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).

Georgia Aquarium Shark

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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In Front of People

In fourth grade, I played Bob Cratchit in the performance of A Christmas Carol. My sister, who was always supportive, helped memorize my lines. I don’t remember being nervous or anything.

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 performance for the students. It was pure exhilaration. The girls were screaming.

Years later, there was a business downtown 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 awPortsmouth 3ay.

The Mushroom Factory sometimes had live music. I put together several songs. The lady insisted that she see all the lyrics before she would let me perform. The day of the performance, there weren’t any customers—it was 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.

In the mid-nineties, I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Little Grill was a cool place for live music. I performed 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 thoroughly dig my interpretation.

Surprise, surprise, when I lived in Nashville, I wrote a lot of songs. You couldn’t swing a dead cat in that city without hitting an open mic night. The city of Murfreesboro was about fifty minutes south of Nashville. That is where I did my only live performance the whole time I lived there. I was drunk, and the song was brutally under rehearsed. It was “Psycho Killer,” and my rendition sucked.

Robby and I have maintained our friendship. He would sporadically come in and out of town. When he was around, he would frequent the open mic night at Baine’s Books & Coffee in the historic district of Appomattox. The first time I went, I played “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” No one in the audience got it. I was, however, prepared. It is not too difficult to play, it’s hard to sing—but I had it down. I think the audience 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 by myself because there was an extended solo. Robby played piano. He shied away from rehearsing—we rehearsed for just about fifteen minutes. It showed. I didn’t introduce the song, we just started playing. I like to sing it—it has a playful melody—I think I sang it well. But, Robby and I were so disconnected, it just sounded wrong. We got some pity applause. I just left as soon as I packed up the guitar.

Baine’s Books & Coffee

The Little Grill

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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 my 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 stumbled upon 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. There’s nothing wrong with that. 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 found it amusing, so 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?Radio Shack Tape

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 are talking, every while 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 put in the Promise Keeper’s tape. Whenever the phrase, “Stand in the gap, a sacred assembly of men,” was played backwards, it came out as, “An unveiled mess, oh what a mess.” No shit. Clear and distinct. 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.”

It turns out that I still have the digital transfer of the original cassette.  I certainly don’t have time to listen to it backwards with digital clarity to see what I may have overlooked.  It would be nice to do a sick musical montage similar to Frank Zappa’s “Porn Wars,” but I don’t do much music anymore.  (I saw the video of Frank Zappa sitting in with Pink Floyd.  It was just awful.)

Once more:  “An unveiled mess, oh what a mess.”

For What it’s Worth

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dave@dustexchange.com

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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.

The Judean People’s Front

The People’s Front of Judea

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dave@dustexchange.com

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Strange Energy

LOTUS Temple DomeThrough 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. It was an unmemorable room. There was a glowing globe in the middle. To get to the shrine, we had to go up a thin spiral 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 religion. 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.

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.

All you need to know can be found at LOTUS.

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dave@dustexchange.com

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In the Shenandoah Valley

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I went to visit friends in Williamsburg, Virginia.  There is a lot of American Revolution history there.  They have 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.

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…lots of happening students. 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 had 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 Valley

Colonial Williamsburg

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dave@dustexchange.com

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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 had 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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