Tag Archives: nascar chase

Three fates, two minds, one track


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s what makes it so damn fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go figure.

(OK, I’ll try …)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb, Dumber, Dumberer and Dumberest.

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

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An apple a day keeps old gods away.

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

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

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Birds of a fundamentalist feather.

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

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

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East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet home Miami, Homestead here we come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guess who’s coming to dinner.

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

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

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The Trundholm Chariot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Uffington Horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One race, winner take all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More about Julian Jaynes here.

More about Homestead and South Florida  here.

Jimmie at the Blue Door, Again


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One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But first, you have to get through that door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, Talladega waits …

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

Few have gained entrance as many times.

Will it open yet again?

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

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Two

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

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

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The door opened.

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

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

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

Somehow your shapes almost merged in the cracked smoky mirror.

Because they were …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It lurks in all the shadows gathered here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He pauses.

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

“Closing time, pal.”

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

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

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

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Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Beauchamp all but disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s made up her mind.

She’s ready to offer her boon.

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

At the horror of Talladega?

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

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

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

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

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Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time now to get down.

Time to dance.

Time to race.

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

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

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

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

You begin to pull.

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

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

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

Silly Season 24-7-365


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One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lost little white girls attract eyeballs ad infinitum ad nauseum.

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

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Oksana Grigorieva and bellicose ex-boytoy Mel Gibson.

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

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

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

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

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

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Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROSS

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

Old Man

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

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

Old Man

‘Tis said they eat each other.

ROSS

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

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

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

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

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Well, ya get what you pay for.

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Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Following a comprehensive review of its communications function and public relations activity across the industry, NASCAR announced today that it will move immediately to create an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) department that will better position the sanctioning body to lead best practices and provide overall thought leadership in the communications space for the entire industry.

“Our sport has unique challenges and very diverse constituencies and it has become clear that NASCAR must be a catalyst in this space to help all stakeholders find greater value,” said Brian France, NASCAR’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “This is a major investment for the company at a critical time and represents an elevation of this highly-important function for NASCAR and the industry. We are confident this evolved approach will yield immediate and long-term value for NASCAR, its media and business partners and the industry as a whole.”

The new communications structure will allow NASCAR to be even more effective on the competition aspects of the sport, an area where NASCAR was regularly cited in the review as being among the best when compared to other major league sports by media in all genres. It also positions the sanctioning body to take a much more strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport in a constantly-evolving traditional, digital and social media landscape. Three areas that will see greater communications resourcing and organizational focus moving forward include: brand and consumer marketing; digital and social media strategy and activation; and strategic collaboration with industry stakeholders …

Boy: “thought leadership in the communications space” … “a strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport” (my italics). Who are these guys trying to communicate with, anyway? Maybe it was code meant for their corporate bedmates, but the tone of it made me think that NASCAR is trying to charm back market share in its usual ham-handed, bullying manner.

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NASCAR’s current spin docs Jim Hunter and Ramsey Poston are getting a new boss–and a tweaked mission. I feel for these guys.

And there’s nothing like starting such a mission by shooting your current messengers (demoting Ramsey Poston and Jim Hunter) and initiating a “worldwide” search for a Chief Communications Officer.

Surely there’s a CCO in Pakistan who speaks English better than any of us.

And will do it on the cheap.

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Now back to the surgence of “silly season” belief, a schizophrenic hijacking of all sense of knowing what is important and what isn’t. In the court of fools, farts are  gold; in a land where silly season rules, shit on a joker’s stick trumps the collective wisdom of the Nine Muses every time.

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The Fool and the Nine Muses: Who’s leading who by the nose?

To wit: Just about every economist now believes that the TARP bailouts of 2008 saved the economy from tumbling into the abyss of depression and trimmed the unemployment rate by some five percent. But such facts have nothing do with the more potent, albeit false, belief that TARP was a socialist bailout of Jewish bankers which put a huge burden on our grandchildren.

To pine for NASCAR’s Golden Age (when the danger of racing truly infected the psyches of drivers) is like calling for America’s reclamation from evildoers and Black Housers and Commie-Progressive-Democrats, delivering us safely back into white-dominated, xenophobic, sabre-rattling past. It’s far easier to sell something that sounds too good to be true than something that merely is.

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Ah, for the golden age of Fireball Roberts to come agin, with his lucky Wynona in tow.

These silly season beliefs require no precision; if you believe that your daddy’s NASCAR makes the present moment seem like Babylon – or worse, Washington or Beverley Hills – fine. But to say this constitutes a consensus just because a lot of people are saying makes me wonder how much your daddy got around. “My Daddy’s NASCAR” is like saying “Our America,” as opposed to the one we have now. I daresay that beach racin’ is no way like the Brickyard, though they share the same era. Millions of like-believing fans repeat the same phrases without any real clue why their fellows are agreeing with them. It only suffices that they believe.

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Yer Daddy’s racin, Indy vs, Datyona style, ca. 1950.

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“Silly” speculation and rumor about NASCAR dwarfs hard race reporting, which only the knowledgeable (and thus suspect) have any right (and agility) to report. What’s up with Junior? Where is Mark Martin going, and when is Kasey Kahne beginning? Why is Tony so surly with the press? What is bad bad NASCAR up to, making examples of drivers and teams which don’t make them as much money and fining drivers for saying things detrimental to the sport? Which drivers are dating and/or marrying which model, whose wife or girlfriend is having a baby? When will NASCAR change the goddam Chase format? Does anyone care that Jimmie Johnson stands to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship? Doesn’t everyone hate that?

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Such fluff is the stuff NASCAR dreams are made off. We fill our pipes with this dope and puff away, ruminating and speculating and masturbating over possibilities, gnawing away on the bones tossed to us by the officious and secretive, delivering the news by callous track and sport and media entities like NASCAR.com, the FOX News of racin’, as far and balanced as any corporate bedmate can be.

I so feel sorry for NASCAR journalists. (If you haven’t soaked a real one, do try Monte Dutton of the Gaston Gazette. I edit a blog called NASCAR This Week which features his coverage of the NASCAR season). They are bound by the conventions of their trade to be fair-minded, have no favorites and call things like they see it–with eyes trained on the entire sport– but are assigned to a beat where thehenanagans of the bloated, greedy and autocratic ruling body is a rung above roller derby.

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Monte Dutton (r)  on duty at the track.

The print press corps–the most informed and thus most difficult to control –have been relegated to increasingly minor spaces in track media centers, swept aside in NASCAR’s zeal to get airtime from radio and TV.  To make matters worse, these print journalists aren’t especially liked either by fans unless their sentiments fuse with their own. But that I guess is the nature of media consumption everywyere these days. People tune in to hear what they already believe, rather than to become convinced of this or that truth.)

And third, the print journo crew aren’t beloved by their newspapers, either. The American motorsports reporting cadre is about half the size it was five years ago as newspapers relentlessly sphincters its newshole becausee silly season competitors have sliced off their market share of advertisers and readers.

A lonely biz, and probably a dying one, not only for the shrinkage in the sport as well as the industry which covers it: but also because the Internet allows anyone to squawk away about anything, regardless of skill or qualifications. The blogosphere made silly sport of journalism, allowing license to fill a beat with the semblance of news; NASCAR bloggers are, on the whole, opinionated, biased, celebrity-crazed and prone to rant as they would, unbound from the old-school journalistic standards.  They have poured the highest, most combustible octane into the mix – no, nitro – adding a blinding whiteout of posts to the conversation, tooting and blatting every which way like matchsticked farts.

When NASCAR created its Citizen Journalist Corps, identifying 28 NASCAR blogs notable for their “professionalism, reporting and commentary,” they allowed these new media sites to get media creds for race events just like “traditional” media, as well as receive full access to their media outlets. Not that these guys and gals didn’t already have access; it was just an appropriation into the brand, which, by so doing, I suspect NASCAR hoped to get more pink in the effusions of the blogospohere.

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NASCAR Citizen Corpspersons Tallglassofmilk (Answer This, with Carl Edwards) and Valli Hillaire (The Fast and The Fabulous)

If you’ve read this blog, then you know I am no exception to effusion. I epitomize the worst of Silly Season silliness, with only as much real knowledge of the sport as I have gleaned over the past couple of years of reading Monte Dutton’s columns, attending just three races (two Bud Shootouts and half a Coke Zero 400) and digressing to the ends of the daily mind to get from the green flag to checkers of the next race of 2010, and probably never again after that. With plenty of eye-candy thrown in for blog-scanners who picked up their online reading habits from surfing porn sites.

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Gratuitous eye candy.

In NASCAR, the Silly Season never comes to an end; on- and off-season merge into one round of loquacious speculation, with the next season launching the day after the Vegas banquet celebrating the accomplishments of the last.

In many ways, time is an illusion in NASCAR, the season the sum of so many laps and races and points on the map; it’s all just one damn oval, turning left for nine months and then dreaming for three months of those left turns, rehashing great and stupid moves, the endless attention of fans decked in their gear, holding up cellphones to capture their celebrity for eternity, fending a juggernaut of crew members and crew chiefs, owners and sponsors, NASCAR officials and nail-biting wives, family members and media and buddies oh my …

Technology reduces the field of endeavor to Just Me with my laptop and blog, chattering on about My NASCAR as if I were Brian France – or should be – offering my fool’s advice to a billion-dollar corporation who fawns on me for my money while harassing me if I attempt to infringe on Their  franchise by attempting to monetize my blog.

It’s essentially My Silly Season, with my voice and vote the only one that matters to me, even though no one else gives a shit what I think or that I even try to say it. Technology gives me NASCAR 24-7-365 access if I care to have it, and boundless room for intemperate speculation, like the silly spiculation of rain all night on a leaky roof.

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Silly Season 24-7-365 delves into a thicket of science which has to do with the end of time, or theories which are re-addressing our conventions of time. In the disordered court of Macbeth, time is “out of joint,” topsy-turvy, unnatural. Our time, especially in the new media’s million-fold lens, like a fly’s-eye — is dizzy, happening all at once, all perspectives thrown in, so complex there’s no way to fully perceive or conceive it. The Editor has been beheaded and Chaos is the cup reporter, the sorceror’s apprentice now tasked to report the news.

It’s madness, really, a specie of schizophrenia, where the conscious membrane or filter has been irrupted by the unconscious substream, a babbling brook of voices suppressed and inappropriate and just damn bad now in charge, like a fool’s court. (The Fool engages in craziness as his trade; the madman doesn’t know he’s crazy; and the blogger hollers away in the voids of Cyberspace, foolishly convinced that his or her voice is the choicer madness, surely on the verge of someone’s recognition and bigtime pay and fame. Who’s the greatest fool?)

Another NASCAR blog just adds to the carnage of knowledge with another surfeit of belief, but it’s understandable – every person has a right to put up what walls and boundaries they can around infinity, carving out a semi-conscious homestead somewhere in the cyberverse.

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A blog is like Yorick’s singing skull, providing another View on The News, babbling away to fend off the towering tide of social media it is part of. Cogito ergo putare — I think, therefore I believe; I dream, perchance to invade NASCAR’s inside realm, join that party, schmooze with my driver, tweet with his wife about their baby and dog, drive the damn car myself to victory.

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This media —- the space I litter with my own dusting of posts — offers the perception of inclusion exactly the way the Silly Season creates a virtual sense of NASCAR’s reality, even though it’s all smoke and mirrors, the way celebrity outshines the person who ferries it, the way that the coded jargon of political campaigns are rallying cries of nonsense. Give me back my daddy’s NASCAR? Sure. Party with butt-nekkid Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian in the glow of their sex tape? Unzip and have at it. Take back this country to prelapsarian Kansas, 1950, to the one nation under God proposed by Glenn Beck’s over-written Founding Fathers, deists become fundamentalists in Beck’s rodeo-clown view of history? It’s a free country, right?

Silly season madness gives all the permission in the world because anything goes in its fool’s court, or rather,  nothing truly happens in the minds of believers. It is a rebellion against time, or a subversion of it, freeing oneself of the briars of the present for the womblike glade of the pre-historial past with its million-year-dreamtime. Who wouldn’t want to revert, if they could? Why do you think substance abuse is so prevalent in this country as millions take exception to their reality and clock out for their zombie zone of their choice.

But maybe science has to take some of the blame for this. Traditional conceptions of existence which have been a part of our brainpans for hundreds of thousands of years are getting drowned by a quick update as new discoveries of the universe pour in.

Time itself is changing as the universe’s mysteries become better known. And what the space docs diagnose is not that the universe will come to an end – sorry, end-of-worlders – but rather that time itself will cease, rendered meaningless in the evolved order of things.

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An article by George Musser in the Sept. 2010 issue of Scientific American titled “Could Time End?” identifies four cosmic stages which will result in the end of time as we know it:

1. Loss of directionality — Time’s arrow breaks: “Time will stop marching forward when the universe exhausts its useful energy and reaches a condition of general stasis.” This follows the model of the eternally expanding universe but works in other models as well. “From then on, the only activity will be the random fluctuations of density and energy, causing clocks, if there are any left, merely to jiggle back and forth.”

2. Loss of duration — Time can now longer be measured: “The concept of duration will become meaningless when all systems that mark out regular time intervals fall apart or get swallowed by black holes. Energy may leak back out of the black holes, but it does so as radiation – that is, as photons and other massless particles. Because such particles have no fixed scale and do not change with time, they cannot be used as the basis for new clocks.”

3. Loss of causality – Time morphs into space: “Time may be reduced to just another dimension of space, breaking the link between cause and effect. One way that can happen is if our universe is a “brane” floating through a higher-dimensional spacetime, and this brane begins to whip around so fast that the time dimension bends over and becomes a spatial one, producing what we would experience as a ‘big freeze’”

4. Loss of structure – Time’s geometry dissolves: “Time disappears altogether as the universe descends into anarchy. This anarchy breaks out at the deepest level of reality, even deeper than that of the known particles and forces. Processes become so complex that they cannot be said to occur at specific places and times.” In this concept, the universe may actually be two-dimensioned, taking on what is only a three-dimensional appearance because of “regularities” – stars which don’t change for a long time. But where stars collapse, universal forces become chaotic; when all stars have burnt out into black holes, the illusion of 3-d space disappears, leaving the Projectionist to deal with a complex, timeless soup of chaos.

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Scary stuff, I guess, though neither you or I will be around for it; we’re talking tens of billions of years in the future when these events might happen. And of course, read the column titled “50, 100 & 150 years ago” in the September 2060 issue of Scientific American and the leading-edge concepts laid out above will seem so silly and stupid, refined as our sensibility will have become due to half a century of advanced knowledge. That is, if the Christian Rapture doesn’t come first, re-establishing God’s time on Earth.

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But we don’t actually have to wait to see what happens –- all of the scenarios for time’s end are in play right now  in the concept of Silly Season 24-7-365, as empowered in the speeding universe of cyberspace. Omnimedia is not omniscient – reserve that for The Deity of the bicameral mind, which we began to lose some 10,000 years ago – but it is everywhere and everything at once, which sort of makes any timeful passage through it rather Goth. It’s hyper-immediate yet hypo-sensical; hippocampical and hypno-cucumberal; where is this shit coming from but rents in the fabric of sense, shredded by this whirling dervish of preter-knowledge and uber-beliefs.

And so we hurry on to Fontana with all of the current NASCR storylines intact, like tethers to a gigantic floating racecar a la the animated flick “Cars” – Johnson surging, Harvick on his rear bumper, Hamlin floundering, Kyle Busch flubbing, Smoke surging then gurgling, Bowyer waving sheepishly far in the rear, every appeal to reverse NASCAR’s penalty against his time for chassis intolerance rejected—as if that ever happens).

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Oh and don’t forget the sideline hoopla which a race gal drinks like Southern Comfort, all of those cute babies held by drivers in firesuits, hot girlfriends become moms, the dream of multimillion dollar romance engaged as the heads of those NASCAR soccer moms are replaced with every Sally and Sarah and Betty Jo to fuck around with Photoshop as they dream the dream from dingy trailers and foreclosing bungalos around the heartland.

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Living the dream.

Silly season 24-7-365 makes it all too possible to emigrate to the lah-lah Land of Oz and call it home, rid of dustbowl Kansas 2010 (where the summer was especially feral, coming off an exceptionally ferocious winter) for good. What You Will is the alternate title for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a bit of foolery to entertain the troops between the holy rigors of Christmas and Epiphany; only now its “What You Will, All The Time” in silly season parlay. Disney World become My World, not because it’s possible but  because I believe it’s so.

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So what news did you catch on Wednesday, the final day of drafting this post? The 24-hour news cycle was busy.

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Randy Moss was suddenly traded to the Vikings from the Patriots.

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The sports channels of ESPN and NFL-TV were throbbing on the testosterone of receiver Randy Moss’s sudden departure from the New England Patriots for the Minnesota Vikings, with speculation ripe on the wires about why the Patriots would do such a thing (Moss did not have a catch in the Patriots’ 41-14 trouncing of Miami last Monday night) and what it will mean for the 1-2 Vikes’ struggling offense.

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Roy Halliday pitched a no-hitter against the Cincy Reds in the first game of their division playoff.

All that talk was suddenly eclipsed by the news, in the early evening of the no-hitter thrown by Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies against the Reds (who led the league in hitting during the regular season) in Game One of their division playoffs. It was the first no-hitter to be thrown in post-season play since Don Larson pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, and only the second time such a feat had been accomplished in the majors. Adding to that, Halliday pitched a perfect game earlier this year against the Rays. Talk about all of that! Which the sports wires did, shoving Moss aside as news that was so earlier Wednesday.

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Missing Pretty White Young Woman Paige Johnson.

On CNN’s tediously outraged “Nancy Grace,” we got the next installment in the Abused Pretty White Girl cycle, with news of the disappearance of Paige Johnson, a beautiful teen mom, and another story about a young black mother who left her 3-year-old girl alone to go out dancing; the child was found by cops at 3:30 a.m., wandering the neighborhood near her home. Guess where America’s sympathies flow.

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Singer Toni Braxton and Octomom Nadya Suleman.

Over at TMZ.com, we hear that singer Toni Braxton (who has sold more than 40 million albums over her career) is facing bankruptcy with possible liabilities of more than $50 million dollars to creditors ranging from Neiman Marcus, the William Morris Agency, the Four Seasons Hotel, the IRS, Orkin Pest Control and the City of Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau. And it looks like Octomom Nadya Suleman will avoid foreclosure due to an offer of $20,000 by the fetish porn site Clips4Sale.com; all she has to do is have her hair washed and endure some tickling.

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Bumper-butters David Reutimann and Kyle Busch.

Over at Jayski.com’s Silly Season site, we find out that NASCAR officials plan to meet with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann, tweaking their 2010 “have at it, boys” policy with a soft, penalty-less reminder that their actions affect all the racers on the track. Also, Kenneth Luna, a crew member in the Nationwide Series, was suspended by NASCAR for violating sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy). And another crew chief – this time Steve Kuykendall, crew chief of the #13 team that competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was suspended for garage shenanigans involving carburetor tweaks. Another example made of someone who apparently doesn’t have a positive financial impact on the corporateion — the #13 team isn’t even listed on Jayski’s site.

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Garrett Gordon is a chip off of dad Jeff’s shoulder. No “crybaby” jokes, guys.

Over at Answer This, the NASCAR Citizen Journalist WAG blog, things are quiet -– Tallglassofmilk, the site’s operator, must have fallen in love elsewhere –- still, on the home page there’s a pic of Garrett Gordon, Jeff Gordon’s No. 2 child, playing (OK, placed) in the chassis of a race car. A son to race to glory! There’s hope yet for Gordon’s failed dynasty.

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You had to care about “hard” news –- so few do, these days –- to tune into reports about arguments made before the Supreme Court on Wednesday about a case involving fundamentalist protesters who picketed a private military funeral in 2008. Jihadists of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas (Kansas!) used the funeral to spread their message that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing its soldiers.

The father of the soldier (who was not gay) who was being buried was not amused and sued the church, claiming that the protests had violated the family’s privacy at an specially painful moment.

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“We’re talking about a funeral,” Sean E. Summers, a lawyer for the father, Albert Snyder, told the justices. “Mr. Snyder simply wanted to bury his son in a private, dignified manner.”

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Albert Snyder, father of Lance Corporate Matthew Albert Snyder, killed in action on March 3, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq,

Snyder had won an $11 million jury verdict against the chucrh’s pastor, but an appellate court overturned the ruling on First Amendment grounds. So the Supreme Court case was all about how far the right to speak your mind — no matter how hurtful your thoughts are — should go.

The lawyer on the other side, Margie J. Phelps, said the First Amendment protected the protest, where seven pickets at some distance from the funeral carried signs with messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates you.”

Ms. Phelps is a daughter of the pastor of the church, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Her argument alternated between smooth exposition of First Amendment doctrine and support for the church’s message.

“Nation, hear this little church,” she said. “If you want them to stop dying, stop sinning.”

Looks like Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church will have sway with the conservative Roberts court. And strange bedmates sided too with the antagonists of Westboro. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations, including The New York Times Company, filed a brief supporting the Kansas church. It said the First Amendment protects even hateful speech on matters of public concern.

Before the argument in the case, Snyder v. Phelps, No., 09-751, members of the church protested outside the Supreme Court. Abigail Phelps, another of Mr. Phelps’s daughters, carried a sign that said “America is doomed.”

Shades of Terry Jones and Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, where an “International Burn the Koran Day” was pre-empted by pleas from David Petreus and the White House, on the grounds that such “free speech” would result in more dead GI’s in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the goddamdist thing about it is that these idiots hijack so much bandwidth flouting beliefs like bared penises at a wedding—flagrantly, inappropriately, stupidly and with total abandon, because Silly Season rules are in effect, a fascism of fancy over truth, tempering superego murdered like King Duncan, the fool’s court of public masturbation in session, linking in its 24-7-365 circle-jerk politicians, NASCAR, the religious right and every 300-lb Paris wannabe with a laptop and a sugary belief that destiny awaits.

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Teaching the meaning of the First Amendment to our young.

Maybe the Mad Fools of Middleboro are right. Maybe we are doomed–not by lack of belief in their God, but rather to the surfeit of their own belief.

Clocks are racing backwards and forwards in this silly season, destroying time – history and future at once – in the manner that stock cars race counterclockwise (backasswards, turning left instead of right every time) in their furious attempt to cross the finish line ahead of everyone  else.

It’s the same way that the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth danced widdershins (counterclockwise) thrice around their black simmering pot, winding up the charm to triple back-assed potency, brewing a topsy-turvy destiny for the foolish pretender who would be king and instead returned the land to chaos.

It’s the Silly Season way – 24-7-365 — and the rule of its fools is absolute.

So have at it, boys of summer, now in Chase of the home stretch, spiraling backwards to glory.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, like an ape turd on a fool’s giggle-stick.

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Driving Me Backwards


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Saturday, September 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And watch some football games.

And nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wildest and most exhilarating ride, too.

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Monday, September 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stupid minds think alike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 29

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

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

A lot.

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

MISSED CHANCES

Steven Dobyns

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

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

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

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

(from Cemetary Nights, 1987)

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The Twelve


The field of the Chase:  (Back row from L-R) Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon;  (Front row L-R) Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

NASCAR’s Chase class was finalized following Saturday’s Air Guard 400 at Richmond. Their names were pretty much a foregone conclusion headed into the race; the only spot in mathematical question—the 12th seed—was sealed by Clint Bowyer’s sixth-place finish. But the all-important lead position heading into the Chase–determined by greatest number of wins for the season—was decided when Richmond hometown boy Denny Hamlin beat teammate Kyle Busch to the checkers by .537 seconds.

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NASCAR’s New Year’s Eve was the Richmond race, with one kind of time (the regular season) passing while another (the Chase) became the new reality.

Forget the 219-point lead Kevin Harvick had over second-place Jeff Gordon in the regular-season points standings. He now shares third place with Kyle Busch in the starting Chase grid, thirty points—or three wins—behind Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson, who had been languishing in eighth place in the regular-season points standings, 338 points out of the lead, leaps into the No. 2 position to start the race, on the merit of his five wins. Five winless drivers -– Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer-—take up the back of the pack, all 60 points out of the lead.

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Not sure why every driver each receives a 5,000-point base going into the Chase—gravy? A sense of gravitas to their Olympian status?

Now Sprint two races will happen simultaneously every week of the next ten, with those in the Chase racing alongside those who didn’t make it: in the first race, the Twelve Elect battling against each other for Chase position; in the second race the whole field going at it, including those 30 preterit drivers who didn’t make the cut but still duking it out for purse-money, bragging rights, even a chance to alter the fate of the Chase, as when Sam Hornish wrecked Jimmie Johnson on the third lap of the Chase Texas race last year.

So begins the Chase.

Here come  the Twelve.

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The number 12 is freighted with significance. A day is composed of two half-cycles of 12 hours each, and there are 12 months to the year. 12 constellations form the Zodiac, which some believe rule their starry fates. There were 12 Olympian gods, 12 Tribes of Israel and 12 Disciples of Christ. 12 stones comprise the altar of Elijah. Jesus broke 12 different breads at the Last Supper.

Hercules completed 12 great labors in Hell. There are 12 days in the old Christmas festival of Yuletide. 12 Immans  are the legitimate successors of Muhammad and there are 12 names for the Hindu sun god Surya. Twelve seats are ccupied by King Arthur’s knights at the Round Table (the 13th, known as the Perilous Siege, sits empty, symbolic of both the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the perfect knight who is destined to find the Holy Grail, which was brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea and his 12 knights.

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King Arthur’s Round Table.

Twelve is a good number for business, that is, by selling things by the dozen. It’s a familiar count, perhaps the most primitive one. Things are cheaper by the dozen; a baker’s dozen (also called a long dozen) is 12 donuts plus benefits. If something is going cheap, it’s a dime a dozen; 12 dozens is a hefty gross.

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Hollywood brought us 12 Angry Men and The Dirty Dozen, 12 Monkeys and Ocean’s 12.

Hugh Hefner brings us 12 Playboy fresh centerfolds every year.

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Our measurement system (resolutely averse to decimals) begins with the inch and stretches to a foot or 12 inches. Three feet is a yard and people are buried six feet under, also the depth of one fathom. Twelve feet is a short choir. While it’s said that no knight is long enough, most gals agree that one whose Johnson stretches for 12 inches is plenty to joust with. If you want to make up for an erring Johnson, try a dozen roses.

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Priapus, Roman god of Frank Fertility, was lord and guardian of gardens. Shown here trying to make amends for overdoing things.

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The Chase originally had ten drivers, but since 2007 it has numbered 12. For some reason, though, although all 12 drivers of the Chase are invited to NASCAR’s awards ceremony in Las Vegas, only ten are honored.

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2009 Chase honorees in Vegas.

The number 10 has an uneasy relationship with the number 12. The world twelve comes from Germanic compound twa-lif, meaning that two is left after you take away the base 10.  There are 10 commandments of Moses, but Jesus added two (to love the Lord with all one’s heart, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self). In 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection initiated their Ten Plus Two rule, requiring two pieces of information about cargo be added to the standard 10 data elements shippers are required to report. Something about a ten needs a two, even if ten disagrees.

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There is the sense that the traditions of ten and two had a shotgun wedding with the number 12, Apollonian decimals hitched to lusty moon-goddess integers.  Kenny Chesney tried to make sense of it in his song “Ten With A Two,” but the booze kept him from seeing how the two numbers add up:

Last night I came in at 2 with a 10
But at 10 I woke up with a 2
I’ve got 20/20 vision when I ain’t drinking
But lord when I do I lose
I ain’t never gone to bed with an uglier woman
But I sure woke up with a few
Last night I came in at 2 with a 10
But at 10 I woke up with a 2.

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Or maybe there isn’t any making sense of Twelve, not in a decimal world. But the number persists, perhaps in our resistance to decimal clarities. So we cling to inches rather than millimeters, pour gallons of gas into our cars rather than litres, use letters to measure bra cup sizes (imagine a D-cup in the French decimal of 100 millimeters), and use natural referents for distance (a sheppey is defined as the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque, which is about 7/8 of a mile)

Something about The Twelve has clout over The Ten. It’s old yet bold, even golden. Angelic, at least.

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Our beginning and end is fraught with the number 12. It was believed that 12 days passed in the battle between Chaos and Cosmos in the formation of our universe. The ancient Mayan calendar’s comes to an end in 2012.

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Mayan calendar, where time’s reckoning–on one side at least—in the year 2012. Maybe there’s more time on the other side of the stone. Or inside.

Not surprisingly, the Eve of the finalization of the Chase Field of Twelve -– I mean, last Saturday, the day of the Richmond race –- was strange.  Think of fierce, brilliant shadows at play inside killing heat. Think of time out of joint. Think of the deal that was sealed at Richmond International Raceway. And wonder what time we have now entered.

When I went out to work in the yard on Saturday morning, it felt surprisingly, infernally hot, even at 9 a.m. A sweaty, skin-burning heat. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was all the steroids that had been dripping through my vein for the past three days in attempt to knock out the migraine that had been clawing at the back of my head almost continually since last June. I felt good –- no fucking headache –- but I sure was sweating hard.

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After piddling with some minor landscaping details (like cutting back the jasmine vines which had overgrown on the garage and chimney, I started to mow. On the second row the mower coughed and died. What the? I’d just had the sucker serviced in the spring; it was like some hand reached up from the soil, grabbed the whirling mower blade and stopped the thing in its tracks.

I wheezed in the heat, swearing. Up the street a neighbor was conducting an auction of crap, one of about six she conducts through the year. Maybe someone had sent a curse my way to shut me up.

Whatever. I packed the mower in the car, showered and made a grocery list, figuring to drop the mower off for service and then pick some things up on the way home.

Umatilla is a small town a ways to the north of us, the last lonely town before US-19 disappears into the Ocala National Forest. I go to the mower shop there because it’s one of the only ones around that service Honda mowers (my wife’s father had given us his around 15 years ago when he started paying a lawn service).

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Around that shop there must have been thirty high school girls in bikinis, fervently washing cars for something at Umatilla High–cheerleading squad, glee club, teacher’s salaries (Lake County is strapped), who knows. I tried not to leer as I muscled the mower out of my car and into the shop, but c’mon. They were enthusiastically lathering about five cars, bending into their work wearing their shorts and bikini tops. On the road, twos or threes of them waved signage at traffic up and down the road, hollering at cars and holding the signs over their bikinis. A veritable harvest of jailbait adding something to the brilliance of the day which was even brighter, albeit forbidden, maybe because it was.

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Back home, after having lunch with my wife (one weary and unhappy camper with all the work and worry and family illness on her plate), I settled in for a couple football games—Saturday afternoon being my only downtime during the week.

Flipping around stations on the remote, I was surprised to find almost no coverage of the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Unless you have a spouse who died in the attacks, or are one of the 50, 000 emergency providers suffering from the toxic dust and fallout from the towers’ destruction (some were embedded with human flesh that hurled from the exploding jets), the events of that day, like the cities they occurred in, are a long, long ways away.

The circus everyone had been expecting–the Terry Jones Qu’ran Burning Bonfire Event in Gainesville –had been called off. About 300 people joined the Students for a Democratic Society for a demonstration outside the small church. (The only coverage I saw on it was in the online edition of the Gainesville Sun.) A few media outlets hung around outside Dove World Ministry Church, suspecting that some shenanigans might get pulled off anyway, but there was strong media resolve not to give Terry Jones & Co. much airtime. A woman got busted for trespassing on the land behind the church, and four men in a pickup were detained after guns were found in their car (for which they had permits). After all that hysteria, nada.

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Gainesville is a liberal college town, so it isn’t surprising that the community showed up on 9/15 to advocate values other than what were proposed for the cancelled World Dove Outreach Qu’ran Book Burning. No media except the local paper picked up the event.

Too bad news of the cancellation took a while to get out to the less-wired world. Too long: an Afghan man who was shot to death during one of two violent protests on Friday outside NATO reconstruction bases in Kabul. Twelve persons were wounded, one of them critically, in addition to the killing. Those guys just don’t like their holy book dissed. Too bad intolerance always feeds intolerance; its the bad guys who always benefit from radical acts, whether it’s terrorists on a jihadist vacation or American right-wingers jack-booting their way to the polls to vote for Tea Party extremists who proclaim holy war against everything they can’t tolerate. (Sigh.)

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Over at the Swamp in Gainesville, the Florida Gators were beating the South Florida Bulls. Temps soared into the 90s soon after the noon kickoff; the announcers said they had never been at a football game so hot. About 400 people were eventually treated for heat-related illnesses; but in the Swamp, home Gatorade and Gator Bait, heat is a holy thing. Gator fans like it hot.

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Here in Central Florida, the sun beat down on the us like a dude rancher trying to stomp the dickens out of a scorpion he’d just flushed from his tent. September is that way, with light ebbing from the ends of the day yet remaining blisteringly bellicose in the day’s middle; but this was steal-your –breath heat. Even though our a/c was cranked up on full, it couldn’t get things down to 78 inside until after the sun went down.

Maybe the weirdness was enhanced by the massive migraine which returned that afternoon, one day after finishing three days of massive infusions intended to banish the  migraine which has illed me since June. That night I slept as if some cold phantom had laid on me, breathing lead fumes through my nostrils. I woke with my head still thudding away and the evil sense that I was still a long, long way from coming out of these ill woods.

A strange day, too, for NASCAR, as Saturday was the final race of the regular season and the Eve of the Chase. A border-time, like the eve of the New Year, time settling in its hinges, creating an in-between-ness when the order of things is neither here nor there, is turned upside down.

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Take Hallowe’en, the eve of the Celtic New Year. On that night it is said that the veil between our world and the otherworld is thinnest; graves open and the dead walk alongshide the living on the dark lanes of night, or worse, just behind, whispering sweet eternal nothings in one’s ear.

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Or Saturnalia, Roman festival dedicated to Saturnus, god of seed and growing. Saturnalia was celebrated over the six last days of the year leading up to the New Year (December 25 in the Julian calendar). It was a time of feasting and merry disorder. Restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Slaves were allowed to wear their masters’ clothing and were waited on at mealtime by their owners. So declares the god in Lucian’s Saturnalia:

During my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.

Saturnalia is similar to the pagan festival of Yuletide which was transformed, in the Christian era, into Twelfth Night or the Twelve Days of Christmastide, running from Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 5.  During the Middle Ages it was a time of continuous feasting and drinking and carousing, with the Fool taking the place of the King, wearing clothes upside down (or cross-gender) and the staging of elaborate masques and plays. (The ultimate Yuletide party is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.)

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The Yultide King of Fools, where servant becomes master and everything else goes merrily topsy-turvy, zany in the name of a brief respite from reality. These festivals of inversion are like ripping a ripe one in mixed company — the animal body getting comeuppance against an over-civilized brain.

In all of these celebrations there duplicity is celebrated: farewell to the old god with his scythe and grey cloak, welcome to the new year babe mewling at his feet: chaos given a chance to return to a too-ordered society, bleeding off the gamy humors of repression with an indecent corker; remembrance, perhaps, of more pristine animal times when the god of the body was more in charge.

And always a shuffling out the door of one tattered Twelve – last year’s elders, Olympians, Arthurian Court – while bursting through another door the next exuberant young-buck Twelve bounces in – months, Playmates, Chase class. Always the two, old and young, facing off against each other, the one snarling at whippersnappers and the other sniffing and old farts, eternally dissing each other as one generation replaces the last only to find that it is standing on the shoulders of an immensity it can never equal.

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The Chase itself is a new invention, its Twelve not so long ago Ten, and before that more reliant on points mastery over an entire season, none of this green-white-checker restart with ten races to go, making moot the first 26 races.

Next year there will be a new next Chase, I’ve heard, something the stony Elders of NASCAR try to whip up to generate more noise, more flesh, more excitement for it’s ever-distracted younger fan base. One rumor has the Chase newly constructed thus: The top 16 in points after 26 regular-season races qualify for the Chase. After the fifth race, points will reset and the top eight will stay in the Chase. After the seventh Chase race, only the top four stay alive and the points reset again. After race No. 9, only the top two will remain in the Chase, with points reset again. All drivers will continue to run every race as they do now, but only two will be Cup-eligible going into the season finale.

Apparently NASCAR chairman Brian France wants to create a more enhanced “winner-take-all” atmosphere, so that that as the final races approach there is a true feeling of a battle of the champions, two drivers duking it out for rights to Wynona’s black velvet bed in her Airstream at the bottom of the wave.

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So the Dirty Dozen may have a short tenure in NASCAR’s history books, replace next year by more of a March Madness Chase format, with a Sweet Sixteen at the outset halving into The Eight and then the Final Four, whittled yet again into The Final Final Two.

Could be exciting. But more dicking around with what used to be a simple formula -– haul ass and turn left -– could just be more wrong-headedness, more larding of bells and whistles over what is simply and only racin’. NASCAR’s golden years were commercially unviable, unsafe and wide-open; today, there is so much glitz, rules and authority that the beast wears Armani and votes Republican, desiring that tax cut on their stratospheric wealth more than winning races.

As William Blake once said: “Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of Genius.” Give me ovals, round boobulous bibulous periolous ovals, and I will scream my profane joy as the reaper’s scythe kisses my obsolete neck bye-bye.

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An Arabic prayer to Saturn (Saturnus) comes from the Picatrix of the tenth century, which was widely circulated through Western Europe of the Late Middle Ages and found its way down into the cooking-pots of the alchemists as they moonshined for gold:

O Master of sublime name and great power, supreme Master: O Master Saturn: Thou, the Cold, the Sterile, the Mournful, the Pernicious; Thou, whose life is sincere and whose word sure: Thou, the Sage and Solitary, the Impenetrable; Thou, whose promises are kept; Thou who art weak and weary; Thou who hast cares greater than any other, who knowest neither pleasure nor joy; Thou, the old and the cunning, master of all artifice, deceitful, wise and judicious; Thou who bringest prosperity or ruin and makest men to be happy or unhappy! I conjure Thee, O Supreme Father, by Thy great benevolence and Thy generous bounty, to do for me what I ask …

This is the guy – or god, I should say – who was King in the old day, lord of Chaos before the coming of Light, a powerful, vain, greedy Dad who downed “the fiery drink of the black mother” (that’s what the ancient Greeks called booze) and chased every nymph-skirt around his sportive wilderness. Afraid the prophecy that he would one day be replaced by a son (remembering, perhaps, how he took power over things, lopping off the balls of his father Uranos with a sickle and tossing his marbles to the foam of the wave, which gave birth – ta daa – to Venus, or watery Venusian fantasy at least), Saturn ate every child to emerge from his wife Rhea until she connived to delve up a stone which was a decoy for her last son Zeus, who got away while Saturn gobbled rock tenderloin.

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Zeus led the prophecy-fulfilling revolt of the Olympians against the primordial Titans of Saturn and won, exiling old King Saturn from this life and sending down to rule the lower regions of the body–not Hell necessarily, for that belongs to Hades’ realm of souls– but rather to the realm of the past, of past glories, of old age.

He’s the old part of me, reveling in old glories, rememberer of Glorias in back seats, his lust goaty and old-mannish, a wearer of dirty trenchcoats in the fabled x-rated theaters of old, drooling at offended nubile Kardashians who know nothing – for now – of age, sitting here at the ramparts of night defending this post, this Rome whose walls constitute my skull, vigilant against the incursions of youth, spiteful and lustful and fearful of the next generation and keeper of a bursting silo of gold, vendor of it too, doling out treasure and  pleasure and leisure to this one, lack of lustre and slackened libido to the next.

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What Saturn hates most is the seemingly infinite reservoir of testosterone the young bucks have; hates their youth, their bulletproof attitudes, their high-flyin’ ways and daredevil moves. And he has the ability to trip ‘em up with a seemingly casual sweep of his fateful scythe, mowing down the young on highways and on the battlefield and in needles, giving the too-foolish babyfaces a nudge on the precipitous Edge the young are addicted to. The Sons are in charge now – they always take over – but the Father has his clout, rising up from nether regions to bless and curse our days.

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He’s Wynona’s silent partner, you know. There’s always an old man behind the jaw-dropping babe, her charms inked in the sexuality of the father, passed on in that weird way where the shadow of history runs way back and darkens the  present, making it so  damn sexy. Remember Venus was born from her granddady’s floating testicles. Wynona inherited her Airstream when the old man, a no-good drunken fiddler and auctioneer who fucked everything in sight (including a few failed attempts to climb into her prepubescent twin bed) was packed off to jail for trafficking in moonshine.

So when a driver kisses Wynona’s totem gold horseshoe for luck (representing the golden arch over her cleft portal to infinity), he’s also bussing Saturn’s warty wrinkled ass, devotion to the one implicitly arousing the presence of the other. Wynona’s curves were honed by Saturn’s sickle, that rounding blade which harvests and maims, proferring the bounty of booty as well as the chagrin of the deballed.

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A dangerous duplicity, wouldn’t you say? But that’s what racin’ dreams are made of: crooked roads and siloes of luck for better or ill.

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Since the weekend, time has remained in an odd, inbetween, waters-becalmed mode.

The final round of primaries in the mid-term election season were held on Tuesday, setting into the place the final contenders vying for rule in Congress. End the internecine, intra-party slaughtering and get ready for the real hardball policticking.  This week is the last pause before that season begins in earnest.

(Here in Florida, Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott appears eerily, creepily calm in his early ads, saving his vicious attack juice against Democrat Alex Sink for the closing weeks. Something about that calm is redolent of Lurch and the serial killer in “Manhunter” — big bad fish swimming beneath the surface.

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The news from Atlantic storm season is many storms, zero threat. Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Igor and now Julia, all with grand potential (Igor is at Category 4 now, a perfect monster spiral), none of ‘em a threat.

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Wynon’s elder sister is seducing all of this season’s hurricanes her way.

The loacal weatherforcasters are starting to sweat on camera, they have little news to tell us in what is this Christmas season of big storms. The oceans are preternaturally stilled, the storms drawn up and away to the north by two high pressure rounds I swear belong to Wynona – upon Saturn’s direction.

Maybe their sweating because without real rock ‘n’ roll storm s news, their jobs may become obsolete, replaced by weather bots. The tracking software online is all most of us need. Weathercasters may become obsolete, the way armies and spacemen and newspapermen like myself are losing any sense of belonging to the present.

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Hell, races could easily become obsolete with robot cars – the ultimate safe vehicle – operated by fans – the ultimate indulgence.

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Stanley, a Volkswagen Touareg robot car, won the 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge, a 131-mile robot car race across the desert near Las Vegas.

Pleasured by virtual Wynonas who will perform any act housed in your goaty silo of Penthouse fantasies.

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Not much else is news. Flooding continues in Pakistan. Iran released an American hiker after being held for more than a year on espionage charges. The explosion of a gas pipeline in San Francisco last week has raised concerns about the similar explosions happening in an aging gas pipe system which spiders under the entire country. Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in four sets to win the U.S. Open in Monday night, making him only the seventh man to win all four Grand Slam events. A 3-year-old girl died after being left in a car for 90 minutes outside a Tampa church, Florida Gators wide receiver Chris Rainey was arrested on felony stalking charges. A bacteria has emerged which has been made resistant to nearly all antibiotics by an alarming new gene and is popping up all over the world. Outside it’s hot and still shadowy clouds forming overhead, though there is supposedly no chance for rain.

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Pakistan flood victims scrambled for food on Monday.

With such sophisticated equipage in place for 24-hour news, a quiet news week is almost an impossibility.  I mean, something is happening somewhere, right? Yet the stillness is palpable, a dark body pressed over us in sleep, the silence on the wires, traffic sparse outside, phones not ringing. The mood, the aura, the vibe is Time Out: A pause between seasons of something, a gathered breath which signifies that the readiness is all …

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The Greeks had a different name for Saturn – Cronos, meaning “time.” The rule of time was established when Cronos defeated his prehistorical, primordial father Uranos.  During the rule of Cronos, time proceeded slowly – three million years or so since the human species began to develop consciousness, with innovations coming very, very slowly. It wasn’t until 10,000 BC that agricultural societies formed around the tilling of the soil and civilized time began in earnest.

Fatefully, the sickle of Cronos, used to harvest grain, proved his downfall. Cronos couldn’t keep up with the new time of civilization, so urgent in its productions. Zeus was of a different order, ruling the Twelve Olympians with a powerful ego and a brilliant noodle. Instead of the slow sweeping arc of old time’s scythe, now the flash and thunderclap of inspiration.

The 2,500 years in which Zeus has reigned over Time, things have proceeded pretty damn fast—especially in the whirl of the past 50 years, when human knowledge began doubling every two years. Ditto for computing power; Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every two years—in 1971, about 2,300 transistors; in 2008, about two billion. Such rapid empowerment of raw crunching power has shifted the acceleration and accumulation of a certain sort of knowledge into warp drive. Think thunderbolt to the twelfth power.

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Map of cyberspace.

‘Nuff said. The speed at which things are changing technologically is gathering up other things as well, taking out industries and workforces which will never return. Obsolescence occurs earlier now, even as maturity gets later. Whatever zone of success exists for a career has become indeterminate and fleeting, a quicksilver which fewer are able to nail down.

Certainly, the hyperfast, ultrared aura of Star Trek almost overpowers that of silver-blue moonlight pouring over this same old ancient night. Almost. But somehow the faster things get going, the greater the sense of things past firewalls any true leap into future.

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It seems that Saturn, the old brooding one, is present exactly here, warding off the Gauls with their Blackberries and iPads with his stony Otherworld grimace, a look which gives even the most fevered early adopter a frightening fit of ennui. Saturn is in our gut, coagulating the torrent of events into scars of experience. He’s brooding while I sleep, digesting my day in the augment of dream. Saturn rules the process of these posts, peeking into the locker room where the gals are changing and putting up a defense against getting anywhere too fast. Saturn sieves history to fathom its mystery, storing the bounty of knowledge in silos which hold up against the rising tide of white noise, that shriek of the present so stoned on futurity. He brings the flying boys back down from their precipitous aeries of ambition and pride, knowing that two feet stuck in heaven are no damn good. He puts the hurt in the moment – the leaden torpor of grief – so we can feel solid and grounded and real for this life.

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Saturn, I suspect, is walking the ramparts of our old-schoolish hearts, rejecting modernity for the fundamentalist version of the past, resisting change with his unchanging Holy Book, refuting new truths with beliefs as old as moon-magic. He keeps this country from evolving its practices about life and death, convincing the congregation that abortion docs should be murdered and that Obama leads a secret cabal of death-panels deciding to pull the plug on Grandma when her catastrophic care exceeds all hope of recovery.

Though he’s been exiled since we became dazzles with the next great thing, Saturn still rules from million-year dreamtime, slow, cold, father of gods and men, devourer of young whippersnappers, the only brakes left as civilization tries to leap into the next next generation of acceleration, into as many dimensions as possible at the same time. He’s the one holding on to our feet as we’re leaping in a plutonium well.

He’s the Counterforce which all drivers curse, keeping their cars from flying off the track to become angels.

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Woke up this morning (Wednesday) troubled by a heavy shade of a dream which in waking had receded so far into my pillow I couldn’t make any of its features out: That oppression I’ve dreamt several times before.

If I try to read the dream literally, it’s Headache and Toothache swelling my sinuses and making my ears ring, informing me that I will have to drag this season’s malaise with me like the man who was forced to walk all Hallowe’en night with a dead man clinging to his back. (Yesterday I spent an hour in the chair while my dentist drilled “almost to China” on a badly-decayed bicuspid, barely saving me – he hopes – from a root canal.)

Or I can read the dream as literature and read Saturn’s presence between my life’s worry-lines, done up in the gear of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, decked in old medieval military gear, rousing me to swear revenge for the crimes committed against him while at the same time bidding me adieu.

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He is me, I know; age has been laying heavy on me this season as I sense the hyper-fast onset of my obsolescence, which may only be a flag for a generation’s obsolescence. Or a species, the last sands of Humankind draining fast through the upper globe of the hourglass, draining away almost as fast as the world is heating up into an unbearable, unsustainable Future ….

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What a relief to feel a cool note in the air when I opened the windows after coming down to start my day at 2:45 a.m. Sixty-nine degrees: the first moment this neck of Florida has slipped below 70 since last May. The time is changing. The summer is slowing with such infinitesimals. The season of transformation approaches.

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Saturn – Old Man Time, if you will – owns this week. He is father to The Twelve of the Chase. It is he who directs Wynona to offer her favors this way then that as the Loudon race takes shape. Her charms, his favor, their moment, this witchy still hiatus in which I ring this lonely bell, far out on the blasted heath of a day, an age, become more fair and foul than any before.

The Twelve pay little heed to any of this. Their eyes are on Loudon, and Dover, and Kansas, and Fonatana, and Charlotte, and Martinsville, and Talladega (on Hallowe’en, no less), and Texas, and Phoenix, and finally Homestead.

The Twelve are elect; the racin’, now, is all.

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spaxed

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Note: The definitive work on the senex or Saturnu can be found in James Hillman’s essay “Senex and Puer,” anthologized in his book Puer Papers.

Reversal of Fortune


Wrong way to the Cup, JJ: Jimmie spins out at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21 after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya. The No. 48 Chevrolet limped into the garage and got back out on the track 75 laps down, resulting in a 35th-place finish.

This weekend is the last one without a Sprint Cup race until the end of the season. The drivers who also participate in Nationwide Series races are headed for this weekend’s race in Montreal.

For many of these drivers, it may be the last season they attempt to race in both series, given that Nationwide purses are being cut 20 percent next year and Sprint Cup drivers may be barred from championship eligibility. But then, if you’re Kyle Busch, wins count more than any series, since he’s trying to rack up 200 wins in combined Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races.

No break this year for those guys, but next year, Sprint Cup drivers may become more Jimmie Johnsonian in their leisure hours. It’s probably just coincidence, but it is unusual that the guy who doesn’t try to race in both (or all) series is the consecutive four-time champ.

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Still, I hope that Jimmie Johnson will use the time off to address the meltdown in this season. Since his last win at Loudon on June 27, he’s finished 31st, 25th, 22d, 10th, 28th, 12th and 35th – craparoo for any driver, a shit blizzard for a 4-peat champ. It’s not that Johnson hasn’t been racing well – he has led 90 or more laps three times in past seven races – but the stuff of bad luck — pit miscues, part failures, wrecks — are becoming alarmingly more the norm.

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So alarming, you can’t help feel the whoosh of a downward spiral. It’s a bit reminiscent, albeit pre-Chase, of Kyle Busch in 2008, who won eight races (only Carl Edwards had more races with 9) but bonked right at the outset of the Chase and ended up 12th in points.

A similar sort of meltdown occurred during the Miss Universe pageant last night. Two contestants, Miss Philippines and Miss Mexico were neck and neck (or bustline and bustline?) in scoring going into the final round.

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William Baldwin asked Venus Raj, Miss Philippines, the final round question: “What is one big mistake you made in your life, and what did you do to correct it?”

Raj ahemmed for a moment and then, stroking her hair, replied, “You know sir, in my 22 years of existence, there is nothing major, major, major, I mean, problem, that I have done in my life.”

Rigggggggggggt. That wrong-headed response is what prompted the judges to give the final nod and crown of Miss Universe to Jimena Navarette of Mexico.

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Miss Phillipines was a knockout, but she didn’t have the brains to conquer the Universe.

In that arena of competition, beauty and brains disconnect at great peril. Let’s recall the remarks by Miss South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton in the Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant. She was asked, “Why can’t one fifth of Americans locate America on the map?” The halcyon ur-blonde replied,

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our children.

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Thank you, Miss South Carolina, and here’s to Miss Teen America 2007 Hilary Cruz of Colorodo.

Some other notable meltdowns on the home stretch:

– In 1992, the Houston Oilers were carrying a 33-point lead into the fourth quarter of their AFC wild card game and ended up losing to 38-35 to the Buffalo Bills.

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– In 2007, New York Mets pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine pitched a nightmarish first inning against the Florida Marlins, giving up seven runs and knocking the Mets out of playoff contention.

– Zinedine Zidane headbutted a competitor during the 2006 World Cup final which sidelined France’s best scorer and led to Italy’s 5-3 shootout win. (The Italian was rumored to have said something about Zidane’s mother.)

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– Earlier this month, Tiger Woods blew it bigtime at the $8.5 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, ending up with a 7-over-77, the highest four-round score of his pro career. I guess thinking about all that wide-open strange he’ll be getting without worrying about what his wife knows made his putter go wild.

Big league flubbing rouses shameful memories in me of watching my own heroes bite it bigtime. The year was 1969 and my Chicago Cubs were enjoying on Sept. 2 a 84-52 record with a solid, 5-game lead over the second-place New York Mets. The Cubs hadn’t made the playoffs since 1945 and won their last World Series in 1908; the whole city (well, north of Cominsky Park and the White Sox) was a-twirl with visions of glory.

And then my Cubbies went into a September tailspin, losing 17 of their last 25 games and the league title going to the Mets, who went on to win the World Series. I was 12 at the time at the die-hardest Cubs fan, watching games from our house in the northern suburb of Evanston, eyes glued the set, fingers, toes, heart crossed as I watched my boys who seemed so certain to win the division title choke and choke big, day after day, week after week, spiraling down the gutter of my dream.

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My heart was broken forever in 1969; never again have I been able to muster much faith in my home team. I’m always surprised when my favorite team is able to do much of anything, like when the Bears won the Super Bowl in ’85 or the Florida State Seminoles won the national title in ’91.

I didn’t have any faith that Jimmie Johnson could win a third consecutive championship, much less a fourth; and now my faith is at an all time low in JJ, confirmed with events of the past eight race. It may be still August, but it feels like the Fall, or that falling season in which grand aspirations overwhelm the brain and start shorting out natural abilities. Is that it? Is Jimmie thinking too hard? Is Chad Knaus getting out-pitted by his own furious calculations?

Johnson seems sure to make the Chase – even in 9th place now he can’t fall out of the points before the start of the Chase — but it looks like he’ll finish the Race to the Chase at about the bottom of the twelve. No matter, you’d say: his five wins gives him bonus points position which will re-set him toward the front of the pack. But right now all he has is reverse momentum, hitting a backward stride which seems to be headed Kyle Busch’s 2008 way.

Midway through the season I posted a fantasia of how Jimmie got his groove back, but fantasy ain’t reality, and what counts on the track is what really happens—a fickle, fateful thing. Early in the season Kevin Harvick said that JJ had the golden horsehoe up his ass; now it seems that Harvick has wrested that happy half-oval free (no comments here on how he achieved that) and has affixed it to his rear bumper of his #29 Pennzoil RCR Chevrolet, where all the also rans can watch it and weep.

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Well—Atlanta and then Richmond and the Chase will be on. Many seasoned motorsports writers who have been around for a while point out that Johnson was never leading in the points when the Chase started, that his racing always became stellar when it counted most.

Johnson has been quoted: “What I keep telling myself is that those 10 races in the Chase, it is its own world.” And that’s true. No matter how badly things go for the next two races, he will start the Chase no worse than 20 points back.  “The people act and react differently under pressure,” he said, “including us, and for the last four years we have done a great job in that environment.”

As a JJ fan, I’m sure hoping for that. But it’s a little like watching a hurricane float toward Florida with the forecasters calmly assuring us that it will turn at the last moment. Skies are getting awfully cloudy and the wind’s picking up. Do I keep faith in Jimmie’s talent and once-golden good luck, or should I start boarding up the house?

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