Bias for Dollars

I’d like to get t-shirts made—black cloth with white letters that say “LIBERAL.” It would be neat to walk through the (Lynchburg) mall to see how many times I get my ass kicked. If that isn’t much fun, I could wear the shirt to a Nascar tailgate party.

One time, I was in the waiting room of a small-town car dealership. The television was tuned to some talk show. It had a panel of four adults. They were yelling, even screaming, at each other, making the exact same point that they had made six minutes earlier. Finally, I got up and asked the guy if he could turn off the television. The co-workers and customers looked confused. I tried to explain, but I was rattled. My words only came out as distracted mumbling.

All American news media hinges on emotion. People are more likely to sit through commercials if they feel a connection with the key players. Some outlets rely entirely on anger.

Studies have shown that Democrats watch more television than Republicans. The concept of a Liberal Media Bias is not promoting a specific agenda to poison the minds of the children of America, it’s about selling commercials.

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Cultural Violence

I.

I’ve had a loaded firearm pointed in my direction just once. It was New Year’s Eve going into 1998. Roy and Jerome had shot the pistol into the air. The three of us worked at Video Rack. Jerome was indiscriminately waving the gun before him. I would have protested if I wasn’t so drunk. I got to fire a shotgun on New Year, twice—at the house in the woods.

In the summer, family from Texas was visiting. We were shooting skeet. It was the sixth time I’d ever fired a gun. Seeing the clay pigeon burst apart in my sights felt good.

Some people collect comic books; my nephew Tommy collects guns. It’s what he’s into. Yet, comic books are not designed to kill. Tommy doesn’t care for hunting.

The drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, Lee Ermy, had a television show called “Gunny Time.” He would look at guns—technical talk—and then shoot the guns. I could feel the testosterone rising.

I had been badgering Tommy to let me fire one of his guns. He picked an assault rifle: an AK-47. He showed me how to hold it, inserted the magazine, flipped a switch, and said, “You’re live.”

I’d never felt so powerful. There wasn’t a target, I just indiscriminately fired into the woods. In a way, it was like an orgasm. All of my pent up feelings of negativity disappeared. For the duration of the session, everything in the universe fell apart. It was just the rifle and me.

Even with the headphones, the right side of my brain was mushy for a month. As much fun as it was, I don’t want to do it again.

II.

Number one: Strictly enforce all existing gun laws—federal, state, and local.

Number two: Stop production of assault rifles.

Number three: Put indoor shooting ranges in any neighborhood—to teach, to respect, and to understand the perils.

III.

Perhaps these murder/suicide crazed freaks felt the same exhilaration I got from firing the AK-47. They take it a thousand miles too far. I cannot imagine using a firearm to harm anybody. I am, after all, a pacifist.

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Respect

My Grandfather was a war hero. He fought at Iwo Jima in the Second World War. His recognized act of bravery wasn’t on the battlefield, though, it was in a factory.

Some hotshot kid was working beside Grandpa, putting bolts iito bombs.. He stripped a bolt, realized what he had done, then ran out of the building. Everybody ran out of the building, except the Commanding Officer. He asked Grandpa if he knew what he was doing. “I hope so,” he replied. Then the Commanding Officer ran out of the building,

Let’s say he was tightening the bolt clockwise. If it had gone just the slightest bit counter-clockwise, the bomb would have exploded. He got a medal.

The last time we saw each other was at my Grandmother’s funeral. We hugged and said our goodbyes. That was it. He died on Thanksgiving Day, 1999—while I was visiting my brother in New York City. We lit a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The photograph is of Grandpa holding Chasmene—his oldest Great-Grand child.

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Conversations with JB

If you don’t enjoy vulgar humor and displays of virtuosity, Frank Zappa is not for you. For a decade, my mind was immersed in his music. It got to a point where I knew that every time I put a Zappa CD in the player, I was going to hear a bunch of exceedingly talented musicians flawlessly executing ridiculously difficult music.

I frequented a brewery in Music City. I like to think of myself as an entertaining drunk, but most of the time, I was just an annoying drunk. The night I met JB, I was steeped in the latter. He didn’t appreciate my misguided attmpts at humor. He seemed like a hard person to upset, but he raised his voice in anger. I apologized.

We functioned as friends, but all of our future dealings were tainted. We would sometimes sit together, have conversations. JB was a big time recording engineer. He engineered In the life of Chris Gaines—Garth Brook’s final album. JB had worked on a lot of popular Christian music.

One time, we were chatting and “My City was Gone” came through the speakers. The snare drum sounded like it had an excessive amount of reverb. JB said that it was standard for the time.

A good friend from Virginia said that he doesn’t listen to Zappa anymore because he’s in agony in the fires of Hell for promoting Atheism. Zappa did touch on the topic, but he mostly just pointed out hypocrisy in organized religion, in a humorous fashion. I’ll bet that God gets a smile out of that.

Years prior, I had some experience with multi-track recording, at the Recording Zone. Since I was playing every part myself, it made the most sense to record the drums first, then the bass. I asked JB if they record the drums and bass first, in professional studio recording, He laughed incredulously, and said. “We record the whole band.”

Zappa worked with some specific equipment. He mastered the Synclavier. He took two digital 24-track recorders on tour in 1988. Later, he used something called Sonic Solutions—a six-channel system. I asked JB about it, and he mentioned Zappa’s engineer. I said, “Spencer Chrislu?”

He just about freaked out. He said in near disbelief, “You know his name?”

I said, “Yeah, the last engineer to work with Frank Zappa.”

JB said, “He used to be my assistant…he was great.” He added, “When I wanted to tell him to do something, I’d look over, and he was already doing it.”

I was aware of JB’s religious disposition, so songs like, “Ride my Face to Chicago,” “Titties & Beer,” “Harder than Your Husband,” “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” or “Jazz Discharge Party Hats,” never came up.

The next time we were both at Blackstone, JB let me read a letter that Spencer had written. I don’t remember any of it, but it was neat. Later, he said that he and Spencer had dinner at the brewery, and he hoped that I would have shown up.

Even with the fun coincidence, our friendship remained tainted. As far as I can gather, JB is no longer among the living.  Also, JB had mentioned that Frank Zappa and Spencer Chrislu recorded the music of Edgard Varèse with the Modern Ensemble.

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Beauty in Solitude

It was known as Ultima Thule, which means in Latin, “beyond the known world.” It was changed because Ultima Thule had some significance regarding Nazi sympathizers. It became Arrokot, which comes from the Powhatan tribe of the Chesapeake Bay. It means “sky.”

Arrokot is only about 20 miles across. It sits one billion miles past Pluto. New Horizons was launched in 2006, before the discovery of Arrokot. New Horizons caught some spectacular photographs of Pluto and her moons. It had enough fuel to fly by Arrokot, so they did some delicate maneuvering.

This has fascinated me since I saw the NOVA program. It has to be the most lonesome object in the Solar System. It just sits there in quiet dignity. Did it even notice that an alien spaceship flew by and took pictures?

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Punk in Context

25f Coldwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

My fascination with punk culture lasted well into my twenties. I published some zines. While not “punk,” they were part of a broader counterculture, a counterculture that barely existed. It is 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.

By any measure, Henry Rollins is a sell out.

25f Additives to Faith

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 BombMaximumrocknroll

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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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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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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.

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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.

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 songwriter/musician 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. Carney was a bad flower, but he became good and started going to school. It was a tale of redemption.

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