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27 December, 2010


So yeah, it rains up here. But that makes the sun brighter when it shows.

If you were to judge by the historical data or by the little cloud or raindrop icons on TV and internet weather predictions, you'd think it rains all the time. But that's misleading, the data are too coarse by farr. A passing squall, here and gone in under an hour, registers as a rainy day in history. And the icons? Clouds kick in at like 30% chance of precip--since this is not a sun-and-fun tourist destination, I guess nobody feels any pressure to highlight the sunlight.

Maybe dark dank forecasts aim to keep more people from moving here. Maybe it's northern European stoicism or fatalism weaving grey into the cultural tapestry. Maybe it's the need to excel, the American drive to superbole, to be the most of something, even if it's the most crappy weather.

I'm not that much of an optmist, but this seems unnecessecarily gloomy. Many days that will go down in history as rainy are blessed by sunbeams, brightened by sunbreaks. Even the fleeting glimpse of sky and light offers promise, a hint of the stint of long sunny days in summer. The sight of blue sky peeping through a hole in the clouds miles in the distance is enough for me to perk up, I cast a line into that azure puddle and set the hook of memory.  Rain lets up, and a lighter shade of grey lures me into the garden. Sometimes, even without the sun breaking through, the play of light and dark, of thick and thin clouds, of swirls and masses is enough. The allure of the veiled creates warmth. There are a million kinds of rain and cloud here, kaleidoscopic and fractally fascinating.

You'll hear the weather people on TV and radio talk of the chance of sunbreaks. I don't have the data, but I'd bet they do this more often toward the end of winter, when people are worn out. Some people seem perpetually worn out, though, and look at sunbreaks as "sucker holes," sunlit bait drawing the unwise outside just so that the clouds can rush back and dump on them. I, for one, enjoy a good sucker hole, accept it for what it is, and bear it no ill will. I cannot make the sun stay, but I can sure as hell enjoy it while it's here, and reel in a memory.

These recollections are important, for the fact is that there is plenty of in-between time in the winter. Even reminisces of sunbreaks help clear the gloom. Memories of the cloudless 16 hour days of summer offer their own kind of promise, surety that hanging in there for the long run will be rewarded. But knowing that a sunbreak may brighten even a late November day offers more immediate hope.

As I write this, rain drips from the eaves, and as the sun climbs, the dawn comes into sharper focus, the grey wash of sky splits up and strikes off as individual clouds. High ones hanging, and low ones scudding. Lighter patches show up and move on. There will be blue today.

26 December, 2010

The Paranoia of the Hyperfortunate

Assume, as radiochronologists do, that 1950 is the present, and that all dates before that are so many years BP. By 1950, enough by-products of atomic weapons experimentation had gotten into the air and water to make radiometric dates unreliable (and to spawn Godzilla--Libby and his inner circle are rumored to have chosen 1950 mostly for this very reason, though none ever admitted to it in public). You could argue for 1945, when the US nuked two cities, but nobody funding science in the West wanted to highlight that. Scientists like data that can speak across national and cultural divides, and besides, in a world brought together by two world wars, it was getting embarrassing to express dates in terms of a leader in the Judean nonviolent resistence to Roman occupation. Especially when it sunk in that we had become Rome.

Now the difficulty is with dates after 1950. Following the logic of BP, it should be AP, but that name is taken by a news organization associated with press, which seems so archaic and ill-fitting on the infinite future implied. I won't offer another universal solution, and instead will choose reference points fleeting and provincial, fickle and idiosyncratic.

With that out of the way, now I can gress:

After the dust had settled and the corpses changed from stinking to feeding lush new growth, Americans settled in back at home where most of the few causalties had occurred in factories. They boomed forth offspring, we had a pretty easy time for a generation. People say the 1960s were a time of upheaval, but the fact is that the huge majority kept doing the same boring things they'd been doing.

So they kept going to work and having families and staking out their little claim of American dreamscape. And for a generation or so, a young man entering the workforce could look forward to a lifetime job. A lot of these have become obsolete: corps of clerks fit in a single hard drive now, a salesmen between me and the thing I want to buy is an impediment and cost that will turn me elsewhere, and ultimately (to the dismay of the managers who let all those underlings go) you don't need so many managers for so few workers.

But from 0-25 BJC (Before Jimmy Carter), a lot of these jobs were easy to come the right people. Like people who were white and had a penis. And didn't have an accent, or worship someone besides Jesus, or you-know, act different. Put on your tie and collect your paycheck. Easy as pie.

Fortunately for these guys, European industry was in ruins and unable to compete, the US had inherited the Pacific, and the rest of the world had yet to show much capacity for global business. Our steel and everything made from it shipped world-wide, plastics and electronics metastesized, and some smart socialism (like the Marshall Plan and interstate highway construction) developed ever wider markets intrernationally and at home. The guy selling products that sold themselves (but needed a human to fill out forms in triplicate) could get fat off of commissions and bonuses.

I grew up among these guys' kids, a lot of whom managed to pull off a similar trick, although most have moved from one employer to another, partly because increased efficiencies wrung from automation, outsourcing, mergers and other sources of working class unempoloyment have alchemized into benefits for the bosses. These are the hyperfortunate, those who had good things fall into their laps by virtue of being born.

Like most of the blessed throughout history, these people dwell on the down-side. They have so much to lose, and there are so many people out there who might want to take it. Or, they know they have something, but not as much as their bosses, their alleged betters.

So the riots and anti-war protests and drugiastic mayhem of the years 10-6 BJC may not have ever harkened a fair, peaceful and open-minded social order. But they did manage to scare some people, if only because they were frowned at anymore for saying 'nigger' and nursed nagging fears that their daughter might marry one, or their son might take drugs and not wanna work. At the office, having to hire women and Negroes upset the indelicate balance of the boys' club; plurality and compliance with laws and rules meant to engineer equality finally rendered management real work.

Simultaneously faced with social pressure to talk nice and legal sanction for discriminating (and later, for poisoning the environment), the hyperfortunate felt their fears a-fruiting, saw opportunities for their children begin to be harvested by the melanin-rich, the exotically-accented, the others. And so they blamed hyphenated Americans and insinuated that women who worked were child-haters or dykes. And despite continued interventions by the government on behalf of Business, they took to blaming the government as well.

As that oxymoron "political correctness" took root and blaming minorities and women became taboo (on paper), the hyperfortunate took the gummint route more and more often. From its diesel-rainbowed rutwater the Tea Party emerged. Not evolved, because they don't believe in that, and the movement is patently inhuman and unnatural. The Kochs and Fox and a rash of richers who do not rhyme but have bast amounts of cash at their disposal, concocted its molecular structure from petrochemicals and bile, conjured up a soul from Greed and Gluttony and Covetousness, blessed by voodoo economic priests (yet continued to be labeled "Christian"), and turned it loose in the electorate.

They are greatly aided by the fact that the government's apparent head is a black man with a foreign-sounding name one letter removed from that of our most famous terrorist enemy. Nobody has to say the N-word to get the biggot masses riled up, "Obama" is the perfect stand-in. And so the anti-government rhetoric has ratcheted up from Reagan's folksy assphorisms to fear of black helicopters and love for the Rapture to the widespread belief that the liberals want totalitarian government run by a president who is some sort of foreign agent.

Which is preposterous. The last time our president was a foreign agent, a group of Saudis attacked our financial center, we committed to a costly war in a country that had nothing to do with it, and the remaining parties of the Axis of Evil came away with more power than ever.

One facet of hyperfortunate paranoia is that blaming the truly culpable is not an option. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, or you will be fired. Or maybe next time instead of feeding you that baloney (steaks are but a memory for the old, a legend to the young), it will hand you actual crap. Our woes cannot be the fault of corporations galloping toward next year's bankruptcy to maximize this quarter's profits. Do not blame Exxon or the healthcare industry or Cheney, because you want to be as rich as them one day, and won't want anyone attacking you then. Fight to protect what you aspire to tooth and nail, and someday you may be rewarded.

The fine print confirms that loyal commoners will not be rewarded, but never mind. All that matters is that the tripe pie that remains for the 99% of people who do most of the work and get least of the rewards is not only not infinite, it is shrinking, and even the dumbass who got his job due to his frat or church or other born-white connection can see that. He sure as hell does not want to see someone else bellying up to the table.

24 December, 2010

Cool Ease

Once were glaciers. There still are, for now, just not this low, not this south. But their tracks reach halfway down from the pole, evidence of past sprawl.

For a long time, "glacial" has meant slow. A glacial pace excruciates and frustrates, witholds fruition until long after you've lost interest. To some it's majestic, stately, an inspiring slow march across ages.

Of course we know that to be bullshit now, and although the concept of glaciers as slow may hang on among english majors and other metaphor junkies, scientists who've studied this kind of earth artistry now know just how fast a glacier can move. In our warmed atmosphere, they can break up quickly, mile after mile of what appeared to be a solid block of ice fracturing, sliding, turning into mush in a single summer. Beneath their stoic mantles, river rush and rage. And in the cores that remain solid (for now), strata of long-fallen snow tell about sudden onsets of ice ages, rapid accumulations, quick thaws.

Here in the northwest, especially in the sere interior, areas bare of towering forests and other rock-swallowing greenery, geology speaks of other glacial speed. Glaciers here once held enormous lakes, icy fastness damming inland seas. As the climate warmed, water sought the weak points, runnning off the top, tunneling through cracks and voids, shimmying beneath, pioneering trickles searching for opening to turn the vast potential energy of the impounded water kinetic and free. Lake Missoula, about 200 miles long and holding something like 500 cubic miles of water, let rip and carved out the canyons we call coulees. Rock formations downstream held back water for a time, but the lake drained in a couple of days, and rock cannot hold up to that forever, a couple hundred square kilometers of it gave way, turning the once broad expanses of the laval plateau into a tracery of coulees grand and miniscule.

The floods happened when people were still a new and naturalizing species in the new world. I can see them, living in a good spot along the river, enjoying the bounty of an unspoiled landscape, and then feeling the earth shake, hearing a roar, and then being wiped out by a wall of water. Throughout the Columbia watershed, the best human habitat was ripped apart. The archaeologist in me weeps not just for the people who were swept away, crushed by boulders, and drowned, but also for the earliest sites, obliterated. (Of course, there must also be some sites, located in a lucky lee or a high bench that only got a blanket of sand and silt, where entire Pleistocene camps must have been buried intact.)

But once the ice sheets ceded the lower latitudes and no ice dams held more potential cataclysms, the coulees remained. Over time, the interior dried out, and the canyons became oases, protecting streams and ponds from wind and sun, collecting mountain snowmelt, thunderstorm runoff, percolating rain of yore. 

Above, scabland lava, sagebrush, fields of glacial till. Deer instead of mastodons, solitary sage grouse instead of sky-darkening flights of fowl.  Beautiful in its way, and far short of desolation, but plenty of dessication to go around. People traversed this country, hunted some, found patches of roots to eat, but it was sunburnt and windswept.

Far better to retreat to the protection of a coulee. Here there was water, and waterfowl, and all the critters who come to drink...and feed the people. Here grew moisture loving plants that could not survive up top: food, medicine, fiber, mats, and so many materials vital to the organic age. Here was escape from the relentless wind, a place where fire can be tamed and live in a hearth and that had more wood to burn in the first place. Here, flood-ripped canyon walls exposed tool rock, flood deposits made easy picking for cooking and sweatlodge rocks. Here, labyrinths well known to locals afforded escape from marauders, ambushes for hunting, secret and secluded spots for communing with the spirits. The great coulees, Grand and Moses and others, became highways as bipeds grew in number and eventually reintroduced horses.

Cool. Ease.

13 December, 2010

The Fire Inside

This title must already have been used on a bunch of crappy books about sports, self-published memoirs of entrepreneurs, self-help compendiums of snippets wrung form the experience of Winners, and all manner of motivational junk.

My post is about fires, inside. Also about heatilators, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Or maybe not, because I am shiftless, or maybe shiftful. Or just full of shift. In any case, not driven by some internal fire, an unflickering force, or some burning yearning. (Maybe one, but hell if I'm gonna admit to that on the internet.)

Although it's the time of year when my pyromania is confined to the den, I still enjoy a good fire. Right now is nice, the family all tucked in bed, me sitting here with the dog, writing. Me, that is. The dog is no help at all in composition, being more of a sculptor.

Morning fires may be my favorite, though. My 5-year-old has been helping me some this year, placing some of the kindling before the lighting, but for the most part this is another solo domain. If I happened to be motivated enough top bring in more wood the night before, or not motivated enough to brun the evening's supply of wood, there will be enough sitting there under the cantilevered hearth to get going. But more often than not, the first task is fetching wood. On good days that means brisk air under a crisp sky, or even a nice foggy blanket. Other times, it's a dash through the rain.

Then the ritual of turning castoffs into tinder and kindling. I've been working through the yellow pages this year. There was a thing on the news lately about Seattle levying a fee on phonebook publishers, the logic being that they dump these things on every doorstep, and almost all of them end up unused, part of the solid waste stream. Seattle obviously is wanting for pyros. As for the kindling, I've used everything from broken drawers to failed carvings (only actual wood though). This season it has all been the last of the leftover fence boards, sawed and split pieces that were so short or damaged they could not even make a birdhouse floor, snap-crackling cedar, unfailing faggots of flame waiting to be unleashed.

Then the building, setting everything so that a single match of flicked bic can set the tongues a-licking and flames a-rising. Despite being inside, I still set it up like a campfire. I have about the most primitive fireplace possible in a 20th Century house,  with the exception of the heatilator (which I still intend to address later, though I can feel my resolve getting bored and threatening to walk off). So it's a teepee in the corner, usually, cedar and paper with bigger wood erected over it, bigger wood still at the ready. 

Then, flame. Keeping an eye on it, ripping another page from the phonebook if the fire stalls, placing larger pieces where they will catch best. Feeding those hungry tongues with good wood, letting them lick higher, and piling on more. 

I grew up in a house where fires in the fireplace consisted of 3-4 logs, parallel, on a grate. Now that I am in charge, they look more random, and change shape as the conflagration progresses. Lately, I've been into stacking them so they look vaguely (or maybe exactly, for all I know) like Korean characters: black-charred strokes hovering on an orange background. I love that every fire is different, and every moment of each fire unlike the one before.

The new fire roars and cracks. Flames grow higher and whiter with intensity, threatening to climb the chimney. The heat begins to shoulder cold aside. As I add big logs, mixing in hard maple to mate with the flaming fir, I let things subside, and shift my attention from getring things going to building a bed of coals. The big flames having blasted a perimeter of warm air, the task now is to heat up the ton of masonry, which eventually helps heat the whole house.

Along with the heatilator.  Like I've said before, this house has a passive convection system mortared into the fireplace itself, simple and unbreakable, dependent on nothing more than a fire to start pumping air. The state of the art has long since passed this by, what with inserts and fans and pellet-stoves, gas logs, fake electric fires, and all that crap. I know this not only because big box hardware stores have relegated wood grates to some dark corner while new "systems" take front and center, but because of the "stats" feature of this blog.

It turns out that the "Heatilator" post is one of the most viewed. Not so much because there are other aficionados out there, but because there are confused people out there searching for "heatilator air velocity" or "tv over heatilator." That they should end up on a blog with the rantings and ramblings herein is sad for them, and evidence that the web is pretty damn hard up for information on a technology that is not old enough to have developed an antiquarian patina, and not new enough to be a catalogued and well-cached component of the computer age.

But I digress, which is possible when a fire has reached its mature stage. Sizzling slowly, a few logs feeding each other, sustaining a happy glow and an occasional outburst of flame, maple releasing its heat slow and steady: the lifelong love in a warm bed of embers following the passionate flames of the outset. Asking only for the occasional log to keep heating the house. Nothing spectacular, but these long slow burns have more to do with lower utility bills than the big flames.

So I hope that if you were searching for useful information on those holes in yourt fireplace masonry and ended up here instead (the TV will be fine if there is a mantle between it and the outlet vents, by the way, and probably would be otherwise), I hope that this found you sitting by a fire, enjoying the shifting of the flames, the diversion of attention.

But I think you need to go poke those logs to keep the fire breathing, and maybe add another log.

Good night.

11 December, 2010

Human Tides

People come and people go from faces of the earth. Our kind are increasing here in the maritime northwest as on earth as a whole, sprawl marches along highways, farms are gulped and a hundred plots plotzed out. It seems inexorable (as if I even  know exactly what that means), this primate tide.

But if you go out beyound the sprawl, go into the dark wood and windy mountain and all manner of muddy places our modern feet fear to tread, there are the high water marks of earlier waves of first people and the 600 generations that followed. Nature west of the Cascades swallows whole towns in a generation or two. I've been in places that had a hotel and a bank, a post office, neighborhoods and cemeteries, a good-sized herd of humans at the dawn of the atomic era. But then when all the trees had been cut, it was over. Railways pulled for use elsewhere, materials scavenged, everything else made of wood rots, archaeology gets made. Blackberries and alder thickets make it hard top gain entry anymore, and in less than a human lifetime are succeeded by evergreens that eventually create a blanket of roots over the whole thing.

Humans have ebbed off lands we think are wild now, and our own dominion over earth is bound to falter eventually. The ebb is in effect at Secret Habor, where an entire school campus was demolished almost two years ago. That's the photo here. If you know what you are looking at, you can see slope cuts where the main buildings were, and the backhoe is in a basketball court about at the spot where I found an old pitcher's mound buried in the fill. I think only 3 structures remain, with another 3 cabins on nearby private land.

This human retreat happens to be intentional. The school wanted to move to the mainland for logistic and financial reasons, and the state wanted to manage the island as a natural area. One thing still to come is removal of a dike, which is also in the photo above--its the shoreline at the right. Again, the cognizant eye immediately notices that the seaward face of the dike is eroding. About a horizontal foot is gone since a year ago.

In the 1870s, the first white homesteader diked off part of the estuary and managed to do a little farming. He didn't last too long, though, and in the 1880s along came Shadrach Wooten, who had married into the local tribe and may just have been moving to his wife's family place. Same thing happened with Mr Hansen, and those two families represented the high water mark for a couple of generations. Did they maintain the dike, or let the sea flood back in? I don't know.  By the end of the Depression, none of them lived there anymore, anyway.

After WWII, a Seattleite decided that the harbor could be a haven, and over the last half of the century there was a school for boys. During this time, the dike was reinforced and raised; I found a ruler in the fill, a spray-paint can embedded in a concrete seawall.

There have been other ebbs and flows on Cypress. The capitalist alchemy of tranforming salmon, timber, minerals and even wild rhododendrons into cash came in boom-bust waves crested and fell quickly. A tourism wave was proposed, and although it never really materialized did manage to carve out a few marks on the landscape. Older peoples interested in maintaining populations of strawberries and deer, roots and fruits and wood...their waves oscillated more in time with the seasons, and were less inclined to scour the land bare on their way out.

Enough of the fluff and opinionizing. Let's get back to dirt. This is the profile of a trench, with the water table at something like 125 cm below surface. Down there, you have clay that gets sandier the higher you go, until hitting an organic layer. In some areas, this has a lot of bark, in others there is perfectly preserved grass, and in others it's a finer peat. Could be from logging, a different sea level, ancient human intervention,... Then there's another run of grey clay into sand, and then you get into modern fill.

As you can see, there's a wooden pile, driven into the lower grey, and either very short or cut off at the inception of the uppermost fill. Cypress timber was tough by virtue of low rainfall and serpentine soils, and prized for pilings; several turned up in this trench, and none were creosoted. They are neither ancient nor modern.

I'm really only starting to analyze the sediments, and at some point will have to find funds or a compelling con to get dates and expertise. I'll get back to you when I do. 

08 December, 2010

On the Radio Now

Lucas is playing a sound quilt on KAOS:

Contemporary pow wow music, a trippy interlude, and up pops what sounds like John Lennon and Dick Cavett talking about Indians, over and then followed by a drum riff... Now a guy talking about native cultural and language loss and preservation.
The airwaves of Olympia oxygenate our local culture. People think that computers and webs can connect freedom lovers, and that the System is vulnerable to leaking into the same net damning data, inspiring even our rulers to be honest and peaceful.

Of course the web ain't that way. Some govbot is at this moment getting antsy at my mention of such things. The internet requires connection, plugging in, and for all the supposed privacy measures, you have to assume that the spies and big brother have better software than the average citizen. Are you connected to the web, or just trapped on it, waiting on the spider?

Radio lives in the air, not just in the stone's throw radius of a wireless hub. You send nothing back; the station just transmits. So yeah, you do not affect the programming of the broadcaster, but nor are they subject to denial of service attacks, viruses, or being kicked off the server. Low power stations can be mobile, off the power grid, and received by people similarly unplugged. Both ends can function without petrochemical infusions if they want, and if we ever get to the point of civil, martial, or natural disturbance on such a scale that the fragile cyber world becomes disconnected, radio is likely to survive. Mad Max's ride, the last of the V-8 Interceptors, had a radio.

The listener can turn the radio on or off. There are no packets telling NSA what she's listening to, and she has in her arm the strength to generate enough power to tune in on crank-it-up machines costing 20 bucks. The airwaves can be breathed in at will.

Democracy requires radio. TV was just about the death of freedom, and computer connectivity's ability to disperse information far and wide is more than offset by its susceptibility to secret monitoring, pinpoint location of users, data mining for phrases and patterns that mark a man as a rebel. Again, I feel Admiral Poindexter's cold gaze on these words.

The airwaves can be jammed, but not form a single location in a West Virginia bunker. Given the security industry's fetishization of technology, I'd venture to guess that they've been bored with radio broadcasts for decades now, and have grown lax in paying attention. The town I live in has pirate stations that don't even bother to hide, low power broadcasters that regularly venture into opinions and news that make the supposed liberal media look grand and old. In many areas of the country, NPR is on the left, but here they are outflanked by KAOS, who are outflanked by Radio Free Olympia, who are probably outflanked by stations I have yet to encounter.

Freedom is on the line, but it is not online. It is in the air.

What was it?

The last few days, lurking at the edge, is a blog about something, but I cannot figure out what. There's a Cypress thing about flows and ebbs of people, but thats not it.
It's that dream you enjoyed, but it slips away before your waking mind can commit it to memory.

Three buts, I'm out.

07 December, 2010

Cypress Again (Finally)

This third Summer in the NW began to seem familiar, my body more used to the rythms, seasoned enough to feel comfortable just past halfway north to the pole. And as you may recall, I was pretty sure I knew ahead of time that August would find me on Cypress Island.

But government time does not comply with the seasons, and even though they recognize years and do some things annually, they prefer the biennium. So August slipped to Sept., then boat trouble delayed the whole operation to October, maybe Halloween, but still I drifted along in the belief that in the islands, Autumn falls softlier than where I live, and the trip could still play out under that season's rippling sideways sunbeams.

But the calendar fell subject to arcane formulae concerning the availbility of funding, rules rules and more rules, other project timelines, and quite a few other variables of less or more dubious officiality. Government time set the trip for late November, when it would finally be darker and rainier than usual. Specifically, early on the Monday after Turkey Day, which meant a Sunday drive on I-5 with a million other people.

Foreboding didn't really have time to set in, and my hermitty self grinned at the promise of island seclusion. The road was crowded, but not clogged. Everything went well dockside, then a run no more complicated than dodging crabpots in Secret Harbor. The predicted gale held off til late in the day, by which time we were tucked away low in the lee, watching low clouds skudd, but feeling only the greatest gusts. (The return was on a channel glassier and calmer than I'd ever seen it.)

The boat and backhoe pilot stayed over, more fun than hermitage, and remained a few days til the work was done. It's really nice to work with someone you don't know, and find out that they're interesting and can handle themselves in the field.

My part was spending time in trenches through the old ball field, filled in past years and destined to be re-opened to the ocean in future biennia. So I was looking for things in the fill to tell me when they were deposited, and found a pitcher's mound and superball (no earlier than 1970s, based on materials).

To get deeper we had to run a pump, which at times would empty the trench quicker than water at the far end could drain. Other times it just choked on clay or the rodent who'd drowned the first night. In the 40 minutes or so between pump and seepage victories, I walked the muck, troweled clean the walls, drew stratigraphic profiles. Oh, and shoveled saturated muck.

Like all good dirt, this stuff says something. I haven't figured it all out yet, but the sequence of sand, clay, sand, organic, clay, sand, fill tells a tale of a Salish Sea and people. Was that organic layer a natural thing, maybe when glaciers sucked the sea shallower? Or a Salish woman's silverweed marsh garden? Or logging droppings?

Questions to ponder later.

Lithic 1

Sorry if you clicked on this looking for something on stones. I just didn't want to title this entry "Rocky I," even though that's what it is about. After making my near-teen kid watch Planet of the Apes by way of home-schooling her in sarcasm (see "Shallow Space Travel"), I figured a lesson on abject mockery was in order, in particular the iconic moments of Rocky that have sustained comedians for decades now. 

As you may know, Rocky was the story of an exceptionally stupid and no longer very young boxer in Philadelphia who, against all odds, gets a shot at the heavyweight title of the world. (Why stupid? Maybe all the blows to the head, maybe the deadening effects of living in Philly, or maybe he was just a dumbass.) His best friend and mentor is a rubber ball whose cheerful acceptance of being slammed into the spit and velveeta-stained streets of the Philly slums provides the self-proclaimed Italian Stallion with his fighting strategy: take blows to the head until your opponent tires or dislocates something.

The champ that reaches into the City of Brotherly Love (lovingly shot in a palette of soot and carcass hues) and pulls out a smalltime leg-breaker for a sham battle resembles Muhammad Ali in some ways: black and beautiful (sorta), boastful and uppity (the late-70's was an era when white people bemoaned melanin run rampant in their sports world). But it being Hollywood, and a film released in the afterglow of the bicentennial, movie champ Apollo Creed is not a conscientious objector, but loves America so much that he wears red white and blue trunks, albeit in an uppity way. Later Rocky the champ will don similarly patriotic garb before defeating communism in the guise of a hulking nazi poster boy, but that's another tale.

Stallone, who wrote and starred in the movie (there was no director) and reportedly stitched together all the costumes as well, wanted to emphasize the value of individual will and hard work, so a fair amount of the movie focuses on his training, culminating in the flick's second most famous moment: Rocky in the same unwashed sweatsuit he's been wearing for weeks, heavily stained on the ass for some reason, charging up the stairs of the capitol and pumping his arms in the air [Yes, Internerd, I know the capitol's in Harrisburg, but Rocky thought it was the capitol.]

Anyway, Rocky runs, sweats, confides his insecurities to his rubber ball, maybe even abstains from sex, and punches beef carcasses (or, in Philly parlance, beats his meat), sometimes before cameras.

The cameras are there because this unlikely challenger has become a home-town hero. The white population of Philly, still years from their triumphant fire-bombing of black activists, seizes on Rocky as a punch-drunk messiah of sorts, or at least a working class hero (of a looser sort, given his joblessness). 

And on a more intimate scale, Rocky has other supporters. Like plastic fish and turtle toys that he believes are pets, and feeds diligently. There's Paulie, a sloppy and sometimes violent drunk whose ethnicity is never directly mentioned, but who works for a meat company with an Irish name (to be fair, Sly scrawled unflattering stereotypes of Italian-Americans as well). There's the girl who sold him the pet food and is Paulie's sister, because anyone else would have alien and confusing to Rocky's addled mind. In a true Philly romance, he traps her in his filthy apartment, shows her is biceps and armpits, and she falls for him, or at least under him, making love on the floor among the roach-husks and mouse-turds. Finally, there's his manager, a guy who everyone calls Mick (probably not a Swede), but who is clearly a retired Penguin, embittered after being humiliated by Batman, jilted by the Riddler, and robbed blind by the Joker. Mick supports Rocky by yelling at him, which I guess makes him more of a father figure than the rubber ball, and by telling him "Stay away from women, they weaken the legs." (Luckily Rocky had that one brilliant moment and figured out the beef loophole.)

Then the fight itself, lovingly choreographed by, you guessed it, Stallone. Rocky leads off with the usual strategy of standing there and blocking punches with his face, but eventually he and his corner realize that compared to his usual experience with 3-round bouts, a 15 round prize fight is way more: the cut man thinks maybe 10 times more, Rocky says 100, while the Penguin spits in disgust and says "There ain't no such number that big, Rock," then jabs him in the nuts to perk him up for the next round.

Then this nobody lands a solid punch, knocking down the champ. What follows is a boring see-saw of desperation and triumph, hitting and getting hit, blood, spit, drool, and snot. The only real good part is when Rocky cannot see because his eye is swollen, and his manager wants him to quit, but he says "Cut it, Mick!" Oh, the mockery that line has fed. We used that line doing fieldwork all the time,and I suggest you do the same. It need not relate at all to what's happening; thus are the rules of Rocky's utterances.

So does he win? I dunno, maybe the movie does not say, or maybe I just didn't care. I was too caught up in the most famous moment of the movie, when he is done with the fight, and all the world is crowding into the ring, and Rocky keeps howling "Adrian!"

Adrian had been the name of his pet-shop girl, drunk-boy's sister. But that woman was poor, and based on her glasses and clothes was either a time traveler or some religious extremist who dressed as if the 1960s had never happened. The woman who comes to the ring has new clothes, uses rich-girl conditioner, and sees fine with no glasses. Adrienne, maybe, but not the same spinster he'd woo'd and screwed on the kitchen floor. In any case, a few seconds of celluloid killed off those names, maybe forever. Nobody from that point forward wanted to name their kid something that would be bawled loudly by people trying to act retarded. "Aaaa Dreee Uuuunnnnnn!!!"

So did my kid learn anything? Maybe, but probably not. She did stick it out 'til the very end, through 15 rounds of incomprehensible "dialogue," unlikelihoods galore, gore unbridled, Rocky's incontinence, and of course, my dumb comments. For with so little to work with, refined sarcasm is difficult, and mockery grows dull before long, which is why society as chosen two or three scenes to mock as shorthand for the entire movie, and why I went for the richer grounds of POTA first.

BONUS: That was it for the blog entry proper, but I cannot let this pass without mentioning that fact that the movie included among Apollo Creed's entourage none other than Arnold Johnson. Yeah, Putney Swope himself. Same suit, same beard, although the voice lacked the magic Swope. Sadly, I think that his tertiary sidekick role here was one of the biggest things to happen to him since he starred as the revolutionary advertiser a decade earlier, maybe his last movie appearance. He showed up in episodes of The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son, and after exhausting the 'black' shows, appeared in other shows in the only roles available to bearded African Americans: old men and drunks. Although he did appear in several episodes of Hill Street Blues, it was never in a major role, and unlike Rocky he never got a real championship shot. 

03 December, 2010


Last post concerned one a middle-school daughter. This one stars her little sister, who likes to add things (like, we will wake up early tomorrow and she'll want to play yahtzee).

Some previous week she was just sitting there making me make up addition problems. And eventually I rolled around to twelve plus twelve, which is more than she wants to count to in her head, so she wrote it down, and figured it out. I was proud.

12  + 12 = 24

Only for some reason she wrote each digit backwards. Which made older daughter and I, who as you may recall had been engaged in discussions of Leonardo (who could write in mirror letters, and numbers too I guess, but I ain't gonna check), look at it backwards

42 = 21 + 21

Cool. 42, of course is also the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. What makes a dad prouder than when his girl is good at math and enjoys doing it? Maybe when she generates cool mirrormath...

Rennaissance Man

7th grade history has, just before everyone gets terminally distracted by Christmas, reached the renaissance, leaving behind the medeival times (about which my kid learned that their art was 'incredibly lame").

So she comes home yesterday and asks who the most important renaissance person is. Although it is obviously Hieronymous Bosch, she's not ready for that news, and so I went with Leonardo. She was thrilled with my apparently correct choice, and we agreed that it was because he did so many things. Some people were great artists or poets or scientists, but Leonardo did all that, invented that crazy cool helicopter thingy (I don't give a damn whether it worked, just to come up with that at all is great), did autopsies, and was no slouch at math. skcawkcab etirw dluoc oeL ytfeL, sulp and.

It was a good talk, and later we were telling her mom about it, and how the teacher read my daughter's paragraph to the class as a good explanation of the changes accompanying the emergence of humanism (is there anything that could make an anthropologist dad prouder?!). And told her that we liked DaVinci's diversety of talents.

So mom looks at daughter as says, "Yeah, but he couldn't knit."

And daughter and dad immediately answer, "Yes he could! He invented macrame!"

So yeah, I guess there is something that could make this dad prouder than humanistic academic triumph: well-timed comedic smartassery.