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25 January, 2011

Even More Complicated Once You Smoke It?

Obama just echoed a sentiment familiar to Washington government workers, about the need to simplify government. His favorite example (for some reason, Barak was not g-droppin' tonight, and curt intellect never plays well to the dullards who sit in both chambers, so he went with the sincere-sounding emphasis of certain words, heavily voiced but soft, vocalingus), his favorite example of what needs to be fixed is that the US Department of Interior regulates salmon in Fresh Water, while the Department of Commerce deals with them in salt water. And then the punchline, "I heard it's even more complicated once you smoke it."

Indeed, as any smoker can tell you.

Now, given that the US courts have also ruled that the treaty tribes get 50% of the salmon. Plenty of tribes here spend a lot of resources on salmon, have hired a lot of the best fisheries scientists. Hmm. So the question arises, if the US gov and the Native people have equal shares, why not let them take the lead? It may not be that complicated.

As any fish smoker can tell you.

Salmon cooked over alder in the thick of a run, or smoked and enjoyed long after the mudflat critters had disappeared the last spawned-out carcass, is simply good. This fall I had some, courtesy of the Nisqually Tribe, and as the guys were cooking them, I was wondering what generation they were to be doing basically the same thing on this river. Not far away is a 5000+ year old site, which would be 200 generations at 25 years per. Could easily be a lot more. I'm going with that recipe.

Alls I'm sayin' is, if people could manage to feed themselves for that long, managing to have enough salmon come back year after year for thousands of years (before 20th century fisheries regularly wiped themselves out), maybe those people should not just be asked to offer an opinion on how the feds want to run fisheries, maybe it should be the other way around for a while.

So Mr. President, I feel your pain, I know how you want to look less governmenty, and I offer you this advice: Seize the salmon by his tail, and toss him to the sovereign Tribal Nations. Simplify government.

22 January, 2011

Silly String

I check in now and then on the routes that lead to Mojourner Truth. There is a list of searches people entered that led here. "Heatilator" related queries lead the pack. "Heatalor" leads there too, google being a lenient spelling grader. Are the heatilator entries what will live beyond me, is that what I'll be known for?

It was funny to see "Pat Benetar" a little while back, but this week was the best ever. For one, someone searched "scablands tourism" and found me. Har har.

But by far the best (of all time, so far): "she was to be our eve" in quotes. It's a line from the original Planet of the Apes. Heston wakes up to find the only female crew member from the long voyage won't be waking up from the suspended animation that they'd beein in during flight. Incidentally, there is the briefest flicker of relief passing across his face as he does his manly best to project regret. That cigar he was smoking in scene 1? Post coital. (Cigars are never pre-coital except for the smell-blind.) He'd have had a hard time explaining to her why she was already pregnant. The last thing she would have remembered was him poking her with the sleeping potion needle, and nothing else. Fucking Heston, pen-necrophiliac.

Anyway, maybe the most greatifying part of the discovery of this search string was learning that it yield just 4 hits on google (til I post this), and two of them are Mojourner Truth. Some people want large numbers of readers. I want an exlusive, weird audience, and it looks like it's working.

17 January, 2011

Silence of the Rats

As usual, scrolling back (or even using the keywords I so laboriously entered while avoiding completion of some other chore) to find the exact words is too much effort, but I do recall writing a couple of posts about the rat invasion of Olympia. At first I was trying to be a good neighbor, but when they started to try and make themselves at home in my house, I drew the line.

There must have been some beer-fueled bravura, or bravado (whichever is mas macho), threats served up hot, promises and plans promulgated.

I did bludgeon one, and probably one brood got dumped from their garbage can home into a city truck. But as for the pellet gun, slingshot, and elaborately conceived deadfall traps (which I would of course bury so that they could become archaeology one day), well none of that happened. If you've read my earlier stuff (back before I sold out), then you're aware of my pro crastinator status.

Instead, it ended up being money paid to the rat guy. They confirmed that rats were only 10% of their business a few years back, and now it's more like 60. Already, local Tea Party activists are clogging blogs and talk radio with their "composting causes the Black Death" campaign. They're especially pleased to be able to use "Black" in a denigratory way while maintaining plausible deniability against charges of racism. Plausible Deniability, you remember, don't you, how Prophet Reagan made that the 11th Commandment?

Oh, rats, yeah.

So the guy comes and seals (most) access points, sets traps, bags a few, says he thinks activity is decreasing. I thought I was smelling one, but he could not find anything, and said maybe it was babies of a momma rat he'd trapped. That happens sometimes, rodent broods abandoned, then dead.

But as it turned out, I found the source, trap snapped on it's rat neck, hidden on the garage floor behind something. By then, it had gone from the first sick must, past the stink spores blooming into the whole space, to a nasal assaulting fish-corpse miasma. The body flattened where it rested on the floor. I was not happy with rat guy, but then again it had escaped detection by the residents again and again, so I never said anything.

Actually, the residents avoided the garage, especially after dark. Noises made us jumpy. The girls decided it was up to the guy to do anything out there and outside, and the guy took to making lots of noise so rodents would scatter.

Rat guy didn't totally seal up the entries the first time, not so much out of lacsadasicality as from the knowledge that once you start trapping, rats are smart enough to notice, and may be inclined to leave. Trap them under the house or in the attic, and they may get deparate and chew their way out. Into the house, of course, drywall being the path of least resistance.

So now there've been some rat casualties, and the survivors seem to have fled. Known entries are sealed. The disturbing scratches on the fiberglass shower that sounded like a rat was inside, and maybe moving in some rat furniture--those sounds are gone.

Seems like they're stuck outside for the time being. Here's hoping.

16 January, 2011


Recent excavations yielded a trove of vintage vinyl: Beethoven and Black Flag, Kingston Trio and Kingston's favorite son and so on.

Last time these saw the light of day or felt the touch of a diamond was in the 80's, when I had a radio show on the college station. It was called the "Weird Uncles Show," and it is my no-longer-secret dream to start that again, to jam up a couple hours of KAOS with the eclectic, ecstatic sounds we once made. The Weird Uncles were psychonauts, comrades, and eventually the rentee lords of a house in NW DC where within the most innocuous-looking walls all manner of mayhem erupted. But that's another story.

This has to do with one of the discoveries we made: 1973 was a great year for albums. I've been looking at wikipedia to see what all came out that year, and it turns out that a lot of my soundtrack comes from 1973, even if I am a miser and own few of the records themselves. By the time the Weird Uncles banded together, CDs were just beginning to enter the market, and so we listed to vinyl. In the milk crates were several 1973 classics: Larks Tongues in Aspic (King Crimson), Brain Salad Surgery (Emerson Lake and Palmer), Innervisions (Stevie Wonde), Dark Side of the Moon (Successors of Syd Barrett), Catch a Fire (Bob Marley and the Wailers), the latter released the same day as Alladin Sane (David Bowie). Bowie somehow made his way fm the radio station to the house, while Marley was something I picked up from a rasta-run shop in NE DC, whose proprietors seemed pretty irritated to see a punk-rock looking white boy in there picking up the gospel.

BMW had been busy that year, releasing also the compilation African Herbsman and Burnin'. So when they tell you that ganja makes you lazy, that it makes you think you are creative when you are not, consider the Wailers in 1973.

The year was big for eponymous albums as well: 10cc, Foghat, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Byrds, and so on. Not that we listened to much of that then (the word Foghat just induced knee-buckling laughter), aside from Randy's beloved Aerosmith. And above all, Ringo. I frickin' love Ringo Starr, whose name somehow immunized him against changing under the duress of being bigger than Jesus.

There's a lot of stuff from 1973 that I would have denied ever listening to from about 1977-1998. Lynyrd Skynyrds Pronounced album spawned stuff that traveled Richmond's airwaves ever since. Just today, I had "Gimme Three Steps" stuck in my head. That line "Hey there fella/With the hair colored yella" cracks me up--the singer comes off as either of kindergardenly linguistic aptitude, or or maybe a flambouyant escapee from a musical (seriously, say that line in the most over-the-top stereotypically gay man voice you can muster). A lot of the more directly eponymous stuff fits in that category as well. Then there are the classic that I've never owned, but appreciated, like  Goobye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John) and Fresh (Sly and the Family Stone).

It was a year of endings. A lot of bands that should have called it quits in '73 released either their last good album (Floyd, some would say the Stones' Goatshead Soup) while others let loose with their first really bad one (Quadrophenia? Who but bloated indulgent rock stars would think that the public wants to hear a second rock opera?). Meanwhile, Elvis moved up a couple of sizes in the jumpsuit category, and released Aloha from Hawaii: Live Via Satellite. And I would be remiss if I didn't single out Frank Sinatra for his hideous un-retirement piece Ol' Blue Eyes is Back; him talking his way through "Send in the Clowns" is one of the most painful things ever recorded, and I can never understand why Sinatra achieved acclaim while Shatner was ridiculed for nearly the same delivery.

There was the beginning of what would be punk as well. Iggy's Raw Power nearly got worn out on my turntable. I never had it, but New York Dolls (there's that eponymeity again) influenced a lot of punk bands whose albums did end up in my collection. These things happened under the radar (except for Bowie, who toured as Ziggy Stardust), and along with reggae quitely paved the way for the punk explosion a few years later, an event that required the release of big rock's most indulgent crap (Floyd and Stones again) and the transmogrification of Funk into Disco (just add coke and $$$).


Since the winter solstice (26 days ago), I've been cooped up aside from wandering the wind-froze canyons of Portland for a couple or three days. Tending the fire and a cold, scrounging up meals, near hibernation. A big cold snapped and sent clouds running for a few days, but the little cold kept me in for the most part, watching the hoar accumulate in the long winter shadows until it looked like we'd been snowed on. I ventured no farther than the woodpile and the bus stop. (And let's be honest, like most middle class enviros, I took the car ride when offered and the bio-fueled bus thus rode on one rider less efficiently.)

But coming home from work the other day, done with a hard week and virtuously waiting for the bus, I saw the light. Twilight, I guess, but anything that keeps the 5:30 sky from being something other than dark counts in winter. Like thousands of generations before me, I breathed a sigh of relief that the days would not just keep getting shorter forever, felt in my ear the tenderotic breath of Persephone.

So today when the clouds thinned and the rain that has pissed incessantly on the south sound since the sunshine daydream let up for a couple of hours, I fled outside. Needed to flea the air in this house: smoked by fireplace, caughed by denizens, staled by cold and spored by mold.

Required as well--fingers in the earth. So it was into the front, to a triangle of bare dirt and its assortment of uninvited and well intended plants. Down on my hands and knees pulling weeds, killing my back but healing my soul. On a material level, the goal was to get rid of dandelions and cheatgrass, clover and other aggressives, root out the competition for the collection of camas and lomatia, bitterroot and alliums, a suite of eats native to the northwest, if not exactly the Puget basin. This will be a meadow, dotted with sage and lavendar. I'll probably wait til another round of weeds sprout, then slice their roots and let them die before putting out the mixed bag of seeds I've been collecting east of the Cascades. The front yard, in full sun and tilted to get the most of it in summer, is my microcosmic eastern Washington.

At the bottom of the yard is a garlic patch. Over a dozen dozen sets surrounding a small cherry tree. Set out last October in the lowest part of the yard, and thus the wettest and coldest, the garlic was a worry for me. The patch froze hard within a couple or three weeks of having been planted, and then it got warmer and wet. The pattern happened again around New Years, with a bigger freeze and complete saturation after. I figured there'd be heavy losses.

And it looks like that even as you walk up to the patch. Only down on all fours, fingertweezing out offending grasses, are the sprouts visible. In the meadow too, tips of tulips and tiny bursts of bitterroot appear to eyes in near-earth orbits. As the weeds come out, violets come to light. Get microscopic in the microcosmos, and signs of emergence are everywhere. In among the mouldering leaves of last year, lavendar shoots emanate. Sedum, beat up and rolled around over the winter, has unveiled the genius of it's strategy, setting down roots from every scattered frag so they can knit themselves together and blanket the poorest ground. Budswell (gods, how I love saying that word)
has begun on blueberries and saskatoon, fat embryonic liko getting ready to greet the air.

It doesn't take much to make me happy. A few more minutes of daylight, the tintiest indication of growth...the promise of a phenomenal future when grey births green, when foliage feeds flowers, when seeds escape their stale dull insides and start growing, reborn and eternal.

13 January, 2011


Liberals almost never win in America. It's gotten so bad that they're trying a name change, but I don't see Progressives faring much better. Obama's agenda was either shut down or turned into exactly what the chamber of commerce republicans wanted. 

Maybe the most notable success the left has had during my lifetime was in fighting South African Apartheid. There were demonstrations, attempts at media blitzes, celebrity endorsements, but in the end what sprung Mandela and crumbled the Afrikaan regime was money. Or specifically, the lack thereof. 

Divestiture drained the apart-hate elite of the global infusions of capital they needed, and they caved.

So, could a similar approach knock Goldman Sachs out of power in the US, is there any hope that conscientious objection to the power of multinational corporations could get our own country back?

Not if it depends on the investment portfolio of modern serfs like me. Too much cash has been bled from the working and middle classes through the series of scams and extortion wrought by the Bush Dynasty (S-and-L crisis, tech and housing bubbles, massive corporate bailouts to the FIRE sector), and the wealth disparity is too stark already. It was not for want of investment from the township dwellers that Botha had to cut back in the Department of Opression, and it won't be 21st Century American proles who starve their overlords, either.

I'd like to think that the Germans and maybe the whole EU could help out, but I'm not holding my breath. South America could surprise us, but we've been so vindictive to any economy with a hint of socialism that they're in no shape to pull it off alone. And the Chinese, well why the hell would they want to mess around with a market so large and gullible?

The odds of preventing the oligarchy from owning the US of A disappear over the horizon of a dark northern land when you consider that most of the people who share my predicament (being robbed at every turn by people who cannot ever seem to amass enough money) have no idea why and how they've been screwed. Thanks Ronald Reagan, for the kicking off the decline in federal Education policy. We now have a country that doesn't necessarily believe in evolution, whose Osama or Obama fear can be counted on to fuel a brick-headed patriotism. They don't have the money to divest the oligarchs to death anyway, and if it ever came down to a real revolution, they'd start shooting liberals, or progressives, or whatever epithet you choose: left-of-center, college educated, pinko, Jew, commie,...they got a million of 'em.

So maybe an outbreak of socially conscious investment is not in the offing. But I can go at it the other way around, by decreasing the portion of what I buy that can be traced back to the people screwing me. It won't put them out of business, but it'll keep me out of theirs. 

Bouts of poverty, a growing environmental awareness, recurrent ludditis, and a richly burled iconoclasm [RIP, Carla] mean I'm already a little divested. Driving little in a 1997 4-cylinder car), eating mostly local food (and planting some), wearing thrift store clothes, buying from local merchants, and living in a house mortgaged no further than my local credit union. This winter I bought a cord of wood from a neighbor and cut the utility bill by more than a third.

If I weren't so shiftless and procrastinatory, I'd've done more. Grow more food, burn less oil, no plastic,'s a long road, and then a path, and then maybe a hermitageous grotto. I dunno how far I'll get, but the less vested I am in enterprises I despises, the happier I'll be.

12 January, 2011

You Searched "Heatilator"

For some reason, it took me a long time to realize that a blogger can find out how many pageviews there are, which sites are funneling innocent netizens this way, and so on. The saddest thing was learning that almost nobody is arriving on a Mac. After a month or two of this, the thing I find interesting is that people searching for information on their heatilator end up here.

I said something before about why this might be, and after an exhaustive data collection process (I get exhausted easily, and get exasperated with ads, sooo. . .OK, there's no data) came to the conclusion that heatilators are neither antique nor cutting edge enough to be of internet interest.

So, here's what you need to know about heatilators. First, if it is some kind of insert that goes in your fireplace, something that has a fan, this is not the blog for you. I am a hardcore traditionalist heatilator devotee. Don't know about the electric kind, and don't care to learn. The beauty of the heatilator is the fact that it works without a motor, it's passive and green, it uses no electricity.

The heatilator works on a very basic principle: hot air rises. Typically, the heatilator consists of an airspace surrounding the firebox. You build the fire in there, and the heavy metal walls keep the fire from spreading, but conduct heat into the airspace. There are vents at the top and bottom. So in the photo above, the area behind all those openings is full of heated air. Cool air from the room moves in through the bottom, is heated, and comes out the top to warm the room. Convection.

Different styles exist, and I guess some work better than others. What they have in common is that there are made of brick or stone, and there's not much you can do to change them. The openings are where they are, the airspace is what it is. Each has its peculiarities. Like in this one, the five vents across the top center rarely have much air coming out of them. There is about twice as much area in the top openings as in the bottom. More on the fix later.

One thing you should check is whether the convection airspace is airtight. I looked back and saw a few gaps. If you can reach back and insert non-flammable insulation or mortar into any gaps, you keep hot air from escaping, increasing efficiency. Just remember that whatever you drop back there is going to be difficult or impossible to retrieve. Oh, and don't try this fix while a fire is burning.

Air flow is important. If you put things in front of any of the vents, the system stops working. Convection is gentle, and won't blow past things. Use this knowledge to keep your partner from putting "decor" on the hearth. Tell them a scientist said it is very, very bad.

So back to the five holes in the pictured heatilator. When procrastination gets boring, I will probably plug them up, either as part of a mantle, or maybe just mortaring in some bricks. Bernoulli or Venturi or one of those Italian fluid dynamics geniuses figured out that if you restrict the size of an outflow, velocity increases. So if I cut the total area of the upper vent array, the air coming out should be moving faster. I'll let you know how that goes...

Another thing that makes the heatilator work better is having a long-running fire. If you are starting with a cold house and start a fire, it takes a while for the heatilator to really get pumping. You've got to warm the firebox and the convection air space to get it moving at all. The longer the fire burns, the more you heat up the masonry around the fireplace, and the better the heatilator works.

Not just that, but heating up the ton of masonry stores heat that will radiate for hours after the fire dies down. If you are trying to heat your house with the fire, you are way better off with a long, steady fire than with building a roaring fire, letting it die, and repeating the process. The direct heat from the flame is a passing thing, while the convection from the heatilator and radiation from the heated masonry keep working.

What else?

Queries that landed people here include concerns about having a TV mounted above a heatilator. The best solution is to kill your TV. Watch the fire. It's more interesting and has no commercials. Or, hang a thermometer where the TV will go. I doubt the heatilator is pumping out so much heat that it would damage anything, but if you are going to stress out about it, just put the TV somewhere else.

Oh, and the heatilator can be used to make your room smell nice. Get a scented candle and put it in a glass holder big anough to contain ALL the wax. Place it in one of the upper vents, and the heat will melt the whole thing, slowly vaporizing it and sending the scent into the room.

Is there more?

Umm. Maybe not. It's pretty simple. Stop wasting time on the internet and build a fire.

09 January, 2011

Acts of Deranged Individuals

An image on Sarah Palin's Facebook page featuring crosshairs on certain Democratic districts is causing an uproar .

I like to make up words. The latest: tearrorist. A right-wing zealot willing to bring about political goals by means intended to arouse terror into opponents. At some point, the Tea partiers will become organized and orthodox enough to also use fear as a means of keeping their own in line, but for now it is enough to attack the enemy.

I must be an enemy, being loud-mouthed and left, secular and human, and I vote every time (sometimes for people like Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson). But I'm just a prole, and don't merit an actual Target. Wealthless and blueless in the blood department, I am no threat to the mega-wealthy few who pull Teapuppet strings. Sure, they wanna maintain a certain level of rage at guys like me, but the general warfare has not started (and woe to us if it does), and it's enough to aim at people like Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot along with a bunch of other people, many of whom died, including a girl who was born on 9/11.

Open fire in a public place, gunning for a politician but happy to spray the crowd with hot lead? Terrorism.

Of course, the spin is already underway, the right claiming that even though they literally placed crosshairs on the woman, that the violence is the work of a lone, misguided and probably insane, individual. So we have this on Reuters:

"This was the act of a deranged individual," conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul told "Fox News Sunday."
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol in Washington lowered to half staff in memory of the victims. He said the incident was a reminder that public service comes with a risk.
"This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty," Boehner said.
In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the suspect "has kind of a troubled past and we're not convinced that he acted alone." He said he believed Giffords was the intended target of the shooting.

See? Choosing Rand Paul, deranged scion of a libertarian political dynasty, to deliver this message is classic irony-impairment. Foxnews of course is renowned for its derangement, if lying counts as deranged behavior, if believing that the media is liberal and war is peace and that Democrats are fascists signals derangement. Fox spends it's 'news' time mongering fear at a great discount, telling its dumbstruck viewers that someone (liberals, brown people, foreigners) is trying to get them. It whips up indignance, resentment, ire, and bile. Inchoate rage will do and frequently does. Constant martial language, puffed up tough talk with but one message "Those people want to attack you, help Americo get them first." Terrorism coming and going.

To see Hannity jutting a jaw Mussolini style and barking some easily debunked crap, or to hear one of Limbough's drug-addled rants is to laugh. Silliness. Besides which, most of the figureheads and pundits probably don't believe half of what they say anyway, they're just giving people what they want, selling advertising space.

Yet...there's danger. Years of fear of terror allowed the unfettered expansion of Cheney's ambition at the expense of Americans' civil rights. Masses complained not; individuals who did were shouted down. Organizations that feared not, that stood up, either failed to get attention from the media or were denounced therein as aides de terror, targeted for investigation, break-ins, and monitoring. Since 9/11, we've been introduced to long lost Big Brothers, watching what we say, hauling us to Gitmo when we get out of line, and just generally bullying and intimidating.

The fearful, the unduly fortunate who live in terror of a black man helping the less fortunate, have mostly been along for the ride, doing little more than casting votes and calling in to rant and espouse baffling political theories. But now we start to see some of them taking it to the next level. Ratcheting up the terror.

We need to answer, cannot afford to roll over. And not by making up further protections for the elected elite (who to be honest, are just there to represent the monied interests that put them there), in fact one of the saddest bits of fallout from this kind of violence will be to further isolate the ruling class from the people. Boehner's bit about congress needing to be brave and undeterred from its "calling" smacks of a guy who does not want the corporate agenda slowed down because of a few dead people. To act like the risk is evenly distributed is completely bogus: liberals do not arm themselves and pose threateningly outside GOP events, and they're despised by the right precisely because they seek controls on weapons.

The answer must be non-violent, but delivered face to face, more aggressively than the left is used to acting. No more silent head-shaking when the buffoon at the office spouts some teaparty crap. Educate your old and fearful relatives, switch their channel from Fox. Respond and debunk every propaganda email you get. Participate in citizen actions that let the leadership know that we cherish the Bill of Rights. Insisting on freedom.

The deranged individuals are not the lone gunmen, the fanatics shooting what they fear. The deranged individuals are Rupert Murdoch, who would flush democracy for a few more bucks. Ms. Palin is so deluded as to believe that she is genuinely able to lead, and not just a petroleum puppet. Deranged is the commentator who equates a little bit of help for the poor with Hitler and Stalin. The pastor who deranges his flocks to the battlefields of Iraq (and for that matter, of our own culture).

These are dangerous people, but they are not unstoppable, and we don't have to sink to their level of dumb hatred to beat them. We will prevail not by force (they have a hell of a lot more weaponry and are itching to use it), but because we refuse to give in to terror. We will laugh them to death, outvote the dwindling ranks of elderly fools, keep blinding them with the light of reason.

08 January, 2011

Boot Print Trail

The recent punk posts (ha) included some comment about Doc Martens. That's a brand that in those days helped some punks feel better about themselves. If you had real Docs instead of surplus combat boots, you were harder core, you'd gone the extra mile (and paid the extra buck, hmmm) to prove you were punker than thou. 

Already, I can feel this post veering into rant territory. Maybe not like the one in October 09 (see Evobootion and Boots... posts at, but it seems like what people put on their feet reveals a lot about their cultural assumptions. Where you think you stand in society, look down and there are your shoes.

Evobootion has photos, and this post cannot. My sister assures me that she has snapshots of those days, but the boots are long gone, and all there are are words.

Pre-punk, I wore sneakers. They stunk so bad that little wavy lines emanated visibly. The only boots I had as a kid, I think, were the standard tan leather with a yellowy sole. As the hardcore world opened, I managed to get a pair of army surplus boots. Basic black. There was a rule if you played sports that you had to wear a tie and polished shoes on game days, and so they actually got polished a few times. Weird.

But usually (and eventually) that didn't happen, and partly laced combat boots, scuffle-stepping through the halls were something to set me apart from the sea of docksiders, penny loafers, and sneakers of 1980s Virginia. The preppies had the most bizarre array of footwear I'd ever seen until encountering rich Lon Gislanders in college, strictly defined in terms of a brand and style for every occasion from cotillion to pretending to enjoy the outdoors.

Some punks were just as rigid, and there was defnitely pressure to wear the right stuff, although you were pretty free to ignore it in a small scene like Richmond. I ditched my orange converse hi-tops with the black magic marker tiger stripes when I feared it would look more new wave than hardcore. I bought Sears engineer boots when it seemed cool.

But then, function kicks style aside for me. I thought the untied combat boots looked cool, and enjoyed the free easy feel, but when it came time to cover some ground, or get out on the floor to do some skaning, do-si-do-ing and stage dives, it was time to lace up.

In college, the rigidity and conformity of the DC scene left me cold, and after a year or so I pretty much stopped going to see bands. Meanwhile, I fell in with people who listed to hippy music, and enjoyed a period when nobody I knew could figure me out. Lowery writes abut the same kind of thing happening at the other end of the country in his blog (, simultaneously mocking and appreciating what the old counterculture had wrought. I didn't have the turquoise jewelry, but did pick up a pair of thrift store romeos, those short boots with the zipper like Captan Kirk wore. They were not quite ironic enough, and could have been mistaken for dress shoes, so I got day-glo paints and spruced them up; right atop each one was a turquoise lizard on an orange background. Wearing those with a christmasy plaid pair of trousers, and spiked orangy meringue hair to a Dead show was fun, watching to see which hippies (and young imitators) lit up, blew a fuse, or tuned out as they passed the punk inexplicably appearing in their midst.

But over time, it became less and less important to have footwear that made a statement. More and more my feet wore whatever worked best. The combat boots outlasted the slick-soled romeos. Hush puppies, or desert boots or whatever those things are called made appearances. Stinky sneakers returned.

Then I moved to the tropics, and my feet were freed. But that's another story, already told in the post before Evobootion.


04 January, 2011

Kicked Out of the Scene

Just about the time it became clear that Jimmy Carter would be unseated by a nincompuppet, I discovered punk rock. I'd been listening to new wave bands like the Cars and Elvis Costello, already uncomfortable with the main menu items in late-1970s Virginia: classic rock (yawn), disco (yuck-o), southern fried rock and roll (mojourner man don't need them around, anyhow), country (and western), heavy metal (too churchy, even if in an anti- way), and.... 
and along come some kids with stuff that makes the new wave stuff sound like Lawrence Welk. Just at the point when I am finally realizing that I can rebel. I'd been smart to get good grades, wrestled and run track, but never fit in with the other brains and jocks. Just naming the bands qualified as subversive in the middle-class suburb where I lived: Dead Kennedys, X, Circle Jerks,...

And that was just the nationally successful, commercially available stuff. Soon after getting my driver's license, I started going to local shows, and the music took hold. I hadn't been really sheltered, but the growing awareness that a good man was going down under an onslought of lies and capitalistic voodoo, the adolescent American need for speed, and the potent testosterone cocktail emanating from my nether regions made the driving intensity and rebellious vigor of punk irresistable.

A huge part of this was the existence of live shows. Everyone else was listening to albums and the radio, hearing the same old dhit over and over, able to see bands only rarely and at a distance. I could see five bands for five bucks, and stand right in front. Or, not exactly in front, that being where the slam dancing occured (the pat label 'mosh pit' had not been invented yet); so I merged in and out of the dance, and spent a lot of time in front of the PA stacks. And yes, mom, you were right, my ears are still ringing and my hearing fading.

Punk was still small enough that the big stars played dives and bars. In Richmond (as opposed to DC or New York, where punk scenes had already grown too large for their own good), you could see Black Flag up close and personal. Better yet, you got to see people you knew being the opener, and pre-opener, and penpenultimate opener, and maybe more. So Graven Image and Honor Role and Death Piggy (my personal favorite, from the music to the artwork to the crazed performances), maybe some more, and then the national act, which may or may not have achieved more audience appreciation than the locals.

My record collection reflects this as well. "Normal" kids were unlikely to have anything from local bands. The closest they came was a vague story about Pat Benetar having played in a Richmond piano bar long before she got famous and wore those signature headbands. Richmond punks began pressing vinyl, operating outside what had become by then a well-oiled machine of big labels, nationwide distribution, and FM gatekeeping. No static at all? Fuck that. Hit record, stomp the distortion pedal, and make your own. Freedom.

Though a few dozen people would show for any given concert (more if there was a band famous enough to draw out the volatile mix of occasional Fort Lee misfits and college hipsters), the "scene" was fairly cozy. Not large enough to tolerate factions who could afford not to interact. Not sophisticated and cool and urban enough (or, to get down to the material roots of it all, replete enough with the temporarily rebellious spawn of the beltway establishment) to have set dress codes like in DC. For whatever reason (the VCU art school influence, the more immediate experience with evangelical fascists, the latent insurgent spirit of a land once conqured and occupied?) punks in Richmond dressed all sorts of ways, played all kinds of music, and just played. Freedom.

On the other hand, there did exist an oniony structure in the scene. The skin, the people who maintained some sort of punk-like appearance but were prone to peeling off. The outer rings, wrapped around the same core as everyone else and able to burn their parents' eyes, contributing to the bulk, but not necessarily crucial to it's vitality or visible to it's core. Then the inner circles, generating new bands, organizing shows, introducing everyone else to new bands.

I never reached the center, never played in a band, stayed an outsider among punks. The closest I ever came to that was a single afternoon show where about 3 of us formed the Poi Boy Choir, solely for the purpose of singing the "a-weem a-way" background chorus while Judge Dread played "In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle, the Lion Sleeps Tonight." Poi Boy because we had shaved heads, combat boots, and suspenders, but were not even close to skinheads, whose obsession with Oi (whatever that was) we found worthy of ridicule. In Richmond, you could get by with making fun of skinheads. One time, the DC skinheads came down for a concert, and in between bitching about Richmond's crappy bus system, their leader Lefty (who, inexplicably, was Black and Female) mistook my shaved head for skinheadedness and tried to recuit me by offering me a pair of oxblood doc marten boots (there's that dress code) that she had just acquired through some sort of trade with Dobey, an inner-circle Richmond punk.

Which brings me back to the point. I suppose if I'd wanted to, I could have become part of an inner circle, be it DC skinheads or Richmond punks, but never had the drive. I just wanted to have fun. Ironically, many of the inner circlers got on a kick of "fun is stupid." Like a miniature version of the DC "straight edge" scene (summed up in the Minor Threat lyric "Don't drink/Don't smoke/Don't fuck/At least I can fucking think!"), they would excoriate crowds for slam dancing and mock the less enlightened, the more inebriated. Eventually, they staged a "Kicked Out of the Scene" concert/skit in which all of them were ceremonially kicked out for not conforming to punkness. Do I need to point out the irony that the scene, the inner circle, consisted of these very same people? If you were not kicked out, obviously you were not important enough to have been in.

Those of us unimportant enough to have been kicked out of the scene, to have gotten that stamp of (dis)approval, still had our fun, but I don't think it was too long after that that I left town. Did the Richmond scene ever grow enough to factionalize in any serious way? I dunno. I'm guessing that the inner circle, those illustrious enough to have been kicked out of the scene, have a different take than mine, maybe they saw some cancerous growth, some gangrenous festering lump of violence or mindless conformity that needed top be excised.

When some historian decides to interview aging punks, she is likely to go to the inner circlers. It makes sense, since not only do they have a more expert knowlegde and perspective of the events than I do, but they are the ones whose names appear on records and zines, they are the traceable. But for every one of them, there were a dozen more who never recorded anything; the band does ont work without the audience, no matter how much punk blurred the line and made it possible for more people to leap over. I happened to appear on an album cover (that's me in the stripey shirt, just right and above the flash-glare in the photo above), but unless I keep writing about this, will remain part of the faceless masses of history.

02 January, 2011

One Vinyl Archive

My last post was about nostalgia. I remember writing that... Man, that was a good time. I dunno about you, but it seems to me like the world was a little gentler then, people took the time to stop and say hello, offer you some red hots.

But now is now and my sleep this night consisting of the miniscule peninsulae twixt bays echoing with the snoring rollers breaking next to me, coves of stinging salt brine intruding deep into nasal provinves. You know, a cold. So now, to write.

But first, the photo: Marley on Sony on walnut on camel-hair rug on tablesaw on garage floor. This is shortly after christmas, when I received an analog pre-amp to boost the circa 1979 turntable's signal to the 1980-something Panasonic boombox core.

Last time I heard music rumbling up from vinyl coulees was 1990. For more than a decade after, records and player perfected static techniques to amass a latently lithified mantle of dust in my parents' attick. Yeah, I spelled it attick, because fake as it may be, it looks older.

I wiped off dust a few times during the next decade, but the Virginia years were marred by death and dysfunction, poverty and plain ole bad luck. Breaking into a collection consisting primarily of early hardcore--live-fast die-young, dark and hopeless as a death-head's sinus--wouldn't have made sense anyway.

The tech to connect turntable to computer has been around for a while, but I don't want that. I want analog. Not because I am some high-end tube-warmed audiophile, but because I'm a preservationist, cheapskate, occasional luddite, garagelodite.

Likewise with the music. I have one milk crate of albums (plus a few of dad's classical discs), about a dozen 45s, and a couple of those in-between size ones. 10 years worth of Plan 9 purchases, yard sale finds, ironic parental property, and a few precious black platters liberated from unworthy owners. Like I said, a lot of punk, some rock and reggae, a few classical recordings, the standout of which is Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil in Beethoven's 9th. You know, the Clockwork Orange music.

I'd say I regretted nearly half of the records that I ever spent money on. Several can be blamed on my falling for some critic's stupid opinion, others on getting the only thing remotely interesting in a shop full of crap (and finding that the interest remains remote). A bunch of these remain in the collection simply because the milk crate has enough room. I always felt like I'd wanna listen back when I was older, so why get rid of them, why not keep an archive of the 1980s? I guess there are a million reasons not to, but that milk crate stashes so easily, gets out of the way so well, that the collection remains.

So now I get to fulfil that prophecy, and reminisce over the vibrations of diamond on vinyl.

Kids don't always understand the earnest social commentary and subtle ironies of band names like "Millions of Dead Cops" or songs like "Fucked up Ronnie" (Reagan, of course. One memory that struck from vinyl days was repeatedly opening the dorm door and blasting from my huge homemade speakers the opening line "Ronald Reagan, You're Fucked Up!" Ahhh...good times. I bet everyone else on the floor remembers that fondly as well.)

So I started with Bob Marley. Catch a Fire stayed one of my favorites since the time I first heard it. Besides, it's from 1973, I think, a year that echoed through my collection. That's the year of Ziggy Stardust, Dark Side of the Moon, something by Led Zep (like my sister and I were saying the other day, once you get past your adolescently self-conscious loathing of mainstream stuff, you find out that some of it is great), and several other titles that I randomly spew (maybe correctly) when veering into my rant about how that was maybe the best year for records.

Then I played Surrealistic Pillow to see if the Airplane proved rocking enough for my younger daughter. It came up short at the end of the side, and I may have overshot on the next choice, Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges. She tore around on her scooter for a while, but by "Death Trip" her eyes seemed a little glazed.

Not sure what's next. I'll amble through the crate, make some discoveries, maybe cull a thing or three, and eventually delve into the hardcore. The girls will all be gone, the garage empty and reverberating. I'll see whether my improvisation lives up to what dad taught me about the physics of record players: concrete floor under a heavy metal table under a rug (to dampen whatever vibrations sneak through) under a planed and leveled slab of wood with high specific gravity under a solid turntable under a record under a needle. Can I crank it up loud enough to create feedback?

Regardless, my mind will loop back to first listenings. Fresh rebelry, Reagan's spectral shadow, loving life but not knowing it, other blatherings of the insomniac. Why speculate? This was about nostalgia, not what's next.

Good night.

Spiced Apples

On the last day of the farmers' market, I picked up 40 pounds of apples. Got a pretty good deal (36 bucks), but still not good enough to make cider that wouldn't have a hint of regret on my cheapskate palate. Most of them are just my winter supply of fresh fruit.

Fresh-ish, anyway. They're winesaps, so they age well.

I'm aging OK myself, I think, and part of the process has been a nostalgia (next, I'll post on the vinyl aspect of this phenomenon). In this case, for a flavor, for those spiced apple rings that used to be served in steak houses. So a dozen pounds underwent the knife, guinea pigs in my attempt to retrieve a flavor that I may not even remember correctly.

Turns out, you can buy spiced apples, and they look like what I recall, but where's the fun in that?

Nowhere. The fun is in the ridiculous frivolous project. A couple of hours surfing, searching, sorting until deciding on a recipe that matches none of the listed ones exactly. Slicing and coring, trying to find enough containers to keep the growing pile of rings soaked in limey water to keep them from oxidizing. Stirring syrup and steeping the apples. Ladling and canning the results, trusting that a bath in boiling water would absolve the jars of my earthy earthly sins.

Research showed two paths to becoming lord of the spiced apple rings. Normally, I'd go for the more natural, but this being nostalgia for a time before I'd ever heard of granola, when space-age syntheticality ruled, and when I was a wee candy-loving kid, I went for the other, in which a key ingredient is red hots. Yep, those little cinnamony hearts. Anyway, a lot of people taking the 'natural route' advised using red food color, and I'd rather just go whole spam and avail myself of modern convenience in the form of red hots, combining the best in fake color and flavor.

I still used real cloves, because they are redolent of exotic islands. I was a big National Geographic fan back then. (Post-modernists popped the bubble of that particular joy, and I am down to a small collection of issues that are either very old or feature Polynesia. Oh, and a box o maps, just so I can prove that NG once knew about latitude and longitude.)

But I digress (to resort to what must be one of the most common blog phrases). You just wanna know if it worked.

Color-wise, not so much. Ergo the wildly exaggerated colors in these photos (thanks Mac). That's OK, since I am pretty sure the 'real' color depends on carcinogenic dye, and true nostalgia does not demand authenticity, maybe cannot even survive too much fidelity to reality. So I have pink rings. I sampled the not-worth-using-another-jar few, and the texture seems right (somewhere in that limbo between raw crunch and cooked mush). The flavor snapped a synapse back to life (causing the dust to flare briefly), and I think the red hots did the trick in that regard. But this being a quest for something I tasted so long ago, the wait must be prolonged a bit more. Let them soak, stand, and wait for my bite. I'll report back later. (Right. More likely, I'll forget I ever wrote this.) 

01 January, 2011

Resolutions with reservations

What do I resolve this year? Have not though about it til now, and probably will forget in an hour or so, but here goes:

Cut Back on Coffee. I've heard it is not great to drink an entire pot of coffee every day (although whoever said this was not trying to write when the kids are finally asleep, or stay awake in cubicle-land). So I will reduce terms of liquid beverage volume. I got an espresso maker for christmas, and may be able to increase caffeine while technically living up to this resolution.

Do it Myself. This past year I made a few things, planted more food, made pickles and sauerkraut, and canned some jam and spiced apples. Now it's time to move beyond condiments and on to real food, maybe fix up the bike to where I can self-propel myself more places, and of course, secede from the union.

Be a Thorn. As that last comment may have conveyed oh so subtly, I'm sick of being a subject. Corporations and the politicians they buy don't want to hear from me, but they will. Let the ineffective letter-writing campaigns begin!

Spread the Love. There is a lot in this world that I love, and I hope I can find more ways to show that. Maybe it'll help balance out my increased thorniness.

Stop Procrastinating. That should have come first.

Follow Through. I have no trouble coming up with ideas for things to do, to write, to,. . . uhhh. You know. This year, I'll try not to just let them fall by the .... snore.