R.I.P. Ray Manzarek. Told me crazy weird stories when I was in high school about a guy named Jim. I was way into it. Still love The Doors.
Fear, Death and Holy Denver
Originally written 03.19.13
I arrived in Denver haunted by a tragedy. The death and its sad fallout were indirect to me personally but still close enough to leave a mark. I didn’t know him very wellâ€”but I knew him, and that was enough. There was more than that, though; there was the wife and two kids that he left behind and all of that incomprehensible sorrow. His death was tragic in many ways: He was youngâ€”or young like meâ€”and he had been involved in an accident which carried some mystery about it. He had either fallen or jumped from a moving taxi cab, and even then he had survived the initial injuries; the bigger tragedy being that he was alive and assumed to be recovering when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died a week after the accident.
The images that surfaced in the days after were heartbreaking, photos of him in the hospital bed hugging his children, alive. These were taken just hours before he unexpectedly took a turn for the worse. It was crushing. I had seen too much. I had too much knowledge. Oh, those childrenâ€”I could hardly bear the grief that had befallen them. And me, detached as I was, still moved to tears. I had to look away.
On the airplane out I was faced with nothing but quiet contemplation, alone in my thoughts and immersed in fear and death. I was flying out to Denver for purely frivolous reasons, leaving my wife and two kids at home for a quick vacation; I felt undeserving and guilty. But beautiful Colorado â€¦ I landed smoothly in high winds and was magically transported from air to car and then a soft seat on a bicycle riding through the streets of downtown Denver. The bike-sharing program in the city was starting up again after winter and they had rounded up volunteers to deliver the bikes to the various ports around the city. So there I was, quickly fitted with a t-shirt and given a bike, riding along with a block-long crowd of folks and ringing our bells.
The weather was perfect. I had left cold and dreary Chicago in all of its relentless gloom for St. Patrick’s Day in fresh mountain air under the sharpest of blue skies. The sun gave off a warmth like spring and there I was in my new red shirt completely unburdened, with nothing but time and freedom. Later, after we parked the bikes, there were drinks in the camper vanâ€”a classic VW equipped with kitchen and sleeping quartersâ€”and I wished we were taking off somewhere in it instead of sitting in the alley behind the garage. We ended up biking and bar-hopping that nightâ€”St. Patrick’s Dayâ€”and racing down the trail that lines the river (South Platte) through the city.
I was only in town for two nights and there were thoughts of going skiing before the hockey game Monday night but we decided against it and golfed instead. It was Bloody Marys and Old Styles as we carted around the mostly empty course hacking away. Later, we biked out to the arena for the Blackhawks-Avalanche game and had a hilarious time in the 4th row; I wore Jim’s feather knit hat and our phones lit up with the news that our mugs were all over the TV broadcast. The hat was a star in itself.
After the game (Hawks won 5-2) we sat at the jazz bar near the baseball stadium and listened to the band play bluesy jams. I was longing for some real jazz and so we eventually biked over to this place closer to home, where you walk down steps to an underground bar. As we sat down there was a break in the music but we could see the various musicians milling about; they looked like kids, not the grizzled old jazzheads I pictured. I was still wearing the hat and so people were quick to chat with me, especially the pretty, wild-haired dark-skinned girl sitting next to me. And then the music kicked in.
At first there was a singer, a drummer and a keyboard player but then as they went on there were various other players that stepped in and out, rotating and moving. A saxophone from the shadows blurting out, or a trumpet blasting; and then gone. The musicians themselves changed as they wound through the set, like a game of tag. A drummer would get up and another would sit down; a keyboard player relieved by another. And these horns would explode from out of nowhere, unassuming on the sidelines and waiting to burst. It was amazing, fantastic, moving. It mattered not at all their age or appearance; the sounds they made were like 60s poetry or 50s Beat jams or who knows where or when, but they were awesome. This was it. This was the beautiful, true jazz, Kerouac-ian moment I had always been looking for, Holy Denver in all its glory.
There’s been so much death lately. Almost all of it famous and detached, but stillâ€¦a lot of death. Ebert and Thatcher and whomever else. But the one close to home continues to haunt. There’s a page for him on Facebook and it updates daily, regularly, with notes, thoughts, pictures and all kinds of sadness. I don’t believe I’ve gone to sleep without thinking of it, or him, once since it happened. And again, I barely knew him. It’s just so terribly tragic but it’s more than that; it’s the hole left in its wake. The kids, his wifeâ€¦I went through the Easter ritualsâ€”baskets of candy and all of thatâ€”and in the back of it all was the Easter they weren’t having in his house. The emptiness. The grief. The sorrow.
I really wish I could stop thinking about it.
I can’t get enough of this album.
World Too Big, Life Too Small
â€œThere was no way anyone could properly fill up a life. There would always be something left, always somewhere else to go, and in the end we would all have to accept that the world held places we would never see: Pyramids, jungles, exotic locales; mountains, skyscrapers or a burning hole in the ground where a satellite fell. Somewhere was a girl I would never meet, standing at the foot of the Great Wall or walking the beach on a remote island in the Pacific, or maybe just around the corner on a street I sometimes walked. She would close her door just as I went past and go inside to an empty house and I would see a shadow behind a curtain and then a light switch off. It was a world too big, a life too small, and I could hardly move, paralyzed with despair.â€
Goodbye to the Satellite Fear
I’m not sure if I’m back here again or if this is just a momentary space where I decide to write something and then drop off again. This doesn’t mean what it used to. I am focused on internal worlds that I made, both finished and outlined. I wrote a book and I am trying to get it published. I have no idea the proper way to go about that but I’ve been working on it. It is fiction and more specifically it is literary fiction and even more specifically it is laced with some science fiction. I have no idea who my audience is, but I would imagine that it is someone like me. Except that age and philosophical leanings are hardly bound by any borders or definitions and I don’t know where I fit into all of that anyway (mental age is diminished and philosophy confused).
The story takes place in no specific time, except that it is probably the 90s or early 00s. I semi-consciously left out any cultural references and consciously avoided any signs of technological progress, i.e., computers, cell phones or the Internet. I was hesitant to even include specific geographical locations but that became impossible as the story unfolded. Still, I have issues with using actual existing places, such as cafes, bars or restaurants, or whatever. They are temporary, ultimately, and I wanted this story to exist in a non-specific, enduring time frame. This is easy and very difficult to do at the same time.
The characters are in their mid-30s, which is around the time I conceived the idea in my head, almost ten years ago. Actually, the idea that was conceived became two ideas and then split out into a few more; now, part of the original idea is my new outline for a second book. It had no place in this story.
The characters are fictional but there is one, and only one, that is based quite loosely on a real person. I am concerned that should this person ever read the book they might be…pissed? I don’t think that the portrayal is negative or even all that accurate, but it is probably a fair representation of my own lack of understanding of their evolution, as it were. My contact with this person is virtually dead, even in this world of unlimited communications, and this leads me to believe that there is little chance we will ever speak again. But we aren’t angry with each other, as far as I know. And the last interaction we had was nothing like the one that takes place in the story. But ultimately I fear its repercussions should he read the book.
The book is in first-person, narrated by a deeply flawed and hopelessly romantic fool named Samuel. He has a girlfriend named Sandy and their relationship is failing. He has a friend named Benedict who left town for grad school but is flunking out. He has a girl named Lora that he sleeps with from time to time, and he’s not sure what to do about that. He has lost touch with the rest of the “gang,” namely Georgie, who has moved to New Orleans, and Kenneth, who has moved to Arizona. Walter is the friend that Sam has just returned from visiting, in Australia. Walter has undergone a religious conversion of some kind and as a result their visit was strained.
Sam returns to Chicago in autumn, where he soon discovers the news concerning a broken satellite that is falling to earth. Much like Skylab in the 70s or any various space events that have happened over the years (most recently the UARS satellite) there is considerable media attention given to the falling satellite, despite its probable break-up and incident-free re-entry. The distinction that gives this satellite (named HERO-76 in the book) heft is the uncertain claim over its purpose and contents: It is rumored to be more than a your typical space vehicle, but instead a military weapon containing nuclear elements. No one knows for sure but, as happens when details are scarce, the fear is amped up to hysterical levels.
Sam greets the news with considerable disdain but Sandy is affected deeply. Their relationship already teetering, Sandy begins to seek solace in prayer while Sam, in turn, seeks solace in Lora’s bed. Meanwhile, Ben returns to town as a failed student and finds his mother ailing. She dies only days after his return and now, with both parents dead, Ben arrives at Sam’s place in grief. The two friends regroup and reacquaint while the panic over the satellite news grows. On the night of the re-entry Sam and Sandy disintegrate, their considerable differences finally coming to a head and blowing up. The satellite falls and, much to Sam’s surprise, it does not land in the ocean but instead somewhere in the American West, near the Grand Canyon.
The news becomes scarce after the crash as signals become crossed and transmissions interfered with. No one seems to know for sure whether the fallout is toxic but the official word is that all is well. Ben gathers up Sam and explains his plan: His mother’s ashes need to be spread according to her wishes, and he has drawn up a map detailing a journey that includes visits to old friends Georgie and Kenneth. The trip will taken them to New Orleans and then Flagstaff and finally to the desert landscape where his mother requested she be set free.
The second half of the book is a travelogue shrouded under gray skies and uncertainty. Sam and Ben encounter strange scenes and odd folks. Refugees from tent cities line the road and local weirdos recite wild theories. A girl named Angela seems to follow Sam everywhere. Reconciliations are painful and sometimes surprising. The radio never works. Sam and Ben hash it out and Walter’s presence remains, despite his absence.
That’s about all I can say. There are conversations and there are arguments. The search for answers is one that depends on your ability to believe. The acquisition of comfort is obtained in different ways, or not at all, as the case may be.
I’m not sure who should read this. There is sex and there are drugs and there is blasphemy. There are no politics, nor is there rock and roll. This is not a message and it’s not an opinion disguised as prose. No one “wins.” I think this may have been written in a pretty dark place:
I could hear Ben hollering in the distance again like a wolf. I touched the urn. Cold. I pulled away from it and my heart sank.
â€œAshes. Dust,â€ I mused sadly, looking back up at Angela.
â€œFeel doomed much?â€ she said.
â€œYou should. Youâ€™re not special. Youâ€™re as fucked as anyone.â€
Is This Thing On?
How to suck at your religion…there are so many ways!
GOP’s preordained race nears its bitter end
Haven’t been here in a while. Not much to say, except this:
At some point you have to realize that this is delusional behavior. These guys have been out there so long, repeating the same tired lines over and over again, shaking hands and kissing babies. They donâ€™t know what state theyâ€™re in until someone tells them, just before they walk up on a stage, or into a diner, or whatever propped-up common-man setting that the campaign operatives have staked out. Sleep is a memory. None of this is real.
You know that Rick Santorum convinced himself he could winâ€”they all have at some pointâ€”but once you get a real taste of it, well, it has to be hard to let it go. Denial is everything. Head down, move forward, next state, next primary. Santorum, much like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, cannot win the Republican nomination, at least not mathematically. They have to know this. So why do they plow on?
Ron Paul has his reasons. Heâ€™s building something. Itâ€™s a years-long project, and one that may never be fulfilled, if not by his son, Rand. But heâ€™s working on it.
Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, is without reason. That is to say, he is unreasonable; also, unelectable and unlikable, but everyone already knows that. Profoundly. Fundamentally.
Rick Santorum, though, is somewhere else. He has a blinkered vision that allows him to only see what is necessary and what is moral and what is right. It is not uncommon in those possessed by great religiosity to be consumed to the point of delusion. It is not a prerequisite, nor is it rampant, but letâ€™s be honest: America has its fair share of true believers. Just not enough to win a nomination.
Santorum calls himself a Catholic but he is built, as a candidate, more like an evangelical. He has a fever, and the only cure is more sermonizing. He knows what America needs. He wants to help. He thinks he can save us.
This is delusional behavior. Rick Santorum can no more save this country than he can win a general election, much less the Republican nomination. And even if he pads his totals over the next few weeks (he is currently at 278 delegates) they will not magically balloon into anywhere near what he needs them to be. Itâ€™s over. The social issues candidate has run out of time. His luck has soured. Only faith can carry him now. He is â€œirrelevant,â€ as 2008â€™s nominee John McCain said today; he would know.
The fact that he made it this far goes beyond any rational explanationâ€”oh, right: Mitt Romney.
What Santorum surely does not recognize, but should, is that he was a placeholder. He was a warm bodyâ€”a warm, conservative bodyâ€”and he filled the role that Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann and, for a brief time, Newt Gingrich did: the anti-Mitt. The non-Romney. Other. Anyone But.
Santorumâ€™s social conservatism carried him much further than anyone could have imagined, but it was bound to fail and it could never last: women, after all, still have the right to vote.
In a primary known for its bizarre and deranged savagery, it is now a preordained race to the very bitter end. You want to write, with pun intended, that Santorum is determined to be the last to pull out, but with the cartoonish Gingrich and batty Paul still in, the joke remains holstered. Everyone has lost their mind.
What happens next is sad. Weâ€™ll watch the slow recede and see the media turn away, as the rest of the country begins to focus on the general election. Eyes will glaze over at the sight and sound of one Willard â€œMittâ€ Romney, fabricating profusely. And weâ€™ll long for the reality show atmosphere that prevailed for so long, vile and entertaining as it was.
Santorum wonâ€™t know it for sure, but heâ€™ll feel something shift underneath him, eventually. Losing in his home state of Pennsylvania, that might ring a bell.
Got a Catholic Block/Guess I’m Outta Luck
“I’m sorry but I find the protectors of child rapists preaching to women about contraception to be a moral obscenity. When all the implicated bishops and the Pope resign, ther replacements will have standing to preach.”
Obama, Alinsky, and the Chicago Way
I’ve been interviewed before, as an indie rock guy or whatever, but never have I been the interviewer. Until now. Check out my interview of Mr. Grassroots, John Presta, he’s the real deal. Obama, Alinsky, and the Chicago Way, all wrapped up in one package. Kinda long, but suck it up.
Santorum Sweeps Trump’s Boy Mitt
The latest on the bizarro world of GOP politics:
It was just a week ago that the reality television star and fake presidential candidate was giving a visibly uncomfortable Romney the Las Vegas treatment. One can only imagine the fancy hotel room Trump set him up in, a few chips, the room serviceâ€”comp’d.
How surprised was Romney when he woke up the next day and found a tiger in the bathroom?
Missing tooth or not, Mitt definitely lost something after the Trump endorsement. His dignity for sure, but also, perhaps, his standing as the frontrunner in the GOP race. Rick Santorum is the latest contestant to rise to the top of the heap after a three-state sweep last night in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. Whatever happened in Vegas, rolled up and died there.
- The Drum April 7, 2016The Drum: There’s a story I wrote up at The Drum Literary Magazine called “Some Plastic City Beyond.” It’s an all-audio magazine, so you just listen to it. Runs about 11-12 minutes long. Here’s what they said:In the pauses and the cadences of Daniel Higgins’ dialogue-intense “Some Plastic City Beyond,” you’ll hear the wistfulness and […]
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