It was as if I had been awakened from a dream.

I began to cry.

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Tim Richmond won the second Pepsi Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1986, almost a quarter-century ago this weekend.

How old were you that day? Richmond was 31. I was 29, just about done with my first drinking career, getting to the careening, wall-slamming, closing-down-the-bottle-club blackout times, down towards the bottom of whiskey pool which has no real bottom except for The bottom—not a cell or nut ward or detox bed, but the gripless abysm of a grave which has the same headstone, the same dreary inscription—What An Asshole. Unhappy drinkers will understand. …

It was not the second running of the summer Daytona race, just the second year under its first corporate sponsorship; it actually began as an open-wheel race in April 1959. But there were so many crashes in that race that it evolved into a 250-mile stock-car race on July 4 later the same year and was nicknamed the Firecracker 250. In 1963 the race was lengthened to 400 miles – thus becoming the Firecracker 400. In 1985 Pepsi became the race’s official sponsor and remained so until 2008 when Coke Zero took over.

The ’86 event was a rather inglorious race, frequently rained upon – even though the Florida summer races usually began at 10 or 11 a.m. to avoid the rain, sometime it comes early and stays. There were cautions up the yingyang. Dale Earnhardt, Richmand’s chief rival that year, had led the race for 69 laps before blowing an engine and going into the wall of turn one. Smoke from the crash giving momentarily blinded Buddy Baker, allowing Richmond to slip past in his Folger’s No. 25 Hendrick Chevrolet and lead the final 8 laps. The top five was rounded out by Sterling Martin, Bobby Hillin Jr., Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty.

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It took Richmond 3 hours and nearly two minutes to win the race, earning him the slowest race time ever of 131.916 mph. Cale Yarborough had won the pole at a speed so dizzying and dangerously fast – 203.519 mph – that it was one of the reasons that NASCAR decided to fit its Winston Cup cars with restrictor plates at superspeedway tracks.

The purse for Richmond’s win was $58,655—-a good chunk less than the what Dave Blaney collected at last year’s Coke Zero 400 for finishing dead last ($85,938).

The pot of gold to be won these days is vastly larger—even for the losers – but as in every other walk of life, such enrichment somehow impoverishes the endeavor.  In 2009, when the country’s economy contracted at an astonishing rate, when unemployment soared and earnings bottomed out, the average compensation for a Fortune 500 company was $9.25 million. A lot of those CEO’s are being paid top dollar for driving their companies into ruin. Drivers today are paid a helluva lot more today than when Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt were going at it, but the racin’ pales in comparison.

Richmond was on a roll in 1986. Winning the Pepsi 400 at Daytona was just part of the march, but it was an essential one, his third of the season (he’d also won at Richmond and Pocono.) Taking Daytona’s crown was like taking ownership of the fierce summer sun which burned up and over it every day. That year, on that day, Richmond became the quintessential summer’s day at a Florida beach, halcyon, brilliant, lapping up every sensual vibe to come at the body from sun and beach and women in string binkinis and all that merry cerulean surf curling like glass and softly crashing, mewling in the ear like a woman as she comes beneath her summer lover, as she spreads her widest to receive his torrential seed: A surface so pure and seductive that all the latent tragedy is impossible to see down there under the sea’s surface, amid pieces of bone and fuselage from the exploded Challenger still shuffling about.

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Tim Richmond’s victory at the 1986 Firecracker 400 is the ghost I would like to haunt the preparations for this year’s summer event, an event and season hauled up from the abyss of time with my former self tangled in the net. The zenith of his short career was at the nadir of my long careen looking for love in hazy, booze-watered places. Tim Richomond is dead and that former self of mine is dead too: Florida is a different place now and NASCAR is a darker thing, troubled with hubris and beset by a failing economy which somehow is best imaged as a spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. No one knows how far things will fall down the dark well of the present.

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Saturday, June 12

Now that in these parts we’re into the big heat music of Florida’s summer, those cool deep slaking waters of my first immersional memory, of nearly drowning in that swimming pool at age 3, beckons like the sighing wet breath of a hungry lover in my ear. Just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean that I couldn’t use a little free-floating oblivion. But real watery elements are hard to find these days; I can’t swim the way I used to (bum shoulder), and the beach is always just too far away for a Saturday afternoon, the only real downtime I now have every week.

So instead I took my morning walk to the lake and back—alone, since my wife had already gotten busy on sewing projects. I headed through the same quiet neighborhoods we’ve walked for fifteen years down to Lake Dora, one of the chain of lakes that thread through several local towns, ancient flooded sinkholes where a Hand refused to put the stone cover back over the well and waters gushed from deep springs and rains collected and collected.

Lake Dora like a miles-wide piece of permeable glass, reflecting back a cloudless golden morning sky, ruffling gently in the wake of the boats which launch from the park’s jetty. Ducks and turkey vultures in the tall grasses down by the water, snowy egrets, a blue heron on the dock drying its wings in the sun while a lone fisherman waches a line disappear into the abyss.

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Though I’ve passed that shore a thousand times in all the walks I’ve been on with my wife over the years, I’ve boated on Lake Dora just once, about a year and a half ago, when our out-of-town neighbors took us out on rented pontoon boat and we crossed choppy open waters (it was November), the four of us lazying in late-year sunshine, all so calm, happy even. We boated across Lake Dora to where it bottlenecked and then opened again, passing so many lakeside homes we could never afford all with docks and a tethered boat rocking gently, passing the city’s downtown park and getting to the far side where we entered a canal and boated softly into Old Florida, a place thick with cypresses and overhanging southern oaks, where we saw eagles high up in the trees and ospreys and hawks, where we encountered a trailer park that must have been half a century old. Passed under 441 out into Lake Eustis, a bigger, windier, choppier lake, not much fun so we turned around and slowly made our way back.

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Boating is gliding on a surface whose depths, whose underside character is as obscure as what is enclosed in a magician’s fist: silver dollar or golden egg, bluejay feather or rat’s skull? Not for us to know.

Neither did that glassine surface reveal a hint of the future. Not a clue down there that our Robert would be dead in three months from esophageal cancer; that local housing market would collapse so badly that our house would lose half of its value; that whatever value all of that real estate might regain is now sorely threatened by the oil-poisoned waters drifting toward the western shores of the state, O God hopefully not to round the state and ink their way up the Eastern seaboard.

The same could be said for the past. What we care to remember is like boating across the a lake at first light — all smiles and speed – while what we dare not remember is chained and hung with cinderblocks, resident of an abyssal suburb where everyone has tossed their sins, guns and knives, garbage, the wreckage of a naval training bomber, stove-in guitars which we could never play worth a damn, two pleasure boats which crashed head-on on mutually drunken voyages, and the bones of all those missing children and pretty girls and fishermen known now as cold cases, even the bones of a stowaway who fell miles from the landing gear of a jet making its way to Orlando International Airport, skull still teeming with visions of the good life in the golden country.

Not for us to see, not for us to know, not, at least, this morning as I walked down to the shores of Lake Dora and back, my face serene in the beauty of a summer’s morning in Florida, my thoughts teeming under the surface with anxieties about money, with lists of chores to do, wondering what I might write about next and how, fretting about the massive spill of oil in the Gulf and fantasizing of the trip to St. Petersburg this coming Friday where we’ll stay, for one night at least, in a swank bayside hotel, and I can treat my wife to the nines, feed her, let her shop, let her drowse in ultimate comfort, all a part of her 51st birthday. None of that visible to you as I pass, smiling faintly hello, walking by in the opposite direction, gone from your sight perhaps forever as soon as I walk past.

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Many years later after that childhood experience of ecstatic near-drowning, I found myself again feeling saved by the depths. I was 14 years old and getting baptized in the Atlantic Ocean off Melbourne Beach. After my mother and father separated and we moved to Florida in 1972, the advent of my puberty was perhaps typical, all of that flooding sexuality mixed or tempered or dammed or damned by the pentacostal Christianity my mother, in her great grief, latched onto like a succubus and demanded that all of us kids somehow experience. Saturday nights  my older brother drove the family station wagon around town, picking up other nerdy young teens like us to drive over to a house in the woods near Lakeland where we spent the night singing and praying and casting out devils, mostly horny ones. I was scared of lots of things back then – so much catastrophic change for our family – yet I was terrified of Eternity, or rather, the sure damnation of the abyss. (I came across one of those lurid comic-book tracts showing a party boy getting killed in a car wreck and finding himself pitchforked into hell by a drooling, hairy demon who looked like the guitar player from Black  Sabbath, a band I then loved.) Yikes … So it was on to Salvation for me, and the summation of that was our group’s way-early-morning travel over to Melbourne Beach, me wedged between two good Christian girls whose bikini-bound breasts kept jostling my arms on either side of me as we drove the long dark tunnel of night to the beach.

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Surely I got to that surf in the nick of time, just as I used to make it to happy hour just before dying of sobriety; the sun was up over the ocean horizon, a fat red nipple squeezing summer heat and light over all, and the water was sloshy-warm, with medium-sized rollers coming in sets from the distance. The minister who prayed over me was stained to the chest by the occasional breaking wave, though we were standing in waters which came up to our waists; he held a hand over my forehead as he prayed and urged me to repeat the matrimonial words of salvation, inviting the Lord to come into my life and save me from eternal damnation. Those words fresh from my lips, he then leaned me slowly back and down into the waters. I was under for only a few seconds, but the exact experience of lingering eternally in an underwater chapel came over me once again, as it had all those years ago in the swimming pool. Then a wave passed over me; I could feel the heave of it lifting and rolling over me; yet at that same moment  something passed through me, too, cleansing and blessing and filling me with the ocean’s purest element. If it was the Holy Spirit, it was a wet one, and to this day I can’t tell if I was saved right then of sin or from Christianity, for the ocean’s blessing became my truest sacrement, something older and more primal than anything of human account, old as the sea itself which formed billions of years ago.

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In Alwyn and Brinsley Rees’ Celtic Heritage we are told that

The moment he is baptised Dylan (twin of Lleu or Lug) makes for the sea and receives the sea’s nature, swimming well as any fish, and because of this he is called Dylan Eil Ton, “Sea Son of Wave.” No wave ever broke beneath him.

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On my father’s old Irish family coat of arms, on its crest a naked man rides a dolphin; there are also three drinking cups on its face, and the motto, Non providentia sed Victoria – “Not by providence, but victory!” Ballsy old Celtic bluster, for sure; apparently the family is a bardic one, with poets and harpers dating back to the 2d century BC (one of us was said to have cooled the heels of the hero CuChulainn, keeping him from heading out to battle some entire nation). When poetry failed in Ireland (it lost most of its patronage by the 15th century), a lot of us became lawyers. Lawyers and fiddlers, rhymers too: those for whom the mother tongue is a watery, deceitful, delightful and entertaining thing. Back in my pentacostal teenaged years, I spoke tongues with the best of ‘em, loving the feel of that oily inchoate babble slosh out of my mouth without a clue what I was saying, sure I was speaking in the language of angels or fishes or both. My baptism rebirthed me to heaven, but it proved a salty, wild element, a heaven behind and below and inside more than ahead and above and outside. At least, when I strided dazed back to the shore after my baptism to the applause of my fellow Christians, that hug from budding-breasted Mindy began at once to fill my third cup, the one marked More, which only the seven seas has depth and breadth sufficient to fill.

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My father on the grounds of his “megalithic park” in the Poconos last January when I last visited him.

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Father’s Day is (or was, by the time I get this post up) June 20. I expect my wife will give me a card from the cats with a gift card to Barnes and Noble or a local salon that gives a great sports massage. I still haven’t figured out what to send my father, who is now 83 and doesn’t need anything. But I’ve got to get something pulled together today. Probably a card which photo-montages his wonderful woodlands park with a picture of the celestial homeland he so yearns for – the Hubble Telescope peers far beyond the the mere surface of that summer night’s sky as I can see it (of late an early quarter moon hung with a planet nearby—Venus? Mars? Jupiter? Saturn? The persona is important, though I don’t know who it is). Maybe I’ll print out a few of these posts, too. Not that he gives a shit about racin’, but he does love a good weave. It’ll be the next of many gifts” of my writing over the years. He swears he has to get a steel-reinforced bookcase to hold all the ring-bindered collections of poems and essays I’ve sent his way. But they do belong to him, in a way; almost all of my thinking, and thus my writing, was fathered by conversations I’ve had with him over the years, drinking scotch in the early years (starting when I was 16) and then become long walks together on his woodlands property in Eastern Pennsylvania. We think along many of the same deep-cortical veins, or like to think we do. Digging down. Exploring and exhuming things from the dark. Looking for the shadowy Presences which attend the bright things we know, reminding us, with dark deep whispers, that the way we think it is is not the way it is at all. Like all of that oil on the surface of the Gulf: A mere whisper of the horror spread deep below, like a few hairs of a woman barely visible underneath the surface of the water, dead or melusinal, the big-titted blue-eyed red-haired Apparition who lures into our depths …

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The thought of Tim Richmond walking in the stands of Daytona International Speedway seems shadowed—ghosted surely–by something other, deeper perhaps, subsurficial for sure, from a region I identify as my father’s cold sea.

Think of The Ghost in Hamlet, that drama Shakespeare kept working and re-working for most of his career as a playwright in Renaissance England. You know the tale – Hamlet, a young university intellectual, comes home to  Denmark after his father dies suddenly. His mother Gertrude has remarried his father’s uncle rather too quickly to Hamlet’s taste. Hamlet is told of a Ghost who walks the castle’s ramparts in the witchiest hours of latest night, and goes up there to see for himself. There Hamlet  encounters the Ghost of his own father, who whispers that he did not die naturally but was poisoned by his brother so the brother could claim his crown and wife. Revenge is what the father wants, and fidelity to that fading ghost sets up the conceits of Hamlet which ink the unfolding tragedy with blood.

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Hamlet’s Ghost.

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OK, old history, but consider this: in Shakespeare’s play, the name of Hamlet’s father was changed from Horwendil of the original tale to Hamlet. Son and father share the same name, though they couldn’t be more different, as Harold Bloom pointed out in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998). One is a pagan warlord of Icelandic saga, the other is a Renaissance man trying to think his way out of the old ways. Prehistory and future are represented by the two men. To have them both share the same name creates the Doppler not just of drama without but also of a divided consciousness – and Hamlet will prove to be one of the most ambivalent leads in drama:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep:
No more: and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die: to sleep:
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause … (III.i)

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Et cetera. OK, lots of sons carry their father’s names, and bear the awkward ambivalence of their inheritance, unsure where they begin and their father leaves off. My brother is William Harvey the Third, the third successive generation first-born to take that name. But it’s odd in literature – an odd, unnecessary redundancy. Horwendil becomes Hamlet for a purpose. But what?

This: Shakespeare wrote an earlier version of Hamlet in the early 1590’s and shelved it. That version is now lost. Then this: Shakespeare’s only son was named Hamnet and the boy died around 8 or 9 years old in the late 1590’s. And this: Shakespeare, himself an actor, played The Ghost in the first stagings of the later drama.

And finally this: Some critics argue that the Ghost of the earlier Hamlet was much the more hoary old-school, and the son written written around the figure of Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s principal rival at the time, a rhetorical genius who could think his way out of most any trap.  Marlowe was supposedly, in his off-hours, a government spy, reporting on matters seditious and heretical, but it seems he was just trying to covering his own seditious, heretical ass (read his plays “Tamburlaine” and “Doctor  Faustus” and you’ll see his wide literary thumb aimed at the nose of God)—he was also perditiously gay—well, his benefit to the Crown obviously was outrun by the presence of his person in the world and onstage.

Marlowe was dead when Shakespeare took up the play again in the early years of the first decade of 1600 (stabbed in above the eye in a barroom brawl, incited, some believe, by thugs dispensed by the government.) Shakespeare’s own son Hament, born around the staging of the first play, was also dead by then. With neither rival nor son to create or pass on a legacy, Shakespeare interiorized the outer drama into the mind of his protagonist, a son adrift, with the Ghost of his dead father demanding that he clear the stage in the Jacobean fashion, strewing bodies with all the malice of  a Marlowe, including that of fair Ophelia, the love interest, dead of madness and suicide after being spurned by the now revenge-addled Hamlet who murders her father Polonious.

My humid Ghost bears the presence of so many fathers, not the least my own. As Shakespeare’s first Hamlet play was the ghost of the latter one, my own history is the ghost of the present, selves which meet here on the page, bearing mystery of a life, the history of things great and small, so many tributaries of cupidity, venality and license eddying together to arise from the grave I laid ‘em in and coming in through the opened windows of this morning like a lover’s moist breath on my neck, whispering “Remember,” which is the only way you can truly bid a ghost Adieu …

This post was built upon the bones of a ghost; the original posted last year this time, but in January I accidentally deleted my first Ovalscreams WordPress blog.  What is it when you raise another edifice over the ruins of its father? Must you dig deeper to raise a taller one?

In modern translation, the voice which whispers “Remember” sounds more like “Who’s yer daddy?” Who fathered this work? My personal father William, raiser of megalithic stone, or Willy Shakespeare, bard of verbal depths so great that no one yet has managed to sing deeper? Bill of deeds, or bilious words thereof?

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Which father tasks me here today? Or are they asking the same question of me, one whose answer must dig down to raise up?

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Who’s yer daddy? What are you the son of? What do you instill in your kids? And if you don’t have children – what will you leave for the world? And who will remember our Ghost, much less recognize it? Is the spreading miasma of the Gulf spill the most identifiable endowment of my generation upon the next, the product of outright laissez-faire greed?

Or is the ghastly inheritance we bequeath something deeper, deeper even than that split vent at the bottom of the Gulf, pairing back together two things it is unthinkable and mad (though some say holy) to repair: I mean, who gave the next generation the outrageous fortune of the right to know what they can only believe? FOX News? Rupert Murdoch? How can political fortunes these days be dictated by ranks who know God wants them to vote in fools and grifters? How did conjecture become certainty? Why are media outlets fonts of garbage which are embraced (and sell) because they do not so much challenge a person to the truth as affirm what people already think they know? Who performed this nasty bit of mental buggary on the blank-minded generation who will one day forfeit on paying my social security benefits?

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Whose yer bad daddy? Rupert Murdoch, the man who fouled journalism in the name of Big Money, or Tony Hayward, CEO of the corporation which beggared the Gulf of Mexico?

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Who else but Powers which know that an army of believers can be rubed out of their last cent of credit? Who else but angry helmet heads and bouffant big-cleavaged anchors shouting, “The way we say it is is EXACTLY the way God meant it all along!”

Don’t get me started. Let me edge back down from the precipice of rant reproach and re-approach my Theme, for as with Hamlet Junior, so with racin’ fans it’s an equally dire question. Who’s your daddy: Fireball Roberts or Joe Weatherley?  Richard Petty or David Pearson? Dale Earnhardt or Tim Richmond? Our present tastes and distates on the sport are shaped by these legacies.

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Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt.

The choices are important, for they speak to the divisions between us as well as within us. Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt couldn’t more different from each other, the former a true Southern NASCAR driver, a quiet, family man who brought his son Dale Jr. to many races; the other driver was a transplant from open wheel racing, a flamboyant playboy who loved celebrity and partying and women. Yet they raced each other with ferocity, almost to the exclusion of the rest of the field, and cared deeply about each other. “Hollywood” Tim Richmond died early, from off-track excesses (from AIDS, in 1987); Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt died 13 years later, on the last lap of the Daytona 500, killed instantly when his No. 3 crashed into the wall of Turn 4 as his son Dale Jr. raced on by.

Richmond would have been far more comfortable, I think, with NASCAR’s monied present than old-school Dale Senior; he would play Hamlet Jr. if such a staging of the play were possible in the Great Oval rather than the Globe Theater. He could easily be a Tony Stewart, played with treble balls and panache, savoring as much the wildness of winning as partying in the celebrity stratosphere of this day. Dale Senior would be the ghost of Hamlet Senior, NASCAR’s Christianized king, a Southern boy who brought his son to the track and marrying, for the second time, a Winston Cup girl.

A difference between their age and ours: the two could be friends. Now, a difference of opinion is close to a call of arms.

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For our sons, who will Hamlet Senior be? Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart? And who represents Hamlet Junior – Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch?

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Three-time Coke Zero winner Tony Stewart will face off again against Kyle Busch—winner of the ’08 race–on July 3.

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I didn’t father any actual children that I know of – there were three abortions by different girlfriends, and I had many, liaisons of unrubbered sex back in the 1980s, pre-AIDs.  I acted as father to a stepdaughter in my first marriage when she was between eight and eighteen years old, but we haven’t talked in years now, she’s in her 30’s has two kids of her own, mostly abandoned to drug-addled pursuits while she blames the world for her ills. Surely I abandoned her as I remarried, allowing her to go her way; yet as Prospero would say of the native monster Caliban in The Tempest, that thing of darkness I call my own …

Plenty ghosts in the garden this over-warm morning—the Bard, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt, my brother, my aborted children, my abortive fatherhood of a stepchild—all of them pacing the garden path in the humid swash of late night swelter. Far different rampart than freezing Dunsinane in Denmark 500 years ago, but weirdly partaking of the same interface, the same trysting-ground between the ages, between opposite separated by a Gulf, between my ages, between my surface history and deeper, deepest mysteries.

Who’s yer daddy? And how will you honor and obey him? With pen or with sword at the ready, to slit the throat of every usurper, to edge past him on Turn Four and race to the checkered flag?

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I experienced that womblike infinite once again, at age 19, sleeping in the arms of a woman I  had fallen in love  with after our first sexual consummation.  Though it was still cold in the early Spring of Spokane, Washington, I dreamed our bed was floating on crystal-blue sea-waters and the sun was shining, shining, shining over us, my rebirth into love something whose purest metaphor was a summer day at – or on – the ocean. And when I woke, there she still was, sleeping softly, naked, curved, beautiful – mine. (Or so I thought so. She left me a week later.) I kissed her awake and we screwed again, the springs of that goofy mattress on my  bed making an infernal racket as I worked my way as deeply into her welcoming womb  as I could go and then experienced what the Japanese called “the moment of the clouds and rain” – a lush pause followed by gentle ecstatic streams into the body of a woman who was looking me in the eyes, smiling, smiling, smiling … Thus we drifted back off to sleep for a few more hours, holding hands as we descended again down that blue blue pool.

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Saturday, June 12

Today’s forecast promises rain, maybe, hopefully, though all now is just blowsy furnace. Our Siamese Violet is stretched  out on the top of the couch next to me, indolent, drifting in the raptures of sleep.  I had my visit there too, earlier this afternoon, napping naked on our bed upstairs in the heat, the hand of the afternoon pressing me down into a sleep I couldn’t rouse from, not for the life of me …

At least for an hour. Our calico cat Belle slept with me, faithful as a dog, matching me snooze for snooze. The heat chased me up and downstairs eventually – too fucking hot – to brew up some Cuban coffee and spend a few hours reading stuff on the Web with design programs on TV (wife’s working on sewing project in the other room; I wasn’t paying attention). Just flipped over to Speed to see Aric Almirola doing victory burnouts at MIS after beating Todd Bodine and Kyle Busch.

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Aric Almirola celebrates his second Camping World Series win on June 12 in Michigan, He will drive the No. 48 for Jimmie Johnson if Johnson’s wife Chandra gives birth before the next race.

It’s supposed to be cooler on the eastern beaches where an easterly breeze is helping out. I can only image what it’s like on the west coast with that flat Gulf stirring up storms which can only be called monstrous for lack of a worser adjective —  horrendous, infernal, awful, awesome … I remember driving back from Longboat Key about 10 years ago after my wife and I had visited her parents at their summer condo. The entire western sky was taken up with a malevolent wall of storm and the lightning was coming at us faster than a pack of Sprint-cuppers coming round turn 4 at Daytona at 200 mph.

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I’ve always preferred the Atlantic beaches to those on the Gulf side. Earlier in the day, the Gulf off Longboat Key was like an enormous cobalt plate, still and flat beneath the infernal sun, the sands – recently trucked in from somewhere – whiter than a Hollywood wannabe’s teeth. An arch, almost archetypal stillness. On the other side of the state along its eastern beaches, the sea has more motion and curvature; the waves are wilder (nothing like Maui or off the California coast, but enough to show some character), which means the song of the ocean is throatier. Not quite like the pack rounding turn 4 and heading down the frontstretch of Daytona with twenty thousand-horsepower motors at full song, but still of a register I can sing along with.

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The shores along Florida’s 1200 miles of beaches are different because the depths offshore waters vary greatly. Visible Florida sits on an platform which extends far to the west and a little ways off to the east. Beyond that platform the seabed plunges dramatically. You can walk a long ways off Longboat Key into the Gulf, maybe a mile or so, and still be in chest-high water. On the other side of the state with the platform falling off quickly, depth is much closer in. Waves are larger and have more affect on the formation of the barrier islands, those malleable stretches of beach which we have foolishly built so expensively upon.

Of course, standing on the beach you see only small and larger waves, depending on the depths offshore, the breath of the wind and the hammering of hurricanes which soon will begin their seasonal conga-line. The Atlantic side is more turbid – especially at Melbourne Beach, where the largest wave-action in the state can be found – while things are gentler, more lappy on the Gulf side. I prefer the drama, tympani and tubas over piccolos and triangles, but the differences may not seem to special to anyone who’s experienced really big surf, or worse, had the misfortune of sailing Cape Horn or crossing paths with a rogue wave.

Cape Horn—the rounding of the sea around the bottom of South America—is the most difficult sea-lane of all. A fantastic book which resides in that location is Franciso Coloane’s Cape Horn and Other Stories From the Far End of the World (transl. David Peterman).  This from his story “Cape Horn”:

The western coastline of Tierra del Fuego breaks apart into numerous islands, between which wind mysterious channels that disappear thereat the end of the world in “The Devil’s Tomb.”

Sailors from all latitudes assure you that there, one mile from that tragic promontory that backs up the constant duel of the world’s two largest oceans, at Cape  Horn, the devil is sounding with two-ton chains, which he drags, grinding the shackles in the depths of the sea on horrible stormy nights, when the water and dark shadows seem to rise and fall from the sky to those abysses.

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Until a few years ago, the only ones to venture into those regions were the most audacious hunters of sea otters and seals, people of distinct races, tough men whose hearts were nothing more than another clenched fist.

Some of those men have remained stuck on those islands all their lives. Others, strangers, intimidated by the whip of hunger that seems to drive them from east to west, arrive from time to time to those inhospitable lands, where very quickly the wind and the snow cut them to the soul, leaving them only wounds as hard as icicles.

Awful – and awesome – such coasts and waters. At its wildest, the ocean is unfathomably cruel, roaring at magnitudes greater than any supertanker’s girth. No placid Lake Dora on another’s summer morning; there are times when the sea is all-Father, like the sea god Manannan, who rides his grey wave-horse to every known and unknowable shore of thee seven oceans.

Surely rogue waves are epiphanies of him, those weird monsters spawned by strong winds and the convergence of fast currents. Experienced by many an ocean-traveling vessel over the centuries but never proved, rogue waves are mythic – like Bigfoot, a permanent part of wilderness mystique. In 1861, the Eagle Island lighthouse was swarmed by water that broke the glass of the 85-foot tower. In  September 1995, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 was in the North Atlantic caught in Hurricane Luis and encountered a 95-foot-high wave. The captain of the ship said “it came out of the darkness” and “looked like the White Cliffs of Dover.” Newspaper reports at the time described the cruise liner as attempting to “surf” the near-vertical wave in order not to sunk. And in 2004, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ocean-floor pressure sensors detected a freak wave caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico. The wave was around 91 feet high from peak to trough, and around 660 ft long.

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Back to the serene Gulf of Mexico as we view it from Florida in the middle of summer: It’s a postcard from heaven which you send back to your buddies still freezing in Philadelphian hell. Go ahead, stroll out into the Gulf. It’s like walking into a womb.

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But the Gulf, like any great body of water, is as changeful as a hormonal girlfriend’s mood. Pair such a stroll in halcyon waters on a hot clear blue summer day with all in perfect stillness in every direction with a hurricane-lashed, 95-foot-high wave, or a 20-foot storm surge devouring the labial lips of New Orleans. Same ocean, different day. Who’s yer mama? Who’s yer daddy? The sea is the prime source of such addlement, and Floridians are nothing if not a folk weirded by the high and low elements they live amidst.

Look: it’s 4:45 a.m. this morning and 81 degrees, the garden outside drenched in humid heat. Where is all the water? The oceans on either side of the state send our storms in, but the past few days they’ve been bewitched by high pressure systems, by deep fissures spewing oil into the Gulf, by the meandering porpoises of this writer’s purpose, strung by heat and history’s hidden face of mystery. With such waters lapping at nine tenths of your borders – Florida looks like a droopy penis hanging down post-fuck amid its plunder – you’d be half-mad too. Like a sailor adrift in a mastless sailboat on the Gulf Stream, carried further and further out and away, crossing no one on long hot ocean days, nothing to drink but sea-waters too laced with salt to drink, no rains falling, sharks massing round the boat’s prow, taking chunks of hull out in their wild ancient incessant Hunger …

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1986 was Richmond’s best year of racing in NASCAR, racking up 7 wins, 8 poles, 10 top 5s, and and 17 top 10s. He earned half of his $2-million-plus income over his 8-year career in that season alone. At the year-end banquet he was named co-owner, with his favorite racing competitor Dale Earnhardt, of NASCAR’s Driver of the Year award.

There couldn’t be two different drivers on the circuit. Earnhardt was a true Southern stock car racer in Wrangler jeans, denim shirt and cowboy hat. Richmond came from a wealthy family in Ohio and was pure jetsetter flash in his Armani suits, silk shirts, and Rolex watch.

They were also the flat-out coolest racers on the track. They both loved thumbing their noses at the NASCAR authorities, who definitely preferred their drivers neither stirring or shaken. At the Firecracker 400 in Daytona, Richmond gave a TV interview while lying on his back on the pit wall; had an argument with NASCAR officials over the legality of the carburetors on his Monte Carlo SS; had a disagreement with other officials over NASCAR’s demand that he have a medical exam; and had another fight about posing for photos in sponsors’ hats.

And for all of Richmond’s off-track loves – “Hollywood,” he was nicknamed, for his mixing it up with celebrities and Tinsel-town lifestyle—Tim Richmond loved racing  more than anything, especially Dale Earnhardt, The Man In Black. Those two were hands-down the most earnest and hellbent  racers of their age.

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“He’d rather race Earnhardt as eat,” says Harry Hyde, Richmond’s veteran crew in 1987-87.

“He just enjoyed the hell out of racing Earnhardt. He’d pull up under Earnhardt and just sit there, lap after lap, they’re side by side. He’d come on the radio and say,

“That’s all it’ll do. I can’t go any faster.”

“And I’d say, “Well, are you in a bind sitting there?”

“He says, “No.”

“I says, `How long can you stay there?’

“He says, “All day.”

Women loved Tim Richmond. He’d stage pre-race shows just for them: Unzipping his driver’s suit to his crotch puffing out his bare chest, then, in due course, pulling his fireproof vest over his head and zipping back up. “He was like doing a strip tease,” said Folgers team manager Johnson says. “It was downright lewd, and people would just go crazy.”

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Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway exectutive VP an general manager, said of Richmomd, “The WRFX rock-n-roll crowd loved him. Girls loved him. Cool guys loved him. I don’t know if the blue-collar guy that worked at Cannon Mills, if that guy ever fell in love with him, but that guy’s girlfriend did.”

Johnson remembers the first time he met Richmond – about 10 a.m. in November 1985 at Richmond’s Bahia Mar boat slip in Fort Lauderdale. “He was sitting on top of the spacemost beautiful Chris-Craft houseboat with this little old tiny bathing suit, with imported beer and a whole big plate of crab legs beside him,” Johnson says.

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Richmond was late for his first major Folgers appearance, an 8 a.m. tour of a New Orleans coffee plant. The night before, he was spotted entertaining two women at the hotel bar. The next morning, country singer T.F. Sheppard was at the plant on time. So was Hyde. No Richmond. Wax sent someone to his hotel, and a housekeeper found him sound asleep. He finally arrived at the plant without apology, peered out from under his dark sunglasses and said, “Well, if that Folgers coffee can wake me up, it can wake anyone up!”

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With Father’s Day as a specific league of this post—some of it was written before and after the day—today I’m waxing poetic in Dad’s honor, both my personal father who is now 83, and the line of fathers which shadow him and descend a deep deep pool, all the way back down that genetic line to the fella on the fish.

The Gundestrup Cauldron, a ritual silver vessel dug up from a Danish bog in 1891 and thought to have been pillaged from Ireland in first century BC, has many mythological scenes carved on its joining plates, none  of which have been fully interpreted. One plate where a man rides a salmon – is that my deep daddy?

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One of the panels from the 1st century BC Gundestrup Cauldron, pillaged from Ireland by Vikings and buried in a Danish peat bog for a millennia or so. Note the guy riding what looks to be a carp in the upper right.

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I’m sending my father a selection of these Ovalscreams writings – he’s not a NASCAR fan by any stretch but he loves a good weave, and these Ovalscreams posts are nothing if not meanders to and from a truth, with some racin’ thrown in for respectability.

The screamin’ Oval is a form of pool, you know, a maelstrom with Not By Providence But Victory as its vortex (even though we know Wynona is ever at play at the track, spicing things up, making things heady or hardon-y, perhaps doubly so, allowing no Victor his checkered flag without a milk-squirt and womb-drip of her Providence).

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And there’s no place closer to the ocean and her blue washes than the summer Daytona race. It didn’t rain last year at the race I attended; instead it was hot and blue-skied, so brilliant by day that the Porsche-Grand Am race which preceded the 400 almost got lost in the dazzle. The half-naked spectators who littered the stands to catch the earlier race were like beachgoers, lazily soaking up the sound of the racin’s surf-mill, squeezing in that much more noise and neck-craning as the cars went round and round and round, coming out of Turn Four like something about to be born, roaring down the frontstretch in full throttle and volume and then gone, racing the backstretch like a pack of hounds. It lulls you almost to sleep, that big sound, that speed, that outrageous indulgence of getting as legally naked as you can so that the full Monty of summer at Daytona can fill you, as if sea water was in the oppressively hot atmosphere, an ocean below bearing down from above.

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The night race which eventually came, the main event, was more of a gritty enactment of the inevitable, like the fucking which comes after the day at the beach, when the beach did all of the main action on you, sucking on your soul’s ruddy hardon for wet blue all day with each drawing and curving and curling and crashing and beach sprawling-and-receding wave, wave after wave after wave all morning and afternoon as you lay there stunned by the brightness and sound of it all, staying as long as possible out in that element before the burning became too obvious, til thoughts of food and traffic and getting some pussy turned your thoughts inland.

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I left halfway through last year’s Coke Zero 400 with Harvick, that restrictor-plate-race master, in the lead; I’d gotten my fill and wanted just to go home and nestle next to my wife in bed as she slept, whispering I’m home in her ear though she knows that anyway, always. The real gift came earlier in the day, when not much was really happening, when all of the sea day could flow through.

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Wednesday morning, June 17

Yesterday the temperature in nearby Leesburg topped out at 96 degrees before it clouded over and rained – in nearby Leesburg and down in Orlando at least. We didn’t get a drop here, though clouds and thunder massed all around. Mid-80s already at 5 a.m. today and the mercury is forecast to soar close to the 100-degree mark. It’s a fierce, numbing, crazy kind of heat, making everything look at once wilted and hammered flat.

Last night Obama was on TV making his speech on the government’s response to the Gulf oil spill catastrophe, on the heels newly-released estimate of the spill at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels (1.47 million to 2.52 million gallons) of oil a day.

(The current containment system used by BP is believed to be capturing 18,000 barrels a day. With the revised estimate, BP promised a new plan that will put enough vessels on site by the end of June to handle 53,000 barrels a day, and the company said it will ramp that up to 80,000 barrels by the middle of July. “Ninety percent containment” was how the President put it, a figure that would be assuring had it come from some source other than the one that so undercalculated the spill from the start. Initially, BP calculated the spill around 1,000 barrels a day.)

Obama’s speech was only 12 minutes long, and to many it was far too sketchy in promising concrete action. He used many military metaphors in describing the spill’s assault on Gulf shores and the fight Americans should muster against the threat. The government will take on Big Business. It should use this catastrophe as an opportunity to begin real work on weaning ourselves from dependence upon fossil fuels. Et cetera.

Reaction by most was tepid to discouraged. We all, it seems, were expecting more. But whattayagonna do about 40 to 115 million gallons of oil already in the Gulf? Some catastrophes are beyond our ability to fix in the present. (See 2008 financial system collapse and the Great Recession.) Democrats who were hoping for election-year traction didn’t get much. Gulf region residents got more talk and promises. Republicans heard what they did not want to hear – that old energy regulation bill their corporate interests are paying them to fight.

Presidents are seen by many -– childishly – as father figures. Many don’t like Obama as their Daddy. (See Tea Party angry white males.) Especially one who’s out to spank the guilty sons of the nation, the greedy ones, the takers, the corporate grifters who place shareholder profit ahead of commonweal. So the bad daddy’s move their strings, and placards start waving about leave my guns and religion alone. As if Big Government wanted to take their defective toys from them. Some other day, perhaps; but Daddy has more important tasks at hand.

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Views of our President — and his politics — vary.

Is there a hatred of Daddy in this culture, an anger at a father figure who’s been disappearing for several hundred years? (Old Man Time and God included.) TV sitcoms almost always portray Father as a buffoon, inept, laughable in his attempts to do much of anything except make not enough money. Hatred of Daddy might go as deep as hatred of black men, by whites and by each other. The deep masculine as rotten, predatorial and violent, beating children and raping the young, wielding his testosterone like a Louisville Slugger.

So is “who’s yer daddy?” a question which reminds us of our damnation as males, as if the thing of darkness hanging between our legs dooms us to drill badly into Mother Earth, taking what is not ours, glutting ourselves on things for which our appetites can never fully slake upon?

Your guess.

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I experienced that sea of wonders again a year or so later, after several long hard seasons of missing my lost love, drinking and drugging at a rate which surely pickled me for good. It was Spring again and I was emerging from a winter’s madness which had almost driven me to suicide. I survived. I was ready to rock I had been wooing a barmaid  at a local rock n roll club, and when she and her boyfriend broke up she invited me to an after-hours party. I was already drunk but she gave me a couple of cross-tops (speed) to keep me going and we drove out to the Spokane Valley to some anonymous house in an anonymous suburb – the sorts of places you visit when you’re lost in the big night music.

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We held hands on a couch drinking beer together while someone passed around mushrooms; I was pretty zombied out by then but in moments I was stirringly awake as the edges of the room began  to melt and waltz in swimming colors. Journey on the stereo and sunlight coming through an eastern window as the woman and I lay on the floor, watching the carpet dance in stereo, something carnivalesque and comical and  permanently inured from pain: swimming down the leagues of that old womblike swimming pool. Pretty pretty, I thought, that woman angling into me (finally, just quit of her boyfriend, tumbling, in a similar disordered person’s infantile way, into the next pool of a different man’s embrace), our mutual drunk-and-drugged state equivalent to an oceanic erasure of boundaries, a surrenering of our island consciousness to the sweet immersion of the drowning mutual sea, a mutual oblivion we called, for a short while, love, though within weeks she was back with her boyfriend and I was playing rock guitar with a band called Slick Richard in the big night music of my fall.

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The oil spill has a tenor of awfulness which reminds me of 2004, when four hurricanes hit Florida, three of them passing over this town. Charlie, the first, was bad enough to slake anyone’s curiosity about what big bad weather can do. It was predicted first to hit Tampa and folks evacuated inland to our area; it was re-forecast to come over our town, and folks evacuated into Orlando; it shifted once again to the east and all the evacuees headed back to Tampa. Charlie tore into the southeastern Bay town of Punta Gorda – way south of Tampa – on the afternoon of Friday the Thirteenth.

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It then proceeded to ravage north-east at a fast clip – about 30 mph – a tightly-packed welter of tornadoes and 100-mph winds which knocking over old oaks, destroying roofs, and knocking out power on a line which included Kissimmee, Orlando, Winter Park, Deltona, Deland, and Daytona Beach.

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My wife and I watched the event in enthralled horror on TV all the way to 10:30 that night when we lost power, the storm this huge angry red welter on the radar which took about an hour and a half to move over each town (fast, fast storm). My mother, who lived directly in the path of the storm in southern Orlando, settled into her tub with her poodle Ginger and sang hymns and fell asleep as the storm gripped her house and shook it like a sinner in the hand of an angry God, the huge oaks around her house toppling like mastodons. My in-laws in Oviedo climbed in a closet to wait things out, terrified that their house would blow apart in such awful wind, startled by the sound of things hitting the roof which had blown across the lake their house faces. (The next morning they found a toilet—probably lifted from a ripped-apart trailer several miles away—sitting on their roof.)

We were without power for only a day, but any day in Florida with a/c is something which makes you understand why no one lived in Florida in the summer unless you were too poor to afford to go anywhere else. For us, there was cleaning up to do, tons of limbs fallen in the back yard, the garden terribly flattened, the whine of generators the only sound in town; but everything powered back up in late in the day and we could turn on the TV to see what was going directly under the path of the storm. Jaw-dropping awe and awfulness. I drove down to my mother’s house on Sunday morning – by then most of the streets had been cleared—with a couple of bags of ice in tow (none were to be found in Orlando) and clippers and trash bags and such to help clean up her lawn. Her neighborhood was hellish, so many trees fallen, the day soaringly hot and humid, buzzsaws whining everywhere. I helped as I could for the afternoon, urging my mother to come stays with us but she was adamant about staying until power was restored, which turned out to be two weeks in coming. A guy came by and promised to cut up her fallen oaks, did work for a day, got paid, promised to be back the next day and never showed up again. Blue tarps distributed by FEMA went upon rooftops around Central Florida; when you flew into Orlando in late 2004 all of those lakes were matched by hundreds of thousands of blue roofs.

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That was Charlie. A month later in mid-September came Francis, this time in from the Atlantic coast south of Melbourne and acting like a more traditional hurricane, slowly churning over the state at 5 mph. If you were in the path of Francis, you felt her tumult for 12 to 15 hours. Moving slowly, Francis lost more of her punch over land – the winds gusted to 70 mph when it churned south of our town and then turned north, causing the winds to come at us from one direction and then another. My mother stayed us this time, bright and perky though I know she was spooked. We were without power again for a day, though most everyone in Francis’ direct path were without juice for about that long, her punch less enough to keep most power lines intact. Still, the harrowing of a hurricane’s passing is one thing when you live on the coast (Satellite Beach got ripped by Francis), and bad enough inland; the sky swirls from one horizon to the other in a rotation which lifts you up and carries you off with it, in your imagination, Dorothy in her house-chariot galloping off to Oz and more awful ports.

Two weeks later came Francis, same storm as Jeanne in every way, striking the same part of Florida from the Atlantic, hitting everyone who’d been in the paths of Charlie and Francis with the same weary menace. The approach and hit of a storm, with all that suspense and drama and harrowing is one thing; its the weeks without juice and cleanup which is another, the devastation to a local economy, the hassle of everything.

We were glad Ivan bit into a part of Florida not our own, way up in the Panhandle and over into the Alabama coast Ivan was actually going to hit New Orleans but veered in the last hour toward the east and wasted Destin, Florida before rampaging up into Georgia. Ivan was the father of Katrina – same storm, actually, hitting a year later just directly east of New Orleans.

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A stretch of development before and after Hurricane Ivan in Orange Beach, Alabama. Ivan was Katrina, a year earlier and a ways to the east.

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2004 was our year of dangerous storms; we thought the would become a permanent fixture of life in Florida, a product of climate change or something. Actually, they were part of an offshore high-pressure pattern  which siphoned every approaching storm system coming across the Atlantic to the south, directly into the state or further south into the Gulf where they hit those warmer waters and empurpled like a lover man about to explode in his lover girl. We thought after 2004 that Florida would become Hurricane Central, a state whose summers would be marked by subsequent thrash-and-batters: but we haven’t had a hit since. 2004 was a fluke, though I’ve heard that predictions for this year’s storm season are following conditions similar to 2004.

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And no one wants a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico this year, not with all that oil lurking about on its surface and in its depths. The mother of all storms – another Ivan or Katrina – could wreak a motherfucker of an oil-disaster event, the winds slicking beaches black, storm surge carrying inland all that muck and the 10 to 20 inches of rain which falls in a hurricane’s path soaked in oil, too.

Not this year, we pray. Please. But no one controls the reins of Mother Nature, no matter how much we like to think so. Houses built on barrier islands which are no more than ever-shifting dunes are doomed, eventually,  to fall pray to tides and wind; a big enough storm – a Category 5 storm, with its 200 mph winds – would annihilate Miami or Tampa or Jacksonville. And with our luck this year, why not?

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August 1982: In the summer of my 25th year I met a woman at my local rock ‘n’ roll bar one night and the night and day which followed never ended for six weeks or so. Her name was Kay and she had wild curly blonde hair and big breasts and a smile which took me in like a crashing wave. I bought her a couple drinks and we shouted incoherent things at each other while a band named Romeo belted out swamp boogie blues, stuff to make electric molasses out of everything beneath your navel. We ended up going to an after-hours party where we drank for most of the night, tipping champagne glasses at each other as we skinny-dipped in a cobalt-blue, womb-warm pool. I followed her to one of her friend’s apartments and we headed up to a spare bedroom. It was way too soon for this but we were reckless and aroused beyond sense. She smiled at me as she unbuttoned her tropic print blouse and those wonderful full breasts spilled out; leaned into me for a kiss and pulled my hands into the gap in her blouse where I held and squeezed those marvelous maternals.

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And on it went from there; we must have fucked a half dozen times and exchanged oral favors thrice over the course of that morning and afternoon, the room heating with our sweat and the brilliant Florida sun. The sun was falling toward the western horizon when I finally broke free – I had to go to work the next day – kissing her at the door of that house was like being torn from a womb I could not exist apart from.

Two nights later I picked her up from her folks place (where she was living) and we drove around town, her hand in my jeans, breath in my ear. Pulled over into a dark enough parking lot and she climbed up on top of me in the driver’s seat, enough of our clothes parted to gain entry. My old Datsun rockin’ the night away until a security guard tapped on the window and broke our spell, only for the briefest interval. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the radio, night traffic like rivers of other folks’ desire, Kay whispering “I want to have your baby” in my ear as we finally pulled up to her folks’ house.

It was like that, for the briefest of whiles: that is what falling in love is like, which the psychotherapists and evolutionary biologists say is how homo sapiens puts itself in the best mood for procreation and furthering the bloodline. A boundary-less fall into pool which is an ocean which is a womb which is a sub- or unconscious thrall with a Beloved which links present loves with archetypal depths, keeping me on track for fatherhood and family life.

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It sure looked like we were headed that way, but cracks began to appear within weeks. Much as she said she wanted my baby, Kay was terrified of pregnancy – a former boyfriend had forced her to have four abortions – she said No. 5 wasn’t going to be left lifeless on the beach of our union. Any thing that kept us apart – jobs, other responsibilities, sleep – were things I loathed. My jones for her was addling; I wasn’t proper apart from her, all I could do was think of her, of getting back into that pool of wonders once again.

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One weekend we drove over to Cocoa Beach and took a motel room on A-1A, the two-lane highway which runs intermittently along Florida’s eastern barrier islands. We spent most of the night fucking – four or five flaccid and drooling Fourex condems were on the floor next to the bed – then slept a few hours.

Then we got up to take a walk on the beach. The sun was just coming up and the surf was small and warm, little waves curling and crashing, sandpipers running up the beach on fast spindly legs. We passed a few others who were out walking, but we were mostly alone: the beach, the ocean was ours. I watched Kay walk down to the surf’s edge in a loose-fitting bikini (after her last abortion it had taken a while to lose the weight), her ass moving languid like the pulse of waves.

She paused as she wet her feet, looking out at the sea; then turned to look at me. The rising sun over her left shoulder lit her curly blonde hair on fire, her eyes were of an exact hue of the morning sea, her smile was dreamy and relaxed all sex and her curves were infinite … Or so was the moment of her apotheosis, in which she stepped off the wave like Aphrodite to grant me a single boon – that vision –

Then turned and walked away. Weeks later she broke up with me, crying that all I wanted was sex, that I didn’t understand her, that I had broken her heart. My last view of her was of walking from my car into her parents’ house, that magnificent ass in retreat like an ebbing wave, that curly hair catching a bit of the waxing moon and starlight, just enough for me to sense the magnitude of what I was then losing. That sweet ass I loved so to hold when she was riding away on top of me disappearing through a door and then gone. Forever.

It was time to grieve. Then it was time to play my guitar with the amp cranked past 10. Then it was time to drink. What’s the line from Roxy Music’s “The Thrill of it All” – “And I will drink my fill/ Till the thrill is you.” Doublebass pounding away, the band like a breath inside the god. A wind.

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The view from our balcony at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg, FL.

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Saturday, June 19

This morning I sit and write from the 5th-floor balcony of the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel right on Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, first light augmenting a huge cloud system to the east, above the high-rise condos which line the bay – storms coming in already off the Gulf? Soft breezes, pastel blue sky above, the waters of the marina in front of me cerulean, gently rocking sailboats and pleasure-boats in womblike rhythms. Pelicans and petrels soaring about, already at work, a few joggers and dog-walkers out enjoying the relative cool before this summer day gets underway and temps soar in to the 90s.

We’re here for my wife’s 51st birthday, one night in a swank hotel (all we can afford), one hundred-dollar dinner (and that without any booze), a big night’s rest in a king-sized bed with enormous feather pillows, a manicure for her later this a.m. maybe some shopping downtown, before we drive my old Matrix (cleaned, new transmission and tires and brakes at 100,000 miles but no hubcaps, and the passenger side door handle broken off) back into the Florida interior to our home which we can still afford but seem to work ever-harder for less and less of any security that we’ll be able to keep it.

A day and a night away from all that, pretending wee have money, that we’re not unlike the sleeping residents of that 50-foot yacht in the marina, the biggest boat of all, long and blue and angular the way a person looks leaning into the wind, hair flying back. My wife deserves this, and I sure hopes she enjoys all of it. The leisure. The pleasure. The luxury. Her way. Life’s not fair, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get the chance to love it anyway, and live it like we’re happy residents in it, no matter what befalls us. Sure is nice to rock in the lap of luxury for a night and a day, even if it’s only once a year.

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That’s my wife walking into the Vinoy Reanaissance Hotel soon before we headed out for the day.

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Such settled versions of oceanic immersion into a Beloved (my wife and I have now been married 14 years) may seem like the moment of waking when a dream of limitless love fades into your pillow, the face of that beloved phantasm drifting down into the water with a finger held to her lips. Why go for this dry, inland, ever-working, aging marriage when the really exciting wild stuff is out there waiting for me, the way I’m hard-wired to believe that out there is a bottle which is finally full enough to supply my insatiable need for More.

Well, I grew up. Decided that living in a reality was far more sufficient and sustaining that chasing a fantasy. I let the ocean go, so to speak.

The ocean is no door. I once thought
it was, travelling north to south
as through the welcome of a woman
I once dreamed of standing on a wave.
But her literal perfections all washed away.
Daytona Beach is hammered flat by cars
and the brunt of addict frenzies; upon
such drear sand, women in bikinis
flicker and sear in ghostly flame.
Further south, Melbourne Beach is
always troubled and thundrous,
bellowing at the cut in God’s balls
and Venus smiling into foam.
No beach ever kissed my flesh with flesh.
Between dune and sea there’s a promise,
but not to us. Ask the rotting crabs
and manowars. Drive a while down
those empty beaches. Witness the gale-
lashed hand bittern scrub. For me, I’ve
always far better naked in my own damn tub.

(“Forget The Ocean,” 1998)

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Yet though I no longer haunt beachside dives in search of Venus on the half-shell in a D-cup bikini, I’m still haunted – as it is plainly evident here – by the watery thrall of it all. My love of poetry – love of its watery syntax and blue vowels – has its source in that drowning pool. Something about writing short lines across and down the page feels like diving:

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APOLUTROSIS (The Third Baptism)

Beyond the baptism in water
There is one in fire: Yet after that
This third, dowsing back into
The wildest mystery of all,

Where You and I cry One. Only
Then will we see the Master smile
And find welcome in the dance
Which sings a rounding God,

No more bruited slaves
To death’s too-harbored life
Where free minds chain themselves
To shores bereft of surf or salt,

Endlessly sighing at moons. No more
Shards of light, no more hearts
In withering black boats.
Nothing more to baptize here,

Just wild blue plunge between God’s knees,
Become the wet part of His singing seas. (2004)

Words can ferry the inside sense of that drowning pool, liquid signifiers of an eternally circulating tide between I and a Thou who is (a) The Beloved or (b) God or (c) You, Dear Reader. What connects me most to the insides of this world, this life, is a watery conduit of the mother tongue.

At least here it does. In a few minutes I will break from my writing and start my working day; shit and shower and gobble down some cereal then go up and get in bed with my wife to kiss her softly on the cheek as I have for all of these years and slowly stroke the heels of her feet with the lightest touch of my fingers. It’s what makes her feel most liquid.

And we won’t say a word.

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Rumors are starting to circulate about how awful things might get, even without the double-dog-dare-ya effects of a hurricane. It was reported that FEMA is getting in a plan to evacuate Tampa Bay in the event of a controlled burn of surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or if wind or other conditions bring toxic fumes through Tampa Bay.

An report by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources warned of the impending disaster resulting from the British Petroleum (BP) oil and gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico, calling it the worst environmental catastrophe in all of human history, the European Union Times reported.  Russian scientists believe BP is pumping millions of gallons of Corexit 9500, a chemical dispersal agent, under the Gulf of Mexico waters to hide the full extent of the leak, now estimated to be over 2.9 million gallons a day. Experts say Corexit 9500 is a solvent four times more toxic than oil.

The agent, those scientists believe, when mixed with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its molecules will be able to “phase transition.” This transition involves the change of the liquid into a gaseous state, which can be absorbed by clouds. The gas will then be released as “toxic rain” leading to “unimaginable environmental catastrophe” destroying all life forms from the “bottom of the evolutionary chart to the top,” the report said.

Yes, well, dubious source. Scientists say oil can’t evaporate, though it can cling to stuff that does. But terrors aside, the actual pall and its effects does get worse. The Gulf tourist season is tanking; images of oil-drenched pelicans and workers in environmental hazard suits doesn’t do much to arouse the itch for walking on shores where all that is eventually headed. Florida Governor Charlie Crist – a well-tanned dude who is running as an independent for the U.S. Senate – has a lot riding on proper response. He’s spending lavishly on a P.R. campaign (paid for, in part, by some of the $50 million Florida has received already from BP) to convince tourists in this country and abroad that Florida’s beaches are still pristine. What isn’t in that message is how much the state is also preparing for the worst. Beaches are actually easy to clean; its the state’s marshes, estuaries and wetlands that will be the real challenge, where the real environmental impact will be made.

Florida’s Daddy has a tanned, capable visage, but his promises can only go so far. What can’t been seen but we know is there – all of that oil down at the bottom of the Gulf, immensely more than all of the surface evidence – is what grips and tear at the Gulf Coast psyche. Nietzche wrote, “Stare at the abyss long enough, and the abyss stares back at you.”

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The Associated Press reported on June 13,

The Florida Department of Environment Protection said one of the oil slicks from the BP well is as close as 3 miles south of Pensacola Pass, an inlet next a stretch of Gulf Islands National Seashore and the tourist hotels of Pensacola Beach.

A larger slick was 9 miles south of the pass Sunday. The DEP said it is at least 2 miles wide and extends 40 miles south. Winds are continuing to blow the oil toward the shore, increasing the chances of tar balls and weathered crude washing up on beaches during the next week, the DEP said.

“There’s a fear in the pit of the stomach and it won’t go away and its invading the life, the soul, of everybody in Pensacola,” said Donna Self of Anniston, Ala., who was visiting Pensacola Beach with friends Sunday. “You can just feel the tension just building every day, getting stronger and stronger. And I don’t even live here, and I feel it because I love the beach so much.”

On the same day, a 5,000-pound, 550 gallon tank thought to be from the Deepwater Horizon rig washed on Pensacola Beach. It was still leaking oil when authorities quickly removed it from the beach and took it to New Orleans  for investigation. The next day, a second tank washed up on Walton Beach. Afterwards, Transocean admitted that both tanks came from the Deepwater Horizon rig.

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On June 14, a second storage tank thought to be from the exploded Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on Walton Beach, FL.

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Here and elsewhere, the menace in summer’s fertile heat spreads. Lighting struck the roof of Amway Center on June 13 (where the Orlando Magic recently lost their bid for basketball’s Big One to the Boston Celtics), causing some charring but no injuries. A woman in Sumpter County wasn’t so lucky; a passing storm knocked a tree onto her mobile house and killed her. 20 bodies have been retrieved from an Arkansas campground along the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers, which rose 20 feet in an hour during thunderstorms late June 11. Flash floods also hit this week in Oklahoma City, leaving several parts of the city underwater; there were flash floods also in southern Virigina and France, where 1l people were killed. And in Monroe, Ohio (just outside Cincinnatti), a lightning bolt destroyed a six-story-high statue of Jesus also known as “Touchdown Jesus.”

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Touchdown Jesus, before and after getting hit by a lightning bolt.

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Surely, the storm god Daddy is angry. Irked, at least, enough to hammer the land with troubles. But what can we do? Get on our collective knees and pray for the forgiveness of our sins to the torched Touchdown Jesus? Board a virgin cheerleader from Mobile on a mastless bark and sail her out into the teeth of the Gulf, there to be proferred to the testicular genius of summer storm?

On June 16 (Wednesday), we finally got some good rains here in town. It was hot that day – near 98 degrees in downtown Orlando where I worked – but rain arrived there around 3:30 p.m., pronounced with bolts which tore the sky apart and rattled windows with thunder. Then the rain – sheets of it, sideways and down, flooding the downtown streets within minutes. I drove home as that storm lumbered on, weirdly (but as summer storms work in this region) into an area ringed by massing cloud and absolutely dry; then as I headed into my little town the next storm began to lumber through. Lightning bolts in fast profusion above and about my car, cracks which seemed almost overhead, and then the unzipping of the holy jeans to water the land but good with rain – three inches on my rain gauge in the garden. At the gym I watched radar of the afternoon’s events on a local TV station, broadcast on one of the eight large-screen monitors which face the cardio machines: a dozen storms fomenting and fermenting out of nowhere all at once, blotches of green growing yellow to orange to red menace so fast and huge it reminded me somehow of how testes, when they’re ready, swell so suddenly and then lurch. That moment was what the state of Florida looked like in the thrall of the summer’s late-afternoon heaven on the hottest days of all: a threshold reached and spilled over in the the jissoming ecstasy of lightning bolts and cracking thunder and rain and rain and rain.

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In the psychoanalytic literature (which I became interested in and had the time to delve into when I stopped chasing Venus and turned my attention toward the depths She may reside more truly in), the experience of watery baptism is given varied treatment. Sandor Ferenczi, a disciple of Freud’s, developed a sort of bio-psychological explanation which asserted that the experience of falling-in-love is a compulsive recapitualation of the old, old, old, old desire of returning to the sea which gave birth to all creatures who live on dry land:

The idea occurred to me that just as sexual intercourse might, in a hallucinatory, symbolic and real manner, somehow signify regression, at least in its mode of expression, to the period of an prior to birth, so birth and antecedent existence in the amniotic fluid might themselves be an organic memory symbol of the great geological catastrophe and of the struggle to adapt to it, a struggle which our phylogenic ancestors had to survive in order to become adapted to a land and air existence. Sexual intercourse thus contains a suggestion of mnemic traces of this catastrophe which overtook both the individual and the species. (Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, transl. Henry Alden Bunker, pp. 101-2)

Elsewhere, Ferenczi likens the penis in the vagina to a fish in the sea: the motion and the ocean are the same. The fascination and thrall of the watery element which has gripped me since I was a child has a conduit traveling some 500 million years down my brainstem.

Carl Jung in Symbols of Transformation understood the metaphor of oceanic immersion as one of regression too, a psychic submersion from reality which could prove pathological if one wasn’t willing to come up for air and get back to the business of life onshore:

When the libido leaves the bright upper world, whether from choice, or from inertia, or from fate, it sinks back into its own depths, into ((its original source)) and returns to the point of cleavage, the navel, where it first entered the body. This point of cleavage is called the mother, because from her the current of life reached us.

Whenever some great work is to be accomplished before which a man recoils, doubtful of his strength, his libido streams back to the fountainhead – and that is the dangerous moment when the issue hangs between annihilation and new life. For if the libido gets stuck in the wonderland of this inner world, then for the upperworld ((the)) man is nothing but a shadow, he is already moribund or at least seriously ill.

Well, my father would certainly characterize me that way in my mid-20s, doing nothing but playing rock n roll and drinking and chasing pussy: When was adulthood going to begin in me? Certainly something changed when I gave up the drink at 30: I began to grow up, and the compulsion for things outside of me which were only symbolic of thirst transformed into the discovery of an ocean deep inside me which I was free to dive and swim and sail, at least with pen to paper. Jung again:

But if the libido manages to tear itself loose and force its way up again, something like a miracle happens: the journey to the underworld was a plunge into the fountain of youth, and the libido, apparently dead, wakes to renewed fruitfulness. (transl. RFC Hull, par 448-9)

And oddly, libido – which I always figured was horniness to mate with the next woman, as many as I could get my hands on – had its own transformation, out from the centrally genital to a passion for world, the garden outside and the beaches I walk in dream, the breadth of a thought and the depths of a post.

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But I get ahead of myself. My compulsive water-voyage continued inside a bottle’s womb, usually on my own, though just once more, for the same short while, I experienced the depths of what it means to fall in love in a torrent of raining sex. A strange career, unlike Tim Richmond’s in any way though I suspect he was in his own a countryman and patriot of the same sort of abandonment I sought – me at the bar, Tim Richmond behind the wheel, the both of us riding the big night music, one of us alive today to tell about it.

Let us stare down the divining pool of memory, and see what of our stories are found there:

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Tim Richmond was having his best year in 1986, but in it were cast the seeds of his worst. It was my best year, too, in the worst sort of way; and because of that I may have b been doing the best work for my future. (But I may be wrong. Discernment of spirits is a Christian gift, and Hamlet’s Ghost is a pagan entity, his message coming more in the manner of the Witches of Macbeth, arriving on day both foul and fair. Well, Tim Richmond counts as a pagan, he raced in a NASCAR day when Ohio might have been the steppes of Asia.) Religion’s apparatus can’t  go far enough. Neither can literature’s, after Shakespeare, though we try …)

Compared to today, life in ’86 was better and worse. The inflation rate was under two percent and unemployment  was running at 7.2 percent—better than our day, but not by much. The Dow Jones closed the year at 1895. (If things get a hell of a lot worse in the economy, we may end up in that direction.). A new house cost an average $89,430 dollars, a new car $9,255. (Our gap closs.) A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,599, about the cost of a Mac Book today—gazillions more computing for about the same cost.

Hot on the radio: Power Station and INXS, Genesis, The Bangles, Bruce Springsteen and the Pet Shop Boys. Hot on TV: “Magnum: P.I.”, “Hill Street Blues,” “Dynasty,” “Cheers,” “Remington Steele” and “The Cosby Show.” Hot on my mind: booze and pussy, or rather, a potion for perfect love.

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Robert Palmer sings “Addicted to Love” in a Power Station video (gams stand in for the band).

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On January 26, The Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.. I grew up in Chicago with the Cubs, the baseball franchise on the north side of town, and was not accustomed to watching any Chicago team win. So for a Chicago team to become champion, that was a form of affirmation I took so personally. I got real drunk at a party hosted by friend; by halftime, when it was obvious that the Bears were headed for a rout, I was already blotto. I left before the start of the second half and drove up to my favorite rock n roll club. I was in a blackout when the bar closed, packed two girls and some bum into my car and drove them back to my tiny garage apartment. I took the thin one with the big hooters into my bed (actually just a mattress on the floor) and left the fat one and the bum to party on the floor of my cold kitchen.

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The Chicago Bears devoured the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl.

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Two days later I was at work in the office supply stockroom at The Orlando Sentinel and headed up on the roof of the production center to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It was a cold, clear day and I had a terrible hangover; the light was almost shattering. Pressmen and packagers, secretaries and reporters all watched the launch – that bright, bright candle at the bottom of the rocket some 50 miles away in Titusville, the rising arc of smoke from liftoff. But then suddenly it got all confused, the fantails lacing up into some odd sort of bow that stopped in mid-air. Reporters beat it back to the newsroom where three televisions were relaying live footage of the Challenger’s explosion and disintegration 73 seconds after launch.

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A few weeks later, Tim Richmond finished 20th in the Daytona 500.  His teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, Geoff Bodine, took the victory.

In late January, a crew member refused to place an ill-fitting hatch cover on an oil tank of the oil barge Apex Houston docked at the Shell Oil Company refinery in Martinez, California. On January 28, the unmanned Apex Houston (under tow by the tugboat Inca) left the refinery with a cargo of San Joaquin Valley Crude oil and passed through the Golden Gate, bound for Long Beach, California. The barge encountered rough weather on 29 January off Monterey Bay; on February 1, near Long Beach, the Inca crew boarded the Apex Houston to reattach a parted tow wire and discovered the hatch cover lying loose on the deck. Oil coated the deck and floated in the water around the barge. At least 616 barrels of oil (25,800 gallons) had been lost The same day, staff biologists of Point Reyes Bird Observatory and state and federal agencies began receiving reports of dead and dying oiled birds and globules of oil on beaches in central California. Tally for the spill on the bird population alone: 3,364 live oiled birds, 5,880 dead oiled birds on beaches, and 1,333 dead oiled birds lost at sea.

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A worker cleans an oil-drenched bird salvaged from the sea after the Apex Houston spill of 1986.

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I slept with some 30 women the first three months of 1986, drinking almost seven nights a week. I’d work, go to the gym, come home and cook a steak and steam up some broccoli, drink three Budweisers, shower, put on my going-threadbare rock n roll threads, pull one of the $20’s meant for rent from my dresser drawer, drive up into Winter Park, make the round of a few bars, come back and grab another $20 from my dresser and head back out, usually to my rock n roll club but other times to another watering hole in Orlando’s vast supply (more numerous than its numerous lakes, and twice as deep), and drink into the shallows of unconciousness where most of ready girls were in reach. Who knows where they came from, why they ended up with me (I liked to think I had Rod Stewartean looks, but I was too tall and gangly and could never quite rooster my hair as well as he), why they let me follow them home, why they gave themselves up to me, what we actually did (usually I was in a blackout), how I managed to slip out on a zip-up and a fleeing promise, why I left them behind, why I never found anyone I could stay with, what was wrong with my thirst for sex, why I was so afraid of the deep end of that pool, where the true intimacy and love was.

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The season unscrolled slowly for Richmond. It took a while for Richmond to gel with Hendrick Motorsports, his new team, and his new crew chief Harry Hyde. He finished 22d at the Miller High Life 500 in Richmond and 16th in the Goodwrench 500 in Rockingham. But he managed top-10 finishes in the next 3 races in Atlanta, Bristol and Darlington and won the pole at Bristol.

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In March, Out of Africa won the Oscar for Best Picture, but I remember these films from 1986 –Aliens, Blue Velvet, 9-1/2 Weeks, To Live and Die in LA.

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Noir menace runs high in “To Live and Die in LA” but the blood (sometimes acid-laced) runs thicker in “Aliens,” both movie hits from 1986.

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One night I dreamed that my father is a vampire in an ancient house that was heated way too much against the bitter winter cold outside. He’s civil and urbane and endlessly deadly and he’s chosen me to prey upon. Sitting by the fire with him (our faces glowing in that light, even more so for the eternal darkness just behind us) he tell me he’d prefer to dine on animals but something propels him on. He cuts my neck and eyes the blood running from the wound with something like delight or famished hunger. I take a knife and slash and slash and slash at him He goes away but lives, reappearing all wounded and thrice vicious. I pierce his heart this time and he goes away forever.

In April, United States Navy divers found the largely intact but heavily-damaged crew compartment of the Space Shuttle Challenger, with the bodies of all 7 astronauts are still inside. For years afterward, chunks of fuselade would wash ashore at Playalinda Beach next to the Kennedy Space center, sad bits of wreckage that had been drifting offshore with the flotsom that shattered space flight.  I was haunted by those finds, dreaming of watching a booster surface in the glittery surf of first love, a phallic gift from Poseidon, laden with all of my failures to rocket my way to love.

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Challenger wreckage washes up on the beach, a sad reminder that the technology of human nature is a poor match for the high and lower realms of Mother Nature.

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Later that month, an estimated 50,000 barrels of crude oil spilled from a leaky storage tank into the Carribbean coast of Panama, a spill greater than any other reported at the time near coral reefs and mangroves in the tropical Americas. By September 1986, the oil had contaminated coral reefs, algal flats, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, small estuaries, and sand beaches. An area of mangroves  equivalent to 12 football fields was completely destroyed.

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One morning that spring I woke with a woman a waitress at one of my bars, who whispers into my ear, thinking I’m still asleep,  “I don’t even like you. You’re just a good fuck.”

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In April I signed on with my last band – Innocent Thieves – comprised of guys from several B-list bands playing in the area. I was brought on for my tall rock-star looks and big-guitar sound. We rehearsed from some three months, partying after practice with more vengeance than we applied to our songs.

The world was cruel back then as it is now. Libya was the terrorist baddie back then In April, a Berlin discotheque frequented by US soldiers, was bombed, killing 3 and injuring 230. In retaliation, Operation El Dorado Canyon was launched, with US planes bombing the Libyan capital of Tripoli, killing at least 1.

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American F111 pilots en route to Tripoli in Operation El Dorado Canyon, bombing targets in the Libyan capital in retaliation for a terrorist attack in Berlin.

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Nature was cruel, too. On April 14, Hailstones weighing 2.2 lb fell on the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh, killing 92. On April 29 the Bangladeshi double decked ferry Shamia capsized in the Meghna River, southern Barisal, Bangladesh, drowinng at least 600.

In a sci-fi book published in 1986 titled “Pandora’s Genes” by Kathryn Lance, a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is addressed in a future time with genetically altered bacteria, leading to the apocalyptic destruction of all modern technology. (“Apocalyptic,” hmmm.)

Blackout drunks were becoming common for me, often for up to four nights in a row. I woke at noon one Saturday without a clue where I’d been or how I’d gotten home when I remembered I was supposed to have picked up my sister at 8 to drive over to Vero Beach and visit my dad, who was visiting with friends there . We got there mid-afternoon, and my dad and I walked the beach on a turgid, grey day. He said to me, it’s over, kid, give up on these idiot adolescent pursuits and get started with a life. I nod, looking out on the grey sea, and agree. Back in town I swear off booze for about a week, work out hard every day, practice the old songs with my Hamer Phantom and old tube Gretsch amp, feeling that old feral edge return. Excited, I head out drinking, closing down my rock n roll club and following a heavy-breasted blonde back to her trailer in Gotha. Stripping her naked, the last thing to come off is a scarf she wears around her neck, revealing an angry, 8-inch scar. Seems a boyfriend she had dumped had smashed his way through the window of her living room and tried to slit her throat with a Bowie knife. She had died twice on operating table, lost almost 8 pints of blood. She survived, to live on dancing in topless clubs and getting picked up by rock n roll boys like me. I call in sick that day, fuck her a bunch more time and then drive back to my apartment in the warming sun of Florida, drinking beer and reading Anthony Burgess, feeling the tide of a sick form of grace haul me out once again.

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Richmond’s great run began with a second-place finish at the World 600 in Charlotte over the Memorial Day weekend. Late in the race it seemed Bill Elliott had taken control, but smart pit strategy on crew chief Harry Hyde kept Richmond out on the track when Elliott had to pit for a splash of gas. Dale Earnhardt’s crew had made a similar call and took the victory.  Richmond finished second two seconds off the pace. But he had established himself as a contender.

At the next race at Riverside, Richmond led much of that event, and was poised to take his first win when Terry Labonte crashed with two laps to go. With the race ending under caution, both Richmond and second place Darrell Waltrip knew it would be a close finish. The two put one on of the best duels to the finish in NASCAR history, running side by side and rubbing fenders all the way. Richmond got caught behind slower traffic allowing Waltrip to open an advantage, but he came charging back, finishing inches short as the yellow and white flags flew simultaneously

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Our band played its only gig in late June, on the bill with six punk bands in an event called Rock Against Racism. We played a terrible set, the monitors on the fritz, our singer’s guitar going horribly out of tune. Not that anyone really noticed – most of the attendees were fans of the punk bands. No mosh-pitting to the power pop-rock-confections we played. After I set I retired to the bar in back and drank. The next band was called Damage and with their first song, skinheads began bruising against each other in the pit. It was all just their kind of fun until someone careened out of the pit into some jock’s  girlfiend who screamed. And then it was on.  A fight broke out, then another,  then the whole place was a blizzard of flying fists, chairs  and squealing girls. The cops showed up soon enough and the whole place emptied out. I snuck my guitar and amp out to my car and split, leaving the band to tear down the PA.

It was at Pocono that Richmond began his winning streak. The day was dark and stormy and the red flag had to be thrown for a severe thunderstorm at the midpoint of the race. When the racing resumed, Richmond worked his way to the the front, roaring around the damp track.  He dueled Dale Earnhardt all the way to the finish, the two of them avoiding a heavy wreck with four laps to go. That day it was Richmond who crossed the finish line first. He was on his way.

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A French ad warning of the dangers of the new scourge of AIDs. Talk about drilling where you shouldn’t …

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At the opening speech of the International Conference in Paris, held from June 23rd to 25th, Dr H Mahler, the Director of the World Health Organization, announced that as many as 10 million people worldwide could already be infected with AIDs. Back then we knew it mostly as a gay disease, and a distant one – New York and San Francisco and Miami were epicenters. Nobody I knew back then took much notice of it. It would be some years before the casual sex world I lived in became alert to the use of condoms.

Nobody knew that Tim Richmond would die of AIDs just two years later.

My band Innocent Thieves went into the studio once to record four songs. The drummer never showed up so most of the day was spent programming a drum machine to handle his parts. I still have a tape that has the final take of one of the songs, “Lonely Town,” on it is my best guitar work, riffs and runs and fills and a solo that hit all the heartstrings.

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Richmond’s next win was at the Firecracker 400 in July. He finished second at the next race, at Talladega, followed by a win at the road race course in Watkins Glen, where he was a heavy favorite. He finished second the next race at Michigan, then sixth at Bristol, then he finished second, then first at successive races at Darlington and Richmond. The heat was now on.

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One night in July I was told the band was breaking up, with several of the players going to work full time for their day gig working out at Disney with a 50’s band called The Shifters. I wasn’t really heartbroken, because I knew I did my part to drink the Thieves out of existence. I saw my former bandmates only once more, at a party for a vocal coach who had once told me he couldn’t take any more of my money because there was no hope of me becoming a decent vocalist, I saw my former bandmates. We didn’t say anything, and when I left the thirst was on me. I drank toward the bottom of every bottle and babe I could never quite get enough of or find, my heart in furious disarray, my mind repeating my father’s words–it’s over, son, it’s over. Bidding my revenant life adieu.

In 1986, “Mr. Charlie,” the first transportable, submersible Gulf drilling rig, was retired. Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of offshore wells from 1954 to 1986 off the coast of Morgan City in the Gulf of Mexico. The museum is now being used to train emergency and clean-up workers for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

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Mr. Charlie.

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Sunday, June 19

The contrasts of a day in Florida nudged up against the summer solstice were like, well, day and night for us as we spent most of day yesterday in St. Petersburg—eating a 50-dollar breakfast in the Marchand restaurant at the Vinoy looking out on the pool where, by 8 a.m., many folks had already assembled in their various states of undress, two dozen elderly women’s heads bobbing up and down in the pool while an instructor led them through a water aerobics class. “This is why people move to Florida,” said my wife, who hates living here: pristine tropic sunshine and pool water surrounded by pink stucco an a glittery bay with palm trees rocking in a breeze. I (who love living in Florida) agreed.

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In the complementary copy of the St. Pete Times – still a real newspaper, packed with sections and stories where our local Orlando Sentinel has whittled down into couple dozen ad-filled broadsheets – there was a story (“Our sea, shore and psyche” by Times staff reporter Richard Martin) about the psychological stresses and disorders of people who make their living along and out on the Gulf. Much has been made of the financial and ecological impact on residents, but now attention is focusing on the long-term emotional impact. “History show that living through large-scale disasters can lead to dangerously high stress, anxiety and depression, along with increases in substance abuse and domestic violence.”

Martin quotes several Orange Beach, Ala. residents:

Matt Shipp feels the stress all over. As the new owner of a restaurant along the oil-stained Alabama  coast, he doesn’t know if his business will survive the summer. At home, his 10-year-old daughter, Kamila, worries her family – who came to Orange beach from Mobile eight months ago – will have to move again.

“We uprooted our lives, changed schools, which is stressful enough,” says Shipp, 42, who opened Shipp’s Harbor Grill in October. “Now we’re questioning whether we’re going to survive.”

Shipp is far from alone.

“The psychological impace is tremendous. I see it bearing down on people every single day,” said Joey Ward, another restaurant owner and a lifelong resident of the Alabama coast.

There was nothing but blue skies and clear waters here in St. Petersburg yesterday—at least to the east, over Tampa Bay. But to the west, out in the Gulf, storm clouds had already massed.

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From our hotel balcony, I could see storms moving into St. Petersburg from the Gulf.

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We could hear other couples having breakfast talking about the spill, too, wondering, as we had, what this area would be like with all that awfulness come into Tampa Bay and the Vinoy Marina just outside. The oppression, even in Paradise, is palpable; yet for we who can, turn away to dailiness and dallying which ignores the great suffering of others in order to maintain personal equilibrium. We forget to survive; I mean, with all that oil out there still spewing away, with effects which seem unstoppable, whaddyagonnado?

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We go shopping. At least, we did, it being my wife’s birthday celebration and all (thus she got to do things her way). We hit five or six shops around downtown St. Pete, she perusing for lamps and lace, me looking for books, the only thing that’s in those stuff-heaps (though I hardly need anything more to read). A storm hitting the area and raining hard and then lumbered inland. It was bright and hot and sunny as we drove out of town on I-4 headed east, eventually homeward, classical music on a tape (no more classical stations in the are), the afternoon patchwork of distant storm to the east brought into full relief by late angle of light. First we stopped in Plant City to hit a few more stores (there was a car show going on downtown, so I was able dally elsewhere), then stopped in Clermont for a light dinner at Olive Garden. Soon after we left from there, with about a half an hour more to go, we caught up finally with the storm which had hit St. Pete and moved inland, by then a towering, menacing thing, rain falling in buckets, huge puddles encroaching the road, thunder over our car thumping and growling. It seems that the storm then followed us; we’d get out of rain and into somewhat clearing skies when it would then darken and start raining. We rode the edge of that slow-moving storm like we were surfing on the lip of it, praying just to get home …

Which we finally did, climbing out of the car in rain that was just beginning to fall like the dickens in our town, sheets, walls, fusillades, fountains of rain slickening and how as we ran from car to house. How could anyone get so wet in so short a sprint? Inside we were greeted by our cats in varying degrees of hungry indifference, them not so sure about us, having left them overnight … My wife had taken a PM sinus pill for her headache (it has worsened all day, while my migraine was mostly gone by breakfast) and fell asleep quickly on the couch while we caught the beginning of “Blades of Glory” and, after she slept, the ten millionth re-run of “The Road Warrior.” The storm never abated; the rain slacked off but didn’t start and the lightning was incredible, not for frequency as much as intensity, brilliant flashes in darkness which had a five second  pause before dropping its rolling town-sized boulders across the sky. Wicked, hard lightning which was still flashing and booming when I went to bed. It was still  raining, too, a quite steady sursurration which lulled me slowly to sleep as our two-days’ trip faded from my mind.

Lightning still in the distance at 5 a.m. as I fed Mamacita our black stray cat. Distant reminders of awe and awfulness while I sit on the porch of our comfortable house and rain-heavy garden, grateful to be home, to have it for this moment yet again, even though the future is so clouded with sea-beclouded oil.

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One Saturday morning in July 1986 — I climbed into the back of a car of girl I’d picked up at a bar and spent the night with and accompanied she and her girlfriend to Daytona Beach. I was still drunk and working on breakfast beer from a 12-pack that was in a cooler next to me on the back seat. Up front the girls passed a joint back and forth and jabbered on about stuff, who knows what, I was headed back into the foothills of another blackout. Cold beer, Florida’s midlands unscrolling in near-faceless monotony, saw palmettos and palms and an infinity of beat-up trailers baking in the naked morning sun. I probably drank half the stash of Busch beers before we got to the beach, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledghammer” and Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” and “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood.

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Then we were at Daytona, driving on the beach. Then I was out in the water up to my neck, wondering where Love was these days, my recently sucked and fucked and spent penis numb in waters which in my dreams still roused. Then we were on the boardwalk getting fried oysters and beer; I started throwing my food at the girls and we got thrown out of the joint. The girls, disgusted, left me sitting at a picnic table along the esplanade and told me to stay there, which I did, sleeping for who knows how long. Then they were collecting me for the drive home. I cried in the back seat, embarrassing the girls even more, babbling names which had no meaning any more – Becky, Sue, Dana, Denise … They dropped me off at my garage apartment and left my life for good, a blue 80s vingage Toyota Corolla fading down Holt Avenue in Winter Park. I gave ‘em the finger and lurched back into my hole, plugging in my Hamer Phantom guitar and pelting messy riffs nowhere for a half an hour. Then went to bed and slept the rest of the day and night away.

And woke on Sunday with sunlight shredding the tattered shades of my hovel of an apartment, the day whispering get up, asshole, for no reasons I could account for. Showered off the sweat and cracked open a beer and began to practice my guitar in a more sober state, working on the riffs I still thought, poor fool, would call Her back, woo her so that she would invite me back into that womb I had forever lost. Addicted to love, indeed, or better, as Bryan Ferry would croon, slave to love, to the boundless watery erasures which I though love could permanently endow a soul, if only I could meet the right woman, one not so prone to waking up and walking out before I even knew she was gone … Chased that feeling for years afterward, night after month after year on the some old barstool  or another, scanning a bar’s crowd for a pretty face while as Roxy Music’s urgent anthem “The Thrill of It All” juiced my jones for More, for a bed and a babe and a bottle oblivion, decanting o-so-rarely, like the undersea castle of Arionhod, the embrace of the sweet blue abyss. Was I looking for love, or simply that hallows of its blue cathedral, its womb?

In my Daytona Beach blackout in 1986, I couldn’t have even mouthed the words. But I did, for a while, stand out in the rocking ocean with water up to my chin, silently heaved to and fro by passing waves; and knew all I cared to, as if the whole point of that fruitless enterprise was to reenact the conditions of my birth, conditions which would not give birth to me until I had surrendered all of those conditions. Bottle included. Babe and bed too.

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In September, while he was racing his best season ever in NASCAR, it became clear that something was wrong with Tim Richmond. He was ill with something that hadn’t a name yet, but it was sapping his strength at an alarming rate. The fangs had set into him some time before – some nameless woman or man infected with AIDS – and back then there was little knowledge of the disease. And no hope.

Richmond’s fiancé Lagena Lookabill Green says Richmond infected her Sept. 10 of that year in a New York hotel. She believes that Richmond knew he had the virus when they made love after his marriage proposal. “”I grieved his death,” she said, “even though he knowingly planted his seed of death inside me.”

Though ill, Richmond raced on, and had it not been for a series of mechanical problems he would probably have won the Winston Cup in 1986. That would go to Dale Earnhardt.

That was as close as Tim Richmond got to the crown. AIDS had him now, and it wouldn’t be long before NASCAR’s most troublesome winner would be a ghost at the track.

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Sunday, June 19

Sonoma, California—the current neck of the USA where NASCAR next unfolds its whirling drama – is far from the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps far enough out of sight and mind as to be invisible. Father’s Day plays prominently today’s road race at Infineon Raceway. So many drivers got an early start with father who lived out their racing dreams vicariously through their sons.

Mark Martin says his father Julian – who died in a plane crash in August 1998 — was the largest influence on his life.

“Obviously I miss my dad enormously,” Martin said. “He was a big part of my racing and he was my biggest fan and quite a character — so I really, really miss him and it makes my heart warm when I see Ned Jarrett at the race track when Dale [Jarrett] is there or I see Buzzie Reutimann at the race track on the weekend — or I see Tony Stewart’s dad or Tom Logano [Cup driver Joey Logano’s father].

“I think that’s really, really cool and I try to remind them — because I know that they don’t realize how special that is, because it’s happening. But I realize how special it is. And I wish I had more days like that, myself. It’s something that’s really special.” (soure: nascar.com)

Special emphasis this season is also going toward sons who have become fathers – most recently Jamie McMurray, who announced that his wife Cristy is expecting their first child in December. Jeff Gordon is a famous dad (with his darling little girl Ellie), Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are recent dads, and Jimmie Johnson and wife Chandra are expecting their first child any day now.

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Sam Hornish with daughter Addison; Jeff Burton with son Harrison.

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Fatherhood, ‘tis said, changes a racer, not so much better for the racing (do Dads ease up on the gas pedal, remembering their chages at home?), but for the paternity,  young bucks now with a responsibility of passing on what their dads gave them. I’d venture that most racers have a uniquely close relationship with their fathers, were pulled away from hearth and Mom to work in the garage at a very early age. As such, these men are like family businessmen, faithfully carrying out the father’s errand.

I’ve written here before about the ambivalence of one son – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – whose influence from his father was more tenuous and difficult. Left behind when Dale Sr. remarried, Dale Jr. felt the only way he could get his father’s attention – and respect – was to enter racing himself. As a now-middling Sprint Cup driver, his father’s legacy is very weighty.

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Sibling rivalry also gets into play, with one or another driver trying to earn the respect of Daddy. Think Kyle and Kurt Bush, Dale and Kerry Earnhardt, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson and his younger brother Jared, now coming up the Nationwide ranks. These brothers have been struggling against each other on great oval – often where one brother has clearly dominated – both caught in a dynamic created by a father. Both fighting to earn the better half of a father’s respect. Both falling short no matter what.

That’s the deal, you know. Sons must all eventually step in for their fathers, for better or worse. “Who’s yer daddy?” is eventually replaced by “What am I going to do with this?”

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Oh fuck it all, he sighs, driving his sleek black
car through the night. It’s cool inside. Nothing intrudes.
Instruments on the dash glow a phosphored green,
ghosting his hands. The radio plays old rock anthems.
Is love still the drug? He’s not sure anymore.
Miles of road thread back into the corrupt interior.
Home is behind, a throttle of malls and
the ceaseless traffic of breaking things, empty
beds and fern bars and blackened bottle clubs.
He flees for the ocean like some latter-day Jonah,
hoping for rebirth in the cerulean surf of pink morning.
He arrives at a beachside town. Streetlights approach
and fan over the windshield. He rolls down a window:
ocean night crowds in with warm, briny gusts.
The street deadends at a bar called The Castaway,
yards away from a surf-wrought shore. The bar is decorated
with fishing nets and sweetly curved fake conch shells.
He finds an empty stool next to a battered bar.
The barmaid takes a shine to him and buys him shots
of tequila. The gold fangs pierce, glow. He talks
openly with her as he does when drink and sex coil
his heart late at night.  Nice haul, he thinks. Of course,
any mermaid will do. The hours dissolve past closing time.
He finds himself laying on a table close to the surf.
Muscular breezes work the naked beach.
A zipper of silver paves black water to the moon.
He tries to recall the barmaid, feels the bruise
on his cheek. Gulls slide overhead like beggar angels.
Is this night the belly of the whale? Even in his stupor,
he’s sure. The poor beast lurches and rolls,
swims shitfaced, utterly nauseated with him. What did
he expect?  He’s the worm at the bottom of every
empty bottle. Same guts, different night.  The ocean sings to
him in wind and surf like a birthday song, rising
out of nothing’s breakers. He feels he should join in,
too, sing back brokenly and tearful, but he’s just too drunk.
No matter, because the sea isn’t singing for him
anyway, not for the locked door of the bar behind him
or for the gull that’s crapped on his chin; not for the hard
and breezy, unforgiving night; not for the entire world’s
empty shore. But will our hero ever learn?  Not tonight.
He’s falling off, lulled by the boneless summa of choired waves.
It’s all getting back to basics now, his lids fluttering down
like a bikini top thrown in the wind, the moony seascape
an ebbing seepage, narrowing to a single slitting coal.
Fade to black as our hero swims down the welcoming hole.

— “Jonah Closes the Castaway Bar,” 1988

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In September 1986, crew chief Harry Hyde first noticed something was wrong with Tim Richmond. Richmond had won  the Southern 500 at Darlington but “he looked awful bad, and he was taking antibiotics.I t looked to me like he had the flu or a cold.”

“After Darlington …. I thought he was all right. But by Rockingham and the last two races, I could tell he was … down. It was in his face and eyes.” At NASCAR’s December awards banquet, where Richmond was named co-Driver of the Year with Dale Earnhardt, Humpy Wheeler thought he looked awful. “I could tell it was something worse than stress; he said he was exhausted,” he said. “He was extremely disturbed about what he looked like.” Within a week, Richmond was in the Cleveland Clinic, diagnosed with AIDS.

This was news for heterosexual America. (The previous November, the supermodel Gia had died of the disease, the first woman known to have died of AIDs in the U.S.)  Evelyn Richmond, Tim’s mother, called to explain her son’s illness to team owner Rick Hendrick. He had never heard of AIDs. . “I didn’t know what she was telling me,” Hendrick said.”It was like my first time …. I was confused. I didn’t know what it actually meant – what the prognosis was. The more you found out – the more you just … it hurt and it killed you.” Richmond spend Christmas and New Years in the hospital, dwindling from 171 to 148 pounds. The rumor was that he was using drugs.

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Gia, the supermodel who was the first woman in America known to have died of AIDs, at her last photo shoot.

Rumors swelled further when Richmond missed the 1987 Daytona 500 with what was reported to be double pneumonia. Some said it was cocaine addiction. Others said AIDS. Drivers were divided in their opinion Kyle Petty didn’t believe them any more than he believed Richmond had pneumonia. He thought it was cancer. Richard Petty, stock-car racing’s King, felt then and now it was drugs. “There’s a question in my mind about drugs – that at the time he was driving that race car, he was pumped up,” Richard Petty says. “Whether he was or he wasn’t, I’m always questioning that. I always will.”

For his flashy sins, Tim Richmond paid dearly, not only with his own life but also in how NASCAR has made an outcast of this one helluva driver. Hollywood loved him – “Days of Thunder” was created in Tim Richmond’s image, with Tom Cruise playing Cole “Richmond” Trickle and Robert Duvall as crew chief Harry (Hyde) Hogg.

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Tom Cruise and  Robert Duvall played fictional versions of Tim Richmond and Harry Hyde.

In the mythical annals, Cruise/Richmond wins all, though in the corporate annals Richmond is down there with Jeremy Mayfield, a drug-usin’ glory-seeking rube who was also probably a secret communist, too visually wild for the corn-pone home-spun values NASCAR thinks its fans still embrace.

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After the much-maligned debris caution at the end of the Michigan race, discussion out in the blogsphere was rife over NASCAR’s interference in the racin’ to get good (payin’) results from an increasingly distracted and thinning fan base. Monte Dutton wrote,

There’s really no way around it. I don’t like the tricks, but if it weren’t for the tricks, more of these races would fail the test of fans with short attention spans who go ballistic if every race doesn’t end with a side-by-side finish. If that happened, some fans would be upset that three cars didn’t cross the finish line upside down. If that happened, they’d be ticked off all three cars weren’t on fire.

Let me declare for the record. I wish more races failed that test. It would make us remember the great ones more fondly. I remember when I could recall something that happened before the final 15 laps for more than a week. (Advancing age may have something to do with that.)

NASCAR already tries too hard to please everybody. If it didn’t promise steak and baked potato every week, its fans might learn to appreciate a good fried bologna, lettuce and tomato sandwich every now and again.

“A Fried Bologna Sandwich of a Race”

Someone else pointed out that if NASCAR was truly a sport, bogus debris cautions and other manipulations would be an outrage; but if NASCAR is an entertainment, any amount of skullduggery to make things exciting is legit—how that sort of game is playing.

The point was underscored while my wife and I were hitting those antique malls in St. Pete on June 19. Bored but dutiful (we were doing all this for my wife’s birthday), I lolled through room after room of Stuff when I came across some early ‘70’s pro wrestling fan magazines on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. Hey, cool …

When I was dorking around the shores of crashing adolescence, I loved watching pro wrestling on what passed for cable TV back then (the network channels and a few other things and this one channel where a camera simply panned back and forth over a clock, a barometer and a thermometer). My family was living in Florida then – it during my parents’ separation – and I spent many a summer afternoon lazying in our screened pool (more of those silver-blue glitters, ramped up by hormones that were starting to run their hooves in me) and then watching wrestling: Jack Briscoe, Terry and Dory Funk, Haystacks Calhoun, Bob Roop, Dusty Rhodes, the Great Mephisto – heroes and villains strutting and leaping and pounding the bouncy canvas of the ring, hurling off the ropes, forearm-smacking and –twisting, pulling off those match-ending big moves – piledriver, sleeper hold, figure four leglock (Briscoe’s patented move): It was all horseshit but I loved it, loved the big muscles and pumped-up drama which was too big to be true.

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Florida heavyweight wrestling champ Jack Briscoe, the Jimmie Johnson of rasslin’ in the early 1970s.

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Leafing through those wafery pags, my reverie was like sinking in a pool of memory – a free-floating, unzipped, polymorphose perverse oblivion which made me forget the endless sadness of so much shipwrecked stuff, flotsom and jetsam of lives movin’ on or closing down.

Those wrestling magazines took me away, and brought me here. NASCAR really is a lot like pro wresting, a small thing made huge by theatrics — rules you can tweak to pack things up and create mayhem.

My favorite wrestler – Jack Briscoe – died last February of complications from heart surgery. He was 61. I remember some legendary matches between him and Dory Funk, Jr. Two guys so equally matched, one winning one match, the other winning the next, Florida versus Texas like Dale Earnhardt racin’ Tim Richmond for the win.

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I’m watching the Toyota/Save Mart 350 road race at Infineon right now – 13 laps to go and it looks like Marcos Ambrose is going to get the checkered flag – then there’s a caution and a re-start and Ambrose splutters and comes to a halt. Whoops. Now Jimmie Johnson’s back in the lead, and he stays in the lead, and California’s golden boy has finally won himself a road race. Yay Jimmie. He’s sort of my Jack Briscoe, the nice guy whose been hampered and hammered by those guys wearing the masks of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, their cars evilly pumped with illicit mojo, hiding brass knucks or razors in their trunks. Seeing Jimmie in Victory Row was like watching a bloodied and  limping and profusely sweating Jack Brisco round the ring holding high the gold championship belt he’d just defended against that vile “Dirty” Dick Murdoch.

In another way, the rule called on Ambrose by NASCAR officials – that by “falling under a reasonable speed” during a caution due to a fuel strategy move of turning off his engine (and then failing, for a moment, to fire his engine), he was penalized by being placed back in 8th place, behind Kasey Kahne – comes out of a pro wrestling playbook. Monte Dutton wrote about it on June 21 in “Nice guys finish  … sixth”: (http://nascar.rbma.com/on-track/drivers/29052-nice-guys-finish–sixth)

NASCAR, of course, determines what speed is “reasonable” and what isn’t. Three years ago, Greg Biffle won a race in Kansas when his Ford fell just as far back, drifted partly into the tri-oval grass and, despite the fact that his crew had to push him to victory lane, allegedly didn’t run out of gas, even though that’s exactly what it looked like, and a sheepish Biffle sounded like he’d been briefed by NASCAR before the winner’s press conference. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed the pace car, supposedly a no-no, en route to victory in 2008 in Michigan. The gods of NASCAR smiled on those subjects from the Mt. Olympus known as “the tower.”

There’s no definition of “reasonable speed” on the track under caution. There’s a precise definition on pit road, but asked what a reasonable speed is, a NASCAR official would say, if he were frank, “what we damn well say it is.”

They damn well decided Ambrose was unreasonable.

Being a fine fellow doesn’t hold much sway with NASCAR. Making NASCAR a bunch of money probably works a little better.

Would NASCAR had called the same rule on Jimmie Johnson, had he suffered the same misfire so close to the race’s end? Last night I watched Larry McReynolds on Speed defend NASCAR’s decision on Ambrose, saying a point had to be made on guys who were abusing fuel strategy moves; that after Biffle and Earnhardt’s gaffes – which they allowed – enough was enough with Ambrose. His implication was that any driver pulling those moves were going to get penalized by NASCAR as they tried to keep order on the track.

But once again, they went after the low-marquee figure to make their point.

The image I got from the whole drama, to use a rasslin’ point of view, was that Ambrose was the babyface and NASCAR the heel, rubbing out the Aussie’s chances so that favorite local son Johnson could get a win. And the mark is us – fans who desperately cling to the belief that all this is real sport and not mere entertainment.

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There are other elements of Sunday’s racin’ which made me think of rasslin’. A profusion of camera angles reduced the miasma of slow-paced twists and turns around a snaky track into singular nexes of conflict. Announcers pondered what drivers and crew chiefs were thinking, like the chorus of a Greek drama, making drama where there  was only cars going round a track. They also indulged every depth of speculation on the dustups, relishing, like a corn dog slathered in mayonnaise, Martin Truex’s comments after Jeff Gordon spun him out. Truex was pissed but civil, an also-ran good guy tangling with the also-ran former champ; Gordon too was boringly the gentleman; surely these guys need schooling from the marquee stars of wrestling in off-track braggadocio and swagger. For the fans – 90,000 was the official estimate, but the cameras studiously avoided looking that way (they few times we got a peek, the stands sure looked empty), there’s beer and bands and big-screen hoopla and track bunnies and all the rest of the prepubescent ooh-lah-lah which turns racin’ into an event and a spectacle in which most of what’s fun happens away from the track anyway. What the track provides is noise and celebrity, sugars which jack the spirit with a jones for more, for life write larger than life, especially when one’s own life shrinking into a empty pool, ebbing out into a ruined Gulf.

Just like rasslin.

Racin’ & rasslin’, like rockin’ and rollin’, like cherry red and midnight blue, like rock candy – hot, sweet and sticky – like two pees in a pud: a tag-team match for the rubes where so much is staged to give the appearance of sport, a sport which would be dull indeed without the masks and fake blood, and debris cautions and autocratic commands coming down from the tower from The Guys in Charge. I don’t think they go so a far as to decide on the winner ahead of time, but they do everything they can to tilt the field in the direction of their favorites, the ones who ring the cash registers the loudest.

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Monday, June 20

Word came out yesterday that BP CEO Tony Hayward had taken the day off to see his 52-foot yacht compete in a race off the coast of England. Folks in Gulf were not amused. The Chicago Sun-Times reporters Raphael Satter and Holbrook Mohr report:

While Tony Hayward’s pricey boat whipped around the Isle of Wight on a good day for sailing — breezy and about 68 degrees — anger simmered on the steamy Gulf Coast, where crude has been washing in from the still-gushing spill.

Man, that ain’t right. None of us can even go out fishing, and he’s at the yacht races,” said Bobby Pitre, 33, who runs a tattoo shop in Larose, La. “I wish we could get a day off from the oil, too.”

BP representatives rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn withering criticism as the public face of his company’s halting efforts to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said it was the first break Hayward has taken since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

“He’s spending a few hours with his family at a weekend,” Wine said Saturday. “I’m sure that everyone would understand that.”

Not Mike Strohmeyer, who owns the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, on Louisiana’s southern tip, who said Hayward was “just numb.”

“I don’t think he has any feelings,” he said. “If I was in his position, I think I’d be in a more responsible place. I think he should be with someone out trying to plug the leak.”

And not Raymond Canevari, 59, of Pensacola, Fla., an artist who said he was insulted by Hayward’s attendance at the race.

“I think everyone has the right to do what they want in their free time, but he doesn’t have the right to have free time at all,” said Canevari. “Not until this crisis is resolved.”)

Now BP is firing temporary workers it shipped in from across the Southeast to hire locals, a PR move which only shows how slo-mo big BP is in responding correctly if at all to a crisis, having got away with so much for so long, given free rein by the government to drill, baby, drill with impunity. Well, the bigger the front, the bigger the back. Eventually you knew that BP’s CEO was going to take  a day off in his accustomed, stratospheric style, leaving the muck in the Gulf far behind. And you knew it was going to keep on shadowboxing on bum legs an opponent which is its own hubris, the monster some oil company was eventually going to unleash upon its world, showing what a used-up concept a multinational corporation is.

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Back on Grand Island, Louisiana, considered ground zero for oil spill catastrophe, the mood continues to fall into a wintry grief just as the summer sun reaches its zenith. Normally a pretty 7-mile stretch of barrier beach of the Louisiana coast, residents now look out on its oil-stained beaches and marshes with the realization that this horror isn’t going away, not for years.

Michel Cooper of the New York Times picks up the mood his June 11 article, “A Tourist Mecca Fears a Long-Term Oil Spill”:

“It’s shifted from a beautiful tropical paradise with people running around in bathing suits with rods and reels, having fun, to feeling more like a coastal town near a military base,” lamented Linda Magri, a real estate broker who rents summer homes and camps on the island. “We’ve got National Guard trucks running up and down.”

Like many islanders, Patrick Shay can hardly bear to look at the beach in its current condition. He has transformed his family’s front yard into a memorial for all the rites of summer that have been lost to the oil spill.

Mr. Shay planted 101 white crosses on his lawn, making it look like a national cemetery, and each cross is labeled for a loss: Brown Pelican. The Beach. Fishing. Riding My Golf Cart. Playing Board Games.

“This is our new way of life,” said Mr. Shay, 43, who has a seafood business near New Orleans and comes to his beach cottage here often with his wife and son.

As of today (June 22), some shifting of mood has occurred as BP’s claims of oil recovery – about 25,000 barrels a day now – provide some assurance that progress towards stoppering the leak is finally underway. However, newly-released documents provided by BP to the federal officials last May show BP estimated 4.2 million gallons (or 100,000 barrels) of oil a day could gush from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico if all equipment restricting the flow was removed and company models were wrong. Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey released the documents showing BP said in a worst-case scenario the leak could gush between 2.3 million gallons and 4.2 million gallons of oil per day. The current worst-case estimate of what’s leaking is 2.5 million gallons (59,000 barrels) a day.

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How things looked down under on June 23.

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So our hopes remain paper ones, and our fears fester on the Gulf.

All media eyes remained focused on the sugar-white sands of Gulf shores where men and women in hazard suits troop about amid families trying to get in a little beach time before it’s too late. But let’s also remember that this BP spill is itself a rather broad and sporty tip of an iceberg of oil company negligence around the world. The Gulf spill is currently estimated around 1.6 to 3 million barrels; the Nigerian government estimated recently that over 7,000 spills by foreign oil companies occurred in Nigeria between 1970 and 2000. They further estimate that over 300 oil spills occur per year within Nigeria. In total, experts estimate that over 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Niger Delta. The worst atrocities being committed by oil companies are happening out of view; indeed, if there’s any silver lining to the current events in the Gulf, they finally bring to view the horrible cost of our as-yet-unstoppered jones for fuel.

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About 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Niger Delta over the past 30 years from some 300 oil company spills.

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Not that there haven’t been voices crying out against these environment-killers, but in the way of the times where we seek to know only what we already believe, contrarian voices have fallen on deaf ears. It is amazing that so much scientific evidence exists for the torrid pace of global warming due primarily to the use of fossil fuels, and yet the stubborn resistance to the implications of this – that the time is now to wean ourselves off the elements which are killing the environment the fastest – is almost militant. Amazingly, “Drill baby, drill!” is a basso continuo at Tea Party events. Fox News resolutely avoids coverage of the Gulf and its helmet-headed pundits attack  the Obama Administration relentlessly on matters of defense and taxes, even while sitting in spilled oil to the knees. And the cars keep streaming out of garages at sunup as if every oil well in the world had been punctured, flooding the our world with grumbling exhaust-farting vehicles. Current estimates are that the world uses about 93 million barrels of oil a day (the U.S. consumes about a quarter of that). The Deepwater Horizon spill couldn’t feed more than a thimble of oil to our overall thirst.

So the paradox of tar-balled white beaches and massive dead zones out of sight at the bottom of the sea, alligator tears for the environment and a shark’s relentless thrill at the scent of oil’s spoor, an opium rich with dreams of speed and endless careening on some coastal road which borders infinity and annihilation.

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Wednesday, June 23

The thick humid pall which is Florida in its summer rainy season has settledover this early morning. It rained twice yesterday, dumping over an inch of rain on the garden; two days ago we got over three inches in a malefic, lighting-knockered storms that seemed to rip the roof off the sky. We’re in a season like early sexual love, where all the enraptured pair can do is fuck; every day the sun lifts heavily from the Atlantic so brilliant and fierce that it hauls up moisture from sea and land in massive accumulations of yesterday’s rain, ushering in the next storms, the next appassionatas of rain and wind and jissomy-bright lightning and those ecstatic knee-quivering deep bassos of thunder, ripples of glory so deep and loud the very ocean bottoms seem to hosannah the event.

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Such heat and stormy ferment does bring out a craziness in the soul, a mania for wildness and excess which gets dangerously close to the edge. Sometimes that edginess is ours. Lady Gaga was partying bigtime at a Yankees-Mets game on June 18—she’s an avowed lifelong Yankees fan—after the Yankees lost to the Mets, Our Lady of Gaga-ness finessed her way into the Yankees clubhouse wearing a bikini bottom and a pinstriped jersey that was unbuttoned to reveal her bra, drinking whiskey with the boys. You go, girl. A masked serial rapist is working co-ed apartments around the University of Central Florida, and detectives continue to comb the bottom of Lake Bennett in eastern Orlando, searching for the bones of Tracy Ocasio, who disappeared in May 2009. And the Orlando Sentinel reported on June 22 that  a woman named Summer Campbell was wearing a white bikini and pink flip flops when she was pulled over for erratic driving. A blood-alcohol test had her at .331—amazingly, nearly fatally drunk.

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The Lady goes Gaga at Yankees Stadium; divers keep searching for Tracy Ocasio’s bones at the bottom of Lake Bennett.

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And sometimes it’s the world’s. A tropical disturbance is working its way towards the Gulf, shaping and falling apart and re-shaping. If it gets up to tropical storm strength, the storm will be named Alex – the season’s first of what of forecasters are saying will be a busy hurricane season. And yesterday an 11 1/2-foot alligator attacked an environmental consultant snorkeling in a canal at the Silver Springs attraction in Ocala on Tuesday, biting his neck before he escaped and was taken to a hospital.

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“Crazy From The Heat” – Remember that 1985 David Lee Roth solo EP, with its camp version of “California Girls”? On the cover the boy with the reptilian brain and sea-sized libido stands in cobalt waters under a polaraized-blue sky, up the balls in rock and roll and pussy. My kinda guy back then, though my access to his oceanic statosphere was erratic and faulty and too drunk to matter. Not talkin’ bout love but its surficial glitter, the way the sun glitters on the surface of warm seas. You can go mad chasing those glitters; they never end up anywhere, not having a substance in themselves but rather reflecting a passion which is not ours but the world’s.

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When I finally sobered up back in the 80’s, I started reading my way out and down depths which I had decided were only imaginal and metaphorical (forget the glitters and gleams, they’re only the assonance of seem). Out and down revealed an inner depth, an eternal internal which is as old as the sea itself, if you travel far down the brainstem, the genetic code; at least, our mothers’ uteral washes have the same composition of salt in its wetness, as does our blood.

The book in which I came to love the sea was Rachel Carson’s 1951 The Sea Around Us. Carson had already written about the part of the sea we know best – The Edge of the Sea is a naturalist’s account of events along the shores of the Eastern seaboard – but this book dove down into the great bodies of water themselves, accounting for their birth, how the moon may have come from a basin in the Pacific ocean, the strength of its waves and tides (an how they are affected by wind and sun and the rotation of the earth), the life teeming at very downward altitude, the geography of its shelves and abysms, how islands are born, the affect of oceans on the Earth’s weather. It is a fantastical, poetical, enthralling account, opening up to me a heaven below unlike anything we’ve dreamed of up in the skies.

A few pearls from that teeming, swimmingly delightful work:

In the days when the earth was young, the coming in of the tide must have been a stupendous event. If the moon was … formed by the tearing away of a part of the outer crust of the earth, it must have remained for a time very close to its parent. It present position is the consequence of being pushed farther and farther away from the earth for some 2 billion years. When it was half its present distance from the earth, its power over the ocean tides was eight times as great as now, and the tidal range may even then have been several hundred feet on certain shores. But when the earth was only a few million years old, assuming that the deep ocean basins were then formed, the sweep of the tides must have been beyond all comprehension. Twice each day, the fury of the incoming waves would inundate the margins of the continents. The range of the surf must have been enormously extended by the reach of the tides, so that the waves would batter the crests of the high cliffs and sweep inland to erode the continents.

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Since no animal can make its own food, the creatures of the deeper waters live a strange, almost parasitic existence of utter dependence on the upper layers. These hungry creatures prey fiercely and relentlessly upon each other, yet the whole community is ultimately dependent upon the slow rain of descending food from above.

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Almost every coast of the world is visited periodically by violent surf, but there are some that have never known the sea in its milder moods. “There is not in the world a coast more terrible than this!” exclaimed Lord Bryce of Tierra del Fuego, where the breakers roar in upon the coast with a voice that, according to the report, can be heard 20 miles inland on a still night. “the sight of such a coast,” Darwin had written in his diary, “is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about death, peril, and shipwreck.”

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There is, then, no water that is wholly of the Pacific, or wholly of the Atlantic, or of the Indian or the Antarctic. The surf that we may find exhilarating at Virginia Beach or at La Jolla today may have lapped at the base of antarctic icebergs or sparkled in the Mediterranean sun, years ago, before it moved through dark and unseen waterways to the place we find it now. It is by the deep, hidden currents that the oceans are made one.

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Between the sunlit surface waters of the open sea and the hidden hills and valley of the ocean floor lies the least known region of these. These deep, dark waters, with all their mysteries and their unsolved problems, cover a very considerable part of the ocean.

The whole world ocean extends over about three fourths of the surface of the globe. If we subtract the shallow areas of the continental shelves and the scattered banks and shoals, where at least the pale ghost of sunlight moves over the underlying bottom, there still remains about half the earth that is covered by miles-deep, lightless water that has been dark since the world began.

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When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal — each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in salt water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years of ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea. In the same way, our lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich ocean of Cambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought forth in the ancient sea. And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s womb, and the stages of his embyronic development repeats the steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land.

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Far in the interior of the Florida Everglades I have wondered at the feeling of the sea that came over me — wondered until I realized that here were the same flatness, the same immense spaces, the same dominance of the sky and its moving, changing clouds; wondered until I remembered that the hard rocky floor on which I stood, its flatness interrupted by up-thrust masses of jagged coral rock, had only recently been constructed by the  architects of the coral reefs under a warm sea. Now the rock is thinly covered with grass and water; but everywhere is the feeling that the land has formed only the thinnest veneer over the underlying platform of the sea, that at any moment the process might be reversed and the sea reclaim its own.

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After reading (and re-reading, several times) The Sea Around Us, my sense of the divine changed poles; I began to look down into the depths for my deities, deeper not higher powers, in that realm which is so identical with our personal unconscious and is the siren call of human sexuality, always an attempt to re-create the conditions of that unleashed, watery, free-floating, fertile sphere of blue from which we were born, personally as humans but also as fish emerging from the sea 500 million years ago.

I had found the source of those watery ecstasies from over the years. And I was free to explore it and write my way across and down it every morning from my dry chair fifty miles inland from the nearest coast.

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Carson’s big BIG book, however, was Silent Spring. Published in 1962, the book brought nationwide attention to conservation and environmental problems wrought by synthetic pesticides, especially DDT. And while it brought specific focus upon the devastating effects of these chemicals, the book in a wider sense questions the entire paradigm of scientific progress which gripped post-war American culture. It is a condemnation of an intelligent species doing unspeakably dumb things to its own habitat. It also condemned the chemical industry for spreading misinformation and for government gullibility in its blind acceptances claims of “better living through chemistry.”

“There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat,” she writes.

This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”

“The right to know” is what pissed off the violators so. Silent Spring received a strong and vitriolic reaction from power who expected the American public to endure what they profited from. American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics, especially of Carson’s analysis of DDT. According to White-Stevens, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”

Does this not sound like the specious arguments of those currently opposed to stiffer regulation on oil exploration and drilling after these disasters? One saw goes that its unfair to regulate an entire industry based on the disaster inflicted by just one of its operations (Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon). “One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch!” they sing. But the countervailing wisdom is expressed by the song which says, “It only takes a spark / to get a fire going.” If Kasey Kahne had cleared the catchfence in the Pocono race a few weeks back – and he got close – and killed two dozen fans, don’t you think NASCAR, that litigious and litigation-scared-shitless entity of Big Racin’, wouldn’t have shut down The Show until every catchfence was ratcheted up another ten feet?

Some of the attacks on Carson were much more personal, questioning her scientific credentials (because her training was in marine biology rather than biochemistry).   White-Stevens labeled her “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature” – what some now call “tree-huggers”, while former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson—in a letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower—reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was “probably a Communist.” (Shades of Glenn Beck and the other helmethead bloviators on Fox News!)

Carson is said to have written the book in response to a letter from a friend who commented on the disappearance of so many birds from her back yard – birds killed off by DDT. Decades later proof of this was provide to me by a neighbor who grew up in this town and returned to vacation in the renovated house of his father (who died a couple of years ago.) A gastrointerologist, he’s an avid cyclist and kayaker. One afternoon we were talking and he mentioned that he sees far more wildlife in the area – gators, eagles, hawks, bears – than he recalls from his childhood in this town in the 1950s, which I found surprising. “Why do you think that is?” I asked him. “DDT,” he said simply.

Despite the aggressive attacks by the industry and vested interests, Carson’s argument took hold, and the terran world is much better off for the outlawing of those contaminants. Somehow, her single book has held up to decades of assault by all the powers that be, holding for what Al Gore would later call “an inconvenient truth” when trying to bring to the country’s attention the ill affects of hydrocarbons – effluents of an oil-addicted nation – on the phenomenom of gobal warming (also viciously attacked by interests, even though the science, like Carson’s, is solid).

It does show how one person CAN make a difference.

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For better, yes. Though the opposite can also be true. Take Former Republican representative and speaker of the George Bush-er House Tom DeLay — remember The Hammer? — started his political life as an exterminator pissed off with government regulation of the crap he wanted to fill his spray cans with … The grand legacy of the George W. era (a Presidency rubber-stamped by a Republican Congress) on the environment is one of dismantling decades of regulation by placing cronies, incompetents and imbeciles at the head of  varied environmental agencies.  The Materials Management Office—charged, among other things, with regulating  Gulf oil interests—was one of the worst. After the  Deepwater Horizon explosion it was revealed that MMO employees were deeply in the pockets of Big Oil. In two separate regional offices were plied with industry-financed trips and gifts and involved in the use of drugs and sex with oil industry employees. On June 18, Interior secretary Ken Salazar announced that the agency will be re-named the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and that regulation, enforcement and royalty collection functions would be separated. Yet its tragic beyond belief that such dramatic corrections come at such a cost.

Hey Tom, thanks for the maladies …

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One person CAN make a difference.

Anyhow, The Sea Around Us is a magnificent portrait of all we can’t see out there but should know is there. Or was, if we don’t get aggressive regulation of water-borne industries. And Silent Spring is the manifesto by which we who now must endure oil slicks on white beaches amid a tide of dying sealife has the right to know just how much Big Oil doesn’t.

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Thursday, June 24

A heat-lolling hour (5 a.m.), sprinklers out there overwatering someone’s lawn (we’re only allowed to water twice a week, and today isn’t on any schedule) and the air is loud with the thick chirr of crickets. A full moon drags Saturn to the west – difficult pairing, that wild woman of the Pacific who still rules the tides tied to the king of morbid, senex and old-goaty-sexed reflection – while other  far, fat guys – Jupiter and Neptune and the vaguely callipygian Uranus – hover in the southeast. Not great augurs of the times. The containment cap on the spill in the Gulf was knocked loose by a robot sub (so says BP) and for some hours we were back to that video feed of a shit-colored geyser shooting straight up from the sea’s floor. A new cap has been fitted (so says BP), but it was a jarring reminder how tenuous things are at Ground Zero of our current malaise.

And yesterday, the day after BP’s American Chief Operating Officer declared that damage to Pensacola’s beaches would be limited to tar balls, parts of Pensacola’s bridal-white sands turned black with massive patches of emulsified oil.

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West of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Fishing Pier , the beaches along the 1000 block of Fort Pickens Road were covered with oil on June 23.

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Gov. Charlie Crist knelt on Pensacola Beach Wednesday morning to see the oil for himself. “That is disgusting,” he said as he prodded the thick brown goo coating sections of shoreline. “Something like that in such a beautiful place is unbelievable. We’ve seen tar balls, but never this kind of stuff.”

Crist said more offshore skimming vessels have been called in and even more will be needed in the coming weeks and months. “Nobody wanted this to come onshore,” he said. “We have to hunker down and get ready to fight it. I think we’re going to be living with this for quite some time, unfortunately.”

In nearby Fort Pickens, a bottlenose dolphin was found in distress in shallow water just off an oil-mottled shore by 41-year-old Christy Travis. “It was heartbreaking. Everyone was crying,” said Travis, 41, who was visiting with her family from Arkansas when they discovered the dolphin and joined with others in attempt to save it. “We had oil all over us,” she said.

The dolphin died while en route to Gulf World Marine Park, a rescue facility in Panama City.

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Coast Guard volunteers hold an injured dolphin in the shallow waters off Fort Pickens on June 23. The dolphin was found close to heavy oil and died en route to a rescue facility.

In Louisiana,a 55-year-old boat captain recently hired by BP as a vessel of opportunity out of Gulf Shores was found in his boat of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was reportedly despondent over the loss of his former livelihood as a deep-sea-sport fishing charter.

Meanwhile, a tropical wave in the Carribean sea continues to strengthen and is forecast to have a 30 percent chance of developing into a tropical storm, the season’s first. Heavy rainfall is predicted for Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. From there, it’s anyone’s guess; some models have the storm continuing on an easterly path to Central America, others, alas, have it setting its sights on Louisiana or Texas.

So begins hurricane season, with a ill-fortuned couple juicing up the western sky with sexual and psychic malice (fraught with old memories, distant crimes). All is still at Daytona International Speedway at this hour, but the hibernation is soon coming to an end. The great speed oval is like a pool filled with moonlight, filled with emptiness, calling to me and all of NASCAR with a plea for brilliant sunlight and thunderstorms and fans and that crazy-loud roar of the pack.

Soon, my pretty. Soon.

Oh, and this: BP estimates the reservoir of oil gushing into the Gulf at 50 million barrels, or about 2 billion gallons. So only about five percent of the reservoir has spewed out. Plenty more where that came from …

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Tim Richmond’s return to racing in spring 1987 triggered a media frenzy. He set track-record speeds at Darlington. At Rockingham, Richmond tried to run 500 miles, but couldn’t last more than 127. Hyde covered again, telling reporters, “Tim wanted to go on longer, but I pulled him in.” Richmond was too weak to run Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in May, so he flew to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 instead.

Linda Vaughn, racing’s most famous beauty queen, got a call at her Indianapolis apartment shortly after midnight. He’d been partying and had to see her. “He fell into my arms, and his eyes rolled back, and he said, ‘What can I do? What can I do to make it up to you?'” says Vaughn, a longtime friend of hers. “That’s when he told me what was wrong.”

“And I said, ‘Go back and kick ass and take names, because you are a racer.’” … He had a deep, dark lonely side. He was like a little lost boy sometimes. He always used to sing, ‘I Want You to Want Me, I Want You to Love Me.’ He used to drive me crazy with that song.”

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Linda Vaughan.

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Richmond was changing on the outside as well. In 1986 Richmond “wore threads that make Don Johnson look like a bag lady,” observed Godwin Kelly in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “Now he wears baggy slacks and T-shirts. Last year he would fly to a hairstylist in Miami to have his locks sculpted and frosted; this year Richmond’s hair grows as it grows, cowlicks and all. Although he lost some 25 pounds during the illness, he’s gained more than that back, and doesn’t seem to mind the impending potbelly. ‘Before I got sick, I cared too much about what people thought of me,’ he says. ‘Now my goal is to enjoy Tim Richmond as Tim Richmond.”

Richmond missed the Daytona 500, suffering from double pneumonia, but he did manage to win two races in 1987 – Pocono and Riverside. His last race was at Michigan in August, finishing 29th. He resigned from Hendrick Motorsports that September. He would attempt a comeback in 1988, but he was banned from competition NASCAR after testing postive for a banned substance. Richmond sued NASCAR, was re-tested and summarily re-instated, but couldn’t find a car owner to sign him. He was last seen in public in February 1988. His decline into the disease was now slide into the abyss.

(In 1990, The  New York Times  reported that NASCAR had falsified Richmond’s drug  results to  keep him from racing.)

Shortly before he died on August 13, 1989, Richmond talked with Hendrick about making his AIDS diagnosis public — a question he struggled with to the end. “He always said maybe I should take a positive step and try to warn people,” Hendrick said, “but the country really wasn’t ready for it. We all prayed there would be a cure. We chased everything we could find. And if he did come forward, it might have been even worse for him.” His last months were filled with pain. “He suffered,” Hendrick says. “He hurt. He was ill. If he had a good day, he could see people. If he had a bad day, he couldn’t see people. I don’t think they had the wherewithal to keep you as comfortable as they do today, and he was really sick at times. I would go see him, and I would wait until it was a

good time to go see him. If he wasn’t having a good day, then I’d talk to his mom.”

Richmond died as dawn broke over West Palm Beach on Aug. 13, 1989. Each January since, Jimmy Johnson turns his new desk calendar to that date and copies the words, so he won’t forget: “Tim died, 5:12 a.m.” Richmond was buried at Ashland County Memorial Park in Ohio following a private ceremony for the family. Charlotte Motor Speedway held a memorial service for him the next week. About 200 people attended. Fearing the obvious stigma, many of his past lovers refused to appear.

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Later, Evelyn and Al Richmond asked their son’s doctor to announce the cause of death. “I had the thing sold to CBS,” Needham says, “But his mother said she just wasn’t ready to do that.” Now, it’s too late. “Hell, look at all the thousands of people who’ve got AIDS now. I couldn’t sell it now. … Then, it was brand new. Today it isn’t.”

Richmond’s parents now live in their son’s Lake Norman home. His golf clubs are in the front closet, and nine pair of boots, a few hats and favorite jackets still in his bedroom closet. Many personal things have been passed on to friends. Dodson, his Blue Max crew chief, has Richmond’s custom-made tuxedo. Harold Elliott, his old engine builder, has one of his cowboy hats.

Rick Hendrick saved Richmond’s road-race car, along with the uniforms and few helmets and trophies Richmond’s parents don’t have. He hopes to build a museum someday where he can display them. “There are just so many people who want to know more,” he said. So Hendrick and friends like veteran crew chief Harry Hyde hold on to what they have left of Richmond. Hyde, now 69, stores a roomful of mementos in his trailer – videotapes of each race, cases of Folgers coffee and stacks of photographs of Richmond in Victory Lane. “He wasn’t going to be like you wanted,” Hyde says. “He wasn’t going to be like mama wanted. He wasn’t going to be like Harry Hyde wanted. Or Folgers. Or Rick Hendrick. “Now if you can blame a guy for that ….”

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Monday, June 28Summer’s thick weave at 4:13 a.m. IS like a lover’s breath in your ear as you plunge away in the back seat of your car, night without, pink slick within, mosquitoes biting your ass, humid and warm and tiding with late moonlight and incessant crickets. Alex has regained tropical storm status after mucking through the Yucan Peninsula, churning now in the Gulf on a track which should take it south of the oil spill, though an easterly shift has not been ruled out yet. Besides, Alex is just the first storm of what promises to be an active hurricane season which normally doesn’t crank up for another month or so.

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Jimmie Johnson won at Loudon on Jun 27.

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Jimmie Johnson pulled off his  second win (and third top-5) in a row with his rally against Kurt Busch in the closing laps of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 in New Hampshire, returning the favor to the Blue Duece who had bumped-and-passed him earlier.

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The trailers are now making their way south to Daytona in preparation for this weekend’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, driving on through the night where freeway traffic is a glyphic mystery—business? passionate errands? travel for funerals? drunken drives home? accidents in the  making? Nothing is communicated at this hour but the greeting of wheels by unscrolling yellow lane dividing stripes, all-night conservative talk radio or country songs which would make your beer cry.

In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s business as usual. The National and Oceanic Administration now concludes that – duh – the existence of deepwater oil plumes in the gulf are coming from BP well. (BP execs had initially denied there were underwater plumes. After government scientists confirmed the plumes, BP refused to hand over data that would have clarified whether the underwater oil was in fact from the spill.)  It was also reported that last March, a BP presentation stated that deepwater drilling was one of the company’s “key sources of growth.”

Yes, well. On the other side of the drama, drilling opponents formed a human chain called numbering in the thousands along the shores of Siesta Key to Crescent Beach south of St. Petersburg, calling for a quick response to the spreading oil disaster in the Gulf and clean energy policy in the future. The “Hands Across the Sand” demonstration yesterday was simultaneously linked to some 600 demonstrations in 500 U.S. cities and in 33 countries around the world.

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Also on Sunday, hundreds of globs of brown oil began washing ashore on Mississippi tourist beaches at Ocean Springs and fishing hot spots. It’s the first time the oil has beached in Mississippi. Mississippi state officials says they are waiting for BP contractors to start cleaning up before beginning coordinated work. “We cannot clean up or catch the oil until BP gets here. They have all of our people,” said Earl Etheridge, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Later, a reporter visited seven oil-affected beaches and saw only one clean-up crew at work. All is in darkness now, the full moon lolling over black waters which bear the ghostliest sheen of oil, even at this hour.

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And in Daytona, the Ghosts are sitting together high up in Depalma Tower facing Turn 4, Dale and Tim talking eternal shop in voices which are somehow blent with long-silenced engines and distant surf from the beach two miles to the east and moonlight and cheering from fans who have also died in the years since Tim Richmond won the 1986 Pepsi 400, ghosts in racin’ apparel who are down walking on the track, around and around and around for the night’s eternity, leagues down from this waking world, back in the watery wombtomb of a pool which is always glittering and gleaming at the bottom, alive with the flickers of the living up top who will wake in hours to begin this dingdong summer day, heading off to jobs in offices and warehouses and construction sites, or spend another day of unemployment sitting out back drinking beer and watching the day rise and fall, or tending kids and keeping house and paying bills and worrying if there will ever be enough money, or languishing another day in county jail or sleeping in a coma after a horrific late-night car wreck, or walking the beach watching the tide come darkly in, stained with an oil which we’ll never clean from our beaches, not the way it keeps gushing up and out. Tim and Dale missing all that as they rehash every race they fought it out for the checkered flags, trading paint, bumping and grinding, souls’ fingertips outstretched to touch that infinite line of ends and beginnings first as the fireworks explode overhead.

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PROLOGUE

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Wednesday, June 30

The Coke Zero 400 falls on the eve of July 4th, our nation’s day of remembrance for declaring independence from the King of England and the redcoat army which exercised too much authorities in the original 13 colonies which formed our early United States. Two hundred thirty four years seems like a long time ago, but its barely a fart on a hot afternoon compared to the 500 billion years’ independence we’ve had as air-breathers free of the sea. And though few of us suffer nostalgia for the old rule of George—we still wave our flags with rebellious joy—the salt in our mothers’ wombs and coursing in our own blood has a tidal hymnnody to it and makes us yearn, for better and worse, for immersions actual and symbolic, whether its body’s surfing or procreating or diving into a cool pool on a hot day or lapsing at day’s end from the dock of wakefulness, sinking down the abyss of sweet sleep. The ocean has us in its thrall, sometimes sweet (do you know what it is to nap on a beach chair by the tide’s edge, rocked into the deepest doze by the pulse of tides which end at your feet?), frequently dark (the compulsion to return to its womb is behind every addict’s starvation and thirst and hardon for oblivion).

Homesickness for England may be slight-—hell, we come from everywhere and nowhere-but solastalgia for the sea is a darker form of nostalgia, it’s a mental darkening in response to the killing of our seas. Global warming is changing water chemistry and temperature, creating massive “dead zones” where there is no oxygen – or life – and destroying in decades ocean ecosystems which have thrived for a billion years or more. There is a giant floating debris field, composed mostly of bits and pieces of plastic, in the northwest Pacific Ocean, about a thousand miles off the coast of California. All that plastic is getting into the guts of sea-life, and it’s ending up in our food. Melt enough of the polar icecaps and a lot of coastlines will be immersed; imagine a drowned Florida, which is never more than a few feet above sea level anyway. And now the apocalypse of Deepwater Horizon, which former President Bill Clinton calls a “geological monster.” )

You can’t help go a little mad with all this grand disorder playing out. Everything gains an oppressed, harsh edge to it. It’s too hot and the storms which could bring some relief are fraught with ocean water which shines. TV ads for the Coke Zero 400 have been running on every channel – I wonder what sort of turnout there will be from this stunned and fearful state. Some will always shout, “Fuck It!” and come and let ‘er rip while the cars go round in a near-cataclysmic roar (do you think that NASCAR’s announcement of larger restrictor plates for this Daytona race has anything to do with tickling the balls of fans who might come to the track if there was more drama in store?). But others – many others – will consider the crowd and the storms and the heat and the cost and watch the race at home on TV.

I’ve debated for weeks on going and finally, as time runs out, have found myself amid other plans: a barbecue with my wife’s parents and then over to their condo here in town to watch the fireworks. It’s probably the last Daytona race I could or would have gone to (NASCAR This Week, the website I edit and support and market, will probably shut down at the end of this season, declared a financial flop). And now I won’t. It’s a declaration of independence of a sort, stepping away from that screaming oval pool: I go on a dryer, quieter creature, no longer so desperately in need of engines at full song, with all that ocean just behind and beyond. It’s in me here, the racin’ I mean: the ocean, too. My adolescence as a planetary citizen ends with me staying home, practicing a love in which, as Rilke wrote, I try to “greet and border and protect” an Other: The sea, I mean. Or mean to. I weaned myself off my parents’ support decades ago, and now I care for them, try to be there for their transition back to water. Dolphins and whales are said to be land creatures who returned to the ocean some 50 million years ago; I’m a little late in my return, but if I don’t get to work soon, there won’t be one to immerse in, to be baptized in, to swim freely in, to fall into the depths of and find the rebirth Tim Richmond experienced at about this hour on August 13, 1989—25 years ago to the day that Hurricane Charlie raced its screamin’ oval through Florida’s heartland, and event which seems tame compared to the blackening gulf rounded by the southlands of our Northern Hemisphere.

Independence from the sea is one thing and ocean matricide is another. No man is an island, and humanity is not a thing who can live apart from his environs, no matter how much the pride of our technology tries to tell us. What is it when we drive about our tropic state or sit at desks watching rain fall outside or sit and write on mornings now so humid that the night gasps like a well-fucked lover, or we stand on shores watching the dark tide come in, knowing that at unfathomable depths and darkness the real race is on?

Blow the fucker up, as Bill Clinton has suggested. Let the Navy pile explosives all around the grave of Deepwater Horizon and let ‘em rip as the fireworks explode in the night sky this weekend. Seal the deal on the end of deepwater drilling with rocks and debris and pack it tight. Put an end to our race for oil so that the planet can live. Let’s become lovers once again, remembering the cool clean embrace of the deep blue sea.

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Web resources

Blog of Glenn Albrecht, who coined the terms solastalgia and soliphila and is exploring mental disorders which result from ecological destruction

Sea Around Us Project

Pro Publica – best online journalism and rich in coverage of the BP spill

The Oil Drum – A forum on energy and our future

Leilani Munter’s website – an ARCA driver who’s exploring the possibilities of “green ” racin’

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Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds


NASCAR’s dirty little secrets

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In an 11th-Century anecdote about St. Bridget, a connection is made between an anchor which cannot be raised, a church, and a powerful force under water. In the anecdote a blind boy goes down into the sea after the anchor, which the sailors dropped on account of a gale, and which has become entangled in the roof of a church. A year later the blind boy returns, carrying the church’s order of mass and a handbell.

— Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint: Sources and Analogues of the 12th-Century Voyage of St. Brendan

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All eyes were on Jimmie Johnson at the Sprint All-Star race on May 22; his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet seemed unpassable. But “big, bold moves” were what brought Kurt Busch out of nowhere, putting the Blue Deuce in the lead in the final ten laps and staying there to the finish line, collecting $1 million purse.

Holding high his trophy, Busch was caught in a limelight which held him fast, burning the center like a frame of a movie reel stilled and bubbling next to a bright bulb. The darkness surrounding Busch is almost oceanic, and we get the sense that the shadow cast by the victor travels a long, long way in that dark, carrying in its folds all of the night’s lesser dramas – brother Kyle on the radio swearing that he would kill teammate Denny Hamlin for cutting him off and bearing him into the wall when he thought the race was his to win; also-ran Martin Truex, who had won the earlier Sprint Showdown to grab one of two open spaces in the All-Star Race but fallen .037 seconds short of beating the Deuce; Jimmie Johnson’s first spoiler victory done in by the quirky, final, 10-minute pit, coming off pit row behind Hamlin and Busch and then spinning out into a wild, slow-mo, operatic aria of turf chowing as the former champion fought his way back onto a field that had passed him for good for this race, perhaps forever.

The FOX network cameras stayed on the elder Busch and his jubilant crew, all the much richer in that moment, avoiding any glimpse at the stands which were some 20,000 fans short of the previous year’s official attendance of 145,000 and probably much closer to Monte Dutton’s estimate of 101,000. There was a greater darkness there to match the greater emptiness, a shadow great enough perhaps on the eve of the induction ceremonies of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame to background the brilliant light focused on that coming event. It’s what passes for apotheosis, I guess, in these profane, empty-pew days.

Busch holding up his All-Start trophy is for some reason for me an anchor stuck to something further down in forbidding darkness. Why is NASCAR’s shiniest moment mired, in my mind at least, in such mud? Is there something down there which until is has been properly named cannot allow the moment its full truth?

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Human vision is narrow and focused: We see what’s in front of us, pay scant attention to the sidelines and not at all to what’s over the margins or hidden from sight. (No way Jimmie Johnson could see A.J. Allmendinger’s brakeless No. 43 Ford Fusion coming at him backwards and sideways up the track when the No. 48 crashed at Darlington; “I heard ‘Caution’s out’ and bam! I got drilled,” Johnson says.) Fate—or destiny—comes at us that way.

The consciousness that would develop in the species which now has dominion over the Earth followed a direct line of sight. We work with the obvious and the common-sensical; our minds are only capable of dealing well with one thought at a time. (Sorry, multi-taskers, your hyper-media purposings defeat the very engines of progress which create them.)

Consciousness couldn’t have evolved without such filters; the flood of data coming in through the senses is so great that there is no way to hold all of that in one’s mind. That’s why time and space were invented, matrixes of containment which allow us to mark our hours and calibrate distances.

We’d go mad without these references, these cortical abstractions which give us reality in measured doses, in tiny boxes. We understand, much less perceive infinity nor eternity. (That’s why the TV series “Lost”, with its string-theory narratives, became more bewildering than the island’s wilderness terrain to all but the most rabidly, nerdily loyal.)

The absolute inversions of things in death led us to create deathless religions. The mind has depths it doesn’t understand and is perilous to descend into. Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, was a schizophrenic; Carl Jung likened her disorder to that of one who falls to a depth a healthy swimmer can dive to; the swimmer knows how to return to the surface, where a mad or disordered consciousness is lost in the dark flow.

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So, our consciousness, our insight, our ability, our mastery over all derives from a certain rage against the powers and principalities which are just too damn big to comprehend. We think sequentially, one thought at a time. Our attention focuses on the attractive, the shiny and curvy, the gilded and meaty. Time flows at us fast, and it’s hard to remember much what happened two days before, much less the particulars of a night a year ago. We cheat (especially crew chiefs), focusing only on what’s in the light before us, on the expedient, on that which provides an edge. (Hendrick Motorsports allegedly spent 10 years and a million bucks working on an oil filter which would deliver just a few extra horsepower—enough, it seems to make Johnson such a feared closer until lately.

Such an undivided silo attention, however, has its disadvantages. Consciousness has become too one-sided, grown far from its natural roots. Like the night sky in a big city, all we see are the neon signage. We look too high, we analyze too far. Great expense was going toward a Star Wars missile defense when 10 Al Quaida operatives boarded trans-continental jets with box-cutters on Sept. 11, 2001. Stage magicians know quite well that we are fooled by what we think we see, what we think we know.

The truth is sometimes large than the sum of the facts. Sometimes we are brought to an awareness of this when something unexpected happens and diverts our attention. Something gets stuck in the flow at a particular moment, like the night we meet someone at a party or a bar and miraculously, by dawn’s first besotted kiss, fall in love. Or the phone rings at 4:24 a.m. with news of a brother’s fatal heart attack. Or the World Trade Center Towers are falling, or Richard Nixon is shooting a V-sign with his fingers as he walks in shame to a departing helicoper. Or that pretty buxom girl in the minidress says Yes at my first dance. Or I spend the first day of summer vacation one year laying on your back in the grass of the side yard, staring at the clouds in the sky, wishing that moment would remain forever.

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Memory holds on to such events, and reverie allows us to cherish them, calling them up again and again, joining in some cases a national conversation – where were you the night the U.S. invaded Iraq for a second time? – and in other cases playing a memory like a movie in a personal theater, replaying a moment with questions like How? or Why? unanswerable by our conscious minds. Like the hot weekend in June many years ago I spent at Melbourne Beach with a poet I was dating (who went on to become a poet of the permanent and legitimate variety, whereas I wrote on water a while and vanished), caught up in the rapture of the full moon watching loggerhead turtles come in from the sea to dig nests in the sand with their cumbersome flippers and lay their eggs, that act somehow echoed in the furious passion I had for the woman:

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Our first night here was wild.
A full moon tore from the sea
faint and bloody as storms
approached from inland,
lacing the dark with hot bolts.
A sea turtle dragged her burden
of eggs across the sand.
You and I watched from our hotel window,
our bodies trilling with thunder
and salt. I leaned you back on
the table and pulled down your shorts.
Buried my face in your lap.
Sweat and cunt and coconut oil
ripening the sharp ions of beach storm.

You tore wet gasps from
the night, startling the darkness
as much as each lightning bolt
slicing from outside.
Coming again to that third
body that waits for us
beneath the basso billows of surf.
This morning you sleep,
still far off in that sea
of primal soak. The day so
brilliant white, dazed with itself.
I eat a nectarine at the table
and watch maddened dragonflies
hover and hurl in tall dune grass.
Flattened waves break
at the shore in weak curlicues.

The smell of our riot rises
from the table. All we do
these days is surrender.
Swelling for you again,
I return. A blue sheet pulls
down revealing your breasts in a wave.

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The anchors which hold our attention on a thing get stuck for obvious reasons such as these. But then there are times when the anchor gets caught on something down there which doesn’t reveal itself. We have a nagging notion that things aren’t quite as they appear; that the visible is far less interesting or compelling than what the invisible order it has disturbed.

This week my anchor’s stuck on something and won’t let go. I’m going to have to swim down there and check things out. I’m not sure what I find, but whatever’s down there wants me to check things out from the perspective of depth, with some Other’s eyes.

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When the Irish saint Columba was exiled from Ireland in 563 A.D. for copying a psalter in secret and then, in what was perhaps the first copyright dispute) going to war rather than give up the copy, he was forced to sail with 12 companion monks as far away from his homeland that he could not settle until the Irish coast disappeared completely from sight.

That’s how he ended up on the island of Iona, just off the southeastern coast of Scotland. Iona was a strange, wild island, recently evicted of a druid population, and before that the domain of a moon-goddess similar to Sycorax in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Even older energies were apparently still in residence, as work on the abbey was destroyed each night by a terrible gale come up from the sea. The saint decided to vigil one night on a hill overlooking the abbey site, and after midnight a half-woman, half-fish came up out of the sea to tell Columba (in what was surely a dense, strange, brine-soaked brogue) that a water-deity had been disturbed by the monks’ cutting of the sward of His island.

In order to appease this god, the fish-woman sang in a language left of the moon and right of the sea, a man must be buried standing up in the footers of the abbey; and with a sigh like a heaving, crashing wave, the fish-woman turned and walked back into the sea.

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The next day lots are cast and St. Oran’s name was pulled (other accounts of the myth say he volunteered). Oran steps down into the hole that has been dug in the abbey’s footers and stands as the monks fill him over with dirt. That night all is calm and work on the abbey’s construction can at last proceed.

Three days later, Columba wishes to look upon his dear friend one last time, and bids his monks dig up enough of the dirt to reveal Oran’s face. Lost in sad reverie, Columba is affrighted when suddenly Oran’s eyes spring open and his dark mouth begins to sing in the same brogue as the fish-woman, no longer capable of talking in the language of days:

“All you say about God and man and Heaven and Hell are wrong!” he shouts. “In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all!”

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Aghast, Columba cries out, “Mud, mud over Oran’s face lest he blab no more!” The monks hurry to bury over the Oran’s singing skull. Oran’s words are still repeated in Gaelic by Hebridean mothers to quiet unruly children.

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As myths go, this is a fun one, because is shows how history and mystery face each other like St. Columba looking into the eerily-opened eyes of his recently-but-utterly-dead friend. The story does not appear in any official church annal; no Oran is recorded among the twelve companions of Columba (an Oran, however, was sacrificed on the island by druids some twelve years before.) Legends of sacrifice to appease the ruling deities appear frequently, especially in the cutting of the sward (disturbing the old gods). Skeletons have been found beneath entry-stones and in other nooks of ruined buildings from the early Middle Ages.

The sacrifice of St. Oran may not have actually happened, not in the way of this legend (an Oran apparently was sacrificed by druids on the island 12 years before Columba’s Christian mission arrived) but the story survives because it bears a buried central truth over which the Christian Church was built: That certainty gets in the way of truth. The old gods may have been banished from the Christian world (Manannan was said to have fled to the outer island and hilltops and land to the far North), but they leave a troubling hue to the outer edges of the dominant light.

As this legend shows, a much greater immensity clings to the undersides of human knowledge, just as the visible universe is infinitesimal compared to the dark space which governs the celestial tides. Technology tries to convince us otherwise, but it the end its bright light is single-mindedly in the service of the light: A conflict of interest, wouldn’t you say.

Perhaps too it is much more interesting, for this post at least, to give vent to the unseeable and unsayable which founts way down under, like an broken oil pipe venting the ink of a post up from the undersides of a thought.

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About the most interesting thing about the 2009 All-Star race was the appearance of Jeremy Mayfield on top of the National Guard hospitality trailer. Mayfield was then fighting NASCAR over a suspension for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy; he claims he had simply taken two tablets of Claritin D; NASCAR claims he tested positive – on two occasions — for crystal meth). Mayfield sued NASCAR and received a temporary injunction from a judge on the grounds that there was a good possibility of his test giving a false positive; he went on to rule that “the harm to Mr. Mayfield significantly outweighs the harm to NASCAR”.”

In an interview with ESPN around that time, Mayfield said,

You referring to NASCAR) use me as an example to let everybody know who may have already tested positive for marijuana, cocaine or whatever, that they haven’t got anybody for, and it puts the fear of God in everybody in the whole sport. I was a good example, a good pawn, who wasn’t going to cost them any money at all. I was worth more to them as a failed drug test then I am as a driver-owner for my own team.

Even with the injunction, Mayfield failed to make the 2009 Coke Zero 400 and 2009 Lifelock 400 races for want of a sponsor. He tested positive a second time on July 6, five days after the suspension was lifted. A federal appeals court reversed Mayfield’s injunction on July 24 and his suspension has continued to the present.

Just last week, a North Carolina state judge dismissed Mayfield’s suit against NASCAR, saying that by singing to drive for NASCAR, he had dismissed his right to file a lawsuit against them, so his claims had no legal standing.

Mayfield fights on against NASCAR, but by now there isn’t much left for him. Mayfield’s racing equipment was auctioned off lock, stock and barrel back in February – the cars, pit uniforms, helmets.

Mayfield is pretty well out of sight of the media—and the sport—these days. He’s dirty laundry, business which NASCAR finishes in its usual manner—with intolerable strength. A contract which states that by entering a race a driver relinquishes all legal recourse against his employer is pure Bill France, Sr., who enforced a “lifetime ban” on popular driver Curtis Turner for his efforts to organize NASCAR drivers into a union in order to get protection NASCAR was unwilling to provide, like death benefits. Big Bill’s error was to pick on so popular a driver – Turner’s “lifetime ban” was rescinded in just four years because the sport desperately needed some marquee names to draw fans back to the track.

Mayfield isn’t a driver anyone is particularly going to miss – over 17 years of Sprint-Cup-level competition, Mayfield had 5 wins and 48 top-5’s (Curtis Turner won 17 races in a 17-year career that was cut short, at age 48, by an airplane crash), and had struggled in his final years one of those owner-drivers who couldn’t raise enough money to keep on the track. (Robby Gordon is one of them, a driver-owner who for lack of sponsorship was forced to start-and-park at Dover.) NASCAR learned its lesson from Curtis Turner; it makes examples out of the little guys.

Mayfield’s suspension came on the heels of the suicide of former Busch/Craftsman Trucks series driver Kevin Grubb, who hadn’t competed since 2006 after refusing to submit to drug testing after a crash at a Busch Series race in Richmond. (The infield docs missed that Grubb had a concussion, and instead ordered a drug test, which isn’t usually their practice in crash follow-ups). Grubb had failed a substance abuse test in March 2004, so he was on NASCAR’s radar, and there and was banned from racing for life after failing a test in 2007. Grubb died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and a few weeks later Mayfield was in NASCAR’s crosshairs.

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Kevin Grubb, former Busch/Craftsman Trucks Series driver who committed suicide in 2009.

No one can argue in support of drug-impaired drivers racing at speeds of up to 200 mph—and it would be hard to find a driver who would argue publicly against NASCAR’s tough new drug-testing policy: But there’s something less visible at work here.

For one, I wonder if NASCAR policies the use of performance-enhancing drugs with the same vigor; we’ve seen several days this year where drivers have raced, due to rain-rescheduling, a Nationwide and then a Sprint Cup race, 800 grueling miles taxing both drivers and pit crews. Many drivers are sponsored by energy drinks like Amp Energy, Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy Shot, and use of mental-energy prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin is said to be common among the young, and easily these could be a part of any drivers’ preparation. (Jury’s not out on the safety of any of these enhancers, not by a long shot. Ritalin abuse is what probably helped set up my younger brother for a fatal heart attack at age 44.)

Drug use is ubiquitous in our culture; it’s just the illicit drugs where people on the margins make the money that are the “problem.” Although Prohibition was repealed, moonshiners continued to make their money selling on the black market, off the federal taxation grid. If marijuana ever gets legalized, imagine the sponsorship fray which would result from that.

But deeper—for this post is about looking for invisible connections—there is the point about NASCAR making a point to its drivers who is boss in NASCAR. Like most corporations today, employees’ behavior on and off the job are within the purview and control of the company. NASCAR drivers better behave like drivers of today’s NASCAR, which means there is no fighting their rule. Even vocal opposition is verboten. Mayfield’s greater sin is not that he may or may not have used drugs, it’s that he challenged the authority of NASCAR in his right to race. Like the NFL, NASCAR thinks it owns everything related to a race which bears its name, including the teams, the race images (both video and, sorry, the photos on your camera that you took at the race).

To NASCAR, racing in Sprint, Nationwide and Camping World Series races is a business agreement; Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are vendors who pay for the right to compete in NASCAR’s arenas. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are the human face of that business arrangement, the same way you get an Arkansas-folksy greeting from a Wal-Mart employee while the company does almost all its business with offshore (Chinese) manufacturers.

NASCAR loves driver adoration, because it keeps the view averted from NASCAR. Why else have an All-Star Race, with its one slot kept open for a popular non-winner determined by popular vote? (What a coup when Kasey Kahne won the popular vote in 2008 and then the All-Star race, the good lookin’ dark horse parting Winnie’s thighs that night!)

Why else–in the year in which race attendance is falling faster than newspaper subscriptions or the Grecian Dow or the panties of a drunken sorority gal in a hotel roomful of Heisman hopefuls–unveil a NASCAR Hall of Fame? I know it’s just timing – the Hall has been planned for years, coming to fruition in this very bad one – but there is no better testament to the notion that a good defense is the more potent office than to deify yourself just when the public is beginning to think you really stink.

Like all all-powerful organizations, NASCAR suffers from a fatal abundance of hubris. By placing two of its own executives – Bill France Sr. and Jr. – into the inaugural class of drivers, beating out the likes of David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, NASCAR reveals who it thinks its real gods are. Drivers may be stellar, but NASCAR owns its universe.

For all of his perceived injustice—and he may at bottom be truly guilty of abusing illegal drugs while racing (how far is the abyss from Adderall to crystal meth for alertness on the track?)—Jeremy Mayfield just can’t beat NASCAR. That’s the message NASCAR will triumph over, whether Mayfield shows up at the All-Star race or not.

As Mayfield says, Mayfield means more to NASCAR as an example than a presence.

For me, Mayfield’s absence means far more than NASCAR’s stand in legal Victory Row.

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So just what is NASCAR’s dirty little secret, behind the monstrous enterprise which acts in according with its charter? It used to be moonshine; NASCAR’s roots are soaked in still whiskey, but there was a time when the marketing folks at NASCAR tried to bury its history like St. Oran down in the foundations. Moonshine was the banned substance during reign of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution – otherwise known as Prohibition – and, after the Twenty-First Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933, moonshine was the underground economy in the South for decades. Moonshine runners were the archtypes of NASCAR drivers, helluva guys in beefed-up stock cars beating the local authorities on noctal highways of the Piedmont region.

Not only did moonshine runners fill the early ranks of NASCAR races, the good ole boys who operated the stills built tracks as a way of laundering profits. Shade-tree mechanics who could give a drivers an edge became the crew chiefs. (Smokey Yunick would be proud of Chad Knaus.) Bill France Sr.—himself a mechanic and a beach racer–made his deals with the devils to form his fledgling National Championship Stock Car Series in 1947.

But moonshine isn’t NASCAR’s dirty little secret any more. In fact, among the exhibits at the NASCAR Hall of Fame you’ll find a working moonshine still. For many years, NASCAR tried to hide the story of its roots, but now without those roots the connection between NASCAR and its fans grows more vaporous than Gulf Oil whiskey (the latest notorious blend). It was NASCAR’s idea to call Junior Johnson—one of the most notorious moonshine runners to race in NASCAR–at his chicken farm in North Wilkesboro and have him build a still to include in the NASCAR installation.

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Johnson, one of the only three drivers to make it into the inaugural class of the NASCAR hall of Fame, fought often with Bill France Sr. over driver safety issues, never getting anywhere with the Tall Guy. But Johnson was also always in it for the money; he once threatened to leave the sport to raise chickens where he was surer to make a buck. It was Junior Johnson’s idea to seek lucrative sponsorships with folks like tobacco manufacturers who were banned from advertising on TV or in print media, and it was such a great idea to France that he took it over for the entire sport. Stock cars make great billboards, and the big business of racing began with big corporate money.

Is the dirty secret of NASCAR that fans never truly meant anything to NASCAR but the spread of opened wallets? Remember that old saying from high school – “pussy don’t got no face”? — the same applies to how NASCAR gets its money. Fans are the easiest source to milk, pliable as they are to the vices so readily flaunted by the balls-to-the-walls NASCAR driver image. Fans’ input into the selection of NASCAR’s inaugural class was highly trumpeted, but in actuality the entire fan vote accounted for, by proxy, only one of 51 votes cast by the Voting Committee. The rest of the committee was comprised of vested interests: 8 NASCAR officials, 11 track owners, 4 representatives of the auto manufacturers; 3 each of retired drivers, car owners (including Johnson) and crew chiefs; and 14 members of the media, many with corporations who hold lucrative contracts with NASCAR (like FOX Sports and Turner Media, which owns ESPN and NASCAR.com).

Dirty little secret: NASCAR’s Hall of Fame is only incidentally an homage to the drivers who risk their lives every week to race on NASCAR tracks and whose criticisms are kept under tight wraps. Imagine a Vietnam Memorial inscribed with the names of the CEO’s of arms manufacturers and politicians and anyone else to make a buck off war, saving the smallest space at the bottom, in the tiniest of scripts, for the names of the dead.

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NASCAR Hall of Famers: Suits and incidentally firesuits filled the ranks of the inaugural class.

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Then you would have NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. A monument to capitalism desperate to keep the face of legends like Dale Earnhardt plastered on every visible surface (a guy who is no longer around to give his corporate owners the finger) or the face of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who knows well enough which side his bread is buttered on.

Fat cats love folksy little luminaries Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin, because they are bright shields against the unseen and unsayable truths hidden behind their aura—truths which, if they were brought to the surface, would get those secret power run out of town tarred and feathered riding on a rail.

But corporate greed is too common a foible to classify it as a dirty secret unique to NASCAR. NASCAR plays just like other big corporate players who try to monopolize their turf with a brand. Players like British Petroleum. BP already has two environmental felonies on its rap sheet (both for cost-cutting at the expense of human and animal life). BP is valiantly leading the effort to clean up its horrible mess – for who else has the know-how and the equipment? — But it’s like expecting NASCAR to say no to a corporate buck or back down on a litigation against any of the world who thinks stock car racing is a sport and not a brand.

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NASCAR might point out that Mayfield didn’t do too badly, over the years, racing by Their rules, earning some 34 million dollars in 17 years racing at the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series level.

But legal fees have wiped out such fortune. Mayfield’s original legal team has filed suit for $370,000 in unpaid legal bills (it is one of six suits filed against him or Mayfield Motorsports Inc., most for unpaid bills. The IRS has a lien on property owned by Mayfield and his wife for unpaid income taxes totaling some $231 thousand dollars.

Mayfield’s fight against NASCAR has drained him dry.

Thirty four million dollars is a lot of money to lose.

But then, NASCAR’s top drivers make $30 million in a year alone between track winnings and endorsements.

Furthermore, each member of the France family is worth well over a billion dollars each.

“We are going to defend the industry against anything in terms of the policies that we have to institute,” Bill France said in January. “We are going to litigate them all the way to the end, all the time. That’s our policy.”

Of course they will. NASCAR is the sole player in its industry, and it means to stay that way forever.

Might is always right. And there’s nothing more certain than billionaires with all those pennies at stake. Keeping the dark tribe of racers down.

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Sunday night my wife and I watched a 5-1/2 hour “Lost” marathon on TV, first catching the penultimate episode we had recorded on VCR, then the 2-hour clips show, and finally the 2-1/2 hour final episode. For all of that, we’re none the wiser about just what the hell that show was about. “Lost” watches more like a graduate literature student’s exercise in metafiction than a TV show; maybe that made it compelling, a devious device, like Maxwell’s Demon, for keeping viewer interest amid so many damn commercials.

My wife and I didn’t start watching the series til last summer on DVD and we rocketed our way through four seasons in about two months. We waited a couple months then to catch the 5th season on DVD last December, and have watched the final season almost in real-time, videotaping the episodes so we could at least fast-forward through the commercials. We’ve been especially addled and frustrated and with the series this season, hoping all of its profuse loose end would ravel together in the end.

They didn’t. Instead, we got more descents and doors amid much lost love and life. Whatever greater wonder they squeezed into every frame, like confectioner’s goo, was surely tempered in the final episode by all that human hurt finding a smile at last – in death.

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As I said, in “Lost” there were many descents, down wells and caverns, to the bottoms of pools and the ocean, through passageways cut into the rock of an island which may or may not exist, which may be purgatory or Hell, a place where menace and wonder is always just being uttered by the lips.

Those descents were not only into depths, but also into the oubliette of the space-time continuum, with flashbacks getting replace for forward jumps, herky-jerky leaps all over the place, then those side-backs, if you can call them that, of the final season, a parallel narrative with odd connective fibers to the continued mayhem on the island.

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As descents go, “Lost” was as rather crowded one, a string-theorist’s delight; but every descent is wild and hairy and agleam with possibility. John Keats’ Endymion is an explorer of ocean depths:

… Far had he roam’d,
With nothing save the hollow vast, that foam’d
Above, around, and at his feet; save things
More dead than Morpheus’ imaginings:
Old rusted anchors, helmets, breast-plates large
Of gone sea-warriors; brazen beaks and targe;
Rudders that for a hundred years had lost
The sway of human hand; gold vase emboss’d
With long-forgotten story, and wherein
No reveller had ever dipp’d a chin
But those of Saturn’s vintage; mouldering scrolls,
Writ in the tongue of heaven, by those souls
Who first were on the earth; and sculptures rude
In ponderous stone, developing the mood
Of ancient Nox;–then skeletons of man,
Of beast, behemoth, and leviathan,
And elephant, and eagle, and huge jaw
Of nameless monster. A cold leaden awe

These secrets struck into him; and unless
Dian had chaced away that heaviness,
He might have died: but now, with cheered feel,
He onward kept; wooing these thoughts to steal
About the labyrinth in his soul of love. (Book II, 119-141)

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Similarly, the deeper we got into the island’s forest interior, the less sense anything makes, just as our own consciousness loses definition and clarity the deeper we dream.

What is sure is that, as Oran proclaimed, the way we think it is may not be the way it is at all.

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Far more “doomy,” as the Ozzie Osbourne would say in the early days of Black Sabbath, we get this vision of the depths from Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s 1852 Moby Dick. One night, after all hands have retired below deck, Ahab inspects the decapitated head of a sperm whale that has been chased, murdered, stripped of blubber which was then boiled down for oil. The body has been cast loose, but the head is still chained against the Pequod’s side. Ahab looks down and the dead whale’s head, much as Hamlet once examined the exhumed skull of the jester Yorick, and questions what wonders and horrors that whale had witnessed:

It was a black and hooded head, and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the sphinx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet hear and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is within thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. The head upon which now the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid the world’s foundations, where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot, where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned. There, in the awful water land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went, hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insensate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to make an infidel of Abraham, and no syllable is thine!

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Too bad Ahab is a disordered, murderous, vengeant Pilgrim, his thoughts teeming with revenge. Ironically he will find it tethered to the flanks of the white whale he intended to kill, after Moby has destroyed the Pequod with the battering ram of his head, and dives from sight forever with Ahab on board, sounding to depths where sightless Ahab can see for himself just what’s down there in the mansions of the deep.

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Watching the BP video feed of that busted pipe at the bottom of the Gulf spew out a furious plume of oil and natural gas is like listening to Ahab’s soliloquy from the perspective of the dead whale’s head, seeing what we can’t or won’t. That spume, which has billowed somewhere between five an fifty thousand barrels a day into the Gulf (the low end of the estimate, which is BP’s, would save them millions of dollars of fines; the entire scientific community is behind the high end, and the Obama Administration has been slow to take sides, apparently not wanting to slow BP’s efforts to fix their problem) is a perfect symbol for the blind spot right in the center of our vision. Out of our greed and need of oil, we’ve allowed a corporate giant to drill, baby, drill, deep into the husk of the Earth with little oversight or regulation — thank Dick Cheney for that – and we have disturbed a ghost of past and present death which has furied up some 175,000 to 1,750,000 barrels of oil into an ecosystem in which oil is toxic.

Because we can’t see all that oil which has spread its vast wings across the depths of the Gulf, we do not know the peril unfolding there. If it hasn’t washed up on a beach, it doesn’t really exist. Or it doesn’t enough until it does. In this case, that blindness has slowed our reaction time to a dreamlike slow-mo; it’s like driving into a head-on collision where everything is turned to viscous mud and time stretches out to an agonizing infinity as the impending crash looms before our eyes.

In his 2003 book The Empty Ocean, Richard Ellis articulated in exquisite detail the devastation of ocean ecosystems which have largely gone unnoticed. It’s one thing so see an Amazon rain forest being razed, or drive a prairie expanse filled with the ghosts of the buffalo herds which were hunted into near-extinction; but the surface of the sea tells us nothing, for better or ill, or what is going on further down. We are “stranded on shore, watching as the bountiful sea life disappears before our uncomprehending eyes.”

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It must be galling without measure to Obama Adminstration officials to allow the perp the lead role in fixing the massive mess in the Gulf of Mexico. (In a press conference yesterday where he faced the press corps — and the country — all alone, Obama confessed he “was wrong” to assume that British Petroleum had its act together in handling worse-case scenarios just as he prepared to expand offshore drilling.)

BP’s tracks are soiled with oil messes just about everywhere they go. Cost-cutting and incompetence at BP – the third largest global energy company and the fourth largest company in the world — resulted in an explosion at the company’s Texas City oil refinery (one of the largest in the U.S.) in March 2005, killing 15 and injuring 180. After the change of presidential administrations (the Bush administration was notorious for clipping the wings of the government’s regulatory agencies), OSHA fined BP $87 million – the largest in its history – for 237 safety violations that had been previously cited and 439 new violations.

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BP’s Texas City oil refinery exploded in 2005, killing 15 and injuring 180, got the oil giant the largest fine ever levied by OSHA.

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A year later, BP shut down oil operations in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, due to corrosion in pipelines leading up to the Alaska Pipeline. BP had spilled over a 5,000 barrels of oil in Alaska’s North Slope. The corrosion was caused by sediment collecting in the bottom of the pipe, protecting corrosive bacteria from chemicals sent through the pipeline to fight this bacteria. Where other oil companies routinely cleaned their pipelines to avoid this condition, BP did not. In May 2007, the company announced another partial field shutdown owing to leaks of water at a separation plant. Their action was interpreted as another example of fallout from a decision to cut maintenance of the pipeline and associated facilities. And in October 2007, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials reported a toxic spill of methanol (methyl alcohol) at the Prudhoe Bay oil field managed by BP PLC. Nearly 2,000 gallons of mostly methanol, mixed with some crude oil and water, spilled onto a frozen tundra pond as well as a gravel pad from a pipeline. Methanol, which is poisonous to plants and animals, is used to clear ice from the insides of the Arctic-based pipelines.

The list for BP goes on. It’s no wonder, really, that BP now holds the record for the worst man-man environmental disaster. Leading up to the blowup, a congressional memo cites crucial error in judgement where BP sided on saving a buck rather than ensuring the Deepwater Horizon well’s safety:

1. BP decided to have Haliburton install a simpler, cheaper from of cement casing to enclose the well rather than a safer, more expensive double-casing.

2. They decided to replace heavy drilling fluid with lighter saltwater before the well was sealed with a cement plug. When Transocean employees questioned the decision, a BP official told them, “Well, this is how it’s gonna be.”

3. BP let workers from Schlumberger, a drilling services contractor, leave on the morning of the explosion without conducting a special test on the quality of the cement work.

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The Deepwater Horizon rig, exploded, on fire, and soon going down, down, down.

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Then (the congressional memo shows), a series of equipment failures, mistakes and missed warning signs precipitated the blowout and fire. A series of abnormal indicators — about pipeline pressure and the flow of drilling fluids in the five hours before the explosion — that should have been “warning signs” of trouble, according to the memo summarizing BP’s report. In one case, BP’s investigator told lawmakers that a “fundamental mistake may have been made despite” an indicator of a very large abnormality.

None of this might have happened had government industry regulators had been doing their job, but as I said before, the Bush administration’s coziness with Big Oil mandated a light hand by regulators. Over the past decade, there have been nine inspector general reports and ten from Government Accountability Office critical of the Minerals Management Service, which is responsible for regulating the oil industry. In the most recent one, the inspector general describes inappropriate behavior by staff at the Minerals Management Service from 2005 to 2007. Federal regulators responsible for overseeing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil and then turn them over to the regulators, who later traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency. The report also found that inspectors had accepted meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts from at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry. Investigators said one inspector may have been under the influence of crystal methamphetamine during an inspection.

Although there is no evidence that those events played a role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the report offers more evidence of what many critics of the regulator have described as a culture of lax oversight and cosy ties to the oil industry.

Some industry experts have speculated that the Deepwater spill and the report’s findings could explain the sudden resignation this month of Chris C. Oynes, who led the Gulf of Mexico region for the Minerals Management Service for about 12 years until he was promoted to a senior position in Washington in 2007, Nothing like promoting incompetence and rewarding negligence.

Well, now the deep ocean of the Gulf is ruptured, and even if BP’s latest, desperate attempt to cap the spill is successful – the “top kill” procedure, as of this writing in its 15th hour – the Gulf of Mexico is so awash in oil that it may take decades for the ecosystem to recover. No one know for sure, since so much of it is swashing around out of sight, and much of the marine life is disappearing behind a cloak of depth we can’t see through.

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BP’s “Top Kill” procedure was stopped and restarted in the hopes of getting shutting down the plume of oil and natural gas which has been dumping into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 35 days.

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When will we learn that we can never trust the Powers to be responsible for their actions? The dirty little secret of Big Oil is that the pussy it plunders has no face; the world is its split, pearl-robbed, gobbet-gobbled and thrown-over-its-shoulder oyster. Big Oil only understands More and has the clout to destroy the world to get it.

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There is a tale of what happened to St. Oran when he harrowed three days and nights beneath the footers of St. Columba’s abbey at Iona in the 6th century AD:

It is commonly said that the People of the Sidhe dwell within the hills, or in the underworld. In some of the isles their home, now, is spoken of as Tir-na-thonn, the Land of the Wave, or Tir-fo-Tuinn, the Land under the Sea.

But an Islander of Iona discovered that the Shee no longer dwell within the inland hills, and that though many of them inhabit the lonelier isles of the west, and in particular The Seven Hunters, their Kingdom is in the North, under the Fir-Chlisneach, the Dancing Men, as the Hebrideans call the polar aurora. They are always young there. Their bodies are white as the wild swan, their hair yellow as honey, their eyes blue as ice. Their feet leave no mark on the snow. The women are white as milk, with eyes like sloes, and lips like red rowans. They fight with shadows, and are glad; but the shadows are not shadows to them. The Shee slay great numbers at the full moon, but never hunt on moonless nights, or at the rising of the moon, or when the dew is falling. Their lances are made of reeds that glitter like shafts of ice, and it is ill for a mortal to find one of these lances, for it is tipped with the salt of a wave that no living thing has touched, neither the wailing mew nor the finned sg’Adan nor his tribe, nor the narwhal. There are no men of the human clans there, and no shores, and the tides are forbidden.

— From Iona, by Fiona McCleod (William Sharp). London: William Heinemann, 1912

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Last summer my wife and I, in celebration of my 52d birthday, traveled to Melbourne Beach on the Atlantic coast of Florida for a night and a day, staying at an old-Florida motel which sat right on the beach. It was not her sort of place – our room was roughened up by years of family presence, a bit dingy and dirty, sandy in a way no broom could properly sweep up. When we celebrate her birthday later this month, we plan to stay at the Vinoy Renaissance in St. Pete, a swank, restored 1920’s hotel with all of the things which make a woman papmered. Last year it was ocean my way, and while she fled into town the next morning to seek out thrift stores, I languished all morning on a deck chair looking out on the Atlantic in August, naked except for swim trunks, glistening with tanning oil and sweat, wholly given over to the glittering cerulean swash of the sea and a brilliant white beach, scarred here and there by the tracks of egg-laying sea turtles.

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Easy to become addicted to such blue sublimities, wouldn’t you say? A slave to love, as the romantic Bryan Ferry once sang. But, we are told by Rilke in his Third Duino Elegy, surface beauty hides monsters of the deep:

It is one thing to sing the beloved. Another, alas,
to invoke that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood.
Her young lover, whom she knows from far away—what does she know of
the lord of desire who often, up from the depths of his solitude,
even before she could soothe him, and as though she didn’t exist,
held up his head, ah, dripping with the unknown.
O the Neptune inside our blood, with his appalling trident.
Listen to the night as it makes itself hollow. O stars,
isn’t it from you that the lover’s desire for the face
of the beloved arises? Doesn’t his secret insight
into her pure features come from the pure constellations? (transl. Stephen Mitchell)

Appalling, that such a blue blue ocean morning in August could have such a rank, plundered underbelly, torn wide by claws grown fierce and thirsty and long and cruel by the actual story of the sea’s pillage and ruination by human hands. It is that “guilty river god” who is so teased into tumescence by the sound of cars blasting round a womb-, woman-shaped oval. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you like, but racin’ is a celebration which hides behind its bright the black spoor of the Gulf.

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Loggerhead turtles famously nest on Florida’s east coast, but it is their Gulf cousins—the Kemp’s Ripley’s sea turtle—which is tugging at my attention today.

What’s unusual about the Kemp’s Ripley sea turtle is that of all the varieties of marine life which can be affected by ecological disasters in the Gulf, only the Kemp’s Ridley relies on the region as its only breeding ground.

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The Kemp’s Ridley is millions of years old as a species; its ancestors truly swam with the dinosaurs. As recently as the 1940s, they were so plentiful that tens of thousands would come ashore on the same day at Rancho Nuevo, a Mexican beach in Tamialipas State, to lay their eggs.

Then came pollution, collection of their eggs for food and aphrodisiacs, the nets of shrimp trawlers.

The Gulf began to empty of the Kemp’s Ridley.

Then came the Ixtoc I blowout in 1979, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, covering the turtles’ primary nesting place.

The sea turtle population fell into the hundreds during the 1980s, but since they have recovered to about 8,000 adults.

Now comes the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Soon comes the silence.

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My blues for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle are strummed from its murky fate. And why not? The best guitar picks are made of tortoise shell. Greek mythology credits Hermes with creating the first lyre by stretching strings across the shell of a sea turtle who had given his all for music. Today the best guitar picks are made of tortoiseshell, and pickguards on guitars are made of the same material. (Tortex is a material created to replace tortoiseshell guitar picks and have gained wide acceptance, sparing our ocean cousins a good amount of their skins.)

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The ancient Mexicans ranked the turtle next to the goddess of flowers, while the Toltecs believed their ancestors rode on the backs of turtles in crossing the sea to arrive on this continent.

A guitar is a boat for crossing all the way from I to Thou.

It is a bridge over troubled waters.

But the music dies without a teeming depth. Oil-basted Delta blues sound like shit: muddy waters no one cares much to listen to.

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People have always had a hard time understanding Jimmie Johnson’s reign over Sprint Cup competition over the previous four season; there is nothing in his demeanor which shouts, “Champion!” the way one felt watching Richard Petty or David Pearson race. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick drive like champions; they’ve always strained so hard at the bit that it seems they’d as soon wreck on the last lap going for the finish as settle for a points-management top 10.

Jimmie Johnson tried to drive like those boys last weekend and it got him a 13th-place finish; the cool closer has morphed mid-season into an apparent also-ran who frequently can’t finish.

Things aren’t faring any better for Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Jeff Gordon is a perpetual 2d-place finisher, Mark Martin’s back in the pack and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is faring miserably, finding tracks cruel and his car a wild, unstable ride his crew can do nothing to fix.

Do you get the feeling that we’re seeing the end of the Hendrick Motorsports era? It’s an odd feeling, as if some species of racing was disappearing.

As human ecologies go, watching Jimmie Johnson fade from Sprint Cup competition is like finding a oil-slickened Ripley’s Kemp turtle dead on the beach: a wave of something washes over me which is sad and homesick for times which may never be recaptured.

I know, it’s just racin’; but something tugs at me there which goes deeper for want of a proper enough name.

Yet.

And I could be wholly, entirely wrong. Hendrick Motorsports is so well funded, managed and driven for success that my head tells me they’ll figure it all out. Johnson is too cool a competitor to fall prey to rasher instincts.

But something in my gut waves a fin at me, and in a sea-turtle voice whispers something I can’t quite translate, like an oracle of the Sibyl. My tongue can’t quite twist into the blue brogue of the dream and so I feel just bluesy and bittersweet and somehow sadly homesick, even though as usual I’m sitting here in the blue easy chair in our living room at 4:26:02 on a Wednesday morning late in May in Central Florida, sprinklers slusshing the garden with moisture, the moon overhead almost full, almost defining a dark curvy shape standing next to the birdbath whose eyes are pure quicksilver, lucent as the moon and deep as the sea.

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Adolescence was, for the psychotherapist Annie Rogers, “a time of shattering and beginnings.” The victim of unspeakable act, at 16 Rogers stopped speaking. “I realized,” she explains in her book, The Unsayable, “that whatever I might say could be misconstrued and used to create a version of ‘reality’ that would be unrecognizable, a kind of voice-over of my truths I could not bear.” Silence passed for the compromise of sanity.

Over time, Rogers came to believe that she had been called by the archangel Michael to end human suffering by translating “the voices of angels for the world.” That got her landed in mental institution; there she got help for her affliction and she recovered.

Rogers went on to become a Harvard professor and clinical psychologist working with abused and abandoned children – a classic wounded healer. Her approach to treating her troubled and sick charges was different from the cognitive-behavioral therapies which had been developed for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. From her reading of Jacques Lacan, she believed that a powerful, even controlling part of each person, the unconscious, “insists on knowing the truth, even if the truth is a shocking and costly retrospective.”

But how to go into that greater psychological depth, so aswarm with faceless devils and angels? She would have to learn their dialect, their manner of speaking in the dark with dark words disguised as compulsions and manias.

To Lacan – and Rogers — the unconscious is “structured like a language” – but it doesn’t read like any book except, perhaps, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or view like any TV show except, perhaps, “Lost.” Madness is a protective shroud around shocking facts about the self; according to Rogers, the therapist’s job is to listen in to the code of symptoms and verbal motifs to find out what the unconscious is “saying by not saying.” It is to learn to speak in the language of angels, particularly the psalms of Michael, ferryman of the souls of the departed to heaven.

Rather than denigrating the unconscious as simply the chaos from which consciousness emerged from, Rogers believes the unconscious is the greater brain, free to see things in the essence beyond the conscious limitations of time and space. In the proper therapeutic hour, years dissolve and the chains are lifted from the wounded child dumped into psychic limbo.

The archangel Michael is a deity of truth, and the unconscious, according to Rogers, “insists on knowing the truth, even if the truth is a shocking and costly retrospective.” His sword is the tongue which can speak finally of unspeakable things, thereby cutting loose the chains of mania and addiction.

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St.. Michael” by Raphael, here defeating the bugaboos of the unconscious.

The language of truth, then, is both dark and difficult: clarity requires both Michael’s sword and a voyage in his boat. The head of Oran needs to be unearthed and allowed to speak in the Gaelic of the Otherworld, or Underworld, or Land of the North. “The way you think it is is not the way it is at all!” was Oran’s cry, soaked in the dark depths he had been buried in.

No wonder that the water deity who called for Oran’s sacrifice in order that Christian civilization could proceed was, in truth, the old Gaelic sea-god Manannan, who in the Christian dispensation would be named St. Michael.

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Glenn Albrecht is a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Western Australia, a place which has seen many changes in the local environment. Sustainability is an ecological term meaning the ability for an ecosystem to remain diverse and endure. Much of what’s going on in Western Australa (where coal mining is laying bare huge swatches of the countryside) and around the earth is that ecosystems are failing to do sustain themselves, primarily due to the harmful influence of human activities such as overfishing, deforestation and warming the climate with greenhouse gas emissions.

And spilling oil at an incredible and so-far-unstoppable rate into the Gulf of Mexico.

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These effects are disturbing to the locals; they cast a pall which uproots what he calls a population’s “heart’s ease.” “People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country,” he says. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.” Albrecht coined the phrase “solastagia” — a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’”

Aboriginal Australians or Native Americans who have been displaced from their homelands feel this perhaps the most strongly (and it is perhaps why alcohol abuse is at its worst on the reservation), but anyone who watches an ecology unravel in their own back yard grows solastagic. It is, according to Albrecht, a form of depression induced not by the events of the personal human environment one grows up in, but comes from the wider environment we share with the rest of the species of life on this planet. As there is human depression, so there is an eco-depression, a planetary mental illness. In fact, Albrecht believes that our psychology is way too limited as it now exists; that only as we treat the planet, only as we learn to allow Ridley’s Kemp sea turtles to voice their strangulating despair over the ruination of their nesting grounds by spilled oil can we ourselves find a route to healing.

Melanie Driscoll is the director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society’s Louisiana program, and she’s worried about what’s she’s seeing and the effects of the spill we won’t see. Many sea birds will die at sea, and marsh birds will die in marshes where they can’t be found. The true devastation on the animal population will probably be out of our sight, and as visual creatures, that means that the worst effects of Deepwater Horizon’s underwater gusher will stay there—out of sight, out of our mind.

And the horror of it is that the animal populations have no instinctual equipage for saving themselves. Driscoll told NPR,

One of the things that really strikes me being on the beaches is watching the birds with no care in the world, just going through their normal behaviors -courting, chasing each other, running in and out of the waves, probing in the sand, eating marine life.

They get no foreshadowing or forewarning. They don’t see this coming. They can’t go to a grocery store and buy safe water. We have the ability to modify our behavior to reduce our threat level, and they don’t. They don’t even know there is a threat, so it’s very poignant watching these birds engaging in these incredibly hopeful activities – nesting, you know, going out to feed, bringing fish back to babies, and knowing that they have no idea what they’re bringing back to their nests.

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When you read this, do you feel a wave of solastagia wash over you like I do? My wife and I plan a trip over to the Gulf Coast in a few weeks, just a couple night’s stay on the St. Petersburg bay where we can get a brief respite from the overwhelming freight of disappearing middle-class life, putting behind us for too short a while ever-deepening worries about money and employment and housing and health. I hope to find a beach to walk while we’re over there, perhaps while my wife shops; it’s been almost fifteen years since we were on Longboat Key in a condo my wife’s parents’ once time-shared, but I still recall how blue the Gulf of Mexico was that shatteringly bright and hot July afternoon was, the water ironed almost flat and almost a cobalt hue of blue all the way out to the horizon. The Gulf is so shallow off the western coast of Florida that you can supposedly walk for miles out into it and keep your head above water.

As of today, the slick is still hundreds of miles offshore the west Florida coast. According to Pinellas County Admnistrator Bob LaSala, protective measures are first being planned for areas such as mangroves, grass beds and other coastal breeding grounds and wetlands – habitat. Beaches will have to take their lumps, because booms don’t work as well in open water where there is wave action. The plan is to have volunteers ready to go if needed to “efficiently and effectively clean up and restore as fast as possible,” LaSala said.

Still, anxious eyes look toward Florida’s beaches for this Memorial Day weekend. Cancellations are being reported at beach hotels from the Panhandle to the Keys. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has give an all-clear for Florida’s west coast beaches at least for the holiday weekend.

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But something of it reminds me of the movie “Jaws” – the fearsome image pervades in the mind. Would you want your kid to emerge from the surf with gloop of brown oil shit hanging down from his head, or see a mouthful of tar balls when he smiles?

And with the hurricane season just weeks away, anxiety over a massive influx of oil onto beaches and wetlands all around the Gulf simply heightens my solastagia. (The storm surge for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 reached 25 feet around St. Louis Bay, Mississippi.) And then there’s the eastern coast of Florida, which is much more vulnerable to the effects of the spill because the Loop Current which snakes around the center of the Gulf and then heads south round the tip of Florida hugs most of the eastern coast of the state before being picked up by the Gulf stream. Oil drilling off the coast of Florida has been prohibited for decades just for this fear, and now it strikes from a little ways further out.

I was baptized at Melbourne Beach when I was 14 years old. The new baptism which is slowly creeps into the loop current of the Gulf somehow stinks of St. Columba’s abbey pressing down on the wild blue of Manannan.

What is perhaps worst is the thought of a pristine sunny beach with the knowledge that so much blight and death is just a ways further out. “We are stranded on shore” – picking up Richard Ellis again from The Empty Ocean,

… watching as the bountiful sea life disappears before our uncomprehending eyes. For many species, what we do—or don’t do—in the coming years will make the difference between existence and extinction. In some cases, it is too late to do anything; the sea cows, great auks, Labrador ducks, and Caribbean monk seals are gone, probably to be followed into the black hole of extinction by barndoor skates, thorn-back rays, Patagonian toothfish, Chinese river dolphins, Ganges River dolphins, and the little Gulf of California porpoises known as vaquitas. Weep for them—and listen to the words of William Beebe: “The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.” (8)

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If there is a path to ecological mental health – a re-unification of our separate human psyche with our roots, our homeland, our earth – then we must name our illness and banish our wrong-headed conceptions about dominion and human priority. We must woo our Beloved Earth again. The cure for solastagia is what Albrecht calls “soliphilia”: “the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”

And this must come before the last Kemp’s Ripley sea turtle swims forever off into the murk.

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If dominance by any one species is bad for an ecosystem – especially the global one – then dominance by one racing team – and more specifically, by one of that team’s drivers – may not be all that good for the sport. Maybe Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR’s dirty little secret, the champ of smarts and cool and technology and strategies. Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR’s Frankenstein, a thing of such brightness that all else falls into indifferent shadow. Jimmie Johnson’s dominance has emptied tracks and killed the merchandising of Greg Biffle t-shirts and Matt Kenseth caps, Jeff Gordon #24 rear-window stickers and Kyle Busch stadium seats. Fans suffer from the solstalgia of racing which cannot be retrieved from the four brimming championship trophies of Jimmie Johnson.

Alternately, then, there is a racing soliphilia – the hope engendered by Jimmie Johnson’s fade this season. Out of his diminishing light come shadowy presences to the fore, Hamlin and Harvick and Kyle Busch, making this season seem more contentious, less resolved at the midseason. Maybe the wing really was Johnson’s victory plumage. Maybe without it he is like Samson without his hair or Superman fitted with Kyrptonite bling.

Perhaps Jimmie Johnson’s fade is akin to the world’s hope that homo sapiens will too disappear, lulled into atrophy and disinheritance by the very tools that once gave it prominence.

Perhaps. A lot of truth there, surely a mouthful; but the it is still not entire. Something still holds the anchor fast.

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Alcoholics are bound by a dual demonism: they have an allergy to alcohol which produces an unusual affect – not hives or breathing problems, but a thirst for More – crossed by a cruel mental twist which compulses them to return to the bottle’s solution again and again, no matter how much they lose in the process. Out of a 100 drinkers, only 5 will become alcoholics through their extended drinking (others suggest that that five percent of drinkers were born with the genetic abnormality which prevents their livers from properly breaking down alcohol, creating the ballooning affect of drunkenness which feels like freedom).

Studies also indicate that of that five percent of the drinking population who are alcoholics, 95 percent of that number will drink themselves to death or die from alcohol-related falls or other accidents (including DUI crashes). They will throw everything away – marriages, homes, beloved dogs, savings, credit, stolen booty, every shred of personal dignity – for that privilege, forever trying to resuscitate that ghostly Golden Moment they used to enjoy after a few drinks before the ghastly fangs of oblivion bit down.

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Alcoholics Anonymous, perhaps the most effective program of treatment for alcoholism was founded in the late-1930s upon an unusual set of principles: 1), that for the progressive, chronic alcoholic, there are only two alternatives – either to drink oneself to death or accept spiritual help; 2) that the program of AA consists of attending AA meetings regularly and working through, with a sponsor, the Twelve Steps of AA, each an ego-deflator which allows the individual to have the sort of spritual experience which makes them happy with their sobriety (and a happy alcoholic has no need to drink) and 3), the only way for a recovering alcholic to maintain sobriety was by intensive work with other alcoholics, believing that only an alcoholic can talk with a suffering drunk.

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AA Founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob make a hospital visit to a bottomed-out drunk.

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It is what is known in therapeutic circles as “the talking cure” – that by finding a way to articulate one’s disorder the recovering alcoholic is able to be freed from the chains of compulsion and become a viable, happy member of society. They return from the dark woods free men and women – so long as they stay surrendered to the principle concepts and continue to give back everything they have received to another.

Some 200 other fellowships used the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to address other addictions such as narcotics (with sub-groups for specific addictions to cocaine, crystal meth, marijuana and pills), Internet porn, gambling, compulsive overeating and sexual craziness. The only thing that’s different about each of these groups is the specific substance its members are powerless over; the rest of the work is the same. And in every fellowship, recovery means finding words for the unsayable and finding and living in the language of truth. For one who has been released from an unspeakable, deathly compulsion, the sense of freedom is something akin to becoming reborn, but I suspect what happens – over a difficult yet very simple, straightforward process – is that a person is freed to re-enter their own skin and find a home there were before there was the prison of infinite midnight.

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Joe Weatherly was one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers. Weatherly won NASCAR’s first All-Star race in 1961 and won the points championship for the next two years. He was also one of moonshine’s luminaries, the kind of guy who loves the illicit edge a little too much for anyone’s mortality.

Joe was a boisterous, boozing, fun-loving man. He enjoyed playing practical jokes. He showed up for practice one week dressed in a Peter Pan costume.

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He and Charlie Turner drove a pair of purple team Fords # 9 & 99 that they referred to as the “Wild Hogs”. One week the two showed up at the track with a live purple pig. NASCAR told them to find the pig a home – away from any NASCAR track.

Racing the 1958 Rebel 300 at Darlington, Weatherly and Turner traded paint in factory supplied Fords – giving each other repeated “pops” in the left-rear quarter wall. While Ford execs in the stands seethed, the fans would go wild. Unhappiest of all was car owner Ralph Moody, who had to pay for all the repair bills. That’s how Weatherly and Turner both earned the nickname “Pops.”

During the annual Daytona races, they kept an apartment on Atlantic Avenue that became a notorious party pad. On the walls were pictures of girls and when the regular lights went off and the blacklights were lit, the girls lost their clothes while everyone grinned whiter than moonshine.

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Joe Weatherly’s party pad in Daytona.

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At Daytona one year, both Turner and Weatherly rented cars and were racing each other down A1A. The race was to see who could reach their motel first. Joe weaved over and smashed into the side of Turner’s car. Turner returned the favor. In their wake, glass and car parts were scattered all over the road. As they neared their destination, Turner slowed. But Weatherly, who was racing for a bottle of Canadian Club, kept his foot to the floor boards. Joe kept on going, and drove right into the deep end of the motel swimming pool.

Joe got out of the car, collected his bottle of CC, and then immediately opened it and toasted his “victory” while standing in the motel parking lot, dripping wet.

Weatherly was leading the points race for a third year in a row when he pulled into Riverside, Calif., for the road race of Jan. 19, 1964. He was a superstitious man, spooked by the color green or the presence of peanuts at the track, beholden to talismans and ritual. But those quirks, that scar, didn’t prompt him to use a shoulder harness. When he crashed on the 110th lap, his unrestrained head smacked into a retaining wall.

He died of facial injuries.

What a guy. What a drunk.

NASCAR has cleaned up immensely since the days of Joe Weatherly, strictly policing the lives – and compulsions – of its drivers both on and off the track. But when it comes to addiction, wild horsepower can’t keep a drunk from his bottle or a doper from his ice.

I wonder in which year NASCAR will finally allow the wildest bibbler of Junior Johnson’s moonshine still to stand next to him in its Hall of Fame.

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In stock car racing, what saves many drivers from falling too far into these addictions is perhaps that they are addicted most to racing and the glow of fame it brings.

As far as I know, there is no Racers’ Anonymous. No program for that jones for speed and noise and precipice-riding.

It’s estimated that 70 percent of Americans drive over the speed limit. Of that number, there is a much smaller segment of Americans who zoom their cars in illegal street races. Like alcoholics compared to the drinking population, it is in drag racing that the mortality rate soars. Street dragsters have none of the safety equipment you’ll find in a Sprint Cup car, harnesses and belts and car design which allow a driver to walk away from complete shatter. Street racers smash and die.

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Bad boys Allmendinger, Waltrip and JC France.

In one month in 2009, three NASCAR-related drivers – A.J. Allmendinger, Michael Waltrip and JC France, grandson of Big Bill France – were all arrested on DUI charges. Stripped of his licence, Allmendinger was allowed to compete in the Talladega race the next weekend (drivers do not need valid licenses to participate in NASCAR races) and afterward suspended by NASCAR for the rest of the 2009 season. Waltrip had made a u-turn and t-boned a Harley Davidson in Moorsville, NC. France, who was driving a 2007 Lamborghini and had also been arrested for possession of cocaine, was let off by a judge who ruled that the Daytona Beach cop who arrested France was operating out of his jurisdiction. This allows France to rejoin his Brumos Porsche-Riley racing team.

Just last week, former NASCAR driver Jimmy Neal got into a 140-mph chase with cops in California last week, driving a silver Corvette. He was charged with DUI.

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NASCAR’s biggest corporate sponsors early on were Big Tobocco and Big Liquor – RJ Reynolds sponsored the Winston Cup Series from 1972 through 2003, and Busch Beer, a brand of Anheuser-Busch (which also sponsors the #9 Budweiser now driven by Kasey Kahne), sponsored the second-level NASCAR race series from 1982 to 2008.

With tobacco and booze finding greater social stigma, eventually those big brands fell by the wayside, the Winston sponsorship replaced by NEXTEL/Sprint—a telecommunications company—and Nationwide Insurance taking over from Busch. Both of these concerns involve bad money in the next millennium, as cellphones become a ubiquitous appendage of the digital community and auto and home insurance profits soaring following the advice of consultants to always pay out low and threaten to hold claims up in court forever should someone demand their due. (One industry group estimates that insurers only paid out $70 billion of the estimated $135 billion in property damages from Hurricane Katrina.)

One story from the recent news offers some perspective. Recent statistics show that teenagers send, on average, about 25 text messages a day, with some individuals sending out as many as 300. Cellphone-talk replaces conversation, and the relative anonymity of cyberspace allows for a level of discourse which descends to the depths of, well, whale shit.

It was a text message from 13-year-old Josie Lou Ratley that set 15-year-ld Wayne Treacy off, leading him to track her down to a bus stop next to her middle school and beat her so badly with his steel-toed boots that she lies recovering from brain damage in a hospital, unable to speak two months after the attack and relearning basic skills such as reading and recalling the days of the week.

Treacy had sent Ratley a threatening message, to which Ratley replied, “K, u make me giggle.”

Treacy: :”Watch how much you laugh when I strangle the life outta you!! You’re f—–. You said the wrong thing to the worst person.”

Ratley: “Threat me alllll u want I think its funni.”

She later texted: “Stop txtn mi phone rapest n if u dont care jus stop tryin me k,” N jus go visit ur dead brother.” (Treacy’s brother had committed suicide the previous year.)

Treacy’s response was immediate and vicious: “UR F—ING DEAD! I SWEAR TO GOD I’M GONNA KILL YOU. I’LL F—ING FIND YOU! YOUR ASS IS COLD, DEAD MEAT M—–F—–!”

It was raining that day, and Treacy did not want to spoil his new tennis shoes, so instead he put on his brother’s steel-toed boots. Then he got on his bicycle and pedaled three miles from his home in Pompano Beach to Deerfield Beach Middle School. And did the deed.

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Wayne Treacy and Josie Lou Ratley, before and after Treacy’s attack.

Think on this wonderful level of discourse – what may become the language of the land as the digital generation ages but fails to grow up – when you watch one of the Miss Sprint Cup girls smiling like the dickens in her chaste black and yellow jumpsuit there in Victory Row. If she looks like someone from outer space in that suit, perhaps instead she’s up from that depth where words fail us utterly.

I just wonder what will happen to us when we lose the capacity to speak at sea-level, lost in a massive spill of oily illiteracy. Will that bad stuff be then doomed to the depths, bereft of any capacity of ours to ever name them? As our waters’ cerulean takes on a petroleum hue, will they silence us inside a dirty little secret gone mad?

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There are many folktales in the Celtic tradition which account for how various bodies of water came to be. Lough Neagh is the largest lake in the British Isle there was once a well, where a water woman named Muirgen was charged with covering the well every night with a stone. One night she forgot and a flood issued forth, creating the lake.

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Lough Neagh.

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Another legend is that a holy well once existed in the locality, blessed and sanctified by a saint with wonderful miraculous powers of healing; provided that every patient on leaving, after cure, carefully closed the wicket-gate that shut in the well. But once, however, a woman having forgotten this information, left the gate open, when instantly the indignant waters sprang from their bed and pursued the offender, who fled in terror before the advancing waves, until at last she sank down exhausted, when the waters closed over her, and she was no more seen.

But along the track of her flight the waters remained, and formed the great lake now existing, which is exactly the length the woman traversed in her flight from the angry spirit of the lake.

It is said that down deep, under the waters of Lough Neagh, can still be seen, by those who have the gift of fairy vision, the columns and walls of the beautiful palaces once inhabited by the fairy race when they were the gods of the earth; and this tradition of a buried town beneath the waves has been prevalent for centuries amongst the people.

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So it’s important that when traversing down a deep well – OK, this post – one is careful to finish the work one set out to do.

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Anybody still out there? I’ve talking about NASCAR’s diry little secrets, trying to get down to the bottom of them. One more tale from the track. Right about the time of Mayfield’s suspension last year and the suicide of Kevin Grubb—outsiders accused of unsanctioned oblivions–Carl Long was driving in the practice for the Sprint All Star race when his engine malfunctioned. His team changed engines, and, in accordance to NASCAR rules, turned the bum engine over to NASCAR for inspection. NASCAR found the engine, which Long purchased from a “reputable builder” who fields engines for several Cup teams.

NASCAR measured the engine at 358.17 cubic inches — .17 more than the legal limit. Long was suspended 12 races and docked 200 points – 200 more than he had for the season; his crew chief, Charles Swing, was fined $200,000, $50,000 more than the previous record; and team owner DeeDee Long (Carl’s wife) was also suspended 12 races and docked 200 owner’s points. For a part-time driver at the poorest end of the Sprint Cup field, NASCAR’s decision was a career-ending one, a public lynching to underscore a point.

“If you talk to any of the race teams in the garage, they’ll be real quick to tell you you don’t mess with engines, tires and fuel,” Cup Series director John Darby said. “We’ve all heard that for years and years and years.” Darby said NASCAR hasn’t dealt with an oversized engine since car owner Junior Johnson and crew chief Tim Brewer were suspended 12 weeks for violations at Charlotte in 1991. Their suspensions was reduced to four weeks on appeal.

Long also appealed his sentence, but the only budge from NASCAR was to reduce his suspension from 12 to 8 races, with no change in the fine or points penalty.

“It killed my career,” Long says. “I really didn’t have much of a [driving] career, but what it did was, it killed my working career, my [ability to] work for different teams.

“A lot of people heard the very first deal – suspended from NASCAR. Period. That’s everything, trucks, Late Model.

“The owner and the crew chief are the ones that are held responsible for the [fine]; the owner is my wife; the crew chief a good friend of mine. We were trying to do all we could to race. It’s kind of hard to go to the track and tell you wife that she can’t go, though.”

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Carl Long shakes hands with Bobby Allison in 1975; Long celebrates his first win in 1984 at Orange Co. Speedway; Long with wife DeeDee.

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Now, Long works as a marketing consultant with Car People Marketing and with Extreme Motorsports Inc., an insurance group hoping to offer policies for crewmen who go over pit wall on race day.

He sold his Sprint Cup car but still has his Nationwide and ARCA cars. But he can’t really afford to race them.

“You just can’t get enough money to get to the race track,” he says. “Owning everything, it will cost me a minimum of $10,000 or $15,000 just to get it to the track. To pay the entry fee, buy the tires, pay for the hotel room, pay 2-3 people to help, I’ll spend between $10,000-$15,000.

“So you get to the track, and if you only pick up a check for $16,000 or $17,000? Plus, you’re gambling $15,000 that you make the race to begin with. If you miss the race, then you’re out. And I don’t have the $15,000 to gamble. I’m still paying the bills from last year.”

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NASCAR has changed Long’s suspension to apply only to Sprint Cup races, and he’s managed to attempt a couple of truck races. At Dover this May, long finished 11th, giving him the best NASCAR win of his career.

So Long fights back, but his big NASCAR dreams are mired in a reputation NASCAR decided to ruin because, as with Jeremy Mayfield, an oversize engine Carl Long is a lot more valuable to NASCAR than 40-year-old driver fighting to stay on the track with the big boys.

If you accept Mayfield’s ban from NASCAR and you can accept that Kevin Grubb was the architect of his own destruction, you can accept the career-ending penalty against Carl Long for putting an immoderate engine at play. A long, high slope separates these two from the drivers who race on the best-financed, most lucratively sponsored teams. You won’t find these guys cluttering up NASCAR’s future except as poster boys for the ends of defiance.

But if something nags you about these guys – something which is cloaked in NASCAR’s PR ink – then I think we have uncovered another of NASCAR’s dirtiest secrets, one I personally can related to. Just last week, NASCAR sent me a letter threatening litigation against the blog I maintain for our company called NASCAR This Week which features all of motorsports reporter Monte Dutton’s work, plus racing pictures and videos and snaps of track cheesecake. The letter said we were told we were in violation of trademark laws for using NASCAR’s name without their permission.

But, as I found out in conversation with the NASCAR’s marketing legal counsel, that wasn’t what was bothering the NASCAR powers; it was that we were attempting to monetize the blog with text ads. The scant revenue we get from those in no way balances out the effort I’ve put into the site for the entrepreneurial company I work for; it’s more of a test case for finding and building a niche in cyberspace.

Our text ad revenue – all of those pennies – is what offends NASCAR so much they’re ready to litigate to shut us down. Like Mayfield and Long, we’re the sort of low-hanging fruit with which NASCAR can make its example to the wired community that it is not beyond the reach of NASCAR’s absolute rule of its sport.

I passed the letter on to our corporate lawyers and now they’re trying to determine whether it’s worth my parent company allowing NASCAR This Week to exist. I hope they won’t tell us to pull the plug – a simple name change dropping all NASCAR reference would be the easiest fix, or losing the text ads, which were never enough to fund the operation, anyway. If it was all about money, the point sure would be moot. But I think NASCAR This Week gives a prominent view to one of the best damn racing reporters around, at a time when that tribe is fast-disappearing. (Newspapers, in their frenzy of cost-cutting, are dumping everything off ship which is weighing them down, and so the field of print motorsports reporters has halved in the past couple of years.) Fans of the sport are wealthier for our existing, even though no one makes more than a damn cent. Maybe that’s noble for the enterprise: maybe journalism, in order to be free of influence from “the business side” of newspaper, ought to go non-profit, though I have no idea how highly-trained, professional journalists will be able to make mortgage payments and raise families in the new digital dispensation of Free.

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Print journalists in the pit at track media rooms don’t hold a candle any more to the sexy glare of television “coverage” – just don’t call it journalism.

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I guess I now qualify as a dirty little secret which NASCAR feels quite justified in rooting out. Their might is the denial of my commercial right to use their ubiquitous name in a website devoted to the events of their sport.

“It’s just business,” as Vito Corleone would say, decapitating a beloved horse of an opponent to make a point. Or how did Brian France put it — “We are going to defend the industry against anything in terms of the policies that we have to institute. We are going to litigate them all the way to the end, all the time. That’s our policy.”

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Of course, we’re seeing plenty of evidence of the ends of such dominance. British Petroleum’s dirty little secrets are all coming to light now – how are we supposed to be surprised?

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Now to tie things up at last. NASCAR’s dirtiest little secret has everything to do with folks like British Petroleum, for at the root of that gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is a need, a thirst which only that ugly spuming fume can resolve, normally in pipes which hide the gnarly flow from our sight. Any surprise here that NASCAR’s dirtiest little secret is the very thing which makes stock cars, like every other car, go zooming round the tracks of our life?

And the root of that dirty little secret is that that thing of darkness is wholly our own; it belongs to all of us, with our unnatural thirst for racin’, for all things loud and extreme and politically incorrect. Blatant rapine has such an instinctually satisfying grunt to it, like taking a shit on your neighbor’s front yard or taking indecent liberties on the teeneaged baby-sitter who you pay to take care of your beloved little ones. Obscenity howls with satisfaction from the predatory wolves we still are.

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This weekened it’s the big one, the Coca-Cola 600. Each of the 35 or so cars which will qualify to race gets about 4.5 miles to the gallon; each car will consume about 133 gallons of gas. The entire field will gobble up about 4,500 gallons of gas.

Me, I’ll use up about 2.75 gallons of gas for my day’s 50-mile round trip commute. Nationwide, automobile drivers will consume about 378 million gallons of gasoline – about 71 percent of our country’s daily oil consumption. Those millions of barrels of oil floating around loose in the Gulf right now are just a drop in the bucket, a shot glass-ful of moonshine compared to our thirst for petroleum.

So the Coca-Cola 600 is the pretty face of NASCAR’s dirtiest little secret, a secret is shares with every one of us who gets behind the wheel of a car to go anywhere today. NASCAR’s longest race is also its most damning one for the planet, but no one takes much notice. Perhaps as excesses go, we could call NASCAR the Kevin Grubb of gas guzzling, obscene, low-hanging fruit of a far more generous and insidious dirty secret we’ve managed to keep hidden until Deepwater Horizon failed in every way to quietly siphon out our next night at the well.

A drilling pipe is the neck of a whiskey bottle which pours it all out for us.

A guitar is turtle who gave everything it was for song.

A post is a well getting to the bottom of things, where darkness in glory sings, and every dirty little secret is revealed and reveled in, that I may at last walk away.

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Coda

When my wife and I were at Melbourne Beach last August, I wrote the following poem about that homecoming … Call it a bit of soliphilia for a solstagia that I fear is going to get much, much worse in the coming months …

WALKING MY BAPTISM’S BEACH

It’s been years since I walked the beach alone like this:
Years since I’ve soaked in the sound of the surf mill

And the waves at my feet washing over in birth-waking foam
Then hauling back with a force that beckons and receives

Each wave a rolling possibility become a life in one dying
Rise and fall, an ecstasy which sighs I dye and does, never to return,

Whose ebbing force undermines yet clarifies the next wave
Always to some degree–without that sad recede waves would

Be extinguishers, an ill trope eating in from the coast til
All continents were devoured & subsumed, til waves to endlessly

Strolled the globe in one, set, rhythmic order, a fixed number
Never to arrive or consummate, like Dante’s damned, the trope of

Eternal rolling with no beach to collapse on as the moon as heaven’s heart
Cries ever for lost lovers. So the death of each wave today is good,

It gives the shore a constancy,  steadfastly shaping each wave’s dying sprawl;
Looking south as I walk this August morning I see that the line of that

Greeting always changes, one wave running high another stopping low,
Ingressing further here and less there, never perfect except in rhythmic sum,

Each wave-death a voice in the chorus of watery selves all sighing
Inside the receding runnels of foam “I, too, am a child of God.”

Today’s walk is a prayer to those origins, the sun in full summer, fiercely
Hot already at 9:30 a.m., the wave-mill a dull cerulean pattern of rollers,

Glimmering in the glassy wave-front that folds over into silvery-white foam.
The beach today is torn with the tracks of two dozen or so loggerhead turtles

Who came out of the ocean last night, trudging their luggish leathery bodies
Turned black under full moonlight while sea and sand both burned,

Dragging slowly up the sand to a destined spot where each stopped and began
To kick and furrow in the sand with their fin-paws and then settled down,

Grunting slick thick whitened eggs into the pit. Finished, each tried
To cover over their gestating brood as best as any sea beast alone on treacherous

And could manage and then turned back, lumbering down to the shore and
Back into the vicious but known waters of their home, visible ten yards out then gone,

A round darkness in the night’s moony tide finished with her perilous harrow
Millions of years old, diving into a wave curl and down, back to the abyss.

All that remains of that wild scene this morning are tracks and whorls scarring the sand
Every fifteen yards or so as I walk this deserted stretch of beach (it’s county

Land which prevents development, become a favorite spot for nesting loggerheads).
Each nest abandoned to the elements which rule the nature of sea-turtles,

The whole matter of birth an eruption, clawing-out and race for the sea amid the
Wild flutter of birds, weaving and diving to grab off morsels of frantic sea-flesh.

All that’s for another day; mine is to walk with the echo of those nest-
Builders dark and slick with salt still heavy in the waves, a tide of mothers

Come to pass eggs from their wombs into the shore’s. Now the
Beach is impregnate with instinct’s ancient thrall and this morning’s tide

Seems to know that, each foamy exclamation of dying wave with a soft maternal note
Close to a hum as it hauls back over my feet, singing softly to all those buried eggs

The way my mother once sang over me at Jacksonville Beach when I was three,
Her voice and the oceans fusing into poetry’s swash in my ear.

It feels good to walk this way, so good though now there is a cost which
Freights everything these days—the heaviness of age, sorrows siloing in

The heart—you know, the I’m Gettin’ Old Blues–: my wife was so unhappy
With the room we rented for the night, for this singular trip to the beach for

My 52d birthday, it was right on the beach, perfect for me but far too shabby
For her taste. As I unpacked my few things she sat on the edge of the bed, began

Griping about the grubbiness of the room, the grit on the floor, the bedcovers feeling
dirty. And then began weeping. “I work so hard to earn the $140 we paid for this room,

Is THIS all we get for that much money?” It was a 2-hour drive over from inland
And the thought of spending so much of what little we kept simmering as we

Ate at a fish grill (80 bucks) and went to see “Julie and Julia” at a crowed
Theater ($17.50 alone for tickets);  back in the room it all boiled up and over

And we argued far into the night, she complaining about our inability to
Have real fun as a couple apart from our work, all our differences in taste and

Inclination brought into sharp focus by this shabby seaside motel room that I fell
In love with when the hotel manager showed it to us – right on the beach!!!

While all she saw was grubbiness and cheapness, where she would have so much
Preferred to have stayed at a seaside  resort where she would be taken

Care of in full measure and recognition of the cost. Of course she was right as
She usually is when we argue though in another way it’s just her difference from me,

She takes no comfort or solace in what a walk on the beach has always
Provided for me since I heard my mother sing with the sea 49 years ago.

It’s why we rarely go to the beach; it’s why she shops in Melbourne this morning,
Searching about for lace for her business, leaving to me this magnitude

Of sun and sea, walking the brilliant morning’s shore singing my old hallooes
To God and Mer and Poetry, augments I believe though from exile.

Balm for my soul, perhaps, but I am a married man and these tesseras of
Water are primaries I must live far from in my vow to make a happy fruitful

Home inland. For me it’s almost never this real shore but the fancied one
That’s ever fold-and-crashing in my ear when I sit on my chair in our living

Room when begin to write, the garden outside in moonlight the two firmaments
I choose to live by and praise and make hallow with love. I believe the ocean washes

Inside me without this actual beach—I must or be doomed to a dessicated,
dried-out life too far from his water’s edge, like a sea-turtle headed the wrong way,

Getting ever more lost in the inland reaches of a soul, slowly crossing highways
terrified by the headlights and horns, crunching over unfamiliar scrub and grass

Crying arias without hope of ever finding the beloved salt again. It’s been
39 years since I was baptized in waters close to these, years since I

Made visits with one and then the next wife with a girlfriend inbetween,
Each time trying to impossibly merge woman with my moon’s water,

My deepest inward thrall proving actual love’s bitterest rival, defying
The notion I’ve always had that the whole point was to bring the two at last together.

Beth and I consummated our love for the first, long-awaited time in a room
At the Sandy Shoes Motel just a quarter mile up the road from here

In December of 1995—it has since converted to condos and apartments,
Thus leaving us to the Sea View Motel. It was the coldest on record for that

Night on Melbourne Beach, 31 degrees in perfect full-mooned splendor,
Too cold and windy to walk the beach but enough to cocoon us together

In a bed where we made our future’s nest together, the one we live in today.
We honeymooned for a night at the same hotel a ten months later and that

Was the last time we had made our way here. A long time ago, almost too long
To not feel too long evicted from the real womb-heart of the ocean; but I’m game,

Lord, I’m back and walking the shore with that old Bob Marley tune
“Is This Love That I’m Feelin’?” like plainchant in the ancient seaside chapel

Of Saint Columba laying in the sand on the shore of Iona, singing the Three
Fifty Psalms every night to the mad dark ocean, each psalm carved of water

And battling their every turtle-shaped demon, every monster in the old polytheistic
Order which teems and schools the lower reaches of the heart, rising at night to

Feed on the souls of sea-longing men who too close to their waters’ edge.
All of my poems I’ve posited in this tide, each one like a wave that arrives

From dark continents a half a world away, coalesced into a caesura’s rise
And fall, ending in a last sentence, a final line, ebbing to a silence where

I think I’ll never write another poem again, brooding in darkness until
Another wave appears: And though the sea will serve up waves til the moon

Fades altogether from the sky, I have little else to say: For me these waves
Are for younger men still on fire and in lust, hungry and raging for

Ecstasy’s wild blue tide enough that they must walk naked here, plunging
Stone-hard prongs of desire deep into a pussy of blue salt, slishing and sliding and

Sperming the surrsurrations curved at their hips. Gone, like my brother’s gone,
The guy I walked Cocoa Beach with 30 years ago, the both of us believing

So hotly in the dream of oceans. Gone, like my interest in heart for so
Much has gone, somehow lost at sea with him, my old belief in aquatic

Lacteals my mouth could never milk. Only the work remains, day after day
Of labors like wave after wave of the sea, each come to naught in the measure

Of things, each labor somehow undermining the next in these difficult times
Where treading water is a specie of success, an nth measure which keeps

Us from going down and down and down. It’s now the same damn day over
And over til I will no longer be able to work like  walking down the shore,

Til my ashes are scattered onto the blue and fallen to depths where God
Takes his full measure of men who foolishly straddle waves riding

The water-steppes to Love. But for now I walk, if only for this one day,
Perhaps my last here. I’m grateful for the sand and the feel of water

In such measure, in the pleasure of the sun on my face and back,
For the total immersion of walking along eternity’s salt fray as the sea

Cries to the land and grinds it down to sand, beating that old cold lunar drum
Which composes all tides and moon-moods, poems too long to matter

Except that they may engender the next fool lover’s words, words which
May die in their mouths or be picked off by the ravening beaks of

Life’s modern imps (like the cancer which eats the guts of my co-worker’s
husband). Perhaps, perhaps, one or two will make their way through

Their art back to water and be free in that dangerous wet element,
As I will be free when this long damn poem’s finished at last.

I walk out and stand hips-deep in the surge, letting wave after wave
Crash softly round me, feeling the muscles of each most in the recede,

That hard hauling back to God. Lord, I pray, You’re here in this heart
Of my heart: Take me and make of me what you will. The sea once

Gave me the words of that prayer, washing over me in a single wave
On the morning that I was baptized on Melbourne beach at 14.

I remit that prayer here with this long psalm of surrender and
Pointless indentured love of the sea and its washes, whether I ever

Come back again. Washed, hauled, prayed through and done,
I trudge back to shore and begin the long walk back to the motel.

Ghostly frigates of storm clouds far out to sea, more  clouds building
Just inland and not another human soul in sight, just as it’s ever been.

Deep in the heart and loin of God I thus walk home, the washed-up
Relic of one man’s singing blue bone, alone and in love and ready

To work on the life that remains, with or without the verse, borne
Again from the sea, walking the remainder of this mortal bourne

A happy if emptied man, headed home to his moony dark humid garden
And the real life which is nested there and which still comes to life here.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rilke wrote in his Sonnets to Orpheus,

–Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Earth Day, indeed.

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

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

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

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

A deepshit horizon, wouldn’t you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damned from the git-go.

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

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Do these numbers scare you, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.caddyshack soundtrack

2.daffys

3.emma the amish model

4.genesis 2 24

5.vernon jordan

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

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“American Idol”-to-be Christine Bowersox.

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

1. century 21 department store

2. christine staub

3.frank frazetta

4.erica blasberg

5.melissa huckaby

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

Go figure.

Enquiring minds gotta know, especially the dirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dying fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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