Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Monday, March 08, 2010

How Celery Affects Gravity

This is actually quite funny once you understand that whoever is responsible for it had a healthy sense of humor. I don’t know who the girl is, or the photographer, or the circumstances of how, exactly, it came into existence. I really don’t even understand the Supergirl outfit here, maybe someone can explain that to me. But I know why it was done. And if you’ve ever been exposed some of the artwork of one Art Frahm, you would already be laughing and need no explanation. But even if you’re familiar with Art Frahm’s failure to grasp the relationship of what is normally the inability of the force of gravity to make underwear fall - all by itself - to the ankles of young ladies, the celery might have thrown you. It needs to be there, trust me. Or better yet, trust the wonderful James Lileks, his observations are much more clever and amusing concerning Frahm’s work than mine could ever be.

Read through this Lileks piece, written many several years ago, and it will all become apparent. Click through the images and enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hosts And Legions

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

- Robert A. Heinlein

* * * *

It was a poet I met in college who introduced me to the notion that we are sort of like speedboats on a calm lake, leaving friends and acquaintances behind in time, like our movement through history creates a violent wake that eventually washes up somewhere on a distant shore. Those are my words, not his. Michael Churchman was more elegant, instead referring to those from his past as a division between hosts and legions. To be honest, at least half of that poetry class was blazing on LSD at two o’clock in the sunny Los Angeles afternoon. Michael’s hosts and legions could have been induced by a busy and colorful acid trip for all that I know. But still, it’s relevant and true and noble to see right through the mirror rather than to simply observe our own reflections.

Michael Churchman did just that, as all good poets do, and he briefly made me want to be a poet for that very reason.

The problem with my poetry was this: it was quite awful. My poetry was dark and angry because I was dark and angry. I came to realize that my poetry was bad one afternoon when that poetry professor asked me to stay behind when class ended. I did. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? I’m very worried about you.”

I was stunned. Like many of the people in that class, I saw it as three easy credits. Unlike many of the people in that class, I wasn’t experiencing an acid trip while participating. Maybe she knew that, in which case I had no excuse to write pages and pages of seething and contentious drivel. It frightened me that a college professor would think it necessary to become concerned with my well being, and I assured her that I was fine. And I didn’t write another poem for more than a decade.

* * * *

Thus began my version of Churchman’s dividing of the hosts and legions, in that freshman year of college which was also my senior year of high school. I both hated and loathed high school, and although I had achieved the prerequisite amount of work to get out of there at the end of my junior year, the school district wouldn’t allow it. The only activity I enjoyed in high school was band, and so I took band classes in the morning and then went to college in the afternoon. Other than music, I can sum up everything I ever learned in high school in two words: survival and endurance. I don’t remember ever having gone back to that school after I had the diploma in my hand.

Meanwhile, life goes on. You knock up your girlfriend and marry her, despite the fact that you both hate each other. You drop out of college, have another kid, concentrate on having a real career, and fool yourself into believing that the rock band you had to part ways with wouldn’t have worked out anyway. You tell yourself that you have no regrets, even after the divorce. This is what happens.

Within all of this, I did have a couple of friends in high school that, for reasons of their own, decided to join the United States Navy. Good for them. One served on a boat and the other on a ship. Hosts and legions. Although I was born in San Diego, I learned the city through them, limited to strip joints and a coffee shop near Rosecrans and Nimitz. I can’t say that it was helpful in the long run. But I reckon that it was fun. Over the years, they faded away, too. Again, this is what happens.

And over the years that still followed, I married again and quickly moved to Mexico, and had a daughter, and thrived. The internet was born. I looked for Michael Churchman once that search engines were invented, but to this day I have had no luck. There are a lot of people named Michael Churchman. None of these people are the Michael Churchman that I am looking for. To this day, Michael Churchman’s whereabouts remain a mystery to me, probably by design.

* * * *

Social networking began shortly after the internet became widely available, and I made a lot of electronic friends in a short amount of time. Because it was a new frontier and with all new frontiers come unknown dangers, we all mostly remained somewhat anonymous, choosing to use nicknames. My nickname was obvious, it was instantly gringo, from which refriedgringo was born on a website I owned a very long time ago. Others adopted other nicknames, and away we sailed upon unknown seas. We were cautious while optimistic and a bunch of trailblazing fools. I think we are still all a bunch of cautiously optimistic trailblazing fools.

At first, social networking was based on luck and trust, in that we are curious by nature and reaching out in order to find whatever we might have in common and to either celebrate it or exploit it. I think that Meredith’s website came first, that we all got together there, us weirdo people, posting on a threadless forum like so many worms avoiding the fisherman’s hook. I met Sammy there, and Ian, and Terry, and a host (and possibly a legion) of others. Those were the salad days. Holy hell, we were great. I felt like Babe Ruth in there, that I could step up to the plate and point and then hit one out. I think we all did.

And I met Chris there, or at least, I met his on-line personality, we’ve never met in person, but I consider him to be a very close friend. I sent him beer once, after reading an excellent story from his college days, and to this day I can’t not think of him when I get a haircut because of a very awesome short he wrote about haircuts. He’s a writer that doesn’t write much. I did meet his friend Wooby in person though (Wooby is possibly the greatest nick ever, by the way), we took in a couple of Padres games (one against the Red Sox!), and we drank a lot together and I loved it. I met Sammy and Terry and Ian and eventually Meredith and Heath when they were together. I’m better off for knowing them all.

So, when LiveJournal started up, most of us joined and I wrote. And a lot of people surprised me, and emailed me and commented that they enjoyed what I wrote. And I love to write. Ten years later, I wrote a novel. I haven’t sold it yet. The market for novels isn’t very good at the moment, so I’m waiting. I’m almost fifty years old and only now do I discover what I want to be when I grow up! Oh, and more bad news: The median income of a writer is six thousand dollars per year. Six thousand fucking dollars. On the other hand, for a hundred grand a year you can make bombs. I did that too, for while. Kaboom. Hosts and legions.

* * * *

So, I finally break down and get a Facebook account, thanks a lot, El, I blame you. But really, I knew I had to at some point anyway, and I wanted so much to connect with Anna. A note about having kids: When you really connect with one, it’s the most awesome thing in the world. Anna remarked this afternoon that I would probably love her even if she wasn’t my daughter. I’ve spent twelve hours thinking about that one. And hell yes, she’s right. And I’m going to continue to grind her in FarmVille while wondering if, God forbid, I wasn’t her father, would she love me anyway? That question goes both ways, babydoll. And happy 17th birthday, I love you very much.

Back to Facebook, I didn’t join right away, because I hated high school. That shouldn’t be a secret to anyone that knows me. But I reckon that I was afraid of reliving that nightmare. For every good teacher, there were three bad ones. But, of course, I was no picnic either. I stole Mr. Miller’s cigarettes out of his desk when he left us to take a quiz in his empty classroom. I fell asleep in Mr. Hull’s class (hell, everyone did). I fantasized about Miss Hibler while she wrote proofs on the chalkboard in geometry class (again, we all did, I’m sure). And I spent a lot of time with Mr. Revis in detention, where I learned to roll joints using pencil shavings, while he watched and gave pointers.

And through hating high school, I guess it was easy to forget about the good things. Jeff, to this day I can’t eat an egg sandwich without thinking about the times we did that at lunch, the yokes running off of the toasted bread. Doug, I thought you were going to rat me out when you caught me smoking after the parade, until you asked me for a light. Kevin, I played football with you, you played on the line and I remember thinking about how I’d have played on any team you were on, you were focused and determined. Todd, we were such dorks, we played ball together and both called Sammy Andrade’s grand slam, remember? Hey, John, remember getting about half drunk in Mr. Gullet’s RV while playing for a bunch of Avon people?

I sat on Marilyn’s lawn one afternoon, and her father called out for her and she answered, "Sir?" I thought that was the strangest thing ever until I became a father. And Margot, I sat with you on your driveway and you proudly informed me (at an unholy early age) that you wanted braces. You paint wonderfully. I can’t imagine doing portraits in watercolor, it’s hard enough to do them in oils. Matt, remember when you got that long cord and played guitar in the middle of the street at my parent’s house, and then my dad came home? Debby, you were so awesome, tall and beautiful, we never spoke much but you’re certainly a great part of those memories. Same for you Monica, but I am so impressed, you haven’t changed at all, still gorgeous and you married a guy that looks like Tom Cruise!

It’s frightening. So much of my life has gone by. And those high school chums seem to all ask the same question: How did you wind up in Mexico? Well. Jeff lives near Shasta, Doug in Las Vegas, and so on. I could write a book about my experiences here. I probably will. I came here because I fell in love. I am Mexico. She is me. We live where we love and we love where we live. And we leave behind where we came from. Hosts and legions.

* * * *

So, new friends and old ones on Facebook, feel free to mingle. Ask Jeff about the time we went skinny-dipping in his parent’s pool at a large party. Ask Margot what a young dork I was, and I never got braces, either. Matt will tell you what it was like to jam with me. Chris can relate ten years of internet awesomeness, and all things Red Sox. Sammy will go on about horse racing and Bukowski, things we both love, and the time he hit a nice show bet on Derby day. And Darren – can’t leave out Darren – will tell you about the time I pulled his ass out of a Tijuana cop car, saving us both a night in jail.

Mainly, I reckon that I feel the need to thank my high school chums for sticking around after all of these years. I am very lucky to have had such great people in my life, and luckier still to have you around now. I’m very proud of you all. I’m proud of who you are, and give you credit for making me what I am. I’m honestly very grateful to you all, and I should have joined this Facebook thing sooner and let you all know.

I looked for Michael Churchman’s poem here this morning, I wanted to share it, it would be appropriate. I know I have it somewhere. But the box I brought down didn’t contain anything from my college days. Instead, I found a composition book. It contains writing from before the internet was invented, and some technical stuff. This is part of what I wrote, maybe a decade ago:

"This corrects erroneous dimensions from the engineering drawing concerning the length of the details of the fitting, the tube, and the end. Due to the growth of joined components during the inertia welding process, adjustments are required to the details so that the final assembly will meet dimensional requirements. This change appears to have been made in order to correct mechanical dimensioning in the form of Cartesian coordinates and vector direction utilizing profile tolerancing."

And so on. But you know, I can’t for the life of me imagine that I ever wrote that. But I did. Of course, I wrote a lot of crappy poetry in college, too. I can’t go back and change anything. Hosts and legions. Michael Churchman was right. Maybe I’ll find that poem around here one of these days.