The AK-47 Dilemma

I’ve had a loaded gun pointed at me once. It was New Year’s going into 1998. Roy and Jerome were involved in the gang lifestyle in Chicago. They moved to Nashville to get away from all of that. Roy’s Mom and her boyfriend were visiting. We were as trashed as we could be. Jerome had just fired the pistol in the air. He indiscriminately waved the pistol in my general direction. I was too trashed to object.

My first time shooting a firearm was when my brother from Texas came to visit and brought his rifle. I only got to shoot it once, at a target. On two consecutive New Year’s, I fired a shotgun into the rural air. One Summer, I got to shoot skeet. I nailed one on the second shot. Witnessing the clay pigeon explode into tiny pieces is a rare thrill.

When I lived in Tennessee, I would visit the family in Virginia every so often. My nephew, Tommy, and I were best friends when we got together. I met him as an infant, now he’s in his twenties.

Some people collect stamps, some people collect coins, Tommy collects guns, it’s what he’s into. I know that stamps and coins aren’t designed to kill, but many of Tommy’s guns are antiques, only kept for display. The crown jewel is a pistol that was manufactured over a century ago.

But, yes, he does enjoy shooting firearms. He’s never been into hunting, he just likes firing at targets. There was this show called “Gunny Time,” hosted by R. Lee Ermy. They would talk about a gun then fire the gun. It looked like super fun. Tommy lived close to my Mom, and I could hear gunshots sometimes. One day, I walked over, and Tommy and his roommate were shooting. I asked Tommy if I could fire one of his guns.

It took him a moment to get the assault rifle set up. He had me put on the headphones, showed me how to hold it, flipped a switch, and said, “You’re live.”

It was like some sort of release. All of my pent-up negative emotions disappeared. I felt like it was something that I’d needed to do for a long time. There wasn’t a target, I just fired into the woods. It was a semiautomatic. I felt powerful as I tugged the trigger. My body vibrated with each bullet that passed through the barrel. Adrenalin was off the chart. It was just fun.

I don’t know how many rounds were in the magazine—but it was plenty. The right side of my head rang for two days.

Later, I was thinking about how the idea of doing violence with a gun is, obviously, a terrible thought to have. Then, I thought about these first person shooter games—they really could desensitize angry teenage minds.

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Punk in Context

25f Coldwell

“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”                                                           -Adolph Hitler

That quote started my 12th grade final term paper. It was called (don’t laugh) “We All Want to Change the World.” The thesis statement was: “The world has become apathetic and ignorant to its own problems, so the youth of the seventies and eighties created the Punk Rock counterculture to inform the world of its problems and to attempt to create a better living environment.”

The only punk rock music I really got into was the Dead Kennedys. A great guy I knew in high school, Jason, loaned me the records Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death and In God We Trust, Inc. I put them on cassette and listened over and over. Jello Biafra’s lyrics championed the outcast. Living in a small, rural community in the South gave me plenty of reasons to want to be cast out. There is a strange comfort in these lyrics from “In Sight,” “We never talk to him/ He never looks quite right/ He laughs at us, so we must beat him up/ What he sees escapes our sight.” (As a grade-schooler, I was deeply moved by “The Fool on the Hill,” which had the same theme: it’s okay to be different.)

(Going to high school in Appomattox really wasn’t so bad. Everyone pretty much stayed out of my way. I pissed some people off in my campaign for Student Council Vice President, but I never got beat up.)

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Another great guy, Tony, gave me my first copy of Maximumrocknroll. I was fascinated as I flipped through the pages in study hall. Maximumrocknroll was a non-profit magazine, newsprint, with columns, interviews, reviews, and—my favorite—letters. There were a lot of cool advertisements in Maximumrocknroll.

One time, I ordered some buttons and a t-shirt from an ad in Maximumrocknroll. The buttons said things like, “The Moral Majority is Neither” and “Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms.” The T-shirt had a picture of gravestones at Arlington Cemetery and the words “You don’t die for your country…your country kills you.”

25f Monument

Man’s Monument to Himself

My participation in the underground scene continued well into my twenties. I published some zines. While not “punk,” they were part of a broader counterculture, a counterculture that barely existed. It was a fucking shame that the Maximumrocknroll contingent would only be associated with artists who were what they considered “punk.” I read a letter in which some guy was complaining that Maximumrocknroll gave his record a bad review because it had an acoustic guitar on it.

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Then there’s this business of “selling out.” It was South Park where selling out was defined as: “If you work in the entertainment business, and you make any money at all, you’re a sell out.”

I had always considered that the term “selling outis about people who make a name for themselves in the punk community, and then sign with a major label. It’s like a betrayal. For me, I haven’t made much of a name for myself in any arena, and the matter of signing with a major label is completely irrelevant—I can’t give my totally DIY EP away.

My opinion is that the day I signed up for a Kroger card is the day I sold out. In Nashville, Kroger was the worst run grocery store I’ve ever known. Trading information regarding my purchases with such a crummy business for a discount on groceries…

25f Additives to Faith

Additives to Faith

There are over fifty issues of Maximumrocknroll in the attic. I thought about trying to sell them, but I figure they’ll be good for starting fires once civilization collapses.

There is a lot of philosophical common ground between punk culture and myself. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it. However, while I may have for a while in high school, I do  not regard myself as “punk.” My acoustic guitar just sounds too awesome.

 

25f Nixon With Bomb

Maximumrocknroll

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Bizarre Jobs

Entrepreneur:

We didn’t stay in California long. It was my first semester of kindergarten, and Stephen was in second grade. We came up with the idea of having a “plant sale” on the front lawn. We gathered containers and put plants from the yard in them. Stephen made a sign. One woman drove by, saw us, and gave us two nickels for a plant. That was a lot of money to a kid back then.

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Austin, 1983

Sole Proprietorship:

#1: The public golf course in Austin was next to the airport. Somehow, I got the idea to go around the golf course on my ten-speed and pick up stray golf balls to sell. I found a couple dozen over a couple of weeks. Some were fancy, and I sold most of them at our yard sale.

#2: Every day, on the way to Pearce junior high, I would stop at Safeway and buy a bag of lollipops. I sold them to fellow students for a quarter each—making a decent profit. Of course, there were the complimentary lollipops for the kids who could easily kick my ass.

Independent Contractor:

Fast forward to me at twenty-two. I had three (sometimes four) roommates in an apartment with a red front door on which someone had scratched, “Cinder Hippie 666.” The upstairs bathroom door would sometimes lock itself, requiring a good swift kick. El John was the cat.

My painting buddy, Butch, was a good many years older than I was. We had some fun drunken and hilariously misogynistic times. He started delivering newspapers and worked with this odd man, Alan. Butch got me a gig painting the interior of Alan’s house. I did a crummy job. Anyhow, Alan got me a gig with Pro-Steam, cleaning carpets.

It was horrible. I got the big map book of Greater Richmond. Once I located the customer’s home, I had no idea what the job would be like until they opened the door. Sometimes it was sloppy, sometimes it was neat, and sometimes there was furniture to move. The equipment was heavy and awkward—I was in the best shape I’ve ever been.

When I went into people’s houses, the first thing I’d try to sell was deodorizer—it came in either cinnamon or cherry. People who say that there aren’t cultural differences between white people and black people may find this tidbit interesting: 100% of the time—regardless of income level—regardless of gender—inner city or suburb… Black people always chose cherry, and white people always chose cinnamon. Always. No exceptions.

Nashville Fourth

Nashville, 2000

(Un) Professional Temp:

First, they had me stuffing envelopes, then they had me doing data entry. I had a terrible cold the whole week I worked at EDS, a Medicaid contractor located in downtown Nashville. I stayed home on the Monday. Tuesday, they put me with a nice caucasian woman named Breena in the microfilm lab. It was a small room filled with equipment. Nobody could come into the room without knocking because sometimes the room needed to be dark to process film. On our first cigarette break, she told me that she takes her nap around two. She was often heard to say, “If I don’t feel like working, I don’t work.”

The bastards at Kelly Services sent a disgusting and insulting letter about calling in sick. It was Thursday evening, and I smoked a bit of reefer. I concocted the most vile and crazy scheme—involving Breena lying to the supervisor. She was hurt to hear it.

The numbers weren’t too good in the microfilm lab (so I presumed), I stuffed envelopes on the Friday, and my numbers weren’t impressive. When I got home, the woman at Kelly Services called and told me that the supervisor said that it “just wasn’t working out.” I assume that he and Breena had a chat.

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In Front of People

In high school, the senior play for the class just ahead of me was Bye Bye Birdie. I ran sound. Brian Hudson, who played the lead role, was a good friend. My first instrument was bass, and the first guitarist I jammed with was Brian. He impressed me with his knowledge of bar chords. We formed a band with Robby Phillips on piano and someone named Chuckie on drums. We rehearsed in the band room, working on “Johnny B. Goode,” “Louie, Louie,” and a cheap blues number. They let us do our songs after Bye Bye Birdie, the show for the students. It was pure exhilaration. The girls were screaming.

Years later, there was a business in downtown Appomattox called The Mushroom Factory. It was run by two grown hippies—a man and a woman. They sold books, artwork, and coffee. I brought several copies of Rip Snap Meow for them to give to customers. She found it offensive, and was glad they didn’t give any away.

National for BlogThe Mushroom Factory sometimes had live music. I put together ten songs. The lady insisted that she see all the lyrics before she would let me perform. The day of the concert, there weren’t any customers—just the woman and one female employee. I opened with “City of Dreams” by Talking Heads. I had known all along that I was severely off key, but I figured that performing it in front of people would miraculously fix my pitch. It was all terrible.

The Little Grill in Harrisonburg, Virginia was a cool place for live music. I played at an open mic night. I was so nervous, I went behind the building and puked—just a little. I played a song I wrote, “Hippie With a Dog,” and the Pink Floyd classic, “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” One guy in the front was familiar with the original and seemed to dig my interpretation thoroughly.

The city of Murfreesboro was about fifty minutes south of Nashville. That’s where I did the only live performance the whole time I lived in Tennessee. I chose “Psycho Killer.” I was drunk and the song was brutally under rehearsed. A friend said that it “wasn’t quite ready for MTV.”

Robby and I have maintained our friendship. He would come in and out town every couple of years. It seems that he was the only avant-garde performer Appomattox has ever known. One of the things he did was street performance. He said that one time, he went behind a building downtown and improvised on the saxophone (at high volume).

He would frequent the open mic night at Baine’s Books & Coffee on Main Street. There, I performed “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” It’s hard to sing—but I had it down. I was prepared and confident. Now I can say that I did it right, once. No one in the audience recognized the song, but I think they genuinely appreciated the effort. One woman complained slightly that only playing one song was a tease.

The last time I performed in front of people was at Baine’s, just before Robby ran off on his latest adventure. The song was “It’s All True,” the first song on I Should be Shot. I couldn’t play it alone because there was an extended solo. Robby played piano. He wasn’t much interested in rehearsing—we only went over it for about fifteen minutes. I didn’t introduce the song, I just counted down. I liked to sing it—it had a playful melody—I think I sang it well. Nevertheless, Robby and I were so disconnected, it just sounded wrong. We got some pity applause. I left as soon as I packed up my guitar.

The Little Grill

Baine’s Books & Coffee

Space Cabbage

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Visitor Center

There was a war going on. A friend was in the Army, in the middle of the action. He could have backed out after September 11, but it only strengthened his conviction.

There were gaps in my work history. I figured it would be good to do some volunteer work–to have something to put on my résumé and to get a good reference. I got the United Way book of volunteer opportunities. I called several charities. It’s amazing how challenging it is to find a place that’s interested in free labor.

I called the Appomattox Visitor Information Center. They were delighted to hear from me. I figured that since I’ve lived in the area for quite some time, I could do a reasonable job. I dressed like I was going to an interview, and brought my hopeless résumé. The very nice elderly woman in charge asked if I knew it was a non-paying position.

She threw me to the wolves. My first shift was on a Saturday afternoon. It was near the peak of the tourist season. The desperation began when I got there—I arrived fifteen minutes early, so the morning shift lady went home fifteen minutes early.

The first question I got was, “Why did they sign the surrender at a private residence instead of the Courthouse?” I could only say, “This is my first day, I don’t know much about the Civil War.” Some woman said, “That doesn’t make much sense.” There was nobody but me holding down the fort. If there was someone else I could ask to take charge while I went home, I probably would have made the imposition. (They wanted to work out the details on neutral land—also, it was Sunday and the Courthouse was closed.)

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I ended up taking the Friday afternoon shift. There was a nice woman named Tina who worked at the Chamber of Commerce office in the rear of the building. There was a small television in my work area. I was able to get a channel where I could get some information about the war. I would sporadically give Tina updates.

Mostly, my job consisted of helping middle class white people have nicer vacations in the hope that they would throw some dough into the local economy. If the Visitor Center couldn’t fill all the shifts, they would lose funding.

There was a world map on the wall, and visitors could put a pin designating where they were from. Most countries had at least a couple of pins. A family from Hawaii came in one time. It’s mindboggling that people from Hawaii would vacation in Appomattox! Two guys from somewhere in Europe were driving around, and they thought Appomattox was a neat word, so they followed the signs to the Visitor Center. I gave them the bullet points of the American Civil War and a map to the National Historical Park.

The people I worked with were good people. They doubled my salary a few times. I eventually started calling in sick to go fishing. The Visitor Center and I parted on good terms. This experience hammered into my brain that I don’t have the temperament for working with the public. The work experience and the good reference were useful, though.

Appomattox Visitor Information Center

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

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Ill Manners and Hope

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My mouth was terribly dry. I was waiting for family at El Cazador, the only true Mexican restaurant in town. I figured that, when my family got there, I could go inside and order an iced tea. In front of the Kroger was a soda machine.

They could be heard a mile away. The sound of thump, thump, thump wafted through the air like a thousand dirty diapers. It doesn’t make you a man because you can turn a dial, buddy. There were families walking around while these guys were blasting out profanities. When they parked, the driver turned the stereo even louder to illustrate a particular obscene portion, and then he turned it down. They got some sodas and drove off.

It would be just as well, I thought, to get a soda for myself. I put a dollar in the machine and got a grape soda. Apparently, the sodas only cost a quarter. I wasn’t even back to the bench before El Cazador when a young girl walked up and stopped me. She had three quarters and handed them to me. She said, “You forgot your change.”

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Theft and Hope

I went to the bank for a roll of quarters. As I handed him the ten-dollar bill, the teller asked if I was going to wash my car or do laundry. There was a teller I liked standing behind him, and I didn’t want her to know how poor I was. It was clearly none of anyone’s business, but I sheepishly said, “Laundry.”

Appomattox only has one laundromat, on Confederate Boulevard—the main drag. It was nice enough. It was kept up reasonably well. The sign on the door that said “Air Conditioned” was a lie.

As my washer was finishing, a lady was using a nearby dryer, taking her clothes out. As she was about to leave, she pointed out that the dryer was malfunctioning—it was running for free. I said, “Thanks,” not intending to use it—that would be stealing. Of course, I did end up using it. I used it every time I returned.

Mom's Garden 3

It was necessary to make a couple of trips to the drink machine. As I was getting my soda, I noticed a five-dollar bill on the floor. I left it there, figuring either someone would come back for it, or it would make some kid’s day. It was the latter. I was sitting on the bench before the glass window when a boy came up to me and asked, “Sir, have you dropped five dollars?” I replied, “Nope,” and the boy was off.

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The Promise Keepers

A friend from Seattle visited me in Nashville in the fall of 1997. We were both editors of underground publications. We had met briefly at a restaurant in D.C., three years earlier.

In that cruddy little apartment on Evelyn Avenue, my bed and my couch were in different rooms. On the first morning, I awoke before her. My stereo and computer were in the room where she was sleeping. I was so bored that I flipped through the AM radio on my alarm clock.

I found the live broadcast of the march on Washington by the Promise Keepers. They were a group of men who wanted to take responsibility for their actions—to the women in their lives, and to God. The name of the event was “Stand in the Gap, a Sacred Assembly of Men.” That first part doesn’t sound very comfortable for the woman. I crept into the living room and started to record the broadcast, taping over Henry Rollins.

The Promise Keepers announcer said that there were men walking around the reflecting pool reading parts of the Bible so that the entire book was read. Why?

Those were the days of staying up late to listen to Art Bell. It was a syndicated program that often discussed the supernatural and the disquieting. There were several recurring guests, one of the more interesting was David Oates. His field was Reverse Speech. The theory was that when people arCassette - Final - Crope talking they say things that can only be heard if listened to backward. Supposedly, that gives insight into their inner selves. When heard backward, the human voice conjures an unholy tone.

During the horrible and bitter days of working at Radio Shack, I stole a small tape recorder. (It was a return that had a scratch but was good enough to restock.) I took out the play head and turned it upside down.

I slapped in the Promise Keeper’s tape. Whenever they said, “Stand in the gap, a sacred assembly of men,” it came out as, “An unveiled mess, oh what a mess.” No shit. Clear as a bell. I swear. The only thing I heard on the rest of the tape was what sounded like a black preacher saying, “No one knew her name, law.”

The Promise Keepers have all the right to do and say whatever they want…no matter how silly I think they are. For me, it would be horrifying to be in an auditorium filled with men who all think and believe the exact same way as me.

One more time: An unveiled mess, oh what a mess.

It Speaks for Itself

Relative to Nothing

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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 in Spout Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the internet…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 that 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.

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. 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.

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