It’s Spring

The golden strand
Of the ceremonial string
Calls out beyond intelligence:
  it’s spring.

Spring is never happy,
Spring is always dull.
It’s a lie that
  flowers bloom
  and the yellow moon
  shines bright upon the earth.
  It’s a lie.

Fools play in the fields.
They forget about the mines
Planted in the undergrowth:
  it’s spring.

Spring comes once a year
But never really goes.
It only pretends to snow.
If you can never feel the
  warm mud ooze between your
  toes,
  you’re a lie, too.

Winter is an illusion
To make us feel cold;
So that we are happy
When the President addresses
The country and makes
His formal announcement:
  It’s spring.

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High School Biometrics

A long time ago, I graduated from Appomattox County High School. Things were simpler then. Not better, but simpler. Maybe different is the right word. This was before the horrors of Columbine, before the War on Terror, before internet bullying, and before students had to check in and out by swiping cards. The thought of asking public school students to use their fingerprints to check in and out of school was unconscionable—even in cheap science fiction.

Nowadays, people seem to accept happily that when they carry their smartphones, they can be found by anybody who really wants to know where they are. Twenty years ago, people were horrified at the idea that someone could implant a microchip into a pet. Consider the information we give away just to use our smartphones…forget about it. I keep a piece of electrical tape over my webcam. I assume that every keystroke I make can be monitored. (Hi there.)

Pardon me for being dismayed that the local newspaper, The Times-Virginian, had a front-page article called “Fingerprint Scanner Helps Document Students’ Attendance.” The article, by Stephanie James, said that the fingerprint scan is currently optional, but the mandatory cards have been in use for the past two years. When students scan a fingerprint or swipe a card, their picture and name shows up on a laptop screen. The article states that the program “is used to record a student’s attendance, and can be used to reveal if a student is cutting class.” Parents can sign up to receive e-mail or text alerts if their child is truant.

Hell, some of my best memories of high school are from days I played hooky. One time, my friend Graham and I ditched school and spent the day at his house. We played guitar, smoked cigarettes, and ran around on his roof. Those were the days before the public could wrap their minds around the very concept of caller ID—we were free to make any prank calls we wanted. One time, my friend Tony and I skipped school, and I drove my big red pickup to the high school one county over. There were some girls there that we liked. During that day, we were parked in a wooded area for some reason, and my nose started to bleed something terrible. On the senior class’s skip day, a cool guy had a lot of land and a small lake on his property. I had a few beers, wrote some embarrassing things in people’s yearbooks (forgive me!), and swam a lot. That day when I got home, the folks had decided it would be fun to go swimming at the big state park. I was miserable.

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The Horror

Spooky Scenery - PamplinAs dictated by the letter X, I liked Stephen King as a teenager. I read Firestarter, Pet Sematary, Thinner, and two short story collections. Pet Sematary was first-rate horror. It contained one of the most terrifying sentences in modern literature: “Zelda stood there.” Okay, I’m going to admit it: When I read fiction, I usually visualize it as a movie. None of the real Stephen King movies were nearly as good as what I had imagined.

The movie that scared me the most is The Exorcist. I was thirteen and believed that sort of thing actually could happen. The Conjuring seemed like a genuinely frightening tale, but the people behind me in the theater would not shut up. I couldn’t fall into the trance. (Episode IX will likely be the last movie I see in a theater.)

When I was in college, there were fliers around campus for a lecture on Satanism. Some friends and I went. I don’t remember much except he kept saying that Rosemary’s Baby was the greatest advertisement for Satanism. In the second part of the lecture, he started to proselytize, so we left. The next day, we heard that the guy had a heart attack and died right there on the stage.

Years later, I worked at a video store. One evening, two girls were meandering around the horror section. I asked if there was anything I could help them with, and they asked for a recommendation. We didn’t stock The Exorcist, and the only other horror movie I found memorable was Rosemary’s Baby. I told them that it was about a woman who was pregnant with the devil’s child—it was more creepy than it was scary. Their restrained laughter indicated that they weren’t interested. (I would have been more knowledgeable if I owned a television.)

I’m working on three long form projects: a novel, a novella, and a memoir. The novella is a horror story. Sylvia Browne, the phony clairvoyant on The Montel Williams Show, told a man that his house was haunted because it was built on the site of a pest house. Pest houses were in vogue in the mid-19th Century. It’s where people with communicable diseases were quarantined—where they went to die. I had originally thought about adding a Satanic element, but it turns out that Satanism didn’t have much of a foothold in America at that time. So…I bought The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook off the internet. (I ordered a book from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, but they never sent it. The eternal spirit of Ms. Laveau owes me $24.)

Since The Aberration is a haunted house story, I wanted to check out works of the sub-genre, just to look for clichés to avoid. I bought The Amityville Horror. I even watched alone, in a darkened room, late in the night…nothing. My Dad was upset that I paid $16 for such a terrible movie.

There seem to be less R-Rated horror movies these days. Many are PG-13, which, by definition, can’t be too intense. I dragged the folks to The Ring—mainly because I wanted to look at Naomi Watts on the big screen. It wasn’t even the least bit frightening. A friend and I saw Dark Water. The advertisements made it look bloodcurdling, but it was pretty tame.

When whichever movie I just watched is over, I want to have “that feeling.” The feeling that there is a dark energy around everything in the house. I don’t want to leave the couch for fear that something evil will overcome me. I can get “that feeling” from reading a good horror story. Somehow, Ouija 2 on basic cable almost did that.

I’m also in the middle of writing a torture story. I watched Hostel—one of the best movies I’ve seen, regardless of genre. It was the product of a sinister, dark, and twisted imagination. I have one of those, too.

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My Tandy

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To quote Milhouse, “I’m not a nerd…nerds are smart.” I don’t even know the difference between nerds and geeks. Yet, I have no problem calling myself a vintage computer geek.

In its day, the Tandy 1000SX was one of the best personal computers available. The graphics were unique–better than CGA.  My Dad bought one for the family office supply business in 1986.  It must have had a previous owner since that model was  manufactured in 1984.

The hard drive is kaput—at least for now. I’ve had to reformat it several times, it is a pain. It’s a thought intensive process. It’s been so long that I would need to do a lot of reading and such. I would guess it would be about four hours of work.

I’ve circumvented the hard drive and have set up an organization system with the old 5¼ inch floppy disks. It’s amazing how much DOS I remembered. I had to use DeskMate to write batch files, though. Without a hard drive, it took forever…a lot of swapping disks and changing file extensions from .doc to .bat, and so forth.

I have some rare, professionally published software. I don’t know where we got the first few disks of random software. There was some pretty neat stuff—ancient IBM programs. Some of them dated back to 1981. My uncle Ray gave me a ton of software. I wouldn’t have been able to make use of the computer without WordPerfect. He didn’t know how much I appreciated it.

Does anyone remember the days of 2400 Baud modems? When I started getting into CompuServe, that was the standard. 9600 Baud was a dream. I would go onto bulletin board systems and eventually hooked up with The Nashville Exchange. My first e-mail address was goofball@nashville.net. The first person I sent an e-mail to was Ann Koi. It was cool to correspond with her and other participants of zine culture.

The Tandy was the only computer I owned until 2001. My pal Clay gave me a 400MHz Pentium II just before he went into the Army. My first retail excursion after September 11th was to get a monitor. I ended up putting the Tandy in my tiny utility closet.

Tandy Disk Holder.JPGIn my current dwelling, I have the Tandy set up in the guest room. It only works from the A: drive, but getting it set up so it’s functional has been a lot of fun. In the big box of ancient things, there were lots of floppies—many of them unlabelled. The only solution was to buy a floppy disk holder/organizer. I looked at Amazon, and they had a new one, but there was only one left. They sent me the wrong item and, by that time, the original one was gone. Frustrated, I went to eBay. The second listing I found was an actual vintage Tandy disk holder!

And, yes, I drive a Saturn.

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A Calm Place

My Dad liked to travel. He and I took two vacations down the East Coast several years ago. I was sleep deprived, so I didn’t drive much. I wish I had done more driving with all the trouble we had finding the hotel in Atlanta (after Dad had been on the road for seven hours already).

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My friend Clay was living just outside of Atlanta at the time. We had known each other from Nashville. Sometimes in conversation, I would bring up things my Dad said. Clay respected my Dad’s ability to say things concisely and profoundly. When Clay came to the hotel, it meant a lot for him to meet my Dad. I think it meant a lot to Dad, too.

On both trips, Dad St Augustine Ligh5thousewas very accommodating. I wanted to go to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, but there was no way Dad could climb the stairs. He paid, but about three-quarters of the way up, I got such dizziness that I went down. The whole time, I was thinking that they should have a room on the ground floor for people to stretch their legs. I wanted to give Dad his money back since I didn’t make it to the top. Of course, he wouldn’t have of it. (I just saw on television this week that the St. Augustine Lighthouse is supposed to be super haunted.)

My favorite city was Charleston. The place had a peaceful vibe. We walked around the riverfront park on a foggy night. We didn’t make it to Fort Sumter on the first trip, but we did the second time. It’s where the Civil War began. For some reason, I just had to tell the tour guide that I lived in Appomattox.

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Mom & Dad took a lot of weekend vacations and day trips. I tagged along to visit the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. It was the neatest excursion. You could scan the radio dial and get nothing but hiss. There was an old dish telescope, a museum piece, next to the Visitor Center. There was a film and a short presentation before the tour. SETI was only mentioned briefly.

There were seven telescopes on the site. They were the proudest of the big one, the one called GBT. The surface of the dish was over two acres. It was the largest moveable object on land in the world. It was an awesome sight.

In order for the telescopes to do their job, there had to be no frequency interference of any kind. No radio signals, no television signals, no cellular signals…  There was a profound tranquility about the observatory grounds. It was a sense of calm unlike anything I’ve felt since the trip to St. John’s that we took when I was twelve.

Charlestion Fountai8n

John Brandt • 1938-2014

Green Bank Observatory  •  Georgia Aquarium •  Charleston

Fort Sumter  •  St. Augustine

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The James River Greens

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At one time, I fancied myself an expert on politics. I was an infomaniac, a news junkie. Every weekday, I would watch two local newscasts, Tom Brokaw, and the MacNeil / Lehrer News Hour. My favorite show was Washington Week in Review. I would watch 60 Minutes religiously. This was before the internet could explain everything.

Plan 9, the local independent record store, had a bulletin board. I put up a flier that said, “Hey Punkers, isn’t about time Richmond had a scene report in Maximumrocknroll?” with my mailing address. Two people responded. One guy sent advertisements for punk shows in the South Side. I could have followed up on that. The other letter was from Troy Eeyore. He ran a record label, Eerie Materials. I got a compilation cassette, it was pretty strange. I liked it, though, it was put together well. Troy was holding CHAOS meetings in a classroom at VCU. Basically, anyone could show up for discussions about anarchy, politics, protest, and such. I went to three or four meetings. Some people showed up once, while others were there every time.

There was a slightly odd, but pretty cool guy named Abram. He had a Public Access discussion show. In the first CHAOS meeting I attended, he said that he had become involved with the Green Party—mostly because he thought that there might be women to meet. I thought I’d give it a try, for the same reason. No, I wanted to check out the local activist scene. I thought of myself a man who stood up for the environment and such.

The Green Party was comprised of left-wing idealists. That’s who I was, unashamed. Their primary focus was, as the name suggests, preserving nature and sustaining the environment. Is that really so bad? They were active regarding many vital stances, including political reform, social and economic justice, civil rights, and helping the poor. Nowadays, I’m politically independent. Jill Stein, the 2016 Presidential Nominee, made a lot of sense, but she also said some things I thought were silly.

My first meeting was for all the state groups, it was the Winter of 1992. The meeting was held in a big room at VCU. There were about thirty people. The group that represented Northern Virginia had done some big and difficult proposal to do something or another for the Northern Virginia area. One girl from the James River Greens said that at the last meeting they were talking about bioregions. She said that the guy should expand the project to the entire Chesapeake Bay region. That was a huge amount of extra work, but the guy said, “Okay.”

Most of the meetings took place in people’s homes. One couple’s apartment had big photo on the wall that was a profile of a nude woman—it looked like the lady who lived there. That is pretty weird. The meetings were always potluck. I had a limited idea of what vegan was, but I usually brought rice and beans—with small hunks of cheddar stirred in.

At one meeting, I brought a petition to free Leonard Peltier, everyone signed it. I mailed it to President Clinton and got a return letter saying that it was a matter for the Justice Department.

There was this one girl, Megan. We went to a couple of City Council meetings—I don’t think that those qualify as dates. Abram had scheduled a show with Megan and me, to talk about the Green Party…but we bailed. He was a calm and intelligent man, and he deserved better.

I don’t know what the hell it is with me and Valentine’s Day, but there was some Richmond Symphony Orchestra thing downtown. I dressed up a bit, but Megan wore a purple sweat suit. I found out that she was twenty-six. I was twenty-two, and it seemed an impassable divide.

You know? I don’t remember any of the political stuff. It was more of a social club. You say one thing wrong, and they make you feel so inferior that you announce, “I guess there’s no need for me to stick around,” and go home without looking back.

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Green Party of America

Democracy Now!

For What it’s Worth

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Strange Energy

lotus #2Through high school and the college days, I heard whisperings of a New Age complex in the next county over, Buckingham. I would make deliveries to Buckingham for the family office supply business. There was one small sign on the roadway that said “Yogaville.” I didn’t know anything about it.

Some years ago, I volunteered at the Appomattox County Visitor Center. They had lots and lots of brochures from all over. If I were keeping a clip art file, it would have been Heaven. There was a brochure for something called LOTUS that caught my eye.

I took the brochure home and had a look. It was the New Age complex in Buckingham. They had directions and information about the place. Their founder, Sri Swami Satchidananda, had apparently invented Integral Yoga—hence the name of the area. Inside the Yogaville area is the LOTUS, a building that looks like a lotus flower. It appeared to be a religious center that leaned toward Eastern religions. But, the pamphlet said that they represent all faiths. The brochure asked visitors to wear “attire appropriate for a place of worship.” LOTUS stands for Light of Truth Universal Shrine.

In the summer of 2012, a friend from high school, Robby, was in town. He mentioned that he had been to Yogaville, and that we could go. Robby was a cool guy. He was a world traveler, street performer, and part-time philosopher. During the drive, Robby said that he had quit drinking and started going to meetings.

At the entrance to the compound, there was an oddly designed archway. After that was some driving through the woods on a single lane road. We were on the way up a hill when Robby said, “There’s your first look at it.” It was a big pink building on the right. The thing was so completely out of character with the surrounding energy that it seemed a mirage.

There weren’t many cars in the parking area. We went into the welcome center/gift shop, and the fellow who was nice enough asked if we had been there before. Robby said that he had, but the guy gave the spiel anyway.

We went to the museum below the shrine. They had a bench outside and a sign that asked visitors to remove their shoes before entering.  There was a glowing globe in the middle. To get to the shrine, we had to go up a thin spir100_0673 - croppedal staircase.

As we entered the room, I felt a strange energy, a sense of calm. It wasn’t unlike the feeling that I would get walking into a church, a Catholic church. There were twelve faiths represented in the LOTUS. Their claim is that all religions are equal since they come from the same source. There are many religious people of many faiths who surely would find that highly offensive, even blasphemous—many people like that live around here.

There were twelve altars, each representing a different faith.  In the center was a glass tube coming from the ceiling, filled with sunlight. Each of the altars had a neon light stretching across the ceiling to it. It was pretty cheesy.

Robby and I ended the trip at a lookout on top of a high hill, with a grand view over the scenic landscape. It was truly beautiful. I couldn’t imagine how much just the land for Yogaville cost (700 acres).

There is a lot of talk calling the Integral Yoga practitioners a cult. Swami Satchidananda certainly classifies as a charismatic leader. He had multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. From what I’ve seen, it looks like he did coerce followers into doing sex things to him. He died in 2002. Some say that when the leader of a cult dies, the cult disbands; but with the high-dollar infrastructure, the cult of Yogaville couldn’t just fade away. I can’t say that I have the answer as to whether or not they are a cult; they just seem like nice people who believe a certain way.

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I returned to the LOTUS the following year, with my parents. While I found the strange energy interesting on the first visit, I was creeped the hell out the second time. I won’t go back.

LOTUS

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In the Shenandoah Valley

Sh Valley

I went to visit friends in Williamsburg, Virginia.  There was a lot of American Revolution history there.  They had the neatest visitor center—they even had a movie in a theater.  The woman at the help desk was perfect—she gave me good directions to my friend’s house.  I showed her the directions I got off of the internet.  It turned out that the Colonial National Historical Parkway was closed because of the government shutdown.  If she hadn’t told me, I would have been in a whole world of lost.  I have volunteered at the Appomattox Visitor Center, and one time a woman came in asking where the town office was.  I didn’t know.

On this vacation, much of my time was spent with my friend Brad; I saw his wife, Allison, and their daughter, Tabitha, for a little while.  They are some of the nicest people I know.

Brad and I met in Harrisonburg, Virginia, 18 years ago.  It was a mid-sized city with a small town feel.  James Madison University was the primary people magnet.  While we were hanging out during my recent visit, Brad mentioned how much he had enjoyed living in Harrisonburg.  I did too, very much.

In 1988, I moved into the dormitory at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. There I met Brian Temples. We both played bass and liked Pink Floyd. Some years later, he became my last roommate. The apartment was on Marshall Street—literally on the other side of the tracks. Brian was originally from Harrisonburg, and his friends would visit. Tom, Clay, and Dave came to attend a G.W.A.R. show. I met Dustin when I was unemployed and trying to start a house painting business. He helped put fliers on everyone’s doors. (Dustin is the friend I eventually followed to Nashville. He recorded some fantastic drum tracks for songs that will never be finished.)

After leaving Richmond, I spent some time with family in Appomattox.  I would visit Harrisonburg often.  I realized that I had more friends in Harrisonburga place I’d never livedthan anywhere else.  I got a nice, cheap apartment on Port Republic road, a mile or so from JMU.

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Even though I only stayed for a year and a half, Harrisonburg is a bright spot in my memory. The scenery was incredible—mountains all around. I lived in an area where I didn’t have to lock my car at night. I worked at the JMU cafeteria for one semester.  I put together some zines, that was always fun. Collage artist Dave Kyger made some dynamite layouts for Rip Snap Meow and Tranquil Breezes.

I spent some time with DIY pioneer Jim Shelley.  He was quite prolific, always releasing tapes, records, and compact discs.  He was an English teacher at the high school.  The last time I was in Harrisonburg, I saw Jim’s band, Book of Kills, featuring Brian and Dustin—it was a magnificent performance.

One night, Brian and I were walking around.  After discussion of his home town and my adopted residence, Brian summed it up:  “Harrisonburg is a rest stop on the road of life.  It’s a nice place to stop and take a leak, but you’ve got to move on.”

While chatting with Brad in Williamsburg, he mentioned about how he had been to Harrisonburg in the recent past.  He said I would hardly recognize it.  The city has grown a lot, he said, it’s more spread out.  I said, “That’s too bad,” and he agreed.

The Friendly City

The Shenandoah ValleyColonial Williamsburg

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The Flower that Became a Boy

On a mild Wednesday evening in August of 1970, I was born.  My first home was a ranch house with a full basement in Greely, Colorado.  I was the youngest of six.  My only sister had three older brothers and two younger ones.  Although we moved to Turlock, California just as I started kindergarten, I have many memories of life in Greeley.

I remember playing alone in the yard, trying to catch grasshoppers.  I was fascinated by grasshoppers.  With all of these ultra-modern playthings kids have today, are children still fascinated by grasshoppers?

The three older brothers set a world’s record for playing Monopoly underground.  There was a huge hole in the backyard, covered with boards and canvas.  Mike, the oldest, spearheaded the feat.   Some of the neighborhood kids participated; they played for a hundred hours straight.  It was a big deal.  Newspapers around the country mentioned it, they were on the local television.  In some Monopoly boxes, there’s a listing of world records, and the brothers are mentioned.  I remember being in the cave briefly.

Of course, I wanted to set some kind of record myself.  We had a swing set, so I wanted to set a record for the longest time swinging.  My sister, Dianne, helped, timing me and letting me have a five minute break every hour.  I swung for five hours, which is pretty good for a five-year-old.  Dianne made an official-looking certificate, I still have it.

I remember having to stand on the picnic table while my brothers fought off a scary snake.  One time I stuck my bare foot in the spokes of the moving bike I was riding as a passenger.  I remember my uncle Tim giving me a dog and letting me ride in his semi.  Finally being able to reach a doorknob was a big deal.

Ballooning must have been a popular sport in Colorado.  I remember seeing them in the skies.  One time, my Mom took Dianne, my closest brother, Stephen, and me to a tethered balloon ride in the parking lot of a strip mall.  I saw the flames and it looked like it was really loud, so I started crying and didn’t go.  As an infant, I had ear problems.  They said I would cry in pain all the time.  I’d be sitting around, playing with toys, perfectly calm, then suddenly start bawling.

These early days of my childhood were in the day when there  were less than a half-dozen television channels.  I remember one show called Jot—it was about a circle with arms and legs who talked about religious stuff.  Then, there was Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, about a boy who would draw things on his magic chalkboard and they would become real.  I would get excited every time it came on.  It was very imaginative.

But the cartoon that impressed me the most—I was four or five—was a Hanna-Barbera show, either The Flintstones or Augie Doggie.  I don’t remember the storyline, but there was a carnation that somehow became alive.  He wore a baseball cap and carried a book.  He was named Carney.  I found it the most fascinating thing.

I adopted the flower as my alter-ego.  I didn’t have an imaginary friend, I was my imaginary friend.  When I had my red Lil Slugger baseball cap on and a book under my arm, everyone knew that I was Carney.  I was to be treated as Carney.  If someone called me Dave, I would point to the hat.

My Mom would ask me if I (Carney) would like to stay for dinner.  I would say that she’d have to call my (Carney’s) Mom and see if it was all right.  Mom would pretend to call Carney’s house and ask his mother if he could stay for dinner.   Everyone played along.  I really thought I had everyone fooled.

Carnie

Thanks to Stephen for finding the picture and a link to the full cartoon. It was Augie Doggie. All these years, I thought that Carney stood for Carnation, but it stands for Carnivorous.

Seeing the cartoon again made me remember why I was so struck by the character. Since I was the youngest, everyone else was in school, and it was just me and Mom at home. Carney was a bad flower, but he became good and started going to school. It was a tale of redemption.

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