27 October 2018

The Daily Nighmare (1978)


[A passage from my journal, written 27 October 1978 at 8:17 am PDT in Crookshank 213.]
I
 was down badly yesterday for no good reason that I can see—perhaps because nothing repeatedly continues to happen. The idiom of despair—the small certainties comfort one: that sooner or later the sun will come up; that whatever one does, nothing fundamental is going to change; that eventually the daily nightmare will end, to be replaced in its turn by tomorrow’s nightmare; that one day in the not too distant future life will end, probably with one’s brains scattered over the blanket of the bed, but certainly by one’s own hand. What is there to say? We are aliens, strangers under one roof, and hostile at that. To play unpleasant games in one’s head is not the most comfortable way to spend the day—still, the time passes.
They say that time flies when you’re having fun—I’ve always found that time goes by slowly when you’re enjoying it. Last Thursday is a long time ago, last August an æon. It’s when you’re caught in routine, performing a daily ritual, that one day merges imperceptibly into another, and Thursday a month ago is separated from now by paperthin walls—the days are interchangeable, and eventually you look up and a year has gone by, and in your memory is nothing but the same day, repeated in more or less uninteresting variations.
—thus goeth my mind. This is the sort of crap I’ve been into for a week or so—which is to say I am depressed. Maybe it will go away sooner or later, maybe not.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to eat out sometime soon but the trouble is I want to get “home” to play the piano while I have the place more or less to myself. If I could go out in the evenings—but that’s probably bullshit also.
Speaking of piano, I’m currently working on the “Maple Leaf Rag,” the rest of “The Entertainer,” the twelve scale chords and various variations, and perhaps the second movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata (I started “The Entertainer” and “Moonlight” Sonata yesterday). I’m also working on piano versions of “Let It Be” and (tentative title) “Nothing is Real,” (Lennon/McCartney parody)—the last two are beginning now to go fairly well.
While I’m on the subject of current efforts perhaps I should mention again that I’m attacking the storyline/plot question by assembling stories by modern authors (who are taken seriously) as well as sf, mystery, and humor writers.
Class is about ready to begin—I think I’ll stop here and get a drink of water.

24 October 2018

Polycarp: John’s Disciple? (1999)


[Note written before 9:42 a.m. PDT on 24 October 1999]
I
 just got a couple of messages while I was online staring at the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Polycarp. I wonder whether religious types ever actually think about how their reasoning might appear to outsiders. One of the issues in the life of Polycarp is whether he was in some sense a disciple of John—presumably the John who was the brother of James and one of the inner three of the Twelve. One of the factors to consider is when Polycarp lived—or rather, in this case, the date of his death. (He was supposed to be 86 when he died—at least 86 actually—so if we have the date of his death, we have the date of his birth and hence the span of his life.) According to Eusebius Polycarp died in 166, so he must have been born in 80—which makes it difficult for him to have been a disciple of John, though he could have seen him maybe when a child. But wait—among a number of researchers (admittedly mostly conservative types, though that doesn't affect the argument) the date of 155 is favored for Polycarp’s death, based on the dates that various officials mentioned were in office, and so on. In this case Polycarp was born in 69, which makes it a lot easier to see how he could have been a disciple of John. But is this sound, or mere wishful thinking? There seem to me to be difficulties with both dates, and I see Helmut Koester simply has Polycarp martyred “after 160” which is probably about as much as can really be said, as the inconsistencies in the lines of evidence seem to me to show that either (a) we don’t know enough about the times various officials were in office to reach a conclusion, or (b) some of the data we are working with are simply inaccurate. Or both.
Anyway, the Catholic Encyclopedia article after reviewing the evidence as to date comes down on the side of 155 because “155 must be approximately correct if St. Polycarp was appointed bishop by St. John.” But this is the very point at issue! What I get from this is that the author was determined to reach this conclusion no matter what, and that the evidence presented is basically so much window dressing. And yet up till that point the argument followed an apparently impartial course. It kind of makes one wonder. [24 Oc 1999]

22 October 2018

M-x R-ff-rty on the Ills of Society (1969)


[written 22 October 1969]
E
verybody see how clever I am! Boy am I exposing all those dope pushers, pornography peddlers, and all the other evils that beset your children.
In the first place, only I, M-x R-ff-rty, am right—accept no substitutes. Oh, there are some smart people, some clever people, who try to oppose me with logic. They claim they want facts. Let’s knock this crap out here and now. Logic is behind all the ills in our society today. If we didn’t have logic, we could clean up the movies, hang the smut salesmen, and destroy the pot pushers. Oh, he’s a glib one, the logic monger. He’ll sell his mother for a syllogism, and with every word he gnaws away at the foundations of all Morality. He’s the pinko professor urging hairy kids to dodge the draft, and anything else he’s afraid to do. He’s the smut pusher who sells Lysistrata in the bookstores. He’s the “entertainer” who plays pop music that blows kids’ minds. He’s the scum of society, the lowest of the low, and he’s gotta be stopped! We can’t have our kids’ minds corrupted by logic! How could I manip—I mean, how could they be safe? We are beset on every side by dangers. Why don’t the courts do anything about this? For the same reason they let criminals go free all the time.
[I broke off with a bit of bad prophecy: “I could write like that for hours. Max Rafferty, Ronald Reagan, Al Capp, and their ilk, are simply nothing. Unintelligent mumbling from men who can’t tell truth from lies, or fact from fiction. Their names will be buried as part of the shameful past of filth and savagery from which we are slowly emerging.”]

21 October 2018

I Hope I Never Come Down (1979)


[passage from my journal, written 10:37 p.m. PST on 21 October 1979]
I
’m behind in everything, facing a disastrous midterm to-morrow (no, Tuesday rather) and now have two papers upcoming in Christian Origins assuming I revise the first—a project I worked all day on. Oh well. To-morrow is another day and maybe I can get a little ahead. Maybe I should just write up my Christian Origins first paper as it stands (I feel fairly confident of what I’m doing there). And I have rent due again all too soon and I need money for food and books and such (though if I live on bread and water I think I can make it to December…)
Anyway, I’m not depressed, I can’t think why. I’m so fucking glad I’m not depressed—in fact, I’m in this nothing-can-bring-me-down phase, fundamentally out of touch with reality. It’s great; I hope I never come down. I’m a little afraid right now—I’ve got that grungy corrupted dirty feeling, that often precedes a crash, and I can’t afford a crash now, not at all. It’s been so good; I don’t want it to end.

20 October 2018

The Day They Knocked Down the—Liquor Store? (2009)


[Originally posted at Rational Rant on 20 October 2009. The largish 1910 house that was then my home has now joined the liquor store in oblivion.]
E
xhaustion lingers, but I ventured outside today, making it as far north as Lombard to pick up a few grocery-like objects. I had second thoughts as I stood unsteadily at the MAX station, debating whether to commit myself by actually buying a ticket. Something didn’t seem to be right in my immediate environment. There was something wrong, something missing.
It took me a second to figure out what it was. Across the street, where someone is leveling a city block to build an apartment-and-retail complex, a single earth-moving machine stood, claw uplifted. Most of the houses were now gone, even the debris and the naked chimneys that had marked the sites where they had stood for so long had vanished. And that’s when I noticed.
The Ice Cream Store was gone. It hasn’t actually been an ice cream store for decades, but it was one for a long time, certainly throughout my childhood. The old-timers remember it for its fifty-nine flavors; what I remember primarily about it is waiting in the car while my father zipped inside to pick up magazines. The Scientific American, Mad, Galaxy—all these came from there, and I’m sure other magazines I’ve forgotten. When he returned, however, he would come bearing ice cream for my brothers, and a Hershey bar for me (I detest ice cream and always have). It was a treat; it was something we enjoyed, a ritual that rounded off an otherwise-mundane trip.
The geography of childhood is funny. The Safeway I remember as being a bit of a walk from our (then) home is actually just down the block and across one street, though it’s a Harbor Freight today. The Ice Cream Store is—no, was—only a couple of blocks further on, but I remember it as being a long way off. And frankly, most of my memories of it do in fact come from a time when we no longer lived anywhere nearby; we would stop there on our way back from Portland to our home across the river in Vancouver. Maybe that affected my sense of location.
I can remember vividly sitting in the car, the huge neon sign across the front of the store flickering and buzzing, while waiting for my father to return. Looking out across Interstate I could watch cars stopping for gas at a station there. Up from it was an auto repair shop (the sign said it had been in business since 1924); in my memory it is always closed, but of course we stopped by the Ice Cream Store in the evenings. I can’t help but think that I must have some time looked at the largish 1910 house to the other side of the gas station, but I have no memory of that. I certainly never imagined that that was the place I was going to someday own, that my brother’s kids were going to grow up thinking of it as the traditional gathering place for Thanksgiving, that it would become by default the family center.
Now by the time we actually moved here the Ice Cream Store had become something else—I’m not sure what any longer. For awhile it quit being a store of any kind; the display windows were bricked up and the doors turned from glass to steel. For some of that time it was a distribution center for the Portland Oregonian, and most of the activity there went on in the early morning. For the past few years it was a liquor store. Then, this immediate past year, it was a vacant building awaiting destruction. And now, as I stood there at the MAX station, it was just—gone.
“Excuse me, sir, but I'm sixteen cents short for a ticket, and I need to get home.” Real life in the shape of a rather shabby-looking guy, one half of a couple, intruded on my recollections.
I groped in a pocket for change, trying to hold on to the mood, to savor the liminal moment, and thrust a few coins blindly into his hand.
“I’m not a panhandler,” he said, affronted, plucking out an offending dime and nickel too many, and shoving them back at me.
“Okay, whatever,” I said. I really wasn’t feeling up to this. I was committed, though; I’d bought my ticket and was ready to face the consequences. Sort of.
So, yeah, the Ice Cream Store. We didn’t always wait out in the car; that was only when my father was in a hurry and just wanted to pick up a couple of things. Sometimes we’d go inside and look around.
The periodicals there were many and varied. Along the north wall was a rack of magazines my mother always encouraged me not to look at, bearing stories of true crime and degradation, desperate tales of survival, and pieces involving the deaths of large animals. I seem to remember one that advertised in large letters, “The Night Jackie had to Say No To Lyndon.” (I’m sort of hoping that was a takeoff, but at this distance, who can tell?) Under the windows facing Interstate were a variety of puzzle magazines, children and teen stuff, glamour, TV, all like that there. Science magazines, Popular Electronics, that sort of thing seemed to move about more; you had to kind of guess where they would end up. The New Yorker, Atlantic, Saturday Review
“Excuse me, sir, but here's your four cents.” The shabby Intruder from Reality was back, giving me change from the two dimes he had deigned to accept from me.
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” I said, or words to that effect. I put the coins in my pocket, and tried to disentangle my thoughts again. The Ice Cream Store—old memories—there was nothing there. Literally nothing, in a way—a socket in the ground where Something used to be. It wasn't the Day They Knocked Down The Pallais, exactly, but still—
“Thank you.” It seemed the social transaction was still not over; my new acquaintance was shouting at me halfway across the station. I peered around myopically (I’ve got to get new glasses). “Thank you,” the shout came again. The guy was standing with his lady, glaring at me. His tone demanded a response.
“You're welcome,” I said weakly. Screw it—let the dead past bury its own. “You’re welcome,” I said again, a bit more firmly, and that seemed to satisfy him. The transaction was closed. He turned to face the street where his train was about to pull in and I likewise turned to face my soon-to-arrive train. In the here-and-now I had groceries to pick up.

19 October 2018

A Deep and Profound Silence (2002)


O
ne of the things I find absolutely fascinating is the bizarre reaction of the public and media to announcements just made by the Bush White House—it seems that Al Qaeda has reestablished itself, that the war in Afghanistan was “counter-productive”, that the US is as unprepared to meet a possible terrorist threat as it was before 11 September 2001. Please note—this is not election-year propaganda by Bush’s enemies; this is being announced by his own people. There is even an odd note of pride to this accomplishment. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives have been expended for what? Apparently less than nothing. (Not that I necessarily believe this stuff—nothing that comes from “President” Bush and his associates has been reliable in the past—why should this?) So you would think people in authority—or at least the news media—would be asking some pointed questions. But so far there has been a deep and profound silence. The news is reported, and allowed to die. Something is off somewhere. [19 Oc 2002]

18 October 2018

Greetings from Ephesus (or Maybe Rome)


T
oday’s saint is Luke, according to the Roman Calendar, anyway. “The glorious Evangelist Saint Luke was natiue of the city of Antioch, son to noble and rich parents, and from his childhood inclined to the study of good learning, and all vertue,” according to Pedro de Ribadeneira (The Lives of the Saints, St. Omers, 1669). “His perseuering all his life a Virgin, was a signal testimony of his honesty. He studied much eloquence and other sciences but more particularly Physick which he practised: and Saint Paul calls him the most beloued Physitian.”
There’s a lot to unpack in these claims, especially considering that the only historical fact we have about Luke is that Paul of Tarsus mentions him in a letter to Philemon as one of five people sending him greetings. Everything beyond this belongs to hypotheses piled on top of rickety foundations.
The first notable addition came late in the first century, when somebody took it upon himself to write a letter in Paul’s name ostensibly to the Colossians. Taking the letter to Philemon as model, Paul’s imitator expanded on it in its conclusion. Where Philemon has:
Epaphras, who is my fellow prisoner for Christ Jesus, sends you his greeting; and Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers, send theirs
Colossians reads:
My fellow prisoner, Aristarchus, sends you his greeting, and Barnabas’s cousin, Mark, sends his. (You have received directions about him. If he comes to you, make him welcome.) Joshua, who is called Justus, also sends his greeting. These are the only converts from Judaism who have worked with me for the kingdom of God; I have found them a great comfort. Epaphras, who is one of yourselves, sends you his greeting. He is a servant of Christ Jesus, and is always most earnest in your behalf in his prayers, praying that you may stand firm, with a matured faith and with a sure conviction of all that is in accordance with God’s will. I can bear testimony to the deep interest he takes in you, as well as in the followers at Laodicea and at Hierapolis. Luke, our dear doctor, sends you his greeting, and Demas sends his.
Are these new items of information about Epaphras, Mark, and Luke derived from solid tradition? Or are they just corroborative details, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing production (to borrow from Pooh-Bah)? Personally, I lean towards the former possibility, given that the new composition was probably created within living memory of the original, but there’s no real way of telling at this distance, and the audacity of forgers knows no bounds.
So we now have Dr. Luke rather than just plain Luke. For what that’s worth. I suppose we could examine what a physician in the Roman era might be expected to know, and from that build a generic picture of the good doctor. I don’t say it’s a waste of time entirely—but it is guesswork built on an uncertain basis. The other element—ἀγαπητὸς—could mean anything. It could be as meaningless as the word “esteemed” often is in English—the esteemed Dr. Luke sends his regards—or an indication of high regard—the extremely popular doctor, Luke, salutes you. Assuming that Paul’s imitator intended these new details to resonate with his readers, we may suppose that they believed—or would be gratified to learn—that Luke was a beloved figure.
With the next development of this historical snowball we are clearly in artistic verisimilitude country. Some second-century author, whose style suspiciously resembles that of a distinguished pillar of the Great Church, took it upon himself three letters in Paul’s name—two of them addressed to Timothy, and one to Titus. In 2 Timothy (4:10–13 to be exact) we find the following wonderful farrago:
Do your utmost to come to me soon; for Demas, in his love for the world, has deserted me. He has gone to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. There is no one but Luke with me. Pick up Mark on your way, and bring him with you, for he is useful to me in my work. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. Bring with you, when you come, the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
I love the mentions of the cloak and the parchments; Polycarp (or whoever it was) had a delightful imagination. “There is no one but Luke with me” he has Paul say with some pathos. So Dr. Luke, the much-loved physician, stayed with Paul when Demas, Crescens, and Titus had all deserted him.
Our next stop in this trip is Irenaeus, writing late in the second century. He tells us that “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” This is the first reference to Dr. Luke being a writer as well; he is presumably the author then of the two-volume work addressed to Theophilus that appears in the New Testament as The Gospel According to Luke [volume 1] and The Acts of the Apostles [volume 2]. (If there were subsequent volumes they have not come down to us.) Raymond E. Brown in his introduction to the New Testament gives this description of the author as determined from his work:
An educated Greek-speaker and skilled writer who knew the Jewish Scriptures in Greek and who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. … Probably not raised a Jew, but perhaps a convert to Judaism before he became a Christian. Not a Palestinian.
There is nothing in this description that would either confirm or contradict its attribution to Dr. Luke, which is about where Raymond E. Brown leaves it. If Luke and Acts are his work, however, we are in a position to deduce quite a bit about him based on his own writings. But again, it is worth noting, to do so we put ourselves in the position of piling conjecture upon conjecture.
Our final stop on this tour will be a prolog written to the gospel, possibly as early as the second century, but more likely a couple of centuries further on down the road (considerably abridged here):
The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit. He … in parts of Achaea wrote down this gospel…. And indeed afterward this same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.
So, there you have it. That’s not really the end of the road; in later centuries we will learn that Luke was also a painter, as well as a close confidant of Jesus’ mother Mary. Not bad for a guy whose only real claim to fame is that he sent his greetings to a fellow named Philemon a couple thousand years ago. It’s better than you or I are going to do anyway.

17 October 2018

Summer of Haight (opening) [1982]


[From Cellophane Visions, written 17/18 October 1982]
I
t was the 14th of January in 1967 that the greed and stupidity of the HIP merchants and psychedelic hucksters of the Haight got it together to blow the lid off and make San Fantasia the adventureland Mecca for all the middle-class high schoolers who wanted to enjoy a brief fling into the exciting world of play poverty. They called it the Human Be-In. Like all the other events in which Finnegan played no part, it was lame. When Finnegan thought of how it could have been, he was ready to weep for the arrogance and disgusting flatulence of it all. All it was was a chance for the would-be radicals and so-called hipsters to indulge in a little public mutual masturbation, but it was enough.
Finnegan was slow in the realization of what was going down. The Gutter Free Food program was taking up so much of his time that he did not have time to put the promoters of the Summer-of-Love hoax in their place, which was weighted down with cement at the bottom of the San Fantasia Bay, but instead was merely content to let events take their course.
Finnegan had to wonder just how long these hip radical escapees from the middle-class could keep on kidding themselves. He thought of warning their intended dupes of their mendacity, of using his position as a counter-cultural folk hero to short-circuit the fast-buck ripoff artists who passed themselves off as the “leaders” of the new movement, but he felt that his anonymity, his reputation of never seeking the media limelight, was more important. He merely smiled to himself, and continued hustling the stuff that was needed to make the Free Food thing work. If the lemmings of the high schools of America wanted to throw themselves into San Fantasia, that was their lookout. Finnegan has always believed in letting people dig their own graves, if that’s what they want to do.

In those days, when he was trying to finish up high school without destroying his mind, Stephen Farnham began to picture himself as a character in a Jack Kerouac book. The long gray roads were calling him, the seagull cries of Heceta, Greyton and Cauldron on the Wyano coast, the mysterious beckoning of the Cascadia desert towns, Rattlesnake and Death Gulch and Desolation, the names like tombstones under the dry sun, and last the siren call of Fornicalia. San Fantasia. Everybody was going to San Fantasia that year. The secret was out, and all the hip people were hanging out in the Haight-Ashtoreth district. The Cosmic Park regulars all knew the inside story; smuggled copies of The Oracle circulated from hand to hand, each as precious as parchment hand-written copies of the Tao Te Ching, and each told o the marvelous mystic world where L.S.D. and marijuana flowed like wine, and where love was free.
Stephen had experienced the fantastic way that acid had of making the world into a mixed up salad of colors exploding across the retina like phosphorescent paint splashed across living flesh in the warm wet night. But was that all that it was about? Saruman spoke of metaphysical highs, mysterious planes of mystic consciousness, and God. Saruman spoke of God quite a bit in those days, but Stephen never knew what he meant by it.
Saruman was one of the people who never slowed down, rockets streaming through the psyche and gone already before there was time to register their passing. He had gotten his name from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. He had never read the trilogy; he just liked the sounds. Saruman sounded hip to him, like the sort of name a wizard should have. He called his place Perelandra. There were always a dozen or so people staying there, crashing out on the living-room floor or standing around drinking beer in the kitchen. Like Stephen he had taken to sleeping out in Cosmic Park himself; the two of them would smoke dope and talk until the sun rose. [17/18 Oc 1982]

16 October 2018

Depression and Insomnia (1991)


[passage from my journal, 16 October 1991, 4:05 a.m. PDT]
N
ight horrors upon me again; no point in struggling I guess, but I hate every minute of it. Bad bad bad bad bad bad. Self-pity I suppose if there is such a thing, but it doesn’t feel like pity at all—not for myself, not for anyone. Not for anything. It just feels bad. Pointless, empty, unreal—a sharp pain high in the chest, sort of above and behind the lungs, and nothing at all where the soul ought to be. Just fucking pointless is all. Is this what they mean when they talk about feeling sorry for yourself? Sorrow is what you feel when you’ve lost something, and I know that feeling, even if not intensely. And as I think about it, who can you feel sorrow for except yourself? You can feel empathy or even sympathy with someone else’s sorrow, but you cannot feel their sorrow. If you feel sorrow, you feel it for yourself, inevitably. But this bad feeling I have, the one I call depression, is not sorrow. It is a different bad feeling. Sorrow heals, but depression is more like a sorrow that’s become infected. Sorrow is positive; depression is negative. Depression is like darkness, like numbness. Sorrow is something; depression is nothing. If you’re filled with sorrow at least you’re alive; to be filled with depression is like saying that a hole is full of emptiness. Damn it to fucking hell. [16 Oc 1991]

15 October 2018

Original Motor Chums Sketch Continued (1970)


[A continuation of the original Motor Chums (then Moter Boys) sketch, written 15 October 1970.]
“I should have known you’d be a coward, Tom Wilshire,” Alvin sneered. “You and the rest of your gang. Well, I’ll get even with you, you white livered sneak.”
“Get even with me for what?” remarked Tom Wilshire softly.
“You motherfucker! I haven’t forgotten that cigar…”
“Well, really,” admonished Tom, “You knew that smoking was against the school rules.”
“So what! You were smoking too.”
“That’s irrelevant. The mere fact that others were breaking the rules was no reason for you to do so also. The rules were meant to be obeyed…”
“Don’t be so goddamned goody-goody. You didn’t have any business giving me an exploding cigar! I might have been killed.”
I give you an exploding cigar! Hell, no! It was your guilty conscience, the knowledge that you were doing wrong, that made that cigar explode. That’s the scientific explanation.”
“God, you’re a bastard, Tom Wilshire,” snarled Alvin.
“Besides, the existence of that cigar is doubtful in the first place,” interposed Harry Fletcher. “You cannot show us the cigar now; we only have your word for it that there ever was such a cigar. Your perception of events differs from ours, and since events only occur within the mind, the events that are real for you may be fantasy for us. Perhaps for you that cigar exploded, but it didn’t explode for us.”
“You didn’t light it, that’s why! I’m gonna report you all!”
“Well, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” laughed Tom Wilshire. “I know some teachers who would find an account of the conversation we just had about the game very interesting.”
“Besides that, there’s the metaphysical question of whether that cigar ever had an actual existence in reality.”
“What Harry means,” amplified Ned, “Is that there are five of us who didn’t see the cigar and only one who did.”
“You’re outnumbered,” said Tom.
“And surrounded,” said Harry.
“And who’s dat teacher gwine to believe, a good kid lak Tom or white trash lak you,” put in Ersatz.
“You stinking n-gg-r,” snarled Alvin, “you keep out of this.”
“And anyway, if you tell anyone about that cigar, I’m gonna beat the hell out of you,” put in Dick Trefoil.
“Dat goes double fo’ me,” shouted Ersatz.
“Now we don’t want any violence,” said Tom. “But really, Alvin, that remark about Ersatz stinking was uncalled for. We demand an apology.”
“Yeah! Ersatz don’t stink any more than any other coon,” said Dick.
(“Thank you fo’ dem kind remarks. I ain’t never gwine to forget dem,” said Ersatz.)
“I won’t apologize to any fucking n-gg-r,” shouted Alvin, and he turned to run.
But the others had formed a circle around him. Alvin saw at once that there was no way to leave without a fight and he was too great a coward to fight five at once, especially if two of them were Dick Trefoil and Ersatz Simpson. But like all cowards, he possessed a certain shrewdness that allowed him to get himself out of difficulties such as the one he now found himself in.
“All right, what do you want?” he demanded.
“We want you to apologize to Ersatz,” said Tom Wilshire.
“Or to be more precise,” added Harry Fletcher, “we want you to sign this written apology here.”
Alvin Dodge looked around him desperately. He saw no chance of help coming. He turned back to the Moter Boys and said, “Let me see that paper.”
Tom Wilshire handed him the apology he was to sign. Alvin took it ungraciously and began to read it, but before he was even half-way finished he grew red in the face and hurled the document to the ground. “I wouldn’t sign that fucking paper to save my life,” he exclaimed.
“A pity,” remarked Harry Fletcher.
“Speaking of fucking—” said Ned.
“Yes,” said Tom, how would it look if we were to tell—say—your parents—what movie that was you really went to Friday night when you said you were watching Mickey Mouse Meets Frankenstein.”
The bully went white. “My God,” he gasped, “they’d cut off my allowance.” He paused. “You dirty sneak, if you tell—”
“Nobody said anything about telling,” said Harry. “Tom was only speaking hypothetically.”
“So, if you sign this paper, there’s no reason why anyone should know where you were Friday,” said Tom, handing Alvin the paper after picking it up from the ground where Alvin had thrown it.
“Shut up you bastards,” groaned that lad. “Where’s a pen?” Quickly the business was completed and Tom pocketed the paper.
“Now, get outa here,” said Dick Trefoil, hurling the bully out of the circle.
“You’ll pay for this,” screamed Alvin back.
“Remember what happened last time you said that,” called Tom, and then the whole group collapsed in laughter.
Finally Ned said, “Hey, Tom. Why didn’t you go along with Alvin Dodge’s plan? You know that we have to win that game or we’re in a hole. Why didn’t—”
Tom Wilshire interrupted. “Have you ever known me to do anything wrong since I became leader of the Moter Boys?”
The smaller lad replied, “What do you mean, ‘wrong’?”
“Did I ever do anything stupid?”
“Well, no.”
“Don’t I always know what I’m doing?”
“I guess so.”
“Well then, there you are.”
“But why didn’t you want to follow Alvin’s scheme?”
“I had my reasons.”
“What reasons,” demanded Ned impatiently.
“All right, lesson one. First, Alvin is not very bright, and his scheme wasn’t foolproof.”
“He does better’n me in school,” interrupted Dick Trefoil.
“So?” said Tom. “Second, most probably he just wanted to get us in trouble. No doubt he would have reported us as soon as we carried out the plan. Third, the fool didn’t notice that Mr. Deraton was listening when he proposed it. Of course I had to object. My God!” [15 Oc 1970]

11 October 2018

Slice of Life (1996)


[Passage from my journal, 11 October 1996 (4:55 pm PDT)]
I
 rose early and screwed around some with the old word-mangler here. Read the paper when it came—a boy who dreamed of being a herpe­tologist had been strangled by his pet python—and talked with my brother when he came [through to leave his dog off]. I was letting Glide [the dog] out to play in the back­yard after my brother left when the phone rang. This turned out to be someone from Unger and Associates (or something like that) to harass me about my student loan. Infinitely depressed, I headed out for the bus.
There was an older couple from Las Vegas on the bus who were heading for Pioneer Square and seemed so impressed by our public transportation system. There’s nothing like it in Vegas, they said, where the busses only run on the strip to get people from one casino to the next or whatever—and now they have people-movers running above the streets to accomplish the same thing.
I hit the library, which was interesting in a way. I found some information on William M. Turn­er in the 1880 Soundex, and learned a little about this new auto­mated renewal service and about this business of running out of renewals on books.  And then after that I headed out to Powell’s where I struck out completely on everything, though I did buy a book of parodies, as well as seeing a book on Rocky and Bullwin­kle.
I got home to find that GH had dropped by, bring­ing the final settlement from the estate. He had broken his collarbone while in England, at the same time he totaled his rented car. GH had come and gone, but he had stayed long enough to say that that tree growing by the driveway is a dangerous menace and should be removed (it is a fast-growing pest that does damage to foundations and so on). I went out and cut down that damn tree, wor­ried a bit about the student loan, and then came up here to write in my journal.

09 October 2018

Original Motor Chums Sketch [early October 1970]


[Written before 10 October 1970. In later incarnations the Moter Boys became the Motor Chums, Wilbur Medley High became Horatio Alger High, and Central Grumley High became Jefferson High.]
“W
e just have to win tonight’s game,” said short Ned Eliot to his friends.
“I know that,” replied Tom Wilshire, the leader of the Moter Boys, as Dick Trefoil had named the gang.
“How we gonna do it, Tom?” asked the last-named lad.
“We’ll just have to do our best and pray for success,” interposed Harry Fletcher.
“Ise gwine fight till I drop to win dis game, and nobody’s gwine to stop me, nuther,” stoutly insisted Ersatz Simpson, a colored boy whose eccentricities of speech provided much amusement for his comrades.
When the laughter had died away, Tom Wilshire said, “Sure, sure, Ersatz, I know you’ll carry the water bucket to the best of your ability, but winning this game’s going to take some athletic skills.”
Just then they were joined by another lad, Alvin Dodge, who had no reason to like our young heroes as you will remember if you read the previous book in the series, The Moter Boys and the Exploding Cigar Trick.
“I heard you talkin’ about the game,” said that young lad quietly.
“Yes, you certainly did,” replied Tom.
“Well, you know it would mean a lot to me and my friends if Wilbur Medley High wins this game.”
“I didn’t know you were so concerned about school spirit,” said Harry.
“Oh, shit, you know why I want our school to win,” said Alvin, “and it hasn’t got anything to do with school spirit.”
“Ok, ok,” said Tom, “I’m sure of the purity of your motives. But what about it? I mean, why come to us?”
“Hell, everybody knows you’re the best player on our team.”
“I’m going to do my best pitching. If that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Hell, no! Look, I have a plan. Fred Aaron’s their pitcher, and he’s the only good guy Central Grumley’s got.”
“So?”
“So if he’s out of the game, Grumley hasn’t got a chance.”
“All right.”
“Now, I’ve got a plan. Before the game, as a gesture of fellowship and good will and all that shit you invite Fred to have a Coke with your side, free.”
“Free!”
“I’ll give you the nickel.”
“Ok.”
“But how’s that gonna win the game for us?” asked Dick.
“When you give him the drink, put this powder in it, and kggggsh, Fred’s out of it.”
“You want me to poison Fred?”
“Not poison him. Knock him out for a while. Long enough so we can win the game.”
“I don’t want anything to do with your reprehensible plan,” shouted Tom. “It’s dishonest, sneaky, and I don’t like it.” [early October 1970]

06 October 2018

Profiles in Cowardice: The Susan Collins Chapter


W
hen I was in high school history class we used to get shown episodes from a show called Profiles in Courage, which was based on a book by the same name written by John F. Kennedy. Well, his name was on the thing anyway, though I see by Wikipedia that his contribution may actually have been fairly minor. Wikipedia says that “The book profiles senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions.” That’s how I remember it, though I haven’t read it in decades, and I don’t know what I’d think of it today. I definitely took issue with some of the episodes of the tv show we saw in class—but my high school history class was supposed to do that—make you challenge the material and evaluate the stories presented as history.
Now imagine its bizarro counterpart—Profiles in Cowardice, with, say, Spiro Agnew’s name on the title page. The book would presumably profile senators who kowtowed to the opinions of their party rather than doing what was right and reaped enormous acclaim and popularity because of their actions. The gutless cretins who backed GWBush’s attack on Iraq could have a chapter, along with the late Senator McCain. Susan Collins would fit right in. Not that I expected anything different from her. Today’s Republicans are a different breed from those of the past; I’d abandon the party myself except that I don’t want to give the motherfuckers the satisfaction. Why the hell didn’t the Anti-Americans start their own goddamn party, instead of ruining the party of Lincoln and TR?
Ah, well, let the dead bury their own dead, and move on. It was nice while it lasted, but America is dead, and the zombie Trumpenproletariat infest the land, eating the brains of others since they have none of their own. Move on—there’s nothing to see here.

05 October 2018

Hovenweep Excursion [1986]


[passage from my journal, 4–5 October 1986]
S
omewhere short of the Colorado/Utah line TJ and I stopped because we were worried about the battery. We looked under the hood without accomplishing anything; and then this bearded character stopped to give us a hand. He said that what we were describing was normal for the car—so we decided to set off, with renewed confidence. Actually we decided to wait until R and M showed up, figuring that we had waited there long enough anyway—we might as well wait the rest of the time. I think it took about twenty minutes altogether before they showed up, but show up they did, and we took off together, the pickup in the lead. At some point in Utah we pulled aside to let some vehicle go by, and at that point we ended up following M’s car.
Utah 128, midday. We left Interstate 70 at Cisco, and soon found ourselves in a region of red rock walls and towers, alongside the Colorado River. From the maps it looks as if this is one of the few sections of the Colorado River that is visible from a road, and in a way it’s only technically part of the Colorado; it was originally called the Grand River, and then might be regarded as a mere tributary to the Colorado River. The Dolores (which we traveled alongside coming back) empties into the Colorado about the point we joined it, and I guess at one time that was the main course of the river (until the end of the Pliocene, anyway).
As near as I can figure it, the red rocks these rivers are cutting through were deposited here during the Triassic era, when the area was a low lying floodplain, after the retreat of the sea that had covered it during Permian times. (Moenkopi Formation)
Fisher Towers. M and R, who were in the lead at that point, turned off at Fisher Towers, and we had lunch there. These are bizarre columns of rock, shaped like gigantic chess pieces. F. A. Barnes says about them:
This type of rock tends to be eroded by rain into vertical towers with surfaces convoluted because of layers of differing hardness. Generally, caprocks, or harder uppermost slabs of rock, help rain erosion shape the slender spires.
The Fisher Towers, near Utah 128 to the northeast of Moab Valley, are outstanding examples of this type of spire.
I looked at a tower shaped like the Red Queen fairly closely—it was on the way to the toilets. Layers of fairly consistent red stuff were divided by some conglomerate that looked like solidified river gravel. There was a layer of harder green stuff—God knows what it was to start with. M thought it might be volcanic ash. It looked to me like (say) alternating riverbottom and riverbank, or better yet, lakebottom and lakebank. Anyway, it was fascinating to see, and made me wish I knew more about the geology of the whole place.
We had lunch there—TJ had packed eight slices of bread, some lunchmeat and some cheese, so we made sandwiches out of them and R and/or M came up with sour-cream-and-onion-flavored potato chips. We ate by a small dropoff and inadvertently fed the ants bits of potato chips, which they lugged off down the slope. When we left, we were leading again.
Arches. According to the maps we passed near Arches National Park (it must have been across the Colorado River to our right) but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. All that sticks in my mind are miles and miles of red spires and walls and towers.
Moab. After the miles of uninhabited land Moab looked a lot like civilization to me. It’s a fairly substantial town for being located in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t know what fuels it. TJ says it’s an old uranium mining town. Anyway, whatever the story on it is, we zipped right through it down US 163/191 into the Moab-Spanish valley. Although Pack Creek appears to run along the valley floor, the valley apparently was not created primarily by erosion, but rather by the dissolution of underlying salt layers and the subsequent collapse of the rock layers above them. The red bluffs south of the valley are apparently Entrada Sandstone, formed out of desert dunes that covered the area in the Jurassic.
Newspaper Rock. We turned west on Utah 211 to see Newspaper Rock, a State Historic Monument. There are a large number of petroglyphs there, scraped onto the face of a flat rock protected by an overhanging rock shelf. I took my first pictures of the trip there, some (I’m fairly sure) with the lenscap still on. Some of these petroglyphs are believed to go back as far as 8000 AE [=2000 BCE]; the interpretive material at the site conservatively observed that the images cannot be dated. This is safe, but not altogether true—evidence of style and content, while not as “safe” as radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology, could certainly provide some indication of date. Whatever the story is, there is certainly some fascinating material there—a ladder with hands, for instance, and seven-toed footprints. Some one had scratched his name there as recently as 1954, right under another name dated 1902—both well above the main area of pictures. When we left the Newspaper Rock Historic site R and TJ changed places, to give TJ a rest from driving, and R drove the pickup from then on.
US 163. We continued onward down US 163 through Monticello and Blanding. I don’t remember what the country looked like through there exactly, except that it was sunny and hot and dry. Somewhere after Blanding R began to get worried about the gasoline situation, but we didn’t attempt to do anything until after we had passed Hatch—this of course after we had turned off US 163 at the Hatch turnoff. We stopped and debated what to do. TJ was for turning back and getting the truck gassed up, but M was for going on and sending her car back to bring back gas if necessary. We ended up going on to the campground first, as it was getting dark, or rather it would be getting dark soon, and we wanted to get set up.
Hovenweep Campground. Considering that it is October, and that there was hardly anybody there when we went back in july, the campground was crowded. Quite a few people there, though a number of them did not appear to hang around to see the ruins the next day. I don’t know what the story was—some of them seemed to be classes of some kind, but others seemed perhaps merely to be retired folk, or something of that kind. M at once began building a fire and getting supper ready while TJ and R set up the tent. I helped lug things from the car and then went up the hill to see about paying for the campground. This was one of those places where you put the money in an envelope and shove it in a slot that (as far as one can tell) feeds straight into the earth. Later I looked about at some of the other cars, but none of them seemed to have camping permits—were we fools to pay? And yet Hovenweep is one of the better sites, and it was still October…. Maybe these other people were legitimate—some of them seemed like maybe they were ranger trainees or something. Whatever,
Anyway, we ate hamburger steak and potatoes and onions and green peppers that M cooked in foil on the campfire, and we drank whatever was available. The sky was very clear—we watched Venus, then Jupiter, then Mars and Saturn and Antares slowly appear. Mercury was supposed to be visible, but I couldn’t find it at all. (I never have seen Mercury, not to know what it was, anyway.)
Many Stars. It was so clear outside that we decided to sleep out, and we set up our sleeping bags beside the tent. The people in the campspace next to us stayed up talking for a couple of hours after we had retired, but then we retired early. We only had the people on one side to cope with, luckily, because there was no campspace to the other side of us; there was a space there that marked the start of a trail to the Holly ruins. When the sun set, Arcturus was still visible, Saturn was visible in Scorpio, Mars near Sagittarius, and Jupiter somewhere near Pisces. The summer triangle was directly overhead, and it was easy to see Sagitta and Vulpecula inside it. We were facing east, and Pegasus dominated the sky there; I also specifically noted Pisces, Perseus, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus; it was probably about this interval that I traced out the length of Draco; I know I’ve seen its stars before, but that’s not the same thing as seeing the constellation. When I woke up again after an interval of sleep (it has to have been around 11:30, though I didn’t look at my watch) Orion was lying on his side on the eastern horizon, only about half risen. Auriga and Taurus were also visible. The Big Dipper was low on the northern horizon, and I could see the stars of Camelopardalis close by Perseus. Pegasus was directly overhead. As I awoke at intervals (it was cold) during the night Orion got higher and higher in the sky, Jupiter disappeared behind me to the west, Gemini and Sirius and Procyon showed up, and I could see the stars that in the morning when I looked them up turned out to be Lepus and Monoceros. I looked for Cancer, but clouds moved in then and obscured it. And the sun rose and I had to go to the bathroom, so I got up and took off for the facilities provided. Weird pink and purple clouds hung over the eastern horizon where the sun was coming up. One of the best night’s seeing I’ve ever had—no moon at all.
Hovenweep Ruins. We got up and breakfasted on bacon and zuchini-bread, and then headed off to look at the ruins. I had to go back for my camera, as I had forgotten it, but otherwise things went okay. R and I caught up with TJ and M at Tower Point, where I took some pictures through its windows. We then headed off down the Twin Towers trail. I think I took a picture through the natural tunnel, and we all paused at the Petroglyphs to try to guess their meaning, if any. One of the three birds had been extensively vandalized. We stopped at this tower base built up on a boulder, that’s also clearly visible from Tower Point, but for some reason isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Trail Guide. We stopped at Round Tower, and climbed about inside Eroded Boulder House and Twin Towers. I think we were looking over Eroded Boulder House when this bizarre group of twelve (their count) or thirteen (our count) people came marching cheerily by, reciting the lines from Monty Python’s Holy Grail while marching the wrong way down the trail and ignoring the ruins. They disappeared while passing the petroglyphs without even a first glance. Unit Type House was the most interesting to me, with its Kiva and holes for determining the solstices.
Afterword. It was amazing crawling through the old Anasazi ruins and all that—got some good pictures too. On our way back we drove through Unaweep canyon. Ten or fifteen million years ago it used to be the Colorado river bed, apparently; then the river changed course and left us an amazing canyon—steep walls, bizarre towers—the whole bit.
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